|King Henry IV,
by William Shakespeare
Presented by Paul W. Collins
© Copyright 2010 by Paul W. Collins
King Henry IV, Part 2
By William Shakespeare
Presented by Paul W. Collins
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Note: Spoken lines from Shakespeare’s drama are in the public domain, as is the Globe (1864) edition of his plays, which provided the basic text of the speeches in this new version of King Henry IV, Part 2. But King Henry IV, Part 2, by William Shakespeare: Presented by Paul W. Collins, is a copyrighted work, and is made available for your personal use only, in reading and study.
Student, beware: This is a presentation, not a scholarly work, so you should be sure your teacher, instructor or professor considers it acceptable as a reference before quoting characters’ comments or thoughts from it in your report or term paper.
From out of the blue-black sky looming over northern England just before dawn, a sourly strident voice makes itself known. “Open your ears!—for who will stop the vents of hearing when loud Rumour speaks?
“I, from the Orient to the drooping West, making the wind my post-horse, ever unfold the acts commenced on this ball of earth! Upon my many tongues continual slanders ride—the which in every language I pronounce, stuffing the ears of men with false reports!
“I speak of peace—while covert enmity, under the smile of safety, wounds the world!
“And, the year swol’n big with some other griefs, who but Rumour, who but only I, beguile it to make fearful musters and prepare defences as though with child by the stern tyrant War—and no such matter!
“Rumour is a flute blown by surmises, jealousies, conjectures—one of so easy and so plain a stop that the blunt monster with uncounted heads, the ever-discordant, wavering multitude, can play upon it!
“But what need I thus my well-known body to anatomize to my household?
“Why is Rumour here? I run ahead of King Henry’s victory—who in a bloody field by Shrewsbury hath beaten down young Hotspur and those troops, quenching the flame of bold rebellion even with the rebels’ blood!”
The mischievous spirit now seems taken aback: “But what mean I to speak so true at first? My office is to noise abroad that Harry Monmouth”—the prince—“fell, under the wrath of noble Hotspur’s sword!—and that the king before the Douglas’s rage stooped his anointed head as low as death! This have I rumoured through all the peasant towns between that regal field at Shrewsbury and this worm-eaten hold of ragged stone, where Hotspur’s father, old Northumberland, lies crafty-sick.”
Just before the battle, the shrewd old earl had sent his fellow rebels word that he was ailing, and that he trusted no surrogate to lead his forces. Without his troops, and others delayed by their allied Welsh patriarch, Glendower, the challengers to Lancastrian rule were greatly outnumbered.
Laughs the allegory, hovering over dark Warkworth Castle, “The posts come untiring on, but not a man of them brings other news than they have learned from me!”
“From Rumour’s tongues they bring smooth comforts—false, worse than true wrongs….”
In the chill shadow between lengthening shafts of a clear sunrise, a nobleman rides up to the castle entrance, dismounts, and hurries his steaming, lathered stallion forward. He calls into the courtyard, “Who keeps the gate here? Ho!” An old man with a lantern opens the door. “Where is the earl?”
“What shall I say you are?” asks the porter, peering in the still-dim light.
“Tell thou the earl that Lord Bancroft doth attend him here!”
“His lordship is walkèd forth into the orchard; please it Your Honour, knock at the gate, and he himself will answer.”
Even as he speaks, Northumberland hobbles toward him, using a crutch, but eager for information. “Here comes the earl,” says the visitor. The ancient bows, unlocks the iron gates, and shuffles away, leading the wet horse to the stable.
“What news, Lord Bancroft?” demands Northumberland. “Every minute now should be the father of some stratagem!—the times are wild! Contention, like a horse full of high feeling, madly hath broken loose, and bears down all before it!”
“Noble earl, I bring you certain news from Shrewsbury!”
“Good, an God will!”
“As good as heart can wish! The king is wounded almost to the death; and in the fortune of my lord your son,”—Henry Percy, known as Hotspur, “Prince Harry is slain outright!—and both of the Blunts killed by the hand of Douglas! Young Prince John and Westmoreland and Stafford fled the field!” He adds a dry note: “And Harry Monmouth’s brawn, the hulk Sir John, is prisoner to your son!
“Oh, such a day—so fought, so fairly won, and so followed!—came not till now to dignify the times since Caesar’s fortunes!”
But Northumberland must doubt the account; the king and his two sons marched with forces much greater than young Lord Percy and his Scottish ally, Lord Douglas, had mustered. “How is this derivèd? Saw you the field? Came you from Shrewsbury?”
“I spake with one, my lord, that came from thence, a gentleman well bred and of good name, who freely rendered me these news for true.”
