David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s HENRY V: A Retelling in Prose — Act 4, Scenes 2-3

— 4.2 —

In the French camp, the Dauphin, Orleans, Rambures, and other soldiers were preparing for the battle.

Orleans shouted, “The Sun is making our armor shine. Mount up, my lords!”

The Dauphin shouted, “Montez à cheval! [Mount your horses!] My horse! Varlet! Bring me my horse!”

Orleans said, “Oh, brave spirit!”

The Dauphin said, “Via! Les eaux et la terre![We will go across water and land!]”

Orleans responded, “Rien puis l’air et la feu? [And not across air and fire?]”

Ciel[The Heavens], kinsman Orleans,” the Dauphin said.

He saw the Constable arriving and called, “Is it time now, my Lord Constable?”

The Constable replied, “Listen at how our steeds neigh! They are ready to go immediately to the battle.”

“Mount them,” the Dauphin said, “and dig your spurs into their sides so that their blood will spurt into English eyes, and blind them with the horse’s excessive red blood, the sign of courage.”

“What, will you have the English soldiers weep our horses’ blood?” Rambures asked. “How shall we, then, behold their natural tears?”

A messenger arrived and said, “The English are in formation for battle, you French peers.”

“To horse, you gallant Princes!” the Constable shouted, rallying his troops. “Immediately mount your horses! If you only look at yonder poor and starved band of English soldiers, your fair show shall suck away their souls, leaving them only the shells and husks of men. There is not work enough for all our soldiers; there is scarcely enough blood in all their sickly veins to give each of our unsheathed swords a stain. Many of our French gallants shall today draw out their swords and then sheathe them again because of a lack of English soldiers to kill. Let us but blow on the English soldiers, and the vapor of our valor will send them sprawling.

“Doubtless, lords, our superfluous servants and our peasants, who unnecessarily swarm around our square battle formations, are enough to purge this field of such a contemptible foe, though we upon this nearby mountain’s foot stood inactively looking on, but our honor will not allow us to be mere onlookers.

“What’s left to say? Let each of us do a very little, and all will be done. So let the trumpets sound the note to mount and to march. Our approach shall so much dismay the English soldiers that they shall crouch down in fear and surrender. We will be like hunting hawks that fly overhead and make the birds that are prey quiver so fearfully that they may be easily captured.”

Grandpré arrived and said, “Why do you stay so long, my lords of France? Yonder corpses-to-be from the British island, who have no hope of saving their bones, ill befit — and disgrace — the battlefield this morning. Their ragged banners, hanging in the air, make a poor show. Our air shakes them very scornfully. Big Mars — the King of England — looks like a bankrupt in his beggarly army and faintheartedly peeps through his helmet’s rusty faceguard. The English horsemen sit like fixed candlesticks with torches in their hands — they look like inanimate objects, not like men of spirit. Their poor jades hang their heads and lower their hides and hips, with the gummy discharge from their as-pale-as-if-they-were-dead eyes hanging down in long strings. In each jade’s pale dull mouth, the jointed bit is dirty with chewed grass, completely motionless. And the knavish crows — the executors who will claim the corpses of the English soldiers and horses after the battle — fly over them, all impatient for their hour. Description cannot clothe itself in words in such a way to adequately describe the life of such an army that is so lacking in life.”

The Constable said, “They have said their prayers, and they are waiting to die.”

The Dauphin asked, sarcastically, “Shall we go send them dinners and fresh suits of clothing and give their fasting horses provender, and only afterward fight with them? That might make it more of a fair fight.”

The Constable said, “I am waiting for my pennant, but let’s go to the battlefield. To save time, I will take the banner from a trumpet and use it as my pennant. Come, come, let’s go! The Sun is high, and we are wasting the daylight.”

— 4.3 —

In the English camp were standing Gloucester, Bedford, Exeter, Erpingham, Salisbury, and Westmoreland, among others.

Gloucester asked, “Where is the King?”

Bedford replied, “The King himself has ridden to view the French army’s battle formation.”

“The French have sixty thousand fighting men,” Westmoreland said.

“They outnumber us five to one,” Exeter said. “In addition, the French troops are all fresh.”

“May God’s arm strike with us!” Salisbury said. “Those are fearful odds.God be with you, Princes. I am going to my troops. If we meet no more until we meet in Heaven, then we will meet joyfully. My noble Lord of Bedford,my dear Lord Gloucester, and my good Lord Exeter,and my kind kinsmen, warriors all, adieu!”

“Farewell, good Salisbury,” Bedford said, “and may good luck go with you!”

“Farewell, kind lord,” Exeter said. “Fight valiantly today, and yet I do you wrong to tell you that because you are made of the firm truth of valor.”

Salisbury departed.

Bedford said, “He is as full of valor as of kindness; he is Princely in both.”

King Henry V arrived, but many people were present and he was not immediately noticed.

The date was 25 October 1415, and it was a feast day in England. On 25 October 286, two twin brothers who were later named saints, Crispin and Crispinian, were martyred.

Westmoreland said, “I wish that we now had here just ten thousand of those men in England who do no work today!”

Henry V asked, “Who is he who wishes that? My kinsman Westmoreland? No, my fair kinsman. If we are marked to die, we are enough to do our country loss; and if we are marked to live, the fewer the men fighting in this battle, the greater share of honor each man of us will have.

