Chorus starts off the play by lowering our expectations. He makes it clear that the play can’t really do justice to the glory of the history being portrayed, but hopefully we can use our imagination and still enjoy it.
Act I, Scene 1
The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Ely are up to their usual scheming. There was a bill proposed during Henry IV’s reign that would have stripped the bishops of half of their belongings. They couldn’t have that happening. Fortunately for them, Henry IV up and died which just threw everything into chaos, so now they have the chance to stop the bill.
They are pretty hopeful that Henry V will back their cause because he is very devout. Of course, no one would have guessed this given his youthful shenanigans. However, the bishops perfectly understand what Henry was up to in that tavern. He was secretly studying hard to be a King as he associated himself with unsavory folk. This would ensure that he would shine even brighter when he became the King he was meant to be.
They decide that the best way to get the King on their side is to get him focused on conquering France. They’ll give him more resources than the clergy has ever given to any King that way he’ll owe them one. Unfortunately that darn ambassador to France is here to meet with the King.
Act I, Scene 2
Before he talks to the French ambassador, Henry V wants to be sure that the Archbishop isn’t just making up this whole “claim to the French throne.” Canterbury assures him that he has a super legitimate claim to the French throne. (Remember Edward III and the Black Prince fought for this title). The only reason the French deny the English claim to the throne is an ancient Salic law. This law forbids a woman or any of her kids from ruling. However, pretty much every French King that ever was traces his lineage back to a woman. Plus, Salique land is in Germany, not France, so it’s not even a French law anyway.
Henry V still isn’t so sure about invading France. But the Archbishop insists that he has a legitimate claim. In the Bible it says that inheritance should pass to the daughter if there are no sons. Anyway, Henry V is the rightful heir to France, so English law should apply and English law says that daughters can inherit. They all remind Henry about the valiant fight that Edward III and the Black Prince fought, and that he has many dedicated subjects that will gladly die for this cause.
Henry V worries about Scotland though. They invade every time the English try to invade France. No one else is really worried about that though. They can easily beat back the Scots. Henry isn’t as confident, but they lay out a plan by which Henry will send ¼ of his forces to conquer France and the rest can hold down the fort in England. They build up Henry’s confidence and soon he is resolved to invade France, but he’ll talk to the French ambassador first.
The French ambassador begs the King to not shoot the messenger. The King agrees that any message sent by the Dauphin will not be blamed on the messenger. With that the messenger explains that the Dauphin thinks that the immature and frivolous King of England should stay on his own side of the channel and leave the serious ruling to the big boys. He also sent a gift of tennis balls. The King is outraged and tells the messenger to tell the Dauphin that he will regret his words when the whole of France suffers for this insult.
Henry V prepares to invade France.
Act II, Prologue
All the youth of England are fired up for the war in France and the French all tremble to hear of the English preparations. There are three traitors amongst the English cause that have taken French money in the promise that they will kill the King.
The audience will now be transported to Southampton before being taken on to France.
Act II, Scene 1
Lieutenant Bardolph insists that Corporal Nym be friends with Pistol. However, Nym doesn’t really care to make up with Pistol, after all he stole Nym’s woman. Pistol enters the scene with his new wife, Nell Quickly, the hostess. He becomes immediately offended when he is called host because Mistress Quickly will no longer be taking in lodgers, lest people think she runs a house of ill repute.
Nym and Pistol immediately draw their swords to fight. Bardolph tries to put an end to it, but they are too busy slinging insults to listen. Bardolph swears that he will put an end to this himself. They’re still too mad to really listen.
A boy enters begging Mistress Quickly and Pistol to come to his Master (Falstaff) because he is very ill. Mistress Quickly takes off immediately. Pistol and Nym think about making up, but Nym wants Pistol to pay him what he’s owed. Pistol will do no such thing and they get ready to fight again. Bardolph draws his sword and swears to put an end to this nonsense. He gets Pistol to agree to pay Nym and they decide to be “friends”.
Mistress Quickly tells them all to come to Falstaff immediately. He’s dying. They lament how the King has broken Falstaff’s spirit.
Act II, Scene 2
Exeter, Bedford, and Westmoreland wonder how the King can trust these clear traitors. However, he does seem aware of their apparent treachery. The King is being very kind to Scroop, Cambridge, and Grey. He tells them all about the responsibilities they will hold during the French wars.
Then, Henry explains how he will pardon a subject who spoke out against him because the man was drunk. The three traitors advise him against being so kind. He doesn’t heed their advice and pardons the man. That is when he hands over their papers. They are shocked to see that he has been aware of their allegiance to the French the entire time. They beg for mercy. Henry points out that they just advised against mercy for a far lesser crime. Henry questions how these men that seemed so loyal, that he gave so much, would turn against him to easily. (He takes much longer to say this, but that’s the gist of it). The guilt trip appears to work because all three men express joy at their own capture.
Act II, Scene 3
Falstaff has died. On his deathbed, he asked for women and wine. Mistress Quickly denies all of this, preferring to make him seem more holy in death.
The other men say their goodbyes as they leave for France.
Act II, Scene 4
The French King meets with his counselors to discuss how they will prepare for the English invasion. The Dauphin scoffs at the idea that the French should fear the English at all. After all, their King is a frivolous young man who would rather spend his time drinking. The King and his counselors try to explain that Henry V has grown into a fantastic king. The Dauphin still doubts that they should worry, but concedes that it is better to overestimate the enemy. The French King reminds them all about Edward the Black Prince and his victories in France.
Exeter enters with a message for the King. He explains that Henry has already landed in France with his forces. Henry asks the King for forfeit his crown or face war. The King says he will provide his answer the next day.
Exeter has a message for the Dauphin as well. He explains that Henry will personally make the Dauphin pay for his insults. He will also take revenge on the whole of France.
Exeter tries to get an answer from the French King sooner, but the King insists on taking a night to think on it.