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

— 1.2 —

The Duke and the Duchess of Gloucester talked together in their house. In this culture, wives called their husbands “lord.” The Duchess’ name was Eleanor, but the Duke sometimes called her Nell.

The Duchess of Gloucester asked, “Why does my lord droop his head, like over-ripened wheat, hanging the head at Ceres, goddess of grain’s plenteous load? Why does the great Duke Humphrey of Gloucester knit his eyebrows as if he were frowning at the favors of the world? Why are your eyes fixed on the sullen earth, gazing on that which seems to dim your sight? What do you see there? King Henry VI’s diadem, adorned with all the honors of the world?

“If that is so, gaze on, and grovel on your face, until your head is encircled with the same. You should wear the diadem. Put forth your hand and reach at the glorious gold.”

Groveling while lying face down was a part of supplicating infernal supernatural spirits for help.

She continued, “Is your arm too short? I’ll lengthen it with mine. And, having both together heaved the diadem up, we’ll both together lift our heads to Heaven, and never again abase our sight so low as to permit even one glance at the ground.”

The Duke of Gloucester said, using his wife’s nickname, “Nell, sweet Nell, if you love your lord, banish the cancer of ambitious thoughts. May that thought, if I should imagine ill against my King and nephew, virtuous Henry VI, result in my last breath in this mortal world! My troubling dream last night makes me sad.”

“What did my lord dream? Tell me, and I’ll repay you with the sweet recounting of my morning’s dream,” she said.

In this culture, people believed that morning dreams were true dreams.

The Duke of Gloucester said, “I thought that this staff, my symbol of office at the court, was broken in two; by whom I have forgotten, but I think it was broken by Cardinal Beaufort, and on the pieces of the broken staff were placed the heads of Duke Edmund of Somerset and William de la Pole, who is the first Duke of Suffolk.

“This was my dream. What it forebodes, God knows.”

“Tut, this was nothing but an argument that he who breaks a stick of the Duke of Gloucester’s grove of trees shall lose his head for his presumption,” the Duchess of Gloucester said. “But listen to me, my Humphrey, my sweet Duke.

“I thought I sat in the seat of majesty in the cathedral church of Westminster, and in that chair — the coronation chair — where Kings and Queens are crowned, there Henry VI and Dame Margaret kneeled to me and on my head set the diadem.”

“No, Eleanor, then must I chide you outright,” the Duke of Gloucester said. “Presumptuous dame, ill-nurtured Eleanor, aren’t you the second woman in the realm, second only to the Queen, and aren’t you the Lord Protector’s wife, and beloved by him? Haven’t you worldly pleasure at your command, above and beyond the reach or compass of your thought? And will you still be hammering and working at treachery that will tumble down both your husband and yourself from the top of honor to the feet of disgrace? Get away from me, and let me hear no more about your morning dream!”

“What, what, my lord! Are you so choleric and angry at me, Eleanor, simply because I told you my dream? Next time I’ll keep my dreams to myself, and not be rebuked.”

The Duke of Gloucester replied, “No, don’t be angry; I am pleased again. I am no longer angry.”

A messenger entered the room.

The messenger said, “My Lord Protector, it is his highness’ pleasure that you prepare to ride to St. Albans, where the King and Queen intend to go hawking.”

St. Albans was a town twenty miles north of London.

“I will go,” the Duke of Gloucester said, and then added, “Come, Nell, will you ride with us?”

“Yes, my good lord, I’ll follow quickly,” the Duchess of Gloucester said.

The Duke of Gloucester and the messenger exited.

Alone, the Duchess of Gloucester said to herself, “Follow I must; I cannot go before, while the Duke of Gloucester bears this base and humble mind. If I were a man, a Duke, and the next of blood, I would remove these tedious stumbling blocks and smooth my way upon their headless necks. And, being a woman, I will not be slack to play my part in Lady Fortune’s pageant.”

She still wanted to be Queen of England.

Sir John Hume, a priest, entered the room. In this culture, priests were called “Sir” as a mark of respect.

Hearing a noise, she said, “Who are you there? Sir John! No, don’t be afraid, man. We are alone; here’s no one but you and me.”

Sir John Hume said, “May Jesus preserve your royal majesty!”

Kings and Queens were called majesty and sometimes grace; Dukes and Duchesses were called only grace.

“What are you saying!” the Duchess of Gloucester said. “Majesty! I am only grace.”

“But, by the grace of God, and my advice, your grace’s title shall be multiplied,” Sir John Hume said.

“What are you saying, man?” she asked. “Have you conferredyet with Margery Jourdain, the cunning witch,and with Roger Bolingbroke, the conjurer who raises spirits?And will they undertake to do me good by helping me to succeed?”

“They have promised to show your highnessaspirit raised from the depth of underground — Hell — that shall answer such questionsas shall be asked him by your grace.”

“It is enough,” the Duchess of Gloucester said. “I’ll think about the questions I will ask. When we return from St. Albans,we’ll see that these things are completely done.”

She gave the priest some money and said, “Here, Hume, take this reward; make merry, man,with your confederates in this weighty, important cause.”

She exited.

Alone, Sir John Hume said to himself, “I, Hume, must make merry with the Duchess’ gold, and by Mother Mary I shall. But be careful now, Sir John Hume!Seal up your lips, and speak no words but stay mum. This business requires silent secrecy.

“Dame Eleanor gives me gold to bring the witch. Gold cannot come amiss, even if the witch were a Devil. Yet I have gold that comes to me from another source. I dare not say it comes from the rich Cardinal Beaufort and from the great and newly made Duke of Suffolk, yet that is the case.

“To be plain, they, knowing Dame Eleanor’s aspiring and ambitious disposition, have hired me to undermine the Duchess of Gloucester and buzz these conjurations in her brain.

“People say, proverbially, ‘A crafty knave needs no broker,’ that is, no agent, yet I am the Duke of Suffolk’s and Cardinal Beaufort’s broker. Hume, if you are not careful, you shall go near to calling them both a pair of crafty knaves.

“Well, so it stands; and thus, I fear, at last Hume’s — my — knavery will be the Duchess of Gloucester’s wreck, and her conviction and condemnation will be her husband Humphrey’s fall.

“No matter what happens, I shall have gold from them all.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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