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

Act I. Scene I.

The Life of King Henry the Fifth

London.An Antechamber in the KING’S Palace.


Cant.My lord, I’ll tell you; that self bill is urg’d,

Which in th’ eleventh year of the last king’s reign

Was like, and had indeed against us pass’d,

But that the scambling and unquiet time

Did push it out of further question.

Ely.But how, my lord, shall we resist it now?

Cant.It must be thought on. If it pass against us,

We lose the better half of our possession;

For all the temporal lands which men devout

By testament have given to the church

Would they strip from us; being valu’d thus:

As much as would maintain, to the king’s honour,

Full fifteen earls and fifteen hundred knights,

Six thousand and two hundred good esquires;

And, to relief of lazars and weak age,

Of indigent faint souls past corporal toil,

A hundred almshouses right well supplied;

And to the coffers of the king beside,

A thousand pounds by the year. Thus runs the bill.

Ely.This would drink deep.

Cant.’Twould drink the cup and all.

Ely.But what prevention?

Cant.The king is full of grace and fair regard.

Ely.And a true lover of the holy church.

Cant.The courses of his youth promis’d it not.

The breath no sooner left his father’s body

But that his wildness, mortified in him,

Seem’d to die too; yea, at that very moment,

Consideration like an angel came,

And whipp’d the offending Adam out of him,

Leaving his body as a paradise,

To envelop and contain celestial spirits.

Never was such a sudden scholar made;

Never came reformation in a flood,

With such a heady currance, scouring faults;

Nor never Hydra-headed wilfulness

So soon did lose his seat and all at once

As in this king.

Ely.We are blessed in the change.

Cant.Hear him but reason in divinity,

And, all-admiring, with an inward wish

You would desire the king were made a prelate:

Hear him debate of commonwealth affairs,

You would say it hath been all in all his study:

List his discourse of war, and you shall hear

A fearful battle render’d you in music:

Turn him to any cause of policy,

The Gordian knot of it he will unloose,

Familiar as his garter; that, when he speaks,

The air, a charter’d libertine, is still,

And the mute wonder lurketh in men’s ears,

To steal his sweet and honey’d sentences;

So that the art and practic part of life

Must be the mistress to this theoric:

Which is a wonder how his Grace should glean it,

Since his addiction was to courses vain;

His companies unletter’d, rude, and shallow;

His hours fill’d up with riots, banquets, sports;

And never noted in him any study,

Any retirement, any sequestration

From open haunts and popularity.

Ely.The strawberry grows underneath the nettle,

And wholesome berries thrive and ripen best

Neighbour’d by fruit of baser quality:

And so the prince obscur’d his contemplation

Under the veil of wildness; which, no doubt,

Grew like the summer grass, fastest by night,

Unseen, yet crescive in his faculty.

Cant.It must be so; for miracles are ceas’d;

And therefore we must needs admit the means

How things are perfected.

Ely.But, my good lord,

How now for mitigation of this bill

Urg’d by the commons? Doth his majesty

Incline to it, or no?

Cant.He seems indifferent,

Or rather swaying more upon our part

Than cherishing the exhibiters against us;

For I have made an offer to his majesty,

Upon our spiritual convocation,

And in regard of causes now in hand,

Which I have open’d to his Grace at large,

As touching France, to give a greater sum

Than ever at one time the clergy yet

Did to his predecessors part withal.

Ely.How did this offer seem receiv’d, my lord?

Cant.With good acceptance of his majesty;

Save that there was not time enough to hear,—

As I perceiv’d his Grace would fain have done,—

The severals and unhidden passages

Of his true titles to some certain dukedoms,

And generally to the crown and seat of France,

Deriv’d from Edward, his great-grandfather.

Ely.What was the impediment that broke this off?

Cant.The French ambassador upon that instant

Crav’d audience; and the hour I think is come

To give him hearing: is it four o’clock?

Ely.It is.

Cant.Then go we in to know his embassy;

Which I could with a ready guess declare

Before the Frenchman speak a word of it.

Ely.I’ll wait upon you, and I long to hear it.[Exeunt.