Henry V


William Shakespeare

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Henry V: Act 4, Scene 4 Summary & Analysis

Read our modern English translation of this scene.
On another part of the battlefield, Pistol has captured a French soldier and threatens him in egregious French. He will kill the French soldier, he swears, unless the soldier pays him ransom. Boy, who speaks much better French than Pistol, translates. The French soldier says he is a gentleman and will pay Pistol handsomely for sparing his life. Pistol agrees and the French soldier thanks Pistol on his knees, praising him as “the most brave, valorous, and thrice-worthy signieur of England.” Pistol considers himself merciful. Pistol and the French soldier exit and Boy reflects on Pistol’s absolutely empty heart and utter cowardliness. Boy considers him even worse than Bardolph and Nym – Pistol doesn’t even steal “adventurously.” Boy leaves to guard the army tents.
Though Pistol’s exchange with the French soldier is highly comical, it addresses serious aspects of the themes of language and warfare. Pistol and the French soldier’s belabored conversation shows the strength of the language barrier. The soldier’s words of praise speak more to the man’s own relief at being spared than they do to Pistol’s valor. Pistol’s own use of the word ‘mercy’ is likewise inexact – he has not shown the soldier ‘mercy’ in any Christian sense. Rather, he has treated war as an economic opportunity and forced an opponent to pay him on pain of death.
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