David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s HENRY V: A Retelling in Prose — Act 5, Scene 2 and Epilogue

— 5.2 —

At the royal palace in France, the English and the French met to establish terms of peace and to sign a peace treaty. In the treaty, Henry V had made many conditions for peace, including his marriage to Katherine, daughter of the French King. He wanted to ensure that his descendants would rule France.

The English people present included King Henry V, Exeter, Bedford, Gloucester, Warwick, Westmoreland, and other Lords. The French people present included the French King, Queen Isabel, the Princess Katherine, Alice (Katherine’s attendant, who is older than she), and other ladies. Also present was the mediator, the Duke of Burgundy, and his train. Everyone was very polite and almost everyone was very formal. The highest-ranking royals referred to their counterparts on the other side as close relatives. The Kings also used the royal we.

King Henry V said, “Peace to this meeting — peace is why we have met! To our brother the King of France, and to our sister the Queen of France, I wish health and a good morning. I wish joy and good wishes to our most fair and Princely cousin Katherine. And, as a branch and member of this royalty, by whom this great assembly has been achieved, we do salute you, Duke of Burgundy. Finally, French Princes and peers, health to you all!”

The King of France replied, “Right joyous are we to behold your face, most worthy brother, King of England. You are welcome here, as are all of your English Princes, every one.”

“May the outcome of this good day and of this gracious meeting, brother King of England,” the Queen of France said, “be happy, as happy as we are now glad to behold your eyes today. Previously, your eyes have opposed the French, who met them in their line of fire. Your eyes were like the fatal eyeballs of murdering basilisks that kill with their looks, and your eyes were like killing cannonballs. Your looks, we sincerely hope, have lost their venomous quality, and we sincerely hope that this day shall change all griefs and quarrels into love.”

“I say ‘amen’ to that,” King Henry V said. “That is the reason all of us are here today.”

“You English Princes all, I do salute and welcome you,” the Queen of France said.

The Duke of Burgundy said, “My duty is to both of you, equally, great Kings of France and England! That I have labored with all my wits, my pains, and my strong endeavors to bring your most imperial majesties to this court of justice and summit conference, your mightiness on both sides best can witness. Since my office has so far prevailed that face to face and royal eye to eye you have greeted each other, let it not disgrace me, if I demand, before this royal view, to know what obstacle or what impediment there is to keep the currently naked, poor, and mangled Peace, that dear nurse of arts and joyful births, from showing her lovely face in this best garden of the world — our fertile France.

“Sadly, Peace has from France too long been chased away. As a result, the crops of France lie in disorder, in heaps, and rotting. France’s vines, which produce wine, the merry cheerer of the heart, die from lack of pruning and lack of care. France’s formerly trimmed hedges are like prisoners with wildly overgrown hair; they put forth disordered twigs. France’s arable land now lies unplowed, and on it grows only weeds such as the darnel, hemlock, and rank fumitory. The plows that should uproot such wild and savage weeds rust. The level meadows that formerly brought sweetly forth desirable plants such as the freckled cowslip, burnet, and green clover now lack the farmers who wield the scythe. Because the meadows lack horticultural care, they are all uncultivated and rank; in them wild weeds grow, and nothing breeds except hateful dock-leaves, rough thistles, dry hollow stalks, and burs, none of which have beauty or utility.

“And just as our vineyards, arable land now lying fallow, meadows, and hedges, defective in their natures, grow wild, our families and ourselves and our children have forgotten, or do not learn because of lack of time, the sciences that should civilize our country; instead, they become like savages — as soldiers will who do nothing except think about bloodshed. They swear and give stern looks, wear ragged clothing, and are accustomed to everything that seems unnatural.

“Therefore, you are here today so that we can bring Peace and the blessings of Peace back and we can return to the good things that we once had. I ask you to let me know why gentle Peace should not expel these evils that I have mentioned and bless us again.”

