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

— 3.1 —

At the Parliament House in London, several people were meeting: King Henry VI, the Duke of Exeter, the Duke of Gloucester, the Earl of Warwick, the Duke of Somerset, the Earl of Suffolk, the Bishop of Winchester, Richard Plantagenet, and others. The Duke of Gloucester attempted to present an indictment listing accusations against the Bishop of Winchester to the King, but the Bishop of Winchester grabbed it and tore it up.

The Bishop of Winchester said to the Duke of Gloucester, “Have you come with a carefully considered list of accusations you have written in advance? Have you come with studiously devised written documents, Humphrey, you Duke of Gloucester? If you can accuse me or intend to make charges against me of anything, do it without premeditation, do it extempore, as I with unpremeditated and extemporal speech intend to answer whatever you accuse me of.”

“Presumptuous priest!” the Duke of Gloucester said. “This place commands my patience and so I have to remain peaceful, or you would find out from my reaction that you have dishonored me. Don’t think that although in writing I presented the manner of your vile, outrageous crimes, I have therefore forged lies or am not able verbally to relate the thesis of my pen. No, prelate. Such is your audacious wickedness and your wicked, pestilent, quarrelsome, and malicious deeds that even children prattle about your pride.

“You are a most pernicious usurer, perverse by nature, an enemy to peace; you are lascivious and wanton, more than is well suitable for a man of your profession and degree, and as for your treachery, what’s more evident? You laid a trap to take my life at London Bridge as well as at the Tower of London.

“Besides, I am afraid that if your thoughts were carefully examined, the King, your sovereign, is not quite exempt from the spiteful malice of your pride-swollen heart.”

The Bishop of Winchester said, “Duke of Gloucester, I defy you. Lords, agree to hear what I shall reply to these charges. If I were covetous, ambitious, or perverse, as he says I am, how is it that I am so poor?”

Actually, the Bishop of Winchester was rich. Some of his income came from usurious loans; some of it came from rent charged to brothels that operated on land he owned.

He continued, “Or how does it happen that I don’t seek to advance or raise myself, but keep my wonted calling?”

Actually, the Bishop of Winchester wanted to be installed officially as the Cardinal of Winchester. Earlier, he had been wearing the red robes of a Cardinal despite not being officially installed as Cardinal.

He continued, “And as for dissension, who prefers peace more than I do? Unless I am provoked.

“No, my good lords, these are not the real reasons for our disagreement. These are not the real reasons that the Duke of Gloucester is incensed.

“He is incensed because he believes that no one should rule the country except for himself. He believes that no one but he should be around King Henry VI. This is what engenders thunder in his breast and makes him roar forth these accusations. But he shall know I am as good —”

The Duke of Gloucester interrupted: “— as good! You bastard of my grandfather!”

John of Gaunt was the Duke of Gloucester’s grandfather and the Bishop of Winchester’s father. When Catherine Swynford gave birth to the Bishop of Winchester, she and John of Gaunt were not married, although they married later.

“Yes, lordly sir,” the Bishop of Winchester said, “but what are you, I ask, other than one acting imperiously in another’s throne?”

“Am I not the Lord Protector, saucy priest?”

“And am not I a prelate of the church?”

“Yes, as an outlaw dwells in a castle and uses it to maintain his thievery,” the Duke of Gloucester said.

“Irreverent Gloucester!” the Bishop of Winchester said.

“You are reverent when it comes to your spiritual function — your profession — but not when it comes to your life.”

“The Pope shall make you pay for this,” the Bishop of Winchester said. “Rome shall remedy this.”

“Roam thither, then,” the Duke of Gloucester said.

In the quarrel, the Earl of Warwick took the side of the Duke of Gloucester, and the Duke of Somerset took the side of the Bishop of Winchester.

“Bishop of Winchester, my lord, it is your duty to forbear and control yourself,” the Earl of Warwick said.

 “Yes,” the Duke of Somerset said, “as long as the Bishop of Winchester is not borne down and bullied by superior force. I think my lord the Duke of Gloucester should be religious and know and respect the office that belongs to such as are religious.”

“I think his lordship the Bishop of Winchester should be humbler,” the Earl of Warwick said. “It is not suitable for a prelate to contend in debate in this way.”

“Yes, it is, when his holy state is affected so directly,” the Duke of Somerset said. “His ecclesiastical status is under attack.”

“Whether his state is holy or unhallowed, so what?” the Earl of Warwick said. “Isn’t his grace the Duke of Gloucester Lord Protector to the King?”

Richard Plantagenet thought, Plantagenet, I see, must hold his tongue, lest it be said, “Speak, sirrah, when you should; must your bold verdict enter talk with lords?” Otherwise, I would fling words at the Bishop of Winchester.

Richard Plantagenet knew that his social status was not high enough for him to be allowed to speak up and express his opinion in this quarrel.

King Henry VI, who was young, said, “Uncle of Gloucester and great-uncle of Winchester,you two are the special watchmen of our English commonwealth.I would prevail, if prayers might prevail,and join your hearts in love and amity.Oh, what a scandal it is to our crown that two such noble peers as you should quarrel!

“Believe me, lords, my tender years can tell that civil dissension is a venomous snake that gnaws the bowels of the commonwealth.”

People in this culture incorrectly believed that vipers were born by gnawing their way out of the body of their mother.

Someone shouted outside the room, “Down with the tawny-coats!”

King Henry VI asked, “What disturbance is this?”

The Earl of Warwick replied, “It is an uproar, I dare guess, that has begun through the malice of the Bishop of Winchester’s men.”

Someone shouted outside the room, “Stones! Stones!”

The Mayor of London entered the room and said, “Oh, my good lords, and virtuous Henry, pity the city of London. Pity us! The Bishop of Winchester’s men and the Duke of Gloucester’s men, who were recently forbidden to carry any weapons, have filled their pockets full of small stones. Banding themselves into opposing sides, they throw stones so hard at each other’s heads that many have had their giddy, angry brains knocked out. Our windows and shutters are broken in every street, and out of fear we are compelled to shut our shops.”

Some serving men with bloody heads, fighting, entered the room. Some were wearing blue coats; some were wearing tawny coats.

Using the royal plural, King Henry VI said, “We order you, on your allegiance to ourself, to restrain your slaughtering hands and keep the peace.

“Please, uncle Duke of Gloucester, pacify this strife.”

The first serving man, who served the Duke of Gloucester, said, “If we are forbidden to fight with stones, we’ll use our teeth as weapons.”

The second serving man, who served the Bishop of Winchester, replied, “Do whatever you dare to do, for we are as resolute as you.”

The serving men fought again.

The Duke of Gloucester said, “You who are of my household, leave this foolish disturbance and set this unusual fight aside.”

The third serving man said, “My lord, we know your grace to be a man who is just and upright, and as for your royal birth, it is inferior to none but to his majesty. Therefore, before we will suffer such a Prince as yourself, so kind a father of the commonwealth, to be disgraced by an inkhorn mate — the Latin-writing Bishop of Winchester — we and our wives and children all will fight and have our bodies slaughtered by your foes.”

The first serving man said, “Yes, and the very parings of our nails shall be sharp stakes to be used to fortify a battlefield when we are dead.”

The two groups of serving men started fighting again.

“Stop! Stop, I say!” the Duke of Gloucester said. “If you love me, as you say you do, let me persuade you to stop fighting for awhile.”

“Oh, how this discord afflicts my soul!” the young King Henry VI said. “Can you, my Lord of Winchester, see my sighs and tears and yet you will not at once relent? Who should take pity on me, if you do not? Who would endeavor to prefer peace to war if holy churchmen take delight in quarrels?”

The Earl of Warwick advised both sides to make peace: “Yield, my Lord Protector, Duke of Gloucester; yield, Bishop of Winchester. Yield and make peace, unless you intend with an obstinate refusal to make peace to slay your sovereign and destroy the realm. You see what evil and what murder, too, have been enacted through your enmity; so then, be at peace unless you thirst for blood.”

“He shall submit, or I will never yield,” the Bishop of Winchester said.

“Compassion for the King compels me to stoop,” the Duke of Gloucester said. “Otherwise, I would see the Bishop of Winchester’s heart out of his body, before the priest should ever get that privilege of me.”

“That privilege of me” was ambiguous. The sentence it appears in could mean 1) “Otherwise, I would see the Bishop of Winchester’s heart out of his body, before the priest should ever get my heart out of my body” or 2) “Otherwise, I would see the Bishop of Winchester’s heart out of his body, before the priest should ever get me to humble myself first.”

The Earl of Warwick said, “Look, my Lord of Winchester, the Duke of Gloucester has banished his moody, discontented fury, as is shown by his smoothed forehead. Why do you still look so stern and sorrowful?”

“Here, Bishop of Winchester, I offer you my hand,” the Duke of Gloucester said, holding out his hand.

The Bishop of Winchester, whose name was Henry Beaufort, did not take it.

“Shame on you, great-uncle Beaufort!” King Henry VI said. “I have heard you preach that malice is a great and grievous sin, and now you will not maintain the thing you teach, but instead you will show yourself to be a chief offender in the same?”

The Earl of Warwick said, “Sweet King! The Bishop of Winchester has received a suitable rebuke! For shame, my lord of Winchester, relent! What, shall a child teach you how to act?”

The Bishop of Winchester said, “Well, Duke of Gloucester, I will yield to you. Love for your love and hand for your hand I give.”

They shook hands.

The Duke of Gloucester thought, Yes, but I am afraid that you are shaking my hand with a false heart. You don’t really mean to make peace with me.

He said out loud, “See here, my friends and loving countrymen, this handshake serves as a flag of truce between ourselves and all our followers. So help me, God, I am not lying!”

The Bishop of Winchester thought, So help me, God, I don’t intend there to be peace between the Duke of Gloucester and me!

King Henry VI said, “Oh, loving uncle, kind Duke of Gloucester, how joyful I am made by this contract of peace!”

He said to the serving men who had been quarreling, “Go away, my masters! Trouble us no more, but join in friendship, as your lords have done.”

The first serving man said, “I am happy with this peace agreement. I’ll go now to see a doctor.”

The second serving man said, “And so will I.”

The third serving man said, “And I will see what ‘medicine’ I can get at the tavern.”

The serving men and the Mayor of London exited.

The Earl of Warwick gave a document to King Henry VI and said, “Accept this scroll, most gracious sovereign, which in support of the claim of Richard Plantagenet we give to your majesty so that you may consider it.”

The Duke of Gloucester said, “Well urged, my Lord of Warwick, because, sweet King, if your grace notes every detail, you have great reason to do Richard Plantagenet right, especially for those reasons I told your majesty at Eltham Place.”

“And those reasons, uncle, were very persuasive,” King Henry VI said. “Therefore, my loving lords, our pleasure is that Richard Plantagenet be restored to his hereditary rights and title.”

The Earl of Warwick said, “As the King said, let Richard Plantagenet be restored to his hereditary rights and title. In this way, his father’s wrongs shall receive recompense.”

The Bishop of Winchester said, “What the other lords want, so also do I, the Bishop of Winchester, want.”

King Henry VI said, “If Richard Plantagenet will be loyal, not just that alone will I give to him, but also all the whole inheritance that belongs to the House of York, from whence you spring by lineal descent.”

Richard Plantagenet pledged his loyalty to the King: “Your humble servant vows obedience and humble service until I reach the point of death.”

King Henry VI replied, “Stoop then and set your knee against my foot, and in recompense for that duty you have just performed, I gird you with the valiant sword of York. Rise, Richard, like a true Plantagenet, and rise as the newly created and Princely Duke of York.”

