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

— 3.1 —

At the Parliament House in London, several people were meeting: King Henry VI, the Duke of Exeter, the Duke of Gloucester, the Earl of Warwick, the Duke of Somerset, the Earl of Suffolk, the Bishop of Winchester, Richard Plantagenet, and others. The Duke of Gloucester attempted to present an indictment listing accusations against the Bishop of Winchester to the King, but the Bishop of Winchester grabbed it and tore it up.

The Bishop of Winchester said to the Duke of Gloucester, “Have you come with a carefully considered list of accusations you have written in advance? Have you come with studiously devised written documents, Humphrey, you Duke of Gloucester? If you can accuse me or intend to make charges against me of anything, do it without premeditation, do it extempore, as I with unpremeditated and extemporal speech intend to answer whatever you accuse me of.”

“Presumptuous priest!” the Duke of Gloucester said. “This place commands my patience and so I have to remain peaceful, or you would find out from my reaction that you have dishonored me. Don’t think that although in writing I presented the manner of your vile, outrageous crimes, I have therefore forged lies or am not able verbally to relate the thesis of my pen. No, prelate. Such is your audacious wickedness and your wicked, pestilent, quarrelsome, and malicious deeds that even children prattle about your pride.

“You are a most pernicious usurer, perverse by nature, an enemy to peace; you are lascivious and wanton, more than is well suitable for a man of your profession and degree, and as for your treachery, what’s more evident? You laid a trap to take my life at London Bridge as well as at the Tower of London.

“Besides, I am afraid that if your thoughts were carefully examined, the King, your sovereign, is not quite exempt from the spiteful malice of your pride-swollen heart.”

The Bishop of Winchester said, “Duke of Gloucester, I defy you. Lords, agree to hear what I shall reply to these charges. If I were covetous, ambitious, or perverse, as he says I am, how is it that I am so poor?”

Actually, the Bishop of Winchester was rich. Some of his income came from usurious loans; some of it came from rent charged to brothels that operated on land he owned.

He continued, “Or how does it happen that I don’t seek to advance or raise myself, but keep my wonted calling?”

Actually, the Bishop of Winchester wanted to be installed officially as the Cardinal of Winchester. Earlier, he had been wearing the red robes of a Cardinal despite not being officially installed as Cardinal.

He continued, “And as for dissension, who prefers peace more than I do? Unless I am provoked.

“No, my good lords, these are not the real reasons for our disagreement. These are not the real reasons that the Duke of Gloucester is incensed.

“He is incensed because he believes that no one should rule the country except for himself. He believes that no one but he should be around King Henry VI. This is what engenders thunder in his breast and makes him roar forth these accusations. But he shall know I am as good —”

The Duke of Gloucester interrupted: “— as good! You bastard of my grandfather!”

John of Gaunt was the Duke of Gloucester’s grandfather and the Bishop of Winchester’s father. When Catherine Swynford gave birth to the Bishop of Winchester, she and John of Gaunt were not married, although they married later.

“Yes, lordly sir,” the Bishop of Winchester said, “but what are you, I ask, other than one acting imperiously in another’s throne?”

“Am I not the Lord Protector, saucy priest?”

“And am not I a prelate of the church?”

“Yes, as an outlaw dwells in a castle and uses it to maintain his thievery,” the Duke of Gloucester said.

“Irreverent Gloucester!” the Bishop of Winchester said.

“You are reverent when it comes to your spiritual function — your profession — but not when it comes to your life.”

“The Pope shall make you pay for this,” the Bishop of Winchester said. “Rome shall remedy this.”

“Roam thither, then,” the Duke of Gloucester said.

In the quarrel, the Earl of Warwick took the side of the Duke of Gloucester, and the Duke of Somerset took the side of the Bishop of Winchester.

“Bishop of Winchester, my lord, it is your duty to forbear and control yourself,” the Earl of Warwick said.

 “Yes,” the Duke of Somerset said, “as long as the Bishop of Winchester is not borne down and bullied by superior force. I think my lord the Duke of Gloucester should be religious and know and respect the office that belongs to such as are religious.”

“I think his lordship the Bishop of Winchester should be humbler,” the Earl of Warwick said. “It is not suitable for a prelate to contend in debate in this way.”

“Yes, it is, when his holy state is affected so directly,” the Duke of Somerset said. “His ecclesiastical status is under attack.”

“Whether his state is holy or unhallowed, so what?” the Earl of Warwick said. “Isn’t his grace the Duke of Gloucester Lord Protector to the King?”

Richard Plantagenet thought, Plantagenet, I see, must hold his tongue, lest it be said, “Speak, sirrah, when you should; must your bold verdict enter talk with lords?” Otherwise, I would fling words at the Bishop of Winchester.

