David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s 2 HENRY VI: A Retelling in Prose — Act 5, Scene 1

— 5.1 —

In the fields between Dartford and Blackheath, the Duke of York and his army of Irish soldiers stood. Drummers and soldiers holding battle flags were present.

The Duke of York said to himself, “From Ireland thus come I, York, to claim my right to be King of England, and pluck the crown from feeble Henry VI’s head. Ring, bells, aloud, and burn, bonfires, clear and bright, to welcome great England’s lawful King.

“Ah! Sancta majestas— sacred majesty — who would not buy you at a high price?

“Let them obey who don’t know how to rule. This hand was made to handle nothing but gold. I cannot give due action to my words, unless a sword or scepter balance my hand. My hand shall have a scepter, I swear as I have a soul, and on that scepter I’ll impale the flower-de-luce — the heraldic lily — of France.”

He saw the Duke of Buckingham coming toward him.

“Whom have we here?” the Duke of York asked. “Buckingham, to disturb me? The King has sent him, I am sure. I must dissemble and deceive him.”

“York, if you mean well, I greet you well,” the Duke of Buckingham said.

“Humphrey, Duke of Buckingham, I accept your greeting. Are you a messenger, or have you come at your own pleasure?”

“I am a messenger from King Henry VI, our dread-inspiring liege in order to learn the reason for these weapons in a time of peace, and the reason why you, being a subject as I am, against your oath and the true and loyal allegiance you have sworn, should raise so great an army without your King’s leave, and the reason why you dare to bring your army so near the King’s court.”

The Duke of York thought, I can scarcely speak because my anger is so great. Oh, I could hack up rocks and fight with flint because I am so angry at these abject terms he used to describe me — am I a subject! And now, like Ajax Telamonius, I could expend my fury on sheep or oxen the way he did after the armor of Achilles was awarded to Odysseus instead of to him, the rightful claimant, during the Trojan War. I am far better born than is King Henry VI. My claim to the throne is better. I am more like a King and more Kingly in my thoughts, but I must make fair weather and pretend to be friendly yet a while longer, until Henry is weaker and I am stronger.

He said out loud, “Buckingham, I ask you to pardon me because I have given you no answer all this while. My mind was troubled with deep melancholy. The reason why I have brought this army here is to remove proud Somerset from the King. The Duke of Somerset is seditious to his grace the King and to the state.”

“That is too much presumption on your part,” the Duke of Buckingham said. “But if your weapons have no other purpose, know that the King has yielded to your demand: The Duke of Somerset is imprisoned in the Tower of London.”

“Upon your honor, is he really a prisoner?” the Duke of York asked.

“Upon my honor, he is really a prisoner,” the Duke of Buckingham replied.

The Duke of York said, “Then, Buckingham, I dismiss my army.

“Soldiers, I thank you all. Disperse yourselves. Meet me tomorrow in St. George’s field. You shall have pay and everything you wish.

“And Buckingham, let my sovereign, virtuous Henry VI, be entrusted with my eldest son — no, with all my sons — as pledges of my obedience and love. I’ll send them all to him as willingly as I am willing to live. Lands, goods, horses, armor, anything I have, are the King’s to use, as long as the Duke of Somerset dies.”

The Duke of Buckingham replied, “York, I commend and praise your kind submission. We two will go into his highness’ tent.”

The two men locked arms together.

King Henry VI and some attendants arrived.

The King said, “Buckingham, does York intend no harm to us? I see that he is marching with you arm in arm.”

The two men unlocked arms, and the Duke of York said, “In all submission and humility, I, York, present myself to your highness.”

King Henry VI said, “Then what is the purpose of these soldiers you have brought?”

The Duke of York replied, “To heave the traitor Somerset away from here, and to fight against that monstrous rebel Cade, who since I arrived I have heard to be defeated and overthrown.”

Alexander Iden arrived; he was carrying Jack Cade’s head.

Alexander Iden said to King Henry VI, “If one so uncultivated and of such a low condition may pass into the presence of a King, here I present to your grace a traitor’s head, the head of Cade, whom I in combat slew.”

“The head of Cade!” King Henry VI said. “Great God, how just You are! Oh, let me view his visage, now dead, that while living wrought me such exceeding trouble.

“Tell me, my friend, are you the man who slew him?”

“I was, if it please your majesty.”

“What is your name?” King Henry VI asked. “What rank are you?”

“My name is Alexander Iden. I am a poor esquire of Kent, and I love and honor my King.”

The Duke of Buckingham said, “So please it you, my lord, it is not amiss that he be created a knight as a reward for his good service.”

King Henry VI said, “Iden, kneel down.”

He knelt.

