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!”



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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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.”


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David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s HENRY V: A Retelling in Prose — Act 4, Scene 8

— 4.8 —

Captain Gower and John Williams were speaking in front of the tent of the King.

John Williams said to Captain Gower, “I think that the King wants to see you in order to make you a Knight.”

In search of Captain Gower, Captain Fluellen, who also believed that the King was going to Knight Captain Gower, arrived and said to him, “By God’s will and His pleasure, Captain, I ask younow to come quickly to the King; there is more good coming to you perhaps than is in your knowledge to dream of.”

John Williams saw the glove displayed on Captain Fluellen’s hat and recognized that it was his glove. He understandably assumed that Captain Fluellen was the man with whom he had quarreled the previous night. He held up the glove that the King had given to him the previous night and said to Captain Fluellen, “Sir, do you recognize this glove?”

“Recognize the glove!” Fluellen said. “I recognize that the glove is a glove.”

“I recognize the glove that you are wearing in your cap,” John Williams said. “I accept your challenge to fight.”

He then hit the glove, which was over Fluellen’s ear. In doing so, he also hit Fluellen.

“By God’s blood!” Fluellen cursed. “You are as arrant a traitor as any traitor in theuniversal world, or in France, or in England!”

Captain Gower was shocked that one of the soldiers serving under him would hit a Captain. He said to John Williams, “What are you doing? Sir, you are a villain!”

John Williams said to Captain Fluellen, “Did you think that I would break my oath to fight you if I saw you with my glove?”

Fluellen said, “Stand back, Captain Gower; I will give this traitor his deserved payment in plows [blows], I promise you.”

John Williams replied, “I am no traitor.”

“That’s a lie in your throat,” Captain Fluellen said. He told the soldiers who had gathered around, “I charge you in his majesty’s name, apprehend him: He’s a friend of the French Duke Alençon’s.”

Warwick and Gloucester now entered the scene.

“What is going on?” Warwick said. “What’s the matter?”

Captain Fluellen replied, “My Lord of Warwick, here is — praised be God for it! — a most contagious and pestilential treason come to light, look you, as you shall desire to see in a summer’s day.”

He looked up and saw King Henry V approaching and added, “Here is his majesty.”

Henry V and Exeter approached the group of men.

Henry V asked, “What’s the matter?”

Captain Fluellen replied, “My liege, here is a villain and a traitor, that, look your grace, has struck the glove that your majesty took off of the helmet of the Duke of Alençon.”

John Williams said, “My liege, this is my glove; here is the other one; and he to whom I gave it in exchange for a glove of his promised to wear it on his cap, and I promised to strike him, if he did. I just now met this man with my glove on his cap, and I have been as good as my word.”

“Your majesty hear now, saving your majesty’s manhood, what an arrant, rascally, beggarly, lousy knave this man is,” Captain Fluellen said. “I hope your majesty will appear on my behalf and give testimony and witness, and will give avouchment, that this is the glove of Alençon, that your majesty is give me, in your conscience, now.”

“Give me your glove, the one you are wearing on your cap, soldier,” Henry V said to John Williams. “Look, here is the fellow of it. These are my gloves. It was I, indeed, whom you promised to strike, and you criticized me with the most bitter terms.”

Captain Fluellen said, “If it please your majesty, let his neck answer for it — hang him — if there is any martial law in the world.”

John Williams was surprised and dismayed. The King could easily give the order to have him hanged, and if the King did give the order, that order would be quickly obeyed. Striking the King — or threatening to strike the King — was definitely cause enough for hanging.

The King asked him, “How can you make things right with me?”

“All offences, my lord, come from the heart,” John Williams said. “Never has anything come from my heart that might offend your majesty.”

“It was ourself you did abuse with language,” the King said.

“Your majesty came not like yourself,” John Williams, now kneeling, said. “You did not look like the King. You appeared to me only as a common man such as myself. Remember that it was night, and that you wore a worn cloak, and you appeared to be a lowly, common soldier. Whatever words your highness suffered while you were in disguise, I beg you take it for your own fault and not mine because if you had been the common soldier whom I took you for, I would have committed no offence; therefore, I beg your highness to pardon me.”

The King gave a glove to Exeter and said, “Here, uncle Exeter, fill this glove with gold coins, and give it to this man.”

He then said to John Williams, who stood up, “Keep this glove, soldier; and wear it in your cap to show others that you have challenged the King himself.”

He joked, “Wear this glove on your cap until I answer the challenge.”

He said to Exeter, “Give him the crowns.”

Finally, he said to Captain Fluellen, “Captain, you must become friends with this soldier.”

Captain Fluellen said, “By this day and this light, the fellow has mettle and courage enough in his belly. Wait, here is twelve pence more for you; and I pray you to serve Got [God], and keep yourself out of prawls [brawls], and prabbles [brabbles, aka petty arguments] and quarrels, and dissensions, and, I warrant you, it is the better for you.”

“I want none of your money,” John Williams said.

“I give it to you with a good will,” Captain Fluellen said. “I can tell you, it will serve you to mend your shoes. Come, take the money. Why should you be so pashful [bashful]? Your shoes is not so good: it is a good silling [shilling], I warrant you, or I will exchange it for one that is good.”

John Williams took the money.

An English herald arrived.

Henry V asked him, “Now, herald, have the dead been counted?”

“Here is the number of the slaughtered French,” the herald said, handing the King a piece of paper.

Looking at the paper, the King asked Exeter, “What prisoners of noble birth have we taken, uncle?”

Exeter replied, “Charles Duke of Orleans, nephew to the King; John Duke of Bourbon, and Lord Bouciqualt. Of other lords and Barons, Knights and squires, in total fifteen hundred, besides common men.”

Henry V said, “This paper tells me that ten thousand French soldiers lie slain in the field. Of this number, Princes and nobles bearing banners with a coat of arms, there lie dead one hundred and twenty-six. In addition, the number of Knights, esquires, and gallant gentlemen who lie dead are eight thousand and four hundred — five hundred of these men were only yesterday dubbed Knights. In these ten thousand men they have lost, there are only sixteen hundred paid soldiers; the rest are Princes, Barons, lords, Knights, squires, and gentlemen of good birth and breeding.

“Here are the names of their nobles who lie dead: Charles Delabreth, High Constable of France; Jaques of Chatillon, admiral of France; the master of the cross-bows, Lord Rambures; the Great Master of France, the brave Sir Guichard Dolphin, John Duke of Alençon; Anthony Duke of Brabant, the brother of the Duke of Burgundy; and Edward Duke of Bar.

“Here are the names of their powerful Earls who lie dead: Grandpré and Roussi, Fauconberg and Foix, Beaumont and Marle, Vaudemont and Lestrale.

“Here was a royal fellowship of death!

“Where is the number of our English dead?”

The herald gave him another paper.

Henry V read, “The Duke of York, the Earl of Suffolk, Sir Richard Ketly, and Davy Gam, esquire — no one else of high rank, and the other casualties number only twenty-five.”

Before the battle, Henry V had sent Davy Gam to scout the number of enemy soldiers. Davy Gam had reported, “May it please you, my liege, there are enough to be killed, enough to be taken prisoners, and enough to run away.”

Henry V said, “Oh, God, Your arm was here; and not to us, but to Your arm alone, we owe this victory!

“When, without stratagem, but in straight attack, army against army, and with fair play in battle, was ever known so great loss on one part and so little loss on the other? Take all the credit for this victory, God, because it belongs to You!”

King Henry V was modest here. The English longbows had proved to be superior weapons in the battle, and the King had devised stratagems to make very effective use of his archers.

“This victory is wonderful!” Exeter said.

“Come, let’s make a procession to the village near the castle of Agincourt. I now order — on pain of death — all of our soldiers to not boast about this victory. The credit for this victory belongs to God, and only to God, and I will not have any soldier take the praise that belongs only to God.”

Captain Fluellen asked, “Isn’t it lawful and permitted, if it please your majesty, to tell how many soldiers have been killed?”

“Yes, it is, Captain Fluellen,” Henry V said, “but only with this acknowledgement: God fought for us.”

“Yes, by my conscience, He did us great good,” Captain Fluellen said.

