David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s HENRY V: A Retelling in Prose — Act 3, Scene 7

— 3.7 —

At the French camp, near Agincourt, the Constable of France, the Lord Rambures, Orleans, the Dauphin, and others were talking. In the morning they would fight the English army in the Battle of Agincourt on that day of 25 October 1415. The French vastly outnumbered the English, and the French were confident — make that overconfident — of victory, and they were joking with and insulting each other.

The Constable said in the middle of a discussion about armor and horses, “Ha! I have the best armor in the world. I wish it were morning so that we could begin the battle!”

Orleans said, “You have excellent armor, but give my horse his due.”

The Constable said, “It is the best horse of Europe.”

“Will it never be morning?” Orleans complained.

The Dauphin said, “My Lord of Orleans, and my lord High Constable, are you talking about horses and suits of armor?”

Orleans replied, “You are as well provided with both as any Prince in the world.”

“What a long night is this!” the Dauphin complained. “I would not exchange my horse for any that treads the earth on four legs. Ha! My horse bounds from the earth, as if his entrails were as light as hairs. What horse do I have? Le cheval volant [The flying horse], the Pegasus, who flew chez les narines de feu[in the nostrils of fire]! He flew bearing a hero to battle the fire-breathing Chimera. When I bestride him, I soar and I am a hawk. He trots the air; the earth sings when he touches it; the basest horn of his hoof is more musical than the pipe of Hermes. My horse runs quickly and seldom touches the earth; when it does touch the earth, its hoofs create a musical sound.”

Pegasus was a winged horse that came into existence when the ancient Greek hero Perseus cut off the head of Medusa, a Gorgon. Medusa’s blood spouted, and Pegasus came into existence from that blood.

Orleans said, “He’s of the color of the nutmeg: brown.”

The Dauphin added, “And of the heat of the ginger. My horse is a beast for Perseus. My horse is made of the purer, nobler elements of air and fire; and the duller and baser elements of earth and water never appear in him, except when he touches the earth patiently and stilly while his rider mounts him. My horse is indeed a horse, and all other jades you may call beasts.”

The Dauphin was not good with words. He had just said that his horse was not affected by the baser elements except when he — the Dauphin — mounted him. The Dauphin had also implied that his horse was better than he was, and he had said that his horse was a jade — a nag.

The Constable said, “Indeed, my lord, it is a most absolute and excellent horse.”

The Dauphin said, “It is the Prince of palfreys; his neigh is like the bidding of a Monarch and his countenance enforces homage.”

Again, the Dauphin had not spoken well. If his horse was the Prince of palfreys, it was the best of palfreys, but a palfrey was not a battle horse — it was a smaller, lighter horse, the kind that was often ridden by ladies.

Aware that the Dauphin was unknowingly making a fool of himself, Orleans said, “Speak no more, cousin.”

“No,” the Dauphin replied, “a man has no wit if he cannot, from the rising of the lark in the morning to the taking of shelter by the lamb at night, state varied and deserved praise on my palfrey. It is a theme as fluent and flowing as the sea. It can turn each grain of sand into an eloquent speaker. My horse is theme enough for them all to talk about. My horse is a fitting subject for a sovereign to talk about, and for a sovereign’s sovereign to ride on; and for the citizens of the world, whether familiar to us or unknown to us to stop doing their jobs and wonder at him. I once wrote a sonnet in his praise and began it in this way: ‘Wonder of nature —’”

Orleans interrupted and said, “I have heard a sonnet written to a man’s mistress that began in that way.”

The Dauphin said, “Then the writer of that sonnet imitated the sonnet that I composed to my courser, for my horse is my mistress.”

Here the Dauphin had used the correct word for a warhorse: a courser.

Orleans said, “Your mistress bears well.”

He thought, That is a good joke. His mistress — the horse — bears his weight well when he rides it. His mistress — a woman — bears his weight well when he rides her.

The Dauphin said, “You should say, ‘bears mewell.’ That is the prescribed praise and perfection of a good and particular mistress. A mistress should be mistress to only one man.”

The Constable said, “I thought that yesterday your mistress shrewdly shook your back.”

He thought, That is a good joke. A mistress that shrewdly shakes one’s back is not a good mistress. A mistress — a horse — that shrewdly shakes one’s back provides a rough ride. A mistress — a woman — that shrewdly shakes one’s back may be good in bed but is still a shrew — an evil-tongued woman. Such women can be punished by putting a bridle in their mouth.

