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

— 3.4 —

The French had suffered a major defeat when Harfleur fell.

Katherine had been offered as a bride to Henry V, along with some Dukedoms, earlier, but the English King had rejected the offer and had invaded France. Now it looked as if Katherine might still marry Henry V and that he might become the King of France. Katherine decided to start learning English in a room of the French palace with the help of Alice, a gentlewoman who was somewhat older than she.

Katherine said, “Alice, tu as ete en Angleterre, et tu parles bien le langage.”

[Katherine said, “Alice, you have been in England, and you know the language well.”]

Alice replied, “Un peu, madame.”

[Alice replied, “A little, madame.”]

Katherine said, “Je te prie, m’enseignez: il faut que j’apprenne a parler. Comment appelez-vous la main en Anglois?”

[Katherine said, “Please, teach me the language. I need to learn it. What is the English for la main?]

Alice replied, “La main? Elle est appeleede hand.”

[Alice replied, “La main? It is called de hand.”]

Katherine said, “De hand. Et les doigts?”

[Katherine said, “De hand. And the fingers?”]

Alice replied, “Les doigts? Ma foi, j’oublie les doigts; mais je me souviendrai. Les doigts? Je pense qu’ils sont appeles de fingres; oui, del.”

[Alice replied, “Les doigts? By my faith, I have forgotten the English for les doigts, but I will remember. I think that they are called de fingres; yes, de fingres.”]

Katherine said, “La main, de hand; les doigts,de fingres. Je pense que je suis le bon ecolier; j’ai gagne deux mots d’Anglois vitement. Comment appelez-vous les ongles?

[Katherine said, “La main isde hand; les doigts isde fingres.I think that I am a good scholar; I have learned already two words of English. What do you call les ongles?”]

Alice replied, “Les ongles? Nous les appelonsde nails.”

[Alice replied, “Les ongles?We call them de nails.”]

Katherine said, “De nails. Ecoutez; dites-moi, si je parle bien: dehand, de fingres,etde nails.”

[Katherine said, “De nails. Listen, and tell me if I am speaking correctly: dehand, de fingres, and de nails.”]

Alice replied, “C’est bien dit, madame; il est fort bon Anglois.”

[Alice replied, “It is well said, madame; it is very good English.”]

Katherine said, “Dites-moi l’Anglois pour le bras.”

[Katherine said, “Tell me what is the English for le bras.”]

Alice replied, “De arm, madame.”

Katherine asked, “Et[And] le coude?”

Alice replied, “De elbow.”

Katherine said, “De elbow. Je m’en fais la repetition de tous lesmots que vous m’avez appris des a present.”

[Katherine said, “De elbow. I will now repeat all the words you have taught me up until the present.”]

Alice replied, “Il est trop difficile, madame, comme je pense.”

[Alice replied, “That is too difficult, madame, I think.”]

Katherine replied, “Excusez-moi, Alice; ecoutez: de hand, de fingres,de nails, de arma, de bilbow.”

[Katherine replied, “Excuse me, Alice, but you are wrong. Listen: de hand, de fingres,de nails, de arma, de bilbow.”]

Alice said, “De elbow, madame.”

Katherine said, “O, Seigneur Dieu, je m’en oublie! De elbow. Commentappelez-vous le col?”

[Katherine said, “Oh, Lord God, I forgot! De elbow. What do you call le col?]

Alice replied, “De neck, madame.”

Katherine said, “De nick. Et le menton?”

Alice replied, “De chin.”

Katherine said, “De sin. Le colis de nick; dementonis de sin.”

Alice replied, “Oui. Sauf votre honneur, en verite, vous prononcezles mots aussi droit que les natifs d’Angleterre.”

[Alice replied, “Yes. Saving your reverence, truly you pronounce the words as straight as do the natives of England.”]

Katherine said, “Je ne doute point d’apprendre, par la grace de Dieu,et en peu de temps.”

[Katherine said, “I have no doubt that I shall learn English, by the grace of God, and in only a short time.”]

Alice asked, “N’avez vous pas deja oublie ce que je vous ai enseigne?”

[Alice asked, “Haven’t you already forgotten what I taught you?”]

Katherine replied, “Non, je reciterai a vous promptement: de hand, defingres, de mails —”

[Katherine replied, “No, I shall repeat it for you right now: de hand, defingres, de mails —”]

Alice said, “De nails, madame.”

Katherine said, “De nails, de arm, de ilbow.”

Alice said, “Sauf votre honneur, de elbow.”

[Alice said, “If it please your honor, de elbow.”]

Katherine said, “Ainsi dis-je: de elbow, de nick, etde sin. Commentappelez-vous le pied et la robe?”

[Katherine said, “That’s what I said: de elbow, de nick, and de sin. What do you call le pied andla robe?”]

Alice replied, “De foot, madame; et[and] de coun.”

This shocked Katherine. The English word “foot” sounds similar to the French word “foutre,” which means “f**k.” Alice’s word “coun,” by which she meant the English word “gown,” sounds similar to the French word “con,” which means “c*nt.”

Katherine said, “De foot etde coun! O Seigneur Dieu! ce sont mots de son mauvais, corruptible, gros, et impudique, et non pour les dames d’honneur d’user: je ne voudrais prononcer ces mots devant les seigneurs de France pour tout le monde. Foh!Le foot etle coun! Neanmoins, je reciterai une autre fois ma lecon ensemble: de hand, de fingres, de nails, de arm, de elbow, de nick, de sin, de foot, de coun.”

[Katherine said, “De foot and de coun! Oh, Lord God! These words are evil, corrupting, gross, and shameless, and not for an honorable lady to use! I would not say these words in front of French gentlemen for the entire world. Oh! Le foot and le coun! Nevertheless, I will recite all of my lesson again: de hand, de fingres, de nails, de arm, de elbow, de nick, de sin, de foot, de coun.”

Alice said, “Excellent, madame!”

Katherine replied, “C’est assez pour une fois. Allons-nous a diner.”

[Katherine replied, “That is enough for one lesson. Let’s go to dinner.”]


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 3

— 3.3 —

The Governor of Harfleur and some citizens of the town stood on the gates. Below them, in front of the gates, stood King Henry V and his soldiers.

King Henry V asked, “What have you, theGovernor of Harfleur, resolved to do? This is the last parle we will agree to, so either surrender or fight. Surrender, and hand yourselves over to our best mercy, or like men excited by destructive war the way that a bitch is excited when she is in heat, defy us and tell us to do our worst. I swear that as I am a soldier — a name that I think becomes me best — if I begin the assaults against your town once again, I will not leave the half-conquered Harfleur until she lies buried in the ashes of her buildings. The gates of my mercy shall be all shut up,and my soldiers, rough and hard of heart and having already tasted your blood, with complete freedom given to their bloody hands shall go throughout your town with consciences that can commit any deed applauded in Hell, and shall mow down your fresh, fair virgins and your flowering, growing infants.

“If you continue to fight me, then what is it to me if civil war — a war in which you fight your rightful King — arrayed in flames like the Prince of Fiends, Lucifer, and with his complexion begrimed by smoke from the firing of gunpowder, results in all manner of deadly feats linked together with waste and desolation?

“If you continue to fight me, then what is it to me, when you yourselves are the cause of all the evil deeds that will make you victims, if your pure maidens fall into the hands of soldiers who will eagerly and violently rape them?

“What reins can stop licentious wickedness when it fiercely gallops down a steep hill? We may as uselessly give our vain commands to the enraged soldiers as they rape and murder and loot as send an order to the sea-monster Leviathan to come ashore. Our enraged soldiers busily engaged in the act of sacking your city will obey my commands just as much as will the whale Leviathan.

“Therefore, you men of Harfleur, take pity on your town and on your people, while my soldiers still obey my commands, and while the cool and temperate wind of human kindness still blows away the filthy and contagious clouds of intoxicating murder, spoil, and villainy.

“If you will not take pity on your town and on your people, why, in a moment look to see the reckless and blind-to-mercy bloody soldiers with their foul hands defile the locks of your shrill-shrieking daughters as they drag them away to be raped. Look to see the reckless and bloody soldiers with their foul hands take your fathers by their silver beards and dash their most reverend heads against the walls. Look to see your naked infants spitted upon pikes as if they were to be roasted in a fireplace while their mad mothers with their confused howls scream into the clouds as their tears fall like a cloudburst just like the Jewish mothers did when Herod’s bloody-hunting slaughtermen killed all the Jewish boys who were two years old or younger.

“What do you say? Will you surrender, and avoid rape, murder, the deaths of infants, and looting, or — guilty because you defend yourselves against your rightful King — be destroyed?”

The Governor of Harfleur replied, “Our hopes have this day come to an end. The Dauphin, from whom we entreated armies to relieve us, has sent us a message that his armies are not yet ready to raise a siege as great as this. Therefore, great King, we surrender our town and lives to your soft mercy.

“Enter our gates, and do what you want with us and what and who are ours, for we are no longer capable of mounting a defense.”

Henry V ordered, “Open your gates.”

Some citizens of Harfleur began to open the gates.

Henry V then said, “Uncle Exeter, go and enter Harfleur; there remain, and fortify it strongly against the French. Show mercy to all the citizens of Harfleur. As for us, dear uncle, winter is coming on and many of our soldiers are suffering from sickness. Therefore, we will march to Calais, a seaport in France under our control. Tonight in Harfleur we will be your guest; tomorrow we will begin the march.”

The gates now open, King Henry V, Exeter, and the English army entered Harfleur.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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

— 3.2 —

Nym, Bardolph, Pistol, and the boy who was their servant were at Harfleur.

Bardolph cried, “Charge! Charge! To the breach! To the breach!”

Nym objected, “Please, Corporal, wait. The blows of battle are too severe and dangerous. Speaking for myself, I do not have a pair of lives, but only one. The heat of this battle is too hot — this is plainly true and without ornamentation, just like a plain-song is the plain, simple melody without fancy variations.”

Bardolph, formerly a Lieutenant, had been demoted to Corporal.

Pistol said, “The use of ‘plain-song’ is a most just.”

He meant a mot juste, French for “exactly the right word.”

He added, “The plain truth is that the blows of battle abound in this battle.”

He sang, “Blows come and go; God’s servants drop and die; and sword and shield, in this bloody field, do win immortal fame.”

The boy said, “I wish that I were in an alehouse in London! I would trade all my chances for fame and glory for a pot of ale and safety.”

Pistol said, “So would I.”

He sang, “If wishes would prevail with me,

My purpose — my desire for ale — should not fail with me,

But thither — to an alehouse — would I hurry.”

Pistol’s singing voice was poor, and his desire to stay out of the battle was dishonorable.

The boy sang in answer to Pistol, “You sing as surely and as honorably, but not as well, as a bird without honor sings on a bough.”

On his horse, Fluellen, a Welsh Captain serving Henry V, came toward Nym, Bardolph, and Pistol, outraged that they were not fighting in the battle. The boy was too young to fight, but he was supposed to stay in the English camp and guard the tents.

Fluellen shouted, “Up to the breach, you dogs! Hurry, you gonads!”

Fluellen drove Nym, Bardolph, and Pistol forward.

Moving forward as slowly as Fluellen would allow him, Pistol pleaded, “Be merciful, great Duke, to men of mold. We are made of clay, just as the Bible says. Abate your rage, abate your manly rage — abate your rage, great Duke!”

As he did so frequently, Pistol was using his poor knowledge of Latin poorly. By “Duke,” he meant Dux, which is Latin for “leader.”

