People are celebrating Shakespeare’s Birthday (probably April 23, 1864) in this strangest of years. Shakespeare himself lived in strange, dangerous times, so I think this is appropriate. My offering of fiction here is something of an alternate history, riffing on a real event touched on in one of the Bard’s most famous plays (and a favorite of mine!)
The Siege of Agincourt
By Jeff Baker
“So you won’t produce it?”
“Won’t produce it?” I said. “The Players won’t even go near it!”
“Why?” Will asked. “Be you afraid this play be treason?”
“Nay! It be boring! Worst fear for any player!” I said. “I’d rather face the French myself than go before a crowd hungry for fresh-cooked goose and give them dry grass such as this!”
“But ‘tis true to life! I have read the accounts of Bedford! And of Salisbury, who was with Henry ‘till his deathbed in 1453!” Will said.
“True to life and boring! Henry V was a poor king and a poor strategist! He lost to the French, who pushed him back, and had it not been for the Channel and the grace of God we would have been French these hundred-and-sixty years!” I said.
“Henry was a man of great mercy, and I show him thusly!” Will said. “The weight of decision! The true mark of a King! He could have slain the French prisoners right there on the battlefield, instead he let them live…”
“Live to realize they outnumbered Henry’s exhausted forces and thus grabbing up the weapons strewn on the battlefield joined in again and caught them off-guard and sent the survivors running.” I said. “Now if you could find why the French did not follow Henry’s forces in their retreat all the way to England and begin to conquer the island, you might have something.”
“But…” Will began. I cut him off.
“The British audience is not ready to re-live the bitter history of a King running tail between his legs to Monmouth, or of an emboldened France beginning an empire which now runs to the very coast of Africa.” I said.
“So, what do I do with the play?” Will asked.
“Burn it, but save one man from the conflagration. This Oldcastle,” I mused. “Ignore young Hal and make Oldcastle the central figure. There’s a play in that with wenches and drink and merriment which will pull the crowds in, mark what I say.”