Mordred: A Tragedy in Five Acts, founded on the Arthurian relation of Sir Thomas Malory
ARTHUR, King of Britain.
MORDRED, illegitimate son of Arthur.
KING LEODEGRANCE, father to Guinevere.
DAGONET, the King’s jester.
GUINEVERE, Queen of Britain.
ELAINE, a maiden who loves Launcelot.
UNID, a lady in waiting to the Queen.
Knights, gentlemen, ladies, soldiers, herdsmen, messengers and pages.
ACT I. SCENE 1.
PLACE—A hermitage in the woods.
Enter ARTHUR, LAUNCELOT and other Knights.
PLACE—A hermitage in the woods.
Enter ARTHUR, LAUNCELOT and other Knights.
LAUN. Here is a place of prayer; we will alight,
And rest a space and think us of our sins.
AR. Launcelot, and were I shrived and clean
Half hell itself were loosened of its pains.
LAUN. Arthur, friend and lover of my youth,
Couldst thou but throw this black mood from thee now,
And get a sweeter hope into thy soul,
Drive out the horrid phantoms of the past,
And it were hope for Britain. Well thou knowest
Men look to thee to succor this poor land
Enrent by inward brawls and foreign hordes,
Whose fields untilled, and vanished the smoke of homes.
It hath been said that thou wouldst raise once more
Out of these ruins a kingdom whose great fame
Would ring for ages down the days of earth,
And be a glory in men’s hearts forever.
[Passes to the left.
AR. Launcelot, I know thy love for Arthur.
’Tis thy sweet, manly kinship of the heart,
Opening thy spirit’s windows toward the sun,
Hath made my dark days lighter. Would that I
Had kept me holy, innocent as thee.
I might in kinder fate have made this land
A place where holiness and peace might dwell,
And such a white and lofty honor held
Before men’s eyes, that all the world would come
And worship freedom’s beauty freed from sin.
Such dreams have haunted me from my first youth,
In fitful slumbers or long marching hours.
These lonesome, lofty vigils of the heart
Have made men deem me colder. ’Tis my sin!
O Launcelot, I am blacker than thou knowest!
HER. And comest thou, my son, for Church’s grace?
AR. I come here, Father, for to have me shrived.
HER. Then thou art shriven; such a noble face
Could never harbor evil in its grace.
[Lifts his hands in blessing.
AR. Stay, holy Hermit, fair trees rot at heart,
And I am evil if this world holds ill.
I would lay bare my soul of its foul sin,
And if there be white shrift for such as me
In Heaven’s mercy, I would crave it now;
Though little of hope have I, if thou dost hear.
HER. Wouldst thou confess, my son? The Church hath power
To white the blackest sinner crawling foul
From earth’s most sensuous cesspool, doth he but
Come in the earnest sorrow of his heart
And lay his sins within her holy keeping.
But well I know that thou art that great Arthur,
The hope of all for succor to this realm:—
For other man hath never worn such grace
And nobleness of bearing as thou wearest.
Fear not, my son; whatever be the sin
Of thy hot youth, the past will be forgiven,
And holy Church will freely pardon one
And all the evil deeds that thou hast done.
AR. Father, my life is haunted with one thought
That comes between me and my sweetest hopes.
In battle’s clamor only will it pass,
But in my lonelier moments it comes in,—
The awful memory of one heinous sin.
HER. Of truth thou hast suffered over-much, my son.
What is thy sin?
AR. One deed beyond all others of my youth,
Mad, passionate and wild to savagery:
I violated a maid’s sanctuary,
And afterwards I found—O Christ, forgive me!
HER. Say on!
AR. She was my sister!
HER. Sancta Maria—Ora pro nobis!
AR. It will not out. The evil of that night
When I, unknowing, did that awful deed,
Hath blackened all my future like a web.
And when men look up to me as their sun,
It makes my life seem like some whited tower
Where all is foul and hideous within.
HER. Thou sayest truth, my son, thy sin be heavy.
AR. Oh swart, incestuous night whose bat-like wings
O’erspread my life like thunder-gathering cloud,
When will thy dawn break glimmering on my soul?
Or wilt thou drag thy weary length along
And spell thy moments out in hopeless years
Until thy black o’erlaps the black of death
In that dread journeying where all men go,
When all my dreams are spent and smouldered down
Like some far ruined sunset at life’s edge,
And hope deferred fades out in endless sleep?
O holy man, forgive mine impious presence,
Thy blessed office naught availeth me.
HER. Nay, son, grieve not as one who hath no hope.
Though awesome be this youthful sin of thine,
Whose memory blurs thy loftier, holier dreams,
Let not this one sin lead thee to blaspheme
Thus ignorantly holy Church’s power.
Thy very sorrow half absolveth thee.
In name of Him who blessed the dying thief,
I bid thee look no longer at thy past,
Which eateth like some canker at thy heart;
Redeem thy past in deeds of future good.
Deem’st thy high dreams were given thee for nought?
There is a noble doom about thy face,
A writing writ of God, that telleth me
That thou art not a common ordered man,
But one ordained as lofty ones of old
For some great, lofty cause. Lift up thy heart;
Earth hath a need of thee, thy people call,
Wrongs long unrighted, evils long unplucked,
All cry to thee for judgment. Palsy not
The strength of thy great future brooding on
An indiscretion of thy savage past.
AR. And is it of God, O Father, thinkest thou?
HER. Yea, my son;
As are all hope and sunshine. What is life—
But spring unmindful of bleak winter-time,
Joying in living, mindless of old death;
Youth dead to sorrow, age to coming night.
Look up, forget thine evil, drink new faith
From this glad parable of the wakening year.
The Church’s arms are round thee; build new hope
In this poor Kingdom as the quickening year
Hath made this wrinkled earth forget old sorrows;
Be this but thine to do, and thou art pardoned.
AR. Oh, blessed be thy counsel! Even now
I feel new joys run riot in my heart.
Old hopes long faded built on my high dreams!
The old dread sorrow lightens, it is gone,
And I go forth a shrived soul even now.
Yea, hear me, Father, now I consecrate
This my poor life to this great kingdom’s weal,
And be my God but with me, I will raise
This head of sorrows out of clouds of ill,
And build a splendor of my chastened will.
Thy blessing, Father!
HER. (raises his hand in blessing) Go forth from hence,
Great Arthur, keeper of thy people’s peace.
Go forth to right all wrong and guard all right,
In home and mart, in castle and in cot,
Meting the same to high and lowly lot.
