William Shakespeare’s “1 Henry IV”: A Retelling in Prose — Act 5, Scene 2

— 5.2 —

In the rebel camp, Worcester said to Sir Richard Vernon, “My nephew Hotspur must not know, Sir Richard, the liberal and kind offer of the King.”

“It were best that he did know,” Sir Richard Vernon replied.

“If he finds out and accepts the offer, then we are ruined,” Worcester said. “I do not believe that it is likely — or even possible — that the King should keep his word and regard us as his friends. He will continue to suspect us of treason and find a time to punish this rebellion at another time and by using some pretext. All our lives he will look at us with suspicion. We raised an army and marched in rebellion against the King. We shall be trusted only as a fox is trusted. A fox may be partially tamed, may be loved, and may be locked up in a cage, but still the fox will retain some of its wildness. No matter how we look, whether we appear to be sad or merry, the King will misinterpret our looks. We shall feed like oxen at a stall; we shall be fattened before we are butchered. My nephew’s trespass may be forgotten; Hotspur has the excuse of youth and heat of blood, and with a nickname like Hotspur he may be forgiven on the basis that such a nickname denotes the brain of a hare and a lack of self-control. This rebellion will not lie on Hotspur’s head; it will lie on my head and on the head of Hotspur’s father. We are the ones who encouraged Hotspur to rebel; he caught his guilt from us like a disease. We, as the genesis of the rebellion, shall pay for it. Therefore, good kinsman, do not let Hotspur know the liberal and kind offer of the King.”

Sir Richard Vernon replied, “Say whatever you want to say. I will back you up and say that you are telling the truth. Look, here is Hotspur now.”

Hotspur and Douglas met Worcester and Sir Richard Vernon.

Hotspur ordered, “Prepare to release the Lord of Westmoreland. My uncle has returned from seeing the King, and Westmoreland was the hostage who ensured a safe return for my uncle.”

He then said to Worcester, “Uncle, what news do you bring from King Henry IV?”

“The King wishes to go into battle quickly.”

Douglas said, “Give the Lord of Westmoreland a defiant message to give to the King.”

Hotspur replied, “Lord Douglas, go to the Lord of Westmoreland and give him a defiant message to deliver.”

“Indeed, I will, and very willingly,” Douglas said.

He left to see the Earl of Westmoreland.

“The King will not show us any mercy,” Worcester said.

“Did you beg for mercy?” Hotspur asked. “God forbid that you would!”

“I told him gently about our grievances and about his oath-breaking. He replied by lying that he never lied. He called us rebels and traitors, and he said that he will punish our rebellion with his proud and mighty army.”

The Earl of Douglas returned from talking with the Earl of Westmoreland.

“Arm yourselves, gentlemen,” Douglas said, “and prepare to fight. I have thrown a brave defiance in King Henry IV’s teeth. Westmoreland will deliver the message, and as soon as the King hears it, the battle will start.”

Worcester said to Hotspur, “The Prince of Wales stepped forth before his father the King, and he challenged you to a single fight.”

“I wish that a single fight would decide the victor, and that no one except Prince Hal and I would fight and get out of breath. But tell me what tone he used in his challenge to me. Did he show contempt for me?”

Sir Richard Vernon said, “No, by my soul, he showed no contempt at all for you. I never in my life did hear a challenge urged more modestly, unless a brother should ask his brother to compete in gentle exercise and proof of arms. He gave you all the respect that is due to a man, he praised you with a Princely tongue, he listed your notable qualities in detail like the writer of a history, and he said that praise by itself was not enough to state your true worth. In addition, he did something that showed that he is indeed a Prince: He admitted his faults and regretted his truant youth with such a grace as if he were a teacher teaching a lesson and a student learning one at the same time. He stopped speaking then, but I believe, and I would tell everyone in the world, that if he survives this battle, England has never had a sweeter hope, or one so much misunderstood because of his youthful reckless behavior.”

Hotspur replied, “Sir Richard, I think that you have fallen in love with Prince Hal’s follies. Never have I heard of any Prince who is so wild a libertine. But be he as he will, yet before nightfall I will embrace him with a soldier’s arm, and he shall shrink under my soldier’s affection.”

To everyone, Hotspur said, “Arm yourselves quickly. Fellows, soldiers, friends, think about what we have to do. I do not have the gift of an eloquent tongue, and so you need to motivate yourselves to fight well in battle.”

A messenger arrived and told Hotspur, “My lord, here are letters for you.”

Hotspur replied, “I do not have time to read them now.”

To everyone he said, “Gentlemen, the time of life is short! To spend the shortness of life in a shameful way would make life too long even if it lasted for only an hour. If we survive this battle and continue to live, we will have conquered a King. If we die, we will have a brave death if we can make Princes die with us! We all have good consciences because we bear arms in a fair cause; our motivation for bearing arms is just.”

Another messenger arrived and said, “My lord, prepare to fight. The King is starting to attack.”

“I thank the King because he has stopped my speech,” Hotspur said. “I prefer not to talk, and I say only this: Let each man do his best. Now I draw my sword, which I intend to stain with the best blood that I can meet in the battle we fight this perilous day. Esperance! Hope! Let’s go to battle. Sound all the lofty instruments of war, and let us all embrace. By Heaven, we know that some of us never again shall live to embrace friends again!”

They embraced and went off to fight in war.

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