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Summary Act 5

The Chorus sets the scene for Act V. King Henry and his entourage go to Calais and from there to London. His arrival in London is triumphant, but contrary to the London Mayor’s wish, King Henry, preferring to attribute his victory to God as opposed to his own strength, doesn’t wield his helmet and sword for the benefit of the crowd. Alas, the king’s sojourn at home is brief as he must return to France where the Holy Roman Emperor has arrived to broker a settlement between England and France.


Saint Davy’s Day has passed which makes Gower wonder why Fluellan is wearing a leak in his hat and carrying a cudgel as the Welsh are wont to do on Saint Davy’s Day. Presently, Fluellan, citing a previous insult that he was subjected to by Pistol, coerces Pistol with blows of his cudgel to eat the leak on his hat. Pistol submits himself to the humiliation and is told by Gower that he deserved the rough treatment on account of his scurvy, dishonest ways. Alone, Pistol laments his fortune which seems to have gotten progressively worse; he resolves to return to London and resume his thieving and dishonest ways.


With the Duke of Burgundy acting as mediator, the respective royalty and nobility of the English and the French gather. The respective kings exchange greetings, and then the Duke of Burgundy poses the question as to why England and France cannot coexist in peace when the alternative is chaos, ugliness, and savagery. King Henry replies that peace is contingent on how France complies with England’s demands, prompting King Charles to request for a detailed analysis of the demands after which he will tender a definitive reply. King Henry obliges King Charles, and authorizes Clarence, Warwick, Exeter and other English nobles to bargain on his behalf vis-à-vis the French. As the Duke of Burgundy and respective parties of the English and the French repair to a conference that will once and for all settle their differences, King Henry requests that the Princess Catherine, who is attended by her lady-in-waiting Alice, be left behind, after all her hand in marriage is England’s chief demand. Queen Isabel of France gives her blessing for Henry and Catherine to meet privately. Subsequently, King Henry tries to persuade Princess Catherine to agree to his marriage proposal. He’d like to have her consent without much fuss, all the while admitting that he is more a plain spoken soldier than a charming lady’s man. The Princess, however, is having none of it, compelling King Henry to try to persuade her in French. She laughs at his attempt, forcing him to speak English again and in the plainest terms. The Princess replies that she would willingly marry King Henry if her father wishes so. King Henry assures her that her father wishes it and they exchange a kiss. Presently, the Duke of Burgundy and their respective parties of the English and the French return from their conference. The French have agreed to comply with the principle English demands, and the English have accepted.


The Chorus’ final words are thus: The dramatist has written a play describing a mighty event with what little he has, while the actors have dared to represent the epic event describing years and spanning continents in a puny, little stage. Henry V was a great king and fortune was kind to him. Alas, his son, Henry VI, fell far short of his father’s success, leading to England’s fall from grace. But that is another story.

William Shakespeare