Le Roi Arthus
LE ROI ARTHUS
A Lyric Drama in Three Acts
Music and Libretto by Ernest Chausson
Translated by Judyth Schaubhut Smith
|First and Second Soldiers||Tenors|
|Third and Fourth Soldiers||Basses|
Choruses of Knights, Squires, Pages, Bards and Ladies-in-Waiting
Scene One - A great hall in Arthur's palace at
Carlisle. The massive redbrick walls are covered
with tapestries, and the floor is strewn with cut
reeds. On a dais to the left is the royal throne. As
the curtain rises, Arthur is standing in front of his
guests, apparently in the act of concluding a speech.
Guinevere is seated nearby. The room is filled with
any number of knights, squires and pages, including
Mordred and Lancelot, both of whom are sitting in
the front row. The women are assembled beneath
the throne on the same side as Guinevere. The bards,
dressed in long white robes, are on the opposite side.
Glory be to all of you who fought beside your king!
Those who destroyed our land have been defeated!
The harsh cruel Saxon tribes have been driven out,
And have now set sail for their own desolate isles!
Before the mightiness of our flashing blue swords,
They've fled our shores and taken to the high seas!
Glory be to the brave Knights of the Round Table,
And above all, to God, our most Heavenly Father!
But Merlin, why aren't you here with the rest of us
On the day when we are celebrating such a victory?
Where on earth could you possibly be hiding away?
Could the great Merlin himself be among the dead?
Wherever you are, I'm sure your heart is throbbing
To the awful sound of the battle cry of the Britons!
King Arthur and his men have triumphed over evil,
And this country is freed of the Saxons at long last!
(There is much excitement to be heard among the
crowd. As the knights strike their shields with the
hilts of their swords, the squires at the back wave
branches of oak.)
Hurrah! Hurrah! Glory be to our invincible leader!
Hurrah! Hurrah! Arthur, your anger is truly terrible
Each time that you brandish your sword Excalibur!
Death and destruction forever follow in your wake!
(Arthur raises his hand to silence his guests.)
My dear friends, now that the storm is finally over,
Let us forget about the pain that we have suffered!
Let us lay aside these swords and weapons of war,
And enjoy the benefits of such a hard-won peace!
(turning to the squires)
Start pouring wine and cider and ale for my guests,
And some mead for the brave heroes in our midst!
Let this dear old Gallic city of ours be decked out
With so many ferns and irises and elder-blossoms!
(addressing the bards)
And you, my bards with those ivory harps of yours,
Sing the praises of the most courageous of knights,
Whose daring exploits have conquered the enemy!
Every one of you has fought hard for our freedom,
But it was the final battle that defeated the Saxons,
And he was the one who led our troops to victory!
It's him! He's always the one who carries the day!
(moving several steps closer to Arthur)
Forgive me, sire, but I don't deserve such an honor!
There's not a single one among us who's not ready
To shed all his blood in the service of King Arthur!
See how the knights in shining armor blind the eye,
Like the first rays of the sun at the dawn of the day!
See the chargers as they gallop at breakneck speed,
Spurred on by their own rider's shouted commands,
As swift as the great red eagle when it takes flight!
(speaking quietly to a group of knights who have
gathered around him)
This isn't fair to the rest of us! It's always Lancelot!
(muttering among themselves)
He's always the one who is given credit for winning!
Aren't we at least as brave as he is on the battlefield?
Our own loyalty means less than nothing to the king!
Oh, Mordred, even though you are Arthur's nephew,
You might as well consider yourself a forgotten man!
See how he brandishes his sword made of ash wood,
Lancelot, the most gallant knight of the Round Table!
See how his charger is galloping at breakneck speed,
As light as a feather as it carries him across the plain,
As swift as the great black eagle when it takes flight!
Just wait a little longer! Very soon I will avenge us!
Oh, yes! Oh, yes! It's high time to take our revenge!
Glory be to Lancelot, the bravest of knights! Hurrah!
See how many soldiers already lie dead on the moor,
Mowed down by the mighty warriors of King Arthur!
Sir Lancelot himself is leading his troops into battle!
See their chargers as they gallop at breakneck speed,
As swift as the great white eagle when it takes flight!
(Arthur comes down from his throne and approaches
Why, my dear Lancelot, among this festive crowd,
Are you the only one not joining in the celebration?
What is it that seems to be making you so unhappy?
(with biting sarcasm, before Lancelot has even had
a chance to respond)
Perhaps your Lancelot is really a kindhearted soul!
Or perhaps this deep sadness might be due instead
To the fact that he cannot cut more Saxons in half,
Which was how he used to like to begin each day!
Mordred, my dear nephew, I'm asking you myself
Not to treat the most valiant knight in the kingdom
In such a disgracefully arrogant and mocking way!
(Mordred has barely begun to speak when Guinevere
suddenly descends from her throne. After receiving
a goblet from one of the squires, she approaches
Sir Lancelot, the sword no longer reigns supreme
When the harps raise their voices in a joyful song!
Accept this cup from me in reward for your valor!
It's time to forget the fierce cries of the battlefield,
And those terrible scenes of death and destruction!
You must not scorn the winged words of the bards
As they sing of your feats as the bravest of heroes!
Their tales, which are as airy as the clouds above,
Shall bring you the fame that you so well deserve!
Your name will only become a legend for all time
If the bards have celebrated it throughout the ages!
(As she presents him with the cup, she lowers her
voice so that only he can hear her words.)
Tonight! I'll let you know when it's time to come!
(She then moves away, passing between the ranks
of the knights, and pausing briefly to exchange
greetings with several of them.)
(who has been watching her every movement)
They're whispering to each other! He's trembling!
Ah, Guinevere, you have rejected my love for you,
And you have given yourself to him, that Lancelot!
May you both live to see the day of your reckoning!
(Followed by her ladies-in-waiting, Guinevere slowly
exits the hall. Arthur himself accompanies her to the
back of the stage. By the time he returns to his guests,
the banquet tables have already been set up, and he
motions to the knights to be seated. As the feasting
is about to begin, the curtain falls.)