Go forth in name of God to build a realm
Built up on chastity and noble deeds,
Where womanhood is gentle and austere,
And manhood strong in its great innocence.
Go, blessed of God and all thy fellow-men,
Go in the strength of thy most high resolve,
Thou wondrous soul, unto thy wondrous work,
The glory of all the after days to be.
AR. Amen! Amen!!
ACT I. SCENE 2.
PLACE—Camelot. (ARTHUR crowned King.)
Enter MERLIN and MORDRED, a hunchback, the King’s illegitimate son. Outside a great clamor of voices is heard of “Arthur! Long live King Arthur!”
MER. Now tarry here aside while I prepare
The King for this thy filial audience.
MOR. O mighty Merlin, I fear me all thine arts
That compass ocean, air and deepest mine,
And have command of subtlest sciences,
Have never found the power to brew a charm,
A sovereign draught of distillation rare,
To warm a father’s heart toward such as me.
MER. Thou much mistakest, Mordred, he is noble.
This too-long thought on thine infirmity
Hath made thy mind, which is as clear as glass,
Ensickly all things that it looks upon.
When Arthur, thy great father, knows his son,
His nobleness of heart will plead with him;
And when he sees what I have seen in thee,
A subtle greatness of the inner spirit,
Greater than even I, wise Merlin, have,
That prophesies a power for good or ill
Such as is rare ’mid men in this our age,
He will forget that outward lack of mould
In the strong, god-like nobleness within.
MOR. Ah, Merlin, would my spirit thou wert right,
And I would show him such a son’s true love,
And consecrate this subtlety within me,
To build a fence of safety round his glory.
But something tells me, some weird, evil doom,
That sits about my heart by day and night,
An awful presence that will never flit,
That he will never love me; yea, that more,
Of all things hateful to him on this earth,
My presence the most hateful. O great Mage,
I know that thou art skilful in thine age,
And subtle in all knowledges of lore,
But there lies in recesses of the heart,
That hath known bitter sorrow such as mine,
A deeper wisdom intuition breeds,
That thou hast never sounded in thy lore.
MER. Hast seen this presence whereof thou dost speak?
MOR. Yea, only as a look that haunteth faces.
MOR. I never saw it in my poor dog’s face,
When he hath climbed my knees to lick my hand.
I never saw in the mirrored peace
That brims the beauty of a forest pool,
Nor in the wise regard of mighty nature.
But in the face of man I oft have seen it.
MER. What hast thou seen? This wisdom would I know.
MOR. I never saw it in thy look, O Mage,
But something sweeter, much akin, called pity,
But once I woke a flower-eyed little maid,
Who slumbered ’mid the daisies by a stream;
She seemed the summer day incarnate there
With her sweet, innocent, unconscious face,
So like a flower herself amid the flowers;
And I so lonely there in all that vast,
And thinking (’twas only but a boy’s light thought,
With some deep other thought beyond mine age)
To wake this human summer-morn to life,
And know this June-day conscious of its joy;
But when I bent and touched her on the arm,
I only woke a living terror there
Of eyes and limbs that fled from my amaze.
I saw it once within the priestman’s face
The only and the last time I was shriven.
I have no need for shriving priestmen since.
My spirit tells me if they hold no power
To conjure out that devil in themselves,
That darting horror that offends mine eyes,
They ne’er can cast the devils from this life,
And all their vaunts but jugglers’ juggling lies.
MER. O sad, warped youth, aged before thy time,
With that worst, saddest of wisdoms on this earth,
The knowledge of thine own deformity!
Back, Mordred, back! here cometh our lord, the King!
Enter ARTHUR in his state robes.
AR. And now, wise Merlin, wisest of this earth,
Here cometh thine Arthur, decked in his first glory.
So great hath been the splendor of this day
That all my heart brims with the wine of it.
MER. Yea, King, thy horn of glory doth enlarge,
Thy sun of splendor toppeth the future’s marge,
May all bright auspices attend its setting.
AR. And now, wise Mage, what hath thy will with me?
I am thine Arthur even being King,
For thou hast made me, next to that weird fate
That sat about the mystery of my getting,
And the sweet fostership of Holy Church,
Which hath forgiven my great youthful sin
And set her seal of favor on my deeds.
All present splendors thou hast prophesied,
And made the people take me for their King,
Hast pointed out my fitness for this office,
And lifted Arthur from a cloud of sorrows
Unto the golden glories of a throne.
To-day the fealty of an hundred Earls
Which thou hast garnered to my new-made kingdom
Hath honored me and made me thrice a King.
Yea, well say, Merlin, that my horn is full
To plenty with the blessed hopes of earth,
And all of this I owe unto thy favor.
My thunder-clouds are past, my future clear
As yon blue summer sky. No evil lurks
In secret now to strike at this my glory,
Unless a bolt fell from yon dazzling blue!
[Thunder heard in the distance. ARTHUR staggers back.
A portent! A portent!
MER. ’Tis nought, O King, but gathering thunderheads
About the thick, close heatings of the west,
The muttered portent of a summer shower.
’Tis but a blackness that will quickly pass
And leave a blessing on the fields and woods.
Fear not such signs as nature’s seeming anger.
I come to thee upon a graver matter.
AR. Yea, Merlin! speak on.
MER. Arthur, I speak now to no puling youth,
No mere sin-pricked conscience in a human form,
But bring a kingly matter to a king,
Whereof that he may do the kingliest deed
That he may hap on in the unknown lease
Of all his kingship. I have kept this matter,
The deepest and the dreadest concerning thee
And all the workings of thy coming fate,
Until the hour when thou didst feel thee King
In more than seeming outward human choice,
And thou wert at thy greatest, even that I,
In all his power, might see the King I made,
Not in all the glory of his court,
His people’s laudings sounding in his ears,
Not in all the shout of battle victory;
But in that dread and secret solemn hour,
When some strange doom uplifts its sombre face
And man must show his kingship of himself.
AR. Yea, Merlin! Say on, Merlin, say on!
MER. For this same reason I have hid till now
The secret from thee that thou hast a son.
AR. A son!
MER. Yea, a son!
AR. Oh cruel! Oh cruel! Oh cruel!
MER. Yea more, for knowing all the warm desire
That thou hast unto things of beauteous shape,
And lovest chiefly what is glad and fair
To look upon in nature or human form,
Which showeth in thy love for Launcelot—
AR. Yea, Launcelot! Would a Launcelot were my son!
