Henry V


William Shakespeare

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Henry V: Foil 1 key example

Read our modern English translation.
Act 3, Scene 7
Explanation and Analysis—The Dauphin as Foil:

The French Dauphin serves as foil for King Henry. They are both of similar age and of a similarly combative temperament, each raised to be the leader of their respective nation. Shakespeare, however, also emphasizes the differences between the two characters, who likewise represent the differences between England and France as imagined in the play. While Henry proves to be an effective and hard-working military leader, the French Dauphin is foolish, elitist, petty, and lacks the personal strength to lead his troops to victory. Prior to the Battle of Agincourt, the Dauphin brags vainly to his cousin, the Duke of Orléans, about his favorite horse:

Turn the sands into eloquent
tongues, and my horse is argument for them all. ’Tis a subject for a sovereign to reason on, and for a sovereign’s sovereign to ride on, and for the world, familiar to us and unknown, to lay apart their particular functions and wonder at him. I once writ a sonnet in his praise and began thus: “Wonder of nature—”

While Henry prepares his troops for combat after a night of solemn reflection, the Dauphin fails to appreciate the gravity of his predicament, distracting himself with  frivolous, courtly entertainments such as composing sonnets in dedication to a horse. Despite his apparent confidence, the Dauphin is one of many characters in the play whose boasting is ultimately revealed to be nothing but “hot air.” At this pivotal moment in the play, the contrast between the two characters becomes evident.