King Henry V
by William Shakespeare
Presented by Paul W. Collins
© Copyright 2011 by Paul W. Collins
King Henry V
By William Shakespeare
Presented by Paul W. Collins
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Note: Spoken lines from Shakespeare’s drama are in the public domain, as is the Globe (1864) edition of his plays, which provided the basic text of the speeches in this new version of King Henry V. But King Henry V, by William Shakespeare: Presented by Paul W. Collins, is a copyrighted work, and is made available for your personal use only, in reading and study.
Student, beware: This is a presentation, not a scholarly work, so you should be sure your teacher, instructor or professor considers it acceptable as a reference before quoting characters’ comments or thoughts from it in your report or term paper.
New Reign, Old Claims
“Oh, for a muse of fire that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention!” cries the actor, striding forward. His voice booms out, quieting the crowd milling around three sides of the raised platform that juts out past two tall pillars to a roof over part of the stage, at the rear. “A kingdom for a stage, princes to act, and monarchs to behold the swelling scene!”
The theater’s more genteel patrons, clustered in the surrounding galleries’ three tiers, turn to listen, and the audience of one-penny patrons, standing on the ground, moves closer.
“Then should the warlike Harry, showing as himself, assume the part of Mars,”—god of war, “and at his heels, leashed in like hounds, should famine, sword and fire crouch, ready for employment!
“But pardon, gentles all, the flat, unraisèd spirits that have dared on this unworthy scaffold to bring forth so great an objective! Can this cock-pit hold the vasty fields of France? Or may we cram within this wooden O the many helmets that did affright the air at Agincourt? Oh, pardon!
“But, since a crookèd figure”—written number—“may attest in little place a million, let us, zeroes to this great accompt, on your imaginative forces work!
“Suppose within the girdle of these walls are now confinèd two mighty monarchies, whose high-upreared and abutting fronts only a perilous, narrow ocean parts asunder! Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts: into a thousand parts divide one man, and make imaginary puissance!”—create an army. “Think, when we talk of horses, that you see them printing their proud hoofs i’ the receiving earth!
“For ’tis your thoughts that now must bedeck our kings, carry them here and there—jumping o’er times, forcing the accomplishment of many years into an hour-glass!
“For the which to supply, admit me as Chorus to this history—who, Prologue-like, humbly prays your patience, gently to hear, kindly to judge, our play….”
In a small chamber near the royal palace’s throne room in London, the Archbishop of Canterbury paces, worried about some legislation being considered by Parliament. “My lord, I’ll tell you: that same bill against us is being urgèd which in the eleventh year of the last king’s reign was likely!—and indeed had passed, but that the scrabbling and unquiet time did push it out of farther question.”
“But how, my lord, shall we now resist it?” asks another visitor to the capital, the Bishop of Ely, who came here just before the archbishop’s brief—interrupted—audience with the new king.
“It must be thought on! If it pass against us, we lose the better half of our possessions!—for all the temporal lands which devout men by testament have given to the Church would they strip from us!—being valued thus: as much as would maintain, to the king’s honour, fully fifteen earls and fifteen hundred knights, and six thousand, two hundred good squires!”—country gentlemen.
He shakes his head in disgust at the tax bill’s provisions. “For relief of lepers and weak agèd, for indigent, faint souls past corporal toil, a hundred alms-houses, right-well supplied!—and besides, to the coffers of the king, a thousand pounds by the year!
“Thus runs the billing!”
The bishop is stunned. “This would drink deep!”
“’Twould drink the cup and all!”
“But what prevention?”
The archbishop stops. He pictures the young sovereign. “The king is full of grace and fair regard….”
“And a true lover of the Holy Church.”
But Canterbury frowns. “The courses of his youth promised it not!
“The breath no sooner left his father’s body but that his wildness seemed to die too, mortified in him!—yea, at that very moment Consideration, like an angel, came and whipped the offending Adam out of him, leaving his body as a paradise, to envelop and contain celestial spirits!”—as opposed to the wine in which Henry V reputedly indulged as dissolute Prince Hal.
“Never was such a sudden scholar made!—never came reformation in such a flood, with heady currents scouring faults!—nor never did Hydra-headed wilfulness so soon lose its seat—and all at once—as in this king!”
“We are blessed in the change,” says the bishop, hopeful despite the other priest’s harsh assessment.
As the archbishop continues, his lilting tone mocks Henry’s popular appeal. “Only hear him reason on divinity and, all admiring, with an inward wish you would desire that the king were made a prelate! Hear him debate on commonwealth affairs, you would say it hath been all his study! List to his discourse on war, and you shall hear a fearful battle rendered you in music! Turn him to any cause of policy, the Gordian knot of it he will unloose, familiar as his garter!
“When he speaks as a chartered libertine, the air is still!—and a mute Wonder lurketh in men’s ears to steal his sentences, so sweet and honey’d that the art and practic parts of life must be the mistresses of his theoric!”
The archbishop’s voice hardens. “Which is to wonder how his grace should glean it, since his addiction was to courses vain, his companions unlettered, rude and shallow, his hours filled up with riots, banquets, and sports!—and never was any study noted in him—any retirement, any sequestration from open haunts and popular entertainments!”
Bishop Ely shrugs. “The strawberry grows underneath the nettle, and wholesome berries thrive and ripen best when neighboured by fruit of baser quality; and so the prince obscurèd, under a veil of wildness, his contemplation—which no doubt grew like the summer grass, fastest by night, unseen, yet crescive”—rising—“in its faculty.”
“It must be so, for miracles are ceasèd,” says the archbishop, lamenting the time’s growing devotion to science, “and therefore we must needs admire the means how things are perfected.”
Ely is concerned. “But, my good lord, how now to mitigate this bill urged by the Commons? Doth his majesty incline to it?—or no….”
“He seems indifferent.
“Or rather swaying more upon our part than cherishing the exhibiters against us. For, with regard to causes now in hand which I have earlier opened to his grace, as touching upon France at large, I have made an offer to his majesty from our spiritual convocation: to give a greater sum at one time than ever the clergy did yet to his predecessors part withal!”
“How did this offer seem received, my lord?”
“With good acceptance by his majesty—save that there was not time enough to hear, as I perceived his grace would fain have done, the severals and unhidden passages”—particulars and revelations—“of his true titles, derivèd from Edward, his great-grandfather,”—England’s King Edward III, “to some certain dukedoms—and generally to the crown and seat of France!”
To pursue such a claim, the king would need much money, and a “gift” from supportive churchmen would be preferable to a controversial confiscation.
“What was the impediment that broke this off?”
“The French ambassador upon that instant craved audience!—and the moment, I think, is come to give him hearing. Is it four o’clock?”
“Then go we in to know his embassy—which I could with a ready guess declare before the Frenchman speaks a word of it!” The archbishop moves toward the door.
The bishop follows. “I’ll wait upon you; I long to hear it!”
“Where is my gracious lord of Canterbury?” asks King Henry V in the tall throne room, which is now crowded with nobles and their attendants.
“Not here in presence,” the Duke of Exeter tells him.
“Send for him, good uncle.”
“Shall we call in the ambassador, my liege?” asks the Earl of Westmoreland.
“Not yet, my cousin; we would be resolvèd, before we hear him, of some things of weight that task our thoughts, concerning us and France.”
The two prelates enter, approach the throne, and bow.
“God and his angels guard your sacred throne, and make you long become it!” says the archbishop.
“We thank you.” King Henry cites the main concern. “My learnèd lord, we pray you to proceed, and justly and religiously unfold why the ‘law Salique’ that they have in France either should, or should not, bar us in our claim.
“And God forbid, my dear and faithful lord, that you should fashion, wrest, or bend your understanding in reading, or charge your soul”—burden it—“by opening too shrewdly titles miscreated, whose right suits not in native colours with the truth! For God doth know how many now in health shall drop their blood in approbation of what Your Reverence shall incite us to!
“Therefore take heed how you impawn our person, how you awake our sleeping sword of war! We charge you, in the name of God, take heed! For never did two such kingdoms contend without much fall of blood!—whose guiltless drops are every one a woe, a sore complaint ’gainst him whose wrong gives edge unto the swords that make such waste of brief mortality!
“Under this conjuration, speak, my lord; for we will hear, note, and believe in heart that what you speak is, in your conscience, washed as pure as is sin by baptism!”
The Archbishop of Canterbury moves forward and unfurls a document. “Then hear me, gracious sovereign, and you peers that owe your selves, your lives and services to this imperial throne.
“There is no bar to make against Your Highness’ claim to France but this, which they produce from Pharamond….” He reads aloud: “‘In terram Salicam mulieres ne succedant’—No woman shall succeed in Salique land.”
The archbishop looks up from the paper. “Which Salique land the French unjustly gloze to be the realm of France, and Pharamond the founder of this law and female bar.
“Yet their own authors faithfully affirm that the land Salique is in Germany!—between the floods of Sala and of Elbe, where Charles the Great, having subdued the Saxons, there left behind and settled certain French—who, holding in disdain the German women for some dishonest manners of their life, established then this law: to wit, no female should be inheritrix in Salique land. Which Salique, as I said, ’twixt Elbe and Sala, is at this day in Germany called Meisen.
“Then doth it well appear that Salique law was not devisèd for the realm of France—nor did the French possess the Salique land until four hundred, one and twenty years after the defunction of King Pharamond, idly supposèd the founder of this law, who died within the year of our redemption Four Hundred Twenty-Six. Charles the Great subdued the Saxons, and did seat the French beyond the river Sala, in the year Eight Hundred Five!”
He can cite past French pretenders who ignored any bar to inheritance by or through females. “Besides, their writers say, King Pepin, who deposèd Childeric, did, as heir general, being descended of Blithild, who was daughter to King Clothair, make claim and title to the crown of France!
“Also Hugh Capet, who usurped the crown of Charles, the Duke of Lorraine, sole male heir of the true line and stock of Charles the Great, in order to find his title with some shows of truth—though in pure truth it was corrupt and nought—conveyed himself as heir to the Lady Lingare, daughter to Charlemagne, who was the son to Louis the emperor.
“And Louis the son of Charles the Great, also King Louis the Tenth, who was sole heir to the usurper Capet, could not keep quiet in his conscience, wearing the crown of France, till satisfied that fair Queen Isabel, his grandmother, was lineal of the Lady Ermengare, daughter to Charles, the foresaid Duke of Lorraine—by the which marriage the line of Charles the Great was reunited to the crown of France.”
He rolls up the document briskly. “So that, as clear as is the summer sun, King Pepin’s title, Hugh Capet’s claim, and King Louis’s satisfaction all appear to rely upon right and title of the female!
“So do the kings’ of France unto this day, even if they would hold up this Salique law to bar Your Highness’s claiming from the female, and choose rather to hide themselves in a net than aptly to imbar their crookèd titles—usurped from your progenitors and you!”
In a loud, clear voice, King Henry asks, carefully, “May I with right and conscience make this claim?”
The archbishop nods solemnly. “Thus, and upon my head, dread sovereign! For in the Book of Numbers is it writ: ‘When the man dies and has no son, let the inheritance descend unto the daughter.’
“Gracious lord, stand for your own!—unwind your bloody flag!—look back unto your mighty ancestors! Go, my dread lord, to your great-grandsire’s tomb, from whom you claim; invoke his warlike spirit! And your great-uncle’s—Edward the Black Prince, who on the French ground performed a tragedy: making defeat of the full power of France whiles his most-mighty father stood on a hill, smiling to behold his lion’s-whelp forage in the blood of French nobility!
“Oh, noble English that could entertain with half their forces the full pride of France, and let another half stand laughing by, all out of work and cold for want of action!”
The Bishop of Ely steps forward. “Awake remembrance of those valiant dead, and with your puissant arm renew their feats!” the priest urges. “You are their heir; you sit upon their throne—the blood and courage that renownèd them runs in your veins!—and my thrice-puissant liege is in the very May-morn of his youth, ripe for exploits and mighty enterprises!”
“Your brother kings and monarchs of the earth do all expect that you should rouse yourself, as did the former lions of your blood!” argues Lord Exeter, the king’s uncle.
Lord Westmoreland concurs. “They know Your Grace hath cause and means and might—so have your subjects!—never king of England had nobles richer and more loyal, whose hearts have left their bodies, here in England, and lie pavilioned on the fields of France!”
“Oh, let their bodies follow, my dear liege!” urges the archbishop, “with blood and sword and fire to win your right!
“In aid whereof we of the spiritualty will raise Your Highness such a mighty sum as never did the clergy at one time bring in to any of your ancestors!”
King Henry considers carefully. “We must not only arm to invade the French, but lay down our proportions to defend against the Scot, who will make road upon us with all advantages”—encroach at any opportunity.
The archbishop commends the northern militias. “They of those marches, gracious sovereign, shall be a wall sufficient to defend our inland from the pilfering borderers.”
“We do not mean the coursing snatchers only,” says the king, “but fear the main intendment of the Scot, who hath been ever a giddy neighbour to us! For you shall read that my great-grandfather never went with his forces into France but that the Scot on his unfurnishèd kingdom came pouring like the tide into a breach, and amply, with brim-fulness of his force, galling the gleanèd land with hot assays, girding with grievous siege castles and towns, such that England, being empty of defence, hath shook and trembled at the perilous proximity!”
“She hath been then more afeared than harmèd, my liege,” says the archbishop. “For England was but exampled here by herself: when all her chivalry hath been in France, and she a widow mourning of her nobles, she hath herself not only well defended, but taken and impounded as a stray the King of Scots!—whom she did send to France to fill King Edward’s fame with prisoner kings, and make her chronicle as rich with praise as is the ooze at bottom of the sea with sunless wrecks and sunken treasures!”
“But there’s a saying very old and true,” warns Westmoreland. “‘If that you will France to win, then with Scotland first begin!’ For, once the eagle England be at prey, to her unguarded nest the weasel Scot comes sneaking, and sucks her princely eggs, playing the mouse in absence of the cat, to tear and havoc more than it can eat!”
Says Exeter, “It follows then the cat must stay at home; yet that is but needless caution, since we have locks to safeguard necessities, and petty traps to catch the petty thieves. While that the armèd hand doth fight abroad, the advisèd head defends itself at home!—for government, through high and low and lower put into parts,”—as in singing, “doth keep in one consent, congruing in a full and natural close like music!”
The archbishop nods. “True! Therefore doth Heaven divide the state of Man in divers functions, setting endeavour in continual motion—which is fixèd, as an aim on a target, in obedience.
“For so work the honey-bees, creatures that by a rule in Nature teach the act of order to a peopled kingdom. They have a king and officers of sorts; while some, like magistrates, collect at home, others, like merchants, venture trade abroad; others, like soldiers, armèd in their stings, make boot upon the summer’s velvet buds—which pillaged, they with merry march bring home to the tent-royal of their emperor!—who, busied in his majesty, surveys the singing masons building roofs of gold, the civil citizens kneading up the honey, the poor, mechanic porters crowding in with their heavy burdens at his narrow gate, the sad-eyed justice, with his surly hum, delivering o’er to executioner’s pale the lazy, yawning drone.
“I this infer: that many things, having full reference to one consent, may work contrariously—as many arrows loosèd several ways come to one mark, as many ways meet in one town, as many fresh streams meet in one salt sea, as many lines end in the spiral’s centre, so may a thousand actions, once afoot, end in one purpose, and be all well borne, without defeat!
“Therefore to France, my liege! Divide your happy England into four, whereof take you one quarter into France, and you withal shall make all Gallia shake! If we, with thrice such powers left at home, cannot defend our own doors from a dog, let us be worried—and our nation lose the name of hardiness and policy!”
King Henry rises and nods. “Call in the messengers sent from the dauphin,” he tells an attendant, who bows and goes to find the emissaries of the young French prince. “Now are we well resolvèd,” says the king, “and, by God’s help—and yours, the noble sinews of our power—France being ours, we’ll bend it to our awe, or break it all to pieces!
“Either there we’ll sit, ruling in large and ample empery o’er France and all her almost-kingly dukedoms, or lay these bones in an unworthy urn, tombless, with no remembrance over them!
“Either our history shall with full mouth speak freely of our acts, or else our grave, not worshipped, without even a waxen epitaph, shall like a Turkish mute have a tongueless mouth!”
Side doors open, and noblemen from France are accompanied into the hall; they come before the king and bow.
Says Henry, “Now are we well prepared to know the pleasure of our fair cousin dauphin—for we hear your greeting is from him, not from the king.”
The older ambassador speaks with formal courtesy. “May’t please Your Majesty to give us leave freely to render what we have in charge?—or shall we sparingly show you, far off, the dauphin’s meaning in our embassy?”
“We are no tyrant, but a Christian king,” says Henry, “unto whose grace our passion is as subject as are our wretches fettered in our prisons. Therefore with frank and with uncurbèd plainness tell us the dauphin’s mind.”
“Thus, then, in few: Your Highness, lately sending unto France, did claim some certain dukedoms by the right of your great predecessor, King Edward the Third. In answer of which claim, the prince our master says that you savour too much of your youth, and bids you be advisèd there’s nought in France that can be won with a nimble galliard!”—danced away. “You cannot revel into dukedoms there,” he adds disdainfully. The new king’s reputation as the frivolous, dissolute Prince of Wales is well known abroad.
The ambassador signals attendants; two bring forward a big casket and open the lid. “He therefore sends you this tun of treasure meeter for your spirit, and, desires that you, in accepting it, let the dukedoms that you claim hear no more of you.
“Thus the dauphin speaks,” he concludes haughtily.
“What treasure, Uncle?” the king asks Lord Exeter, who is standing near the ambassador.
“Tennis-balls, my liege!”
Henry’s face is hard. “We are glad the dauphin is so pleasant with us,” he tells the ambassador. “His present, and your pains, we thank you for.”
He moves forward, indignation rising, to confront the emissary. “When we have marched our ‘racquets’ for these balls, we will be in France, and by God’s grace play a set as shall strike his father’s crown into the wager! Tell him he hath started a match with such a wrangler that all the courts of France will be disturbèd with the chases!”
He turns and walks to the throne. “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 craved this poor throne of England; and therefore did give ourself, living hence, 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 seal of greatness, when I do rouse me on my throne of France!
“Although I have laid by my majesty, and plodded like a man of working-days, yet will I rise there with so full a glory that I will dazzle all the eyes of France!—yea, strike the dauphin blind to look upon us!
“And tell the pleasant prince this mock of his hath turned these balls to gun-stones!—and his soul shall stand sore chargèd for the wasteful vengeance that shall fly with them! For many a thousand shall this, his mock, mock widows out of their dear husbands!—mock mothers from their sons, mock castles down! And some are yet unbegotten 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-hallowèd cause!
“So get you hence in peace—and tell the dauphin his jest will savour but of shallow wit when thousands more weep than did laugh at it!”
He motions to his guards. “Convey them with safe conduct.
“Fare you well,” he says grimly to the ambassador. As the French noblemen are hurried away their astonishment shows; they had hardly expected to return with a declaration of war from the profligate Prince Hal.
Lord Exeter, glaring down at the casket, shakes his head. “This was a merry message!”
“We hope to make the sender blush at it!” says King Henry. “Therefore, my lords, omit no fortunate hour that may give furtherance to our expedition,”—haste, “for we have now no thought in us but France!—save those to God, that run before our business.
“Therefore let our proportions for these wars be soon collected, and all things thought upon that may with reasonable swiftness add more feathers to our wings! For, before God, we’ll chide this dauphin at his father’s door!
“For that let every man now task his thought, that this fair action may afoot be brought!”
On a busy street in London, an English officer encounters a soldier from his old infantry company. “Well met, Corporal Nym!”
“Good morrow, Lieutenant Bardolph.”
“What—are Ancient Pistol and you still friends?” During the battle to defeat the recent rebellion, the corporal had served with Pistol, the ensign and factotum of Sir John Falstaff, a fat old knight captaining some tatterdemalion troops.
“As for my part, I care not,” Nym replies. “I say little. And when time shall serve, there shall be smiles; but that shall be as it may. I dare not fight; but I will shut my eyes and hold out mine iron. It is a simple one; but what, though?—it will toast cheese, and it will endure cold as another man’s sword will. And there’s an end.”
Bardolph smiles and throws an arm around the smaller man’s shoulders. “I will bestow a breakfast to make you friends; and we’ll be all three sworn brothers going to France! Let it be so, good Corporal Nym!”
The sullen soldier is resigned to going. “’Faith, I will live so long as I may, that’s the certain of it; and when I cannot live any longer, I will do as I may; that is, my rest; that is the rendezvous of it.”
The red-haired officer knows what’s troubling the slender man. “It is certain, corporal, that he is married to Nell Quickly.” The play on kneel—and in some cases knell—is commonly used for women in an ancient trade. “And certainly she did you wrong; for you were troth-plight to her.”