Richard Plantagenet, now the Duke of York, said, “And may I, Richard, thrive as your foes fall! May your enemies die and I thrive! And as my duty flourishes, so may they who think even one complaining thought against your majesty die!”

All said, “Welcome, high Prince, the mighty Duke of York!”

The Duke of Somerset thought, Perish, base Prince, ignoble Duke of York!

The Duke of Gloucester said to King Henry VI, “Now will it best avail your majesty to cross the seas and to be crowned in France. The presence of a King engenders love among his subjects and his loyal friends as it dismays his enemies.”

King Henry V had made a treaty that made the King of England the next King of France. Because the then-King of France died two months after King Henry V had died, King Henry VI of England was regarded — by the English — as the King of France.

Of course, Charles the Dauphin and Joan la Pucelle disagreed.

King Henry VI replied, “When the Duke of Gloucester says the word, King Henry to France goes, for friendly counsel cuts off many foes.”

The Duke of Gloucester said, “Your ships are already prepared for the journey.”

Everyone except the Duke of Exeter left the room.

Alone, the Duke of Exeter said to himself, “Yes, we may march in England or in France, not seeing what is likely to ensue. This recent dissension grown between the Duke of Gloucester and the Bishop of Winchester burns under feigned ashes of forged love and will at last break out into a flame.”

The Duke of Exeter was aware that the quarrel between the Duke of Gloucester and the Bishop of Winchester had not been truly resolved. It was like the coals of a fire burning under ashes; the coals could soon burst into open flame.

He continued, “As festering limbs rot bit by bit until bones and flesh and sinews fall away, so will this base and envious discord grow. And now I fear that fatal prophecy which in the time of King Henry V was in the mouth of every sucking babe: Henry born at Monmouth — that is, Henry V — would win all, and Henry born at Windsor — that is, Henry VI — would lose all. King Henry V won many cities in France, and according to the prophecy, King Henry VI will lose all of those cities. The truth of this prophecy is so plain that I, the Duke of Exeter, wishes that his days may end before that hapless time. I hope to die before I see the prophecy come true.”


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

— 2.5 —

In the Tower of London, Edmund Mortimer, the Earl of March, sat in a chair. With him were some of his jail keepers. He had a claim to the throne, and so King Henry IV had imprisoned him, and King Henry V had continued to imprison him. Now he was old and dying.

Mortimer said, “Kind keepers of my weak, decaying age, let dying Mortimer here rest himself.”

The keepers were both jail keepers and caregivers.

He continued, “Just like the limbs of a man recently dragged from off the rack, so fare my limbs with long imprisonment. And these grey locks of hair, the pursuivants — the heralds — of death, argue the arrival of the end of Edmund Mortimer, who is Nestor-like aged in an age of care.”

Nestor was the old, wise advisor to the Greek commander Agamemnon and the Greek army during the Trojan War.

Mortimer continued, “My eyes, like lamps whose wasting oil is spent, grow dim, as drawing to their end. My weak shoulders, overborne with burdensome grief, and my pithless, feeble, strengthless arms are like a withered vine that droops its sapless branches to the ground. Yet these feet, whose strengthless support is paralyzed, are unable to support this lump of clay, which is swift-winged with desire to get a grave, as if they know I have no other comfort.

“But tell me, keeper, will my nephew come?”

The first jailer said, “Richard Plantagenet, my lord, will come. We sent to the Temple, to his chamber, and the answer was returned that he will come.”

“Good. That is enough,” Mortimer replied. “My soul shall then be satisfied. Poor gentleman! The wrong done to him equals mine. Since King Henry V, who was born at Monmouth, first began to reign, before whose glory I was great in arms, this loathsome imprisonment I have endured, and ever since then has Richard Plantagenet been living in obscurity, deprived of honor and inheritance. But now the arbitrator of despair — just death, the kind umpire of men’s miseries — with sweet release dismisses me from here. I wish Richard Plantagenet’s troubles likewise were ended so that he might recover what was lost.”

Richard Plantagenet entered the room.

The first jailer said, “My lord, your loving nephew now has come.”

“My friend, has Richard Plantagenet come?” Mortimer asked.

Richard Plantagenet answered, “Yes, noble uncle, thus ignobly used, your nephew, the recently despised and insulted Richard, has come.”

Mortimer said to the jailers, “Guide my arms so that I may embrace his neck and on his bosom expend my last gasp. Oh, tell me when my lips touch his cheeks, so that I may affectionately give one fainting kiss.”

With the help of his jailers, Mortimer was able to hug and kiss his nephew.

To Richard Plantagenet, he said, “Now declare, sweet branch from York’s great tree, why did you say that recently you were despised?”

Richard Plantagenet was a member of the York family while Kings Henry IV, Henry V, and Henry VI were members of the Lancaster family, being descended from John of Gaunt, first Duke of Lancaster. Richard Plantagenet’s grandfather was Edmund Langley, Duke of York (1341-1402).

Richard Plantagenet replied, “First, lean your aged back against my arm, and with you in that comfortable position, I’ll tell you about my trouble.

“This day, in an argument about a case, some words were exchanged between the Duke of Somerset and me. During the argument he used his lavish tongue to say words that upbraided me with my father’s death. This reproach set bars before my tongue, or else with similar abuse I would have requited him. Therefore, good uncle, for my father’s sake, in honor of a true Plantagenet and for the sake of kinship, tell me the reason my father, the Earl of Cambridge, was beheaded.”

“He was beheaded for the same reason, fair nephew, that imprisoned me and has detained me during all of my flowering youth within a loathsome dungeon, where I pine and grieve. That reason was the cursed instrument of his decease.”

“Tell me in more detail what reason that was,” Richard Plantagenet said, “because I am ignorant of it and cannot guess.”

He knew the reason, but he wanted to hear Mortimer say it.

Mortimer replied, “I will, if my fading breath permits me and if death does not approach me before my tale is done. King Henry IV, grandfather to this King, Henry VI, deposed his cousin Richard II, who was Edward the Black Prince’s son, the first-begotten and lawful heir of King Edward III, the third of that descent as well as the third Edward. During King Henry IV’s reign, the Percy family of the north, finding his usurpation most unjust, endeavored to advance me to the throne, hoping to make me King. These warlike lords were moved to attempt to do that because — young King Richard II thus removed, leaving no heir begotten from his body — by birth and parentage, I was the next in line to be King, for by my grandmother I am descended from Lionel, who was both the Duke of Clarence and the third son of King Edward III, whereas he — King Henry IV —gets his pedigree from John of Gaunt. But John of Gaunt was only the fourth son of that heroic line, and so I ought to have been made King.

“But listen carefully. In this lofty, high-minded attempt, the Percy family labored to plant the rightful heir, but I lost my liberty and they lost their lives.

“Long after this, when King Henry V, succeeding his father Henry Bolingbroke, aka King Henry IV, reigned, your father, the Earl of Cambridge, again because of pity for my hard distress levied an army, hoping to rescue me and install me in the throne and have me wear the crown. Your father, who was descended from famous Edmund Langley, Duke of York, had married my sister, who became your mother. But, like the rest, your noble father, the Earl of Cambridge, fell and was beheaded. Thus the Mortimers, in whom the title rested, were suppressed.”

“Of the Mortimers,” Richard Plantagenet said, “you, your honor, are the last.”

“True,” Mortimer said, “and you see that I have no children and that my fainting words assure you that I am dying. You are my heir; the rest I wish you to gather.”

The word “gather” meant both to “infer” and to “collect.” Richard Plantagenet could infer that he ought to be King of England, and he could decide to gather an army and collect the crown.

Mortimer continued, “But always be wary in your studious care.”

Attempting to become King of England would be dangerous.

Richard Plantagenet said, “Your grave admonishments prevail with me, but still, I think, my father’s execution was nothing less than bloody tyranny.”

“Be shrewd, nephew,” Mortimer said. “Be shrewd with silence. Strongly fixed is the House of Lancaster — Henry IV, Henry V, and Henry VI were and are Lancastrians — and like a mountain, not to be moved. But now your uncle is dying and thereby removing from here as Princes do their courts, when they are cloyed and satiated with long continuance in a settled place.”

“Oh, uncle, I wish some part of my young years might redeem the passage of your age!” Richard Plantagenet said. “I wish I could use some of my years of life to buy back for you some of your years.”

Mortimer said, “You would then wrong me, as that slaughterer does who gives many wounds when one will kill. Don’t mourn, unless you feel sorrow for my good.”

The last sentence is ambiguous. It can mean 1) Don’t mourn unless you mourn because the good in me is dying, and 2) Don’t mourn unless you use your sorrow to do me good — to get revenge for the wrong done to me.

He continued, “Only give the order and make the arrangements for my funeral, and so farewell, and may all your hopes be fair and may your life be prosperous in peace and war!”

Mortimer died.

Richard Plantagenet said, “And may peace, and no war, befall your parting soul! In prison you spent a pilgrimage and like a hermit passed your days. Well, I will lock his counsel in my breast, and what I am planning — let that rest.

“Keepers, convey him from here, and I myself will see that his burial is better than his life. I will make sure that he receives the honor at his funeral that he was denied during his life.”

The jailers carried away Mortimer’s corpse.

Richard Plantagenet said, “Here dies the dusky, extinguished torch of Mortimer, choked by the ambition of those who are inferior to him. As for those wrongs and those bitter injuries that the Duke of Somerset has offered to my family, I don’t doubt that I will with honor redress them.

“Therefore I now hasten to the Parliament. Either I will be restored to my blood, aka my privileges of noble rank and noble birth that I lost when my father was executed, or I will make my ill the advantage of my good — that is, I will make the injuries done to me fuel my ambition to advance.”


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

— 2.4 —

In a garden with rose bushes, some bearing red roses and some bearing white roses, near the Middle and Inner Temples in London, the Duke of Somerset, the Earl of Suffolk, and the Earl of Warwick stood, along with Richard Plantagenet, Vernon, and another lawyer: six people in all. The Temples were areas devoted to the study and practice of law, and Richard Plantagenet and the Duke of Somerset had been disputing a point of law.

Richard Plantagenet and the Duke of Somerset were both members of royal families, being descended from King Edward III, but Richard Plantagenet was a member of the York family and the Duke of Somerset was a member of the Lancaster family.

King Henry V died on 31 August 1422. In future years, from 1455-1487, the Yorkists and the Lancastrians would fight for power in England in the famous Wars of the Roses. The emblem of the York family would be a white rose, and the emblem of the Lancaster family would be a red rose.

Richard Plantagenet asked, “Great lords and gentlemen, what means this silence? Dare no man answer in a case of truth?”

The Earl of Suffolk said, “Within the Temple Hall we would have been too loud. The garden here is more suitable for our discussion.”

Richard Plantagenet replied, “Then say at once whether I maintained the truth, or wrangling Somerset was in the wrong.”

This was a version of “Heads I win, tails you lose.”

The Earl of Suffolk replied, “Truly, I have been a truant in the law and have been neglectful in my study of it. I have never been able to frame — that is, train — my will to study law, and therefore I frame — that is, adapt — the law to my will.”

The Duke of Somerset said, “My Lord of Warwick, then, you judge between us.”

The Earl of Warwick replied, “Between two hawks, which flies the higher height; between two dogs, which has the deeper bark; between two sword blades, which bears the better temper; between two horses, which carries himself best; between two girls, which has the merriest eye, I have perhaps some shallow spirit of judgment, but in these precise and sharp hair-splitting quibbles of the law, I have to say in good faith that I am no wiser than a jackdaw.”

A jackdaw was reputed to be a foolish bird.

“Tut, tut, here is a mannerly forbearance,” Richard Plantagenet said. “This is a well-mannered refusal to get involved and commit oneself, but the truth appears so naked on my side that any half-blind eye may see it.”

