David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s 2 HENRY VI: A Retelling in Prose — Act 5, Scenes 2-3 (Conclusion)

— 5.2 —

The first battle of St. Albans was taking place on 22 May 1455. At this particular location, a sign of the Castle, an inn at St. Albans, was displayed.

The Earl of Warwick said, “Lord Clifford of Cumberland, it is Warwick who is calling for you, and if you don’t hide yourself from the bear, then now, as the angry trumpet sounds the battle call and dying men’s cries fill the empty air, Clifford, I say, come forth and fight me.

“Proud northern lord, Clifford of Cumberland, the Earl of Warwick is hoarse with calling you to arms.”

The Duke of York arrived, on foot.

Seeing him, the Earl of Warwick said, “How are you now, my noble lord? What! You are on foot!”

The Duke of York explained, “The deadly handed, death-dealing Lord Clifford slew my steed, but foe to foe I have encountered him and made a prey for carrion kites and crows out of the fine, bonny beast he loved so well.”

Lord Clifford arrived.

The Earl of Warwick said to him, “For one or both of us, the time to die has come.”

“Stop, Warwick,” the Duke of York said, “seek out some other prey, for I myself must hunt this deer to death.”

The Earl of Warwick said, “Then do so nobly, York; you are fighting for a crown.

“I intend, Lord Clifford, to thrive in battle today, and so it grieves my soul to leave you unassailed by me.”

The Earl of Warwick exited.

The Duke of York looked at Lord Clifford instead of immediately fighting him.

“What is it you are seeing in me, York?” Lord Clifford asked. “Why do you pause and not begin to fight?”

“I should love your brave bearing, except that you are so firmly my enemy,” the Duke of York replied.

“Your prowess ought not to lack praise and esteem,” Lord Clifford said, “except it is used ignobly and treasonably.”

The Duke of York said, “So let my prowess help me now against your sword as I in justice and legitimate claim to the throne express and use it.”

Lord Clifford said, “I put both my soul and my body in the fight!”

“A dreadful wager! Prepare to fight immediately,” the Duke of York replied.

The two fought, and the Duke of York mortally wounded Lord Clifford.

La fin couronne les oeuvres,” Lord Clifford said just before dying.

The French sentence meant, “The end crowns the works.”

Lord Clifford meant that he had lived an honorable life and died an honorable death.

The Duke of York said, respectfully, “Thus war has given you peace, for you are still.

“May peace be with his soul, Heaven, if it be your will!”

The Duke of York exited, and young Clifford arrived.

Young Clifford said, “Shame and confusion! All the forces of King Henry VI are being routed. Fear frames disorder, and disorder wounds where it should guard — in all the confusion, we are killing our own soldiers.

“Oh, war, you son of Hell, whom the angry Heavens make their minister of vengeance, throw hot coals of vengeance in the frozen-by-fear bosoms of our army! Let no soldier flee.

“He who is truly dedicated to war has no self-love, and he who loves himself doesn’t have in his own essence but only by circumstance the reputation of being a courageous person. A person who has self-love wants to stay alive.”

He saw his father’s corpse and said, “Oh, let the vile world end, and the preordained flames of the last day knit Earth and Heaven together! Now let the general trumpet blow its blast and proclaim that the end of the world and Doomsday — the Day of Judgment — have arrived. Let personal matters and petty sounds cease!

“Were you fated, dear father, to lose your youth in peace, and to achieve the silver livery — grey hair — of judicious, wise old age, and in your respected state and during your days in which you should be sitting in a chair, thus to die in ruffian battle?

“Now, at this sight of your corpse, my heart has turned to stone, and as long as it is mine, it shall be stony.

“The Duke of York does not spare our old men, and no more will I spare his side’s babes. The tears of virgins shall be to me just like the dew is to fire.”

This culture believed that drops of water made a fire hotter by turning flames into burning coals.

Young Clifford continued, “And beauty, which often subdues the tyrant, shall to my flaming wrath be oil and flax.”

Oil and flax are highly flammable.

He continued, “Henceforth I will have nothing to do with pity. If I meet an infant of the House of York, I will cut it into as many pieces as wild Medea did young Absyrtus, her brother.”

