David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s 1 HENRY VI: A Retelling in Prose — Act 5, Scenes 4-5 (Conclusion)

— 5.4 —

At the military camp of the Duke of York at Anjou, the Duke of York and the Earl of Warwick talked. Others were present.

The Duke of York said, “Bring forth that sorceress who is condemned to burn at the stake.”

Some guards brought Joan la Pucelle to him. A shepherd also came.

The shepherd said, “Ah, Joan, this kills your father’s heart outright! I have sought you in every region far and near, and now that it is my fortune to find you, must I behold your untimely and cruel death? Ah, Joan, sweet daughter Joan, I’ll die with you!”

Joan la Pucelle said, “Decrepit and miserable creature! Base, lowly born, ignoble wretch! I am descended from a nobler blood. You are no father and no friend of mine.”

“No! No!” the shepherd said. “My lords, if it pleases you, what she says is not true. I did beget her, as all in the parish know. Her mother is still alive, and she can testify that Joan was the first fruit of my bachelorship.”

In this culture, the word “bachelorship” had two meanings: 1) apprenticeship, and 2) time as a bachelor, aka unmarried man.

The Earl of Warwick said to Joan la Pucelle, “You are without grace. Will you deny your parentage? Will you reject your own father?”

The Duke of York said, “This argues what her kind of life has been. It has been wicked and vile; and so her death concludes her life.”

“Don’t, Joan,” the shepherd said. “Why will you be so stubborn! God knows you are a piece of my flesh, and for your sake I have shed many a tear. Don’t deny that I am your father, I request, gentle Joan.”

“Peasant, avaunt!” Joan la Pucelle said. “Leave! Get lost!”

She then said to the Duke of York, “You have bribed this man for the purpose of obscuring my noble birth.”

Prisoners of noble birth were treated better than other prisoners; often, they would be ransomed and allowed to live.

The shepherd said, “It is true that I gave a noble — a coin — to the priest the morning that I was wedded to her mother.

“Kneel down and take my blessing, my good girl. Will you not stoop for my blessing? Now cursed be the time of your nativity! I wish that the milk your mother gave you when you sucked her breast had been a little rat poison for your sake! Or else, when you shepherded my lambs in the field, I wish that some ravenous wolf had eaten you! Do you deny that I am your father, cursed slut?

“Oh, burn her, burn her! Hanging is too good for her.”

Hanging is a quicker and less painful way of dying than being burned at the stake.

The shepherd exited.

The Duke of York said, “Take her away, for she has lived too long and used that time to fill the world with vicious qualities.”

Joan la Pucelle said, “First, let me tell you whom you have condemned to die. I am not one begotten by a shepherd peasant; instead, I issued from the progeny of Kings. I am virtuous and holy, chosen from above, by inspiration of celestial grace, to do work exceedingly exceptional on Earth. I never had to do with wicked spirits.”

The word “do” has a sexual meaning. The sentence also meant this: “I never had anything to do with wicked spirits.”

She continued, “But you, who are polluted with your lusts, who are stained with the guiltless blood of innocents, who are corrupt and tainted with a thousand vices, because you want the grace that others have, you judge it straightaway a thing impossible to accomplish wonders except by the help of devils.

“No, misconceived!”

By “misconceived,” Joan la Pucelle may have meant that the Duke of York was wrong, or that he was illegitimate, or both.

She continued, “Joan of Arc has been a virgin from her tender infancy, chaste and immaculate in every thought, and her blood, thus cruelly spilled, will cry out for vengeance at the gates of Heaven.”

“Yes, yes,” the Duke of York said, impatiently. “Take her away to be executed!”

The Earl of Warwick said to the men who would burn her at the stake, “Listen, sirs, because she is a maiden, use plenty of wood; let there be enough to burn quickly and hotly. Place barrels of pitch leaning on the fatal stake, so that the torture of her death may be shortened.”

The barrels of pitch would produce a thick smoke, suffocating Joan and killing her. This was a quicker and less painful death than dying from being burned.

“Will nothing change your unrelenting hearts?” Joan la Pucelle said. “Then, Joan, reveal your infirmity that law assures will give you the privilege of not yet being killed. I am with child, you bloodthirsty murderers. I am pregnant. Don’t murder the fruit within my womb, although you eventually drag me to a violent death.”

The Duke of York said, “Now Heaven forbid! The holy maiden is with child! This virgin is pregnant!”

The Earl of Warwick said to Joan, “This is the greatest miracle that you ever wrought. Has all your strict morality come to this?”

“She and the Dauphin have been juggling,” the Duke of York said. “I wondered what would be her last defense, her last attempt to escape death.”

“Juggling” meant “playing tricks.” In this context, it also had a sexual meaning.

The Earl of Warwick said, “Bah, we’ll allow no bastards to live, especially since Charles must be the father of it.”

Joan la Pucelle said, “You are deceived; my child is not his. It was the Duke of Alençon who enjoyed my love.”

“The Duke of Alençon!” the Duke of York said. “That notorious Machiavel!”

A Machiavel is a schemer. The word comes from Niccolo Machiavelli, author of The Prince, a pragmatic book that acknowledges that many Princes use immoral means to achieve their purposes.

The Duke of York added, “The bastard dies, and it would die even if it had a thousand lives.”

“Oh, pardon me!” Joan la Pucelle said. “I have deceived and deluded you: It was neither Charles nor the Duke I named. Instead, it was Reignier, King of Naples, who prevailed.”

“A married man!” the Earl of Warwick said. “That’s most intolerable.”

“Why, what a girl is here!” the Duke of York said. “I think she doesn’t know well whom she may accuse of making her pregnant because she has had sex with so many men.”

The Earl of Warwick said, “It’s a sign she has been promiscuous and free.”

“And yet, truly, she is a ‘pure virgin,’” the Duke of York said sarcastically, adding, “Strumpet, your words condemn your brat and you. Don’t beg for mercy, for it is in vain.”

“Then lead me away,” Joan la Pucelle said. “With all of you I leave my curse. May the glorious Sun never cast its beams upon the country — England — where you make your abode; instead, may darkness and the gloomy shade of death surround you, until catastrophe and despair drive you to break your necks or hang yourselves!”

The Duke of York said to her as the guards took her away, “May you break into pieces and be consumed by fire until you are ashes, you foul accursed minister of Hell!”

The Cardinal of Winchester arrived; with him were some attendants.

He said to the Duke of York, “Lord Regent, I greet your excellence with letters of commission from the King. For you should know, my lords, that the rulers of Christendom, moved with regret and sorrow for these outrageous, violent battles, have earnestly implored that a general peace be made between our nation of England and the aspiring French, and here at hand the Dauphin and his retinue are approaching in order to confer about some business.”

“Is all our travail turned to this effect?” the Duke of York said. “Is this the result of all our effort and trouble? After the slaughter of so many peers, and so many Captains, gentlemen, and soldiers who in this quarrel have been overthrown and sold their bodies for their country’s benefit, shall we at last conclude with an effeminate, unmanly peace? Haven’t we lost because of treason, falsehood, and treachery the greater part of all the towns that our great progenitors such as King Henry V had conquered?

“Oh, Warwick, Earl of Warwick! I foresee with grief the utter loss of all the realm of France.”

“Be patient, Duke of York,” the Earl of Warwick said. “If we arrange a peace treaty with France, it shall be with such strict and severe conditions that the Frenchmen shall gain little thereby.”

Charles the Dauphin, the Duke of Alençon, the Bastard of Orleans, Reignier, and others arrived.

Charles the Dauphin said, “Since, lords of England, it is thus agreed that a peaceful truce shall be proclaimed in France, we have come to be informed by you what the conditions of that peace treaty must be.”

The Duke of York said, “Speak, Cardinal of Winchester; for boiling anger chokes the hollow passage of my poisoned voice because I see these our mortal enemies.”

The Cardinal of Winchester said, “Charles, and the rest, this is what has been decreed. King Henry VI gives his consent, in pure compassion and mercifulness to ease your country of distressful war and allow you to breathe in fruitful peace, as long as you shall become true and loyal liegemen to his crown — and Charles, upon the condition you will swear to pay him tribute and be submissive to him, you shall be placed as Viceroy under him and you will continue to enjoy your regal dignity.”

A Viceroy rules a country on behalf of another ruler to whom the Viceroy is subordinate.

The Duke of Alençon said, “Must he be then simply a shadow of himself? He will adorn his temples with a coronet, and yet, in substance and authority, retain only the privilege of a private man? This offer is absurd and reasonless.”

Nobles, but not Kings, wore coronets. Kings wore crowns.

King Charles VI died two months after King Henry V of England had died. Now the citizens of France regarded Charles the Dauphin as King Charles VII of France. The English believed that King Henry VI of England was also the King of France.

Charles the Dauphin said, “It is known already that I possess more than half the Gallian — French — territories, and in those territories I am shown reverence as their lawful King. Shall I, for the gain of the territories I have not yet vanquished, take away so much from that prerogative of being acknowledged as King as to be called only the Viceroy of the whole?

“No, lord ambassador, I’d rather keep that which I have than, coveting more, be excluded from the possibility of being King of all France.”

“Insulting Charles!” the Duke of York said. “Have you by secret means used intercession to obtain a league and a treaty, and now the matter draws toward a settlement, you stand aloof and quibble?

“Either accept the title you are usurping, which is a gift that comes from our King and is not anything you deserve, or we will plague you with incessant wars.”

Reignier said quietly to Charles the Dauphin so that the English could not hear, “My lord, you don’t do well by being obstinate and disputing details in the course of making this peace treaty. If once it is neglected, ten to one we shall not find the like opportunity to make another such treaty.”

The Duke of Alençon said quietly to Charles the Dauphin so that the English could not hear, “To say the truth, it is your policy to save your subjects from such massacres and ruthless slaughters as are daily seen by our proceeding in hostility. Therefore make this peace treaty now, although you can break it later when you want to.”

The Earl of Warwick asked, “What do you say, Charles? Shall our peace treaty stand?”

“It shall,” Charles said, “with this condition. You will claim no interest in any of our French towns that are fortified with garrisons.”

The Duke of York said, “Then swear allegiance to his majesty, King Henry VI, as you are a knight, never to disobey nor be rebellious to the crown of England. You and your nobles will swear never to disobey or be rebellious to the crown of England.”

The Frenchmen knelt and swore.

The Duke of York said, “So, now dismiss your army when you please. Hang up your battle flags and let your drums be still and quiet, for here we enter upon a solemn peace.”

— 5.5 —

In the royal palace in London, King Henry VI, the Earl of Suffolk, the Duke of Gloucester, and the Duke of Exeter met. Some attendants were present.

King Henry VI said to the Earl of Suffolk, “Your wondrous and splendid description, noble Earl,of beauteous Margaret has astonished me and filled me with wonder.Her virtues graced with external giftsbreed love’s deeply rooted passions in my heart, and just as the strength of tempestuous gusts of windimpels the mightiest ship against the tide,so I am driven by the report of her renowneither to suffer shipwreck or arrivewhere I may have fruition of her love.”

