Shakespeare’s Henry V Minor Characters
Christina Priester Amy Smith Eng 205 10/15/12 The main characters in Shakespeare’s Henry V are extraordinarily compelling. From the beginning of the play, most of the focus is directed to interactions between King Henry and other royalty or people of status and significance. Very little attention is focused on the minor characters, the peasants- the Hostess, the Boy, and the soldiers- Bardolf, Nym, and Pistol. Although these characters have only small parts in the play, they are essential. They take the spotlight for a moment, temporarily diverting our attention from the King and his political responsibilities.
Each of them contribute necessary background information, their opinion of King Henry, and the soldier’s perspective of the upcoming battle, The first act of the play is focused on the conspiracy between the leaders of the Church and King Henry making the decision to go to war with France. While all of the political information is needed for the plot, it is quite dense, and some of it is hard to get through. There is some relief in Act II of the play, when the Hostess, the Boy, Bardolf, Nym, and Pistol are introduced.
There is some humor in the exchanges between the soldiers. For example, Bardolph to Nym: “What, are Ancient Pistol and you friends yet? ” Nym answers, and Bardolph to Nym: “I will bestow a breakfast to make you friends and we’ll all three be sworn brothers to France. ” This is clearly a sarcastic teasing remark to Nym, with the suggestion these two situations will never happen. The scene becomes grim when the Boy enters, informing them of Falstaff’s illness. Falstaff is seriously ill, and in scene three of Act II, we learn that Falstaff has passed on.
The soldiers grieve for their lost friend, but the Hostess has the strongest emotional reaction. She was caring for him at his bedside when he passed away. Falstaff was an integral character in the preceding play, King Henry IV. He and the other soldiers were friends of Henry before he became King. The friendship between Henry and Falstaff ended harshly. The Hostess, along with the soldiers think Falstaff’s illness is in part caused by Henry’s harsh treatment of Falstaff. In the passage by the Hostess, just after the Boy enters, she makes a statement “The King has killed his heart. After Nym and Pistol settle their quarrel, the Hostess tells the men to visit Falstaff, and Nym comments “The King hath run bad rumors on the knight, that’s the even of it. ” Although they hold the King partially to blame for Falstaff falling ill, they still seem to hold King Henry in high regard. Nym makes a statement to Pistol “The King is a good King, but it must be as it may, he passes some humors and careers. ” The interpretation of this phrase is that although the King is good, he still has quirks and faults of his own.
Pistol expresses his opinion of King Henry in Act IV, on the eve of battle when Henry, disguised as a volunteer soldier engages Pistol in a conversation. He tells Henry he thinks the King is a fine fellow, with a heart of gold, was raised well by his parents. He goes on to proclaim he love and loyalty to King Henry. Pistol is unaware he is speaking to the King himself. He shows contempt for the disguised King when he finds out about Henry’s relation to Fluellen, the Captain that ordered the execution of Bardolph.
King Henry is very adamant about the execution of Bardolph in Act III when he is caught stealing a holy relic from a French church. Henry gives his reasoning that Bardolph should be so punished “We would have all such offenders cut off. And we give express charge that, in our marches through the country, there be nothing compelled from the villages, nothing taken, but paid for, none of the French upbraided or abused in disdainful language; for when lenity and cruelty play for a kingdom, the gentler gamester is the soonest winner. This passage is basically saying he wants to make an example of Bardolph as a warning to his soldiers to be respectful and not have the villages in France pillaged or the citizens terrorized, or they will have to face the consequences of their actions. He also feels that the French prisoners should face the consequences for the slaying of the Boys, and orders their throats to be cut. His anger fuels this decision because he wants justice for the boys that were slaughtered.
At the end of battle, Henry carries the Boy, showing his sorrow for the loss of these young men. Overall, King Henry is seen by his soldiers as good and just, yet firm with his punishment of his subjects. Without the minor characters, our judgment of the King may be harshly skewed. They are also the only link in this play between the King and Falstaff. The minor characters enlighten our understanding of the King, give us some background information, and serve their purpose well.