Analysis of ‘The Graduate’

The Graduate is a 1967 comedy-drama directed by Mike Nichols, based on the 1963 novel by Charles Webb.  The film stars Dustin Hoffman in a career-making role as Benjamin Braddock, a 20-21-year-old who has just graduated from an unnamed university in the American northeast, and has returned to his home in Pasadena, California.  As the tagline in the movie ad reads, “He’s a little worried about his future.”

The film also stars Anne Bancroft as the seductive, scheming Mrs. Robinson (after whom the famous Simon and Garfunkel song is named), and Katharine Ross as the Robinsons’ daughter, Elaine (Benjamin’s love interest).  While the song ‘Mrs. Robinson’ wasn’t yet in its final form for the movie, a truncated version was used, and other songs by Simon and Garfunkel were also used, most notably “The Sound of Silence,” their version of “Scarborough Fair/Canticle,” and “April, Come She Will.”

The American Film Institute in 1998 ranked the film #7 in its list of the 100 best films of all time; then in the 10th anniversary list, it was made film #17.  It was also listed the #9 comedy, “Mrs. Robinson” was listed the #6 song, and these quotes made the top 100 movie quotes:

“Plastics.” –Mr. McGuire, to Benjamin (#42)

“Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me.  Aren’t you?” –Benjamin (#63)

The main themes of this movie include: parental dominance (and by extension, that of the “[don’t trust anyone] over thirty” generation); rebellion against authority (which came naturally in any late Sixties movie); alienation and isolation (which came naturally in the 20th century), and the loss of innocence.

Motifs in the film include water (the fish tank, the swimming pool, the rain), light and darkness (including their extremes, black and white), plants (flowers or ‘jungle’ plants), and clothes with animal designs, or designs suggestive of animals (leopards, giraffes, or zebras, worn by Mrs. Robinson and, to a lesser extent, Benjamin’s mother).

[This analysis is largely my own, but I owe a big debt to the influence of Howard Suber’s analysis of the film.  The analysis is only available on the Criterion Edition Laserdick of the film that, I believe, was released in the 90s for a year or two, and is now rather hard to find.]

The movie begins with Benjamin in an airplane, being passively taken along, going where others would have him go.  “The Sound of Silence” begins with the line, “Hello darkness, my old friend.”  Benjamin is alone among all the other passengers, then in the airport he is seen on a treadmill, once again having something else move him instead of him directing his own movements.

The movie’s very use of “The Sound of Silence” is significant in itself, since the song’s about how people fail to communicate properly, “People talking without speaking/People hearing without listening.”  The paradoxical title expresses this idea aptly.  “And the people bowed and prayed/To the neon god they made,” but they paid no attention to its message, that “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls.”  One of Benjamin’s biggest problems is how neither his parents nor any of the older people, those in authority, ever listen to him.

In his bedroom at home, he sits alone in the dim light (for darkness, suggesting a loss of innocence he will soon experience, and ultimately be liberated by, is his “old friend”), avoiding the mature guests at a graduation party his parents have arranged…more for themselves than for him.  Behind Benjamin is a fish tank, a symbol of the trap he’s found himself in.  All those fish swimming in that small space, unable to swim anywhere else; also, there’s a small black figurine of a scuba diver sitting at the bottom of it.

His father, not at all listening to him when he discusses his worries about his future, makes him go downstairs to meet the guests, all his parents’ mature friends and none of his own (indeed, Ben is so isolated and alienated that he seems to have no friends), of his graduation party.  The party is clearly to give face to his parents, it’s not for his sake; Benjamin, academic success and athletic star, is his parents’ jewellery, to be shown off to impress the neighbours.

One guest, Mr. McGuire, has one word to say to Ben: “Plastics.”  Apparently, there is a great future in plastics, an unnatural, man-made material.  In other words, Ben’s future will be successful, but also fake and phoney, hence his fears about it.  It’s all for his Mom and Dad, and not one bit for his own sake.

