Poitou. Fields near Poitiers. The English camp.
(Prince Edward; Audley; First French Herald; Second French Herald; Third French Herald)
Prince Edward and Lord Audley are surrounded by the massive French army and can see no way out. A herald from King John comes to them, offering to spare the English if the Prince and a hundred knights yield to John. The Prince rejects the offer, preferring to fight it out. A herald from the Duke of Normandy comes net, bringing a horse from the Duke and the suggestion that the Prince should fly or be killed; enraged at the suggestion of cowardice, Prince Edward sends him packing. A third herald, this one from King John’s second son, Philip, brings Prince Edward a prayer-book, telling him he is in great need of it. The Prince sends that herald back as well. He asks Audley’s advice on how they stand, and the old man replies by pointing out that the uselessness of fearing death. (162 lines)
Enter Prince Edward, Audley, and others.
Audley, the arms of death embrace us round,
And comfort have we none, save that to die
We pay sower earnest for a sweeter life.
At Cressy’s field out clouds of warlike smoke
Choked up those French mouths and dissevered them;
But now their multitudes of millions hide,
Masking as twere, the beauteous burning sun,
Leaving no hope to us, but sullen dark
And eyeless terror of all ending night.
This sudden, mighty, and expedient head
That they have made, fair prince, is wonderful.
Before us in the valley lies the king,
Vantaged with all that heaven and earth can yield;
His party stronger battled than our whole:
His son, the braving Duke of Normandy,
Hath trimmed the mountain on our right hand up
In shining plate, that now the aspiring hill
Shews like a silver quarry or an orb,
Aloft the which the banners, bannarets,
And new replenished pendants cuff the air
And beat the winds, that for their gaudiness
Struggles to kiss them: on our left hand lies
Philip, the younger issue of the king,
Coating the other hill in such array,
That all his guilded upright pikes do seem
Straight trees of gold, the pendants leaves;
And their device of antique heraldry,
Quartered in colors, seeming sundry fruits,
Makes it the orchard of the Hesperides:
Behind us too the hill doth bear his height,
For like a half-moon, opening but one way,
It rounds us in; there at our backs are lodged
The fatal crossbows, and the battle there
Is governed by the rough Chatillion.
Then thus it stands: the valley for our flight
The king binds in; the hills on either hand
Are proudly royalized by his sons;
And on the Hill behind stands certain death
In pay and service with Chatillion.
Death’s name is much more mighty than his deeds;
Thy parcelling this power hath made it more.
As many sands as these my hands can hold,
Are but my handful of so many sands;
Then, all the world, and call it but a power,
Easily ta’en up, and quickly thrown away:
But if I stand to count them sand by sand,
The number would confound my memory,
And make a thousand millions of a task,
Which briefly is no more, indeed, than one.
These quarters, squadrons, and these regiments,
Before, behind us, and on either hand,
Are but a power. When we name a man,
His hand, his foot, his head hath several strengths;
And being all but one self instant strength,
Why, all this many, Audley, is but one,
And we can call it all but one man’s strength.
He that hath far to go, tells it by miles;
If he should tell the steps, it kills his heart:
The drops are infinite, that make a flood,
And yet, thou knowest, we call it but a Rain.
There is but one France, one King of France,
That France hath no more kings; and that same King
Hath but the puissant legion of one king,
And we have one: then apprehend no odds,
For one to one is fair equality.
Enter First French Herald from King John.
What tidings, messenger? Be plain and brief.
The King of France, my sovereign lord and master,
Greets by me his foe, the Prince of Wales:
If thou call forth a hundred men of name,
Of lords, knights, squires, and English gentlemen,
And with thyself and those kneel at his feet,
He straight will fold his bloody colors up,
And ransom shall redeem lives forfeited;
If not, this day shall drink more English blood,
Than ere was buried in our British earth.
What is the answer to his proffered mercy?
This heaven, that covers France, contains the mercy
That draws from me submissive orisons;
That such base breath should vanish from my lips,
To urge the plea of mercy to a man,
The lord forbid! Return, and tell the king,
My tongue is made of steel, and it shall beg
My mercy on his coward burgonet;
Tell him, my colors are as red as his,
My men as bold, our English arms as strong:
Return him my defiance in his face.
Enter a Second French Herald.
What news with thee?
The Duke of Normandy, my lord and master,
Pitying thy youth is so ingirt with peril,
By me hath sent a nimble-jointed jennet,
As swift as ever yet thou didst bestride,
And therewithall he counsels thee to fly;
Else death himself hath sworn that thou shalt die.
Back with the beast unto the beast that sent him!
Tell him I cannot sit a coward’s horse;
Bid him today bestride the jade himself,
For I will stain my horse quite o’er with blood,
And double gild my spurs, but I will catch him;
So tell the cap’ring boy, and get thee gone.
Exit French Herald.
Enter a Third French Herald.
Edward of Wales, Philip, the second son
To the most mighty christian king of France,
Seeing thy body’s living date expired,
All full of charity and christian love,
Commends this book, full fraught with prayers,
To thy fair hand and for thy hour of life
Intreats thee that thou meditate therein,
And arm thy soul for her long journey towards—
Thus have I done his bidding, and return.
Herald of Philip, greet thy lord from me:
All good that he can send, I can receive;
But thinkst thou not, the unadvised boy
Hath wronged himself in thus far tendering me?
Happily he cannot pray without the book—
I think him no divine extemporall—,
Then render back this common place of prayer,
To do himself good in adversity;
Beside he knows not my sins’ quality,
And therefore knows no prayers for my avail;
Ere night his prayer may be to pray to God,
To put it in my heart to hear his prayer.
So tell the courtly wanton, and be gone.
How confident their strength and number makes them!—
Now, Audley, sound those silver wings of thine,
And let those milk white messengers of time
Shew thy times learning in this dangerous time.
Thy self art bruis’d and bit with many broils,
And stratagems forepast with iron pens
Are texted in thine honorable face;
Thou art a married man in this distress,
But danger woos me as a blushing maid:
Teach me an answer to this perilous time.
To die is all as common as to live:
The one ince-wise, the other holds in chase;
For, from the instant we begin to live,
We do pursue and hunt the time to die:
First bud we, then we blow, and after seed,
Then, presently, we fall; and, as a shade
Follows the body, so we follow death.
If, then, we hunt for death, why do we fear it?
If we fear it, why do we follow it?
If we do fear, how can we shun it?
If we do fear, with fear we do but aide
The thing we fear to seize on us the sooner:
If we fear not, then no resolved proffer
Can overthrow the limit of our fate;
For, whether ripe or rotten, drop we shall,
As we do draw the lottery of our doom.
Ah, good old man, a thousand thousand armors
These words of thine have buckled on my back:
Ah, what an idiot hast thou made of life,
To seek the thing it fears! And how disgraced
The imperial victory of murdering death,
Since all the lives his conquering arrows strike
Seek him, and he not them, to shame his glory!
I will not give a penny for a life,
Nor half a halfpenny to shun grim death,
Since for to live is but to seek to die,
And dying but beginning of new life.
Let come the hour when he that rules it will!
To live or die I hold indifferent.