Richard Plantagenet knew that his social status was not high enough for him to be allowed to speak up and express his opinion in this quarrel.

King Henry VI, who was young, said, “Uncle of Gloucester and great-uncle of Winchester,you two are the special watchmen of our English commonwealth.I would prevail, if prayers might prevail,and join your hearts in love and amity.Oh, what a scandal it is to our crown that two such noble peers as you should quarrel!

“Believe me, lords, my tender years can tell that civil dissension is a venomous snake that gnaws the bowels of the commonwealth.”

People in this culture incorrectly believed that vipers were born by gnawing their way out of the body of their mother.

Someone shouted outside the room, “Down with the tawny-coats!”

King Henry VI asked, “What disturbance is this?”

The Earl of Warwick replied, “It is an uproar, I dare guess, that has begun through the malice of the Bishop of Winchester’s men.”

Someone shouted outside the room, “Stones! Stones!”

The Mayor of London entered the room and said, “Oh, my good lords, and virtuous Henry, pity the city of London. Pity us! The Bishop of Winchester’s men and the Duke of Gloucester’s men, who were recently forbidden to carry any weapons, have filled their pockets full of small stones. Banding themselves into opposing sides, they throw stones so hard at each other’s heads that many have had their giddy, angry brains knocked out. Our windows and shutters are broken in every street, and out of fear we are compelled to shut our shops.”

Some serving men with bloody heads, fighting, entered the room. Some were wearing blue coats; some were wearing tawny coats.

Using the royal plural, King Henry VI said, “We order you, on your allegiance to ourself, to restrain your slaughtering hands and keep the peace.

“Please, uncle Duke of Gloucester, pacify this strife.”

The first serving man, who served the Duke of Gloucester, said, “If we are forbidden to fight with stones, we’ll use our teeth as weapons.”

The second serving man, who served the Bishop of Winchester, replied, “Do whatever you dare to do, for we are as resolute as you.”

The serving men fought again.

The Duke of Gloucester said, “You who are of my household, leave this foolish disturbance and set this unusual fight aside.”

The third serving man said, “My lord, we know your grace to be a man who is just and upright, and as for your royal birth, it is inferior to none but to his majesty. Therefore, before we will suffer such a Prince as yourself, so kind a father of the commonwealth, to be disgraced by an inkhorn mate — the Latin-writing Bishop of Winchester — we and our wives and children all will fight and have our bodies slaughtered by your foes.”

The first serving man said, “Yes, and the very parings of our nails shall be sharp stakes to be used to fortify a battlefield when we are dead.”

The two groups of serving men started fighting again.

“Stop! Stop, I say!” the Duke of Gloucester said. “If you love me, as you say you do, let me persuade you to stop fighting for awhile.”

“Oh, how this discord afflicts my soul!” the young King Henry VI said. “Can you, my Lord of Winchester, see my sighs and tears and yet you will not at once relent? Who should take pity on me, if you do not? Who would endeavor to prefer peace to war if holy churchmen take delight in quarrels?”

The Earl of Warwick advised both sides to make peace: “Yield, my Lord Protector, Duke of Gloucester; yield, Bishop of Winchester. Yield and make peace, unless you intend with an obstinate refusal to make peace to slay your sovereign and destroy the realm. You see what evil and what murder, too, have been enacted through your enmity; so then, be at peace unless you thirst for blood.”

“He shall submit, or I will never yield,” the Bishop of Winchester said.

“Compassion for the King compels me to stoop,” the Duke of Gloucester said. “Otherwise, I would see the Bishop of Winchester’s heart out of his body, before the priest should ever get that privilege of me.”

“That privilege of me” was ambiguous. The sentence it appears in could mean 1) “Otherwise, I would see the Bishop of Winchester’s heart out of his body, before the priest should ever get my heart out of my body” or 2) “Otherwise, I would see the Bishop of Winchester’s heart out of his body, before the priest should ever get me to humble myself first.”

The Earl of Warwick said, “Look, my Lord of Winchester, the Duke of Gloucester has banished his moody, discontented fury, as is shown by his smoothed forehead. Why do you still look so stern and sorrowful?”

“Here, Bishop of Winchester, I offer you my hand,” the Duke of Gloucester said, holding out his hand.

The Bishop of Winchester, whose name was Henry Beaufort, did not take it.

“Shame on you, great-uncle Beaufort!” King Henry VI said. “I have heard you preach that malice is a great and grievous sin, and now you will not maintain the thing you teach, but instead you will show yourself to be a chief offender in the same?”