The Dauphin replied, “So perhaps did yours.”

“Mine was not bridled.”

The Dauphin said, “In that case, she was probably old and gentle; and you rode your mistress like a kern of Ireland — a barefoot Irish peasant pressed into service as a soldier — with your French hose off, and in such tight trousers that you might as well have been barelegged.”

The Dauphin thought, Yes, you would have ridden your mistress while half-stripped for ease of action.

“You have good judgment in horsemanship,” the Constable said.

He thought, You have good judgment in whoresmanship.

“Be warned by me,” the Dauphin said. “People who ride their mistresses like that and ride without caution fall into foul bogs.”

The Dauphin thought, That is a really dirty joke. If the mistress is a woman, the foul bog is the dirtiest hole in the part of a woman’s body that she is least proud of.

The Dauphin added, “I had rather have my horse as my mistress.”

The Constable said, “I prefer to have my mistress be a jade.”

A jade could be either a tired old horse or a tired old woman.

The Dauphin replied, “I tell you, Constable, my mistress wears his own hair.”

The Dauphin thought, That is a pretty good insult. I am implying that the Constable’s mistress — a woman — has lost her hair. Why do women lose their hair? Sometimes it is the result of venereal disease.

The Constable replied, “I could make as true a boast as that even if I had a sow as my mistress.”

The Dauphin replied, “Remember 2 Peter 2:22: ‘Le chien est retourne a son propre vomissement, et la truie lavee au bourbier’ [‘The dog returns to its own vomit, and the washed sow returns to the mire’]. You would make use of anything.”

He thought, That is a major insult. I said that the Constable would make use of anything … to score a point, but the phrase “make use of” also means “to sleep with.”

The Constable said, “Yet do I not use my horse for my mistress, or any such proverb so little apt to the purpose. Your Biblical quotation has little relevance to the topic of our conversation.”

He thought, That is a pretty good insult: “use [sexually] my horse for my mistress.” I am implying that the Dauphin has sex with his horse.

Rambures wanted to change the topic of conversation; these insults were major.

He asked, “My Lord Constable, the armor that I saw in your tent tonight, are those stars or Suns upon it?”

“Stars, my lord.”

The Dauphin said, “Some of them will fall tomorrow, I hope.”

The Constable replied, “And yet my sky shall not want. Even if I lose a few stars, I will have plenty more.”

The Dauphin said, “That may be, for you bear too many stars, and it would make more honor for you if you were to lose some in battle.”

He thought, That is a major insult. I am telling the Constable that it would be a good thing if his armor showed some signs of having been used.

The Constable replied, “The stars I bear on my armor are similar to the boasts your horse bears when it bears you on its back. My armor is fine as it is, and your horse would trot just as well if some of your brags dismounted.”

The Dauphin replied, “I wish that I could load my horse with all the praises it deserves!”

He added, “Will it never be day? I will trot tomorrow for a mile, and I will pave that mile with English corpses and faces.”

The Constable said, “I will not say what you said because if I were you, I would be worried about being faced out of my way — I would be worried about being put to shame and turned from my way. But I wish that it were morning because I would like to be about the ears of the English.”

Rambures said, “Will anyone gamble with me for the stake of twenty English prisoners?”

The Constable said, “You must first put yourself in danger in the battle tomorrow, before you have them.”

The Dauphin said, “It is midnight; I’ll go arm myself.”

He departed.

Orleans said, “The Dauphin longs for morning.”

Rambures said, “He longs to eat the English.”

“I think he will eat all he kills,” the Constable said. “In other words, I do not think that he will kill anyone.”

“By the white hand of my lady, the Dauphin is a gallant Prince,” Orleans said.

“Swear by her foot, so that she can stamp out your oath,” the Constable said. “You will find that you will wish that you had not made that oath.”

Orleans said, “The Dauphin is absolutely the most active gentleman of France.”

The Constable replied, “Doing is activity; and he will always be doing.”

He thought, The Dauphin will always be busy, and always be accomplishing little.

Orleans still defended the Dauphin, “He never did harm that I heard of.”

“He will do no harm to the enemy tomorrow,” the Constable said. “He will still keep that good name.”

Orleans was persistent: “I know him to be valiant.”

The Constable replied, “I was told that by a person who knows him better than you.”

“Who told you?”

