David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s HENRY V: A Retelling in Prose — Act 5, Prologue and Scene 1



The Chorus walked on stage and said, “Be kind to those who have not read the biography of King Henry V, and allow me to recap some events of his life. To those of you who have read his biography, I apologize for leaving out of our play events that their length of time, the numbers of people involved, and their magnitude make impossible to cover here on this stage.

“Imagine the King traveling to Calais. Imagine that he has arrived there, and now use your winged thoughts to imagine him traveling across the English Channel. Behold now the English beach fenced in by men, women, and boys — like a wall the throngs of people hold back the sea. The shouts and claps of all these people out-voice the deep-mouthed sea.

“The sea acts like a mighty whiffler — an official who clears a path for the King — and prepares his way to land.

“Having landed, the King journeys on to London.

“So swift a pace has thought that even now you may imagine him at Blackheath, on the road from Dover to London. There his lords try to persuade him to carry his bruised and dented helmet and his bent and hacked sword in a procession in London. Henry V forbids this because he is free from vainness and self-glorious pride; instead, he gives all the tokens and emblems and displays of victory to God, not to himself.

“But now behold in the quick forge and working-house of your thought how London pours out her citizens! The mayor and all his brethren — the aldermen of London — in civil array, similar to the senators of ancient Rome, with the plebeians swarming at their heels, go forth and fetch their conquering Caesar in.

“Imagine a general returning from abroad after putting down a threat to your country. How many citizens would leave the peaceful city so that they could go out and welcome him!

“Many more citizens than that, who had much more cause to rejoice, left London to welcome this Harry.

“Now in London place the King. The French mourn their dead while Henry V stays at home, the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund visits England to try to arrange peace between England and France, and other events occur that we must omit.

“But now Harry is back in France, so know that he is there.

“I have performed my job of filling in — all too briefly — the gaps. Tolerate my overly brief summary of historical events, and send your thoughts and your eyes to France to see the King.”

As the Chorus had said, he had very briefly summarized events. The Battle of Agincourt occurred in 1415, and King Henry V returned to France for the signing of the Treaty of Troyes in 1420.

— 5.1 —

In the English camp, Captain Gower asked Captain Fluellen, “Why are you wearing a leek on your cap today? Saint Davy’s day is past.”

Captain Fluellen replied, “There is occasions and causes why and wherefore inall things. I will tell you, ass [as] my friend,Captain Gower: The rascally, scald [scurvy], beggarly,lousy, pragging [bragging] knave, Pistol, whom you andyourself and all the world know to be no petter [better]than a fellow, look you now, of no merits, he iscome to me and prings [brings] me pread [bread] and salt yesterday,look you, and bid me eat my leek. This happened in a placewhere I could not fight him, butI will be so bold as to wear a leek in my cap until I seehim once again, and then I will tell him a littlepiece of my desires [mind].”

Pistol walked toward them.

Captain Gower said, “Why, here he comes, swelling like a turkey-cock.”

“It is no matter for his swellings nor histurkey-cocks,” Captain Fluellen said. “God pless [bless] you, Aunchient [Ancient, aka Ensign] Pistol! Youscurvy, bitten-by-louses knave, God pless [bless] you!”

“Ha! Are you bedlam?” Pistol asked. “Are you mad? Do you thirst, base Trojan and hooligan,to have me fold up Parca’s fatal web?”

Captain Gower thought, Pistol is only partially educated, if that. The Parcae — plural — are the Fates, and they cut the thread of life instead of folding up the web of life.

Pistol blustered, “Hence! Go away! I am qualmish and nauseous at the smell of leek.”

Captain Fluellen replied, “I peseech [beseech] you heartily, scurvy, lousy — literally — knave, at my desires, and my requests, and my petitions, to eat, look you, this leek: Because, look you, you do not love it, nor your affections and your appetites and your digestions do not agree with it, and so I would desire you to eat it.”

Pistol replied, “Not for Cadwallader and all his goats.”

