David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s HENRY V: A Retelling in Prose — Act 3, Scene 2

— 3.2 —

Nym, Bardolph, Pistol, and the boy who was their servant were at Harfleur.

Bardolph cried, “Charge! Charge! To the breach! To the breach!”

Nym objected, “Please, Corporal, wait. The blows of battle are too severe and dangerous. Speaking for myself, I do not have a pair of lives, but only one. The heat of this battle is too hot — this is plainly true and without ornamentation, just like a plain-song is the plain, simple melody without fancy variations.”

Bardolph, formerly a Lieutenant, had been demoted to Corporal.

Pistol said, “The use of ‘plain-song’ is a most just.”

He meant a mot juste, French for “exactly the right word.”

He added, “The plain truth is that the blows of battle abound in this battle.”

He sang, “Blows come and go; God’s servants drop and die; and sword and shield, in this bloody field, do win immortal fame.”

The boy said, “I wish that I were in an alehouse in London! I would trade all my chances for fame and glory for a pot of ale and safety.”

Pistol said, “So would I.”

He sang, “If wishes would prevail with me,

My purpose — my desire for ale — should not fail with me,

But thither — to an alehouse — would I hurry.”

Pistol’s singing voice was poor, and his desire to stay out of the battle was dishonorable.

The boy sang in answer to Pistol, “You sing as surely and as honorably, but not as well, as a bird without honor sings on a bough.”

On his horse, Fluellen, a Welsh Captain serving Henry V, came toward Nym, Bardolph, and Pistol, outraged that they were not fighting in the battle. The boy was too young to fight, but he was supposed to stay in the English camp and guard the tents.

Fluellen shouted, “Up to the breach, you dogs! Hurry, you gonads!”

Fluellen drove Nym, Bardolph, and Pistol forward.

Moving forward as slowly as Fluellen would allow him, Pistol pleaded, “Be merciful, great Duke, to men of mold. We are made of clay, just as the Bible says. Abate your rage, abate your manly rage — abate your rage, great Duke!”

As he did so frequently, Pistol was using his poor knowledge of Latin poorly. By “Duke,” he meant Dux, which is Latin for “leader.”

Pistol continued to plead, “Good and fine fellow, abate your rage; be lenient, good lad!”

Nym said to Fluellen, “This is a poor change of mood! We were in a good mood, but you are putting us in a bad mood!”

Fluellen used his whip to make the three men race to the front, leaving the boy behind.

The boy said to himself, “As young as I am, I have closely observed these three swashers and swaggerers: Nym, Bardolph, and Pistol. I am boy — that is, a young servant — to all three of them, but all three of them, if they should ever serve me, could not be man — a grown-up male servant — to me because all these three clowns put together do not amount to a single man.

“As for Bardolph, he is white-livered and red-faced — he is a cowardly alcoholic. Because he has a red face, people think that he is hot-tempered, and so he outfaces his opponents in battles and quarrels, but he does not fight. He prefers to act like a fighter rather than actually fight.

“As for Pistol, he has a killing tongue and a quiet, peaceful sword. He prefers to brag big and fight not even a little. He breaks his words, and he keeps his weapons whole. The battles he fights are verbal, and he does not keep his promises, and his sword is never broken because he does not use it in battle.

“As for Nym, he has heard that men of few words are the best men; he has heard the proverb vir sapit qui pauca loquitur— ‘a wise man is one who does not talk much.’ Therefore, Nym is scornful of and does not say his prayers, lest he should be thought a coward. However, his few bad words are matched with as few good deeds and deeds of valor. He never broke any man’s head but his own, and that was against a post when he was drunk.

“These three men will steal anything, and call it a purchase. Bardolph stole a lute-case, carried it for 36 English miles, and then sold it for a penny and a half. Nym and Bardolph are sworn brothers in filching, aka stealing, and in a town they stole a fire shovel. I knew by that piece of work that the men would carry coals. To carry coals is figurative language for to do degrading, humiliating, and insulting work and to submit to degrading, humiliating, and insulting treatment.

“They would have me as familiar with men’s pockets as the men’s gloves or handkerchiefs. They want me to become a pickpocket and become familiar with the inside of other people’s pockets. This goes much against my sense of what it is to be a man. If I should take something from another person’s pocket so that I can put it into my pocket, it would be a plain pocketing up of wrongs. To pocket up wrongs is figurative language for to be guilty of stealing and to submit to insults — such as being called a thief. I must leave these three men, and seek some better service with some better men. These three men’s villainy goes against my weak stomach, and therefore I must throw it — my job and the contents of my stomach — up.”

The boy returned to the English camp.

Meanwhile, Fluellen and Gower, who was an English Captain, were talking. Fluellen, the Welsh Captain, had a heavy accent. He sometimes pronounced the letter blike the letter p, the letter flike the letter v, and the letter jlike the letters ch. He also tended to use fancy words, frequently use synonyms, and repeat the unnecessary phrase “look you.” The Irish Captain, Macmorris, and the Scottish Captain, Jamy, also had heavy accents.

Captain Gower had been searching for Fluellen. Having found him, he said, “Captain Fluellen, you must come immediately to the tunnels that we are building under the besieged city’s walls so that we can use explosives to blow them up. The Duke of Gloucester needs to speak with you.”

