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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 the English King while on campaign in France during the Hundred Years' War. Bardolph and Fluellen are Stratford names that appear on the 1592 recusant list, alongside that of William Shakespeare’s father.
The name 'Fluellen' is the anglicised version of the Welsh language surname Llewellyn or Llywelyn. The English, finding it difficult to render the Welsh sound [ɬ]), employ the sequence fl, as they did with Floyd for Lloyd.
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 One 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, overly sensitive and pedantic to a degree. Fluellen's obsession with proper military procedure epitomises this.
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.
However as the play develops just in case there should be any underestimation of the Welshman's qualities it is the King himself who 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: Pistol mocks Fluellen for wearing a leek in his cap on St. David's Day in commemoration of a legendary Welsh victory against the Saxons. Fluellen beats Pistol and makes him eat the 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."
The character of Fluellen may well 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 Dafydd 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 is mentioned by name in the play as one of the casualties.) The other was an Elizabethan era Welsh soldier of fortune Roger Williams who would certainly have been known at the time the play was written and performed.
Actors playing Fluellen in modern times
Fluellen has been portrayed by several notable actors such as :
- Esmond Knight in Laurence Olivier's film version
- Tim Wylton in the BBC Television Shakespeare adaptation in 1979 on UK television
- Bernard Lloyd at the Royal Shakespeare Company
- Ian Holm in Kenneth Branagh's film version
- Owen Teale in 2012 as part of the BBC The Hollow Crown series.
References & External Links
- [Michael Wood: In Search of Shakespeare 2003, page 96]