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

— 3.3 —

Cardinal Beaufort lay mortally ill and delirious in bed. By him were King Henry VI, the Earl of Salisbury, and the Earl of Warwick.

“How is my lord?” King Henry VI asked. “Speak, Cardinal Beaufort, to your sovereign.”

Cardinal Beaufort replied, “If you are Death, I’ll give you England’s treasure, enough to purchase another such island, if you will let me live, and feel no pain.”

King Henry VI said, “Ah, what a sign it is of evil life, where death’s approach is seen as being so terrible!”

The Earl of Warwick said, “Beaufort, it is your sovereign who speaks to you.”

Cardinal Beaufort said, “Bring me to my trial when you will. Didn’t he — the Duke of Gloucester — die in his bed? Where else should he die? Can I make men live, whether they will or no?

“Oh, torture me no more! I will confess.

“Alive again? Then show me where he is. I’ll give a thousand pounds to look at him.

“He has no eyes, the dust has blinded them. Comb down his hair. Look, look! It stands upright, like twigs smeared with birdlime — like a trap to catch my winged soul.

“Give me some drink; and tell the apothecary to bring the strong poison that I bought from him.”

King Henry VI prayed, “Oh, Thou eternal Mover of the Heavens, look with a gentle eye upon this wretch! Oh, beat away the busy meddling fiend that lays strong siege to capture this wretch’s soul. And, Thou eternal Mover of the Heavens, purge this black despair from his bosom!”

The Earl of Warwick said, “Look at how the pangs of death make him grin and bare his teeth!”

The Earl of Salisbury said, “Don’t disturb him; let him pass peaceably.”

King Henry VI said, “May he have peace to his soul, if that is God’s good pleasure!

“Lord Cardinal Beaufort, if you are thinking about Heaven’s bliss, hold up your hand; make a signal — a sign — of your hope.”

Cardinal Beaufort died.

King Henry VI said, “He dies, and makes no sign. Oh, God, forgive him!”

“So bad a death is evidence of a monstrous life,” the Earl of Warwick said.

“Forbear to judge, for we all are sinners,” King Henry VI said. “God will be the judge.

“Close his eyes and draw closed the curtain around his bed; and let us all go to pray.”

— 4.1 —

Off the coast of Kent, a battle between two ships had taken place. The losing ship was the one carrying the disguised Duke of Suffolk as he attempted to sail to France. The Captain, a Master, a Master’s-Mate, a man named Walter Whitmore, and others were meeting to decide what to do with the prisoners. Evening was falling. The Captain was the highest-ranking officer, while the Master was a high-ranking officer who was responsible for navigation.

The Captain said, “The showy, blabbing, and compassionate day has crept into the bosom of the sea, and now loud-howling wolves arouse the jades — dragons pulling the night-chariot — that drag the tragic melancholy night. These jades, with their drowsy, slow, and flagging wings, embrace dead men’s graves and from their misty jaws breathe foul contagious darkness into the air.”

Day is showy because it is bright with sunshine. It is blabbing because the daylight reveals what a criminal would prefer to be covered up by darkness, and it is compassionate because dirty — not-compassionate — deeds prefer to be done in the dark.

The Captain said, “Therefore bring forth the soldiers of our prize — the ship we captured. For, while our pinnace, aka small, light ship, anchors in the Downs, aka the sea off Kent’s east coast, they shall make their ransom here on the sand, or stain and discolor with their blood this shore.

“Master, this prisoner freely I give to you, and you who are his Master’s-Mate, take this second prisoner and make a profit from him. Walter Whitmore, this third prisoner is your share.”

The first gentleman prisoner asked, “What is my ransom, Master? Let me know.”

The Master replied, “A thousand crowns, or else lay down your head.”

To lay down one’s head was to be beheaded.

The Master’s-Mate said to the second gentleman prisoner, “And so much shall you give, or off goes your head.”

The Captain said to the two gentleman prisoners, “Do you think it too much to pay two thousand crowns, you who bear the name and bearing of gentlemen?”

Walter Whitmore advised, “Cut both the villains’ throats.”

He looked at his prisoner and said, “For die you shall.”

He then said to the Captain and the other pirates, “Shall the lives of those whom we have lost in the fight be counterbalanced with such a petty sum!”

The first gentleman prisoner said, “I’ll pay the ransom, sir; and therefore spare my life.”

The second gentleman prisoner said, “And so will I, and I will write home for it immediately.”

