David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s 1 HENRY VI: A Retelling in Prose — Act 4, Scenes 2-3

— 4.2 —

Lord Talbot, accompanied by a trumpeter and a drummer, stood outside the wall of the French city of Bordeaux and ordered, “Go to the gates of Bordeaux, trumpeter. Summon their General to the wall.”

The trumpet sounded, and the French General and some others arrived and stood on the wall of the city.

Lord Talbot said, “English John Talbot, who is a servant in arms to Harry, King of England, calls you Captains forth, and this is what I want: Open your city gates, be humble to us, call my sovereign yours, and do him homage as obedient subjects. If you do these things, I’ll withdraw both my bloodthirsty army and myself. But if you frown upon this proffered peace, then you tempt the fury of my three attendants — lean famine, quartering steel, and climbing fire — who in a moment shall lay your stately and air-defying towers level with the earth if you forsake the offer of their love.”

“Quartering steel” referred to steel weapons that could dismember and quarter — cut into four pieces — bodies.

The French General replied, “You ominous and fearful owl of death, you who are our nation’s terror and their bloody scourge! The end of your tyranny approaches.”

In this culture, the screech of the owl was thought to prophesy death.

The French General continued, “You cannot enter into our city except by dying first, for I assure you, we are well fortified and are strong enough to issue out of the city and fight you. If you retreat from the city, Charles the Dauphin, who has a well-armed army, stands by with the snares of war to entangle you. On either side of you are squadrons who are ready for combat and who will wall you away from the liberty of flight. You can turn to no place for help. Every place you look you will find death in front of you with plainly evident slaughter, and pale destruction will meet you face to face. Ten thousand Frenchmen have taken the sacrament and sworn to make their dangerous artillery explode upon no Christian soul but English Talbot.

“Lo, there you stand, a breathing valiant man with an invincible and unconquered spirit! This is the latest and last glory of your praise that I, your enemy, will endow you with, for before the hourglass, which now begins to run, finishes the progression of its sandy hour, these eyes that see you now well colored and in ruddy good health shall see you withered, bloody, pale, and dead.”

Drums sounded in the distance.

The French General continued, “Listen! Listen! The Dauphin’s drum is a warning bell that sings heavy, serious music to your timorous soul, and my soul shall ring your dire departure — your horrible death — out.”

The French General and the people with him exited from the wall.

Lord Talbot said, “He is not telling a fable; he is not lying. I hear the enemy’s drums.”

He ordered, “Go out, some lightly armed horsemen, and spy on their flanks.”

He then said, “Oh, negligent, careless, and heedless military discipline! We are parked and bounded in a pale, an area bounded by a fence. We are like a little herd of England’s timorous, fearful deer, amazed and bewildered by a yelping kennel of French curs!

“But if we be English deer, then let us be in blood. Let us be in full vigor and not like rascals — weak deer that will fall down after suffering a mere nip from a dog. Let us instead be moody-mad, furiously angry, and desperate stags. Let us turn on the bloody hounds with heads of steel — hard antlers, or steel weapons — and make the cowards stand aloof at bay.”

The French would have Lord Talbot and his army at bay; Lord Talbot and his army would be like a deer making a last stand after being surrounded by hunting dogs. But Lord Talbot and his army would make the enemy stand aloof — stand back and be afraid to fight for a while, despite their advantage.

Lord Talbot continued, “If every Englishman sells his life as dearly as I intend to sell mine, then the Frenchmen shall find dear deer of us, my friends.

“By God and Saint George, Talbot, and England’s right, may our battle flags prosper in this dangerous fight!”

— 4.3 —

On a plain in Gascony, a messenger met the Duke of York. With the Duke of York were a trumpeter and many soldiers.

The Duke of York asked, “Have the speedy scouts who dogged and tracked the mighty army of the Dauphin returned again?”

The messenger said, “They have returned, my lord, and they report that the Dauphin and his army have marched to Bordeaux to fight Lord Talbot. As the Dauphin and his army marched along, your spies saw two mightier armies than that the Dauphin led; these two armies joined with him and also marched for Bordeaux.”

The Duke of York said, “May a plague fall upon that villain the Duke of Somerset, who thus delays my promised supply of horsemen who were levied for this siege! Renowned Talbot expects my aid, but I am treated with contempt by a traitor villain and cannot help the noble chevalier. May God comfort and help him in this difficulty! If he suffers death, farewell to wars in France.”

Sir William Lucy arrived and said to the Duke of York, “You Princely leader of our English strength, never were you so needed on the soil of France. Spur to the rescue of the noble Talbot, who now is girdled with a waist of iron and hemmed about with grim destruction: A belt of enemy warriors encircles him. Go to Bordeaux, warlike Duke! Go to Bordeaux, York! If you do not, then farewell, Talbot, France, and England’s honor.”

The Duke of York said, “Oh, God, I wish that the Duke of Somerset, whose proud heart prevents the departure of my troops of cavalry and will not allow them to come to me, were in Talbot’s place! If that were so, we would save a valiant gentleman — Lord Talbot — by forfeiting the Duke of Somerset, who is a traitor and a coward. Mad ire and wrathful fury make me weep because we die like this, while remiss, careless traitors sleep.”

Sir William Lucy pleaded, “Oh, send some succor to the distressed lord!”

The Duke of York said, “He — Talbot — dies, and we lose; I break my warlike word — my word as a soldier. We mourn, and France smiles. We lose, but they daily gain. All of this happens because of this vile traitor Somerset.”

Sir William Lucy said, “Then may God have mercy on brave Talbot’s soul, and on young John, his son whom two hours ago I met as he traveled toward his warlike, valiant father! For the past seven years, Talbot has not seen his son, and now they meet where both their lives are done. They meet only to die together.”

The Duke of York said, “Alas, what joy shall noble Talbot have to bid his young son welcome to his grave? Leave! Vexation and grief almost stop my breath, seeing that separated relatives should greet each other in the hour of death. Sir William Lucy, farewell; my fortune is that I can do no more than curse the reason — the Duke of Somerset — why I cannot aid the Talbot.

“Maine, Blois, Poictiers, and Tours are won away from England, all because of the Duke of Somerset and his delay in sending me my troops of cavalry.”

The Duke of York and his trumpeter and soldiers exited.

Alone, Sir William Lucy said to himself, “Thus, while the vulture of sedition feeds in the bosom of such great commanders, sleeping neglect betrays to loss the conquest of our scarcely cold conqueror of France, that man who forever lives in our memory: Henry V. While the Duke of York and the Duke of Somerset thwart and cross each other, lives, honors, lands, and all hurry to loss.”

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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