After putting up with the guests as best he can, Benjamin goes back up to his room.  Mrs. Robinson walks into the room suddenly, pretending she’s looking for the washroom.  She manipulates him into driving her home even after he’s given her his car keys.  Significantly, instead of just giving them to him, she throws them into the fish tank.  Keys, symbols of a way to freedom–they’re for opening doors or driving cars–have been tossed into Ben’s trap symbol.  In spite of her intentions, the sexual trap she’s luring him into will ultimately, and ironically, lead him to his freedom.

The key to Ben’s freedom is for him to lose his innocence, to go from boyhood to manhood (and be a graduate in a different sense), and feel himself so constricted by both the dominance of his parents and that of his symbolic parents, the Robinsons, that he must rebel against their authority to be free.  The only way he’ll be motivated to rebel–through his love for Elaine Robinson–is to be compelled to snatch her from those who forbid him to be with her, her parents.  And while his parents want to match him to her–for the sake of their own agenda, to create a bond between the Braddocks and the Robinsons (oddly, Mr. Robinson, Mr. Braddock’s partner in a law firm, doesn’t attend Ben’s graduation party!)–Ben would marry her for his own sake.

Ben dislikes his own parents’ oppressiveness so much that, at first, and despite his nervousness around the sexually aggressive Mrs. Robinson, he finds the Robinsons to be replacement parents in a kind of family romance.  Indeed, there is much Freudian symbolism in this movie, and Ben’s affair with Mrs. Robinson (his mother dresses similarly in some respects to her, and is similarly attractive and domineering), a woman twice his age, is clearly Oedipal.

In her home, at the back by the window to the backyard, Mrs. Robinson gives Ben a drink (not listening to his wish not to have one, let alone his wish to leave immediately) and plays some soft mood music.  The ‘cougar woman’ is wearing a dress with a zebra design, and a bra and slip with a leopard design (we’ll see the bra and slip later when she’s undressing in the bedroom); and looking out the back window whose awning has a zebra-like striped design, we see plants that make us think of the jungle.

His nervousness over her continuing seduction of him, with her spread legs, is Oedipal in how, deep down, he is as turned on as he is afraid.  (Later, she asks him if he wants her to seduce him.)  When he asks her if she’s trying to seduce him, we see him asking in a shot through her opened legs, which frame him in a triangle, trapping him in her sexuality.

A child’s Oedipal relationship with his mother can be a source of her dominance over him; and Mrs. Robinson, Ben’s symbolic mother here, is manipulating this Oedipus complex expertly.  When she asks him to bring her purse up to the bedroom, he’d rather leave it at the foot of the stairs; but the undressing beauty angrily commands him to bring it into the bedroom.  And there she displays her nakedness to his horrified–and horny–face.

When Mr. Robinson arrives, and obviously doesn’t know what his wife has just done, he becomes Ben’s symbolic father: he even tells Ben that he thinks of him as a son, and advises him to relax by chasing some girls.

On Benjamin’s 21st birthday (the year he comes of age), Mr. and Mrs. Braddock throw another party…but it’s clearly not for him–again, it’s for themselves, to gain face before their neighbours.  Benjamin is made to dress in a black scuba diving outfit (his birthday gift, it would seem) and go into the backyard swimming pool, an enlarged version of the fish tank, and he is an enlarged version of the scuba diver figurine at the bottom of the fish tank.  Similarly trapped, Ben lets himself sink to the bottom of the pool, and he passively sits there.

At the same time, though, we see the beginnings of Ben’s rebellion against his parents’ authority (like his avoidance of the guests at the graduation party), for instead of swimming about and putting on a show to entertain the neighbours, he just sits there at the bottom, like the figurine in the fish tank.  There is a dialectical tension between his increasing feeling of being trapped, and of his push to freedom.

As mentioned above, Ben was shocked at Mrs. Robinson’s attempted seduction of him, but also aroused.  He calls her from a hotel and asks her to join him.  Nervous as always, his id urges to have his symbolic mother are in a battle with his superego’s chiding him for acting out his taboo Oedipal fantasies.

After being annoyed by elderly guests, other symbolic authority figures, he sees Mrs. Robinson, who is wearing a leopard-skin coat, and we see them sit in an area decorated with more ‘jungle’ plants, appropriate for the ‘animal’ act they’re about to engage in.

