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

— 3.2 —

The English held the city of Rouen, but Joan la Pucelle had a plan to enable the French army to retake the city. She and four French soldiers stood in front of one of the entrances into the city. Joan and the soldiers were carrying sacks of wheat on their backs.

Joan la Pucelle said, “These are the city gates, the gates of Rouen, through which we must make a breach by use of a stratagem. Take heed, and be wary how you express your words. Talk like the vulgar sort of market men who come to gather money for their wheat. If we have entrance, as I hope we shall, and if we find the slothful watch weak, I’ll by a sign give notice to our friends that Charles the Dauphin may kill the watchmen and enter the city.”

The first soldier said, “Our sacks shall be a means by which we can sack the city, and we will be lords and rulers over Rouen. Therefore we’ll knock.”

The first soldier knocked.

An English watchman asked, “Qui la?”

Qui la?” means “Who there?”

The English watchman knew a little French, but not enough to know to say, “Qui est la?”

Qui est la?” means “Who is there?”

Joan la Pucelle said, “Paysans, pauvres gens de France.”

This means “Peasants, the poor tribe of France.”

Realizing that English watchman did not know much French, Joan la Pucelle added this sentence in English: “Poor market folks who come to sell their wheat.”

The English watchman said, “Enter, go in; the market bell has been rung.”

Joan la Pucelle said to herself, “Now, Rouen, I’ll shake your bulwarks to the ground.”

She and the four disguised French soldiers went through the gate into the city.

Charles the Dauphin, the Bastard of Orleans, the Duke of Alençon, Reignier, and some soldiers arrived and stood outside the gate.

Charles the Dauphin said, “May Saint Denis bless this happy stratagem and make it successful! If he does, once again we’ll sleep securely in Rouen.”

The Bastard of Orleans said, “Pucelle and her co-conspirators entered the city here through this gate. Now she is there, how will she specify where is the best and safest passage in?”

Reignier replied, “By thrusting out a torch from yonder tower. Once the torch is discerned, it will show that her meaning is that no entrance to the city is weaker than this one through which she entered.”

Joan la Pucelle appeared on the tower and displayed a burning torch.

She said, “Behold, this is the happy wedding torch that joins Rouen to her countrymen, but this torch’s burning is fatal to the Talbonites!”

The word “Talbonites” meant “the followers of Talbot”; the word used a Latinization of “Talbot.”

She exited.

The Bastard of Orleans said, “See, noble Charles, the beacon of our friend. The burning torch in yonder tower stands.”

Charles the Dauphin said, “Now let it shine like a comet of revenge, a portent prophesying to us the fall of all our foes!”

“Waste no time,” Reignier said. “Delays have dangerous ends. Enter, and cry ‘The Dauphin!’ immediately, and then kill the watchmen.”

A battle trumpet sounded and they entered the city and began fighting.

Talbot appeared and said, “France, you shall rue this treason with your tears, if I, Talbot, can survive your treachery.”

To the English, King Henry VI was also King of France, and so the French who were battling to take the city of Rouen were traitors.

Talbot continued, “Pucelle, that witch, that damned sorceress, has wrought this Hellish and wicked deed without warning, so that only with difficulty did we escape the haughty power of France.”

Then he began to fight again.

As the fighting continued, the Duke of Bedford was carried in a chair to a place where he could watch the fighting. The Duke of Bedford was ill; in fact, he was dying.

The French took the city. Talbot and the Duke of Burgundy left the city and stood together outside by the Duke of Bedford. On the wall of Rouen stood Joan la Pucelle, Charles the Dauphin, the Bastard of Orleans, the Duke of Alençon, and Reignier.

Joan la Pucelle taunted the English: “Good morning, gallants! Do you want wheat for bread?”

She threw grains of wheat at the English.

She added, “I think the Duke of Burgundy will fast before he’ll buy again at such a rate. It was full of darnel; do you like the taste?”

Darnel is a weed that commonly grows among stalks of wheat.

The Duke of Burgundy said, “Scoff on, vile fiend and shameless courtesan! I trust before long to choke you with your own wheat and make you curse the harvest of that wheat.”

Charles the Dauphin said, “Your grace may starve perhaps before that time.”

The Duke of Bedford said, “Let no words, but deeds, revenge this treason!”

“What will you do, good grey-beard?” Joan la Pucelle said, “Break a lance, engage in a jousting match, and charge at death while you sit in a chair?”

Talbot said, “Foul fiend of France, and hag of all malice and spite, you are surrounded by your lustful paramours! Does it become and suit you to taunt the Duke of Bedford’s valiant age and twit in a cowardly way a man who is half dead? Damsel, I’ll have a bout with you again, or else let Talbot perish with this shame.”

The word “bout” could mean a bout of fighting or a bout of sex.

Punning on the word “hot” as meaning “angry” and “horny,” Joan la Pucelle said, “Are ye so hot, sir? Yet, Pucelle, hold your peace. If Talbot do but thunder, rain will follow.”

The English whispered together in a council.

Joan la Pucelle said, “May God speed the Parliament! Who shall be the Speaker of the Parliament?”

“Do you dare to come forth and meet us on the battlefield?” Talbot asked, challenging them to a battle.

