William Shakespeare’s “1 Henry IV”: A Retelling in Prose — Act 5, Scene 4

— 5.4 —

In another part of the battlefield a little later were Prince Hal, who was bleeding, King Henry IV, Lord John of Lancaster, and the Earl of Westmoreland.

King Henry IV said to Prince Hal, “Please, Harry, withdraw from the battle. You are bleeding too much to continue fighting. Lord John of Lancaster, go with him.”

“No, my lord,” John of Lancaster said. “I would not leave the battlefield unless I myself were bleeding.”

Prince Hal said to his father the King, “I beg your majesty, advance. If you retreat, you will dismay your troops.”

“I will do so,” the King said. “My Lord of Westmoreland, lead the Prince of Wales to his tent.”

“Come, my lord, I’ll lead you to your tent,” Westmoreland said.

Prince Hal objected, “Lead me, my lord? I do not need your help. God forbid that a shallow scratch should drive the Prince of Wales away from such a battlefield as this, where our noble troops are stained with battle and trodden on by soldiers and horses, and the rebels triumph with their massacres!”

“We have rested too long,” Lord John of Lancaster said. “Come, Westmoreland, our duty lies this way. Let us do our duty.”

Lord John of Lancaster and the Earl of Westmoreland left to rejoin the battle.

Prince Hal said about Lord John, his younger brother, “By God, you have deceived me, Lancaster. I did not think that you had such a brave spirit. Before, I loved you as a brother, John; but now, I respect you as I respect my soul.”

King Henry IV said, “I saw John fight Hotspur with his sword. John fought harder and better than I expected such a young warrior to fight.”

“This boy gives courage to us all!” Prince Hal said.

Then he left to rejoin the battle.

Douglas appeared, saw King Henry IV, and said, “Another King! They grow like Hydra’s heads. Each time Hercules fought the mythological creature and cut off one of its heads, two more grew in its place. I am Douglas, fatal to all those who wear those colors on their vests. Who are you, you counterfeiter of the person of the King?”

“I am the King himself, and Douglas, I grieve because you have killed so many of the brave men who are pretending to be me. It would have been much better if you had found me. Two of my sons are seeking Hotspur and you on the battlefield, but since you and I have met, I will fight you, so defend yourself.”

“I fear that you are another counterfeit,” Douglas said, “but yet you bear yourself like a King. Whoever you are, I will fight you and I will kill you.”

They fought, and Douglas fought better. The King was in danger of being killed when Prince Hal saw the fight and came running to save his father’s life.

“Surrender, vile Scot,” Prince Hal said, “or you will never hold up your head again. The spirits of valiant Stafford, Shirley, and Blunt, all of whom have died on this battlefield, are in my arms. It is the Prince of Wales who threatens you, and I never promise anything but what I intend to do.”

The fought, and Douglas ended up fleeing from Prince Hal, who saved his father’s life.

Prince Hal said to his father, “Be happy, my lord. How are you? Sir Nicholas Gawsey has sent to ask for help. So has Clifton. I am going to Clifton now.”

“Stay, and rest awhile,” the King said. “You have redeemed your bad reputation, and you have shown that you put some value on my life by rescuing me like this.”

“People have done me a great injury by saying that I want you to die,” Prince Hal said. “If that were true, I would have let Douglas kill you, which he would have done as quickly as all the poisons in the world, thus saving any treacherous labor by me, your son.”

“You go and help Clifton,” the King said. “I will go and help Sir Nicholas Gawsey.”

King Henry IV departed.

Hotspur came onto the scene and saw Prince Hal.

Hotspur said, “Unless I am mistaken, you are the Prince of Wales.”

“You speak as if I would deny who I am,” Prince Hal replied.

“My name is Harry Percy. People call me Hotspur.”

“Why, then I see a very valiant rebel,” Prince Hal said. “I truly am the Prince of Wales. Hotspur, do not think to share glory with me anymore. Two planets do not share one orbit, and England cannot endure a double reign of Hotspur and the Prince of Wales.”

“Nor shall it, Prince Hal,” Hotspur replied. “The hour has come in which one of us will die. I wish to God that your reputation in battle were as great as is my reputation.”

“I will make my reputation better than it is before I part from you,” Prince Hal said. “All of the honors that you have gathered I will reap and use to make a garland for my head.”

“I can no longer tolerate your empty boasts,” Hotspur said.

Hotspur and Prince Hal fought.

Falstaff arrived and cheered on Prince Hal: “Well done, Hal. Go to it. You shall find no boy’s play here, I tell you.”

Douglas happened onto the scene, and he began to fight Falstaff, who pretended to have a heart attack and fell down “dead.”

Douglas, who did not recognize the Prince of Wales and who thought that Hotspur was a better warrior than the man he was currently fighting, left, and Prince Hal and Hotspur continued to fight.