“I cannot tell; things must be as they may.” Nym frowns, eyes narrowing. “Men may sleep, and they may have their throats about them at that time; and some say knives have edges! It must be as it may; though Patience be a tired mare, yet she will plod. There must be conclusions; if well, I cannot tell,” he adds darkly.
Bardolph looks past him on the street. “Here comes Ancient Pistol, and his wife! Good corporal, be patient here.” He walks forward to meet the pair.
But Nym calls, “How now, mine host Pistol?” The ensign has married the widowed owner of a tavern in London’s disreputable Eastcheap area. While it is not an inn, she is known as its hostess by patrons who go there to drink, dine, and avail themselves of certain amenities provided by her accommodating women who work there.
Pistol frowns. “Base tike, call’st thou me host? Now, by this hand, I swear, I scorn the term!—nor shall my Nell keep lodgers!”
Says she, straightening the hem of her gown, “No, by my troth… not long. For we cannot lodge and board a dozen or fourteen gentlewomen that live honestly by the prick of their needles, but it will be thought we keep a bawdy house straight!”
She looks up, appalled to see her husband and Nym brandishing swords. “O well-a-day, Lady, if he be not drawn!—now we shall see wilful adultery and murder committed!”
Bardolph steps between the two aging men. “Good lieutenant! Good corporal! Offer nothing here!”
“Shit!” growls Nym.
“Shit for thee, island dog!” replies Pistol. “Thou prick-eared cur of Ireland!”
Pleads the hostess, “Good Corporal Nym, show thy valour and put up your sword!”
“Will you shog off?” says Nym to the others. He glares at Pistol. “I would have you solus!”
Pistol is furious. “‘Solus,’ egregious dog? O viper vile! The solus in thy most mervailous face! The solus in thy teeth, and in thy throat, and in thy hateful lungs!—yea, in thy maw, perdy!—and, what is worse, within thy nasty mouth!
“I do retort the solus into thy bowels! For I can make! When Pistol’s cock is up,”—when his weapon is ready to discharge, “flashing fire will follow!”
Nym is defiant. “I am not Barbason!”—a demon. “You cannot conjure me! I have an humour to knock you indifferently well!” he says, his chin tipped up contemptuously. “If you grow foul with me, Pistol, I will scour you with my rapier, as I may, under fair terms! If you would walk this way, I would prick your guts a little, in good terms as I may! And that’s the humour of it!”
“O braggart vile, and damnèd, furious wight! The grave doth gape, and doting Death is near!—therefore exhale!”—breathe your last.
Now Bardolph draws his sword. “Hear me!—hear me what I say! He that strikes the first stroke, I’ll run him through, up to the hilts, as I am a soldier!”
Pistol seems about to reply; but he only nods and sheathes his blade. “An oath of mickle might; then fury shall abate.” He grins as Nym puts away his sword. “Give me thy fist!—thy fore-foot”—a devil’s trotter—“to me give!” he says, offering to shake hands. “Thy spirits are most tall!”
But Nym demurs, glowering. “I will cut thy throat, one time or other, given fair terms! That is the humour of it!”
“‘Couple a gorge!’” cries Pistol—mangled French for cut-throat—“that is the word! I thee defy again! O hound of Crete, think’st thou my spouse to get?
“No! To the hospital go, and from the powdering tub of infamy”—a treatment for syphilis—“fetch forth the lazar hawk of Cressid’s kind,”—leprous whore, “Doll Tearsheet, she by name, and her espouse!” Doll is one of the tavern’s younger talents. “I have, and I will hold, the quondam Quickly for the only she!
“And—” But he sees Falstaff’s page running toward them. “Pauca,”—as in pauca verba, Latin for few words, “there’s enough!” he says, disgusted. “Go to!”
The boy is nearly out of breath. “Mine host Pistol, you must come to my master!—and you, hostess! He is very sick, and would to bed!”
The impertinent page looks up at the red-complexioned lieutenant. “Good Bardolph, put thy face between his sheets, and do the office of a warming-pan! ’Faith, he’s very ill!”
“Away, you rogue!” growls the officer.
The hostess frowns, watching the small boy. “By my troth, he’ll yield the crow a pudding one of these days!” But she is concerned about the white-haired knight, once a carousing companion to Prince Hall; just after the coronation he was pensioned, but banished from the royal court, and ordered to reform. “The king has killed his heart,” she moans. “Good husband, home, immediately!” She hurries away to follow the page to her house, at the tavern.
Bardolph has sheathed his sword. “Come, shall I make you two friends? We must to France together!—why the devil should we keep knives to cut one another’s throats?”
Pistol nods agreement. “Let floods o’erswell!—and fiends for food howl on!”
“You’ll pay me the eight shillings I won of you at betting?” demands Nym.
Pistol only laughs. “Base is the slave that pays!”
Nym frowns. “That now I will have! That’s the humour of it.”
“As manhood shall compound!” cries Pistol. “Push home!” The two pull out their blades.
Bardolph again draws. “By this sword, he that makes the first thrust, I’ll kill him!—by this sword, I will!”
Pistol nods; he doesn’t want to fight. “His word is an oath, and oaths must have their course,” he tells Nym, ramming his sword into its sheath.
“Corporal Nym,” warns Bardolph, “an thou wilt be friends, be friends! An thou wilt not, why, then, be enemies with me, too! Prithee, put up!”
“I shall have my eight shillings I won of you at betting!”
Pistol compromises: “A noble shalt thou have, presented as pay—and liquor likewise will I give to thee!—and friendship shall combine in brotherhood! I’ll live by Nym, and Nym shall live by me, for I shall be sutler”—provisioner—“unto the camp, and profits will accrue! Is not this just? Give me thy hand!”
“I shall have my noble?”
“In cash most justly paid.”
Nym nods. “Well then that’s the humour of ’t.”
The three again sheathe their swords, just as the hostess returns, very distraught.
“As ever you came of women,”—she means were born to them, “come in quickly to Sir John!” she cries. “Ah, poor heart! He is so shaked of a burning quotidian tertian”—compounded fevers—“that it is most lamentable to behold! Sweet men, come to him!”
As they go, the corporal shakes his head sadly. “The king hath run bad humours into the knight; that’s the event of it!”
Pistol concurs. “Nym, thou hast spoke aright; his heart is fracted and corroborate.”
“The king is a good king,” says Nym loyally, “but it must be as it may; he passes some humours and careers!”—changes moods and charges away.
“Let us condole the knight,” Pistol tells his wife, hurrying along, “for, lambkins, we will live!”
The player serving as Chorus returns. “Now all the youth of England are on fire, and silken dalliance in the wardrobe lies: now thrive the armourers—and honour’s the thought reigns solely in the breast of every man!
“They sell the pasture now to buy a horse, following the mirror of all Christian kings,”—the exemplary King Henry, “with wingèd heels, as English Mercuries!
“For now sits Expectation in the air; and hies a sword graven from hilt unto the point with crowns imperial: crowns and coronets promisèd to Harry and his followers!
“The French, advisèd by good intelligence of this most dreadful preparation, shake in their fear, and with pale policy seek to divert the English purposes.
“O England, molded to thy inward greatness like a little body with a mighty heart, what mightst thou do, what honour would be due thee, were all thy children kind and natural?”—devoted as they should be.
“But see thy fault! France”—its king—“hath in thee found out a nest of hollow bosoms, which he fills with treacherous crowns!”—the coins so called. “And three corrupted men—one, Richard, Earl of Cambridge, and the second, Henry, Lord Scroop of Masham, and the third, Sir Thomas Grey, knight, of Northumberland—have, for the gilt of France—oh, guilt indeed!—confirmèd conspiracy with fearful France!
“And by their hands this grace of kings must die, if Hell and Treason hold their promises, ere he take ship for France!
“Then in Southampton linger your patience on, and well digest the abuse of distance,”—accept the shift of scene, “then forth with the play!
“The sum is paid; the traitors are agreed; the king is set out from London. And the scene is now transported, gentles, to Southampton; there is the playhouse now; there must you sit!
“And thus to France shall we convey you safe and bring you back, charming the narrow seas to give you gentle passage; for, if we may, we’ll not offend one stomach with our play!
“But, till then, only until the king come forth, unto Southampton do we shift our scene….”
Prince John of Lancaster, eldest of the king’s younger brothers and Duke of Bedford, is fretful. “’Fore God, his grace is bold, to trust these traitors!”
The Duke of Exeter has confidence in his nephew’s judgment. “They shall be apprehended by and by.”
“How smooth and even they do bear themselves!” says the Earl of Westmoreland; the general is disgusted. “As if allegiance in their bosoms sat, crownèd with faith and constant loyalty!”
Most of the English infantry troops have marched here to join, at the vast port city of Southampton, in preparation for Henry V’s imminent invasion of France, one hundred and twenty miles across the sea at Harfleur on the Seine.
“The king hath note of all that they intend,” Prince John admits, “by interception which they dream not of.” His brother Humphrey nods.
“Aye,” growls Exeter, “but a man that was his bedfellow, with whom he hath dwelled, who had been cloyed with gracious favours,”—since childhood, Scroop has lived in the royal household, “that he should, for a foreign purse, so sell his sovereign’s life to death and treachery!”
They look to the door, as heralding trumpets are sounded outside.
The king, various attendants and some soldiers of his guard enter the building, which is beside the teeming docks, with several noblemen.
“Now sits the wind fair, and we will go aboard!” says Henry, turning to his companions. “My lord of Cambridge, and my kind lord of Masham, and you, my gentle knight, give me your thoughts! Think you not that the powers we bear with us will cut their passage through the force of France, doing in execution the act for which we have in head assembled them?”
“No doubt, my liege, if each man do his best!” says Scroop.
“I doubt not that,” says the king, “since we are well persuaded we’ll carry not a heart with us from hence that grows not in a fair consent with ours, nor leave behind one that doth wish success and conquest to attend on us!”
“Never was monarch better feared and loved than is Your Majesty!” says Cambridge. “There’s not, I think, one subject that sits in heart-grief and uneasiness under the sweet shade of your government!”
“True!” says Sir Thomas Grey. “Those that were your father’s enemies have steeped their galls in honey, and do serve you with hearts created of duty and of zeal!”
“We therefore have great cause of thankfulness,” says Henry, “and shall forget the office of our hand sooner than aquittance”—rewarding, “of desert and merit, according to weight and worthiness.”
Scroop smiles. “So servant shall with steelèd sinews toil, and labour shall refresh itself with hope to do Your Grace unceasing service!”
“We judge no less.” Says the king, in happy magnanimity, “Uncle of Exeter, enlarge”—set free—“the man committed yesterday, who railed against our person. We consider it was excess of wine that set him on; and on this more advice we pardon him.”
“That’s mercy, but not much security,” protests Scroop. “Let him be punished, sovereign, lest example breed, by his sufferance, more of such a kind!”
“Ah, yet let us be merciful.”
“So may Your Highness, and yet punish, too,” says Cambridge.
Adds Grey sternly, “Sir, you’ll show great mercy if you give him life—after the taste of much correction!”
“Alas, your too-much love and care of me are heavy orisons”—prayers—“’gainst this poor wretch,” says the king. “If little faults proceeding in distemper shall not be winked at, how shall we stretch our eye when capital crimes—chewed, swallowed and digested—appear before us?
“We’ll yet enlarge that man,” he tells Exeter, “though Cambridge, Scroop and Grey, in their dear care and tender preservation of our person, would have him punished.
“And now to our French cause! Who are the late-commissioners?”—persons yet to receive in writing their royal assignments.
“I one, my lord,” says Cambridge. “Your Highness bade me ask for it today.”
“So did you me, my liege,” says Scroop.
“And I, my royal sovereign,” notes Grey.
The king motions to an attendant, and receives three documents. “Then, Richard, Earl of Cambridge, there is yours; there yours, Lord Scroop of Masham; and, Sir Thomas Grey, knight of Northumberland, this same is yours. Read them—and know I know your worthiness!”
He tells the others, “My Lord of Westmoreland, and Uncle Exeter, we will aboard tonight!”
Henry glances at the traitors, and a slight smile appears. “Why, how now, gentlemen! What see you in those papers that you lose so much complexion?
“Look ye, how they change!” he tells his brothers. “Their cheeks are paper!
“Why, what read you there that hath so cowarded and chased your blood out of appearance?”
As the guards move forward, swords drawn, Cambridge kneels before the king. “I do confess my fault, and do submit me to Your Highness’ mercy!”
Scroop and Grey kneel as well. “To which we all appeal!” says the northern knight.
The king regards them dourly. “The mercy that was alive in us just now, by your own counsel is suppressed and killed! You must not dare, for shame, to talk of mercy!—for your own arguments turn into your bosoms, as dogs upon their masters, tearing at you!”
He turns to the loyal lords. “See you, my princes and my noble peers, these English monsters!”—unnatural beings. “My Lord of Cambridge here—you know how apt our love was to accord him all appertinents belonging to his honour; and this man hath, for a few light crowns,”—deficient-weight coins, “lightly conspired, and sworn unto the practises of France—to kill us here in ’Hampton!
“To the which this knight, no less for bounty bound to us than Cambridge is, hath likewise sworn!”
He steps toward Masham. “But, oh, what shall I say to thee, Lord Scroop?—thou cruel, ingrateful, savage and inhuman creature! Thou, that didst bear the key of all my counsels, that knew’st the very bottom of my soul—that almost mightst have coined me into gold, wouldst thou have practised on me for thy use—may it be possible that foreign hire could out of thee extract one spark of evil that might annoy my finger? ’Tis so strange, that, though the truth of it stands out as gross as black on white, my eye will scarcely see it!
“Treason and Murder ever kept together as two yokèd devils sworn to either’s purpose, working in causes unnatural, so that Surprise did not exclaim at them. But thou ’gainst all proportion didst bring on wonder by waiting on Treason and on Murder!
“And whatever cunning fiend it was that wrought upon thee so preposterously hath got the voice in Hell”—acclamation there—“for excellence! All other devils that urge treason do but tinker, cobbling up a damnation using patches and colours, forms fetched from glistering semblances of piety. But he that tempted thee, bade thee ‘Stand up!’—gave thee no instance why thou shouldst do treason—unless to confer upon thee the name of ‘traitor!’
“If that same demon that hath gullèd thee thus should, with his lion gait, walk the whole world, he might return to vasty Tartarus back, and tell the legions,”—army of demons in Hell’s lowest region, “‘I can never win a soul so easily as that Englishman’s!’
“Oh, how thou hast infected with mistrust the sweetness of avowal! Do men show as dutiful? Why, so didst thou! Seem they grave and learnèd? Why, so didst thou! Come they of noble family? Why, so didst thou! Seem they religious? Why, so didst thou!
“Or are they in diet spare?—free from gross passion of either mirth or anger; constant in spirit, not swerving with the blood; garnished and decked in modest complement; not working with the ear without the eye, and in purgèd judgment trusting neither simply. Such and so firmly bolted didst thou seem!
“And thus thy fall hath left a kind of blot, marking the man full-fraught and best as indued with some suspicion!”
Scroop stares down, glumly silent.
“I will weep for thee,” says the king harshly, “for this revolt of thine, methinks, is like another Fall of Man!
“Their faults are opened,” he tells the Lord Exeter. “Arrest them to the answer of the law; and God requite their practises!”
Exeter moves forward as the king’s guards pull the traitors to their feet. “I arrest thee of high treason, by the name of Richard, Earl of Cambridge. I arrest thee of high treason, by the name of Henry, Lord Scroop of Masham. I arrest thee of high treason, by the name of Thomas Grey, knight, of Northumberland.”
“Our purposes God justly hath uncovered,” moans Scroop, “and more than my death I repent my fault!—which I beseech Your Highness to forgive, although my body pay the price of it.”
“As for me, the gold of France did not seduce, although I did admit it as a motive the sooner to effect what I intended,” Cambridge confesses. “But God be thankèd for prevention!—which I in sufferance heartily will rejoice, beseeching God and you to pardon me.”
Says Grey, “Never did faithful subject more rejoice at the discovery of most dangerous treason than I do at this hour joy o’er myself, prevented from a damnèd enterprise! My fault, but not my body, pardon, sovereign.”
“God render unto you in his mercy!” says the king. “Hear your sentence.
“You have conspired against our royal person, joined with an enemy proclaimèd, and from his coffers received a golden earnest for our death!—wherein you would have sold your king to slaughter, his princes and his peers to servitude, his subjects to oppression and contempt, and his whole kingdom into desolation!
“Touching our person seek we no revenge. But we must so tender our kingdom’s safety, whose ruin you have sought, that to her laws we do deliver you. Get you therefore hence, poor miserable wretches, to your death! In the test whereof, may God in his mercy give you patience to endure in true repentance for all your dire offences!
“Bear them hence,” he tells the guards, who lead away Cambridge, Scroop and Grey.
“Now, lords, for France!—the enterprise whereof shall be to you and us alike glorious!
“We doubt not of a fair and fortunate war, since God so graciously hath brought to light this dangerous treason lurking in our way to hinder our beginnings. We doubt not now but every rub is smoothèd on our way!
“Then forth, dear countrymen! Let us deliver our puissance into the hand of God, putting it straight into expedition!
“Cheerly to sea! The signs of war advance!
“No king of England, if not king of France!”
Wringing a kerchief between her hands this morning before the tavern, the hostess, saddened and worried, wants to accompany the soldiers at least part of the way from London on their eighty-mile journey to join the still-amassing English forces.
“Prithee, honey-sweet husband, let me bring thee to Staines!”—a town to the west along the Thames, and northeast of Southampton.
“No,” replies Pistol, “for my manly heart doth yearn.” He turns to face the other men and the young page. “Bardolph, be blithe! Nym, rouse thy vaunting veins! Boy, bristle thy courage up!
“As for Falstaff, he is dead, and so we must mourn.”
Bardolph is downcast. “Would I were with him, wheresome’er he is, either in Heaven or in Hell.”
“Nay, surely he’s not in Hell!” protests the hostess. “He’s in Arthur’s bosom, if ever man went to Arthur’s bosom! ’A made a fine end, and went away as if he had been any christom child!
“’A parted even just between twelve and one, even at the turning o’ the tide—for after I saw him fumble with the sheets and play with flowers, and smile upon his fingers’ ends, I knew there was but one way; for his nose was as sharp as a pen, and ’a talked of green fields.
“‘How now, Sir John!’ quoth I. ‘What, man? Be o’ good cheer!’
“Now ’a cried out, ‘God, God, God!’ three or four times, so I, to comfort him, bid him ’a should not think of God! I hoped there was no need to trouble himself with any such thoughts yet!
“So ’a bade me lay more bedclothes on his feet. I put my hand into the bed and felt them, and they were as cold as any stone; then I felt to his knees, and they were as cold as any stone; and so upward and upward, and all was as cold as any stone!”
Nym wipes his eyes. “They say he cried out against sack!”
“Aye, that ’a did,” she confirms.
“And against women,” adds Bardolph.
She frowns. “Nay, that ’a did not!”
“Yes, that ’a did,” the boy insists, “and said they were devils incarnate!”
“’A never could abide carnation,” the hostess explains. “’Twas a colour he never liked.”
“’A said once that the devil would have him about women,” recalls the page, old enough to note the double meaning.
“’A did in some sort, indeed, handle women,” the hostess concedes. “But then he was rheumatic,”—romantic, “and talked of the whore of Babylon!”—a benediction from Scripture, she likes to think.
The boy laughs, recalling the fat knight. “Do you not remember?—’a saw a flea stick upon Bardolph’s nose, and ’a said it was a soul burning in hell-fire!”
Says sadly sober Bardolph, “Well, the fuel is gone that maintained the fire; that’s all the riches I got in his service.”
Corporal Nym wants to be on the road. “Shall we shog? The king will be gone from Southampton!” he warns.
“Come, let’s away,” says Pistol. “My love, give me thy lips! Look to my chattels and my movables. Let sense rule: the word is ‘pitch and pay!’”—he advises the hostess to collect immediately. “Trust none; for oaths are straws, men’s faiths are wafer-cakes, and Hold fast”—hold fast means stay true—“is only for the dog, my duck! Therefore, caveto”—caution—“be thy counsellor.”
He sees the tears in her eyes. “Go, clear thy crystals.
“Yoke-fellows in arms,” Pistol tells his comrades, “let us to France!—like horse-leeches, my boys, to suck, to suck, the very blood to suck!”
Mutters the boy sourly, “And that’s but a wholesome food, they say.”
“Touch her soft mouth, and march,” Pistol tells the other men.
Bardolph kisses a powdery cheek. “Farewell, hostess.”