Pistol continued to plead, “Good and fine fellow, abate your rage; be lenient, good lad!”

Nym said to Fluellen, “This is a poor change of mood! We were in a good mood, but you are putting us in a bad mood!”

Fluellen used his whip to make the three men race to the front, leaving the boy behind.

The boy said to himself, “As young as I am, I have closely observed these three swashers and swaggerers: Nym, Bardolph, and Pistol. I am boy — that is, a young servant — to all three of them, but all three of them, if they should ever serve me, could not be man — a grown-up male servant — to me because all these three clowns put together do not amount to a single man.

“As for Bardolph, he is white-livered and red-faced — he is a cowardly alcoholic. Because he has a red face, people think that he is hot-tempered, and so he outfaces his opponents in battles and quarrels, but he does not fight. He prefers to act like a fighter rather than actually fight.

“As for Pistol, he has a killing tongue and a quiet, peaceful sword. He prefers to brag big and fight not even a little. He breaks his words, and he keeps his weapons whole. The battles he fights are verbal, and he does not keep his promises, and his sword is never broken because he does not use it in battle.

“As for Nym, he has heard that men of few words are the best men; he has heard the proverb vir sapit qui pauca loquitur— ‘a wise man is one who does not talk much.’ Therefore, Nym is scornful of and does not say his prayers, lest he should be thought a coward. However, his few bad words are matched with as few good deeds and deeds of valor. He never broke any man’s head but his own, and that was against a post when he was drunk.

“These three men will steal anything, and call it a purchase. Bardolph stole a lute-case, carried it for 36 English miles, and then sold it for a penny and a half. Nym and Bardolph are sworn brothers in filching, aka stealing, and in a town they stole a fire shovel. I knew by that piece of work that the men would carry coals. To carry coals is figurative language for to do degrading, humiliating, and insulting work and to submit to degrading, humiliating, and insulting treatment.

“They would have me as familiar with men’s pockets as the men’s gloves or handkerchiefs. They want me to become a pickpocket and become familiar with the inside of other people’s pockets. This goes much against my sense of what it is to be a man. If I should take something from another person’s pocket so that I can put it into my pocket, it would be a plain pocketing up of wrongs. To pocket up wrongs is figurative language for to be guilty of stealing and to submit to insults — such as being called a thief. I must leave these three men, and seek some better service with some better men. These three men’s villainy goes against my weak stomach, and therefore I must throw it — my job and the contents of my stomach — up.”

The boy returned to the English camp.

Meanwhile, Fluellen and Gower, who was an English Captain, were talking. Fluellen, the Welsh Captain, had a heavy accent. He sometimes pronounced the letter blike the letter p, the letter flike the letter v, and the letter jlike the letters ch. He also tended to use fancy words, frequently use synonyms, and repeat the unnecessary phrase “look you.” The Irish Captain, Macmorris, and the Scottish Captain, Jamy, also had heavy accents.

Captain Gower had been searching for Fluellen. Having found him, he said, “Captain Fluellen, you must come immediately to the tunnels that we are building under the besieged city’s walls so that we can use explosives to blow them up. The Duke of Gloucester needs to speak with you.”

“You want me to go to the tunnels!” Fluellen said. “Tell the Duke that it is not so good for me to come to the tunnels because, look you, the tunnels have not been constructed according to the disciplines of the war: The concavities [hollowness] of the tunnels are not sufficient [good enough], for, look you, the athversary [adversary], you may discuss this with the Duke, look you, has himself dug tunnels four yards underneath the tunnels we have dug. By Cheshu [Jesu, aka Jesus], I think he will plow [blow] up all our tunnels, if better orders are not given.”

Captain Gower replied, “The Duke of Gloucester, to whom the plan of action of the siege has been given, is being advised by an Irishman who is truly a very valiant gentleman.”

“He is Captain Macmorris, isn’t he?”

“I think that is him.”

“By Cheshu [Jesu, aka Jesus], he is an ass, as much an ass as any ass in the world. I will verify as much in his beard [I will tell him that to his face]. He has no more directions in [knowledge of] the true disciplines of the wars, of the Roman disciplines, look you, than does a puppydog.”

Captain Macmorris, the Irish Captain, accompanied by Jamy, the Scottish Captain, rode up on their horses.

Captain Gower said, “Here he comes; and the Scots Captain, Jamy, is with him.”

Captain Fluellen said, “Captain Jamy is a marvelous falourous [valorous] gentleman, that is certain; and he is of great expedition [quick action] and has great knowledge of the aunchient [ancient] wars, as I know from my particular and personal knowledge of his orders. By Cheshu, he will maintain his argument [keep up his part in a discussion] in a conversation about the disciplines of the pristine [flawless and perfectly executed, and ancient] wars of the Romans as well as any military man in the world.”

Captain Jamy, the Scottish Captain, said, “I say gud-day [good day], Captain Fluellen.”

Captain Fluellen replied, “God-den [Good evening] to your worship, good Captain James.”

Captain Gower asked, “How are you, Captain Macmorris! Have you quit the digging of the tunnels? Have the pioneers — the diggers of the tunnels — stopped their work?”

Captain Macmorris replied, “By Chrish [Christ], la! T’ish [It is] ill done: the work ish give over [is given up], the trompet [trumpet] sounds the order to retreat. By my hand, I swear, and by my father’s soul, the work ish [is] ill done; it ish give over [we have given it up]. If the trumpet had not sounded the order to retreat, I would have blowed [blown] up the town, so Chrish save me — la! — in an hour. Oh, t’ish ill done! T’ish ill done; I swear by my hand, t’ish ill done!”

Captain Fluellen said, “Captain Macmorris, I beg you now, will you voutsafe [vouchsafe, aka grant] me, look you, a few disputations [discussions] with you, as partly touching [regarding] or concerning the disciplines of the war, the Roman wars, in the way of argument, look you, and friendly communication; partly to satisfy my opinion, and partly for the satisfaction, look you, of my mind, as touching the direction of the military discipline; that is the point.”

Captain Jamy, the Scot, said, “It sall [shall] be vary gud [very good], in gud faith [in good faith, aka truly], gud [good] Captains bath [both]: and I sall ’quit [shall requite, aka answer] you with gud leve [with good leave, aka with your permission], as I may pick occasion [as I have the opportunity] that sall [shall] I, marry [by Mother Mary].”

Captain Macmorris said, “It is no time to discourse [This is not a time for conversation], so Chrish [Christ] save me: The day is hot, and the weather, and the wars, and the King, and the Dukes, everyone is busy fighting, and it is no time to discourse. The town is beseeched [besieged], and now the trumpet calls on us to go on attack at the breach; and we talk, and, by Chrish [Christ], we do nothing. It is a shame for us all, so God sa’ [save] me, it is a shame to stand still; it is a shame, I swear by my hand because there are throats to be cut, and works to be done; and there ish [is] nothing done, so Chrish sa’ [save] me, la!”

Captain Jamy said, “By the mess [Mass], ere theise [before these] eyes of mine take themselves to slomber [slumber; that is, before I go to sleep tonight] ay’ll [I’ll] do gud [good] service, or ay’ll lie i’ the grund for it [or I’ll lie in my grave]. Ay [I] owe Got [God] a death; and ay’ll [I’ll] pay it as valorously as I can, that sall [shall] I surely do, that is the breff [brief] and the long [aka the long and the short of it]. Marry [By Mother Mary], I wad full fain hear [I would very much like to hear] some question [discussion] between you tway [two].”

Captain Fluellen said, “Captain Macmorris, I think, look you, under your correction [correct me if I’m wrong], there are not many of your nation —”

Captain Macmorris was quick to take offense, and he misunderstood Fluellen and took offense too quickly as Fluellen had said nothing wrong: “Of my nation! What ish [is] my nation? Ish [You are] a villain, and a bastard, and a knave, and a rascal. What ish [is] my nation? Who talks of [about] my nation?”

Captain Fluellen replied, “Look you, if you take the matter otherwise than is meant, Captain Macmorris, peradventure [perhaps] I shall think you do not use [treat] me with that affability as in discretion you ought to use [treat] me, look you, since I am as good a man as yourself, both in the disciplines of war, and in the derivation of my birth, and in other particularities.”

Captain Macmorris said, “I do not know that you are so good a man as myself. Chrish [Christ] save me, I will cut off your head.”

Captain Gower said, “Gentlemen, both of you are misunderstanding each other.”

Captain Jamy said, “A! [Aye! aka Yes!] That’s a foul fault.”

A trumpet sounded, blowing the notes for a parley — a meeting between the leaders of the opposing forces.

Captain Gower said, “That is a trumpet from the town. The leader of Harfleur has ordered a trumpeter to sound a parley.”

Captain Fluellen said, “Captain Macmorris, when there is more better opportunity to be required [when a better time presents itself], look you, I will be so bold as to tell you I know the disciplines of war; and there is an end.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s HENRY V: A Retelling in Prose — Act 3, Prologue and Scene 1



The Chorus walked onto stage and said, “Thus with wings of the imagination our swift scene flies in motion of no less velocity than that of thought.

“Imagine that you have seen the well-equipped King of England at Southampton pier go onboard ship and resemble the young Sun-god as the King sails with his fleet with their streaming silken banners. Use your imagination, and you will see ship-boys climbing on ropes made of hemp. You will hear the shrill whistle that gives orders and brings order to the noisy confusion. You will see the sails, moving with the invisible and creeping wind, draw the huge hulls of the ships through the furrowed sea, breasting the lofty surge.

“Imagine that you are standing upon the shore and seeing a city dancing on the inconstant billows because this majestic fleet appears to be a city headed directly for Harfleur, a port in northern France. Follow the ships, follow them. Fix as with grapping irons your minds to the sterns of this navy, and leave your England, as deadly still as at midnight, guarded by grandsires, babies, and old women, all of whom are either past or not arrived at bodily strength and power. What male with a chin that is enriched with even one visible hair will not follow these hand-picked and specially selected Knights to France?

“Work, work your thoughts, and in your minds see a siege; look at the cannons mounted on their frames, with their fatal mouths open and pointing at walled and fortified and besieged Harfleur.

“Now imagine that the ambassador Exeter comes back from the French King and tells Harry that the King offers him his daughter Katherine, and with her, for a dowry, some petty and unprofitable Dukedoms. The offer displeases Henry V, and so the nimble gunner touches the Devilish cannon with a lighted match—”

The sound of a cannon is heard.

“— and part of the French wall collapses.

“Always, members of the audience, be kind, and add to our performance with your mind.”

— 3.1 —

At Harfleur, King Henry V was rallying his troops, who had retreated from an assault upon the breach in the wall but were regrouping. With Henry V were Exeter, Bedford, and Gloucester. Some of the soldiers present carried scaling-ladders that would help them climb over the wall.

King Henry V said, “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more. Let us attack again and burst through and over the wall or let us close the breach in the wall with the corpses of English soldiers. In peacetime nothing so becomes a man as modest quietness and humility. But when the blast of war blows in our ears, then we ought to imitate the action of the fierce tiger; we should stiffen our sinews, summon up our red blood and courage, disguise our handsome features with hard-featured rage. So let us now glare with our eyes through the portholes of our head like the brass cannon of warships. Let our brows hang over our eyes as fearsomely as a cliff juts out over its eroding base that is violently washed by the wild and wasteful ocean. Now let us set our teeth and flare our nostrils wide, hold hard our breath and bend up our spirit to its full height.

“Fight on, you noblest of the English whose blood is inherited from fathers who have proven themselves in war — fathers who, like so many great Alexanders who conquered the world and mourned that nothing was left to conquer.