Henry V said, “Let us perform all the religious rites. Let the psalms ‘Non Nobis’ and ‘Te Deum’ be sung. We will enclose the dead in clay — bury them — with Christian charity, and then we will go to Calais and then to England. Never from France have happier men come to England.”


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David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s HENRY V: A Retelling in Prose — Act 4, Scene 7

— 4.7 —

As the Boy had said, the French soldiers were able to easily raid the English camp because only boys were guarding it. However, the French soldiers had done more than loot the belongings of the English soldiers; they had killed the boys who were supposed to be guarding it. The Boy was now dead.

Captain Fluellen said to Captain Gower, “Kill the poys [boys] and the luggage! It is expressly against the law of arms . It is as arrant [complete] a piece of knavery, mark you now, as can be offered. In your conscience, now, don’t you agree?”

Captain Gower replied, “It is certain there’s not a boy left alive, and the cowardly rascals who ran from the battle have done this slaughter; in addition, they have burned and carried away all that was in the King’s tent. For this reason, the King, most deservedly, has caused every soldier to cut his prisoner’s throat. Henry V is a gallant King!”

Captain Gower was wrong about Henry V’s reason for cutting the French prisoners’ throats.

Captain Fluellen said, “Ay, Henry V was porn [born] at Monmouth, Captain Gower. What call you the town’s name where Alexander the Pig [Big] was born!”

You mean Alexander the Great,” Captain Gower replied.

“Why, let me ask you, is not pig [big] the same thing as great?” Fluellen said, “The pig [big], or the great, or the mighty, or the huge, or the magnanimous, are all one reckonings [all the same thing], except the phrase is a little variations [except the wording is a little different].”

Captain Gower said, “I think Alexander the Great was born in the country of Macedon; his father was called Philip of Macedon, as I remember it.”

Fluellen agreed: “I think it is in Macedon where Alexander is porn [born]. I tell you, Captain, if you look in the maps of the world, I warrant you shall find, in the comparisons between Macedon and Monmouth, that the situations, look you, is both alike. There is a river in Macedon, and there is also moreover a river at Monmouth: It is called Wye at Monmouth; but it is out of my prains [brains; it is out of my brains = I can’t remember] what is the name of the other river; but it is all one — the two rivers are as alike as my fingers are to my fingers, and there is salmon in both rivers.

“If you look at Alexander’s life well, Harry of Monmouth’s life follows it very closely; for there are comparisons and parallels in all things.

“Alexander, God knows, and you know, in his rages, and his furies, and his wraths, and his cholers, and his moods, and his displeasures, and his indignations, and also being a little intoxicated in his prains [brains], did, in his ales and his angers [while intoxicated and angry], look you, kill his best friend, Cleitus.”

“Our King is not like him in that,” Captain Gower said. “He never killed any of his friends.”

Bardolph was dead, hung after disobeying one of Henry V’s orders, but Captain Gower did not regard Bardolph as the King’s friend.

Fluellen replied, “It is not well done, look you, now to take the tale out of my mouth before it is made and finished. I speak only about the figures and comparisons of it: Just as Alexander killed his friend Cleitus, being in his ales and his cups; so also Harry Monmouth, being in his right wits and his good judgments, turned away the fat Knight with the great belly-doublet — his belly stuffed his jacket. His fat friend was full of jests, and gipes [gibes], and knaveries, and mocks; I have forgotten his name.”

“Sir John Falstaff,” Captain Gower said.

“That is he,” Captain Fluellen said. “I’ll tell you there is good men porn [born] at Monmouth.”

“Here comes his majesty,” Captain Gower said.

King Henry V and several soldiers arrived, along with Warwick, Gloucester, Exeter, and others.

Henry V, who had just heard about the boys at the English camp being murdered, said, “I was not angry since I came to France until I became angry at this instant. Take a trumpet, herald, and ride to the French horsemen on yonder hill. If they are willing to fight with us, tell them to come down from the hill and fight. If they are not willing to fight, tell them to leave the battlefield because they offend our sight.

“If they’ll neither fight nor leave, we will come to them, and make them scurry away as swiftly as the stones forcibly thrown from the ancient Assyrians’ slings. In addition, we will cut the throats of these new prisoners we have taken, and not a man of them whom we shall defeat shall taste our mercy. Go and tell them so.”

An English herald exited.

Montjoy, the main French herald, entered.

Exeter said, “Here comes the herald of the French, my liege.”

Gloucester observed, “His eyes are humbler than they used to be.”

“Well!” Henry V said. “What do you want, herald? You already know that I named as my ransom these bones of mine. Have you come to me again to ask me to ransom myself?”

“No, great King,” Montjoy said. “I come to you for charitable and Christian permission for we French to wander over this bloody battlefield to look for our dead, and then to bury them. We want to sort our nobles from our common men because many of our Princes — so many! — lie drowned and soaked in the blood of soldiers we paid to fight for us. Our common soldiers drench their peasant limbs with the blood of Princes; and their wounded steeds fret fetlock deep in gore and with wild rage kick out their armed heels at their dead masters, killing them twice. Oh, give us leave, great King, to view the field in safety and dispose of our soldiers’ dead bodies!”

Henry V said, “I tell you truly, herald, that I do not know whether we have won the battle or not because many of your horsemen still gallop over the battlefield.”

“The day is yours,” Montjoy said. “You have won the battle.”

“Praised be God, and not our strength, for it!” Henry V said. “What is the name of this castle that stands nearby?”

“They call it Agincourt,” Montjoy replied.

“Then we call this the battlefield of Agincourt,” Henry V said. “We have fought and won the Battle of Agincourt on the feast day of Saint Crispin and Saint Crispinian.”

Captain Fluellen said to the King, “Your great-grandfather of famous memory, if it please your majesty, and your great-uncle Edward the Plack [Black] Prince of Wales, as I have read in the chronicles, fought a most prave pattle [brave battle] here in France.”

“They did, Fluellen.”

“Your majesty says very truly,” Fluellen said. “If your majesty is remembered of it, the Welshmen did good service in a garden where leeks did grow, wearing leeks in their knitted round caps from Monmouth, Wales — leeks, your majesty knows, to this hour are an honorable badge of the service because they are worn by many soldiers, and I do believe your majesty takes no scorn to wear the leek upon Saint Tavy’s [Davy’s, aka David’s] day.”

Henry V thought, “… did good service in a garden where leeks did grow” sounds like the Welshmen ate a lot in the garden, but Fluellen means that the Welshmen did good military service.

Henry V said, “I wear the leek for a memorable honor because I am Welsh, you know, good countryman.”

“All the water in Wye River cannot wash your majesty’s Welsh plood [blood] out of your pody [body], I can tell you that: God pless [bless] it and preserve it, as long as it pleases His grace, and his majesty, too!”

“Thanks, my good countryman.”

“By Jeshu [Jesus], I am your majesty’s countryman,” Fluellen said. “I care not who knows it; I will confess it to all the world: I need not be ashamed of your majesty, praised be God, as long as your majesty is an honest man.”

“May God keep me honest!” Henry V said.

John Williams walked up to the group. He was one of the common soldiers whom Henry V, while incognito, had talked to before the battle. John Williams had criticized him, and the two had exchanged tokens — gloves. The two men were supposed to attach the gloves to their caps after the battle, if they survived. If either man were to recognize his glove, the two men had pledged to fight each other. John Williams had attached the King’s glove to his cap. But Henry V had not attached John Williams’ glove to his cap.

King Henry V ordered some of his men, “Our heralds will now go with Montjoy. Bring me accurate numbers of the dead of both armies.”

The English heralds and Montjoy departed.

Henry V noticed John Williams, pointed to him, and said, “Call yonder man here.”

Exeter said to John Williams, “Soldier, you must come to the King.”

When John Williams had come closer, Henry asked him, “Soldier, why are you wearing that glove in your cap?”

“If it please your majesty, it is the gage of one whom I will fight, if he is still alive now that the battle has ended. I am wearing his glove, and if he dares to acknowledge that it is his, then he and I will fight.”

“An Englishman?” the King asked.

“If it please your majesty, he is a rascal who swaggered and blustered and quarreled with me last night; and if he is alive and dares to acknowledge that this glove is his, I have sworn to hit him on the ear. Or if I can see my glove in his cap, which he swore, as he was a soldier, he would wear if he were still alive after the battle, I will knock it off.”