King Henry V said, “If, Duke of Burgundy, you would have the Peace you want, whose lack gives growth to the imperfections that you have cited, you must buy that Peace by getting full agreement to all our just demands, whose general aims and specific details are briefly summarized in the document you are holding in your hands.”

The Duke of Burgundy replied, “The King of France has heard your demands, but he has not yet replied to them.”

King Henry V said, “Well, then, whether there shall be Peace, which you have been advocating, lies in his answer to our demands.”

The King of France said, “I have only cursorily glanced over your demands. If it pleases your grace to appoint some of your council immediately to sit and meet with us once more, so that we can with better heed consider your demands, we will quickly let you know to which Articles of Peace we agree.”

“Brother, we shall do that,” Henry V said. “Go, uncle Exeter, and brother Clarence, and you, too, brother Gloucester, Warwick and Huntingdon, go with the King of France. And take with you complete power to ratify, augment, or alter our demands, as your wisdoms best shall see advantageous for our dignity. We will sign what you agree to.”

He then said to the Queen of France, “Will you, fair sister, go with the Princes, or stay here with us?”

“Our gracious brother, I will go with them. Perhaps a woman’s voice may do some good, when arguments over the Articles of Peace are unnecessarily made.”

Henry V requested, “Allow our cousin Katherine to stay here with us. My marriage to her is our capital demand; it is among the first things listed in the treaty.”

“She has permission to stay,” the Queen of France replied.

Everyone except King Henry V and Katherine — and Alice, her attendant and chaperone — exited.

Henry V and Katherine were going to be married; Henry V knew it, and Katherine knew it. That is why Katherine had been learning to speak English. But simply telling a woman that you are going to marry her so that your heirs can become King of France is no way to treat a lady, and so Henry V wooed Katherine, although she spoke little English and he spoke little French.

Henry V said, “Lovely and most beautiful Katherine, will you be so kind as to teach a soldier terms such as will enter a lady’s ear and plead his love to her gentle heart?”

“Your majesty shall mock at me,” Katherine said. “I cannot speak your England.”

“Oh, lovely Katherine, if you will love me soundly with your French heart, I will be glad to hear you confess it brokenly with your English tongue. Do you like me, Kate?”

Pardonnez-moi[Pardon me], I cannot tell vat is ‘like me.’”

“An angel is like you, Kate, and you are like an angel.”

Katherine asked Alice, her attendant and chaperone, “Que dit-il? Que je suis semblable a les anges? [What did he say? That I am like the angels?]”

Alice replied, “Oui, vraiment, sauf votre grace, ainsi dit-il. [Yes, really, begging your grace’s pardon, that is what he said.]”

“I said so, lovely Katherine,” Henry V said, “and I must not blush to affirm it.”

Katherine said, “Oh, bon Dieu! Les langues des hommes sont pleines de trumperies! [Oh, good God! The tongues of men are full of deceits!”]

Henry V asked Alice, “What says she, fair one? That the tongues of men are full of deceits?”

Alice replied, “Oui[Yes], dat de tongues of de mans is be full of deceits: dat is say de Princess.”

“The Princess is the better Englishwoman because she prefers plain speaking,” Henry V said. “Truly, Kate, my wooing is fit for your understanding: I am glad you can speak no better English; for, if you could, you would find me such a plain King that you would think I had been a farmer and had sold my farm to buy my crown. I know no ways to mince it in love — to speak like a courtier — so instead I will directly and openly say, ‘I love you.’ If you press me any farther than to reply, ‘Do you truly love me?’ then I have no fancy words to say and so my courtship is over. Give me your answer. Please, do. Say you will marry me and we will shake hands and so make a bargain. What have you to say, lady?”

Katherine replied, “Sauf votre honneur[Saving your grace], me understand vell.”