After this commencement of their affair, and Ben’s loss of virginity (and innocence), he is now a man, and he lies on an inflatable raft, floating on the surface of the water in his pool, wearing black sunglasses and looking like a stud.  He isn’t trapped under the water of his ‘fish tank,’ so his loss of innocence is the furthering of his liberation, but he’s still in the pool; he must continue striving for freedom to get out completely.

A juxtaposition of images of him in the pool, with his parents, or with Mrs. Robinson ensues, suggesting the association between the Robinsons (his replacement parents in the family romance) and his actual parents.  This association also suggests his Oedipal relationship with his replacement mother.  The montage ends with Ben jumping on the inflatable raft, a visual that quickly switches to the hotel room, with him landing on Mrs. Robinson in bed: his affair with her, his loss of innocence, equals being on top of the pool water, freed (at least relatively) from his trap, the big fish tank that is the swimming pool.

His father is clearly unhappy with his free floating on the pool, drifting instead of ‘swimming’ under the water, if you will, for courses in graduate school.  The Robinsons, his substitute parents, then arrive: in the novel, it’s a very straight-forward get-together; but in the film, the scene is glowing, blurred (seen through his sunglasses), dream-like, for this is Ben’s family romance, with the mother of his new Oedipus complex saying hello to him.

His real mother asks him, while he’s shaving, where he’s going every night.  Like Mrs. Robinson, his mother is also pretty, and wears attractive clothes suggestive of dark sexuality, including the black top she wears in this scene–black, the colour of lost innocence.

After Ben ends the affair with Mrs. Robinson, who forbids him ever to date her daughter Elaine, his parents start pushing him to take her out.  Mr. Braddock is in black and white in the kitchen when he first suggests this (or gives the implied command, actually); then he and Mrs. Braddock pressure Ben some more in the swimming pool, and after Ben tries to resist, his mother says she’ll have to invite all the Robinsons over, causing Ben to fall off his raft and swim deep under the water.  He’s trapped again, like those fish in his fish tank.

After taking Elaine out, being rude to her, and quickly regretting his ungentlemanly behaviour, he opens up to her.  He soon realizes, for the first time in the movie, that he’s found a friend…someone his own age.  Her sweetness is in direct contrast to the vampishness of her mother, who wanted only sex and no conversation.  In Elaine, Ben has a most welcome reverse, which is appropriate, since innocent Elaine is the opposite of Mrs. Robinson.

When Ben is driving over to the Robinsons’ house to meet with Elaine, with whom he’s falling in love, Mrs. Robinson rushes over and gets into his car.  She threatens to tell Elaine about their affair if he continues dating her, putting Ben back into a trap.  Significantly, it’s been raining, and when Ben and Mrs. Robinson run into the house, both of them–two fish submerged in the watery trap of their own fish tank–are soaking wet.

Knowing Elaine hates him now that she knows (or thinks she knows) what happened between him and her mother, Ben contemplates his trap while looking at his fish tank.  The song, “Scarborough Fair/Canticle,” can be heard while he’s watching her, separated by hedges and flowers.  The words, “Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme,” are heard over and over; they rhyme with the line, “She once was a true love of mine.”  Innocent Elaine is the flower Ben loves, and her innocence is preventing him, the loser of his own innocence (and therefore of her), from getting her back.

Note how plants have represented both of Ben’s loves: the jungle plants of Mrs. Robinson, the wild woman, the whore; and the flowers of Elaine, the sweet, innocent virgin (as we can safely assume).  When we see Ben on the campus of Elaine’s university in Berkeley, we see an abundance of plants and flowers.

He later tells his parents of his plan to marry Elaine, something that delights them so much that his mother screams for joy (incidentally, Mrs. Braddock is wearing an outfit with a zebra-like design: she’s as wild an animal, in her own way, as Mrs. Robinson is).  The irony here is that all this pressure to comply with parental authority (dating a girl forbidden to him by her mother, his symbolic mother, who used her dominance to make him, symbolically her Oedipus, satisfy her sexually) is giving him the impetus to break free; for Ben doesn’t want Elaine for his parents’ sake–he wants her for his own.