“What do you think, Captain Fluellen?” Henry V asked. “Is it fitting that this soldier keep his oath?”

“He is a craven coward and a villain else, if it please your majesty, according to my conscience,” Fluellen replied.

“Perhaps his enemy is a high-ranking gentleman who because of his status cannot fight a common soldier,” Henry V said.

“Though he be as good a gentleman as the Devil is — and the Devil is thought to be in some sense a gentleman — as good a gentleman as Lucifer and Beelzebub himself, it is necessary, look your grace, that he keep his vow and his oath,” Captain Fluellen said. “If he perjures himself, see you now, his reputation is as arrant a villain and a Jack Sauce [saucy Jack, or saucy fellow, aka rascal and saucebox], as ever his black shoe trod upon God’s ground and his earth, in my conscience.”

The King told John Williams, “Then keep your vow, young man, when you meet the man whose glove you are wearing.”

“So I will, my liege,” John Williams said. “I am alive, I survived the battle, and I will keep my promise to fight him.”

“Under whom do you serve?” Henry V asked.

“Under Captain Gower, my liege.”

“Captain Gower is a good Captain, and he has a good knowledge of and is well read in military history,” Captain Fluellen said.

Henry V said to John Williams, “Go to him and tell him to come to me, soldier.”

“I will, my liege.”

He departed.

King Henry V then said, “Here, Fluellen; wear this token — this glove — for me. Attach it to your cap.”

Henry V handed him John Williams’ glove.

He then added, “When the Duke of Alençon and I were fighting, I plucked this glove from his helmet. If any man recognizes this glove and wants to fight you, he is a friend to the Duke of Alençon and he is an enemy to our person. If you encounter any such person, arrest him, if you support me.”

“Your grace does me as great honors as can be desired in the hearts of his subjects,” Fluellen said. “I would like to see any man with two legs who shall think himself aggrieved by this glove — that is all I can say. I would like to see it once, if it please God of His grace that I might see him.”

“Do you know Captain Gower?” Henry V asked.

“He is my dear friend, if it please you,” Fluellen said.

“Please, go and find him, and bring him to my tent,” Henry V said.

“I will fetch him.”

Fluellen departed to find Captain Gower.

Henry V then said, “My Lord of Warwick, and my brother Gloucester, follow Fluellen closely at his heels. The glove that I have just given him may perhaps get him a blow on his ear. This glove belongs to the soldier John Williams. According to the agreement I made with him, I should wear it myself, but I want to play a joke. I have arranged it so that Fluellen and John Williams will meet at my tent.

“Follow Fluellen, good kinsman Warwick. If the soldier John Williams strikes him, as I judge by his blunt bearing he will keep his word to do so, some sudden harm — bloodshed — may arise from it because I know that Fluellen is valiant, and when he is touched by anger the way that a cannon is touched by a match that fires it, then he is as hot as gunpowder, and he will quickly pay back an insult. Follow Fluellen and see that no harm comes to him and the common soldier.”

He then said, “Come with me, uncle of Exeter. Let’s go to my tent and witness the fun.”


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David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s HENRY V: A Retelling in Prose — Act 4, Scenes 4-6

— 4.4 —

On the battlefield, Pistol was ferociously taking a frightened French soldier prisoner. The Boy was with them.

Pistol shouted, “Surrender, you dog!”

The French soldier replied, “Je pense que vous etes gentilhomme de bonne qualite. [I think you are a gentleman of good quality and high rank.]”

Pistol replied, “Qualtitie calmie custure me!”

Pistol, who was poor in French, wanted to know the French soldier’s quality, aka social class. If the French soldier were highborn, then Pistol would be able to get a high ransom for him. Pistol had meant to say, “Quel titre comme accoster me!” This is French, more or less, for, “What title as accost me?” It asks, more or less, what Pistol was most interested in learning the answer to; of course, Pistol being Pistol, he mispronounced the words, of which he had little understanding.

He added in English, “Are you a gentleman? What is your name? Discuss.”

Seigneur Dieu! [Lord God!]” the French soldier replied.

Thinking that the French soldiers had stated his name, Pistol said, “Signieur Dew must be a gentleman. Perpend my words, Signieur Dew, and note them: Signieur Dew, you will die at the end of my sword, unless, Signieur, you give to me egregious ransom.”

As usual, Pistol was using extravagant language.

Prenez misericorde! Ayez pitie de moi! [Have mercy! Take pity on me!]” the French soldier said.

Hearingmoiand thinking that it was perhaps a French coin or a French version of the word “moiety,” which means a lesser share, or sometimes half, Pistol said, “Moyshall not serve. I will have forty moys, or I will reach down your throat, grab your insides, and pull them out through your throat along with drops of crimson blood.”

Est-il impossible d’echapper la force de ton bras? [Is it impossible to escape the force of your arm?]” the French soldier said.

Hearingbras, French for arm, and thinking that it meant a brass coin, Pistol said, “Brass, you dog! You damned and overly sexed mountain goat, are you offering to give me brass coins as a ransom?”

Pardonnez moi! [Forgive me!]”

“What are you saying?” Pistol asked. “A tun [barrel] of moys?”

He then said to the Boy, “Come here, Boy. Ask this slave in French what his name is.”

The Boy said, “Ecoutez: comment etes-vous appele? [Listen to me: What is your name?].”

Monsieur le Fer.”

Feris French for “iron.”

The Boy said, “He says his name is Master Fer.”

“Master Fer!” Pistol said. “I’ll fer him, and firk [beat] him, and ferret [torment] him. Discuss the same in French to him.”

“I do not know the French for ‘fer,’ and ‘ferret,’ and ‘firk.’”

Pistol replied, “Tell him to prepare to die because I will cut his throat.”

The French soldier asked the Boy, “Que dit-il, monsieur? [What is he saying, Master?”]

The Boy replied, “Il me commande de vous dire que vous faites vous pret; car ce soldat ici est dispose tout a cette heure de couper votre gorge.[He is ordering me to tell you to prepare to die because he intends to cut your throat right now.]”

Pistol said, “Owy, cuppele gorge, permafoy.”

Owyis Pistol’s bad French for oui, or “yes.” Cuppele gorgeis Pistol’s bad French for couper la gorge, or “cut the throat.” Permafoyis Pistol’s French for per ma foi, or “on my faith.”

Pistol added, “Peasant, unless you give me crowns, brave crowns, I will mangle you with my sword.”

The French soldier said, “Je vous supplie, pour l’amour de Dieu, me pardonner! Je suis gentilhomme de bonne maison: gardez ma vie, et je vous donnerai deux cents ecus. [I beg you, for the love of God, pardon me! I am a gentleman of good family: Save my life, and I will give you two hundred crowns.]”

Pistol asked the Boy, “What are his words?”

“He begs you to save his life. He says that he is a gentleman of a good house, and for his ransom he will give you two hundred crowns.”

“Tell him my fury shall abate, and I his crowns will take.”

Petit monsieur, que dit-il? [Little man, what did he say?]” the French soldier asked.

The Boy replied, “Encore qu’il est contre son jurement de pardoner aucun prisonnier, neanmoins, pour les ecus que vous l’avez promis, il est content de vous donner la liberte, le franchisement. [Although it is against his oath not to pardon any prisoners, he is nevertheless willing to accept the crowns you have offered him and to give you your liberty, your freedom.]”

The French soldier said, “Sur mes genoux je vous donne mille remercimens; et je m’estime heureux que je suis tombe entre les mains d’un chevalier, je pense, le plus brave, vaillant, et tres distingue seigneur d’Angleterre. [On my knees, I thank you a thousand times, and I consider myself fortunate to have been captured by a gentleman whom I believe is the bravest, most valiant, and most distinguished nobleman of England.]”

“Expound what he said to me, boy,” Pistol ordered.

“He gives you, upon his knees, a thousand thanks,” the Boy said, “and he esteems himself happy that he has fallen into the hands of a man who he thinks is the bravest, most valorous, and worthiest Signieur of England.”

“As I suck blood, I will show some mercy to him,” Pistol said.

Pistol spoke truly. He had come to France to suck blood like a leech. He had come to France to make money, not to gain honor.

Pistol said to his prisoner, “Follow me!”

The Boy said to the prisoner, “Suivez-vous le grand capitaine. [Follow the great Captain.]”

Pistol and his prisoner departed, leaving the Boy alone, who said to himself, “I have never known so loud a voice to come from so empty a heart — Pistol is a coward. But this saying is true: ‘The empty vessel makes the greatest sound.’ Bardolph and Nym had ten times more courage than Pistol, who is like the roaring Devil in the old morality plays. The Devil roars, and yet in the plays everyone is able to cut his fingernails with a wooden dagger. Although Bardolph and Nym had ten times more courage than Pistol, they are both hanged. Pistol would also be hanged if he dared to steal anything with any kind of spirit at all — he is the pettiest of petty thieves.

“I must stay with the other servants with the baggage in our camp. The French soldiers would have an easy time attacking the camp if they were to do it because there is no one to guard the camp except us boys.”

— 4.5 —

In another part of the battlefield, the Constable, Orleans, Bourbon, the Dauphin, and Rambures were shocked by how well the English army was fighting. Despite being heavily outnumbered, the English army was routing the French army.

The Constable said, “Oh, Diable! [Oh, Hell!]”

Orleans said, “Oh,Seigneur! Le jour est perdu, tout est perdu! [Oh, Lord God! The day is lost — everything is lost!]”

The Dauphin said, “Mort de ma vie! [Death of my life!] All is confounded, all!Reproach and everlasting shame sit mocking in the plumes of our helmets! Oh, merchante fortune! [Oh, evil fortune!]”

He added, “Do not run away.”

The Constable said, “Why, all our ranks are broken.”

“Oh, everlasting shame,” the Dauphin said. “Let’s stab and kill ourselves.Can these be the wretches that we used as stakes when we gambled with dice?”

“Is this the King we sent a herald to, to ask about his ransom?” Orleans said.

“Shame and eternal shame, nothing but shame!” Bourbon said.“Let us die with honor. Let us go back to fight once more. And anyone who will not follow Bourbon and fight now, let him go from here, and with his cap in his hand,like a base panderer, let him stand by the bedroom door while his most beautiful daughter is raped by a slave who has no better ancestors than my dog!”

“Disorder, which has ruined us, be our friend now!” the Constable said. “We were disorganized and so we lost the battle. Now let us go into the disorder of the battle among the heaps of dead and lose our own lives.”

“We have enough soldiers yet living in the battlefield that we could smother and defeat the English soldiers with our throngs of men,” Orleans said, “if we could bring any order to our troops.”

“The Devil take order now!” Bourbon said. “I’ll go to the throng of men, fight, and die. Let my life be short, or else shame will live too long.”

They returned to the battle.

— 4.6 —

In another part of the battlefield, King Henry V, Exeter, some English soldiers, and others were meeting. They knew that the battle was going well, but they did not know how well. Exeter had news to give to the King.

Henry V said, “We have fought well, most valiant countrymen, but we are not yet done fighting. The French army is still on the battlefield.”

Exeter said, “The Duke of York commends him to your majesty.”

“Is he still alive, good uncle?” Henry V asked. “Three times within this hourI saw him down; three times I saw him rise up again and fight, although he was bloody from his helmet to his spurs.”

Exeter replied, “And in such bloody garb just as you described him, that brave soldier lies and enriches the ground with his blood, and by his bloody side, with similar wounds that give him honor, the noble Earl of Suffolk also lies. Suffolk died first, and York, hacked all over, went to him, where he lay soaked in blood and lifted his head and kissed the bloody gashes that opened wide in his face, and cried aloud, ‘Wait, dear kinsman Suffolk! My soul shall keep your soul company as we journey to Heaven. Wait, sweet soul, for my soul, and then we can fly to Heaven side by side just as in this glorious and well-fought battle we kept together as brother-Knights!’

“Hearing these words, I went to him and comforted him. He smiled at me, reached his hand out to me, and, with a feeble grip, said, ‘My dear lord, commend my service to my sovereign.’

“He then turned and over Suffolk’s neck he threw his wounded arm and kissed Suffolk’s lips, and knowing that he was married to death, with his red blood he sealed a final testament of noble-ending love. His final act as he died a noble death was to confirm the love he had for Suffolk.

“The noble and sweet manner of his final act forced those waters from me that I would have stopped — I cried. I had not so much of man and stoical masculinity in me as would have stopped those tears. Instead, all the emotions I inherited from my mother welled up in my eyes and tears trickled down my cheeks.”

“I don’t blame you for crying,” Henry V said, “because, hearing your story, I am forced to wipe my eyes, or tears will also trickle down my cheeks.”

War trumpets sounded.

Hearing them, King Henry V said, “What new call to arms is this? The French have reinforced and organized their scattered men. I now give the order for every English soldier to kill his French prisoners. Communicate this order to my soldiers.”

King Henry V was afraid that he did not have enough soldiers both to fight the French army and to guard the French prisoners. He believed that it was necessary to kill the French prisoners so that more English soldiers would be available to fight the French army.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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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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David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s HENRY V: A Retelling in Prose — Act 4: Prologue and Scene 1



The Chorus walked on stage and said, “Now open your minds and imagine a time when creeping murmur and the poring dark fills the wide vessel of the universe. The soldiers talk quietly and strain their eyes trying to see in the dark. The hum of either army quietly sounds, so that the sentinels at their posts almost can hear the secret whispers of each army’s watch. Watchfires rise up on both sides, and through their pale flames the soldiers of each army see the other army’s soldiers’ highlighted yet shadowed faces. Steed threatens steed with high and boastful neighs that pierce the night’s dull ear, and from the tents the armorers, fitting the Knights into their armor, busily use hammers to close up the rivets, fastening the helmet to the cuirass. These sounds give dreadful note of preparation for the upcoming battle. The country cocks crow, the clocks toll, and both announce the third hour of drowsy morning.

“Proud of their numbers and sure of forthcoming victory, the confident and arrogant French gamble with dice, using the despised English soldiers they expect to soon take prisoner as their stakes. The French soldiers chide the crippled slow-gaited night that, like a foul and ugly witch, limps so tediously away.

“The poor condemned English, like animals waiting patiently to be sacrificed, by their watchful fires sit patiently and inwardly ruminate about the danger that will come with the morning. Their melancholy bearing, lean cheeks, and war-worn coats make the gazing Moon regard them as so many horrible ghosts.

“Whoever will now behold the royal Captain of this ruined band of English soldiers walking from watch to watch, from tent to tent, let him cry, ‘Praise and glory on his head!’ For forth King Henry V goes and visits all his soldiers. He bids them good morning with a modest smile and calls them brothers, friends, and countrymen. Upon his royal face there is no sign of how dread an army has surrounded him, nor does he sacrifice even one little bit of color to the weary night throughout which he stays awake. Instead, he looks fresh and suppresses his weariness with a cheerful appearance and sweet majesty.

“Every unhappy soldier, tormented by anxiety and pale in face, who sees him plucks comfort from his looks. His generous eye gives to everyone a universal gift just like the Sun by shining gives a gift to everyone on earth. Harry’s looks thaw cold fear, and men of mean origins and men of noble origins all behold, as my unworthy words declare, a little touch of Harry in the night.

“And so our theatrical scene must to the battle fly, where — it is such a pity! — we shall much disgrace the name of Agincourt by trying to present that battle on stage with four or five most vile and ragged blunted swords, very evilly wielded in a ridiculous brawl more suited for a tavern than a battlefield.

“Yet sit and see, and imagine what the real battle was like as you watch our mere imitation of battle.”

— 4.1 —

King Henry V, Bedford, and Gloucester talked together in the English camp.

“Gloucester, it is true that we are in great danger,” Henry V said. “The greater therefore should our courage be.”

He added, “Good morning, brother Bedford.

“God Almighty! There is some quality of goodness hidden even in evil things, if only men would seek to find it. Here’s an example: Our bad neighbors — the French soldiers — make us early stirrers, which is both healthy and good time management. In addition, they are our outward consciences, and preachers to us all, because they admonish us that we should prepare ourselves fairly for our end and be prepared to die in such a condition that we will go to Paradise. Thus may we gather nectar and honey from the weed, and learn a moral maxim even from the Devil himself.”

