David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s 1 HENRY VI: A Retelling in Prose — Act 4, Scenes 4-5

— 4.4 —

On another plain in Gascony was the Earl of Somerset’s army. The Earl of Somerset talked with one of Lord Talbot’s Captains.

The Earl of Somerset said, “It is too late; I cannot send them now. The Duke of York and Lord Talbot too rashly planned this expedition. Our whole army might be engaged and fought with in a sudden attack by the town’s own garrison. The over-daring Talbot has sullied all his gloss of former honor by this heedless, desperate, wild adventure. The Duke of York set him on to fight and die in shame, so that once Talbot is dead, the Duke of York might bear a greater name.”

The Captain looked up and said, “Here comes Sir William Lucy, who with me set forth from our overmatched forces for aid.”

“How are you now, Sir William!” the Earl of Somerset asked. “Whither were you sent?”

“Whither” means “to which place.” Sir William Lucy had been sent to the Duke of York, but he did not want to mention that because it was off-topic. Sir William Lucy had more important things to say. He realized that any reinforcements would arrive after the battle. But he wanted to test the Duke of Somerset and see if he would agree immediately to send reinforcements, and especially if he would not, Sir William Lucy wanted the Duke of Somerset to know the consequences of his actions. The Duke of Somerset should have already sent reinforcements; he should have sent them immediately when the Captain who had arrived before Sir William Lucy had asked for them.

“Whither, my lord?” he said. “I have come from Lord Talbot, who has been bought and sold and betrayed. He, ringed about with bold adversity, cries out for reinforcements from noble York and Somerset, to beat assailing death away from his weak legions, and while the honorable Captain Talbot there drops bloody sweat from his war-wearied limbs, and uses an advantageous military position to draw out and continue the battle while looking for rescue, you, his false hopes, the trust of England’s honor, stay away, aloof with worthless rivalry.

“Don’t allow your private discord to keep away the mustered reinforcements who should lend him aid, while he, a renowned noble gentleman, yields his life while fighting against immense odds. Orleans the Bastard, Charles the Dauphin, the Duke of Burgundy, the Duke of Alençon, and Reignier surround him, and Talbot perishes because of your failure to do your duty.”

“York set him on,” the Duke of Somerset said. “York should have sent him aid.”

“And York as quickly blames your grace, swearing that you are withholding his levied cavalry who were mustered for this expedition.”

“York lies,” the Duke of Somerset said. “He might have sent a request to me and had the cavalry. I owe him little duty, and less love. I think that it would be a foul disgrace to fawn on him by sending the cavalry to him without him first asking for them.”

He was ignoring the earlier words of King Henry VI: “And, my good Lord of Somerset, unite your troops of horsemen with the Duke of York’s bands of soldiers.”

Sir William Lucy said, “The faithlessness of England, not the military might of France, has now entrapped the noble-minded Talbot. Never to England shall he bear his life; instead, he dies, betrayed to fortune by your strife.”

“Come, let’s go,” the Earl of Somerset said. “I will dispatch the horsemen immediately. Within six hours they will be at his aid.”

Sir William Lucy said, “Too late comes the rescue. He is either captured or slain. He could not flee and escape even if he wanted to, if it were possible for him to flee, and Talbot would never flee and escape, even if it were possible.”

“If he is dead, then brave Talbot, adieu!” the Earl of Somerset said.

“His fame lives on in the world, but the shame of his death lives on in you,” Sir William Lucy said.

— 4.5 —

Lord Talbot and John, his son, talked together in the English camp near Bordeaux.

Lord Talbot said, “Oh, young John Talbot! I sent for you so I could tutor you in the strategy of war, so that the name of Talbot might be revived in you when sapless, feeble old age and weak, incapable limbs would bring your drooping father to his chair in his retirement.

“But, oh, malignant and ill-boding stars! Now, my son, you have come to a feast of death, a terrible and unavoidable danger. Therefore, dear boy, mount my swiftest horse, and I’ll direct you how you can escape by sudden flight. Come, don’t dally, be gone and leave immediately.”

John Talbot asked, “Is my name Talbot? And am I your son? And shall I flee? Oh, if you love my mother, don’t dishonor her honorable name by making a bastard and a slave of me! The world will say, ‘He is not Talbot’s blood, not if he basely fled when noble Talbot stood his ground.’”

“Flee, so you can revenge my death, if I am slain,” Lord Talbot said.

“He who flees so will never return again,” John Talbot said. “He who flees once will continue to flee.”

“If we both stay, we both are sure to die,” Lord Talbot said.

“Then let me stay; and, father, you flee,” John Talbot said. “If you die, the loss to our country will be great, so your regard for your life should be great. My worth is unknown, and if I die, our country will feel no loss. If I die, the French can little boast about it. If you die, the French will greatly boast. If you die, our country’s hopes are all lost. Flight cannot stain the honor you have won, but if I flee, flight will stain my honor; I have done no noble exploits, and flight is all I will be remembered for. If you flee, everyone will swear that you made a strategic retreat for military advantage. But if I flee, they’ll say it was out of fear. There is no hope that I ever will stay and fight, if in the first hour of battle I shrink and run away.”

He knelt and said, “Here on my knee I beg mortality, rather than life preserved with infamy.”

“Shall all your mother’s hopes lie in one tomb?” Lord Talbot asked. “Shall her husband and her progeny all lie in one tomb, with no one left alive?”

“Yes, for that is preferable to my shaming my mother’s womb,” John Talbot replied.

“After I give you my blessing, I command you to go,” Lord Talbot said.

“I will go to fight, but not to flee the foe,” John Talbot said.

“Part of your father may be saved in you,” Lord Talbot said. “If you stay alive, some part of me will continue to live.”

“No part of you, my father, but only shame will be in me.”

“You have never had renown, and therefore you cannot lose it.”

“I have your renowned name: the name of Talbot. Shall flight dishonor and abuse it?” John Talbot said.

“Your father’s order to you to flee shall clear you from that stain.”

“You cannot be a witness for me, once you are slain. If death is so unavoidable and so apparent, then both of us should flee.”

“And leave my followers here to fight and die?” Lord Talbot said. “My life has never been tainted with such shame.”

“And shall my youth be guilty of such blame?” John Talbot said. “No more can I be severed from your side than you can divide yourself in two. Stay, go, do whatever you want to; whatever you decide to do, I will do it, also. I will not live, if my father dies.”

“Then here I take my leave of you, fair son, you were born to eclipse and extinguish your life this afternoon.”

He helped his son rise from the ground and added, “Come, side by side together we will live and die. And soul with soul from France to Heaven we will fly.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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