Now, Benjamin is finally taking charge of his life, instead of just passively acquiescing to the demands of his parents, literal or symbolic.  As for his symbolic parents, the Robinsons, his family romance with them is over with, and his opportunity–and need–to rebel against all authority is fully realized.

And Ben sure has a lot of people to rebel against.  He loves Elaine, and even when he convinces her to forgive him and love him back, her parents will never forgive him for his affair with Mrs. Robinson, which has torn her family apart.  Mr. Robinson confronts Ben in his room in Berkeley, and here we see the Oedipal hostility between Ben and his symbolic father.  Elaine’s parents would have her marry Carl, some soulless, preppy type to ensure her never being with Ben.

But that won’t stop him.

As he’s racing in his car to Santa Barbara, the song “Mrs. Robinson” is heard.  Though the song isn’t heard in its final form, the finished lyrics do reflect what’s going on in the movie, and thus are worth referencing: we all wish to help fallen Mrs. Robinson, apparently, telling her to receive Jesus so her sins will be forgiven (in other words, this is salvation by social conformity, submission to authority, and the bourgeois hypocrisy of hiding the affair).  Still, she’s lost her innocence, as has Ben, and the symbols of good, heroic America have gone away, leaving us with the same old corrupt politicians, who’ll never change.

As Ben’s car slows and runs out of gas, so does the guitar strumming of the song; and in its turn, so does the hypocrisy of pretending to be innocent (i.e., Mrs. Robinson the whore attending church) run out of gas.

Ben arrives at the church too late: Elaine has already married Carl; but this won’t stop a man in love.  He bangs on the glass (rather like the fish tank glass) that separates him from the conformist attendees, who include Mrs. Robinson.  Her gloating over his misfortune, in what’s supposed to be a holy place, shows her authoritarian hypocrisy.

But Elaine sees Ben, knowing he truly loves her; and while her parents and Carl are seen yelling angrily at her for looking up lovingly at him, neither we nor Elaine can hear them, for their sound of silence is an oppressive authority we won’t listen to anymore.

Now Ben’s defying the authority of another father, God the Father; and after hitting Mr. Robinson, his symbolic father, Ben picks up a symbol of Church authority, a large Cross, and uses it to defy the authority of everyone in the church.  He swings it at the guests so he and Elaine can escape from the church together, then he bolts the front door of the church with it, trapping all the guests inside (we see them through glass, like those trapped fish in the fish tank), while he and his love run laughing to a bus.

The irony of using a crucifix–a symbol of authority–to liberate himself and Elaine from authority parallels how Ben used his parents’ wish for him to marry her as a way to liberate himself from their dominance.  Also, we must remember the irony of giving in to Mrs. Robinson’s sexual dominance, which started the chain of events–his loss of innocence, his breaking of social taboos, and his dating of her daughter against her wishes–that has led ultimately to not only Ben’s liberation, but also Elaine’s.

Indeed, though she remains (presumably) a virgin till the end of the movie, Elaine loses her innocence, too, by defying her parents and running off with Ben, right after saying her wedding vows!

With Ben and Elaine at the back of the bus, they laugh and grin in victory; but director Nichols wisely let the camera keep going, and after seeing a shot of mostly (if not all) elderly people staring at the young rebels, we see the two stop smiling, just before the ending credits.  This suggests that the movie has ended where it began, with young people passively being taken away instead of moving on their own initiative, and with them uncertain of their future.  After all, what will their parents think of what they’ve just done?

Advertisements

Detailed Synopsis for ‘Henry V’

Prologue: The Chorus wishes he and the actors of the play had ‘a Muse of fire’ to inspire them to a production that would do justice to the story about to be told.  If only the small stage they are to perform on were enough to show the vast fields of France.  For how can they show armies, horses, and quick changes of locale and time?  The Chorus asks us, the audience, to use our imaginations to fill in the gaps that a humble theatrical production cannot, and to judge the play kindly, and with patience.

