David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s 3 HENRY VI: A Retelling in Prose — Act 1, Scenes 3-4

— 1.3 —

On 30 December 1460, the Battle of Wakefield was taking place. One of the Duke of York’s sons, young Rutland, and his tutor were in danger.

Rutland asked, “Where shall I flee to escape their hands?”

Lord Clifford and some soldiers arrived.

Seeing them, Rutland said, “Tutor, look where bloodthirsty Clifford comes!”

Lord Clifford said to the tutor, who, like many teachers of the time, was also a religious man and therefore knew Latin, “Chaplain, away! Your priesthood saves your life. As for this accursed Duke of York’s brat, this brat whose father slew my father, he shall die.”

The tutor replied, “And I, my lord, will bear him company.”

Lord Clifford ordered, “Soldiers, take him away!”

The tutor pleaded, “Clifford, don’t murder this innocent child, lest you be hated both by God and by men!”

The soldiers dragged away the tutor.

Rutland shut his eyes in fear.

Lord Clifford said, “What is this! Is he dead already? Or is it fear that makes him close his eyes? I’ll open them.”

Rutland opened his eyes and said, “So looks the confined, ravenous lion over the wretch that trembles under his devouring paws, and so the lion walks, exulting over his prey, and so the lion comes, to rend his limbs asunder.

“Ah, noble Clifford, kill me with your sword, and not with such a cruel threatening look. Sweet Clifford, hear me speak before I die. I am too mean a subject for your wrath: Be revenged on men, and let me live.”

“You speak in vain, poor boy,” Clifford said. “My father’s blood has stopped the passage where your words should enter.”

“Then let my father’s blood open it again,” Rutland pleaded. “He is a man, and so, Clifford, fight him.”

“If I had all your male relatives here, their lives and yours would not be sufficient revenge for me. No, if I dug up your forefathers’ graves and hung their rotten coffins up in chains, it would not slake my anger, nor would it ease my heart. The sight of any of the House of York is like a Fury — an ancient avenging goddess — to torment my soul, and until I root out York’s accursed family and leave not one alive, I live in Hell. Therefore —”

He lifted his sword.

Rutland pleaded, “Oh, let me pray before I take my death! To you I pray: Sweet Clifford, pity me!”

He knelt.

“I will give you such pity as my rapier’s point affords,” Lord Clifford said.

“I never did you harm,” Rutland said. “Why will you slay me?”

“Your father has done me harm,” Lord Clifford replied.

“But it was before I was born,” Rutland said. “You have one son; for his sake pity me, lest in revenge for your murdering me, since God is just, your son will be as miserably slain as I am. Let me live in prison for all my days, and when I give you a reason to be offended, then let me die, for now you have no cause to kill me.”

“No cause!” Lord Clifford said. “Your father slew my father; therefore, die.”

Lord Clifford stabbed the boy.

Dying, Rutland said, “Di faciant laudis summa sit ista tuae!”

This is Latin for “May the gods grant that this be your crowning praise!”

In other words, “May you be most remembered for murdering a boy!”

“Plantagenet! I am coming for you, Plantagenet!” Lord Clifford said, referring to the Duke of York. “And this your son’s blood that cleaves to my blade shall rust upon my weapon until your blood, congealed with this blood of your son, makes me wipe off both.”

— 1.4 —

In another part of the battlefield, the Duke of York mourned the loss of the battle.

He said to himself, “The army of Queen Margaret has won the battle and controls the battlefield. Both of my uncles the Mortimers were slain as they rescued me, and all my followers turn their back to the fierce foe and flee, like ships before the wind or lambs pursued by hunger-emaciated wolves.

“God knows what has happened to my sons, but this I know: They have behaved like men born to be renowned either because of their life or because of their death. Three times Richard made a lane of dead enemy soldiers as he cut a path to me, and three times he cried, ‘Courage, father! Fight it out!’ And just as often Edward came to my side, with a red sword, painted to the hilt with the blood of those enemies who had encountered him.

“And when our hardiest warriors retreated, Richard cried, ‘Charge! And give no foot of ground!’ And he cried, ‘A crown, or else a glorious tomb! A scepter, or an earthly sepulcher!’

“With this, we charged again, but alas! We retreated again, as I have seen a swan with useless labor swim against the tide and expend her strength against overwhelming waves.”

He heard a call to arms.

He said, “Listen! The fatal followers pursue my soldiers and me, and I am faint and cannot flee from their fury. Even if I were strong, I would not shun their fury. The grains of sand in the hourglass that make up my life are so few in number that they can be counted. Here I must stay, and here my life must end.”

Queen Margaret, Lord Clifford, the Earl of Northumberland, Prince Edward, and some soldiers arrived.

The Duke of York said, “Come, bloodthirsty Clifford. Come, cruel Northumberland, I dare your quenchless fury to more rage. I am your target, and I await your shot.”

