David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s HENRY V: A Retelling in Prose — Act 2, Scene 2

— 2.2 —

In a council chamber in Southampton, Exeter, Bedford, and Westmoreland were discussing three traitors whose treason had not yet been openly revealed. King Henry V and the English army were in Southampton because they would sail from there to France. The three lords were there because they expected to receive commissions to rule England in the King’s absence.

Bedford said, “I swear to God that his grace is rash to trust these three traitors.”

Exeter replied, “The traitors will be arrested soon.”

“How confidently they bear themselves!” Westmoreland said. “They are good actors. They act as if they were completely dutiful and faithful and loyal to the King.”

Bedford said, “The King has complete knowledge of their treason and of all that they intend to do. The traitors do not at all know that their plans have been revealed to the King.”

“The worst traitor is Henry, Lord Scroop of Masham, the man with whom the King was most friendly,” Exeter said. “In our society, friends of the same sex sometimes sleep in the same bed. Nothing sexual occurs, and no one thinks anything negative about it. A man who once shared the King’s bed is now a traitor, although the King has surfeited his appetite with gracious favors. I cannot imagine why Scroop would sell his King’s life for money. Scroop has formed a plan to treacherously kill the King.”

Trumpets sounded, and King Henry V and his attendants, and the three traitors — Richard, Earl of Cambridge; Henry, Lord Scroop of Masham; and Sir Thomas Grey, Knight, of Northumberland — entered the council chamber.

King Henry V said, “The wind is fair, and we will soon board our ship.”

He then said to the three traitors, “My Lord of Cambridge, and my kind Lord of Masham, and you, my noble Knight, tell me your thoughts. Do you think that the army we have brought with us will be able to cut their passage through the army of France? Will they be able to execute the work that I have planned for them and for which I have assembled them?”

Scroop replied, “No doubt, my liege, they can if each man does his best.”

“I don’t doubt that each man will do his best,” King Henry V said. “We are absolutely convinced that each man who goes with us from here to France is in perfect agreement with us, and we are absolutely convinced that we will not leave behind any man who does not wish us success and conquest.”

“Never has there been a Monarch more feared and loved than is your majesty,” Cambridge said. “I doubt that you have a single subject who has a heavy and uneasy heart; all of your subjects sit in the sweet shade of your government.”

Grey said, “That is true. Once, your father had enemies, but those enemies are now your friends. They steeped their bitter gall in sweet honey and now they serve you with hearts that are dutiful and zealous to obey you.”

“We therefore have great cause to be thankful,” Henry V said. “We would prefer not to be able to use our hand than to neglect to reward people of desert and merit in accordance with their weight and worthiness.”

“Your people are all the more eager to serve you and work energetically with sinews of steel because of their hope to be rewarded for their incessant service,” Scroop said.

“We think that you are correct,” Henry V replied.

The King then said, “Uncle Exeter, set free the man who was arrested yesterday because he railed against our person. We are taking into consideration that he was drunk and that the excess of wine made him rail against us. Now that he has sobered up and is regretting what he did, we pardon him.”

Scroop said, “You are being merciful but rash in pardoning him. Let him be punished, sovereign, lest his bad example breed — because it has not been punished — more of the same kind.”

Henry V replied, “Although that is a possibility, I am inclined to be merciful.”

Cambridge said, “Your highness can be merciful and yet punish him, too.”

Grey said, “Your highness, you will be merciful if you allow him to live after he has been severely punished.”

King Henry V said, “You three care about me so much that you strongly encourage me to punish this poor wretch! But if we cannot close our eyes so we do not notice little faults that occur because of the distemper of alcohol, how will be we be able to open our eyes wide enough to show our astonishment when serious crimes, capital crimes punishable by death and that have been chewed, swallowed, and digested — with malice aforethought — appear before us?

“We will still set free that man, although Cambridge, Scroop, and Grey, because they dearly care about the tender preservation of our person, would have him punished.

“But now let us turn to our business in France: Who are the recently appointed regents who will govern England in our absence?”

“I am one of them, my lord,” Cambridge said. “Your highness told me to ask for my written commission today.”

“You told me the same thing, my liege,” Scroop said.

“As you did me, my royal sovereign,” Grey said.

“Then, Richard, Earl of Cambridge, there is your written commission,” Henry V said, handing him one of the three scrolls he was carrying. “There is yours, Lord Scroop of Masham; and, Sir Knight, Grey, of Northumberland, this one is yours. Read them, and realize that I know your true worth.”

He added, “My Lord of Westmoreland, and Uncle Exeter, we will board the ships tonight.”

The three traitors looked at their papers and turned pale with fear. The papers informed them that the King knew about their treason and their plot to murder him.

Henry V said to them, “Why, how are you now, gentlemen! What words do you see in those papers that make you lose so much color in your faces? Look, everyone, how their faces have changed! Their cheeks are white like paper. Why, what words did you read there that have turned you into cowards and chased your blood away from your cheeks? Red blood is the sign of courage, and you have no red blood in your cheeks.”

Cambridge knelt and said, “I do confess my fault, I am guilty, and I beg your highness for mercy.”

Grey and Scroop both knelt and said, “We also appeal to your highness for mercy.”

King Henry V said, “The mercy that was alive in us just now has been suppressed and killed because of the advice that you gave to me. You must not dare, for shame, to talk of mercy because your own words turn against you, as dogs can turn upon their masters, and bite you.

“Look, my loyal Princes, and my loyal noble peers, at these English monsters!

