David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s “HENRY IV, PART 2”: A Retelling in Prose — Act 1, Scene 1

— 1.1 —

At Warkworth, in front of the castle of the Earl of Northumberland, Lord Bardolph, a rebel, approached the gate and called, “Who guards the gate here?”

The porter opened the gate, and Lord Bardolph asked, “Where is the Earl of Northumberland?”

The porter asked him, “Who shall I say you are?”

“Tell the Earl of Northumberland that the Lord Bardolph wishes to speak to him.”

“His lordship is walking in the garden. If it pleases your honor, go and knock at the garden gate, and he himself will answer the knock.”

The Earl of Northumberland walked toward the porter and Lord Bardolph, who saw him and said, “Here comes the Earl.”

The porter departed and Northumberland asked, “What is the news, Lord Bardolph? Every minute now should be the father of some violent deed. The times are wild, and contention, like a horse that is full of over-rich feed, madly has broken loose and tramples everyone in its path.”

“Noble Earl, I bring you true and certain news from Shrewsbury.”

“Good news, I hope, if God wills it!”

“It is news as good as your heart can wish,” Lord Bardolph said. “King Henry IV is wounded and near death. As for Hotspur, your son, he has slain Prince Hal. The Douglas has killed both Blunts: Sir Walter Blunt and Sir John Blunt.”

This was another of Rumor’s lies. Sir Walter Blunt had been killed, yes, but Sir John Blunt still lived.

Lord Bardolph continued, “Young Prince John and Westmoreland and Stafford fled from the battlefield.”

This was another of Rumor’s lies. Stafford died on the battlefield, and Prince John and Westmoreland were victorious and did not flee.

Lord Bardolph continued, “Hotspur took prisoner Prince Hal’s brawny friend, the fattened boar known as Sir John Falstaff. He is as big as the hulk of a large merchant ship.

“Oh, such a day and such a battle, so fought, so followed, and so fairly won, has not so dignified the times since the days of Julius Caesar!”

“How do you know this?” the Earl of Northumberland asked. “Did you see the battlefield? Have you come from Shrewsbury?”

“I spoke with one, my lord, who came from Shrewsbury. He is a gentleman who is well bred and of good name, and he freely told me this news and said that it is true.”

Northumberland looked up and said, “Here comes my servant Travers, whom I sent last Tuesday to listen for news.”

“My lord, I rode past him on the way here,” Lord Bardolph said. “He can have no news other than the news that I have brought to you.”

Northumberland said, “Now, Travers, what good tidings come with you?”

Travers said, “My lord, I met Sir John Umfrevile, who talked to me and gave me joyful tidings. I therefore turned back to return here. Sir John Umfrevile had a better horse than I had, and so he rode quicker than I. After Sir John had outdistanced me, another horseman came spurring hard. He was a gentleman, almost exhausted because of his speedy riding, and he stopped by me to let his bloodied horse rest. He asked me for directions to Chester; and I demanded to know what news he was bringing from Shrewsbury. He told me that the rebellion had bad luck and that young Harry Percy’s spur was cold. With that, he gave his able horse the head, and bending forward he struck his spurs against the panting sides of his poor nag up to the rowel-head, and they seemed in running to devour the road, and he stayed no longer to answer questions.”

Northumberland said, “Tell me again: Did he say that young Harry Percy’s spur was cold? Is Hotspur now Coldspur? Did he say that the rebellion had met ill luck?”

Surprised by the news, Lord Bardolph said, “My lord, I’ll tell you this: If my young lord, Hotspur, your son, has not won the battle, then I swear upon my honor that I will trade all my land for a silken lace that is used to tie clothing such as stockings. Do not talk about defeat.”

Northumberland asked, “Why then did that gentleman who rode by Travers speak about defeat?”

“Who, he?” Lord Bardolph said. “He was some worthless and base fellow who had stolen the horse he was riding, and, I swear upon my life, he spoke without a foundation of fact.”

Lord Bardolph looked up and saw Morton coming toward them. He said, “Look, here comes more news.”

Northumberland looked at Morton and said, “This man’s brow is like a title page that reveals much information about the tragedy written inside the book.”