“By God’s will, I hope that you will not wish for even one man more. By Jove, I am not covetous for gold, nor do I care who eats at my expense, and it does not grieve me if other men wear my clothing — such material things do not dwell among my desires. But if it is a sin to covet honor, I am the most offending soul alive.

“No, by my faith, my kinsman, do not wish that even a single man from England could be added to our army here. By God’s peace, I would not lose as much honor as one man more, I think, would take from me for the best hope I have — the hope for my salvation. That is how covetous I am for honor and glory. Oh, do not wish for even one man more!

“Instead, proclaim, Westmoreland, throughout my army, that he who has no stomach for this fight is permitted to depart. He shall be given a letter to allow him passage through foreign lands, and crowns to pay for his journey shall be put into his purse. We do not want to die in the company of a man who fears to die with us in brotherhood.

“This day is the feast day of Saint Crispinian. Any soldier who outlives this day, and returns safely home to our island, will proudly stand tall when this day is named, and raise himself up at the name of Crispinian.

“He who shall outlive this day, and see his old age, will yearly on the eve of this day feast his neighbors and say, ‘Tomorrow is Saint Crispinian’s feast day.’ Then will he roll up his sleeves and show his scars and say, ‘These wounds I earned on Saint Crispinian’s feast day.’

“Old men forget, yet when everything else shall be forgotten, he’ll remember — with embellishments — what feats he did on this day. At that time our names, as familiar in his mouth as household words — Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter, Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester — shall be freshly remembered as men drink their flowing cups.

“This story shall the good man teach his son, and the feast day of Saint Crispin and Saint Crispinian shall never go by, from this day through the ending of the world, without us being remembered — we few, we happy few, we band of brothers.

“For he today who sheds his blood with me shall be my brother. No matter how lowly he was born, this day shall raise his status. Gentlemen in England who are now in bed shall think themselves cursed because they were not here, and they will be ashamed and think that they lack courage as they listen to anyone who fought with us upon Saint Crispin and Saint Crispinian’s day.”

Salisbury arrived and said, “My sovereign lord, quickly prepare yourself for the battle. The French are splendidly set in their battle formations, and they will soon with all convenient speed charge on us.”

Henry V said, “All things are ready, if our minds are ready.”

Westmoreland said, “Perish the man whose mind is backward now!”

Henry V asked, “You do not wish for more help from England, kinsman?”

“No, by God!” Westmoreland said. “My liege, I wish that you and I alone, without help, could fight this royal battle!”

“Why, now you have wished that we had five thousand fewer men,” Henry V said. “I prefer that to your wishing that we had one more man.”

He said to everyone present, “You know your places: God be with you all!”

A trumpet sounded to announce the arrival of Montjoy, the French envoy, who said, “Once more I come to learn from you, King Harry, whether you will make a bargain for your ransom before this battle that you will certainly lose. Right now, you are so near the abyss of danger that danger will swallow you. In addition, because he is merciful, the Constable asks you to remind your soldiers to repent their sins so that when they die today their souls will make a peaceful and sweet journey away from this battlefield where, poor wretches, their bodies will lie and fester.”

“Who has sent you now?” Henry V asked.

“The Constable of France.”

“Please, take back to him the same answer that I previously gave to you. Tell the French soldiers to defeat and take me and then sell my bones.

“Good God! Why should they mock poor fellows thus? A man once sold the skin of a lion while the beast still lived — that man was killed while hunting the lion.

“Many of our bodies shall no doubt find native graves back home on our native islands. This day’s work shall be witnessed in the brass funeral monuments that will mark their graves.

“Others will leave their valiant bones in France. They will die like men, though they will be buried in your dunghills. They shall be famed; for even there the Sun shall greet them, and draw their honors like steam up to Heaven, leaving their earthly reeking, decomposing bodies behind to choke your environment: The smell of their corpses shall breed a plague in France.

“You will see then the abundant valor in our English soldiers, who despite being dead, are similar to a cannonball’s breaking into pieces and causing a second course of death and destruction, despite its own destruction.

“Let me speak proudly. Tell the constable that we are only warriors for the working day; we look like we are wearing workingmen’s clothing. Our fancy and gilded clothing is all muddy because we have marched through rain to finally get to this battlefield. There’s not a piece of feather to serve as a helmet-plume in our army — a sign, I hope, that no one will fly away from the battle — and time has worn us into scruffiness.

“But, by the Mass, our hearts are still trim and in perfect condition, and my poor soldiers tell me that before this night comes that either they will be wearing fresher robes in Paradise or they will pluck the gay new coats over the French soldiers’ heads and dismiss them from military service.

“If they do this — as, if God is willing, they shall — whatever ransom I ask from you will easily be collected because we will seize your French treasure. Herald, save your labor. Do not come here any more to ask me for a ransom, gentle herald.

“You French shall receive no ransom, I swear, but these my joints. I intend to die before I allow you to take them, and therefore this ransom will yield you little value. Tell the Constable that.”

Montjoy replied, “I shall, King Harry. And so fare you well. You shall never hear from me any more.”

As Montjoy exited, Henry V called after him, “I’m afraid that you will return to ask me what ransom I demand from you French.”

York came over to Henry V, knelt, and said, “My lord, most humbly on my knee I beg you to allow me to command the vanguard — the troops at the front.”

Henry V replied, “Take their command, brave York. Now, soldiers, march away, and to whomever You wish, God, give the victory!”

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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