Henry V


William Shakespeare

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Henry V: Act 2, Scene 1 Summary & Analysis

Read our modern English translation of this scene.
Act 2 opens in Eastcheap, a seedy district of London, where Lieutenant Bardolph and Corporal Nym, two commoners in the English army, have been drinking. Bardolph asks Nym whether he has befriended the soldier Ancient Pistol yet. Nym replies that he is indifferent to Pistol and that, when the opportunity arises, he will smile and “hold out mine iron,” but won’t fight. He goes on to list the merits of his sword. Bardolph announces he will hold a breakfast over which all three men can bond as brothers-in-arms against France. Nym shrugs off this suggestion, saying he will live and die “as I may.” When Bardolph points out that Pistol has wrongfully married Hostess Quickly, the hostess of a London tavern who was originally betrothed to Nym, Nym shrugs it off: “things must be as they may,” he says, then casually paints the possibility of being murdered in one’s sleep. “Well, I cannot tell,” he concludes.
By interspersing scenes of the royal court with scenes of commoners, the play presents a diverse portrait of English life. Nym’s responses to Bardolph’s comments imply hidden meanings lurking behind his words’ most literal appearances. Though Nym says he won’t fight Pistol, his extended praise for his sword suggests he’s primed for a duel. Though Nym claims indifference towards Pistol’s marriage with Hostess Quickly, his rhetorical description of murder suggests that he’s more bloodthirsty than he lets on.
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Pistol and Hostess Quickly enter and immediately rebuff Bardolph for addressing Pistol as his host, insisting that Hostess Quickly cannot rent rooms. Nym and Pistol draw their swords and exclaim contempt for one another, but Hostess Quickly promptly makes them sheathe their weapons. They resort to name-calling and verbal threatening. When they draw swords again, Bardolph draws his sword as well and says he will stab whoever strikes first. They sheathe, but continue to insult and threaten one another. Pistol tells Nym to marry a prostitute, for he will never have Hostess Quickly.
Pistol and Hostess Quickly interpret Bardolph’s language too literally – Bardolph probably only says “host” to be polite, but they assume he actually expects to be put up at Hostess Quickly’s tavern. When Hostess Quickly demands that Nym and Pistol sheathe their swords, the two resort to a battle of words, using their language as weapons.
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Falstaff’s page, Boy, enters and begs Pistol and Hostess Quickly to come to his master, who is very ill. Hostess Quickly remarks, “the king has killed his heart.” She leaves with the boy. Pistol and Nym continue to argue, despite Bardolph’s efforts to “make you two friends.” Nym demands Pistol pay his betting debt to Nym; Pistol suddenly agrees, promising to pay Nym and to be Nym’s friend as well. “I’ll live by Nym, and Nym shall live by me,” he avows, announcing his moneymaking plan to become a salesman at the military camps.
The battle of words is resolved by words: Pistol doesn’t actually pay Nym his debt, but his promise to do so in the future seems enough to satisfy Nym. Pistol views war as a simple moneymaking opportunity that has nothing to do with glory, honor, or patriotism.
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Hostess Quickly enters frazzled and begs everyone to come to Falstaff, who is suffering brutal fevers. She runs off and Nym and Pistol reflect that, though a good king, Henry V “hath run bad humours” on Falstaff. They depart for Falstaff’s bedside.
Distancing himself from his old best friend Falstaff was a crucial step in Henry’s transformation from frolicsome prince to serious king. That distance, though, has proven fatally painful to Falstaff—and there are some critics who see in Henry—despite Henry being portrayed as having incredibly kingly traits of patriotism, moral rectitude, and thoughtfulness for his people--a kind of cold-bloodedness, too, that would allow him to abandon and betray a friend like Falstaff.
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