MOR. (aside) Ah, me!
MER. But knowing further that a deeper feeling,
Which holdeth rule in every human heart
That knoweth greatness, would uppermost in thee,
At knowledge of the fate of thy poor son,
Who madeth not himself, but bore thy sin
In outward simile in his whole life’s being,
As Christ did bear men’s sins upon the tree;
Who, knowing all the ill that thou hadst done him,
Still had sufficient sense of inward greatness
To love the father who begat him thus;
I feel, if thou art that great Arthur dreamed
Of me these many years of toil and care
That I have worked to make thee what thou art,
That knowing this son of thine, distorted, wry,
Diminutive in outward human shape,
And void of all those graces thou hast loved
To group about thy visions of thy court,
Hath such a soul within him, like a jewel
In some enchanted casket, that were rare
In all the lore and wisdom of this age,
That thou wouldst love him only all the more
For that poor, wry, misshapen shell of his.
AR. Oh cruel! cruel! cruel!
MER. Mordred, come forth!
Enter MORDRED, who kneels and tries to cover himself with his cloak.
AR. (starts) What be this?
MER. Mordred, thy son, the heir to thy great realm!
AR. O black-angered Heaven!
[Falls heavily to the ground.
MOR. Father! my father! Merlin, thou hast killed him!
O Merlin, Merlin, thou wert over-cruel!
MER. Better that he were dead a thousand deaths
Than this had happened. He is not a king
In more than vulgar fancy. In mine eyes
With all thy wry, distorted body there,
Thou art a thousand times more kingly now
Than he or any like him in this realm.
And thou wilt be a king yet ere thou diest.
O Arthur, thou great Arthur of my dreams,
Why didst thou thus unthrone thee, showing bare
A thing of clay, where all seemed whitest marble?
MOR. Ha! now he revives. Father!
AR. (rises and staggers) Ha! yea, that cloud, that cloud about mine eyes!
My crown! my crown! Methought I had a crown!
MER. Yea, of a truth thou hadst one.
AR. And where be it, good father?
MER. Stumbling on sudden to the precipice of a golden opportunity,
Thou loosedst thy kingship and straightway it toppled over.
AR. And might we not make search, father?
Might we not take lights, lights, and go find it?
MER. Not all the lights that light this glowing world
Might light thee to it.
AR. And who art thou that mocketh at me thus?
MER. A shadow.
AR. And what be I?
MER. In truth a shadow.
AR. And that—that blackness? [Pointing at MORDRED.
MER. A shadow, also; yea, we all be shadows.
AR. And is there nothing real, nothing tangible in all this mist?
MER. Nay, nothing, save the visions we have lost,
The autumn mornings with their frosty prime,
The dreams of youth like bells at eventime
Ringing their golden longings down the mist.
AR. And be we dead, father?
MER. Yea, I am dead to one great hope I had,
And thou art dead to what thou mightst have been,
And he is dead to what is best of all,
The holiest blossom on life’s golden tree.
AR. And what be that, father?
MER. Love! Love!
AR. Then he be greatest?
MER. Yea, greater far, though we completed greatness,
Than either thou or I could ever be.
AR. Then what be he?
MER. He is that rare, great blossom of this life
Which mortals call a man.
AR. A man!
MER. Yea, a man.
AR. Why, he is wry, distorted, short of shape,
Like some poor twisted root in human form.
And I am tall and fair, placed like a king,
And yet you make him greater, how be that?
MER. Didst thou but own Goliath’s mighty shape,
And wert a Balder in thy face and form,
With all of heaven’s lightnings in thy gaze,
Still would his greatness dwarf thee.
AR. Then what be I?
MER. The wreck of my poor hopes.
AR. The what?
MER. The shadow of a king.
AR. And where may be the king, if I be but the shadow?
MER. Gone! Gone!
He went out in his glory one bright morn,
In all the summer splendors long ago,
And there, by well-heads of my youth’s bright dreams,
Be-like he’s walking yet.
MOR. O Merlin, wake him! Thou art over-cruel
To play thus on his fancy with thine arts.
MER. And dost thou love him still?
MOR. Yea, love is not a thing so lightly placed
That it may perish easy. Thou mayst kill
The king in him, thou canst not kill the father.
Though thou mightst make me bitter to conspire
And topple his great kingdom round his head,
Yet I would ever love him ’neath it all.
The Arthur of thine ambitions may be dead,
But not the Arthur of my childhood’s longing,
Though this poor King who hunteth his lost crown
Be but the walking shape of all those dreams.
And temptest thou me, Merlin, thus to hate?
MER. Yea, Mordred, I am cruel, I am fate.
I tempt thee but to live, and dost thou live,
Enalienate from all this love of earth,
And they but crumble this phantom round their heads.
Thou art the key by which I may unlock
The lock that I have made with mine own hands.
And if thou ever want’st an instrument,
A dagger wherewith to stab this paltry realm,
MER. Yea, Vivien. There is naught on all this earth
That cuts so sharp the thews of love and hate
And those poor brittle thongs that bind men up
In that strange bundle called society,
Like the sharp acids nature hath distilled
From out the foiled hates of an evil woman.
(to the King) Ho! ho! Arthur! Great King
Arthur! Knowest thou me, Merlin?
AR. Yea, Merlin, it is thou, and I the King,
Waking, it seemeth, from an evil dream.
MER. Yea, King, we have all awakened.
AR. Ha! where is my crown?
MOR. You dropped it when you fainted, sire.
[Kneels and presents it.
Here is thy crown, father.
AR. Father! I know all now. It cometh back.
And this my son? O Merlin, had I known
That thou didst hate me and would use me thus!
MER. I hate thee not, O King, nor do I love.
I loved an Arthur once, a phantom king,
Whom I did build on pinnacles of glory.
But he hath now long vanished, and I go,
Like many another who hath wrecked his hopes
On some false shore of human delusiveness,
To bury my pinchbeck jewels in that pit
That men call black oblivion. No, proud Arthur,
I am much over-old for loves or hates,
My days are past, my mission done on earth;
I leave thee one here, though, whose love or hate
Is more to thee than mine could ever be.
’Twixt thee and him there are such subtle webs
Of destiny, it needeth no magician
To prophesy the running of those threads
That weave the warp of your two destinies.
Farewell Arthur! Mordred, fare thee well!
AR. Stay, stay, Merlin! I have need of thee.
ACT I. SCENE 3.