The Duke of Somerset said, “And on my side the truth is so well appareled, so clear, so shining, and so evident that it will glimmer through a blind man’s eye and he will see it.”

Richard Plantagenet said to the men being asked to judge the dispute, “Since you are tongue-tied and so loath to speak, proclaim your thoughts in silent symbols. Let him who is a true-born gentleman and stands upon the honor of his birth pluck a white rose with me from off this rose brier if he thinks that I have pleaded the truth.”

The Duke of Somerset said, “Let him who is no coward and who is no flatterer, but who dares to maintain the party of the truth, pluck a red rose from off this rose briar with me.”

The Earl of Warwick, knowing that white was not considered a color, said, “I love no colors, and without all color — appearance — of base, low, fawning flattery, I pluck this white rose with Richard Plantagenet.”

The Earl of Suffolk said, “I pluck this red rose with young Somerset and say by doing so I think he is in the right.”

Vernon said, “Wait, lords and gentlemen, and pluck no more roses, until you decide that he upon whose side the fewest roses are cropped from the bushes shall yield to the other and say that he has the right opinion.”

The Duke of Somerset said, “Good Master Vernon, it is a good idea. If I have fewer roses plucked in support of me, I will agree that the other person — Richard Plantagenet — is in the right and I will be silent and no longer object.”

Richard Plantagenet said, “I will do the same.”

Vernon said, “Then for the truth and plainness of the case, I pluck this pale and maiden blossom here, giving my verdict on the white-rose side.”

The Duke of Somerset said, “Don’t prick your finger as you pluck the white rose off the bush, lest by bleeding on it you paint the white rose red and thereby fall on my side against your will.”

Vernon replied, “If I, my lord, bleed for my opinion, aka my judgment, then opinion, aka my reputation, which is based on my character, shall be the surgeon to my injury and keep me on the side where I still am.”

The Duke of Somerset said, “Well, well, come on. Who else needs to pluck a rose?”

The lawyer said, “Unless my study and my books are mistaken, the argument you held was wrong in you, and in sign thereof I pluck a white rose, too.”

Four people held white roses: Richard Plantagenet, the Earl of Warwick, Vernon, and the lawyer.

Only two people held red roses: The Duke of Somerset and the Earl of Suffolk.

Richard Plantagenet said, “Now, Duke of Somerset, where is your argument?”

“Here in my scabbard, thinking about doing something that shall dye your white rose a bloody red,” the Duke of Somerset replied.

Richard Plantagenet said, “In the meantime your cheeks imitate our white roses because they look pale with fear, as if they were witnessing that the truth is on our side.”

“No, Plantagenet,” the Duke of Somerset said, “my cheeks are not pale because of fear but because of anger, and your red cheeks blush for pure shame to imitate our roses, and yet your tongue will not confess your error.”

“Doesn’t your rose have a cankerworm eating it, Duke of Somerset?”

“Doesn’t your rose have a thorn, Plantagenet?”

“Yes,” Richard Plantagenet said, “and the thorn is sharp and piercing, to protect its truth, while your consuming cankerworm eats its falsehood.”

The Duke of Somerset said, “Well, I’ll find friends to wear my bleeding roses, and they shall maintain what I have said is true where false, perfidious Plantagenet dare not be seen.”

Richard Plantagenet replied, “Now, by this maiden — white — blossom in my hand, I scorn thee and your fashion, peevish boy.”

Richard Plantagenet insultingly used the word “thee” to refer to the Duke of Somerset. The words “peevish” and “boy” were also insulting.

The Earl of Suffolk, who supported the Duke of Somerset, said, “Don’t turn your scorns this way, Plantagenet.”

The Earl of Suffolk’s name was William de la Pole.

Richard Plantagenet said to him, “Proud Pole, I will, and I scorn both him and thee.”

“I’ll turn my part of that scorn into your throat,” the Earl of Suffolk said.

“Let’s go, let’s go, good William de la Pole!” the Duke of Somerset said. “We show grace to the yeoman by conversing with him.”

Calling Richard Plantagenet a “yeoman” was another insult. A “yeoman” was not a noble. Richard Plantagenet came from a noble family, but his father had been executed for treason by order of King Henry V and as a result Richard Plantagenet had lost his land and his noble titles.

The Earl of Warwick said, “Now, by God’s will, you wrong him, Duke of Somerset. His grandfather was Lionel, Duke of Clarence, who was the third son to Edward III, King of England. Do crestless yeomen spring from so deep a root?”

A crest is a part of a heraldic display and sits on top of the helmet.

Richard Plantagenet said, “He knows about this place’s privilege — no violence is allowed here. If not for that, he would not dare, for all his cowardly heart, to say this.”

“By Him Who made me, on any plot of ground in Christendom I’ll maintain my words are true,” the Duke of Somerset said. “Wasn’t your father, Richard, Earl of Cambridge, executed for treason in the reign of our late King Henry V? And, because of his treason, don’t you stand tainted, deprived of your titles, and excluded from ancient gentry — long-established high rank? His trespass — his treason — yet lives on guilty in your blood, and until you are restored to your titles, you are a yeoman, a commoner.”

Richard Plantagenet replied, “My father was arrested, not attainted. He was condemned to die for treason, but he was no traitor. And I will prove that in a trial of combat on better men than you, Duke of Somerset, when I have the opportunity.”

He meant that his father had been arrested and executed for treason by the order of King Henry V; this had not been done by a full bill of attainder in Parliament and so his father had not been attainted. A bill of attainder is a legislative bill declaring a person or a group of people guilty of crime and ordering punishment for the crime.

Richard Plantagenet continued, “As for your associate William de la Pole and you yourself, I’ll note you in my book of memory so that I remember to scourge you for this opinion. Look to see it happen and say you are well warned.”

The Duke of Somerset replied, “Ah, you shall find us ready for thee always, and you will know us by these colors — we will wear the red rose — for your foes, for my friends shall wear the red rose in defiance of thee.”

Richard Plantagenet said, “And, by my soul, this pale and angry rose, as a sign of my bloodthirsty and blood-drinking hate, I and my faction will forever wear, until it withers with me in my grave or it flourishes to the height of my rank and standing.”

The Earl of Suffolk said, “Go forward and be choked with your ambition! And so farewell until I meet thee next.”

The Earl of Suffolk, aka William de la Pole, exited.

The Duke of Somerset said, “I’ll go with you, William de la Pole. Farewell, ambitious Richard.”

The Duke of Somerset exited.

Richard Plantagenet said, “How I am defied and insulted and must necessarily endure it!”

The Earl of Warwick said, “This blot that they object against your house shall be wiped out in the next Parliament, which has been called to make a truce between the Bishop of Winchester and the Duke of Gloucester. If you are not then made the Duke of York, I will not live to be considered the Earl of Warwick. You are as likely not to gain the title of Duke of York as I am to lose my title. In the meantime, as a sign of my love and friendship for you, and in opposition to the proud Duke of Somerset and William de la Pole, I will as a part of your faction wear this white rose. And here I prophesy: This brawl today, grown to this factious quarrel in the Temple garden, shall send between the red rose and the white rose a thousand souls to death and deadly night. Many, many people will die as a result of this quarrel that happened tonight.”

Richard Plantagenet said, “Good Master Vernon, I am bound to you because on my behalf you plucked a white rose.”

“On your behalf I will always wear a white rose,” Vernon said.

“And so will I,” the lawyer said.

“Thanks, gentle sir,” Richard Plantagenet said. “Come, let us four go to dinner. I dare say that this quarrel will drink blood some day.”


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

— 2.2 —

The English had taken the town of Orleans. Inside the town, Lord Talbot, the Duke of Bedford, the Duke of Burgundy, a Captain, and some others were standing.

The Duke of Bedford said, “The day begins to break, and it now has fled the night, whose pitch-black mantle over-veiled the Earth. Here we will sound retreat and cease our hot pursuit.”

The retreat sounded.

Lord Talbot said, “Bring forth the body of the old Earl of Salisbury, and here raise it in the marketplace, the middle center of this cursed town. Now I have paid the vow I made to his soul; for every drop of blood that was drawn from him, at least five Frenchmen have died tonight. And so that future ages may behold what devastation happened in revenge of him, within their most important temple — the cathedral — I’ll erect a tomb in which his corpse shall be interred. Upon the tomb so that everyone may read it shall be engraved the sack of Orleans, the treacherous manner of his mournful death, and what a terror he had been to France.

“But, lords, in all our bloody massacre, I wonder that we did not meet with his ‘grace’ the Dauphin, his newly come champion — the ‘virtuous’ Joan of Arc — or with any of his false confederates.”

The Duke of Bedford said, “It is thought, Lord Talbot, that when the fight began, roused suddenly from their drowsy beds, amongst the troops of armed men they leapt over the wall in order to find refuge in the fields.”

The Duke of Burgundy said, “As for myself, as far as I could well see through the smoke and dusky vapors of the night, I am sure I scared the Dauphin and his slut; they both came swiftly running arm in arm as if they were a pair of loving turtledoves that could not live apart day or night. After things are set in order here, we’ll follow them with all the power we have.”

A messenger arrived and said, “All hail, my lords! Which of this Princely train do you call the warlike Talbot because of his acts throughout the realm of France that are so much applauded?”

Lord Talbot said, “Here is the Talbot. Who wants to speak with him?”

The messenger replied, “The virtuous French lady, the Countess of Auvergne, with modesty admiring your renown, by me entreats, great lord, you to agree to visit her poor castle where she lives, so that she may boast she has beheld the man whose glory fills the world with loud acclamation.”

The Duke of Burgundy said, “Is that so? So, then, I see that our wars will turn into a peaceful comic sport, when ladies crave to be encountered with.”

One meaning of “to encounter” was “to have sex.”

He added, “You may not, my lord, despise her gentle request. You must see her.”

“Never trust me if I despise her gentle request,” Lord Talbot said, “for when a world of men could not prevail with all their oratory and rhetoric, yet a woman’s kindness has prevailed, and therefore, messenger, tell her that I return great thanks to her and as she requests I will visit her.”

He then asked the other lords, “Will not your honors bear me company when I visit her?”

“No, truly,” the Duke of Bedford said. “It is more than manners demand, and I have heard it said that uninvited guests are often most welcome when they are gone.”

“Well then I will go alone, since there’s no remedy,” Lord Talbot said. “I mean to try this lady’s courtesy.”

He then said, “Come here, Captain.”

He whispered to the Captain and then asked, “Do you understand your orders?”

The Captain replied, “I do, my lord, and I will obey them.”

— 2.3 —

The Countess of Auvergne and her porter were in her castle, preparing for Lord Talbot’s visit. Porters take care of gates and entrances.

She said, “Porter, remember what I ordered you to do, and when you have done that, bring the keys to me.”

“Madam, I will,” the porter said, and then he exited.

Alone, the Countess of Auvergne said to herself, “The plot is laid. If all things fall out right, as a result of this exploit I shall become as famous as the Scythian Tomyris became by Cyrus the Great’s death.”

Tomyris, the Queen of the Scythians, sought revenge for the death of her son, who committed suicide after being captured by the Persian King Cyrus the Great’s army. Queen Tomyris led an army against Cyrus the Great’s army, and her army was triumphant and killed Cyrus the Great. According to the Greek historian Herodotus, she had Cyrus the Great’s body decapitated and then took his head and shoved it into a wineskin filled with human blood, saying as she did so, “I warned you that I would quench your thirst for blood!”

The Countess of Auvergne continued, “Great is the rumored reputation of this dreaded knight, and his achievements are of no less account. My eyes and my ears would gladly witness him so that they can criticize and judge these rare reports.”

The messenger entered the room, accompanied by Lord Talbot, who was carrying a horn.

