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

— 4.2 —

At Blackheath, Kent, two people named George Bevis and John Holland talked together. They were carrying staves — wooden boards, and they were waiting for Jack Cade and his rebels to arrive.

George Bevis said, “Come, and get yourself a sword, although it is made of thin wood. The rebels have been up these past two days.”

George Bevis meant “up in arms,” but Holland pretended he meant “up and out of bed.”

Holland said, “They have the more need to sleep now, then.”

George Bevis said, “I tell you, Jack Cade the clothier means to dress the commonwealth, and turn it, and set a new nap upon it.”

A clothier makes woolen cloth. George Bevis was saying that Jack Cade was going to reform the commonwealth the way that a tailor could make old clothing seem new: turn it inside out, and give it a new surface, aka nap.

“He needs to do that, for the commonwealth is threadbare,” Holland said. “Well, I say it was never a merry world in England since gentlemen rose in rank and power.”

“Oh, what a miserable age!” George Bevis said. “Virtue is not regarded in handicraftsmen. We skilled workers are not valued.”

“The nobility think it is degrading to wear leather aprons,” Holland said.

“What’s more, the King’s Council are not good workmen,” George Bevis said.

“True,” Holland said, “and yet it is said, labor in your vocation, which is as much to say as, let the magistrates be laboring men; and therefore we laboring men should be magistrates.”

“You have hit the target,” George Bevis said, “for there’s no better sign of a fine, splendid mind than a hard, calloused hand.”

Seeing the rebels approaching, Holland said, “I see them! I see them! There’s the son of Best, the tanner of Wingham —”

“He shall have the skin of our enemies, to make dog’s-leather of,” George Bevis said.

Dog’s-leather was dogskin, a kind of leather used to make gloves.

“And there’s Dick the Butcher —” Holland said.

“Then is sin struck down like an ox, and iniquity’s throat cut like a calf,” George Bevis said.

“And there’s Smith the Weaver —” Holland said.

Argo, their thread of life is spun,” George Bevis said.

Argo” was an uneducated person’s way of saying “Ergo,” which is Latin for “Therefore.”

“Come, come, let’s fall in with them,” Holland said.

Jack Cade, Dick the Butcher, Smith the Weaver, a sawyer — a person who saws wood — and many other rebels arrived.

Using the royal plural, Jack Cade said, “We, John Cade, so named for our supposed father —”

Dick the Butcher and the other rebels knew who Jack Cade was. He was a man just like them, a rebel who was not royalty, although he was pretending to be royalty — and he and they knew that he was pretending.

Dick the Butcher said, “Or rather, so named for stealing a cade of herrings.”

A “cade” is a barrel.

Jack Cade said, “For our enemies shall fall before us, inspired with the spirit of putting down Kings and Princes.

He then ordered, “Command silence.”

Dick the Butcher shouted, “Silence!”

Jack Cade said, “My father was a Mortimer —”

Mortimer was supposed to have a better claim to the throne than King Henry VI, but Jack Cade’s father was a mortarer, a person who laid bricks. Jack Cade’s father was not a Mortimer.

Dick the Butcher said, “He was an honest man, and a good bricklayer.”

Jack Cade said, “My mother was a Plantagenet —”

A “jennet” is a lance, so his mother was a woman who knew about planting a particular phallic-shaped object, an act that sometimes results in the production of babies when an actual phallus is used.

Dick the Butcher said, “I knew her well; she was a midwife.”

Jack Cade said, “My wife was descended from the family known as the Lacies —”

Dick the Butcher said, “She was, indeed, a peddler’s daughter, and sold many laces.”

Smith the Weaver said, “But now of late, not able to travel with her furred pack, she washes bucks here at home.”

A “furred pack” is a peddler’s pack with the fur on the outside. To “wash bucks” meant to wash loads of soiled clothing. ” The word “buck” means “laundry.”

Smith the Weaver’s words had a bawdy sense. To “travel with a furred pack” meant to “labor as a prostitute.” A “pack” is a container, and a “furred pack” is a vulva (including the opening of the vagina) with pubic hair; a vagina can be a container for a penis. A “buck” is a strapping young man, and to “wash bucks” means to get them — that is, a certain part of their body — wet.

Jack Cade said, “Therefore I am of an honorable house.”

Dick the Butcher said, “Yes, by my faith, the field is honorable, and there was he born, under a hedge, because his father never had a house except the cage.”

The “cage” is a prison for petty criminals.

