This monologue is Henry V’s fiery response to an insult from the French Prince, The Dauphin.
Henry the IV has died and his young son, Henry V is crowned King and immediately lays claim to certain dukedoms of France, sending word to the French King of his right to rule these regions.
In this, the first scene of the play, Henry discusses the validity of his claim and is assured by The Archbishop of Canterbury that, through his bloodline, the lands he claims are indeed rightfully his, under Salic Law. Enter a French Ambassador.
The French Ambassador does not carry a response from the French King however. Instead, the messenger delivers Henry V a ‘tun of treasure’ from The Dauphin. This ‘gift’ is a box of tennis balls; an insulting jab at Henry’s rowdy youth, associating with criminals and drunkards. The suggestion here is that Henry’s claim to France is childish and that he should return to playing games.
After observing the tennis balls, Henry V decides this is the moment to state his intent.
Something I noticed immediately while reading the text is Shakespeare’s use of repetition. Repetition is a tool used by many great orators and here we see a wonderful example of that. Take note of the repetition of the word ‘mock’. To mock is to joke and Henry repeats this word until its meaning turns dark and foreboding. You may also notice the repetition of ‘The Dauphin’. This is the subject of Henry’s anger and he makes it clear who he is aiming his speech at.
I also noticed in the text was the amount of ‘feminine’ line endings. Shakespeare commonly wrote verse in Iambic Pentameter. It consists of 10 beats per line with 5 unstressed beats and 5 stressed beats. A feminine ending is a line with an extra beat in the iambic pentameter, thus making it eleven beats. The use of feminine endings can sometimes indicate that the subject matter being discussed is in some way distressful. It could also be a direction from Shakespeare to lean further into the extra syllable of the word and image that is being conjured.
The last thing I’ll mention is imagery and metaphor. Henry takes the mock of The Dauphin and twists it to become about war, life and death. The tennis balls become a powerful metaphor for cannon balls and the destruction that will be caused by them when Henry V invades France.
If we break down the language into thoughts and beat changes, we’re able to gain further insight into the character and how we might use the language in performance.
Beat Change: Space
Thought Change: /
Feminine Ending: (F)
We are glad the Dauphin is so pleasant with us. /
His present and your pains we thank you for: /
When we have march’d our rackets to these balls, /
We will, in France, by God’s grace, play a set
Shall strike his father’s crown into the hazard. / (F)
Tell him he hath made a match with such a wrangler / (F)
That all the courts of France will be disturb’d
With chaces. / And we understand him well,
How he comes o’er us with our wilder days,
Not measuring what use we made of them. /
We never valued this poor seat of England; (F)
And therefore, living hence, did give ourself
To barbarous licence; as ’tis ever common
That men are merriest when they are from home. /
But tell the Dauphin I will keep my state, /
Be like a king and show my sail of greatness (F)
When I do rouse me in my throne of France. /
For that I have laid by my majesty
And plodded like a man for working-days,
But I will rise there with so full a glory (F)
That I will dazzle all the eyes of France,
Yea, strike the Dauphin blind to look on us. /
And tell the pleasant prince this mock of his
Hath turn’d his balls to gun-stones; and his soul
Shall stand sore charged for the wasteful vengeance (F)
That shall fly with them: / for many a thousand widows (F)
Shall this his mock mock out of their dear husbands; / (F)
Mock mothers from their sons, / mock castles down; /
And some are yet ungotten and unborn
That shall have cause to curse the Dauphin’s scorn. /
But this lies all within the will of God, /
To whom I do appeal; and in whose name
Tell you the Dauphin I am coming on, /
To venge me as I may and to put forth
My rightful hand in a well-hallow’d cause. /
So get you hence in peace; and tell the Dauphin (F)
His jest will savour but of shallow wit,
When thousands weep more than did laugh at it. /
Convey them with safe conduct. Fare you well. /
I’m glad the French Prince is so humorous with me.
I thank you for his gift and for the effort it took to get it here.
When I have taken my racket to these balls,
I will, in France, by the grace of God, play a set
That will smash his father’s crown out of the game.
Tell him that he has taken on such a fighting opponent,
That every tennis court across France will be disturbed
By pursuing one another. And I understand him,
When he criticises me for my wilder days,
Not realising what I’ve learned from them.
I never valued the humble throne of England,
And, living away from it, I gave myself
Licence to be wildly savage, as is common
In men who are most riotous when they’re away from home.
But tell the French Prince I will keep my dignity,
Be like a King and show my wealth of power,
When I ascend to my throne in France.
Because I have put aside my stateliness,
And worked like any regular labourer,
I will rise to the throne in such glory
That I will dazzle every eye in France
Indeed, strike the Dauphin blind to look at me.
And tell the flippant Prince that this joke of his
Has turned these tennis balls into cannon balls, and his soul
Will stand on trial for destructive vengeance,
That goes with them, for thousands of widows
Will his joke, joke out of their husbands,
Joke mothers from their sons, joke castles down,
And some are not even conceived yet,
That will have reason to regret the Dauphin’s joke.
But this is all up to God’s will,
To whom I appeal, and by God’s name,
Tell the Dauphin I am coming for him,
To take revenge for this insult and to put forward
My rightful hand in this just and sacred cause.
So go there in peace, and tell the Dauphin,
His joke will seem pretty stupid,
When thousands of people cry, more than ever laugh at it.
Give them a safe journey, Good bye.
Unfamiliar Words & Phrases
Pleasant: Joking, merry.
Racket: Tennis racket, potentially also double meaning of loud noise from cannon fire.
Hazard: Danger. In other words: An unplayable area of the tennis court.
Wrangler: Fighter or Spirited opponent.
Chaces: Chases. A shot that one might chase to return. Also means; a double bounce of the ball, meaning a lost point.
How he comes o’er us: How he holds it over me.
License: Wildness. Freedom.
State: Dignity or Throne.
Rouse: Rise up, raise, ascend.
Gun stones: Cannon balls.
Ungotten: Unborn, not yet conceived.
Scorn: Contempt or disdain.
The lack of respect shown by the King of France by not responding to Henry personally, coupled with the tennis ball insult by The Dauphin is just the moment Henry has been waiting for. This scene plays out in front of Henry’s entire court. All eyes are on him. How will the young king respond to these insults? Is he able to keep his cool? What will his response be? This is the highest of high pressure moments for a newly crowned king. Henry V doesn’t disappoint; he takes the opportunity to show his mettle.
This speech is a statement of intent. In effect Henry V is saying that “I am no longer Harry, the child who played games, but a man and a King now at war”.
Something that stands out to me is the progression of the language. In this monologue, Henry shows his ability to take a childish joke and construct it into a dark metaphor of war and death. We learn in this moment that Henry is a skilled orator, ruthless and even vicious when he wants to be.
And yet he does this without threatening to shoot the messenger, it is an example of true kingship. The monologue almost feels like it comes full circle in this way: ’We are glad the Dauphin is so pleasant with us’ to ‘Convey them with safe conduct, fare you well’.
Despite being insulted, he is cordial, even friendly towards the Ambassador of the French, offering him safe passage to deliver his message back to The Dauphin. A lesser Henry may have lashed out and killed the man on the spot for the joke. However, he is no longer the impulsive and reckless child of his youth. He has grown and assumed the state of a king. I think this is a great opportunity for an actor to showcase their kingliness and venom in one juicy monologue.