The Earl of Suffolk said, “Tush, my good lord, this superficial tale of her good qualities merely mentions those good qualities that are most apparent.It is only a preface of the praise that she deserves. The chief perfections of that lovely dame, had I sufficient skill to utter them,would make a whole book of enticing lines of praise that would be able to ravish and entrance any dull imagination, and which is more, she is not so divine,so fully replete with all choice delights,that she lackshumbleness of mind. She is content to be at your command. By command, I mean the command of virtuous and chaste intentions,to love and honor you, Henry VI, as her lord and husband.”

King Henry VI said, “And otherwise I, Henry, will never presume. My intentions toward her are honorable.

“Therefore, my Lord Protector, give consent that Margaret may become England’s royal Queen.”

The Duke of Gloucester replied, “If I would give consent to that, I would be giving consent to glossing over and extenuating sin. You know, my lord, that your highness is betrothed to another lady of esteem: You are engaged to marry the daughter of the Earl of Armagnac. How shall we then dispense with that contract of marriage, and not disfigure your honor with reproach?”

The Earl of Suffolk said, “As does a ruler with unlawful oaths.”

King Henry VI’s oath, however, to marry the daughter of the Earl of Armagnac was not unlawful.

The Earl of Suffolk continued, “Or as does one who, at a tournament having vowed to test his strength, yet does not engage in a joust because of his adversary’s odds. A poor Earl’s daughter is unequal odds, and therefore the marriage contract may be broken without offence.”

Dukes outranked Earls, and Kings outranked Dukes. The Earl of Suffolk was saying that a King could do much better than to marry the daughter of an Earl.

The Duke of Gloucester asked, “Why, what, I earnestly ask, is Margaret more than that? Her father is no better than an Earl, although he excels in glorious titles.”

He meant that some of the glorious titles were titular, in name only; for example, they brought no money to Margaret’s father, who was poor for a person of his rank.

“Yes, lord, her father is better than an Earl. He is a King, the King of Naples and Jerusalem, and he has such great authority in France that this alliance — our King married to his daughter — will confirm our peace and keep the Frenchmen in allegiance.”

The Duke of Gloucester objected, “And so the Earl of Armagnac may do because he is a close relative of Charles the Dauphin.”

“Besides,” the Duke of Exeter said, “the wealth of the Earl of Armagnac guarantees a liberal and generous dowry, where Reignier will sooner receive than give. Reignier is poor.”

“A dowry, my lords!” the Earl of Suffolk said. “Don’t disgrace your King like this. Don’t say that he is so abject, base, and poor that he must choose a wife on the basis of wealth and not on that of perfect love. Henry is able to enrich his Queen and does not need to seek a Queen who will make him rich. That is the way worthless peasants bargain for their wives; they are market men who buy and sell oxen, sheep, and horses. Marriage is a matter of more worth than to be dealt in by attorneys and the drawing up of contracts.

“Not whom we want, but whom his grace the King wants, must be the companion of his nuptial bed. And therefore, lords, since he loves her most, this is the reason that must be most binding on us out of all these reasons, and so in our opinions Margaret should be preferred as King Henry VI’s wife.

“For what is forced wedlock but a Hell, a lifetime of discord and continual strife? In contrast, the contrary — a marriage that is chosen, not forced — brings bliss, and is a pattern of celestial, Heavenly peace.

“Whom should we match with Henry, who is a King, but Margaret, who is daughter to a King? Her peerless features, joined with her noble birth, proves her fit for none but a King.

“Her valiant courage and undaunted spirit, more than is commonly seen in women, will give us what we hope for in the children of a King because Henry VI, the son of a conqueror, is likely to beget more conquerors, if he is linked in love with a lady of as high resolve as is fair Margaret.

“So then yield, my lords; and here conclude with me that Margaret shall be Queen of England, and none but she.”

King Henry VI said, “Whether it be through the forcefulness of your report of her, my noble Lord of Suffolk, or because my tender youth was never yet touched with any passion of inflaming love, I cannot tell, but of this I am assured, I feel such sharp dissension in my breast, such fierce alarums both of hope and fear, that the working of my thoughts is making me sick.

“Take, therefore, a voyage on a ship; hurry, my lord, to France. Agree to any legal contracts, and take measures to ensure that Lady Margaret will agree to cross the seas to England and be crowned King Henry VI’s faithful and anointed Queen.

“For your expenses and sufficient outlay of money, from among the people gather up a tenth of their income as a tax.”

English citizens hated such taxes.

King Henry VI continued, “Be gone, I say, for until you return I remain bewildered with a thousand worries.

“And you, good uncle of Gloucester, take no offence at my decision to marry Margaret. If you judge me by what you were when you were younger, not by what you are now, I know it will excuse this swift execution of my will.”

The Duke of Gloucester’s first “marriage” was controversial and illegal. He “married” the Lady Jaquet, the legal wife of John, Duke of Brabant.

King Henry VI continued, “And so conduct me where, away from company, alone, I may consider and meditate on my grief.”

His grief was his not being with Margaret.

King Henry VI and his attendants exited.

The Duke of Gloucester said, “Yes, grief, I am afraid, both at first and last, both at the beginning and the end.”

This kind of grief was trouble. He believed that King Henry VI’s marrying Margaret would bring bitter trouble to England.

The Duke of Gloucester and the Duke of Exeter exited.

Alone, the Earl of Suffolk said to himself, “Thus I, Suffolk, have prevailed; and thus I go, as the youthful Paris went once to Greece, with hope to find the like event in love, but prosper better than the Trojan did.”

The Trojan Prince Paris caused the Trojan War by going to Sparta, Greece, and running off with Helen, the wife of Menelaus, the King of Sparta.

The Earl of Suffolk was saying that he hoped to sleep with Margaret, but that he hoped to do so without having to suffer such bad consequences as a war.

He continued, “Margaret shall now be Queen of England, and rule the King. But I will rule her, the King, and the realm of England.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s 1 HENRY VI: A Retelling in Prose — Act 5, Scene 3

— 5.3 —

The battle was taking place before Angiers.

Joan la Pucelle, alone, said, “The Regent — the English Duke of York — conquers, and the Frenchmen flee. Now help, you magic spells and amulets and you excellent spirits who forewarn me and give me signs of future events.”

Thunder sounded as the fiends came closer.

Joan la Pucelle said, “You speedy helpers, who are subordinates of the lordly monarch of the north, appear and aid me in this enterprise.”

Lucifer is “the lordly monarch of the north,” according to Isaiah 14:12-14  (King James Version):

12 How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!

13 For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north:

14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.

The fiends arrived.

Joan la Pucelle said, “This speedy and quick appearance argues proof of your accustomed diligence to me. You have always served me well. Now, you familiar spirits, who are culled out of the powerful regions under the earth, help me this once so that France may gain control of the battlefield.”

The fiends walked around; they did not speak to Joan la Pucelle.

She said, “Oh, don’t hold me here with your silence very long! I used to be accustomed to feed you with my blood, but now I’ll lop a limb off and give it to you as a down payment of a further benefit — if you condescend to help me now.”

In this culture, witches were thought to have an extra nipple that they used to feed the witches’ human blood to attendant fiends.

The fiends hung their heads.

Joan la Pucelle said, “I have no hope to have help? My body shall pay the recompense, if you will grant my request for help.”

The fiends shook their heads.

She said, “Can’t my body or my blood-sacrifice persuade you to give me your usual help? Then take my soul, my body, soul and all, before England defeats the French.”

The fiends exited.

She said, “See, they forsake me! Now the time has come that France must cast down her lofty-plumed crest and let her head fall into England’s lap. My ancient incantations are too weak, and Hell is too strong for me to fight. Now, France, your glory droops to the dust.”

The battle continued.

The Duke of York and the Duke of Burgundy fought, the French fled, and the Duke of York took Joan la Pucelle captive.

The Duke of York said, “Damsel of France, I think I have you fast. Unchain your spirits now with incantatory charms and see if they can gain for you your liberty. You are a splendid prize, fit for the Devil’s respect! Look at how the ugly wench bends her brows and frowns, as if like Circe she would change my shape!”

Circe is an enchantress who in Homer’s Odysseychanges Odysseus’ men into swine.

“Changed into a worse shape you cannot be,” Joan la Pucelle said.

“Charles the Dauphin is a proper man,” the Duke of York said. “No shape but his can please your dainty eye.”

“May a plaguing misfortune light both on Charles and on you!” Joan la Pucelle said. “And may both of you be suddenly surprised by bloody hands as you lie sleeping in your beds!”

“Cruel, cursing hag, enchantress, hold your tongue!” the Duke of York said.

“I ask you to give me permission to curse for awhile,” Joan la Pucelle said.

“Curse, miscreant, when you are tied to the stake and burned,” the Duke of York said.

He dragged her away.

The battle continued, and the Earl of Suffolk, aka William de la Pole, captured Margaret, the daughter of Reignier, and held her by the hand.

“Whoever you are, you are my prisoner,” he said.

Looking at her, he said, “Oh, fairest beauty, do not fear or flee, for I will touch you only with reverent hands. I kiss these my fingers as a pledge of eternal peace,and lay them gently on your tender cheek.Who are you? Tell me, so that I may honor you.”

She replied, “Margaret is my name, and I am daughter to a King — the King of Naples — whoever you are.”

“I am anEarl, and I am called Suffolk,” he said. “Don’t be offended, nature’s miracle,you were destined to be captured by me. So does the swan her downy cygnets — her offspring — protect,keeping them prisoner underneath her wings.Yet, if this servile usage should offend you, go and be free again, as Suffolk’s friend.”

She began to leave.

“Wait!” he said. “Stay here! I have no power to let her leave. My hand would free her, but my heart says no.Just like the sunshine plays upon the smooth, mirrory streams,twinkling another counterfeited, reflected, mirrored beam,so seems this gorgeous beauty to my eyes. She is as beautiful as sunshine gleaming on a smooth stream of water. I would like to woo her, yet I dare not speak. I’ll call for pen and ink, and write my mind.

“Stop, de la Pole! Don’t disparage yourself! Don’t you have a tongue? Isn’t she here in front of you? Will the sight of a woman daunt you?

“Yes, beauty’s Princely majesty is such that it confuses the tongue and makes the senses rough.”

Margaret said, “Tell me, Earl of Suffolk — if that is your name — what ransom must I pay before I can leave? For I perceive that I am your prisoner.”

The Earl of Suffolk said to himself, “How can you know that she will deny my wooing of her, before you make a trial of her love?”

Margaret said, “Why don’t you speak? What ransom must I pay?”

The Earl of Suffolk said to himself, “She is beautiful, and therefore to be wooed. She is a woman, and therefore to be won.”

Margaret said, “Will you accept a ransom? Yes, or no?”

The Earl of Suffolk said to himself, “Foolish man, remember that you have a wife. How then can Margaret be your paramour?”

Margaret said to herself, “It is best for me to leave him, for he will not hear what I say to him.”