“Valiant I am,” Jack Cade said.

Smith the Weaver said, “He must needs be valiant; for beggary is valiant.”

“Valiant beggars” were able-bodied beggars; it was against the law to give alms to them. The penalty for able-bodied people who were caught begging was a whipping.

Jack Cade said, “I am able to endure much.”

Dick the Butcher said, “There is no question about that; for I have seen him whipped three market-days without intermission.”

“I fear neither sword nor fire,” Jack Cade said.

Smith the Weaver said, “He need not fear the sword; for his coat is of proof. His coat has had so much liquor spilled on it that it is obvious that Jack Cade is always too drunk to fear anything.”

Dick the Butcher said, “But I think he should stand in fear of fire because he was burnt on the hand for the stealing of sheep. His hand was branded with a ‘T’ for ‘Thief.’”

Jack Cade said, “Be brave, then; for your captain is brave, and vows reformation of the commonwealth. There shall be in England seven halfpenny loaves sold for a penny — you will get more bread for your money. The three-hooped pot shall have ten hoops — you shall get more beer. I will make it a felony to drink small beer; instead of small beer, which is weak, you shall drink strong beer. All the realm shall be common property. In Cheapside — London’s main market area — my horse shall go to eat grass, and when I am King, as King I will be —”

All the rebels present shouted, “God save your majesty!”

“I thank you, good people,” Jack Cade said. “There shall be no money; all shall eat and drink at my expense, and I will clothe them all in one livery so that they may agree like brothers and worship me their lord.”

Dick the Butcher said, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”

Jack Cade said, “I intend to do that. Isn’t this a lamentable thing, that the skin of an innocent lamb should be made into parchment, which, being scribbled over, should undo and ruin a man? Some say the bee stings, but I say that it is the bee’s wax that is used to seal legal documents that stings because I signed and sealed a legal document only once, and I have never been my own man since.”

He heard a noise and said, “What’s happening! Who’s there?”

Some rebels came forward, bringing with them a prisoner: the Clerk of Chatham. Clerks were learned men who could read, write, and do arithmetic. Clerks were also often schoolteachers.

Smith the Weaver said, “This is the Clerk of Chatham: He can write and read and do arithmetic.”

“Oh, monstrous!” Jack Cade said.

Smith the Weaver said, “We captured him while he was preparing samples of handwriting for schoolboys to copy.”

“Here’s a villain!” Jack Cade said.

Smith the Weaver said, “He has a book in his pocket with red letters in it.”

Almanacs, which were consulted by astrologers, had certain dates printed in red. Schoolbooks had capital letters printed in red.

Jack Cade said, “So then he is a conjurer.”

Dick the Butcher said, “He can make obligations, aka bonds, and write court-handwriting, which is used for legal documents.”

“I am sorry to hear it,” Jack Cade said. “The man is a proper man, a good-looking man, on my honor; unless I find him guilty, he shall not die.

“Come here, sirrah, I must examine you. What is your name?”

“Sirrah” was used to address a person of lower social standing than the speaker.

The Clerk replied, “Emmanuel.”

Dick the Butcher said, “They write ‘Emmanuel’ on the top of letters. It will go hard with you.”

Emmanuelis a Hebrew word that means “God is with us.”

“Don’t interrupt me,” Jack Cade said.

Then he asked the Clerk, “Do you write your name? Or do you sign your name with a mark, like an honest plain-dealing man?”

The Clerk said, “Sir, I thank God that I have been so well brought up that I can write my name.”

The rebels shouted, “He has confessed. Away with him! He’s a villain and a traitor.”

“Away with him, I say!” Jack Cade shouted. “Hang him with his pen and inkhorn about his neck.”

The inkhorn was used to hold ink for writing.

A rebel took the Clerk away.

A rebel named Michael arrived and asked, “Where’s our General?”

Jack Cade replied, “Here I am, you particular fellow.”

“Flee, flee, flee!” Michael said. “Sir Humphrey Stafford and his brother are close by, with the King’s forces.”

“Stand, villain, stand, or I’ll fell you down,” Jack Cade said. “He shall be encountered with a man as good as himself. He is only a knight, isn’t he?”

Michael replied, “He is no better.”

Jack Cade said, “To equal him, I will make myself a knight right now.”

He knelt and then said, “Rise up, Sir John Mortimer.”

He stood up and said, “Now let me at him!”

Sir Humphrey Stafford and William Stafford arrived, along with a drummer and some soldiers.