Title pages occasionally reveal much information. For example, this is written on the title page of the 1597 edition of Richard III: “The Tragedy of King Richard the third. Containing, His treacherous Plots against his brother Clarence: the pittiefull murther of his innocent nephewes: his tyrannicall usurpation: with the whole course of his detested life, and most deserved death.”

Northumberland said, “By looking at Morton’s brow, I can see that he has bad news. His brow looks like the shore on which a powerful flood has left signs of its devastation. His brow is furrowed.”

He then said, “Say, Morton, did you come from Shrewsbury?”

Morton replied, “I ran from Shrewsbury, my noble lord. At Shrewsbury, hateful death put on his ugliest mask to frighten our party of rebels.”

“How are my son and my brother?” Northumberland asked, “You tremble, and the whiteness in your cheek is more able than your tongue to tell your errand. A man like you, as faint, as spiritless, as dull, as dead in look, as woebegone, drew back the bed-curtain of Priam, King of Troy, and would have told him that half of his sacked city was burning, but Priam saw the fire before the man could move his tongue. I know that Hotspur, my son, is dead even before you can speak to me. I know that you would tell me, ‘Your son did thus and thus; your brother did thus and thus; the noble Douglas fought and did thus and thus.’ You would fill my greedy ears with their bold deeds, but in the end, you would sigh and say something that will blow away all this praise: ‘Your brother, your son, and all are dead.’”

Morton said, “Douglas is living, and your brother is still alive so far, but as for your son, Hotspur —”

“Why, he is dead,” Northumberland said. “See what a ready tongue suspicion has! A man who fears something and does not wish it to be true, can by instinct learn from seeing another’s eyes that what he feared would happen has in fact happened. Yet speak, Morton. I am an Earl, and I outrank you, but tell me that I am wrong. I will take my being wrong as a sweet disgrace and make you a rich person for doing me such wrong.”

“You are too great to be lied to by me,” Morton said. “Your instinct is too correct, your fears too certain.”

Northumberland said, “Yet, for all this, do say not that Hotspur, my son, is dead.”

He looked at Morton and added, “I see a strange confession in your eye. You shake your head, and you are afraid to speak the truth or you think that it is a sin to speak the truth. If Hotspur has been slain, say so. The tongue that truthfully reports his death does not offend. The person who sins is the person who tells me that my son is still alive when he is really dead. The person who tells me that a dead person is dead and not alive does not sin. Yet it is true that the first bringer of unwelcome news has a thankless task. Ever afterward, his voice will sound like a sullen and sad funeral bell; his voice will be remembered for tolling the death of a friend.”

“I cannot think, my lord, that your son is dead,” Lord Bardolph said.

“I am sorry that I should force you to believe that which I wish to God I had not seen,” Morton said, “but these eyes of mine saw him in a bloody state, only faintly fighting back, wearied and out of breath, as he faced Prince Hal, whose swift wrath beat down the never-daunted Percy to the earth, from whence he never again sprung up alive. Briefly, the death of Hotspur, whose spirit lent a fire even to the dullest peasant in his camp, becoming known, immediately took fire and heat away from the best-tempered courage in his troops. By Hotspur’s metal and mettle, the rebels were steeled. Once Hotspur died and his mettle abated and his metal weakened, all the remaining rebels turned back and fled, like a weak sword made of dull and heavy lead that bends and turns back onto itself. A heavy thing such as a heavy-duty arrow can swiftly fly when force is applied to it. Our rebel warriors were heavy with sadness at Hotspur’s death, and this heaviness combined with their fear lent so much lightness to their feet that arrows fled not swifter toward their aim than did our soldiers, aiming at their safety, fly from the field.

“During the retreat, the noble Worcester — your brother — was too soon taken prisoner; and that furious Scot, the bloody Douglas, whose well-laboring sword had three times slain noblemen who dressed like Henry IV to serve as decoys, began to lose his courage and did grace the shame of those who turned their backs by joining them in flight, and in his flight, stumbling in fear, he was captured.

“The summary of all is that King Henry IV has won the Battle of Shrewsbury, and he has sent out a fast-moving army to encounter you, my lord. This army is under the command of both young Prince John of Lancaster and the Earl of Westmoreland. This is very important news.”

