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

— 1.4 —

Margery Jourdain the witch, Sir John Hume and Sir John Southwell the priests, and Roger Bolingbroke the conjuror met in the Duke of Gloucester’s garden.

Sir John Hume said, “Come, my masters; the Duchess of Gloucester, I tell you, expects performance of your promises.”

“Master Hume, we are therefore prepared,” Roger Bolingbroke the conjuror said. “Will her ladyship behold and hear our conjurations?”

“Yes, what else? Of course she will,” Sir John Hume said. “Don’t be afraid that she lacks courage.”

Roger Bolingbroke the conjuror said, “I have heard her reported to be a woman of an invincible spirit, but it shall be convenient, Master Hume, that you be near her on a higher place, while we are busy below; and so, please go, in God’s name, and leave us.”

Sir John Hume exited.

Roger Bolingbroke the conjuror added, “Mother Jourdain, lie prostrate and grovel on the earth. John Southwell, you read the conjuration, and let us go to our work.”

The Duchess of York and Sir John Hume appeared at a higher spot, and the Duchess, who had heard Bolingbroke’s most recent words, said, “Well said, my masters; and welcome, all of you. Let’s attend to this business, the sooner the better.”

“Have patience, good lady,” Roger Bolingbroke the conjuror said. “Wizards know their times. Deep night, dark night, the silent part of the night, the time of night when the city of Troy was set on fire and sacked by the Greeks, the time when screech owls cry and chained guard dogs howl, and spirits walk and ghosts break out of their graves, that time best fits the work we have in hand. Madam, sit and don’t be afraid. That spirit we raise, we will make fast within a hallowed verge — a sacred circle.”

They performed the relevant ceremonies and made the circle. Southwell read from the conjuring book the spell beginning “Conjuro te,” which is Latin for “I conjure you.”

As thunder sounded and lightning flashed, a spirit arose and said, “Adsum.”

Adsum” is Latin for “I am present.”

Margery Jourdain the witch said, “Asnath,by the eternal God, whose name and poweryou tremble at, answer what I shall ask because until you speak, you shall not pass from hence.”

“Asnath” was an anagram form for “Sathan,” which is a form of the name “Satan.”

The spirit replied, “Ask what thou wilt. I wish that I had already finished answering your questions!”

The questions to be asked were already written down. Roger Bolingbroke the conjuror read, “First about the King: What shall become of him?”

The spirit replied, “The Duke yet lives whom Henry shall depose,but him outlive and die a violent death.”

Like many such answers, this answer was equivocal. Would the Duke depose Henry, or would Henry depose the Duke? Would Henry outlive the Duke and die a violent death, or would the Duke outlive Henry and die a violent death?

Southwell wrote down the answer.

Roger Bolingbroke the conjuror read, “What fates await the Duke of Suffolk?”

The spirit replied, “By water shall he die, and take his end.”

Again, this answer was ambiguous. “He shall die by water” can mean 1) “He shall drown,” or 2) “He shall die on a seashore.” Or as will be seen, it could also have a much different meaning.

Roger Bolingbroke the conjuror read, “What shall befall the Duke of Somerset?”

The spirit replied, “Let him shun castles. Safer shall he be upon the sandy plains than where castles mounted stand. Have done, for more I hardly can endure.”

Again, this answer was ambiguous. It could mean, “Let him shun castles mounted high on mountains.” Or as will be seen, it could also have a much different meaning.

Roger Bolingbroke the conjuror said to the spirit, “Descend to darkness and the burning lake! False fiend, leave!”

Thunder sounded and lightning flashed as the spirit exited.

The Duke of York and the Duke of Buckingham broke into the garden with their guards.

The Duke of York said, “Lay hands upon these traitors and their trash — their conjuring materials.”

He said to Margery Jourdain the witch, “Beldam, I think we watched you closely.”

He then pretended to be surprised to see the Duchess of Gloucester and said sarcastically, “Madam, is that you there? The King and the commonwealth are deeply indebted to you for this piece of labor. My Lord Protector will, I don’t doubt, see you well rewarded for these good deserts.”

The Duchess of Gloucester replied, “These good deserts are not half as bad as yours to England’s King, you insulting Duke who threatens where there’s no reason to threaten.”

The Duke of Buckingham said sarcastically, “True, madam, no reason at all.” He then pointed at the conjuring materials and said, “What do you call this?

“Away with them! Let them be securely imprisoned and kept apart from one another.

“You, madam, shall come with us.

“Stafford, arrest her.”

Stafford and some guards took away the Duchess of York and Sir John Hume.

The Duke of Buckingham said, “We’ll see to it that your conjuring materials here will all be produced as evidence in a court of law.

“Take them away!”

Some guards took away Margery Jourdain the witch, Roger Bolingbroke the conjuror, and Sir John Southwell.

The Duke of York said, “Lord Buckingham, I think that you watched her well. This is a pretty plot, well chosen to build upon! Now, please, my lord, let’s see the Devil’s writ. What have we here?”

He read out loud, “The Duke yet lives whom Henry shall depose, but him outlive and die a violent death.”

He said, “This is just ‘Aio te, Aeacida, Romanos vincere posse.’”

Pyrrhus had asked an oracle whether he could conquer Rome, and the oracle had answered with the Latin prophecy that the Duke of York had quoted. Like many prophecies, the oracle’s prophecy was ambiguous: “I prophesy that you, the descendant of Aeacus, the Romans to conquer are able.” This could mean, “I prophesy that you, the descendant of Aeacus, are able to conquer the Romans” or “I prophesy that the Romans are able to conquer you, the descendant of Aeacus.”

The Duke of York then read out loud, “Tell me what fate awaits the Duke of Suffolk? By water shall he die, and take his end. What shall betide the Duke of Somerset? Let him shun castles; safer shall he be upon the sandy plains than where castles mounted stand.”

He then said, “Come, come, my lords; these oracles are hardily attained, and hardily understood. It is difficult to receive an oracle, and difficult to understand the oracle once it is received.

“The King is now progressing towards St. Albans. With him goes the husband of this lovely lady, the Duchess of Gloucester. Thither take this news as fast as horse can carry it. This news will be a sorry breakfast for my Lord Protector.”

The Duke of Buckingham said, “Your grace shall give me permission, my Lord of York, to be the post and carry the message, in hope of being rewarded by King Henry VI.”

“At your pleasure, my good lord,” the Duke of York replied. “Yes, you shall carry this news to the King.”

He then called for a servant, “Who’s within there, ho!”

A servingman entered.

The Duke of York ordered him, “Invite my Lords of Salisbury and Warwick to dine with me tomorrow night.

“Let’s go!”

Being a witch or wizard and engaging in witchcraft and sorcery were serious offenses, especially since King Henry VI was very religious. Here are a few Bible verses (King James Version) about witches:

Leviticus 19:31:Regard not them that have familiar spirits, neither seek after wizards, to be defiled by them: I am the LORD your God.

Exodus 22:18:Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.

Leviticus 20:27:A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them.

Deuteronomy 18:10-11:There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, / Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer.

Leviticus 20:6:And the soul that turneth after such as have familiar spirits, and after wizards, to go a whoring after them, I will even set my face against that soul, and will cut him off from among his people.

A familiar is a witch’s attending spirit; often it has the form of an animal.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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