The Earl of Suffolk said to himself, “There all is marred; there lies a cooling card.”

A cooling card is something that cools all your hopes.

Margaret said to herself, “He talks at random; surely, the man is mad.”

The Earl of Suffolk said to himself, “And yet a dispensation may be had.”

The dispensation he meant was an annulment of his marriage.

Margaret said to herself, “And yet I wish that you would answer me.”

The Earl of Suffolk said to himself, “I’ll win this Lady Margaret. For whom? Why, for my King! Tush, that’s a wooden thing!”

The wooden — stupid and insane — thing was the action of winning Margaret for someone other than himself.

Margaret said to herself, “He talks of wood. He is some carpenter.”

The Earl of Suffolk said to himself, “Yet even so my fancy for her may be satisfied, and peace can be established between these realms. But there remains a difficulty in that, too, for although her father is the King of Naples, as well as the Duke of Anjou and Maine, yet he is poor, and our English nobles will scorn the match. She can bring King Henry VI no dowry.”

“Can you hear me, Captain?” Margaret asked. “Aren’t you at leisure? Don’t you have time to speak to me?”

She was angry, and so she called him by the lower military title “Captain” rather than the higher noble title “Earl.”

The Earl of Suffolk said to himself, “A marriage between King Henry VI and Margaret shall take place, no matter how much our English nobles disdain it. Henry is young and will quickly agree to the marriage.”

He then said to Margaret, “Madam, I have a secret to reveal.”

Margaret ignored him and said to herself, “What though I am a captive? He seems to be a knight, and he will not in any way dishonor me.”

The Earl of Suffolk said, “Lady, please listen to what I have to say.”

Margaret ignored him and said to herself, “Perhaps the French shall rescue me, and then I need not beg his courtesy.”

The Earl of Suffolk said, “Sweet madam, give me a hearing in a cause —”

Margaret ignored him and said to herself, “Tush, women have been made captives before now.”

The Earl of Suffolk said, “Lady, why do you talk so?”

“I beg your pardon,” Margaret said, “but it is Quid for Quo. You ignored me as I tried to talk to you, and so now I ignored you as you tried to talk to me.”

“Tell me, gentle Princess, would you not suppose that your bondage is happy, if you were to be made a Queen?”

Margaret replied, “To be a Queen in bondage is more vile than to be a slave in base servility, for Princes, Princesses, and nobles should be free.”

“And so shall you, if happy England’s royal King is free.”

Was King Henry VI free? Or was he in bondage to the many people who wanted to manipulate him?

“Why, what concern is his freedom to me?” Margaret asked. “What does his freedom have to do with me?”

“I’ll undertake to make you King Henry VI’s Queen, put a golden scepter in your hand, and set a precious crown upon your head, if you will agree to be my —”

He paused.

Margaret asked, “What?”

The Earl of Suffolk said, “Hislove.”

Margaret replied, “I am unworthy to be King Henry VI’s wife.”

“No, gentle madam; I am unworthy to woo so fair a dame to be his wife and have no portion in the choice myself.”

“The choice” is the thing chosen, aka Margaret. The Earl of Suffolk felt that he was worthy of having a share of Margaret; to woo her and nothave a share of her was beneath him.

He added, “What do you say, madam? Does this content you? Are you happy with what I have said?”

“If it pleases my father, then it pleases me.”

“Then let’s call our Captains and our battle flags forth. And, madam, at your father’s castle wall we’ll crave a parley, so we can confer with him.”

A parley sounded. Reignier appeared on the castle wall.

The Earl of Suffolk said, “Look, Reignier, look, your daughter has been taken prisoner!”

“To whom is she prisoner?” Reignier asked.

“To me,” the Earl of Suffolk replied.

“Earl of Suffolk, why do you tell me this? I am a soldier, and I am not suited to weep or to complain about Lady Fortune’s fickleness.”

“There is a remedy for this situation your daughter is in, my lord,” the Earl of Suffolk said. “Consent, and for your honor give consent, that your daughter shall be wedded to my King. You will benefit from the marriage. Your daughter I have taken pains to woo, and I have won her for King Henry VI. And this her easily endured imprisonment has gained your daughter Princely liberty.”

“Is the Earl of Suffolk saying what he really thinks to be the truth?” Reignier asked.

If Margaret were to marry King Henry VI of England, she would be marrying out of her league.

The Earl of Suffolk replied, “Fair Margaret knows that I, the Earl of Suffolk, do not flatter, make a false face, or feign.”

“Upon your noble guarantee of my safety, I will descend to give you the answer to your just question,” Reignier said.

The Earl of Suffolk nodded to assure Reignier that he would be safe, and he said, “Here I will await your coming.”

Reignier came down from his castle wall.

Reignier said, “Welcome, brave Earl of Suffolk, into our territories. Command in Anjou whatever your honor pleases.”

“I thank you, Reignier. You are happy and fortunate to have so sweet a child, a child suitable to be made marital companion to a King. What answer does your grace make to my petition?”

“Since you deign to woo her little worth to be the Princely bride of such a lord, my daughter shall be Henry VI’s, if he wants her, on the condition that I may quietly enjoy what is my own, the territories of Maine and Anjou, free from oppression or the stroke of war.”

From the English perspective, the territories of Maine and Anjou actually belonged to England, not to Reignier.

“That is her ransom,” the Earl of Suffolk said. “I release her to you, and I will make sure that your grace shall well and quietly enjoy those two territories.”

“And in Henry VI’s royal name, I again give her hand to you, who are acting as that gracious King’s deputy. This action is a sign of plighted faith, a sign that the two are engaged to be married.”

The Earl of Suffolk replied, “Reignier of France, I give you Kingly thanks because this business has been performed for a King.”

He thought, And yet, I think, I could be well content to be my own attorney in this case; I would like to woo Margaret for myself and make her mine.

He said, “I’ll go over then to England with this news, and make this marriage solemnized. So farewell, Reignier. Set this diamond — your daughter — safe in golden palaces that are suitable for it.”

“I embrace you, as I would embrace the Christian Prince, King Henry VI, if he were here,” Reignier said.

Margaret said to the Earl of Suffolk, “Farewell, my lord. You, Earl of Suffolk, shall always have good wishes, praise, and prayers from me, Margaret.”

Reignier left, and Margaret started to go after him, but the Earl of Suffolk said, “Farewell, sweet madam, but listen, Margaret, have you no noble greetings for my King?”

“Tell him such greetings from me as are suitable for a maiden, a virgin, and his servant to say to him.”

“These are words sweetly placed and modestly directed,” the Earl of Suffolk said, “But madam, I must trouble you again. Have you no loving token for his majesty?”

“Yes, my good lord, I send to the King a pure unspotted heart, never yet affected by love.”

“Also send him this,” the Earl of Suffolk said, kissing her.

“That you yourself can send him,” Margaret said. “I will not be so presumptuous as to send such peevish, silly, foolish tokens to a King.”

Margaret exited.

The Earl of Suffolk said to himself, “Oh, I wish that you were mine! But, Suffolk, stop. You must not wander in that labyrinth; there Minotaurs and ugly treasons lurk.”

The labyrinth was where the mythological Minotaur of Crete was kept. The Cretan Princess Pasiphaëhad sex with a bull and gave birth to the half-human, half-bull monster known as the Minotaur. Such sex was illicit, and the Earl of Suffolk, attracted as he was to Margaret, knew that sex with her would be illicit, and since she would be married to King Henry VI, his having an affair with her could be regarded as treason.

He continued, “This is what I will do: Solicit Henry with praise of her wonders. Think about her virtues that outshine the virtues of others. Think about her natural graces that eclipse art. Remember the image of these good qualities of hers often on the seas. I will do all these things so that, when I come to kneel at Henry VI’s feet, I may dispossess him of his wits as he is astonished with wonder at Margaret.”


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David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s 1 HENRY VI: A Retelling in Prose — Act 5, Scenes 1-2

— 5.1 —

In the palace in London, King Henry VI was meeting with the Duke of Gloucester and the Duke of Exeter.

He asked the Duke of Gloucester, “Have you perused the letters from the Pope, the Holy Roman Emperor, and the Earl of Armagnac?”

“I have, my lord,” the Duke of Gloucester replied, “and their purpose is this: They humbly petition your excellence to have a godly peace brought into existence between the realms of England and of France.”

“How does your grace like their proposal?”

“I like it well, my good lord, and I think it is the only way to stop the spilling of our Christian blood and establish peace on every side.”

“Yes, that is true, by the Virgin Mary, uncle,” King Henry VI said, “for I always thought it was both impious and unnatural that such inhuman, atrocious savagery and bloody strife should reign among professors of one faith. The English and the French are Christian.”

“In addition, my lord, the sooner to effect and the surer to bind this knot of amity, the Earl of Armagnac, who is closely related to Charles the Dauphin and who is a man of great authority in France, offers his only daughter to your grace in marriage, along with a large and sumptuous dowry. This is a marriage that will advance peace between England and France.”

“Marriage, uncle!” King Henry VI said. “Alas, my years are young! And it is more suitable for me to devote myself to my study and my books than to engage in wanton dalliance with a paramour.

“Yet call the ambassadors, and as you please, let every one of them have their answers. I shall be well content with any choice that tends to God’s glory and my country’s well-being.”

The Bishop of Winchester had officially become the Cardinal of Winchester. Dressed in the clothing of a Cardinal, he entered the room, along with the three ambassadors representing the Pope, the Holy Roman Emperor, and the Earl of Armagnac. The ambassador representing the Pope was a Papal Legate.

Seeing the Cardinal of Winchester, the Duke of Exeter said to himself, “Has my Lord of Winchester been officially installed as a Cardinal and been given a Cardinal’s rank? Then I perceive that what King Henry V once prophesied will be verified as true: ‘If once Winchester comes to be a Cardinal, he’ll make his Cardinal’s cap equal to the crown.’”

King Henry VI said, “My lords ambassadors, your several petitions have been considered and debated. And therefore we are for certain resolved to draft the conditions of a friendly peace, which we intend shall be transported immediately to France by my Lord of Winchester.”

The Duke of Gloucester said to the ambassador of the Earl of Armagnac, “And as for the offer to my lord from your master, I have informed at length his highness of it, and as he likes the lady’s virtuous gifts, her beauty, and the value of her dowry, he intends that she shall be his wife and the Queen of England.”

King Henry VI said, “As evidence and proof of this marriage contract, take to her and give her this jewel as a pledge of my affection, and so, my Lord Protector, see them safeguarded and safely brought to Dover, where after they board a ship, commit them to the fortune of the sea.”

Everyone exited except for the Cardinal of Winchester and the Papal Legate.

“Wait, my lord Legate,” the Cardinal of Winchester said. “You shall first receive the sum of money that I promised would be delivered to his holiness for clothing me in these grave ornaments — this habit of a Cardinal.”

“I will attend upon your lordship’s leisure,” the Papal Legate said. “I am ready when you are ready.”

