David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s “HENRY IV, PART 2”: A Retelling in Prose — Act 4, Scene 2

— 4.2 —

In no-man’s-land, at an equal distance between the two armies, the two opposing sides met. On one side were the Archbishop of York, Hastings, Mowbray, and others; on the other side were Prince John of Lancaster, Westmoreland, and others.

“It is good to see you, Mowbray,” Prince John of Lancaster said. “Good day to you, gentle Archbishop of York, and also to you, Lord Hastings, and to all.

“My Lord Archbishop of York, you acted better and more honorably when your flock, assembled after hearing the church bell, encircled you to hear with reverence your exposition on the holy text: the Bible. You acted better then than you do now. You are now an iron man. You are encased in armor, and you are cheering a rout of rebels with the drum of your words. You are turning the word to sword and turning life to death.

“That man who sits within a monarch’s heart, and ripens in the sunshine of the King’s favor, why would he abuse the support of the King? What mischiefs might he open and set abroad in the shadow of such greatness!

“You, Archbishop of York, are doing that. Who has not heard it spoken how deeply learned you were within the books of God and how much you were in God’s favor? To us you were the Speaker in God’s celestial Parliament; we imagined that you spoke for God himself! To us you were the interpreter of God’s grace and the sanctities of Heaven, and you were the messenger who brought a Godly perspective to our dull imaginings.

“Who shall believe anything other than that you misuse the reverence of your position as Archbishop and employ the appearance of Heavenly favor as you do dishonorable deeds, the way that a false and traitorous favorite misuses his Prince’s name as he does dishonorable deeds?

“Under the counterfeited zeal of God, you have taken up the subjects of his deputy, my father, King Henry IV; against both the peace of Heaven and the peace of my father’s Kingdom, you have made his subjects swarm up like angry bees in rebellion. You profess a false zeal for God, and you pretend that you are acting with God’s approval and seal.”

“My good Prince John of Lancaster, I am not here against your father’s peace,” the Archbishop of York said, “but, as I told Westmoreland, the mistempered times do, as everyone knows, crowd us and crush us and force us to do this abnormal act of rebellion in order to protect our safety.

“I sent your grace a document listing the detailed particulars of our grievances, a document that previously has been with scorn shoved from the court. As a result of that scornful action, this Hydra — this many-headed — son of war is born, whose dangerous eyes may well be charmed asleep if the King grants us our most just and right desires. If he does that, this mad rebellion will be cured, and his truly obedient subjects will once more bow tamely at the foot of his majesty.”

“If these wrongs are not righted,” Mowbray said, “we are ready to try our fortunes in battle to the last man.”

“And even if we here fall down,” Hastings said, “we have reinforcements to second our attempt. If they miscarry, their reinforcements shall second them. And so generation after generation of rebels shall be born, and heir from heir shall continue this rebellion as long as generations are born in England.”

“You are too shallow, Hastings, much too shallow, to sound the bottom of the after-times,” Prince John of Lancaster said. “You are unable to peer very far into the future.”

“Does it please your grace to answer these men directly,” Westmoreland asked, “and tell them whether you will make right their grievances?”

“I have read the articles in their document, and I will make right all their grievances,” Prince John of Lancaster said. “I swear here and now, by the honor of my blood, that my father’s purposes and actions have been misunderstood, and some of the people acting under his orders have misinterpreted his meaning and misused their authority.

“Archbishop of York, these grievances shall quickly be redressed — upon my soul, they shall. If this may please you, discharge your soldiers and allow them to return to their different counties, and we will do the same thing. Here in between the two opposing armies let us drink together as friend and embrace each other, so that all their eyes may carry home those tokens of our restored respect and amity.”

“I take your Princely word for these redresses,” the Archbishop of York said.

“I give it to you, and I will maintain my word,” Prince John of Lancaster said, “and now I will drink to your grace.”

Hastings said, “Go, Captain, and deliver to the rebel army this news of peace. Let them have their pay, and let them depart. I know it will well please them. Hurry, Captain.”

The Captain left to carry out his orders.

The Archbishop of York made a toast: “To you, my noble Lord of Westmoreland.”

“I pledge your grace,” Westmoreland replied, “and, if you knew what pains I have taken to breed this present peace, you would drink freely. But my respect for you shall show itself more openly hereafter.”

“I do not doubt you,” the Archbishop of York replied.

“I am glad to hear it,” Westmoreland replied.

Westmoreland proposed a toast: “Health to Mowbray.”

“You wish me health at a very good time,” Mowbray said, “for suddenly I feel ill.”

“When evil is coming, men are always merry,” the Archbishop of York said. “When men feel sad, it is a harbinger of good things.”

“Therefore be merry, Archbishop,” Westmoreland said, “since sudden sorrow serves to say this: ‘Some good thing will happen tomorrow.’”

“Believe me, I am very light in spirit,” the Archbishop of York said.

“That is a bad thing,” Mowbray said, “if you were right when you said, ‘When evil is coming, men are always merry.’”

They heard some shouting.

“The news of peace has been given to the soldiers,” Prince John of Lancaster said. “Listen to how they shout!”

“This noise would have been cheerful after a victory,” Mowbray said.

“A peace is of the nature of a conquest and a victory,” the Archbishop of York said. “For then both parties are nobly subdued, and neither party is the loser.”

“Go, my lord,” Prince John of Lancaster said, “and let our army be discharged, too.”

Westmoreland departed.

Prince John of Lancaster said to the Archbishop of York, “And, my good lord, if it pleases you, let our armies march by us so that we may see the men who would have fought each other in battle.”

The Archbishop of York said, “Go, good Lord Hastings, and, before they are dismissed, let them march by us.”

Hastings departed.

Prince John of Lancaster said, “I hope, lords, that we shall stay together in the same camp tonight.”

Westmoreland came back.

Prince John of Lancaster asked him, “Why is our army still here?”

“The leaders, because they have orders from you to stay here, will not leave until you personally order them to leave.”

“They know their orders and their duty,” Prince John of Lancaster said.

Hastings returned and said to the Archbishop of York, “My lord, our army has been dispersed. Like youthful steers who have been unyoked, they take their courses East, West, North, South. They are like students leaving school; each hurries toward his home and playground.”

“That is good news, my Lord Hastings,” Westmoreland said. “I now arrest you, traitor, for high treason. I also arrest you, Archbishop of York, and you, Lord Mowbray. I arrest both of you for high treason, which is punishable by death.”

“Is this proceeding just and honorable?” Mowbray asked.

“Is your rebellion just and honorable?” Westmoreland replied.

“Will you thus break your faith?” the Archbishop of York said to Prince John of Lancaster.

“I did not promise you a pardon,” Prince John of Lancaster said. “I promised you redress of these grievances that you complained about, and, by my honor, I will perform that redress with a most Christian care.

“But as for you, rebels, look to taste what is due to rebellion and such acts as yours.

“Most shallowly did you begin this rebellion. You foolishly brought your soldiers, and you foolishly sent them home.”

He ordered, “Strike up our drums, and pursue the scattered stragglers among the rebels. God, and not we, has safely fought today.

“Someone guard these traitors and take them to the block of death, which is treason’s true bed and yielder up of breath. There they shall be beheaded.”

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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