David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s “HENRY IV, PART 2”: A Retelling in Prose — Act 4, Scene 5

— 4.5 —

King Henry IV lay in a bed in another room. With him were his sons Prince Thomas of Clarence and Prince Humphrey of Gloucester. Also with him were Warwick and some others.

“Let there be no noise made, my gentle friends,” King Henry IV said, “unless some kindly hand will whisper sleep-inducing music to my weary spirit. Let soft music play.”

“Call the musicians in the other room to come here,” Warwick said.

“Set my crown upon my pillow here,” Henry IV said.

“His eye is hollow, and his color is changing,” Prince Thomas of Clarence whispered. “He is growing pale.”

“Less noise, less noise!” Warwick said.

Prince Hal entered the far side of the room and asked, “Has anyone seen Prince Thomas of Clarence?”

Prince Thomas replied, “I am here, brother, and I am full of heaviness and sorrow.”

“What!” Prince Hal said. “Rain within doors, and none abroad! Your tears are raindrops that fall inside this palace. How is the King?”

“Exceedingly ill,” Prince Humphrey of Gloucester said.

“Has he heard the good news yet?” Prince Hal asked. “Tell it to him.”

“He altered much upon hearing it,” Prince Humphrey of Gloucester said. “Although it was good news, he fell ill.”

“If he is sick with joy, he’ll recover without medical attention,” Prince Hal said.

“Don’t make so much noise, my lords,” Warwick said. “Sweet Prince, speak low and softly. The King your father wants to sleep.”

“Let us withdraw into the other room,” Prince Thomas of Clarence said.

Warwick asked Prince Hal, “Will it please your grace to go along with us?”

“No; I will sit and watch here by the King,” Prince Hal said.

Everyone departed, leaving Prince Hal alone with his father.

Prince Hal said to himself, “Why does the crown lie there upon my father’s pillow? The crown is so troublesome a bedfellow! Oh, polished perturbation! Oh, golden care! You keep the ports of slumber — the eyes — open wide throughout many a watchful night! Father, you are sleeping with the crown now, yet you do not sleep as soundly or half as deeply sweet as he whose head is covered with a homely nightcap as he snores throughout the watch of night. Oh, majesty! When you pinch your bearer, you sit like expensive armor worn in the heat of day; the armor grows hot and scalds the wearer as it keeps the wearer safe.

“By my father’s gates of breath — his lips and nose — there lies a downy feather that does not move. If my father were breathing, that light and weightless downy feather must necessarily move. My gracious lord! My father! This sleep is sound indeed; this is a sleep that has divorced and separated so many English Kings from this golden ring the crown.

“Your due from me is tears and heavy sorrows, and my nature, love, and filial tenderness shall, dear father, pay them plenteously to you.

“My due from you is this imperial crown, which as your first-born son and heir, I inherit.”

He put the crown on his head and said, “Lo, here it sits, and God shall guard it. Even if the world’s whole strength were gathered into one giant arm, that giant arm would not be able to take this inherited honor from me. You left this crown to me, and I will leave it to my son.”

Wearing the crown, Prince Hal went into another room.

King Henry IV was not dead yet; he had been breathing shallowly.

He woke up and called, “Warwick! Prince Humphrey of Gloucester! Prince Thomas of Clarence!”

The three men and others hurried into the room.

“Does the King call us?” Prince Thomas of Clarence asked.

“What does your majesty want?” Warwick asked. “How is your grace?”

“Why did you leave me here alone, my lords?” King Henry IV asked them.

“We left my brother Prince Hal here, my liege,” Prince Thomas of Clarence said. “He wanted to sit and watch by you.”

“The Prince of Wales!” Henry IV said. “Where is he? Let me see him. He is not here.”

“This door is open,” Warwick said. “He has gone this way.”

“He did not pass through the chamber where we stayed,” Prince Humphrey of Gloucester said.

“Where is the crown? Who took it from my pillow?”

“When we withdrew, my liege, we left it here,” Warwick replied.

“Prince Hal has taken it away from here,” Henry IV said. “Go, and seek him out. Is he so hasty to be King that he thinks that my sleep is my death? Find him, my Lord of Warwick; rebuke him and bring him here.”

Warwick left to carry out his errand.