King Henry VI tapped Alexander Iden’s shoulders with a sword and said, “Rise up a knight, Sir Alexander Iden. We give you a thousand marks as a reward, and we command that you henceforth serve us.”

“May Iden live to merit such a bounty and never live otherwise than as loyal to his liege!” Sir Alexander Iden said.

Queen Margaret arrived with the Duke of Somerset, who had been imprisoned in the Tower of London.

Seeing them, King Henry VI whispered to the Duke of Buckingham, “Look, Buckingham, Somerset is coming here with the Queen. Go, tell her to hide him quickly from the Duke of York.”

Queen Margaret, who had heard him, said, “He shall not hide his head on account of a thousand Yorks, but instead he will boldly stand and face him.”

The Duke of York said, “What is this? Is Somerset at liberty? Then, York, unloose your long-imprisoned thoughts, and let your tongue be equal with your heart. Shall I endure the sight of Somerset?

“Lying King! Why have you broken your word to me, knowing how badly I can endure being deceived?

“Did I call you King? No, you are not a King. You are not fit to govern and rule multitudes — not you, who dare not, and cannot, rule a traitor such as the Duke of Somerset.

“That head of yours does not become a crown. Your hand was made to grasp a palmer’s staff — the staff of a religious pilgrim — and not to grace an awe-inspiring Princely scepter.

“That gold crown you are wearing must round engirt these brows of mine. My smile and frown, like Achilles’ spear, is able with the change to kill and cure. Achilles’ spear could inflict a mortal wound and according to folklore, cure the mortal wound it inflicted. Achilles’ spear wounded Telephus, and then the rust of the spear cured Telephus. My frown can kill; my smile can cure.

“Here is a hand worthy to hold a scepter up and with the same to enact controlling laws.

“Give way to me. By Heaven, you shall rule no more over me, whom Heaven created to be your ruler.”

The Duke of Somerset said, “You monstrous traitor! I arrest you, York, on a charge of capital treason against the King and crown. Obey, audacious traitor; kneel for grace and mercy.”

“Would you have me kneel?” the Duke of York said. “First let me ask these knees of mine if they can endure my bowing a knee to any man.

“Sirrah, call in my sons to be my bail.”

One of his attendants exited.

The Duke of York continued, “I know that before they will have me go into custody, they’ll pawn their swords for my freedom.”

Queen Margaret ordered, “Call Clifford here! Tell him to come in all haste to say if the bastard boys of York shall be the surety for their traitor father.”

The Duke of Buckingham exited.

The Duke of York said to Queen Margaret, “Oh, blood-besotted Neapolitan, outcast of Naples, England’s bloody scourge!”

Queen Margaret’s father was the titular King of Naples.

The Duke of York continued, “The sons of York, your betters in their birth, shall be their father’s bail, and they shall be bane — ruination — to those who will refuse to allow the boys to be my surety!”

Two of his sons — Edward and Richard — entered the room. In the future, they would be King Edward IV and King Richard III.

The Duke of York said, “See where my sons are coming here. I’ll warrant they’ll make it good.”

“Make it good” was ambiguous. It could mean 1) “be their father’s bail” or 2) “be bane — ruination — to those who will refuse to allow the boys to be my surety.”

Lord Clifford and his son, young Clifford, entered the room.

Queen Margaret said, “And here comes Lord Clifford to deny their bail for you.”

Lord Clifford knelt before King Henry VI and said, “Health and all happiness to my lord the King!”

The Duke of York said, “I thank you, Clifford. What news do you have?”

Clifford was loyal to King Henry VI, and so he became angry when he heard the Duke of York’s words.

Using the royal plural, the Duke of York said, “No, do not frighten us with an angry look. We are your sovereign, Clifford, so kneel again. We pardon you for mistakenly kneeling to Henry.”

“Henry VI is my King, York,” Lord Clifford angrily replied. “I have not made a mistake, but you are much mistaken if you think that I have made a mistake.

“Take this man — York — to Bedlam, the Bethlehem Hospital for the Insane in London! Has the man grown mad?”

“Yes, Clifford,” King Henry VI replied. “A bedlam — insane — and ambitious disposition makes the Duke of York oppose himself against his King.”

“He is a traitor,” Lord Clifford said. “Let him be taken to the Tower of London, and chop away that rebellious head of his.”

“He has been arrested, but he will not obey,” Queen Margaret said. “His sons, he says, shall give their words and be the surety for him.”

“You will, won’t you, sons?” the Duke of York said to his two sons who were present.

Edward replied, “Yes, noble father, if our words will serve.”

Richard added, “And if our words will not serve, then our weapons shall.”

“Why, what a brood of traitors have we here!” Lord Clifford said.

“Look in a glass, and call your image a traitor,” the Duke of York said. “I am your King, and you are a false-heart traitor.”