Walter Whitmore said to the third gentleman prisoner, who was the Duke of Suffolk in disguise, “I lost my eye in attacking the prize at close quarters, and therefore in order for me to get revenge for it, you shall die — and so would these other gentleman prisoners, if I might have my will.”

The Captain advised, “Don’t be so rash; take a ransom, and let him live.”

The disguised Duke of Suffolk said, “Look at my George; I am a gentleman. Rate me at whatever you will; you shall be paid.”

A George is a figure of St. George killing a dragon; it is part of the insignia of the Order of the Garter.

Walter Whitmore said, “And so I am and will be; the ransom I want is your life. My name is Walter Whitmore.”

He pronounced “Walter” without the L: “Water.” In this culture, this pronunciation was common.

Hearing this, and remembering the prophecy that he would die “by water,” the Duke of Suffolk flinched, aka started.

Walter Whitmore said, “What! Why did you start? Does death frighten you?”

The Duke of Suffolk said, “Your name frightens me because in its sound is death. A cunning man who could foretell the future cast my horoscope and told me that by water I would die. Yet don’t let this make you be bloody-minded. Your name is the medieval French Gaultier, if it were rightly pronounced.”

“Gaultier or Walter, whichever it is, I don’t care,” Walter Whitmore said, “Never yet did base dishonor blur our name, but with our sword we wiped away the blot. Therefore, when merchant-like I sell my revenge by accepting a ransom, then let my sword be broken, my coat of arms be torn and defaced, and I be proclaimed a coward throughout the world!”

The Duke of Suffolk said, “Wait, Whitmore; for your prisoner is a Prince. I am the Duke of Suffolk, William de la Pole.”

Walter Whitmore said, “The Duke of Suffolk muffled up in rags!”

The Duke of Suffolk replied, “Yes, but these rags are no part of the Duke. The Roman King of the gods, Jove, sometimes went disguised, and so why not I?”

Unfortunately for the Duke of Suffolk, he was greatly disliked by the people of England.

The Captain said, “But Jove was never slain, as you shall be.”

Recognizing the Captain, the Duke of Suffolk said, “You obscure and lowly yokel, King Henry VI’s blood, the honorable blood of the House of Lancaster, must not be shed by such a jaded groom as you.

“Haven’t you kissed your hand to show respect to me and haven’t you held my stirrup?

“Haven’t you bare-headed plodded by my mule as it wore a decorative cloth and thought yourself happy when I shook my head?

“How often have you waited at my cup, fed from my serving-dish, and kneeled down at the table when I have feasted with Queen Margaret?

“Remember it and let it make you crestfallen, yes, and abate your abhorrent and ill-timed pride.

“How often in our waiting-room lobby have you stood and duly waited for me to come forth?

“This hand of mine has written legal testimonials in your behalf, and therefore it shall charm your riotous tongue.”

Such words were insulting, and they were spoken in an insulting voice.

Walter Whitmore said, “Speak, Captain, shall I stab this forlorn swain?”

“First let my words stab him, as he has me,” the Captain said.

“Base, lowly born slave, your words are blunt and harmless and so are you,” the Duke of Suffolk said.

The Captain said, “Convey him away from here and on our longboat’s side strike off his head.”

“You don’t dare, for fear of losing your own head,” the Duke of Suffolk, William de la Pole, said.

“Yes, I do dare, Pole,” the Captain said.

“Pole!” the Duke of Suffolk said, outraged at not being addressed by his title. He regarded as an insult the Captain’s addressing him by his family name.

In this culture, “Pole” was pronounced “Pool.” The Captain made a series of insults, some of them punning on the name. The word “poll” means “head.” The head of a beheaded man was displayed on a pole. “Sir Pol” was a common name for a parrot. A kennel is an open gutter. A sink is a cesspool.

The Captain said, “Pool! Sir Pool! Lord! Yes, kennel, puddle, sink — whose filth and dirt muddies the silver spring where England drinks.

“Now I will dam up your gaping, greedy mouth because it swallowed the treasure of the realm.

“Your lips that kissed the Queen shall sweep the ground.

“And you who smiled at good Duke Humphrey of Gloucester’s death shall grin in vain against the unfeeling winds.”

The Duke of Suffolk’s head would be displayed on a pole in a place open to the weather.

The Captain continued, “These winds in contempt shall hiss at you again, and you shall be wedded to the hags of Hell — the Furies — because you dared to betroth a mighty lord — Henry VI —to the daughter of a worthless King — Reignier — who lacks subjects, wealth, and a diadem.

