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Harfleur – Act Three Scenes 1,2 & 3

 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Harfleur

Henry V – Act Three Scene One

Henry gives his most famous speech. An absolute classic and if delivered by even a half competent actor it is guaranteed to bring the house down. Or at least the walls of Harfleur

KING HENRY V

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;
Let pry through the portage of the head
Like the brass cannon; let the brow o’erwhelm it
As fearfully as doth a galled rock
O’erhang and jutty his confounded base,
Swill’d with the wild and wasteful ocean.
Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,
Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit
To his full height. On, on, you noblest English.
Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof!
Fathers that, like so many Alexanders,
Have in these parts from morn till even fought
And sheathed their swords for lack of argument:
Dishonour not your mothers; now attest
That those whom you call’d fathers did beget you.
Be copy now to men of grosser blood,
And teach them how to war. And you, good yeoman,
Whose limbs were made in England, show us here
The mettle of your pasture; let us swear
That you are worth your breeding; which I doubt not;
For there is none of you so mean and base,
That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’

 

Act Three Scene Two

All the English, fired up by Henry’s speech rush off to attack Harfleur, except Bardolph, Nym, Pistol and the Boy

BARDOLPH

On, on, on, on, on! to the breach, to the breach!

NYM

Pray thee, corporal, stay: the knocks are too hot;
and, for mine own part, I have not a case of lives:
the humour of it is too hot, that is the very
plain-song of it.

Until Fluellen enters to force them onwards, leaving the boy alone.

What follows is remarkable piece of writing.

I have overlooked the boy so far but this speech has such depth, such feeling and coming in the midst of a battle the effect is stunning. The boy is now a real person not a character on a page.

Boy

As young as I am, I have observed these three
swashers. I am boy to them all three: but all they
three, though they would serve me, could not be man
to me; for indeed three such antics do not amount to
a man. For Bardolph, he is white-livered and
red-faced; by the means whereof a’ faces it out, but
fights not. For Pistol, he hath a killing tongue
and a quiet sword; by the means whereof a’ breaks
words, and keeps whole weapons. For Nym, he hath
heard that men of few words are the best men; and
therefore he scorns to say his prayers, lest a’
should be thought a coward: but his few bad words
are matched with as few good deeds; for a’ never
broke any man’s head but his own, and that was
against a post when he was drunk. They will steal
anything, and call it purchase. Bardolph stole a
lute-case, bore it twelve leagues, and sold it for
three half pence. Nym and Bardolph are sworn
brothers in filching, and in Calais they stole a
fire-shovel: I knew by that piece of service the
men would carry coals. They would have me as
familiar with men’s pockets as their gloves or their
handkerchers: which makes much against my manhood,
if I should take from another’s pocket to put into
mine; for it is plain pocketing up of wrongs. I
must leave them, and seek some better service:
their villany goes against my weak stomach, and
therefore I must cast it up.

An Englishman, Irishman, Scotsman and Welshman go to war.

A scene of bickering between the nationalities and then the parley is sounded by Harfleur

Act Three Scene Three

Henry threatens the Governor of Harfleur with such vile images that I would hope it is all just a bluff, yet I think probably not.

KING HENRY V

                        Therefore, you men of Harfleur,
Take pity of your town and of your people,
Whiles yet my soldiers are in my command;
Whiles yet the cool and temperate wind of grace
O’erblows the filthy and contagious clouds
Of heady murder, spoil and villany.
If not, why, in a moment look to see
The blind and bloody soldier with foul hand
Defile the locks of your shrill-shrieking daughters;
Your fathers taken by the silver beards,
And their most reverend heads dash’d to the walls,
Your naked infants spitted upon pikes,
Whiles the mad mothers with their howls confused
Do break the clouds, as did the wives of Jewry
At Herod’s bloody-hunting slaughtermen.
What say you? will you yield, and this avoid,
Or, guilty in defence, be thus destroy’d?

GOVERNOR

Our expectation hath this day an end:
The Dauphin, whom of succors we entreated,
Returns us that his powers are yet not ready
To raise so great a siege. Therefore, great king,
We yield our town and lives to thy soft mercy.
Enter our gates; dispose of us and ours;
For we no longer are defensible.

KING HENRY V

Open your gates. Come, uncle Exeter,
Go you and enter Harfleur; there remain,
And fortify it strongly ‘gainst the French:
Use mercy to them all. For us, dear uncle,
The winter coming on and sickness growing
Upon our soldiers, we will retire to Calais.
To-night in Harfleur we will be your guest;
To-morrow for the march are we addrest.

Henry has won the first battle but not the war.

 

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ACT THREE  – PROLOGUE

The Chorus takes us, with Henry and the English Fleet, across the Channel.

He paints a picture for us of the preparations in Southampton, the crossing and then to Harfleur. He tells us that The French King, Charles VI, offered Henry his daughter and some dukedoms but Henry refused them is now laying Siege to the town of Harfleur!

Chorus

Thus with imagined wing our swift scene flies
In motion of no less celerity
Than that of thought. Suppose that you have seen
The well-appointed king at Hampton pier
Embark his royalty; and his brave fleet
With silken streamers the young Phoebus fanning:
Play with your fancies, and in them behold
Upon the hempen tackle ship-boys climbing;
Hear the shrill whistle which doth order give
To sounds confused; behold the threaden sails,
Borne with the invisible and creeping wind,
Draw the huge bottoms through the furrow’d sea,
Breasting the lofty surge: O, do but think
You stand upon the ravage and behold
A city on the inconstant billows dancing;
For so appears this fleet majestical,
Holding due course to Harfleur. Follow, follow:
Grapple your minds to sternage of this navy,
And leave your England, as dead midnight still,
Guarded with grandsires, babies and old women,
Either past or not arrived to pith and puissance;
For who is he, whose chin is but enrich’d
With one appearing hair, that will not follow
These cull’d and choice-drawn cavaliers to France?
Work, work your thoughts, and therein see a siege;
Behold the ordnance on their carriages,
With fatal mouths gaping on girded Harfleur.
Suppose the ambassador from the French comes back;
Tells Harry that the king doth offer him
Katharine his daughter, and with her, to dowry,
Some petty and unprofitable dukedoms.
The offer likes not: and the nimble gunner
With linstock now the devilish cannon touches,

Alarum, and chambers go off

And down goes all before them. Still be kind,
And eke out our performance with your mind.

Next time, one of the most famous speeches in all of Shakespeare’s work.

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