A Note on Father Failure Based on Shakespeare’s Henrician Trilogy

In this scene the English hero Talbot counsels his son to fly the English defeat but his son refuses. It is pretty obviously Shakespeare and not Marlowe because to my knowledge Marlowe did not use “cross rhymes” where one character rhymes with another, or fills out an iambic pentameter.

SCENE V. The English camp near Bourdeaux.

Enter TALBOT and JOHN his son
O young John Talbot! I did send for thee
To tutor thee in stratagems of war,
That Talbot’s name might be in thee revived
When sapless age and weak unable limbs
Should bring thy father to his drooping chair.
But, O malignant and ill-boding stars!
Now thou art come unto a feast of death,
A terrible and unavoided danger:
Therefore, dear boy, mount on my swiftest horse;
And I’ll direct thee how thou shalt escape
By sudden flight: come, dally not, be gone.
Is my name Talbot? and am I your son?
And shall I fly? O if you love my mother,
Dishonour not her honourable name,
To make a bastard and a slave of me!
The world will say, he is not Talbot’s blood,
That basely fled when noble Talbot stood.
Fly, to revenge my death, if I be slain.
He that flies so will ne’er return again.
If we both stay, we both are sure to die.
Then let me stay; and, father, do you fly:
Your loss is great, so your regard should be;
My worth unknown, no loss is known in me.
Upon my death the French can little boast;
In yours they will, in you all hopes are lost.
Flight cannot stain the honour you have won;
But mine it will, that no exploit have done:
You fled for vantage, everyone will swear;
But, if I bow, they’ll say it was for fear.
There is no hope that ever I will stay,
If the first hour I shrink and run away.
Here on my knee I beg mortality,
Rather than life preserved with infamy.
Shall all thy mother’s hopes lie in one tomb?
Ay, rather than I’ll shame my mother’s womb.
Upon my blessing, I command thee go.
To fight I will, but not to fly the foe.
Part of thy father may be saved in thee.
No part of him but will be shame in me.
Thou never hadst renown, nor canst not lose it.
Yes, your renowned name: shall flight abuse it?
Thy father’s charge shall clear thee from that stain.
You cannot witness for me, being slain.
If death be so apparent, then both fly.
And leave my followers here to fight and die?
My age was never tainted with such shame.
And shall my youth be guilty of such blame?
No more can I be sever’d from your side,
Than can yourself yourself in twain divide:
Stay, go, do what you will, the like do I;
For live I will not, if my father die.
Then here I take my leave of thee, fair son,
Born to eclipse thy life this afternoon.
Come, side by side together live and die.
And soul with soul from France to heaven fly.

Shakespeare Henry VI Part 1

In the Henrician trilogy the men try to get masculinity right but fail. “Good Duke Humphrey” is defeated by the wily machinations of Winchester because like Macbeth, Humphrey loves his scheming wife Eleanor too much. Henry VI himself bravely stands for peace only to be ineffectual. The Duke of York promises to stand down until Henry VI dies to advance his claims, but his sons persuade him to rebel.

Out of this drops the bottled spider Richard III.

Talbot is an old-fashioned English man who’s wily enough to not fall for a mad Duchess who’s got an attendant Homunculus (played in the canonical BBC version by Ron Cook who later in the same series plays Richard III). But he and his son are overwhelmed.

It’s hard to be a father. You need to keep the sharp end of the ship pointed the right way but your wife then starts to piss and moan. And the devil of it is, that by mathematical probability alone, by random chance, the old girl is gonna be right half the time.

And…you cannot, unlike that rotter Edward VIII presumptive, abdicate.

Upon the king! let us our lives, our souls,
Our debts, our careful wives,
Our children and our sins lay on the king!
We must bear all. O hard condition,
Twin-born with greatness, subject to the breath
Of every fool, whose sense no more can feel
But his own wringing!

Shakespeare Henry V


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