PLACE—A room in the castle at Camelot.
Enter DAGONET, the King’s fool.
DAG. Meseems this King is like an April week.
But yestermorn he was all smiles and sun,
And now he skulks and prowls and scowls and mopes,
As though existence were a draggled pond
In dirty weather.
VIV. And thou, fool, but a wry toad on its edge.
DAG. And thou the snake’s head lifted in the sedge,
Aye, sweet Vivien.
VIV. Why snakest thou me, fool? Methought that thou favoredst me?
DAG. Aye, so I do. Thou coilest round my heart,
The sweetest, wisest serpent in this world.
Thou charmest me with those dazzling eyes o’ thine.
And though the blessed bread were yet in mouth,
I’d go to Hell to do a deed for thee.
And yet thou art a snake, as well thou knowest.
Is it not so, sweet Vivien?
VIV. Canst thou be wise for once, my Dagonet?
Yea, let me teach thee.
DAG. What is it to be wise?
VIV. To leave aside that mummer’s lightsome talk,
And show a front of silent dignity.
DAG. Like the King?
VIV. Aye, like the King.
DAG. Then to be wise is to be like the King,
To be a cup of summer wine to-day,
Anon a dish of lonesome woe to-morrow.
I love not much this wisdom thou dost teach,
These high come-ups and downs they like me not.
I am too much a fool to learn thy lesson. [Sings.
And who’d be wiseVIV. Aye, Dagonet, thou art indeed a happy fool.
And full of sighs,
And care and evil borrow;
When to be a fool
Is to go to school
Who’d tread the road,
And feel the goad,
And bear the sweatsome burden;
When loves are light,
And paths are bright
Of folly’s pleasant guerdon?
Sigh while we may,
We cannot stay
The sun, nor hold its shining;
So joy the nonce,
We live but once,
And die for all our pining.
Who’d be a king
And wear a ring
And age his youth with sorrow;
When to be a fool
Is to go to school
Wilt thou show me how to make love?
DAG. (kneels in mock humility) Sweet Vivien, I am thy knight.
VIV. It is all thou canst say?
DAG. What wouldst thou have more?
VIV. Oh, lovers’ talk.
DAG. Thou meanest as lovers speak?
DAG. After wedding or afore, sweet Vivien?
VIV. Afore, of course, stupid fool.
DAG. (folds his hands and recites solemnly)
Butter frups and mumble rings,VIV. And now thou art the fool in earnest.
Whirligigs and winter-greens,
Turnip-tops and other things, I love thee!
Spindle-spouts and turtles’ eggs,
Mutton-chops and milk-stools’ legs,
Heigh ho! I love thee!
DAG. Yea, and the better lover.
VIV. And what after the wedding, thou wise fool?
DAG. What saith the pot to the egg that is boiled therein,
The floor to the mop that hath scrubbed it,
The rain to the moist earth,
And the bird’s nest to the empty shell?
Learn, and thou shalt find it.
VIV. And hadst thou never a lover’s longing, fool?
DAG. Yea, but I cured me.
VIV. Wilt thou give me that receipt, Dagonet?
DAG. I filled my mouth wi’ honey, and my couch wi’ prickles,
And went asleep on’t.
[VIVIEN laughs and retires behind the curtain.
DAG. Yea, woe is me, is me, poor Dagonet!
I hate myself and yet I fain must smile
And play the thistle-down and dandy-puff,
The foolish froth at edge of flagonets;
And all the while see me a tortured torrent
Winding down in darks of its own sorrow.
Yea, Dagonet, thou art too much the fool,
Like the great King and all other fools,
To be the thistle-down thou fain wouldst seem,
For thou art also anchored by the heels
To some sore, eating iron of thy desire.
Enter KING ARTHUR.
AR. Well, fool, what mummeries now?
DAG. I be holding a black Friday service, Sir King.
AR. And what sayest thou in thy supplications?
DAG. I think on thee, Sir King, and I think on poor Dagonet,
And I say, Lord have mercy upon us!
AR. A pious wish, Sir Fool, but why pitiest thou me?
DAG. For thy poverty, sire.
AR. Why poverty, fool?
DAG. Yea, King, thou hast a crown, thou hast wealth,
And power and lands, and yet thou lackest
The cheapest commodity i’ the whole world.
AR. And what be that, fool?
DAG. (going out) Sunshine, Sir King, that be the cheapest commodity.
AR. Launcelot, sit here and let’s forget
That I am king and thou the greatest knight
In this most mighty realm. Let us deem
Me but the Arthur of old days, and thou
The sunny Launcelot who was fain to shrive
His sorrowful Arthur from his darker moods,
And make a glow about the future’s countenance.
LAUN. Yea, King, but methought thou sentest for me with most urgent commands.
AR. Yea, most urgent.
LAUN. The knights and men-at-arms await below,
And all the splendid cortège thou hast ordered,
With retinue befitting thy commands.
God’s benison go with thee, great Arthur,
This most auspicious day thou goest forth
To meet the high and beauteous Guinevere,
Thy chosen mate and queen of this fair realm.
AR. I go not forth!
LAUN. Thou goest not, and why?
AR. Deem it not strange, my Launcelot, that I sit
Here thus disconsolate my betrothal morn,
Nor over-eager for to play the lover
And, decked in splendor, go to meet the queen.
Launcelot, thine Arthur hath a sorrow.
Hast seen my son Mordred?
LAUN. Yea, Arthur, I have seen this Mordred.
Yea, my King, thou hast indeed a sorrow,
And could thy Launcelot but help thee bear it!
AR. What thinkest thou of this Mordred? Likest him not?
LAUN. He is so strange, so small, so queer of limb,
At first I marvelled, then I pitied, then—
AR. Yea, and what?
LAUN. I met his eyes, and straightway I forgot
The manner of man he was, save that a soul
Of wondrous scorn and mystery met mine;
That froze the present, made the future dread,
With strange forebodings. While I mused he passed,
But left that chill behind him in my blood.
And yet he seemeth, sire, one to be pitied.
AR. Yea, all but pity Arthur’s son should claim.
LAUN. ’Tis thy cross, Arthur, as a king thou’lt bear it.
And we all seeing shall say our King, like Christ,
Beareth his cross i’ the sunlight, i’ the shadow,
And take pattern from thy greatness.
AR. I bear it not, Launcelot, it beareth me
Down into blacker depths, aye, and blacker.
He cometh betwixt my spirit and the sun.
