David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s RICHARD II: A Retelling in Prose — Act 5, Scenes 4-6 (Conclusion)

— 5.4 —

Sir Pierce of Exton and a servant talked together in a room of Windsor Castle.

Sir Pierce of Exton said, “Did you notice what words King Henry IV spoke? ‘Have I no friend who will get rid of this living fear for me?’ Weren’t these his words?”

“These were his very words,” the servant replied.

“‘Have I no friend?’ said he. He said it twice, and he emphatically stated it twice together, didn’t he?”

“He did.”

“And while speaking it, he wistly — intently and longingly — looked at me, as if he wanted to say, ‘I wish that you were the man who would divorce this terror from my heart,’ meaning King Richard II at Pomfret Castle. Come, let’s go. I am King Henry IV’s friend, and I will rid him of his foe.”

— 5.5 —

On 14 February 1400, Richard, alone in a room of Pomfret Castle, spoke to himself:

“I have been deliberating how I may compare this prison where I live to the world, but because the world is populous and here there is no creature except myself, I cannot do it; yet I’ll puzzle it out, using a hammer to beat things into shape if I must.

“My brain I’ll show to be the female to my soul. My soul will be the father; and these two — the female brain and the male soul — will give birth to a generation of continually reproducing thoughts, and these same thoughts will people this little world, this prison I am in. These thoughts will have moods and dispositions like the people of this world, the Earth, for no thought is contented.

“The better sort of thoughts, such as thoughts of things divine, are intermixed with introspective doubts and set the word itself against the word — they set one passage of the Bible against another, seemingly contradictory passage of the Bible.

“For example, ‘Come, little ones,’ and then again, ‘It is as hard to come as for a camel to thread the postern of a small needle’s eye.’”

A postern is a little gate.

Matthew 19:14 states, “Jesus said, ‘Suffer the little children […] to come unto me.’”

Matthew 19:24 states, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”

The word “camel” also meant “cable-rope,” and the word “needle” also meant “door for pedestrians’ use in a city gate.”

Richard continued, “My most ambitious thoughts plot unlikely wonders, such as how these vain weak fingernails may tear a passage through the flinty ribs — framework — of this hard world, my ragged prison walls, and, because my fingernails cannot, they die in their own pride — they die of frustrated ambition.

“Thoughts leading to happiness flatter themselves that the thinkers are not the first to be slaves to fortune, nor shall they be the last. They are like silly beggars who while sitting in the stocks with their hands and/or feet restrained take refuge from their shame by thinking that many have already and others must in the future sit there in the stocks, and in this thought they find a kind of ease, bearing their own misfortunes on the back of such people as have before endured the same punishment.

“Thus I play in one person many people, and none of those people is contented and happy.

“Sometimes I am King, but then treasons make me wish myself a beggar, and so I am a beggar in my thoughts. Then crushing penury persuades me I was better off when I was a King, and then I am a King again, and by and by I remember that my crown was usurped by Bolingbroke, and immediately I am nothing, but whatever I am, neither I nor any man who is a man shall be pleased by nothing, until he is eased by being nothing. No man is pleased during this life; death brings ease.”

Music began to play.

Richard said, “Do I hear music?”

He listened; the music was badly played.

He said, “Ha, ha! Keep time. How sour sweet music is, when time is broken and no proportion kept — when the tempo is broken and no proper rhythm is kept!

“So it is in the music of men’s lives, and here in this prison I have the daintiness and sensitivity of ear to rebuke time broken by a disordered stringed instrument. My suffering in prison has made me sensitive to other kinds of disharmony, such as I hear in this music.

“If not for the concord — harmony — of my state and time now, I had not an ear to hear my true situation broken. When I was King — my true situation in life — I paid no attention to the proper conduct of my life, but now that I am no longer King, I can see what I did wrong when I was King. In other words, if not for the peace and quiet of this prison, I would not be able to truly understand the discord in my own affairs when I was King — discord that led to me no longer being King.

