Summary: Act 3: Scene 3

With a flourish of trumpets, King Henry appears before the gates of the French town of Harfleur. The town has sounded a parley—in other words, its inhabitants have asked for a cease-fire in order to negotiate. The governor of Harfleur stands on the town walls. King Henry addresses him, advising him to surrender immediately. Henry declares that if the governor surrenders, the people of the town will be allowed to live. However, if he makes the English fight their way inside, the English will destroy the town, rape the women, and kill the children. The governor replies that although he would rather not surrender, he has just received word from the Dauphin that no army can be raised in time to rescue Harfleur. He declares that he will therefore open the gates. Henry orders Exeter to fortify Harfleur as a citadel from which the English can fight the French. He says that he himself will take his forces onward to Calais the next day.

Read a translation of Act 3: Scene 3.

Summary: Act 3: Scene 4

Scene 4 transitions to King Charles’s palace, where the king’s daughter, Catherine, speaks with her maid, Alice. Catherine speaks no English, and this scene is spoken almost entirely in French. Alice has spent some time in England and knows some English, so Catherine asks her to teach her the language. Catherine seems to suspect, wisely, that she may soon need to be able to communicate with the king of England. They begin by learning the names of parts of the body. Catherine mispronounces them amusingly, but she is eager to learn them anyway—that is, until the final two words, “foot” and “count” (i.e., gown), which sound like French obscenities.

Read a translation of Act 3: Scene 4.

Summary: Act 3: Scene 5

Scene 5 also takes place at the French court. King Charles, the Dauphin, and his advisors—including the Constable of France and the Duke of Bourbon—are having an urgent meeting to discuss King Henry’s swift advance through France. The French exclamations that pepper their English conversation signify the degree of their distress. They cannot figure out how the English got to be so courageous, since they come from such a damp, gloomy climate. They feel their national honor has been outraged by the British successes, and they are determined to turn the tables. Worst of all, their wives and mistresses have started to make fun of them for being beaten by King Henry’s forces.

King Charles, more sensible and decisive than his followers, orders all his noblemen to raise troops for the army. He calls on about twenty noblemen by name, and presumably there are many more. Charles and his men are confident that with this great number of troops raised, they can intimidate King Henry, conquer his army, and bring him back as a defeated prisoner.

Read a translation of Act 3: Scene 5.

Analysis: Act 3: Scenes 3–5

King Henry urges the surrender of Harfleur with the same complex, morally shaky rhetoric that we see in earlier scenes. He plans—or at least claims to plan, in order to intimidate the governor—to authorize rape, murder, and total destruction unless the governor surrenders the city. The images Henry uses are vivid: he tells the governor to imagine “[t]he blind and bloody soldier with foul hand / Desir[ing] the locks of your still-shrieking daughters” and “[y]our naked infants spitted upon pikes” (3.3.34–35, 38). These images, in addition to being highly disturbing, are troublesome in that they force us to question how honorable or decent Henry is if he is willing to harm innocents so cruelly. Furthermore, Henry’s speech once again deflects responsibility for the impending carnage from himself. He says that if the town doesn’t surrender instantly, he will lose control of his soldiers, and it will be Harfleur’s own fault for subjecting itself to destruction. However, this idea seems to be merely rhetorical, as it is Henry who has urged his men to become killing machines.

Shortly after the introduction of the dialects of Fluellen, MacMorris, and Jamy, Shakespeare adds another level to his increasingly complicated linguistic panorama by rendering act 3, scene 4, almost entirely in French. The scene is essentially a comic one, involving a language lesson mangled by the deficiency of the teacher, Alice. A further source of humor is Catherine’s perception of apparent obscenities in basic English words. Catherine is scandalized by the similarity of “foot” to the French word foutre, meaning “to f***” (index for the act of fornication). Similarly, Alice pronounces the English word for gown as “count”—sometimes printed as “cown”—which sounds to Catherine like the French word “con,” or “c***” (derogatory word for female genitalia). Catherine declares that she is disgusted with English—a language that is vulgar and immodest (“gros, et impudique”) and that respectable ladies would not use (3.4.51).

Read an in-depth analysis of Catherine.

In act 3, scene 5, we see that the French nobility are at last starting to take the threat of Henry’s invasion seriously. Still, instead of being threatened by the English troops’ show of power, all the Frenchmen except King Charles are simply scornful, scandalized that the English have been allowed to progress so far. Shakespeare throws in an assortment of French phrases to show the agitation of the group as well as to accent their foreignness. The noblemen exclaim, “O Dieu vivant!” (“O living God!”), “Mort de ma vie!” (“Death of my life!”), and “Dieu de batailles!” (“O God of battles!”—a phrase Henry himself uses later on). They deride and insult the English with amusing turns of phrase that make them seem more like mocking schoolboys than warriors. By portraying the Frenchmen’s petty mockery of the English, Shakespeare in fact mocks the French.