Poitou. Fields near Poitiers. The French camp; tent of the Duke of Normandy.
(Charles of Normandy; Villiers; King John)
The Duke of Normandy is shocked at Villiers’s request for a safe-conduct for the English, and refuses it. He is even more shocked when Villiers then announces his intention of returning as a prisoner to Salisbury. They debate the nature of honor and of which oaths might supersede which other ones; in the end the Duke is so impressed by Villiers’s honor that he writes out the safe-conduct. Villiers goes off to deliver it, while King John comes in, prepared for battle. The Duke is more skeptical than the confident King of the wisdom of giving battle today, especially due to a prophecy he heard. But John reinterprets the prophecy to the advantage of the French. Certain that their numerical superiority will be sufficient, John plans to capture first Prince Edward and then his father. (85 lines)
Enter Charles of Normandy and Villiers.
I wonder, Villiers, thou shouldest importune me
For one that is our deadly enemy.
Not for his sake, my gracious lord, so much
Am I become an earnest advocate,
As that thereby my ransom will be quit.
Thy ransom, man? Why needest thou talk of that?
Art thou not free? And are not all occasions,
That happen for advantage of our foes,
To be accepted of, and stood upon?
No, good my lord, except the same be just;
For profit must with honor be comixt,
Or else our actions are but scandalous.
But, letting pass their intricate objections,
Wilt please your highness to subscribe, or no?
Villiers, I will not, nor I cannot do it;
Salisbury shall not have his will so much,
To claim a passport how it pleaseth himself.
Why, then I know the extremity, my lord;
I must return to prison whence I came.
Return? I hope thou wilt not;
What bird that hath escaped the fowler’s gin,
Will not beware how she’s ensnared again?
Or, what is he, so senseless and secure,
That, having hardly past a dangerous gul,
Will put himself in peril there again?
Ah, but it is mine oath, my gracious lord,
Which I in conscience may not violate,
Or else a kingdom should not draw me hence.
Thine oath? Why, tat doth bind thee to abide:
Hast thou not sworn obedience to thy Prince?
In all things that uprightly he commands:
But either to persuade or threaten me,
Not to perform the covenant of my word,
Is lawless, and I need not to obey.
Why, is it lawful for a man to kill,
And not, to break a promise with his foe?
To kill, my lord, when war is once proclaimed,
So that our quarrel be for wrongs received,
No doubt, is lawfully permitted us;
But in an oath we must be well advised,
How we do swear, and, when we once have sworn,
Not to infringe it, though we die therefore:
Therefore, my lord, as willing I return,
As if I were to fly to paradise.
Stay, my Villiers; thine honorable min
Deserves to be eternally admired.
Thy suit shall be no longer thus deferred:
Give me the paper, I’ll subscribe to it;
And, wheretofore I loved thee as Villiers,
Hereafter, I’ll embrace thee as myself.
Stay, and be still in favor with thy lord.
I humbly thank you grace; I must dispatch,
And send this passport first unto the Earl,
And then I will attend your highness pleasure.
Do so, Villiers;—and Charles, when he hath need,
Be such his soldiers, howsoever he speed!
Enter King John.
Come, Charles, and arm thee; Edward is entrapped,
The Prince of Wales is fallen into our hands,
And we have compassed him; he cannot escape.
But will your highness fight today?
What else, my son? He’s scarce eight thousand strong,
And we are threescore thousand at the least.
I have a prophecy, my gracious lord,
Wherein is written what success is like
To happen us in this outrageous war;
It was delivered me at Cressy’s field
By one that is an aged hermit there.
“When feathered fowl shall make thine army tremble,
And flint stones rise and break the battle ray,
Then think on him that doth not now dissemble;
For that shall be the hapless dreadful day:
Yet, in the end, thy foot thou shalt advance
As far in England as thy foe in France.”
By this it seems we shall be fortunate:
For as it is impossible that stones
Should ever rise and break the battle ray,
Or airy foul make men in arms to quake,
So is it like, we shall not be subdued:
Or say this might be true, yet in the end,
Since he doth promise we shall drive him hence
And forage their country as they have done ours,
By this revenge that loss will seem the less.
But all are frivolous fancies, toys, and dreams:
Once we are sure we have ensnared the son,
Catch we the father after how we can.