James and Mary Ford, eds. Every Day in the Year. 1902.

September 27

The Reduction of Harfleur

By William Shakespeare (1564–1616)

From Henry V., Act. III., Scene 3.

September 27, 1415.

Scene III. Before the gates of Harfleur. The Governor and some Citizens on the walls; the English forces below. Enter KING HENRY and his train.

K. Hen.How yet resolves the governor of the town?

This is the latest parle we will admit:

Therefore to our best mercy give yourselves;

Or like to men proud of destruction

Defy us to our worst: for, as I am a soldier,

A name that in my thoughts becomes me best,

If I begin the battery once again,

I will not leave the half-achieved Harfleur

Till in her ashes she lie buried.

The gates of mercy shall be all shut up,

And the flesh’d soldier, rough and hard of heart,

In liberty of bloody hand shall range

With conscience wide as hell, mowing like grass

Your fresh-fair virgins and your flowering infants.

What is it then to me, if impious war,

Array’d in flames like to the prince of fiends,

Do, with his smirch’d complexion, all fell feats

Enlink’d to waste and desolation?

What is’t to me, when you yourselves are cause,

If your pure maidens fall into the hand

Of hot and forcing violation?

What rein can hold licentious wickedness

When down the hill he holds his fierce career?

We may as bootless spend our vain command

Upon the enraged soldiers in their spoil

As send precepts to the leviathan

To come ashore. 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 slaughter-men.

What say you? will you yield, and this avoid,

Or, guilty in defence, be thus destroy’d?

Gov.Our expectation hath this day an end:

The Dauphin, whom of succours 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.

K. Hen.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.
[Flourish. The King and his train enter the town.