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William Shakespeare (1564–1616). The Oxford Shakespeare. 1914.

Act IV. Scene I.

The Life of King Henry the Fifth

The English Camp at Agincourt.


K. Hen.Gloucester, ’tis true that we are in great danger;

The greater therefore should our courage be.

Good morrow, brother Bedford. God Almighty!

There is some soul of goodness in things evil,

Would men observingly distil it out;

For our bad neighbour makes us early stirrers,

Which is both healthful, and good husbandry:

Besides, they are our outward consciences,

And preachers to us all; admonishing

That we should dress us fairly for our end.

Thus may we gather honey from the weed,

And make a moral of the devil himself.


Good morrow, old Sir Thomas Erpingham:

A good soft pillow for that good white head

Were better than a churlish turf of France.

Erp.Not so, my liege: this lodging likes me better,

Since I may say, ‘Now lie I like a king.’

K. Hen.’Tis good for men to love their present pains

Upon example; so the spirit is eas’d:

And when the mind is quicken’d, out of doubt,

The organs, though defunct and dead before,

Break up their drowsy grave, and newly move

With casted slough and fresh legerity.

Lend me thy cloak, Sir Thomas. Brothers both,

Commend me to the princes in our camp;

Do my good morrow to them; and anon

Desire them all to my pavilion.

Glo.We shall, my liege.[Exeunt GLOUCESTER and BEDFORD.

Erp.Shall I attend your Grace?

K. Hen.No, my good knight;

Go with my brothers to my lords of England:

I and my bosom must debate awhile,

And then I would no other company.

Erp.The Lord in heaven bless thee, noble Harry![Exit.

K. Hen.God-a-mercy, old heart! thou speak’st cheerfully.


Pist.Qui va là?

K. Hen.A friend.

Pist.Discuss unto me; art thou officer?

Or art thou base, common and popular?

K. Hen.I am a gentleman of a company.

Pist.Trail’st thou the puissant pike?

K. Hen.Even so. What are you?

Pist.As good a gentleman as the emperor.

K. Hen.Then you are a better than the king.

Pist.The king’s a bawcock, and a heart of gold,

A lad of life, an imp of fame:

Of parents good, of fist most valiant:

I kiss his dirty shoe, and from my heart-string

I love the lovely bully. What’s thy name?

K. Hen.Harry le Roy.

Pist.Le Roy! a Cornish name: art thou of Cornish crew?

K. Hen.No, I am a Welshman.

Pist.Know’st thou Fluellen?

K. Hen.Yes.

Pist.Tell him, I’ll knock his leek about his pate

Upon Saint Davy’s day.

K. Hen.Do not you wear your dagger in your cap that day, lest he knock that about yours.

Pist.Art thou his friend?

K. Hen.And his kinsman too.

Pist.The figo for thee then!

K. Hen.I thank you. God be with you!

Pist.My name is Pistol called.[Exit.

K. Hen.It sorts well with your fierceness.[Retires.

Enter FLUELLEN and GOWER, severally.

Gow.Captain Fluellen!

Flu.So! in the name of Cheshu Christ, speak lower. It is the greatest admiration in the universal world, when the true and auncient prerogatifes and laws of the wars is not kept. If you would take the pains but to examine the wars of Pompey the Great, you shall find, I warrant you, that there is no tiddle-taddle nor pibble-pabble in Pompey’s camp; I warrant you, you shall find the ceremonies of the wars, and the cares of it, and the forms of it, and the sobriety of it, and the modesty of it, to be otherwise.

Gow.Why, the enemy is loud; you heard him all night.

Flu.If the enemy is an ass and a fool and a prating coxcomb, is it meet, think you, that we should also, look you, be an ass and a fool and a prating coxcomb, in your own conscience now?

Gow.I will speak lower.

Flu.I pray you and peseech you that you will.[Exeunt GOWER and FLUELLEN.

K. Hen.Though it appear a little out of fashion,

There is much care and valour in this Welshman.


Court.Brother John Bates, is not that the morning which breaks yonder?

Bates.I think it be; but we have no great cause to desire the approach of day.

Will.We see yonder the beginning of the day, but I think we shall never see the end of it. Who goes there?

K. Hen.A friend.

Will.Under what captain serve you?

