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SCENE SUMMARY WITH NOTES
ACT I, SCENE 4
The scene is set in Gloucester’s garden. Margery Jordan, Hume, Southwell and Bolingbroke enter. The duchess is awaiting their ceremony. Bolingbroke has heard that the duchess is a woman “of an invincible spirit” who is not afraid to venture into the occult.
The duchess enters, welcomes them and asks them to begin soon. Bolingbroke asks her to be patient, for sorcerers work best in the dead of night. Then they begin the ceremony by making a circle, and Southwell reads the spell. There is thunder and lightning, and then the spirit appears. Mother Jordan addresses the spirit and asks it to stay until their questions have been answered. Bolingbroke asks the first question: what shall become of the king? The spirit answers that the duke who wants to depose Henry will die violently, while Henry will outlive him. As to the second question, about the fate of the Duke of Suffolk, the spirit answers that he will die by water.
The spirit then says that it is safer for the Duke of Somerset to be “on the sandy plains” than inside a castle. The spirit then departs. York and Buckingham enter with their guard and capture Bolingbroke, Southwell and Jordan. They are surprised to see the duchess there. York then reads aloud what Southwell has written about the spirit’s prophecies. He says that the king is on the way to St. Albans together with the duke. They must carry the news of the prophecies to them immediately.
The Duchess is expecting Margery Jordan, Hume, Southwell and Bolingbroke to raise a spirit who can answer her questions about the future. The atmosphere of this scene is full of supernatural mystery, as reflected in Bolingbroke’s words: “Wizards know their times./ Deep night, dark night, the silent of the night,/ The time of night when Troy was set on fire,/ The time when screech-owls cry, and bandogs howl,/ And spirits walk, and ghosts break up their graves.”
These references to the supernatural are derived from a passage in Ovid, describing the murder of Julius Caesar. The description of the omens preceding Caesar’s death (ghosts rising from their graves) anticipates the death of a king or statesman. The prophecies link the fall of the duchess and the duke to the subsequent tragedies throughout the play. They function also in the manner of omens in Greek tragedy which foreshadow events to come. The spirit’s name, “Asnath,” is anagram of Sathan (Satan).