David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s 1 HENRY VI: A Retelling in Prose — Act 4, Scenes 6-7

— 4.6 —

The battle started, and the English fought bravely. At one point, the Frenchmen came close to killing John Talbot, but Lord Talbot rescued him.

“Saint George and victory!” Lord Talbot shouted. “Fight, soldiers, fight! The Regent of France — the Duke of York — has broken his word to me, Lord Talbot, and left us to the rage of France’s swordsmen.

“Where is John Talbot?”

Seeing him, he said, “Pause, and take your breath; I gave you life, and I rescued you from death.”

“Oh, twice my father, twice am I your son!” John Talbot said. “The life you gave me first was lost and done, until with your warlike sword, in spite of fate, to my allotted time of life you gave me a new, later date to die.”

“When from the Dauphin’s crest on his helmet your sword struck fire, it warmed your father’s heart with proud desire of bold-faced victory. Then I, despite my leaden age, quickened with youthful spirits and warlike rage, beat down the Duke of Alençon, the Bastard of Orleans, and the Duke of Burgundy, and from the pride — the best soldiers — of Gallia, aka France, rescued you.

“The angry Bastard of Orleans, who drew blood from you, my boy, and had the maidenhood — the first blood — of your first fight, I soon encountered, and exchanging blows with him I quickly shed some of his bastard blood, and insultingly said to him, ‘I am spilling your contaminated, base, and misbegotten blood, which is mean, ignoble, and very poor, for that pure blood of mine that you forced from Talbot, my brave boy.’ Then, as I moved to destroy the Bastard and end his life, strong reinforcements came in to rescue him.

“Speak, your father’s care and concern. Aren’t you weary, John? How do you fare? Will you now leave the battle, boy, and flee, now that you are sealed and confirmed to be the son of chivalry?

“Flee in order to revenge my death when I am dead. The help of one person stands me in little stead — one person can help me very little. Too much folly is it, well I know, to hazard all our lives in one small boat!

“If I don’t die today from the Frenchmen’s rage, tomorrow I shall die with great old age. The Frenchmen gain nothing by my death if I stay: It is only the shortening of my life by one day. If you die, your mother dies, as does our household’s name, my death’s revenge, your youth, and England’s fame. All these and more we hazard by your stay; all these are saved if you will flee away.”

John Talbot replied, “The sword of the Bastard of Orleans has not made me smart, but these words of yours draw life-blood from my heart. To gain those benefits, bought with such a shame, would save a paltry life and slay bright fame. Before young Talbot from old Talbot flees, may the coward horse that bears me fall and die! And compare me to the peasant boys of France, to be shame’s scorn and subject of mischance! Surely, by all the glory you have won, if I flee, I am not Talbot’s son. So then, talk no more of flight, it does no good. If I am Talbot’s son, I will die at Talbot’s foot.”

Lord Talbot said, “Then follow your desperate sire of Crete, you Icarus.”

Icarus was the son of Daedalus, who designed the labyrinth at Crete to house the Minotaur, the half-bull, half-human man-eating monster. After Daedalus and his son were imprisoned on the island of Crete, Daedalus designed wings made of feathers and wax so that he and his son could fly over the sea to freedom. The wings worked, but Icarus flew too close to the Sun, the heat of which melted the wax, causing the feathers to molt. Icarus fell into the sea and drowned. Icarus could have lived, but his exuberance caused his death.

Lord Talbot continued, “Your life to me is sweet. If you must fight, then fight by your father’s side, and now that you have proven yourself to be commendable, let’s die proudly and with honor.”

— 4.7 —

The battle continued. A servant helped Lord Talbot, exhausted by age and combat, to walk.

Lord Talbot asked, “Where is my other life? My own life is gone. Where’s young Talbot? Where is valiant John? Triumphant Death, smeared with the blood of slain captives, young Talbot’s valor makes me smile at you. When young Talbot saw me shrink down on my knee, he brandished his bloody sword over me, and like a hungry lion, he began to perform rough deeds of rage and stern impatience. But when my angry guard stood alone, tending to my ruin and assailed by none, dizzy-eyed fury and great rage of heart suddenly made him run from my side into the clustering battle of the French, and in that sea of blood my boy drenched his mounting-too-high spirit, and there died my Icarus, my blossom, in his pride.”

The servant said, “My dear lord, look, your son is being borne here!”

Some soldiers arrived, carrying the corpse of John Talbot.

Lord Talbot said, “You grinning jester Death, who laughs at and scorns us here, soon, away from your insulting tyranny, coupled in bonds of perpetuity, two Talbots, winging through the yielding sky, shall spite you and escape mortality.”

He then said to his son’s corpse, “Oh, you, whose honorable wounds make handsome even the appearance of ugly death, speak to your father before you yield your breath! Defy death by speaking, whether or not he will allow you to speak. Imagine that Death is a Frenchman and your foe.

“Poor boy! He smiles, I think, as one who would say, ‘Had Death been French, then Death would have died today.’”

He then ordered, “Come, come and lay him in his father’s arms. My spirit can no longer bear these harms.”

