Henry V – Act 4 scene i

Henry and the commoners – in disguise Henry goes round the camp assessing the mood. He comes across Bates and Williams. After a greeting by Pistol in which he extols the king’s virtues the others are harder on the king.

  • Pistol thinks the King is a good fellow and has a heart of gold.
  • Henry tries to make them think the king is but a man like them, and just as ready to die.
  • Bates says he wishes the king were alone on this battlefield, then Henry would be ransomed and then many lives would be saved.
  • We are told that the common man is afraid of death; Henry says so is the king. But the king cannot afford to let the men know he is afraid for it would demoralise them. Bates queries whether the king’s cause is just; Henry says it is.
  • Williams asks how they are to know if it is. While Bates says if it isn’t just, then the fault and blame lies with the king.
  • Williams says those who lose lives and limbs will demand an accounting of the king, for no one dies well who dies in battle.
  • Henry disagrees for all men are guilty of something and that is the guilt of which they will be charged: it is not the king’s sin. Every subject’s duty is the king’s but every subject’s soul is his own.
  • Williams and Bates agree but then Williams goes onto suggest that the king may renege on his claim not to be ransomed; how will he know if the king does it after they are dead.
  • Henry takes exception to the slur, defends the king’s honour by challenging him to a fight if they should both survive the coming battle. They exchange gloves.
  • Bates has the last word reminding them they enough foreign enemies without making enemies of each other.


Henry’s soliloquy on the eve of battle following this discussion Act 4 scene i lines 226 – end

  • He laments the weight of responsibility lumped on him by the common man for his life the lives of his loved ones and even for his sins. Such is the lot of a king to be responsible for fools!
  • A king, he muses, can never have heart’s ease; can never sleep the sleep of even the most wretched slave, because he has responsibilities.
  • The only thing a king has as compensation is ceremony and that’s a poor substitute for a good night’s sleep! Ceremony is a poor god, a poor benefit for so mush suffering and anxiety.
  • He lists all the supposed benefits of kingship: the clothes, the respect the titles, the crown but none of these can replace a good night’s sleep.
  • The wretched slave does as he’s told from morn to night and sleeps in heaven, with no cares and responsibilities, no dilemmas etc and lives his life never thinking of the consequences – another tennis metaphor – while the king ensures that the slave can enjoy the advantages of peace by his actions and manipulations.
  • (Interrupted by his nobles) Henry is praying to God to put steel in his men’s hearts, take away their fear, forget they are outnumbered. Begs God not to remember and blame him for his father’s guilt at the murder of his predecessor, Richard II, but to remember all that Henry has done to try to make recompense for the sin of his father, building two chapels, having daily masses sung and paying poor money out. He has done what he can and he is penitent, sorry.


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