Scene Two - A terraced area within the castle walls.
On the right, a covered gallery. In the foreground,
a porch that leads to the queen's private apartments.
On the left, the garden. At the very back, a balustrade
behind which treetops and turrets can be seen. It is
nighttime. The sky is overcast. From time to time, the
moon appears between the clouds. When the curtain
rises, Lionel is sitting in solitude on the porch steps.
In the distance, the calls of the night watchmen can
NIGHT WATCHMEN (off stage)
Hey, hey, hey! Stop where you are! Hey, hey, hey!
Only the cries of the night watchmen can be heard!
The rest of the world is sound asleep and at peace!
Oh, Lancelot, what have you done? Oh, my master,
It was you who taught me about loyalty and honor!
I was living for that day when you would grant me
The weapons of a true Knight of the Round Table!
Should I condemn your actions in spite of myself?
Your love is fated to bring about your destruction!
Oh, Lancelot, you who are Arthur's closest friend,
You who have always been his comrade-in-arms,
You have lied to him! You have become a traitor!
(He is silent for a moment.)
How can such a thing ever have happened to him?
This love of his has taken over his entire existence!
He's now living in some kind of a dreamlike state,
With no idea of the crimes that he has committed!
He's not even trying to hide his feelings anymore!
At the very sight of her his eyes light up with love!
And then there's Mordred always spying on them!
Yes, Mordred! The one who's jealous of Lancelot!
The one who was in love with Guinevere himself,
And who's still outraged at having been rejected!
Dear God! What if he were ever to find them out?
I am the only one who can possibly protect them,
By keeping watch over them throughout the night!
(He stands up and begins to move back stage, all the
while looking around him to see if anyone is coming.
Clasped in each other's arms, Guinevere and Lancelot
suddenly appear beneath the porch, and slowly begin
to descend the steps. As soon as he notices them, Lionel
disappears among the trees. During the following scene,
he crosses the back of the stage several times.)
Scene Three - Lancelot and Guinevere
LANCELOT and GUINEVERE
When we're alone the whole world fades away,
And we live in a magical kingdom of our own!
Transported by the power of the love we share,
We see only the beauty of nature all around us!
We wander this enchanted world hand in hand,
Bound together by the ecstasy we have known!
We can only wonder at the love we have found,
And the depth of feeling that unites us for ever!
(sitting down on a stone bench and drawing
Guinevere closer to him)
Let me hold you once more in my loving arms,
So closely that I feel the beating of your heart!
Lay your sweet head right here upon my breast,
Like a delicate little flower bent over its stem!
GUINEVERE (most tenderly)
Yes, my dear Lancelot, I'm yours completely!
Take my mouth! Press your lips against mine!
Take my eyes! Your face is ever before them!
Do with me what you will! I live only for you!
Whenever I hear the sound of your sweet voice,
My heart is filled with hope and joy once more!
Just promise me that you'll never leave my side!
Only when I'm with you, my dearest Guinevere,
Can I forget what my life was really like before,
And what's happened to me since I fell in love!
What do you mean by those words, my darling?
Why are you still so tormented about your past?
How could a life devoted to honor and sacrifice
Ever compare to the ecstasy that we've known?
Those who love will always triumph in the end!
Give in to your feelings, my precious Lancelot,
And rejoice with me in the love we have found!
In my heart there's no place for fear or remorse!
All I know is that I love you more than life itself!
Oh, my darling! Oh, my one and only true love!
Just as the nightmares that come while we sleep,
Made more terrible by the darkness of the night,
Suddenly disappear with the first light of the day,
The deep sadness that oppresses my aching heart
Vanishes as soon as I hear your own sweet voice!
Each time that I remember how beautiful you are,
All I know is that you are now the light of my life!
LANCELOT and GUINEVERE
In your arms my poor heart finds peace at last,
And the awful doubts that plague my thoughts
Are put to rest in the warmth of your embrace!
You and your love are all I have left to live for!
The world outside has lost any meaning for me,
So deep and abiding is this love that we share!
(They remain locked in a silent embrace, seeming
to have lost all awareness of their surroundings,
when Lionel suddenly appears on the scene. As he
hesitantly approaches Lancelot, he calls out to him
in a low voice.)
Scene Four - Lionel, Lancelot and Guinevere
It's daylight, my master, it's almost daylight!
(as if returning to his senses)
Ah! Who's there? Who's calling out to me?
It's almost daylight! The dawn is breaking!
NIGHT WATCHMEN (off stage)
Hey, hey! Hey, hey! The dawn is breaking!
Master, you must leave with me right now!
Leave?--What is it?--Is it already daybreak?
Hey, hey! Hey, hey! The dawn is breaking!
Ah, master, I'm begging you, don't delay!
I can hear the cries of the night watchmen,
And the rising sun is just over the horizon!
The sun is up, and a new day is breaking!
I am begging you not to tempt your fate!
Oh, my darling, our night of love is over!
It's time to go our separate ways for now!
(Lionel goes into the queen's apartments,
and reappears some moments later carrying
How the hours drag by when we're apart!
When will we see each other once again?
Tonight! Perhaps tonight if all goes well!
I'll make sure that you receive a message--
(After a brief hesitation, Mordred slowly makes
his way forward from the back of the stage, taking
care to remain hidden by the trees. As the first
glimmer of daylight appears, he suddenly catches
sight of Guinevere and Lancelot.)
(turning back and shouting with all his might)
On your guard! There are traitors among us!
Oh, dear God, they've been caught in a trap!
Heaven help us if he goes and tells the king!
Everyone! Come quickly! I need your help!
Master, it's Mordred! He has found you out!
On your guard, everyone! I need your help!
(as he advances on Mordred)
You miserable coward! Pick up your sword!
(After an exchange of blows, Mordred is struck
down by a terrible wound to his chest. Guinevere,
who has been anxiously watching in the distance,
rushes over to where he is lying on the ground.)
Is he really lying here stone dead at my feet?
If only his tongue could be silenced forever!
It's broad daylight! Master, we have to leave!
Yes, go ahead now! There's no time to lose!