The Earl of Warwick said, “Sweet King! The Bishop of Winchester has received a suitable rebuke! For shame, my lord of Winchester, relent! What, shall a child teach you how to act?”

The Bishop of Winchester said, “Well, Duke of Gloucester, I will yield to you. Love for your love and hand for your hand I give.”

They shook hands.

The Duke of Gloucester thought, Yes, but I am afraid that you are shaking my hand with a false heart. You don’t really mean to make peace with me.

He said out loud, “See here, my friends and loving countrymen, this handshake serves as a flag of truce between ourselves and all our followers. So help me, God, I am not lying!”

The Bishop of Winchester thought, So help me, God, I don’t intend there to be peace between the Duke of Gloucester and me!

King Henry VI said, “Oh, loving uncle, kind Duke of Gloucester, how joyful I am made by this contract of peace!”

He said to the serving men who had been quarreling, “Go away, my masters! Trouble us no more, but join in friendship, as your lords have done.”

The first serving man said, “I am happy with this peace agreement. I’ll go now to see a doctor.”

The second serving man said, “And so will I.”

The third serving man said, “And I will see what ‘medicine’ I can get at the tavern.”

The serving men and the Mayor of London exited.

The Earl of Warwick gave a document to King Henry VI and said, “Accept this scroll, most gracious sovereign, which in support of the claim of Richard Plantagenet we give to your majesty so that you may consider it.”

The Duke of Gloucester said, “Well urged, my Lord of Warwick, because, sweet King, if your grace notes every detail, you have great reason to do Richard Plantagenet right, especially for those reasons I told your majesty at Eltham Place.”

“And those reasons, uncle, were very persuasive,” King Henry VI said. “Therefore, my loving lords, our pleasure is that Richard Plantagenet be restored to his hereditary rights and title.”

The Earl of Warwick said, “As the King said, let Richard Plantagenet be restored to his hereditary rights and title. In this way, his father’s wrongs shall receive recompense.”

The Bishop of Winchester said, “What the other lords want, so also do I, the Bishop of Winchester, want.”

King Henry VI said, “If Richard Plantagenet will be loyal, not just that alone will I give to him, but also all the whole inheritance that belongs to the House of York, from whence you spring by lineal descent.”

Richard Plantagenet pledged his loyalty to the King: “Your humble servant vows obedience and humble service until I reach the point of death.”

King Henry VI replied, “Stoop then and set your knee against my foot, and in recompense for that duty you have just performed, I gird you with the valiant sword of York. Rise, Richard, like a true Plantagenet, and rise as the newly created and Princely Duke of York.”

Richard Plantagenet, now the Duke of York, said, “And may I, Richard, thrive as your foes fall! May your enemies die and I thrive! And as my duty flourishes, so may they who think even one complaining thought against your majesty die!”

All said, “Welcome, high Prince, the mighty Duke of York!”

The Duke of Somerset thought, Perish, base Prince, ignoble Duke of York!

The Duke of Gloucester said to King Henry VI, “Now will it best avail your majesty to cross the seas and to be crowned in France. The presence of a King engenders love among his subjects and his loyal friends as it dismays his enemies.”

King Henry V had made a treaty that made the King of England the next King of France. Because the then-King of France died two months after King Henry V had died, King Henry VI of England was regarded — by the English — as the King of France.

Of course, Charles the Dauphin and Joan la Pucelle disagreed.

King Henry VI replied, “When the Duke of Gloucester says the word, King Henry to France goes, for friendly counsel cuts off many foes.”

The Duke of Gloucester said, “Your ships are already prepared for the journey.”

Everyone except the Duke of Exeter left the room.

Alone, the Duke of Exeter said to himself, “Yes, we may march in England or in France, not seeing what is likely to ensue. This recent dissension grown between the Duke of Gloucester and the Bishop of Winchester burns under feigned ashes of forged love and will at last break out into a flame.”

The Duke of Exeter was aware that the quarrel between the Duke of Gloucester and the Bishop of Winchester had not been truly resolved. It was like the coals of a fire burning under ashes; the coals could soon burst into open flame.

He continued, “As festering limbs rot bit by bit until bones and flesh and sinews fall away, so will this base and envious discord grow. And now I fear that fatal prophecy which in the time of King Henry V was in the mouth of every sucking babe: Henry born at Monmouth — that is, Henry V — would win all, and Henry born at Windsor — that is, Henry VI — would lose all. King Henry V won many cities in France, and according to the prophecy, King Henry VI will lose all of those cities. The truth of this prophecy is so plain that I, the Duke of Exeter, wishes that his days may end before that hapless time. I hope to die before I see the prophecy come true.”

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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