David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s HENRY VIII: A Retelling in Prose — Act 1, Scene 3

— 1.3 —

In a room of the palace in London, Lord Chamberlain and Lord Sands talked.

Lord Chamberlain asked, “Is it possible that the spells of France should trick men into such bizarre fashions?”

Lord Sands replied, “New customs, no matter how ridiculous — even unmanly and effeminate — yet are followed.”

“As far as I can see,” Lord Chamberlain said, “all the good our Englishmen have gotten by the recent voyage to France is merely a grimace or two of the face, but the grimaces are shrewd ones, for when our Englishmen hold them, you would swear immediately that their very noses had been counselors to the early French Kings Pepin or Clotharius, they keep so high up in the air.”

Lord Sands said, “Our Englishmen all have new legs, and lame legs.”

In this society, “to make a leg” meant “to bow.” Lord Sands was complaining that many of the Englishmen who had recently traveled to France with the King had returned with a major case of Francophilia: love of France and of French ways. These Englishmen were walking and bowing in an affected French manner.

He continued, “One who had never seen them pace before would think that spavin and springhalt reigned among them.”

Spavin and springhalt were diseases that affected horses’ legs. A spavin was a tumor on a horse’s leg. Springhalt was a disease that caused a horse’s leg muscles to suddenly and involuntarily contract.

“By God’s death!” Lord Chamberlain swore. “Their clothes are made after such a pagan cut, too, that surely they’ve worn out the fashions of all of the countries of Christendom.”

Sir Thomas Lovell entered the room.

Lord Chamberlain asked, “How are you? What is the news, Sir Thomas Lovell?”

“Truly, my lord,” Sir Thomas Lovell replied, “I hear of no news except for the new proclamation that’s clapped upon the court gate.”

“What is the proclamation about?” Lord Chamberlain asked.

“The reformation of our travelled gallants who fill the court with quarrels, talk, and tailors,” Sir Thomas Lovell replied.

Quarrels — duels — were one of the fashions that these gallants had brought back from France.

Lord Chamberlain said, “I’m glad that the proclamation is there. Now I hope that ourmonsieurswill think that an English courtier may be wise, and yet never have seen the Louvre.”

The plural of monsieuris messieurs, but Lord Chamberlain cared little about accuracy in such a matter.

Sir Thomas Lovell said, “They must leave those remnants of fool and feather and foolish fashions that they got in France, with all their honorable insistence on ignorance pertaining thereunto, as fights and fireworks, dueling and whoring, and abusing better men than they can be out of a foreign ‘wisdom.’”

One of the more destructive customs the Englishmen had borrowed from France was a quickness to fight duels over what they considered points of honor. In this society, “fireworks” was a word used to refer to whores, especially whores who had a contagious venereal disease. In this society, syphilis was known as “the French disease.”

He continued, “They must also renounce cleanly and wholly the faith they have in the French game of tennis, and tall stockings, short blistered breeches, and such other signs of travel, and stand under their legs again like honest men.

“If they don’t do these things, then the alternative is, for so run the conditions of the proclamation, for them to pack off and return to their old playfellows in France.

“There in France, I take it, they may, cum privilegio— with immunity — wear away the reminder of their lewdness and be laughed at.”

Lord Sands said, “It is time to give them medicine because their diseases have grown so contagious.”

Lord Chamberlain said, “What a loss our ladies will have with the disappearance of these fine, pretty vanities!”

“That is true,” Sir Thomas Lovell said. “There will be woe among the ladies indeed, lords. The sly bastards have got an effective and rapidly working trick to lay down ladies. A French song and a fiddle have no fellow — no equal — for getting the ladies in bed.”

“May the Devil fiddle them!” Lord Sands said. “I am glad these Frenchified fellows are going, for, surely, there’s no converting them back into Englishmen now. An honest country lord, as I am, beaten a long time out of play, may bring his plainsong and have an hour of hearing, and, by the Virgin Mary, have it held to be up-to-date music, too.”

By “play,” Lord Sands meant “playing music,” but an eavesdropper may have also thought of “love playing.”

Lord Chamberlain said, “Well replied, Lord Sands; your colt’s tooth is not cast away yet.”

The phrase “colt’s tooth” meant “desire for wantonness.”

“No, my lord,” Lord Sands replied. “And it shall not be cast away, as long as I have a stump.”

One meaning of “stump” is a rudimentary limb or member, and so the word “stump” can be used to refer to a penis. Of course, Lord Sands also meant “stump of a tooth.”

Lord Chamberlain asked, “Sir Thomas, where were you going?”

“To Cardinal Wolsey’s residence. Your lordship is a guest, too.”

“Oh, it is true,” Lord Chamberlain replied. “Tonight Cardinal Wolsey is hosting a supper, and a great one, for many lords and ladies. At the supper will be the beauty of this kingdom, I assure you.”

Sir Thomas Lovell said, “That churchman bears a bounteous mind indeed. He has a hand as fruitful as the land that feeds us. His dews fall everywhere.”

An eavesdropper might think that he had said about Cardinal Wolsey, “His dues fall everywhere.”

Lord Chamberlain said, “There’s no doubt that Cardinal Wolsey is noble. Anyone who says otherwise about him has a black and evil mouth.”

“He can be bountiful, my lord,” Lord Sands said. “He is wealthy; he has the wherewithal. For him, being miserly would show a worse sin than believing ill doctrine. Men of his way of life should be very liberal and generous. They are set here on Earth to serve as examples.”

“True, they are indeed,” Lord Chamberlain said. “But few now give such great suppers. My barge is waiting for me. Your lordship shall come along with me.

“Come, good Sir Thomas; otherwise, we shall be late, which I don’t want to be because I was asked, along with Sir Henry Guildford, to be masters of ceremony this night.”

Lord Sands replied, “I am your lordship’s servant. I will do what you asked me to do.”

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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