Go now, my darling! Don't delay any longer!
Maybe one of the guards heard him shouting!
If anyone should come--Go on now, my love!
And leave you all alone at a time like this?
If they find you here my life will be ruined!
There's nothing you can do to help me now!
I'm begging you, just go before it's too late!
Ah, my Guinevere, will I ever see you again?
Just go and wait for me in the nearby forest,
And leave Lionel here with me as an escort!
I promise that I'll meet you as soon as I can!
Never forget how much we love each other!
When we're together there's nothing to fear!
LANCELOT (in total despair)
I've betrayed both my king and my country!
I've drawn my sword against a fellow knight
To cover all the lies that my life has become!
Master, I'm begging you, for the love of God--
It's time to say good-bye, my dearest darling!
(Lancelot, who is led away by Lionel, exits on
the left. Guinevere looks after him as she leans
against the balustrade, and then starts moving
in the direction of the castle. Just as she reaches
the door to her apartments, however, Mordred
raises his head from the ground, and utters a
faint cry for help.)
Someone help me! Someone help me please!
(turning around in absolute terror)
Oh, my Lord God! He's alive! He's still alive!
(A detachment of soldiers descending from the
ramparts suddenly appears in the background.
As they crowd around the wounded Mordred,
the curtain slowly begins to fall.)
Scene One - The edge of a pine forest. The tree
trunks, tall and straight, resemble endless rows
of stately columns. On the right, a large moss-
covered rock that could be used as a place to sit.
At the back, fields stretching out into the distance.
It is broad daylight. The sun, filtering through the
branches of the trees, leaves bright patches on the
ground. As the curtain rises, a plowman is slowly
moving across the back of the stage, scattering
seeds along the way.
Rion, the beard-stealing king of the isles,
Was said to be all of eight feet tall, ho ho!
With his band of pirates and desperadoes,
This giant would sail across the high seas,
And prowl around our towns and villages
So as to kidnap our wives and daughters!
The eagles of Lomond high up in the sky
Were keeping watch over Arthur's realm!
(He disappears on the right.)
One dark night they spied the pirate ship,
And cried out to warn their country man--
"Merlin, wake up! Go and alert the king!
The giant's here to carry off our women!"
(As Lancelot slowly moves forward from the
back of the stage, he pauses to lay his sword
and cloak down at the foot of a tree.)
Scene Two - Lancelot and Guinevere
Has Lionel found a way to go and see her?
How maddening to have to stay right here,
And not be able to do anything to help her!
All I can do now is to wait for her to arrive!
The daylight was just about ready to break!
What if the night watchmen recognized me
While they were up there on the ramparts?
What if Mordred isn't really dead after all?
What if my hands were trembling so badly
That I was only able to wound him instead?
Oh, God help me! What if he is still alive?
What if he has already been to see the king,
And has accused me of betraying his trust?
PLOWMAN (off stage)
"See the rich lining of my royal cloak, ho ho!
It's made of the beards of those eleven kings
That I've killed in battle throughout the years!
Oh, Arthur, I'm here for the hair on your chin!
All that I need now is one more ruler's beard,
And yours is the only one that is still missing!"
(As he comes back out and moves across the
back of the stage from right to left, Lancelot
stops to listen to the words of his song.)
The brave King Arthur turned white with rage,
And then drew out his sword Excalibur, ho ho!
He gave a great shout to the heavens up above,
And then hurled himself straight at the pirate!
Soon the field was soaked in bright red blood,
And the monstrous giant lay dying at his feet!
(As the plowman moves off into the distance and
disappears entirely, his voice can still be heard.)
Jesus Christ was there to watch over the King
As he did battle with the forces of evil, ho ho!
The giant monster who tried to steal his beard
Died like a dog with his face lying in the dust!
King Arthur, with the heart of a mighty falcon,
Dared to risk his own life to bring Rion down!
(as if returning to his senses)
Arthur! Arthur! The greatest ruler of them all,
The saintliest king the world has ever known!
The staunchest defender of the Christian faith!
The brave warrior who conquered the Saxons!
(in the depths of despair)
Ah, I'm not worthy of his loyalty and respect!
I'm guilty of the worst crime he can imagine!
I've betrayed his confidence again and again!
I've committed treason against my own king!
I've lied to him in every way I knew how to!
I've broken each vow that I once held sacred!
And my name, which once stood for loyalty,
Will now be dragged right through the mud!
How can I ever have let myself stoop so low?
Yes, I'm a liar! And yet in my heart of hearts
I know that I'll be tied to Guinevere forever!
Everything that governed my life is forgotten
As soon as I hold her once more in my arms!
GUINEVERE (off stage)
Lancelot! My own Lancelot! Where are you?
(catching sight of Guinevere in the distance)
Here she is! She's come back to me after all!
I'm begging you! You've got to protect me!
(She rushes in breathlessly, followed by Lionel,
who immediately withdraws.)
Oh, my Guinevere! Just to be with you again!
Scene Three - Guinevere and Lancelot
Mordred's alive! He's accused you of treason!
Your comrades are joining forces against you!
Only Arthur is convinced that you're innocent!
He still refuses to believe what he's been told!
Is there still some way in Heaven to save you?
Just tell me what it is that you want me to do!
You have to fearlessly confront your accusers!
Go back to Carlisle with your head held high!
Arthur could never believe his friend is guilty!
You're the only one who can protect me now!
I myself have already denied the accusations,
But you're the one that he wants to hear from!
You want me to appear before King Arthur!
You want me to tell him that I am innocent!
What can I possibly say in my own defense?
I'm too ashamed of myself ever to face him!
You can tell him whatever it is you want to,
But I'm begging you to save your Guinevere!
So you're asking me, Sir Lancelot himself,
To lie in front of everyone present at court,
And swear that these accusations are false?
You must do it! You have no other choice!
You want me to lie to my lord and master?
What does one more lie matter in the end?
You've been deceiving your king all along!
There's no way that I could ever face him!
Are you so afraid to tell just one more lie,
To try and save the woman who loves you?
Yes, I am! I'm too ashamed to face him!
