Poitou. Fields near Poitiers. The French camp.
(King John; Charles; Philip; Salisbury; Second French Captain)
The sky grows dark and the French soldiers are struck with fear. Prince Philip reports that a huge flight of ravens has disquieted them even more. King John remembers the prophecy, but rejects fear, and again reinterprets the sign in favor of the French. A French captain brings in Salisbury, whom he has captured; John orders him hanged immediately, but the Duke of Normandy protests, knowing that Salisbury had his safe-conduct. The King and he argue, and in the end John angrily lets Salisbury go, telling him to inform Edward of his son’s impending death. (128 lines)
Enter King John and Charles.
A sudden darkness hath defaced the sky,
The winds are crept into their caves for fear,
The leaves move not, the world is hushed and still,
The birds cease singing, and the wandering brooks
Murmur no wonted greeting to their shores;
Silence attends some wonder and expecteth
That heaven should pronounce some prophecy:
Where, or from whom, proceeds this silence, Charles?
Our men, with open mouths and staring eyes,
Look on each other, as they did attend
Each other’s words, and yet no creature speaks;
A tongue-tied fear hath made a midnight hour,
And speeches sleep through all the waking regions.
But now the pompous sun, in all his pride,
Looked through his golden coach upon the world,
And, on a sudden, hath he hid himself,
That now the under earth is as a grave,
Dark, deadly, silent, and uncomfortable.
A clamor of ravens.
Hark, what a deadly outcry do I hear?
Here comes my brother Philip.
What fearful words are those thy looks presage?
A flight, a flight!
Coward, what flight? Thou liest, there needs no flight.
Awake thy craven powers, and tell on
The substance of that very fear indeed,
Which is so ghastly printed in thy face:
What is the matter?
A flight of ugly ravens
Do croak and hover o’er our soldiers’ heads,
And keep in triangles and cornered squares,
Right as our forces are embattled;
With their approach there came this sudden fog,
Which now hath hid the airy floor of heaven
And made at noon a night unnatural
Upon the quaking and dismayed world:
In brief, our soldiers have let fall their arms,
And stand like metamorphosed images,
Bloodless and pale, one gazing on another.
Aye, now I call to mind the prophecy,
But I must give no entrance to a fear.—
Return, and hearten up these yielding souls:
Tell them, the ravens, seeing them in arms,
So many fair against a famished few,
Come but to dine upon their handy work
And prey upon the carrion that they kill:
For when we see a horse laid down to die,
Although he be not dead, the ravenous birds
Sit watching the departure of his life;
Even so these ravens for the carcasses
Of those poor English, that are marked to die,
Hover about, and, if they cry to us,
’Tis but for meat that we must kill for them.
Away, and comfort up my soldiers,
And sound the trumpets, and at once dispatch
This little business of a silly fraud.
Another noise. Salisbury brought in by the Second French Captain.
Behold, my liege, this knight and forty mo,
Of whom the better part are slain and fled,
With all endeavor sought to break our ranks,
And make their way to the encompassed prince:
Dispose of him as please your majesty.
Go, and the next bough, soldier, that thou seest,
Disgrace it with his body presently;
For I do hold a tree in France too good
To be the gallows of an English thief.
My lord of Normandy, I have your pass
And warrant for my safety through this land.
Villiers procured it for thee, did he not?
And it is current; thou shalt freely pass.
Aye, freely to the gallows to be hanged,
Without denial or impediment.
Away with him!
I hope your highness will not so disgrace me,
And dash the virtue of my seal at arms:
He hath my never broken name to shew,
Charactered with this princely hand of mine:
And rather let me leave to be a prince
Than break the stable verdict of a prince:
I do beseech you, let him pass in quiet.
Thou and thy word lie both in my command:
What canst thou promise that I cannot break?
Which of these twain is greater infamy,
To disobey thy father or thyself?
Thy word, nor no mans, may exceed his power;
Nor that same man doth never break his word,
That keeps it to the utmost of his power.
The breach of faith dwells in the soul’s consent:
Which if thyself without consent do break,
Thou art not charged with the breach of faith.
Go, hang him: for thy license lies in me,
And my constraint stands the excuse for thee.
What, am I not a soldier in my word?
Then, arms, adieu, and let them fight that list!
Shall I not give my girdle from my waste,
But with a guardian I shall be controlled,
To say I may not give my things away?
Upon my soul, had Edward, prince of Wales,
Engaged his word, writ down his noble hand
For all your knights to pass his father’s land,
The royal king, to grace his warlike son,
Would not alone safe conduct give to them,
But with all bounty feasted them and theirs.
Dwell’st thou on precedents? Then be it so!
Say, Englishman, of what degree thou art.
An Earl in England, though a prisoner here,
And those that know me, call me Salisbury.
Then, Salisbury, say whether thou art bound.
To Callice, where my liege, King Edward, is.
To Callice, Salisbury? Then, to Callice pack,
And bid the king prepare a noble grave,
To put his princely son, black Edward, in.
And as thou travelst westward from this place,
Some two leagues hence there is a lofty hill,
Whose top seems topless, for the embracing sky
Doth hide his high head in her azure bosom;
Upon whose tall top when thy foot attains,
Look back upon the humble vale beneath—
Humble of late, but now made proud with arms—
And thence behold the wretched prince of Wales,
Hooped with a bond of iron round about.
After which sight, to Callice spur amain,
And say, the prince was smothered and not slain:
And tell the king this is not all his ill;
For I will greet him, ere he thinks I will.
Away, be gone; the smoke but of our shot
Will choke our foes, though bullets hit them not.