The Chiding

Choose a character, persona or speaker from ONE prescribed text that you have studied in Module C. Express the thought processes of this character, persona or speaker by exploring a moment of tension in the text from an alternative point
of view.


Father turfed the council out and went to town on Hal. I suppose it was for the sake of Hal’s blasted dignity that he booted us all out, but you could still hear him from the garden.

It might have been more prudent for them both to have been quieter – who, really, wants to hear their father divulge the shabby secrets of his constructed majesty? Who wants to hear the man they backed – to the point of regicide – explain to his successor how to keep up the façade? Who, of all the second sons, the world’s afterthoughts, wants to hear a king exhort his heir to uphold the promise of their house? A house which is mostly built on sand, and a kind who took the crown like a kitchen knave finding a pie on a table? No wonder Pa goes on about how ill Hal’s head fits the crown, since the crown was neither bequeathed nor won in fair fight.

Pa is dying, Hal is a knave, Tom a child, and I – I am no more than the replacement for my princely brother on the council. But mentioned with approval by Pa – to chide the rightwise occupant of that seat.

My entire life has been gifts given left-handed. The second son of a usurping king. The stalwart dull brother of a larking boy who will one day make me bend to him. A stop-gap, also-ran, fall-back, whatever-you-will nobody who does what he’s told and clears out when it’s unseemly.

I should pity Hal, I suppose. We’re no more friends than any heir and his understudy could ever be, but he said once that he’d rather have stayed with our uncle in Oxford, or be a kitchen boy in the Eastcheap stews, than shoulder the legend of father’s hasty and dubious kingship. I hushed him up but he was in a passion and railed about unpromised debts and the chains of other men’s quarrels. Not the time to have told him that I’d have the crown if he didn’t want it. It’s never the time to say that. It’s not a thing that can be said, anyway. Father never did, even when Richard was at his flighty worst. He just let it be known, silently, pervasively, like a mist on the marshes, that he’d do better with the crown than Richard – or Mortimer, who now haunts him and is the ache that he calls arthritis.

And so it happened.

I have no confidence in Providence, however well it has treated Pa and Hal. I’m neither glorious nor abysmal, neither Percy nor Prince of Wales, neither fish nor fowl. Forgettable. And while it means that I’ll never be railed as at Hal was – no one will ever extort promises from me like those Hal made about seeing off Hotspur – I’ll never be required to fulfil them, either.

No one would dream of doughy Lancaster idling away the glory of his princely blood by taverning or wenching. No father would rather have some other John, some better-made double from another cradle, with keener blood and a mettle that fires a father’s heart. Sometimes Pa forgets I’m even his son – when he looks around that table of greybeards and counts me – obedient, resigned, loyal – among them. It’s hardly the place to ask him if he ever loved me, John, not Lancaster, not the councilor-who-is-not-Hal, but me, even a little.

So Hal made his promises and father stopped roaring and the clerks and kitchen maids, the ostlers and yeomen, all breathed out again. Hal beat a retreat to the stews to collect what was left of his dignity and a company, and we are all sent to Shrewsbury to put paid to the Percies and their better sons.

Hal will fight Hotspur and he will win. Hotspur – older, bolder, better in arms, just in his cause, noble in his bearing – will fall to Hal’s untutored sword because Providence smiles on Hal, not Hotspur. You can feel it, even as Hal acts the common brigand, even as he shakes off the sack in which he washes his face. Like the heat of a long-promised summer, Hal will lightly overleap those hurdles which should justly pull him down.

And it makes me sick.


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