Henry in disguise

Act 4 Scene 1 – Key Scene

In this scene, King Henry visits the English camp in disguise. He talks with some of the soldiers, who do not recognise him, and quarrels with one of them, Michael Williams, about the responsibility of the King.

Take a look at an extract from this scene. Using the following steps, remember to look at it line by line and if you’re looking at the scene for the first time don’t worry if you don’t understand everything at once.

  • Look
    Take a look at the scene. Who has the most lines? Are they using prose or verse? During rehearsals, actors at the RSC often put the language into their own words to help them understand what they are saying. We’ve added some definitions (in green), questions (in red) and paraphrased some sections (in blue) to help with this. You can click on the text that is highlighted for extra guidance.
    But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the the latter day and cry all, ‘We died at such a place’ — some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawlyleft. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle, for how can they charitably dispose of anything, when blood is their argument?Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it.

    A long list of debts to pay - physical and spiritual.

    Judgement Day.

    Too young.

    How can anyone expect a peaceful death when they’ve spent their lives killing and sinning against God?

    Henry V
    But this is not so: the king is not bound to answer the particular endings of his soldiers, for he purposes not their death, when he purposes their services. Besides, there is no king, be his cause never so spotless, can try it out with all unspotted soldiers: some peradventure have on them the guilt of premeditated and contrived murder; some, of beguiling virgins with the broken seals of perjury; some, making the wars their bulwark, that have before gored the gentle bosom of peace with pillage and robbery. Now, if these men have defeated the law and outrun native punishment, though they can outstrip men, they have no wings to fly from God. War is his beadle, war is his vengeance. Then if they die unprovided, no more is the king guilty of their damnation than he was before guilty of those impieties for the which they are now visited. Every subject’s duty is the king’s, but every subject’s soul is his own.


    Lying under oath.

    Safeguard/escape route.


    An officer like a policeman.


    ’Tis certain, every man that dies ill, the ill upon his own head, the king is not to answer it.
    But I do not desire he should answer for me, and yet I determine to fight lustily for him.
    Henry V
    I myself heard the king say he would not be ransomed.

    Captured and held to ransom.

    Ay, he said so, to make us fight cheerfully. But when our throats are cut, he may be ransomed, and we ne’er the wiser.
    Henry V
    If I live to see it, I will never trust his word after.
    You pay him then. That’s a perilous shot out of an elder-gun, that a poor and a private displeasure can do against a monarch. You may as well go about to turn the sun to ice with fanning in his face with a peacock’s feather. You’ll never trust his word after! Come, ’tis a foolish saying.

    That’s a lame threat from a toy gun, all a common person can’t do to injure a king.

    You may as well try to freeze the sun by fanning it with a peacock feather.

    Henry V
    Your reproof is something too round. I should be angry with you, if the time were convenient.
    Let it be a quarrel between us, if you live.

    How different would William’s language and speech be if he knew he was talking to the King?

    Henry V
    I embrace it.
    (Text edited for rehearsals by Gregory Doran)
  • Listen
    Read the scene aloud. Are there any words or lines that really stand out?
  • Watch
    Take a look at the actors performing this scene. How do the characters come across in this version?
  • Imagine
    Explore some images from past versions of Henry V at the RSC. Which sets and staging choices for this scene feel right to you?