While fleeing in a ship with Jason, Medea murdered her young brother and cut his corpse into pieces that she dropped into the sea. Her father, who was pursuing them, stopped to collect the pieces of his son’s corpse. Through this stratagem, Medea and Jason were able to escape.

Young Clifford continued, “In cruelty I will seek my fame.”

He picked up the body of his father and said, “Come, you new ruin of old Clifford’s house. As Aeneas bore his old father, Anchises, on his shoulders as he fled burning Troy, so I bear you upon my manly shoulders. But then Aeneas bore a living load, who was not as heavy as these woes of mine.”

He exited, carrying the corpse of his father.

Richard and the Duke of Somerset arrived and began to fight.

Richard killed the Duke of Somerset and said, “So, lie there. For underneath an alehouse’s paltry sign, that of the Castle in St. Albans, you, Somerset, have died and made the wizard who predicted your death famous.”

Much earlier, the Duchess of Gloucester, in the presence of a witch, a conjuror (wizard), and two priests, had consulted a spirit about the Duke of Somerset. The spirit had replied, “Let him shun castles. Safer shall he be upon the sandy plains than where castles mounted stand.”

Richard then said, “Sword, hold your temper. Keep your edge; stay sharp. Heart, continue to be wrathful. Priests pray for enemies, but Princes kill.”

The battle continued.

King Henry VI, Queen Margaret, and their attendants knew that they had lost the battle.

Queen Margaret said to King Henry VI, “Flee, my lord! You are slow; for shame, flee away!”

“Can we outrun the Heavens and escape what God sends us?” King Henry VI asked. “Good Margaret, stay.”

“What are you made of?” Queen Margaret asked, exasperated. “You’ll neither fight nor flee. Manhood, wisdom, and defense all agree that the wise thing to do now is to retreat from the enemy and keep ourselves safe by whatever means we can. All we can do is flee.

“If you are captured, then we would see the lowest point of all our fortunes, but if we happen to escape, as well we may, unless your neglect and indifference to taking action keeps us from escaping, we shall go to London, where you are loved and where this breach now made in our fortunes may readily be stopped. We can recover from this defeat.”

Young Clifford arrived and said, “Except that my heart is set on causing future trouble for our enemy, I would speak blasphemy before I would advise you to flee, but flee you must. Hopeless defeat reigns in the hearts of all the remaining fragments of our army.

“Flee, for your deliverance and safety! If you do so, we will live to see their day and give them our misfortune. We will live to have a day of victory like theirs and they will have a day of misfortune like ours.

“Flee, my lord, flee!”

— 5.3 —

The battle was over. Victorious, the Duke of York met with his son Richard and the Earl of Warwick. Soldiers, including a drummer and a soldier holding a battle flag, were present.

The Duke of York said, “Who can report what happened to the Earl of Salisbury, that lion in the winter of old age who in his rage forgets the bruises of old age and all the attacks of time, and who, like a fine fellow with the unwrinkled forehead of youth, restores himself with the opportunity to fight in a battle? This happy day is not itself — not happy — nor have we won one foot of land, if Salisbury is lost to us through death.”

Richard said, “My noble father, three times today I helped him to his horse, and three times today I bestrode him to defend him. Three times today I led him away and persuaded him not to undertake any further action in the battle.

“But still, wherever danger was, there I always met him. And like rich hangings in a plain, simple, homely house, so was his will in his old feeble body.

“But, noble as he is, look at where he is coming here.”

The Earl of Salisbury arrived and said to those present, “Now, by my sword, well have you fought today. By the Mass, so did we all fight well today.

“I thank you, Richard. God knows how long it is I have to live, and it has pleased Him that three times today you have defended me against imminent death.

“Well, lords, we have not got that which we have. We have won a victory, but we have not won a complete victory. It is not enough that our foes have fled this time because they are enemies who are able to regroup and to fight again.”

The Duke of York said, “I know our safest course of action is to follow them, for, as I hear, the King has fled to London, to call an immediate court of Parliament. Let us pursue him before the formal orders to attend Parliament go forth.

“What does Lord Warwick advise? Shall we go after them?”

“After them?” the Earl of Warwick said. “No, before them, if we can.

“Now, by my faith, lords, it was a glorious day. St. Albans’ battle won by famous York shall be famous in all ages to come.

“Let the drums and trumpets sound, and let all of us go to London, and may more such days of victory like these befall us!”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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