King Henry IX - The War of the Noses

 

ACT 2, SCENE 7

The King's privy chamber in the White Castle. The KING at his desk, with HUCKLEBERRY and BANNCOCK he confers. Muted cries and shouts and, occasionally, fireworks are heard.

BANNCOCK

This 'splosive revelry and Thames-side celebration for the people's distraction will not last.

HUCKLEBERRY

We rely on it for the nonce. Hourly we expect Parliament's judgement on matters consequential.

BANNCOCK

Miller time in Westminster.

KING

O for a convenient foreign war! Is't too late to poke some weak, unfriended island for a rare and bloody vict'ry?

BANNCOCK

Pray the White Castle be not that unfriended isle ere nightfall. What defenses of the realm art in ready preparation?

HUCKLEBERRY

Rube Giovanni returns soon his report.

BANNCOCK

O that be of comfort! His intelligence 'tis ever so rare. It almost out-prices the King's for scarcity.

KING

I like not thy words, untidy toad!

BANNCOCK

Swallow 'em despite, King-for-hire! With my ruffian base-born I married you the throne. Forget me not.

He pulls a Rubik's Cube from his pocket and tosses it onto the king's desk.

Rubik's cube.Puzzle that awhile, King.

KING

[Picking it up] Ooh, a bauble!

HUCKLEBERRY

[In a stage whisper] Careful Banncock of illing-kay the olden-gay ooze-gay.

BANNCOCK

Come my furry Huckle, such fell times and talk of deaths dost stir my blood. Parlez vous "la petite mort," mademoiselle?

HUCKLEBERRY

Ugh! [An audible shudder] Footsteps, methinks.

GIOVANNI approaches. The KING is in thrall to the puzzle. Sporadic revels are heard still from outside the castle.

GIOVANNI

Woeful day sirs!

HUCKLEBERRY

What news of the King's faithful army and most loyal following?

GIOVANNI

Decimation!

BANNCOCK

Come now, Mayor Shallow. Particular tidings? Intelligences?

GIOVANNI

Just this, sloven sir: treachery, witchcraft, infection, madness!

HUCKLEBERRY

More roundly sir!

The King continues at the cube with increasing vigor and evident frustration.

GIOVANNI

Nothing of closed Parliament but rumor. But contagion from that vestal varlet Gonereal Stormborn doth strangely infect men of our base. They cry "Witchcraft!" and hie to strange self-servéd deaths. A goodly army of red-beanied fit men didst go a-leaping o'er the white cliffs of Dover, a frightful sight to see. Only here in the city, men from London Bridge go falling down; falling down to cold, wat'ry graves. Northward some take the high road, some take the low road, all avow and say "I'll die in Scotland afore ye."

BANNCOCK

Bewitchéd knaves! They couldst not the stewed prunes? Ill-trained soldiers.

The KING throws the cube in frustration, then looks up...

KING

Good Giovanni, well met! What news?

GIOVANNI

Well...

BANNCOCK

Your army doth dissolve.

KING

Japing Banncock, thou dost jest unseemly. I'll not hear thy cankered tongue!

BANNCOCK

Knock knock.

KING

Ooh! Who's there?

BANNCOCK

Howard.

KING

Howard who?

BANNCOCK

Howard you like new rooms in the Tower?

KING

O scurrilous knave! I like not thy bloated hungry look.

HUCKLEBERRY

Liege, didst not you purpose for Banncock to attend your disgracéd lawyer Cozen? Would now be the moment?

KING

Say more, cryer. I misremember the occasion.

HUCKLEBERRY

He was to go the weeping scoudrel's cell below and box the trait'rous Cozen about the ears for sport.

KING

Ooh, I'd have that done!

BANNCOCK

My ham-fisted pleasure, Lord. I go at once.

He departs as the giddy KING, risen from his chair, feigns a one-two punch combination.

HUCKLEBERRY

Giovanni, know this, the King's gaolers Rosenstern and Guildencrantz...

KING

One's named Gus, one's named Alfie!

HUCKLEBERRY

... art bidst lock Banncock in the cozy box where, at the King's pleasure, the twain shall rot.

KING

He shouldst not grown tiresome. Come, Giovanni, our news. What of my troops?

GIOVANNI

Some passing trouble as I hast relayed to Huckleberry, whose nose is e'er to the ground in your service, dread King. Perhaps she will the particulars share.

He casts a pleading look her way, but she is moving to greet Princess Iwanna Kushy of YORK, who arrives at the door.

HUCKLEBERRY

Greetings King-daughter! What concession negotiate of Parliament?

KING

Negotiation's an whoreson game. We'll none.

YORK

Ancient Father, be still.

KING

What means thou, gentle Iwanna? Thou'll "ancient" me?

YORK

You shouldst sooner grown wise, but still a sale is a sale.

KING

Sale? Negotiation? What hast my serpent-fangéd daughter sold in my name? 'Zounds!

YORK

Not so much my sire, just...

A tumult in the hall as Donjonny Thumpingbroke, Prince of JERSEY arrives on his hobbyhorse, pulling a red Radio Flyer. A crudely-tied load, covered with a sheet, overflows the wagon.

JERSEY

[Shouting] What ho! King Father! Daaaad!

KING

My militant son the Prince of Jersey is come with regiments behind to foreswear Giovanni's "some passing trouble" intelligence!

Radio Flyer.YORK

[Wearily] O brother.

JERSEY

He leans carefully his hobbyhorse against the door frame.

Bigger news, my sire. I know not of regiments, but...

