Henry V


William Shakespeare

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Henry V: Dialect 1 key example

Read our modern English translation.
Act 3, Scene 2
Explanation and Analysis—Dialects of Britain:

Scenes featuring the Welsh Captain Fluellen, the Irish Captain Macmorris, and the Scottish Captain Jamy showcase various British and Irish dialects to comedic effect. When Fluellen speaks, for example, Shakespeare marks his dialect in a number of ways: 

To the mines? Tell you the Duke it is not so
good to come to the mines, for, look you, the mines is not according to the disciplines of the war. The concavities of it is not sufficient, for, look you, th’ athversary, you may discuss unto the Duke, look you, is digt himself four yard under the countermines. By Cheshu, I think he will plow up all if there is not better directions.

Summoned to the mines, or tunnels, by the English Captain Gower, Fluellen’s grammar, accent, and vocabulary are clearly marked in the text as culturally distinct, reflecting his Welsh background. He consistently uses “is” when an English character would say “are” or “has,” for example, and says “digt” rather than “digged.” Additionally, the “d” sound in “adversary” becomes, in his accent, a “th” sound, and so too does his accent render “Jesus” as “Cheshu.” As we see in this short speech, Fluellen uses the stereotypical phrase “look you” (meaning “you see”) three times; by the end of the play, it has become something of a catchphrase. 

These aspects of Fluellen’s speech, among others, mark him as “Welsh” rather than English, much as Captain Macmorris and Captain Jamy’s dialects reflect their respective nationalities. Shakespeare brings these three different characters together in order to mine the comedic potential of the various misunderstandings that ensue. Throughout the play, Shakespeare uses dialect in order to emphasize the cultural heterogeneity of Henry’s army, and, ultimately, of Britain.