David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s 1 HENRY VI: A Retelling in Prose — Act 1, Scene 2

— 1.2 —

Before the city of Orleans in France, Charles the Dauphin, the Duke of Alençon, and Reignier talked. Some soldiers, a drummer, and some attendants were present.

Charles the Dauphin said, “Mars’ true moving, even as in the Heavens so in the Earth, to this day is not known.”

This culture did not understand the motions of Mars the planet; to this culture, Mars seemed to move erratically in the night sky. Similarly, Mars the god of war seemed to erratically favor one side in a war and then the other side.

Charles the Dauphin continued, “Recently Mars shone and smiled on the English side. Now we are victors; upon us he smiles. We have all of the towns of any importance. At our pleasure we lie here near Orleans. Occasionally, the famished English, like pale ghosts, faintly and feebly besiege us one hour in a month.”

The Duke of Alençon said, “The English lack their meat and vegetable stew and their fat bull-beef. Either they must be fed like mules and have their provender tied to their mouths in feed bags or else they will look piteous, like drowned mice.”

Reignier said, “Let’s raise the siege; let’s put an end to it. Why do we live idly here? Talbot, whom we were accustomed to fear, has been captured. There remains no English military leader except the mad-brained Earl of Salisbury, and he may well spend his gall in fretting because he has neither men nor money to make war.”

“Sound, sound the call to battle!” Charles the Dauphin said. “We will rush on them. Now for the honor of the forlorn French! I forgive any man who kills me when he sees me go back one foot or flee the battle.”

The French and the English fought, and the English badly defeated the French.

“Who ever saw the like?” Charles the Dauphin said. “What ‘men’ I have! Dogs! Cowards! Dastards! I would never have fled except that they left me in the midst of my enemies.”

Reignier said, “The Earl of Salisbury is a desperate homicide; he is a killer of men. He fights as if he were weary of his life. The other lords, like lions lacking food, rush hungrily upon us as if we were their prey.”

The Duke of Alençon said, “Froissart, a 14th-century historian and countryman of ours, records that England bred only Olivers and Rowlands — great warriors — during the reign of King Edward III. More truly now this may be verified because England sends forth none but Samsons and Goliaths to skirmish with us. One Englishman to ten Frenchmen! The English are lean, raw-boned rascals! Who would ever suppose they had such courage and audacity?”

Literally, a rascal is a lean, inferior deer.

“Let’s leave this town of Orleans,” Charles the Dauphin said, “because the English are hare-brained slaves, and hunger will force them to be more fierce and eager to fight. Of old I know them; they would prefer to tear down the wall with their teeth rather than forsake the siege.”

Reignier said, “I think that by some odd mechanical joints or device their arms are set like clocks so that they continually strike blows; otherwise, they could never hold out as they do. I agree that we should let them completely alone.”

“Let it be so,” the Duke of Alençon said.

The Bastard of Orleans arrived. He was the illegitimate son of Louis, the Duke of Orleans. He was also the nephew of King Charles VI, to whom Charles the Dauphin was the oldest surviving son.

The Bastard of Orleans said, “Where’s the Prince Dauphin? I have news for him.”

“Bastard of Orleans, you are thrice welcome to us,” Charles the Dauphin said.

“I think your looks are sad and your face appalled and pale,” the Bastard of Orleans said. “Has the recent defeat brought about this harm? Don’t be dismayed, for succor is at hand. I have brought a holy virgin here with me; she is ordained by a vision sent to her from Heaven to raise this tedious siege and drive the English from the territory of France. The spirit of deep prophecy she has, exceeding the nine Sibyls — prophetesses — of old Rome. What’s past and what’s to come she can descry. Speak; shall I call her in? Believe my words, for they are certain and infallible.”

“Go and call her in,” Charles the Dauphin said.

The Bastard of Orleans exited.

Charles the Dauphin then said, “But first, to test her skill and knowledge, Reignier, you pretend to be me the Dauphin. Question her proudly and with dignity as a man of royalty would and let your looks be stern. By this means we shall find out what skill she has.”