The Cardinal of Winchester said to himself, “Now I, Winchester, will not submit, I think, or be inferior to the proudest peer. Duke of Gloucester, you shall well perceive that, neither in birth nor in authority, I the Bishop will be put down or overruled by you. I’ll either make you stoop and bend your knee to me, or sack this country with a mutinous rebellion.”

Although he had become a Cardinal, he had not ceased being a Bishop.

— 5.2 —

On the plains of Anjou, France, Charles the Dauphin was meeting with the Duke of Burgundy, the Duke of Alençon, the Bastard of Orleans, Reignier, and Joan la Pucelle. Soldiers were present. Charles the Dauphin held a letter in his hand.

Charles the Dauphin said, “This news, my lords, may cheer our drooping spirits. It is said that the brave Parisians are revolting against the English and are turning again into the warlike French.”

The Duke of Alençon said, “Then march to Paris, royal Charles of France, and don’t keep back your armies in dalliance.”

Joan la Pucelle said, “May peace be among the Parisians, if they turn to us and join us; otherwise, let devastation battle against their palaces!”

A scout arrived and said, “Success to our valiant General, and happiness to his accomplices!”

“What news do our scouts send?” Charles the Dauphin said. “Please, speak.”

The scout said, “The English army, which was divided into two parties, is now joined into one, and it intends to fight you soon.”

“Somewhat too sudden, sirs, the warning is,” Charles the Dauphin said, “but we will soon provide for them.”

The Duke of Burgundy said, “I trust that the ghost of Lord Talbot is not there. Now that he is gone, my lord, you need not fear.”

“Of all base passions, fear is the most accursed,” Joan la Pucelle said. “Command the conquest, Charles, it shall be yours. Let Henry VI fret and all the world complain.”

She sounded positive that the French would defeat the English.

“Then let’s go on, my lords,” Charles the Dauphin said, “and may France be fortunate!”


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David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s 1 HENRY VI: A Retelling in Prose — Act 4, Scenes 6-7

— 4.6 —

The battle started, and the English fought bravely. At one point, the Frenchmen came close to killing John Talbot, but Lord Talbot rescued him.

“Saint George and victory!” Lord Talbot shouted. “Fight, soldiers, fight! The Regent of France — the Duke of York — has broken his word to me, Lord Talbot, and left us to the rage of France’s swordsmen.

“Where is John Talbot?”

Seeing him, he said, “Pause, and take your breath; I gave you life, and I rescued you from death.”

“Oh, twice my father, twice am I your son!” John Talbot said. “The life you gave me first was lost and done, until with your warlike sword, in spite of fate, to my allotted time of life you gave me a new, later date to die.”

“When from the Dauphin’s crest on his helmet your sword struck fire, it warmed your father’s heart with proud desire of bold-faced victory. Then I, despite my leaden age, quickened with youthful spirits and warlike rage, beat down the Duke of Alençon, the Bastard of Orleans, and the Duke of Burgundy, and from the pride — the best soldiers — of Gallia, aka France, rescued you.

“The angry Bastard of Orleans, who drew blood from you, my boy, and had the maidenhood — the first blood — of your first fight, I soon encountered, and exchanging blows with him I quickly shed some of his bastard blood, and insultingly said to him, ‘I am spilling your contaminated, base, and misbegotten blood, which is mean, ignoble, and very poor, for that pure blood of mine that you forced from Talbot, my brave boy.’ Then, as I moved to destroy the Bastard and end his life, strong reinforcements came in to rescue him.

“Speak, your father’s care and concern. Aren’t you weary, John? How do you fare? Will you now leave the battle, boy, and flee, now that you are sealed and confirmed to be the son of chivalry?

“Flee in order to revenge my death when I am dead. The help of one person stands me in little stead — one person can help me very little. Too much folly is it, well I know, to hazard all our lives in one small boat!

“If I don’t die today from the Frenchmen’s rage, tomorrow I shall die with great old age. The Frenchmen gain nothing by my death if I stay: It is only the shortening of my life by one day. If you die, your mother dies, as does our household’s name, my death’s revenge, your youth, and England’s fame. All these and more we hazard by your stay; all these are saved if you will flee away.”

John Talbot replied, “The sword of the Bastard of Orleans has not made me smart, but these words of yours draw life-blood from my heart. To gain those benefits, bought with such a shame, would save a paltry life and slay bright fame. Before young Talbot from old Talbot flees, may the coward horse that bears me fall and die! And compare me to the peasant boys of France, to be shame’s scorn and subject of mischance! Surely, by all the glory you have won, if I flee, I am not Talbot’s son. So then, talk no more of flight, it does no good. If I am Talbot’s son, I will die at Talbot’s foot.”

Lord Talbot said, “Then follow your desperate sire of Crete, you Icarus.”

Icarus was the son of Daedalus, who designed the labyrinth at Crete to house the Minotaur, the half-bull, half-human man-eating monster. After Daedalus and his son were imprisoned on the island of Crete, Daedalus designed wings made of feathers and wax so that he and his son could fly over the sea to freedom. The wings worked, but Icarus flew too close to the Sun, the heat of which melted the wax, causing the feathers to molt. Icarus fell into the sea and drowned. Icarus could have lived, but his exuberance caused his death.

Lord Talbot continued, “Your life to me is sweet. If you must fight, then fight by your father’s side, and now that you have proven yourself to be commendable, let’s die proudly and with honor.”

— 4.7 —

The battle continued. A servant helped Lord Talbot, exhausted by age and combat, to walk.

Lord Talbot asked, “Where is my other life? My own life is gone. Where’s young Talbot? Where is valiant John? Triumphant Death, smeared with the blood of slain captives, young Talbot’s valor makes me smile at you. When young Talbot saw me shrink down on my knee, he brandished his bloody sword over me, and like a hungry lion, he began to perform rough deeds of rage and stern impatience. But when my angry guard stood alone, tending to my ruin and assailed by none, dizzy-eyed fury and great rage of heart suddenly made him run from my side into the clustering battle of the French, and in that sea of blood my boy drenched his mounting-too-high spirit, and there died my Icarus, my blossom, in his pride.”

The servant said, “My dear lord, look, your son is being borne here!”

Some soldiers arrived, carrying the corpse of John Talbot.

Lord Talbot said, “You grinning jester Death, who laughs at and scorns us here, soon, away from your insulting tyranny, coupled in bonds of perpetuity, two Talbots, winging through the yielding sky, shall spite you and escape mortality.”

He then said to his son’s corpse, “Oh, you, whose honorable wounds make handsome even the appearance of ugly death, speak to your father before you yield your breath! Defy death by speaking, whether or not he will allow you to speak. Imagine that Death is a Frenchman and your foe.

“Poor boy! He smiles, I think, as one who would say, ‘Had Death been French, then Death would have died today.’”

He then ordered, “Come, come and lay him in his father’s arms. My spirit can no longer bear these harms.”

The soldiers brought John Talbot’s corpse over to Lord Talbot, who hugged it and said, “Soldiers, adieu! I have what I want, now that my old arms are young John Talbot’s grave.”

Lord Talbot died.

Fighting broke out, and the servant and soldiers exited, leaving the two corpses behind.

After the battle was over and the French had won, Charles the Dauphin, the Duke of Alençon, the Duke of Burgundy, the Bastard of Orleans, Joan la Pucelle, and some soldiers entered the scene.

Charles the Dauphin said, “If the Duke of York and the Duke of Somerset had brought in reinforcements for the English, this would have been a bloody day for us.”

The Bastard of Orleans marveled, “How the young whelp of Talbot’s, raging-mad, fleshed his puny sword in Frenchmen’s blood!”

He referred to John Talbot’s sword as “puny” because its wielder had been untested in battle before this day.

Joan la Pucelle said, “Once I encountered him, and I said to him, ‘You maiden — virgin — youth, be vanquished by a maiden.’ But, with a proud and majestically high scorn, he answered, ‘Young Talbot was not born to be the pillage of a giglot — harlot — wench.’ Then, rushing into the midst of the French, he left me proudly, considering me unworthy for him to fight.”

The Duke of Burgundy said, “Doubtless he would have made a noble knight. Look at him. On the ground he lies, as if in a coffin, in the arms of the most bloodthirsty nurser of his harms!”

He felt that Lord Talbot had nursed — encouraged — his son to inflict wounds. In doing so, Lord Talbot had also made it possible for his son to suffer wounds.

The Bastard of Orleans said, “Hew them to pieces, hack their bones asunder. Their life was England’s glory, and Gallia’s wonder — France’s object of astonishment.”

Charles the Dauphin said, “No! Don’t! Those whom during their life we have fled, let us not wrong them once they are dead.”

Sir William Lucy arrived with some attendants. Walking in front of him was a French herald.

Sir William Lucy, who had arrived too late to participate in the battle, said, “Herald, conduct me to the Dauphin’s tent, so I can learn who has obtained the glory of the day.”

“On what submissive message have you been sent?” Charles the Dauphin asked. He expected Sir William Lucy to be carrying a message that what was left of the English army was surrendering to him.

“Submission, Dauphin!” Sir William Lucy said. “It is entirely a French word; we English warriors don’t know what it means.”

Sir William Lucy was aware that the English army had lost, but he was putting up a bold and brave front as he sought to learn the fate of Lord Talbot.

He added, “I have come to learn what prisoners you have taken and to survey the bodies of the dead.”

“You ask about prisoners?” Charles the Dauphin said. “Our prison is Hell. We kill our prisoners. But tell me whom you seek.”

Sir William Lucy asked, “Where’s the great Alcides — Hercules — of the battlefield, valiant Lord Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, who was given many titles as a reward for his rare success in arms? He is the great Earl of Washford, Waterford, and Valence. He is Lord Talbot of Goodrig and Urchinfield, Lord Strange of Blackmere, Lord Verdun of Alton, Lord Cromwell of Wingfield, Lord Furnival of Sheffield, the thrice-victorious Lord of Falconbridge; knight of the noble order of Saint George, a worthy of Saint Michael and the Golden Fleece. He is also the great commander-in-chief to King Henry VI in all his wars within the realm of France. Where is he?”

“Here is a silly stately style indeed!” Joan la Pucelle said, mocking the list of titles. “The Sultan of Turkey, who has fifty-two Kingdoms, does not write as tedious a style as this. He whom you magnify with all these titles lies stinking and fly-blown here at our feet.”

Already flies were buzzing around Lord Talbot’s corpse.

Sir William Lucy said, “Has Lord Talbot been slain, the Frenchmen’s only scourge, your kingdom’s terror and black Nemesis?”

Nemesis was an ancient goddess who punished humans who were guilty of pride and arrogance against the gods.

He continued, “I wish that my eyeballs would turn into bullets so that I in rage might shoot them at your faces! I wish that I could call these dead English warriors to life! It would be enough to frighten the realm of France. Even if only Lord Talbot’s picture were left among you here, it would terrify the proudest of you all. Give me their bodies, so that I may bear them away from here and give them burial as befits their worth.”