“Fight on, you nobles whose fathers fought on French soil from morning until evening and sheathed their swords only when no one was left to oppose them. Do not dishonor your mothers by making it possible for the enemy to say that your mothers cuckolded your fathers; prove by your brave fighting here that those whom you call fathers did in fact beget you. Be examples now to men of grosser blood and teach them how to fight in war.

“And you, good yeomen, you who farm your own land, whose limbs were made in England, show us here the mettle of your pasture and the quality of the country in which you were born. Let us swear that you are worth your breeding, which I do not doubt, because none of you is so humble and lowly by birth that you do not have noble luster in your eyes. I see you stand like greyhounds held back by the leash, straining against the leash in anticipation of the moment it is let loose and you can hunt your prey.

“The game is afoot — seek your prey! Follow your spirit, and as we charge cry, ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George, the patron saint of England!’”

They charged.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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

— 2.4 —

In the French King’s palace, several men were meeting: the French King, the Dauphin, the Dukes of Berri and Bretagne, the Constable, and others. The Constable of France was the commander-in-chief of the army in the absence of the King.

The King of France said, “Now comes the English King and his army upon us with England’s full power, and we must be extra careful to put up a first-class defense. Therefore, the Dukes of Berri and of Bretagne,of Brabant and of Orleans, shall go forth,and you, too, Prince Dauphin, as swiftly as you can, to strengthen and reinforce our fortifications with men of courage and with defensive equipment. The King of England’s hostile approach is as fierce as a whirlpool that violently sucks in waters. We ought, therefore, to be as provident in making preparations for the future as fear has taught us to be as a result of recent battles in which the English soldiers whom we had fatally neglected left many French dead upon our battlefields. We ought to remember the English victories in the Battle of Crécy in 1346 and in the Battle of Poitiers in 1356.”

The Dauphin said, “My most redoubted — formidable and respected — father, it is certainly fitting that we arm ourselves against the foe. Peace should not dull a Kingdom and make it lazy; even when no war has been declared and no reason for war is known to exist, defenses should be maintained, armies should be assembled, and other preparations should be made as if a war were expected. Therefore, I say that it is fitting we all go forth to view the sick and feeble parts of France. Let us do so with no show of fear; let us show no more fear than if we had heard that the English were busying themselves with a traditional Whitsun Morris dance. After all, my good liege, England is badly Kinged; the scepter of England is so fantastically borne by a vain, giddy, shallow, capricious youth that no one needs to fear England.”

The Constable said, “That is not the case, Prince Dauphin! You are too much mistaken about King Henry V. Talk to and question the ambassadors that you sent to his court. They will tell you about the great dignity with which he heard your message to him, how well supplied with noble counselors, how modest in raising objections, and how altogether terrifying he was in staying committed to his resolutions. You will conclude that the King of England’s former frivolities were like the slow-wittedness of the Roman Lucius Junius Brutus, who faked being slow-witted in order to lull the tyrant Lucius Tarquinius Superbus and his son into not fearing him. The ruse worked, and Brutus — the name means ‘Dullard’ — drove them out of Rome. Brutus covered his intelligence with a coat of folly; this is similar to gardeners spreading manure over the ground in which are planted the flowers that bloom earliest and are the most beautiful.”

“I disagree, my lord High Constable,” the Dauphin said, “but although I disagree it does not matter. In cases of defense, it is best to believe that the enemy is mightier and more powerful than he seems. By doing that, we will ensure that forces required for defense are sufficient. If we were to underestimate the enemy, we might not be able to defend ourselves against him; we would be like a miser who ruins his new coat by not giving his tailor enough cloth to make a good coat.”

The King of France said, “We believe that King Harry and his army are strong; therefore, Princes, make sure that you strongly arm to meet him on the battlefield. When training a hawk or hound to kill game animals, it is traditional to flesh the hawk or hound — to give it some of the meat of the game it hunted and killed. Henry V’s relatives have earlier been fleshed upon French soldiers. Henry V has been bred out of that bloody race who persistently pursued us in our native paths. For evidence, remember our too-much-memorable shame when at Créssy, Edward the Black Prince of Wales — a black name! — killed and killed again and took captive all our Princes. The Black Prince’s father, King Edward III, immovable as a mountain, stood on a mountain high in the air, crowned with the golden Sun, and watched the heroic actions of his son and smiled as he watched him mangle and deface and cut to pieces 20-year-old French soldiers — the work of nature and God and French fathers. Henry V is a branch of that victorious family; therefore, let us fear his natural mightiness and destiny.”

A messenger entered the room and said, “Ambassadors from Harry, King of England, request to be admitted into your majesty’s presence.”

“We will see them immediately,” the King of France said. “Go, and bring them here.”

The messenger and some lords exited.

The King of France said, “It is as if we are being hunted by Henry V. He is eagerly chasing us.”

The Dauphin said, “We should not turn tail and run away; instead, let us turn head and face the enemy. Cowardly dogs bark the loudest — they most spend their mouths — when what they seem to threaten is running far ahead of them. My good sovereign, give the English ambassadors short shrift — treat them curtly. Let them know of what kind of a Monarchy you are the head. Self-love, aka pride, my liege, is not so vile a sin as self-neglecting. Have pride, and do not undervalue yourself.”

The French lords reentered the room with the English ambassador — Exeter — and his attendants.

The King of France asked, “Have you come from our brother the King of England?”

Of course, the two Kings were not literally brothers; this was simply a polite way of referring to another King.

“Yes, we have come from him,” Exeter said, “and he greets your majesty by desiring you, in the name of God Almighty, to divest yourself and lay aside the borrowed glories that by gift of Heaven, by law of nature, and by the law of nations — that is, by all laws, whether divine, natural, or human — belong to him and to his heirs. Namely, he desires you to divest yourself of and lay aside the crown of France and all the far-reaching honors and titles that pertain by customs and by laws to the crown of France. That you may know that this is no irregular or illegitimate claim that has been fraudulently picked out of old, worm-eaten books or searched out — as with a rake — from the dust of long-forgotten manuscripts or dredged up with bad faith and technicalities, he sends you this very memorable family tree in which his ancestors are listed.”

He handed the King of France a document, and then he added, “King Henry V’s direct line of descent from King Philip III of France and from King Edward III of England is very clearly shown. When you have looked over this document and seen his ancestry, he directs you then to resign your crown and Kingdom. You hold them fraudulently and are keeping them from him, the natural — by right of birth — and true challenger.”

The King of France asked, “What happens if I do not resign my crown and Kingdom?”

“War and blood will happen,” Exeter said. “Even if you were to hide the crown in your heart, Henry V will search for it there. To gain his rightful crown, he is coming in fierce tempest, in thunder, and in earthquake, like a Jove, the Roman King of the gods. If politely requesting the crown fails to get him the crown, then he will take it by force, and so he asks you, in all compassion, to give him his crown and to take mercy on the poor souls against whom this hungry war will open its vast jaws. On your head will fall the responsibility for the widows’ tears for dead husbands, the orphans’ cries for dead fathers, the pining maidens’ groans for their dead betrothed lovers, and for the dead men’s blood that war shall swallow in this dispute. This is his claim, his threatening, and all of my message to you, but if the Dauphin is in the Presence Chamber here, I also have a message especially for him.”

The King of France said, “As for us, we will consider this matter further. Tomorrow you shall bear our full reply back to our brother the King of England.”

The Dauphin said, “As for the Dauphin, I stand here for him. What is the message you bring for him from the King of England?”

Exeter replied, “The King of England sends the Dauphin scorn and defiance, slight regard, contempt, and anything that is negative yet does not reflect badly on him, the mighty sender; this is how little he values you. Thus says my King, and he adds that if your father the King of France does not grant all his demands in full and thereby sweeten the bitter mock — the joke of tennis balls — you sent his majesty, he will call you to so hot an answer for it that caves and womb-like vaulted passages of France shall chide your trespass and return your mockery by echoing with the sound of his cannon.”

“Tell King Henry V that if my father sends him a fair reply, it is against my will,” the Dauphin said, “for I desire nothing but conflict with England. For that purpose, and because it was an appropriate gift — because it matched his youth and vanity — I presented him with the Parisian tennis balls.”

Exeter replied, “Because of your gift to him, Henry V will make your Parisian royal palace — the Louvre — shake, as he would even if it were the foremost palace — or tennis court — in all of Europe. Be assured that you will find a difference, as we his subjects have in wonder found, between the lack of promise that he showed in his greener, younger, and immature days and the great promise that he has mastered now. Now he uses his time wisely, even to the last second, and you will learn that this is true by studying your own losses, if Henry V stays with his army in France.”

The King of France replied, “Tomorrow you shall know in full what we have decided.”

Exeter said, “Send us back to Henry V quickly lest he come here himself to find out the reason for our delay — he has already landed on French soil.”

“You shall soon be sent back to him with our reply and reasonable terms for peace. A night is only a small pause and a short delay when it comes to forming replies of this importance.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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

— 2.3 —

In front of a tavern in London, Pistol, Nell Quickly, Nym, Bardolph, and the boy who had been Sir John Falstaff’s page were standing and talking about the death of Sir John, which had occurred just after midnight.

Nell Quickly said to Pistol, “Please, honey-sweet husband, let me accompany you to Staines, a town on the way to Southampton.”

“No, because my manly heart yearns — it is grieving,” Pistol replied.

He said to the others, “Bardolph, be blithe. Nym, rouse your vaunting veins. Boy, bristle your courage up. Falstaff is dead, and therefore we must yearn — we must grieve.”

Anyone overhearing Pistol might laugh. The verb “yearn” means to want someone. To want someone means either to grieve for someone or to feel sexual desire for someone. Some other words could be understood in more than one way. Someone overhearing Pistol could think that he was saying this:

“My manly heart feels sexual desire. Bardolph, do something to make yourself very, very happy. Nym, rouse your vaunting veins — the ones that are in the appendage that hangs below your waist. Boy, make your ‘courage’ — the appendage that hangs below your waist — bristle and rise up. Falstaff is dead, but we live, and therefore we must feel sexual desire.”

Bardolph said, “I wish that I were with Falstaff, wherever he is, whether in Heaven or in Hell!”

Nell Quickly said, “I am sure that he’s not in Hell; instead, he’s in Arthur’s bosom, if ever man went to Arthur’s bosom.”

Nell Quickly meant Abraham’s bosom rather than the bosom of King Arthur, famous in part for his Knights of the round table.

She added, “Falstaff made a finer end than the one that would have sent him to Hell. He died as if he had been a christom child — a child who died sinless and baptized in its first month of life. He died just between twelve and one — as the old belief states, his life ebbed with the tide. After I saw him fumble with the sheets and play with the flowers lying on the bed and smile because his fingers were not obeying his commands, I knew that he was dying because of these signs and other signs: His nose was as sharp as a pen, and he babbled about green fields. I tried to comfort him and to give him good advice: ‘How are you, Sir John?’ I asked, and said, ‘Be cheerful!’ He cried out ‘God, God, God!’ three or four times. Now I, to comfort him, advised him that he should not think of God; I said that I hoped there was no need to trouble himself with any such thoughts yet. So he told me to lay more clothes on his feet because they were cold. I put my hand under the sheets and felt his feet, and they were as cold as any stone; then I felt up to his knees, and they were as cold as any stone, and so upward and upward, and all the parts of his body were as cold as any stone.”

