Henry V Act 2, Scene 4 Summary & Analysis
New! Understand every line of Henry V.Read our modern English translation of this scene.
In France, King Charles, the Dauphin, the Duke of Berri, the Duke of Brittany and the Constable of France have gathered to discuss the English attack. King Charles wants to rally the strongest defenses possible, but the Dauphin scoffs at his father’s fears and tells him that England is “idly kinged” by a “vain, giddy, shallow, humorous youth” who poses no real threat. The Constable shushes him, reminding the Dauphin how stately and resolute was the Henry who met the French ambassadors. King Charles reminds everyone that Henry V is of King Edward’s “victorious stock,” whose bloody attack once devastated France.
The French discussion teases out the relationship between the themes of kingship and appearances. The Dauphin’s image of Henry as a harmless party-boy treats Henry’s old appearance as his essential character. Yet King Charles and the Constable understand that Henry’s old appearance concealed an altogether different character, a character that is now manifest in a new appearance of power. Such power is not just one of Henry’s traits, it is seen as being deeply embedded in his very essence because of his family history – it is, literally, in his blood.
A messenger announces the arrival of Henry V’s ambassadors. Before they enter, the Dauphin urges his father to stand up to the English, “self-love” being preferable to “self-neglecting” Exeter enters and delivers Henry’s message: in the name of God, he asks King Charles to surrender his “borrowed glories” or else suffer brutally violent attack. King Charles says he will give his answer tomorrow. The Dauphin asks if there is any message for the Dauphin, whom he represents. Exeter says Henry V sends the Dauphin ill will and that, unless King Charles surrenders the throne, Henry will punish the Dauphin for his mockery. The Dauphin responds, “I desire nothing but odds with England.” Exeter asks King Charles to hurry his decision as Henry is already on French territory. They all exit.
The Dauphin wants his father to convey an appearance of power rather than submission. In the Dauphin’s mind, submission is cowardly and he has no sympathy for his father’s practical-minded fears of the English. Yet the Dauphin’s own actions seem more cowardly than brave. He hides behind the false appearance of being the Dauphin’s representative rather than admitting that he is the Dauphin himself.