Nym is still jealous. “I cannot kiss; that is the humour of it,” he says. “But, ‘Adieu.’”
“Let housewifery appear,” urges Pistol. “Keep close, I thee command!”
The hostess watches tearfully as they walk away. “Farewell,” she calls, waving, “Adieu!”
At his palace, King Charles VI and the French court discuss the invasion. “Thus come the English with a full power upon us!—and more than carefully it us concerns to answer royally in our defences!
“Therefore shall the Dukes of Berri and of Bretagne, of Brabant and of Orléans—and you, Prince Dauphin!—make forth with all dispatch to new-repair our towns for war, line them with men of courage and with means defendant!
“For England makes approaches as swiftly as waters into the sucking of a gulf! It befits us, then, to be provident—as fear may teach us out of late examples left by the neglected but fatal English upon our fields!”
But the young prince is calmly unconcerned. “My most redoubted father, it is meet we arm us ’gainst a foe. For though neither war nor any known quarrel were in question, peace itself should not so dull a kingdom but that defences, musters, preparations, should be maintained, assembled and collected as were a war in expectation.
“Therefore, I say ’tis meet we all go forth to view the sick and feeble parts of France.
“But let us do it with no show of fear—no, with no more than if we heard that England were busied with a Whitsun morris-dance. For, my good liege, she is so idly king’d, her sceptre so outlandishly borne by a vain, giddy, shallow, moody youth, that fear attends her not.”
The king’s highest military commander objects: “Oh, peace, Prince Dauphin! You are too much mistaken in this king!
“Ask the recent ambassadors, Your Grace, with what great state he heard their embassy—how well supplied with noble counsellors, how modest in exception, and withal how terrible in constant resolution!—and you shall find his vanities forespent were but the outside of the Roman Brutus: covering discretion with a coat of folly, as gardeners do with ordure hide those roots that shall first spring and be most delicate!” Lucius Brutus feigned stupidity while plotting to oust the last Roman king.
“Well, ’tis not so, my lord high constable, but that we think it so,” says the dauphin. “It is no matter; in cases of defence ’tis best to weigh the enemy as more mighty than he seems, so the proportions of defence are filled, while a weak or niggardly projection doth, like a miser, spoil its spending by scanting a little cost.”
“Think we King Harry is strong!” the king tells them. “And, princes, look that you strongly arm to meet him!
“The kindred of him hath been fleshed upon us!”—Henry’s forebears proved their strength by wreaking painful harm on the French, “and he is bred out of that bloody strain that hunted us in our familiar paths! Witness our too-much memorable shame when the army at Crécy fatally was struck, and all our princes captived by the hand of that black-named Edward of Wales, Black Prince!—whiles his sire, on mountain standing molten up in the air, crownèd with the golden sun, saw his heroical seed and smiled to see him mangle the work of Nature, and deface the patterns that by God and by French fathers had twenty years been made!
“This is a stem of that victorious stock!—and let us fear the native mightiness and fate in him!”
A knight strides through the long hall, and bows before the king. “Ambassadors from Harry, King of England, do crave admittance to Your Majesty.”
“We’ll give them immediate audience; go and bring them.” Charles regards the French lords. “You see this chase is hotly pursued, friends!”
The prince is annoyed. “Turn head and you stop pursuit!—for coward dogs most spend their mouths”—bark loudest—“when what they seem to threaten runs, far before them! Good my sovereign, take the English up short!—and let them know of what a monarchy you are the head! Self-love, my liege, is not so vile a sin as self-neglecting!”
Lord Exeter and his train enter the hall and boldly approach the throne of France.
The king rises. “From our brother England?”
Exeter bows curtly. “From him. And thus he greets Your Majesty: he wills, in the name of God Almighty, that you divest yourself, and lay apart, the borrowed glories that, by gift of Heaven, by law of nature and of nations, belong to him, and to his heirs—namely, the crown and all wide-stretchèd honours that pertain by custom and the ordinance of times unto the King of France!
“That you may know ’tis no dubious nor no awkward claim, picked from the worm-holes of long-vanished days, nor from the dust of old oblivion rakèd,” says Exeter—pointedly, he heard the archbishop’s account of Salique law, “he sends you this most memorable lineage,”—he proffers a roll of parchment, “in every branch truly demonstrated, willing you to examine his pedigree.” One of Charles’s attendants accepts the document.
The duke continues: “And when you find him evenly derivèd from his most famed of famous ancestors, Edward the Third, he bids you then resign your crown and kingdom, improperly withheld from him, the native and true challenger.”
The French sovereign stares angrily at the Briton. “Or else what follows?”
“Bloody constraint! For if you hide the crown even in your hearts, there he will rake for it!
“Therefore in fierce tempest is he coming, in thunder and in earthquake!—like a Jove in that, if requiring fail, he will compel!
“And in the bowels of the Lord he bids you: deliver up the crown, and take mercy on the poor souls for whom this hungry war opens its vasty jaws—or on your head fall the widows’ tears, the orphans’ cries over dead men’s blood, the pining maidens’ groans for husbands, fathers and betrothèd lovers that shall be swallowed in this controversy!
“This is his claim, his threatening—and my message, unless the dauphin be in presence here, to whom expressly I bring greeting, too….”
“As for us, we will consider of this further,” says the king, “Tomorrow shall you bear our full intent back to our brother England.”
“As for the dauphin” says the French prince, stepping forward, “I stand here for him! What to him from England?”
Exeter scowls. “Scorn and defiance!—slight regard!—contempt!—and anything that may not misbecome the mighty sender doth he prize you at! Thus says my king!
“And if your father’s highness do not, by granting all demands at large, sweeten the bitter mock you sent his majesty, he’ll call you to so hot an answer of it, returning your mock in second accent of his ordnance!”—with echoes of cannon-fire, “such that the caves and womby vaultages of France shall chide your trespass!”
The dauphin sneers. “Say I: if my father render pleasant return, it is against my will!—for I desire nothing but odds with England! To that end, as matching to his youth and vanity, I did present him with the Paris balls.”
Exeter glowers. “He’ll make your Paris palace shake for it, were it the mightiest court of mighty Europe! And be assurèd you’ll find a difference, as we his subjects have in wonder found, between the promise of his greener days and these he masters now! Now he weighs time even to the utmost grain! That you shall read in your own losses, if he waits in France!”
But the king waves the English lord away. “Tomorrow shall you know our mind at full.”
Exeter bows. “Dispatch us with all speed,” he warns, “lest that our king come here himself to question your delay—for he is footed in this land already!”
“You shall be soon dispatch’d with our conditions,” says the king. “A night is but small breath and little pause to answer matters of this consequence.”
Chorus bounds forward on the stage. “Thus with imagined wing our swift scene flies, in motion of no less celerity than that of thought!
“Suppose that you have seen the well appointed king at ’Hampton pier embark his royalty and his brave fleet, with silken streamers under the young Phoebus”—morning sun—“fanning!
“Play with your fancies, and in them behold upon hempen tackle the ship-boys climbing, hear the shrill whistle which doth order give to sounds confusèd, behold the spreaden sails, borne with the invisible and creeping wind!
“Draw a huge hull through the furrowed sea, breasting the lofty surge! Oh, do but think you stand upon the bridge, and behold a city on the inconstant billows dancing!—for so appears this fleet majestical, holding due course to Harfleur!
“Follow, follow! Grapple your minds to sternage of this navy, and leave your England as dead-midnight still!—guarded by grandsires, babies, and old women, either past or not arrivèd to pith and puissance! For who is he whose chin is enriched with but one appearing hair that will not follow these cullèd and choice-drawn cavaliers to France?
“Work, work your thoughts, and therein see a siege!—behold the ordnance on their carriages, with fatal mouths gaping on girded Harfleur!”—a high-walled city at the mouth of the Seine.
Chorus moves closer, arching an eyebrow. “Suppose the ambassador from the French comes back—tells Harry that the king doth offer him Katherine his daughter, and with her, to dowry, some petty and unprofitable dukedoms.”
He laughs. “The offer pleases not!
“And the nimble gunner, with linstock”—a long stick with a burning wick in its fork—“now the devilish cannon touches—”
A roar shatters the calm. “—and down goes all before them!”
Heard now are the sharp cracks of musket-fire, and trumpets’ shrill alarums, and frantic cries of many men.
As he backs away into the weapons’ drifting smoke, the actor beseeches, “Still be kind, and eke out our performance with your mind….”
Dozens of them carrying long scaling-ladders, English soldiers rush toward the city’s walls, as Prince John, Prince Humphrey and Lord Exeter exhort their men to assail the French stronghold.
King Henry himself stands on rocky rubble in the dust still settling at an opening burst in a dark stone wall by iron balls from his artillery. Bloody sword held high, he urges his troops forward. “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more!—or close the wall up with our English dead!
“In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man as modest stillness and humility—but when the blast of war blows in our ears, then imitate the action of the tiger!
“Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood, disguise fair nature with hard-favoured rage! Then lend the eye a terrible aspect: let it peep through the portage of the head like a brass cannon!—let the brow o’erwhelm it as ominously as doth a gallèd rock o’erhang and jutty its confounded base, swilled with the wild and wasteful ocean!
“Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide!—hold hard the breath, and bend up every spirit to his full height!
“On, on! you noblest English, whose blood is fetched from fathers war-proven!—fathers that, like so many Alexanders, have in these parts from morn till even fought!—then sheathed their swords for lack of argument!
“Dishonour not your mothers; now attest that those whom you callèd fathers did beget you! Be model now to men of grosser blood, and teach them how to war!
“And you, good yeomen, whose limbs were made in England, show us here the metal of your posture! Let us swear that you are worthy your breeding!—which I doubt not, for there is none of you so mean and base that hath not a noble lustre in your eyes! I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips, straining upon the start!”
The cannon again blaze, spewing dark smoke, and men shout furiously as they run, swords thrust ahead, through the shattered wall.
“The game’s afoot!” cries the king, leading the way. “Follow your spirit, and upon this charge cry, ‘For God, for Harry, England and Saint George!’”
Motioning with his sword, Bardolph urges his companions forward: “On, on, on, on, on! To the breach, to the breach!” But when the big English guns again begin to boom, they slide back down into the damp shelter of a fresh trench—as does he.
Mutters Nym to himself, “Pray thee, corporal, stay!” He winces again as a volley of black iron whistles past, hurling back shards of rock, and raining fragments on them. “The knocks are too hard! The humour of it is too hot!—that is the very plain-song of it! And, for mine own part, I have not a case of lives!”
Crouching beside him, Pistol concurs. “Thy plaint song is most just!—for humours do abound!” he cries. With a shaking hand he brushes new gray powder from his coat, along with bits of pounded rock. “Knocks go and come, but God’s vassals drop and die! Sword and shield in bloody field win only immortal fame!” Feeling quite mortal, he prefers a tangible take.
“Would I were in an alehouse in London!” moans the poor page, pressing further back against the soil and clay. “I would give all my fame for a pot of ale in safety!”
“And I!” says Pistol, ducking and sliding even lower in the grave-like trough, as heavy firing resumes. “If wishes would prevail with me, my purpose should not fail within me—thither would I hie!”
The boy, shielding his head with a thin arm as another shower of fractured stone falls around them, hears him, and is not surprised. As duly, but not as truly, as bird doth sing on bough!
Captain Fluellen stalks down the trench and stops before Bardolph. “Up to the breach, you dogs! Avaunt, you scullions!”—kitchen helpers.
“Be merciful, great duke, to men of mould!” pleads Pistol. “Abate thy rage, abate thy manly rage, abate thy rage, great duke! Good bawcock, ’bate thy rage; use lenity, sweet chuck!”
Nym tells the officer, “Those be good humours!—your ‘honour’ wins bad humours!”
But Fluellen, brandishing his sword, drives the fearful men toward the clamorous fighting at the wall.
Left alone in the trench, the page considers the unwilling warriors. I have observed these three swashers! As young as I am, I’m ‘Boy’ to them all; but if all three served, they could not be a man to me!—for indeed three such antic ones do not amount to a man!
As for Bardolph, he is red-faced but white-livered!—by the means whereof he faces it out, but fights not! As for Pistol, he hath a killing tongue and a quiet sword!—by the means whereof he breaks his word, and keeps weapon whole! And as for Nym, he hath heard that men of few words are the best men—and therefore he scorns to say his prayers, lest he should be thought a coward, and his few, bad words are matched with as few good deeds!—for he never broke any man’s head but his own—and that was against a post when he was drunk!
They will steal anything and call it ‘purchased!’ Bardolph stole a lute-case, bore it twelve leagues—then sold it for three half-pence! Nym and Bardolph are sworn brothers in filching, and in Calais they stole a fire-shovel! I knew by that piece of service that these men would carry coals!—a play on a phrase for perform the lowliest labor.
They would have me be as familiar with men’s pockets as their gloves or their handkerchers—which makes much against my manhood; for if I should take from another’s pocket to put into mine, it is a plain pocketing up of wrongs!
I must leave them, and seek some better service. Their villainy goes against even my meek stomach, and therefore I must cast it up!
The boy moves away from the dirt, and, carefully leaving the trench, trots among the advancing troops toward the British forces’ main camp.
After days of fighting have passed with no decisive action, Captain Gower is looking for his friend. “Captain Fluellen, you must come immediately to the mines!—the Duke of Gloucester would speak with you!” The duke, Prince Humphrey, is directing efforts to excavate beneath sections of the city wall, then destroy them with gunpowder.
The scholarly Welshman frowns. “To the mines? Tell you the duke it is not so good to come to the mines; for, look you, the mines is not according to the disciplines of the war! The concavities of it is not sufficient; for, look you, the athversary—as you may discuss unto the duke, look you—has digt, himself, four yard under, the countermines!” Some of the digging English troops have died as sudden victims of defensive tunnels prepared by the French.
Fluellen shakes his head. “By Cheshu,”—his pronunciation of Jesu, “I think ’a will plough up all, if there is not better directions!”
The Englishman, too, is concerned. “The Duke of Gloucester, to whom the ordering of the siege is given, is altogether directed by an Irishman… a very valiant gentleman, i’ faith.”
“It is Captain Ma’morris, is it not?”
“I think it be.”
“By Cheshu, he is as much an ass as any in the world!” cries Fluellen. “I will verify as much in his beard!”—to his face. “He has no more directions in the true disciplines of the wars, look you, of the Roman disciplines,”—the standards, “than has a puppy-dog!”
Gower nods past him. “Here ’a comes—and the Scots’ captain, Captain Jamie, with him.”
Fluellen turns to look. “Captain Jamie is a marvellous falourous gentleman, that is certain—and of great expedition and knowledge in th’ aunchient wars, upon my particular knowledge of his directions! By Cheshu, he will maintain his argument as well as any military man in the world, in the disciplines of the pristine wars of the Romans!”
The two officers arrive and greet the others. “I say gud-day, Captain Fluellen!” smiles James.
“God-den to Your Worship, good Captain James!”
“How now, Captain Macmorris!” says Gower. “Have you quit the mines? Have the pioneers”—the excavators—“given o’er?”
They have indeed stopped digging—to the disgust of the Irish captain. “By Chrish, la! Tish ill done! The work ish give over, the trompet sound the retreat!
“By my hand I swear, and my father’s soul, the work ish ill done!—it ish give over!” complains Macmorris. “In another hour I would have blowed up the town, so Chrish save me, la! Oh, tish ill done, tish ill done; by my hand, tish ill done!”
The Welsh captain wants to discuss tactical theory. “Captain Macmorris, I beseech you now, will you voutsafe me, look you, a few disputations with you, as partly touching or concerning the disciplines of the war, the Roman wars, in the way of argument, look you, in friendly communication—partly to satisfy my opinion, and partly for the satisfaction, look you, of my mind—as touching the direction of the military discipline! That is the point.”
The Scotsman is eager as well. “It sall be vary gud, gud feith, gud captains bath!” James tells them. “And I sall ’quit you with gud leve, as I may pick occasion!—that sall I, marry!”
But Macmorris scowls. “It is no time to discourse, so Chrish save me!” He surveys the turmoil surrounding them as French muskets fire outward from the main break in the wall. “The day is hot!—and the weather!—and the wars!—and the king and the dukes!—it is no time to discourse! The town is beseeched, and the trumpet call us to the breach! And we talk, and, by Chrish, do nothing!
“’Tis shame for us all! So God sa’ me, ’tis shame to stand still!—it is shame, by me hand! And there is throats to be cut, and works to be done!—but there ish nothing done, so Chrish sa’ me, la!”
James protests angrily: “By the Mess, ere these eyes of mine take themselves to slomber, ay’ll de gud service, or ay’ll lig i’ the grund for it!—aye, or go to death!—and ay’ll pay ’t as valourously as I may, that sall I suerly do!—that is the breff and the long!” Still, he turns to Fluellen. “Marry, I wad full fain hear some question ’tween you tway….”
Fluellen nods. “Captain Macmorris, I think, look you, under your correction, there is not many of your nation—”
“Of my nation!” cries the Irishman—whose land is ruled by England. “What ish my nation? What ish my nation? Ish a villain, and a bastard, and a knave, and a rascal, who talks of my nation!”
“Look you, if you take the matter otherwise than is meant, Captain Macmorris, peradventure I shall think you do not use me with that affability as in discretion you ought to use me, look you—being as good a man as yourself, both in the disciplines of war, and in the derivation of my birth, and in other particularities.”
Macmorris glares at Fluellen. “I do not know you so good a man as myself! So Chrish save me, I will cut off your head!”
Captain Gower is conciliatory: “Gentlemen both, you will mistake each other—.”
“And that’s a foul fault!” cries James.
But now Gower raises a hand, listening; they can hear a trumpet. “The town sounds a parley!”
“Captain Macmorris, when there is more better opportunity to be required,” says Fluellen, as the four move toward the city, “look you, I will be so bold as to tell you: I know the disciplines of war! And there is an end!”
Standing on the parapet at Harfleur’s main gate, the garrison’s French commander and its civilian governor stares down at the English forces below and beyond, as King Henry and his train come forward.
England has invaded with thousands of troops: in addition to the foot soldiers armed with sword, axe and pike, they have—unlike the French—many archers. But encamped to the east of the besieged city, the British have suffered seriously from dysentery while waiting in the autumn rain and cold, poised to fight with Harfleur’s five hundred soldiers—or the other French forces expected to be sent here.
Looking up, Henry calls, “How yet resolves the governor of the town?
“This is the last parle we will admit! Therefore to our best mercy give yourselves; or like to men proud of destruction, defy us to do our worst!
“For, as I am a soldier, the name that in my thoughts becomes me best, if I begin the battery once again I will not leave this half-achievèd Harfleur till in her ashes she lie burièd! The gates of mercy shall be all shut up, and the fleshèd soldier,”—combat veteran, “rough and hard of heart, in liberty of bloody hand shall range with conscience wide as Hell, mowing like grass your fresh, fair virgins and your flowering infants!
“What is it then to me, if impious War, arrayed in flames like to the Prince of Fiends with his smirchèd complexion, perform all fell feats enlinkèd to waste and desolation? What is’t to me, when you yourselves are the cause, if your pure maidens fall into the hands of hot and forcing violation?
“What rein can hold licentious wickedness when down a hill it makes a fierce careen? We may as bootless send precepts urging the leviathan to come ashore as spend our vain command upon the enragèd soldiers in their spoil!
“Therefore, you men of Harfleur, take pity on your town and on your people while as yet my soldiers are in my command!—while as yet the cool and temperate wind of grace o’erblows the filthy and contagious clouds of heady villainy, spoil and murder!
“If not, why, in a moment look, though blind, to see the bloody soldier with foul hand defile the locks of your shrill-shrieking daughters!—your fathers taken by the silver beards, and their most reverend heads dashèd to the walls!—your naked infants spitted upon pikes, whiles their frenzied mothers with howls confusèd do break the clouds as did the wives of Jewry at Herod’s bloody, hunting slaughtermen!
“What say you? Will you yield, and this avoid?—or guilty of defiance be thus destroyed!”
The governor spreads his hands in abject dismay. “Our expectation hath this day an end! The dauphin, from whom succor we entreated, returns us that his powers are yet not ready to lift so great a siege!
“Therefore, great king, we yield our town and lives to thy soft mercy!
“Enter our gates; dispose of us and ours, for we no longer are defensible.”
“Open your gates!” demands King Henry.
He turns calmly to his commanders. “Come, Uncle Exeter, go you and enter Harfleur; there remain, and fortify it strongly ’gainst the French. Use mercy to them all.
“As for us, dear uncle, the winter coming on, and, sickness growing upon our soldiers, we will retire to Calais”—an area long controlled by the English in northern France, twenty-six miles across the strait from Dover. “Tonight in Harfleur we will be your guest; tomorrow for the march are we addrest.”