Act One: The Archbishop of Canterbury and Bishop of Ely discuss the matter of the new king, who has surprised everyone in his “blessed…change” from dissolute prince (who, in the Henry IV plays, cavorted with the licentious likes of Sir John Falstaff) to sober, responsible king.  Worrying that Henry, of limited money, won’t give the Church the funding they are wont to have, these two not-so-scrupulous men of the cloth prefer to persuade their king that invading France will be morally justified.

In the king’s court, Henry has the Archbishop of Canterbury explain how he has a perfect right to be the next king of France.  The archbishop mentions the Salic Law, which forbids female succession in France for inheritance of the throne.  Henry’s connection with the French royal lineage is through his great-great-great-grandmother, and so the Salic Law denies him the right to succeed.

The archbishop, however, says that the Salic Land is in Germany, not in France, so the law was not devised for the French.  Furthermore, the French themselves have allowed female succession to their throne, and the archbishop gives examples of French kings who held the title through the female.  Therefore there is no reason to bar Henry from something French dynastic succession has allowed for the French.

When Henry asks Canterbury if he may in good conscience claim the French crown, the archbishop says he’ll bear the sin on his own head if he is wrong.  The king then allows the ambassadors of France to come in.

The first ambassador speaks of Henry’s reputation, when a prince, of carousing and revelry.  The French Dauphin, whom the ambassadors represent, suggests that, instead of trying to make war with France, Henry should pursue less ambitious goals, those more suited to his apparently feckless nature.  Therefore the Dauphin has given Henry a gift, in a chest, that is in keeping with such puerile pursuits.

Henry has his uncle, the Duke of Exeter, open the chest and see what’s inside.  Exeter opens it, and tells the king it is filled with tennis balls.  Keeping well controlled his fury at such an insult, Henry tells the French ambassadors that England will play such a set with these balls that far more will weep than laugh at the Dauphin’s proud jest; for no one knows what use Henry made of his days with Falstaff and the others in the Boar’s Head Tavern (that use being, to learn how scoundrels think and act, not to emulate them in any way).  The ambassadors are to be safely conveyed back to France.

Act Two, Prologue: The Chorus says, “all the youth of England are on fire.”  All prepare for war with France.  The French “Shake in their fear and with pale policy/Seek to divert the English purposes.”  In fact, they bribe three English nobles, Richard Earl of Cambridge, Henry Lord Scroop of Masham, and Sir Thomas Grey, knight of Northumberland: “Confirm’d conspiracy with fearful France.”  The king and his men will go to Southampton before sailing to France.

In front of the Boar’s Head Tavern, in Eastcheap, Nym is jealous of Pistol, who has taken Mistress Quickly–the hostess of the tavern–as his wife, after she promised to marry Nym.  He complains about this to Bardolph.  Then Pistol and his wife the hostess enter.  Pistol and Nym exchange angry words, then the two clownish men draw their swords; but Bardolph, his own sword drawn, stops them from fighting.

Then the boy, page to Falstaff, comes and tells them all they must come to his master.  Falstaff is sick, for as Quickly says, “the King has kill’d his heart.”  (At the end of Henry IV, part two, just after Henry V’s coronation, the new king snubbed Falstaff, since it had never been Prince Henry’s intention to stay friends with such knaves as Sir John.)  They all go to see Falstaff in bed.

In Southampton, Henry and his men prepare to sail to France.  Exeter and the other nobles are amazed to see the king still speaking on friendly terms with the three known traitors.

Henry discusses what should be done with a drunken man who spoke ill of him; in an indulgent mood, Henry figures the man had too much wine when he spoke so idly.  The traitors, in a vain attempt to appear loyal, insist that the man be punished.  Henry, smiling, still thinks the man’s distemper can “be wink’d at.”  Then the king gives each of the three false men a letter, so they’ll know the king knows their worth: the letters reveal Henry’s knowledge of their plot.

The traitors admit their guilt and, while asking for forgiveness, insist on receiving the harshest punishment, knowing such is the only honourable way to react.  They are taken away to be executed.  Now Henry and his men will sail to France.