Prince Hal dealt Hotspur a mortal blow with his sword, and Hotspur fell and said, “Prince of Wales, you have robbed me of my youth! I better endure the loss of brittle life than I endure the loss of my proud titles that you have taken from me. Their loss wounds my thoughts worse than your sword wounds my flesh. Our thoughts are dependent on our bodies, and our bodies are dependent on time. And time, which sees all of existence, must come to an end. As a dying man, I can prophesy, but the earthy and cold hand of death lies on my tongue. Hotspur, you have no time to prophesy because you are dust and food for —”

Hotspur died.

Prince Hal finished Hotspur’s last sentence: “For worms, brave Hotspur. Fare thee well, great heart! Misguided ambition, how much have you shrunk! When this body contained a spirit, a kingdom was too small a territory for it, but now two paces of the vilest earth is room enough to make a grave to contain it. This earth on which you lie dead will never bear a living man as valiant as you. If you were capable of hearing me, I would not give you so much praise, but now that you are dead, let me cover your mangled face. On your behalf, I will thank myself for performing this rite of tender duty to the dead. Goodbye, and take my praise of you with you to Heaven! Let your rebellion sleep with you in your grave and not be mentioned in your epitaph.”

Prince Hal saw Falstaff lying “dead” on the ground.

“What, old acquaintance! Could not all this flesh keep in a little life? Poor Jack, farewell! I could have better spared a better man. I should heavily — in more ways than one — miss you, if I were much in love with frivolity! Death has not struck so fat a deer today, although it has struck many dearer, in this bloody fray. I will see to it that you are quickly disemboweled for embalming. Until then, lie here dead in the blood of this battlefield.”

Prince Hal left.

Falstaff got up off the ground and said, “Disemboweled! If you disembowel me today, I give you permission to salt me and eat me tomorrow. By God, it was time for me to counterfeit death, or that raging and bloodthirsty Scot had taken my life! But is ‘counterfeit’ the right word? I am no counterfeit. A counterfeit of a man does not have the life of a man. To do as I did — to counterfeit dying so that I could continue living — is to be no counterfeit, but instead to be the true and perfect image of life. The better part of valor is discretion; that is, the most important part of courage is caution. By being cautious and counterfeiting death rather than fighting, I have saved my life.”

Falstaff looked at Hotspur’s corpse and said, “By God, I am afraid of this volatile and easily inflamed Hotspur, although he is dead. What if he is also counterfeiting death and will soon get up? I am afraid that he will prove to be a better actor than I am. Therefore, I will make sure that he is dead, and I will swear that I killed him. Why may not he rise as well as I did? Only a witness could prove that to be wrong, and the only witnesses are my own eyes — nobody sees me.”

Falstaff stabbed Hotspur’s corpse and said, “You now have a new wound in your thigh, and I will take you along with me.”

Falstaff picked up Hotspur’s corpse in preparation of carrying it to someone in authority so that he could get a reward.

Prince Hal and Lord John of Lancaster arrived on the scene.

Prince Hal said, “Brother John, today you have very bravely fought in your first battle and bloodied your sword.”

John of Lancaster saw Falstaff and said, “Who is this? Didn’t you tell me that this fat man was dead?”

“I did say that,” Prince Hal said. “I saw him dead; he was lying breathless and bleeding on the ground.”

Prince Hal said to Falstaff, “Are you alive? Are my eyes imagining things? Please, speak. I will not trust my eyes until I have the evidence of my ears to support them. You cannot be what you seem to be!”

“I am not a ghost — that’s for sure,” Falstaff replied. “But if I am not Jack Falstaff, then I am a rascal.”

Falstaff dropped on the ground the corpse he was carrying and said, “There is Hotspur. If your father the King will reward me, well and good. If he will not, then let him kill the next Hotspur himself. I look to be made either an Earl or a Duke, I can assure you.”

“Why, I killed Hotspur myself and I saw you lying dead,” Prince Hal said.

“Did you?” Falstaff said. “Really? How this world is given to lying! I grant you that I was down and out of breath, and so was Hotspur, but we both rose simultaneously and fought a long hour by Shrewsbury clock. If I may be believed, well and good; if not, let them who should reward courage bear the sin upon their own heads. I swear by my eternal soul that I gave Hotspur this wound in the thigh. If any man alive denies it, I will make him eat a piece of my sword.”

Lord John said, “This is the strangest tale that I ever heard.”

“And this is the strangest fellow, brother John,” Prince Hal said.

He said to Falstaff, “Come, bring your luggage — Hotspur’s corpse — nobly on your back. For my part, if this lie of yours will do you any good, I will not openly contradict you but will let you get away with it.”

They heard a military trumpet.

Prince Hal said, “The trumpet sounds retreat for the rebels; the day is ours. We have won the battle. Come, brother, let us go to the highest ground on the battlefield to see which of our friends are living, and which are dead.”

Prince Hal and John of Lancaster left, leaving Falstaff alone with Hotspur’s corpse.

“I will follow them so that I can collect a reward,” Falstaff said. “May God reward whoever rewards me! If I am rewarded with a title of greatness such as Earl or Duke, I will grow less because I will repent, go on a diet, stop drinking sack, and live as cleanly as a nobleman should.”

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