K. Hen.Under Sir Thomas Erpingham.

Will.A good old commander and a most kind gentleman: I pray you, what thinks he of our estate?

K. Hen.Even as men wracked upon a sand, that look to be washed off the next tide.

Bates.He hath not told his thought to the king?

K. Hen.No; nor it is not meet he should. For, though I speak it to you, I think the king is but a man, as I am: the violet smells to him as it doth to me; the element shows to him as it doth to me; all his senses have but human conditions: his ceremonies laid by, in his nakedness he appears but a man; and though his affections are higher mounted than ours, yet when they stoop, they stoop with the like wing. Therefore when he sees reason of fears, as we do, his fears, out of doubt, be of the same relish as ours are: yet, in reason, no man should possess him with any appearance of fear, lest he, by showing it, should dishearten his army.

Bates.He may show what outward courage he will, but I believe, as cold a night as ’tis, he could wish himself in Thames up to the neck, and so I would he were, and I by him, at all adventures, so we were quit here.

K. Hen.By my troth, I will speak my conscience of the king: I think he would not wish himself any where but where he is.

Bates.Then I would he were here alone; so should he be sure to be ransomed, and a many poor men’s lives saved.

K. Hen.I dare say you love him not so ill to wish him here alone, howsoever you speak this to feel other men’s minds. Methinks I could not die any where so contented as in the king’s company, his cause being just and his quarrel honourable.

Will.That’s more than we know.

Bates.Ay, or more than we should seek after; for we know enough if we know we are the king’s subjects. If his cause be wrong, our obedience to the king wipes the crime of it out of us.

Will.But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make; when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in a battle, shall join together at the latter day, and cry all, ‘We died at such a place;’ some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it, whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection.

K. Hen.So, if a son that is by his father sent about merchandise do sinfully miscarry upon the sea, the imputation of his wickedness, by your rule, should be imposed upon his father that sent him: or if a servant, under his master’s command transporting a sum of money, be assailed by robbers and die in many irreconciled iniquities, you may call the business of the master the author of the servant’s damnation. But this is not so: the king is not bound to answer the particular endings of his soldiers, the father of his son, nor the master of his servant; for they purpose not their death when they purpose their services. Besides, there is no king, be his cause never so spotless, if it come to the arbitrement of swords, can try it out with all unspotted soldiers. Some, peradventure, have on them the guilt of premeditated and contrived murder; some, of beguiling virgins with the broken seals of perjury; some, making the wars their bulwark, that have before gored the gentle bosom of peace with pillage and robbery. Now, if these men have defeated the law and outrun native punishment, though they can outstrip men, they have no wings to fly from God: war is his beadle, war is his vengeance; so that here men are punished for before-breach of the king’s laws in now the king’s quarrel: where they feared the death they have borne life away, and where they would be safe they perish. Then, if they die unprovided, no more is the king guilty of their damnation than he was before guilty of those impieties for the which they are now visited. Every subject’s duty is the king’s; but every subject’s soul is his own. Therefore should every soldier in the wars do as every sick man in his bed, wash every mote out of his conscience; and dying so, death is to him advantage; or not dying, the time was blessedly lost wherein such preparation was gained: and in him that escapes, it were not sin to think, that making God so free an offer, he let him outlive that day to see his greatness, and to teach others how they should prepare.

Will.’Tis certain, every man that dies ill, the ill upon his own head: the king is not to answer it.

Bates.I do not desire he should answer for me; and yet I determine to fight lustily for him.

K. Hen.I myself heard the king say he would not be ransomed.

Will.Ay, he said so, to make us fight cheerfully; but when our throats are cut he may be ransomed, and we ne’er the wiser.

K. Hen.If I live to see it, I will never trust his word after.

Will.You pay him then. That’s a perilous shot out of an elder-gun, that a poor and a private displeasure can do against a monarch. You may as well go about to turn the sun to ice with fanning in his face with a peacock’s feather. You’ll never trust his word after! come, ’tis a foolish saying.

K. Hen.Your reproof is something too round; I should be angry with you if the time were convenient.

Will.Let it be a quarrel between us, if you live.

K. Hen.I embrace it.

Will.How shall I know thee again?