Joan la Pucelle said, “I think this upstart is old Talbot’s ghost — he must be because he speaks with such a proud commanding spirit. For God’s sake let him have the bodies; if we kept them here, they would only stink and putrefy the air.”

Charles the Dauphin said, “Go and take their bodies away from here.”

“I’ll bear them away,” Sir William Lucy said, “but from their ashes shall be reared a phoenix that shall make all France afraid.”

In the Arden Shakespeare edition of King Henry VI, Part 1, editor Edward Burns writes, “According to myth there is only ever one phoenix bird at any one time, but it regenerates itself from the ashes of its funeral pyre, in the deserts of Arabia, so it is an emblem of the survival of individual worth in defiance of the logic of natural survival.”

Charles the Dauphin replied, “As long as we are rid of them, do with them what you will.”

He then said to the others, “And now to Paris, in this conquering vein. All will be ours, now bloodthirsty Talbot’s slain.”


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David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s 1 HENRY VI: A Retelling in Prose — Act 4, Scenes 4-5

— 4.4 —

On another plain in Gascony was the Earl of Somerset’s army. The Earl of Somerset talked with one of Lord Talbot’s Captains.

The Earl of Somerset said, “It is too late; I cannot send them now. The Duke of York and Lord Talbot too rashly planned this expedition. Our whole army might be engaged and fought with in a sudden attack by the town’s own garrison. The over-daring Talbot has sullied all his gloss of former honor by this heedless, desperate, wild adventure. The Duke of York set him on to fight and die in shame, so that once Talbot is dead, the Duke of York might bear a greater name.”

The Captain looked up and said, “Here comes Sir William Lucy, who with me set forth from our overmatched forces for aid.”

“How are you now, Sir William!” the Earl of Somerset asked. “Whither were you sent?”

“Whither” means “to which place.” Sir William Lucy had been sent to the Duke of York, but he did not want to mention that because it was off-topic. Sir William Lucy had more important things to say. He realized that any reinforcements would arrive after the battle. But he wanted to test the Duke of Somerset and see if he would agree immediately to send reinforcements, and especially if he would not, Sir William Lucy wanted the Duke of Somerset to know the consequences of his actions. The Duke of Somerset should have already sent reinforcements; he should have sent them immediately when the Captain who had arrived before Sir William Lucy had asked for them.

“Whither, my lord?” he said. “I have come from Lord Talbot, who has been bought and sold and betrayed. He, ringed about with bold adversity, cries out for reinforcements from noble York and Somerset, to beat assailing death away from his weak legions, and while the honorable Captain Talbot there drops bloody sweat from his war-wearied limbs, and uses an advantageous military position to draw out and continue the battle while looking for rescue, you, his false hopes, the trust of England’s honor, stay away, aloof with worthless rivalry.

“Don’t allow your private discord to keep away the mustered reinforcements who should lend him aid, while he, a renowned noble gentleman, yields his life while fighting against immense odds. Orleans the Bastard, Charles the Dauphin, the Duke of Burgundy, the Duke of Alençon, and Reignier surround him, and Talbot perishes because of your failure to do your duty.”

“York set him on,” the Duke of Somerset said. “York should have sent him aid.”

“And York as quickly blames your grace, swearing that you are withholding his levied cavalry who were mustered for this expedition.”

“York lies,” the Duke of Somerset said. “He might have sent a request to me and had the cavalry. I owe him little duty, and less love. I think that it would be a foul disgrace to fawn on him by sending the cavalry to him without him first asking for them.”

He was ignoring the earlier words of King Henry VI: “And, my good Lord of Somerset, unite your troops of horsemen with the Duke of York’s bands of soldiers.”

Sir William Lucy said, “The faithlessness of England, not the military might of France, has now entrapped the noble-minded Talbot. Never to England shall he bear his life; instead, he dies, betrayed to fortune by your strife.”

“Come, let’s go,” the Earl of Somerset said. “I will dispatch the horsemen immediately. Within six hours they will be at his aid.”

Sir William Lucy said, “Too late comes the rescue. He is either captured or slain. He could not flee and escape even if he wanted to, if it were possible for him to flee, and Talbot would never flee and escape, even if it were possible.”

“If he is dead, then brave Talbot, adieu!” the Earl of Somerset said.

“His fame lives on in the world, but the shame of his death lives on in you,” Sir William Lucy said.

— 4.5 —

Lord Talbot and John, his son, talked together in the English camp near Bordeaux.

Lord Talbot said, “Oh, young John Talbot! I sent for you so I could tutor you in the strategy of war, so that the name of Talbot might be revived in you when sapless, feeble old age and weak, incapable limbs would bring your drooping father to his chair in his retirement.

“But, oh, malignant and ill-boding stars! Now, my son, you have come to a feast of death, a terrible and unavoidable danger. Therefore, dear boy, mount my swiftest horse, and I’ll direct you how you can escape by sudden flight. Come, don’t dally, be gone and leave immediately.”

John Talbot asked, “Is my name Talbot? And am I your son? And shall I flee? Oh, if you love my mother, don’t dishonor her honorable name by making a bastard and a slave of me! The world will say, ‘He is not Talbot’s blood, not if he basely fled when noble Talbot stood his ground.’”

“Flee, so you can revenge my death, if I am slain,” Lord Talbot said.

“He who flees so will never return again,” John Talbot said. “He who flees once will continue to flee.”

“If we both stay, we both are sure to die,” Lord Talbot said.

“Then let me stay; and, father, you flee,” John Talbot said. “If you die, the loss to our country will be great, so your regard for your life should be great. My worth is unknown, and if I die, our country will feel no loss. If I die, the French can little boast about it. If you die, the French will greatly boast. If you die, our country’s hopes are all lost. Flight cannot stain the honor you have won, but if I flee, flight will stain my honor; I have done no noble exploits, and flight is all I will be remembered for. If you flee, everyone will swear that you made a strategic retreat for military advantage. But if I flee, they’ll say it was out of fear. There is no hope that I ever will stay and fight, if in the first hour of battle I shrink and run away.”

He knelt and said, “Here on my knee I beg mortality, rather than life preserved with infamy.”

“Shall all your mother’s hopes lie in one tomb?” Lord Talbot asked. “Shall her husband and her progeny all lie in one tomb, with no one left alive?”

“Yes, for that is preferable to my shaming my mother’s womb,” John Talbot replied.

“After I give you my blessing, I command you to go,” Lord Talbot said.

“I will go to fight, but not to flee the foe,” John Talbot said.

“Part of your father may be saved in you,” Lord Talbot said. “If you stay alive, some part of me will continue to live.”

“No part of you, my father, but only shame will be in me.”

“You have never had renown, and therefore you cannot lose it.”

“I have your renowned name: the name of Talbot. Shall flight dishonor and abuse it?” John Talbot said.

“Your father’s order to you to flee shall clear you from that stain.”

“You cannot be a witness for me, once you are slain. If death is so unavoidable and so apparent, then both of us should flee.”

“And leave my followers here to fight and die?” Lord Talbot said. “My life has never been tainted with such shame.”

“And shall my youth be guilty of such blame?” John Talbot said. “No more can I be severed from your side than you can divide yourself in two. Stay, go, do whatever you want to; whatever you decide to do, I will do it, also. I will not live, if my father dies.”

“Then here I take my leave of you, fair son, you were born to eclipse and extinguish your life this afternoon.”

He helped his son rise from the ground and added, “Come, side by side together we will live and die. And soul with soul from France to Heaven we will fly.”


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David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s 1 HENRY VI: A Retelling in Prose — Act 4, Scenes 2-3

— 4.2 —

Lord Talbot, accompanied by a trumpeter and a drummer, stood outside the wall of the French city of Bordeaux and ordered, “Go to the gates of Bordeaux, trumpeter. Summon their General to the wall.”

The trumpet sounded, and the French General and some others arrived and stood on the wall of the city.

Lord Talbot said, “English John Talbot, who is a servant in arms to Harry, King of England, calls you Captains forth, and this is what I want: Open your city gates, be humble to us, call my sovereign yours, and do him homage as obedient subjects. If you do these things, I’ll withdraw both my bloodthirsty army and myself. But if you frown upon this proffered peace, then you tempt the fury of my three attendants — lean famine, quartering steel, and climbing fire — who in a moment shall lay your stately and air-defying towers level with the earth if you forsake the offer of their love.”

“Quartering steel” referred to steel weapons that could dismember and quarter — cut into four pieces — bodies.

The French General replied, “You ominous and fearful owl of death, you who are our nation’s terror and their bloody scourge! The end of your tyranny approaches.”

In this culture, the screech of the owl was thought to prophesy death.

The French General continued, “You cannot enter into our city except by dying first, for I assure you, we are well fortified and are strong enough to issue out of the city and fight you. If you retreat from the city, Charles the Dauphin, who has a well-armed army, stands by with the snares of war to entangle you. On either side of you are squadrons who are ready for combat and who will wall you away from the liberty of flight. You can turn to no place for help. Every place you look you will find death in front of you with plainly evident slaughter, and pale destruction will meet you face to face. Ten thousand Frenchmen have taken the sacrament and sworn to make their dangerous artillery explode upon no Christian soul but English Talbot.

“Lo, there you stand, a breathing valiant man with an invincible and unconquered spirit! This is the latest and last glory of your praise that I, your enemy, will endow you with, for before the hourglass, which now begins to run, finishes the progression of its sandy hour, these eyes that see you now well colored and in ruddy good health shall see you withered, bloody, pale, and dead.”

Drums sounded in the distance.

The French General continued, “Listen! Listen! The Dauphin’s drum is a warning bell that sings heavy, serious music to your timorous soul, and my soul shall ring your dire departure — your horrible death — out.”

The French General and the people with him exited from the wall.

Lord Talbot said, “He is not telling a fable; he is not lying. I hear the enemy’s drums.”

He ordered, “Go out, some lightly armed horsemen, and spy on their flanks.”

He then said, “Oh, negligent, careless, and heedless military discipline! We are parked and bounded in a pale, an area bounded by a fence. We are like a little herd of England’s timorous, fearful deer, amazed and bewildered by a yelping kennel of French curs!

“But if we be English deer, then let us be in blood. Let us be in full vigor and not like rascals — weak deer that will fall down after suffering a mere nip from a dog. Let us instead be moody-mad, furiously angry, and desperate stags. Let us turn on the bloody hounds with heads of steel — hard antlers, or steel weapons — and make the cowards stand aloof at bay.”

The French would have Lord Talbot and his army at bay; Lord Talbot and his army would be like a deer making a last stand after being surrounded by hunting dogs. But Lord Talbot and his army would make the enemy stand aloof — stand back and be afraid to fight for a while, despite their advantage.

Lord Talbot continued, “If every Englishman sells his life as dearly as I intend to sell mine, then the Frenchmen shall find dear deer of us, my friends.

“By God and Saint George, Talbot, and England’s right, may our battle flags prosper in this dangerous fight!”

— 4.3 —

On a plain in Gascony, a messenger met the Duke of York. With the Duke of York were a trumpeter and many soldiers.