Northumberland, his graying head wrapped in a scarf as if he had been bedridden, looks past him toward the road. “Here comes my servant Travers, whom I sent on Tuesday last to listen after news.”
“My lord, I over-rode him on the way,” says Bancroft, “and he is furnished with no certainties more than he haply may retell from me.”
The earl hurries to the servant as he dismounts. “Now, Travers, what good tidings come with you?”
Gathering his reins, the man bows. “My lord, Sir John Umfrevile, being better horsed, out-rode me, and turned me back with joyful tidings.
“After him came, spurring hard, a gentleman almost forspent with speed, who stopped by me to breathe his bloodied horse. He asked the way to Chester, and of him I did demand what news from Shrewsbury. He told me that 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, struck his armèd heels, up to the rowel-head, against the panting sides of his poor jade!—and so starting, he seemed in running to devour the way, staying no longer question!”
Northumberland ponders. “Hmh. Again—said he young Harry Percy’s spur was cold?—of Hotspur Coldspur?—that the rebellion had met ill luck?”
Lord Bancroft intervenes, annoyed. “My lord, I’ll tell you what: if my young lord your son have not the day, upon mine honour, for a silken string I’ll give my barony! Never talk of it!”
The earl stares at the road. “Why should that gentleman who rode by Travers give, then, such instances of loss?”
“Who, he?—he was some hilding fellow that had stolen the horse he rode on, and, upon my life, spoke at a venture!”—hazarded a guess. He spots another rider. “Look, here comes more news!”
The earl watches the horseman. “Yea, this man’s brow, like to a book’s title-leaf, foretells the nature of a tragic volume; so looks the strand”—furrowed beach—“whereon the imperious flood hath left usurpation unwitnessed.” He hails the newcomer: “Say, Morton: didst thou come from Shrewsbury?”
“I ran from Shrewsbury, my noble lord!—where hateful Death put on his ugliest mask to fright our party!”
“How doth my son and brother?” Fighting beside Hotspur was his uncle, Thomas Percy, Earl of Worcester—a primary instigator of the rebellion. “Thou tremblest!—and the whiteness in thy cheek is apter than thy tongue to tell thy errand!
“Even such a man—so faint, so spiritless, so dull, so dead in look, so woe-begone—drew Priam’s bed-curtain in the dead of night, and would have told him half his Troy was burnt! But Priam found the fire ere he his tongue!—as I my Percys’ death ere thou report’st it.
“This thou wouldst say: ‘Your son did thus and thus; your brother thus; so fought the noble Douglas’—stopping up my greedy ear with their bold deeds! But in the end, to stop my ear indeed, thou hast a sigh to blow away that praise—ending with, ‘Brother, son, and all are dead.’”
“Douglas is living,” Morton tells him, of the Scottish patriarch, “and your brother, yet. But as for my lord your son—”
Northumberland interrupts: “Why, he is dead! See what a ready tongue suspicion hath: he that but fears the thing he would not know hath, by instinct, knowledge from others’ eyes that what he fears is chancèd!
“Yet speak, Morton. Tell thou an earl his divination lies, and I will take it as a sweet disgrace, and make thee rich for doing me such wrong!”
Says Morton sadly, “You are too great to be by me gainsaid. Your spirit is too true, your fears too certain.”
The old man pleads: “Yet for all this, say not that Percy’s dead!” His narrow shoulders sag. “I see a strange confession in thine eye; thou shakest thy head and hold’st, as if in fear of sin, to speak a truth.
“If he be slain, say so! The tongue offends not that reports his death; and he doth sin that doth belie the dead, not he that says the dead is not alive.
“Yet the first bringer of unwelcome news hath but a losing office,” he admits, “and his tongue sounds ever after as a sullen bell, remembered tolling a departing friend….”
Lord Bancroft moves forward. “I cannot think, my lord, your son is dead!”
Says Morton, “I am sorry I should force you to believe that which I would to God I had not seen! But these mine eyes saw him in bloody state, rendering faint quittance, wearied and out-breathèd, to Harry Monmouth—whose swift wrath beat down the never-daunted Percy to the earth, from whence with life he never more sprung up.
“In few: his death—he whose spirit lent a fire even to the dullest peasant in his camp!—once being bruited,”—noised about, “took fire and heat away from the best-tempered courage in his troops! For from his metal was his party steelèd—which once in him abated, all the rest turned, within themselves, like dull and heavy lead! And as the thing that’s dense in itself flies, upon enforcement, with greatest speed, so did our men, heavy-hearted in Hotspur’s loss, lend to this weight such lightness with their feet that arrows fled not swifter toward their aim than did our soldiers, aiming at their own safety, fly from the field!
