David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s 1 HENRY VI: A Retelling in Prose — Act 2, Scenes 2-3

— 2.2 —

The English had taken the town of Orleans. Inside the town, Lord Talbot, the Duke of Bedford, the Duke of Burgundy, a Captain, and some others were standing.

The Duke of Bedford said, “The day begins to break, and it now has fled the night, whose pitch-black mantle over-veiled the Earth. Here we will sound retreat and cease our hot pursuit.”

The retreat sounded.

Lord Talbot said, “Bring forth the body of the old Earl of Salisbury, and here raise it in the marketplace, the middle center of this cursed town. Now I have paid the vow I made to his soul; for every drop of blood that was drawn from him, at least five Frenchmen have died tonight. And so that future ages may behold what devastation happened in revenge of him, within their most important temple — the cathedral — I’ll erect a tomb in which his corpse shall be interred. Upon the tomb so that everyone may read it shall be engraved the sack of Orleans, the treacherous manner of his mournful death, and what a terror he had been to France.

“But, lords, in all our bloody massacre, I wonder that we did not meet with his ‘grace’ the Dauphin, his newly come champion — the ‘virtuous’ Joan of Arc — or with any of his false confederates.”

The Duke of Bedford said, “It is thought, Lord Talbot, that when the fight began, roused suddenly from their drowsy beds, amongst the troops of armed men they leapt over the wall in order to find refuge in the fields.”

The Duke of Burgundy said, “As for myself, as far as I could well see through the smoke and dusky vapors of the night, I am sure I scared the Dauphin and his slut; they both came swiftly running arm in arm as if they were a pair of loving turtledoves that could not live apart day or night. After things are set in order here, we’ll follow them with all the power we have.”

A messenger arrived and said, “All hail, my lords! Which of this Princely train do you call the warlike Talbot because of his acts throughout the realm of France that are so much applauded?”

Lord Talbot said, “Here is the Talbot. Who wants to speak with him?”

The messenger replied, “The virtuous French lady, the Countess of Auvergne, with modesty admiring your renown, by me entreats, great lord, you to agree to visit her poor castle where she lives, so that she may boast she has beheld the man whose glory fills the world with loud acclamation.”

The Duke of Burgundy said, “Is that so? So, then, I see that our wars will turn into a peaceful comic sport, when ladies crave to be encountered with.”

One meaning of “to encounter” was “to have sex.”

He added, “You may not, my lord, despise her gentle request. You must see her.”

“Never trust me if I despise her gentle request,” Lord Talbot said, “for when a world of men could not prevail with all their oratory and rhetoric, yet a woman’s kindness has prevailed, and therefore, messenger, tell her that I return great thanks to her and as she requests I will visit her.”

He then asked the other lords, “Will not your honors bear me company when I visit her?”

“No, truly,” the Duke of Bedford said. “It is more than manners demand, and I have heard it said that uninvited guests are often most welcome when they are gone.”

“Well then I will go alone, since there’s no remedy,” Lord Talbot said. “I mean to try this lady’s courtesy.”

He then said, “Come here, Captain.”

He whispered to the Captain and then asked, “Do you understand your orders?”

The Captain replied, “I do, my lord, and I will obey them.”

— 2.3 —

The Countess of Auvergne and her porter were in her castle, preparing for Lord Talbot’s visit. Porters take care of gates and entrances.

She said, “Porter, remember what I ordered you to do, and when you have done that, bring the keys to me.”

“Madam, I will,” the porter said, and then he exited.

Alone, the Countess of Auvergne said to herself, “The plot is laid. If all things fall out right, as a result of this exploit I shall become as famous as the Scythian Tomyris became by Cyrus the Great’s death.”

Tomyris, the Queen of the Scythians, sought revenge for the death of her son, who committed suicide after being captured by the Persian King Cyrus the Great’s army. Queen Tomyris led an army against Cyrus the Great’s army, and her army was triumphant and killed Cyrus the Great. According to the Greek historian Herodotus, she had Cyrus the Great’s body decapitated and then took his head and shoved it into a wineskin filled with human blood, saying as she did so, “I warned you that I would quench your thirst for blood!”

The Countess of Auvergne continued, “Great is the rumored reputation of this dreaded knight, and his achievements are of no less account. My eyes and my ears would gladly witness him so that they can criticize and judge these rare reports.”