“By means of Devilish and cunning political intrigue, you have grown great, and, like ambitious Sulla, you have gorged yourself with gobbets — pieces of raw flesh — of your mother country’s bleeding heart.”

Lucius Cornelius Sulla was a Roman General who used his power as Dictator of Rome to kill his enemies.

The Captain continued, “Anjou and Maine were sold to France by you.

“Because of you, the false revolting Normans disdain to call us lord, and the citizens of Picardy have slain their governors, surprised our forts, and sent the ragged soldiers wounded home.

“The Princely Warwick, and all the Nevilles, whose dreadful swords were never drawn in vain, are rising up in arms because they hate you, and now the House of York, thrust from the crown by the shameful murder of the guiltless King Richard II and by lofty proud encroaching tyranny, burns with revenging fire. Their hopeful colors, aka battle flags, raise our half-faced Sun — a Sun bursting through clouds, aka the symbol of Richard II — striving to shine, under which is written ‘Invitis nubibus.’”

The Latin “Invitis nubibus” means “Despite the clouds.”

The Captain continued, “The commoners here in Kent are up in arms.

“And, to conclude, reproach and beggary have crept into the palace of our King Henry VI, and all because of you.

“Take him away! Take him to his death!”

The Duke of Suffolk said, “Oh, I wish that I were a god, to shoot forth thunder upon these paltry, servile, abject drudges! Small things make basely born men proud: This villain here, who is the Captain of a mere pinnace, threatens more than Bargulus, the strong Illyrian pirate.

“Drones don’t suck the blood of eagles, but they do rob beehives. It is impossible that I should die by such a lowly vassal as yourself. Your words move rage and not remorse in me.

“I am carrying a message from Queen Margaret to the King of France. I order you to waft — transport by water — me safely across the Channel.”

The Captain said, “Walter —”

Knowing what the Captain was going to order him to do, Walter Whitmore said, “Come, Suffolk, I must waft you to your death.”

He was identifying himself with Chiron, the mythological figure who ferried souls to the Land of the Dead.

The Duke of Suffolk said, “Gelidus timor occupat artus. It is you I fear.”

Gelidus timor occupat artus” is Latin for “Cold fear seizes my limbs.”

Walter Whitmore said, “You shall have reason to fear before I leave you. Are you daunted now? Now will you stoop to me?”

The first gentleman prisoner said, “My gracious lord, beg him for your life. Speak respectfully to him.”

The Duke of Suffolk replied, “Suffolk’s imperial tongue is stern and rough, used to command, untaught to plead for favor.”

Using the royal plural, he said, “Far be it that we should honor such as these with humble entreaties. No, I would rather let my head stoop to the chopping block than let these knees bow to anyone except to the God of Heaven and to my King. And I would sooner have my chopped-off head dance upon a bloody pole than stand uncovered — with my hand holding my hat in respect — to honor the vulgar groom, aka servant.

“True nobility is exempt from fear. I can bear more than you dare execute.”

The Captain ordered, “Haul him away, and let him talk no more.”

The Duke of Suffolk said, “Come, soldiers, show me what cruelty you can, so that this my death may never be forgotten!

“Great men often die at the hands of vile scoundrels.

“A Roman sword-fighter and outlaw slave murdered sweet Marcus Tullius Cicero, the great Roman orator.

“Brutus’ bastard hand stabbed Julius Caesar.

“Savage islanders murdered Pompey the Great.

“And now Suffolk dies at the hands of pirates.”

The Duke of Suffolk’s education was lacking. Cicero was actually killed by two of Marcus Antony’s soldiers: a centurion named Herennius and a tribune named Pompilius Laena. Brutus was incorrectly thought to be Julius Caesar’s bastard son. Pompey was actually killed by some of his former centurions on the coast of Egypt.

Centurions and tribunes are commanders of the ancient Roman army.

Walter Whitmore and others took the Duke of Suffolk away to be killed.

The Captain said, “And as for these whose ransom we have set, it is our pleasure that one of them depart.

“Therefore come you with us and let him” — he pointed to the first gentleman prisoner — “go.”

Everyone exited except for the first gentleman prisoner.

Walter Whitmore returned, carrying the Duke of Suffolk’s head and body.

He threw them on the ground and said, “There let his head and lifeless body lie, until the Queen his mistress bury them.”

The first gentleman prisoner said, “Oh, barbarous and bloody spectacle! I will carry his corpse to the King. If he doesn’t revenge this death, his friends will. So will the Queen, who regarded him dearly when he was alive.”

He carried away the head and body.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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