With a bold flourish of trumpets and drums, the English forces follow Lord Exeter and his officers through the wide city gates.
At King Charles’s Paris palace, one hundred miles southeast of Harfleur, Princess Katherine questions one of her waiting-gentlewomen.
“Alice, tu as été en Angleterre, et tu parles bien le langage.” —You have been in England, and you speak the language well.
“Un peu, madame.” —A little, madam.
“Je te prie, m’enseignez; il faut que j’apprenne à parler!” —I pray you teach me; I must learn to speak! she says wryly. “Comment appelez-vous la main en anglais?”—What do you call the hand in English?
“La main? Elle est appelée ‘dee hand.’” —It is called dee hand.
Katherine tries: “Dee hand. Et les doigts?” —And the fingers?
“Les doigts? ’Ma foi, j’oublie les doigts; mais je me souviendrai.” —’My faith, I forget the fingers; but I’ll remember. “Les doigts… je pense qu’ils sont appelés ‘dee fingres.’ Oui, ‘dee fingres!’” —The fingers… I think they’re called dee fingres. Yes, dee fingres!
The princess reviews: “La main, dee hand; les doigts, dee fingres. Je pense que je suis le bon écolier; j’ai gagné deux mots d’anglais vitement! Comment appelez-vous les ongles?” —I think I’m a good student; I’ve quickly won two words! What do you call the nails?
“Les ongles? Nous les appelons dee nails.” —We call them dee nails.
“Dee nails. Écoutez; dites-moi si je parle bien!” —Listen; tell me if I speak well! “Dee hand, dee fingres, et dee nails.”
Alice nods. “C’est bien dit, madame; il est fort bon anglais!” —That’s well said, madame; it’s very good English!
“Dites-moi l’anglais pour le bras.” —Tell me the English for the arm.
“Dee arm, madame.”
“Et le coude?”
Katherine nods. “Dee elbow. Je m’en fais la répétition de tous les mots que vous m’avez appris dès à présent.” —I’ll try to repeat all the words you’ve given me just now.
“Il est trop difficile, madame, comme je pense.” —It’s too difficult, madame, I would think.
“Excusez-moi, Alice; écoutez!”—Just listen. “Dee hand, dee fingres, dee nails, dee arms, dee bilbows.”
A bilbo is a short sword. “Dee elbow, madame.”
“O Seigneur Dieu, je m’en oublie!” —I’m forgetting! “Dee elbow. Comment appelez-vous le col?”
“Dee neck, madame.”
“Dee nick. Et le menton?”
“Dee sin. Le col, de nick; de menton, dee sin.”
“Oui!” says Alice. “Sauf Votre Honneur, en vérité vous prononcez les mots aussi droit que les natifs d’Angleterre!” —Yes! Saving Your Reverence, in truth you pronounce the words as rightly as the natives of England!
The princess is pleased. “Je ne doute point d’apprendre, par la grâce de Dieu, et en peu de temps!” —I’m certainly learning, by the grace of God, and in very little time!
Alice teases: “N’avez vous pas déjà oublié ce que je vous ai enseigné?” —Haven’t you already forgotten what I’ve taught you?
“Non! Je réciterai à vous promptement: dee hand, dee fingres, dee mails—”
“Dee nails, madame.”
“Dee nails, dee arm, dee ill-bow.”
“Sauf votre honneur, dee elbow.” —Saving Your Honor, dee elbow.
“Ainsi dis-je,”—as I said, “dee elbow, dee nick, et dee sin. Comment appelez-vous le pied, et la robe?” —What do you call the foot, and the gown?
“Dee foot, madame, et dee con.”
The French princess, hearing something like foutre and coun—to fuck, and cunt—is appalled. “Dee foot et dee con! O Seigneur Dieu! Ce sont mots de son mauvais, corruptible, gros, et impudique, et non pour les dames d’honneur d’user!” —O Dear Lord! They are wicked words, degrading, gross and impudent, and not for honorable ladies to use!
“Je ne voudrais prononcer ces mots devant les seigneurs de France pour tout le monde!” —I would not speak those words before the gentlemen of France for all the world!
“Foh! Le foot et le con!” she mutters, prompting a titter from Alice.
The princess grins mischievously. “Néanmoins, je réciterai une autre fois ma leçon ensemble.” —Nonetheless, I will recite one more time my lesson, all together. “Dee hand, dee fingres, dee nails, dee arm, dee elbow, dee nick, dee sin, dee foot—dee con!” she cries gaily.
Alice giggles. “Excellent, madame!”
Katherine laughs. “C’est assez pour une fois. Allons-nous à dîner!” —That’s enough for one time. Let’s go to lunch!
Amid dismayed lords in his palace at Rouen, fifty miles east of Harfleur, the fretful King of France examines a parchment map. “’Tis certain he hath passed the river Somme….” Within a fortnight, King Henry’s army, weak with fever, has marched, unchallenged by French forces, about sixty miles north—more than half the distance to the safety of Calais.
“If he be not fought withal, my lord,” says the lord high constable angrily, “let us not live in France!—let us quit, all, and give our vineyards to the barbarous people!”—the English.
“O Dieu vivant!” cries the prince, disgusted. “Shall a few sprigs of us that our scions put into wild and savage stock,”—Englishmen born of French fathers, “devoid of our fathers’ magnificence, spring up so suddenly into the clouds, and survey their grafters?”
“Normans—but bastard Normans—Norman bastards!” cries Lord Bourbon. “Mort de ma vie!”—death of my life. “If they march along unfought withal, I will sell my dukedom to buy a dirty, slobbery farm in that nook-crammed isle of Albion!”—England.
“Dieu de batailles!”—god of battles, sputters the lord constable. “Whereof have they this mettle?—they on whom, as if in despite, the sun looks pale, killing their fruit with frowns! Is not their climate foggy, raw and dull? Can water, a drench for sur-reinèd jades,”—drink for weary horses, “or their sodden barley-broth”—weak beer—“decoct their cold blood to such valiant heat?”
He regards the other noblemen. “And shall our living blood, spirited with wine, seem frosty? Oh, for the honour of our land, let us not hang like drooping icicles upon our houses’ thatch whiles a more lusty people sweat drops of gallant youth”—semen—“in our rich fields! ‘Poor fuckers’ we may well call them, in their native words!”
The dauphin concurs. “By faith and honour, our madames mock at us, and plainly say our mettle is bred out, and they will give their bodies to the lust of English youth, to new-store France with bastard warriors!”
“They bid us to the English dancing-schools,” adds Lord Bourbon, “and teach lavoltas high, and swift corantos—saying our grace is only in our heels, and that we are most-lofty run-aways!”
The king is persuaded. “Where is Montjoy, the herald? Speed him hence! Let him greet England”—King Henry—”with our sharp defiance!
“Up, princes!—and, with spirit of Honour edgèd more sharply than your swords, hie to the field!
“Charles Delabreth, high constable of France; you, Dukes of Orléans, Bourbon, and of Berri, Alençon, Brabant, Bar, and Burgundy—Jacques Châtillon, Rambures, Vaudemont, Beaumont, Grandpré, Roussi, and Fauconberg—Foix, Lestrale, Bouciqualt, and Charolois—high dukes, great princes, barons, lords and knights, for your great seats, now acquit you of great shames!
“Bar Harry England, who sweeps through our land with pennons painted in the blood of Harfleur! Rush upon his host as doth the melted snow into the valleys whose low, vassal seat the Alps doth spit and void its rheum upon! Go down upon him!—you have power enough!—and bring him to Rouen in a captive chariot as our prisoner!”
The lord high constable is pleased. “This becomes the great!
“Sorry am I his numbers are so few, his soldiers sick and famished in their march; for I am sure, when he shall see our army, he’ll drop his heart into the sink of fear!—and offer us his ransom as if it were an achievement!
“Therefore, Lord Constable, haste Montjoy on,” orders the king, “and let him say to England that we send to know what ransom he will willingly give.
“Prince Dauphin, you shall stay with us in Rouen.”
“Not so, I do beseech Your Majesty!” cries the young lord, eager to share in the easy French victory.
“Be patient, for you shall remain with us.
“Now forth, lord constable and princes all, and quickly bring us word of England’s fall!”
Captain Gower, waiting with the English troops at the edge of the Ternoise River, hails a returning officer. “How now, Captain Fluellen! Come you from the bridge?”
“I assure you, there is very excellent services committed at the bridge!” the Welshman reports, of the fighting in which it was just seized.
“Is the Duke of Exeter safe?”
“The Duke of Exeter is as magnanimous as Agamemnon—and a man that I love and honour with my soul, and my heart and my duty and my life and my living, and my uttermost power! He is not—God be praised and blessèd!—any hurt in the world, but keeps the pridge most valiantly, with excellent discipline!
“There is an aunchient lieutenant there at the pridge; I think in my very conscience he is as valiant a man as Mark Antony! And he is a man of no estimation in the world; yet he did beseem him as gallant, as to service!”
“What do you call him?”
“He is called Aunchient Pistol.”
“I know him not.”
“Here is the man!” says Fluellen, as the ensign comes to him.
“Captain, I beseech thee to do me favours!” says Pistol. “The Duke of Exeter doth love thee well,” he notes.
“Aye, I praise God,” says Fluellen, “and I have merited some love at his hands!”
Pistol begins grandly: “Bardolph, a soldier firm and sound of heart, and of buxom valour, hath, by cruel Fate, and giddy Fortune’s furious, fickle wheel—that goddess blind, who stands upon the rolling, restless stone—”
“By your patience, Aunchient Pistol, Fortune is painted as blind,” Fluellen explains, “with a scarf afore her eyes to signify to you that Fortune is blind; and she is painted also with a wheel, to signify to you what is the moral of it: that she is turning, and inconstant, and mutability, and variation! And her foot, look you, is fixèd upon a spherical stone, which rolls, and rolls, and rolls! In good truth, the poet makes a most excellent description of it! Fortune is an excellent moral!”
Pistol persists. “Fortune is Bardolph’s foe, and frowns on him! For he hath stolen a pax,”—a church’s ivory crucifix, to be kissed during Mass, “and hanged must ’a be!
“A damnèd death! Let gallows gape for dog!—let man go free, and let not hemp his wind-pipe suffocate! But Exeter hath given the doom of death for a pax of little price!
“Therefore, go speak!—the duke will hear thy voice!—and let not Bardolph’s vital thread be cut with edge of penny cord and vile reproach! Speak, captain, for his life, and I will thee requite!”
“Aunchient Pistol, I do partly understand your meaning—”
“Why then, rejoice therefore!”
But Fluellen shakes his head. “Certainly, aunchient, it is not a thing to rejoice at. For if, look you, he were my brother, I would desire the duke to use his good pleasure and put him to execution—for discipline ought to be used.”
“Die and be damned!” cries Pistol. He makes a crude gesture, thrusting a thumb between fingers: “And figo for thy friendship!”
Says the officer stolidly. “It is well.”
“A fig of Spain!” adds the ensign, stalking away angrily. Fig suggests scrotum.
“Very good,” the mutters Welshman.
Captain Gower stares. “Why, this is an arrant, counterfeit, a rascal! I remember him now!—a bawd, a cutpurse!”
“I’ll assure you he uttered as brave words at the bridge as you shall see in a summer’s day!” says Fluellen. “But it is very well, what he has spoke to me—that is, well, I warrant you, when time is served”—when circumstances permit response.
Gower is disgusted. “Why, he gulls fools—a rogue who now and then goes to the wars to grace himself, on his return into London, under the form of a soldier!
“And such fellows are perfected”—well studied—“in the great commanders’ names; and they will teach you by rote where services were done—at such and such a sconce, at such a breach, at such a convoy; who came off bravely, who was shot, who disgraced; what terms the enemy stood on—and this they learn perfectly in the phrase of war, which they trick up with new-turnèd oaths!
“And what a beard of the general’s cut, and a horrid suit of the camp”—blood-stained clothes—“will do among foaming bottles and ale-washed wits is wonderful to be thought on!
“But you must learn to know such slanderers of the age,” he warns, “or else you may be marvellously mistook!”
The Welsh captain is patient. “I tell you what, Captain Gower: I do perceive he is not the man that he would gladly make show to the world he is. If I find a hole in his coat,”—catch him at mischief, “I will tell him my mind.”
They hear drums beaten with a firm cadence.
“Hark you, the king is coming,” says Fluellen, “and I must speak with him from the pridge!”
The captains bow as the royal party arrives with guards and flying colors.
“God pless Your Majesty!”
“How now, Fluellen!” says King Henry. “Camest thou from the bridge?”
“Aye, so please Your Majesty! The Duke of Exeter has very gallantly maintained the pridge! The French is gone off, look you; and there is gallant and most prave passage! Marry, th’ athversary was have possession of the pridge, but he is enforcèd to retire, and the Duke of Exeter is master of the pridge! I can tell Your Majesty, the duke is a prave man!”
“What men have been lost, Fluellen?”
“The perdition of th’ athversary hath been very great, reasonable great!
“Marry, for my part, I think the duke hath lost never a man, but for one that was liable to be executed, for robbing a church—one Bardolph, if Your Majesty know the man. His face is all bubukles and whelks and knobs in flames o’ fire!—and his lips, bellows at his nose!—and it is like a coal of fire, sometimes plue and sometimes red!
“But his nose is extinguished, and his fire’s out.”
“We would have all such offenders so cut off,” says the king. “And we give express charge,” he tells his brother Humphrey, “that in our marches through the country there be nothing compellèd from the villages—nothing taken but paid for, none of the French upbraided or abused in disdainful language! For when lenity and cruelty play for a kingdom,”—compete for subjects, “the gentler gamester is the soonest winner.”
A tucket is sounded, and they see a French herald riding forward, boldly, to meet the English king and his commanders.
Says Montjoy haughtily, dismounting, “You know me by my habit”—attire.
King Henry regards him sourly. “Well, then I know thee. What shall I know from thee?”
“My master’s mind.”
“Thus says my king: ‘Say thou to Harry of England, though we seemèd dead, we did but sleep!—advantage is a better soldier than rashness.
“‘Tell him we could have rebuked him at Harfleur, but that we thought it not good to bruise an injury till it were fully ripe. Now we speak upon our cue—and our voice is imperial!
“‘England shall repent his folly, see his weakness, and admire our sufferance. Bid him therefore consider of his ransom!—which must proportion the losses we have borne, the subjects we have lost, the disgrace we have digested—which to recompense by weight would bow ‘his royal pettiness’ under! For our losses, his exchequer is too poor; as for the effusion of our blood, the muster of his kingdom too faint a number; and as for our disgrace, his own person, kneeling at our feet, but a weak and worthless satisfaction!
“‘To that add defiance! And tell him, for conclusion, he hath betrayed his followers, whose condemnation is pronouncèd!’
“So for my king and master; so much my office.”
“What is thy name?” asks King Henry. “I know thy quality,” he says dryly.
“Thou dost thine office fairly. Turn thee back, and tell thy king: I, under no impediment, do not seek him now, but would be willing to march on to Calais. For, to say the sooth—though ’tis no wisdom to confess so much unto an enemy of craft and vantage—my people are with sickness much enfeebled, my numbers lessened; those few I have,” he says, noting Montjoy’s faint smirk, “almost no better than so many French! But when they were in health, I tell thee, herald, I thought that upon one pair of English legs did march three Frenchmen!
“Yet, forgive me, God, that I do brag thus; this, your air of France, hath blown that vice into me! I must repent.
“Go, therefore,” he orders Montjoy. “Tell thy master I am here. My ransom is this frail and worthless trunk,”—body; he will offer nothing more, “my guard but a weak and sickly army.
“Yet tell him: before God we will move on—though France himself and another such neighbour stand in our way!”
He tosses a coin at the Frenchman. “There’s for thy labour, Montjoy. Go bid thy master well advise himself!
“If we may pass, we will; if we be hindered, we shall your tawny ground with your red blood discolour!
“And so, Montjoy, fare you well. The sum of all our answer is but this: we would not seek a battle, as we are—nor as we are say we will shun it! So tell your master.”
“I shall deliver so.” The stone-faced emissary bows. “Thanks to Your Highness.” He and his attendants ride back toward the French forces.
Prince Humphrey watches—worried; he is eager to have his full army, now divided by water, across the bridge. “I hope they will not come upon us now!”
“We are in God’s hand, brother, not in theirs,” says King Henry.
“March to the bridge. It now draws toward night. Beyond the river we’ll encamp ourselves.
“And on the morrow, bid then march away!”
Eager for Triumph
The lord high constable, Charles Delabreth, has assembled the French king’s forces in a huge encampment near the village of Agincourt, about twenty-five miles southeast of Calais—and directly in the northward path of the English army. But for tonight, he and his thousands of foot soldiers and horsemen must bide their time.
“Tsk! I have the best armour of the world!” growls the general, proud of the hundreds of nobles and knights with him, and snappish in his frustration, while pages sweat to polish the metal to gleaming. “Would it were day!”
“You have an excellent armour; but let my horse have its due,” says the Duke of Orléans, who commands the cavalry.
“It is the best horse of Europe,” says Delabreth carefully; for some years the Turks’ powerful forces have steadily encroached from the east.
Orléans, warming his hands by a fire against the cold of October, looks up into the starry sky. “Will it never be morning?”
A pompous son of King Charles VI and Queen Isabella—Louis, the eldest, and thus the dauphin—grows peevish; he thinks the older men are idly boasting about their personal perquisites. “My lord of Orléans, and my lord high constable, you talk of horse and armour?”
“You are as well provided with both as any prince in the world,” the duke assures him.
The dauphin paces in annoyance. “What a long night is this! I would not exchange my horse with any that treads on four pasterns!”—feet. He sweeps a hand upward in a wide arc: “Ça, ha!—he bounds from the earth, as if his entrails were hairs—le cheval volant, the Pegasus, chez les narines de feu!”—a flying horse, nostrils flaming.
“When I bestride him, I soar, I am a hawk!—he trots in the air!—the earth sings when he touches it!—the basest sound of his hoof is more musical than the pipe of Hermes!”
“He’s the colour of a nutmeg,” says the general.
“And of the heat of ginger!” retorts the prideful young prince. “It is a beast for Perseus! He is pure air and fire, and the dull elements of earth and water never appear in him except in patient stillness while his rider mounts him! He is indeed a horse!—and all other jades you may call beasts!”
“Indeed, my lord, it is a most absolute and excellent horse,” says Orléans.
“It is the prince of palfreys!” insists the dauphin. “His neigh is like the bidding of a monarch, and his countenance enforces homage!”
Orléans chuckles. “No more, cousin.”
“Nay, the man hath no wit that cannot, from the rising of the lark to the lodging of the lamb, vary in deservèd praise of my palfrey! It is a theme as fluent as the sea!—turn the sands into eloquent tongues!—and my horse is argument for them all!
“’Tis a subject for a sovereign to reason on, and for a sovereign’s sovereign to ride on!—and for the world, familiar to us and unknown, to lay apart their particular functions, and wonder at him!
“I once writ a sonnet in his praise, and began thus: ‘Wonder of nature—’”
“I have heard a sonnet begin so to one’s mistress,” says the worldly general dryly.
The dauphin is undaunted. “Then it did imitate that which I composed to my courser, for my horse is my mistress!”
The lord constable gives him a knowing grin. “Your mistress bears well.”
“Me well!—which is the prescript praise and perfection of a good and particular mistress!”
“Nay—for methought yesterday your mistress harshly shook your back!”
“So perhaps did yours,” the prince replies.
“Mine was not bridled!”
“Ah, then belike she was old and gentle,” gibes the prince, “and you rode like a kern of Ireland,”—a common soldier, “your French hose off, and in your straight strossers!”—tight trousers, implying bare legs.
The lord high constable laughs. “You have good judgment in whoresmanship.”
“Be warned by me, then: they that ride so, and ride not warily, fall into foul bogs! I had rather have my horse as my mistress!”
“I had as lief have my mistress a jade!”—a whore, laughs the general.
“I’ll tell thee, constable, my mistress wears its own hair!” Prostitutes’ fine tresses are likely bought.
“I could make as true a boast as that if I had a sow as my mistress!” says the commander.
Louis resents his persistence: “‘Le chien est retourné à son propre vomissement, et la truie lavée au bourbier’”—the dog returns to its vomit, and the washed sow to the mud. “Thou makest use of anything!”
“Yet do I not use my horse for my mistress—nor any such proverb so little akin to the purpose!”
Young Lord Rambures, who is with them, spots the prince’s angry flush, and he tries to interrupt the testy competition. “My lord constable, the armour that I saw in your tent tonight—are those stars or suns upon it?”
“Stars, my lord.”
