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Gallipoli, during the Great War in which so many deeds were done as incredible as those of Agincourt and so many obscure heroes felt and thought what only Henry, with Shakespeare's help, was able to say.
But Shakespeare has been at pains to keep him from being all hero and king and nothing else, a figure such as for most men could only seem a gilded piece on a tapestry. No one knows better than Henry that a king is a man and that
'Tis not the balm, the sceptre, and the ball,
The throne he sits on, nor the tide of pomp
That beats upon the high shore of this world that can deliver him from the common incidents of human life. He is always a thing of flesh and blood, one that can be' exceeding weary ’, with an appetite so far from 'princely got' that it leaves him a prey to the mortal weakness of remembering small beer when he is thirsty ; one that by Falstaff's testimony has 'husbanded and tilled ' his inherited cold blood' with excellent endeavour of drinking good and good store of fertile sherris'; a' fellow of plain and uncoined constancy ', as he himself says in his unkingly but most English wooing, 'whose face is not worth sunburning, that never looks in his glass for love of anything he sees there'. Has the Frenchman yet been born who could say such a thing? Henry is the sort of man, with no fashions or poses about him, to whom people say such things as . Would 'twere bed time, Hal, and all well ', and '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'; to whom men can make fearless defences ; what your highness suffered under that shape I beseech you to take it for your own fault, not mine'. Is not this why we English at any rate find him so typically English ? The French think of themselves as
original in mind and generous in heart. We think of ourselves as intellectually sane and morally straight. In our eyes Englishmen are men who make no pictures about themselves and are apt to perform more than they promise ; whose humour is a constant ironical understatement of their own hopes and achievements; who laugh at their enemy ten times for once they hate him. Many a French soldier in the war must have said in his heart the French counterpart of 'Would I were in an alehouse in London! I would give all my fame for a pot of ale and safety'. But only an Englishman would say it with his tongue and in the ears of his neighbours. Henry's men, like our modern English soldiers, make no pretence of liking fighting ; and probably, like our men, they would have been very slow in learning to hate the Germans. There is a story of two generals, a French and an English, riding together, and the Frenchman commenting on the apparent lack of emotion and enthusiasm of the English soldiers as shown, for instance, in the fact that they seldom sang on the march. As he said it an English regiment came up and passed by them. The men were singing loudly. The French general apologized for what he had said. “Do you know what they were singing ? ' said the Englishman; 'The Hymn of Hate.' One can quite fancy Bates and Williams in that regiment, with the Bastard for their colonel ; and Harry, though he keeps his humour rather in the background after he is king, as their fit and natural commander-in-chief. And we love him accordingly as, in addition to all the rest, the truest of Englishmen.
And yet, it will be naturally objected, this plain man, honest man, Englishman, hero, is the Henry who kills his prisoners and casts off his old friend when he comes to the throne. Both are, at first sight, ugly incidents : that may be admitted. And indeed there is worse. For the horrible speech before Harfleur, though its threats of all that 'the
blind and bloody soldier with foul hand' can and shall do to old men and infants, fathers and daughters, happily remain only threats, is to our ears among the ugliest which Shakespeare ever put into any mouth. But about that there are two things to be said. One is the old historical defence : words and deeds were then possible to knightly men, the story of which now only serves to show us how far we have travelled on the road of humanity. The other is that the speech may be attacked as one of Shakespeare's strange inconsistencies ; for, at the king's very next appearance, his language and conduct are as great a contrast to those of this scene as Wellington's were to Blucher's. He will have no abuses or insults addressed to the country people, and he will have them paid for all they supply, ' for when lenity and cruelty play for a kingdom, the gentler gamester is the soonest winner'. As to the business of the prisoners there is a still surer explanation. Fluellen is the soul of honour and he says it was the punishment of treachery, and Gower expressly praises the king for the order. And Henry is so strongly moved before giving it that he says, 'I was not angry since I came to France Until this instant'. War is necessarily an ugly business, even to-day, and in to-day's humanest armies : it could not then be a beautiful one.
There remains the last and heaviest count in the indictment. The French prisoners and the people of Harfleur are shadows to us, and we do not easily care very greatly about their fate. But Falstaff is no shadow, in any sense. We love him and hate to see him dismissed and discomfited. Indeed some of us who have an especial turn for intellectual pleasure are so carried away captive by his wit that we will not even see him for what he is, will not allow that he was either liar or coward ; blinding our eyes not only to the plain facts as set out in the play, and to the impression always made by them, certainly not without Shakespeare's
intention, on all audiences and readers, but also to the obvious consideration that half the humour which wins our hearts would be gone if he were a brave man and a truthteller. Where would be the humour of 'a plague of all cowards ’ if the speaker were not what every theatre takes him for? Where would be the fun of the plain tale' that puts his preposterous boastings down if, as we are told, he never meant to be believed ? No; these are the aberrations of the intellectual. And when one of these intellectuals, the greatest of living students of Shakespeare, Mr. A. C. Bradley, indulges in these fancies, we need not take them too seriously except as providing sovereign and final proof of the supreme fascination of Falstaff.
It is just that fascination, of course, which makes the difficulty of the final scene between Henry and Falstaff. We resent the sermon and the sending to the Fleet; we find it hard not to resent even the mere rejection itself. And yet Shakespeare has done all he can to prepare us : all except, as Mr. Bradley finely argues, the one thing needful, which was to deprive him of his humour. He has separated Falstaff and the Prince more and more ; they only meet once in the Second Part before the rejection, and on that one occasion Falstaff is seen in the lowest degradation. All through the play he and his tavern world are drawn nearer to the disgusting, further from the triumphant and amusing, while the Prince is always revealing more and more of his higher and truer self. It is notable that while the first thing he does as king is to honour and promote the Chief Justice who had fearlessly punished his follies as prince, the first thing Falstaff does on knowing of the accession is to cry 'let us take any man's horses : the laws of England are at my commandment. Blessed are they that have been my friends; and woe to my lord chief justice.' Between such a Henry and such a Falstaff there could be no further companionship.
But need there have been so insulting a dismissal ? That is the question. To answer it we have to look not only at Falstaff's general character but at the abominable behaviour which actually provokes the rejection. The coronation, then as now, was the most solemn and ceremonious moment in a king's life. It was this moment which Falstaff chose to break in upon the procession with his impudent familiarities—'God save thee my sweet boy', 'my Jove', and the rest. Can we blame the king for his stern rebuke, though we may wish it had been briefer ? What would a judge do who should find himself shouted at with old mess or club jokes when he first took his seat on the bench ? This is as much worse as a king is greater than a judge. Even to-day, kings, and kings who are no longer personal rulers, show themselves at once conscious of the sharp line which separates them from their past directly they have stepped across the threshold of the throne. It is said that an old friend of King Edward VII, addressing him within a few hours of his accession by a nickname which had been frequently used among his intimates, received in reply a look which did not indeed send him to the Fleet, or even extinguish the friendship, but which silenced the nickname once and for all. Henry V was a greater king and his dignity was assailed not in private but in public, and needed the severer rebuke.
Beyond that, the absolutely needful, the king does not appear to have gone. If Falstaff was actually taken to the Fleet, he evidently did not stay there ; we soon find him among his friends again, though it is true we find him dying. His habits, poor man, cannot have made him a good subject for a 'tertian fever', and we need not perhaps take Mrs. Quickly’s diagnosis of a broken heart too seriously. He had been provided for, 'very well provided for ', as Prince John and the King both tell us ; and is not likely to have been very unhappy so long as he could command