Henry V said, “By the Virgin Mary, if you want me to write love verses or to dance to court you, Kate, why, then you undo me. As far as writing poetry is concerned, I have neither words nor meter, and as far as dancing is concerned, I have no strength in measuring dance steps, yet I have a reasonable measure of strength. If I could win a lady by playing leapfrog, or by vaulting into my saddle with my armor on my back, I can say without bragging that I should quickly leap into a wife.”

He thought, And leap onto a wife in bed.

He continued, “Or if I could fist-fight for my love, or if I could make my horse leap for her favors, I would hit like a butcher felling a beast before butchering it and I would sit on a horse like a specially trained ape and never fall off. But, before God, Kate, I cannot look like a love-sick youth or gasp out eloquent love-talk — I have no skill in professing my love for you. I have only downright oaths, which I never make until urged to, and which I never break even when urged to.

“If you can love a fellow of this temper, Kate, whose face is not worth being sunburned because it is already brown and cannot become uglier, who never looks in his mirror because of love of anything he sees there, let your eye be your cook — let it make me appear to be the way that you want me to be. Garnish me to make me more attractive than I am.

“I speak to you like a plain soldier. If you can love me for this — what I am — take me. If you will not marry me, to say to you that I shall die is true, but I will not die because I lack your love, by God. Yet it is true that I love you.

“While you live, dear Kate, take a fellow of plain and natural constancy because he must do you right, because he has not the gift to woo in other places: These fellows of infinite tongue, who can talk well and make rhymes and win the love of many women, end up talking themselves out of love again.

“Listen! A speaker is only a prattler; a rhyme is only a song that will not be long remembered. A good leg will waste away; a straight back will stoop; a black beard will turn white; a pate with curled hair will grow bald; a fair face will wither; a full eye will grow hollow. But a good heart, Kate, is the Sun and the Moon; or, rather, it is the Sun and not the Moon because it shines brightly and never changes, but keeps its course truly. If you would have such a one, then take me. If you take me, you will take a soldier, and if you take a soldier, then you take a King. And what do you say now to my love? Speak, my lovely lady, and give me the answer I want to hear, please.”

Katherine replied, “Is it possible dat I sould [should] love de enemy of France?”

“No, it is not possible that you should love the enemy of France, Kate,” Henry V said, “but, in loving me, you would love the friend of France because I love France so well that I will not part with even one village of it. I will have all of France, and, Kate, when France is mine and I am yours, then France is yours and you are mine.”

“I cannot tell vat is dat,” Katherine replied.

“No, Kate?” Henry V said. “I will tell you in French, which I am sure will hang upon my tongue like a new-married wife about her husband’s neck, hardly to be shook off.

Je quand sur le possession de France, et quand vous avez le possession de moi[I still on the possession of France, and when you have possession of me] — let me see, what then? Saint Denis, patron saint of France, help me! — donc votre est France et vous etes mienne[so yours is France and you are mine].

“It is as easy for me, Kate, to conquer the Kingdom of France as it would be to speak so much more French. I shall never move you in French, unless it be to move you to laugh at me.”

Katherine replied, “Sauf votre honneur, le Francois que vous parlez, il est meilleur que l’Anglois lequel je parle. [With respect, the French you speak is better than the English I speak.]”

 “No, truly, it is not, Kate,” Henry V said, “but your speaking in my tongue, and I in yours, most truly-falsely — true in meaning but incorrect in grammar — must be granted to be very much at the same skill level. But, Kate, do you understand as much English as will allow you to understand and answer this question — can you love me?”

“I cannot tell.”

“Can any of your neighbors tell, Kate? I’ll ask them. Come, I know you love me. At night, when you go into your bedroom, you’ll question this gentlewoman — Alice — about me, and I know, Kate, to her you will criticize those parts in me that you love with your heart. But, good Kate, mock me mercifully; do this, gentle Princess, because I love you terribly.

