David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s 2 HENRY VI: A Retelling — Act 4, Scenes 8-10

— 4.8 —

A battle was being fought at Southwark, a district of London.

Jack Cade ordered, “Up Fish Street! Down Saint Magnus’ Corner! Kill and knock down! Throw them into the Thames River!”

Fish Street was a major approach to London Bridge. Saint Magnus’ Corner was at the lower end of Fish Street and the place where Saint Magnus’ Church stood.

A parley sounded. The Duke of Buckingham and Lord Clifford, who were representatives of King Henry VI, wished to talk to the rebels.

“What noise is this I hear?” Jack Cade said. “Does anyone dare to be so bold to sound either a retreat or a parley, when I command them to kill?”

The Duke of Buckingham and Lord Clifford arrived with many soldiers.

The Duke of Buckingham, who had heard Jack Cade’s second question, replied, “Yes, here are those who dare and will disturb you.

“Know, Cade, we come as ambassadors from the King to the commoners whom you have misled, and here we officially declare free pardon to all who will forsake you and go home in peace.”

Lord Clifford said, “What do you say, countrymen? Will you relent, and will you yield to mercy while it is offered to you? Or will you let a rebel lead you to your deaths?

“Whoever loves the King and will embrace his pardon, let him fling up his cap and cry, ‘God save his majesty!’

“Whoever hates the King and does not honor his father, Henry V, who made all France quake, let him shake his weapon defiantly at us and pass by.”

All of the rebels except Jack Cade flung their caps up in the air and cried, “God save the King! God save the King!”

Jack Cade said, “Buckingham and Clifford, are you so daring? And you, base peasants, do you believe him? Will you have to be hanged with your worthless pardons about your necks? Has my sword broken through London gates so that you would leave me at the White Hart Inn where I am residing in Southwark? I thought you would never have surrendered these weapons until you had recovered your ancient freedom, but you are all recreants and despicable people, and you delight to live in slavery to the nobility.

“Let them break your backs with burdens, take your houses over your heads, and rape your wives and daughters in front of your faces. As for me, I will look out for myself, and so may God’s curse fall upon you all!”

All of the rebels shouted, “We’ll follow Cade! We’ll follow Cade!”

Lord Clifford asked, “Is Cade the son of Henry V? Is that why you exclaim you’ll go with him? Will he conduct you through the heart of France, and make the lowest born of you Earls and Dukes?

“Alas, he has no home, no place to fly to, nor does he know how to live except by pillaging, unless he makes his living by robbing your friends and us.

“Wouldn’t it be a shame, if while you live as rebels, the fearsome French, whom you recently vanquished, would make a start over seas and vanquish you? I think already in this civil broil I see them lording it in London streets, crying ‘Villiago!’ — ‘Villain!’ — at all whom they meet.

“It is better that ten thousand lowly born Cades die than that you should kneel to a Frenchman’s mercy.

“Go to France, go to France, and get what you have lost. Spare England, for it is your native coast. King Henry VI has money, you are strong and manly, and God is on our side, so don’t doubt that you will be victorious.”

All the rebels except Jack Cade shouted, “Clifford! Clifford! We’ll follow the King and Clifford.”

Jack Cade thought, Was a feather ever so lightly blown to and fro as this multitude? The name of King Henry V drags them to a hundred deeds I don’t like, and it makes them leave me desolate. I see them lay their heads together as they plot to capture me. My sword must make a way for me, for there is no staying here.

He said out loud, “In despite of the Devils and Hell, I will make my way through the middle of you! May the Heavens and honor be my witnesses that no lack of resolution in me, but only my followers’ base and ignominious treasons, makes me take myself to my heels.”

He dashed through the crowd of rebels and escaped.

The Duke of Buckingham said, “Has he fled? Go, some of you, and follow him. Whoever brings his head to the King shall have a thousand crowns for his reward.”

Some of the rebels exited.

The Duke of Buckingham added, “Follow me, soldiers. We’ll devise a way to reconcile you all to King Henry VI.”