The Bastard of Orleans returned. With him was Joan la Pucelle — Joan the Virgin. History knows her as Joan of Arc.

Reignier asked, “Fair maiden, is it you who will do these wondrous feats?”

Joan la Pucelle replied, “Reignier, is it you who think to trick me? Where is the Dauphin?”

Seeing him behind some other people, she said, “Come, come out from behind them. I know thee well, though I have never seen thee before.”

Joan la Pucelle’s use of “thee” when talking to Charles the Dauphin was remarkable. “Thee” was used when talking to people of lower rank and when talking to friends and family and children. She did not lack confidence.

She continued, “Be not amazed, there’s nothing hidden from me. In private I will talk with thee apart from the others.

“Stand back, you lords, and leave us alone awhile.”

Reignier said, “She takes upon her bravely at first dash. She splendidly takes the initiative on first encountering the Dauphin.”

Joan la Pucelle said, “Dauphin, I am by birth a shepherd’s daughter, and my mind is untrained in any kind of art. Heaven and our gracious Lady — the Virgin Mary — have been pleased to shine on my contemptible state. While I took care of my tender lambs and displayed my cheeks to the Sun’s parching heat, God’s mother deigned to appear to me and in a vision full of majesty willed me to leave my base and lowborn vocation and free my country from calamity. She promised her aid and assured success. In complete glory she revealed herself, and although I was tanned and swarthy before, she used clear rays to infuse on me that beauty that I am blessed with and which you see. Ask me whatever questions you can possibly ask, and I will answer them unpremeditatedly. Test my courage by combat, if you dare, and you shall find that I surpass my sex. Be certain of this: You shall be fortunate if you accept me as your warlike companion.”

Using the familiar “thou,” Charles the Dauphin replied, “Thou has astonished me with your high terms and lofty utterance. Only this test I’ll make of your valor: In single combat you shall buckle with me, and if you vanquish me, I will know your words are true, but if I vanquish you, I will renounce all confidence in you.”

The word “buckle” meant “grapple.” A bawdy-minded observer might think that the Dauphin and Joan grappling together might be a sexual “battle.”

“I am prepared,” Joan la Pucelle said. “Here is my keen-edged sword, decorated with five flower-de-luces on each side. I chose this sword at Touraine, in Saint Katharine’s churchyard, out of a great deal of old iron.”

“Then come and fight me, in God’s name,” Charles the Dauphin said. “I fear no woman.”

“And while I live, I’ll never flee from a man,” Joan la Pucelle said.

A bawdy-minded observer might laugh after hearing this. Maidens sometimes fled from men to avoid being seduced or raped, but Joan would never flee from a man.

The two fought, and Joan la Pucelle defeated Charles the Dauphin.

“Stop! Stop fighting!” Charles the Dauphin pleaded. “You are an Amazon and you fight with the sword of Deborah.”

The Amazons were mythological warrior women, and Deborah was a Jewish prophet, judge, and successful military commander; her story is told in Judges 4-5.

“Christ’s mother helps me, else I would be too weak,” Joan la Pucelle said.

“Whoever helps thee, it is you who must help me,” Charles the Dauphin said. “Impatiently I burn with desire for thee. My heart and hands you have at once subdued. Excellent Pucelle, if that is your name, let me be your lover and not your sovereign. It is the French Dauphin who is saying this to thee.”

“I must not yield to any rites of love, for my vow is consecrated from above,” Joan la Pucelle said. “When I have chased all your foes from hence, then I will think about a recompense.”

“In the meantime look gracious on your prostrate thrall,” Charles the Dauphin said.

Joan la Pucelle was still sitting on him after vanquishing him, but in a moment they stood up.

“My lord, I think, is very long in talk,” Reignier said. “They have been talking for a very long time.”

“Doubtless he shrives this woman to her smock,” the Duke of Alençon said. “Otherwise he could never protract his speech so long.”