In the Boar’s Head Tavern, Mistress Quickly and the others lovingly remember Falstaff, who has died from a broken heart.  She cannot imagine Falstaff being in hell.  Then Nym, Pistol, Bardolph, and the boy prepare to join the king in the invasion of France.  The three men, scoundrels that they are, plan to pillage and steal at the end of each battle; then, back in England, they’ll deceive everyone about fighting bravely.  They all say goodbye to the hostess, and leave.

In the French king’s palace, King Charles VI worries about the coming English.  His son the Dauphin proudly insists that, in defending France, the French army should do so with no show of fear; instead, they should act as though the English were doing no more than putting on a “Whitsun morris-dance,” since England “is so idly king’d” with the supposedly feckless Henry.

The Constable tells the haughty prince to be quiet, and that Henry is much stronger and more resolute than the Dauphin imagines.  Charles agrees, and fearfully remembers past quarrels between France and Henry’s family, as well as the great shame France suffered from defeat against the English.

Exeter enters with a message from Henry, warning the French king of the coming danger.  The Dauphin, pretending for the moment to be his representative, asks Exeter what Henry has for him.  Exeter says, “Scorn and defiance, slight regard, contempt.”  Now angry, the Dauphin proudly says that he is the one who sent Henry the tennis balls.  Exeter says, “He’ll make your Paris Louvre shake for it.”  After being told that Henry will know Charles’s mind tomorrow, Exeter leaves.

Act Three, Prologue: The Chorus tells us of Henry’s course to Harfleur, and that we must imagine Henry’s men going across the English channel, then attacking Harfleur.  We are to “Suppose th’ ambassador from the French comes back:/Tells Harry that the King doth offer him/Katherine his daughter, and with her to dowry/Some petty and unprofitable dukedoms.”  Henry, of course, rejects the offer.  Then we are to imagine the battle.

At the siege of Harfleur, Henry tells his men to go back in and fight.  Roused by the king’s speech, his men rush at the castle and resume fighting.  Nym, Bardolph, Pistol, and the boy, however, remain behind, hiding like the cowards they are; Fluellen, furious, growls at them to race in and join the fighting, so the three men rush in.  The boy, who for obvious reasons needn’t fight, nonetheless hopes that when he is a man, he won’t be as spineless as the three knaves he left England with.

A humourous conversation–one that exploits the stereotypes and accents of Wales, Scotland, and Ireland–ensues between Welsh Fluellen, Gower, Captain Jamy, and Captain Macmorris, an Irishman whom Fluellen scorns.  Fluellen is dissatisfied with the digging of the mines, for they are not up to the proper standards of military discipline, something he is very preoccupied with.

When Fluellen not only criticizes the digging of the mines in front of Macmorris, who is responsible for their supervision, but also makes slurs against Ireland, the Welshman and Irishman almost get into a fight.

The siege is over, and the English have clearly won.  Henry gives an ultimatum to the French, surrender, or die.  He gives a graphic description of how his men will rape the French women, bash the babies’ brains, and kill all the French men mercilessly if they don’t surrender.  The governor of Harfleur says the Dauphin’s powers are not ready yet to resist Henry; so because the people of Harfleur “no longer are defensible,” Henry’s men may enter the gates.  Henry tells his men to be merciful to the French.

In the French king’s palace in Rouen, the princess, Katherine, asks Alice about her time in England and acquaintance with the language.  Alice acknowledges she knows a little English.  The princess asks her how one says la main, les doigts, les ongles, le bras, le coude, le col, le menton, le pied, and la robe in English.  Alice says, with comically poor pronunciation, that these French words are translated, respectively, the hand, the fingers, the nails, the arm, the elbow, the neck, the chin, the foot, and the gown.

Unfortunately, Alice’s pronunciation of foot sounds like foutre, a vulgar French word for a vulgar English word that also begins with an f; and she pronounces gown as con, which sounds like a vulgar French word for certain feminine anatomy, for which the English vulgar equivalent also begins with c.  Katherine is scandalized, and cannot use such dishonourable language in conversation.  Nonetheless, she reviews all her newly-learned vocabulary with Alice, blushing and giggling at the sound of the last two.