Nell Quickly was being unintentionally bawdy as she spoke. One meaning of “stone” is “testicle,” so we have an image of Nell Quickly moving her hands from Falstaff’s feet higher and higher on his body until she felt his testicles.

Falstaff’s death was similar to the death of Socrates as recounted in Plato’s Phaedo. Socrates drank hemlock, as required by the jurors of Athens when he was found guilty at his trial. As the poison worked, Socrates’ body grew colder and colder, starting with his feet and working upward.

Falstaff’s reference to “green fields” may have been a reference to this famous Biblical passage (Psalm 23, King James Version):

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Nym said, “They say he cried out against alcohol.”

Nell Quickly said, “Yes, he did.”

Bardolph added, “And he cried out against women.”

Nell Quickly said, “No, he did not.”

The boy said, “Yes, he did. He said that women were Devils incarnate.”

The word “incarnate” reminded Nell Quickly of another word: “He could never abide carnation; it was a color he never liked.”

The boy said, “Falstaff said once that the Devil would have his soul because he pursued women.”

Nell Quickly said, “Falstaff did, occasionally, touch on the topic of women.”

The boy thought, He also occasionally touched women.

Nell Quickly continued, “But when he talked about women, he was rheumatic, and talked of the whore of Babylon.”

The boy thought, Falstaff was not rheumatic; Nell probably means lunatic. On his deathbed, Falstaff was in and out of his right mind. This is something that sometimes happens to alcoholics when they die. Falstaff’s nose grew “sharp as a pen,” as Nell Quickly said. The faces of the dying sometimes grow thinner and their noses seem to grow sharper.

The boy asked, “Do you remember when he saw a flea light upon Bardolph’s nose, and he said that it was a black soul burning in Hell-fire?”

Bardolph said, “Well, the fuel is gone that maintained that fire. The consumption of alcohol is what made my nose red, and Falstaff bought that alcohol for me. That is the way that he paid me for my services to him.”

The dying Falstaff was not like the living Falstaff. The living Falstaff enjoyed sack, and he enjoyed women. His testicles were hot, not cold. He enjoyed laughing and making people laugh. When he prayed, he prayed as a joke. He was in his right mind, although that mind was evil.

At the end of Falstaff’s life, he was trying to pray or to recite a Biblical Psalm. He was afraid of being damned to Hell. He was also repenting his sins of drunkenness and fornication.

As evil as Falstaff’s life had been, he may have died well. According to Christian theology, an evil man who sincerely repents on his deathbed will be accepted into Paradise.

Nym asked, “Shall we amscray and shove off? The King will soon sail from Southampton.”

Pistol said, “Come, let’s leave.”

He said to his wife, Nell Quickly, “My love, give me your lips. Kiss me. Look after my property and prevent it from being stolen. Keep on the alert; remember these words of wisdom: ‘Cash down, no credit.’ Trust no one; oaths are like straws, and men’s promises are like thin wafer-cakes. Promises and pie crusts are easily broken. Promises are good, but deeds are better. A dog named ‘Brag’ is good, but a dog named ‘Steadfast’ is better, my love. Therefore, let Cavetobe your counselor.”

If anyone who knew Latin had been present, he or she would have thought, Pistol means Cavete— Be careful. This is the imperativeplural.

Pistol added, “Go, clear your crystals — wipe the tears from your eyes. Yoke-fellows in arms, let us go to France. We will be like leeches that attach themselves to horses, my boys, and suck and suck and suck the blood of the French!”

The boy said, “Blood is an unhealthy food, they say.”

Pistol said, “Touch my wife’s soft mouth — kiss her — and let’s march.”

Bardolph said, “Farewell, hostess,” and kissed Nell Quickly.

Nym said, “I cannot kiss her, that is the long and short of it; but I say, adieu.”

Pistol said to his wife, “I command you to practice good household management and stay out of trouble.”

His wife replied, “Farewell; adieu.”

The males left.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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

— 2.2 —

In a council chamber in Southampton, Exeter, Bedford, and Westmoreland were discussing three traitors whose treason had not yet been openly revealed. King Henry V and the English army were in Southampton because they would sail from there to France. The three lords were there because they expected to receive commissions to rule England in the King’s absence.

Bedford said, “I swear to God that his grace is rash to trust these three traitors.”

Exeter replied, “The traitors will be arrested soon.”

“How confidently they bear themselves!” Westmoreland said. “They are good actors. They act as if they were completely dutiful and faithful and loyal to the King.”

Bedford said, “The King has complete knowledge of their treason and of all that they intend to do. The traitors do not at all know that their plans have been revealed to the King.”

“The worst traitor is Henry, Lord Scroop of Masham, the man with whom the King was most friendly,” Exeter said. “In our society, friends of the same sex sometimes sleep in the same bed. Nothing sexual occurs, and no one thinks anything negative about it. A man who once shared the King’s bed is now a traitor, although the King has surfeited his appetite with gracious favors. I cannot imagine why Scroop would sell his King’s life for money. Scroop has formed a plan to treacherously kill the King.”

Trumpets sounded, and King Henry V and his attendants, and the three traitors — Richard, Earl of Cambridge; Henry, Lord Scroop of Masham; and Sir Thomas Grey, Knight, of Northumberland — entered the council chamber.

King Henry V said, “The wind is fair, and we will soon board our ship.”

He then said to the three traitors, “My Lord of Cambridge, and my kind Lord of Masham, and you, my noble Knight, tell me your thoughts. Do you think that the army we have brought with us will be able to cut their passage through the army of France? Will they be able to execute the work that I have planned for them and for which I have assembled them?”

Scroop replied, “No doubt, my liege, they can if each man does his best.”

“I don’t doubt that each man will do his best,” King Henry V said. “We are absolutely convinced that each man who goes with us from here to France is in perfect agreement with us, and we are absolutely convinced that we will not leave behind any man who does not wish us success and conquest.”

“Never has there been a Monarch more feared and loved than is your majesty,” Cambridge said. “I doubt that you have a single subject who has a heavy and uneasy heart; all of your subjects sit in the sweet shade of your government.”

Grey said, “That is true. Once, your father had enemies, but those enemies are now your friends. They steeped their bitter gall in sweet honey and now they serve you with hearts that are dutiful and zealous to obey you.”

“We therefore have great cause to be thankful,” Henry V said. “We would prefer not to be able to use our hand than to neglect to reward people of desert and merit in accordance with their weight and worthiness.”

“Your people are all the more eager to serve you and work energetically with sinews of steel because of their hope to be rewarded for their incessant service,” Scroop said.

“We think that you are correct,” Henry V replied.

The King then said, “Uncle Exeter, set free the man who was arrested yesterday because he railed against our person. We are taking into consideration that he was drunk and that the excess of wine made him rail against us. Now that he has sobered up and is regretting what he did, we pardon him.”

Scroop said, “You are being merciful but rash in pardoning him. Let him be punished, sovereign, lest his bad example breed — because it has not been punished — more of the same kind.”

Henry V replied, “Although that is a possibility, I am inclined to be merciful.”

Cambridge said, “Your highness can be merciful and yet punish him, too.”

Grey said, “Your highness, you will be merciful if you allow him to live after he has been severely punished.”

King Henry V said, “You three care about me so much that you strongly encourage me to punish this poor wretch! But if we cannot close our eyes so we do not notice little faults that occur because of the distemper of alcohol, how will be we be able to open our eyes wide enough to show our astonishment when serious crimes, capital crimes punishable by death and that have been chewed, swallowed, and digested — with malice aforethought — appear before us?

“We will still set free that man, although Cambridge, Scroop, and Grey, because they dearly care about the tender preservation of our person, would have him punished.

“But now let us turn to our business in France: Who are the recently appointed regents who will govern England in our absence?”

“I am one of them, my lord,” Cambridge said. “Your highness told me to ask for my written commission today.”

“You told me the same thing, my liege,” Scroop said.

“As you did me, my royal sovereign,” Grey said.

“Then, Richard, Earl of Cambridge, there is your written commission,” Henry V said, handing him one of the three scrolls he was carrying. “There is yours, Lord Scroop of Masham; and, Sir Knight, Grey, of Northumberland, this one is yours. Read them, and realize that I know your true worth.”

He added, “My Lord of Westmoreland, and Uncle Exeter, we will board the ships tonight.”

The three traitors looked at their papers and turned pale with fear. The papers informed them that the King knew about their treason and their plot to murder him.

Henry V said to them, “Why, how are you now, gentlemen! What words do you see in those papers that make you lose so much color in your faces? Look, everyone, how their faces have changed! Their cheeks are white like paper. Why, what words did you read there that have turned you into cowards and chased your blood away from your cheeks? Red blood is the sign of courage, and you have no red blood in your cheeks.”

Cambridge knelt and said, “I do confess my fault, I am guilty, and I beg your highness for mercy.”

Grey and Scroop both knelt and said, “We also appeal to your highness for mercy.”

King Henry V said, “The mercy that was alive in us just now has been suppressed and killed because of the advice that you gave to me. You must not dare, for shame, to talk of mercy because your own words turn against you, as dogs can turn upon their masters, and bite you.

“Look, my loyal Princes, and my loyal noble peers, at these English monsters!

“Look at my Lord of Cambridge here. All of you know how our respect for him made us want to give him all things appropriate to his honor. Yet Cambridge has, for a few crowns of light weight, for treacherous money, lightly and readily conspired and sworn to join the plot of France to kill us here in Southampton.

“This Knight also swore the same thing that Cambridge did although he was also indebted to me, the King, for the good things I have given to him.

“What shall I say to you, Lord Scroop? You cruelly ungrateful, savage, and inhuman creature! You knew all my secrets, you knew the deepest part of my soul, you almost might have used me as your own minter and maker of money. How is it possible that a foreign bribe could extract from you even enough evil to harm one of my fingers? This is so strange and unexpected that even though the truth of it appears as clearly as black and white, my eye will scarcely see it. My eyes scarcely believe what is clearly visible in front of them!

“Treason and murder have ever kept company together; they are like two Devils yoked together and sworn to help each other achieve the other’s goals. The two Devils openly work together in what for them is a natural cause. That is expected, and it causes no astonishment.

“But you, against all natural order, brought in astonishment to accompany treason and murder. No one could have expected you to conspire to take my life. You have no good reason to do so.

“Whatever cunning fiend — whatever Devil — it was that worked upon you and got you to act so perversely has been applauded in Hell for its excellence. All other Devils that suggest and tempt men to commit treason do so by unskillfully patching up and cobbling together reasons and veneers and ideas that seem to be ethical and pious but really are not. These Devils tempt people to do damnable things by convincing them that they are doing the right thing. But the Devil that persuaded you to do damnable actions simply told you to stand up and rebel without giving you a reason why you ought to commit treason.”

King Henry V looked at Scroop, who was kneeling before him the way that a man would kneel before the King who would Knight him — dubbing a person Knight means giving that person the title of Knight — by touching his shoulder with a sword and saying, “I dub thee Knight. Arise, Sir —”

He then said, “The only reason a Devil could have given you for why you should commit treason is so that you could be dubbed ‘Traitor.’”

King Henry V remembered 1 Peter 5:8: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the Devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” and he said, “If that same demon that has gulled you in this way should with his lion gait walk throughout the whole world, he might return to vast Hell and tell the legions of angels, ‘I can never win a soul as easily as I won the soul of that Englishman.’