The messenger said, “Madam, just as your ladyship desired, and by message craved, so has Lord Talbot come to visit you.”

“And he is welcome,” the Countess of Auvergne said. “What! Is this the man?”

“Madam, he is,” the messenger said.

“Is this man the scourge of France?” the Countess of Auvergne asked. “Is this the Talbot, who is so much feared abroad that with his name mothers quiet their babes? I see that the reports about him are fabulous and false. I thought that I should have seen some Hercules, a second Hector, for his grim aspect, and the large size of his strongly knit and muscular limbs. Alas, this is a child, a feeble dwarf! It cannot be true that this weak and wrinkled shrimp strikes such terror in his enemies.”

Hercules was an enormously strong PanHellenic hero, famous for the labors he performed in the ancient world. Hector was the greatest Trojan warrior during the Trojan War.

“Madam, I have been bold to trouble you,” Lord Talbot said. “But since your ladyship is not at leisure, I’ll arrange some other time to visit you.”

He turned to leave.

“What is he doing?” the Countess of Auvergne asked. “Go and ask him where he is going.”

“Stay, my Lord Talbot,” the messenger said, “for my lady wants to know the reason for your abrupt departure.”

“I want to show her that she is mistaken,” Lord Talbot said. “I go to certify to her that Talbot is here.”

The Countess of Auvergne thought that Lord Talbot was unimpressive. He was leaving to show her that he in fact was a man who was in control.

The porter came back. He had done his job of locking the gate to the courtyard.

The Countess of Auvergne said, “If you are Talbot, then you are a prisoner.”

“A prisoner!” Lord Talbot said. “To whom?”

“To me, bloodthirsty lord,” the Countess of Auvergne said. “That is the reason I lured you to my house. For a long time your shadow — your appearance — has been a captive to me, for in my gallery your picture hangs. But now the substance — the real man — shall endure the same captivity, and I will chain these legs and arms of yours that have by tyranny these many years wasted our country, slain our citizens, and sent our sons and husbands into captivity.”

Lord Talbot laughed.

“Are you laughing, wretch?” the Countess of Auvergne said. “Your laughing shall change to moaning.”

Lord Talbot said, “I laugh to see that your ladyship is so foolish as to think that you have anything other than Talbot’s shadow on which to practice your cruelty.”

“Why, aren’t you Talbot?” the Countess of Auvergne asked.

“I am indeed.”

“Then I have your substance as well as your shadow.”

“No, no,” Talbot said. “I am only the shadow of myself. You are deceived; my substance is not here, for what you see in front of you is only the smallest part and least proportion of manhood. I tell you, madam, that if the whole frame were here, it is of such a spacious lofty height, your roof were not sufficiently high to contain it.”

He meant that although he was the leader of the English army, he was only a small part of that army. He may have been the head of the army, but the army was the body. His army was much too large for the Countess of Auvergne’s castle to contain.

The Countess of Auvergne said, “This man is a purveyor of riddles for the occasion. Talbot is here, and yet he is not here. How can these contradictory facts agree?”

“I will show you that right now,” Lord Talbot said.

He blew his horn. Military drums started playing, and a cannon fired a cannonball through the courtyard gate. Armed English soldiers rushed into the room.

“What do you say now, madam?” Lord Talbot said. “Are you now persuaded that Talbot is only a shadow of himself? These are his substance, sinews, arms, and strength with which he yokes and makes submit your rebellious necks, razes your cities, and destroys your towns and in a moment makes them desolate.”

“Victorious Talbot!” the Countess of Auvergne said. “Pardon my deception. I find that you are no less than your fame and reputation have proclaimed you to be and that you are more than may be gathered by your shape. Let my presumption not provoke your wrath, for I am sorry that I did not treat you with reverence as you are.”

“Be not dismayed, fair lady,” Lord Talbot said. “And do not misconstrue the mind of Talbot, as you misconstrued the outward composition of his body. What you have done has not offended me, and I do not crave other satisfaction except only, with your permission, that we may taste your wine and see what delicacies you have, for soldiers’ stomachs always serve them well.”

The Countess of Auvergne replied, “With all my heart, and believe that I am honored to feast so great a warrior in my house.”


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

— 2.1 —

On the wall protecting Orleans, which was now controlled by the French, a Sergeant gave orders to two sentinels who would guard the city: “Sirs, take your places and be vigilant. If you hear any noise or see any enemy soldier near the wall, by some evident sign let us have knowledge at the guardhouse.”

“Sergeant, you shall,” the first sentinel said.

The Sergeant exited.

The first sentinel said, “Thus are poor servitors — common soldiers — compelled to watch in darkness, rain, and cold, while others sleep upon their quiet beds.”

Lord Talbot, the Duke of Bedford, the Duke of Burgundy, and some soldiers arrived. They were carrying scaling ladders. A drummer beat quietly on a muffled drum as the soldiers marched. The Duke of Bedford was the Regent of France; he ruled France in King Henry VI’s stead. The Duke of Burgundy was French, but he sided with England.

The Lord Talbot said, “Lord Regent, and feared Duke of Burgundy, by whose arrival the regions of Artois, Wallon, and Picardy are now friends to us, this fortunate night the Frenchmen are unsuspecting and overconfident after having all day caroused and banqueted. We therefore embrace this opportunity as being best fit to repay their deceit contrived by magical art and baleful sorcery. They defeated us with witchcraft.”

“Coward of France!” the Duke of Bedford said, referring to the Dauphin of France. “How much he dishonors his fame and reputation by despairing of his own arm’s fortitude and joining with witches and using the help of Hell!”

The Duke of Burgundy said, “Traitors never have other company, but who’s that Pucelle whom they term so pure?”

“She is a maiden — a virgin — they said,” Lord Talbot replied.

“A maiden!” the Duke of Bedford said. “And yet she is so martial!”

The Duke of Burgundy said, “Pray to God that she proves not to be masculine before long, if underneath the standard of the French she continues to carry armor as she has begun.”

The Duke of Burgundy felt that if Joan were to turn out to be a man under her armor, then things would go even worse for the English; therefore, he wanted the Duke of Bedford to pray to God that Joan really was a woman. One way for her to be proven to be female would be for her to become pregnant.

His words contained wordplay. The “standard of the French” could be a French battle flag or a French penis, since a standard is a thing that can stand up. For Joan to carry armor could mean for her to wear armor or for her to bear, aka carry, the weight — during sex — of a man, such as the Dauphin, who wears armor.

Lord Talbot said, “Well, let them practice and converse with spirits.”

His words also contained wordplay. In this culture, the words “practice” and “converse” both had the meaning of “have sex with.”

He continued, “God is our fortress, and in His conquering name let us resolve to scale the flinty bulwarks of the French.”

“Ascend, brave Talbot,” the Duke of Bedford said, “We will follow you.”

“Let’s not all climb up the same scaling ladder together,” Lord Talbot said. “It’s far better, I guess, that we make our entrance in several places, so that if it happens that one of us fails, then the others may rise against the French force.”

“I agree,” the Duke of Bedford said. “I’ll go to yonder corner.”

“And I will go to this corner,” the Duke of Burgundy said.

Lord Talbot said, “And here will I, Talbot, mount and climb high, or make my grave. Now, Earl of Salisbury, for you, and for the right of English Henry VI, shall this night show how much in duty I am bound to both. I am doing this for both the Earl of Salisbury and King Henry VI.”

They started the attack, and the French sentinels cried, “Arm yourselves! Arm yourselves! The enemy is making an assault on us! The English are attacking us!”

The English soldiers attacked while shouting out such rallying cries as “St. George” and “To Talbot!”

The French were surprised, and some leaped over the wall in their night clothing.

The Bastard of Orleans, the Duke of Alençon, and Reignier, all of whom were in disarray and wearing only part of their armor, which they had hastily put on, appeared.

The Duke of Alençon said, “How are all of you now, my lords! Are all of us so unready to fight back?”

“Unready!” the Bastard of Orleans exclaimed. “Yes, we are, and we are glad we escaped so well. At least we are still alive.”

Reignier said, “It was time, I thought, for us to wake up and leave our beds since we were hearing battle calls outside our chamber doors.”

The Duke of Alençon said, “Of all exploits since I first followed arms, I have never heard of a warlike enterprise more adventurous or risky than this.”

The Bastard of Orleans said, “I think this Talbot is a fiend of Hell.”

Reignier said, “If he is not a creature of Hell, then the Heavens surely favor him.”

“Here comes Charles the Dauphin,” the Duke of Alençon said, looking up. “I wonder how he sped. I wonder how he got on during the attack.”

The Bastard of Orleans said, “Tut, holy Joan was his defensive guard.”

He may have meant that Joan la Pucelle was in bed with Charles the Dauphin when the attack started. If so, “holy Joan” meant “Joan, who has a hole.”

Charles the Dauphin and Joan la Pucelle went over to them.

Charles the Dauphin said to Joan la Pucelle, “Is this your cunning, you deceitful dame? Did you at first, to flatter us, make us partakers of a little gain, so that now our loss might be ten times as much?”

“Why is Charles the Dauphin impatient with his friend?” Joan la Pucelle said. “Do you think that my power is at all times alike? Must I always prevail whether I am asleep or awake, and if I do not will you blame me and lay the fault on me?

“Improvident soldiers! If your watch had been good, this sudden evil misfortune never could have happened.”

Charles the Dauphin said, “Duke of Alençon, this was your fault because as Captain of the watch this night, you took no better care for that weighty responsibility.”

The Duke of Alençon said to the others, “Had all your quarters been as safely kept as that whereof I had the command, we would not have been thus shamefully surprised.”

“The part under my command was secure,” the Bastard of Orleans said.

“And so was mine, my lord,” Reignier said.

Charles the Dauphin said, “And, as for myself, for the most part of all this night, within Joan la Pucelle’s quarters and my own precinct I was employed in passing to and fro and in relieving the sentinels. Therefore how or in which way did the English first break in?”

Joan la Pucelle said, “Discuss, my lords, no further about the case, how or in which way this misfortune happened. It is certain that they found some place only weakly guarded, and that is where the breach was made. And now there remains nothing to do but this: We must gather our soldiers, who are scattered and dispersed, and form new plans to damage the English army.”

A military trumpet sounded, and an English soldier ran onto the scene, crying “To Talbot! To Talbot!” The French fled, leaving behind pieces of armor and weapons they had been carrying.

The English soldier said, “I’ll be so bold as to take what they have left behind. The cry of ‘To Talbot!’ serves me like a sword for I have loaded myself with many spoils, using no other weapon but his name.”


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David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s 1 Henry VI: A Retelling in Prose — Act 1, Scenes 5-6

— 1.5 —

The battle began. Lord Talbot fought Charles the Dauphin and drove him back. Joan la Pucelle fought some English soldiers and drove them back.

Lord Talbot said to himself, “Where is my strength, my valor, and my force? Our English troops retreat, and I cannot stop them. A woman clad in armor chases them.”

Joan la Pucelle approached him.

Lord Talbot said to himself, “Here, here she comes.”

He then said to Joan la Pucelle, “I’ll have a bout with thee. Devil or devil’s dam, I’ll conjure thee. Blood will I draw on thee, for you are a witch, and without delay I will give your soul to him — the Devil — whom you serve.”

People in this culture believed that if you drew blood from a witch, you could gain control over her.

“Come, come,” Joan la Pucelle said. “It is only I who must disgrace thee.”

They fought.

“Heavens, can you suffer Hell so to prevail?” Lord Talbot said in a brief break from fighting. “My breast I’ll burst with the straining of my courage and I’ll crack my arms asunder, but I willchastise this high-minded strumpet.”

They fought again.