Elsewhere in the French palace, all the nobles are alarmed at the advances of the English.  They worry that French women will prefer English manliness over that of the French, and giving themselves to English lust, they will litter France with bastard sons.  King Charles, therefore, has Montjoy, his herald, go and tell the English of France’s “sharp defiance.”  The Dauphin is annoyed, however, that his father wants him to stay out of the fighting for the moment.

The English army has set up camp in Picardy.  Pistol is fearful for the life of his friend Bardolph, who has been caught stealing from a church, and is to be hanged for it.  Pistol entreats Fluellen to use his influence to have Bardolph pardoned, but the Welshman insists on adherence to military discipline, and therefore Bardolph must be hanged.  Pistol curses at Fluellen and leaves angrily.  When Henry hears of the execution of his former drinking friend, he outwardly shows hardly any sign of emotion.

Montjoy arrives, telling Henry that the French could have defeated him in Harfleur, but will show the full might of their army soon enough…unless Henry pays a ransom for the destruction England has so far caused.  Henry says France will have only his dead body for ransom.  Montjoy leaves to relay Henry’s answer to King Charles.

In the French camp near Agincourt that night, the Dauphin, the Constable and the Duke of Orleans all engage in bragging: first, the Constable of his armour; then, Orleans of his horse; and finally, and more gratingly, the Dauphin of his horse, “the prince of palfreys”.  Indeed, the prince’s boasting is so obnoxious that he tries the patience of the other nobles.  All of them impatiently wait for the morning, so they can kill the English, who a messenger says are within fifteen hundred paces of the French tents.

Act Four, Prologue: The Chorus tells us of “The confident and over-lusty French/Do the low-rated English play at dice.”  In the English camp, though, the men “Sit patiently and inly ruminate/The morning’s danger.”  Henry will go about pretending to be one of them, to know their thoughts, and give them “A little touch of Harry in the night.”

Indeed, Henry borrows Sir Thomas Erpingham’s cloak and, thus disguised, goes about his men to know how they really feel about the battle to be fought the next day.  First he sees Pistol, who speaks of his love of the king, then of his spite for Fluellen, whom he’ll hit over the head with his leek on St. David’s Day, since David is the patron saint of Wales.

Then Henry sees Fluellen and Gower; the former tells the latter to keep his voice down, reminding him of the need for military discipline.  Then the disguised king comes to Michael Williams and some other soldiers.

When Williams expresses his doubts as to the justification for this war, after so many men are maimed or killed, Henry defends the carrying-out of the war.  The two men’s tempers flare as their disagreeing escalates, and they promise to settle their quarrel after the battle, if both survive.  They trade gloves to identify each other later, and part angrily.

Finally, after Henry returns Erpingham’s cloak, he contemplates his burdens as king, and prays to God to make his men brave.  He also begs God’s forgiveness for the sin of his father, Henry IV, who deposed Richard II and had him killed.

The next morning, the French army over-confidently prepares for battle; while in the English camp, the nobles are daunted by the superior numbers of the French–five French for every one English fighter.  Furthermore, the French “are all fresh,” says Exeter.  Salisbury says, “’tis a fearful odds.” Westmoreland wishes they had “ten thousand of those men in England/That do not work today.”

Then Henry arrives, wishing instead to have fewer men, since if they are defeated by the French, the English losses will be minimal; but if these few English win, each man will have a larger share of honour, which Henry covets.  Indeed, the king is willing to let any English go home who are reluctant to fight, so he and the remaining few can have even larger portions of honour.

The day of the battle of Agincourt is St. Crispin’s Day.  On this day in future years, those who will have fought with Henry will proudly show their scars as proof of their bravery.  The names of those who will have fought–Harry the King, Exeter, Salisbury–will be like household words.  St. Crispin’s Day will be remembered till the end of time because of these few happy men, this band of brothers.  It will not matter if one is of high or of low birth, for this battle will ennoble them all.

Those men now in bed in England, however, will feel like lesser men among any who speaks of his valour on St. Crispin’s Day!  The king’s speech fires up the morale of the men, who will now cheerfully face the French army.  Montjoy then arrives, asking if Henry will pay ransom, or be surely destroyed.