“He told me so himself; and he said he cared not who knew it.”

“He does not need to brag about his valor; it is not a hidden virtue in him.”

“I disagree, sir,” the Constable said. “No one has ever seen the Dauphin’s courage except for his footman: The Dauphin is brave enough to give orders to his footman. The Dauphin’s valor is hooded; when the need for his valor appears, it will ’bate.”

He thought, That is a pretty major insult. We keep hawks hooded during the hunt until it is time to release them and let them kill their prey. When the hood is taken off the hawk so that it can hunt, it will bate — spread — its wings. I have said that when the time comes for the Dauphin to show his valor, it will ’bate — that is, it will abate, and shrivel up and die.

Orleans said, “According to the proverb, ill will never said well. Obviously, you do not like the Dauphin.”

The Constable said, “I will top your proverb with this proverb: There is flattery in friendship.”

“And I will respond with this proverb: Give the Devil his due.”

“Well answered,” the Constable said. “Your friend the Dauphin is standing in for the Devil. I respond with this proverb that aims straight at the heart of your proverb: A pox on the Devil.”

“You are better than I am at proverbs the way that a fool is better at quickly shooting replies than a wise man is. Remember this proverb: A fool’s bolt, aka blunted arrow, is soon shot. Foolish archers do not wait for the proper time to shoot in battle; they shoot quickly. A wise archer waits for the proper time to shoot.”

“You have shot over the target,” the Constable said. “Your proverb is not a suitable answer to my proverb — you have missed your target.”

“You say that I have shot over the target,” Orleans said. “I say that this is not the first time you have overshot — the things that you have said to the Dauphin tonight were way out of line.”

A messenger arrived.

The messenger said, “My lord High Constable, the English are camped within fifteen hundred paces of your tents.”

“Who has measured the ground?”

“The Lord Grandpré.”

“He is a valiant and most expert gentleman,” the Constable said. “I wish that it were day! Alas, poor Harry of England! He does not long for the dawn as we do.”

Orleans said, “What a wretched and tiresome fellow is this King of England, to blunder aimlessly with his fat-brained, thick-witted followers so much farther from England than he would have gone if he had had even average intelligence!”

“If the English had any intelligence, they would run away,” the Constable said.

“They lack intelligence,” Orleans said. “Their skulls are so thick that they have no room for brains.”

Rambures said, “That island of England breeds very valiant creatures; their mastiffs are of unmatchable courage. We know that from their performance at bear-baiting — they are very competent at tormenting chained bears.”

Orleans said, “English mastiffs are foolish curs that run with their eyes closed into the mouth of a Russian bear and have their heads crushed like rotten apples! You may as well say that that’s a valiant flea that dares to bite the lip of a lion and drink its breakfast of blood there.”

“True,” the Constable said, “and the men resemble the mastiffs in robust and rough comings-on, leaving their brains behind with their wives. If you then give them great meals of beef and iron and steel, they will eat like wolves and fight like Devils.”

“True,” Orleans said, “but these English soldiers are cruelly out of beef.”

“Then we will find tomorrow that they have only stomachs to eat and none to fight,” the Constable said. “Now it is time to arm. Come, shall we arm?”

Orleans said, “It is now two o’clock, but, let me see, by ten o’clock, we shall each have taken prisoner a hundred Englishmen.”

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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Edgar Lee Masters: Albert Schirding and Jonas Keene

Albert Schirding

JONAS KEENE thought his lot a hard one
Because his children were all failures.
But I know of a fate more trying than that:
It is to be a failure while your children are successes.
For I raised a brood of eagles
Who flew away at last, leaving me
A crow on the abandoned bough.
Then, with the ambition to prefix
Honorable to my name,
And thus to win my children’s admiration,
I ran for County Superintendent of Schools,
Spending my accumulations to win— and lost.
That fall my daughter received first prize in
Paris For her picture, entitled, “The Old Mill”—
(It was of the water mill before Henry Wilkin put in steam.)
The feeling that I was not worthy of her finished me.

Jonas Keene

WHY did Albert Schirding kill himself
Trying to be County Superintendent of Schools,
Blest as he was with the means of life
And wonderful children, bringing him honor
Ere he was sixty?
If even one of my boys could have run a news-stand,
Or one of my girls could have married a decent man,
I should not have walked in the rain
And jumped into bed with clothes all wet,
Refusing medical aid.

***