David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s RICHARD II: A Retelling in Prose — Act 5, Scene 3

— 5.3 —

King Henry IV, young Henry Percy, and some other lords talked together in a room at Windsor Palace.

King Henry IV said, “Can’t anyone tell me news about my unthrifty, prodigal, and profligate son? It is fully three months since I last saw him. If any plague is hanging over us, it is he. I wish to God, my lords, that he might be found. Inquire at London, among the taverns there, for there, they say, he daily does frequent, with unrestrained loose companions, even such, they say, as stand in narrow lanes, and beat our night watchmen, and rob our wayfarers. He, that spoiled child and unmanly boy, takes as a point of honor to support so dissolute a crew.”

The King’s prodigal son was known as Prince Hal.

Young Henry Percy said, “My lord, some two days ago I saw the Prince, and I told him about that tournament that will be held at Oxford.”

“And what did the ‘gallant, fine gentleman’ say?” the King asked.

“His answer was, he would go among the brothels, and from the commonest whore pluck a glove, and wear it as a favor — a token of allegiance — and with that he would unhorse the strongest and most robust challenger.”

“My son is as dissolute as he is reckless,” King Henry IV said, “yet through both bad qualities I see some sparks of better hope, which elder years may happily and hopefully bring forth. But who comes here?”

The former Duke of Aumerle, looking distracted, entered the room and asked, “Where is the King?”

“What does our cousin, who stares and looks so wildly, want?” King Henry IV asked.

“God save your grace!” the former Duke of Aumerle said. “I beg your majesty to allow me to have some conversation alone with your grace.”

King Henry IV ordered the others, “Withdraw yourselves, and leave us here alone.”

Young Henry Percy and the other lords exited.

King Henry IV asked, “Tell me now, what is the matter with you, our cousin?”

“May my knees forever grow to the earth and my tongue forever cleave to my roof within my mouth unless I receive a pardon before I rise or speak,” the former Duke of Aumerle replied.

“Was this fault you want pardoned merely intended, or has it already been committed? Did you merely plan to do it, or have you already committed it? If you merely planned to do it, however heinous it may be, to win your future loyalty I will pardon you.”

“Then give me permission to turn the key and lock the door, so that no man may enter until my tale is done.”

He wanted to ensure that they were alone when he told the King about the planned assassination.

“You may have your desire,” King Henry IV said.

Outside the door, which was now locked, the Duke of York shouted, “My liege, beware; look to defend yourself. You have a traitor in your presence there.”

Instantly suspicious of the former Duke of Aumerle, King Henry IV drew his sword and said, “Villain, I’ll make you harmless by killing you.”

“Stop your revengeful hand; you have no reason to be afraid,” the former Duke of Aumerle said.

Outside the door, the Duke of York shouted, “Open the door, you overconfident, foolhardy King. Shall I for love speak treason to your face? I am committing treason by calling you ‘foolhardy’ because I am so concerned about your safety. Open the door, or I will break it open.”

King Henry IV unlocked the door, and the Duke of York entered the room.

“What is the matter, uncle?” King Henry IV said.

Using the royal plural, he added, “Speak. Catch your breath. Tell us how near is danger, so that we may prepare and arm us to encounter it.”

The Duke of York handed him the document that he had taken from his son and said, “Peruse this writing here, and you shall learn about the treason that the breathlessness caused by my haste will not allow me to tell you.”

The former Duke of Aumerle said to the King, “Remember, as you read, your promise you gave to me. I repent; don’t read my name there in that document. My heart is not in league with my signature.”

“It was, villain, before your hand set your signature down,” the Duke of York said. “I tore the document from the traitor’s bosom, King. Fear, and not love, begets the traitor’s penitence. Forget your promise to pity him, lest your pity prove to be a serpent that will sting you to the heart.”

Reading the document, King Henry IV said, “Oh, heinous, strong, and bold conspiracy! Oh, loyal father of a treacherous son! You pure, immaculate, and silver fountain, from which this stream — your son — through muddy passages has held his current and defiled himself! Your overflow of good transforms to bad in your son, and your abundant goodness shall excuse this deadly blot — sin and signature — of your transgressing son.

“If that happens, then my virtue shall be his vice’s pander,” the Duke of York said, “and he shall spend my honor with his shame, as thriftless sons spend their scraping, saving fathers’ gold.

“My honor lives when his dishonor dies, or my shamed life in his dishonor lies. You kill me by allowing him to live; to save my life, you ought to cause him to die. By your giving him breath, the traitor lives, and the true and loyal man is put to death.”

Outside the room, the Duchess of York shouted, “What ho, my liege! For God’s sake, let me in.”

“What shrill-voiced suppliant makes this eager cry?” King Henry IV asked.

