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Free Study Guide-Henry V by William Shakespeare-Free Book Notes Online
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In this scene set in the "presence chamber" Henry is not sure if he has a right to the French crown and is consulting with the Bishop and Archbishop. He refuses to start a war unless he is certain of his position. The Archbishop gives him a long and learned exposition as to why his claim is legitimate. He hands Henry a declaration that the "Salic Law " barring women and their descendants could not be used legally against his claims to titles "usurped from (him) and his progenitors." He proclaims the glory of such an expedition. Henry still hesitates, for it is possible that the Scots will invade England while he is gone as they have done in the past. The Archbishop is convinced that the government will continue to be run safely in his absence and gives him an eloquent and reassuring picture of a well-run country such as England comparing it to a community of bees, with each one doing his special work, from the ones that act as porters bringing in the honey to the singing masons building roofs of gold.

The King decides he will invade France and gives audience to an ambassador from the French prince, the Dauphin. The Dauphin has sent him a highly insulting gift. Instead of the valuable jewels that usually pass between Princes, he has sent him a box of tennis balls, an indiscreet reference to the King's reputation as a reveler when he was Prince Hal rather than the sober king he has become. The King is furious. In the previous play his father had said of him, "Being incensed, he's flint," and it is a cold and stony countenance that takes possession of King Henry as he promises to avenge the mockery of the French Prince and sends the ambassadors back to France and begins to prepare for war.


This scene may be divided into two parts; the first part deals with the King's consultation with the clergy and the nobles to decide if war should be declared. The Archbishop assures Henry that his claim is legal and just, and may be conscientiously made. Then Canterbury, Ely and Exeter appeal to the King's ambition. Westmoreland argues that the King "hath cause and means and right." Canterbury promises a "mighty sum "of money from the clergy. Henry prudently suggests that means must be taken to meet the Scots who would take advantage of the English being at war with France to invade the North. Canterbury suggests how this attack can be deflected and Henry makes up his mind to go to war.

Many traits in Henry's character are displayed here. The first is his sense of responsibility towards his soldiers whom he does not want to see suffer without good reason. He will not rashly awake the "sleeping sword of war" nor have people suffer and die unless there is good cause. He seeks justification for war rather than war for war's sake.

The second trait is his sense of justice, as he will not put forward any illegal claim, only what is seen as England's right to rule France. He defers to the churchmen that what he is doing is right in the eyes of God and asks that his request for war be sanctioned which it is for ulterior reasons by the churchmen. In fact, the Archbishop gives such a garbled justification for war that it is hard to make sense of it and not just see it as a way to obscure the fact that the claim to the throne by Henry is a shaky one.

The third trait is his statesmanship and prudence. He thinks about the consequences of war, the lives lost as well as the threat to the nation if he is abroad. The safety of England against Scottish invasion must be secured before war is declared against France. The Archbishop responds with the famous metaphor of the beehive where each person in society has a role in the state and can contribute to its well being.

The fourth trait is his flair for action. His decision being made, he determines "to do or die."

The fifth trait is his open and frank character. He would have the French ambassadors deliver their message "with frank and uncurbed plainness." Finally the audience notes his piety.

The second part of the scene shows his ability to act judiciously in light of the tactless gift from the Dauphin. When he is confronted by the gift of tennis balls, he could easily have lost his temper yet instead he defies his reputation as a hotheaded and imprudent youth by calmly delineating his course of action. It is a threat but it is veiled in eloquence. His fiery reply to the Dauphin is tempered by the reflection that all "lies within the will of God," to whom he will appeal. He declares that though his mind will be occupied in expediting his preparations, his thoughts towards "God will run before" i.e. take precedence of this preparations.

In this scene, Henry comes off as being the ideal ruler: he has investigated all aspects of the upcoming conflict from a moral, political and human perspective and decides to go through with his original idea. Here he is seen using reason and logic as well as spiritual guidance for his decisions.

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Free Study Guide-Henry V by William Shakespeare-Free Plot Notes Summary


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