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

— 3.3 —

The Governor of Harfleur and some citizens of the town stood on the gates. Below them, in front of the gates, stood King Henry V and his soldiers.

King Henry V asked, “What have you, theGovernor of Harfleur, resolved to do? This is the last parle we will agree to, so either surrender or fight. Surrender, and hand yourselves over to our best mercy, or like men excited by destructive war the way that a bitch is excited when she is in heat, defy us and tell us to do our worst. I swear that as I am a soldier — a name that I think becomes me best — if I begin the assaults against your town once again, I will not leave the half-conquered Harfleur until she lies buried in the ashes of her buildings. The gates of my mercy shall be all shut up,and my soldiers, rough and hard of heart and having already tasted your blood, with complete freedom given to their bloody hands shall go throughout your town with consciences that can commit any deed applauded in Hell, and shall mow down your fresh, fair virgins and your flowering, growing infants.

“If you continue to fight me, then what is it to me if civil war — a war in which you fight your rightful King — arrayed in flames like the Prince of Fiends, Lucifer, and with his complexion begrimed by smoke from the firing of gunpowder, results in all manner of deadly feats linked together with waste and desolation?

“If you continue to fight me, then what is it to me, when you yourselves are the cause of all the evil deeds that will make you victims, if your pure maidens fall into the hands of soldiers who will eagerly and violently rape them?

“What reins can stop licentious wickedness when it fiercely gallops down a steep hill? We may as uselessly give our vain commands to the enraged soldiers as they rape and murder and loot as send an order to the sea-monster Leviathan to come ashore. Our enraged soldiers busily engaged in the act of sacking your city will obey my commands just as much as will the whale Leviathan.

“Therefore, you men of Harfleur, take pity on your town and on your people, while my soldiers still obey my commands, and while the cool and temperate wind of human kindness still blows away the filthy and contagious clouds of intoxicating murder, spoil, and villainy.

“If you will not take pity on your town and on your people, why, in a moment look to see the reckless and blind-to-mercy bloody soldiers with their foul hands defile the locks of your shrill-shrieking daughters as they drag them away to be raped. Look to see the reckless and bloody soldiers with their foul hands take your fathers by their silver beards and dash their most reverend heads against the walls. Look to see your naked infants spitted upon pikes as if they were to be roasted in a fireplace while their mad mothers with their confused howls scream into the clouds as their tears fall like a cloudburst just like the Jewish mothers did when Herod’s bloody-hunting slaughtermen killed all the Jewish boys who were two years old or younger.

“What do you say? Will you surrender, and avoid rape, murder, the deaths of infants, and looting, or — guilty because you defend yourselves against your rightful King — be destroyed?”

The Governor of Harfleur replied, “Our hopes have this day come to an end. The Dauphin, from whom we entreated armies to relieve us, has sent us a message that his armies are not yet ready to raise a siege as great as this. Therefore, great King, we surrender our town and lives to your soft mercy.

“Enter our gates, and do what you want with us and what and who are ours, for we are no longer capable of mounting a defense.”

Henry V ordered, “Open your gates.”

Some citizens of Harfleur began to open the gates.

Henry V then said, “Uncle Exeter, go and enter Harfleur; there remain, and fortify it strongly against the French. Show mercy to all the citizens of Harfleur. As for us, dear uncle, winter is coming on and many of our soldiers are suffering from sickness. Therefore, we will march to Calais, a seaport in France under our control. Tonight in Harfleur we will be your guest; tomorrow we will begin the march.”

The gates now open, King Henry V, Exeter, and the English army entered Harfleur.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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