Erpingham walked over to the group.

“Good morning, old Sir Thomas Erpingham,” Henry V said. “A good soft pillow for that good white head would be better than a churlish turf of France.”

“Not so, my liege,” Erpingham replied. “I like this lodging better, because now I can say, ‘I live like a King.’”

“It is good for men to have an example of how they can embrace their present pains,” Henry V said. “It eases and lightens a heavy spirit. When the mind is quickened, and released from doubt, the bodily organs, although they were defunct and dead before, end their drowsy sleep and again agilely move. They are like a snake that was sluggish until it sloughed its skin and began to move again with nimbleness and agility.

“Lend me your cloak, Sir Thomas.”

Sir Thomas gave his cloak to the King.

“Brothers both, commend me to the Princes in our camp,” Henry V said. “Give my greetings to them, and tell them to meet me soon at my tent.”

Gloucester replied, “We shall, my liege.”

“Shall I go with and attend your grace?” Erpingham asked.

“No, my good Knight,” Henry V said. “Go with my brothers to my lords of England. I and my heart must commune for a while, and I want no other company.”

Erpingham replied, “The Lord in Heaven bless you, noble Harry!”

Everyone except the King left.

Henry V said to himself, “God bless you, old heart! You speak cheerfully.”

Pistol walked over to Henry V, who was disguised by Erpingham’s cloak and the darkness.

Pistol asked, “Qui vous là?”

This was bad French. Pistol should have asked, “Qui va là?” This means, “Who goes there?”

Henry V replied, “A friend.”

“Discuss unto me —” Pistol began.

His language was too fancy and not accurate. He should have simply said, “Tell me—”

He continued, “Are you an officer? Or are you of low birth, a common soldier, and an ordinary man?”

“I am a gentleman of a company.”

The King’s words meant, “I am a person of good birth serving in the King’s army.”

“Do you trail the puissant pike behind you as you walk?” Pistol asked.

Pikes were wooden spears twelve feet or so in length, and often the soldier would grip a pike behind the spearhead and let the other end of the pike trail — that is, drag — behind him on the ground.

“Yes, I do,” Henry V said. “Who are you?”

Pistol replied, “As good a gentleman as the Holy Roman Emperor.”

“Then you are higher in rank than the King,” Henry V said.

Pistol spoke highly — but overly familiarly — of the King: “The King’s a good lad and a heart of gold. He is a lad of life and a lucky and renowned Devil. He comes from good parents, and his fist is most valiant. I kiss his dirty shoe, and from the bottom of my heart I love the lovely young fellow.”

As usual, Pistol spoke using over-emphatic language. “I kiss his dirty shoe” meant “I respect him.”

Pistol was capable of ordinary, correct language. He asked, “What is your name?”

Henry V replied, “Harry le Roy.”

Le roiis French for “the King,” so Henry V was telling Pistol the truth.

“Leroy!” Pistol said. “That is a Cornish name. Are you one of the soldiers who came from Cornwell?”

“No, I am a Welshman,” Henry V replied.

“Do you know Fluellen?”


“Tell him that I’ll knock his leek against his head on Saint Davy’s Day.”

A leek is an edible vegetable related to the onion. Saint David is the patron saint of Wales, and his annual feast day — Pistol called it “Saint Davy’s Day” — is March 1. The leek is Saint David’s personal emblem, and many Welch wear a leek on their clothing on Saint David’s Day. Fluellen wore a leek in his cap on that day to celebrate his being from Wales.

Henry V replied, “Don’t wear your dagger in your cap on that day, or Fluellen will knock your dagger against your head.”

“Are you his friend?”

“Yes, and his kinsman, too.”

“Here is a middle finger for you, then,” Pistol said, making the (in)appropriate gesture.

“I thank you,” Henry V said politely. “May God be with you!”

Leaving, Pistol called back over his shoulder, “My name is Pistol.”

Alone, King Henry V said to himself, “Your name, Pistol, fits your fierceness.”

Captain Fluellen and Captain Gower now approached separately. Unnoticed, Henry V stood quietly in the shadows.

Captain Gower called, “Captain Fluellen!”

Captain Fluellen replied, “In the name of Jesu Christ, speak lower. It is the greatest admiration of the universal world [Everyone is amazed] when the true and aunchient prerogatifes [ancient perogatives, or rules] and laws of the wars are not kept. If you would take the pains to examine the wars of the ancient Roman general Pompey the Great, you shall find, I promise you, that there is no tiddle toddle [tittle-tattle, aka chattering] nor pibble pabble [bibble-babble, aka babbling] in Pompey’s camp. I promise you that you shall find the ceremonies of the wars, and the cares of it, and the forms of it, and the sobriety [seriousness] of it, and the modesty [decency] of it, to be otherwise.”

“Why, the enemy is loud,” Captain Gower said. “You hear the enemy soldiers all night.”

“If the enemy is an ass and a fool and a prating idiot, is it fitting, think you, that we should also, look you, be an ass and a fool and a prating idiot? Do you really believe that?”

Realizing that Captain Fluellen was right, Captain Gower said, “I will speak lower.”

Captain Fluellen replied, “I hope that you will.”

The two Captains exited, and King Henry V said to himself, “Although it may appear to be a little unconventional and eccentric, there is much care, prudence, and valor in this Welshman.”

Three common soldiers — John Bates, Alexander Court, and John Williams now came near the King. The three common soldiers were worried about the nearing battle.

Alexander Courtasked, “Friend John Bates, isn’t that the morning breaking yonder?”

“I think that it might be,” John Bates replied, “but we have no great cause to desire the approach of day.”

John Williams said, “We see yonder the beginning of the day, but I think that we shall not stay alive long enough to see the end of this day.”

He heard a noise and said, “Who goes there?”

Henry V, still in disguise, said, “A friend.”

John Williams asked, “Under which Captain do you serve?”

“Under Sir Thomas Erpingham.”

“He is a good old commander and a most kind gentleman,” John Williams said. “Please tell us, what does he think of our chances?”

“He thinks that our chances are like those of men shipwrecked on a sandbar who believe that they will be washed off it during the next high tide.”

John Bates asked, “Has he said that to the King?”

“No,” the disguised Henry V said, “nor is it fitting that he should say that to the King. Although I say this to you in confidence, I think the King is only a man, as I am. The violet smells to him the way it does to me. The sky appears to him the way it does to me. All his senses are only human senses. With his symbols of state laid aside, in his nakedness he appears only as a man, and although his emotions are higher mounted than ours, soaring like a hawk, yet, when they swoop downwards, also like a hawk, they swoop downwards swiftly and far. Therefore, when the King sees reason to fear, as we do, his fears, no doubt, are of the same relish as ours are, and so, reason tells us, no man should appear fearful in front of the King, lest the King, by showing fear, would dishearten his army.”

John Bates said, “He may show what outward courage he will, but I believe, even on as cold a night as this is, he would prefer to be in the Thames River in London up to his neck, and I wish that he were there, and me beside him, no matter the consequences, as long as we were finished here. I would rather be in serious trouble in London than be here.”

“I will tell you what I truly think about the King,” Henry V said. “I truly believe that he would not wish himself anywhere but where he is.”

John Bates said, “Then I wish that he were here alone; his life is sure to be ransomed, and many poor men’s lives would be saved.”

“I dare say that you respect him more than to wish that he were here alone,” Henry V said. “I think that you are saying this to find out what other men think. I think that I could not die anywhere so contented as in the King’s company, as long as his cause is just and his war is honorable.”

“Just? Honorable? That’s more than we know,” John Williams said.

“Yes,” John Bates said, “and it is more than we should seek to know. We know enough, if we know that we are the King’s subjects. If his cause is wrong and he is fighting this war for a bad reason, our obedience to the King wipes the crime of it out of us.”

“But if the cause is not good, the King himself has a heavy reckoning to make,” John Williams said. “On the Judgment Day, all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join the rest of their body and cry, ‘We died at such a place. Some of us were swearing, some of us were crying for a surgeon, some were crying because their wives were left impoverished behind them, some were crying because of the debts they owe, some were crying because of their children left behind without a father to provide for them.’