“Some of them will fall tomorrow, I hope,” mutters the sullen dauphin.
“And yet my sky shall not lack,” says the veteran general.
“That may be; for you bear a-many superfluously, and ’twere more honourable were some away!”
“It would trot even as well as the horse bearing your praises, if some of your brags were dismounted!”
“Would I were able to load him with his deserving!” The dauphin again turns to stare eastward. “Will it never be day? I will trot a mile tomorrow when my way shall be paved with English faces!”
“I will not say so, for fear I should be faced out of my way!”—repelled by looks, quips the general. “But I would it were morning, for I would fain be about the ears of the English!”—battering their heads.
Rambures offers a wager on his troops’ performance: “Who will go to hazard with me for twenty prisoners?”
“You must first go yourself into hazard ere you have them,” the general tells the untested officer.
The prince starts toward his tent. “’Tis midnight. I’ll go arm myself.” It takes time for his armorers to fasten all of the elaborate and costly pieces into place.
Orléans watches him hurry away. “The dauphin longs for morning.”
Rambures grins. “He longs to eat the English!”—devour the enemy.
“I think he will eat all he kills,” says the general.
Orléans objects: “By the white hand of my lady he’s a gallant prince!”
The lord constable laughs, imputing a second, ribald, meaning. “Swear by her foot, so that she may tread out of that oath!”
“He is simply the most active gentleman of France!”
Delabreth nods. “Doing is activity—and he will ever be doing.” The constable considers the royal busybody’s assertive but ineffectual presence a nuisance.
“He never did harm that I heard of.”
“Nor will do any tomorrow,” says the general—the enemy will not suffer at the popinjay’s hands. “He will keep that good name still!”
“I know him to be valiant,” protests the loyal duke.
“I was told that by one who knows him better than you.”
“Marry, he told me so himself!—and said he cared not who knew it!”
“He need not; it is no hidden virtue in him.”
“By my faith, sir, but it is; never anybody saw it but his lackey! ’Tis a hooded valour!”—covered, like the eyes of a trained falcon on its perch. “And when it appears, it will bate!”—a play on both the falconry term for flap its wings and abate.
Orléans scoffs. “‘Ill will never said well.’”
“I will cap that proverb, with ‘There is flattery in friendship.’”
“And I will take up that with ‘Give the Devil his due.’”
“Well placed,” laughs the general. “There stands your friend for the Devil! I’ll have at the very eye of that proverb—with ‘A pox on the Devil!’”
Orléans’s smile is thin. “You are the better at proverbs—by this much: ‘A fool’s bolt”—arrow—“is soon shot!’”—without due aim.
The constable laughs. “You have shot over!”—missed the mark.
“’Tis not the first time you were overshot!”—went too far, says the duke.
The arrival of a breathless captain ends their exchange. “My lord high constable, the English lie within fifteen hundred paces of your tents!”
“Who hath measured the ground?”
“The lord Grandpré.”
The general sighs. “A valiant and most expert gentleman,” he says, motioning to dismiss the captain. “Would it were day!” he says to Orléans. “Alas, poor Harry of England! He longs not for the dawning as we do!”
The duke concurs. “What a wretched and peevish fellow is this King of England, to mope with his fat-brained followers so far out of his knowledge!”
“If the English had any apprehension,”—understanding, “they would run away!”
Orléans shrugs. “That they lack; for if their heads had any intellectual armour, they could never wear such heavy head-pieces!”—thick skulls.
Rambures sniffs. “That island of England breeds very valiant creatures: their mastiffs are of unmatchable courage.”
“Foolish curs that run winking”—eyes closed—“into the mouth of a Russian bear!” says Orléans, “and have their heads crushed like rotten apples! You may as well say that’s a valiant flea that dares eat his breakfast on the lip of a lion!”
“Just, just!” says the general. “And the men resemble the mastiffs in robustious and rough coming on, leaving their wits with their wives!” Still, he has seen them in battle. “But give them iron and steel, and great meals of beef, and they will eat like wolves and fight like devils!”
“Aye, but these English are direly out of beef!” notes the duke. The French are well aware of the invaders’ privations, and of the debilitating illness rampant in their ranks.
“Then shall we find tomorrow they have stomachs only to eat, and none to fight!”
He rubs his hands together—in eagerness, not to warm them in the cold night air. “Now is it time to arm? Come, shall we about it?”
Orléans shakes his head. “It is about two o’clock.” He moves closer to the fire.
“Just let me see, and by ten we shall have a hundred Englishmen each!”
The Chorus comes forward. “Now entertain conjecture of a time when a pouring of dark and creeping murmur fills the wide vessel of the universe.”
Among the opposing forces as the embers of supper’s cooking fires fade, thousands of soldiers turn restlessly in blankets on the ground, yearning for sleep.
“From camp to camp, through the fell womb of night, a hum from either still army sounds, and the fixèd sentinels almost receive the secret whispers of each other’s watch.
“Perimeter fire answers fire, and through their pale flames each battalion sees the other’s umbered faces. Steed threatens steed in high and boastful neighs, piercing the night’s dull ear! And from the tents, the armourers, accomplishing the knights, with busy hammers closing rivets up give dreadful note of preparation!
“The country cocks do crow and bells do toll, the third hour of drowsing morn to name.
“Proud of their numbers, and secure in soul, the lusty and overly confident French do play for”—wager on capturing—“the low-rated English as at dice—and chide the cripple, tardy-gaited night, which like a foul and ugly witch doth limp so tediously along!
“The poor condemnèd English, sitting patiently, like sacrifices, by their watchful fires, inly ruminate on the morning’s danger; and their vesture—lean cheeks huddled glumly in lank, war-worn coats—presenteth them unto the gazing moon as so many horrid ghosts.
“Oh, now whoever will behold the royal captain of this ruined band, let him cry praise and glory upon his head!—for forth he goes and visits all his host, walking from watch to watch, from tent to tent—bids them Good morrow! with a modest smile, and calls them brothers, friends and countrymen!
“Upon his regal face there is no note of how dreadful an army hath enrounded them; nor doth he dedicate one jot of colour unto the weary and all-watchèd night, but freshly looks, and over-bears attaint with cheerful semblance and sweet majesty, such that every wretch, pining and pale before, beholding him plucks comfort from his appearance!
“A largess universal, like the sun’s, his liberal eye doth give to every one, thawing cold fear so that all, lowly and gentle, behold, as may unworthiest the divine, a little touch of Harry in the night!
“And so our scene must to the battle fly; where—oh, the pity!—we shall, with four or five most vile and raggèd foils, right ill-disposèd in brawl ridiculous,”—in trivial simulation, “much disgrace the name of Agincourt!” It is a place of high renown in British legend.
“Yet sit and see, minding true things by what their mockeries be….”
While the British troops shiver in the dark on the frost-firmed fields, outside the royal tents, near a lone torch, King Henry V smiles at his brother Prince Humphrey, who is coming to join him. “Gloucester, ’tis true that we are in great danger; the greater, therefore, should our courage be!
“Good morrow, brother Bedford!” he cries cheerfully, hailing Prince John.
“God Almighty!” says the king reverently, looking up at the still-dark sky. He regards the noblemen. “There is some soul of goodness in things evil, would men observingly distil it out!—for our bad neighbour makes us early stirrers, which is both healthful and good husbandry!
“Besides, they are our outside consciences, and preachers to us all, admonishing that we should dress us fairly for our end!”—purpose, or demise. His drollery draws laughter; the other lords, too, are already clad in armor, dented and tarnished during months of use.
“Thus may we gather honey from the weeds,”—a play on a term for garb, “and take a morsel from the devil himself!”
Greeting a tall lord, he beams jovially. “Good morrow, old Sir Thomas Erpingham! A good, soft pillow for that good, white head were fitter than the churlish turf of France!”
“Not so, my liege!” says the knight, smiling. “This lodging likes me better, since I may say ‘Now I lie like a king!’”
King Henry laughs. “’Tis good for men to live their present pains upon example; so, the spirit is easèd—and when the mind is quickened, no doubt the organs, though defunct and dead before, break upward from their drowsy grave, and with sloth cast off, newly move in fresh legerity!
“Lend me thy cloak, Sir Thomas,” he asks; the knight has handed it to a page to hold as he straps into place his sheathed sword and dagger.
“Brothers both, commend me to the princes”—other noble commanders—“in our camp,” says Henry, draping the heavy gray cloth across his broad shoulders. “Do my ‘good morrows’ to them, and desire them all anon to my pavilion.”
“We shall, my liege,” says Gloucester.
“Shall I attend Your Grace?” asks Erpingham.
“No, my good knight; go with my brothers to my lords of England. I and my bosom must debate awhile, and for that I would no other company.”
The knight bows deeply. “The Lord in heaven bless thee, noble Harry!”
The English commanders stride away.
God-a-mercy, old heart, thou speak’st cheerfully! says the king to himself. He again ponders the impending warfare, in which his weary soldiers must face the much-larger legions of fresh, eager, and well-fed French troops.
Pulling the dark cloak’s cowl up over his head, he ventures again into the sprawling array of canvas tents.
The king soon encounters an old soldier who stalks forward and confronts him: “Chee vooz là?”—a cockney rendition of the French for Who are you, there?
In the still-deep shadows, the hooded monarch is effectively disguised. “A friend.”
“Discuss unto me: art thou officer?” demands Pistol. “Or art thou base, common and populace?”
“I am a gentleman of a company”—with one as a volunteer.
“Trail’st thou the puissant pike?”—march with infantry pikemen.
“Even so.” Henry regards his former tavern companion. “What are you?”
“As good a gentleman as the emperor!”
“Then you are a better than the king.”
“The king’s a bawcock!” says Pistol proudly, “and a heart of gold!—a lad of life, an imp of fame—of parents good, of fist most valiant! I kiss his dirty shoe, and from heart-string I love the lovely bully!” He squints at the stranger. “What is thy name?”
“Harry le Roy.”
“Leroy—a Cornish name! Art thou of Cornish crew?”
“No, I am a Welshman.” Before coronation he had been Prince of Wales, where he was born.
“Know’st thou Fluellen?” demands Pistol.
“Tell him I’ll knock his leek about his pate upon Saint Davy’s day!” The captain’s hat, which sports that pungent plant in its band, is to be assailed during the annual festival honoring David, Wales’ patron saint.
“Do not wear your dagger that day,” warns Harry, “lest he knock that about yours!” A knife’s haft is convenient for such work.
“Art thou his friend?”
“And his kinsman too.”
Pistol glares, raising a hand to gesture rudely. “The figo for thee, then!”
The stranger only nods. “I thank you,” he murmurs. “God be with you.”
“My name is Pistol callèd!” the soldier advises, for Captain Fluellen’s benefit, as he stamps away.
It sorts well with your fierceness!—hot but brief, thinks the king.
He draws the cloak closer and pulls the hood forward, putting his face into even deeper shadow. He stands and listens as two officers meet nearby, on a path among the many tents.
“Captain Fluellen!” says Gower.
“So,” says the other. “Speak lower, in the name of Jesu Christ!” he cautions; the French are near. “It is the greatest admiration of the universal world when the true and aunchient prerogatifes and laws of the wars is not kept!
“If you would take the pains but to examine the wars of Pompey the Great, you shall find, I warrant you, that there is no tiddle-toddle nor pibble-pabble in Pompey’s camp! I warrant you, you shall find the ceremonies of the wars, and the cares of it, and the forms of it, and the sobriety of it, and the modesty of it, to be otherwise!”
“Why, the enemy is loud,” notes Gower. “You heard him all night!”
“If the enemy is an ass and a fool and a prating coxcomb, is it meet, think you, that we should also, look you, be an ass and a fool and a prating coxcomb? In your own conscience, now?” he demands, an eyebrow raised.
Gower smiles. “I will speak lower.”
“I pray you and beseech you that you will,” says Fluellen, clasping the other officer’s shoulder warmly as they head away together toward the line facing the French.
King Henry is pleased. Though it appear a little out of fashion, there is much care and valour in this Welshman!
As he stands watching, three of his foot-soldiers come forward on their way to the front, muskets in hand.
Alexander Court points east. “Brother John Bates, is not that the morning which breaks yonder?”
“I think it be; but we have no great cause to desire the approach of day!”
Michael Williams, big and burly, nods grimly. “We see yonder the beginning of the day, but I think we shall never see the end of it.” He halts, spotting the muffled figure beside the path. “Who goes there?” he challenges.
“Under what captain serve you?”
“Under Sir Thomas Erpingham’s cover.”
Williams nods. “A good old commander, and a most kind gentleman. I pray you, what thinks he of our estate?”
“Even as men wrecked upon a sandbar, that look to be washed off at the next tide.”
“He hath not told his thought to the king!” says Bates.
“No; nor it is not meet he should. For, though I speak it to you, I think the king is but a man, as I am: the violet smells to him as it doth to me; the element shows to him as it doth to me; all his senses have but human conditions. His ceremonies laid by, in his nakedness he appears but a man; and though his emotions are higher mounted than ours, yet, when they stoop, they swoop with a like wing! Therefore when he sees reason for fears, as we do, beyond doubt his fears be of the same sharpness as are ours.
“Yet no man of reason should possess him with any apprehension or fear, lest he, by showing it, should dishearten his army.”
“He may show what outward courage he will,” says Bates, “but I believe, as cold a night as ’tis, he could still wish himself in Thames, up to the neck!—and so I would he were, and I by him, at all adventures, so we were quit here!”
“By my troth, I will speak my understanding of the king!” the stranger tells them earnestly. “I think he would not wish himself anywhere but where he is!”
“Then I would he were here alone!” replies Bates. “So should he be sure to be ransomed, and many a poor man’s life be saved!”
“I dare say you love him not so ill as to wish him here alone, howsoever you speak this, to feel other men’s minds,” says the hooded gentleman. “Methinks I could not die anywhere so contented as in the king’s company, his cause being just, and his quarrel honourable!”
“That’s more than we know,” says Williams, using a kerchief to wipe the sheen of dew from the barrel of his weapon.
“Aye—or more than we should seek after,” argues Bates, “for we know enough if we know we are the king’s subjects; if his cause be wrong, our obedience to the king wipes the crime of it out of us.”
“But if the cause be not good,” says Williams, “the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day,”—Judgment Day, “and cry, all, ‘We died at such a place!’—some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some about their wives left poor behind them, some about the debts they owe, some about their children rawly left!
“I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of anything, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it!—whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection.”
Now the monk-like figure challenges: “So, if a son who is by his father sent after merchandise do sinfully miscarry upon the sea,”—turn pirate, “the imputation of his wickedness, by your rule, should be imposed upon his father that sent him! Or if a servant, under his master’s command transporting a sum of money, be assailed by robbers and die with many irreconciled iniquities,”—unconfessed sins, “you may call the business of the master the author of the servant’s damnation!
“But this is not so! The king is not bound to answer for the particular endings of his soldiers, the father of his son, nor the master of his servant—for they purpose not their death when they purpose their services.
“Besides, there is no king, be his cause ever so spotless, can try it out with all-unspotted soldiers, if it come to the arbitrement of swords! Some peradventure have on them the guilt of premeditated and contrivèd murder; some, of beguiling virgins with the broken seals of perjury; some making the wars their bulwark have before gored the gentle bosom of peace with pillage and robbery! Now, if these men have defeated the law, and outrun native punishment, though they can outstrip men, they have no wings to fly from God! War is his beadle, war is his vengeance—so that men are punished for before-breach of the king’s laws, here in the king’s quarrel now!”
He sees an irony: “Where they fearèd the death,”—lawful but lethal punishment at home—“they have borne life away. And where they would be safe,”—fighting in a just cause, “they perish!
“Then if they die unprovided,”—unreconciled with God, “no more is the king guilty of their damnation than he was before guilty of those impieties for which they are now visited.
“Every subject’s duty is the king’s; but every subject’s soul is his own. Therefore should every soldier in the wars do as every sick man in his bed: wash every mote out of his conscience! Then, dying so, death is to him advantage!—or, not dying, the time was blessedly lost wherein such preparation was gained!
“And in him that escapes, it were no sin to think that, having made God so fair an offer, He let him outlive that day to see his greatness, and to teach others how they should prepare.”
Williams must concur. “’Tis certain every man that dies ill, the ill’s upon his own head; the king is not to answer for it.”
“I do not desire he should answer for me,” says young Bates, “and yet I determine to fight lustily for him!” he adds loyally.
“I myself heard the king say he would not be ransomed,” the gentleman assures the soldiers.
“Aye, he said so to make us fight cheerfully,” grumbles Williams. “But when our throats are cut, he may be ransomed, and we ne’er the wiser!”
“If I live to see it, I will never trust his word after!” says the stranger.
“You pay him then!”—avenge it, laughs Williams. “That’s a perilous shot out of an elder-gun”—a wooden toy, “what a poor and private displeasure can do against a monarch! You may as well set about turning the sun to ice by fanning in its face with a peacock’s feather!
“You’ll never trust his word after!—come, ’tis a foolish saying!”
The stranger glares. “Your reproof is somewhat too round! I should be angry with you, if the time were convenient!”
“Let it be a quarrel between us, if you live,” Williams replies.
“I embrace it!”
“How shall I know thee again?”
“Give me any gage of thine, and I will wear it in my hatband; then, if ever thou darest acknowledge it, I will make it my quarrel!”
“Here’s my glove; give me another, of thine!”
“This will I, also, wear in my cap,” says Williams, putting it there. “If ever thou come to me and say, after tomorrow, ‘This is my glove,’ by this hand, I will give thee a box on the ear!”
“If ever I live to see it, I will challenge it!”
Williams—a blacksmith at home—scoffs. “Thou darest as well be hanged!”
“Well, I will do it, though I overtake thee in the king’s company!”
“Keep thy word!” says Williams. “Fare thee well.” He starts away.
“Be friends, you English fools, be friends!” protests Bates. “We have French quarrels enough if you could tell how to tally!”
“Indeed, the French may lay twenty French crowns to one they will beat us, for they bear them on their shoulders,” laughs the king; the term can imply hair lost to syphilis. “But it is no English treason to cut French crowns,”—filch metal from the enemy nation’s coins, “and today the king himself will be a clipper!”
As the soldiers head toward their company’s battle position, Henry reflects.
Upon the king! Let us our lives, our souls, our debts, our careful wives, our children, and our sins lay on the king!
We must bear all!—one hard condition, twin-born with greatness!—subject to the breath of every fool whose sense can feel no more than his own wringing! What infinite heart’s-ease must kings neglect, that private men enjoy!
And what have kings that privates have not too, save ceremony—save general ceremony!
But what art thou, thou idle Ceremony? What kind of god art thou, that suffer’st more of mortal griefs than do thy worshippers? What are thy rents; what are thy comings in? O Ceremony, show me but thy worth! What is thy soul, for all the adoration?—art thou aught else but place, degree and form?—creating awe and fear in other men, wherein thou art less happy being feared than they in fearing!
What drink’st thou oft, instead of homage sweet, but poisoned flattery? Oh, be sick, great greatness, and bid thy Ceremony give thee cure! Think’st thou a fiery fever will be blown out by titles, from adulation?—will it succumb to flexure and low-bending? Canst thou, when thou command’st the beggar’s knee, command the health of it?
No, thou proud dream, that play’st so subtly with a king’s repose! I am a king that finds thee out! And I know ’tis not the balm—the sceptre and the ball, the sword, the mace, the crown imperial, the intertissued robe of gold and pearl, the elaborated title running ’fore the king, the throne he sits on, nor the tide of pomp that beats upon the high shore of this world—no, not with all these, thrice-gorgeous Ceremony, not all these, laid in a bed majestical, can he sleep so soundly as the wretched slave, who with a body filled, crammed with calming bread, and a vacant mind, gets him to rest!—never sees horrid night as the child of Hell, but, like a lackey sweats in the eye of Phoebus from rise to set, and all night sleeps in Elysium!—and next day, after dawn doth rise and help Hyperion to his horse, follows so in the ever-running year, with profitable labour, to his grave!
And, but for ceremony, such a wretch, who wraps his days with toil and nights with sleep, had, beforehand, advantage of the king!
The slave, a member of the country’s peace, enjoys it, but in gross brain little wots what watch the king keeps to maintain the peace whose hours the peasant best advantage!
The pensive monarch hears someone; he looks up to see Sir Thomas coming toward him.
“My lord, your nobles, missing your presence, seek through your camp to find you!”
Henry nods. “Good old knight, collect them all together at my tent. I’ll be there before thee.”
Erpingham bows. “I shall do’t, my lord.” He hurries away.
Henry pulls back the hood and looks upward. O god of battles, steel my soldiers’ hearts; possess them not with fear; take from them now the sense of counting, if the opposèd numbers pluck their hearts from them!