My love made me forget everything else!
I betrayed the man who was my brother!
Arthur, the most valiant knight of us all!
The king who made me his loyal friend!
How could I cruelly betray a sacred trust,
And lie to him to protest my innocence?
Oh, Guinevere, do you really mean this?
Don't ask such a terrible sacrifice of me!
I would shed my own blood to save you!
Let me die for you instead! Take my life!
Ah! How could you even think of dying?
You'd ruin me right along with yourself!
What more is there I could do to help you?
Isn't this at least a fair and honorable way
To protect the reputation of the one I love?
What I am asking of you is hateful, I know!
It's shameful, but we have no other choice!
My honor itself is at stake! And so is yours!
It's you, my Lancelot, and your love for me
That forever changed the course of my life!
I am begging you not to refuse this request!
I have come to you in the depths of despair!
I understand just how much it will cost you
To have to tell your king such an awful lie!
There's no other way that you can save me!
The king trusts you, but he still has doubts!
The more we delay, the more he'll suspect!
My darling, we have no time left to waste!
Ah! I could never lower myself to do this!
I wouldn't be able to look him in the eye!
There is no way I'd ever find the courage
To tell such horrible lies right to his face!
Even my expression would give me away!
No, no! I can't even think of such a thing!
Ah! So you're really a coward in the end!
First you tell me how much you love me,
And then you refuse to help save my life!
You have invented every possible excuse
To avoid proclaiming that I am innocent!
Sir Lancelot, the greatest liar of them all,
Suddenly sees that he has some scruples!
So be it! Get out of my sight this instant!
I've decided to confront the king myself,
And tell him the whole truth at long last!
I don't care about what will happen next!
None of it really matters to me anymore!
All I want from you is to leave me alone!
Our love was no more than a bad dream!
I never want to lay my eyes on you again!
(Exhausted, she collapses on a grassy bank
and buries her head in her hands. Lancelot,
completely taken aback, remains motionless
in the center of the stage.)
What made me say such awful things to her?
How could I ever forsake the woman I love,
Who risked everything to love me in return?
As long as I was faithful to our guilty secret,
I still believed that I was capable of loyalty!
Now all of that is over! There's nothing left!
(suddenly coming to a decision)
Ah! What do I care if I've disgraced myself?
Why should I agonize over a few more lies?
There she is, exhausted and as pale as death!
I'm the only one who can save her! And then--
(Overcome by his emotions, he stands staring
at the ground. Then he slowly makes his way
to the back of the stage to retrieve his cloak
and sword while Guinevere silently looks after
him. He hesitates several times, as if he were
waiting for her to change her mind, and finally
turns toward the left to exit the scene. Just as
he is about to leave, Guinevere, who is still
sitting with her head in her hands, calls out
to him in a voice that can barely be heard.)
Oh, Lancelot, my darling Lancelot, wait!
Just tell me where it is that you're going!
(coming back on stage)
I've decided to appeal directly to the king,
And swear before Almighty God Himself
That I have never betrayed his trust in me!
Ah, Guinevere, will he believe what I say?
You keep insisting that he will forgive me
Because he still loves me as he did before!
So be it! I'll find the strength to lie to him,
And commit this shameful act to save you!
When it's all over, in one battle or another,
At least I'll find a way to die a noble death,
And put an end to my miserable life at last!
How can you even think of going off to die?
(suddenly rising to her feet and rushing over
to where Lancelot is standing)
Ah! Don't ever say such things to me again!
If I could only take back those harsh words!
Lancelot, believe me! I was out of my mind!
I'm yours! All I want is to be here with you!
(She embraces him ever so tenderly.)
Why did I have to say those terrible things?
Look at me! I'm begging you to forgive me!
I don't know what suddenly came over me,
And made me lash out at you so viciously!
Oh, my love, how could I live without you?
What would I do without your sweet kisses?
I am begging you to let me share your fate!
We have nothing to fear if we are together!
Your love! Your anger! It's all just torment!
You said so yourself! It's time for us to part!
Even if the king does think we are innocent,
Do you truly believe we can keep ourselves
From gazing at each other wherever we are?
And then there is Mordred and his revenge!
We'll be spied upon, and caught off guard!
Even your tenderness could give you away!
Why can't we leave everything behind us?
Do you want us to run off together instead?
The love I feel for you shall see us through!
Alive or dead, your own adoring Guinevere
Shall never, ever be parted from you again!
We're bound together by our common fate!
Giving up the throne means nothing to me!
All that matters is that we have each other!
I am beside myself with happiness and joy!
I am part of you! I am yours for the asking!
Take me away with you! It's time to leave!
Your castle is there waiting for us to arrive!
Let it be our refuge for the rest of our lives!
Come away with me! Come now! It's time!
Take me off to a world of our own making,
Where we can love each other for all to see!
My darling, love shall guide us on our way!
The king will come for us, of that I'm sure,
And he may decide that we are both to die!
But at least we'll face our destiny together,
As united in death as we have been in life!
Guinevere, listen to me for just a moment--
Ah, Lancelot, my dearest darling Lancelot,
Take me as far away from here as you can!
Even my royal standing and my reputation--
Nothing means as much to me as your love!
To spend all the rest of our lives together!
Never to be parted from each other again!
Guinevere, tell me this isn't just a dream!
Tell me what you're saying is really true!
Ah! Tell me there won't be any more lies!
I'll show the world how much I love you!
We'll live only for the love that we share!
Such happiness is like a dream come true!
We're free at last! No joy could be greater!
We're free! There could be no greater joy!
(They fall into each other's arms, and
remain locked in a passionate embrace.)
GUINEVERE and LANCELOT
We now belong to each other body and soul,
And our two hearts will forever beat as one!
No one else has ever loved like this before!
No one has known such heights of passion!
Oh, Guinevere, my own sweet Guinevere,
I love you! I'm yours until the end of time!
Oh, Lancelot, I love you with all my heart!
Hold me close! And never let me go again!
Come, my darling! Let me take you away!
(As he leads her off stage, the curtain falls.)
