David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s HENRY VIII: A Retelling in Prose — Act 1, Scene 4

— 1.4 —

In a hall in York Place, a small table had been placed under a canopy of state for Cardinal Wolsey. A longer table was for the guests. Anne Boleyn and several other ladies and gentlemen who were guests entered the hall.

Sir Henry Guildford, one of the masters of ceremony, also entered the hall.

Sir Henry Guildford said, “Ladies, a general welcome from his grace Cardinal Wolseysalutes you all; he dedicatesthis night to delightful pleasure and to you. No one here, he hopes,in all this noble bevy of ladies has brought with herone care or worry. Cardinal Wolsey wants all to be as merryas first good company and then good wine and good welcome can make good people.”

Lord Chamberlain, Lord Sands, and Sir Thomas Lovell entered the hall.

Seeing Lord Chamberlain, Sir Henry Guildford said, “Oh, my lord, you’re tardy. The very thought of this fair company clapped wings to me and made me hurry here.”

“You are young, Sir Harry Guildford,” Lord Chamberlain said.

Lord Sands said, “Sir Thomas Lovell, had the Cardinal only half my lay thoughts in him, some of these ladies would find a running banquet before they rested that I think would better please them.”

“Lay” thoughts are unclerical, secular thoughts; for example, they could be thoughts about running after and laying the ladies.

A running banquet can be a light repast of sweets in between meals. “Running” is done in haste, and so perhaps Lord Sands was referring to a hasty bout of sweet, sweet lovemaking.

He added, “By my life, those ladies are a sweet society of beautiful ones.”

Sir Thomas Lovell said, “Oh, that your lordship Cardinal Wolsey were now here to be confessor to one or two of these beautiful ladies!”

Lord Sands said, “I wish that I were their confessor. They would find easy penance.”

“Indeed, how easy?” Sir Thomas Lovell asked.

Lord Sands replied, “As easy as a featherbed would afford it.”

A confessor is a shriver, and ashift is a woman’s undergarment. A joke of the time was to say that a woman had been “shriven to her shift” — that is, seduced.

Lord Chamberlain said, “Sweet ladies, will it please you to sit?

“Sir Harry, you sit the guests on that side; I’ll take charge of this side.

“His grace is coming soon.”

He said to two women, “No, you must not freeze. Two women placed together make cold weather.”

He then said, “My Lord Sands, you are one who will keep them awake and lively. Please, sit between these ladies.”

Lord Sands said, “By my faith, I thank your lordship.

“With your permission, sweet ladies, I will be seated between you. If I chance to talk a little wildly, forgive me. I got it from my father.”

“Was he mad, sir?” Anne Boleyn asked.

“Oh, very mad, exceedingly mad. He was in love, too,” Lord Sands said. “But he would bite no one. Just as I do now, he would kiss twenty of you with one breath.”

He kissed Anne.

Lord Chamberlain said, “Well done, my lord.

“So, now you’re fairly seated.

“Gentlemen, the penance lies on you, if these fair ladies leave here frowning tonight.”

Lord Sands said, “Trust me, I will give the ladies a little cure for frowning.”

Cardinal Wolsey entered the hall and sat in his chair of state.

He said, “All of you are welcome, my fair guests. Any noble lady, or gentleman, who is not freely merry is not my friend. To confirm my welcome to you, I drink this, and to you all, I wish good health.”

He drank.

Lord Sands said, “Your grace is noble. Let me have such a bowl of wine as may hold my thanks, and save me so much talking. I will enjoy drinking my thanks to you.”

A servant brought Lord Sands a bowl of wine.

Cardinal Wolsey said, “My Lord Sands, I am beholden to you. Cheer up your neighbors.

“Ladies, you are not merry.

“Gentlemen, whose fault is this?”

Lord Sands said, “The red wine first must rise in their fair cheeks, my lord, and then we shall have them talk to us so much that we gentlemen must be silent.”

Anne Boleyn said, “You are a merry gamester, my Lord Sands.”

By “gamester,” she meant that he was a “merry fellow,” but in his reply, he played on the meanings of “gamester” as “gambler” and “player in the game of love.”

Lord Sands replied, “Yes, if I make my play.”

A gambler who makes his play wins at a hand of cards. A lover who makes his play makes a successful attempt at seduction.

He added, “Here’s to your ladyship.”

He drank and then said, “Pledge it, madam. Drink, for it is to such a thing —”

Anne Boleyn bawdily joked, “You cannot show me your thing.”

Lord Sands said, “I told your grace they would talk soon.”

A drum and trumpet sounded, and guns fired.

“What’s that noise?” Cardinal Wolsey asked.

Lord Chamberlain ordered, “Investigate, some of you.”

A servant exited.

Cardinal Wolsey said, “What warlike noise is this, and for what purpose is it?