“If ever you are mine, Kate, as I have faith that you will be, I will get you with struggling as if I were in a battle, and you will therefore prove to be the mother of good soldiers. Shall not you and I, with the help of Saint Denis and Saint George, create a boy, half French and half English, who shall go to Constantinople and take the Turk by the beard in a Crusade? Shall we not? What have you to say about that, my fair flower-de-luce[he meant fleur-de-lis, aka the French heraldic lily]?”

“I do not know dat,” Katherine said.

“No,” Henry V said, “you do not know that now. Hereafter you shall know, but now is the time to promise.”

Henry V thought, The Biblical “knowing” will occur after we are married. We will have a son. We need to produce an heir.

He added, “Promise me now, Kate, that you will endeavor to do your part in producing the French part of such a boy; as for my English moiety, aka half, take the word of a King and a bachelor. What is your answer, la plus belle Katherine du monde, mon tres cher et devin deesse[the most beautiful Katherine in the world and my very dear and divine goddess]?”

“Your majestee ’ave fausse[false, inaccurate, deceiving] French enough to deceive de most sage demoiselle[wise lady] dat is en France,” Katherine replied.

“A plague upon my false French!” Henry V said. “By my honor, in true English, I love you, Kate. By my honor, I dare not swear you love me, yet my passion begins to flatter me that you do, notwithstanding the poor and discouraging effect of my looks.

“Curse my father’s ambition! He was thinking of civil wars when he got my mother pregnant with me. My father’s thoughts when I was conceived had an effect on me. Because of my father’s thoughts, I was created with a stubborn outside, with an aspect or appearance of iron, with the result that, when I attempt to woo ladies, I frighten them.

“But, truly, Kate, the older I grow, the better I shall appear. My comfort is that old age, which badly treats beauty, can do nothing more to spoil my face — I am already ugly.

“You will have me, if you will have me, at the worst, and you will see that I will grow better and better the longer you have and enjoy me.

“Therefore, tell me, most lovely Katherine, will you have me? Will you marry me? Put away your maiden blushes; instead, give expression to the thoughts of your heart with the looks of an Empress. Take me by the hand, and say to me, ‘Harry of England, I am yours.’

“As soon as you say those blessed words to me, I will tell you out loud, ‘England is yours, Ireland is yours, France is yours, and Harry Plantagenet — me — is yours.’

“Harry Plantagenet is a person who, though I speak it to his face, if he is not fellow with — that is, equal to — the best King, you shall find that he is the best King of good fellows.

“Come, tell me your answer in broken music; for your voice is music and your English is broken; therefore, Queen of all, Katherine, tell your mind to me in broken English; will you have me and marry me?”

“Dat is as it sall [shall] please de roi mon pere[the King my father].”

“It will please him well, Kate,” Henry V said. “It shall please him, Kate.”

Henry V knew that the King of France would sign the peace treaty.

“Den it sall also please me.”

“Hearing that, I now kiss your hand, and I call you my Queen.”

Henry V took her hand so that he could kiss it.

Katherine replied, “Laissez, mon seigneur, laissez, laissez! Ma foi, je ne veux point que vous abaissiez votre grandeur en baisant la main d’une de votre seigeurie indigne serviteur! Excusez-moi, je vous supplie, mon tres-puissant seigneur.”

[Katherine replied, “Let go, my lord, let go, let go! On my word, I would never wish you to lower your dignity by kissing the hand of an unworthy servant of your majesty! Pardon me, I beg you, my most mighty lord.”]

“Then I will kiss your lips, Kate.”

Katherine replied, “Les dames et demoiselles pour etre baisees devant leur noces, il n’est pas la coutume de France.”

[Katherine replied, “It is not the custom for women and maidens to be kissed before they are married.”]

Those of you who understand that baiseesmeans both “kissed” and, colloquially, “f**ked” may laugh now.

Henry V asked Alice, “Madam my interpreter, what is she saying?”

“Dat it is not be de fashion pour les ladies of France — I cannot tell vat is baiseren Anglish.”

“To kiss,” Henry V said.

Alice replied, “Your majesty entendre bettre que moi[understands better than me].”

