Bloody Hands (1.1.72-9)

Enter PRINCE ESCALUS with his train.

PRINCE       Rebellious subjects, enemies to peace,

                        Profaners of this neighbor-stainèd steel—

                        Will they not hear? – What ho, you men, you beasts!

                        That quench the fire of your pernicious rage

                        With purple fountains issuing from your veins:

                        On pain of torture, from those bloody hands

                        Throw your mistempered weapons to the ground,

                        And hear the sentence of your movèd prince. (1.1.72-9)


Iambic pentameter (here, blank verse) is back, with at least some of the heft and gravitas established by the Prologue (and it’s not uncommon for the Prologue to be spoken by the Prince). On the page, this is the beginning of a long speech (more than twenty lines) – but that visual, textual solidity is misleading. It takes the Prince considerable time to be heard, as the terms in which he addresses the brawl get progressively larger and louder. Rebellious subjects is a straightforward description – they are his subjects and they are breaching the good order of the city. Enemies to peace is slightly larger, more abstract; the civic context is not explicit (although it’s certainly implicit: to breach the peace has a force in law). To call the combatants profaners adds a spiritual cast: it is God’s law that is being broken, as well as the law of the city. Good order is divinely ordained, and neighbours should, in Christian terms, be loved. It’s all so much verbiage, however, and these distinctions don’t matter, because no one is listening, and the Prince finally has to yell at them to be heard, addressing them as you men, you beasts – no longer even subjects, enemies, profaners. They’re also a single body, a many-headed multitude, simultaneously drawing blood and bleeding; they are hurting only themselves, and their city, as if the pipes supplying it with water have burst and been polluted, as purple fountains. The bloody hands also explicitly recall the Prologue, as civil blood makes civil hands unclean. The weapons are mistempered because they are being used in anger, but also because instead of the cold water that would be used in the process of forging blades, to temper them, make them hard and able to take an edge, these blades are being plunged into hot blood, neighbor-stainèd steel. The weapons themselves are, like the men wielding them, intemperate, unbalanced; implicitly, the body of the city is too. The Prince’s name, usually given as Escalus but Eskales in some of the quartos, is important here: it’s not spoken, but it suggests scales, balance, temperance, as his blank verse does. But now the Prince is movèd. Everything is out of joint.

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