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After the English take Harfleur, the Welsh Captain Fluellen talks with the English Captain Gower about the battle for a bridge that is currently taking place. Ancient Pistol enters with a favor to beg of Fluellen. Pistol’s good friend and fellow soldier Bardolph, has been found guilty of stealing from the conquered French town. He has stolen a “pax,” a tablet made out of some valuable material and used in religious rites (III.vi.35).
Bardolph has been sentenced to death by hanging, since that is the punishment Henry has decreed for looters. Pistol begs Fluellen to intercede with the Duke of Exeter to save Bardolph’s life, but Fluellen politely refuses, saying that discipline must be maintained. Despairing, Pistol curses Fluellen, makes an obscene gesture at him, and stalks away.
Gower, who has watched the whole exchange, realizes that he recognizes Pistol and tells Fluellen that he has met Pistol before. Pistol, Gower says, is the kind of man who only goes off to war now and then but pretends to be a full-time soldier when he is back home. Fluellen says that he will keep an eye on Pistol and try to detect his deceptions.
With a drumroll and fanfare, King Henry enters. He questions Fluellen about the battle for the bridge and about how many soldiers the English side lost in the last skirmish. Fluellen answers that, thanks to the smart fighting of the Duke of Exeter, the English have won the bridge. Amazingly, no English soldiers have been lost—except Bardolph, who has been sentenced to hang for stealing. At this news, King Henry displays no visible emotion (which is somewhat surprising, given that when Henry was a prince, he and Bardolph were friends). Henry merely voices his approval of the punishment, stressing how important it is that the conquered French, and their property, be treated with the utmost respect.
Montjoy, a French messenger, arrives with a deeply menacing message from the king of France. King Charles declares that the time has come for him to punish the overly proud King Henry. He suggests that Henry start thinking about his “ransom”—the recompense that the French will demand for their losses when they defeat the English king (III.vi.113).
King Henry sends back a surprisingly even-tempered reply. He admits that his army has tired and that he would rather not fight the French if he can avoid it. He states, however, that he will continue to march on because he believes he is in the right and that he thinks that he will eventually be victorious. Montjoy departs, and the English camp goes to sleep for the night.
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