“For this I shall have time enough to mourn,” Northumberland said. “In poison there is physic, aka medicine; and this news, which if I had been well would have made me sick, has instead made me, a sick person, to some degree well. A wretch can have fever-weakened joints that are like useless hinges and buckle under him, but when he has a fit, he breaks like a fire out of his keeper’s arms. Just like that, my limbs, weakened with grief, have now enraged with grief, and are three times stronger than they were before.”

He threw his cane to the side and said, “Go hence, therefore, you effeminate crutch! A gauntlet with joints of steel and overlapping metal pieces must now be the glove for this hand.”

He threw his nightcap to the side and said, “Go hence, you sickly invalid’s cap! You are a guard too effeminate for my head — a head that Princes, having turned living soldiers into corpses during their victory in the Battle of Shrewsbury, aim to hit. Now bind my brows with an iron helmet, and let approach the roughest hour that time and spite dare to bring to frown upon the enraged Northumberland!”

He then called for the subversion of order: “Let the Heavens crash and kiss the Earth! Now let not Nature’s hand keep the wild flood confined — let the waters flood the land! Let order die! And let this world no longer be a stage to feed contention and battle in a lingering, long-lasting act. Instead, let the spirit of Abel-killing Cain, the first murderer, reign in all bosoms. That way, each heart will set itself on bloody and murderous courses, and the rude and violent scene will end, and darkness will bury the dead!”

Lord Bardolph said, “This too-strong emotion does you ill, my lord.”

“Sweet Earl, divorce not wisdom from your honor,” Morton said to Northumberland. “Do not overreact with extreme emotion. The lives of all your faithful accomplices rest on your health. If you give yourself over to stormy passion, your health must and will decay.

“You thought about the outcome of the war, my noble lord, and you thought about the chances of victory before you said, ‘Let us gather an army.’ You knew that it was a possibility that, in the exchange of blows, your son might drop and die. You knew that he walked over perils as if he were walking on the edge of a cliff and that he was more likely to fall off than to reach safety. You knew that his flesh was capable of receiving wounds and scars and that his courageous spirit would take him where the most danger ranged. Yet you told him, ‘Go forth.’ None of this, although you definitely understood it to be a possibility, could restrain the deliberately carried out battle. What then has happened? What has this bold enterprise brought forth? Only what you knew was likely to happen.”

Lord Bardolph said, “All of us who suffered this loss knew that we ventured on such dangerous seas that it was ten to one against us that we would stay alive, and yet we ventured to rebel against King Henry IV because our possible gain outweighed our likely defeat. We have suffered a defeat, but let us venture again. Come, we will all put forth, body and goods. Let us continue our rebellion. We will risk our lives and our possessions.”

“This is the appropriate time for rebellion,” Morton said. “My most noble lord, I hear for certain, and I do speak the truth, that the well-born and noble Archbishop of York is rebelling and has raised well-equipped armies. He is a man who with a double surety binds his followers: He has both temporal and spiritual authority, and so his soldiers will follow him both bodily and spiritually. Hotspur, your son, had only the bodies — the shadows and mere appearances — of his men fighting for him. The word ‘rebellion’ affected his soldiers. It separated the action of their bodies from their souls, and they fought only with queasiness, not all out; they were like men who were drinking medicine. Their weapons seemed to be on our side, but the word ‘rebellion’ froze their spirits and souls like fish freezing in an icy pond. But now the Archbishop of York makes insurrection a religion; rebellion has become a holy act. He has the reputation of being sincere and holy in his thoughts, and so he is followed both with the body and with the mind. He gathers support for the rebellion by using the blood of fair King Richard II, who was murdered at the castle in Pomfret — the King’s blood was scraped from Pomfret stones. The Archbishop of York has made Heavenly his quarrel and his cause. He tells his followers that this land is bleeding and gasping for life under King Henry IV, and both high-born and low-born flock to follow him.”

“I knew of this before,” Northumberland said, “but, to say the truth, my present grief had wiped it from my mind. Go in with me; and let every man come up with ideas on how best to get safety and revenge. We will get messengers to carry our letters, and we will make new allies quickly. Never have we had so few soldiers, and never have we had more need for soldiers.”

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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