The seventh-century Cadwallader was the last Welsh King to rule Britain. Wales is a mountainous country that is known for its goats, and Pistol was insulting the Welsh by calling them goats.

Captain Fluellen hit Pistol on the head with a cudgel and said, “There is one goat for you.”

He then said, “Will you be so good, scauld [scurvy] knave, as to eat this leek?”

“Base Trojan, you shall die,” Pistol blustered.

“You say very true, scauld knave. I will die when it is God’s will for me to die,” Captain Fluellen replied. “I will desire you to live in the meantime, and eat your victuals. Come, here is sauce for it.”

Captain Fluellen struck Pistol on the head hard enough with his cudgel for Pistol’s blood to flow.

He then said, “You called me yesterday a mountain-squire — a squire of mountainous land of little value — but I will make you today a squire of low degree. I pray you, fall to and eat this meal. If you can mock a leek, you can eat a leek.”

“Enough, Captain Fluellen, you have astonished and stunned him,” Captain Gower said.

“I say, I will make him eat some part of my leek, or I will peat [beat] his pate [head] four days,” Captain Fluellen replied.

He said to Pistol, “Bite, I pray you; it is good for your raw wound and your ploody [bloody] coxcomb, aka foolish head.”

Fools, aka jesters, wore a hat resembling a coxcomb.

Pistol asked him, “Must I bite into this leek?”

“Yes, certainly, and out of doubt and out of question, too, and no ambiguities.”

Pistol replied, “By this leek, I swear that I will get most horrible revenge —”

Captain Fluellen hit Pistol again with the cudgel and Pistol quickly took a bite of the leek and said, “I’m eating! I’m eating!”

He then muttered, “I swear —”

Captain Fluellen hit him again and said, “Eat, I pray you. Will you have some more sauce for your leek? There is not enough leek to swear by.”

“Quiet your cudgel,” Pistol said. “You can see that I am eating.”

“It will do you much good, scurvy knave — eat heartily. Nay, pray you, throw none away; the skin is good for your broken coxcomb. When you take occasions to see leeks hereafter, I pray you, mock at ’em — I would like to see you do that, really I would.”

“You win.”

“Ay, leeks is good,” Captain Fluellen said. “Wait, here is a groat — fourpence — to heal your pate.”

“A whole groat just for me!” Pistol said sarcastically.

“Yes, verily and in truth, you shall take it — or I have another leek in my pocket for you to eat.”

“I take your groat as a down payment for my revenge.”

“If I owe you anything, I will pay you in cudgels,” Captain Fluellen said. “You shall be a seller of wood, and buy nothing from me but wooden cudgels. God be with you, and keep you, and heal your pate.”

Captain Fluellen departed.

Pistol said, “All Hell shall stir for this.”

Captain Gower said, “No, it won’t. You are a false and cowardly knave. Will you mock at an ancient tradition, begun for an honorable reason? The leek is worn on caps as a memorable symbol commemorating long-ago bravery. You have mocked this tradition, but you have not made good with your actions any of your words.

“I have seen you gibing and scoffing at this gentleman, Captain Fluellen, twice or thrice. You thought, because he could not speak English as well as a native Englishman, he could not therefore handle an English cudgel. You have found out otherwise; and henceforth let a Welsh correction teach you good English behavior. Fare you well.”

Captain Gower exited.

Alone, Pistol said to himself, “Does Fortune play the hussy with me now and give me only bad luck? I have received news from England that my doll — my wife, Nell — has died in a hospital of the malady of France: venereal disease. No doubt Doll Tearsheet is also dead by now. The inn is lost to me, and therefore I have no refuge. Old do I grow, and from my weary limbs honor is cudgeled. Well, I’ll turn pimp, and I will also become a pickpocket with quick hands — I will use a knife to cut the strings of other people’s moneybags. I will also get bandages for these cudgeled scars that Fluellen gave to me, and in England I will swear that I got these scars on French battlefields.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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