David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s HENRY VIII: A Retelling in Prose — Act 5, Scene 4 — Epilogue (Conclusion)

— 5.4 —

Much noise and tumult were in the palace yard as people tried to get through a gate to get to a good place to see the baptism of the King’s daughter or see at least the procession to and from the place of baptism.

The porter and his assistant were trying to keep the crowd back. The procession would need room to move and already the palace yard was overly crowded.

The porter said to the people trying to get inside the palace yard, “You’ll stop your noise soon, you rascals. Do you take the court for Paris Garden? You rude slaves, stop your yelling.”

Paris Garden was one of the noisiest places in London. It was a place where bear-baiting took place — where bears were tormented by dogs — and the animals and people made much noise.

Outside the gate, a man said, “Good master porter, I belong to the larder. That’s where I work, and I need to get in.”

The porter replied, “You belong to the gallows, and so be hanged, you rogue! Is this a place to roar in?”

He ordered his assistant, “Fetch me a dozen hardwood crab-apple tree staves, aka clubs, and strong ones. These we are holding in our hands are only switches — twigs — compared to them.”

He then said to the people wanting to get inside the palace yard, “I’ll scratch your heads with a club. You must be seeing christenings, must you? Do you look for ale and cakes here, you rude rascals?”

The porter’s assistant said, “Please, sir, be patient. It is as much impossible — unless we sweep them from the door with cannons — to scatter them, as it is to make them sleep on Mayday morning, which will never happen.”

Young people got up early on Mayday, a day of festivity, to go to the woods to gather branches to decorate their doorways and, no doubt, to meet the opposite sex.

The porter’s assistant added, “We may as well push against St. Paul’s Cathedral and try to move it away, as to try to make these people move away.”

“How did they get in? Tell me, you who can be hanged and go to the Devil,” the porter asked.

“Alas, I don’t know,” the porter’s assistant asked. “How does the tide get in? As much as one sound cudgel four feet in length — you see the poor remainder —”

He lifted up his battered cudgel and showed it to the porter, and then he continued, “— could distribute, I spared no one, sir.”

“You did nothing, sir,” the porter said.

In his answer, the porter’s assistant mentioned three men who were renowned for strength: Samson, Sir Guy of Warwick, and Colbrand.

Judges 15:16 states, “Then Samson said, With the jaw of an ass are heaps upon heaps: with the jaw of an ass have I slain a thousand men” (1599 Geneva Bible).

Sir Guy of Warwick killed Colbrand, a Danish giant.

“I am not Samson, nor Sir Guy, nor Colbrand, and so I could not mow them down before me as these strong men did, but if I spared any who had a head to hit, either young or old, he or she, cuckold or cuckold-maker, let me never hope to see a chine again and that I would not for a cow, God save her!”

The porter’s assistant was punning. A chine is a piece of meat and 2) a fissure or a crack in skin — figuratively, a vulva. And in this culture, prostitutes were sometimes referred to as cows. Therefore, he was saying these things:

1) If I spared anyone, never let me see beef again, and that’s something I would not give up even if someone offered me a cow.

2) If I spared anyone, never let me see a vulva again, and that’s something I would not give up even if someone offered me a prostitute.

A man outside the gate — the one who claimed to be working in the pantry — asked, “Do you hear me, master porter?”

The porter replied, “I shall be with you presently, good master puppy.”

He then said to his assistant, “Keep the door closed, sirrah.”

The word “sirrah” was used to address a man of lower social status than the speaker.

“What would you have me do?” his assistant asked.

“What should you do, but knock them down by the dozens?” the porter replied. “Is this Moorfields where people gather in great numbers for military training? Or do we have some strange American Indian with the great big tool — ha! ha! —come to be exhibited at court that causes the women to besiege us so?

“Bless me, what a fry of fornication — a swarm of bastards hoping to create more bastards — is at the gate! On my Christian conscience, this one christening will beget a thousand additional christenings. Here before our gate will be father, godfather, and all together.”

“The spoons will be the bigger, sir,” the porter’s assistant said.

Certainly the christening spoons would be bigger in number because of all the births that would occur in nine months. Also, a spoon is often used to dip into something wet, and so the porter’s assistant may have meant by “spoons” penises.

The porter’s assistant said, “There is a fellow somewhat near the door; by looking at his face, I think that he is a brazier.”

Braziers were brass workers whose occupation required them to be around very hot furnaces.

The porter’s assistant added, “On my conscience, I swear that twenty of the dog days now reign in his nose.”

The dog days are the very hot days of August. They are called dog days because the Dog Star rises with the Sun in August in the northern hemisphere.

He added, “All who stand about him are under the line; they need no other penance.”