“A woman, and your aunt, great King,” the Duchess of York replied. “It is I. Speak with me, pity me, open the door. A beggar is now begging who never begged before.”

Recognizing the humor in the situation, King Henry IV said, “Our scene is altered from a serious thing, and it is now changed to a comic scene: ‘The Beggar and the King.’”

He said to the former Duke of Aumerle, who was his first cousin, “My dangerous cousin, let your mother in. I know she has come to plead about your foul sin.”

The Duke of York said, “If you pardon anyone who asks you for a pardon, more sins may prosper because of your forgiveness. If you cut off this festering limb, the rest of the body politic will rest sound. If you don’t treat the festering limb, it can infect all the rest of the body politic.”

The Duchess of York entered the room and said, “Oh, King, believe not this hard-hearted man — my husband! Love loving not itself, none other can. If a father doesn’t love his son, then he is unable to love anyone, including a King.”

The Duke of York said to his wife, “You frantic woman, what are you doing here? Shall your old dugs once more a traitor rear?”

“Sweet York, be patient,” the Duchess of York said.

She then said to King Henry IV, “Hear me out, gentle liege.”

She knelt.

“Rise up, good aunt,” King Henry IV said.

“Not yet, I beg you,” she replied. “Forever I will walk upon my knees, and never see a happy day, until you give me joy, until you bid me to be joyful, by pardoning the Earl of Rutland, my transgressing boy.”

She knew that it would not be wise to refer to her son as the Duke of Aumerle.

Her son, the former Duke of Aumerle, knelt and said, “In support of my mother’s prayers, I bend my knee.”

The Duke of York knelt and said, “Against them both my true, loyal joints bended be. Ill may you thrive, if you grant any grace!”

The Duchess of York said, “Do you think that my husband is pleading in earnest? Look at his face: His eyes drop no tears. He pleads to you in jest. His words come from his mouth; our words come from our heart. He pleads only faintly and wants his requests to be denied. We pray with heart and soul and everything else. His weary joints would gladly rise, I know. Our knees shall kneel until to the ground they grow. His prayers are full of false hypocrisy; ours are full of true zeal and deep integrity. Our prayers to you out-pray his; so then let them have that mercy that true prayer ought to have.”

“Good aunt, stand up,” King Henry IV said.

“No. Do not say ‘stand up’ to me. Say the word ‘pardon’ first, and afterwards say ‘stand up’ to me. If I were your wet nurse, and I were teaching you to talk, ‘pardon’ would be the first word you would learn to say.

“I never longed to hear a word until now. Say ‘pardon,’ King; let pity teach you how. The word is short, but it is not so short as it is sweet. No word like ‘pardon’ is for Kings’ mouths so fitting and meet.”

The Duke of York said, “Speak it in French, King; say, ‘Pardonne moi.’”

The French words were a polite way of saying no to a request.

The Duchess of York said to her husband, “Do you teach pardon to destroy pardon by using the word against itself? Ah, my sour husband, my hard-hearted lord, you who set the word itself against the word!”

Evil people set the word itself against the word; some evil people even quote the Bible in support of their evil deeds.

She said to King Henry IV, “Speak ‘pardon’ as it is currently used in our English land. The logic-chopping, meaning-changing French we do not understand. Your eye begins to speak; set your tongue there; or in your piteous heart plant your ear; so that hearing how our lamentations and prayers do pierce, pity may move you to speak the word ‘pardon.’”

“Good aunt, stand up,” King Henry IV said.

“I do not plead to you in order to stand,” the Duchess of York said. “Pardon is all the suit — the petition to you — I have in hand.”

“I pardon him, as God shall pardon me,” King Henry IV said.

“Oh, happy vantage of a kneeling knee!” the Duchess of York said. “Who would have thought that kneeling would gain a victory! Yet am I sick for fear. Speak that word again. Twice saying the word ‘pardon’ does not split a pardon in two; instead, it makes one pardon strong.”

“With all my heart, I pardon him,” King Henry IV said.

“You are a god on Earth,” the Duchess of York said.

King Henry IV got serious. Among the conspirators was the Duke of Exeter, his brother-in-law. Also among the conspirators was the Abbot of Westminster.

King Henry IV said, “But as for our ‘trustworthy’ brother-in-law and the abbot, and all the rest of that conspiring crew of traitors, destruction shall immediately dog them at the heels.

“Good uncle, help to order various forces to go to Oxford, or wherever these traitors are. They shall not live within this world, I swear, without my capturing them, if I once know where they are.

“Uncle, farewell; and, cousin, too, adieu. Your mother well has prayed, and may you prove to be loyal and true.”

The Duchess of York said, “Come, my old, degenerate son. I pray that God will make you new.”

She wanted her son to reform and be loyal to the new King. She also wanted him to be safe.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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