Canst thou not help thy King? I seem like one
Who walketh in dread dreams where all are shadows.
LAUN. Take courage to thee, Arthur, it will off.
Go in thy kingship’s strength and meet thy queen.
Her beauty and her kindliness will cure
This thy distemper.
AR. Nay, Launcelot, this is the very matter,
As thou well knowest, she hath never seen me;
And for the very reverence I bear her,
A maiden princess, I would hold as snow
In each thing that regardeth purity;
By all the love that I would bear to her,
I would not have her meet me in this mood,
But I would have her meet her Arthur when
In kingly grace he is himself a king.
Yea, Launcelot, for this I sent for thee.
’Tis mine intent that I should tarry here
And in the joustings cure me of this fit,
While thou dost go forth in my place to bring
The Princess Guinevere to Camelot.
LAUN. Nay, sire, not I! Not Launcelot!
AR. By thy love for Arthur, thou shalt do it,
Whom else in all this kingdom wide but thee
Could I send on a mission such as this?
I honor all thy love in sending thee,
The one true knight, the glory of my realm.
In this, O Launcelot, thou canst help thy King,
And show abroad the love that ’twixt us lies,
Till men will say: “So much of love there lies
Betwixt King Arthur and great Launcelot,
That when the King stayed ill at Camelot
He sent forth Launcelot to fetch the Queen.”
And what more fitting messenger to send
Than thee in all thy strong and splendid youth,
The flower and sun of all my chivalry,
Launcelot, the young and pure-in-heart.
Thou wilt do this and crown thy love for me.
LAUN. Nay, mine own Arthur, men will rather say:
“Why stayed the King, unkingly, thus at home?
And sent forth Launcelot to meet his bride?”
Oh Arthur, by my love, go forth thyself.
Rather thou sentest me sack a hundred cities
Than do this deed that will un-king thee so.
AR. Launcelot, I would rather die than go.
LAUN. Yea, Arthur, I would rather die than go.
AR. Launcelot, lovest thou thine Arthur?
LAUN. Yea, Arthur, well thou knowest.
AR. Wilt thou honor me as a king?
LAUN. Yea, to the death.
AR. Then the King commands that thou goest for the love thou bearest Arthur.
LAUN. Yea, sire, I will. (aside) But all fears go with me.
ACT I. SCENE 4.
PLACE—LEODEGRANCE’S castle at Camelard.
Enter LEODEGRANCE and Pages.
LEO. Now is the day auspicious to my house
When Guinevere will wed with mighty Arthur.
Golden the mornings, happy haste the nights,
With constellations soft and wooing hours
That speed the bride and bridegroom to their bowers.
Splendid be my prime and soft mine age,
Who am a father to this mighty realm.
Ho there, without! [Trumpets heard. Enter Pages.
PAGE. Mighty sire, with trumpet and with drum,
The lofty Arthur with his host hath come.
A world of spears and pennons fills the town,
And all the burghers feast their eyes with seeing.
[A clatter of arms without.
Enter LAUNCELOT, who kneels.
LAUN. Sir King!
LEO. Where tarries the great Prince Arthur?
LAUN. He cometh not, my lord.
LEO. And why?
LAUN. The King, on sudden sick at Camelot,
Hath sent me with his heart to Camelard
To plead his absence with thee and the Princess,
And guard her glad way forth to Camelot.
I am that Launcelot, that knight-at-arms,
Who loveth Arthur more than maid or king.
Perchance if thou wilt trust her to my care,—
Here is great Arthur’s order. [Presents a ring.
LEO. Welcome to Camelard, most noble knight;
Well ken we of thy name and nobleness.
It grieves us much great Arthur could not come
And, guest of our poor hospitality,
Receive our noble daughter at our hearth
And lead her home from out our very doors.
This much perforce had willed a father’s pride,
This much had satisfied a father’s love.
But seeing Chance hath given us none of it,
We must be gracious to her messenger
And thank her for the safety she hath sent.
To-morrow’s dawn we give into thy hands
The maiden daughter of our kingly love,
To guard in safety to great Arthur's court,
There to be wedded as his faithful queen.
Meanwhile receive our hospitality.
This castle and this town are thine to-night
In honor of the Princess and the King.
LAUN. We thank thee, sire, for this thy hospitality.
LEO. Yea, one thing further; knowing our daughter’s nature,
And fearing a maiden’s pride might feel a hurt,
At the King’s absence, we would now advise
That this be kept a secret till to-morrow,
When we will break it softly to Her Highness;
Though she hath never seen him, as thou knowest,
She now half loves him for his kingly fame,
And being her father’s daughter thinks it well
To act a daughter’s just obedience.
She hath a wayward nature, ’tis a pride
We have in common, therefore we defer
This matter till to-morrow. ’Twould not do
To let her sleep on such sharp disappointment.
LAUN. As you will, noble lord.
ACT I. SCENE 5.
PLACE—The apartment of GUINEVERE
GUINEVERE and a lady attendant.
GUIN. Now, Unid, I have seen this noble Arthur.
I spied him from my turret as he rode,
And all my heart went out in love to him,
The knight incarnate of my girlhood’s dreams.
Didst notice his bearing, Unid?
UNID. Yea, lady; fairer man and nobler knight
Eye hath not seen.
GUIN. His face was like the gardens when the sun
Lifts up his crimson splendor after dawn;
His bearing as the bearing of a god,
And yet as one who would be kind and loving.
UNID. Yea, my lady, he seemed glad and fair,
And fit to be the lord to thee, my Princess.
GUIN. Come Unid, take my hand and we will sit
And speak of this great Arthur. Well thou knowest
My maiden fears regarding this same marriage.
I honor this Arthur as a noble king,
The mighty monarch and the splendid warrior,
And yet I fear him for reputed coldness.
Thou knowest me a princess warm in blood,
Brim with fire and sweetness of this life,
Not fitted to be wedded to a statue,
A marble, though that marble be a king.
For something stirred my life-springs long ago,
And whispered, Guinevere was made for love,
And love alone would rule her destiny.
And when I looked and saw him enter there,
And knew my lord, and felt him gaze my way,
Knowing his errand to my father’s hall,
I blushed me till mine inmost being burned.
And all the roses whispered, Arthur! Arthur!
And "Arthur! Arthur!["] rang through all the halls.
I wonder much if he will love me, Unid.
UNID. In sooth he must, my lady, be he noble.