But then he kneels, and bows his head. Not today, O Lord, oh, not today!—think not upon the fault my father made in compassing the crown!
Lord Bolingbroke, returning from banishment in France, assumed the throne as Henry IV by deposing King Richard II—who was soon murdered.
I have interrèd Richard’s body anew; and on it have bestowed more contrite tears than from it issued forcèd drops of blood! Five hundred poor I have in yearly pay, who twice a day their withered hands hold up toward heaven, to pardon that blood! And I have built two chantries, where the sad and solemn priests sing ever for Richard’s soul.
More will I do; though all that I can do is nothing worth, since that my penitence comes, after all, imploring pardon.
My brother Gloucester’s voice? Slowly, Henry rises.
He smiles at Prince Humphrey. “Aye, I know thy errand; I will go with thee.
“The day, my friends and all things wait for me.”
Pulling off the cloak, King Henry V strides forward.
Ready to Fight
The Duke of Orléans adjusts his gleaming new gauntlets. “The sun doth gild our armour! Up, my lords!”
The dauphin, too, craves action. “Montez à cheval! My horse!” he demands. “Varlet! L’acquérez!” he cries, cuffing a too-slow servant. “Hah!”
Orléans beams at the other resplendent young man. “O brave spirit!”
“Viva! Les eaux et la terre!”—waters and earth!—cries the dauphin in jubilation.
“Rien plus? L’air et la feu?”—nothing more? Air and fire?
“See you, cousin Orléans!”—just watch. He hails the commander. “Now, my lord constable!”
The French general surveys the cavalry arrayed at the front, its long ranks shifting restively. “Hark how our steeds for present service neigh!”
“Mount them, and make incision in their hides, so that their hot blood may spin into English eyes—and daub them with superfluous courage!” demands the dauphin, eager for the rout. “Ha!”
Rambures protests facetiously: “What?—will you have them weep our horses’ blood? How, then, shall we behold their natural tears?”
They watch as a knight rides to them and hastily dismounts to bow. “The English are embattled,”—in formation, “you French peers!”
“To horse, you gallant princes!” says the lord high constable, “straight to horse!”
He nods toward the British camp. “Do but behold yon poor and starvèd band, and your fair showing shall suck away their souls, leaving them but the shells and husks of men!
“There is not work enough for all our hands!—scarce blood enough in all their sickly veins to give each naked curtle-axe”—used by foot soldiers—“a stain! Our French gallants shall today draw, but then sheathe for lack of sport!
“Let us but blow on them—the vapour of our valour will o’erturn them!
“’Tis positive ’gainst all exception, lords, that our superfluous lackeys and our peasants, who in unnecessary action swarm about our squares of battle”—the configuration common troops take—”were enough to purge this field of such a hilding foe, though we, upon this mountain’s basis by, took stand for idle speculation!”—as had England’s Edward III at Crécy. “But that our honours must not.
“What’s to say?—a very little! Little let us do, and all is done!
“Then let the trumpets sound the tucket’s sonance!—and the note to mount!” he orders, signaling, “for our approach shall so much dire the field that England shall crouch down in fear, and yield!”
As Delabreth mounts his stallion, a nobleman already back from a look at the enemy rides up to his side.
“Why do you stay so long, my lords of France?” cries Lord Grandpré, reining in his stallion. “Yon island carrion, despairing of their bones, ill-favourèdly become the morning field! Their poor, ragged curtains”—scouts sent to spot the initial assault—“are let loose, and our air, in passing, shaked them scornfully!
“Big Mars seems bankrupt in their beggared host, and but faintly through a rusty visor peeps! Their horsemen sit with torch-staves in their hands like fixèd candlesticks! And their poor jades—hides and hips drooping, let down their heads, the gum down-roping from their pale, dead eyes; in their dry, dull mouths the gimmal bit lying foul with chewèd grass—are still and motionless while their executors, the knavish crows, fly o’er them, all impatient for their hour!”
He shakes his head in disgust. “Description cannot suit itself in words to demonstrate the like of such an army, in life so lifeless as it shows itself!”
“They have said their prayers,” says the old general quietly, “and they wait for death.”
The dauphin’s patience is exhausted. “Shall we go send them dinners and fresh suits, and give their fasting horses provender,” he demands, his voice shrill with sarcasm, “then after fight with them?”
“I stay but for my guidon,” mutters the lord high constable. He motions to the herald. “I will a banner from a trumpeter take, and use it in my haste.” The bright pennant is soon fastened to his lance, just behind the steel tip. “To the field!”
“Come, come away!
“The sun is high, and we outwear the day!”
Blaring trumpets hasten the British troops toward combat positions, as their chief commanders confer at the front: Prince Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester; Prince John, Duke of Bedford; the Duke of Exeter; the Earls of Salisbury and Westmoreland; and Sir Thomas Erpingham, leader of the host of other knights.
“Where is the king?” asks Humphrey.
John answers: “The king himself rode to view their battle!”—the combined French forces.
“Of fighting men they have full three-score thousand,” Westmoreland advises.
Exeter frowns, peering northward. “That’s five to one!” he mutters. “Besides which, they all are fresh.”
Cries Salisbury, undaunted, “God’s arm strikes with us!—’tis a fearful odds!” He turns to the others as he mounts his horse. “God be wi’ you, princes all! I’ll to my charge.
“If we no more meet till we meet in heaven, then, joyfully, my noble lord of Bedford, my dear Lord Gloucester, and my good Lord Exeter, and my kind kinsmen, warriors all, Adieu!” He is grinning; the term is French; it means until we meet with God.
“Fare well, good Salisbury!” laughs John, “and good luck go with thee!”
“Farewell, kind lord! Fight valiantly today!” calls Exeter. “And yet I do thee wrong to mind thee of it, for thou art framèd of the firm truth of valour!” he says, as Salisbury rides away.
“He is as full of valour as of kindness—princely in both!” says John.
King Henry soon returns to join the noblemen, and he dismounts.
Lord Westmoreland has been looking out over the assembling ranks of British troops. “Oh, that we now had here but one ten-thousandth of those men in England that do no work today!”
“Who’s he that wishes so?” demands the king, as a soldier receives his skittish steed’s reins. “My cousin Westmoreland?
“No, my fair cousin! If we are markèd to die, we are enough to be our country’s loss, and if to live, the fewer men, the greater their shares of honour, by God’s will!
“I pray thee, wish not one man more! By Jove, I am not covetous for gold, nor care I who doth feed upon my cost; it yearns me not if men my garments”—livery—“wear! Such outward things dwell not in my desires. But if it be a sin to covet honour, I am the most offending soul alive! No, ’faith, my coz, wish not a man from England! God’s peace, I would not, for the best hope I have, lose so great an honour as methinks one man more would share from me!
“So, do not wish one more—rather, Westmoreland, proclaim it throughout my host that he who hath no stomach to this fight, let him depart! His passport shall be made, and crowns for convoy put into his purse; we would not die in that man’s company who questions his fellowship to die with us!
“This day is called the Feast of Crispian,” the king notes, of the holiday named for two brothers martyred long ago. “He that outlives this day and comes safely home will stand a-tip-toe”—at his tallest—“when the day is named, and rouse him at the name of Crispian!
“He that shall live this day and see old age will yearly, on the vigil, feast his neighbours, and say, ‘Tomorrow is Saint Crispian!’ Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars, and say, ‘These wounds I had on Crispian’s Day!’ Old men forget—but if all else be forgot, yet he’ll remember—with enhancements—what feats he did that day!
“Then shall our names, familiar in his mouth as household words—Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter, Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester—be, in their flowing cups, freshly remembered! This story shall the good man teach his son—and Crispin-Crispian shall ne’er go by, from this day to the ending of the world, but that we in it shall be remembered!—we few, we happy few, we band of brothers! For he that sheds his blood today with me shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile, this day shall gentle his condition!
“And gentlemen in England now a-bed shall think themselves accursèd they were not here, and hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks who fought with us upon Saint Crispian’s Day!”
Salisbury returns at a gallop, halting his lathered mount before the king. “My sovereign lord, bestow yourself with speed! The French are bravely in their battles set, and will with all expedience charge on us!”
King Henry nods, smiling at his commanders. “All things are ready, if our minds be so.”
Westmoreland laughs. “Perish the man whose mind is backward now!”
“Thou dost not wish more help from England, coz?” asks the king.
Westmoreland smiles. “God’s will, my liege! I would that you and I alone, without more help, could fight this royal battle!”
Henry laughs. “Why, now thou hast unwishèd five thousand men!—which likes me better than to wish us one!
“You know your places. God be with you all!”
A tucket is heard as Montjoy, the French herald, rides calmly forward to face the English monarch. He nods, his smile smug. “Once more I come to know of thee, King Harry, if for thy ransom thou wilt now compound, before thy most assurèd overthrow—for certainly thou art so near the gulf thou needs must be englutted!”—swallowed.
“Besides,” says Montjoy haughtily, “in mercy, the constable desires of thee thou wilt mind thy followers of repentance, so that their souls may make a peaceful and a sweet retire from off these fields, where, poor wretches, their bodies must lie and fester!”
Constable? The King of England is annoyed. “Who hath sent thee now?”
“The Constable of France.”
“I pray thee, bear my former answer back.
“Bid them achieve me, and then sell my bones! Good God! Why should they mock poor fellows thus? The man that once did sell a lion’s skin while the beast lived was killed while hunting it!
“A-many of our bodies shall no doubt find native graves,”—at home, “upon which, I trust, shall witness live in brass of this day’s work! And those that leave their valiant bones in France, dying like men, though buried in your dunghills, they shall be famed! For here the sun shall greet them, and draw their honours up to heaven—leaving their reeking earthly parts to choke your clime, the smell whereof shall breed a plague in France!
“Mark the abounding valour in our English, who, being dead, like the bullet’s grazing, break out into a second course of mischief, killing in a relapse of lethality!
“Let me speak arrogantly: tell the constable we are but warriors for the working day!—our frippery and our gilt are all besmirchèd from rainy marching in the painful field; there’s not a piece of feather in our host—good argument, I hope, that we will not fly!” The British lords smile at the jest.
“If time hath worn us into slovenry, by the Mass, our hearts are in their trim! And my poor soldiers tell me that yet ere night they’ll be in fresher robes—for they will pluck the gay new coats from o’er your dead soldiers, and turn them, in side out, from your service!
“If they do that—as, if God please, they shall!—my ransom will then have been levied!” “Herald, save thou thy labour; come thou no more for ransom, gentle herald. They shall have none, I swear, but these my joints!—which, if they have as I will leave ’em, shall yield them little, tell the constable!”
Montjoy bows gravely. “I shall, King Harry; and so fare thee well.” He adds, ominously, “Thou never shalt hear herald any more.” He and his attendants ride back to the French side.
“I fear thou’lt once more come,” growls Harry, “again about ransom!”—for French noblemen.
The aging Duke of York comes forward and kneels. “My lord, most humbly on my knee I beg the leading of the vaward!”
King Henry V nimbly mounts his steed. “Take it, brave York!
“Now, soldiers, march away!”
And how thou pleasest, God, dispose the day….
Alarums—horns’ harsh peals, drums’ insistent pounding—end the bright morning’s quiet, and the mighty armies collide, covering the soggy low sod between them with violent conflict. Under high-arcing flights of deadly English arrows, excursions of British foot-soldiers hurtle forward into man-to-man clashes; huge, fully armored French horses come pounding down the slope, their heavy, iron-shod hooves thudding bloodily among the invaders.
Edging along behind the main fighting with the boy, Pistol encounter a trembling French soldier. “Yield, cur!”
The beardless young man drops his clean new sword and says, hopefully, “Je pense que vous êtes gentilhomme de bonne qualité….” —I think you’re a well-born gentleman….
Pistol blinks. “Call-ee-day?” He frowns. “Art thou a gentleman? What is thy name?” he demands. “Discuss!”
“Oh, Seigneur Dieu!” moans the youth.
“Ah!—Señor Jew should be a gentleman!” says Pistol, highly pleased with his catch. “Perpend my words, O Señor Jew, and mark, O Señor Jew, thou diest on point of ox”—his engraved blade—“unless, O señor, thou do give to me egregious ransom!”
“Oh, prenez miséricorde! Avez pitié de moi!” —Oh, yield mercy! Have pity on me!
“Mwa shall not serve!” insists his captor. “I will have forty mwas, or I will fetch thy guts out at thy throat in dregs of crimson blood!”
The well-dressed soldier pleads: “Est-il impossible d’échapper la force de ton bras?”—Is it impossible to escape the strength of your arm?
“Brass, cur?” cries Pistol. “Thou damned and luxurious mountain goat, offer’st me brass?”
“Oh, pardonnez moi!”
Pistol perks up. “Tell me thou so? Is that a ton of mwas? Come hither, boy!” he tells the page. “Ask this slave in French what is his name.”
“Écoutez,” says the boy. “Comment êtes-vous appelé?” —Listen. What are you called?
The boy grins. “He says his name is Master Fer.” Master Iron.
“Master Fair?” says Pistol angrily. “I’ll fair him—and firk him and ferret him!” He gestures with his blade. “Discuss the same in French unto him!”
“I do not know the French for ‘fair and ferret and firk.’”
As his windfall wanes, Pistol scowls. “Bid him prepare; for I will cut his throat.”
The cowering prisoner asks the boy “Que dit-il, monsieur?” —What’s he saying?
“Il me commande de vous dire que vous faites vous prét; car ce soldat ici est disposé tout à cette heure de couper votre gorge!” —He orders me to ask you to get yourself ready; for this soldier, here, means to cut your throat within the hour!
Pistol, waving his sword menacingly near the other man’s face, attempts some French: “Owy!—cuppell gorge, permafoy, peasant,”—Yes! Cut throat, by my faith, bumpkin, “unless thou give me crowns, brave crowns! Or mangled shalt thou be by this my sword!”
The young Frenchman falls to his knees. “Oh, je vous supplie!” —I beg you! “Pour l’amour de Dieu, me pardonner! Je suis gentilhomme de bonne maison! Gardez ma vie, et je vous donnerai deux cents écus!”
Pistol is peevish. “What are his words?”
“He prays you to save his life; he is a gentleman of a good house—and for his ransom he will give you two hundred crowns!”
Pistol’s eyes widen. He says, magnanimously, “Tell him my fury shall abate, and I the crowns will take.”
“Petit monsieur, que dit-il?” —Little master, what says he?
The page replies: “Encore qu’il est contre son jurement de pardonner aucun prisonnier!” —Once again he’s going against his vow, by pardoning a prisoner. “Néanmoins, pour les écus que vous l’avez promis, il est content de vous donner la liberté, le franchisement.” —Nevertheless, for the crowns that you’ve promised him, he is content to give you liberty, freedom.
The captive is most grateful: “Sur mes genoux je vous donne mille remercimens; et je m’estime heureux que je suis tombé entre les mains d’un chevalier, je pense, le plus brave, vaillant, et très distingué seigneur d’Angleterre!”
“Expound unto me, boy,” says Pistol.
“He gives you, upon his knees, a thousand thanks; and he esteems himself happy that he hath fallen into the hands of one, as he thinks, the most brave, valorous, and thrice-worthy signieur of England.”
“As I suck blood I will some mercy show!” says Pistol gallantly. He motions to the Frenchman. “Follow me!”
“Suivez-vous le grand capitaine,” the boy tells the soldier.
As the profitable prisoner is lead away, the page watches Pistol glumly. I did never know so full a voice to issue from so empty a heart! But the saying is true: ‘The hollow vessel makes the greatest sound.’
Bardolph and Nym had ten times more valour than this ‘Roaring Devil’ o’ the old play! Everyone can pare his nails with a wooden dagger! They are both hanged—and so would this be, if he durst steal anything adventurously!
I must stay with the lackeys, with the luggage of our camp. The French king might make good prey of us, if he knew of it—for there is no one to guard it but boys!
“Oh, diable! ” cries the lord high constable.
Moans the Duke of Orléans, “Oh, Seigneur! Le jour est perdu!—tout est perdu!” —Oh, Lord! The day is lost!—all is lost!
“Mort de ma vie! All is confounded, all!” groans the dauphin. “Reproach and everlasting shame sit mocking in our plumes! Oh, méchante Fortune!” —Oh, wicked Fortune!
He shouts, furiously, at retreating French infantry troops: “Do not run away!”
As a trumpet sounds a shaky call for retreat, Delabreth stares, appalled by the chaos. “Why, all our ranks are broken!”
“Oh, perdurable shame!” cries the prince, despairing. “Let us stab ourselves!” Amazed, He watches the British soldiers’ inexorable advance. “Be these the wretches that we played at dice for?”
Once the French knights’ massive, armored horses had managed to struggle free from the fields’ thick mud, they charged after fleeing foot-soldiers—only to be impaled on the long, pointed stakes implanted by the British during the night. The French do not approve of an English innovation: archers in battle; but their troops, plodding forward through the muck, had been slowed not only by dead horses and the strewn corpses of comrades killed by British blades, but by knights whose polished armor—easily spotted from afar—had been pierced by arrows from powerful longbows.
Orléans spots King Henry boldly leading a foray. “Is this the king we sent to for his ransom?”
“Shame and eternal shame, nothing but shame!” moans the Duke of Bourbon. “Let us die in honour!” he cries, raising his sword. “Once more back again!—and he that will not follow Bourbon now, let him go hence, and with his cap in hand, like a base pander, wait at the chamber-door whilst by a slave no gentler than my dog his fairest daughter is contaminated!”
The general follows him, drawing his sword. “May Disorder, who hath spoilèd us, befriend us now! Let us in heaps go offer up our lives!”
“We have enough yet living in the field to smother the English with our throngs, if any order might be brought about!” says Orléans angrily, joining them.
Bourbon charges away. “The devil take order now! I’ll to the throng!
“Let life be short—else shame will be too long!”
Calls King Henry, sweat dripping from his chin, blood from his sword, to the battered knights with him, “Well have we done, thrice-valiant countrymen! But all’s not done; the French yet keep to the field.”
Lord Exeter staggers to him. “The Duke of York commends him to Your Majesty,” he rasps, weary from battle.
Asks the king happily, “Lives he, good uncle? Thrice within this hour I saw him down; thrice up again and fighting!—from helmet to the spur all blood he was!”
“In which array, brave soldier, doth he lie, enriching the plain,” says Exeter tearfully. “And by his bloody side, yoke-fellow to his honour-owning wounds, the noble Earl of Suffolk also lies.
“Suffolk first died; then York, all haggled over,”—grievously wounded, “comes to him where in gore he lay insteepèd, and, smoothing his beard, kisses the gashes that boldly did sprawl upon his face—and cries aloud, ‘Tarry, dear cousin Suffolk! My soul shall thine keep company to heaven! Tarry, sweet soul, for mine—then fly we abreast, as in this glorious and well-foughten field we kept together in our chivalry!’
“Upon those words, I came and urged him up”—knelt, and lifted his head. “He smiled me in the face, caught me by his hand, and, with a feeble grip, says, ‘Dear my lord, commend my service to my sovereign!’ So did he turn, and under Suffolk’s neck he drew his wounded arm, and kissed his cheek—and so espousèd death; with blood he sealed a testament of noble, enduring love.
“The gentle and sweet manner of it forced those waters from me which I would have stopp’d; but I had not so much of man in me, and all my mother came into mine eyes and gave me up to tears!”
King Henry puts a hand on his shoulder. “I blame you not; for, hearing this, I must perforce contend with mist-full eyes, or they will issue, too!
“But, hark!—what new alarum is this same?” he asks, at a blaring of horns. “The French have reinforcèd their scattered men!”
He surveys the beleaguered and dwindling British force, and his expression hardens; in this fresh fighting, no troops can be spared to guard captives. “Then every soldier kill his prisoners; give the word through,” he tells Exeter solemnly.
The king goes to confront the resurging French.
“Killed the poys at the luggage!” Captain Fluellen is aghast at what they have found, returning to their ransacked camp after it had been overwhelmed by French troops. “’Tis expressly against the law of arms! ’Tis as arrant a piece of knavery, mark you now, as can be offer’t! In your conscience, now, is it not?”
“’Tis certain there’s not a boy left alive,” says Captain Gower looking tearfully at the bloody, smoldering site. “And the cowardly scoundrels that ran from the battle ha’ done this slaughter!
“They have carried away or burned all that was in the king’s tent—wherefore the king, most worthily, hath caused every soldier to cut his prisoner’s throat!
“Oh, ’tis a gallant king!” The captain approves the supposed retaliation.
“Aye, he was porn at Monmouth, Captain Gower.” The Welsh city is on the border with England. He thinks for a moment. “What call you the town’s name where Alexander the Pig was born?”