— 4.9 —

Trumpets sounded, and King Henry VI, Queen Margaret, and the Duke of Somerset, plus some attendants, appeared on the wall of Kenilworth Castle.

King Henry VI said, “Was there ever a King who enjoyed an Earthly throne and could command no more content than I? As soon as I had crept out of my cradle at nine months old, I was made a King. Never has a subject longed to be a King as I long and wish to be a subject.”

The Duke of Buckingham and Lord Clifford arrived.

The Duke of Buckingham shouted to King Henry VI, “Health and glad tidings to your majesty!”

King Henry VI asked, “Buckingham, has the traitor Cade been captured? Or did he make a strategic retreat to make himself strong?”

The rebels, wearing nooses around their necks as a sign of submission, arrived.

Lord Clifford said, “Jack Cade has fled, my lord, and all his soldiers yield, and humbly so, with nooses on their necks. They await your highness’ judgment of life or death.”

King Henry VI said, “Then, Heaven, set open your everlasting gates to entertain my vows of thanks and praise!

“Soldiers, this day you have redeemed your lives, and showed how well you love your Prince and country. Continue always in this so good a mind, and assure yourselves that Henry, although he is unfortunate, will never be unkind. And so, with thanks and pardon to you all, I dismiss you so you can return to your different counties.”

The rebels shouted, “God save the King! God save the King!”

The rebels exited.

A messenger arrived and said, “If it pleases your grace to be informed, know that the Duke of York has just come from Ireland, and with a powerful and mighty army of gallowglasses, aka heavily armed Irish soldiers, and fierce kerns, aka lightly armed Irish soldiers, he is marching here in proud array, and he continually proclaims as he comes along that his weapons are only to be used to remove from you the Duke of Somerset, whom he calls a traitor.”

King Henry VI said, “Thus stands my distressed country, between Cade and York. It is like a ship that, having escaped a tempest, is immediately calmed and then boarded by a pirate.

“Just now Cade was driven back and his men dispersed, and now York has come with weapons to take Cade’s place.

“I request that you, Buckingham, go and meet him, and ask him what’s the reason for these weapons of his. Tell him I’ll send Edmund Beaufort, the Duke of Somerset, to the Tower of London.

“Duke of Somerset, we’ll commit you to the Tower until the Duke of York’s army is dismissed from him.”

The Duke of Somerset said, “My lord, I’ll yield myself to prison willingly, or to death, to do my country good.”

King Henry VI said to the Duke of Buckingham, “In any case, don’t be too harsh in the discussion you have with the Duke of York, for he is fierce and cannot endure hard language.”

“I will do as you say, my lord,” the Duke of Buckingham replied, “and I don’t doubt that I will arrange matters so that they shall turn out to be for your good.”

King Henry VI said to Queen Margaret, “Come, wife, let’s go in, and learn to govern better, for England may yet curse my wretched reign.”

— 4.10 —

Jack Cade stood in the garden of Alexander Iden in Kent.

He said to himself, “Damn ambition! Damn myself, who has a sword, and yet is almost starved to death! These five days I have hidden in the woods outside this garden and have not dared to peep out, for all the country is looking for me, but now I am so hungry that even if I might have a lease of my life for a thousand years I still could stay no longer in the woods and starve.

“Because of my hunger, I have climbed over a brick wall into this garden to see if I can eat plants, or pick a sallet again, which is not amiss to cool a man’s stomach this hot weather.”

Despite his hunger, Jack Cade was still able to engage in word play. The phrase “a sallet” meant both 1) a salad, and 2) a type of helmet.

He said to himself, “I think this word ‘sallet’ was born to do me good, for many a time, except for a sallet, my brainpan would had been cleft with a halberd, and many a time, when I have been thirsty and bravely marching, it has served me instead of a quart pot to drink in; and now the word ‘sallet’ must serve me to feed on.”

Alexander Iden entered his garden.

