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

— 5.2 —

Warwick and the Lord Chief Justice talked together in the palace at Westminster. The Lord Chief Justice expected trouble after the death of King Henry IV. Prince Hal would become King Henry V, and Prince Hal and the Lord Chief Justice had earlier had a serious disagreement. Prince Hal had wanted one of his lowlife friends to escape being punished for a crime, the Lord Chief Justice had refused to be less than just, Prince Hal had struck the Lord Chief Justice, and the Lord Chief Justice had ordered Prince Hal to be put in prison.

“How are you now, Lord Chief Justice?” Warwick asked. “Where are you going?”

“How is the King?” the Lord Chief Justice asked.

“Exceedingly well; his cares are now all ended.”

“He is not dead, I hope.”

“He has walked the way of nature, and in our human world he lives no more,” Warwick said. “Now he lives in another world.”

“I wish that his majesty had called me to go with him,” the Lord Chief Justice said. “The service that I truly and faithfully did for him during his life has left me open to many injuries.”

“Indeed I think that the young King — Henry V — does not like you.”

“I know that he does not, and I am preparing myself to meet the condition and temper of the times, which cannot look more hideously upon me than I have imagined.”

Three of the Kings’ sons — Prince John of Lancaster, Prince Thomas of Clarence, and Prince Humphrey of Gloucester — entered the room. So did Westmoreland and some others.

“Here come the grieving sons of dead Harry,” Warwick said. “I wish that the living Harry — the new Henry V — had the character of the worst of these three gentlemen! How many nobles then should hold their places of respect instead of bowing down to people of vile character, the way that a honest ship is forced to lower its sails to pirates.”

“I am afraid that law and order will be overturned in our country!” the Lord Chief Justice said.

Prince John of Lancaster said, “Good morning, cousin Warwick, good morning.”

Prince Thomas of Clarence and Prince Humphrey of Gloucester said, “Good morning, cousin.”

Prince John of Lancaster said, “We meet like men who have forgotten how to speak.”

“We remember how to speak,” Warwick said, “but the topic of our conversation is much too sad and serious to allow for much talking.”

“Well, may peace be with him who has made us mourn,” Prince John of Lancaster said.

“May peace be with us, lest we mourn more than we do now!” the Lord Chief Justice said.

“My good Lord Chief Justice,” Prince Humphrey of Gloucester said, “you have lost a friend indeed, and I dare to swear that you are not borrowing that face that shows sorrow. I am sure that you feel real sorrow for my father’s death.”

“Though no man knows what will happen to him as a result of having a new King,” Prince John of Lancaster said, “you have the most reason to expect to be badly treated. I am sorry about that; I wish that it were otherwise.”

“Well, you must now speak only good things about Sir John Falstaff,” Prince Thomas of Clarence said. “I know that this goes entirely against your character. You know Sir John’s many and great faults.”

“Sweet Princes, what I did, I honorably did,” the Lord Chief Justice said. “I was led by the impartial conduct of my soul. I will never beg for a ragged pardon that I know will not be granted to me. If the truth and my upright innocence fail me, I will go to the King my master who is dead, and tell him who has sent me after him.”

“Here comes the Prince,” Warwick said.

Prince Hal, who was very soon to be crowned King Henry V, entered the room with some of his attendants.

The Lord Chief Justice said, “Good morning, and may God save your majesty!”

Prince Hal, who knew that people were concerned about his future rule because he had been so wild as a young man, said, “This new and gorgeous garment, majesty, sits not so easily on me as you must think. Brothers, you mix your sadness about my father’s death with some fear about my future rule. This is the English, not the Turkish court; an Amurath is not succeeding another Amurath. Instead, a Harry is succeeding another Harry.”

Prince Hal was referring to cruel Turkish rulers. When Murad II, aka Amurath, had succeeded his father as Emperor of the Turks, he had all of his brothers killed so that they could not challenge him for the throne. Mahomet III, who succeeded him, did the same to his brothers for the same reason.

Prince Hal said to the men, who were wearing black in mourning, “Yet be sad, good brothers, because, truly, it very well becomes you. Sorrow appears so royally in you that I will in deadly earnest put the fashion on and wear sorrow in my heart. Therefore, be sad and mourn, but be aware, good brothers, that the reason for your — and my — sadness and grief is one that is a joint burden laid upon us all. Do not be sad and grieve because I will be King. By Heaven, I assure you that I’ll be your father and your brother, too. Let me bear your love, and I will also bear your cares. Yet weep because Harry is dead; and so will I. But another Harry — me — lives, and he shall convert those tears into hours of happiness. Each tear you shed now shall result in an hour of happiness later.”