The Earl of Northumberland said to the Duke of York, “Yield to our mercy, proud Plantagenet.”

“Yes,” Lord Clifford said, “yield to such mercy as the Duke of York’s ruthless arm, with downright payment — directed straight down, in the form of a sword — showed to my father. Now Phaethon has tumbled from his car, and made an evening at the noontide prick — the mark on the Sun-dial that indicates noon.”

Phaethon was the son of Apollo the Sun-god. He asked Apollo to prove that he was his father by giving him a gift. Apollo swore an inviolable oath to give him any gift he asked for, and Phaethon asked to be allowed to drive the Sun-chariot across the sky. Having sworn an inviolable oath, Apollo had no choice but to allow him to do it. Phaethon was unable to control the immortal horses that pulled the Sun-chariot, and at times the Sun-chariot came too close to the Earth, making everything too hot, and at other times it went too far away from the Earth, causing darkness. The King of the gods, Jupiter, saved the Earth by hurling a thunderbolt at Phaethon, killing him and causing him to fall out of the Sun-chariot. Apollo took his place in the Sun-chariot and restored order.

The Duke of York said, “My ashes, as happens with the Phoenix, may bring forth a bird that will get revenge on you all.”

The Phoenix was a mythical bird of Arabia that lived for 500 years and then died in a burst of fire but was regenerated from its ashes. In fact, the Duke of York’s sons Edward and Richard would get revenge for their father’s death.

The Duke of York continued, “And in that hope I throw my eyes — I look — to Heaven, scorning whatever you can afflict me with.

“Why don’t you attack me? What! There are multitudes of you, and you are afraid to attack me?”

Lord Clifford said, “So cowards fight when they can flee no further. So doves peck the falcon’s piercing talons. So desperate thieves, completely despairing of saving their lives, vehemently speak invectives against the officers who will give them capital punishment.”

A proverb stated, “Despair makes cowards courageous.”

The Duke of York said, “Clifford, think once again, and in your thoughts review my past, and then see if you can avoid blushing and biting your tongue, which slanders me with cowardice as you view this face, whose frown has made you lose heart and flee before this time!”

Lord Clifford replied, “I will not exchange words with you word for word, but I will exchange blows with you, giving you four blows for each blow you give me.”

He made a move toward the Duke of York, but Queen Margaret cried, “Wait, valiant Clifford! For a thousand reasons, I want to prolong for a while this traitor’s life.”

Lord Clifford was still angry and kept moving toward the Duke of York, and Queen Margaret said, “Wrath makes him deaf.”

Others restrained Lord Clifford, and Queen Margaret said, “Speak, Earl of Northumberland.”

He said, “Stop, Clifford! Don’t honor him so much by pricking your finger, although it would wound his heart. What valor would one get, when a cur bares its teeth, if one were to thrust his hand between the cur’s teeth, when he might kick him away with his foot? War allows one to take all advantages, and ten against one is no impeachment of valor. In times of war, one ought not to fight an enemy one against one when enough soldiers are available to fight an enemy ten against one.”

They fought the Duke of York, who struggled against them but was subdued.

Clifford said, “Yes, yes, like this the woodcock strives with the trap.”

A woodcock is a proverbially stupid and easily caught bird.

The Earl of Northumberland said, “Like this the rabbit struggles in the net.”

The Duke of York said, “Like this thieves gloat upon their conquered booty. Like this true men yield, when so outnumbered by robbers.”

The Earl of Northumberland said to Queen Margaret, “What would your grace have done to him now?”

“You brave warriors, Clifford and Northumberland, come, make him stand upon this molehill here,” Queen Margaret replied. “He reached out for mountains with outstretched arms, yet with his hand took as his own only their shadow.”

She said to the Duke of York, “Was it you who would be England’s King? Was it you who rioted in our Parliament and made a sermon about your high descent? Where is your mess of sons — your four sons — to back you now? Where are the wanton Edward, and the vigorous George? And where’s that valiant hunchback monster, your boy Dicky, who with his grumbling voice was accustomed to cheer his dad in mutinies?

“And, along with the rest, where is your darling Rutland? Look, York: I stained this handkerchief with the blood that valiant Clifford with his rapier’s point made flow from the bosom of the boy. And if your eyes can water for his death, I give you this handkerchief to dry your cheeks with.

“Alas, poor York! Except that I so deadly hate you, I would lament your miserable state. I ask you to grieve so you can make me merry, York.

“Has your fiery heart so parched your entrails that not a tear can fall for Rutland’s death? Why are you patient, man? You should be mad, and I, to make you mad, mock you. Stamp your feet, rave, and fret so that I may sing and dance.

“You want to be paid, I see, to entertain me. York cannot speak, unless he wears a crown. Here’s a crown for York!