“No, ladies, don’t be afraid. By all the laws of war, you’re privileged. You will not be harmed.”

The servant returned.

Lord Chamberlain asked, “Now, what is it?”

The servant replied, “A noble troop of strangers — for so they seem to be — have left their barge and landed. And they have come here, as if they were great ambassadors from foreign Princes.”

Cardinal Wolsey said, “Good Lord Chamberlain, go and give them welcome — you can speak the French tongue. And, please, receive them nobly, and conduct them into our presence, where this Heaven of beauty shall shine at full blast upon them. Some of you go with him.”

Lord Chamberlain and some servants exited.

Everyone stood up, and the tables were removed to make room for dancing.

Cardinal Wolsey said, “You have now an interrupted banquet, but we’ll mend it. I wish a good digestion to you all, and once more I shower a welcome on you. All of you are welcome.”

King Henry VIII and others entered, wearing masks and dressed like shepherds so that they would not be recognized. Ushered in by Lord Chamberlain, they went directly to Cardinal Wolsey and gracefully greeted him.

Lord Wolsey said, “A noble company! What are their pleasures?”

Lord Chamberlain said, “Because they speak no English, they asked me to tell your grace that, having heard by rumor that this so noble and so fair assembly would meet here this night, they could do no less out of the great respect they bear to beauty but leave their flocks and under your fair direction beg permission for them to view these ladies and entreat you to allow them to share an hour of revels with the ladies.”

Cardinal Wolsey said, “Tell them, Lord Chamberlain, that they have done my poor house grace, for which I pay them a thousand thanks, and I ask them to please enjoy their pleasures here.”

Cardinal Wolsey’s male guests, including the new visitors, chose ladies for the dance. The disguised King Henry VIII chose Anne Boleyn to be his dance partner.

King Henry VIII said to Anne, “This is the fairest hand I ever touched! Oh, beauty, until now I never knew you!”

He had quickly forgotten his wife: Queen Catherine.

They danced.

Cardinal Wolsey said to Lord Chamberlain, “My lord!”

He replied, “Your grace?”

Cardinal Wolsey, who had a network of spies, which possibly may explain how he realized the new guests would speak French, said, “Please, tell them this from me: There should be one among them, by his person, who is more worthy of this seat of honor than myself. Also tell them that I would surrender this seat of honor to that person if I only knew which of them he was, out of my love and duty for him.”

“I will, my lord,” Lord Chamberlain said.

He whispered to the new, masked guests.

“What do they say?” Cardinal Wolsey asked.

Lord Chamberlain replied, “Such a one, they all confess, there is here indeed. They would have your grace find out who he is, and he will take the seat of honor.”

“Let me see, then,” Cardinal Wolsey said. “By all your good leaves, gentlemen; here I’ll make my royal choice.”

He correctly picked out King Henry VIII, who said, “You have found him, Cardinal.”

King Henry VIII took off his mask and said, “You hold a fair assembly; you do well, lord. You are a churchman; if you weren’t, I’ll tell you, Cardinal, I should judge you now unfavorably.”

He meant that a churchman such as a Cardinal was chaste and could refrain from the temptations of the female flesh around them.

Cardinal Wolsey replied, “I am glad that your grace is grown so merry and jolly.”

“My Lord Chamberlain, please come here,” King Henry VIII said. “Who is that beautiful lady I was dancing with?”

Lord Chamberlain replied, “If it please your grace, she is the daughter of Sir Thomas Boleyn — the Viscount Rochford — and she is one of Queen Catherine’s ladies-in-waiting.”

King Henry VIII said, “By Heaven, she is a dainty one.”

He then said to Anne Boleyn, “Sweetheart, I would be unmannerly if I were to dance with you and not kiss you afterward, as is the custom.”

He kissed her and said, “A health, gentlemen! Let it go round! Everyone, have a drink!”

Cardinal Wolsey asked, “Sir Thomas Lovell, is the banquet ready in the inner room?”

This banquet included fruit, candies, and wine.

Sir Thomas Lovell replied, “Yes, my lord.”

Cardinal Wolsey said to the King, “Your grace, I fear, is a little heated from dancing.”

“I fear, too much,” King Henry VIII replied.

The heat came not just from dancing, but also from being around Anne Boleyn.

Cardinal Wolsey said, “There’s fresher air, my lord, in the next chamber.”

“Lead in your ladies, everyone,” King Henry VIII said.

To Anne Boleyn, he said, “Sweet partner, I must not yet forsake you. Let’s be merry.”

He then said, “My good Lord Cardinal, I have half a dozen toasts to good health to drink to these fair ladies, and a dance to lead them once again, and then let’s dream about who’s best in favor.”

He meant that they could dream about which lady was the most beautiful and about which gentleman was the favorite of the ladies.

He then said, “Let the music start up.”

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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