“You Scroop, have infected the sweetness of trust with suspicion. You make it hard for me to trust anyone ever again. What evidence can I now seek to determine whether men are good? Do men seem to be dutiful? Why, so did you. Do men seem to be grave and learned? Why, so did you. Do men come from a noble family? Why, so did you. Do men seem to be religious? Why, so did you. Are men moderate in their diet? Are men free from excessive emotions, whether of mirth or anger? Are men constant in spirit, not excessively changing their minds? Are they furnished with and display good personal characteristics and courtesy? Do they not only look but also listen, and use their best judgment to evaluate evidence and arrive at the truth? You seemed to be such a man, a man whose evil had been purged out of him, and thus your fall has left a kind of blot — now, even a man whose excellent character is fully loaded with the best virtues is regarded by me with some suspicion.

“I will weep for you because this revolt of yours, I think, is like another fall of man: the fall of Adam, who ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.”

He said to Exeter, “The faults of these three traitors are manifest and open and revealed. Arrest them in accordance with the law, and God forgive them for their evil deeds!”

Exeter said to the three traitors, “I arrest you for high treason, Richard, Earl of Cambridge. I arrest you for high treason, Henry, Lord Scroop of Masham. I arrest you for high treason, Thomas Grey, Knight, of Northumberland.”

Scroop said, “Our evil plot God justly has uncovered, and I regret my sin more than I regret my death. I beg your highness to forgive my sin, although my body will pay the price of it.”

Cambridge said, “As for me, the gold of France did not seduce me, although I admit it was a motive to do sooner the treason that I had already intended to commit. But I thank God that I have been prevented from carrying out my plan. I will rejoice at this prevention even as I endure my punishment, and I beg God and you to pardon me.”

Grey said, “Never has a faithful subject rejoiced more at the discovery and prevention of most dangerous treason than I rejoice at this hour even though it is my own dangerous treason that has been revealed. I have been stopped from carrying out a damned plot. Pardon my sin — but not my body — sovereign.”

King Henry V said, “May God in His mercy forgive you! Now hear your sentence. You have conspired against our royal person. You have joined forces with a known enemy to our country and have received golden money to murder me. In doing this, you would have sold and sentenced your King to slaughter, you would have sold and sentenced his Princes and his peers to servitude, you would have sold and sentenced his subjects to oppression and contempt, and you would have sold and sentenced his whole Kingdom to desolation. As far as our own life is concerned, we seek no revenge, but we must so cherish our Kingdom’s safety — safety that you have sought to ruin — that we deliver you to her laws. Therefore, poor miserable wretches, go to your death. May God give you the fortitude to endure your death and give you true repentance for all your serious offences!”

He ordered the guards, “Take them away.”

The three traitors got to their feet, and the guards led them to the place of execution.

King Henry V then said, “Now, lords, let us turn our attention to France. This enterprise in France shall be as glorious to you as it is to us. We do not doubt that this war shall be successful and with good fortune to us since God so graciously has brought to light this dangerous treason that was lurking in our way to kill us and stop the war before it started. We doubt not now but that every obstacle has been removed that stood in our way. So let us go forth, dear countrymen. Let us deliver our army into the hand of God, and let us get started immediately. Let’s go cheerfully to sea and see the signs of war advance. I will not be King of England unless I can also be King of France.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s HENRY V: A Retelling in Prose — Act 2, Prologue and Scene 1



The Chorus walked on stage and said, “Now all the youth of England are on fire to go to war in France, and the silken clothing needed to court the ladies is laid away in the wardrobe to be replaced by metal armor. Now thrive the armorers, and only thoughts of gaining honor reign in the breast of every man:They sell land now to buy a horse to ride to war. They wish to follow Henry V, the exemplar of all Christian Kings, into battle. They are as eager to quickly follow the King as they would be if they were as fast as Mercury, the messenger of the gods — a messenger whose winged heels and winged helmet flew him quickly through the air.

“Now the expectation of winning glory in war is everywhere, and men think of a sword that is hidden from the hilt to the point with the crowns of Emperors who rule more than one country, the crowns of Kings who rule a single country, and the coronets worn by nobles. These emblems of rule have been promised to Harry and his followers.

“The French, advised by good intelligence of this most serious preparation for dreadful war that causes them to shake with fear, attempt to foil the English invasion with a treacherous plot.

“Oh, England! You are a small country, but you have greatness within you. You are like a great heart enclosed in a small body. What great things you would accomplish, what honor you would earn, if all your citizens were kind and obeyed natural law and respected your King!

“But see your fault! France has found in you a nest of hollow bosoms. Three Englishmen lack patriotism and loyalty to their King, and France fills the pockets of these three treacherous men with coins.

“These three corrupted men — Richard, Earl of Cambridge; Henry, Lord Scroop of Masham; and Sir Thomas Grey, Knight, of Northumberland — accepted the gilt of France and so bear the guilt of treason. They have formed a conspiracy with France, which fears the English King and army, and have agreed to kill this model of Kingship: King Henry V.

“If Hell and treason keep their promises, they will kill Henry V in Southampton before he sets sail for France.

“Be patient, audience, and we will help you to cope with the great distances that must be traveled on our stage.

“Now the traitors have received the bribe that France promised them, now the King is traveling from London to Southampton, and soon he will set sail to France.

“Audience, sit in your seats in the theater, and we will safely convey you soon to France, and safely bring you back, too. We will charm the English Channel so that you can gently travel both ways. If we are able to, we will not make even one audience member seasick or disgusted with our play.

“But before we join the King in Southampton, let us enjoy a scene set in London.”

— 2.1 —

On a street in London, Corporal Nym and Lieutenant Bardolph were speaking together. Soon to join them was Pistol, who was an Ensign, aka sub-Lieutenant. Bardolph was the highest ranking of the three, and Nym was the lowest ranking. All three were low-lifes living in Eastside. Nym’s name came from “nim,” which means “a thief” or “to steal.” Pistol’s name was pronounced “pizzle,” which also meant “penis.” The Chorus had said that every Englishman is thinking about gaining honor on the battlefield, but Nym, Bardolph, and Pistol were exceptions. The Chorus had also said that the men of England are as eager to quickly follow the King as they would be if they were as fast as winged Mercury, but perhaps we ought to remember that Mercury is, among other things, the god of thieves.

“Good to see you, Corporal Nym,” Bardolph said.

“Good morning, Lieutenant Bardolph,” Nym replied.

“Are Ensign Pistol and you friends yet?”

“For my part, I do not care whether we are friends. I say little, but when the time comes for me to smile, I will smile, perhaps to pretend that I am friends with him or perhaps because I have gotten my revenge on him, but that shall be as it may. I dare not fight, but I will bluster. I will close my eyes and hold out my iron sword. It is a simple sword, but so what? I can use it to toast cheese on its point, and I can draw it and let it grow cold while another man’s sword does the same, and there’s an end to another man and an end to my discourse.”

Nym liked to think that he said little, spoke mysteriously, and kept his thoughts to himself. Much of what he said and thought made little sense.

Bardolph replied, “I will buy you two breakfast if that will make you friends again. Let all of us be three sworn brothers as we go to France. Be friendly again with Pistol, good Corporal Nym.”

“Truly, I will live as long as I may, that’s certainly the truth, and when I cannot live any longer, I will do as I may; that is my final bid, and that is the last resort of it.”

“It is certain, Corporal, that Pistol is married to Nell Quickly,” Bardolph said, “and certainly she did you wrong. She was legally bound to marry you.”

“I cannot tell where the truth lies,” Nym said. “Things must be as they may: Men must sleep, and they must have their throats about them at that time, and some people say that knives have sharp edges. It must be as it may: Though patience be a tired mare, yet she will plod — patience will reach success in the end. There must be conclusions. Well, I cannot tell.”

Pistol and Nell Quickly, the hostess of the Boar’s Head Inn in Eastcheap, walked up to Bardolph and Nym.

Bardolph said, “Here comes Ensign Pistol and his wife. Good Corporal Nym, control yourself here. We are on a public street.”

Nym said, “How are you, host Pistol!”

Pistol, who liked to use extravagant language, was outraged. He was a superior officer to Nym, who should have referred to him by his military title: Ensign. Of course, by marrying Nell Quickly, the hostess of an inn, Pistol had become the host of that inn.

Pistol said, “Base mongrel, are you calling me your host? Now, by my hand, I swear that I scorn the term. I also swear that my Nell shall not keep lodgers in her inn.”

Nell Quickly said, “Truly, I shall keep no lodgers. It is impossible for us to give room and board to a dozen or fourteen gentlewomen who live honestly by the prick of their needles. Why? Because everyone will think that they make their living by a different sort of prick, and everyone will think that we are keeping a bawdy house.”

Thinking that it was time for him to bluster, Nym drew his sword. Pistol did the same.

Nell Quickly said, “Heavens! Look! He has drawn his sword! We shall see willful adultery and murder committed.”

As usual, Nell Quickly had mixed up her words. Adultery is always willfully committed; she had probably meant to say that murder would be willfully committed. And why bring up adultery? Did she believe that Pistol would be the murder victim and she would go back to Nym?

Bardolph said, “Good Lieutenant! Good Corporal! Do not fight in a public street!”

Nym said scornfully to Pistol, “Pish!”

Pistol scornfully replied, “Pish for you, Iceland dog! You are a shaggy-haired dog and a prick-eared cur of Iceland!”

Nell Quickly said, “Good Corporal Nym, show your valor, and put up your sword.”

She had spoken more wisely than she knew. Usually, to show one’s valor, a man would draw his sword and fight, but Nym had no valor, so to show his (lack of) valor, he should sheathe his sword.

Both Nym and Pistol sheathed their swords, but they would soon draw them again. No matter. The only way either of them would die in this fight would be for one of them to trip and accidentally fall on his own sword.

The shaggy-haired Nym said to Pistol, “Will you amscray and shove off with me to a place where we can fight without interruption? I would have you solus.”

Not knowing that soluswas Latin for “alone,” Pistol thought that he had been insulted: “Solus, outrageous dog? Oh, vile viper! I will shove that solusin your most marvelous face. I will shove that solusin your teeth, and in your throat, and in your hateful lungs, and yes, in your stomach, by God, and, which is worse, within your nasty mouth! I will shove that solusall the way to your bowels. For I can take fire and grow angry, and Pistol’s cock is up, and flashing fire will follow.”

Later, people would listen to accounts of the “fight,” and they would laugh when they heard “Pistol’s cock is up.”

“You sound as if you were a conjuror performing an incantation for an exorcism,” Nym said, “but it won’t work on me. I am not the son of Barba, a fiend who fought fiercely after assuming the shape of a lion. I have the humor — am in the mood — to beat you rather well. Once fired, pistols are foul and dirty, and they need to be cleaned and scoured with a ramrod. If you use foul language against me, Pistol, I will scour you with myrapier, to put it as decently as I can. If you would walk with me to a place out of sight of the public, I would prick your guts a little, to put it as decently as I can, and that’s how I feel about it.”

“You are a vile braggart and a damned furious creature!” Pistol shouted. “Your grave gapes, and doting death is near and desirous of taking you, and therefore prepare to exhale your final breath.”

Some of Pistol’s extravagant language came from the action-filled, bombastic plays he enjoyed watching and listening to.

Bardolph drew his sword and said to Nym and Pistol, “Hear me, listen to what I say: He who strikes the first stroke, I’ll run him through with my sword up to the hilt, I swear on my profession as a soldier.”

Pistol replied, “This is an oath of mickle — much — might; and so my fury shall abate.”

He sheathed his sword, then Nym sheathed his sword, and finally Bardolph sheathed his sword.

Pistol said to Nym, “Give me your fist; give me your fore-paw. I have to admit that your spirit is very brave.”