Sir Humphrey Stafford said to the rebels, “Rebellious peasants, the filth and scum of Kent, marked from birth for the gallows, lay your weapons down; go home to your cottages, forsake this servant named Jack Cade. The King is merciful, if you revolt against Jack Cade and again swear allegiance to your King.”

William Stafford said, “But the King will be angry, wrathful, and inclined to blood, if you go forward and continue to rebel against him; therefore yield, or die.”

Jack Cade said, “As for these silken-coated slaves, the Staffords, I care not. It is to you, good people, whom I speak, and over whom, in time to come, I hope to reign, for I am the rightful heir to the crown.”

Sir Humphrey Stafford said, “Villain, your father was a plasterer, and you yourself are a shearman, aren’t you?”

A shearman cuts off the extra nap from wool cloth.

Jack Cade said, “And Adam was a gardener.”

A proverb stated, “When Adam delved and Eve span, / Who was then the gentleman?”

Adam and Eve were the first human beings. After being cast out of the Garden of Eden, they had to work in order to survive.

To “delve” is to plow. “Span” is the past tense of “spin.” Spinning is part of the process of making cloth.

William Stafford asked, “And what of that?”

Jack Cade replied, “By the Virgin Mary, this: Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March, married the Duke of Clarence’s daughter, didn’t he?”

Sir Humphrey Stafford replied, “Yes, sir.”

“By her he had two children at one birth,” Jack Cade said.

“That’s false,” William Stafford said.

“There’s the question,” Jack Cade said, “but I say that it is true. The elder of them, being put to nurse, was by a beggar-woman stolen away, and, ignorant of his birth and parentage, he became a bricklayer when he came to age. I am his son. Deny it, if you can.”

Dick the Butcher said, “It is very true; therefore, he shall be King.”

Smith the Weaver said, “Sir, he made a chimney in my father’s house, and the bricks are alive at this day to testify to it; therefore, don’t deny it.”

Sir Humphrey Stafford said, “And will you credit the words of this base drudge, who doesn’t know what he is saying?”

The rebels said, “By the Virgin Mary, we will; therefore, get you gone. Leave.”

William Stafford said, “Jack Cade, the Duke of York has taught you to say this.”

Jack Cade said quietly so only the rebels could hear, “He lies, for I invented it myself.”

He then said out loud, “Bah, sirrah, tell the King from me that for the sake of his father, King Henry V, in whose time boys went to span-counter for French crowns, I am content that he shall reign, but I’ll be Lord Protector over him.”

King Henry V won many notable victories over the French. The English and the French fought man to man.

Span-counter is a game in which boys throw counters with the object of throwing their counter close to — within a hand-span — of the other boy’s counter.

Dick the Butcher said, “And furthermore, we’ll have the Lord Say’s head for selling the Dukedom of Maine.”

Jack Cade said, “And for good reason; for thereby is England mained — I mean, maimed — and obliged to go about with a staff, except that my power holds it up.”

He said to the rebels, “Fellow Kings, I tell you that the Lord Say has gelded the commonwealth, and made it a eunuch, and more than that, he can speak French, and therefore he is a traitor.”

Sir Humphrey Stafford said, “Oh, gross and miserable ignorance!”

Jack Cade said, “Answer this, if you can: The Frenchmen are our enemies. And so, then, I ask only this: Can he who speaks with the tongue of an enemy be a good counselor, or not?”

The rebels shouted, “He cannot, and therefore we’ll have his head.”

William Stafford said to his brother, “Well, seeing that gentle words will not prevail, assail them with the army of the King.”

Sir Humphrey Stafford ordered, “Herald, go; and throughout every town proclaim to be traitors those who are up in arms with Jack Cade so that those who flee before the battle ends may, even in their wives’ and children’s sight, be hanged up at their doors as an example to others.

“Those of you who are the King’s friends, follow me.”

Sir Humphrey Stafford and William Stafford exited with their drummer and soldiers.

Jack Cade said to the rebels, “And you who love the commoners, follow me. Now show yourselves to be men; it is for liberty. We will not leave one lord, one gentleman, alive. Spare none except such men as go about in shoes with hobnails, for they are thrifty and honest men, and such as would, except that they dare not, take our parts.”

Dick the Butcher said, “They are all in order and march toward us. They are drawn up in military formation.”

Jack Cade said, “But then we are in order when we are most out of order.”

He and the rebels were most in order — in military formation — when they were most out of order — rebelling against the King.

Jack Cade ordered, “Come, march forward.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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