“Under the line” meant “at the equator,” where it is hot. Enduring such heat was a form of penance that rendered other forms of penance unnecessary.

He continued, “That fire-drake — fiery meteor — I hit three times on the head, and three times his nose discharged against me; he stands there, like a mortar-piece, aka cannon, to blow us.

“There was a haberdasher’s wife of small intelligence near him who railed upon me until her pinked porringer — ornamentally pierced hat that was shaped like a soup bowl — fell off her head because she was kindling such a combustion in the state. In other words, her hat fell off because she was causing such a disturbance.

“I missed the meteor once, and hit that woman. She cried out ‘Clubs!’ to rally apprentices to grab clubs and come to her aid. She had seen, as I had not, in the distance some forty club-bearers who came to her aid. These club-bearers were the hope of the Strand, where she resided. They were apprentices to the merchants on the Strand, a street of fine shops.

“They battled me. I defended my place. At length they came within a broomstick’s length of me. I defied them still, when suddenly a file of boys behind them, loose shot who were on nobody’s side, delivered such a shower of pebbles that I was forced to draw my honor in, and let the enemy win the barricade. The Devil was among them, I think, surely.”

The porter said, “These are the youths who thunder at a playhouse, and fight over half-eaten apples. No audience members, except for those who are the tribulation of Tower Hill, or those who are the limbs — think of the Devil’s limbs, or helpers — of Limehouse, their dear brothers, are able to endure.”

Tower Hill and Limehouse, which was pronounced with a short, not long i— were rough neighborhoods.

The porter continued, “I have some of them in Limbo Patrum.”

Literally,Limbo Patrummeans “Limbo of the Fathers.” In Dante’s Inferno, Limbo is the first circle of Hell. It is where the just people who lived before the first coming of Christ reside in the Inferno. During Christ’s Harrowing of Hell, he released the Jewish patriarchs from the Inferno.

Figuratively,Limbo Patrumis a prison.

The porter continued, “And there they are likely to dance these three days, besides the running banquet of two beadles that is to come.”

One meaning of “to dance attendance on someone” in this culture is “wait for an audience with someone.” Here, it meant “wait,” possibly for a judge to give the offender his punishment. The porter was playing with words, especially “dance” and “running.” A running banquet was a light repast. After “dancing” at the prison, the prisoners would run through the public streets while two beadles — law officers — whipped them.

Lord Chamberlain walked over to the porter and his assistant and said, “Mercy on me, what a multitude of people are here! They are still growing in number, too; from all parts they are coming, as if we were holding a fair here!

“Where are these porters, these lazy knaves?

“You have done a ‘fine’ job, fellows.

“That’s a ‘trim, fine, excellent’ rabble of people you’ve let in. Are all these people your faithful friends of the suburbs? Have you favored your ‘fine’ friends by letting them in?”

The London suburbs are the locations of the brothels.

The Lord Chancellor said sarcastically, “We shall have a great store of room, no doubt, left for the noble ladies, when they come back from the christening.”

The porter said, “If it please your honor, we are only men, and what the few of us could do without being torn to pieces, we have done. Even an army cannot control this multitude of people.”

The Lord Chamberlain replied, “As I live, if the King blames me for this, I’ll put you all in the stocks, and quickly, and on your heads I’ll clap substantial fines for neglect. You are lazy knaves, and here you are baiting bombards — harassing drunkards — when you ought to do real service and drive them away.

“Listen! The trumpets sound. They’re coming already from the christening.

“Go, break among the crowd of people, and find a way for the troop of nobles to pass through fairly, or I’ll find a Marshalsea — a prison — that shall keep you occupied for the next two months.”

The porter cried, “Make way there for the Princess.”

A man wearing clothing made of fine cloth said, “You great fellow, stand out of the way, or I’ll make your head ache.”

The porter said, “You in the fine clothing, get up off the rail; otherwise, I’ll throw you over the barricade.”

— 5.5 —

Trumpets sounded, and a procession appeared.

  1. The trumpeters appeared first.
  2. Then appeared two Aldermen, the Lord Mayor of London, the Garter King of Arms, Cranmer, the Duke of Norfolk with his marshal’s staff, the Duke of Suffolk, and two noblemen bearing great standing-bowls for the christening-gifts.
  3. Then appeared four noblemen bearing a canopy, under which was the Duchess of Norfolk, one of the godmothers, carrying the Princess, who was richly clothed in a mantle and other articles of clothing. A lady carried the train of the mantle worn by the Princess.
  4. Then appeared the Marchioness Dorset, who was the other godmother, and some ladies.

The Garter King of Arms said, “Heaven, from your endless goodness, send prosperous, long, and always happylife to the high and mightyPrincess of England, Elizabeth!”