“Talbot, farewell,” Joan la Pucelle said. “Your hour to die has not yet come. I must go and provide Orleans with provisions immediately.”

She and her soldiers prepared to go into the town.

She then said to Lord Talbot, “Attack me, if you can; I scorn your strength. Go, go, cheer up your famished men who are dying of hunger. Help the Earl of Salisbury to make his testament. This day is ours, as many more shall be.”

She and the French soldiers exited.

Lord Talbot said to himself, “My thoughts are whirled like a potter’s wheel. I don’t know where I am, nor what I am doing. A witch, using fear, not force, like Hannibal, drives back our troops and conquers as she wishes. Similarly, bees with smoke and doves with noisome stench are driven away from their hives and houses. The French called us for our fierceness English dogs. Now, like puppies, we run away, crying.”

Hannibal was a Carthaginian General who crossed the Alps and entered Roman territory, where he terrorized the Romans while roaming up and down the Roman territory at will.

A military trumpet sounded.

Lord Talbot said, “Hark, countrymen! Either renew the fight, or tear the lions out of England’s coat. Renounce your soil, give sheep in lions’ stead: Sheep run not half as treacherously from the wolf, or horse or oxen from the leopard, as you fly from your often-subdued slaves.”

To flee the enemy can be treacherous. Not only is the battle lost, but great loss of life can occur during an unorganized retreat. Lord Talbot was saying that the English soldiers needed to regroup and fight well, or they might as well replace the lions in the English flag with sheep.

A military trumpet sounded and a short fight took place.

Lord Talbot said, “A victory for us will not be. Retire into your trenches. You all consented to the Earl of Salisbury’s death, for none of you would strike a stroke with your swords in his revenge. Joan la Pucelle has entered Orleans, in spite of us or anything that we could do. I wish that I would die with the Earl of Salisbury! The shame of his death will make me hide my head.”

— 1.6 —

On the wall of Orleans stood Joan la Pucelle, Charles the Dauphin, Reignier, the Duke of Alençon, and some soldiers.

Joan la Pucelle said, “Advance our waving battle flags on the wall; we have rescued Orleans from the English. Thus Joan la Pucelle has performed what she gave her word she would do.”

Charles the Dauphin said to her, “Divinest creature, Astraea’s daughter, how shall I honor thee for this success?”

Astraea is a mythological Greek goddess of justice. When she left Earth, the Iron Age began. When she returns to Earth, a new Golden Age will begin.

He continued, “Thy promises are like Adonis’ gardens that bloomed one day and gave fruit the next day.”

Adonis was a figure in various ancient Greek mystery religions; the plants in his garden grew quickly.

Charles the Dauphin then said, “France, triumph in your glorious prophetess! The town of Orleans has been recovered. A more blessed event never befell our state.”

Reignier said, “Why not order the bells to be rung aloud throughout the town? Dauphin, command the citizens to make bonfires and feast and banquet in the open streets to celebrate the joy that God has given us.”

The Duke of Alençon said, “All France will be replete and satisfied with mirth and joy when they shall hear how we have played the roles of men and fought bravely.”

“It is by Joan, not we, that the day is won,” Charles the Dauphin said. “Because of this victory, I will divide my crown with her, and all the priests and friars in my realm shall in procession sing her endless praise. A statelier pyramid to her I’ll rear than Rhodope’s pyramid at Memphis ever was.”

Rhodope was a 6th-century B.C.E. Greek courtesan who became very wealthy from her profession and was said to have built a pyramid at Memphis, Egypt. She was also said to have eventually married the King of Egypt.

Charles the Dauphin continued, “In memory of her when she is dead, her ashes, in an urn more precious than the richly jeweled coffer of Darius, shall be transported at high festivals before the Kings and Queens of France.”

When Alexander the Great conquered the city of Gaza, among the spoils was a richly jeweled coffer that had belonged to the Persian King Darius, who had unsuccessfully tried to conquer Greece but was defeated in 490 B.C.E. in the Battle of Marathon. Alexander used the coffer to carry his most precious possession: the epic poems of Homer.

Charles the Dauphin continued, “No longer on Saint Denis, the patron saint of France, will we cry, but Joan la Pucelle shall be France’s saint. Come in, and let us banquet royally, after this golden day of victory.”


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

— 1.4 —

A French Master Gunner and his son stood on the wall of Orleans beside a cannon.

The Master Gunner said to his son, “Sirrah, you know how Orleans is besieged by the English, and how the English have won the suburbs surrounding the city.”

Fathers called their sons “sirrah,” a form of address that people of high status used to address males of lower status.

“Father, I know,” the boy said, “and I often have shot at them; however, unfortunately I have always missed my target.”

The Master Gunner said, “But now you shall not miss.”

He meant that the boy would not now fire the cannon; however, the boy, as will be seen, would disobey that order.

The Master Gunner continued, “Do what I tell you to do. I am the Chief Master Gunner of this town, and I must do something that will bring me honor. The ruler’s spies have informed me that the English, who are closely entrenched in the suburbs, are accustomed, through a secret grate of iron bars in yonder tower, to look out over the city, and from there discover how with most advantage they may vex us with shot, or with assault.”

The English had captured a high tower that had been built at the end of a bridge crossing the Loire River. The Master Gunner and his son were in the high tower at the end of the bridge closest to Orleans.

The Master Gunner continued, “To prevent this inconvenience, I have placed opposing that tower this piece of ordnance, and for the past three days I have watched to see if the English lords would appear there. Now I want you to watch because I can stay here no longer. If you see any English lords, run and bring the information to me; you shall find me at the governor’s.”

“Don’t worry, father,” the boy said.

The Master Gunner exited.

His son said to himself, “Father, I promise you that you don’t need to worry that I will bother you with any news. I’ll never trouble you, if I may see any English lords.”

He meant that he would fire the cannon and get the glory for himself.

On the tower, some English lords now arrived: the Earl of Salisbury, as well as Lord Talbot, Sir Thomas Gargrave, and Sir William Glansdale, and others. From the tower, they were able to look down on Orleans and plan where to attack next. But first they talked together and got news from Lord Talbot, who had recently been a prisoner.

The Earl of Salisbury said, “Lord Talbot, my life, my joy, returned again to us! How were you treated when you were prisoner? By what means were you released? Tell us, please, while we are here on this tower’s top.”

Lord Talbot replied, “The Duke of Bedford had a prisoner called the brave Lord Ponton de Santrailles. I was exchanged and ransomed for him. But to show contempt for me, my captors would once have bartered me for a baser man of arms by far. This I, disdaining, scorned. I craved death rather than be so vilely esteemed as to be exchanged for such a base, lowly born man. To conclude, I was redeemed as I desired.

“But the treacherous Fastolfe wounds my heart. I would execute and kill him with my bare fists, if I now had him brought within my power.”

The Earl of Salisbury said, “You haven’t yet said how you were treated when you were a prisoner.”

Lord Talbot replied, “I was treated with scoffs and scorns and contumelious taunts. They displayed me in the open marketplace and made me a public spectacle to all. Here, they said, is the terror of the French, the scarecrow that frightens our children so. Then I broke away from the officers who led me, and I dug with my fingernails stones out of the ground to hurl at the beholders of my shame. My menacing countenance made others flee. None dared come near me for fear of sudden death.

“Even within iron walls they deemed me not safely secured. Such great fear of my name had spread among them that they supposed I could break bars of steel, and kick into pieces posts made of the hardest material. Therefore I had as guards their best marksmen, who walked around me at intervals, and if I only moved out of my bed, they were ready to shoot me in the heart.”

The Master Gunner’s son lit a gunner’s match and placed it in a linstock, a piece of wood with a fork at one end into which the match was placed. That way, the cannon could be fired from a short, but safer, distance.

The Earl of Salisbury said, “I grieve to hear what torments you endured, but we will be revenged sufficiently. Now it is suppertime in Orleans. Here, through this grate, I can count each Frenchman and view how the Frenchmen fortify the city. Let us look at the city; the sight will much delight you.

“Sir Thomas Gargrave, and Sir William Glansdale, let me have your carefully considered opinions about the best place to make our next attack.”

Sir Thomas Gargrave said, “I think we should make our attack at the north gate because lords are standing there.”

Sir William Glansdale said, “And I think we should make our attack here, at the bulwark of the bridge.”

Lord Talbot said, “From what I can see, we must starve the citizens of this city as a military strategy, or weaken it with light skirmishes.”

The Master Gunner’s son shot the cannon.

The Earl of Salisbury and Sir Thomas Gargrave both fell, mortally wounded.

The Earl of Salisbury said, “Oh, Lord, have mercy on us wretched sinners!”

Sir Thomas Gargrave said, “Oh, Lord, have mercy on me, a woeful man!”

“What mischance is this that has suddenly crossed us?” Lord Talbot said. “Speak, Earl of Salisbury; at least, if you can speak, tell us how you are, you mirror and paragon of all martial men? One of your eyes and your cheek’s side have been struck off! Accursed tower! Accursed fatal hand that has contrived this woeful tragedy!

“The Earl of Salisbury conquered in thirteen battles. He was the first who trained King Henry V in warfare. While any trumpeter sounded, or any drummer struck, his sword never stopped striking in the battlefield.

“Are you still living, Earl of Salisbury? Though your speech fails, you still have one eye to look to Heaven for grace and mercy. The Sun with its one eye views the entire world.

“Heaven, be gracious to no one who is alive, if the Earl of Salisbury lacks mercy at your hands!

“Sir Thomas Gargrave, do you have any life left? Speak to me, or look up at me.”

Sir Thomas Gargrave was dead.

Lord Talbot ordered, “Carry his body away; I will help to bury it.”

He then said, “Earl of Salisbury, cheer your spirit with this comfort. You shall not die while —.”

He did not finish his sentence, but instead said about the Earl of Salisbury, “He beckons with his hand and smiles at me like a man who would say, ‘When I am dead and gone, remember to avenge me on the French.’ Plantagenet, I will.”

The Earl of Salisbury’s family name was not Plantagenet, but he was related to the Plantagenets.

Lord Talbot continued, “And I will, like you, Roman Emperor Nero, play on the lute as I watch the towns burn. Wretched and fearful shall the French be if they only hear my name.”

The Roman Emperor Nero was said to have played music while watching Rome burn.

A battle call sounded, and lightning flashed and thunder rumbled.

Lord Talbot asked, “What commotion is this? What tumult is in the Heavens? From where comes this call to battle and this noise?”

A messenger arrived and said, “My lord, my lord, the French have gathered a fighting force. The Dauphin, who has joined with one Joan la Pucelle, a newly risen holy prophetess, has come with a great army to raise the siege.”

The Earl of Salisbury raised himself up on one arm and groaned.

Lord Talbot said, “Hear, hear how the dying Salisbury groans! It irks his heart that he cannot be revenged. Frenchmen, I’ll be a Salisbury to you. Pucelle or puzel, dolphin or dogfish, your hearts I’ll stamp out with my horse’s heels, and I’ll make a quagmire of your mingled brains.”

A “puzel” was a whore. The dolphin was a highly regarded creature of the sea, while a dogfish — a species of small shark — was a lowly regarded creature of the sea.

Lord Talbot ordered, “Convey the Earl of Salisbury for me into his tent, and then we’ll try what these dastardly Frenchmen dare. We will fight these cowardly French soldiers.”


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

— 1.3 —

In London, before the Tower of London, the Duke of Gloucester stood. With him were some serving men, dressed in blue coats; blue was the color traditionally worn by serving men. The Tower of London was a fortress, a prison, and the main armory of London.

The Duke of Gloucester said, “I have come to survey the Tower of London this day. Since King Henry V’s death, I fear, weapons have been stolen from the armory. Where are the guards who ought to be here? Open the gates. It is the Duke of Gloucester who is calling to be admitted.”