He then ordered, “Call here to the stake my two brave bears, who with just the shaking of their chains may fill these dangerous-lurking curs with wonder.

“Tell Salisbury and Warwick to come to me.”

The Duke of York called the Earl of Salisbury and his son, the Earl of Warwick, bears because their heraldic crest was a rampant — standing with its forefeet in the air — bear. The bear was chained to a knobby staff.

The Earl of Salisbury and the Earl of Warwick were very near and arrived immediately.

Lord Clifford said to the Duke of York, “Are these your bears? We’ll bait your bears to death and manacle the bear-keeper — you — in their chains, if you dare to bring them to the baiting place.”

Bear-baiting was a “sport” in which a bear was tied to a stake and then tormented by dogs.

Richard replied, “Often I have seen a hot overweening cur run back and bite its owner, because the owner was holding him back from the bear. The dog, once loose, got wounded by the bear’s deadly paw and clapped its tail between its legs and yelped, and the same thing will happen to you if you oppose yourselves to and try to fight Lord Warwick.”

Lord Clifford replied to Richard, “Go away, you heap of wrath, you foul improperly formed lump, you who are as crooked in your manners as in your shape!”

Richard’s back was crooked as a result of scoliosis.

The Duke of York said, “We shall heat you thoroughly soon.”

The heat would be the heat of battle.

“Take care, lest by your heat you burn yourselves,” Lord Clifford replied.

King Henry VI said, “Why, Earl of Warwick, has your knee forgotten to bow?

“Old Earl of Salisbury, shame to your silver hair, you mad misleader of your brain-sick son! Will you on your deathbed play the ruffian, and seek for sorrow with your eyes? You are an old man and soon to die, so why seek trouble through the eyeglasses of an old man?

“Oh, where is faith? Oh, where is loyalty? If it has been banished from the frosty-haired head of an old man, where shall it find a harbor on the Earth?

“Will you go and dig a grave in seeking out war, and shame your honorable age with blood?

“Why are you old, and lack wisdom? Or why do you abuse your wisdom, if you have it?

“For shame! Out of your duty to me, bend your knee to me — your knee that is bowing to the grave with great old age.”

The Earl of Salisbury said, “My lord, I have carefully considered the title and claim of this most renowned Duke of York to the throne, and in my conscience I do consider his grace to be the rightful heir to England’s royal seat.”

“Haven’t you sworn allegiance to me?” King Henry VI asked.

“I have,” the Earl of Salisbury replied.

“Can you get forgiveness from Heaven for breaking such an oath?” King Henry VI asked.

“It is a great sin to swear a sinful oath, but it is a greater sin to keep a sinful oath,” the Earl of Salisbury replied. “Who can be bound by any solemn vow to do a murderous deed, to rob a man, to rape a spotless virgin and take her chastity, to bereave the orphan of his patrimony, to wring from the widow her right that is in accordance with custom to inherit part of her husband’s estate, and have no other reason for this wrong except that he was bound by a solemn oath?”

Queen Margaret said, “A subtle and cunning traitor needs no sophist — no specious reasoner.”

King Henry VI ordered, “Call the Duke of Buckingham, and tell him to arm himself.”

The Duke of York said, “Call Buckingham and all the friends you have. I am resolved to have either death or the dignity of high office. Either I will die, or I will be King.”

“The first — death — I promise you, if dreams prove to be true,” Lord Clifford said.

“It is best for you to go to bed and dream again,” the Earl of Warwick said. “You ought to keep yourself from the tempest of the battlefield.”

Lord Clifford said, “I am resolved to bear a greater storm than any you can conjure up today, and that I’ll write upon your burgonet, if I might know you by your household badge — your distinctive emblem.”

A burgonet is a helmet with a visor. On top of the helmet is the family crest — the distinctive emblem of the family.

The Earl of Warwick said, “Now, by my father’s badge, old Neville’s crest, which is a rampant bear chained to a ragged staff, this day I’ll wear it on top of my burgonet, just as on a mountain top the cedar — a symbol of royalty — stands and keeps its leaves in spite of any storm. I will do this in order to frighten you when you see my crest.”

Lord Clifford replied, “And from your burgonet I’ll rend your bear and tread it under foot with all contempt, despite the bear-keeper who protects the bear.”

Young Clifford said, “And so let’s go to arms, victorious father, to quell the rebels and their accomplices.”

“Ha!” Richard said. “Show some charity! Don’t be shameful! Don’t speak spitefully, for you shall eat with Jesus Christ tonight.”

“You foul and misshapen individual, that’s more than you can know and tell,” young Clifford said.

“If not in Heaven, you’ll surely eat in Hell,” Richard replied.

The two sides exited in different directions.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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