You may now laugh at the word “entendre.”

“Does she say that it is not a fashion for the maidens in France to kiss before they are married?” Henry V asked.

Alice replied, “Oui, vraiment. [Yes, really.]”

Henry V said, “Overly strict customs bow before great Kings. Dear Kate, you and I cannot be confined within the weak rules of a country’s fashion. We are the makers of manners, Kate, and the liberty that comes with high positions stops the mouth of all find-faults. You have upheld the overly strict fashion of your country by denying me a kiss, and therefore I will stop your mouth with a kiss. Therefore, be patient and yielding.”

He kissed her and said, “You have witchcraft in your lips, Kate. There is more eloquence in a sugar-sweet touch of your lips than in the tongues of the French council; and your lips should sooner persuade Harry of England than a petition of all the Kings in the world.”

He heard a noise and said, “Here comes your father.”

The King and Queen of France, Burgundy, and other lords entered the room.

“God save your majesty!” Burgundy said, “My royal cousin, are you teaching our French Princess English?”

“I would have her learn, my fair kinsman, how perfectly I love her,” Henry V said, “and that is good English.”

“Is she not eager and willing to learn?” Burgundy asked.

“Our English tongue, aka language, is rough, kinsman, and my behavior is not smooth,” Henry V said, “so that, having neither the voice nor the heart of flattery about me, I cannot conjure up the spirit of love in her so that the spirit of love will appear in his true likeness.”

Burgundy, who enjoyed bawdy puns and humor, said, “Pardon the frankness of my jokes as I give you advice for your problem. If you would conjure in her, you must make a circle.”

Henry V thought, To conjure is to raise, and in the act of sex the part of a man that is raised must make a circle as it penetrates a vagina.

Burgundy continued, “If you conjure up Love, aka Cupid, in her in his true likeness, he must appear naked and blind because in art Cupid usually appears blindfolded and naked.”

Henry V thought, A penis is naked and blind when it penetrates a vagina, whose inside is dark.

Burgundy continued, “Can you blame her then, being a maid yet rosed over with the virgin crimson of modesty — a blush — if she deny the appearance of a naked blind boy in her naked seeing self?”

Henry V thought, Many virgins blush when a naked penis approaches a naked and exposed-to-light c*nt.

Burgundy continued, “It were, my lord, a hard condition for a maiden to yield to.”

Henry V thought, Yes, the penis must be in a hard condition in such a situation.

He said to Burgundy, “Yet maidens do close their eyes and yield, as love is blind and enforces.”

Burgundy thought, “Enforces” is a good word here because the penis forces, aka pushes, its way into a vagina, where the penis is blind in the dark.

Burgundy said, “They are then excused, my lord, when they see not what they do.”

Henry V thought, They — maidens and vaginas — are excused because they see not what they do.

He said to Burgundy, “Then, my good lord, teach your cousin Katherine to consent and wink.”

Burgundy thought, “Consent” means to consent to love and marry him, and it means to consent to have sex with him. The word “wink” can mean to close one’s eyes.

Burgundy said, “I will wink at Katherine to let her know that she should consent, my lord, if you will teach her to know my meaning.”

Henry V thought, “Teach her to know my meaning” means to teach her about sex.

Burgundy continued, “Virgins, well summered, aka well taken care of, and with warm blood, are like flies on Saint Bartholomew’s Day — August 24. They are blind, though they have their eyes; and then they will endure handling, which before would not abide looking on.”

Henry V thought, Flies are supposed to be so sluggish on Saint Bartholomew’s Day that it is as if they were blind and so they can be easily caught. In late summer, virgins who have warm blood — are in heat — close their eyes and allow themselves to be caught and handled.

Henry V said, “This moral ties me over to time and a hot summer; and so I shall catch the fly, your cousin, in the latter end and she must be blind, too.”

Burgundy thought, The marriage of Henry V and Katherine will take place in summer. She will close her eyes, and he will “catch” her end.

