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Fluellen intimidates the cowering Pistol, watercolour by Joseph Noel Paton Fluellen terrifying Pistol.jpg
Fluellen intimidates the cowering Pistol, watercolour by Joseph Noel Paton

Fluellen is a fictional character in the play Henry V by William Shakespeare. Fluellen is a Welsh Captain, a leader of a contingent of troops in the small army of King Henry V of England while on campaign in France during the Hundred Years' War. He is a comic figure, whose characterisation draws on stereotypes of the Welsh at that time, but he is also portrayed as a loyal, brave and dedicated soldier.

<i>Henry V</i> (play) play by Shakespeare

Henry V is a history play by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written near 1599. It tells the story of King Henry V of England, focusing on events immediately before and after the Battle of Agincourt (1415) during the Hundred Years' War. In the First Quarto text, it was titled The Cronicle History of Henry the fift, which became The Life of Henry the Fifth in the First Folio text.

William Shakespeare 16th and 17th-century English playwright and poet

William Shakespeare was an English poet, playwright, and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's greatest dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon". His extant works, including collaborations, consist of some 39 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems, and a few other verses, some of uncertain authorship. His plays have been translated into every major living language and are performed more often than those of any other playwright.

Welsh people nation and ethnic group native to Wales

The Welsh are a Celtic nation and ethnic group native to, or otherwise associated with, Wales, Welsh culture, Welsh history and the Welsh language. Wales is a country that is part of the United Kingdom, and the majority of people living in Wales are British citizens.



The name 'Fluellen' is an anglicised version of the Welsh language Llywelyn. [1] The Welsh sound [ ɬ ] does not exist in English, but is perceived by English speakers as similar to sequence fl. A similar process of anglicisation can be seen with Floyd for Llwyd (Lloyd being an alternative anglicisation retaining the double L, but changing the spelling of the vowel).

Welsh language Brythonic language spoken natively in Wales

Welsh is a Brittonic language of the Celtic language family. It is spoken natively in Wales, by some in England, and in Y Wladfa. Historically, it has also been known in English as 'British', 'Cambrian', 'Cambric' and 'Cymric'.

Llywelyn (name) name (use Q20151306 for the given name and Q21500714 for the family name)

Llywelyn is a Welsh personal name, which has also become a family name most commonly spelt Llewellyn. The name has many variations and derivations, mainly as a result of the difficulty for non-Welsh speakers of representing the sound of the initial double ll.


Fluellen forces Pistol to eat a leek. Illustration to Shakespeare's Henry V by H. C. Selous Fluellen forces Pistol to eat a leek..jpg
Fluellen forces Pistol to eat a leek. Illustration to Shakespeare's Henry V by H. C. Selous

Shakespeare adheres to his seemingly common principle of portraying Welsh characters in his plays as basically comedic, offering the audience an opportunity to mock the manners, language, temperament and outmoded attitudes of their Celtic neighbours; compare with Glendower in Henry IV, Part 1 and Sir Hugh Evans the Welsh Parson in The Merry Wives of Windsor . All are wordy 'Welsh windbags', with amusing speech patterns, pronunciations and reactionary, over sensitive and pedantic to a degree. [1] [2] Fluellen's obsession with proper military procedure epitomises this.

<i>Henry IV, Part 1</i> play by Shakespeare

Henry IV, Part 1 is a history play by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written no later than 1597. It is the second play in Shakespeare's tetralogy dealing with the successive reigns of Richard II, Henry IV, and Henry V. Henry IV, Part 1 depicts a span of history that begins with Hotspur's battle at Homildon in Northumberland against Douglas late in 1402 and ends with the defeat of the rebels at Shrewsbury in the middle of 1403. From the start, it has been an extremely popular play both with the public and critics.

In the pre-Reformation church, a parson is the priest of an independent parish church, that is, a parish church not under the control of a larger ecclesiastical or monastic organization. The term is similar to rector and is in contrast to a vicar, a cleric whose revenue is usually, at least partially, appropriated by a larger organization. Today the term is normally used for some parish clergy of non-Roman Catholic churches, in particular in the Anglican tradition in which a parson is the incumbent of a parochial benefice: a parish priest or a rector; in this sense a parson can be compared with a vicar. The title parson can be applied to clergy from certain other Protestant denominations. A parson is often housed in a church-owned home known as a parsonage.