Scene Four - A cloister in an inner courtyard
of Arthur's castle at Carlisle. Through the stately
columns of its galleries, a view of the garden at
its center, and the castle roofs in the background.
The garden itself is overgrown with trees, thickets
and vines. At the end of the gallery on the right,
several steps that lead to the door of the king's
apartments. The curtain rises on a group of knights
engaged in quiet conversation. Arthur enters from
the left and addresses one of the men in their midst.
Is Sir Lancelot still nowhere to be seen?
I'm sorry, sire, there's no sign of him yet!
(Arthur motions to the knights to withdraw,
and begins to walk slowly along the gallery.)
I've had the same thought over and over!
I've tried so hard to get it out of my head,
But it keeps on coming back to me again!
I have lost what peace of mind I had left!
My faith in God and man is gone forever!
How can I put an end to these suspicions?
My sweet Guinevere! My loyal Lancelot!
Oh, no! They'd never deceive their king!
But why hasn't he come to me in person?
Oh, my Lancelot! Please answer my call!
I'm here to welcome you with open arms!
Just tell me that Mordred has been lying!
In my heart of hearts I still believe in you!
(As he makes his way slowly along the
gallery, he stops to ponder his situation.)
I overturned the altars of the pagan gods!
I chased the Saxons away from this land!
I founded the Knights of the Round Table
So as to bring God's justice to this world!
I'd thought these ideals would be eternal,
But the end of my dreams is here instead!
The knights are all at war with each other,
Torn by jealousy and the lust for revenge,
And no longer want to abide by the rules!
They let themselves be led on by Mordred,
Who is secretly inciting them all to revolt!
My nephew has set his heart on my crown,
And I'm sure he hates me more than ever!
I'm surrounded on all sides by conspiracy!
Are they plotting to bring down Lancelot?
Are they out to destroy him as well as me?
Am I right in suspecting him of treachery?
Why have you abandoned me, my Merlin?
You were my sole helpmate from early on!
Everything we believed in is coming apart,
And I'm powerless to prevent this disaster!
Oh, Merlin, my dear friend in days of yore,
What evil spell has kept you away so long?
Such a burden is too heavy for me to bear!
Come back to me! Where are you hiding?
Scene Five - Arthur and Merlin
Merlin, I'm begging you! Hear my voice!
(The trees part slightly, revealing Merlin
himself, who is half hidden by the branches
of an apple tree. He is wearing a long white
robe, and his white beard reaches down to
his waist. Throughout the entire scene, he
remains completely still.)
My Arthur! Turn around and look at me!
Oh, Merlin, my oldest and dearest friend,
You have answered my pleas at long last!
(He goes out into the garden.)
Green apple trees, who tell of the future,
Whose magical words only I understand,
How many centuries have now passed by
Since those days when you first took root!
Oh, green apple trees again in full bloom,
The day of reckoning has finally arrived!
Woe is me! The hundred-year-old eagles
Abandoned watch on Lomond this night,
And cried out their ill omens to the skies!
Oh, green apple trees, as old as the hills!
I've never heard you sound so sad before!
Merlin, I'm afraid to ask what this means!
There is no hope at all left for the future!
What we once achieved is now destroyed!
The Round Table is doomed to extinction,
Despised and rejected by those you loved!
So everything is now over and done with!
Isn't there any hope for redemption at all?
Can you at least tell me what the reason is
For the downfall of my beloved kingdom?
There was a time when you had no doubts
That what we had built would last forever!
It was you who could look into the future!
But why do you suddenly seem so strange?
Why are you sitting there as still as can be,
Half hidden among the branches of a tree?
Am I dreaming that I've found you at last?
Oh, speak to me, my Merlin! Speak to me!
As blind as the two of us have always been,
We have mistakenly placed too much faith
In the power and greatness of human virtue!
If this land of ours that we once held sacred
Is choked with weeds and has gone to seed,
It is because some hideous unnamed crime,
Along with the sins of false pride and envy,
Have proved all my prophesies to be wrong!
Oh, my Arthur, don't ask me anything more!
My lips have been sealed for the rest of time!
The only reason I have left my secret prison
Is to tell you that you must accept your fate!
Your final days on this earth are numbered!
The gentle murmuring of the blue-green sea,
Which once sang you to sleep in your cradle,
Shall shroud your death in mystery as well!
But when the day of your reckoning arrives,
And the great awakening has come to pass,
Oh, son of Pendragon, High King of Britain!
Leader in war and noble prince of chivalry!
The mighty oak trees shall burst into bloom,
And deck themselves in their brightest red!
The knights shall rise up from their graves,
Dressed in rare garments of silver and gold,
And the sparkling rays of the sun up above
Shall wreathe your head in a blaze of glory!
Then let death come, for such is my destiny!
I'm not afraid to leave the land of the living!
Oh, my dear Merlin! Tell me one more thing!
Who among us is guilty of that deadly crime
That you spoke of in such a trembling voice?
Could it be Guinevere, my own loving wife?
Tell me she and Lancelot are truly innocent!
Merlin! See how I'm suffering! Answer me!
By your silence you condemn both of them!
Merlin, are you forgetting I'm still the king?
Speak to me! Speak to me! I command you!
(The trees close up again, and the vision of
Merlin disappears. Arthur remains motionless
for several seconds, overcome by his feelings,
and then rushes back out to the gallery.)
Ah, Guinevere, my Guinevere, return to me!
(He makes his way across the stage and exits
by the rear door.)
Scene Six - At the sound of Arthur's cries,
the knights coming running on stage in a state
of alarm and total confusion.
Someone's crying out! What's the matter?
It's the king! Why is he shouting like that?
What is it? He's beside himself with rage!
We could hear him! He sounded so angry!
It's the king? What does all of this mean?
Don't you know what has happened here?
What is it? What's going on? Just tell us!
The queen's gone off! She's disappeared!
She's left the king? Was it with Lancelot?
Who else could it have been but Lancelot!
Someone saw them together in the forest!
Then they were seen riding for the coast!
Ah! Nothing worse could have happened!
What do you mean? What are you saying?
Why did Mordred have to open his mouth?