“We hope for no less from your majesty,” the three Princes said.

“You all are looking strangely at me,” Prince Hal said.

He then said to the Lord Chief Justice, “You are looking at me most strangely of all. You are, I think, convinced that I do not like you.”

“I am convinced that if I am judged rightly,” the Lord Chief Justice said, “your majesty has no just cause to hate me.”

“No!” Prince Hal said. “How might a Prince of my great hopes of ascending the throne forget the great indignities that you laid upon me? What! You berated, rebuked, and roughly sent to prison the immediate heir of the King of England! Is this easy to forget? May this be washed in Lethe, the river of forgetfulness in the afterlife, and forgotten? Do you expect me to wash myself in Lethe and forget that you ever did these things to me?”

“When I did those things,” the Lord Chief Justice said, “I used the authority given to me by your father. I was the representative of the King. The image of his power lay then in me, and I had his authority to administer his law. While I was busy working for the commonwealth, your highness was pleased to forget my position, and the majesty and power of law and justice — the image of the King whom I represented. You struck me on my head — my very seat of judgment. Therefore, you were an offender to your father — by offending me, his representative, you offended your father. Therefore, I boldly used my authority and my power to commit you to prison.

“If you regard my deed as ill, then I hope that you, who will now wear the crown, will be happy to have a son who will regard your decrees as worthless, who will pluck down justice from your bench that should inspire awe, who will trip the course of law and blunt the sword that guards the peace and safety of your person. Nay, more, I hope that you, who will now wear the crown, will be happy to have a son who will spurn your most royal image and mock your workings in a second body. I hope that you, who will now wear the crown, will be happy to have a son who mocks you and mocks your representative, both of whom are responsible for bringing justice to your Kingdom.

“Pretend that you are now the father and imagine that you have a son. Hear your own son greatly profane your dignity. See your most important laws greatly slighted. Behold yourself being so disdained by a son. And then imagine me taking your part and using the power that you have invested in me to quietly silence and correct your son. Carefully think about this, and then pronounce a sentence against me. And, in your position as King, tell me what I have done that misbecame my place, my person, or my liege’s sovereignty. Tell me, in your position as King, what I have done wrong.”

“You are right, Lord Chief Justice,” Prince Hal said, “and you weigh this matter well. You have carefully thought about what is right for you to do. Therefore, continue to bear the balance and the sword of justice. And I wish that your honors may increase, until you live to see a son of mine offend you and then obey you, as I did. I want you to treat my son as you treated me. If you do that, I shall live to speak my father’s words: ‘Happy am I, who have a man so bold, who dares give justice to my own son; and I am not less happy in having a son who would deliver up his greatness into the hands of justice.’ My father wanted a son who would obey the laws despite his being King. You sent me to prison. Because you did what was right and just, I commit into your hand the sword — unstained by any perversion of justice — that you have been bearing. I do this with this proviso: that you continue to act with the same bold, just, and impartial spirit that you have used to give the younger, wilder me the justice I deserved. Here is my hand.”

They shook hands.

Prince Hal continued, “You shall be like a father to my youth. My voice shall say the words that you whisper in my ear, and I will stoop and make myself humble and act in accordance with your well-practiced wise directions.”

He then said to his brothers, “And, all you Princes, believe me, please. My father has gone wildly and excitedly into his grave, because in his tomb lie my violent and wild desires. My ignoble desires have been buried with my father’s body. But my father’s serious spirit lives on in me. I will use that serious spirit to mock the expectation of the world, to frustrate prophecies and to raze out rotten opinion, which has judged me according to the wildness I showed in my youth. Everyone expects me to be a wild and bad King who does not respect justice, but I will show the world that those people are wrong. The tide of blood in me has proudly flowed in vanity until now. Now it turns and ebbs back to the sea, where it shall mingle with the mighty ocean and flow henceforth in formal majesty.

“Now we will call our high court of Parliament, and we will choose such limbs of noble counsel, that the great body of our state — England — will rank among the best-governed nations. I want England to be prepared for war, or peace, or both at once; I want them to be things acquainted and familiar to us so that we will know how to deal well with them. In my government, you, Lord Chief Justice, will have a foremost hand.

“Once our coronation has been done, we will summon, as I previously mentioned, all the members of our Parliament, and, if God endorses my good intentions, no Prince nor peer shall have just cause to say, ‘May God shorten Harry’s happy life by even one day!’”

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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