The Duke of York asked, “Have the speedy scouts who dogged and tracked the mighty army of the Dauphin returned again?”

The messenger said, “They have returned, my lord, and they report that the Dauphin and his army have marched to Bordeaux to fight Lord Talbot. As the Dauphin and his army marched along, your spies saw two mightier armies than that the Dauphin led; these two armies joined with him and also marched for Bordeaux.”

The Duke of York said, “May a plague fall upon that villain the Duke of Somerset, who thus delays my promised supply of horsemen who were levied for this siege! Renowned Talbot expects my aid, but I am treated with contempt by a traitor villain and cannot help the noble chevalier. May God comfort and help him in this difficulty! If he suffers death, farewell to wars in France.”

Sir William Lucy arrived and said to the Duke of York, “You Princely leader of our English strength, never were you so needed on the soil of France. Spur to the rescue of the noble Talbot, who now is girdled with a waist of iron and hemmed about with grim destruction: A belt of enemy warriors encircles him. Go to Bordeaux, warlike Duke! Go to Bordeaux, York! If you do not, then farewell, Talbot, France, and England’s honor.”

The Duke of York said, “Oh, God, I wish that the Duke of Somerset, whose proud heart prevents the departure of my troops of cavalry and will not allow them to come to me, were in Talbot’s place! If that were so, we would save a valiant gentleman — Lord Talbot — by forfeiting the Duke of Somerset, who is a traitor and a coward. Mad ire and wrathful fury make me weep because we die like this, while remiss, careless traitors sleep.”

Sir William Lucy pleaded, “Oh, send some succor to the distressed lord!”

The Duke of York said, “He — Talbot — dies, and we lose; I break my warlike word — my word as a soldier. We mourn, and France smiles. We lose, but they daily gain. All of this happens because of this vile traitor Somerset.”

Sir William Lucy said, “Then may God have mercy on brave Talbot’s soul, and on young John, his son whom two hours ago I met as he traveled toward his warlike, valiant father! For the past seven years, Talbot has not seen his son, and now they meet where both their lives are done. They meet only to die together.”

The Duke of York said, “Alas, what joy shall noble Talbot have to bid his young son welcome to his grave? Leave! Vexation and grief almost stop my breath, seeing that separated relatives should greet each other in the hour of death. Sir William Lucy, farewell; my fortune is that I can do no more than curse the reason — the Duke of Somerset — why I cannot aid the Talbot.

“Maine, Blois, Poictiers, and Tours are won away from England, all because of the Duke of Somerset and his delay in sending me my troops of cavalry.”

The Duke of York and his trumpeter and soldiers exited.

Alone, Sir William Lucy said to himself, “Thus, while the vulture of sedition feeds in the bosom of such great commanders, sleeping neglect betrays to loss the conquest of our scarcely cold conqueror of France, that man who forever lives in our memory: Henry V. While the Duke of York and the Duke of Somerset thwart and cross each other, lives, honors, lands, and all hurry to loss.”


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

— 4.1 —

In a hall of state in Paris, the coronation of King Henry VI as King of France was being held. Present were King Henry VI, the Duke of Gloucester, the Bishop of Winchester, the Duke of York, the Earl of Suffolk, the Duke of Somerset, the Earl of Warwick, Lord Talbot, the Duke of Exeter, the Governor of Paris, and others.

The Duke of Gloucester said, “Lord Bishop of Winchester, set the crown upon his head.”

The Bishop of Winchester set the crown on Henry VI’s head and said, “God save King Henry, of that name the sixth!”

“Now, governor of Paris, take your oath,” the Duke of Gloucester said. “Swear that you acknowledge no other King but him. Esteem as your friends none but such as are his friends, and esteem as your foes but none such as shall intend malicious intrigues against his state: Swear that this shall you do, so help you righteous God!”

Sir John Fastolfe entered the room and interrupted the ceremony, saying to King Henry VI, “My gracious sovereign, as I rode from Calais to hasten to your coronation, a letter was delivered to my hands. It was written to your grace by the Duke of Burgundy.”

Lord Talbot recognized Sir John Fastolfe — the cowardly knight who had fled from battle earlier. Upset by that and by the interruption of the ceremony, he said, “Shame to the Duke of Burgundy and to you! I vowed, base knight, that when I next met you, I would tear the garter from your coward’s leg.”

Sir John Fastolfe was a member of the Order of the Garter, the highest order of knights. They wore a garter just below the left knee. Of course, Lord Talbot did not think that such a cowardly knight should be a member of the Order of the Garter.

Lord Talbot removed Sir John’s garter and said, “Now I have done that because you were unworthily installed in that high degree.

“Pardon me, King Henry VI, and the rest of you. This coward, at the battle of Patay, when my army was in all only six thousand strong and we were outnumbered by the French almost ten to one, even before we met or a single stroke of the sword was given, like a ‘trusty’ contemptible fellow this man ran away. In that battle we lost twelve hundred men. I myself and several other gentlemen besides me were there surprised and taken prisoner.

“So then judge, great lords, if I have done anything amiss in tearing away this fellow’s garter. Decide whether such cowards ought to wear this ornament of knighthood — yes or no.”

The Duke of Gloucester said, “To say the truth, this fellow’s deed was infamous and ill beseeming any common man; this deed is even more ill beseeming a knight, a Captain, and a leader.”

Lord Talbot said, “When this order was first ordained, my lords, knights of the garter were of noble birth, valiant and virtuous, and full of high-minded courage. They were such as earned good reputations in the wars; they did not fear death, nor recoil because of distress, but instead they were always resolute in the direst situations.

“A man who lacks those honorable virtues yet calls himself a knight does nothing but usurp the sacred name of knight; he profanes this most honorable order of knighthood, and he should, if I were worthy enough to be his judge, be quite degraded, like a hedge-born swain who presumes to boast that he has noble blood.”

A “hedge-born swain” is a peasant born under a hedge.

King Henry VI believed everything that Lord Talbot had said, so he said to Sir John Fastolfe, “Stain and disgrace to your countrymen, you hear your judgment! Be off, therefore, you who were a knight. From this time on we banish you, on pain of death.”

Disgraced, John Fastolfe, who had previously been Sir John Fastolfe, exited.

King Henry VI then said, “And now, Duke of Gloucester, my Lord Protector, view the letter sent from our uncle the Duke of Burgundy.”

One of King Henry VI’s uncles was the Duke of Bedford, who had married Anne, the sister of the Duke of Burgundy, and so King Henry VI and the Duke of Burgundy were related by marriage.

The Duke of Gloucester first looked at how the letter was addressed. Normally it would acknowledge Henry VI as King of France as well as of England and Wales, and it would include an acknowledgement that Henry VI was the writer’s sovereign.

The Duke of Gloucester said, “What does his grace mean, that he has changed his style? Nothing more but, plainly and bluntly, ‘To the King!’ Has he forgotten that Henry VI is his sovereign? Or does this churlish address portend some alteration in good will?

“What’s written here in the letter?”

He then read the letter out loud:

“I have, upon special cause, moved with compassion for my country’s destruction, together with the pitiful complaints of such people as your oppression feeds upon, forsaken your pernicious faction and joined with Charles, the rightful King of France.”

The Duke of Gloucester then said, “Oh, monstrous treachery! Can this be true? Can it be that in alliance, amity, and oaths, there should be found such false dissembling and deceitful guile?”

“What!” King Henry VI said. “Is my uncle Burgundy rebelling against me?”

“He is, my lord,” the Duke of Gloucester said. “He has become your foe.”

“Is that the worst of the news that this letter contains?” King Henry VI asked.

“It is the worst, and it is all, my lord, that he writes,” the Duke of Gloucester replied.

“Why, then, Lord Talbot there shall talk with him and chastise him for this abuse,” King Henry VI said.

He then asked Lord Talbot, “What do you say, my lord? Are you willing to do this?”

“Willing, my liege!” Lord Talbot said. “Yes, I am. If you had not already given me this duty, I would have begged you to give it to me.”

King Henry VI ordered, “Then gather strength and march against him immediately. Let him perceive how ill we endure his treason and what an offence it is to flout and abuse his friends.”

“I go now, my lord,” Lord Talbot said. “In my heart I desire always that you may see the destruction of your foes.”

Lord Talbot exited.

Vernon and Basset entered the room. Vernon was wearing a white rose, and Basset was wearing a red rose.

Vernon asked King Henry VI, “Grant me the right of combat, gracious sovereign. Grant me the right of trial by duel.”

Basset said, “And, my lord, grant me the combat, too.”

The Duke of York said about Vernon, “This is my retainer. Hear what he has to say, noble King.”

The Duke of Somerset said about Basset, “And this is my retainer. Sweet Henry, show him favor. Give him what he wants.”

“Be patient, lords,” King Henry VI said, “and allow them to speak.

“Say, gentlemen, what makes you thus exclaim? And why do you crave combat? And with whom?”

Vernon pointed to Basset and said, “With him, my lord; for he has done me wrong.”

Basset said about Vernon, “And I with him, for he has done me wrong.”

“What is that wrong whereof you both complain?” King Henry VI said. “First let me know, and then I’ll give you your answer to your request.”

Basset said, “Crossing the sea from England into France, this fellow here, with a malicious, carping tongue, upbraided me about the red rose I wear, saying that the blood-red color of the leaves represented my master’s blushing cheeks when my master stubbornly rejected the truth about a certain question in the law argued between the Duke of York and him. Vernon also used other vile and ignominious terms. In rebuttal of that rude and ignorant reproach and in defense of my lord’s worthiness, I beg the benefit and legal privilege of fighting a duel.”

“And that is also my petition, noble lord,” Vernon said. “For although he seems with counterfeit and cunning ingenuity to give an attractive appearance to his bold intention, yet you should know, my lord, I was provoked by him, and he first took exceptions at this badge, this white rose, saying that the paleness of this flower revealed the faintness of my master’s heart.”

The Duke of York asked, “Won’t this malice, Somerset, cease?”

The Duke of Somerset replied, “Your private grudge, my Lord of York, will out and be known, no matter how cunningly you try to cover it up.”

King Henry VI said, “Good Lord, what madness rules in brainsick men, when for so slight and frivolous a cause such factious conflicts shall arise! York and Somerset, you are good kinsmen both to yourselves and to me, so quiet yourselves, please, and be at peace.”

The Duke of York said, “Let this dissension first be tried by fight, and then your highness shall command a peace.”

The Duke of Somerset said, “The quarrel concerns none but us alone. Between ourselves let us decide it then.”

The Duke of York threw down his white rose and said, “There is my pledge; accept it, Somerset. Pick it up, and let’s duel.”

Vernon said, “Nay, let the fight rest where it began at first.”

He meant that only Basset and he should fight; the Duke of York and the Duke of Somerset ought not to duel each other.

Basset said, “Confirm it so, my honorable lord. Let Vernon and I fight a duel.”

“Confirm it so!” the Duke of Gloucester said. “Confounded be your strife! And may you two perish, with your audacious prattle! Presumptuous vassals, aren’t you ashamed with this immodest clamorous outrage of yours to trouble and disturb the King and us?