“Look at my Lord of Cambridge here. All of you know how our respect for him made us want to give him all things appropriate to his honor. Yet Cambridge has, for a few crowns of light weight, for treacherous money, lightly and readily conspired and sworn to join the plot of France to kill us here in Southampton.

“This Knight also swore the same thing that Cambridge did although he was also indebted to me, the King, for the good things I have given to him.

“What shall I say to you, Lord Scroop? You cruelly ungrateful, savage, and inhuman creature! You knew all my secrets, you knew the deepest part of my soul, you almost might have used me as your own minter and maker of money. How is it possible that a foreign bribe could extract from you even enough evil to harm one of my fingers? This is so strange and unexpected that even though the truth of it appears as clearly as black and white, my eye will scarcely see it. My eyes scarcely believe what is clearly visible in front of them!

“Treason and murder have ever kept company together; they are like two Devils yoked together and sworn to help each other achieve the other’s goals. The two Devils openly work together in what for them is a natural cause. That is expected, and it causes no astonishment.

“But you, against all natural order, brought in astonishment to accompany treason and murder. No one could have expected you to conspire to take my life. You have no good reason to do so.

“Whatever cunning fiend — whatever Devil — it was that worked upon you and got you to act so perversely has been applauded in Hell for its excellence. All other Devils that suggest and tempt men to commit treason do so by unskillfully patching up and cobbling together reasons and veneers and ideas that seem to be ethical and pious but really are not. These Devils tempt people to do damnable things by convincing them that they are doing the right thing. But the Devil that persuaded you to do damnable actions simply told you to stand up and rebel without giving you a reason why you ought to commit treason.”

King Henry V looked at Scroop, who was kneeling before him the way that a man would kneel before the King who would Knight him — dubbing a person Knight means giving that person the title of Knight — by touching his shoulder with a sword and saying, “I dub thee Knight. Arise, Sir —”

He then said, “The only reason a Devil could have given you for why you should commit treason is so that you could be dubbed ‘Traitor.’”

King Henry V remembered 1 Peter 5:8: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the Devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” and he said, “If that same demon that has gulled you in this way should with his lion gait walk throughout the whole world, he might return to vast Hell and tell the legions of angels, ‘I can never win a soul as easily as I won the soul of that Englishman.’

“You Scroop, have infected the sweetness of trust with suspicion. You make it hard for me to trust anyone ever again. What evidence can I now seek to determine whether men are good? Do men seem to be dutiful? Why, so did you. Do men seem to be grave and learned? Why, so did you. Do men come from a noble family? Why, so did you. Do men seem to be religious? Why, so did you. Are men moderate in their diet? Are men free from excessive emotions, whether of mirth or anger? Are men constant in spirit, not excessively changing their minds? Are they furnished with and display good personal characteristics and courtesy? Do they not only look but also listen, and use their best judgment to evaluate evidence and arrive at the truth? You seemed to be such a man, a man whose evil had been purged out of him, and thus your fall has left a kind of blot — now, even a man whose excellent character is fully loaded with the best virtues is regarded by me with some suspicion.

“I will weep for you because this revolt of yours, I think, is like another fall of man: the fall of Adam, who ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.”

He said to Exeter, “The faults of these three traitors are manifest and open and revealed. Arrest them in accordance with the law, and God forgive them for their evil deeds!”

Exeter said to the three traitors, “I arrest you for high treason, Richard, Earl of Cambridge. I arrest you for high treason, Henry, Lord Scroop of Masham. I arrest you for high treason, Thomas Grey, Knight, of Northumberland.”

Scroop said, “Our evil plot God justly has uncovered, and I regret my sin more than I regret my death. I beg your highness to forgive my sin, although my body will pay the price of it.”

Cambridge said, “As for me, the gold of France did not seduce me, although I admit it was a motive to do sooner the treason that I had already intended to commit. But I thank God that I have been prevented from carrying out my plan. I will rejoice at this prevention even as I endure my punishment, and I beg God and you to pardon me.”

Grey said, “Never has a faithful subject rejoiced more at the discovery and prevention of most dangerous treason than I rejoice at this hour even though it is my own dangerous treason that has been revealed. I have been stopped from carrying out a damned plot. Pardon my sin — but not my body — sovereign.”

King Henry V said, “May God in His mercy forgive you! Now hear your sentence. You have conspired against our royal person. You have joined forces with a known enemy to our country and have received golden money to murder me. In doing this, you would have sold and sentenced your King to slaughter, you would have sold and sentenced his Princes and his peers to servitude, you would have sold and sentenced his subjects to oppression and contempt, and you would have sold and sentenced his whole Kingdom to desolation. As far as our own life is concerned, we seek no revenge, but we must so cherish our Kingdom’s safety — safety that you have sought to ruin — that we deliver you to her laws. Therefore, poor miserable wretches, go to your death. May God give you the fortitude to endure your death and give you true repentance for all your serious offences!”

He ordered the guards, “Take them away.”

The three traitors got to their feet, and the guards led them to the place of execution.

King Henry V then said, “Now, lords, let us turn our attention to France. This enterprise in France shall be as glorious to you as it is to us. We do not doubt that this war shall be successful and with good fortune to us since God so graciously has brought to light this dangerous treason that was lurking in our way to kill us and stop the war before it started. We doubt not now but that every obstacle has been removed that stood in our way. So let us go forth, dear countrymen. Let us deliver our army into the hand of God, and let us get started immediately. Let’s go cheerfully to sea and see the signs of war advance. I will not be King of England unless I can also be King of France.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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