Navigating Digital Text, Performance, & Historical Resources
In Act 4, Scene 4, Pistol, a Londoner fighting in King Henry V’s army, meets the French soldier Monsieur Le Fer in Agincourt, France. Pistol interrogates his French counterpart in order to know his identity, but the communication is made difficult because of the language barrier. A character called “Boy” masters French enough to translate the two men’s words and enables the conversation to take place. Pistol takes Le Fer hostage and promises to free him once the latter gives him a significant amount of money. The French soldier agrees and even appears grateful that Pistol does not kill him on the spot.
Knowing that the scene preceding this encounter displays Henry V galvanizing his troop before the decisive battle, and that the next scene announces the defeat of the French army, Act 4, Scene 4 is the only moment when the audience can observe the confrontation between a British and a French soldier. As such, this scene encapsulates the battle of Agincourt in the play. It reveals the strained Anglo-French relationships during this war: first, through Pistol’s meeting and subsequent disparaging of the Other, the French soldier, and second, through the way in which the English soldier addresses Le Fer. This exchange manifests a linguistic embodiment of the ongoing invasion of France by England. Despite Pistol’s efforts to ridicule Le Fer, the heroic figure of the English soldier is here debunked because Pistol’s words and actions contrast with the warlike attitude of his king.