David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s HENRY V: A Retelling in Prose — Act 3, Prologue and Scene 1



The Chorus walked onto stage and said, “Thus with wings of the imagination our swift scene flies in motion of no less velocity than that of thought.

“Imagine that you have seen the well-equipped King of England at Southampton pier go onboard ship and resemble the young Sun-god as the King sails with his fleet with their streaming silken banners. Use your imagination, and you will see ship-boys climbing on ropes made of hemp. You will hear the shrill whistle that gives orders and brings order to the noisy confusion. You will see the sails, moving with the invisible and creeping wind, draw the huge hulls of the ships through the furrowed sea, breasting the lofty surge.

“Imagine that you are standing upon the shore and seeing a city dancing on the inconstant billows because this majestic fleet appears to be a city headed directly for Harfleur, a port in northern France. Follow the ships, follow them. Fix as with grapping irons your minds to the sterns of this navy, and leave your England, as deadly still as at midnight, guarded by grandsires, babies, and old women, all of whom are either past or not arrived at bodily strength and power. What male with a chin that is enriched with even one visible hair will not follow these hand-picked and specially selected Knights to France?

“Work, work your thoughts, and in your minds see a siege; look at the cannons mounted on their frames, with their fatal mouths open and pointing at walled and fortified and besieged Harfleur.

“Now imagine that the ambassador Exeter comes back from the French King and tells Harry that the King offers him his daughter Katherine, and with her, for a dowry, some petty and unprofitable Dukedoms. The offer displeases Henry V, and so the nimble gunner touches the Devilish cannon with a lighted match—”

The sound of a cannon is heard.

“— and part of the French wall collapses.

“Always, members of the audience, be kind, and add to our performance with your mind.”

— 3.1 —

At Harfleur, King Henry V was rallying his troops, who had retreated from an assault upon the breach in the wall but were regrouping. With Henry V were Exeter, Bedford, and Gloucester. Some of the soldiers present carried scaling-ladders that would help them climb over the wall.

King Henry V said, “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more. Let us attack again and burst through and over the wall or let us close the breach in the wall with the corpses of English soldiers. In peacetime nothing so becomes a man as modest quietness and humility. But when the blast of war blows in our ears, then we ought to imitate the action of the fierce tiger; we should stiffen our sinews, summon up our red blood and courage, disguise our handsome features with hard-featured rage. So let us now glare with our eyes through the portholes of our head like the brass cannon of warships. Let our brows hang over our eyes as fearsomely as a cliff juts out over its eroding base that is violently washed by the wild and wasteful ocean. Now let us set our teeth and flare our nostrils wide, hold hard our breath and bend up our spirit to its full height.

“Fight on, you noblest of the English whose blood is inherited from fathers who have proven themselves in war — fathers who, like so many great Alexanders who conquered the world and mourned that nothing was left to conquer.

“Fight on, you nobles whose fathers fought on French soil from morning until evening and sheathed their swords only when no one was left to oppose them. Do not dishonor your mothers by making it possible for the enemy to say that your mothers cuckolded your fathers; prove by your brave fighting here that those whom you call fathers did in fact beget you. Be examples now to men of grosser blood and teach them how to fight in war.

“And you, good yeomen, you who farm your own land, whose limbs were made in England, show us here the mettle of your pasture and the quality of the country in which you were born. Let us swear that you are worth your breeding, which I do not doubt, because none of you is so humble and lowly by birth that you do not have noble luster in your eyes. I see you stand like greyhounds held back by the leash, straining against the leash in anticipation of the moment it is let loose and you can hunt your prey.

“The game is afoot — seek your prey! Follow your spirit, and as we charge cry, ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George, the patron saint of England!’”

They charged.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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