“I am afraid that few die well who die in a battle; for how can they dispose of anything — including their souls — with Christian charity when they are busily engaged in killing? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the King who led them to it; to disobey the King is contrary to every requirement of being the subject of a King. Subjects must obey their King. Isn’t it true that whatever a man causes to be done, it is as if that man did that thing himself?”

King Henry V replied, “So, if a son who is sent by his father to do business abroad dies in a state of sin upon the sea, the responsibility for wickedness of the son, according to your reasoning, should be upon the father who sent him abroad. Or if a servant, obeying his master’s command to transport a sum of money, is assailed by robbers and dies with many unrepented sins, you would call the business of the master the author of the servant’s damnation, but this is not true.

“The King is not bound to take responsibility for the individual endings of his soldiers. The father is not bound to take responsibility for the individual ending of his son. The master is not bound to take responsibility for the individual ending of his servant. Why not? Because they do not intend these deaths when they send these people to do these undertakings.

“Besides, there is no King, no matter how spotless and without fault his cause is, who can use only spotless soldiers when it comes to war. Some soldiers perhaps are guilty of premeditated murder. Some soldiers perhaps are guilty of seducing virgins with broken promises of marriage. Some soldiers perhaps are guilty of going to war in order to escape being held accountable for goring the gentle bosom of peace with pillage and robbery.

“However, even if these men have defeated the law and outrun punishment at home, even though they can outstrip men, they have no wings to fly from God. War is the beadle — the police officer — of God. War is just vengeance — for their previous breach of the King’s laws at home, men are punished in the King’s war abroad. At home, they were afraid of being hung for their crimes; here, where they thought that they would be safe, they are killed. Therefore, if they die without being spiritually prepared, the King is no more guilty of their damnation than he was guilty of those crimes that they committed back home and for which they are punished here.

“Every subject’s duty is the King’s, but every subject’s soul is his own. Therefore, every soldier in the wars should do what every sick man should do in his bed. He should wash every stain of sin out of his conscience. If he does that and then dies, death will be to him a benefit. If he does not die, the time that he spent washing every stain of sin out of his conscience was blessedly spent in achieving such good preparation for death. If a man does escape dying, it would not be a sin to think that, by making God so generous a gift of his soul, God let him outlive that day to see His greatness and to teach others how they should prepare for death.”

John Williams said, “It is certain that when a man dies in a state of sin, the sin is upon his own head — the King is not responsible for it.”

John Bates said, “I do not desire that the King should be responsible for me, yet I am determined to fight vigorously for him.”

Henry V said, “I myself heard the King say that he would not allow himself to be ransomed.”

John Williams was cynical: “Yes, he said so, to make us fight cheerfully, but after our throats are cut, he may be ransomed, and we will be never the wiser.”

Henry V said, “If I live to see that happen, I will never trust the King’s word afterward.”

“Will you punish him for breaking his word?” John Williams asked, sarcastically. “All you can do at best is to shoot at the King with a child’s toy gun. The King is the King; a poor person with a private grievance against the King is unable to get any satisfaction or revenge. You may as well use a peacock’s feather to fan the Sun and cool it so much that it turns to ice. You say that you’ll never trust the King’s word afterward! Admit that it is a foolish thing to say.”

“Your reproof of me is definitely too blunt,” Henry V said. “I would fight you, if the time were convenient.”

“Let it be a quarrel between us, if you live,” John Williams said. “We can fight after the battle.”

“I welcome your challenge,” Henry V said.

“It’s dark, so I can’t see you very well,” John Williams said. “How shall I know you again?”

“Give me something of yours such as a glove that I can attach to my helmet or cap,” Henry V said. “After the battle, if you acknowledge that the glove is yours, I will fight you.”

“Here’s my glove,” John Williams said. “Give me one of your gloves.”


“I will also wear your glove on my helmet or cap,” John Williams said. “If you come to me and say, after the battle, ‘This is my glove,’ then I swear that I will hit you on your head.”

“If I live to see your glove, I will challenge you,” the King said.

“You may as well make being hanged your goal.”

“I will fight you, even if I do it in the King’s presence.”

“Keep your word,” John Williams said. “Fare you well.”

“Be friends, you English fools, be friends,” John Bates said. “We have lots of French soldiers to fight. You would know that we are greatly outnumbered if you could count.”

“Indeed, the French may lay twenty French crowns to one that they will beat us; for they bear their crowns on their shoulders,” Henry V said, “but it is no English treason to cut French crowns, and tomorrow the King himself will be a clipper.”

Dishonest people used to cut or clip the edges of the coins called crowns. This was a crime because the value of the coin resided in its metal, but as King Henry V had said, to crush the crown — the top of the head — of an enemy in battle was no crime.

The three common soldiers departed, leaving Henry V alone.

The King said to himself, “Upon the King! ‘Let us lay our lives, our souls, our debts, our worried wives, our children, and our sins on the King!’ We must bear all. Ours is a hard condition; responsibility is born a twin to greatness. Kings must bear much responsibility for the Kingdom. Kings are subject to the critical breath of every fool who is conscious of nothing other than his own problems.

“Kings must do without the infinite heart’s-ease that private men — those who are not rulers — enjoy! What do Kings have that private men do not have other than ceremonial display and status? Of what worth are you, you idle ceremony? What kind of god are you, you who suffer more mortal griefs than do your worshippers? What are your rents? What is your income? Oh, ceremony, show me your wealth! What! Is the essence of ceremony merely adoration? Are you anything other than public position, rank, and ritual, things that create awe and fear in other men?

“A King is less happy in being feared than are his subjects who fear him. What does a King often drink instead of sweet homage? The King drinks poisoned flattery.

“Oh, be sick, you great greatness, you great King, and order your ceremony to cure you! Do you think that the fiery fever will go out because adulation blows honorable titles at you? Will the fiery fever dissipate because courtiers kneel and bow low to you? Can you, when you command the beggar to kneel to you, also command the health of the beggar’s knee to come to your unhealthy knee? No.

“You proud dream called ceremony, you who play so cunningly with a King’s repose, I am a King who exposes and judges you, and I know that the orb, the scepter and the ball, the sword, the mace, the imperial crown, the robe interwoven of gold and pearl, the pompous and long-winded titles that are pronounced before the name of the King, the throne he sits on, nor the tide of pomp that beats upon the high shore of this world — no, not all these, thrice-gorgeous ceremony, not all these, laid in a majestic bed — none of these can sleep as soundly as the wretched slave, who with a filled stomach and a vacant mind goes to bed, crammed with food that he has worked hard to get. He never sees the horrible night, the child of Hell, but, like a footman running beside the Sun-chariot, as soon as the day breaks and light appears in the sky before Sunrise, the wretched slave rises and helps Hyperion, the father of the Sun-god, to his horse, and so he does all through the ever-running years, doing profitable labor, until he reaches his grave.

“Except for ceremony, such a wretch, spending his days in toil and nights in sleep, has a better position than and the advantage over a King. The slave, a member of the country’s peace, enjoys that peace, but the unthinking slave little knows what watch the King keeps to maintain the peace — a peace that the peasant is able to enjoy more than the King who works to achieve it for others.”

Erpingham walked over to Henry V and said, “My lord, your nobles, who are worried about your absence, go throughout your camp to find you.”

“Good old Knight,” Henry V said, “bring all of them to my tent. I’ll be there before you.”

“I shall do it, my lord,” Erpingham said and departed.

Alone, King Henry V said, “Oh, God of battles! Steel my soldiers’ hearts; do not let them be afraid. Take from them now the ability to count if the numbers of French soldiers opposing them will pluck their courage from them. Today, Lord, do not think about the sin that my father committed when he got possession of the crown! I have had Richard II’s body brought to Westminster and honorably interred there, and on his tomb I have bestowed contrite tears greater in number than the drops of blood that fell from his body when he was murdered. Five hundred almsmen I pay to pray twice a day with their withered hands held up to Heaven to pardon Richard II’s murder. I have also built two chantries, where the serious and solemn priests sing continually for Richard II’s soul. I will do more, although everything that I can do is not enough. More important than the doing of good works is penitence. I am penitent, and I am implore the pardon of God.”

Still at a distance from the King but coming closer, Gloucester said, “My liege!”