King Henry IV said, “This act of his joins forces with my disease, and it helps to end my life. See, sons, what things you are! How quickly nature falls into revolt when gold becomes her goal! A son ceases to love his father when the son begins to love gold. For this the foolish over-careful fathers have broken their sleep with thoughts, their brains with care, and their bones with industry. For this they have engrossed and piled up the rusty, tarnished, and morally corrupt heaps of strangely acquired gold. For this they have been thoughtful to instruct their sons in the arts and in martial exercises. When, like the bee, culling from every flower the virtuous sweets, our thighs packed with wax, our mouths filled with honey, we bring it to the hive, and, like the bees, we fathers are murdered for our pains. The gold and treasures that the father has gathered yield a bitter taste to him as he lies dying.”

Warwick entered the room.

Henry IV asked him, “Now, where is he who will not wait even until his friend sickness has killed me?”

“My lord, I found Prince Hal in the next room,” Warwick said, “washing with kindly tears his gentle cheeks, with such a demeanor steeped in great and deep sorrow that a tyrant, who never drank anything but blood, would, by beholding him, have washed his knife with gentle tears. Prince Hal is coming here.”

“But why did he take away the crown?” Henry IV asked.

Carrying the crown, Prince Hal entered the room.

King Henry IV said, “Look, here he comes. Come here to me, Harry.”

He said to the others in the room, “Depart from this chamber; leave us here alone.”

They left the room.

“I never thought to hear you speak again,” Prince Hal said.

“Your wish was father, Harry, to that thought.” Henry IV said. “I stay too long by you; I weary you. You think that I live too long. Do you so hunger for my empty throne that you need to give yourself my honors before your hour is ripe and you lawfully inherit them? Foolish youth! You seek the greatness that will overwhelm you. Wait only a little while. My cloud of dignity is held from falling with so weak a wind that it will quickly drop: My day is dim. My Earthly greatness is as insubstantial as a cloud and will quickly dissipate, just as my breath is shallow and will soon stop. You have stolen that — my crown — which after some few hours would be yours without offence; and at my death you have sealed up my expectation and confirmed what I expected. Your life has shown that you do not love me, and your action just now will have me die entirely sure that you do not love me.

“You are hiding a thousand daggers in your thoughts, which you have sharpened on your stony heart, to stab at half an hour of my life. What! Can you not wait for half an hour and allow me to die of natural causes? Then leave and dig my grave yourself and order the merry bells to ring to your ears that you are crowned, not that I am dead. Let all the tears that should bedew my hearse be drops of balm — consecrated oil that will anoint you when you are crowned King — to sanctify your head. Only mix me with forgotten dust — give to the worms my body that gave you life.

“Pluck down my officers, and break my decrees. For now a time has come to mock at law and order. Harry the Fifth is crowned. Up with you, vanity! Down with everything good, royal state! All you wise counselors, go away! And to the English court assemble now, from every region, apes of idleness and fools with every kind of vice! Now, neighboring countries, purge yourself of your scum. Do you have a ruffian who swears, drinks to excess, dances wildly, revels throughout the night, robs, murders, and commits the oldest sins in the newest kind of ways? Be happy because that ruffian will trouble you no more; England shall double gild his treble guilt, and England shall give him office, honor, and might because the fifth Harry plucks from curbed license the muzzle of restraint, and the wild dog shall sink his teeth in every innocent, getting a taste of what shall be its prey.

“Oh, my poor Kingdom, sick with civil blows! Throughout my reign, my careful rule could not stop your riots. I tried my best to keep my Kingdom peaceful. What will my Kingdom do when riot is your caregiver? What will my Kingdom do when your King, who is supposed to be your caregiver, is himself a rioter? Oh, you will be a wilderness again; you will be peopled with wolves, your old inhabitants!”

“Oh, pardon me, my liege!” Prince Hal said. “Only my tears, the moist impediments that stopped my speech, kept me from stopping this heartfelt and deep rebuke before you with grief had spoken and I had heard the course of it so far.”

Prince Hal placed the crown on a pillow by his father, knelt, and said, “There is your crown; and may He who wears the crown immortally — God — long guard it as your crown, not mine.

