David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s 3 HENRY VI: A Retelling in Prose — Act 2, Scene 1

— 2.1 —

Edward and Richard, two of the Duke of York’s three surviving sons, talked together on a plain near Mortimer’s Cross in Herefordshire, not far from the border with Wales.Also present were some of their soldiers.

Edward said, “I wonder how our Princely father escaped, or whether he escaped away from Clifford’s and Northumberland’s pursuit. If he had been captured, we should have heard the news. If he had been slain, we should have heard the news. Or if he had escaped, I think we should have heard the happy tidings of his good escape.

“How are you, my brother? Why are you so sad?”

Richard replied, “I cannot feel joy until I know what has become of our very valiant father. I saw him in the battle ranging about, and I watched how he singled Clifford out as if he were hunting him. I thought our father bore himself in the thickest troop of enemy soldiers as a lion does in a herd of cattle, or as a dog-surrounded bear, having bitten a few dogs and made them cry, makes the remaining dogs stand at a distance and bark at him. So our father fared with his enemies, and so his enemies fled my warlike father.

“I think that it is prize enough to be his son. See how the morning opens her golden gates, and takes her farewell of the glorious Sun! Aurora, goddess of dawn, says farewell to the Sun! How well the Sun resembles the prime of youth, dressed like a young man prancing to his love!”

“Are my eyes dazzled, or do I see three Suns?” Edward asked.

Richard said, “Three glorious Suns, each one a perfect Sun. They are not separated by the wind-driven clouds, but severed in a pale, clear-shining sky.”

The three Suns began to join together.

Richard continued, “Look, look! They join, embrace, and seem to kiss, as if they vowed some inviolable alliance. Now are they but one lamp, one light, one Sun. In this, Heaven prefigures some event. This is an omen.”

The Sun was the emblem — the distinctive badge — of the House of York.

Edward said, “It is wondrously strange; the like was never heard of so far. I think it incites us, brother, to go to the battlefield, so that we, the sons of brave Plantagenet, Duke of York, each one already blazing by our merited deserts, should notwithstanding join our lights together and shine over the earth as this Sun shines over the world. Whatever it bodes, henceforward I will bear three fair-shining Suns as a heraldic device on my shield.”

Richard said, “No, bear three daughters. If you don’t mind my saying so, I say that you love the breeder better than the male. You love women.”

A messenger arrived, and Richard asked, “Who are you, whose sorrowful looks foretell some dreadful story hanging on your tongue?”

The messenger replied, “I am one who was a woeful looker-on when the noble Duke of York, your Princely father and my loving lord, was slain!”

Edward said, “Oh, speak no more, for I have heard too much.”

Richard said, “Say how he died, for I will hear it all.”

The messenger said, “Many foes surrounded him, and he stood against them, as the hope of Troy — Hector — stood against the Greeks who would have entered Troy. But even Hercules himself must yield to odds, and many strokes, although made with a little axe, will hew down and fell the hardest-timbered oak.

“By many hands your father was subdued, but he was slaughtered only by the angry arms of unrelenting Clifford and Queen Margaret, who crowned the gracious Duke in great scorn, laughed in his face, and when with grief he wept, the ruthless Queen gave him to dry his cheeks a handkerchief steeped in the harmless blood of sweet young Rutland, who was slain by violent Clifford.

“And after many scorns and many foul taunts, they took off his head, and on the gates of the town of York they set the head, and there it remains, the saddest spectacle that I ever viewed.”

Edward said, “Sweet Duke of York, our prop to lean upon, now that you are gone, we have no staff, no support.

“Oh, Clifford, savage Clifford! You have slain a man who for his chivalry was the flower of Europe, and you have vanquished him by treachery, for he would have vanquished you if you had fought him hand to hand.

“Now my soul’s palace has become a prison. I wish that my soul would break from my body, so that this body of mine might be enclosed in the ground and rest! For never henceforth shall I enjoy life again, never, oh, never shall I see enjoyment any more!”

Richard said, “I cannot weep, for all my body’s moisture scarcely serves to quench my heart that burns like a furnace. Nor can my tongue unload my heart’s great burden, for that same wind that I should speak with is kindling coals that fire all my breast, and burns me up with flames that my tears would quench.

“To weep is to make less the depth of grief. Tears then are for babes; blows and revenge are what I want.

“Richard, Duke of York, I bear your name; I am also a Richard. I’ll avenge your death, or die renowned by attempting it.”

Edward said, “His name that valiant Duke has left with you. His Dukedom and his chair — his ducal seat — he left with me.”

As the oldest son, Edward was now the new Duke of York and held the Dukedom.

Richard said, “If you are that Princely eagle’s fledgling, show your descent by gazing at the Sun. Say ‘For ducal seat and Dukedom’ and ‘For throne and Kingdom.’ Either those things are yours, or else you are not our father’s son.”

This society believed that the eagle was the King of the birds, and as such was able to look directly at the Sun.

A drum sounded a march, and the Earl of Warwick, the Marquess of Montague, and some soldiers arrived.

“How are you, fair lords?” the Earl of Warwick asked. “How do you fare? What is the news from abroad?”

“Great Lord of Warwick,” Richard said, “if we would recount our baleful news, and at each word’s deliverance stab daggers in our flesh until all were told, the words would add more anguish than the wounds.

“Oh, valiant lord, the Duke of York has been slain!”

“Oh, Warwick, Warwick!” Edward said, “that Plantagenet, who held you as dearly as his soul’s redemption, has been killed by the stern Lord Clifford.”