<i>The Merry Wives of Windsor</i> play by Shakespeare

The Merry Wives of Windsor is a comedy by William Shakespeare first published in 1602, though believed to have been written in or before 1597. The Windsor of the play's title is a reference to the town of Windsor, also the location of Windsor Castle, in Berkshire, England. Though nominally set in the reign of Henry IV, the play makes no pretence to exist outside contemporary Elizabethan era English middle class life. It features the character Sir John Falstaff, the fat knight who had previously been featured in Henry IV, Part 1 and Part 2. It has been adapted for the opera on several occasions. The play is one of Shakespeare's lesser-regarded works among literary critics.

However, Fluellen has some 281 lines in Henry V and is not simply a peripheral character or merely comic in nature. The character is well rounded, affords humour but avoids buffoonery, and also generates great affection from the audience, having poignancy, scope and dramatic range.

We see him first as a soldier, albeit driving rather than leading his soldiers into the breach. His appearance comes after the bombastic "Once more unto the breach..." speech delivered by the King and he drives the comic stragglers Bardolph, Nym, Pistol and the Boy towards the enemy. Into the scene his character is immediately fleshed out with the emphasis on Fluellen's much mentioned "disciplines of the wars" and the first opportunity for a smirk at his accent, mannerisms and delivery (e.g., the Welsh "B" is far less voiced than the English "B", leading English hearers to half-mistake it for a "P", hence, "Alexander the Pig"). [3]

Bardolph (Shakespeare character) character in several plays by Shakespeare

Bardolph is a fictional character who appears in four plays by William Shakespeare, more plays than any other male character in Shakespeare. He is a thief who forms part of the entourage of Sir John Falstaff. His grossly inflamed nose and constantly flushed, carbuncle-covered face is a repeated subject for Falstaff's and Prince Hal's comic insults and word-play. Though his role in each play is minor, he often adds comic relief, and helps illustrate the personality change in Henry from Prince to King.

Corporal Nym character in The Merry Wives of Windsor and Henry V

Corporal Nym is a fictional character who appears in two Shakespeare plays, The Merry Wives of Windsor and Henry V. He later appears in spin-off works by other writers. Nym is a soldier and criminal follower of Sir John Falstaff and a friend and rival of Ancient Pistol.

Ancient Pistol character in several plays by Shakespeare

Ancient Pistol is a swaggering soldier who appears in three plays by William Shakespeare. Though full of grandiose boasts about his prowess, he is essentially a coward. The character is introduced in Henry IV, Part 2 and reappears in The Merry Wives of Windsor and Henry V.

However, as the play develops just in case there should be any underestimation of the Welshman's qualities it is the King himself whom Shakespeare has deliver the words:

Though it appear a little out of fashion,
There is much care and valour in this Welshman.

By the end of the play the audience comes to share the King's perspective, the affection for the character being firmly secured by Fluellen's words after the seemingly miraculous victory at Agincourt, just after the French herald Montjoy comes to cede for peace Fluellen's relief and joy bursts out in his interchange with the King culminating in his tearful "By Jeshu, I am your majesty's countryman, I care not who know it; I will confess it to all the 'orld: I need not to be ashamed of your majesty, praised be God, so long as your majesty is an honest man." At this point Henry refers to his own Welsh origins, declaring "I am Welsh".

Another scene towards the end of the play also undermines the mockery in the portrayal of the Welsh Fluellen: Ancient Pistol mocks Fluellen for wearing a leek in his cap on Saint David's Day in commemoration of a legendary Welsh victory against the Saxons. Fluellen beats Pistol and makes him eat the raw leek, with his comrade-in-arms Gower commenting, "You thought, because he could not speak English in the native garb, he could not therefore handle an English cudgel: you find it otherwise; and henceforth let a Welsh correction teach you a good English condition."

Saint Davids Day Feast day of Saint David

Saint David's Day is the feast day of Saint David, the patron saint of Wales, and falls on 1 March, the date of Saint David's death in 589 AD. The feast has been regularly celebrated since the canonisation of David in the 12th century, though it is not a national holiday in the UK.


The character of Fluellen draws on stereotypes of Welsh characters in the era, and may have been influenced by the character Lluellen (Llywelyn ap Gruffudd) in George Peele's play The Famous Chronicle of King Edward the First . [4] He may well also have origins based on historical figures who may have been familiar to at least some of the contemporary theatre audience; comparisons have been made between Fluellen and two real life Welsh soldiers. One was Sir Dafydd ap Llewelyn, known as David Gam, a medieval Welshman who fought for King Henry IV of England and his son against Owain Glyndŵr during the Welsh rebellion of the early 15th century and subsequently accompanied Henry V of England to France where he was killed at the Battle of Agincourt. Gam ("Davy Gam") is mentioned by name in the play as one of the casualties, and thus as clearly a separate person from Fluellen.

Llywelyn ap Gruffudd Prince of Wales

Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, sometimes written as Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, also known as Llywelyn the Last or Llywelyn Yr Ail, was Prince of Wales from 1258 until his death at Cilmeri in 1282. The son of Gruffydd ap Llywelyn Fawr and grandson of Llywelyn the Great, he was the last sovereign prince of Wales before its conquest by Edward I of England.

George Peele was an English translator, poet, and dramatist, who is most noted for his supposed but not universally accepted collaboration with William Shakespeare on the play Titus Andronicus. Many anonymous Elizabethan plays have been attributed to him, but his reputation rests mainly on Edward I, The Old Wives' Tale, The Battle of Alcazar, The Arraignment of Paris, and David and Bethsabe. The Troublesome Reign of John, King of England, the immediate source for Shakespeare's King John, has been published under his name.

The Famous Chronicle of King Edward the First, sirnamed Edward Longshankes, with his returne from the holy land. ALSO THE LIFE OF LLEVELLEN rebell In Wales. Lastly, the sinking of Queen Elinor, who sunck at Charingcrosse, and rose againe at Pottershith, now named Queenehith. is a play by George Peele, published 1593, chronicling the career of Edward I of England.

Another possible source is an Elizabethan era Welsh soldier of fortune Roger Williams. A national hero in the wars against Spain, he would certainly have been known to audiences at the time the play was written and performed. Williams, who died in 1595, was a close ally of the Earl of Essex, and had been given a large public funeral in St Paul's cathedral four years before the play was written. Julian S. Corbett wrote that Williams "with his professional pedantry, his quaint and forcible turns of speech, his vanity and cool valour, was another 'Fluellen'.". [5] Shakespeare scholar J. Dover Wilson suggested that Fluellen was intended as "a careful and unmistakable portrait—a real portrait—of Sir Roger Williams, the Welsh soldier who had accompanied Essex during the French campaign of 1592 and had died, tended by Essex to the last, in 1595." He went on to claim that this was evidence that the play promoted the Essex's 1599 expedition to Ireland, to which the Chorus specifically refers: "That this old friend [of the Earl] should reappear in a stage-representation of Agincourt four years later is strong evidence that the play was intended to be associated with the hope of England." [6]

Fluellen and Bardolph are also Stratford names that appear on the 1592 recusant list, alongside that of William Shakespeare's father. [7]

Actors playing Fluellen on screen

Fluellen has been portrayed by several notable actors such as:


  1. 1 2 Innes, Paul, Class and Society in Shakespeare, Bloomsbury, 2007, p.535.
  2. Hawkes, Terence, Shakespeare in the Present, Routledge, 2002, pp. l34–65.
  3. Marisa R. Cull, Shakespeare's Princes of Wales: English Identity and the Welsh Connection, Oxford University Press, 2014, p. 113.
  4. Kevin A Quarmby, The Disguised Ruler in Shakespeare and his Contemporaries, Ashgate Publishing, 2013, p.34.
  5. Julian S. Corbett, Drake and the Tudor Navy:With a History of the Rise of England as a Maritime Power. Volume: 2. Longmans, Green., 1898, p.320.
  6. J. Dover Wilson, The Essential Shakespeare: A Biographical Adventure, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England. 1932. p.97.
  7. Michael Wood: In Search of Shakespeare 2003, page 96

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