Nym replied, “I will cut your throat at one time or another, to put it as decently as I can, and that’s how I feel about it.”

Pistol replied in bad French and a lack of knowledge about how many words make up a word, “‘Couple a gorge!’ That is the word.”

He had meant to say, “Coupez la gorge,” which means “Cut his throat.”

He added, “I defy you, Nym, again. Oh, hairy hound of Crete, did you think that you could get my spouse? That is not going to happen. No, instead, make your way to the hospital and find yourself a woman. Look in the powdering tub of infamy — the heated tub in which ill people sit in order to sweat out venereal disease, and find Doll Tearsheet — who is just like Cressida, a loose woman who suffers from the pox — and promise to marry her. I have ….”

Pistol stopped and thought and then said, “I have, and I will hold, the quondamQuickly. Once she was Miss Quickly and now she is Mrs. Pistol, and she is the only woman for me — pauca, there’s enough. Go to.”

Pistol knew a few words of Latin, although people who really knew Latin knew that Pistol knew fewer Latin words than he thought he did. Quondammeant “former,” and “Quickly” was his wife’s maiden name. Paucawas short for pauca verbaand meant “few words.”

A boy — Sir John Falstaff’s page, aka young servant — arrived and said, “My host Pistol, you must come to my master, Falstaff, and you, hostess, must come, too. Falstaff is very sick, and he wants to go to bed.”

The boy looked at Bardolph, whose face was fiery-red from his alcoholism, and joked, “Good Bardolph, put your fiery-red face between his sheets so that you can warm them up like a warming-pan.”

He added, “Truly, Falstaff is very ill.”

“Go away, you rogue!” Bardolph, who could be sensitive about his face, yelled at the boy.

Nell Quickly said about the precocious boy, “Indeed, one of these days he will be hung and his hanging carcass will provide a feast for crows.”

She then said about Falstaff, “The King has killed his heart.”

She was referring to when Prince Hal had been crowned as King Henry V. Falstaff had not treated him like a King, calling him by the familiar name “Hal.” Falstaff should have bowed before his sovereign. Instead, he had challenged Henry V to reject him. If Henry V had not rejected him, Falstaff would have looted the treasury. Fortunately for England, King Henry V had rejected Falstaff and never again saw him. Nell Quickly thought that Falstaff’s heart had broken because the King had rejected him, but Falstaff’s heart had broken because he could not loot the treasury. He had hoped to run wild in England when Prince Hal was crowned King Henry V.

Nell Quickly said to Pistol, “Good husband, go home as soon as you can.”

Nell Quickly and the boy left to go to Sir John Falstaff.

Bardolph said to Nym and Pistol, “Come, shall I make you two friends? We must go to France together, so why the Devil should we keep knives to cut one another’s throats?”

Pistol said, “Let our friendship last until the rivers overflow their banks and flood the land and until the Devils in Hell howl in fury because they do not have enough evil souls to torment!”

Nym was willing to be friends again — provided a proviso was met: “You’ll pay me the eight shillings I won from you at betting?”

Pistol, who was uneager to fulfill this request, replied, “Base is the slave who pays.”

Nym said, “That money I must have now, and that’s the long and the short of it.”

Pistol said, “Let courage decide. Let’s fight over that money.”

Both Pistol and Nym drew their swords.

Bardolph drew his sword and said, “By this sword, I will kill the first man who makes the first thrust. I swear by this sword that I will kill him.”

Pistol said, “He swore by his sword, and that is an oath, and a soldier’s oath is an oath that must be kept.”

Pistol sheathed his sword.

Bardolph said, “Corporal Nym, if you will be friends with Pistol, then be friends, but if you will not be friends with Pistol, why, then, be enemies with me, too. Please, sheathe your sword.”

Nym asked Pistol, “Shall I have the eight shillings I won from you at betting?”

Pistol said, “Yes,” and Nym sheathed his sword, and then Bardolph sheathed his sword.

Pistol said to Nym, “I shall give you a noble, a coin that is worth a little less than eight shillings. I will pay you the rest with liquor. That way, we will be friends, and brothers, too. I’ll live by Nym, and Nym shall live by me. Is not this just? I can make back the money I pay to you. I will be a sutler to the camp of soldiers — I will supply the soldiers with provisions — and that will give me ample opportunity to make some profits, some of them by honest means — profits will accrue. Give me your hand and let’s shake on it.”

Nym asked again, “I shall have my noble?”

Pistol replied, “Yes — in cash most justly and honestly paid.”

Nym replied, “Well, then, that’s the long and the short of it.”

Nell Quickly returned and said to them, “If you were born of woman, come quickly and see Sir John. Poor man! He is so shaken from a burning quotidian tertian fever. He has one fever that visits him every day, and another fever that visits him every other day. He is in a piteous predicament, and seeing him will rouse your pity. Sweet men, go and see him.”

Nym said, “The King has caused Sir John’s melancholy — that’s the plain truth of it.”

Pistol said, “Nym, you have spoken the truth; Sir John’s heart has been fracted and corroborated — broken and confirmed to be broken.”

Nym replied, “The King is a good King, but we must say it because it is true — he has some strange moods and does some strange things. As King, he can indulge his thoughts and do whatever he wishes.”

Pistol said, “Let us go and condole Sir John Falstaff. The Knight will die, but we, lambkins, will continue to live.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s HENRY V: A Retelling in Prose — Act 1, scene 2

— 1.2 —

At the Palace of Westminster in London, several people entered the King’s Presence Chamber, the large room in which King Henry V received official visitors. Those people were King Henry V himself, the Duke of Gloucester, the Duke of Bedford, the Duke of Exeter, the Earl of Warwick, the Earl of Westmoreland, and several attendants.

King Henry V asked, “Where is my gracious Lord of Canterbury?”

Exeter replied, “He is not here in the Presence Chamber.”

“Send for him, good uncle,” King Henry V said.

“Shall we call in the ambassador, my liege?” Westmoreland asked.

“Not yet, my cousin,” King Henry V replied. He then used the royal plural when he said, “Before we hear him, we want to have some doubts resolved about some matters of importance that burden our thoughts, concerning us and France.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Ely entered the King’s Presence Chamber.

The Archbishop of Canterbury said to the King, “May God and his angels guard your sacred throne and may you long grace it with your presence!”

“Surely, we thank you,” King Henry V replied. “My learned lord, please proceed and justly and religiously explain why the Salic Law — the law that bars women from inheriting the throne — that they have in France either should, or should not, bar us in our claim to the throne of France.

“And God forbid, my dear Lord of good Christian faith, that you should deliberately misinterpret, wrest, or distort your reading, or lay a burden on your soul — a soul that understands the difference between good and evil — by using sophistry to raise illegitimate claims to the throne. Such illegitimate claims clash with the truth. I wish to know whether my claim to the French throne is legitimate or illegitimate because God knows how many men who are now healthy shall drop their blood in support of what your reverence shall incite us to do. If my claim is illegitimate and you make me believe that it is legitimate, many men shall die for an unjust cause. Should my claim be legitimate, many of our men shall still die, but they will die for a just cause. Therefore take heed how you influence our person and how you awaken our sleeping sword of war. We command you, in the name of God, to take heed because never did two such Kingdoms contend in war against each other without much fall of blood, whose guiltless drops are every one a woe and a sore complaint against him whose wrongdoing gives edge unto the swords that take short human lives and make them shorter. If men die, they should not die for an unjust cause. Their lives should not be wasted. Under this solemn appeal, speak, my lord. We will hear and note what you say and believe in our heart that what you speak is in your conscience as pure as sin after it has been washed with baptism. We will believe that what you say is the truth whether you say that our claim is legitimate or illegitimate.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury did not mention Isabella, the daughter of King Philip IV of France, but it is on her that King Henry V’s claim to the French throne rested.

King Philip III of France fathered King Philip IV of France, who fathered Isabella, who lived the longest of King Philip IV’s four children. If females could inherit the throne, she would have inherited it.

Isabella married King Edward II of England, and they became the parents of King Edward III of England.

King Edward III of England fathered John of Gaunt, who was the Duke of Lancaster.

John of Gaunt fathered Henry Bolingbroke, who became King Henry IV of England.

King Henry IV of England fathered King Henry V of England, who now wondered whether his claim to the French throne was legitimate or illegitimate. He was directly descended from King Philip III of France, but through the femaleline.

The then-present King of France, Charles VI, could claim direct descent from King Philip III of France through the maleline.

King Philip III of France fathered King Philip VI of France, who fathered King John II of France.

King John II of France fathered King Charles V of France, who fathered the then-present King of France, Charles VI.

Of course, many people were Kings of France in between King Philip III of France (reigned 1270-1285) and the then-present King of France, Charles VI, whose reign began in 1380:

King Philip III of France reigned 1270-1285. He was also known as Philip III the Bold.

King Philip IV of France reigned 1285-1314. He was also known as Philip the Fair.

King Louis X of France reigned 1314-1316. He was also known as Louis the Quarreler.

King John I of France reigned in 1316. He was alive for only five days and is also known as John the Posthumous.

King Philip V of France reigned 1316-1322. He was also known as Philip the Tall.

King Charles IV of France reigned 1322-1328. He was also known as Charles the Fair.

King Philip VI of France reigned 1328-1350. He was also known as Philip VI the Fortunate.

King John II of France reigned 1350-1364. He was also known as John the Good.

King Charles V of France reigned 1364-1380. He was also known as Charles V the Wise.

The reign of Charles VI of France began in 1380. He was also known as Charles VI the Mad.

The year in which King Henry V of England was inquiring into the legitimacy of his claim to the throne of France was 1414. His claim would be legitimate if the throne could be inherited through the female line; after all, a later age saw England ruled by Queen Elizabeth I. However, his claim would be illegitimate if the throne could NOT be inherited through the female line.

The Bishop of Canterbury said, “Listen to me, gracious sovereign, and you peers, who owe yourselves, your lives, and your services to this imperial throne. I say ‘imperial’ because you, Henry V, ought to be the King of more than one country. There is no bar against your highness’ claim to France except for this, which the French produce from Pharamond, King of the Salian Franks, a Germanic people: ‘In terram Salicam mulieres ne succedant.’ This is Latin for ‘No woman shall succeed in the Salic land.’ In other words, no woman shall inherit the throne in the Salic land.’ The French incorrectly and unjustly interpret ‘Salic land’ to be the realm of France, and they regard King Pharamond as the founder of this law and female bar to the throne. Yet their own French authors affirm that the Salic land is in Germany, between the Sala and the Elbe rivers, where Charlemagne, aka Charles the Great, having subdued the Saxons, left behind and settled certain Frenchmen, who, holding in disdain the German women because of the women’s unchaste conduct, established then this law: To wit, no female should inherit the throne in the Salic land.

“As I said before, the Salic land lies in between the Sala and the Elbe rivers. Today in Germany the land is called Meissen. Therefore, it is certain that the Salic law was not devised for and does not apply to the realm of France.

“In addition, the French did not possess the Salic land until 379 years after the death of King Pharamond, who was falsely supposed to be the founder of this law. King Pharamond died in 426 A.D., and Charlemagne subdued the Saxons and colonized the Salic land with Frenchmen in the year 805 A.D.

“I will now refer to a number of French Kings:

“King Chlothar I, King of the Franks, who reigned 511-561.

“King Childeric III, King of the Franks, who reigned 743-751 or 743-752.

“King Pepin, King of the Franks, who reigned 751-768 or 752-768. He was also known as Pepin the Short and as Pepin the Younger.