The first guard said from inside, “Who’s out there who knocks so imperiously?”

The first serving man replied, “It is the noble Duke of Gloucester.”

The second guard said, “Whoever he is, you may not be let in.”

The first serving man replied, “Villains, do you answer that way to the Duke of Gloucester, who is the Lord Protector?”

The first guard said, “May the Lord protect him! That is how we answer him. We do no otherwise than we are ordered to do.”

“Who ordered you to keep me out?” the Duke of Gloucester asked. “Whose orders ought you to take but mine? There’s no Protector of the Realm other than me.”

He ordered his serving men, “Break up the gates; I’ll be your warranty. Shall I be flouted thus by dunghill grooms?”

Dunghill grooms were servants who cleared away the dung left by horses and other animals.

The Duke of Gloucester’s serving men rushed at the Tower Gates.

Lieutenant Woodville spoke from inside the Tower of London, “What noise is this? What traitors have we here?”

The Duke of Gloucester said, “Lieutenant Woodville, is it your voice I hear? Open the gates. I am the Duke of Gloucester, and I want to enter.”

“Be calm, noble Duke,” Lieutenant Woodville said. “I may not open the gates. The Cardinal of Winchester forbids me to do so. From him I have the explicit command that neither you nor any of your servants shall be let in.”

“Faint-hearted Woodville, do you value him more than you value me? Do you value the arrogant Bishop of Winchester, that haughty prelate, whom Henry V, our late sovereign, never could endure?”

Henry Beaufort was the Bishop of Winchester. The Pope had made him also the Cardinal of Winchester, but the late King Henry V had refused to allow him to be installed as Cardinal. Now that Henry V was dead, the Bishop of Winchester was wearing the red clothing of a Cardinal, although he would not wear it while at court — yet. Later, King Henry VI would allow him to be installed as Cardinal of Winchester and so he would be addressed that way by everyone andhe would wear the red robes of a Cardinal openly.

The Bishop of Winchester and the Duke of Gloucester were related. The Duke of Gloucester’s father was King Henry IV. The Bishop of Winchester was King Henry IV’s half-brother. When the Bishop of Winchester was born, his parents were not married, but they married afterward. John of Gaunt is the Bishop of Winchester’s father and the Duke of Gloucester’s grandfather.

The Duke of Gloucester said to Lieutenant Woodville, using “thou,” which was used when speaking to men of inferior social status, “Thou are no friend to God or to the King. Open the gates, or I’ll shut thee out shortly.”

“Shut thee out” may have meant to shut him out of the Tower of London or to remove him from his job, or both.

The Duke of Gloucester’s serving men said, “Open the gates for the Lord Protector, or we’ll burst them open, if you don’t quickly obey.”

The Bishop of Gloucester arrived at the Tower gates. Accompanying him were his attendants, who wore tawny clothing.

“Greetings, ambitious Humphrey!” the Bishop of Winchester said to the Duke of Gloucester, whose given name was Humphrey. “What does all this commotion mean?”

“Peeled priest, do you command me to be shut out of the Tower of London?” the Duke of Gloucester asked.

A peeled priest was a tonsured priest. A priest of the time would shave the top of his head.

“Peeled” sounded like “pilled,” which meant “threadbare.” Priests were supposed to be humble, but the Bishop of Winchester was wearing the magnificent red robes of a Cardinal.

The Bishop of Winchester replied, “I command you to be shut out of the Tower of London, you most usurping proditor, and not Protector, of the King and realm.”

“Proditor” is an unusual word that means “traitor.”

The Duke of Gloucester said, “Stand back, you manifest conspirator, thou who contrived to murder our dead lord, King Henry V, when he was an infant — thou who gives whores indulgences to sin. I’ll toss thee in your broad Cardinal’s hat as if it were a canvas sheet if you proceed in this insolence of yours.”

The Bishop of Winchester was known for having land on which brothels stood, and so part of his income came from madams and pimps. An indulgence was a sheet of paper that supposedly gave forgiveness of sin in return for a good deed, which usually consisted of a donation to the Catholic Church.

The Bishop of Winchester replied, “No, you stand back. I will not budge a foot. This can be Damascus, and you can be cursed Cain here to slay Abel, your brother, if you want.”

In this culture, people believed that the city of Damascus was built on the location where Cain murdered Abel, his brother.

“I will not slay thee, but I’ll drive thee back,” the Duke of Gloucester said. “Thy scarlet robes as a child’s bearing-cloth I’ll use to carry thee out of this place.”

A bearing-cloth was a christening cloth. The baby was carried in it to the location where it would be baptized.

“Do whatever you dare to do,” the Bishop of Winchester said. “I beard thee to your face.”

“To beard someone” meant “to grab his beard and pull it” — this was a calculated and major insult.

“What!” the Duke of Gloucester said. “Am I dared and bearded to my face? Draw your swords, men, despite this being a privileged place.”

Some places, such as the Tower of London and royal residences, were privileged. Drawn swords and violence were forbidden in those places.

He continued, “Blue coats against tawny coats. Priest, look after your beard because I mean to tug it and to beat you soundly.”

He then stamped his feet and said, “Under my feet I stamp your Cardinal’s hat in spite of Pope or dignities of church. Here I’ll drag thee up and down by your bearded cheeks.”

“Duke of Gloucester, you will answer for this before the Pope,” the Bishop of Winchester said.

“Winchester goose, I cry, ‘A rope! A rope!’” the Duke of Gloucester said.

A Winchester goose was a swelling in the groin that was caused by venereal disease; it also meant a prostitute in the area where the Bishop of Winchester owned much land. Parrots were taught to cry “A rope! A rope!” as a kind of joke. The parrot was supposedly calling for a rope to be used to hang someone.

The Duke of Gloucester ordered his serving men, “Now beat them away from here. Why do you let them stay?”

He then said to the Bishop of Winchester, “Thee I’ll chase away from here, you wolf in sheep’s clothing.

“Get out, tawny coats! Get out, scarlet hypocrite!”

The two groups of men fought, and the Duke of Gloucester’s men beat back the Bishop of Winchester’s men. While the fighting was going on, the Mayor of London and his officers arrived.

“Bah, lords!” the Mayor of London shouted, “It’s a disgrace that you, who are supreme magistrates, thus contumeliously — disgracefully and contemptuously — should break the peace!”

“Be calm, Mayor!” the Duke of Gloucester said. “You know little about my wrongs: Here’s Beaufort, the Bishop of Winchester, who respects neither God nor King; he has here seized the Tower of London for his own use.”

The Bishop of Winchester said to the Mayor, “Here’s the Duke of Gloucester, a foe to citizens, a man who always proposes war and never peace, who overcharges your generous purses with large taxes and levies, who seeks to overthrow religion because he is Protector of the Realm, and who would take the armor here out of the Tower of London and use it to crown himself King and suppress the Prince who is supposed to be crowned King Henry VI.”

“I will not answer thee with words, but with blows,” the Duke of Gloucester said.

He hit the Bishop of Winchester.

“Nothing remains to be done by me in this tumultuous strife but to make open proclamation,” the Mayor said.

He ordered, “Come, officer; as loudly as you can, cry out the open proclamation.”

As the officer knew, part of the Mayor’s duty was to keep the peace.

The officer shouted, “All manner of men assembled here in arms this day against God’s peace and the King’s, we charge and command you, in his highness’ name, to go to your separate dwelling places, and we charge and command you not to wear, handle, or use any sword, weapon, or dagger, henceforward, upon pain of death.”

“Cardinal, I’ll be no breaker of the law,” the Duke of Gloucester said to the Bishop of Winchester. He used the word “Cardinal” as a gesture to show the Mayor that he would keep the peace.

He added, “But we shall meet, and break our minds at large. We will have words and thoroughly let each other know what we think.”

The Bishop of Winchester replied, “Duke of Gloucester, we will meet — to your cost, you can be sure. I will have thy heart’s blood for this day’s work.”

“I’ll call for clubs, if you will not go away,” the Mayor said.

If he were to have the officer call for clubs, the city’s apprentices would come running, carrying clubs that they would use to separate two groups who were fighting.

The Mayor then said to himself, “This Cardinal’s more haughty than the Devil.”

“Mayor, farewell,” the Duke of Gloucester said. “You are only doing your job.”

“Abominable Gloucester, guard your head,” the Bishop of Winchester said, “because I intend to have it before long.”

The Duke of Gloucester and the Bishop of Winchester exited in two separate directions, along with all their men.

The Mayor ordered, “See that the coast is cleared, and then we will depart.”

He then said to himself, “Good God, I can’t believe that these nobles should bear such anger! I myself have fought not even once in forty years.”


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

— 1.2 —

Before the city of Orleans in France, Charles the Dauphin, the Duke of Alençon, and Reignier talked. Some soldiers, a drummer, and some attendants were present.

Charles the Dauphin said, “Mars’ true moving, even as in the Heavens so in the Earth, to this day is not known.”

This culture did not understand the motions of Mars the planet; to this culture, Mars seemed to move erratically in the night sky. Similarly, Mars the god of war seemed to erratically favor one side in a war and then the other side.

Charles the Dauphin continued, “Recently Mars shone and smiled on the English side. Now we are victors; upon us he smiles. We have all of the towns of any importance. At our pleasure we lie here near Orleans. Occasionally, the famished English, like pale ghosts, faintly and feebly besiege us one hour in a month.”

The Duke of Alençon said, “The English lack their meat and vegetable stew and their fat bull-beef. Either they must be fed like mules and have their provender tied to their mouths in feed bags or else they will look piteous, like drowned mice.”

Reignier said, “Let’s raise the siege; let’s put an end to it. Why do we live idly here? Talbot, whom we were accustomed to fear, has been captured. There remains no English military leader except the mad-brained Earl of Salisbury, and he may well spend his gall in fretting because he has neither men nor money to make war.”

“Sound, sound the call to battle!” Charles the Dauphin said. “We will rush on them. Now for the honor of the forlorn French! I forgive any man who kills me when he sees me go back one foot or flee the battle.”

The French and the English fought, and the English badly defeated the French.

“Who ever saw the like?” Charles the Dauphin said. “What ‘men’ I have! Dogs! Cowards! Dastards! I would never have fled except that they left me in the midst of my enemies.”

Reignier said, “The Earl of Salisbury is a desperate homicide; he is a killer of men. He fights as if he were weary of his life. The other lords, like lions lacking food, rush hungrily upon us as if we were their prey.”

The Duke of Alençon said, “Froissart, a 14th-century historian and countryman of ours, records that England bred only Olivers and Rowlands — great warriors — during the reign of King Edward III. More truly now this may be verified because England sends forth none but Samsons and Goliaths to skirmish with us. One Englishman to ten Frenchmen! The English are lean, raw-boned rascals! Who would ever suppose they had such courage and audacity?”

Literally, a rascal is a lean, inferior deer.

“Let’s leave this town of Orleans,” Charles the Dauphin said, “because the English are hare-brained slaves, and hunger will force them to be more fierce and eager to fight. Of old I know them; they would prefer to tear down the wall with their teeth rather than forsake the siege.”

Reignier said, “I think that by some odd mechanical joints or device their arms are set like clocks so that they continually strike blows; otherwise, they could never hold out as they do. I agree that we should let them completely alone.”

“Let it be so,” the Duke of Alençon said.

The Bastard of Orleans arrived. He was the illegitimate son of Louis, the Duke of Orleans. He was also the nephew of King Charles VI, to whom Charles the Dauphin was the oldest surviving son.

The Bastard of Orleans said, “Where’s the Prince Dauphin? I have news for him.”