Though he never saw thee, who but heard
Of all thy charms, my Princess Guinevere,
Could help but love thee when he seeth thy face?
GUIN. ’Tis in my mind to sound his manner, Unid.
To take him treacherous and unawares.
I like not much this way of wedding maids,
In cruel blindness of their coming fate.
This marriage savoreth much of state affairs,
Even o’er-much to please my noble fancy.
I would me much to see this royal lover,
And know with mine own senses if he loves
With that intense delight and warmth of feeling
With which poor Darby freely weddeth Joan.
Though I be all a queen I be a woman,
With all the thoughts and instincts of a woman.
UNID. What wouldst thou do, my lady?
GUIN. That I this even meet him in the garden.
UNID. On what pretence, my lady? ’Twere a risky business.
GUIN. Thou wilt be veiled and take this golden ring;
Cozen his squire, and say, this for the knight
Who rode within the castle walls to-day.
Leave thou him word, a lady in distress,
Who needeth a knight to aid her in her sorrow,
Would meet him in the garden walls at sunset.
UNID. I will, my lady; but what if he come not?
GUIN. No danger of his not coming if he be
The man I worshipped from my tower this morning.
He’d come were yon rose-plot enchanted ground
And gated by a thousand belching fiends.
He’d come, my king! O Unid, how I love him!
ACT I. SCENE 6.
PLACE—A rose garden adjoining the castle.
LAUN. This is a sunset bower for lovers made.
The air seems faint with pale and ruddy bloom,
The red for rosy dreams, the white for pure
And holy maiden thoughts all unexpressed.
There hangs fatality upon this place;
I cannot shake its ague from my heart.
I would I were safe back in Camelot,
With this fair Guinevere, great Arthur’s glory.
I’d rather meet the mad kerns of the Isles,
Than come again on such a quest as this.
This Guinevere, they say, is proud and cold,
Not such a woman as Launcelot would love.
Yea love, what doth it mean? and this strange maid,
What can she want of me? Aye, here she comes.
Enter GUINEVERE, veiled.
GUIN. My lord, forgive this meeting in this place.
(aside) Oh, if he like it not!
LAUN. Wouldst ask mine aid?
GUIN. Yea; wouldst thou aid a maiden in distress?
LAUN. Lady, all maidens command a true knight’s help.
GUIN. My lord, hast thou ever loved?
LAUN. Fair women have I seen, but none to love as thou meanest.
Why askest this?
GUIN. Wouldst thou fight for one like me?
[Throwing aside her cloak.
LAUN. (starts and stands as one in a dream) Fair lady!
(aside) Wondrous Heaven, what be this?
In all my dreams I never saw such beauty
Of woman’s face or of a woman’s form.
She fills my heart like combs of golden honey!
GUIN. My lord, hast lost thy tongue?
(aside) I had not dreamed this.
LAUN. Fair lady, forgive my sudden lack of speech,
But never in my existence have I seen
Such loveliness and maiden grace as thine.
Yea, I would call it benison, could I stand
And gaze upon thee as thou art, forever.
There’s some fatality that draws me to thee,
Like I had known thee somewhere long ago.
GUIN. My lord!
LAUN. Thou art all glory, all that this life is.
And all before but one poor, pallid dream
Of this real living. Now I see thy face,
I know what Heaven is and all delights
That erring mortals lost in Paradise.
GUIN. My lord! (aside) Sweet Heaven, this be too blessed!
LAUN. Fair maiden, princess, lady, what thou art
Is what I’d die for. In mine inmost heart
Thou art enshrined. It seems some blessed dream.
Thou art too beautiful for mortal maid,
And yet I feel thou art not all unkind,
Might I dare read love’s missal in thine eyes.
GUIN. Most noble lord, I came here for this purpose,
To render my heart’s being up to thee.
Deem not this act unmaidenly in one
Whose whole life’s currents to thy being run.
LAUN. It seems that we were never strangers.
[Folds her in his arms and kisses her.
GUIN. All life hath been but shaping up to this.
LAUN. Oh, could this sunset be but gold forever
GUIN. My lord Arthur!
LAUN. (starts back) Great God!
GUIN. Kiss me. Why Great God?
Thou art my God when thy lips are so sweet.
LAUN. Why calledst thou me Arthur?
GUIN. And art thou not?
LAUN. Oh, who art thou that callest Arthur lord?
GUIN. As thou art Arthur, I am Guinevere.
[LAUNCELOT starts back in horror.
LAUN. Guinevere! Make thick your murky curtains!
Day, wake no more! Stars, shrink your eye-hole lights,
And let this damned earth shrivel!
GUIN. (clutching his arm) And art thou not great Arthur?
Who art thou? O God! who art thou?
LAUN. Not Arthur, no! but that foul Launcelot,
Who ’twixt his hell and Arthur’s Heaven hath got.
GUIN. Then am I a doomed maid! [Swoons.
LAUN. Black, murky fiend of hell! come in thy form
Most monstrous, give me age on ages here,
And I will clang with thee and all thine imps.
Bind me in blackness under Hell’s foul night,
And it were nothing, after dream like this.
GUIN. (rising up) Oh, mercy! damned or not, I love thee still!
LAUN. Why doth not nature crack and groan?
GUIN. (crawls to his feet) Oh, be thou fiend or imp or Launcelot,
Thy kisses burn me even through this mist.
LAUN. Yea, thou dost move me as never woman hath moved.
Oh, would to God that we had never loved!
Then thou wouldst have been Guinevere and I Launcelot.
GUIN. What be we now?
LAUN. Damned souls.
GUIN. Then sweet, my love, it were thus to be damned.
LAUN. Oh, thou must go, proud Guinevere, to-morrow
Unto great Arthur’s court and be his bride,
And I will be that olden Launcelot
In shape and seeming, though I hold a devil.
Oh, never more, mine Arthur, will I look
With peace and frankness on thy noble face.
’Twixt thee and me a wall is builded up
Of hideous evil. Guinevere, my love,
We were doomed long ago, and this be hell.
GUIN. Oh, most unfortunate me, thou art not Arthur,
And I am Guinevere and I have loved.
Though I go morrow morn to Camelot
And place my hand in his and pledge him mine,
Not all the clamor of glad abbey-bells,
Or heavenward incense, may kill out the fever
Of thy hot kisses on my burning lips.
I am not Arthur’s. He is but a name,
A ringing doom that haunts me round the world.