“And you, my lords York and Somerset, I think you aren’t doing well to allow them to make their perverse accusations, much less for you two to take the opportunity from their mouths to raise a civil disturbance between yourselves. Let me persuade you to take a better course of action.”

The Duke of Exeter said, “This quarrel grieves his highness. My good lords, be friends.”

King Henry VI said, “Come here, Vernon and Basset, you who would be combatants. From henceforth I order you, as you love our favor, entirely to forget this quarrel and its cause.

“And you, my lords York and Somerset, remember where we are. We are in France, in the midst of a fickle and wavering nation. If they perceive dissension in our looks and if they perceive that among ourselves we disagree, how will their resentful feelings be provoked to willful disobedience and rebellion!

“Besides, what infamy will there arise when foreign Princes shall be informed that for a toy, a thing of no regard, King Henry VI’s peers and chief nobility have destroyed themselves and lost the realm of France!

“Think upon the conquest of my father and think upon my tender years, and let us not forego for a trifle that which was bought with blood. Let me be the umpire in this disquieting dispute.”

He got a red rose, the emblem of the Lancastrians,and wore it and said, “I see no reason, if I wear this rose, that any one should therefore be suspicious I incline more to Somerset than to York. Both are my kinsmen, and I love them both. People may as well upbraid me for wearing my crown because, in fact, the King of Scots also wears a crown.”

King Henry VI and the Duke of Somerset were both members of the House of Lancaster. Henry VI’s father, Henry V, held the title of Duke of Lancaster. Once he became King Henry V, the title of Duke of Lancaster and his other titles became merged in the crown.

King Henry VI continued, “But your discretions can better persuade than I am able to instruct or teach. And therefore, as we came here in peace, so let us always continue to co-exist in peace and love.

“Kinsman of York, we appoint your grace to be our Regent in these parts of France.

“And, my good Lord of Somerset, unite your troops of horsemen with the Duke of York’s bands of soldiers.

“York and Somerset, like true subjects, sons of your progenitors, go cheerfully together and expend your angry choler on your enemies.

“We ourself, my Lord Protector, and the rest of us after some respite will return to Calais. From thence we will go to England, where I hope before long to be presented, as a result of your victories, with Charles the Dauphin, the Duke of Alençon, and that traitorous rabble.”

Everyone exited except for the Duke of York, the Earl of Warwick, the Duke of Exeter, and Vernon.

The Earl of Warwick said, “My Lord of York, I assure you I thought that the King prettily played the orator.”

“And so he did,” the Duke of York said, “but yet I don’t like his wearing the badge — the red rose — of Somerset.”

“Tush, that was but his fancy, so don’t blame him; I dare presume, sweet Prince, that he thought no harm,” the Earl of Warwick said.

“If I knew for sure that he did — but let it rest,” the Duke of York said. “Other affairs must now be managed.”

Everyone exited except for the Duke of Exeter, who said to himself, “You did well, Richard, the Duke of York, to suppress your voice and opinion because if the passions of your heart had burst out, I am afraid that we should have seen there more rancorous spite and more furious raging quarrels than yet can be imagined or supposed. Nevertheless, no common man who sees this jarring discord of nobility, this jostling of each other in the court, this partisan verbal strife of their supporters, can think other than that it presages some ill event.

“It is a serious matter when scepters are in children’s hands, but it is a much more serious matter when malice breeds unnatural separation and division among members of the same family. When that happens, there comes the rain — there begins confusion and destruction.”

A proverb stated, “Woe to the land whose King is a child.”

Despite their hatred of each other, the Duke of York and the Duke of Somerset were both descended from King Edward III.


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

— 3.4 —

At the palace in Paris were King Henry VI, the Duke of Gloucester, the Bishop of Winchester, the Duke of York, the Earl of Suffolk, the Duke of Somerset, the Earl of Warwick, the Duke of Exeter, Vernon, Basset, and others. Lord Talbot was also present, with some soldiers.

Lord Talbot said, “My gracious King, and honorable peers, hearing of your arrival in this realm, I have for awhile given truce to my wars, so that I may express my homage to my sovereign. In sign of that duty, this arm, which has reclaimed to your obedience fifty fortresses, twelve cities, and seven walled towns of strength, besides five hundred prisoners of high rank, lowers the sword it is holding before your highness’ feet, and with submissive loyalty of heart I ascribe the glory of the conquests I have gotten first to my God and next unto your grace.”

Lord Talbot knelt.

King Henry VI asked, “Uncle Duke of Gloucester, is this the Lord Talbot who has been so long resident in France?”

The Duke of Gloucester replied, “Yes, it is, my liege.”

“Welcome, brave Captain and victorious lord!” King Henry VI said to Lord Talbot. “When I was young — I still am not old — I remember how my father said that a braver champion than you never handled a sword. For a long time, we have been aware and completely convinced of your loyalty, your faithful service, and your toil in war, yet never have you tasted our reward, or been recompensed with so much as thanks, because until now we never saw your face. Therefore, stand up, and for these good and worthy deeds of yours, we here make you Earl of Shrewsbury, and in our coronation you will take a place.”

Everyone exited except for Vernon and Basset. Vernon was wearing a white rose in support of Richard Plantagenet, the Duke of York; Basset was wearing a red rose in support of the Duke of Somerset. The two men were enemies.

Vernon said to Basset, “Now, sir, to you, who were so hot and angry at sea, insulting this white rose that I wear in honor of my noble Lord of York, do you dare to maintain the former words you spoke?”

“Yes, sir,” Basset replied, “as well as you dare to defend the envious barking of your saucy tongue against my lord the Duke of Somerset.”

“Sirrah, I honor your lord as he is,” Vernon said.

In this context, the word “sirrah” was an insult.

“Why, what is he?” Basset said. “He is as good a man as the Duke of York.”

“Listen carefully,” Vernon said. “He is not as good a man as the Duke of York.”

He struck Basset and said, “As testimony thereof, take that.”

Basset said, “Villain, you know the law of arms is such that the penalty is immediate death for whoever draws a sword here, or else this blow should set to flowing your dearest blood.”

The law of arms referred to two things: 1) Drawing a sword in the residence of the King was a mortal offense, and 2) For two soldiers in the English army to draw swords and fight each other in wartime was a mortal offense.

Basset continued, “But I’ll go to his majesty, and request that I may have the liberty to avenge this wrong. When you shall see me next time, I’ll meet you to your cost.”

“Well, miscreant, I’ll be there before the King as soon as you,” Vernon said, “and after the King grants us permission to fight, I will meet you sooner than you wish.”


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

— 3.3 —

On the plains near Rouen, Charles the Dauphin, the Bastard of Orleans, the Duke of Alençon, and Joan la Pucelle talked. Some soldiers were present.

Joan la Pucelle said, “Princes, don’t be dismayed at this event, nor grieve that Rouen has been recovered like this. Care — that is, grief — is no cure, but instead it is corrosive, for things that are not to be remedied. Let wildly enraged Talbot triumph for a while and like a peacock sweep and flaunt his tail; we’ll pull his plumes and take away his train — his peacock tail and his army — if Charles the Dauphin and the rest will just take my advice.”

Charles the Dauphin said, “We have been guided by you hitherto, and we did not mistrust your cunning. One sudden setback shall never breed distrust. We will continue to trust in you.”

The Bastard of Orleans said, “Search your mind for secret stratagems, and we will make you famous throughout the world.”

The Duke of Alençon said, “We’ll set up your statue in some holy place and have you reverenced like a blessed saint. Therefore, sweet virgin, devote yourself to our good.”

Joan la Pucelle said, “Then thus it must be; this is Joan’s plan: By fair persuasive arguments mixed with sugared words, we will entice the Duke of Burgundy to leave the Talbot and to follow us.”

Charles the Dauphin said, “Yes, indeed, sweet thing, if we could do that, France would be no place for Henry’s warriors, nor would England boast to us that France belongs to it, but instead the English would be rooted out from our provinces.”

The Duke of Alençon said, “The English would be expelled forever from France and not have the possession of an Earldom here.”

Joan la Pucelle said, “Your honors shall perceive how I will work to bring this matter to the wished-for end.”

Drums sounded. They were drums first of Talbot’s army and second of the Duke of Burgundy’s army.

Joan la Pucelle said, “Listen! By the sound of the drums, you may perceive that their armies are marching toward Paris.”

The drums of Talbot’s army sounded as the English soldiers marched past.

Joan la Pucelle said, “There goes the Talbot, with his flags unfurled, and all the troops of English soldiers after him.”

The drums of the Duke of Burgundy’s army sounded as the French soldiers in his army marched near Joan and the others.

Joan of Pucelle said, “Now in the rearward come the Duke of Burgundy and his soldiers. Lady Fortune favors us and makes him lag behind. Summon a parley; we will talk with him.”

Trumpets sounded a parley.

Charles the Dauphin called, “We wish to have a parley with the Duke of Burgundy!”

The Duke of Burgundy asked, “Who craves a parley with the Burgundy?”

Joan la Pucelle replied, “The Princely Charles of France, your countryman.”

“What do you have to say, Charles?” the Duke of Burgundy asked, “I am marching away from here.”

“Speak, Pucelle,” Charles the Dauphin said, “and enchant him with your words.”

Joan la Pucelle said, “Brave Burgundy, undoubted hope of France! Wait, let your humble handmaid speak to you.”

“Speak on,” the Duke of Burgundy said, “but don’t be over-tedious. Don’t be too talkative.”

Joan la Pucelle said, “Look on your country; look on fertile France, and see the cities and the towns defaced by the wasting ruination wrought by the cruel foe. Just like the mother looks on her lowly babe when death closes his tender, dying eyes, see, see the pining malady of France. Behold the wounds, the most unnatural wounds, which you yourself have given her woeful breast. Oh, turn your edged sword another way! Strike those who hurt France, and do not hurt those who help France. One drop of blood drawn from your country’s bosom should grieve you more than streams of foreign gore. Return therefore to the side of France with a flood of tears, and wash away your country’s stained spots.”

“Either she has bewitched me with her words, or natural feelings make me suddenly relent,” the Duke of Burgundy said to himself.

Joan la Pucelle continued, “Besides, all the French and all France exclaim to you, doubting your birth and lawful descent. Who have you joined with but a lordly nation who will not trust you except for the sake of profit? When Talbot has once established firm footing in France and made you a tool of evil, who then but English Henry VI will be lord? You will then be thrust out like a fugitive! We remember, and you should note this as good evidence — wasn’t the Duke of Orleans your foe? And wasn’t he held prisoner in England? But when they heard he was your enemy, they set him free without his ransom paid, to spite you, Duke of Burgundy, and all your friends. See, then, you are fighting against your countrymen and you have joined with those who will be your slaughterers.

“Come, come, return; return, you wandering lord. Charles the Dauphin and the others will take you in their arms.”

“I am vanquished,” the Duke of Burgundy said. “These high-minded words of hers have battered me like roaring cannon-shot, and made me almost yield upon my knees.