“I wasted time, and now Time causes me to waste away, because now Time has made me his numbering clock — a clock with numbers, not a clock that is a sundial.

“My thoughts are minutes, and with sighs they tick, making a discord, and mark their passage on my eyes. My eyes are the outward watch, to which my finger, like the point of a hand on the clock, is always pointing as it cleanses my eyes of their tears. My finger continually wipes away the tears from my eyes.”

Still speaking to himself, Richard said, “Now, sir, the sounds that tell the hour are clamorous groans, which strike upon my heart, which is the bell, and so sighs and tears and groans show minutes, quarter-hours and half-hours, and hours, but my time runs quickly on in Bolingbroke’s proud joy, while I stand fooling here, his Jack of the clock.”

The Jack of a clock is a figurine on top of some clocks that strike the bell and announce the passage of time.

Richard continued, “This music maddens me; let it sound no more because although music has helped madmen to regain their wits, in me it seems it will make wise men mad.

“Yet I ask for a blessing on the heart of the man who gives the gift of music to me! For it is a sign of love, and love given to Richard is a rare jewel in this world of people who hate Richard.”

A groom who worked with horses in stables entered the room and said, “Hail, royal Prince!”

“Thanks, noble peer,” Richard said. “The cheaper of us is ten groats too dear.”

Richard was being courteous when he called the groom, a servant, “noble peer.” He was also making a joke when he said, “The cheaper of us is ten groats too dear.” The cheaper of the two was Richard because he lacked freedom and was in prison, while the groom was a free man. Richard’s joke lay in making a pun on the names of two coins: a royal and a noble. The royal was worth ten groats more than a noble — a groat is a unit of money. Because Richard was no longer royal, he was only a noble, and the groom was valuing him ten groats too dear.

Richard continued, “Who are you? And how did you come here, where no man ever comes but that sad dog — that miserable man — who brings me food to keep me alive and thereby makes my misfortune continue to live?”

His visitor replied, “I was a poor groom of your stable, King, when you were King. I, travelling towards York, with much trouble have finally gotten permission to look upon my former royal master’s face.

“Oh, how it grieved my heart when I beheld in London streets, that coronation-day, when Bolingbroke rode on roan Barbary, that horse that you so often have ridden, that horse that I so carefully have groomed!”

“Did Bolingbroke ride on Barbary? Tell me, gentle friend, how went Barbary under Bolingbroke?”

“As proudly as if he disdained to touch the ground.”

Richard said, “So proud he was that Bolingbroke was on his back! That jade has eaten food from my royal hand. This hand has made him proud with stroking and petting him. Wouldn’t Barbary stumble? Wouldn’t he fall down, since pride must have a fall, and break the neck of that proud man who usurped his back?

“I beg your forgiveness, horse! Why do I rant about you, since you, created by God for man to awe, were born to bear? I was not made a horse, and yet I bear a burden like an ass, spurred, chafed, and tired by prancing Bolingbroke.”

Holding a dish of food, the jail keeper entered the room.

The jail keeper said to the groom, “Fellow, leave; stay here no longer.”

Richard said to the groom, “If you are my friend, it is time you left.”

“What my tongue dares not, that my heart shall say,” the groom said, and then he exited.

The jail keeper said to Richard, “My lord, will it please you to fall to and eat?”

“Taste my food first, as you are accustomed to do,” Richard said.

Someone tasted a King’s food before he ate, in case of poison.

The jail keeper said, “My lord, I dare not. Sir Pierce of Exton, who recently came here from the King, commands me not to.”

“May the Devil take Henry Bolingbroke — the Duke of Lancaster — and you!” Richard shouted. “Patience is stale, and I am weary of it!”

“Stale” was a strong word; a horse’s urine was called “stale.”

Richard began to beat the jail keeper, who shouted, “Help! Help! Help!”

Sir Pierce of Exton and some of his men, all of them armed, entered the room.

Richard shouted, “What is this? What is the meaning of Death attacking me in this violent way?”

