Henry V


William Shakespeare

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Henry V: Act 5, Scene 1 Summary & Analysis

Read our modern English translation of this scene.
In the English camp in France, Gower asks Fluellen why he is still wearing a leek in his cap since St. Davy’s Day was yesterday. Fluellen explains that “rascally” Pistol came to him the day before with bread and salt, asking him to eat his leek. He could not fight Pistol then and there but he will wear the leek until he has the chance to. Pistol enters and Fluellen dares him to eat the leek, insulting and beating him until Pistol finally takes a few bites. Fluellen then gives him a coin and exits. Gower tells the indignant Pistol that his beating was deserved and advises him not to make fun of ancient, honored cultural traditions or to underestimate those who speak with accents. He exits.
Mocking Fluellen’s Welsh traditions, Pistol exhibits cultural insensitivity and a narrow-minded attitude towards English sub-cultures. Yet, not to be cowed by Pistol’s prejudices, Fluellen stands his ground with pride. Gower, like Pistol, is of English descent, but he chooses to take Fluellen’s side, suggesting that, for good Englishmen, values like tolerance and inclusiveness are more important than bloodlines.
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Alone on stage, Pistol recounts that his wife Hostess Quickly has just died of venereal disease, depriving him of a stable home. He is growing old, he thinks, and his dignity has been beaten out of him. He resolves to return to England, become a pimp and a pickpocket, and tell everyone his wounds are battle scars.
Pistol hasn’t changed since the start of the play and remains immoral. He is as comfortable trafficking in false appearances as he was before and during the war. While Henry refuses to use the war for his own benefit—giving all credit to God—Pistol seeks to use the war for financial gain by making himself look like a hero. (Though one could argue that Henry actually gets even more credit by being humble than he would if he were basking in his glory…)
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