David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s “HENRY IV, PART 2”: A Retelling in Prose — Act 3, Scene 1

— 3.1 —

In a room of the palace at Westminster at night, King Henry IV, wearing night clothing, said to his young servant, “Go and call the Earls of Surrey and of Warwick to come to me, but tell them to read these letters and carefully consider their content before they come. Hurry.”

His young servant left to do the errands.

King Henry IV said to himself, “How many thousands of my poorest subjects are at this hour asleep! Sleep, gentle Sleep, Nature’s soft nurse, how have I so frightened you that you will no longer weigh my eyelids down and steep my senses in forgetfulness? Why, Sleep, do you prefer to lie in smoky hovels, stretching yourself upon uncomfortable straw mattresses and being sung to by buzzing night insects as you go to your slumber, rather than to lie in the perfumed chambers of the nobility, under costly canopies, and lulled to slumber with the sound of sweetest melodies?

“Oh, you dull god, why do you lie with the lowly born in loathsome beds, and allow me, the King, to lie in my Kingly bed as if I were the mechanism in a watch case? The mechanism keeps on moving and is ready to raise an alarm, but the watch case is still and does not move.

“Sleep, you seal shut the eyes of the ship-boy who is in the crow’s nest at the top of the high and giddy mast, although his brains are rocked by the rude imperious surge of a tossing sea and by the visitation of the winds that take the ruffian waves by their tops, curling their monstrous heads and hanging them with such a deafening clamor in the slippery clouds that the noise wakes up Death itself.

“How can you, partial Sleep, give your repose to the wet sea-boy in an hour so rude and violent and noisy, and yet in the calmest and stillest night deny your repose to a King who has everything that is needed to make Sleep comfortable?

“Then happy lowly born, lie down! Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.”

Warwick and Surrey entered the room.

“May your majesty enjoy many happy mornings!” Warwick said.

“Is it morning, lords?” King Henry IV asked.

“It is past one o’clock,” Warwick said.

“Why, then, good morning to you all, my lords. Have you read over the letters that I sent you?”

“We have, my liege,” Warwick replied.

“Then you perceive how foul the body of our Kingdom is. You understand with what danger rank diseases grow near the heart of our Kingdom. You understand how serious the rebellion is.”

“The Kingdom is like a body that is ill, but that can be restored to its former health with good advice and a little medicine,” Warwick said. “My Lord Northumberland will soon be cooled and his rebellion stopped.”

“I wish to God that I could read the Book of Fate, and see the passage of time and the process of change that make mountains level, and the continent, which becomes weary of solid firmness, melt itself into the sea! And I would like to see, at other times, how the beaches grow and become so big that tides can no longer wash over them. The beaches are the belt of the sea-god Neptune, and they can grow until they become too large for his hips and so parts of the beaches are no longer touched by sea-tides. I would like to see the ironic tricks played by chance occurrences upon men, and how changes fill the cup of alteration with many different liquors!

“If it were possible to see these things in a book, the happiest youth, viewing the course of his life — what perils he would encounter, and what crosses he would bear — would shut the book and then sit down and die.

“Not ten years have passed since Richard II and the Earl of Northumberland, who were then great friends, feasted together. Two years after they were feasting together, they were at war against each other. Only eight years ago, Northumberland was the man nearest my soul. Like a brother, he toiled for me and he laid his love and life under my foot — he submitted himself to me. For my sake, he even defied King Richard II.

“But which of you was there? If I remember correctly, you were present, Warwick, when Richard II, with his eyes brimful of tears, rebuked and berated by Northumberland, spoke these words that are now proved to be a prophecy: ‘Northumberland, you are the ladder by which my cousin Henry Bolingbroke — King Henry IV — ascends to my throne.’

“However, God knows that I then had no such intent of ever becoming King. But necessity so bowed the state that a new King was needed, and therefore greatness and I were compelled to kiss.

“Richard II continued, ‘The time shall come that foul sin, gathering head, growing to a boil and raising an army, shall break into corruption.’ He continued to speak, foretelling this same time’s condition and the division of our amity. He foretold that Northumberland would rebel against my rule.”

“There is a history in all men’s lives,” Warwick replied, “that tells what happened in the past. Observing the past, a man may identify with a high degree of accuracy the things that are most likely to happen. These things that have not yet occurred have their seeds and weak beginnings stored in the past as if they were in a treasury.

“Such things hatch and become the brood of time. And by knowing the necessary pattern of cause and effect, King Richard II might create a guess — which turned out to be accurate — that great Northumberland, who was then false to him, would from that seed grow to a greater falseness that could find no ground to take root upon, except on you.”

“Are these things then necessities?” King Henry IV asked. “Then let us meet them like necessities although that same word ‘necessities’ cries out against us. I hate to think that these things had to happen.

“They say the Archbishop of York and the Earl of Northumberland have an army of fifty thousand soldiers.”

“That cannot be, my lord,” Warwick replied. “Rumor does double, like the voice and echo, the numbers of the feared. That number is exaggerated. May it please your grace to go to bed. I swear upon my soul, my lord, that the armies that you already have sent forth shall bring this prize in very easily. Your armies shall stop the rebellion.

“To comfort you the more, let me now tell you that I have received verified information that Glendower is dead.

“Your majesty has been ill for the past two weeks, and these late hours will worsen your illness.”

“I will take your advice,” King Henry IV said. “Once this rebellion has been stopped, we wish, dear lords, to go on a Crusade to the Holy Land.”

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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