What! Should he have said nothing at all?
Yes! He should have kept his mouth shut!
Ah! Just think! We'll get rid of Lancelot!
Have you all forgotten about King Arthur,
And the honor of the Round Table itself?
It's time to put an end to the Round Table!
We're tired of living by his code of honor!
We don't want to obey his rules anymore!
How dare you talk like that, you traitors!
We're warning you! We've heard enough!
(Beside himself with anger, Arthur rushes over
to where the knights are standing, brandishing
his sword and shouting at the top of his voice.)
Prepare for battle! Ready your weapons!
I'd rather die than let him take her away!
Prepare for battle! Ready your weapons!
Scene One - A rocky hilltop overlooking the
battlefield. To the right, several pine trees.
On the horizon, the sea. As the curtain rises,
Guinevere rushes on stage, followed by Allan,
her ancient squire.
Oh, mistress, I pray you to stop right here!
The battlefield is over there on the plains!
I'm begging you! Just stay where you are!
Be off with you! I'm not afraid anymore!
(She moves over to the far right, and gazes
anxiously into the distance.)
So the die is cast! He has finally given in!
Up to the very last moment I had thought
That Lancelot would back out once again!
But my prayers were answered in the end!
Sir Lancelot himself has joined the battle!
And the mighty Lancelot is bound to win!
(shaking his head sadly)
Oh, yes, there's no doubt he will triumph!
His final victory won't be long in coming!
But Mordred, who stayed behind in camp,
In order to nurse his own wounds, he said,
Has now proclaimed himself the new king!
Among the knights who have stood by him,
Tired of living by the Round Table's rules,
All have deserted the holy cause of Arthur!
GUINEVERE (interrupting him)
Be quiet, old man! Keep your voice down!
(As Allan discreetly withdraws to the back-
ground, she continues to gaze at the distant
plain. All at once she turns away as if struck
by a sudden thought. She then returns to the
center of the stage and sits down on a rock.)
Ah! There are times when I am in despair!
I'm tormented by the most terrible doubts!
My sweet Lancelot! Does he still love me?
I don't regret for a moment what I've done,
But I can't deny how much he has changed!
(searching the horizon)
Look at those knights who've broken away!
They're galloping along at breakneck speed!
One of them is--Oh, no!--It can't be possible!
(lost in her own sad thoughts)
When we're together he's moody and silent,
And I can see in his face how unhappy he is!
At times his eyes seem to be avoiding mine!
Ah! A horse has stumbled and fallen down!
And now they're all running for their lives!
Ah! What if it's true that I've lost his love?
What if those feelings of guilt and remorse
Are too heavy a burden for his soul to bear?
ALLAN (coming back down the hill)
Mistress, look over there! Can you see him?
There he is! It's him! It's my lord Lancelot!
Allan, are you mad? For Lancelot to desert--
ALLAN (interrupting her)
It's him! It's him! And he's headed this way!
GUINEVERE (rising to her feet)
Then he must have been wounded in battle!
(As she gazes once again at the distant plain,
Lancelot suddenly appears before her in the
company of Lionel and several of his squires.
Unarmed and obviously distraught, he stops
short at the sight of Guinevere.)
Scene Two - Lancelot and Guinevere
God! Guinevere! What are you doing here?
(rushing over to him)
You've been hurt! You've been wounded!
No, you haven't!--Then why are you here?
Speak to me! Tell me what has happened!
I left the battle and abandoned my troops!
What are you telling me? You've deserted?
Ah, Guinevere! It was you who wished it so!
Despite the sheer horror of this ungodly war,
I joined in the battle in answer to your pleas!
At first the old excitement overwhelmed me,
And I forgot I was fighting against my king!
Then suddenly my eyes caught sight of him!
There was Arthur, in the midst of his knights,
Standing head and shoulders above them all,
And holding the sword Excalibur in his hand!
Just as suddenly I could see what I had done,
And an unspeakable shame took hold of me!
I threw down my weapons, and I rode away!
GUINEVERE (to herself)
Ah! He no longer cares what becomes of us!
At the last moment I've lost his love forever!
What have I done? What's happened to me?
Why has brother been pitted against brother?
How could I ever have fought in such a war?
How easily you seem to forget your promises!
Doesn't your Guinevere mean anything at all?
At the mere sight of Arthur have you given in,
And lost your loyalty as well as your courage?
You've turned tail and run at the last moment!
But no matter how cowardly your actions are,
The chain of events that you've set in motion
Shall still continue to grip you in an iron vice!
(as if talking to himself)
Yes, it's senseless to even think of escaping!
I can't erase what has been done in the past!
Why should the past matter to us anymore?
The abiding love that we feel for each other
Has bound us together until the end of time!
It's the most precious thing that we possess,
And the only reason that we have to live for!
We have committed ourselves to each other,
And you must fight to the death to defend us!
(She searches his face for some reaction.)
Lancelot! What is going through your mind?
Ah! How terrifying to see you look that way!
Go back into battle, and conquer the enemy!
My darling, this is the very last ordeal of all,
And then I'll be yours to love forever more!
I've thrown down every one of my weapons,
And you can't make me take them up again!
Dear God in Heaven! What are you saying?
All I can do now is try and stop the fighting!
Are you insane? You can't possibly mean it!
Even if it should eventually cost me my life,
I've got to find my way directly to the king!
I'm going back to the battlefield to see him!
Then you prefer death to Guinevere's love!
I still love you with all my heart and soul!
Don't say any more! I can't bear to hear it!
I have no choice but to try to rid my heart
Of this passion that has consumed my life!
Ah! If you loved me as much as I love you,
How could there be anything else on earth
That is more precious to you than our love?
I have broken the most sacred of my vows!
A veil has finally been torn from my eyes!
I can see! It is clear to me what I must do!
I have to obey the voice of my conscience!
Guinevere, are you ready to share my fate?
What are you asking? What do you mean?
We're both guilty of having betrayed him!
Why can't we at least tell him we're sorry?
How could you even suggest such a thing?
Go back to Arthur and beg for his mercy?
And hope for his forgiveness? No! Never!
