Henry V

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Themes and Colors
Kingship Theme Icon
Warfare Theme Icon
England Theme Icon
Appearances Theme Icon
Language Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Henry V, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Language Theme Icon

As it acts out a war between armies of different mother tongues, Henry V exposes the powers and limitations of language. The most obvious representation of that limit is the non-English portion of the play itself: large chunks of lines are spoken in French, barring the understanding of any non-French-speakers in the audience. The play’s characters themselves struggle with this language barrier, as the French Katherine strains to learn English and Pistol butchers French words attempting to communicate with the Frenchman he captures. But even as language perpetuates misunderstanding and difference, it also embodies ideals of unity and inclusion. The Welsh, Irish, and Scottish accents spoken by Captains Fluellen, MacMorris, and Gower gesture towards England’s diversity and cultural tolerance.

For Henry V, language is also a powerful tool. His rhetoric is the most effective weapon in the play. Before the Battle of Agincourt, Henry’s soldiers lack every physical advantage to the French: they are poor, they are hungry, they are exhausted, they are fighting on unfamiliar territory. They themselves bemoan their situation and wish for reinforcements, certain of imminent defeat. Yet Henry’s St. Crispin’s Day speech turns the whole war around. Through his words, Henry reconfigures the soldiers’ image of themselves, enabling them to see themselves as an honorable, unified “band of brothers” destined to be celebrated throughout English history for their courage and gallantry. Armed with Henry’s words, the soldiers fight in high spirits and win the Battle of Agincourt against a much larger force.

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Language Quotes in Henry V

Below you will find the important quotes in Henry V related to the theme of Language.
Act 2, Scene 3 Quotes

Boy, bristle thy courage up; for Falstaff he is dead, and we must earn therefore.

Related Characters: Ancient Pistol (speaker), Boy
Page Number: 2.3.4-6
Explanation and Analysis:

This scene describes the death of the famous character Falstaff, which occurs offstage. Falstaff was a friend of Henry V's (back when he was Prince Hal) in Henry IV 1 and 2. Falstaff was lively and fun, a master of language (and Henry learned much of his mastery of language and appearance from Falstaff), a kind of second father to Henry, and at the same time Falstaff was corrupt and completely and entirely self-interested. The final "act" of Prince Hal's transformation from wild youth to good King is his banishment of Falstaff at the end of Henry IV Part 2. And yet Henry's transformation also implies a kind of ruthless heartlessness (earlier in Henry V it's made clear that that Falstaff has become sick with a broken heart from Henry's turn away from him, and so his death is a result of Henry's transformation).

Here Pistol announces that "Falstaff is dead," and his former friends must therefore "earn." Earn here takes on the dual meanings of grieve and make money. This play on words is fitting for the announcement of Falstaff's death, as Falstaff's friends are sad at his passing but at the same time must now make their own way in the world now that Falstaff and his schemes can no longer support them.


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Act 3, Scene 1 Quotes

For there is none of you so mean and base,
That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’

Related Characters: Henry V (speaker)
Page Number: 3.1.32-37
Explanation and Analysis:

With his forces about to engage the French in their first battle, Henry delivers this speech, which begins, "Once more into the breach, dear friends." This rousing pre-battle speech is evidence of the eloquence that Canterbury and Ely ascribed to Henry in Act 1 Scene 1. Here he uses language to reinforce his Kingship, and by appealing to his soldiers as both friends and Englishman, rhetorically prepares them with visions of their connection to their country and their king to rally them to face and overcome the horrors of warfare.

In these lines he calls all of his soldiers noble, saying that even the lowest of them have "noble luster" in their eyes. In the preceding speech they have been told to discard their peaceful ways and embrace the battle that will follow, and they have been reminded of England's proud history and many victories. Now, they "stand like greyhounds," ready to fight for their country and their king. Declaring "the game's afoot," Henry gives his final rallying cry, telling his men to follow their spirits and, charging, cry out "God for Harry, England, and Saint George!" In this way he appeals simultaneously to their faith, their sense of camaraderie with each other as soldiers and countrymen, and their sense of duty to their King. Note that by calling himself the informal Harry, he draws his men even closer to him.

Henry may believe all these things, but once again he is also putting on a performance for his men here. He is, through his words, conjuring a vision of a united England while also helping the men to conjure visions of their own best, bravest selves. 

Act 3, Scene 3 Quotes

The gates of mercy shall be all shut up,
And the flesh’d soldier, rough and hard of heart,
In liberty of bloody hand shall range
With conscience wide as hell, mowing like grass
Your fresh-fair virgins and your flowering infants.

Related Characters: Henry V (speaker), Governor of Harfleur
Page Number: 3.3.10-14
Explanation and Analysis:

Henry delivers this chilling monologue to the Governor and citizens of the French port city of Harfleur; he asks if the Governor will surrender, saying it is the last chance for mercy. Opposing the brotherly, supportive sentiment of his war-speech to his men in Act 3 Scene 1, here Henry is vicious and threatening, offering the most violent lines of the play. We can note that the most brutal act of violence is not carried out physically, but is instead done with language. The mere suggestion of such atrocities as these is enough to encourage the Governor of Harfleur to surrender; here language and words are weaponry.