KING

Ooh, famous tales of brave ventures north of the wall with strong Splooge? I spy a bloody boar's tusk hung of thy Thumpingbroke neck. Spin, boy, spin!

JERSEY

Ah Dad, I blush to speak o' the tail of our ventures. As for this foot [Indicating the cat's paw], modesty stays my tongue.

YORK

What poor pussy maimed, brother?

JERSEY

[Whining] Iwanna! Daaaad! Bother the kitty. I have news of great import.

HUCKLEBERRY

Come Jersey, speak it.

JERSEY

Strange sayings of Gonereal Stormborn's wonders-working contagion art heard. I hast revealéd her most fell jape yet!

KING

The sporks!?

JERSEY

No, wise Father. Worser!

With a flourish, he pulls the cover from his wagon load.

The Queen, most reverent and loyal Queen, my loving third mother: turned stone!

He gasps at his own reveal; all others are unmoved.

KING

Thou clot-brain, dullard son of a groomsman! That's masonry of the Queen's pet painter, Antonio Bel Corpo! She's with him on far Bohemia's sandy shore.

JERSEY

O, famed coastline paradisical!

KING

Yon bust 'tis none of Gonereal witchery. 'Zounds! Thou fly to us for this?

JERSEY

I didst hear sounds of raucous battle 'fore the castle.

KING

Clotpoll!

HUCKLEBERRY

You did hear nought but fireworks and celebrations, Prince. No battle joined, we wait the Parliamentary verdict.

YORK

Which I hast here, being late ensconcéd there.

KING

Say it out! I'll no more attend my rumored son.

GIOVANNI

Know what e'er it is, my liege, we'll out-face it with stratagems judicial.

YORK

King, my ever lord, they o'erlook thine 'haviors in close detail and do findst grievous faults...

KING

Never!

YORK

To wit: noxious compacts hid with that most notorious foe of this isle, Louis the Terrible, King of France.

KING

Fakery!

GIOVANNI

The King knows him not.

YORK

Your sometimes friends—Manifold, Cozen, Flint—do sing your most disgracious faults as one tune.

KING

Low screeching pipers! I'll have 'em hang!

YORK

You? Without one tree in command? No. I hast struck a deal most fair.

KING

I like not the art of thy dealing.

HUCKLEBERRY

Go on Princess, let's hear the terms.

The Prince of JERSEY is busy standing up the statue of the Queen and dusting it with a kerchief.

YORK

First, a fair share in the profits of some mirthful remembrances of your reign to be hawked in the White Castle's gift shoppe and, betimes, packed together with table scraps for purchase at the ride-up window.

KING

A clause fair won.

YORK

A comfortable lodging in the Tower as befitting an redundant king.

KING

Covfefe! That's not cromulent!

YORK

Spike Ha'penny will consort with but not possess the crown. He hast a writ of divorce from his wife, as she stood not for his dining at table with the fled Queen. So 'tis specified he takes your eldest blood—a daughter—to wife and she comes Queen...

KING

Outrage!

YORK

... but—I vow— he'll never bed her.

HUCKLEBERRY

And the Merchant: how 'round this impediment?

YORK

'Tis yet a mystery: I know nought but that Parliament hast fixed it so. The blue-nosed lords seem very merry o' the idea of Ha'penny so yoked, which I take an affront.

The Prince JERSEY gapes at a piece of paper retrieved from the statue.

JERSEY

God's liver! Most foul scribbles herewith secreted twixt the stone-queen bosoms. O infamy!

GIOVANNI

Come, read it out young Prince.

JERSEY

I'll never!

He attempts to stuff the paper in his mouth, but HUCKLEBERRY snatches it away.

HUCKLEBERRY

To the King's barking dog falls such an office. I'll read.

She pauses to scan the paper before speaking again.

It is another of the Queen, writ as a type of codicil to her last.

She reads.

My most wind-blown husband, greetings. I wrote of my tea with lusty Gonereal Stormborn, your bouncy bedmate. Thereat did she unfold to me a most strange tale. She recalls her own most unfortunate mother you long ago didst keep for sport. A most secretarial and notarizing mother she was, too, and did but of late leave certain papers incontrovertible to this daughter. To this new-revealéd eldest daughter of your most royal loins! The case is made tight, but pray not trouble much. Your Stormborn-Thumpingbroke child hast only shared else her tale and proofs with the Miller.

Your ever-absent wife,
Melancholia

During a momentary stunned silence, GIOVANNI slips out the door and is gone.

JERSEY

O most tragicomical report! I'll to a nunnery for silence ever. Or this!

He draws his sword and saws ineffectually at his neck as he exits the stage.

YORK

Unfaithful father! I'd gouge your eyes in Oedipal rage, but I'd have you see all the foilment of your folly. The knights and arméd might of the realm arrive this hour to pull your unseemly crown; this night you rest in the Tower! I'll away to France.

She strikes her brother's hobbyhorse a blow—sending it skidding on the stage—and departs.

KING

[Distractedly] But the sporks!

HUCKLEBERRY

Well now, once-King. [She removes her red nose] As a good Christian Puritan, I hast ever resolved to daily foreswear the truth only in service of a victorious and empowered master. I leave thee speechless, for I do smell the wind. Adieu.

She tosses the red nose in the gilded toilet. The KING sits in silence and grins vacuously. His grin, like the Cheshire Cat's, remains while the light dims in his room. One spotlight illuminates a spot on the stage where the Miller—as CHORUS— soon appears.

 
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