“Bastard of Orleans, you are thrice welcome to us,” Charles the Dauphin said.

“I think your looks are sad and your face appalled and pale,” the Bastard of Orleans said. “Has the recent defeat brought about this harm? Don’t be dismayed, for succor is at hand. I have brought a holy virgin here with me; she is ordained by a vision sent to her from Heaven to raise this tedious siege and drive the English from the territory of France. The spirit of deep prophecy she has, exceeding the nine Sibyls — prophetesses — of old Rome. What’s past and what’s to come she can descry. Speak; shall I call her in? Believe my words, for they are certain and infallible.”

“Go and call her in,” Charles the Dauphin said.

The Bastard of Orleans exited.

Charles the Dauphin then said, “But first, to test her skill and knowledge, Reignier, you pretend to be me the Dauphin. Question her proudly and with dignity as a man of royalty would and let your looks be stern. By this means we shall find out what skill she has.”

The Bastard of Orleans returned. With him was Joan la Pucelle — Joan the Virgin. History knows her as Joan of Arc.

Reignier asked, “Fair maiden, is it you who will do these wondrous feats?”

Joan la Pucelle replied, “Reignier, is it you who think to trick me? Where is the Dauphin?”

Seeing him behind some other people, she said, “Come, come out from behind them. I know thee well, though I have never seen thee before.”

Joan la Pucelle’s use of “thee” when talking to Charles the Dauphin was remarkable. “Thee” was used when talking to people of lower rank and when talking to friends and family and children. She did not lack confidence.

She continued, “Be not amazed, there’s nothing hidden from me. In private I will talk with thee apart from the others.

“Stand back, you lords, and leave us alone awhile.”

Reignier said, “She takes upon her bravely at first dash. She splendidly takes the initiative on first encountering the Dauphin.”

Joan la Pucelle said, “Dauphin, I am by birth a shepherd’s daughter, and my mind is untrained in any kind of art. Heaven and our gracious Lady — the Virgin Mary — have been pleased to shine on my contemptible state. While I took care of my tender lambs and displayed my cheeks to the Sun’s parching heat, God’s mother deigned to appear to me and in a vision full of majesty willed me to leave my base and lowborn vocation and free my country from calamity. She promised her aid and assured success. In complete glory she revealed herself, and although I was tanned and swarthy before, she used clear rays to infuse on me that beauty that I am blessed with and which you see. Ask me whatever questions you can possibly ask, and I will answer them unpremeditatedly. Test my courage by combat, if you dare, and you shall find that I surpass my sex. Be certain of this: You shall be fortunate if you accept me as your warlike companion.”

Using the familiar “thou,” Charles the Dauphin replied, “Thou has astonished me with your high terms and lofty utterance. Only this test I’ll make of your valor: In single combat you shall buckle with me, and if you vanquish me, I will know your words are true, but if I vanquish you, I will renounce all confidence in you.”

The word “buckle” meant “grapple.” A bawdy-minded observer might think that the Dauphin and Joan grappling together might be a sexual “battle.”

“I am prepared,” Joan la Pucelle said. “Here is my keen-edged sword, decorated with five flower-de-luces on each side. I chose this sword at Touraine, in Saint Katharine’s churchyard, out of a great deal of old iron.”

“Then come and fight me, in God’s name,” Charles the Dauphin said. “I fear no woman.”

“And while I live, I’ll never flee from a man,” Joan la Pucelle said.

A bawdy-minded observer might laugh after hearing this. Maidens sometimes fled from men to avoid being seduced or raped, but Joan would never flee from a man.

The two fought, and Joan la Pucelle defeated Charles the Dauphin.

“Stop! Stop fighting!” Charles the Dauphin pleaded. “You are an Amazon and you fight with the sword of Deborah.”

The Amazons were mythological warrior women, and Deborah was a Jewish prophet, judge, and successful military commander; her story is told in Judges 4-5.

“Christ’s mother helps me, else I would be too weak,” Joan la Pucelle said.

“Whoever helps thee, it is you who must help me,” Charles the Dauphin said. “Impatiently I burn with desire for thee. My heart and hands you have at once subdued. Excellent Pucelle, if that is your name, let me be your lover and not your sovereign. It is the French Dauphin who is saying this to thee.”

“I must not yield to any rites of love, for my vow is consecrated from above,” Joan la Pucelle said. “When I have chased all your foes from hence, then I will think about a recompense.”

“In the meantime look gracious on your prostrate thrall,” Charles the Dauphin said.

Joan la Pucelle was still sitting on him after vanquishing him, but in a moment they stood up.

“My lord, I think, is very long in talk,” Reignier said. “They have been talking for a very long time.”

“Doubtless he shrives this woman to her smock,” the Duke of Alençon said. “Otherwise he could never protract his speech so long.”

“To shrive” means “to hear confession”; a smock is a woman’s undergarment. The Duke of Alençon was saying that Charles the Dauphin was hearing Joan la Pucelle’s most intimate confessions.

“Shall we disturb him, since he keeps no mean?” Reignier asked. “He is observing no moderation, no mean between extremes.”

“He may mean more than we poor men know,” the Duke of Alençon said. “These women are shrewd tempters with their tongues.”

“My lord, where are you?” Reignier asked. “What are you planning? Shall we give Orleans over to the enemy, or no?”

“Why, I say no, distrustful cowards!” Joan la Pucelle said, taking the enormous liberty of answering a question directed to Charles the Dauphin. “Fight until the last gasp; I will be your guardian.”

“What she says I’ll confirm,” Charles the Dauphin said. “We’ll fight it out.”

“I am assigned to be the scourge of the English,” Joan la Pucelle said. “This night I’ll assuredly raise the siege and drive the English out of Orleans. Expect Saint Martin’s summer, halcyon days, since I have entered into these wars.”

She was saying to expect good times after the recent and current bad times. Saint Martin’s Day is November 11, and good weather is especially welcome when it occurs in Europe on that date. The halcyon is a mythological bird identified with the kingfisher. This culture believed that the halcyon built nests on the sea, which remained calm until the nestlings were able to fly.

She continued, “Glory is like a circle in the water, a circle which never ceases to get bigger until by broad spreading it disperses to nothing. With King Henry V’s death, the English circle ends; dispersed are the glories it included. Now I am like that proud insulting ship that bore Julius Caesar and his fortune at one and the same time.”

Julius Caesar once needed to go to Brundisium, so in disguise he boarded a ship that encountered bad weather. The Captain of the ship was afraid, but Julius Caesar revealed his identity and told him not to be afraid because the ship carried both Caesar and Caesar’s good fortune. Unfortunately for Joan’s analogy, the ship was unable to complete the journey — it was forced to return, according to the Greek biographer Plutarch.

“Was Mahomet inspired by a dove?” Charles the Dauphin said. “If he was, then thou are inspired by an eagle.”

A dove was said to thrust its beak into the prophet Muhammad’s ear and reveal sacred knowledge to him. Non-believers thought that this was a trick, that Muhammad put crumbs of bread in his ear for the dove to eat.

This culture regarded the eagle as a nobler bird than the dove.

Charles the Dauphin continued, “Not even Saint Helena, the mother of great Constantine, nor yet Saint Philip’s daughters, were like thee.”

Saint Helena converted the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great to Christianity; in 313 C.E. he ordered that Christianity be tolerated rather than persecuted throughout the Roman Empire. A vision reputedly led Saint Helena to Calgary, where she discovered the cross on which Christ had been crucified.

Saint Philip’s daughters were prophets. According to Acts 21:9, “And the same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy” (King James Version).

Charles the Dauphin continued, “Bright star of Venus, fallen down on the Earth, how may I reverently worship thee enough?”

This was ominous. God ought to be worshipped, not Joan la Pucelle. Also, Venus is a pagan goddess, not connected with Christianity the way that Saint Helena and Saint Philip’s daughters are. Furthermore, Venus is both the evening star and the morning star. Lucifer is the name given to Satan before he fell to Earth and into Hell — thought by this culture to be located at the center of the Earth — after rebelling against God in Heaven; “Lucifer” means “morning star.”

“Leave off delays, and let us raise the siege,” the Duke of Alençon said. “Let’s get started.”

“Woman, do what you can to save our honors,” Reignier said. “Drive the English from Orleans, and be immortalized.”

Apparently, Reignier thought less of Joan la Pucelle than Charles the Dauphin did, since he called her “Woman” rather than “Bright star of Venus.”

“We’ll try immediately to raise the siege,” Charles the Dauphin said. “Come, let’s go and get started. I will trust no prophet, if Joan la Pucelle proves to be a false prophet.”


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David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s 1 HENRY VI: A Retelling in Prose — Cast of Characters and Act 1: Scene 1


English Male Characters

King Henry VI.

Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, uncle to the King, and Lord Protector. The Lord Protector, aka Protector of the Realm,is the individual ruler of England while the King is still a minor.

Duke of Bedford, uncle to the King, and Regent of France. The Regent rules France while the King is still a minor.

Thomas Beaufort, Duke of Exeter, great-uncle to the King.

Henry Beaufort, great-uncle to the King, Bishop of Winchester, and afterwards Cardinal of Winchester.

John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset.

Richard Plantagenet, son of Richard, late Earl of Cambridge; afterwards Duke of York.

Earl of Warwick.

Earl of Salisbury.

Earl of Suffolk.

Lord Talbot, afterwards Earl of Shrewsbury.

John Talbot, his son.

Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March.

Sir John Fastolfe.

Sir William Lucy.

Sir William Glansdale.

Sir Thomas Gargrave.

Mayor of London.

Woodville, Lieutenant of the Tower of London.

Vernon, of the White-Rose, aka York faction.

Basset, of the Red-Rose, aka Lancaster faction.

A Lawyer.

Mortimer’s jail keepers.

French Male Characters

Charles, Dauphin, and afterwards King of France. The Dauphin is the eldest son of the King of France; in this play/book, the person who is King of France is disputed.

Reignier, Duke of Anjou, and titular King of Naples.

Duke of Burgundy. His sister Anne married the Duke of Bedford, one of King Henry VI’s uncles. King Henry VI refers to the Duke of Burgundy as an uncle.

Duke of Alencon.

Bastard of Orleans, aka Jean du Dunois, the illegitimate son of Louis I, the Duke of Orleans.

Governor of Paris.

Master Gunner of Orleans, and his Son.

General of the French forces in Bordeaux.

A French Sergeant.

A Porter.

An old Shepherd, father to Joan la Pucelle.

Female Characters

Margaret, daughter to Reignier, afterwards married to King Henry VI.

Countess of Auvergne, a Frenchwoman.

Joan la Pucelle, commonly called Joan of Arc; “Pucelle” means “Maiden” or Virgin”; her father’s name is Jacques d’Arc.

Minor Characters

Lords, Warders of the Tower, Heralds, Officers, Soldiers, Messengers, and Attendants.

Fiends appearing to Joan la Pucelle.

Scene: England and France.

Nota Bene:

King Henry V was born on 9 August 1386 and died on 31 August 1422.

King Henry VI (born 6 December 1421; died 21 May 1471) began his reignin 1422, but he was deposed on 1461; he briefly returned to the throne in 1470-1471.

The Hundred Years War, which lasted from 1337-1453 (116 years), was not fought continuously. The Edwardian War took place in 1337-1360; the Caroline War took place in 1369-1389; the first phase of the Lancastrian War took place in 1415-1420, and the second phase of the Lancastrian War took place in 1420-1453.

After the Hundred Years War, the Wars of the Roses took place from 1455-1487. In those wars, the Yorkists and the Lancastrians fought for power in England in the famous Wars of the Roses. The emblem of the York family was a white rose, and the emblem of the Lancaster family was a red rose.

We read Shakespeare for drama, not history. He invents scenes and changes the ages of historical personages in his plays. He also changes the order in which historical events occur.


— 1.1 —

The funeral of King Henry V was being held at Westminster Abbey. As funeral music played, pallbearers carried the coffin of the King. Present were the Duke of Bedford, who was also the Regent of France; the Duke of Gloucester, who was also the Lord Protector; the Duke of Exeter, the Earl of Warwick, the Bishop of Winchester, heralds, and attendants.

The Duke of Bedford said, “Let the Heavens be hung with black, and let day yield to night!Comets, predicting change of times and states,brandish your crystal-bright tresses in the sky,and with them scourge the bad mutinous starsthat have consented to Henry’s death!”

When a comet comes close to the Sun, it heats up and its gases form a tail. Because of that, comets were known in earlier ages as longhaired stars. The Greek word kometesmeans “longhaired.” 

He continued, “King Henry V was too famous to live long!”

A proverb stated, “Those whom God loves do not live long.”

He continued, “England has never lost a King of so much worth.”

The Duke of Gloucester said, “England never had a true King until the time of Henry V. Virtue, courage, and ability he had, and he deserved to command.His brandished sword blinded men with its reflected beams of Sunlight. His arms spread wider than a dragon’s wings. His sparking eyes, replete with wrathful fire,dazzled and drove back his enemiesmorethan the mid-day Sun fiercely turned against their faces.What should I say? His deeds exceed all speech; words fail me.He never lifted up his hand without conquering.”

The Duke of Exeter said, “We mourn while wearing black. Why don’t we mourn while covered in blood?Henry V is dead and never shall revive and come back to life. Upon a wooden coffin we attend,and Death’s dishonorable victorywe with our stately presence glorify,like captives bound to a triumphant chariot.”

The ancient Romans held triumphal processions for conquering heroes. The conqueror would ride in a chariot with important captives bound and walking behind the chariot. In the Duke of Exeter’s image, Death was the conqueror and the lords were the captives trailing behind Death’s triumphal chariot.

He continued, “Shall we curse the planets of mishap — planets that plotted thus our glory’s overthrow?”

This society believed in astrology, which held that planets had an effect on Earth and its inhabitants. Some planets were malignant and could cause bad things — such as the death of King Henry V — to occur.

He continued, “Or shall we think the subtle-witted, cunning French are conjurers and sorcerers, who because they were afraid of him have contrived his end by the use of magic verses?”

This society also believed in magic that could be malignant and cause death. Since the English and the French were enemies, each side regarded the other side as employing conjurers and sorcerers.

The Bishop of Winchester said, “He was a King blessed by the King of Kings. The dreadful Judgment Day will not be as dreadful to the French as was the sight of him. The battles of the Lord of Hosts he fought; the church’s prayers made him so prosperous.”

Isaiah 13:4 states, “The noise of a multitude in the mountains, like as of a great people; a tumultuous noise of the kingdoms of nations gathered together: the LORD of hosts mustereth the host of the battle” (King James Version).

To “muster troops” means to “assemble troops.” A “host” is an army.

“The church!” the Duke of Gloucester exclaimed. “Where is it? If churchmen had not prayed, his thread of life had not so soon decayed.”

He believed that the churchmen had disliked King Henry V and had prayed for his death; he believed that they had preyed on him. He also was referring to the three Fates when he mentioned the thread of life. The three Fates spun the thread of life, measured it, and cut it. When an immortal Fate cut the thread of life, the mortal human died.

He continued, “You like none except an effeminate, weak, controllable Prince, whom, like a schoolboy, you may overawe.”

All too often, people engage in power struggles. Many churchmen are not exempt from engaging in power politics. The reign of King Henry VI would be marked by many such political struggles, including this one between the Duke of Gloucester and the Bishop of Winchester.

The Bishop of Winchester replied, “Duke of Gloucester, whatever we like, you are the Lord Protector and you intend to command both the Prince and the realm. Your wife is proud; she makes you afraid of her more than God or religious churchmen can make you afraid.”

“Don’t talk about religion, for you love the flesh,” the Duke of Gloucester said, “and never throughout the year do you go to church except to pray against your foes.”

The Duke of Bedford said, “Stop! Stop these quarrels and rest your minds in peace. Let’s go to the altar. Heralds, wait on us. Instead of gold, we’ll offer up our weapons, since weapons are of no use to us now that King Henry V is dead. Posterity, expect wretched years, during which babes shall suck at their mothers’ moist eyes, our isle shall be made a nurse of salt tears, and none but women shall be left to wail the dead.

“Henry V, your ghost I call upon. Make this realm prosper, keep it from civil broils, combat the malignant planets in the Heavens! A far more glorious star your soul will make than Julius Caesar or bright —”

In mythology, after Julius Caesar’s death, his soul became a star.

A messenger entered Westminster Abbey and interrupted the Duke of Bedford: “My honorable lords, good health to you all! Sad tidings I bring to you from France, tidings of loss, of slaughters and utter defeat. The French cities of Guienne, Champagne, Rheims, Orleans, Paris, Guysors, and Poictiers are all quite lost.”

“What are you saying, man, in front of dead King Henry V’s corpse?” the Duke of Bedford asked. “Speak softly, or the loss of those great towns will make him burst out of his lead-lined coffin and rise from death.”

“Is Paris lost? Has Rouen surrendered?” the Duke of Gloucester asked. “If Henry V were recalled to life again, this news would cause him once more to yield the ghost and die.”

“How were they lost?” the Duke of Exeter asked. “What treachery was used?”

“No treachery,” the messenger said, “but lack of men and money led to their loss. The soldiers mutter among themselves that here you maintain several factions, and while a field — an army and a battle — should be dispatched and fought, you are disputing about your Generals. One would have lingering wars with little cost. Another would fly swiftly, but lacks wings. A third thinks, with no expense at all, peace may be obtained by the use of guileful, pretty words.

“Awake, awake, English nobility! Don’t let sloth dim your newly begotten honors — those French cities that King Henry V won for you! Cropped are the flower-de-luces in your arms; one half of England’s coat of arms is cut away.”

Flower-de-luces were French heraldic lilies; King Henry V and his son both had a claim to the French throne, and so one half of the coat of arms of the King of England displayed French lilies, the royal symbol of France.

The Duke of Exeter said, “If we lacked tears for this funeral, these tidings would call forth their flowing tides.”

“These losses are my concern,” the Duke of Bedford said. “I am the Regent of France: I rule there in the absence of the King of England. Give me my steeled coat of armor. I’ll fight to regain France.

“Away with these disgraceful wailing robes! I will lend the French wounds, instead of eyes, to weep their intermittent miseries. Let their wounds cry bloody tears.”

The miseries were intermittent because England and France fought intermittently. The Hundred Years War, which lasted from 1337-1453 (116 years), was not fought continuously. The Edwardian War took place in 1337-1360; the Caroline War took place in 1369-1389; the first phase of the Lancastrian War took place in 1415-1420, and the second phase of the Lancastrian War took place in 1420-1453.

After the Hundred Years War, the Wars of the Roses took place from 1455-1487.

Another messenger arrived and said, “Lords, view these letters full of bad mischance. Except for some petty towns of no importance, France has quite revolted from the English. Charles the Dauphin has been crowned King of Rheims. The Bastard of Orleans has joined with him. Reignier, Duke of Anjou, is on the Dauphin’s side. The Duke of Alencon also flies to his side.”

“The Dauphin has been crowned King of Rheims!” the Duke of Exeter exclaimed. “All fly to join him! Oh, where shall we fly from this disgrace?”

“We will not fly anywhere, except to our enemies’ throats,” the Duke of Gloucester said. “Duke of Bedford, if you are slack, I’ll fight it out.”

“Duke of Gloucester, why do you doubt my zeal to fight the French?” the Duke of Bedford asked. “I have mustered in my thoughts an army with which France is already overrun.”

Another messenger arrived and said, “My gracious lords, to add to your laments, with which you now bedew with tears King Henry’s hearse, I must inform you of a dismal fight between the brave, valiant Lord Talbot and the French.”

The Bishop of Winchester said, “Talbot conquered the French, right?”

“Oh, no,” the messenger replied. “In the battle Lord Talbot was defeated. I’ll tell you the details at some length. On the tenth of August this dread-inspiring lord, retiring from the siege that we English were making of Orleans, having barely six thousand troops, was surrounded by twenty-three thousand French troops and set upon. He had no time to form his soldiers into battle formations. He lacked defensive ironbound pikes to set in the ground before his archers to protect them; instead, he used sharp stakes plucked out of hedges and set them in the ground confusedly and erratically to keep the enemy horsemen from breaking in and attacking the archers.

“The fight continued more than three hours, during which time valiant Talbot beyond what humans think possible enacted wonders with his sword and lance. Hundreds he sent to Hell, and none dared to face him. Here, there, and everywhere, he flew enraged. The French exclaimed that the Devil was fighting them. All the army stood and stared at him. His soldiers spying his undaunted spirit shouted forcefully the rallying cry ‘To Talbot! To Talbot!’ and rushed into the bowels — the midst — of the battle.

“Here the English would have fully defeated the French, if Sir John Fastolfe had not played the coward. He, placed just behind the front ranks with orders to relieve and follow them, instead cowardly fled, without having struck even one stroke.

“Henceforth grew the general destruction and massacre. Their enemies surrounded them. A base Belgium soldier, to win the French Dauphin’s grace, thrust a spear into the back of Talbot, whom all the French soldiers with their finest assembled troops dared not look even once in the face.”

“Has Talbot been slain?” the Duke of Bedford asked. “If he has, then I will slay myself for living idly here in pomp and ease while such a worthy leader, lacking aid, was betrayed to his despicable enemy.”

“Oh, no, he lives,” the messenger said, “but he was taken prisoner, along with Lord Scales and Lord Hungerford. Most of the rest were slaughtered or were also taken prisoner.”

“His ransom none but I shall pay,” the Duke of Bedford said. “I’ll drag the Dauphin headlong from his throne. The Dauphin’s crown shall be the ransom of my friend. Four of their lords I’ll exchange for one of ours. For each English soldier killed, I’ll four French soldiers.

“Farewell, my masters; to my task I go. I intend to make bonfires in France without delay in order to keep our great Saint George’s feast that customarily follows great military victories. Ten thousand soldiers I will take with me, and their bloody deeds shall make all Europe quake with fear and awe.”

The messenger said, “You need to do that. We are besieging the city of Orleans, which the French are holding. The English army has grown weak and faint. The Earl of Salisbury craves reinforcements and is hardly able to keep his men from mutinying since they, who are so few, look out over such a multitude of enemy soldiers.”

“Remember, lords, your oaths you swore to King Henry V when he was on his deathbed,” the Duke of Exeter said. “If the Dauphin rebelled, you swore either to utterly conquer him or to bring him in obedience to your yoke.”

“I remember,” the Duke of Bedford said, “and I here take my leave to go about my preparation for war.”

He exited.

The Duke of Gloucester said, “I’ll go to the Tower of London with all the haste I can to view the artillery and munitions, and then I will proclaim young Prince Henry our new King. He will be King Henry VI.”

He exited.

The Duke of Exeter said, “I will go to Eltham, the royal residence, where the young King is. I have been appointed his special governor and am in charge of his education, and I’ll make the best arrangements I can devise for his safety there.”

He and everyone except the Bishop of Winchester exited.

Alone, the Bishop of Winchester said to himself, “Each of the other important persons has his place and function to attend, but I am left out; for me nothing remains. But not for long will I be Jack-out-of-office and have no influence on national and international affairs. I intend to steal the King from Eltham and sit at the chiefest stern of public weal. I intend to be the most important man in England.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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