“If I value the crown as anything more than as your honor and as your renown, let me no more from this kneeling position rise. My most inward true and duteous spirit teaches me to kneel and bow to you.

“May God be my witness that when I here came in and found no sign that your majesty was breathing, cold struck my heart! If I am lying, let me in my present wildness die and never live to show the incredulous world the noble change that I have planned!

“Coming to look at you, and then thinking that you were dead, I was almost dead myself, my liege, to think that you were dead. I spoke to this crown as if it were sentient, and I thus upbraided it: ‘The worry that you cause has fed upon the body of my father; therefore, you — the best of gold — are actually the worst of gold. Other gold, less fine in carat, is more precious. Potions containing gold are good medicine. But you, gold most fine, most honored, and most renowned, have eaten the King who wears you.’ Thus, my most royal liege, accusing it, I put it on my head, to combat and fight with it, as with an enemy who had in front of me murdered my father — this is the battle faced by a true inheritor.

“But if wearing the crown did infect my blood with joy, or swell my thoughts to pride; if any rebel or vain spirit of mine did in the least welcome the crown’s power, then let God forever keep it from my head and make me as the poorest vassal is who with awe and terror kneels to it!”

“My son, God put it in your mind to take it from here,” King Henry IV said, “so that you could win the more your father’s love by pleading so wisely in excuse of your taking the crown!

“Come here, Harry, and sit by my bed, and hear, I think, the very last advice that I shall ever breathe.”

Prince Hal arose from his kneeling position and sat by his father.

Henry IV said, “God knows, my son, by what by-paths and indirect crooked ways I met and achieved this crown, and I myself know well how troublesome it has sat upon my head. To you it shall descend with better quiet, better reputation, and better right to its possession because all the stain of the achievement of the crown goes with me into the earth. It seemed in me only as an honor snatched with boisterous and violent hands, and many living people kept reminding me that they had assisted me as I won the crown. These people eventually quarreled with me and rebelled and caused bloodshed, wounding the peace. You can see that I have with peril put down all these bold dangers and rebellions. All my reign has been like a play that is only about disagreements and rebellion and battles.

“Now my death changes the mood of people’s minds. I acquired the crown through deposing King Richard II, but you, Harry, will inherit the crown. That is how the people think that a crown ought to be acquired.

“However, although your claim to the crown is better than was my claim and has a firmer foundation, your claim is still not firm enough, since griefs are green and raw — the rebellion has only recently been put down. All my ‘friends,’ whom you must make your friends, have only recently had their stings and teeth taken out. By these friends’ pernicious actions, I was first advanced to the crown. I was afraid that these friends’ power could take the crown away from me. To prevent them from doing that, I cut them off and stopped their rebellion; and I had intended to lead many soldiers to the Holy Land in a crusade, lest their inactivity might make them look too closely at how I achieved the crown.

“Therefore, my Harry, make sure to keep giddy minds busy with foreign wars so that this warfare will wear away the memory of the former days. You do not want people to remember the deposition of King Richard II.

“I want to say more, but my lungs are so wasted that I do not have the strength to speak. How I came by the crown, may God forgive me, and may God grant that the crown will live with you in true peace!”

Prince Hal replied, “My gracious liege, you won the crown, wore it, kept it, and gave it to me; therefore, clear and plain and rightful must my possession be. I will rightfully maintain my possession of the crown with more than common care and pains against all the world.”

Prince John of Lancaster entered the room.

Henry IV said, “Look, here comes my son Prince John of Lancaster.”

“Health, peace, and happiness to my royal father!” Prince John of Lancaster said.

“You bring me happiness and peace, son John,” Henry IV said. “But health, unfortunately, with youthful wings has flown away from this bare withered trunk. Now that I have seen you, my worldly business has come to an end.”

He then asked, “Where is my Lord of Warwick?”

Prince Hal called, “My Lord of Warwick!”

Warwick and others entered the room.

“Does the room where I fainted have a particular name?” Henry IV asked Warwick.

“It is named Jerusalem, my noble lord.”

“Praise be to God!” Henry IV said. “There my life must end. It was prophesied to me many years ago that I should die nowhere but in Jerusalem, which vainly I supposed to be the Holy Land. Carry me to that chamber. There I’ll lie; in that Jerusalem shall Harry die.”

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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