The king proudly says the French can have his joints for ransom.  Montjoy says he won’t ask for ransom again, but Henry fears he’ll be back again.

The battle begins.  The English longbow is very effective in cutting down the superior numbers of the French.  There is a comical scene with Pistol trying to communicate with a French soldier who surrenders and, knowing neither English nor what a cowardly rascal Pistol is, fears him.  The boy, who knows French, translates for them.

The French feel terrible disgrace at their defeat.  The Dauphin, Constable, and Orleans all lament their “perdurable shame.”

Later, Fluellen returns to the English camp and finds that the French have killed all the boys who were guarding the luggage!  He mourns their deaths, angrily calling this despicable act of cowardice “expressly against the law of arms” and an “arrant…piece of knavery.”  Henry is enraged at the sight of the boys’ corpses, and when Montjoy reappears, the king rails at him, assuming he wants to ask for ransom again; but he tells Henry that the English have won the battle.

Williams passes by, and Henry, recognizing his glove in Williams’s cap, asks him of it; Williams explains that it is the glove of “a rascal that swagger’d” with him, and whom he will fight, if he has survived the battle.  Williams leaves, and Henry asks Fluellen to wear Williams’s glove in his cap, and if anyone should challenge him by the glove, the challenger is an enemy to the king.  Fluellen is to apprehend such a villain, if he truly loves his king.

Soon enough, Williams meets with Fluellen, and assuming the Welshman to be the man he quarreled with the night before, challenges him to a fight.  Their altercation catches the attention of the king, who then makes it known to Williams that he was the other man in the previous night’s quarrel.  Embarrassed, Williams insists he meant no conscious offense to the king, and begs his pardon.

Later, a list of all the dead is shown Henry, and he is amazed at so many French dead, including many knights, esquires, and noblemen: “a royal fellowship of death!”  Even more amazing is how few English died: four of name, “and of all other men/But five and twenty.”

Convinced that God has fought the battle for the English, Henry forbids any to boast of this victory, which has been God’s only.  Non nobis and Te Deum are to be sung.

Act Five, Prologue: The Chorus tells of Henry’s return to England, and though his people would have him bask in his glorious victory over France, he forbids it, saying the victory was God’s.  Then Henry will return to France to settle a peace treaty there.

On St. David’s Day, Fluellen has a leek in his hat; he knows of Pistol’s threat to hit him on the head with his leek, and tells Gower he wishes to confront the scoundrel.  Pistol arrives, and Fluellen hits him on the head with the leek, then force-feeds it to him, all while Gower watches his humiliation.  After Fluellen and Gower leave, Pistol mourns the death of his wife, Nell Quickly.  He says, “To England will I steal, and there I’ll steal.”  Then he’ll lie to everyone that the scars he got were from the war in France.

In the final scene, Henry meets with King Charles and his queen to discuss the terms of the peace treaty.  The Duke of Burgundy laments the destruction that this war has caused France.  Everyone leaves to work out and sign the treaty, leaving only Henry, Princess Katherine, and Alice.

Henry begins a comically awkward wooing of the princess, whose English has improved somewhat, but is still far from fluent.  He asks, “Do you like me, Kate?”  She says, “I cannot tell vat is like me.”  He says, “An angel is like you, Kate, and you are like an angel.”

She wonders if she can love the “enemy of France.”  He says it isn’t possible, but to love him is to love the friend of France, for he loves France so much that he won’t part with one village of it.  Then he tries to woo her in French, which is as clumsily spoken as her broken English.  He can move her in French only to laugh at him.

Still he asks, “wilt thou have me?”  She says she must have the consent of her father the king; Henry assures her she’ll get his consent.

Finally, he asks to kiss her hand, then her lips, but in her maidenly modesty she says it isn’t the custom of France for girls to kiss before marriage.  He insists that kings and queens make the customs rather than bow to them.  Then they kiss.

The others return, the terms of the peace treaty are all agreed on, and Henry and Katherine are to be married.

The Chorus ends by reminding us of how Henry soon died, leaving his infant son, Henry VI, his successor; and the mismanagement of the throne by quarreling politicians caused England to lose France.  This story, of course, was already staged in the Henry VI plays.