“Alexander the Great.”
Fluellen frowns. “Why, I pray you, is not pig great? The pig, or the great, or the mighty, or the huge, or the magnanimous are all one reckonings, save the phrase is a little variations.”
“I think Alexander the Great was born in Macedon; his father was called Philip of Macedon, as I take it.”
Fluellen nods. “I think it is in Macedon where Alexander is porn. I tell you, captain, if you look on the maps of the ’orld, I warrant you sall find, in the comparisons between Macedon and Monmouth, that the situations, look you, is both alike! There is a river in Macedon; and there is also moreover a river at Monmouth! It is called Wye at Monmouth; but it is out of my prains what is the name of the other river; but ’tis all one, ’tis alike as my fingers is to my fingers, and there is salmons in both!
“If you mark Alexander’s life well, Harry of Monmouth’s life is come after it somewhat well; for there is figures in all things. Alexander, God knows and you know, in his rages and his furies and his wraths and his cholers and his moods and his displeasures and his indignations—and also there being a little intoxicates in his prains—did, in his ales and his angers, look you, kill his best friend, Clytus—”
“Our king is not like him in that,” frowns Gower. “He never killed any of his friends!”
“It is not well done, mark you now, to take the tales out of my mouth ere it is made and finished!” protests the Welshman. “I speak but in the figures and comparisons of it: as Alexander killed his friend Clytus, being in his ales and his cups, so also Harry Monmouth, being in his right wits and his good judgments, turned away the fat knight with the great-belly doublet. I have forgot his name; he was full of jests and gipes and knaveries and mocks….”
“Sir John Falstaff.”
“That is he. I’ll tell you there is good men porn at Monmouth!”
They see noblemen approaching the camp on horseback. “Here comes his majesty, ” says Gower.
Henry has just learned of the incident, riding here with him are Prince Humphrey, Lord Warwick, and Lord Exeter. They can see the evidence of atrocity.
“I was not angry since I came to France, until this instant!” cries the king. “Take a trumpet, herald; ride thou unto the horsemen on yon hill. If they will fight with us, bid them come down, or void the field!—they do offend our sight!
“If they’ll do neither, we will come to them—and make them skirr away as swift as stones enforcèd from the old Assyrian slings! And we’ll cut the throats of those that we take—not a man of them shall taste our mercy!
“Go and tell them so!” The herald nods, and rides swiftly away.
“Here comes the herald of the French, my liege,” says Exeter, as Montjoy and two attendants approach.
“His eyes are humbler than they used to be,” the prince observes.
“How now? What means this, herald?” demands Henry heatedly. “Know’st thou not that I have defined these bones of mine as ransom? Comest thou again for ransom?”
“No, great king,” says Montjoy. “I come to thee for charitable licence, that we may wander o’er this bloody field to look for our dead, and to bury them.
“And to sort our nobles from our common men. For many of our lords—woe the while!—lie soaked and drownèd in mercenaries’ blood.
“So do your vulgar drench their peasant limbs with the blood of princes that their wounded steeds fret, fetlock-deep in gore, and with wild rage yerk out the armèd heels at their dead masters, killing them twice!
“Oh, give us leave, great king, to view the field in safety and dispose of their dead bodies.”
“I tell thee truly, herald, I know not if the day be ours or no,” says Henry coldly, “for yet a-many of your horsemen peer and gallop o’er the field.”
Montjoy flushes. “The day is yours.”
King Henry nods. “Praisèd be God, and not our strength, for it!
“What is this castle called that stands hard by?”
“They call it Agincourt.”
“Then call we this the field of Agincourt, fought on the day of Crispin Crispianus!” cries King Henry V.
Scores Are Settled
Most of the French horsemen given the fight or die warning have died running; now the English captains have set about gathering their own troops and returning here to camp.
A Welsh officer, approaches the king and his brothers, with whom Montjoy still waits for his answer. The captain bows, and notes with pride. “Your grandfather of famous memory, an’t please Your Majesties, and your great-uncle Edward, the Plack Prince of Wales, as I have read in the chronicles, fought a most prave pattle here in France.”
“They did, Fluellen.”
“Your Majesty says very true! If Your Majesties is remembered of it, the Welshmen did good service in a garden where leeks did grow, wearing leeks in their Monmouth caps—which, Your Majesty know, to this hour is an honourable badge of the service! And I do believe Your Majesty takes no scorn to wear the leek upon Saint Tavy’s day….”
Henry smiles and nods. “I wear it for a memorable honour. For I am Welsh, you know, good countryman,” he adds dryly.
“All the water in Wye cannot wash Your Majesty’s Welsh plood out of your pody, I can tell you that! God pless it and preserve it, as long as it pleases his grace, and his majesty, too!”
“Thanks, good my countryman.”
“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!”
“God keep me so.”
Henry glances at Montjoy. “Our herald, go with him; bring me just notice of the numbers dead on both our parts.”
As the heralds ride away, the king, looking out over troops milling nearby, points to a musketeer. “Call yonder fellow hither.”
Lord Exeter goes to him. “Soldier, you must come to the king.”
Asks Henry, as the man approaches, “Soldier, why wearest thou that glove in thy cap?”
Michael Williams bows. “An’t please Your Majesty, ’tis the gage of one that I should fight withal, if he be alive.”
“An’t please Your Majesty, a rascal that swaggered at me last night!—who, if alive and ever dares to challenge this glove, I have sworn to give him a box o’ th’ ear! Or if I can see my glove in his cap, which he swore, as he was a soldier, he would wear if alive, I will strike it out soundly!”
Henry turns to the military scholar. “What think you, Captain Fluellen? Is it fit this soldier keep his oath?”
“He is a craven and a villain else, an’t please Your Majesty, in my conscience,” Fluellen replies firmly.
The king, looking at Williams, considers. “It may be that his enemy is a gentleman of some great sort—quite from the answer of his degree”—above obligation to respond to a commoner.
Fluellen is certain. “Though he be as good a gentleman as the Devil is, as Lucifer and Belzebub himself, it is necessary, look Your Grace, that he keep his vow and his oath! If he be perjured, see you now, in my conscience his reputation is as arrant as ever a villain and a Jacksauce whose black shoe trod upon God’s ground and his earth!”
King Henry tells Williams, “Then keep thy vow, sirrah, when thou meetest the fellow.”
“So I will, my liege, as I live!”
“Who servest thou under?”
“Under Captain Gower, my liege.”
“Gower is a good captain,” Fluellen notes, “and is good knowledge, and literatured in the wars.”
“Call him hither to me, soldier,” orders the king.
Williams bows. “I will, my liege.” He hurries away to find Gower.
Something seems to occur to the king; he pulls a worn glove from a pocket. “Here, Fluellen; wear thou this favour for me, and stick it in thy cap. When Alençon and myself were down together”—unhorsed, and locked in mortal combat—“I plucked this glove from his helm. If any man challenge this, he is a friend to Alençon—and an enemy to our person! If thou encounter any such, apprehend him, an thou dost love me.”
“Your Grace doo’s me as great honours as can be desired in the hearts of his subjects!” says Fluellen eagerly, tucking the glove under the band of his hat. “I would fain see this man that has but two legs”—an emasculated one—“who shall find himself aggrieved at this glove! That is all!—I would fain but see it once, and please God of his grace that I might see!”
“Knowest thou Gower?”
“He is my dear friend, an’t please you!”
“Pray thee, go seek him and bring him to my tent.”
Fluellen bows. “I will fetch him!” he says happily, and heads into the congregation of weary warriors.
King Henry quickly motions two noblemen closer. “My Lord of Warwick and my brother Gloucester, follow Fluellen closely at the heels! The glove which I have given him for a favour may perhaps purchase him a box o’ th’ ear!—it is the soldier’s!—I, by bargain, should wear it myself!
“Follow, good cousin Warwick; if that the soldier strike him—and I judge by his blunt bearing he will keep his word—some sudden mischief may arise of it; for I do know Fluellen valiant, and, touched with choler, hot as gunpowder will he return an injury!
“Follow and see there be no harm between them!”
The prince chuckles as he and the earl dash after the captain.
The king turns to a tall duke. “Come you with me, my uncle of Exeter.”
Williams tells Gower, as they stride along, “I warrant it is to knight you, captain!” They near the king’s pavilion, but suddenly Williams stops—he has spotted his glove.
Calls Fluellen, motioning the officer forward, “God’s will and his pleasure, captain! I beseech you now, come apace to the king! There is more good toward you peradventure than is in your knowledge to dream of!”
“Sir, know you this glove?” demands Williams, pointing to the one in his hat.
Fluellen’s eyes narrow. “Know the glove? I know the glove is glove….”
“I know this!” cries the soldier, knocking the Welsh captain’s hat off, “and thus I challenge it!”
“’Sblood!” cries Fluellen. “An arrant traitor as any is in the universal world, or in France, or in England!” He retrieves the fallen hat.
Captain Gower stares at his soldier. “How now, sir? You villain!”
“Do you think I’ll be forsworn?”—violate my vow, asks Williams defiantly.
“Stand away, Captain Gower!” cries Fluellen. “I will give Treason his payment into blows, I warrant you!”
“I am no traitor!”
“That’s a lie in thy throat!” Fluellen summons soldiers approaching with Prince Humphrey and Lord Warwick. “I charge you, in his majesty’s name apprehend him!—he’s a friend of the Duke Alençon’s!”
But the earl asks, calmly, “How now, how now? What’s the matter?”
“My Lord of Warwick, here—praised be God for it!—is a most contagious treason come to light, look you, as you shall desire in a summer’s day!” He draws a breath and is ready to expound, no doubt at length, when he sees King Henry approaching. “Here is his majesty!”
“How now! What’s the matter?” demands the king.
Fluellen steps forward. “My liege, here is a villain and a traitor!—that, look Your Grace, has struck the glove which Your Majesty is take out of the helmet of Alençon!”
“My liege, that was my glove!” insists Williams, pulling its mate from his belt. “Here is the fellow of it!—and he that I gave it to in exchange promised to wear it in his cap! I promised to strike him, if he did! I met this man with my glove in his cap, and I have been as good as my word!”
Fluellen sneers. “Your Majesty, hear now, saving Your Majesty’s manhood, what an arrant, rascally, beggarly, lousy knave it is!”
He tugs the glove from his plumed hat. “I hope Your Majesty is pear me testimony and witness, and will avouchment, that this is the glove of Alençon that Your Majesty is give me; in your conscience, now!” He hands it to Henry.
“Give me thy glove, soldier,” says King Henry. “Look, here is the fellow of it: ’twas I, indeed, thou promisèd’st to strike!—and thou hadst given me most bitter terms!”
“An’t please Your Majesty, let his neck answer for it, if there is any martial law in the world!” says Fluellen.
The king regards the foot soldier. “How canst thou make me satisfaction?”
“All offences, my lord, come from the heart! Never came any from mine that might offend Your Majesty.”
“It was ourself thou didst abuse!”
“Your Majesty came not like yourself!—you appeared to me as but a common man—witness the night, your garments, your aloneness! And what Your Highness suffered under that shape, I beseech you take it for your own fault, and not mine! For had you been as I took you for, I made no offence; therefore, I beseech Your Highness pardon me!”
Henry smiles. “Here, Uncle Exeter, fill this glove with crowns, and give it to this fellow!” The duke does so, taking money from the leather pouch slung at his waist. Williams stares at the glove as it bulges out, growing heavy with coins.
“Keep it, fellow,” says the king. “And wear it for an honour in thy cap—till I do challenge it,” he adds, laughing. “Give him the crowns!
“And, captain, you must needs be friends with him,” he urges the Welshman.
Fluellen nods agreement. “By this day and this light, the fellow has mettle enough in his belly!” But he opens his own purse to select a coin. “Hold; there is twelve-pence for you; and I pray you to serve Got, and keep you out of prawls and prabbles and quarrels and dissensions; and, I warrant you, it is the better for you!”
Williams scorns the counsel—and the pittance. “I will none of your money!”
“It is with a good will,” protests Fluellen. “I can tell you, it will serve you to mend your shoes! Come, wherefore should you be so pashful? Your shoes is not so good….” He carefully examines the shilling in his hand for signs of clipping. “’Tis a good silling, I warrant you, or I will exchange it….”
An English courtier approaches and bows before the king.
“Now, herald, are the dead numberèd?”
The man proffers a paper. “Here is the number of the slaughtered French.” Lord Exeter unrolls it and starts to read.
“What prisoners of good sort are taken, Uncle?”
“Charles, Duke of Orléans, nephew to the king; John, Duke of Bourbon, and Lord Bouciqualt.” He looks down the sheet to the tallies. “Of other lords and barons, knights and squires, full fifteen hundred—besides common men.”
King Henry takes the document and looks at the last lines. “This note doth tell me of ten thousand French that in the field lie slain!
“Of princes in this number, and nobles bearing banners, there lie dead one hundred, twenty-six; added to these, of knights, esquires, and gallant gentlemen, eight thousand and four hundred—of the which, five hundred were but yesterday dubbèd knights!
“So that, in these ten thousand they have lost, there are but sixteen hundred mercenaries”—commoners paid to fight as foot-soldiers. “The rest are princes, barons, lords, knights, squires, and gentlemen of blood and quality!
“Among the names of those their nobles that lie dead: Charles Delabreth, high constable of France; Jaques of Châtillon, admiral of France; the master of the cross-bows, Lord Rambures; great master of France, the brave Sir Guichard Dolphin; John, Duke of Alençon; Anthony, Duke of Brabant, the brother of the Duke of Burgundy; and Edward, Duke of Bar.
“Of lusty earls, Grandpré and Roussi, Fauconberg and Foix, Beaumont and Marle, Vaudemont and Lestrale.
“Here was a royal fellowship of death!
“Where is the number of our English dead?” The herald hands him another paper.
“Edward, the Duke of York; the Earl of Suffolk; Sir Richard Ketly; Davy Gam, esquire; none else of name—and of all other men, but five and twenty!”
He looks up to the sky. “O God, thine arm was here!—and not to us, but to thine arm alone, ascribe we all! When, without stratagem, but in plain strokes and even play of battle, was ever known so great and little loss on one part and on the other?
“Take it, God, for it is none but thine!”
“’Tis wondrous!” says Exeter.
“Come, go we in procession to the village,” says the king, already thinking of the French population he intends to govern. “And be it—proclaim it through our host—death to boast of this, or take the praise from God which is his only!”
Fluellen is taken aback; he wants to savor the stunning military victory. “Is it not lawful, an please Your Majesty, to tell how many is killed?”
“Yes, captain; but with this acknowledgement: that God fought for us!”
“Yes, my conscience, He did us great good,” Fluellen allows.
King Henry V tells the prince, “Do we all holy rites. Let there be sung ‘Non nobis’ and ‘Te Deum.’ The dead with charity enclose in clay.
“Then on to Calais; and to England then—where ne’er from France arrived more happy men!”
Victors in France
Vouchsafe to those that have not read the story, so I may prompt them onward!” the Chorus urges some in his audience, concerning the astonishing British victory achieved nearly two centuries earlier. “And such as have, I humbly pray them to admit the excuses of time, of numbers, and due course of things which cannot in their huge and proper life be here presented.
“Now we bear the king toward Calais! Grant him there; there seen, heave him away upon your wingèd thoughts athwart the ocean!
“Behold the English beach, pale beside the flood, with men, with wives and boys whose shouts and claps out-voice the deep-mouthèd sea!—which like a mighty whiffler ’fore the king seems to prepare his way!
“So let him land; then see him set on, solemnly, toward London.
“So swift a pace hath thought that even now you may imagine him upon Blackheath,”—just outside the capital, “where his lords desire him to have his bruisèd helmet and his bended sword borne before him through the city! He forbids it, being free of vainness and self-glorious pride, giving full trophy, signal and ostent quite from himself—to God!
“But now behold, in the living forge and working-house of thought, how London doth pour out her citizens, the mayor, and all his brethren in best sort! Like the senators of the antique Rome, with the plebeians swarming at their heels, going forth to fetch-in their conquering Caesar, did they this Harry!
“Now in London place him—for as yet the lamentation of the French invites the King of England to stay at home. The emperor”—Sigismund, secular ruler of the Holy Roman Empire—“is coming, in behalf of France, to set peace in order between them.
“But omit all the occurrences, whatever chancèd till Harry’s return to France, for there must we bring him—and myself have played out the Interim, by remembering to you ’tis past!
“Then brook abridgment, and your eyes advance after your thoughts, straight back again to France….”
Two officers chat as they stroll through the English army’s new camp in Normandy, where, city by city, the French defenders, deeply riven by civil strife since his first invasion, have yielded to the forces of King Henry V.
Gower nods to his companion. “Aye, that’s right. But why wear you your leek today? Saint Davy’s day is past.”
“There is occasions and causes why and wherefore in all things,” replies Fluellen. “I will tell you, asse my friend, Captain Gower: the rascally, scald, beggarly, lousy, pragging knave Pistol, which you and yourself and all the world know to be no petter than a fellow, look you now, of no merits!—he is come to me yesterday and prings me pread and salt, look you—and bid me eat my leek!
“It was in a place where I could not breed no contention with him; but I will be so bold as to wear it in my cap till I see him once again, and then I will tell him a little piece of my desires.”
The English captain points ahead. “Well, here he comes, swelling like a turkey-cock!”
“’Tis no matter for his swellings nor his turkey cock!” says the Welshman angrily. “God pless you, Aunchient Pistol! You scurvy, lousy knave, God pless you!”
Pistol stops, folds his arms, and faces Fluellen. “Hmh! Art thou Bedlam?”—fled from the London asylum. “Dost thou thirst, base Trojan, to have me fold up Parca’s fatal web?”—end the life spun by one of the Fates. He waves the captain aside. “Hence! I am qualmish at the smell of leek!”
Fluellen pulls off his hat to extract the fragrant, oniony herb from the band. “I peseech you heartily, scurvy, lousy knave, at my desires and my requests and my petitions, to eat, look you, this leek! Because, look you, you do not love it, nor your affections and your appetites and your digestions doo’s not agree with it, I would desire you to eat it!”
The corporal snorts. “Not for Cadwallader and all his goats!” The seventh-century king’s troops had defended Wales from invading Saxons.
Fluellen strikes Pistol’s head with the knob of the oaken cudgel in his left hand. “There is one goat for you!” He raises the leek in his right hand. “Will you be so good, scauld knave, as eat it?”
“Base Trojan, thou shalt die!” cries old Pistol, his scalp bleeding.
Fluellen moves closer. “You say very true, scauld knave—when God’s will is! I will desire you to live in the mean time, and eat your victuals! Come,” he says, striking him again, “there is sauce for it!
“You called me yesterday mountain squire,”—one from the hills, “but I will make you today a squire of low degree! I pray you, fall to! If you can mock a leek, you can eat a leek!”
Gower sees that Pistol is trembling, and he urges restraint. “Enough, captain! You have astonished him.”
Fluellen is adamant. “I say I will make him eat some part of my leek, or I will peat his pate for days!
“Bite, I pray you!” he insists to Pistol. “It is good for your fresh wound on your ploody coxcomb!”
The wiry old man stares at the shoot. “Must I bite?”
“Yes, certainly, and out of doubt and out of question, too, and ambiguities!”
“By this leek, I will most horribly revenge!” But Pistol winces as Fluellen moves forward. “I eat, and eat, I swear!”
“Eat, I pray you; there is not enough leek to swear by.” He grasps the man’s coat. “Will you have some more sauce to your leek?”
Pistol, red-faced, chews. “Quiet thy cudgel!—thou dost see I eat!”
“Much good you do, scauld knave, heartily! Nay, pray you throw none away,” he warns. “The skin is good for your broken coxcomb.
“When you take occasions to see leeks hereafter, I pray you not mock at ’em, that is all,” he says, feeling a bit of remorse, in spite of himself.
“Good,” mutters Pistol sourly, as he chews the remainder.
“Aye, leeks is good!” His anger abating, the captain regards the cowering graybeard. “Hold you, there is a groat to heal your pate.” Fluellen offers Pistol the small coin.
“Yes, verily; and in truth, you shall take it—or I have another leek in my pocket which you shall eat!”
Scowling, Pistol snatches the coin. “I take thy groat—in earnest of revenge!”
Fluellen shrugs, disgusted. “If I owe you anything, I will pay you in cudgels!—you shall be a wood-monger, and buy nothing of me but cudgels!” He turns to go. “God b’ wi’ you, and keep you, and heal your pate.”
After the Welshman has left, Pistol spits, several times, in anger and disgust. “All Hell shall stir for this!”
Captain Gower merely laughs. “Go to!—you are a counterfeit, a cowardly knave!
