Washington State University
King John of France speaks to his sons, Charles of Normandy and Philip, and the Duke of Lorraine about Edward’s growing army. Prince Charles reminds them:
England was wont to harbor malcontents,
Bloodthirsty and seditious Catalines,
Spendthrifts, and such that gape for nothing else
But changing and alteration of the state….
King John sneers at the quality of Edward’s allies, calling those from Netherland “ever-bibbing epicures” (III.i.25) and the Dutch “frothy…, puff’d with double beer” (III.i.26). “But all the mightier that their number is, / The greater glory reaps the victory” (III.i.31-32), says John, subscribing to Henry V’s military mathematics. France is relying on Polish, Danish, Bohemian, and Sicilian allies.
A Mariner reports the approach of Edward’s ships, that
Seem’d, as it were, a grove of wither’d pines,
But drawing near, their glorious bright aspect,
Their streaming ensigns wrought of color’d silk,
Like to a meadow full of sundry flowers
Adorns the naked bosom of the earth….
King John grumbles,
Dare he already crop the flower-de-luce?
I hope, the honey being gather’d thence,
He, with the spider, afterward approach’d,
Shall such forth deadly venom from the leaves….
John rewards the Mariner, telling him to come report again if he survives the attempt to stop Edward. King John and Prince Philip eat and drink while the sounds of battle are heard. The Mariner brings news of the English victory:
Purple the sea, whose channel fill’d as fast
With streaming gore that from the maimed fell,
As did her gushing moisture break into
The cranny cleftures of the through-shot planks.
Here flew a head dissever’d from the trunk;
There mangled arms and legs were toss’d aloft….
John is despairing; time to join all their forces.
French citizens discuss current events. One says that they should have prepared for this: “so the grasshopper doth spend the time / In mirthful jollity, till winter come, / And then too late he would redeem his time, / When frozen cold hath nipt his careless head” (III.ii.16-19). He also considers Edward’s claim legitimate: “’tis a rightful quarrel must prevail: / Edward is son unto our late king’s sister, / Where John Valois is three degrees removed” (III.ii.35-37). A woman recounts a prophecy about a “lion, roused in the west” (III.ii.42) which is disconcerting to many French. A fourth Frenchman enters, telling them to flee. The two Edwards are conquering efficiently. Cities are burning and “The poor inhabitants, escap’d the flame, / Fall numberless upon the soldiers’ pikes” (III.ii.60-61).
King Edward pays off Gobin de Grey who helped the English cross the river Somme. He meets up with the Prince, who has wasted resisting cities; “Yet those that would submit we kindly pard’ned” (III.iii.24). The King laments,
Ah France, why shouldst thou be thus obstinate
Against the kind embracement of thy friends?
How gently had we thought to touch thy breast,
And set our foot upon thy tender mould….
King John meets with them and disdainfully offers a pay-off, since Edward obviously “Dost altogether live by pilfering” (III.iii.57), “Thy labor rather to be fear’d than loved” (III.iii.64). Edward insists that his aim is the crown. When Prince Charles calls him “aged impotent” (III.iii.124), Edward defends the dignity of maturity:
Upbraid’st thou him, because within his face
Time hath engrav’d deep characters of age?
Know that these grave scholars of experience,
Like stiff-grown oaks, will stand immovable
When whirlwind quickly turns up younger trees.
No more words. John decides, “For what’s this Edward but a belly-god [glutton], / A tender and lascivious wantonness, / That th’other day was almost dead for love?” (III.iii.155-157). It’s on. Heralds bring armor and arms for Prince Edward and the nobles formally prepare him for battle. Receiving a lance from the third Herald, we hear,
Edward Plantagenet, Prince of Wales,
Receive this lance into thy manly hand;
Use it in fashion of a brazen pen
To draw forth bloody strategems in France,
And print thy valiant deeds in honor’s book:
Fight and be valiant; conquer where thou com’st!
King John learns that his men are fleeing despite their outnumbering the English. A garrison of Genoaes, weary with their march from Paris, lost heart, and the despair has been contagious. “More in the clustering throng are press’d to death / Than by the enemy a thousand-fold” (III.iv.10-11).
King Edward withdraws with Audley. Artois and Derby sequentially alert the King to his son’s peril, but the King insists that the Prince must win honor, and, startlingly but like the legend of Stanley regarding his son George being held hostage by the fictional Richard III, Edward callously remarks, “We have more sons / Than one to comfort our declining age” (III.v.23-24). Audley tries to describe how dire the situation is, but Edward remains resolute:
Exclaim no more, for none of you can tell
Whether a borrow’d aid will serve, or no.
Perhaps he is already slain or ta’en:
And dare a falcon when she’s in her flight,
And ever after she’ll be haggard-like.
Let Edward be deliver’d by our hands,
And still in danger he’ll expect the like;
But if himself himself redeem from thence,
He will have vanquish’d, cheerful, death and fear,
And ever after dread their force no more
Than if they were but babes or captive slaves.
Ultimately, Prince Edward enters with the slain King of Bohemia and is praised and knighted. England has lost a thousand soldiers vs. France’s thirty thousand soldiers, 120 knights, and many nobles. The Prince and Audley will now pursue John and his sons; the King and Derby will siege Callice (Calais).