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


— 3.1 —

In a rural area in the north of England, two gamekeepers carrying crossbows were talking.

The first gamekeeper said, “Under this thickly grown thicket, we’ll shroud and hide ourselves, for through this glade the deer will soon come, and in this covert we will make our hiding place and choose the best of all the deer.”

“I’ll stay higher up the hill, so both of us may shoot,” the second gamekeeper said.

“That cannot be,” the first gamekeeper said. “The noise of your crossbow will scare the herd of deer, and so my shot will be lost. Here we both will stand, and we will aim at the best deer. So that the time shall not seem tedious, I’ll tell you what befell me on a day in this same place where now we intend to stand.”

The second gamekeeper looked up and said, “Here comes a man; let’s wait until he has passed by.”

King Henry VI, disguised and carrying a prayer book, was the man the second gamekeeper had seen.

King Henry VI said, “From Scotland I have stolen, purely out of love, to greet my own land with my wistful sight. No, Harry, Harry, it is no land of yours. Your place is filled, your scepter has been wrung from you, and the balm with which you were anointed has been washed off. No bending knee will call you Caesar now, no humble petitioners will press forward to speak to you and ask you for justice. No, not a man comes to you for redress of wrongs, for how can I help them, when I cannot help myself?”

The first gamekeeper said, “Aye, here’s a deer whose skin’s a gamekeeper’s fee. This is the former King; let’s seize him.”

Gamekeepers received the skin and head of a deer in payment for their services.

“Let me embrace you, sour adversity,” King Henry VI said, “for wise men say it is the wisest course.”

“Why do we linger?” the second gamekeeper said. “Let us lay hands on him.”

“Wait awhile,” the first gamekeeper said. “We’ll listen a little longer.”

King Henry VI said, “My Queen and son have gone to the King of France to seek aid, and I hear that the great commanding Earl of Warwick has also gone thither to request the French King’s sister-in-law as a wife for Edward. If this news is true, then, the labor of my poor Queen and son is only lost, for Warwick is a subtle orator and King Louis XI is a Prince soon won with moving words.

“However, by this second point — King Louis XI is a Prince soon won with moving words — Margaret may win him, for she’s a woman to be much pitied. Her sighs will make an assault on his breast. Her tears will pierce into a marble heart. The tiger will be mild while she mourns, and even a cruel tyrant such as the Roman emperor Nero will be affected by remorse when he hears her complaints and sees her brinish tears.

“Yes, but she’s come to beg, while Warwick has come to give. Margaret, on the French King’s left side, will beg for aid for me, Henry. Warwick, on his right side, will ask for a wife for Edward — a good marriage for the French King’s sister-in-law.

“Margaret will weep and say that her Henry has been deposed. Warwick will smile and say that his Edward has been formally installed as King of England.

“She, poor wretch, will be able to speak no more because of grief, while Warwick will tell the French King about Edward’s claim to be King of England. Warwick will smoothly pass over the wrong that Edward has done in claiming the crown and he will put forth arguments of mighty strength, and in conclusion he will win the King of France away from Margaret with the promise of a good marriage for his sister-in-law, and who knows what else he will say to strengthen and support King Edward IV’s place on the throne.

“Oh, Margaret, thus it will be, and you, poor soul, will then be forsaken because you went forlorn to the King of France!”

The gamekeepers came out of hiding.

The second gamekeeper said, “Tell us who you are who talks of Kings and Queens.”

King Henry VI said, “I am more than I seem, and less than I was born to. I am a man at least, for less I should not be. Men may talk of Kings, and so why not I?”

The second gamekeeper said, “Yes, but you talk as if you were a King.”

“Why, so I am, in my mind, and that’s enough,” King Henry VI said.

“But, if you are a King, then where is your crown?” the second gamekeeper asked.

“My crown is in my heart, not on my head,” King Henry VI said. “My crown is not decorated with diamonds and jewels from India, nor is it to be seen. My crown is called contentment: It is a crown that Kings seldom enjoy.”

The second gamekeeper said, “Well, if you are a King crowned with contentment, your crown of contentment and you must be contented to go along with us, for we think that you are the King whom King Edward IV has deposed, and we his subjects sworn in all allegiance will apprehend you as his enemy.”

“Haven’t you ever sworn and broken an oath?” King Henry VI asked.

“No, I never have, and I will not now,” the second gamekeeper said.

“Where did you dwell when I was King of England?”

“Here in this country, where we now remain,” the second gamekeeper replied.

“I was anointed King at nine months old,” King Henry VI said. “My father and my grandfather were Kings, and you were sworn true subjects to me. Tell me, then, haven’t you broken your oaths?”

“No, for we were your subjects only while you were King,” the first gamekeeper said.

“Am I dead?” King Henry VI said. “Don’t I breathe as a living man? Ah, simple men, you know not what you swear!”

He picked up a feather from the ground and said, “Look as I blow this feather from my face, and look as the air blows it to me again; the feather obeys my wind when I blow, and yields to another wind when it blows, commanded always by the greater gust. Such is the lightness and fickleness of you common men.

“But do not break your oaths, for of that sin my mild entreaty shall not make you guilty. Go where you will; the King shall be commanded. You two be the Kings: Command, and I’ll obey.”

The first gamekeeper said, “We are true and loyal subjects to the King of England: King Edward IV.”

“So would you be again to Henry VI, if he were seated on the throne as King Edward IV is,” King Henry VI said.

“We order you, in God’s name, and the King’s, to go with us to the officers of the peace,” the first gamekeeper said.

“In God’s name, lead,” King Henry VI said. “May your King’s name be obeyed, and whatever God wills, let your King perform, and whatever he wills, I humbly yield to.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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