Henry V


William Shakespeare

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Henry V: Act 3, Scene 2 Summary & Analysis

Read our modern English translation of this scene.
Nym, Bardolph, Pistol and Boy hang back on the battlefield. Bardolph shouts at all the others to charge onwards through the breach, but Nym protests that he doesn’t want to die. Pistol and Boy protest too and break into song, wishing they were back in the pub in England. Captain Fluellen, a Welsh officer in Henry’s army, enters and orders them to charge. Pistol tells Fluellen to “abate thy manly rage” around “men of mould.” All but Boy charge off. Alone on stage, Boy confesses he can’t consider Nym, Bardolph and Pistol true men as they are all essentially cowards and thieves. They want him to start stealing too, but he is disgusted at the thought.
Despite Henry’s inspiring speech, the commoners’ perspective on war takes no comfort in claims about war’s honor or glory. The men view war simply as a death-threat and are thus reluctant to engage in it. “Mould” means clay, and by calling himself and his compatriots “men of mould,” Pistol is calling them mortal. They are not, he implies, caught up in the noble “manly” ideals of battle that Fluellen subscribes to. They are just trying to stay alive.
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Literary Devices
Captain Gower, an English officer, and Fluellen enter and Gower tells Fluellen that the Duke of Gloucester requests him at the mines. Fluellen (with a Welsh accent) protests that the mines are “not according to the disciplines of war.” Gower insists, saying Gloucester is himself following the orders of the Irish Captain MacMorris, who Fluellen dismisses as “an ass” and an ignoramus about the true “Roman disciplines” of war. Captain MacMorris and the Scottish Captain Jamy enter. MacMorris announces (with an Irish accent) that “the work ish ill done” and the town has trumpeted for retreat. MacMorris and Jamy (in Scotch accent) rebuff Fluellen’s efforts at discussion, insisting, “it is no time to discourse.” Fluellen praises Jamy’s knowledge of war’s disciplines and tries to discuss them with MacMorris. He starts to insinuate something about Ireland and MacMorris bristles. The town trumpets for a ceasefire.
For Fluellen, war is all about historical tradition and he thus evaluates those around him based on their familiarity and respect for Roman war discipline. Yet MacMorris and Jamy have little regard for Fluellen’s perspective, considering war a thing of the present to be handled in the most effective way, regardless of tradition. Note how Fluellen, MacMorris, and Jamy’s strong accents display England’s diversity—Welsh, Irish, and Scottish—and prove that members of English subcultures can rise unimpeded to high ranks in the English army.
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Literary Devices