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The SCENE, at the beginning of the Play, lies in England; but afterwards wholly in France.
O, for a muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention !
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act,
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!
Then should the warlike Harry, like himself,
Assume the port of Mars; and, at his heels,
Leash'd in like hounds, should famine, sword, and fire,
Crouch for employment. But pardon, gentles all,
The flat unraised spirit, that hath dared,
On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth
So great an object: Can this cockpit hold
The vasty fields of France? or may we cram
Within this wooden O,* the very casques,
That did affright the air at Agincourt?
O, pardon! since a crooked figure may
Attest, in little place, a million;
And let us, ciphers to this great accompt,
On your imaginary forcest work:
Suppose, within the girdle of these walls
Are now confined two mighty monarchies,
Whose high upreared and abutting fronts
The perilous, narrow ocean parts asunder.
Pierce out our imperfections with your thoughts;
Into a thousand parts divide one man,
And make imaginary puissance:
Think, when we talk of horses, that you see them
Printing their proud hoofs i' the receiving earth :
For 'tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,
Carry them here and there; jumping o'er times;
Turning the accomplishment of many years
Into an hour-glass; For the which supply,
Admit me chorus to this history;
Who, prologue-like, your humble patience pray,
Gently to hear, kindly to judge, our play.
SCENE I.-London. An Antichamber in the King's Palace.
Enter the Archbishop of CANTERBURY, and Bishop of ELY.
Cant. My lord, I'll tell you, that self bill is urged,
Which, in the eleventh year o' 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 valued 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,
* An allusion to the circular form of the Globe Theatre.
† Powers of fancy.
Of indigent faint souls, past corporal toil,
A hundred alms-houses, 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 promised 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 current, 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 obscured his contemplation
* Listen to.
Theory and practice.
Under the veil of wildness; which, no doubt,
Grew like summer grass, fastest by night,
Unseen, yet crescive* in his faculty.
Cant. It must be so: for miracles are ceased:
And therefore we must needs admit the means,
How things are perfected.
Ely. But, my good lord,
How now for mitigation of this bill
Urged 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 received, my lord?
Cant. With good acceptance of his majesty;
Save, that there was not time enough to hear
(As, I perceived, 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,
Derived from Edward, his great grandfather.
Ely. What was the impediment that broke this off?
Cant. The French ambassador, upon that instant,
Craved 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.
SCENE II.-The same. A Room of State in the same.
Enter KING HENRY, GLOSTER, BEDFORD, EXETER, WARWICK,
WESTMORELAND, and Attendants.
K. Hen. Where is my gracious lord of Canterbury?
Exe. Not here in presence.
K. Hen. Send for him, good uncle.
West. Shall we call in the ambassador, my liege?
K. Hen. Not yet, my cousin; we would be resolved,
Before we hear him, of some things of weight,
That task our thoughts, concerning us and France.