“Lords, bow low to him. Restrain his hands while I set the crown on his head.”

She placed a paper crown on the Duke of York’s head.

She continued, “Yes, by the Virgin Mary, sir, now he looks like a King! Yes, this is the man who took King Henry VI’s throne, and this is the man who was his adopted heir.

“But how is it that great Plantagenet has been crowned so soon, and has broken his solemn oath? As I remember, you should not be King until our King Henry VI has shaken hands with Death.

“And will you encircle your head with Henry’s glory, and rob his temples of the diadem, now, during his life, against your holy oath?

“Oh, it is a crime too, too unpardonable!

“Off with the crown, and with the crown take off his head. While we breathe, let’s take time to do him dead. While we’re alive, let’s kill him.”

“That is my job, for my father’s sake,” Lord Clifford said.

“No, wait,” Queen Margaret said. “Let’s hear the prayers he makes.”

The Duke of York said, “She-wolf of France, but worse than the wolves of France. Your tongue is more poisonous than the adder’s tooth!

“How ill-beseeming is it for one of your sex to triumph, like an Amazonian warrior-woman whore, upon the woes of men whom Lady Fortune has made captives!

“Except that your face, mask-like and unchanging, has been made impudent with the habitual practice of evil deeds, I would attempt, proud Queen, to make you blush.

“To tell you where you came from and who are your parents would be shame enough to shame you, if you were not shameless.

“Your father bears the title of King of Naples, Sicily, and Jerusalem, yet he is not as wealthy as an English farmer.

“Has that poor monarch taught you to be insolent? Showing insolence is not necessary, nor does it help you, proud Queen, unless this adage must be verified: Beggars, once mounted, run their horse to death.

“Beauty often makes women proud, but God knows that your share of beauty is small.

“Virtue makes women most admired, but your lack of virtue makes people look at you with wonder.

“Self-government — self-control — makes women seem divine, but your lack of self-control makes you abominable.

“You are as opposite to every good as the Antipodes — the people who live on the other side of the world — are to us, or as the south is to the Septentrion.”

The Septentrion is the north. The name derives from the Latin septentriōnēs, which means “seven plowing oxen.” This refers to the seven stars that make up the asterism known as the Plow, also referred to as the Big Dipper, which is part of the constellation Ursa Major, or Great Bear.

The Duke of York continued, “Oh, tiger’s heart wrapped in a woman’s hide! How could you drain the life-blood of the child so you could bid the father wipe his eyes with a handkerchief stained with that blood, and yet be seen to bear a woman’s face?

“Women are soft, mild, pitiful, and flexible, but you are stern, obdurate, flinty, rough, and remorseless.

“You want me to rage? Why, now you have your wish. You want me to weep? Why, now you have what you want.

“For raging wind blows up incessant showers, and when the rage allays, the rain begins. These tears I shed are my sweet Rutland’s obsequies and funeral rites, and every drop cries out for vengeance for his death, against you, cruel Clifford, and you, false Frenchwoman.”

The Earl of Northumberland thought, Curse me, but his passion moves me so that I can hardly keep my eyes from shedding tears.

The Duke of York continued speaking to Queen Margaret, “The hungry cannibals would not have touched Rutland’s face, would not have stained this handkerchief with his blood, but you are more inhuman, more inexorable, oh, ten times more, than the tigers of Hyrcania.

“See, ruthless Queen, a hapless father’s tears. You dipped this handkerchief in the blood of my sweet boy, and I wash the blood away with my tears.

“Keep the handkerchief and go boast about this; if you tell the sorrowful story correctly, I swear upon my soul that the hearers will shed tears. Yes, even my enemies will shed fast-falling tears, and they will say, ‘Alas, it was a piteous deed!’”

He shook the paper crown from his head and said, “There, Queen Margaret, take the crown, and, with the crown, take my curse. And in your need may such comfort come to you as I reap now at your too cruel hand!

“Hard-hearted Clifford, take me from the world. My soul will go to Heaven, and my blood is upon your heads!”

His eyes watering, the Earl of Northumberland thought, Had he been the executioner of all my kinfolk, I would not for my life be able to avoid weeping with him when I see how inwardly sorrow grips his soul.

Queen Margaret said to him, “What, ready to weep, my Lord Northumberland? Only think upon the wrong he did us all, and that will quickly dry your melting tears.”

Lord Clifford said as he stabbed the Duke of York, “Here’s for my oath, and here’s for my father’s death.”

Queen Margaret said as she stabbed the Duke of York, “And here’s to redress the injuries of our gentle-hearted King.”

“Open your gate of mercy, gracious God!” the Duke of York cried. “My soul flies through these wounds to seek out You.”

He died.

Queen Margaret said, “Cut off his head, and set it on the town of York’s gates, so that the Duke of York may look out over the town of York.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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