“To shrive” means “to hear confession”; a smock is a woman’s undergarment. The Duke of Alençon was saying that Charles the Dauphin was hearing Joan la Pucelle’s most intimate confessions.

“Shall we disturb him, since he keeps no mean?” Reignier asked. “He is observing no moderation, no mean between extremes.”

“He may mean more than we poor men know,” the Duke of Alençon said. “These women are shrewd tempters with their tongues.”

“My lord, where are you?” Reignier asked. “What are you planning? Shall we give Orleans over to the enemy, or no?”

“Why, I say no, distrustful cowards!” Joan la Pucelle said, taking the enormous liberty of answering a question directed to Charles the Dauphin. “Fight until the last gasp; I will be your guardian.”

“What she says I’ll confirm,” Charles the Dauphin said. “We’ll fight it out.”

“I am assigned to be the scourge of the English,” Joan la Pucelle said. “This night I’ll assuredly raise the siege and drive the English out of Orleans. Expect Saint Martin’s summer, halcyon days, since I have entered into these wars.”

She was saying to expect good times after the recent and current bad times. Saint Martin’s Day is November 11, and good weather is especially welcome when it occurs in Europe on that date. The halcyon is a mythological bird identified with the kingfisher. This culture believed that the halcyon built nests on the sea, which remained calm until the nestlings were able to fly.

She continued, “Glory is like a circle in the water, a circle which never ceases to get bigger until by broad spreading it disperses to nothing. With King Henry V’s death, the English circle ends; dispersed are the glories it included. Now I am like that proud insulting ship that bore Julius Caesar and his fortune at one and the same time.”

Julius Caesar once needed to go to Brundisium, so in disguise he boarded a ship that encountered bad weather. The Captain of the ship was afraid, but Julius Caesar revealed his identity and told him not to be afraid because the ship carried both Caesar and Caesar’s good fortune. Unfortunately for Joan’s analogy, the ship was unable to complete the journey — it was forced to return, according to the Greek biographer Plutarch.

“Was Mahomet inspired by a dove?” Charles the Dauphin said. “If he was, then thou are inspired by an eagle.”

A dove was said to thrust its beak into the prophet Muhammad’s ear and reveal sacred knowledge to him. Non-believers thought that this was a trick, that Muhammad put crumbs of bread in his ear for the dove to eat.

This culture regarded the eagle as a nobler bird than the dove.

Charles the Dauphin continued, “Not even Saint Helena, the mother of great Constantine, nor yet Saint Philip’s daughters, were like thee.”

Saint Helena converted the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great to Christianity; in 313 C.E. he ordered that Christianity be tolerated rather than persecuted throughout the Roman Empire. A vision reputedly led Saint Helena to Calgary, where she discovered the cross on which Christ had been crucified.

Saint Philip’s daughters were prophets. According to Acts 21:9, “And the same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy” (King James Version).

Charles the Dauphin continued, “Bright star of Venus, fallen down on the Earth, how may I reverently worship thee enough?”

This was ominous. God ought to be worshipped, not Joan la Pucelle. Also, Venus is a pagan goddess, not connected with Christianity the way that Saint Helena and Saint Philip’s daughters are. Furthermore, Venus is both the evening star and the morning star. Lucifer is the name given to Satan before he fell to Earth and into Hell — thought by this culture to be located at the center of the Earth — after rebelling against God in Heaven; “Lucifer” means “morning star.”

“Leave off delays, and let us raise the siege,” the Duke of Alençon said. “Let’s get started.”

“Woman, do what you can to save our honors,” Reignier said. “Drive the English from Orleans, and be immortalized.”

Apparently, Reignier thought less of Joan la Pucelle than Charles the Dauphin did, since he called her “Woman” rather than “Bright star of Venus.”

“We’ll try immediately to raise the siege,” Charles the Dauphin said. “Come, let’s go and get started. I will trust no prophet, if Joan la Pucelle proves to be a false prophet.”

*** 

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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