Trumpets sounded, and King Henry VIII and his guards arrived.

Cranmer knelt and said, “And to your royal grace, and the good Queen,my noble partners — the other godparents — and I, thus pray:May all comfort and joy that Heaven ever laid up to make parents happyfall upon you hourly in this most gracious lady” — he was referring to the Princess Elizabeth.”

“Thank you, good Lord Archbishop Cranmer of Canterbury,” King Henry VIII said. “What is her name?”

Cranmer replied, “Elizabeth.”

“Stand up, lord,” King Henry VIII said.

Cranmer stood up as King Henry VIII kissed his daughter Elizabeth.

King Henry VIII said, “With this kiss take my blessing: May God protect you!Into God’s hands I give your life.”

“Amen,” Cranmer said.

“Noble godparents of my daughter, you have been too prodigal in your christening gifts to her. I thank you heartily; so shall this lady,when she has learned to speak enough English.”

“Let me speak, sir,” Cranmer said, “for Heaven now bids me to speak, and let no one think that the words I utterare flattery, for they’ll learn that my words tell the truth — this is a prophecy.

“This royal infant — may God, who is the Mover of the universe, always be near her! — although she is in her cradle, yet now promises to bring upon this land a thousand thousand blessings, which time shall bring to ripeness.

“She shall be — but few now living can behold that goodness — a pattern to all Princes living at the same time as her, and all who shall succeed her.

“The Queen of Sheba was never more covetous of wisdom and fair virtue than this pure soul shall be. All Princely graces that constitute such a mighty masterpiece as this is, with all the virtues that accompany the good, shall ever more and more be doubled on her. Truth shall nurse her, and holy and Heavenly thoughts shall always counsel her.

“She shall be loved and feared. Her own people shall bless her; her foes shall shake like a field of wind-beaten wheat and hang their heads with sorrow.

“Good grows with her: In her days every man shall eat in safety, under his own vine, what he plants, and every man shall sing the merry songs of peace to all his neighbors.

“God shall be truly known; and those around her shall learn the perfect ways of honor from her, and those around her shall claim their greatness by the perfect ways of honor, not by blood. Merit, not birth, shall determine whether a person is great.

“Nor shall this peace sleep with her after she dies, but as when the bird of wonder — the maiden phoenix — dies, her ashes will newly create another heir, as greatly admired as herself. In this way, when Heaven shall call her from this cloud of darkness that is mortal life, she shall leave her blessedness to a man who from the sacred ashes of her honor shall rise like a star and be as great in fame as she was and so stand fixed.

“Peace, plenty, love, truth, the quality of inspiring terror, all of which were the servants to this chosen infant, shall then be his, and like a vine grow to him.

“Wherever the bright Sun of Heaven shall shine, his honor and the greatness of his name shall be, and make new nations. He shall flourish, and like a mountain cedar, he shall reach out his branches to all the plains about him.

“Our children’s children shall see this, and bless Heaven.”

“You speak of wonders,” King Henry VIII said.

Cranmer continued his prophecy: “She shall live, to the happiness of England, to be an aged Princess. Many days shall see her, and yet no day shall be without an impressive deed to crown it.

“I wish that I would know no more! But she must die, she must, the saints must have her. Yet as a virgin, a most unspotted lily, she shall pass to the ground, and all the world shall mourn her.”

King Henry VIII said, “Oh, Lord Archbishop, you have made me now a man — you have now ensured my success! Never, before this happy child, did I get — or beget — anything.

“This oracle of comfort has so pleased me that when I am in Heaven I shall desire to see what this child does, and praise my Maker.

“I thank you all.

“To you, my good Lord Mayor of London, and your good brethren, I am much beholden. I have received much honor by your presence, and you shall find me thankful.

“Lead the way, lords. You must all see the Queen, and she must thank you; otherwise, she will be sick.

“On this day, let no man think he has business to work at in his house, for all shall stay here. This little one shall make it a holiday for everyone.”


You readers are transported back to Jacobean England to a playhouse where Henry VIIIhas just been performed. The actor who played King Henry VIII comes out on stage and speaks this epilogue:

“It is ten to one this play can never please

“All who are here. Some have come to take their ease,

“And sleep an act or two, but those, we fear,

“We have frightened with our trumpets, so it is clear,

“They’ll say it is worthless. Others have come to hear the city

“Abused extremely, and to cry ‘That’s witty!’

“This we have not done either. Because of this, I fear,

“All the expected good applause we are likely to hear

“For this play at this time will come in

“This play’s merciful depicture of good women;

“For such a one we have showed to the good women in the audience. If they smile,

“And say that this play will do, I know that within a while

“All the best men are ours because it is bad luck and hap

“For men to withhold applause when their ladies tell them to clap.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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