Fluellen vs. Exeter: an analysis

My performance of Henry V was yesterday, and it went really well! Since I had some time today, I finished writing up this analysis I’d started a while ago—complete with textual citations, yay!

In Henry V, I played two characters: Fluellen and Exeter. Interestingly, these two characters contrast each other nicely—having similar motivations, but different actions.

Exeter is very eloquent and straightforward. He knows what he wants, and he says it in a very clear way, with good language as well. He is, in a way, King Henry’s right-hand man—being the one who encourages him to go to war (1.2.124-6) and also the one to threaten the French (2.4) in an attempt to make them surrender. He is very experienced, and willing to do whatever necessary to keep the military discipline—including sentencing Bardolph to death (3.6.44).

Fluellen, however? Fluellen says whatever the hell pops into his mind. His thought process is complex and frenzied, and he can switch between three topics in a single sentence (me and my friend headcanon him as ADHD, lol). He’s a mega-nerd and connects everything to history (“magnanimous as Agamemnon” (3.6.5), “Alexander the Big” (4.7.13), “no tiddle toddle nor pibble pabble in Pompey’s camp” (4.1.71-2)… you know what I’m talking about). Also? He’s obsessed with military discipline (referenced many times in 3.2)—as is Exeter.

But here’s my hypothesis about Fluellen. I don’t honestly think he knows how much he rambles on and on about anything and everything. That’s just the way he thinks. Pistol mocks him for it (5.1.69-75), but Fluellen’s definitely not deserving of that.

How does this connect with Exeter? Well: Fluellen likes Exeter a LOT (“…A man that I love and honor with my soul, and my heart, and my duty…” (3.6.6-7)). According to Fluellen, Exeter is “magnanimous”, “valiant”, etc. Why does he like him so much? Apart from being an excellent soldier, Exeter is pretty much the epitome of military discipline. He executes it flawlessly. However, the one who talks the most about the “disciplines of war” is Fluellen (in fact, he’s the only person in the play to use the word “discipline”, and does so 10 times). In 3.6, he also sides with Exeter and agrees to the execution of Bardolph, citing the fact that “discipline ought to be used” (3.6.55). Whether or not he thinks it’s morally just to kill Bardolph, his loyalty to Exeter and his sense of discipline cause him to ignore Pistol’s pleas. Additionally, Fluellen is insistent that Williams keep his oath to challenge anyone wearing his glove (4.7.132)—and also calls for the King to justly punish Williams when he wrongly attacks Fluellen (4.8.43).

I hypothesize that Fluellen aspires to be as perfectly disciplined as Exeter. And maybe not just in the war sense—perhaps Fluellen also wishes that his words and thoughts could be as clear, succinct, and, well, disciplined as Exeter’s? After all, English is not his first language, as Gower points out in 5.1.69-75. And of course, the way he speaks is anything but straightforward. I don’t exactly have any textual evidence that Fluellen wishes his speech were clearer—if anything, he seems oblivious to the fact that his speech is anything out of the ordinary. But still, I think it’s an interesting theory….

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