The messenger entered the room, accompanied by Lord Talbot, who was carrying a horn.

The messenger said, “Madam, just as your ladyship desired, and by message craved, so has Lord Talbot come to visit you.”

“And he is welcome,” the Countess of Auvergne said. “What! Is this the man?”

“Madam, he is,” the messenger said.

“Is this man the scourge of France?” the Countess of Auvergne asked. “Is this the Talbot, who is so much feared abroad that with his name mothers quiet their babes? I see that the reports about him are fabulous and false. I thought that I should have seen some Hercules, a second Hector, for his grim aspect, and the large size of his strongly knit and muscular limbs. Alas, this is a child, a feeble dwarf! It cannot be true that this weak and wrinkled shrimp strikes such terror in his enemies.”

Hercules was an enormously strong PanHellenic hero, famous for the labors he performed in the ancient world. Hector was the greatest Trojan warrior during the Trojan War.

“Madam, I have been bold to trouble you,” Lord Talbot said. “But since your ladyship is not at leisure, I’ll arrange some other time to visit you.”

He turned to leave.

“What is he doing?” the Countess of Auvergne asked. “Go and ask him where he is going.”

“Stay, my Lord Talbot,” the messenger said, “for my lady wants to know the reason for your abrupt departure.”

“I want to show her that she is mistaken,” Lord Talbot said. “I go to certify to her that Talbot is here.”

The Countess of Auvergne thought that Lord Talbot was unimpressive. He was leaving to show her that he in fact was a man who was in control.

The porter came back. He had done his job of locking the gate to the courtyard.

The Countess of Auvergne said, “If you are Talbot, then you are a prisoner.”

“A prisoner!” Lord Talbot said. “To whom?”

“To me, bloodthirsty lord,” the Countess of Auvergne said. “That is the reason I lured you to my house. For a long time your shadow — your appearance — has been a captive to me, for in my gallery your picture hangs. But now the substance — the real man — shall endure the same captivity, and I will chain these legs and arms of yours that have by tyranny these many years wasted our country, slain our citizens, and sent our sons and husbands into captivity.”

Lord Talbot laughed.

“Are you laughing, wretch?” the Countess of Auvergne said. “Your laughing shall change to moaning.”

Lord Talbot said, “I laugh to see that your ladyship is so foolish as to think that you have anything other than Talbot’s shadow on which to practice your cruelty.”

“Why, aren’t you Talbot?” the Countess of Auvergne asked.

“I am indeed.”

“Then I have your substance as well as your shadow.”

“No, no,” Talbot said. “I am only the shadow of myself. You are deceived; my substance is not here, for what you see in front of you is only the smallest part and least proportion of manhood. I tell you, madam, that if the whole frame were here, it is of such a spacious lofty height, your roof were not sufficiently high to contain it.”

He meant that although he was the leader of the English army, he was only a small part of that army. He may have been the head of the army, but the army was the body. His army was much too large for the Countess of Auvergne’s castle to contain.

The Countess of Auvergne said, “This man is a purveyor of riddles for the occasion. Talbot is here, and yet he is not here. How can these contradictory facts agree?”

“I will show you that right now,” Lord Talbot said.

He blew his horn. Military drums started playing, and a cannon fired a cannonball through the courtyard gate. Armed English soldiers rushed into the room.

“What do you say now, madam?” Lord Talbot said. “Are you now persuaded that Talbot is only a shadow of himself? These are his substance, sinews, arms, and strength with which he yokes and makes submit your rebellious necks, razes your cities, and destroys your towns and in a moment makes them desolate.”

“Victorious Talbot!” the Countess of Auvergne said. “Pardon my deception. I find that you are no less than your fame and reputation have proclaimed you to be and that you are more than may be gathered by your shape. Let my presumption not provoke your wrath, for I am sorry that I did not treat you with reverence as you are.”

“Be not dismayed, fair lady,” Lord Talbot said. “And do not misconstrue the mind of Talbot, as you misconstrued the outward composition of his body. What you have done has not offended me, and I do not crave other satisfaction except only, with your permission, that we may taste your wine and see what delicacies you have, for soldiers’ stomachs always serve them well.”

The Countess of Auvergne replied, “With all my heart, and believe that I am honored to feast so great a warrior in my house.”

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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