Launcelot, we were wedded long ago,
Before this life, in some old Venus garden,
And this brief meeting but re-memory
Awakening from some cursed doze of life
Unto this present glory of our love.
Thou wilt not leave me, Launcelot, loveless, lorn?
LAUN. Aye, this be hell!
GUIN. Aye, hell to me to be divorced from thee.
LAUN. Thou art betrothed to our great lord, high Arthur,
And I that Arthur’s trusted bosom friend,
And yet I’d kiss again thy honied lips,
Though Arthur’s shadow flaming stood between.
I’m not an Adam to be driven out
With flaming brand from thy sweet paradise.
I’d hold thee, Guinevere, in these mine arms,
Though on each side, asquare, a "shalt not" stood.
I'd fight 'gainst all, aye, Arthur, mine old self.
O Guinevere, this love hath made me mad.
Oh, were’t that all were changed in nature’s course,
That I were not myself, but some rude shape;
That thou wert not so sweet to look upon,
But sour and crabbed and old, for Arthur’s sake,
So that all might have gone the olden way.
GUIN. Oh, that this night might never pass away,
We and this garden here forever stay,
Yon setting moon forever hold her crest
Above the fringèd peace of yonder West,
These roses ever perfumed petals cast,
So that our love in its glad youth might last;
No bleak to-morrows with their Arthurs come,
With evil waking to a sombre doom;
No age, like autumn, wrinkling to decays,
Filled with sad hauntings of gone yesterdays.
ACT II. SCENE 1.
PLACE—The forest of Bracliande.
Enter MERLIN and VIVIEN.
MER. Tarry we here, for I am fain for rest.
O mighty Slumber, sweet Oblivion!
Make this day night and seal my sleep-ward eyes;
And bear me in thy light and feathery bark,
For I am over-weary of this world.
VIV. Give me the book of charms wherein is written
The power whereof that I may guard thy rest.
[MERLIN gives her the book.
MER. Thou hast poor Merlin on the weaker side.
[He sleeps. VIVIEN mutters the charm.
VIV. Sleep! Sleep! [MERLIN tries to awaken.
MER. Ho! ho! a mountain lieth on me. Take off this mountain!
Ha! ha! mine olden power, and thou art gone at last!
[Tries to rise.
VIV. (mutters charm) Sleep! sleep!
MER. Methought it thundered, and a drop of rain
Fell on my forehead.
VIV. Sleep! sleep!
Spirit of slumber, rise from thy dark caves!
[The spirit of sleep rises up as a grey mist and looms about.
Wrap him in thy shadowy embrace
And bind him in thy filmy, silken bonds
A thousand ages.
MER. O light, thou goest out! [Sinks again.
VIV. Come, black Oblivion, from thy shadowy tomb!
[The spirit of oblivion rises as a black smoke.
Shroud him in thy swart and deep embrace
A thousand ages. Bind his senses fast.
Make him all droppings of a foul decay.
[MERLIN moans and sinks in sleep. VIVIEN weaves paces about him.
Spirits rise and wind him in a grey and black smoke.
Sleep like any rock or clod of earth,
Thou coffin that enclosed a human soul.
The blind dull years take never note of thee,
For thou art part and parcel of the past.
Now, Arthur, that thy great right hand is gone,
Vivien, the devil, backs to Camelot;
Vivien, the scorned, the dust betwixt thy feet,
Doth back to Camelot, where vengeance waits.
I am resolved to be the villain dire,
And cunning plotter of this present play.
Then hence to Camelot to achieve mine end.
I’ll shadow Mordred, work upon his ill,
And mould him to my spirit’s will.
ACT II. SCENE. 2.
PLACE—Castle at Camelot.
MOR. Two roads there are for me in this dark world,
Both shadowed by the gloom of haunted groves.
One leads to quiet and kind nature’s peace.
I’m part inclined to join a brotherhood,
Composed of nature and mine inward thoughts.
The other road leads to no happiness;
But dark ambition—it lowers about my brain,
And hatred at the scorn of human eyes.
Yea, I am half resolved to be a man,
And take a part in this poor, shifty world,
Where so much ill begins to lift its head.
And help to pull the ropes behind the scenes
That aid the puppets to their forcèd parts.
Yea, sooth, indeed, that Vivien hath a devil,
But it is such a sweet and clever devil,
I cannot help but take it to mine arms.
She hath a counsel toward the stormier part.
She puts her little foot on fate’s grim head,
And harks it hiss. I am persuaded much
To make a stir to remedy my wrongs,
And yet my loftier nature cries me no.
O Mordred, what art thou, misshapen monster?
Thou wilt be sweet as Launcelot in the grave,
Though thou canst never smile on Guinevere,
Or other star of brightness, stand by Arthur
Like lofty pine that girds the hills of snow.
Yea, I am half constrained to be a fiend,
And take this mighty kingdom by the walls,
And shake it till its deep foundations thunder.
There is no love for Mordred in these precincts;
Took he the lonely road to-morrow morn,
They’d cover his face and laugh the world along,
Unmindful of his setting.
VIV. Nay, not so, there are two would grieve for thee.
MOR. Aye, two?
VIV. Yea, two: I and thy dog.
MOR. Yea, sooth would grieve my poor four-footed friend.
Better that Mordred had been got a dog,
With four good legs and strength of limbs and back,
A pattern to his species, than be thus
A blot on all the beauty of his kind.
Vivien, would that I were shelved in earth!
VIV. Doubtest thou my love?
MOR. Thou art a strange and subtle human mixture
Of cleverness and charm and swift deceit,
And yet I like thee, though thou voicest me
Upon the evil longings of my nature.
What canst thou love in me?
VIV. Yea, all of thee, not thy misshapen body,
But thy deep, precious mind, thy spirit rare,
That patent greatness seated on thy brow
Wherefore I’d see thee lift this Arthur down,
And show thy kingship on thy rightful throne.
Thou hast a grievance against this callous world,
If ever man were saddled by grim woe.
Enter LAUNCELOT at left, followed by GUINEVERE.
And here doth come the way will help thee to it.
[Pulls MORDRED back into the shadow.
LAUN. (comes forward, followed by GUINEVERE)
My dearest lady, why wilt tempt me thus?
Thou art the rightful, wedded spouse of Arthur.
GUIN. O Launcelot, thou hast doomed me with thy beauty.
I am no more the rightful wife of Arthur;
I cannot live without thee, Launcelot!
LAUN. Lady, this stolen sweetness is a hell.