“Will you mock at an ancient tradition, begun upon an honourable respect, and worn as a memorable trophy of predecessors’ valour?—yet dare not avouch in your deeds any of your words!
“I have seen you gleeking and galling at this gentleman, twice or thrice! You thought because he could not speak English in the native garb he could therefore not handle an English cudgel! You find it otherwise! And henceforth, let a Welsh correction teach you a good English condition!
“Fare ye well,” he says, still shaking his head as he strides away.
Pistol dabs above his stinging ear with a crumpled handkerchief.
Doth Fortune play the huswife with me now?
News have I that my Doll is dead i’ the hospital, of the malady of France—syphilis. And there my rendezvous is quite cut off.
He glances around at the outskirts of the vast camp. Old I do wax; and from my weary limbs, honour is cudgelled.
Slouching toward the tents he thinks of the Eastcheap tavern’s tawdry tenants. Well, bawd I’ll turn—and somewhat lean to cutpurse or quick-hand…. To England I’ll I steal, and there will steal!
Pistol brightens. And patches will I get onto these cudgelled scars—and swear I got them in the Gallia wars!
King Henry V is jovial during his party’s reception in the French palace at Troyes, eighty miles from Paris. “Peace to this meeting—wherefore we are met!” He bows politely to the king and queen. “Unto our brother France, and to our sister, health and fair time of day!”
He smiles at their daughter, the princess—“Joy and good wishes to our most fair and princely cousin Katherine!
“And as a branch and member of this royalty, by whom this great assembly is convenèd, we do salute you, Duke of Burgundy—and, French princes and peers, health to you all!”
The fighting is done, and King Charles VI is courteous in defeat. “Right joyous are we to behold your face, most worthy brother England, fairly met! So are you, princes English, every one!”
Says Queen Isabel, “May the issue of this good day and of this gracious meeting be as happy, brother England, as we are now glad to behold your eyes!—your eyes, which hitherto have borne in them, against the French that met them in their bent, the venom of murdering basilisks!
“We hope eyeballs have lost the fatal quality of such looks, and that this day shall fairly change all griefs and quarrels into love.”
King Henry smiles. “To cry amen to that, thus we appear.”
The queen turns to the visiting nobles. “You English princes all, I do salute you!” Accompanying Henry are his brothers, John, Humphrey and Thomas, and Lords Exeter, Warwick, and Westmoreland, among others.
A young French nobleman steps forward and bows. “My duty to you both, in equal love, great Kings of France and England!” says Lord Burgundy. “That I have laboured, with all my wits, my pains and strong endeavours, to bring Your Most Imperial Majesties unto this bar and royal interview, Your Mightinesses on both parts best can witness.
“Then since my office hath so far prevailed that, face to face and royal eye to eye, you have congreeted, let it not disgrace me if I ask, before this royal view, what rub or what impediment there is, why that the naked, poor and mangled Peace, dear nurse of hearts and joyful births, should not in this best garden of the world, our fertile France, put up her lovely visage!
“Alas, she hath from France too long been chasèd, and all her husbandry doth lie in heaps, corrupting in its own fertility!
“Her vine, the merry cheerer of the heart, unprunèd dies; her hedges, never pleachèd, like prisoners wildly overgrown with hair, put forth disordered twigs! Her fallow leas the darnel, hemlock and rank fumitory doth root upon, while the coulter rusts that should deracinate such savagery! Even the mead, that erst brought sweetly forth the freckled cowslip, burnet and green clover, wanting the scythe, all uncorrected conceives rankly by idleness, losing both beauty and utility—and nothing teems but hateful docks, rough thistles, kecksies, burs.
“And as our vineyards, fallows, meads and hedge, defecting from their natures, grow in wildness—even so our houses and our selves and children have lost, or do not learn for want of time, the sciences that should become our country—grow but like savages—as soldiers will that nothing do but meditate on blood—to swearing and stern looks, diffuse attire, and everything that seems unnatural!
“Which to reduce into our former favour, you are assembled!
“And my speech entreats that I may know the bar why gentle Peace should not expel these circumstances, and bless us with her former qualities.”
King Henry replies—firmly. “If, Duke of Burgundy, you would have the peace whose lack gives growth to the imperfections which you have cited, you must buy that peace with full accord to all our just demands—whose tenors and particular effects you have, enscheduled briefly, in your hands.”
“The king hath heard them,” says Burgundy, “to the which as yet there is no answer made.”
“Well then the peace, which you before so urgèd, lies in his answer.”
Says King Charles, “I have with but a cursory eye o’erglanced the articles. Pleaseth Your Grace to appoint some of your Council immediately to sit with us once more, with better heed to re-survey them, and we will soon pass our accepts in peremptory answer.”
King Henry agrees. “Brother, we shall. Go, uncle Exeter, and brother Clarence, and you, brother Gloucester”—Prince Thomas and Prince Humphrey. “Warwick and Huntingdon, go with the king; and take with you free power to ratify, augment, or alter, as your wisdoms best shall see advantageable for our dignity, anything in or out of our demands, and we’ll cosign thereto.”
He turns to the queen. “Will you, fair sister, go with the princes, or stay here with us?”
“Our gracious brother, I will go with them,” says Queen Isabel. “Haply a woman’s voice may do some good, when articles too narrowly urgèd be stood on.”
Henry smiles. “Yet leave our cousin Katherine here with us.” He looks again at the pretty princess. “Within the fore-rank of our articles, she comprises our capital demand!”
Isabel nods. “She hath good leave”—full permission.
King Charles and his queen lead the Duke of Burgundy and the English lords, with all of their various attendants, into a hall furnished with tables and maps, pens and paper, where they are to settle the terms of this peace.
The young monarch approaches the French princess. “Fair Katherine—and most fair—will you vouchsafe to teach a soldier such terms as will enter at a lady’s ear and plead his love-suit to her gentle heart?”
Katherine blushes. “Your Majesty shall mock at me!—I cannot speak your England!”
“Oh, fair Katherine, if you will love me soundly with your French heart, I will be glad to hear you confess it brokenly with your English tongue!” He regards her with open admiration. “Do you like me, Kate?”
“Pardonnez-moi,” says she, “I cannot tell vut is ‘like me’….”
“An angel is like you, Kate, and you are like an angel!”
Katherine looks to her waiting-gentlewoman Alice. “Que dit-il? Que je suis semblable à les anges?” —What says he? That I look like the angels?
“Oui, vraiment, ’sauf Votre Grâce, ainsi dit-il.” —Yes, truly, ’save Your Grace, so he says.
“I said so, dear Katherine; and I must not blush to affirm it!”
She frowns. “O bon Dieu! Les langues des hommes sont pleines de tromperies!”
“What says she, fair one?” he asks Alice. “That the tongues of men are full of deceits?”
“Oui, dat dee tongues of dee mans is be full of deceits! Dat say dee princess.”
Henry laughs. “The princess is the better English woman! I’ faith, Kate, my wooing is fit for thy understanding; I am glad thou canst speak no better English, for, if thou couldst, thou wouldst find me such a plain king that thou wouldst think I had sold my farm to buy my crown!
“I know no ways to mince it in love, but directly do say ‘I love you!’ And if you urge me farther—saying ‘Do you, in faith?’—I wear out my suit!”—exhaust my case.
He is genuinely taken with her. “Give me your answer; i’ faith, do!—and so clap hands in a bargain!” He offers his hand to shake hers. “How say you, lady?”
Katherine is amused—-and pleased. “’Sauf Votre Honneur,”—’Save Your Honor, “me understand vell.”
“Marry, if you would put me to verses or dancing for your sake, Kate, why you undid me! For the one, I have neither words nor measure, and as for the other, I have no strength in measure,”—sense of timing, “yet a reasonable measure of strength. If I could win a lady at leap-frog, or by vaulting into my saddle with my armour on my back, be it spoken, under the correction of bragging, I should quickly leap unto a wife!” Katherine smiles, enjoying his ineptitude and earnestness. “Or if I might buffet someone for my love, or upon my horse bound for her favours, I could lay on like a butcher, and sit like a jack-an-apes,”—cling like a monkey, “never away!
“But, before God, Kate, I cannot but look greenly—not gasp out my eloquence, nor offer any cunning in protestation—only downright oaths, which I never use till urgèd,”—truly moved, “nor never break for urging!”—for any reason. “If thou canst love a fellow of this temper, Kate, whose face is not worth sunburning, who never looks in his mirror for love of anything he reads there, let thine eyes see my book.
“I speak to thee as a plain soldier. If thou canst love me for that, take me; if not, to say to thee that I shall die is true… but for thy love, by the Lord, no.
“Yet I do love thee! And while thou livest, dear Kate, take a fellow of plain and uncoinèd constancy,”—fidelity yet unbestowed, “for he perforce must do thee right, because he hath not the gift to woo in other places!
“As for these fellows of infinite tongue, who can rhyme themselves into ladies’ favours, they do always reason themselves out again!” Katherine doesn’t know the phrase rhyme or reason; but she can hear the frustration in his voice.
He paces. “What? A ‘speaker’ is but a prater; a rhyme is but a ballad. A good leg will fail, a straight back will stoop, a black beard will turn white, a curlèd pate will grow bald, a fair face will wither, a full eye will wax hollow!—but a good heart, Kate, is the sun and the moon!—or, rather, the sun, and not the moon: for it shines bright and never changes, but keeps its course truly!
“If thou would have such a one, take me; and take me, take a soldier; take a soldier, take a king!
“And what sayest thou, then, to my love? Speak, my fair—and fairly, I pray thee!”
She regards the handsome young man. “Is it poseeble dat I sould love dee enemy of France?”
“No!—it is not possible you should love the enemy of France, Kate! But, in loving me, you should love the friend of France!—for I love France so well that I will not part with a village of it: I will have it all mine!
“And, Kate, when France is mine and I am yours, then yours is France when you are mine!”
Katherine blinks. “I cannot tell vat is dat.”
“No, Kate? I will tell thee in French—which I am sure will hang upon my tongue like a new-married wife about her husband’s neck, hardly to be shook off.”
He speaks slowly. “Je… quand sur le possession de France, et quand vous avez le possession de moi—let me see, what then? Saint Denis, be my speed!—donc votre est France, et vous êtes mienne.”
He scratches at his chin. “It is as easy for me, Kate, to conquer a kingdom as to speak that much more French!” He sighs. “I shall never move thee in French, unless it be to laugh at me!”
Katherine does laugh. “’Sauf Votre Honneur, le français que vous parlez, il est meilleur que l’anglais lequel je parle!” —’Save Your Honor, the French that you speak, it is better than such English as I speak!
“No, ’faith, is’t not, Kate,” he admits. “But thy speaking of my tongue, and I thine, most truly in falsity,”—forthrightly, despite errors, “must needs be granted to be much at one!”—in accord.
He moves closer, his eyes searching her face. “But, Kate, dost thou understand thus much English: Canst thou love me?”
Katherine returns his intense look—then blushes again, and looks down. “I cannot tell.”
Can’t tell, or can’t say? King Henry V glances at Alice. “Can any of your neighbours tell, Kate? I’ll ask them!
“Come, I know thou lovest me!—and at night, when you come into your closet,”—bed chamber, “you’ll question this gentlewoman about me! And I know, Kate, you will to her dispraise those parts in me that you love with all your heart!
“But, good Kate, mock me mercifully!—the rather, gentle princess, because I love thee cruelly!”—suffer the pangs of love.
“If ever thou beest mine, Kate—as I have a saving faith within me tells me thou shalt—I’ll have thee through a scambling”—in a time of turmoil, given threats from the east. “And therefore thou must needs prove a good soldier-breeder! Shall not thou and I, between Saint Denis and Saint George,”—patron saints of France and England, “compound a boy half French, half English, that shall go to Constantinople and take the Turk by the beard? Shall we not? What sayest thou, my fair flower-de-luce?”
She understands some of them, but she hears too many words. “I do not know dat—”
“No, ’tis hereafter to know—but now to promise! Do now but promise, Kate, you will endeavour for your French part of such a boy! And, as for my English moiety,”—half, “take the word of a bachelor and a king!
“How answer you, la plus belle Katherine du monde, mon très cher et devin déesse?”—the most beautiful Katherine in the world, my very dear and divine goddess.
Now Katherine grins. “Your Majestee ’ave fausse French enough to deceive dee most sage demoiselle dat is en France!”
“Now fie upon my false French!” cries Henry. “By mine honour, in true English I love thee, Kate! By which honour I dare not swear thou lovest me—yet my blood begins to flatter me that thou dost, the poor and untempting effect of my visage notwithstanding.”
He again paces, fretfully. “Now beshrew my father’s ambition! He was thinking of civil wars when he begot me; therefore was I created with a stubborn outside—with an aspect of iron, such that, when I come to woo ladies, I fright them.
“But, in faith, Kate, the older I wax the better I shall appear! My comfort is that old age, that ill layer-up”—poor preserver—“of beauty, can do no more spoil upon my face! Thou hast me, if thou hast me, at the worst; and thou shalt wear me, if thou wear me, better and better!
“And therefore tell me, most fair Katherine, will you have me? Put off your maiden blushes; avouch the thoughts of your heart with the looks of an empress! Take me by the hand, and say ‘Harry of England, I am thine!’—which word thou shalt no sooner bless mine ear withal but I will tell thee aloud, ‘England is thine, Ireland is thine, France is thine, and Harry Plantagenet is thine!’—who, though I speak it before His face, if he be not fellow with the best King, thou shalt find the best king of good fellows!”
He moves closer. “Come, your answer in broken music,”—the kind sung in parts, “for thy voice is music and thy English broken! Therefore, queen of all, Katherine, break thy mind to me in broken English: wilt thou have me?”
She lowers her eyes. “Dat is as it sall please de roi mon père”—the king my father.
Henry smiles. “Aye, it will please him well, Kate!—it shall please him, Kate!”
“Den it sall also content me,” says Katherine demurely.
“Upon that I kiss your hand,”—he does so—“and I call you my queen!”
Katherine glances at the smiling courtiers, as the king continues to hold her hand.
She tells Harry, “Laissez, mon seigneur, laissez, laissez!” —Let go, my lord, let go, let go! “’Ma foi, je ne veux point que vous abaissiez votre grandeur en baisant la main d’une de votre seigeurie indigne serviteur! Excusez-moi, je vous supplie, mon très-puissant seigneur!” —My faith, I wish you wouldn’t abase your grandeur by kissing the hand of one of Your Lordship’s unworthy servants! Pardon me, I entreat my most-powerful lord!
Henry smiles mischievously. “Then I will kiss your lips, Kate!”
Katherine backs away. “Les dames et demoiselles pour être baisées devant leur noces, il n’est pas la coutume de France!”
Henry asks Alice, “Madame, my interpreter, what says she?”
“Dat it is not be dee fashion pour les ladies of France…. I cannot tell vat is ‘baiser’ en Anglish….”
“To kiss,” laughs the king; she undoubtedly knows.
Now Alice grins. “Your Majesty entendre bettre que moi”—hears better than I.
“It is not a fashion for the maids in France to kiss before they are married, would she say?”
“Oui, vraiment.” —Yes, truly.
“Oh, Kate, precise customs curtsy to great kings!” says Henry, again taking her hand. “Dear Kate, you and I cannot be confined within the weak rules of a country’s fashion!—we are the makers of manners, Kate!—and the liberty that attends our places stops the mouth of all find-faults—as I will do yours, for upholding the strict fashion of your country by denying me a kiss! Therefore…” he says, leaning forward, “patient be, and yielding….” He kisses her, quite tenderly.
“You have witchcraft in your lips, Kate!” he cries, delighted. “There is more sugared eloquence in the touch of them than in the tongues of all the French Council, and they should sooner persuade Harry of England than a general petition of monarchs!”
As he starts to kiss her again, the doors swing open for the royal party. “Here comes your father.”
“God save Your Majesty,” says Lord Burgundy, coming to stand beside Henry, as King Charles and Queen Isabel return with the English noblemen. “My royal cousin, teach you our princess English?”
“I would have her learn, my fair cousin, how perfectly I love her,” says Henry. “And that is good English!”
Burgundy regards the smiling pupil. “Is she not apt?”
Henry sighs. “Our tongue”—the king’s personal English—“is rough, coz, and my condition is not smooth: having neither the voice nor the heart of flattery about me, I cannot so conjure up the spirit of Love”—Cupid—“in her such that he will appear in his true likeness.”
Burgundy—who had spotted the attempted kiss—smiles. He speaks quietly to the other young man he has come to know and admire. “Pardon the frankness of my mirth, if I answer you for that. If you would conjure in her, you must make a circle!”—one such as a wizard draws on the ground. “If you conjure up Love in her in his true likeness, he must appear naked and blind!”—as the little, winged archer. He chuckles. “Can you blame her then, being a maid yet rosèd over with the virgin crimson of modesty, if she deny the appearance of a naked boy in her naked-seeming self? It were, my lord, a hard condition for a maid to consent to!”
King Henry laughs. “Yet they do close their eyes and yield, while Love is blind and compels!”
“They are excusèd, my lord, when they see not what they do,” says Burgundy wryly.
“Then, good my lord, teach your cousin consent to blinking!”—shutting her eyes.
Burgundy grins. “I will wink at her consenting, my lord, if you will teach her to know thy meaning! For maids, well summered and kept warm, are like flies at Bartholomew Fair-tide—blind, though they have their eyes! And then they will endure handling which before would not abide looking on!”
“This moral tides me over to the time of hot summer,” says Henry, “and so I shall catch the fly your cousin at the latter end!—when she must be blind too!”
“As love is, my lord, before it loves.”
Henry nods. “It is so.” He looks up, and sees that the French courtiers are watching—and listening. “And you may, some of you, thank Love for my blindness—which cannot see many a fair French city because one fair French maid stands in my way!”
Says King Charles, “My lord, you see them perspectively”—as smaller, for being farther away, as in a painting. “Cities”—those in the French peace offer, along with Katherine—“are turned into a maid—for those which war hath never entered are also girdled by maiden walls.”
Henry asks him, “Shall Kate be my wife?”
Charles smiles. “So please you.”
“I am content,” Henry tells him happily, “that the maiden cities you talk of may wait on her,”—remain French, like ladies-in-waiting, “if the maid that stood in the way of my wish shall show me the way to my will!”
Charles nods agreement. “We have consented to all terms, within reason.”
“Is’t so, my lords of England?”
“The king hath granted every article,” Westmoreland tells Henry. “His daughter first, and then in sequel all, according to their firmly proposèd natures.”
Exeter notes, “He hath not yet subscribèd only this: where Your Majesty demands that the King of France, on having occasion to write for any matter of grant, shall name Your Highness in this form: ‘Our very dear son Henry, King of England, heir to France,’ and with addition in French, ‘Notre très cher fils Henri, Roi d’Angleterre, Hèritier de France;’ and thus, in Latin: ‘Praeclarissimus filius noster Henricus, Rex Angliae, et Haeres Franciae.’”
Charles now hastens to add, “Nor, brother, have I this so denied but that your request shall make me let it pass.”
“I pray you then, in love and dear alliance, let that one article rank with the rest; and thereupon give me your daughter.”
“Take her, fair son!” says King Charles. “And from her blood raise up issue to me, so that the contending kingdoms of France and England, whose very shores look pale with envy of each other’s happiness, may cease their hatred, and this dear conjunction plant neighbourhood and Christian-like accord in their sweet bosoms, so that never shall War advance his bleeding sword ’twixt England and fair France!”
“Amen!” cry the lords of two nations.
King Henry V turns to Princess Katherine. “Now, welcome, Kate!
“And bear me witness all, that here I kiss her as my sovereign queen!”
He does so, and the heralds’ trumpets sound a regal flourish.
Queen Isabel beams. “May God, the best maker of all marriages, combine your hearts in one, your realms in one! As man and wife, being two, are one in love, so be there ’twixt your kingdoms such espousal that never may ill office, or fell jealousy, which troubles oft the bed of blessèd marriage, thrust in between the paction of these kingdoms, to make divorce of their incorporate league—so that English may as French, French as Englishmen, receive each other!
“God, speak to this, ‘Amen!’”
“Amen!” The nobles’ voices echo through the high throne room.
“Prepare we for our marriage,” says Henry, “on which day, my lord of Burgundy, we’ll take your oath, and all the peers’, for surety of our league.
“Then shall I swear to Kate. And you to me,” he say, taking her hand. “And may our oaths well kept and prosperous be!”
As the crowded platform clears, Chorus comes to the front.
“Thus far, with rough and all-unable pen, our bending author hath pursued the story, in little room confining mighty men, mangling by starts the full course of their glory.
“Small time—but in that small most greatly lived this star of England!
“Fortune made his sword—by which the world’s best garden he achieved!”