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Summary Act 4


The Chorus sets the scene for Act IV. The opposing camps of the English and the French anticipate the morning with wholly different mind-sets. The French, confident of their success due to their superior numbers, brag of how many Englishmen they each will kill and spur on night, which is dragging along, to quickly give way to morning. Meanwhile, the English, convinced that the odds are stacked against them, are dreading the approach of dawn. Their consolation is King Henry who goes from “watch to watch” to “tent to tent,” cheering them up with his mere presence. Though the signs would indicate a slaughter in favor of the French, the Chorus urges the audience to behold that which will really occur at Agincourt—the field of battle.


Having complimented Sir Thomas Erpingham for his stoic resolve and having reminded his brothers Gloucester and Clarence that even in the worst of situations the good man will find something positive to dwell on, King Henry borrows Erpingham’s cloak to meditate awhile while roaming the English camp. He tells Erpingham, Gloucester, and Clarence to assemble the nobles and that he will be with them shortly. Presently, Pistol, wondering who the man in the cloak is, interrogates King Henry who replies that he is Henry Leroi, a Welshman and a kinsman to Fluellan. Pistol boasts that he will beat Fluellan on a Welsh holiday and bids Leroi an unfriendly goodbye. King Henry then witnesses Fluellan instructing Gower on the proper military conduct as exemplified by Pompey the Great, which the English should observe and which the French are foolish enough to ignore. By and by Henry Leroi comes across Court, Bates, and Williams, three English soldiers and commoners who express grave misgivings of engaging the French in battle when morning comes. Indeed, their misgivings are such that they question the justness of the king’s quarrel against the French, prompting Leroi to argue on behalf of the king, that the king’s quarrel couldn’t be anything else but just and that the king himself has given his word not to yield to the French even if that is what is required to have his life spared. Subsequently, Williams takes Leroi to task for the latter assertion to the extent of challenging Leroi to a duel if they manage to survive the upcoming battle. Leroi accepts the challenge. Alone, King Henry meditates on the nature of a king’s sovereignty over his subjects. He argues that a king is just a man, and that all the grandeur and hoopla that envelops his office can blind a king to think that his powers are greater than they are. Still, King Henry muses, that a king is responsible for the welfare of his subjects, and a good king in doing his job relinquishes the careless comfort that an ordinary man enjoys. Presently, Sir Thomas Erpingham appears to remind the king that his presence is sought by the nobles. King Henry tells Erpingham to have the men assembled and that he will be with them by and by. King Henry stays behind to offer a prayer to God.


Morning has arrived and the French, having put on their armors, mount their horses. From a vantage point they observe the English. They boast how the battle will be a quick one. They lament the fact that there are not enough English to kill and wonder if they should feed the English and their horses before engaging them in battle, so poorly prepared the English seem to be for the upcoming battle. Lord Grandpre chides the French nobles for procrastinating, but the French nobles, sure of their success continue to boast and brag.


The English nobles prepare for battle, but the odds are so against them (they are outnumbered five to one) that the Earl of Warwick is compelled to curse the idle men in England whose absence here have made the odds seem that much worse. Presently, King Henry appears to refute Warwick’s lament. King Henry argues that as he covets honor more than anything he would begrudge the partaking of it with additional Englishmen. Besides, he argues, that he would not consent to die with others who would fear to die with him. Moreover, he argues, that they who will live to tell about today will always live with honor while they who failed to be part of this day will always live with a sense of shame. Thus inspired, Warwick assures the king that if the English were only he and the king, that they would yet acquit themselves honorably. Presently, the French herald Montjoy arrives to again demand for ransom and this time from the Constable of France. King Henry is defiant, however, and assures that if his men die that their spirits yet will go honorably to heaven while their carcasses will cause a devastating plague in France. The king urges Montjoy not to come again for ransom and Montjoy gives his word that he won’t. Presently, the English prepare for battle, and the Duke of York is granted his wish to lead the English charge.


Pistol gains the advantage of a French Soldier and is on the verge of killing him when the French soldier, whose title is Master Fer, negotiates for his life. With the Boy translating, the French offers to give Pistol two hundreds crowns in return for having his life spared. Pistol agrees to the terms. Alone, the Boy ruminates how Pistol, lacking true courage, is all bluster and deserves to die by hanging for his thieving ways.


The Constable of France, Orleans, and Bourbon cannot believe that the English are prevailing. They resolve to re-enter the fray and die if that’s what’s required to erase their shame.


King Henry assesses the present situation as good but not ideal: The English have managed to capture many French prisoners, but the French are still a force on the field. Also, Exeter reports the deaths of the Duke of York and the Earl of Suffolk. The way that they died is so moving that the king admits that he’s on the verge of tears. By and by, King Henry orders the French prisoners to be killed when it becomes apparent that the French have reinforced their soldiers on the field.


Fluellen and Gower are indignant that the French have raided the English provisions after killing the English boys who were safeguarding them, an act which is expressly forbidden by military law. Gower argues that the king did right by having the French prisoners killed, prompting Fluellan to compare King Henry to Alexander the Great and to emphasize the fact that the English king is a native Welshman. Presently, King Henry appears on the scene with French prisoners. He orders English heralds to chase away French horsemen who are seen galloping along the periphery, so angered and offended is he by the unlawful French slaughter of the English boys. Presently, Montjoy arrives to beg King Henry to allow the French to sort their dead; he assures the English king that the English have prevailed at Agincourt. The king gives his permission (for the French to see to their dead). Presently, King Henry summons Williams and inquires him about the glove he is wearing in his hat. Williams replies that the glove belongs to a scoundrel to whom he has given his pledge to fight if they both happened to have survived the day. King Henry asks Fluellan if it’s right for Williams to fight if his adversary turns out to be someone of substantially greater status in life. Fluellan replies that Williams is obliged to fight lest he prove himself to be a scoundrel. Presently, the king orders Williams to fetch his commanding officer Gower, and then asks Fluellen to wear Williams’ glove, saying that it belonged to Alencon, a Frenchman the king vanquished, and adding that Fluellan is to act as the king’s deputy if a Frenchman takes exception to an Englishman wearing the Frenchman’s glove. The king orders Fluellan to fetch Gower, and then orders Warwick and Gloucester to follow Fluellan and to prevent a brawl that will occur without fail when Williams notices Fluellan wearing his glove.


Williams is urging Gower to report to the king when Fluellan arrives to urge Gower to do likewise. Subsequently, Gower rips the glove out of Fluellan’s hat and lands a punch on Fluellan. Outraged and convinced that Williams is a sympathizer of the French Duke of Alencon, Fluellan is about to land blows of his own on Williams when the Earl of Warwick arrives to be followed shortly by the king himself. Fluellan announces that Williams is a traitor and should be immediately apprehended, while Williams argues that the glove Fluellan wore in his hat belonged to the scoundrel with whom he had had a quarrel with, which had to be addressed. At this point, King Henry apprises Williams that the man he had had a quarrel with is the king himself. However, Williams is not at a loss of words, arguing that he was justified in acting in the way he did on account of the king’s disguise which had Williams believe that the king was just an ordinary commoner. Impressed, the king offers Williams his glove back with a supply of money. Impressed himself, Fluellan offers Williams some money of his own which Williams rejects. Presently, a herald arrives with the news documenting the deaths of the English and the French. The numbers are staggering in that the French have suffered massive losses to their nobility while the English losses are a handful. Arguing that God had fought for the English, King Henry announces his intention to have the dead honored, and then to have the English return to England the happiest of men. 

William Shakespeare