“Ten days ago I drowned this news with my tears,” the Earl of Warwick replied, “and now, to add even more to your woes, I have come to tell you things since then befallen.

“After the bloody fray we fought at Wakefield, where your brave father breathed his last gasp, tidings, as swiftly as the messengers could travel, were brought to me of your loss and his departure from this life.

“I, who was then in London as keeper of King Henry VI, mustered my soldiers, gathered flocks of friends, and very well armed and equipped, so I thought, marched toward Saint Albans to intercept Queen Margaret, and I brought the King along as I thought his presence might be useful.

“I did all this because my scouts informed me that Queen Margaret was coming with a full intention to rescind our recent decree in Parliament concerning King Henry VI’s oath and your succession as King after his death.

“To make it a short tale, we met on 17 February 1461 and at Saint Albans fought the Second Battle of St. Albans.

“Our armies joined in battle,and both sides fiercely fought, but whether it was the coldness and lack of passion of the King, who looked very gently on his warlike Queen, that robbed my soldiers of their inflamed spirit, or whether it was the report of the Queen’s success, or whether it was the more than common fear of the harshness of Clifford, who thunders blood and death to his captives, I cannot judge, but to conclude with the truth, the enemies’ weapons struck as if they were lightning as they came and went. Our soldiers’ weapons struck like the night owl’s lazy flight, or like an idle thresher with a flail for reaping grain. Our soldiers’ weapons fell gently down, as if they were striking their friends.

“I revived them by telling them of the justice of our cause, and with the promise of high pay and great rewards, but all in vain. They had no heart to fight, and we had no hope in them to win the day.

“And so we fled. The King fled to the Queen. Your brother Lord George, as well as the Duke of Norfolk and I, fled in haste, as quickly as we could, to come to join with you, for we heard you were here in the marches — the Welsh borders — gathering another army with which to fight again.”

“Where is the Duke of Norfolk, noble Warwick?” Edward asked. “And when did George come from Burgundy to England?”

“The Duke of Norfolk is some six miles away with the soldiers,” the Earl of Warwick said. “And as for your brother, your kind aunt, the Duchess of Burgundy, recently sent him here with the aid of soldiers to this war because you need reinforcements.”

“The odds must have been against our side, most likely, when valiant Warwick fled,” Richard said. “Often have I heard his praises in pursuit, but never until now have I heard the scandalous imputations of his retiring from the battle.”

“And you do not now hear of any scandal affecting me, Richard,” the Earl of Warwick said, “for you shall learn that this strong right hand of mine can pluck the diadem from fainthearted Henry VI’s head, and wring the awe-inspiring scepter from his fist, even if he were as famous and as bold in war as he is famed for mildness, peace, and prayer.”

“I know it well, Lord Warwick,” Richard said. “Don’t blame me. It is the love I bear your glories that makes me speak. But in this troublous time what’s to be done?

“Shall we throw away our coats of steel, and wrap our bodies in black mourning gowns, and count our Ave-Maries with our beads?

“Or shall we on the helmets of our foes count with our blows our devotion with revengeful weapons?

“If you vote for the last alternative, say yes, and let’s go to it, lords.”

The Earl of Warwick replied, “Why, that is the reason that I, Warwick, came to seek you. And for that same reason my brother Montague came to seek you.

“Listen to me, lords. The proud insulting Queen Margaret, with Clifford and the haughty Northumberland, and many more proud birds of the same feather, have molded the easily pliable and persuadable King like wax.

“Previously, he swore consent to your succession and he recorded his oath in the Parliament, but now to London all that crew have gone to annul both his oath and to do in addition whatever may make trouble against the House of Lancaster.

“Their army, I think, is thirty thousand strong. Now, if the help of the Duke of Norfolk and myself, with all the friends that you, Edward, who are the brave Earl of March, can procure among the friendly Welshmen, will at least amount to twenty-five thousand, why, Via!”

Via!” is Italian for “Forward!”

The Earl of Warwick continued, “To London we will march at full speed, and once again we will bestride our foaming steeds, and once again cry, ‘Charge upon our foes!’ But never will we once again turn our backs and flee.”

Richard said, “Yes, now I think I hear great Warwick speak. May that man never live to see a sunshiny day who cries ‘Retreat,’ if Warwick orders him to stay and fight.”

“Lord Warwick, I will lean on your shoulder,” Edward said, “and when you fail — may God forbid the hour! — then Edward must fall, which peril may Heaven forbid!”

The Earl of Warwick said, “No longer Earl of March, you are the Duke of York. The next step up is England’s royal throne, for you shall be proclaimed King of England in every borough as we pass along, and that man who does not throw his cap up in the air for joy shall for that crime make forfeit of his head.

“King Edward IV, valiant Richard, Marquess of Montague, let’s stay no longer, dreaming of renown, but let the trumpets sound, and go about achieving our task.”

Richard said, “Lord Clifford, even if your heart were as hard as steel, as you have shown it to be flinty by your deeds, I am coming to you to pierce it, or to give you mine.”

Edward said, “Then strike up drums. God and Saint George for us!”

Saint George is the patron saint of England.

A messenger arrived.

The Earl of Warwick asked, “What is it? What is the news?”

The messenger replied, “The Duke of Norfolk sends you word by me that Queen Margaret is coming with a powerful army. He requests your company for speedy counsel.”

The Earl of Warwick said, “Why, then everything is working out well. Brave warriors, let’s go.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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