The soldiers brought John Talbot’s corpse over to Lord Talbot, who hugged it and said, “Soldiers, adieu! I have what I want, now that my old arms are young John Talbot’s grave.”

Lord Talbot died.

Fighting broke out, and the servant and soldiers exited, leaving the two corpses behind.

After the battle was over and the French had won, Charles the Dauphin, the Duke of Alençon, the Duke of Burgundy, the Bastard of Orleans, Joan la Pucelle, and some soldiers entered the scene.

Charles the Dauphin said, “If the Duke of York and the Duke of Somerset had brought in reinforcements for the English, this would have been a bloody day for us.”

The Bastard of Orleans marveled, “How the young whelp of Talbot’s, raging-mad, fleshed his puny sword in Frenchmen’s blood!”

He referred to John Talbot’s sword as “puny” because its wielder had been untested in battle before this day.

Joan la Pucelle said, “Once I encountered him, and I said to him, ‘You maiden — virgin — youth, be vanquished by a maiden.’ But, with a proud and majestically high scorn, he answered, ‘Young Talbot was not born to be the pillage of a giglot — harlot — wench.’ Then, rushing into the midst of the French, he left me proudly, considering me unworthy for him to fight.”

The Duke of Burgundy said, “Doubtless he would have made a noble knight. Look at him. On the ground he lies, as if in a coffin, in the arms of the most bloodthirsty nurser of his harms!”

He felt that Lord Talbot had nursed — encouraged — his son to inflict wounds. In doing so, Lord Talbot had also made it possible for his son to suffer wounds.

The Bastard of Orleans said, “Hew them to pieces, hack their bones asunder. Their life was England’s glory, and Gallia’s wonder — France’s object of astonishment.”

Charles the Dauphin said, “No! Don’t! Those whom during their life we have fled, let us not wrong them once they are dead.”

Sir William Lucy arrived with some attendants. Walking in front of him was a French herald.

Sir William Lucy, who had arrived too late to participate in the battle, said, “Herald, conduct me to the Dauphin’s tent, so I can learn who has obtained the glory of the day.”

“On what submissive message have you been sent?” Charles the Dauphin asked. He expected Sir William Lucy to be carrying a message that what was left of the English army was surrendering to him.

“Submission, Dauphin!” Sir William Lucy said. “It is entirely a French word; we English warriors don’t know what it means.”

Sir William Lucy was aware that the English army had lost, but he was putting up a bold and brave front as he sought to learn the fate of Lord Talbot.

He added, “I have come to learn what prisoners you have taken and to survey the bodies of the dead.”

“You ask about prisoners?” Charles the Dauphin said. “Our prison is Hell. We kill our prisoners. But tell me whom you seek.”

Sir William Lucy asked, “Where’s the great Alcides — Hercules — of the battlefield, valiant Lord Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, who was given many titles as a reward for his rare success in arms? He is the great Earl of Washford, Waterford, and Valence. He is Lord Talbot of Goodrig and Urchinfield, Lord Strange of Blackmere, Lord Verdun of Alton, Lord Cromwell of Wingfield, Lord Furnival of Sheffield, the thrice-victorious Lord of Falconbridge; knight of the noble order of Saint George, a worthy of Saint Michael and the Golden Fleece. He is also the great commander-in-chief to King Henry VI in all his wars within the realm of France. Where is he?”

“Here is a silly stately style indeed!” Joan la Pucelle said, mocking the list of titles. “The Sultan of Turkey, who has fifty-two Kingdoms, does not write as tedious a style as this. He whom you magnify with all these titles lies stinking and fly-blown here at our feet.”

Already flies were buzzing around Lord Talbot’s corpse.

Sir William Lucy said, “Has Lord Talbot been slain, the Frenchmen’s only scourge, your kingdom’s terror and black Nemesis?”

Nemesis was an ancient goddess who punished humans who were guilty of pride and arrogance against the gods.

He continued, “I wish that my eyeballs would turn into bullets so that I in rage might shoot them at your faces! I wish that I could call these dead English warriors to life! It would be enough to frighten the realm of France. Even if only Lord Talbot’s picture were left among you here, it would terrify the proudest of you all. Give me their bodies, so that I may bear them away from here and give them burial as befits their worth.”

Joan la Pucelle said, “I think this upstart is old Talbot’s ghost — he must be because he speaks with such a proud commanding spirit. For God’s sake let him have the bodies; if we kept them here, they would only stink and putrefy the air.”

Charles the Dauphin said, “Go and take their bodies away from here.”

“I’ll bear them away,” Sir William Lucy said, “but from their ashes shall be reared a phoenix that shall make all France afraid.”

In the Arden Shakespeare edition of King Henry VI, Part 1, editor Edward Burns writes, “According to myth there is only ever one phoenix bird at any one time, but it regenerates itself from the ashes of its funeral pyre, in the deserts of Arabia, so it is an emblem of the survival of individual worth in defiance of the logic of natural survival.”

Charles the Dauphin replied, “As long as we are rid of them, do with them what you will.”

He then said to the others, “And now to Paris, in this conquering vein. All will be ours, now bloodthirsty Talbot’s slain.”

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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