David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s 3 HENRY VI: A Retelling in Prose — Act 5, Scenes 2-4

— 5.2 —

On 14 April 1471, the Battle of Barnet was being fought on a battlefield near Barnet. King Edward IV met the Earl of Warwick, who was mortally wounded and whose eyesight was failing.

King Edward IV said to him, “So, lie there. Die, you, and with you die our fear, for Warwick was a terror who frightened us all.

“Now, Marquess of Montague, sit fast, I seek you, so that Warwick’s bones may keep your bones company.”

King Edward IV exited.

Alone, the blinded Earl of Warwick said, “Who is near? Come to me, friend or foe, and tell me which General is the victor: York or Warwick?

“But why do I ask that? My mangled body shows, my blood shows, my lack of strength shows, my sick heart shows that I must yield my body to the earth, and by my fall, I must yield the victory to my foe.

“Thus yields the cedar to the axe’s edge, although the cedar’s arms gave shelter to the Princely eagle, and although under the cedar’s shade the ramping lion slept, and although the cedar’s topmost branch peered over Jove’s spreading oak tree and protected low shrubs from winter’s powerful wind.

“These eyes, which now are dimmed with death’s black veil, have been as piercing as the mid-day Sun as they perceived the secret treasons of the world.

“The wrinkles in my brows, now filled with blood, were often likened to Kingly sepulchers, for who lived as King, except a person whose grave I could dig?

“And who dared to smile when Warwick frowned?

“But look, now my glory is smeared in dust and blood! My hunting grounds, my walks, my manors that I had just now have forsaken me, and of all my lands there is nothing left to me except my body’s length — land enough for a grave.

“Why, pomp, rule, and reign are nothing but earth and dust! And, live us how we can, yet die we must.”

The Earl of Oxford and the Duke of Somerset arrived.

The Duke of Somerset said, “Ah, Warwick, Warwick! If you were still uninjured, like us, we might recover all our losses. Queen Margaret has brought from France a powerful army. Just now we heard the news. I wish that you could flee!”

“Why, even if I could, I would not flee,” Warwick said. “Ah, Marquess of Montague, if you are there, sweet brother, take my hand and with your lips kiss me and keep my soul in my body awhile! Your kiss will keep my soul from exiting my body through my lips. You don’t love me because, brother, if you did, your tears would wash this cold, congealed blood that glues my lips and will not let me speak. Come quickly, Montague, or I will be dead before you get here.”

The Duke of Somerset said, “Warwick, the Marquess of Montague has breathed his last, and to the last gasp he cried out for Warwick and said, ‘Commend me to my valiant brother.’ And he would have said more, and he did speak more that sounded like a clamor in a vault that could not be understood, but at last I heard him say clearly, delivered with a groan, ‘Oh, farewell, Warwick!’”

The Earl of Warwick said, “May his soul sweetly rest! Flee, lords, and save yourselves, for Warwick bids you all farewell until we meet in Heaven.”

He died.

The Earl of Oxford said, “Let’s go, so we can meet the Queen’s great army!”

— 5.3 —

On another part of the battlefield, King Edward IV celebrated his victory. With him were his brothers Duke Richard of Gloucester and Duke George of Clarence. Also present were many soldiers.

King Edward IV said, “Thus far our fortune keeps an upward course, and we are graced with wreaths of victory. But, in the midst of this brightly shining day, I spy a black, suspicious, threatening cloud that will battle our glorious Sun before it attains its easeful, comfortable western bed. I mean, my lords, those troops whom Queen Margaret has raised in France have arrived at our coast and, so we hear, march on to fight us.”

Duke George of Clarence said, “A little gale will soon disperse that cloud and blow it to the source from whence it came. The very beams of the Sun will dry those vapors up, for not every cloud generates a storm.”

Duke Richard of Gloucester said, “The Queen’s forces are estimated to be thirty thousand strong, and both the Duke of Somerset and the Earl of Oxford have fled to her. If she is given time before she has to fight, be well assured that her faction will be fully as strong as ours.”

King Edward IV said, “We are informed by our loving friends that Queen Margaret and her troops hold their course toward Tewksbury. We, having now the victory at Barnet battlefield, will go to Tewksbury immediately, for willingness makes for progress on the journey. And as we march, our strength will be augmented in every county as we go along.”

He ordered the drummer, “Strike up the drum,” and then he ordered everyone, “Cry ‘Courage!’ and let’s go.”