Henry V said, “My brother Gloucester’s voice? Yes. I know your message: You want me to go to my tent. I will go with you. The day, my friends, and all things wait for me.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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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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David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s HENRY V: A Retelling in Prose — Act 3, Scene 6

— 3.6 —

In the English camp at Picardy in northern France, Gower, the English Captain, and Fluellen, the Welsh Captain, met and talked about a battle that had occurred when the English soldiers took possession of a bridge over the Ternoise River. The English soldiers needed to cross this bridge on their march to Calais.

Captain Gower said, “How are you, Captain Fluellen! Have you come from the bridge?”

Captain Fluellen replied, “I assure you, there have been very excellent services committed at the bridge.”

“Is the Duke of Exeter safe?”

“The Duke of Exeter is as magnanimous and great in heart as Agamemnon, Commander-in-Chief of the Greek soldiers allied to fight the Trojans. Exeter is a man whom I love and honor with my soul, and my heart, and my duty, and my life, and my living, and my uttermost power. He is not — God be praised and blessed! — at all hurt in the world; instead, he keeps the pridge [bridge] most valiantly, with excellent discipline.

“There is an Aunchient [Ancient, aka Ensign] Lieutenant there at the pridge [bridge]. I think in my very conscience that he is as valiant a man as Mark Antony, who after the death of his friend Julius Caesar attempted to seize control of Rome, and he is a man of no estimation or reputation in the world, but I did see him do as gallant service as any soldier.”

Captain Gower asked, “What do you call him? What is his name?”

Captain Fluellen replied, “He is called Aunchient Pistol.”

“I don’t know him.”

Pistol now came walking toward the two Captains.

Captain Fluellen said, “Here is the man himself.”

Pistol said to Fluellen, “Captain, I beg you to do me a favor. The Duke of Exeter well respects you.”

Captain Fluellen replied, “That is true, and I praise God because of it. I have merited and earned some respect from Exeter.”

Pistol said, “Bardolph, a soldier, firm and sound of heart, and of vigorous and sturdy valor, has, by cruel fate, and by unstable Fortune’s furious fickle wheel … the wheel of that blind goddess who stands upon the rolling restless stone —”

The goddess Fortune was often shown blindfolded and turning the Wheel of Fortune to determine whether a person’s fortune would be good or bad, and was often depicted as standing on a round and rolling stone. Sometimes the goddess Fortune was depicted doing both at the same time.

Captain Fluellen explicated the two images of the goddess Fortune: “Excuse me, Aunchient Pistol, for interrupting you. Fortune is painted blind, with a bandage before her eyes, to signify to you that Fortune is blind; and she is painted also with a wheel, to signify to you, which is the moral of it, that she is turning, and inconstant, and mutability, and variation: and her foot, look you, is fixed upon a spherical stone, which rolls, and rolls, and rolls. Truly, the poet makes a most excellent description of it — in a letter written while he was in exile, Ovid wrote about ‘the goddess who admits by her unsteady wheel her own fickleness; she always has its apex beneath her swaying foot.’ Fortune is an excellent symbolical figure.”

Pistol replied, “Fortune is Bardolph’s foe, and frowns on him; for he has stolen a pax, and he has been sentenced to be hanged — a damned and shameful death!”

A pax was a religious item: a tablet depicting the Crucifixion. The priest and church members taking communion passed around and kissed the pax. Paxis Latin for “peace,” and King Henry V had turned the paxof England and France into war by invading France.

Pistol continued, “Let gallows gape for dog — dogs are executed for their offences — but let man go free and let not a rope made of hemp suffocate his windpipe. But Exeter has given the doom of death for a pax of little price. Therefore, go and speak to Exeter: The Duke will hear your voice. Do not let Bardolph’s vital thread of life be cut with the edge of a hangman’s cheap rope and with vile reproach. Speak, Captain, to save Bardolph’s life, and I will repay you.”

Captain Fluellen was not the type of man to be bribed. He said, “Aunchient Pistol, I do partly understand your meaning.”

Pistol’s verbose verbiage was difficult to understand — and so was Captain Fluellen’s.

“Why, then, let us rejoice therefore. A man’s life has been saved.”

Captain Fluellen replied, “Not so fast, Aunchient, it is not a thing to rejoice at, because, if, look you, Bardolph were my brother, I would still desire the Duke to use his good pleasure and do what he wants to do, and put him to execution; for discipline ought to be used. I am all for discipline, and King Henry V has made it clear that soldiers are not allowed to loot churches on pain of death.”

Angry, Pistol said, “Die and be damned! — and here is something for your friendship!”

Pistol made an obscene gesture with one middle finger.

Captain Fluellen said, “It is well.”

Pistol said, “Let me double that!”

Pistol made two obscene gestures with both of his middle fingers and then exited.

Captain Fluellen said, “Very good.”

Captain Fluellen believed in discipline, but he was not a hothead and he was not a coward. He had more important things to do than discipline Pistol right now — he had to give Captain Gower and King Henry V news about the bridge. He was also willing to cut Pistol some slack right now because 1) he believed that Pistol had done deeds of courage at the bridge, and 2) Pistol was upset about the soon-to-occur death of a friend. However, at a later time, when the time was right, he would deal with Pistol — no Aunchient should talk that way to a Captain.

Captain Gower recognized Pistol, however, and said, “Why, he is an arrant counterfeit rascal; I remember him now; he is a bawd, aka pimp, and a cutpurse, aka pickpocket.”

Captain Fluellen said, “I’ll assure you that he uttered as brave words at the bridge as you shall see in a summer’s day. But it is very well; what he has spoken to me, that is well, but I tell you, when the time is right —”

Captain Gower interrupted, “Why, he is a stupid oaf, a fool, a rogue, who now and then goes to the wars, to put on airs and magnify himself at his return to London in the guise of a soldier. And such fellows are perfect in memorizing the names of the great commanders. They memorize where battles were fought, at such and such a fortification, at such a breach, with such a military escort; who came off bravely, who was shot, who was disgraced, what terms the enemy accepted; and all this they learn perfectly in military language, which they trick up and embellish with freshly coined oaths. What a beard trimmed like a general’s and what some well-worn military clothing will do among foaming bottles and ale-washed wits is wonderful to be thought on. People such as he tell great lies so they can get treated in bars. Captain Fluellen, you must learn to know such slanderers of this age, or else you may be marvelously mistook and believe that a coward is a hero.”

Captain Fluellen had been listening closely to Captain Gower, and he believed what Captain Gower had told him about Pistol. True, Pistol had spoken well at the bridge, and at first Captain Fluellen had believed what Pistol had said, but impressive words did not necessarily translate into impressive deeds. Also, he now remembered that Pistol was in a group of three men that he had had to force to go and fight at the breach of the wall of Harfleur.

Captain Fluellen said, “I tell you what, Captain Gower; I do perceive that Pistol is not the man whom he would gladly pretend to the world he is. If I find the right opportunity, I will tell him what I think of him.”

They heard the sound of a drum.

Captain Fluellen said, “Listen, the King is coming, and I must speak with him from [about] the pridge [bridge].”

King Henry V, Gloucester, and some soldiers came over to Captain Fluellen and Captain Gower.

Captain Fluellen said, “God pless [bless] your majesty!”

King Henry V said, “How are you, Fluellen! Have you come from the bridge?”

“Ay, so please your majesty. The Duke of Exeter has very gallantly maintained the pridge. The French soldiers have gone off, look you; and there have been gallant and most prave [brave] passages of arms and fighting. By Mother Mary, the athversary [adversaries] had possession of the pridge; but he was forced to retire, and the Duke of Exeter is master of the pridge. I can tell your majesty that the Duke is a prave man.”

“What men have you lost, Fluellen?” King Henry V asked.

“The perdition of the athversary [adversary] has been very great, reasonably great, by Mother Mary, but as far as I know, I think that the Duke has lost not a single man, except for one who is likely to be executed for robbing a church, one Bardolph, if your majesty know the man. You may remember seeing him: His face is all bubukles [abscessed carbuncles; Fluellen had combined words meaning “abscess” and “carbuncle”], and pistules and pimples, and knobs, and flames of fire, and his lips blows at his nose [his lower lip jutted out and his breath was like a bellows inflaming his nose], and it is like a coal of fire, sometimes plue [blue] and sometimes red; but by now his nose is executed and his fire’s out.”