K. Hen.Give me any gage of thine, and I will wear it in my bonnet: then, if ever thou darest acknowledge it, I will make it my quarrel.

Will.Here’s my glove: give me another of thine.

K. Hen.There.

Will.This will I also wear in my cap: if ever thou come to me and say after to-morrow, ‘This is my glove,’ by this hand I will take thee a box on the ear.

K. Hen.If ever I live to see it, I will challenge it.

Will.Thou darest as well be hanged.

K. Hen.Well, I will do it, though I take thee in the king’s company.

Will.Keep thy word: fare thee well.

Bates.Be friends, you English fools, be friends: we have French quarrels enow, if you could tell how to reckon.

K. Hen.Indeed, the French may lay twenty French crowns to one, they will beat us; for they bear them on their shoulders: but it is no English treason to cut French crowns, and to-morrow the king himself will be a clipper.[Exeunt Soldiers.

Upon the king! let us our lives, our souls,

Our debts, our careful wives,

Our children, and our sins lay on the king!

We must bear all. O hard condition!

Twin-born with greatness, subject to the breath

Of every fool, whose sense no more can feel

But his own wringing. What infinite heart’s ease

Must kings neglect that private men enjoy!

And what have kings that privates have not too,

Save ceremony, save general ceremony?

And what art thou, thou idle ceremony?

What kind of god art thou, that suffer’st more

Of mortal griefs than do thy worshippers?

What are thy rents? what are thy comings-in?

O ceremony! show me but thy worth:

What is thy soul of adoration?

Art thou aught else but place, degree, and form,

Creating awe and fear in other men?

Wherein thou art less happy, being fear’d,

Than they in fearing.

What drink’st thou oft, instead of homage sweet,

But poison’d flattery? O! be sick, great greatness,

And bid thy ceremony give thee cure.

Think’st thou the fiery fever will go out

With titles blown from adulation?

Will it give place to flexure and low-bending?

Canst thou, when thou command’st the beggar’s knee,

Command the health of it? No, thou proud dream,

That play’st so subtly with a king’s repose;

I am a king that find thee; and I know

’Tis not the balm, the sceptre and the ball,

The sword, the mace, the crown imperial,

The intertissued robe of gold and pearl,

The farced title running ’fore the king,

The throne he sits on, nor the tide of pomp

That beats upon the high shore of this world,

No, not all these, thrice-gorgeous ceremony,

Not all these, laid in bed majestical,

Can sleep so soundly as the wretched slave,

Who with a body fill’d and vacant mind

Gets him to rest, cramm’d with distressful bread;

Never sees horrid night, the child of hell,

But, like a lackey, from the rise to set

Sweats in the eye of Phœbus, and all night

Sleeps in Elysium; next day after dawn,

Doth rise and help Hyperion to his horse,

And follows so the ever-running year

With profitable labour to his grave:

And, but for ceremony, such a wretch,

Winding up days with toil and nights with sleep,

Had the fore-hand and vantage of a king.

The slave, a member of the country’s peace,

Enjoys it; but in gross brain little wots

What watch the king keeps to maintain the peace,

Whose hours the peasant best advantages.


Erp.My lord, your nobles, jealous of your absence,

Seek through your camp to find you.

K. Hen.Good old knight,

Collect them all together at my tent:

I’ll be before thee.

Erp.I shall do ’t, my lord.[Exit.

K. Hen.O God of battles! steel my soldiers’ hearts;

Possess them not with fear; take from them now

The sense of reckoning, if the opposed numbers

Pluck their hearts from them. Not to-day, O Lord!

O! not to-day, think not upon the fault

My father made in compassing the crown.

I Richard’s body have interr’d anew,

And on it have bestow’d more contrite tears

Than from it issu’d forced drops of blood.

Five hundred poor I have in yearly pay,

Who twice a day their wither’d hands hold up

Toward heaven, to pardon blood; and I have built

Two chantries, where the sad and solemn priests

Sing still for Richard’s soul. More will I do;

Though all that I can do is nothing worth,

Since that my penitence comes after all,

Imploring pardon.


Glo.My liege!

K. Hen.My brother Gloucester’s voice! Ay;

I know thy errand, I will go with thee:

The day, my friends, and all things stay for me.[Exeunt.