Not seeing Jack Cade, he said to himself, “Lord, who would live troubled in the court, when he instead may enjoy such quiet walks as these? This small inheritance my father left me makes me content and happy, and to me it is worth a monarchy. I don’t seek to grow great by other people’s waning, or to gather wealth by any evil means possible. It is enough that what I have maintains my well-being and sends the poor from my gate well pleased with the alms I have given them.”

Jack Cade said to himself, Here’s the lord of the soil come to seize me for a stray, for entering his fee-simple without leave.

Alexander Iden owned the estate in fee-simple. It was his private possession in perpetuity unless he sold it. The owner of a private estate was permitted to take possession of any stray animals that wandered onto his property.

Jack Cade said to Alexander Iden, “Ah, villain, you will betray me, and get a thousand crowns from the King for carrying my head to him, but I’ll make you eat iron like an ostrich, and swallow my sword like a great pin, before you and I part.”

People in this culture believed that ostriches swallowed iron nails.

Alexander Iden said, “Why, rude fellow, whoever you are, I don’t know you. Why, then, should I betray you? Isn’t it enough to break into my garden, and, like a thief, to come to rob my grounds, climbing over my walls in spite of me the owner? Must you also defy me with these insolent words?”

Jack Cade replied, “Defy you! Yes, by the best blood — that of Christ — that ever was shed, and I will pull your beard, too. Look well at me. I have eaten no food these five days, yet if you and your five men attack me, if I do not leave you all as dead as a doornail, then I pray to God I may never eat plants anymore.”

The phrase “your five men” was an insult. Jack Cade was implying that Alexander Iden had no more than five men working on his estate.

Alexander Iden said, “It shall never be said, while England stands, that Alexander Iden, an esquire of Kent, took advantage of superiority of numbers to combat a poor famished man.”

An esquire held the rank of a gentleman just below that of a knight.

He continued, “Oppose your steadfast-gazing eyes to mine, and see if you can stare me down with your looks. Compare us limb to limb, and you will see that you are far the lesser. Your hand is only a finger compared to my fist. Your leg is only a stick compared with this truncheon — thick club — that is my leg. My foot shall fight with all the strength you have, and if my arm is lifted in the air, then your grave is already dug in the earth.

“As for words, whose greatness answers words, let this my sword report what speech forbears. Big words answer big words, but I will let my sword say what words cannot say.”

Jack Cade replied, “By my valor, you are the most complete champion whom I ever heard!”

He then said to his sword, “Steel, if you blunt your edge, or don’t cut the burly boned country boor into joints of beef before you sleep in your sheath, I will beg God on my knees that you may be melted down and turned into hobnails for shoes.”

The two men fought with swords, and Alexander Iden mortally wounded Jack Cade.

Jack Cade cried, “Oh, I am slain! Famine and no one else has slain me. Let ten thousand Devils come against me, and give me just the ten meals I have not eaten the past five days, and I’ll defy them all. Wither, garden, and be henceforth a cemetery to all who dwell in this house because the unconquered soul of Cade is fleeing.”

Alexander Iden said, “Is it Jack Cade whom I have slain, that monstrous traitor?

“Sword, I will hallow and glorify you for this deed of yours, and I will have you hung over my tomb when I am dead. Never shall this blood be wiped from your point, but you shall wear it like a herald’s red coat to emblaze and proclaim publicly like a coat of arms the honor that your master has gotten.”

“Iden, farewell, and be proud of your victory,” Jack Cade said. “Tell the region of Kent from me that she has lost her best man, and exhort all the people in the world to be cowards, for I, who never feared anyone, have been vanquished by famine, not by valor.”

He died.

Alexander Iden said, “How much you have wronged me, let Heaven be my judge. Die, damned wretch, the curse of her who gave birth to you, and as I pierce your body with my sword” — he did just that — “so wish I that I might thrust your soul to Hell.

“I drag your corpse by the heels with your head dragging from here to a dunghill that shall be your grave, and there I will cut off your most graceless and wicked head, which I will bear in triumph to the King, leaving your trunk for crows to feed upon.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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