— 5.4 —

On the plains near Tewksbury, Queen Margaret, Prince Edward, the Duke of Somerset, and the Earl of Oxford were meeting. With them were many soldiers.

Queen Margaret said, “Great lords, wise men never sit and bewail their loss, but cheerfully seek how to repair their misfortunes.

“What though the mast is now blown overboard, the cable broken, the holding-anchor lost, and half our sailors swallowed in the flood? Our pilot — King Henry VI — still lives.

“Is it suitable that a pilot should leave the helm and like a fearful lad with tearful eyes add water to the sea and give more strength to that which has too much, while as he moans the rock splits the ship, which toil and courage might have saved?

“What a shame, what a fault that would be!

“Say Warwick was our anchor — what of that? And the Marquess of Montague was our topmost sail — what of him? Our slaughtered friends were the ship’s tackles — what of these?

“Why, isn’t Oxford here another anchor? And Somerset another goodly mast? The friends from France our sail-ropes and tacklings?

“And, although we are unskillful, why shouldn’t my son Ned — Prince Edward — and I for once be allowed to perform the skillful pilot’s duty?

“We will not leave the helm in order to sit and weep, but we will instead keep our course, although the rough wind says no, and we will avoid the sandbanks, shoals, and rocks that threaten us with wreck.

“It is as good to scold the waves as to speak well of them. And what is Edward but ruthless sea? What is Clarence but a quicksand of deceit? And what is Richard but a jagged, deadly rock?

“All these are enemies to our poor ship.

“Say you can swim — but you can swim only for a while! Tread on the quicksand; why, there you quickly sink. Bestride the rock; the tide will wash you off, or else you will starve. That’s a threefold death: You can drown in the sea, sink in quicksand, or die of starvation on a rock.

“This speak I, lords, to let you understand, in case one of you would flee away from us, that there’s no hoped-for mercy coming from the brothers — Edward, Clarence, and Richard — no more than the mercy you would get from the ruthless waves, quicksand, and rocks.

“Why, be courageous then! It is childish weakness to lament or fear what cannot be avoided.”

Prince Edward said, “I think a woman of this valiant spirit would, if a coward heard her speak these words, infuse his breast with greatness of heart and nobleness of spirit and make him, without armor and weapons, defeat an armed warrior.

“I don’t say this because I doubt the courage of anyone here, for if I did suspect a man to be fearful he would have my permission to go away right now, lest when we need him to fight he might infect another man and make him of similar fearful spirit as himself.

“If any such be here — God forbid! — let him depart before we need his help.”

The Earl of Oxford said, “Women and children have so high a courage — and warriors are faint-hearted! Why, for warriors to have faint hearts is perpetual shame.

“Oh, brave young Prince! Your famous grandfather — King Henry V — lives again in you. Long may you live to bear his image and renew his glories!”

The Duke of Somerset said, “And may he who will not fight for such a hope as the young Prince go home to bed, and like an owl that is seen during the day, be mocked and wondered at if he arise.”

Queen Margaret said, “Thanks, gentle Somerset; sweet Oxford, thanks.”

Prince Edward said, “And take thanks from me, who as of yet has nothing else to give you.”

A messenger arrived and said, “Prepare yourselves, lords, for Edward IV is at hand and ready to fight; therefore, be resolute.”

The Earl of Oxford said, “I thought no less. It is his military strategy to hasten so quickly in order to find us unprepared to fight.”

“But he’s deceived,” the Duke of Somerset said. “We are ready to fight.”

“Seeing your eagerness to fight cheers my heart,” Queen Margaret said.

“Here we will pitch our battle formation,” the Earl of Oxford said. “From here we will not budge.”

King Edward IV, Duke Richard of Gloucester, Duke George of Clarence, and many soldiers arrived.

King Edward IV said, “Brave followers, yonder stands the metaphorical thorny wood, which by the Heavens’ assistance and your strength must by the roots be hewn up before night. I need not add more fuel to your fire, for well I know you blaze to burn them out. Give the signal for the battle, and let’s go to it, lords!”

Queen Margaret said, “Lords, knights, and gentlemen, my tears contradict what words I should say because as you see, for every word I speak I drink the water of my eyes. Therefore, I will say no more but this: Henry VI, your sovereign, is held prisoner by the foe; his Kingship is usurped, his realm is a slaughterhouse, his subjects are being slain, his laws and statutes are cancelled, and his treasure is spent. And yonder is the wolf that makes this spoil. Your fight is just, and so then, in God’s name, lords, be valiant and give the signal for the battle.”

The battle started.

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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