Guinevere! Why won't you come with me?
I'll never go back! Not in a thousand years!
(As the sounds of battle become louder and
louder, the blare of trumpets can be heard
from both sides of the stage.)
Listen! The trumpets! They're still fighting!
So much blood is being shed on both sides!
What am I doing here? There's no time left!
What if the king has lost--or been wounded?
Dearest Guinevere, it's all over between us!
I'll never see you again as long as I'm alive!
(He stands gazing at her broken-heartedly,
and then somehow regains his composure.)
Good-bye, my love! May God be with you!
(He makes his way to the back of the stage
to address the squires.)
I'm entrusting you with guarding the queen!
Take her to a port in Gaul on board my ship!
She'll be safe from danger once she's there!
And you, Lionel, you'll be coming with me!
My dear master! Think what you're saying!
(throwing herself into Lancelot's arms)
Lancelot! I'm begging you, don't leave me!
If there is no way to be together in this life,
Then let our two souls be reunited in death!
We have vowed never to be separated again,
Even if it means dying in each other's arms!
Ah, Guinevere, Guinevere! Listen to me!
From now on my life belongs to the king!
Ah! Get out of here! Get out of my sight!
(She pushes him away from her and rushes
over to the other side of the stage. As Lionel
leads Lancelot from the scene, the sound of
trumpets blaring in the wings becomes louder
and louder. After a brief pause, the squires
silently approach the queen.)
(in a harsh, shrill voice)
What are you doing? Go down to the ship!
Get ready for us to depart as soon as I say!
(As the other squires exit to the left, Allan
hesitates to follow them.)
Forgive me, my dear mistress, do you need--
Get out of here! Go away! Leave me alone!
(Allan slowly withdraws from the scene, and
Guinevere is left alone. As she begins pacing
back and forth across the stage, she can be
heard moaning softly to herself. The sounds
of battle gradually fade away.)
Scene Three - Guinevere alone
Ah! He's betrayed me and scorned my love!
Nothing I could say would change his mind!
I even tried begging him to take pity on me,
And at least let me die in peace in his arms!
But he wouldn't listen to my pleas anymore!
What if he is still longing for his Guinevere,
And has reconsidered before it was too late?
My aching heart just can't bear to lose him!
He made it clear that he is not coming back,
And yet I still love him more than life itself!
(Suddenly realizing that the sounds of battle
have ceased entirely, Guinevere moves to the
right and looks out over the plain.)
Dear God! Everything is suddenly so silent!
Ah, yes! That means that the battle is over!
And now he's abandoned me forever more!
(She collapses onto a rock and remains in
complete silence for a moment, her head
buried in her hands.)
Did he truly think I could live without him?
What use is there in going on with this life
When I've lost the glorious gift of his love?
Now that he's gone I feel nothing but pain!
This most terrible day is coming to an end,
And my future is as bleak as the night sky!
Ah, Guinevere, you must depart this world
With whatever dignity you might have left!
(She rises to her feet in search of some sort
of weapon. While touching her brow, she
stops short, as if struck by a sudden idea,
and begins loosening the plaits in her hair.)
Oh, you who made me a beautiful woman,
Whose long, dark tresses Lancelot adored,
Even you were not able to hold on to him,
Though you were once my crowning glory!
You were my pride and joy in better times,
And now I need your help more than ever!
Let me die, just let me die, just let me die!
(She winds her hair around her neck, and strangles
herself until she falls to the ground and dies.)
(The curtain descends ever so slowly.)
Scene Four - The battlefield at the edge of the sea.
In the foreground on the left, a number of small trees,
several low rocks, and clusters of gorse, daffodils
and everlasting flowers. At the back, the shoreline
below forms a sort of bay surmounted by a steep cliff.
It is day's end. As the curtain rises, Lancelot is lying
unconscious in the middle of the stage. He is surrounded
by a group of soldiers whose fellow warriors can be seen
recovering the dead and wounded stretched out on the
ground at the back of the scene.)
(leaning over Lancelot's body)
His entire body is covered with wounds!
Look! He's been wounded in both arms!
He's been wounded in the head as well!
I count at least ten wounds in his chest!
Is there a chance that he might be alive?
(placing the flat of his sword in front of
There's no sign at all that he's breathing!
(bending over his chest)
But his heart still seems to go on beating,
Even if it's so faint you can barely hear it!
Do you think the light could revive him?
Lay him down near that rock over there!
(The soldiers pick Lancelot up and carry
him over to a rock on the left, where they
lay him down in a sunny spot.)
I didn't know how big and strong he was!
And I didn't know he was so handsome!
See how much pride there is in his face!
We'll never see another Lancelot again!
Ah! He's the most valiant of all knights,
And yet he has rebelled against his king!
(As other soldiers come forward to join them,
they are able to hear the squire's last words.)
Ah, yes! He fought against King Arthur!
If the Round Table has seen its last days,
There is nobody to blame for it but him!
SQUIRE (interrupting them)
And who are we to sit in judgment of him?
(turning to the first soldier)
Just go and tell the king what's happened!
Lionel has already gone in search of him--
(looking to his right)
Here he comes now with the king himself!
(As the soldiers line up behind Lancelot's body,
Arthur enters in the company of Lionel, who is
recounting the final circumstances of his master's
Scene Five - Lionel, Arthur and Lancelot
LIONEL (to Arthur)
They wouldn't obey his orders anymore!
Even though he was weaponless by then,
He tried to disarm the ones still fighting!
(Arthur motions to Lionel to remain silent,
and then points to where Lancelot is lying
on the ground surrounded by soldiers. He
stands over him in quiet contemplation as
the soldiers retreat to the back of the stage.)
Guinevere! Lancelot! Both of them dead!
I loved them more than anyone on earth,
And together they have broken my heart!
But this wound is too deep to be healed!
The only thing human I can feel is grief!
Everything is crumbling before my eyes!
My life's work is now all but destroyed,
And there's no one left that I can turn to
To help soothe this aching heart of mine!
(kneeling over Lancelot's body)
Sire, look here! He's opened up his eyes!
