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Summary Act 3


The Chorus sets the stage for Act III, whilst simultaneously urging the audience to imagine the scene he is setting. The English sail for France and once there, they besiege Harfleur. As King Charles’ concession doesn’t come close to meeting King Henry’s demands, the English artillery men proceed to bombard the castle walls of Harfleur.


King Henry delivers a pep talk, reminding his men of their forefathers who fought where they are fighting now with unmitigated zeal.


Bardolph, Nim, and Pistol are one and all exhausted and fearful of getting killed. So rather than surge forward to the breach, as the rest of the English army has done, they straggle in the rear. The Boy shares their exhaustion, but not their fear. In due time, Captain Fluellen has Bardolph, Nim, and Pistol join the rest of the English army by beating them. Alone, the Boy reflects how base and cowardly Nim, Pistol, and Bardolph are and determines to part company with them lest their influence corrupt him irrevocably.


The English endeavor to undermine Harfleur with mines is not going as well as the English hoped, compelling Captain Fluellen to attribute the blame on Captain MacMorris who is in charge of the mining operation. Captain MacMorris admits that the work has been ill done, but he objects to having to talk about it, arguing that while they talk the battle proceeds apace. Captain Jamy, a Scot, interjects that he will do his duty to the utmost if it’s the last thing he ever does. Meanwhile Captain Fluellan, who is determined to make his point, which is that Captain MacMorris is going about his work with no sense of order and discipline, baits Macmorris, who is Irish, into losing his temper by insinuating that the work has been ill done because the men in MacMorris’ command are predominantly Irish. Gower, who is another English captain, tries to mediate the disputants, but at this point Harfleur signals for a parley which King Henry grants, postponing Fluellan and MacMorris’ dispute for a later time. Presently, King Henry delivers an ultimatum to the Governor of Harfleur: Surrender and be treated mercifully whilst yet King Henry has absolute authority over his soldiers or suffer the atrocities that are bound to occur if the battle is prolonged and the English soldiers grow mad and desperate at which point King Henry himself wouldn’t even care how the English army conducted themselves vis-a-vis the French. Citing his city’s vulnerability due to the lack of reinforcements, the Governor of Harfleur agrees to surrender. Subsequently, King Henry orders Exeter to take command of Harfleur and to treat its people with civility. The king also informs Exeter that he will take a detachment of the army to Calais for rest and convalescence.


[scene is entirely in French so the summary is a rough interpretation based on Brannagh’s Henry V]

Aware of the English presence in France but unaware of the gravity of the situation, Princess Catherine of France has a moment of levity with her lady-in-waiting Alice. Catherine, who knows no English, asks Alice, who knows English, what the English words signifying hand, finger, nails, among others are. Among others include foot and gown which to a French ear sounds very like the French words signifying copulate and vagina in their vulgar sense. Consequently Catherine and Alice share a laugh.


King Charles and his nobles are in counsel. The tenor and content of the nobles’ words are one and the same. The Constable cannot believe how a people from such a cold and foggy land could have such a fiery spirit, while the French who live in a warm climate with lots of sunshine could be so cold of spirit. The Dauphin is sickened at the thought of mixing pure French blood with the Norman derived English should the English conquer all. The Duke of Bourbon mentions with disgust the disparaging remarks of the French people with regards the French nobility. Subsequently, King Charles decides to confront the English army with the greater part of the French forces. Except the Dauphin who has been ordered to remain behind lines, the French nobles are encouraged. The French nobles are confident that their superior numbers will give them the leverage to demand a ransom. Upon their cue, King Charles dispatches a herald to demand King Henry a ransom.


Captains Gower and Fluellen are discussing the Duke of Exeter’s success in controlling a vital bridge thanks to Pistol when Pistol appears in person to plead for Bardolph who is scheduled to be executed for stealing. When Fluellen makes it clear that he will not accept Pistol’s bribe to plead the Duke of Exeter on Bardolph’s behalf, Pistol insults Fluellen before leaving. Gower advises Fluellen to be wary of scoundrels like Pistol who excel at giving the impression that they are braver and nobler than they really are. Presently, King Henry, having arrived on the scene, confides in Fluellen as to the status of the bridge and the number of men the English have lost in defending it. Fluellen apprises the king that the Duke of Exeter has maintained complete control of the bridge, and that the English have lost nary a man in defending it, but that one of them, Bardolph, King Henry’s former associate, is presently scheduled to be executed for stealing. Simultaneously pleased and distraught, King Henry, nonetheless, makes it clear that he will not tolerate any of acts of willful cruelty and abuse on the part of English soldiers towards the French. Presently, the French herald Montjoy arrives to deliver a message from the French king. Montjoy informs King Henry that the French are now only beginning to fight in earnest, and the English will soon realize that they are in over their heads. Complimenting Montjoy for a duty well discharged, King Henry offers the following reply: That being lessened in number and sickened in health, the English army will not go out of its way to seek a fight, but that if the fight came to them, contrary to what the French might be thinking, the English will meet them head on. As Montjoy departs, Gloucester admits that he would rather that the English not face the French as things currently stand, compelling King Henry to assure his brother that the English are in God’s hands and not in the French.


Restless for the morning to arrive and the fight to begin, the French nobles idly spend the night praising the superiority of their respective armors and horses. Indeed, the Duke of Bourbon waxes so poetic about his horse that the Constable feels compelled to take him down a peg or two. Undaunted, the Duke of Bourbon leaves to put on his suit. Meanwhile the Constable and the Duke of Orleans discuss the merits of Bourbon. Orleans assures the Constable that Bourbon is as valiant a man as there is in all of France, but the Constable argues otherwise. Presently, a messenger apprises the French nobles of their position relative to the English, compelling them again to express their eagerness for morning to arrive and to engage the English in battle. They’re convinced that the English aren’t as eager to engage in battle. Indeed, when Lord Rambures dares to opine that the English are a tough and valiant breed, the Constable and Orleans are quick to dispel it. 

William Shakespeare