“King Charlemagne, aka Charles the Great, who reigned 768-814.

“King Louis I, who reigned 814-840. He was also known as Louis the Pious.

“King Charles II, aka Charles the Bald, who reigned 840-877. He also called himself ‘the Great,’ which has led people to confuse him with Charlemagne. He was King of the Franks (840-877), King of Western Francia (840-877), and the Holy Roman Emperor (875-877).

“King Hugh Capet, King of the Franks, who reigned 987-996.

“King Louis IX, who reigned 1226-1270. He is also known as Saint Louis IX.

“The French writers state that King Pepin, who deposed King Childeric III, was heir general, which means that he inherited the throne — whether through the male or the female line did not matter. As heir general, he made claim and title to the crown of France because he was descended from Blithild, who was the daughter of King Chlothar I. As you can see, the French have used the female line to help determine who shall be King.

“In addition, let us consider Hugh Capet, who usurped the crown that should have belonged to Charles the Duke of Lorraine, who was sole male heir of the true line and stock of Charles the Great, aka Charlemagne. Hugh Capet, to improve his claim to the title of King with some shows of truth, although, to be honest, his claim to the title of King was corrupt and worthless, pretended to be heir to the Lady Lingare, who was the daughter of King Charles II, aka Charles the Bald, who was the son of Louis the Pious. Louis the Pious was also known as King Louis I, King of the Franks, and as Holy Roman Emperor Louis I. Louis the Pious was the son of Charlemagne, with whom he was co-Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. As you can see, the French have used the female line to help determine who shall be King.

“In addition, let us consider King Louis IX, who was the sole heir to the usurper Hugh Capet. King Louis IX felt guilty wearing the crown of France until he was satisfied that beautiful Queen Isabel, his grandmother, was directly descended from the Lady Ermengare, who was the daughter of Charles the Duke of Lorraine. By the marriage of Isabel to his grandfather, King Philip II, the line of Charles the Great, aka Charlemagne, was reunited to the crown of France. As you can see, the French have used the female line to help determine who shall be King.

“This information may be hard to follow, but if you follow it, it will be as clear as the summer Sun that King Pepin’s title, and King Hugh Capet’s claim, and King Lewis IX’s satisfaction, all appear to hold in right and title of the female line. All of them have used the female line to justify their being on the throne of France, and the same is true of other French Kings until this present day. Nevertheless, they use the Salic law to prevent your highness from claiming the throne of France from the female line. Instead, they choose to try to hide their own actions in a net through whose holes they can easily be seen. They choose to try to hide their own actions rather than openly acknowledge that their titles are crooked and stolen from you and your ancestors.”

King Henry V asked, “May I with justice and a clear conscience make this claim to the throne of France?”

“Yes, dread sovereign,” the Archbishop of Canterbury said. “Should there be any sin, let it fall on my head! I can say that because I know that your claim is not sinful. For in the book of Numbers is written that when the man dies with no male heirs, let the inheritance descend unto the daughter. To be specific, Numbers 27:8 states, ‘And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a man die, and have no son, then ye shall cause his inheritance to pass unto his daughter.’ Gracious lord, stand up for your own rights; unfurl your flag although it means going to war and shedding blood, and remember your mighty ancestors.

“Go, my dread lord, to the tomb of your great-grandfather, King Edward III, from whom arises your claim to the throne of France. Invoke his warlike spirit, and invoke the warlike spirit of your great-uncle, Edward the Black Prince, the son of Edward III. He was called the Black Prince because of his black armor. In 1346, on a French battlefield, he played the role of a hero as he and his soldiers defeated the entire French army in the Battle of Crécy. His most mighty father — a lion, a Monarch — on a hill stood smiling as he beheld his lion’s whelp glut himself on the blood of French nobility. We English were noble on that day! We fought the entire French army with only half of the English army and defeated it. The other half of our army was on the hill with King Edward III. Our soldiers there stood laughing as they watched the battle. They had no work to do and were cold because they needed not exert themselves!”

King Henry V thought, Actually, two-thirds of the English army were fighting. Only one-third of the English army was on the hill with my great-grandfather. The patriotism of the Archbishop of Canterbury has understandably led him to exaggerate.

The Bishop of Ely said, “Remember all these valiant dead and with your powerful arm renew their feats. You are their heir; you sit upon their throne; the blood and courage that made them renowned runs in your veins; and you, my thrice-powerful liege, are in the May morning of your youth — you are ripe for exploits and mighty enterprises. You are triply powerful because you are the heir of these warriors, you sit upon the throne of England, and you have the courage of your warrior ancestors.”

Exeter said, “Your brother Kings and Monarchs of the earth all expect that you will rouse yourself and seek what is rightfully yours, as did the former lions of your blood.”

Westmoreland said, “They know that your grace has a just cause, enough wealth, and enough military strength, as in fact your highness has. Never has any King of England had richer nobles and more loyal subjects, whose hearts have left their bodies here in England and instead are metaphorically inside military tents on the battlefields of France.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury said, “Let their bodies follow their hearts, my dear liege, to win the throne of France, which is rightfully yours, with bloodshed and sword and fire. To aid you in pursuing your claim to the throne of France we of the Church will raise for your highness such a mighty sum as never have the clergy at one time given to any of your ancestors.”

King Henry V said, “We must not only arm to invade France, but we must also calculate the number of troops needed to defend England against the Scots, who will attack our country when they believe it is advantageous for them to do so.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury said, “Those people who live in the Marches — the land bordering Scotland — will serve as a wall that is sufficient to defend the rest of our country from the pilfering borderers. The lords of the Marches have armed men.”

“I am not referring only to the fast-galloping Scottish raiders,” King Henry V said. “I fear the armed invasion of the Scots as a whole. They have always been dangerous and unreliable neighbors to us. You can read in histories that Edward III, my great-grandfather, never went with his armed forces into France without the Scots pouring into his defenseless England like the tide waters pour onto a beach. The Scots would attack with great forces at their full strength the English land whose soldiers had been gleaned from its fields, and they would surround and lay a grievous siege on castles and towns. England was defenseless because so many of its soldiers were fighting in France, and so the English citizens left behind in England shook and trembled because Scotland is such a bad neighbor.”

“England has been more frightened than it has been harmed, my liege,” the Archbishop of Canterbury objected. “Look at English history. When all of England’s chivalrous nobles were in France, and England was like a widow mourning the loss of the nobles, England not only has well defended itself but also captured and imprisoned the King of Scotland as if he were a stray beast. In 1346, while Edward III was in France, King David II of Scotland was captured, and it was thought that he was taken to France and given to Edward III so that his fame could be swelled by making prisoners of the Kings of foreign lands. In addition, the capture of King David II of Scotland has helped to make England’s history as rich with praise as is the oozy bottom of the sea rich with sunken wrecked ships and with immeasurable wealth.”

Westmoreland, who was Warden of the northern Marches, knew much about the military threat of Scotland. He said to the King, “Remember this very old and true saying, ‘If you want to win France, / Then with Scotland first begin.’ Once the eagle warriors of England leave to seek prey, to England’s unguarded nest the weasel Scot comes sneaking and so breaks into and sucks the protein out of her Princely eggshells. The Scot plays the mouse when England the cat is absent, acting in accordance with the proverb ‘While the cat’s away, the mice will play.’ Like mice, the Scots will break into and ruin more food than they can eat.”

“It follows then the cat must stay at home,” Exeter said, “but yet that is distorted logic — that particular conclusion does not necessarily follow. After all, we have locks to safeguard necessaries, and we have ingenious traps to catch the petty thieves. While the armed hand fights abroad, the cautious and prudent head defends itself at home. Government and society are like music. Government has high and low and lower positions and social classes, and music has high and low and lower notes and harmonies. If the parts of government and society work together properly, and the parts of the music work together properly, the result is harmonious and agreeable. If all of the citizens remaining in England work together while Henry V is in France with his army, England shall be safe.”

“That is why Heaven has divided the body politic of Humankind into different positions performing different functions,” the Archbishop of Canterbury said. “Human effort is continual, and it has as its target obedience to the will of God and the will of their King.

“Look at how the honeybees work. They have an instinctive government that can teach us, the citizens of a human Kingdom, orderly action. Honeybees have a King — actually, a Queen — bee. Honeybees also have various kinds of officers. Some bees are like magistrates who administer justice at home. Other bees are like merchants who venture to trade abroad. Other bees are like soldiers, and their stings are their weapons. They plunder the summer’s velvet buds, and they merrily march with their plunder home to the royal tent of their Emperor, who busily surveys the singing masons as they build roofs of gold, the civil citizens molding the cells of the honeycombs, the poor working bees crowding in with their heavy burdens at his narrow gate, the serious-eyed justice with his surly hum or hmm as he hands over to threatening executors the lazy yawning drone.

“I infer from all of this that many people, all of whom work toward one target, may work at various jobs to achieve a single goal.

“They are like many arrows, shot by many archers standing in different places, that fly toward one target.

“They are like many roads around one town that go toward and meet in that town.

“They are like many fresh-water streams that flow toward and run into the same salt sea.

“They are like the lines of a Sun-dial that all run toward and meet in the center of the Sun-dial.

“So may a thousand actions done by different groups of people, once begun, end by achieving one goal with great success and without defeat.

“Therefore, go to France, my liege. Divide your happy English soldiers into four armies. Take one army with you to France, and with them you shall make all France shake. If we, with three such armies left at home, cannot defend our own doors from the dog of war, let us be torn to pieces and let our nation lose its reputation for hardiness and statesmanship.”

King Henry V said, “Call in the messengers sent from the Dauphin, who is the son of the King of France and the supposed heir to the throne.”

A few attendants exited the Presence Chamber.

King Henry V said, “Now the doubts we had concerning our claim to the throne of France have been resolved, and I have decided to pursue our claim. By God’s help, and yours, you nobles who are the noble sinews of our power, France being ours because of our legitimate claim to the throne, we will bend France so that it respects the authority of England, or if it will not bend, we will break it all to pieces. Either we will sit on the throne of France and rule with complete sovereignty both it and all her almost Kingly Dukedoms, or these bones of mine will lie in an unworthy grave, without a monument, with no memorial inscription over them. Either our history — the biography of King Henry V — shall with full mouth speak freely of our acts in acquiring the throne of France and ruling as King of France, or else our grave will be like a Turkish slave whose tongue has been cut out to stop the spreading of state secrets. Unless we become King of France, our grave shall have a tongueless mouth and lack accomplishments to boast about. Unless we become King of France, our grave shall not even be honored with an epitaph made of perishable wax.”

The French ambassadors entered the King’s Presence Chamber.

King Henry V said, “Now we are well prepared to know what our fair kinsman the Dauphin has to say to us, for we hear that this greeting is from him, not from the King of France.”

In fact, King Henry V and the Dauphin were kinsmen; they were distantly related.

The first ambassador asked, “Will your majesty give us permission to state clearly the message we bring to you from the Dauphin, or shall we use diplomatic language to indirectly and tactfully state what the Dauphin wants us to tell you?”

“We are no tyrant; instead, we are a Christian King,” King Henry V replied. “I keep even my strongest emotions under control; they are under control as much as are the wretched inmates of our prisons. Therefore with frank and uncurbed plain language, tell us the Dauphin’s message to us.”