And his lips are moving! He's still alive!
Stop! I'm ordering you to stop the battle!
Master, the fighting is long over by now!
You're suffering! What can I do for you?
(still unaware of Arthur's presence)
Arthur!--I'm surrendering myself to you!
Here! Take my sword! Strike me down!
(As he turns his head, he sees the king.)
Oh, Arthur! It's really you! You're here!
(Supported by Lionel, he tries to sit up,
but falls back down again immediately.)
I can't!--My body has lost all its strength!
Put me to death! And avenge your honor!
You dare to speak to me about my honor!
How could you even think that it depends
On anybody else in this world but myself?
I know full well that the time has arrived
For me to leave this earth behind forever!
But I don't regret that the hour has come!
There's hardly anything human about me!
My poor face is haggard and ghostly pale,
And I can see the shadow of death upon it!
The things of this world that had meaning
Have already begun to fade from my eyes,
As if I were seeing them through a shroud!
Now that darkness is descending upon me,
I can look back on what was once my life
With no feelings of anger left in my heart!
I am only sorry for what might have been!
LANCELOT (to himself)
How horribly embittered he seems to be!
If only I had lived up to my sacred vows,
And served him as his most loyal friend!
Mine is a wasted life! A futile existence!
Now I know that I was doomed to failure!
Ah! I so believed in the power of the will,
And each man's efforts to better himself!
I struggled endlessly to uphold my ideals,
And what is left of my entire life's work?
Nothing but disappointment and despair!
LANCELOT (to Arthur)
No one knows how long ideals shall last,
Or what may endure throughout the ages!
Even if your name is some day forgotten,
Those values you instilled in your people
Are fated to live on until the end of time!
The love of justice that inspired your life
Shall light the way for future generations!
Your memory shall be kept alive forever!
For the rest of mankind death is oblivion!
They leave nothing behind of themselves!
Nothing at all! Just like me! Just like me!
Sire, he is dying! Ah! My master is dead!
(looking down at him sorrowfully)
May your tortured soul now rest in peace!
(At a sign from Arthur, the soldiers come
forward to remove Lancelot's body. As they
carry him away, Lionel follows behind.)
Scene Six - Arthur alone
Oh, my Lord, I deliver myself into your hands!
My courage has left me! My hopes are dashed!
Please help me to put an end to this suffering!
Help me to find comfort in an unending sleep!
(An invisible chorus suddenly raises its sweet
voice in song.)
Come with us now beyond the blue waves!
What voices are these? Who is calling me?
Come with us beyond the stars high above!
Let us take you with us to a far better place,
Where life's mysteries are at last revealed!
Let us take you beyond those earthly things
That are here today and are gone tomorrow!
Come with us, Arthur! Come to sleep now!
Let us take you along to your heavenly rest!
Ah! Mysterious spirits from another world,
I don't even dare believe what I have heard!
Have you come all this way to spread a veil
Of forgetfulness over my poor, weary eyes?
Come with us! The one who sent us to you
Has decreed your destiny shall be sublime!
Your heart and soul shall find peace at last
Not through death, but deep, endless sleep!
Close my eyes and let the world fade away!
Depart this sad life forever and be no more!
Put an end to all of this pain and suffering!
(The back of the stage is suddenly bathed in the
pink and gold light of the setting sun, and a barge
filled with women appears on the horizon. As the
vessel approaches the shore, one of women, who
is standing in the stern, spreads open her wings
as if they were sails.)
Come along! Leave this vale of tears behind!
Come with us now and rest your weary soul!
Come to an island whose shores are caressed
By bright, sparkling waves of gold and azure,
And whose calm, cool breezes for ever blow,
Rustling the branches of the lush green trees!
In the cool shade of its gently swaying palms,
You shall sleep peacefully to the end of time!
All the carnations and the roses and the lilies
Shall bend their sweet heads to kiss your lips,
And the irises shall burst into glorious bloom
To perfume the bed upon which you shall lie!
Oh, my beloved Brittany, the land of my birth,
Whose soil is soaked by my ancestors' blood!
You, wild Camelerd, and you, green Cambria,
The time has come for me to bid you farewell!
Oh, Arthur, you were the glory of knighthood!
You truly believed in the nobility of mankind!
But those you trusted most in this cruel world
Proved unworthy of your loyalty and devotion!
The days of our great adventures have passed,
And the knights in shining armor are no more!
Yet like rocks standing firm against the waves,
They once upheld the ideals I had taught them!
All those hopes and dreams for a better future
Were destined to fail from the very beginning!
They fell victim to the frailty of human beings,
And the tide of events that worked against you!
(slowly unfastening his shield and sword)
You who have served me so well in every battle,
Pridwann and Excalibur, I now bid you farewell!
Sleep in peace in the waters that bathe Cornwall,
So that no one else shall ever take you up again!
(Arthur goes over to the edge of the cliff and hurls
his weapons into the sea. When the barge has finally
reached the shore, he slowly descends the path that
leads down to it. As he climbs on board, the vessel
disappears behind the rocks.)
All your heroic efforts have not been in vain!
Those of your knights who fought to the end
To support the cause of justice in this world
Shall live on in the hearts and minds of men!
And when the day of reawakening has come,
You shall tear the veils away from your eyes!
Your head shall be crowned with bright stars,
As you come down to the earth from the sun!
(As the barge reappears and begins to make its
way to the back of the stage, Arthur can be seen
sleeping peacefully on a sort of couch.)
You shall come back again in a blaze of glory
To the land that you left in such utter despair!
You shall continue the great work you began,
And take up your mighty weapons once more!
Arthur, your majestic brow shall be wreathed
In those victory laurels you once had scorned,
In tribute to the magnificent accomplishment
Of having dared to believe in an Ideal World!
(As the sun plunges into the sea, its blinding
light temporarily obscures the barge. By the
time it has disappeared below the horizon, the
stage is empty. The sky darkens, and the curtain
slowly begins to fall.)
End of the Opera
--Translation by Judyth Schaubhut Smith
(c) 2000 Judyth Schaubhut Smith
All rights reserved.