Of course, although Captain Fluellen did not know it, King Henry V knew Bardolph from before he became King; Bardolph had been one of his low-life friends in Eastcheap.

Henry V said, “We would have the breath of all such offenders so cut off. We give express orders that in our marches through the country that there be nothing taken by force from the villages, nothing taken except what is paid for, and none of the French upbraided or abused in disdainful language because when lenity and cruelty play for a Kingdom, the gentler gambler is the soonest winner.”

A trumpet announced the arrival of Montjoy, the herald sent by the King of France to deliver a message to King Henry V.

A distinctive trumpet call sounded, and Montjoy came over to Henry V. Montjoy was wearing the distinctive clothing — a tabard coat emblazoned with the arms of the King of the France — that identified him as the King of France’s herald. As a herald, Montjoy could not be ethically harmed by his enemy.

Montjoy said, “You know who I am by my tabard coat.”

Henry V replied, “Well, then, I know you. What shall I learn from you?”

Montjoy replied, “My master’s mind.”

“Reveal it.”

“Thus says my King,” Montjoy said. “Say you to Harry of England: Though we seemed dead, we only slept. Advantage is a better soldier than rashness: He was rash to invade France, but now we have the advantage of him. Tell him we could have rebuked him at Harfleur, but that we thought it was not good to squeeze the pus from an abscess before the right time. Now is the right time. We speak now, and our voice is imperial. The King of England shall repent his folly, see his weakness, and wonder at our patience. Bid him therefore consider what ransom he can offer us in payment of the injuries that he has inflicted on France. This ransom must be in proportion to the losses we have borne, the subjects we have lost, and the disgrace we have digested and endured. To make complete compensation for these injuries, the ransom would weigh so much that his weak pettiness would bow under the heavy load. For our losses, his entire wealth is too poor; for the shedding of our blood, the entire roll call of the soldiers of his Kingdom too small a number; and for our disgrace, his own person, kneeling at our feet, would be only a weak and worthless satisfaction. To this, add defiance, and tell him, in conclusion, that he has betrayed his followers, whose condemnation is pronounced. So says my King and master; I have performed my duty in telling you his words.”

King Henry V answered, “What is your name? I know your profession and ability.”


“You do your office fairly and well,” Henry V said. “Go back to your King and tell him that I do not seek him now to fight him. Instead, I prefer to march on to Calais without any opposition. To say the truth, although it is not wise to confess so much to a crafty enemy who has the advantage over us, my soldiers are much enfeebled because of sickness, the numbers of my soldiers are greatly lessened because of battles and disease, and those few soldiers I have are almost no better than so many French. But when my soldiers were healthy, I tell you, herald, I thought one pair of English legs could defeat in battle three pairs of French legs. But, forgive me, God, for bragging like this! Your air of France and your heir of the King of France have blown that vice of bragging into me, as it has into all Frenchmen. I must repent.

“Go, therefore, and tell your master that here I am; my ransom is this frail and worthless trunk that is my body — I do not offer him a trunk that is filled with treasure. My army is only a weak and sickly guard. But tell your King that we will continue on our way with God leading us, even if the King of France himself and another neighbor just like him stand in our way.”

Henry V gave Montjoy some money, as was traditional, and said, “There’s for your labor, Montjoy. Go tell your master to consider matters carefully. If we may continue our journey without opposition, we will; but if your army hinders us, we shall discolor your tawny ground with your red blood.

“Therefore, Montjoy, fare you well. The sum of all our answer is only this: As we are, we will not seek a battle; nor, as we are, we will not shun it. Tell your master this.”

“I will tell him. Thanks to your highness.”

Montjoy exited.

The Duke of Gloucester, Henry V’s brother, said to him, “I hope they will not come after us and battle us now.”

“We are in God’s hand, brother, not in theirs,” Henry V said. “We will march to the bridge; it is nearing night. Tonight beyond the river we and our army will camp, and tomorrow we will march away.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s HENRY V: A Retelling in Prose — Act 3, Scene 5

— 3.5 —

In a room of the French palace, the King of France, his son the Dauphin, the Duke of Bourbon, the Constable of France, and other high-ranking officials were meeting to discuss King Henry V’s victory at Harfleur and his tactical withdrawal to Calais.

The King of France said, “It is certain that he has passed the Somme River.”

The Somme River is halfway between Harfleur and Calais.

The Constable said, “If we don’t fight him, my lord, let us not live in France; let us all give up and give our vineyards to a barbarous people.”

The Dauphin said, “Oh, Dieu vivant! [Oh, living God!] These Englishmen area few sprays — offshoots and ejaculations — of us French. They shot up from what our fathers emptied out of their lustful bodies when they — our Norman ancestors — invaded and conquered England in 1066. These Englishmen are our ancestors’ scions — they are sprigs that were grafted onto wild and savage stock. Shall they shoot up so suddenly into the clouds and look down on us, who are descended from the people who grafted them?”

Bourbon said, “They are Normans, they are only the bastards of the Normans who conquered them and then slept with their women, they are Norman bastards! Mort de ma vie! [Death of my life!] If they march along without our engaging them in battle, I will sell my Dukedom and buy a wet and slimy farm in that misshapen isle of Albion, aka England, Scotland, and Wales.”

The Constable said, “Dieu de batailles! [God of battles!] Where has the English army gotten this courage and spirit? Is not their climate foggy, raw, and dull, and does not the Sun, as if in despite, look pale as it looks down on them and kills their fruit with frowns? Can ale, their barley-broth, which is no better than boiled water, and which is a medicinal drink for hard-ridden horses of inferior breed, infuse and warm up their cold blood to such valiant heat? And shall our quick blood, spirited with wine, seem frosty? Hot blood is courageous blood. Oh, for the honor of our land, let us not be like icicles hanging from our houses’ roofs, while a more frosty people are ready to sweat drops of gallant youth in our rich fields of battle! But we should call our fields poor because of the lack of quality in the lords they have bred.”

The Dauphin said, “By my faith and honor,our ladies mock us, and plainly saythat our spirit has been bred out of us and that therefore they will givetheir bodies to the lust of English youth to newly restock France with bastard warriors.”

Bourbon said, “They tell us to go to the English dancing-schools and teach the high jumps in the lavolta dances and the swift running steps in the coranto dances; they say that our grace is only in our heels, and that we are most lofty runaways — they say that we are nobly born men who swiftly run away from battles.”

“Where is Montjoy the herald?” the King of France asked. “Bring him here quickly. Let him greet the King of England with our sharp defiance. Up, Princes, and with your honorable spirit of honor more sharply edged than your swords, hurry to the battlefield! Charles Delabreth, High Constable of France; you Dukes of Orleans, Bourbon, and of Berri, Alençon, Brabant, Bar, and Burgundy; Jaques Chatillon, Rambures, Vaudemont, Beaumont, Grandpré, Roussi, and Fauconberg, Foix, Lestrale, Bouciqualt, and Charolois; high Dukes, great Princes, Barons, lords and Knights, for the sake of your great positions and family-seats, clear yourselves of great shames. Stop Harry England, who sweeps through our land with battle flags and streamers painted with the blood of the French soldiers at Harfleur. Rush against his army just like the melted snow avalanches upon the valleys, whose low vassal seat the Alps spit and empty their phlegm upon. Go against him — you have power enough — defeat and capture him, and bring him as your prisoner in a captive’s military carriage to the city of Rouen.”

The Constable said, “This command is appropriate for your greatness, King of France. I am sorry that the number of Henry V’s soldiers is so few and that his soldiers are sick and famished in their march because I am sure that when Henry V sees our French army, he will drop his heart into his stomach out of fear and offer us a ransom not to attack his army and him.”

The King of France replied, “Therefore, Lord Constable, order Montjoy to quickly go and let him say to Harry England that we send to know what ransom he will willingly give to us.”

He added, “Prince Dauphin, you shall stay with us in Rouen.”

The Dauphin objected, “Please, no, your majesty.”

“Be patient, for you shall remain with us,” the King of France ordered.

He then ordered, “Now go forth, Constable and all you Princes, and quickly bring us word that Henry V’s pride has fallen without a battle or that his army has fallen in battle.”


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