“You want me to go to the tunnels!” Fluellen said. “Tell the Duke that it is not so good for me to come to the tunnels because, look you, the tunnels have not been constructed according to the disciplines of the war: The concavities [hollowness] of the tunnels are not sufficient [good enough], for, look you, the athversary [adversary], you may discuss this with the Duke, look you, has himself dug tunnels four yards underneath the tunnels we have dug. By Cheshu [Jesu, aka Jesus], I think he will plow [blow] up all our tunnels, if better orders are not given.”

Captain Gower replied, “The Duke of Gloucester, to whom the plan of action of the siege has been given, is being advised by an Irishman who is truly a very valiant gentleman.”

“He is Captain Macmorris, isn’t he?”

“I think that is him.”

“By Cheshu [Jesu, aka Jesus], he is an ass, as much an ass as any ass in the world. I will verify as much in his beard [I will tell him that to his face]. He has no more directions in [knowledge of] the true disciplines of the wars, of the Roman disciplines, look you, than does a puppydog.”

Captain Macmorris, the Irish Captain, accompanied by Jamy, the Scottish Captain, rode up on their horses.

Captain Gower said, “Here he comes; and the Scots Captain, Jamy, is with him.”

Captain Fluellen said, “Captain Jamy is a marvelous falourous [valorous] gentleman, that is certain; and he is of great expedition [quick action] and has great knowledge of the aunchient [ancient] wars, as I know from my particular and personal knowledge of his orders. By Cheshu, he will maintain his argument [keep up his part in a discussion] in a conversation about the disciplines of the pristine [flawless and perfectly executed, and ancient] wars of the Romans as well as any military man in the world.”

Captain Jamy, the Scottish Captain, said, “I say gud-day [good day], Captain Fluellen.”

Captain Fluellen replied, “God-den [Good evening] to your worship, good Captain James.”

Captain Gower asked, “How are you, Captain Macmorris! Have you quit the digging of the tunnels? Have the pioneers — the diggers of the tunnels — stopped their work?”

Captain Macmorris replied, “By Chrish [Christ], la! T’ish [It is] ill done: the work ish give over [is given up], the trompet [trumpet] sounds the order to retreat. By my hand, I swear, and by my father’s soul, the work ish [is] ill done; it ish give over [we have given it up]. If the trumpet had not sounded the order to retreat, I would have blowed [blown] up the town, so Chrish save me — la! — in an hour. Oh, t’ish ill done! T’ish ill done; I swear by my hand, t’ish ill done!”

Captain Fluellen said, “Captain Macmorris, I beg you now, will you voutsafe [vouchsafe, aka grant] me, look you, a few disputations [discussions] with you, as partly touching [regarding] or concerning the disciplines of the war, the Roman wars, in the way of argument, look you, and 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.”

Captain Jamy, the Scot, said, “It sall [shall] be vary gud [very good], in gud faith [in good faith, aka truly], gud [good] Captains bath [both]: and I sall ’quit [shall requite, aka answer] you with gud leve [with good leave, aka with your permission], as I may pick occasion [as I have the opportunity] that sall [shall] I, marry [by Mother Mary].”

Captain Macmorris said, “It is no time to discourse [This is not a time for conversation], so Chrish [Christ] save me: The day is hot, and the weather, and the wars, and the King, and the Dukes, everyone is busy fighting, and it is no time to discourse. The town is beseeched [besieged], and now the trumpet calls on us to go on attack at the breach; and we talk, and, by Chrish [Christ], we do nothing. It is a shame for us all, so God sa’ [save] me, it is a shame to stand still; it is a shame, I swear by my hand because there are throats to be cut, and works to be done; and there ish [is] nothing done, so Chrish sa’ [save] me, la!”

Captain Jamy said, “By the mess [Mass], ere theise [before these] eyes of mine take themselves to slomber [slumber; that is, before I go to sleep tonight] ay’ll [I’ll] do gud [good] service, or ay’ll lie i’ the grund for it [or I’ll lie in my grave]. Ay [I] owe Got [God] a death; and ay’ll [I’ll] pay it as valorously as I can, that sall [shall] I surely do, that is the breff [brief] and the long [aka the long and the short of it]. Marry [By Mother Mary], I wad full fain hear [I would very much like to hear] some question [discussion] between you tway [two].”

Captain Fluellen said, “Captain Macmorris, I think, look you, under your correction [correct me if I’m wrong], there are not many of your nation —”

Captain Macmorris was quick to take offense, and he misunderstood Fluellen and took offense too quickly as Fluellen had said nothing wrong: “Of my nation! What ish [is] my nation? Ish [You are] a villain, and a bastard, and a knave, and a rascal. What ish [is] my nation? Who talks of [about] my nation?”

Captain Fluellen replied, “Look you, if you take the matter otherwise than is meant, Captain Macmorris, peradventure [perhaps] I shall think you do not use [treat] me with that affability as in discretion you ought to use [treat] me, look you, since I am as good a man as yourself, both in the disciplines of war, and in the derivation of my birth, and in other particularities.”

Captain Macmorris said, “I do not know that you are so good a man as myself. Chrish [Christ] save me, I will cut off your head.”

Captain Gower said, “Gentlemen, both of you are misunderstanding each other.”

Captain Jamy said, “A! [Aye! aka Yes!] That’s a foul fault.”

A trumpet sounded, blowing the notes for a parley — a meeting between the leaders of the opposing forces.

Captain Gower said, “That is a trumpet from the town. The leader of Harfleur has ordered a trumpeter to sound a parley.”

Captain Fluellen said, “Captain Macmorris, when there is more better opportunity to be required [when a better time presents itself], look you, I will be so bold as to tell you I know the disciplines of war; and there is an end.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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