Joan la Pucelle said, “It is likely that your lordship takes us then for fools who are willing to fight a risky battle to get what they have already won.”

Talbot said, “I speak not to that railing Hecate — that witch — but to you, Duke of Alençon, and to the rest. Will you, like soldiers, come and fight it out?”

Hecate was an ancient Greek goddess who protected witches.

The Duke of Alençon replied to Talbot, “Signior, no.”

“Signior, hang!” Talbot shouted. “Base muleteers of France! Like peasant footboys they keep behind the wall and dare not take up arms and fight like gentlemen.”

“Let’s leave, Captains!” Joan la Pucelle said. “Let’s get away from the wall, for Talbot means us no goodness by his looks.”

She shouted to Talbot, “May God be with you, my lord! We came here only to tell you that we are here.”

Joan la Pucelle and the others departed from the wall.

Talbot said, “And there will we be, too, before long, or else may reproach be Talbot’s greatest fame! If we don’t retake the city, and soon, let me be remembered as a loser.

“Vow, Duke of Burgundy, by the honor of your house, pricked on by public wrongs sustained in France either to get the town again or die.”

The Duke of Burgundy was French, but he supported the English.

Talbot continued, “And I, as sure as English Henry VI lives and as sure as his father, Henry V, was conqueror here, and as sure as in this recently betrayed town great Coeur-de-lion’s heart was buried, as sure as these things I swear to get the town or die.”

King Henry V had captured the town of Rouen in 1418.

King Richard I, known as Coeur-de-lion or Lionheart, had willed that his heart be buried in Rouen because he so loved and respected the town. He died in 1199 in France, and the rest of his body was buried in Fontevrault.

The Duke of Burgundy said, “My vows are equal partners with your vows. I vow the same thing you do.”

“But, before we go, let’s take care of this dying Prince, the valiant Duke of Bedford,” Talbot said. “Come, my lord, we will take you to some better place that is fitter for sickness and for infirm old age.”

The Duke of Bedford replied, “Lord Talbot, do not dishonor me so. Here I will sit before the wall of Rouen, and I will be partner of your weal or woe.”

The Duke of Burgundy said, “Courageous Duke of Bedford, let us now persuade you —”

The Duke of Bedford interrupted, “— not to be gone from hence, for once I read that brave Uther Pendragon, the father of King Arthur, while sick was carried in a litter to the battlefield and vanquished his foes. I think my being here should revive the soldiers’ hearts because I always identified with them.”

Talbot said, “You have an undaunted spirit in a dying breast! Then so be it. May the Heavens keep the old Duke of Bedford safe! And now no more ado, brave Duke of Burgundy, but we will gather our forces out of hand and set upon and fight our boasting enemy.”

All exited except for the Duke of Bedford and some attendants.

The battle began. Sir John Fastolfe and a Captain came into view. True to his last name, which was similar to Fast-off, Sir John was running away.

The Captain asked, “Where are you going, Sir John Fastolfe, in such haste?”

“Where am I going?” Sir John Fastolfe said. “To save myself by flight. We are likely to be defeated again.”

“What!” the Captain said. “Will you flee, and leave Lord Talbot?”

“Yes,” Sir John Fastolfe replied. “I would leave all the Talbots in the world in order to save my life!”

He ran away.

Cowardly knight!” the Captain said. “May ill fortune follow you!”

The Captain exited.

The battle continued, and the French lost. Joan la Pucelle, the Duke of Alençon, and Charles the Dauphin fled.

The Duke of Bedford, seeing their flight, said to himself, “Now, quiet soul, depart when it pleases Heaven, for I have seen our enemies’ overthrow. What is the trust or strength of foolish man? They who recently were daring with their scoffs are now glad and happy by flight to save themselves.”

The Duke of Bedford died, and his attendants carried him away in his chair.

Lord Talbot, the Duke of Burgundy, and others met and discussed their victory.

Lord Talbot, elated, said, “Lost, and recovered again on the same day! This is a double honor, Burgundy. It is an honor for you and for me. Yet the Heavens have the glory for this victory!”

The Duke of Burgundy replied, “Warlike and martial Talbot, I, the Duke of Burgundy, enshrine you in my heart and there erect your noble deeds as monuments of valor.”

“Thanks, gentle Duke,” Talbot said. “But where is Joan la Pucelle now? I think her old familiar is asleep.”

Witches have familiars: attendant spirits in the form of an animal.

Talbot continued, “Now where are the Bastard’s boasts and Charles’ insults? Are the Bastard and Charles the Dauphin all dejected and downcast?”

He said sarcastically, “Rouen hangs her head for grief because such a ‘valiant’ company has fled.”

He added, “Now we will make arrangements to restore some order in the town, placing therein some expert officers, and then depart to go to Paris and see the King, for in Paris young King Henry VI is staying with his nobles.”

The Duke of Burgundy said, “Whatever Lord Talbot wants pleases me, the Duke of Burgundy.”

Talbot said, “But yet, before we go, let’s not forget the recently deceased noble Duke of Bedford — let’s see that his funeral rites are fulfilled in Rouen. A braver soldier never brought his lance down to the attack position, a gentler heart never governed in court, but Kings and the mightiest potentates must die, for that’s the end of human misery.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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