“Then was the noble Worcester, too, soon ta’en prisoner; and that furious Scot, the bloody Douglas, whose well-labouring sword had three times slain the appearance of the king,”—killed noblemen disguised as Henry IV—“vailèd his stomach,”—lost courage, “and did grace the shame of those that turned their backs!—and in his flight, stumbling in fear, was taken!
“The sum of all is that the king hath won!—and hath sent out a speedy power to encounter you, my lord, under the conduct of young Lancaster”—Prince John—“and Westmoreland!
“This is the news at full.”
Northumberland stares at the ground, briefly, in grim silence. “For this I shall have time enough for mourning.
“But in poison there is physic—these news, having been well brought, have made me sick; and being sick has in some measure made me well.” He looks angrily to the south. “As the wretch whose fever-weakened joints buckle under life like strengthless hinges, impatient in his fit breaks out of his keeper’s arms as if afire, even so my limbs, weakened with grief, being now enraged with grief, are thrice themselves!
“Hence, therefore, thou simple crutch!” he cries, casting it away. “A scaly gauntlet with joints of steel must now glove this hand!” He pulls off the scarf. “And hence, thou sickly quoif!—thou art a guard too wanton for the head which princes, flush with conquest, aim to hit!
“Now I’ll bind my brows with iron—and approach the ragged’st hour that time and spite dare bring to frown upon the engagèd Northumberland!
“Let heaven kiss earth!”—fall. “Now let not Nature’s hand keep the wild flood confinèd! Let order die!” he shouts to the sky. ”And let this world no longer be a stage to feed contention in a lingering act; but let one spirit—of the first-born Cain—reign in all bosoms!” he cries, “so that, each heart being set on bloody courses, the rude scene may end!—and darkness be the burier of the dead!”
Says Travers, alarmed by his rising fury and calls for apocalypse, “This strainèd passion doth you wrong, my lord!”
“Sweet earl, divorce not wisdom from Your Honour!” warns Lord Bancroft.
Morton regards Northumberland without sympathy. “The lives of all your loving ’complices lean on your health—the which, if you give o’er to stormy passion, must perforce decay!
“You cast the event”—wagered his fortune—“on war, my noble lord—and summed the account of chance before you said ‘Let us make head’”—calculated before rallying others. “It was your pre-surmise that in the dole of blows your son might drop; you knew he walked o’er perils on an edge, more likely to fall in than to get o’er! You were advisèd his flesh was capable of wounds and scars, and that his forward spirit would lift him where most trade of danger rangèd!
“Yet none of that, though strongly understood, could restrain thy stiff-borne action, and you did say ‘Go forth!’
“What hath then befallen, or what hath this bold enterprise brought forth, more than that which was likely to be?”
Bancroft concurs. “We all that are engagèd in this knew that we ventured on such dangerous seas that, if we wrought not, ’twas, ten-to-one, loss of our life! And yet we ventured, for the gain proposèd choked the respect of peril feared!
“But since we are o’erset, venture again! Come!—we will put forth all: body and goods!”
Morton agrees. “’Tis more than time! And, my most noble lord, I hear for certain, and do speak the truth: the gentle Archbishop of York”—a rebel ally—“is up, with well-appointed powers!
“He is a man who with a double surety binds his followers! My lord your son had only corpses—only the shadows and the shows of men!—to fight beside him; for that word ‘rebellion’ did divide the action of their bodies from their souls, and they did fight with queasiness, constrainèd like men taking potions. So, their weapons only seemèd on our side; and as for their spirits and souls, this same word rebellion had frozen them up as fish are in a pond!
“But now the bishop turns insurrection into religion! Supposèd sincere and holy in his thoughts, he’s being followed with body and with mind!—and doth enlarge his rising with the blood of fair King Richard, scrapèd from Pomfret stones!—derives from heaven his quarrel and his cause!~—tells them he doth bestride a bleeding land, gasping for life under ‘great Bolingbroke!’ And both more and less”—rich and poor—“do flock to follow him!”
Lord Bolingbroke, now King Henry IV, had returned from banishment, forced Richard II from the throne, and imprisoned him in Pomfret Castle—where Richard was murdered.
Northumberland nods. “I knew of this before. But, to speak truth, this present grief had wiped it from my mind.”
He turns toward the castle. “Come in with me—and counsel, every man, the aptest way for safety in revenge!
“Get posts and letters, and make friends with speed!
“Never so few, and never yet more need!”