Now imagine a time when hushed voices and darkness fill the wide universe. From camp to camp through the dark womb of night the hum of both armies sounds softly so that the camp guards can almost hear the whispers of each other’s watch. Fires on the two sides mirror each other and by their dim flames each army sees the other’s shadowy face. Horse threatens horse with high-pitched boastful neighs that pierce the night’s thick silence, and from the tents the armourers, fitting out the knights with busy hammers, closing up rivets, signal the dreadful note of preparation. The country cocks crow, the clocks strike, announcing that it’s three o’clock. Proud of their superior numbers and feeling secure, the confident and impatient French play dice, using the low-rated English as their stakes, chiding the limping, slow-paced night who, like a hideous and ugly witch, limps away so tediously. The poor, condemned English, like sacrifices, sit patiently beside their watchfires, brooding about the morning’s danger: and their sad postures, their hollow cheeks and war-worn coats, make them look like so many horrid ghosts in the moonlight. Now, whoever sees the royal captain of this ruined band walking from guard to guard, from tent to tent, let him cry “Praise and glory on his head!” Because out he goes and visits all his army, bids them good morning with a modest smile and calls them “bothers”, “friends” and “fellow-countrymen”. On his royal face there is no concern about how threatening the army is that has encircled him. Nor does he concede one jot of colour to the weary and tense night, but looks fresh and conceals his weariness beneath a cheerful expression and majestic dignity so that every wretch, however low-spirited and pale, on seeing him, takes comfort from his looks. Like the sun thawing cold fear, he gives warmth to everyone, and all men – of low and high rank – get, one may say, a small piece of Harry in the night.
And so our action must fly to the battle where – alas – we’ll present a derisory version of Agincourt with four or five bedraggled theatre swords badly wielded in a ridiculous stage brawl. Stay in your seats and watch: use the absurd imitations to imagine the real battle.
Read more scenes from Henry V: