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SCENE SUMMARY WITH NOTES
ACT IV, SCENE 4
On the field of battle a French soldier has surrendered to Pistol, whom he thinks is of a much higher status than he actually is. Confusion occurs because the Frenchman speaks no English, and Pistol speaks no French. With the aid of the Boy as interpreter, Pistol spares the life of the Frenchman for a ransom of two hundred crowns. The Boy delivers a soliloquy on the empty bravado of Pistol, who has managed to outlive Bardolph and Nym although they were more daring and ready to die for England than he. He also reveals that English equipment is defended only by boys and that his life is in danger.
The scene provides another episode of comic relief while also undercutting the very noble and serious sentiments that Henry delivered before the battle. Pistol, a light-hearted fellow, who is only out for profit in this war shows himself to be pompous enough to persuade a Frenchman that he is of noble birth and threatens him with death. That Pistol was able to catch a Frenchman reveals how inept the French army is as he is probably the least likely to involve himself in fighting. The French soldier appears ridiculous when he bows before Pistol and begs for his life although Pistol's arrogant and cavalier behavior is somewhat reminiscent of the French nobles' and therefore it appears not pretentious but normal to the Frenchman.
According to the Boy, who is quite astute at figuring out these lesser characters' motivations, Pistol is a greater coward than Bardolph and Nym, yet he has managed to survive while they have died. This is an ironic commentary on the nature of war and its inability to predict who will survive and who will not based on courage and loyalty to England.
The scene serves another important purpose as Shakespeare makes fools parody the actions of the great. Here, in the ridiculous dialogue between Pistol and his French Prisoner, the action and motives of Henry's invasion of France are parodied. The war is a mercenary war cloaked in the rhetoric of noble causes. Pistol will have his ransom of two hundred crowns, if not, death to his captive. Henry will have the whole France, if not, France shall perish.
ACT IV, SCENE 5
On the battlefield the French ranks have been broken, and the French nobility express their shame. There are still enough Frenchmen in the field to win by sheer numbers, if only there were any order, but all is confusion. The noblemen throw themselves back into the battle, in order to die rather than survive in such shame.
This scene shows that the French lords' bravado has now turned to shame. Although they outnumber the English, the French have been outfought and express their remorse. This scene serves as a comeuppance for the French who were supercilious and disparaging towards the English. For their arrogance, the nobles will now die in a battle they should have won.