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

— 2.1 —

On the wall protecting Orleans, which was now controlled by the French, a Sergeant gave orders to two sentinels who would guard the city: “Sirs, take your places and be vigilant. If you hear any noise or see any enemy soldier near the wall, by some evident sign let us have knowledge at the guardhouse.”

“Sergeant, you shall,” the first sentinel said.

The Sergeant exited.

The first sentinel said, “Thus are poor servitors — common soldiers — compelled to watch in darkness, rain, and cold, while others sleep upon their quiet beds.”

Lord Talbot, the Duke of Bedford, the Duke of Burgundy, and some soldiers arrived. They were carrying scaling ladders. A drummer beat quietly on a muffled drum as the soldiers marched. The Duke of Bedford was the Regent of France; he ruled France in King Henry VI’s stead. The Duke of Burgundy was French, but he sided with England.

The Lord Talbot said, “Lord Regent, and feared Duke of Burgundy, by whose arrival the regions of Artois, Wallon, and Picardy are now friends to us, this fortunate night the Frenchmen are unsuspecting and overconfident after having all day caroused and banqueted. We therefore embrace this opportunity as being best fit to repay their deceit contrived by magical art and baleful sorcery. They defeated us with witchcraft.”

“Coward of France!” the Duke of Bedford said, referring to the Dauphin of France. “How much he dishonors his fame and reputation by despairing of his own arm’s fortitude and joining with witches and using the help of Hell!”

The Duke of Burgundy said, “Traitors never have other company, but who’s that Pucelle whom they term so pure?”

“She is a maiden — a virgin — they said,” Lord Talbot replied.

“A maiden!” the Duke of Bedford said. “And yet she is so martial!”

The Duke of Burgundy said, “Pray to God that she proves not to be masculine before long, if underneath the standard of the French she continues to carry armor as she has begun.”

The Duke of Burgundy felt that if Joan were to turn out to be a man under her armor, then things would go even worse for the English; therefore, he wanted the Duke of Bedford to pray to God that Joan really was a woman. One way for her to be proven to be female would be for her to become pregnant.

His words contained wordplay. The “standard of the French” could be a French battle flag or a French penis, since a standard is a thing that can stand up. For Joan to carry armor could mean for her to wear armor or for her to bear, aka carry, the weight — during sex — of a man, such as the Dauphin, who wears armor.

Lord Talbot said, “Well, let them practice and converse with spirits.”

His words also contained wordplay. In this culture, the words “practice” and “converse” both had the meaning of “have sex with.”

He continued, “God is our fortress, and in His conquering name let us resolve to scale the flinty bulwarks of the French.”

“Ascend, brave Talbot,” the Duke of Bedford said, “We will follow you.”

“Let’s not all climb up the same scaling ladder together,” Lord Talbot said. “It’s far better, I guess, that we make our entrance in several places, so that if it happens that one of us fails, then the others may rise against the French force.”

“I agree,” the Duke of Bedford said. “I’ll go to yonder corner.”

“And I will go to this corner,” the Duke of Burgundy said.

Lord Talbot said, “And here will I, Talbot, mount and climb high, or make my grave. Now, Earl of Salisbury, for you, and for the right of English Henry VI, shall this night show how much in duty I am bound to both. I am doing this for both the Earl of Salisbury and King Henry VI.”

They started the attack, and the French sentinels cried, “Arm yourselves! Arm yourselves! The enemy is making an assault on us! The English are attacking us!”

The English soldiers attacked while shouting out such rallying cries as “St. George” and “To Talbot!”

The French were surprised, and some leaped over the wall in their night clothing.

The Bastard of Orleans, the Duke of Alençon, and Reignier, all of whom were in disarray and wearing only part of their armor, which they had hastily put on, appeared.

The Duke of Alençon said, “How are all of you now, my lords! Are all of us so unready to fight back?”

“Unready!” the Bastard of Orleans exclaimed. “Yes, we are, and we are glad we escaped so well. At least we are still alive.”

Reignier said, “It was time, I thought, for us to wake up and leave our beds since we were hearing battle calls outside our chamber doors.”

The Duke of Alençon said, “Of all exploits since I first followed arms, I have never heard of a warlike enterprise more adventurous or risky than this.”

The Bastard of Orleans said, “I think this Talbot is a fiend of Hell.”

Reignier said, “If he is not a creature of Hell, then the Heavens surely favor him.”

“Here comes Charles the Dauphin,” the Duke of Alençon said, looking up. “I wonder how he sped. I wonder how he got on during the attack.”

The Bastard of Orleans said, “Tut, holy Joan was his defensive guard.”

He may have meant that Joan la Pucelle was in bed with Charles the Dauphin when the attack started. If so, “holy Joan” meant “Joan, who has a hole.”

Charles the Dauphin and Joan la Pucelle went over to them.

Charles the Dauphin said to Joan la Pucelle, “Is this your cunning, you deceitful dame? Did you at first, to flatter us, make us partakers of a little gain, so that now our loss might be ten times as much?”

“Why is Charles the Dauphin impatient with his friend?” Joan la Pucelle said. “Do you think that my power is at all times alike? Must I always prevail whether I am asleep or awake, and if I do not will you blame me and lay the fault on me?

“Improvident soldiers! If your watch had been good, this sudden evil misfortune never could have happened.”

Charles the Dauphin said, “Duke of Alençon, this was your fault because as Captain of the watch this night, you took no better care for that weighty responsibility.”

The Duke of Alençon said to the others, “Had all your quarters been as safely kept as that whereof I had the command, we would not have been thus shamefully surprised.”

“The part under my command was secure,” the Bastard of Orleans said.

“And so was mine, my lord,” Reignier said.

Charles the Dauphin said, “And, as for myself, for the most part of all this night, within Joan la Pucelle’s quarters and my own precinct I was employed in passing to and fro and in relieving the sentinels. Therefore how or in which way did the English first break in?”

Joan la Pucelle said, “Discuss, my lords, no further about the case, how or in which way this misfortune happened. It is certain that they found some place only weakly guarded, and that is where the breach was made. And now there remains nothing to do but this: We must gather our soldiers, who are scattered and dispersed, and form new plans to damage the English army.”

A military trumpet sounded, and an English soldier ran onto the scene, crying “To Talbot! To Talbot!” The French fled, leaving behind pieces of armor and weapons they had been carrying.

The English soldier said, “I’ll be so bold as to take what they have left behind. The cry of ‘To Talbot!’ serves me like a sword for I have loaded myself with many spoils, using no other weapon but his name.”

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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