He grabbed a weapon from one of the men attacking him and shouted, “Villain, your own hand yields the instrument of your death.”

He killed the man and shouted, “Go, and fill another room in Hell.”

Richard killed another of his attackers, and then Sir Pierce of Exton mortally wounded him.

Richard said, “That hand shall burn in never-quenching fire that made my royal person stagger like this. Exton, your fierce hand has with the King’s blood stained the King’s own land.

“Mount, mount, my soul, and rise! Your seat is up on high, while my gross flesh sinks downward, here to die.”

Richard died.

Sir Pierce of Exton said, “He was as full of valor as of royal blood. Both have I spilled. Oh, I hope that the deed is good! The Devil, who told me I did well, now says that this deed is chronicled in Hell.

“This dead King to the living King I’ll bear.”

He ordered his men, “Take from here the rest, and give them burial here.”

— 5.6 —

In a room of Windsor Castle, King Henry IV was meeting with the Duke of York. Other lords and some attendants were present.

King Henry IV said, “Kind uncle York, the most recent news we have heard is that the rebels have consumed with fire our town of Cicester in Gloucestershire, but whether the rebels have been captured or slain we have not heard.”

The Earl of Northumberland entered the room.

King Henry IV said to him, “Welcome, my lord. What is the news?”

“First, to your sacred chair of state I wish all happiness,” the Earl of Northumberland replied. “The most pressing news is, I have to London sent the heads of Oxford, Salisbury, Blunt, and Kent. The manner of their capture is described in detail in this paper here.”

“We thank you, gentle Earl of Northumberland and member of the Percy family, for your pains,” King Henry IV said. “And to your worth we will add right worthy — well-merited and quite substantial — gains.”

Lord Fitzwater entered the room and said, “My lord, I have from Oxford sent to London the heads of Brocas and Sir Bennet Seely, two of the dangerous, conspiring traitors who sought at Oxford your dire overthrow.”

“Your pains, Fitzwater, shall not be forgotten,” King Henry IV said. “Very noble is your merit, well I know.”

Young Henry Percy and the Bishop of Carlisle entered the room.

Young Henry Percy said, “The grand conspirator, the Abbot of Westminster, bearing the burden of conscience and sour melancholy, has died and yielded up his body to the grave. But here is the Bishop of Carlisle, still living and waiting for your Kingly decision and the sentence to punish his pride.”

King Henry IV said, “Carlisle, this is your sentence. Choose some secluded place, some monastic dwelling-place that is more sacred than the dwelling-place — the prison cell — you have now, and within it enjoy your life.

“As long as you live peacefully, you will die free from strife, for although you have always been my enemy, yet in you I have seen high sparks of honor.”

Sir Pierce of Exton entered the room. Some attendants carried in the coffin that contained Richard’s corpse.

Sir Pierce of Exton said, “Great King, within this coffin I present your buried fear. Here in this coffin all breathless lies the mightiest of your greatest enemies, Richard, who was born in Bordeaux, by me brought here.”

King Henry IV replied, “Exton, I thank you not; for you have wrought with your fatal hand a deed that will arouse slanderous talk against my head and all this famous land.”

“From your own mouth, my lord, I did this deed,” Sir Pierce of Exton replied. “You wanted me to kill Richard.”

“People who need poison don’t love poison,” King Henry IV said, “and I don’t love you. Although I wished that Richard were dead, I hate the murderer and I love him who was murdered.

“In return for your labor, take a guilty conscience, but you will receive neither my good word nor my Princely favor.

“With Cain, the first murderer, who murdered Abel, go wander through the shadows of night, and never show your head by day or light.”

He paused and then said, “Lords, I protest that my soul is full of woe that blood should be sprinkled on me to make me grow.

“Come, mourn with me for that person whom I do lament, and put on sullen black clothing immediately. I’ll make a voyage to the Holy Land to wash this blood from my guilty hand.

“March sadly after me; grace my mourning here by weeping after this untimely, premature bier.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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