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The Chorus relates that King Henry has returned to the
port city of Calais in France and, from there, has sailed back to
England. The women and children of England are overjoyed to have
their men returned to them, and everyone is also glad to see King
Henry. When Henry returns to London, the people flock to see him
and to celebrate. But Henry is humble and forbids a triumphal procession
to celebrate his victory.
Henry returns to France again, and the Chorus orders the
audience to return its imagination to France, with the understanding that
some time has passed.
Read a translation of Act V, Prologue →
Fluellen and Gower converse at an English army base in
France. Gower is curious about why Fluellen still wears a leek in
his hat, since St. Davy’s Day was the previous day. (St. Davy is
the patron saint of Wales, and on St. Davy’s Day, March 1,
Welsh people traditionally wear a leek in their hats as a show of
Fluellen explains that, the day before, the obnoxious
soldier Pistol insulted him by sending him bread and salt and suggesting
that Fluellen eat his leek. So, when Pistol appears, Fluellen starts
to beat him with his cudgel until Pistol agrees to the condition
that will satisfy Fluellen’s pride: Pistol himself must eat the
leek that Fluellen has been carrying in his hat. Pistol eats the
leek, and Fluellen gives him some money to ease the pain of his
cudgel wounds. After Fluellen leaves, Pistol vows revenge for having
been force-fed the leek, but Gower says it was Pistol’s own fault
for making fun of Fluellen—and for underestimating him simply because
he speaks with a funny (Welsh) accent.
When he is left alone, Pistol turns serious; we learn
that his wife, the hostess, has died of venereal disease (presumably
syphilis) and that Pistol no longer has a home. He decides to become
a pimp and a thief back in England.
Read a translation of Act V, scene i →
At the palace of the king of France, King Henry has come
to meet with Charles VI and his queen, Isabel. The goal of the meeting
is to negotiate a lasting peace between France and England. Despite
his military victory, King Henry will allow Charles to retain his
throne. However, Henry has a list of demands, the first of which
is that he get to marry his distant cousin, Princess Catherine of
France. That way, Henry and his heirs will inherit France as well
The others discreetly retire from the room, leaving Henry
and Catherine alone together, with Catherine’s maid, Alice, to help translate.
In a comic scene, Henry courts Catherine, trying to persuade her
to marry him. Understanding the gist of his flood of English words
and few French ones, Catherine eventually agrees, pointing out that
the decision is actually up to her father, “de roi mon père [of
the king my father]” (V.ii.229).
The rest of the noblemen come back in, and Henry and
the Duke of Burgundy trade some manly innuendoes about what Catherine will
be like in bed. Everyone signs the treaties that will make Henry and
his sons heirs to the throne of France after the king of France dies.
Read a translation of Act V, scene ii →
The Chorus appears for the last time to deliver the Epilogue.
This very brief speech mentions the birth of Catherine and Henry’s
son, King Henry VI of England, who went on to lose France and bring England
into war. With a final plea for the audience’s tolerance of the
play, the Chorus brings the play to a close.
In Act V, scene i, Pistol, Gower, and Fluellen’s final
scene, the patriotic urgency that unites men of disparate nations
in battle dissipates, and cultural conflict between the British
allies again returns as Fluellen and Pistol insult each other. Fluellen’s
tormenting of Pistol with a leek provides comic relief and contrasts
with Henry’s treatment of the various characters—Scrope, Nim, and
Bardolph—who have gotten on his bad side. Whereas Henry subjects
those who run against him to death, Fluellen humiliates Pistol with
a ludicrous but ultimately harmless punishment. Fluellen gives Pistol
money to make up for his bruised head, demonstrating his compassion.
Pistol’s revelation of the news of his wife’s death adds
an unexpected note of pathos to the end of the scene. It reminds
us of the earlier deaths of Bardolph, Nim, and the boy, who was
probably murdered with the other pages during the battle. The reminder
of mortality darkens the play’s conclusion and adds a note of realism to
Shakespeare’s presentation of his commoners. Even these comic characters
must endure horrible tragedy. For a poor man like Pistol, an accident
of fate can result in a terrible debasement—Pistol will now be forced
to act as a pimp and thief merely in order to survive.
Act V, scene ii—the courtship scene between Henry and
Catherine—is intended to close the play on a light note, but the
scene contains some unsettling elements. Henry awkwardly makes courtship speeches,
posing himself as an unpolished warrior. Henry has given far too
many brilliant orations during the play for the audience to believe
that he is no good at speaking. Henry’s discomfort, or his lack
of desire to woo Catherine, stems from the fact that Henry’s manners
are immaterial to his chances of success. Catherine is being used
as a political pawn and barely understands the language her suitor
speaks. As she points out when Henry asks her if she will “have”
him, the decision her father’s to make (V.ii.228–229).
Henry’s kind treatment of his future wife and his show
of seeking Catherine’s consent to the marriage are undoubtedly meant
to reassure Catherine and the audience that he will accept his role
as a husband with the same commitment and faith with which he has accepted
the role of king. Yet the suggestive sexual remarks that Burgundy
and Henry trade after the French noblemen reenter are unsettling.
Burgundy’s reference to the “naked blind boy” of love, who will
invade Catherine’s maidenly virginity, alludes to the god Cupid
but is also a phallic reference (V.ii.275).
The references to Catherine’s “naked seeing self” (V.ii.275)
and to the “eyes” of maidens (V.ii.306) play
on the Renaissance euphemism that substitutes “eye” for “vagina.”
The play, which throughout has examined the relationship between
the noble and the common, concludes by juxtaposing mannered discussions
of a marriage between high nobility and the earthy raunchiness of
The Epilogue, like Pistol’s news from home, strikes an
unexpectedly somber note: it reminds us that Henry and Catherine’s
son did not, in fact, do what they had hoped by uniting the two
kingdoms. Henry V, though the ideal king, was not influential in
a historical sense—he looks to overturn history, but instead history
overturns him. As always, the Chorus points out the difference between
a play about a brief period in English history, within which Henry
V is a highly successful protagonist of potentially dubious moral
character, and the full scope of that history, a context within
which Henry proved largely ineffective.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Henry V!