Burgundy said, “Blind, as love is, my lord, before it loves. Love is blind, my lord, before it begins truly to love.”

Henry V said, “That is true, and you may, some of you, thank love for my blindness. I cannot see many a fair French city because of one beautiful French maiden — Katherine — who stands in my way.”

The King of France said, “My lord, you see the fair French cities, but you see them from a different perspective than is usual. For you, the cities are turned into a maiden because they are all girdled with maiden walls that war has never entered.”

Henry V thought, Enough sex puns and metaphors.

He asked the King of France, “Shall Kate be my wife?”

“Yes, if you want to marry her.”

“I do,” Henry V said, “as long as the maiden cities you talk about will serve as her dowry. That way, the maiden who stood in the way of what I wish shall be the way for me to get what I wish.”

The King of France said, “We have consented to all reasonable terms.”

Henry V asked, “Is that true, my lords of England?”

Westmoreland replied, “The King has granted every Article of Peace. He has granted his daughter first, and then following that he has granted all the rest of the things that you definitely wanted.”

Exeter said, “There is one thing that he has not agreed to.

“Your majesty demanded that the King of France, when he has any occasion to write to you about grants of land and titles, shall refer to your highness in this way and with this title in French: Notre trescher fils Henri, Roi d’Angleterre, Heritier de France[Our very dear son Henry, King of England and Heir to France].

“You also wanted him when writing you to refer to your highness in this way and with this title in Latin: Praecarissimus filius noster Henricus, Rex Angliae, et Haeres Franciae[Our very dear son Henry, King of England and Heir to France].”

The King of France said, “I am also willing to agree to this, brother, if you request me to do so.”

Henry V said, “I request you then, in love and dear alliance, to agree to that article along with the rest, and thereupon give me your daughter.”

“Take her, fair son,” the King of France said, “and have children with her so that the contending Kingdoms of France and England, whose very shores — and white cliffs — look pale with envy of each other’s happiness, may cease their hatred, and this dear conjunction of English King and French Princess may plant neighborliness and Christian-like accord in the sweet bosoms of the English citizens and the French citizens, so that never again will war advance its blood-dripping sword between England and fair France.”

Everyone present said, “Amen!”

Henry V said, “Now, welcome, Kate: and all of you bear witness that here and now I kiss her as my sovereign Queen.”

The Queen of France said, “May God, Who is the best maker of all marriages, combine your hearts in one, and your realms in one! As man and wife, being two, are one in love, so let there be between your Kingdoms such a marriage that never may wrongdoing, or cruel jealousy, which trouble often the bed of blessed marriage, thrust in between the compact of these Kingdoms, to separate their union in one body. May the Englishmen be Frenchmen, and may the Frenchmen be Englishmen, and may they so treat each other. May God say ‘Amen!’ — ‘So be it!’ — to this.”

Everyone present said, “Amen!”

Henry V said, “Now we will prepare for our marriage — on which day, my Lord of Burgundy, we’ll take your oath, and all the peers’ oaths, for security of our alliance. Then I shall swear to Kate —” he looked at her “— and Kate to me; and may our oaths well kept and prosperous be!”

 

EPILOGUE

The Chorus appeared and said, “Thus far in history, with rough and all-unable and all-unskilled pen, our author, bending over his writing desk, has pursued this story, confining important people such as the King of England and the King of France in a little book and on a little stage, mangling in fits and starts the full course of their glory.

“This star of England — King Henry V — lived only a short time, but in that short time he most greatly lived and accomplished much. Good fortune followed him in war, by which he conquered France, the world’s best garden, and he left France to his imperial son.

“His infant son, Henry VI, was crowned King of England and King of France. But so many people were involved in managing the young King’s affairs that they lost France and made his England bleed with civil war. Our stage has often told this tale in productions of the three plays of Henry VI.

“For the sake of those three plays, we hope that you will kindly receive — and applaud — this play.”

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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