“Forgive me, country and sweet countrymen; lords, accept this hearty, heartfelt, kind embrace. My forces and my army of men are yours.

“So farewell, Talbot; I’ll no longer trust you.”

Joan la Pucelle thought, cynically, Done like a Frenchman; turn, and turn again! First he fights on one side, and then he fights on the other side!

“Welcome, brave Duke of Burgundy!” Charles the Dauphin said. “Your friendship invigorates us.”

The Bastard of Orleans said, “And it begets new courage in our breasts.”

“Joan la Pucelle has bravely played her part in this, and she deserves a coronet of gold,” the Duke of Alençon said.

“Now let us continue on, my lords, and join our armies,” Charles the Dauphin said, “and seek how we may injure the foe.”


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

— 3.2 —

The English held the city of Rouen, but Joan la Pucelle had a plan to enable the French army to retake the city. She and four French soldiers stood in front of one of the entrances into the city. Joan and the soldiers were carrying sacks of wheat on their backs.

Joan la Pucelle said, “These are the city gates, the gates of Rouen, through which we must make a breach by use of a stratagem. Take heed, and be wary how you express your words. Talk like the vulgar sort of market men who come to gather money for their wheat. If we have entrance, as I hope we shall, and if we find the slothful watch weak, I’ll by a sign give notice to our friends that Charles the Dauphin may kill the watchmen and enter the city.”

The first soldier said, “Our sacks shall be a means by which we can sack the city, and we will be lords and rulers over Rouen. Therefore we’ll knock.”

The first soldier knocked.

An English watchman asked, “Qui la?”

Qui la?” means “Who there?”

The English watchman knew a little French, but not enough to know to say, “Qui est la?”

Qui est la?” means “Who is there?”

Joan la Pucelle said, “Paysans, pauvres gens de France.”

This means “Peasants, the poor tribe of France.”

Realizing that English watchman did not know much French, Joan la Pucelle added this sentence in English: “Poor market folks who come to sell their wheat.”

The English watchman said, “Enter, go in; the market bell has been rung.”

Joan la Pucelle said to herself, “Now, Rouen, I’ll shake your bulwarks to the ground.”

She and the four disguised French soldiers went through the gate into the city.

Charles the Dauphin, the Bastard of Orleans, the Duke of Alençon, Reignier, and some soldiers arrived and stood outside the gate.

Charles the Dauphin said, “May Saint Denis bless this happy stratagem and make it successful! If he does, once again we’ll sleep securely in Rouen.”

The Bastard of Orleans said, “Pucelle and her co-conspirators entered the city here through this gate. Now she is there, how will she specify where is the best and safest passage in?”

Reignier replied, “By thrusting out a torch from yonder tower. Once the torch is discerned, it will show that her meaning is that no entrance to the city is weaker than this one through which she entered.”

Joan la Pucelle appeared on the tower and displayed a burning torch.

She said, “Behold, this is the happy wedding torch that joins Rouen to her countrymen, but this torch’s burning is fatal to the Talbonites!”

The word “Talbonites” meant “the followers of Talbot”; the word used a Latinization of “Talbot.”

She exited.

The Bastard of Orleans said, “See, noble Charles, the beacon of our friend. The burning torch in yonder tower stands.”

Charles the Dauphin said, “Now let it shine like a comet of revenge, a portent prophesying to us the fall of all our foes!”

“Waste no time,” Reignier said. “Delays have dangerous ends. Enter, and cry ‘The Dauphin!’ immediately, and then kill the watchmen.”

A battle trumpet sounded and they entered the city and began fighting.

Talbot appeared and said, “France, you shall rue this treason with your tears, if I, Talbot, can survive your treachery.”

To the English, King Henry VI was also King of France, and so the French who were battling to take the city of Rouen were traitors.

Talbot continued, “Pucelle, that witch, that damned sorceress, has wrought this Hellish and wicked deed without warning, so that only with difficulty did we escape the haughty power of France.”

Then he began to fight again.

As the fighting continued, the Duke of Bedford was carried in a chair to a place where he could watch the fighting. The Duke of Bedford was ill; in fact, he was dying.

The French took the city. Talbot and the Duke of Burgundy left the city and stood together outside by the Duke of Bedford. On the wall of Rouen stood Joan la Pucelle, Charles the Dauphin, the Bastard of Orleans, the Duke of Alençon, and Reignier.

Joan la Pucelle taunted the English: “Good morning, gallants! Do you want wheat for bread?”

She threw grains of wheat at the English.

She added, “I think the Duke of Burgundy will fast before he’ll buy again at such a rate. It was full of darnel; do you like the taste?”

Darnel is a weed that commonly grows among stalks of wheat.

The Duke of Burgundy said, “Scoff on, vile fiend and shameless courtesan! I trust before long to choke you with your own wheat and make you curse the harvest of that wheat.”

Charles the Dauphin said, “Your grace may starve perhaps before that time.”

The Duke of Bedford said, “Let no words, but deeds, revenge this treason!”

“What will you do, good grey-beard?” Joan la Pucelle said, “Break a lance, engage in a jousting match, and charge at death while you sit in a chair?”

Talbot said, “Foul fiend of France, and hag of all malice and spite, you are surrounded by your lustful paramours! Does it become and suit you to taunt the Duke of Bedford’s valiant age and twit in a cowardly way a man who is half dead? Damsel, I’ll have a bout with you again, or else let Talbot perish with this shame.”

The word “bout” could mean a bout of fighting or a bout of sex.

Punning on the word “hot” as meaning “angry” and “horny,” Joan la Pucelle said, “Are ye so hot, sir? Yet, Pucelle, hold your peace. If Talbot do but thunder, rain will follow.”

The English whispered together in a council.

Joan la Pucelle said, “May God speed the Parliament! Who shall be the Speaker of the Parliament?”

“Do you dare to come forth and meet us on the battlefield?” Talbot asked, challenging them to a battle.

Joan la Pucelle said, “It is likely that your lordship takes us then for fools who are willing to fight a risky battle to get what they have already won.”

Talbot said, “I speak not to that railing Hecate — that witch — but to you, Duke of Alençon, and to the rest. Will you, like soldiers, come and fight it out?”

Hecate was an ancient Greek goddess who protected witches.

The Duke of Alençon replied to Talbot, “Signior, no.”

“Signior, hang!” Talbot shouted. “Base muleteers of France! Like peasant footboys they keep behind the wall and dare not take up arms and fight like gentlemen.”

“Let’s leave, Captains!” Joan la Pucelle said. “Let’s get away from the wall, for Talbot means us no goodness by his looks.”

She shouted to Talbot, “May God be with you, my lord! We came here only to tell you that we are here.”

Joan la Pucelle and the others departed from the wall.

Talbot said, “And there will we be, too, before long, or else may reproach be Talbot’s greatest fame! If we don’t retake the city, and soon, let me be remembered as a loser.

“Vow, Duke of Burgundy, by the honor of your house, pricked on by public wrongs sustained in France either to get the town again or die.”

The Duke of Burgundy was French, but he supported the English.

Talbot continued, “And I, as sure as English Henry VI lives and as sure as his father, Henry V, was conqueror here, and as sure as in this recently betrayed town great Coeur-de-lion’s heart was buried, as sure as these things I swear to get the town or die.”

King Henry V had captured the town of Rouen in 1418.

King Richard I, known as Coeur-de-lion or Lionheart, had willed that his heart be buried in Rouen because he so loved and respected the town. He died in 1199 in France, and the rest of his body was buried in Fontevrault.

The Duke of Burgundy said, “My vows are equal partners with your vows. I vow the same thing you do.”

“But, before we go, let’s take care of this dying Prince, the valiant Duke of Bedford,” Talbot said. “Come, my lord, we will take you to some better place that is fitter for sickness and for infirm old age.”

The Duke of Bedford replied, “Lord Talbot, do not dishonor me so. Here I will sit before the wall of Rouen, and I will be partner of your weal or woe.”

The Duke of Burgundy said, “Courageous Duke of Bedford, let us now persuade you —”

The Duke of Bedford interrupted, “— not to be gone from hence, for once I read that brave Uther Pendragon, the father of King Arthur, while sick was carried in a litter to the battlefield and vanquished his foes. I think my being here should revive the soldiers’ hearts because I always identified with them.”

Talbot said, “You have an undaunted spirit in a dying breast! Then so be it. May the Heavens keep the old Duke of Bedford safe! And now no more ado, brave Duke of Burgundy, but we will gather our forces out of hand and set upon and fight our boasting enemy.”

All exited except for the Duke of Bedford and some attendants.

The battle began. Sir John Fastolfe and a Captain came into view. True to his last name, which was similar to Fast-off, Sir John was running away.

The Captain asked, “Where are you going, Sir John Fastolfe, in such haste?”

“Where am I going?” Sir John Fastolfe said. “To save myself by flight. We are likely to be defeated again.”

“What!” the Captain said. “Will you flee, and leave Lord Talbot?”

“Yes,” Sir John Fastolfe replied. “I would leave all the Talbots in the world in order to save my life!”

He ran away.

Cowardly knight!” the Captain said. “May ill fortune follow you!”

The Captain exited.

The battle continued, and the French lost. Joan la Pucelle, the Duke of Alençon, and Charles the Dauphin fled.

The Duke of Bedford, seeing their flight, said to himself, “Now, quiet soul, depart when it pleases Heaven, for I have seen our enemies’ overthrow. What is the trust or strength of foolish man? They who recently were daring with their scoffs are now glad and happy by flight to save themselves.”

The Duke of Bedford died, and his attendants carried him away in his chair.

Lord Talbot, the Duke of Burgundy, and others met and discussed their victory.

Lord Talbot, elated, said, “Lost, and recovered again on the same day! This is a double honor, Burgundy. It is an honor for you and for me. Yet the Heavens have the glory for this victory!”

The Duke of Burgundy replied, “Warlike and martial Talbot, I, the Duke of Burgundy, enshrine you in my heart and there erect your noble deeds as monuments of valor.”

“Thanks, gentle Duke,” Talbot said. “But where is Joan la Pucelle now? I think her old familiar is asleep.”

Witches have familiars: attendant spirits in the form of an animal.

Talbot continued, “Now where are the Bastard’s boasts and Charles’ insults? Are the Bastard and Charles the Dauphin all dejected and downcast?”

He said sarcastically, “Rouen hangs her head for grief because such a ‘valiant’ company has fled.”

He added, “Now we will make arrangements to restore some order in the town, placing therein some expert officers, and then depart to go to Paris and see the King, for in Paris young King Henry VI is staying with his nobles.”

The Duke of Burgundy said, “Whatever Lord Talbot wants pleases me, the Duke of Burgundy.”

Talbot said, “But yet, before we go, let’s not forget the recently deceased noble Duke of Bedford — let’s see that his funeral rites are fulfilled in Rouen. A braver soldier never brought his lance down to the attack position, a gentler heart never governed in court, but Kings and the mightiest potentates must die, for that’s the end of human misery.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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