The first ambassador said, “Briefly and with few words, I say this: Your highness recently sent ambassadors to France to claim some certain Dukedoms, which you believe are yours because of your great predecessor King Edward III. In answer to your claim, the Dauphin our master says that you have not yet grown out of your youth, that you are still the immature youth that you were, and he tells you that there is nothing in France that can be won by performing the fast and nimble dance that is known as the galliard. You cannot revel yourself into any French Dukedoms. The Dauphin therefore sends you something that he thinks is more suitable for you, this container of treasure. He insists that you accept the treasure and give up your claim to the French Dukedoms. This is the message that the Dauphin required us to bring to you.”

King Henry V said to Exeter, “What is the treasure, uncle?”

“A container of tennis balls, my liege.”

The tennis balls were made of leather and stuffed with horsehair. The game of royal tennis was played on a paved oblong court that was surrounded by walls. Between the two longer walls, a rope or low net was stretched. The two shorter walls had holes that were called hazards; a ball hit into a hazard scored a point. A point was also scored when a ball bounced twice before the opposing player could hit it. The opposing player would chase after the ball to hit it with a stringed racket.

King Henry V said to the French ambassadors, “We are glad the Dauphin is so pleasant with us, and we thank you for his present and your pains.

“When we have marched our rackets to these balls, we will, in France, by God’s grace, play a set that shall strike the Dauphin’s father’s crown into the hazard. Tell the Dauphin he has made a match with such a wrangler that all the courts of France will be disturbed with chases.

“We intend to march our army to the place from where these tennis balls came: France. There, the game that we will play is called war. We intend to play so well that we will strike the Dauphin’s father’s crown from off his head and onto ours. Tell the Dauphin he has made a match with such a warrior that all the noble courts will be disturbed by English soldiers chasing fleeing French nobles.

“We admit that we well understand the Dauphin’s reference to our younger, wilder days. He does not understand how useful they were to us. When we were young, we never valued this poor seat — the throne — of England; therefore, living away from the court, we gave ourself to barbarous license and behaved riotously, as is common: Men are merriest when they are away from home.

“But tell the Dauphin that I will keep my throne and I will act like a King and show my sail of greatness — my military banners and coat of arms — when I rise up out of my throne in France.

“So that in the future I could appear to be more glorious, in my youth I set aside my majesty and plodded like a working man, but I will rise from my throne in France with so full a glory that I will dazzle all the eyes in France. I will strike the Dauphin blind when he attempts to look at me.

“Tell the pleasant Prince — the Dauphin — this joke of his has turned his tennis balls into cannonballs. His soul shall be charged with the wasteful vengeance that shall fly with the cannonballs — his joke will create many thousands of widows. He will fail to cheat me out of my French throne, but he will succeed in cheating many French wives out of their dear husbands and he will succeed in cheating many French mothers out of their sons. He will be responsible for the deaths of thousands and for the tearing down of French castles. Some are not yet begotten and not yet born who shall have cause to curse the Dauphin’s scorn.

“But all this lies within the will of God, to Whom I do appeal, and in Whose name you shall tell the Dauphin I am coming to get revenge — I will put forth my effort in a righteous cause that is approved by God. So leave from here in peace and tell the Dauphin that his jest will be shown to be of only shallow wit when thousands more weep at it than ever laughed at it.”

Henry V said to some attendants, “Escort these French ambassadors away from here. Give them safe conduct.”

He said to the French ambassadors, “Fare you well.”

Some English attendants and all the French ambassadors exited.

Exeter said, “This was a merry message.”

Henry V replied, “We hope to make the sender blush at it. We want to make the Dauphin ashamed of it, and we want his cheeks and face to be red with blood.”

He added, “Therefore, my lords, take every opportunity to advance our expedition against France. For we have now no thought in us but thoughts about France, save those thoughts we have about God — our thoughts about God are more important than any other business.

“Therefore, let our army for these wars be soon collected and gathered together and all things thought upon that may with reasonable swiftness add more feathers to our wings. We wish to start this action in France quickly.

“With God to guide us, we will chide this childish Dauphin at his father’s door.

“Therefore, let every man now employ his thoughts in setting our noble enterprise into action.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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

— 1.1 —

In an antechamber in King Henry V’s palace — the Palace of Westminster in London — the Archbishop of Canterbury said to the Bishop of Ely, “My lord, I’ll tell you something important: that same bill is now being proposed that in 1410 — the eleventh year of the reign of our last King, Henry IV, was likely to have been passed, and indeed it would have been passed except that the violent and unruly times turned people’s attention to other, more urgent matters.”

“But how, my lord, shall we resist it now?” the Bishop of Ely asked.

“We must think about how to resist this bill,” the Archbishop of Canterbury replied. “If it passes against our wishes, we — the Church — lose more than half of our possessions. This bill, if passed into law, would strip away all the temporal and secular lands that devout men in their wills have given to the Church. These lands are valuable. The people who would strip these lands away from us believe that the lands’ value would pay for, to the King’s honor, fifteen Earls and fifteen hundred Knights, and also six thousand and two hundred good esquires; in addition, their value would maintain a hundred well-supplied almshouses to support lazars — the word comes from Lazarus the beggar and refers to chronically ill people who cannot work — and weak old people who cannot work with their bodies. Also, these lands’ value would add a thousand pounds annually to the treasury of the King. All of that wealth would be taken from the Church, which is exempt from paying taxes on its lands and wealth.”

“If our lands and wealth were a cup filled with wine, this bill would drink deep,” the Bishop of Ely said.

“This bill would drink all the wine from the cup,” the Archbishop of Canterbury exaggerated.

“How can we prevent this bill from passing and becoming law?”

“The King is full of grace and fair regard,” the Archbishop of Canterbury said. “He has Christian goodness, and he is respected.”

“He is a true lover of the Holy Church.”

“He is a good man, but his behavior when he was youthful was undisciplined and reckless and showed no promise of future excellence,” the Archbishop of Canterbury said. “At that time, he was commonly known by common men as Prince Hal. However, when the breath left the body of his father, King Henry IV, immediately Prince Hal’s wildness, subdued by him, seemed to die and leave his body. As soon as Prince Hal’s father the King died, spiritual contemplation and careful thought and awareness of his position came to the Prince. This spiritual contemplation, like an angel, came to the Prince and whipped the offending Adam out of him. Adam committed the first sin, and sin now departed from Prince Hal’s body. With sin gone, his body was like a paradise, one that could envelop and contain celestial spirits. It was like an angel took possession of the body of the person who then became King Henry V.

“Never has such a scholar so suddenly been made; Prince Hal immediately changed from a dissolute youth to a sober and serious King — one with a knowledge of theology. Never has reformation come in such a flood; the rush of flowing water scrubbed away Prince Hal’s faults. The thoroughness of the cleaning process was like that of Hercules cleaning the Augean stables. King Augeas had over a thousand cattle, and his stables had not been cleaned for over 30 years. Hercules cleaned the stables in a single day by diverting the course of a river so that it flowed through the stables and washed away the manure.

“Prince Hal had been filled with willfulness and with unworthy desires that he repeatedly satisfied. Never so quickly has Hydra-headed willfulness departed as it departed from the body of this King Henry V. The Hydra was a nine-headed serpent-like sea monster. Each time one head was cut off, two more heads sprung up in its place. Hercules was able to kill the Hydra with the help of his nephew Iolaus, who used a fire-torch to cauterize the stump left behind each time a head was cut off. Unworthy desires are like the heads of the Hydra. Each time a person gives in to one unworthy desire, two more unworthy desires spring up. King Henry V was able to kill each unworthy desire the way that Hercules killed the heads of the Hydra.”

“We are blessed in the change,” the Bishop of Ely said.

“Listen to King Henry V discuss matters of divinity, and you will admire his thoughts,” the Archbishop of Canterbury said. “You will even have an inward wish that the King would be made a prelate — a bishop or holder of some other high ecclesiastical office. Listen to him discuss the affairs of state, and you would say that he has long been making a deep study of government. Listen to him discuss warfare, and you shall hear a discourse that is so well spoken that it is like music. Ask him about any judicial argument involving politics, and he will know the pros and the cons and the intricacies. Even if the argument is like the Gordian knot — a knot so intricate that people thought that it was impossible to untie — King Henry V will untie that knot as easily as he unties the knot of his garter that keeps his stocking up. Alexander the Great ‘untied’ the Gordian knot by cutting it in two with his sword, but King Henry V is the superior of Alexander the Great. When King Henry V unties the Gordian knot of a political controversy, the air, which is free to go wherever it pleases, is still. The ears of men are filled with quiet wonder as they closely listen to his sweet and honeyed sentences.

“Practical life experience is more important than theory — he could not speak so wisely about these matters unless he applied such wisdom to his own life. We must wonder where King Henry V acquired such wisdom. After all, he filled his youth with inclinations toward foolish behavior. As a youth, he enjoyed companions who were uneducated and ignorant, without manners, and frivolous. He filled his hours with riotous revels, banquets, and entertainments. No one ever saw him engage in study, retire from company, and enjoy privacy so that he could reflect upon important matters. No, Prince Hal was always in public and in crowds of the common people.”

“Perhaps he is like the fruit of strawberry plants,” the Bishop of Ely said. “Our culture believes that most plants are affected by the plants of other species that grow near them. Therefore, we do not allow onions and garlic to grow near most fruit bushes. However, such plants as onions and garlic do not negatively affect strawberry bushes. Strawberry bushes grow underneath the nettle, and their wholesome strawberries thrive and ripen best when the bushes’ neighbors are vegetables of baser quality. Like the strawberry bushes, Prince Hal hid the seriousness of his thoughts; he kept them secret. In his case, the veil was one of wildness. But like summer grass, which grows fastest by night, Prince Hal’s seriousness and wisdom, although unseen by others, yet grew because it is their nature to grow.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury said, “What you say must be correct because otherwise we would have to say that the change of Prince Hal’s character to the character of King Henry V is the result of a miracle, and the only true miracles are those that are recorded in the Bible. Therefore, we have to find a natural cause for the change in his character and how he has been brought to perfection.”

“My good lord, what can we do now to stop or mitigate the effects of the bill that has been put forward to the House of Commons? We do not want to have more than half of the Church’s wealth seized by the government. Does his majesty favor this bill, or not?”

“He seems impartial,” the Archbishop of Canterbury said. “Or, rather, I should say that he leans more toward us than toward the people who support this bill. He leans more toward us because I have made an offer to his majesty, following my meeting with other clergy. This offer relates to important matters concerning France that are of concern now. To his grace the King, I have offered to give a greater sum than ever at one time the clergy has given to any of his predecessors.”

“What does King Henry V think about this offer?”

“He regards it favorably,” the Archbishop of Canterbury said. “However, there was not time enough then for him to hear, as I perceived his grace would have liked to have heard, the particular facts and the indisputable arguments that prove that he has true claims to particular Dukedoms in France and indeed to the crown and throne of France. Henry V, King of England, ought to also be the King of France; Henry V is directly descended from his great-grandfather, King Edward III of England, and this gives him a claim to be King of France. The mother of Edward III is the daughter of King Philip IV of France, and so Henry V of England is directly descended from King Philip III through the female line.”

“What happened to interrupt your conversation with King Henry V?” the Bishop of Ely asked.

“The French ambassador arrived and asked for an audience with the King to be scheduled. The hour, I think, has come for us to go and listen to the King. Is it four o’clock?”

“Yes, it is.”

“Then let us go into the King’s presence so that we can hear the French ambassador’s message. I can guess the content of that message even before the Frenchman speaks a word of it.”

“I will go with you,” the Bishop of Ely said. “I long to hear the French ambassador’s message.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved