Summary and Analysis
In a room of the French palace at Rouen, Katharine, the king's daughter, and Alice, the old gentlewoman, have an English lesson. Alice knows only a little English, and Princess Katharine is trying to learn the language. All of the dialogue is in French except the few words (hand, nails, arm, and elbow, etc.) that she learns from Alice during the lesson.
Katharine, the future Queen of England whom Henry will woo and become betrothed to in the final scene of the play, is here introduced as a girl of fourteen whose destiny has already been decided. The purpose of the scene is to give the audience some light-hearted relief from the battle scenes and also to show that Katharine, by her statement that "it is necessary" that she learn English, is already reconciled to the idea that she is to be Henry's queen.
In this scene, the French words and phrases that appeared in the early editions of the play were filled with errors and have been corrected by successive editors. Even though the content is trivial and hardly needs a translation, a loose translation follows:
Kath. Alice, you have been to England, and you speak the language well.
Alice. A little, my lady.
Kath. I beg you to teach me because it will be necessary that I learn it. How does one say la main in English?
Alice. La main? It is called de hand.
Kath. De hand. And les doigts?
Alice. Les doigts? O my goodness, I have forgotten les doigts; but I shall soon remember it. Les doigts? I think that they are called de fingres; yes, de fingres.
Kath. La main, de hand; les doigts, de fingres. I think that I am a good student; I have quickly learned two English words. How does one say les ongles?
Alice. Les ongles? They are called de nails.
Kath. De nails. Listen and tell me if I speak well: de hand, de fingres, and de nails.
Alice. You have spoken well, my lady; it is very good English.
Kath. Tell me the English for le bras.
Alice. De arm, my lady.
Kath. And le coude.
Alice. De elbow.
Kath. De elbow. I will now repeat all of the words that you have taught me up to now.
Alice. I think that it will be very difficult, my lady.
Kath. Excuse me, Alice; listen: de hand, de fingres, de nails, de arma, de bilbow.
Alice. De elbow, my lady.
Kath. O my goodness, I forgot. De elbow. How does one say le col?
Alice. De nick, my lady.
Kath. De nick. And le menton?
Alice. De chin.
Kath, De sin. Le col, de nick; le menton, de sin.
Alice. Yes. To your honor, in truth, you pronounce the words as though you were a native English lady.
Kath. I do not doubt it at all that I shall be able to learn it in a little more time.
Alice. Have you yet forgotten what I have already taught you?
Kath. No, I shall recite to you promptly: de hand, de fingres, de mails, —
Alice. De nails, my lady.
Kath. De nails, de arm, de ilbow.
Alice. With your permission, de elbow.
Kath. That is what I said; de elbow, de nick, and de sin. Now how do you say le pied and la robe?
Alice. De foot, my lady, and de coun.
Kath. De foot and de coun! O my Lord! These are very bad words — evil, vulgar and immodest, and not for ladies of honor to use. I would never pronounce these words before French gentlemen — not for the whole world. Foo! Le foot and le coun! Nevertheless, I am going to recite my entire lesson together one more time: de hand, de fingres, de nails, de arm, de elbow, de nick, de sin, de foot, de coun.
Alice. Excellent, my lady!
Kath. It is enough for this time; let's go to dinner.