The lines excerpted in the quote say that if the Governor refuses to surrender, "the gates of mercy shall be all shut up," and terror will be unleashed. The rough soldiers will with "bloody hands" and "conscience wide as hell" wreak havoc on the town. Henry says they'll move through it, "mowing like grass" to suggest ease, and rape the women (fresh-fair virgins) and murder their "flowering infants." This harrowing slaughter never takes place, as the Governor decides to surrender immediately following the speech.

Act 4, Scene 3 Quotes

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

Related Characters: Henry V (speaker)
Page Number: 4.3.62-69
Explanation and Analysis:

These lines, also excerpted from the St. Crispin's Day Speech, are probably the most famous from the play. In an impressive display of rhetoric and masterful use of language, Henry makes his soldiers feel like his equals and relish their opportunity to fight for and with him. He marks the exclusivity of the chance with "we few," and immediately modifies it to "we happy few," making clear that the group is not a grim company marching towards death but rather a lucky group of men granted a rare chance to achieve glory.

He then calls the whole group a "band of brothers," and says that whoever on that day fights with him will be his brother. To instill in them bravery and the desire to fight, he places them on his kingly level, inviting them to share in his glory. He then appeals to their sense of patriotism and honor by suggesting that any Englishmen missing the fight will curse themselves for missing the opportunity and question their own manhood. Again, we see Henry use masterful language to energize his men with multiple, overlapping ideals. These speeches are extremely performative, and indicative of Henry's success as a king.

Act 4, Scene 7 Quotes

All the water in Wye cannot wash your majesty’s Welsh plod out of your pody, I can tell you that: God pless it and preserve it as long as it pleases his Grace and his Majesty too.

Related Characters: Captain Fluellen (speaker), Henry V
Related Symbols: Accents
Page Number: 4.7.112-114
Explanation and Analysis:

The battle is won, and Henry has named it the Battle of Agincourt. Here Fluellen, a Welsh captain in the army, reminisces about Henry's relatives, which brings the appeal to royal lineage full circle. Henry's men persuaded him to act as the "former lions of [his] blood" did, and now Fluellen praises Henry saying that he has lived up to those great ancestors. In these lines Fluellen refers specifically to Henry's Welsh relatives, saying that "all of the water in Wye" couldn't wash the King's Welsh blood ("plod") out of his body ("pody"). Note that the alliteration of blood and body is altered, yet still preserved by Fluellen's accent.

These lines also show that Fluellen feels close to his King and feels the sense of brotherhood, camaraderie, and patriotism which Henry tried to instill in his men. The lines also help to illustrate and stake a claim about English greatness: that the country is unified across its many cultures and people: British, Welsh, Scottish, etc. Henry must represent and account for all of the different cultures that he rules; as king he is the entirety of his country and his peoples. In this moment, it is the Welsh aspect of his Englishness that shines, but more broadly Henry has been successful in embodying and unifying them all.

Act 5, Scene 2 Quotes

But, before God, Kate, I cannot look greenly nor gasp out my eloquence, nor have I no cunning in protestation; only downright oaths; which I never use till urged, nor never break for urging.

Related Characters: Henry V (speaker), Katherine
Page Number: 5.2.148-152
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Henry is in the process of wooing Katherine, the French daughter of King Charles. Henry has not only defeated the French, he seeks to solidify his and the English hold on the French throne by marrying the French Princess, Katherine, and in time producing an heir to both the English and French thrones.

The two kings have made an agreement about the marriage beforehand in verse, and now, in part due to the language barrier (Katherine speaks mainly French; Henry mainly English), Henry and Katherine, with translation help from Katherine's servant Alice, speak in prose. That Henry switches to prose here makes sense, given the content of his language, which suggests mildly that he is no great speaker and is ineloquent. He says to his future wife that he has no special words or cunning, "only downright oaths," which he never uses until urged to do so and never breaks no matter what.

In this exchange we see another kingly tactic at work, this time on the battle field of love. Henry has demonstrated that he is a quite capable speaker, giving powerful speeches to his men before war. But here, he takes a modest approach, intentionally appearing humble to make Katherine feel safe. Especially with the language barrier, he wants to seem like a simple husband opposed to a mighty king. Even though they are marrying for political reasons, and it is her father that has decided on the marriage, Henry wants to make it seem like Katherine has a choice. All through the play it has been clear that Henry believes that in order to rule he must also be loved by his people, and he goes to great efforts to speak and present an image that his people will love. Henry's belief and tactics with Katherine are just the same, seeking not just obedience but genuine love by presenting himself in just the right way.

Your majestee ave fausse French enough to deceive de most sage demoiselle dat is en France.

Related Characters: Katherine (speaker), Henry V
Related Symbols: Accents
Page Number: 5.2.227-228
Explanation and Analysis:

Katherine has carefully rejected Henry's advances, despite his lengthy arguments and constructed appearance of humility. In the lines preceding this quote, Henry has slightly broken the humble, unschooled character he has been building. Henry talks about what their son will do and asks what Katherine thinks, before giving her a lengthy, praising epithet in French.

To this French Katherine responds the above line, saying that Henry has "fausse [false] French enough to deceive" even the smartest women in France. The moment that Henry drops his act of humility and inserts pomp and pretension, Katherine calls him out for being false, demonstrating that despite her accent, she is intelligent. She sees through both acts, both the exaggerated humility and the forward romantic praise in French. To proceed, Henry must say "Fie upon my false French" and be direct and honest with her. There is an implication here that perhaps, in Katherine, Henry has found someone with whom he can be honest, can and must share his true self.