Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University
Canterbury lords his power over the Archbishop of York, but the latter calls him a “Traitor to God and to thy lawful king” (III.i.826) and a parasite. The two level curses at each other, with Canterbury dismissing York’s “railing curses” (III.i.843). York declares, “Oh let me die whenas I leave my king, / a true-born prince, for any foreigner” (III.i.853-854).Canterbury’s “hands do quake with rage” (III.i.857) and he chases York away with attempted battery.
Canutus intends to sack New Troy (a.k.a. Troynovant or, later, London). In a parley at the city gates Ironside’s faction will decide whether to submit
or else withstand the utmost of our wrath
and be consumed to ashes and to coals
with flaming fire, which whilom did destroy
their mother city, quondam called Troy.
The Herald makes this announcement. A Bailiff defies Canutus, saying that his ships will anchor on the ground “and we compelled by thirst to suck the stream / of this fair river dry” (III.ii.884-885). But Canutus does give the attack command. The lords pledge great feats and Edricus plays this up to Canutus, but Ironside’s army comes on and drives back Canutus.
A Chorus announces a recounting of the ensuing battles in dumb-show, Edmund Ironside generally prevailing. Edricus attempted a severed head trick against Edmund’s men, declaring it Ironside’s to freak them out, but the real man reappeared and drove back Canutus.
Edmund praises his men, crediting their valor for the victory over Canutus. “I’ll guerdon every soldier bounteously / that lifts a weapon to defend our right” (III.iv.1031-1032).
Canutus rants against his lords.
A plague upon you all for arrant cowards!
Look how a dunghill cock, not rightly bred
doth come into the pit with greater grace
brustling his feathers, setting up his plumes
clapping his wings and crowing louder out
than doth a cock of game that means to fight
yet after, when he feels the spurs to prick
crakes like a craven and bewrays himself….
Edricus tries playing the Fortune card, telling Canutus that his luck will now change. But Canutus is inconsolable:
Edmund is blessed. Oh had I but his men
I would not doubt to conquer all the world
in shorter time than Alexander did
but all my Danes are Braggadochios
and I accursed to be the general
of such a flock of fearful runaways.
Southampton agrees with Edricus that Canutus’ mood will discourage the followers. Edricus will write to Ironside, asking forgiveness on behalf of the Danes. Stitch is called upon: “Sure, y’are a tall man.” “Ay, sir, at the end of a fray and beginning of a feast” (III.v.1135-1136), Stitch answers, Fallstaffianly. He is to bring in writing materials, affording some punning on “horns” (of inkhorns) and “dipping one’s pen” (III.v.1139, 1150f). Edricus encounters a writer’s block temporarily.
A, fool, how hard it is to write for life!
Had I now written for my mistress’ love
I could have filled my pen and raised my speech
unto the highest step of flattery.
Had I now written for another man
to save his life or get him into grace
why all the world might have given place to me
for sugar’d lines and phrases past compare.
Had I been now in favour with the king
and had endeavouréd to flatter him
my pen would have distilléd golden drops
and varied terms enchanting Cerberus.
But now I know not how or what to write.
He decides that “Truth needs no colours. Though I mean to lie / my simple writing shall deceive his eye” (III.v.1197-1198). He writes. “Now for a swift wing-footed messenger” (III.v.1205). He calls for Stitch, and it’s clear from his changing places and clothes with Stitch that he has a villainous strategem.
In his aristocratic clothes, Stitch lords his faux status over several bluecoats, calling them “ye trencher-scraping cutters, ye cloak-bag / carriers, ye sword and buckler carriers, / ye rubbers of horse-heels, ye devourers / of fat oxen, ye swillers of March beer” (III.vi.1244-1247). He calls one “ye shakerag” (III.vi.1261).