I am no more the Launcelot that I was,
Nor would I be that Launcelot for high Heaven.
[Both pass on.
VIV. (aside to MORDRED) These words are rungs by which to build thy ladder,
Over the ruins of this doomèd kingdom.
MOR. I cannot play thus on my father’s shame,
Even though he hate me. I would rather go
And bury my sorrows in a hermit’s grave
Than build a power upon this human folly.
Even these twain, my heart doth pity them.
Not all their beauty hath kept them from this hell.
VIV. Hast thou no pride, Prince Mordred?
Yea, wait a breath, I’ll show thy wrongs too deep
To languish in a monkish wilderness.
What hath thy soul to do with weeds and turf?
Assert thy greatness or else kill thyself.
Thou art not fit to cumber this flat earth
If thou canst not assert thy dignity.
Were I misshapen o’er a thousand times,
Had but one eye, a wen upon my neck,
And swart and foul as foulest Caliban,
And were a man, I’d make my kingship felt—
So all should fear the god that looked a devil.
MOR. Where’er thou comest from, thou comest not from Heaven.
VIV. What cometh from Heaven is not for such as thee.
The day doth come when thou wilt call on me.
Re-enter GUINEVERE, alone.
VIV. Stay, lady, I would speak with thee.
GUIN. What art thou, woman?
VIV. I am a maiden here about thy court,
Of whom ’tis said that she did love great Arthur,
Our high lord Arthur, whom thou lovest so well;
If this be my poor crime, forgive me, lady,
Seeing thou thyself art happier in the same.
Thou art the splendid moon to his great planet,
And we but stars that vanish at thy rising.
GUIN. What wouldst thou with me?
VIV. I would fain bring unto thy notice one,
Wrongèd of nature and his human kind,
Knowing where thine admiration stopped,
Might follow thy pity.
MOR. Nay, all but pity. Pity is such a gift
That all the world would grant it, none receive.
Grant me thy scorn, lady, but withhold thy pity.
Thou mightst pity a horse or dog or fowl,
But man of rarest compounds moulded up,
And standing on foundations of a soul,
Hath too much of the god within him hid
To need such shallow, cold, inclement gifts.
Your pities would freeze the icèd heart of winter
Colder wihin its breast.
GUIN. And what art thou, strange heap, that speaketh thus
Unto thy Queen?
MOR. Madam, I am one who through this world
Goeth by ways of sorrow and mishap.
Knowest me not, madam?
GUIN. Thou seemest like some gloomier Dagonet,
Wearing proud black of some mock tragedy.
Art thou another fool?
VIV. (aside) Ah! that will touch him.
MOR. A fool, madam! Callest thou Mordred a fool?
Takest him for one who juggles for a court,
A football for the passing merriment,
Forgotten ere his wit hath passed to sadness?
Because I wear mis-nature on my form,
Knowest thou not the son of Britain’s King?
GUIN. I know thee not, save thou art insolent.
Pass! You bar my way.
MOR. Is there so little in this royalty
That men know not a king when he goes forth?
When that great Arthur thou callest lord goes out,
I tell thee, madam, I am Britain’s king.
GUIN. Enough, insolent! is it some mock tragedy
Thou playest? Or art thou mad?
MOR. Madam, though thou wert thousand times a queen,
The day will come when thou wilt eat those words
With the salt rue of utter wretchedness!
VIV. (aside) He hath awakened at last!
GUIN. Dost threaten thy Queen? Make way, monster!
LAUN. (rushing forward) Dost thou insult the Queen?
MOR. Nay, not as thou hast insulted great Arthur’s wife.
LAUN. Toad! abortion! take that, and that!
[Beats him with the flat of his sword.
MOR. (starting back and drawing) Thou hast slain pity and peace forever.
Come on, adulterous knight, and each foul stroke
Dishonoring my poor back I’ll pay with hate
To fullest usury!
[They close. LAUNCELOT disarms MORDRED.
LAUN. There, go, Mis-shapen. Wert thou not a prince,
I’d teach thee manners toward thy father’s wife;
Wert thou a man, and not that which thou art,
With this quick blade I’d stop thy craven heart.
MOR. There is nought more to do but to slay me.
(bares his breast) Slay me ere I kill myself.
VIV. Nay! nay!
LAUN. Kill thyself, Prince; Launcelot fights with men.
(to the Queen) I will follow you, my lady.
[Exeunt LAUNCELOT and the Queen.
MOR. (flings his sword away) All sweet compassions, pityings and resolves
That dwelt in Mordred’s breast are slain at last,
Slain by a woman’s scorn, a man’s brutality.
A last good-bye to all my gladder thoughts,
And hail, dark vengeance, plots and evil counsels.
Mordred is misshapen, then will he breed chaos.
Mordred is monstrous, then will he breed horrors.
Mordred is dark, then will he cast a shadow
That ne’er shall loose this kingdom’s light again.
ACT II. SCENE 3.
PLACE—Another part of the castle.
VIV. Now for the plot to bring this kingdom down.
I’ve racked my wits. Yea, I have got a plan.
Ho! here comes Mordred.
Art thou resolved to put it to an issue?
Or art thou craven?
MOR. Yea, I am all determination now.
Compunction’s dead. Yea, I am over-tired
Of playing the wart upon the hand of time,
But am resolved to be that hand itself,
And move the issues of this foolish world.
VIV. What is thy plot?
MOR. To hold the world at bay.
VIV. ’Tis too vague.
MOR. Yea, all this life is vague till evil shrinks
The vistas of our longings down to lusts.
My plot is this, to reach this kingdom by
The sinister door that opens to Launcelot.
VIV. Yea, ’tis my thought.
MOR. To catch the Queen in her own guilty net,
Then open her shame to all the gaping world.
’Twill bring great Arthur’s glory by the walls,
With thunder and smoke of splendor to the ground.
Launcelot is half of Arthur’s greatness,
And when he hateth Launcelot for the Queen,
This house of majesty will rend itself,
And Mordred be the raven in the smoke,
Flapping his wings across its desolation.
VIV. Yea, then will my hate—my love—
MOR. Nay, woman, do not speak of hates or loves,
Or other foolish human-hearted moods
Of man’s poor weakness, nay, but steel thyself
To be an engine of the crushing fates;
For he who would be powerful must be iron
And adamant amid this cruel world,
Knowing not heat nor cold, remorse nor shame,
Doing the deed that cometh to his hand.
But we must have a care and watch and wait,
And bait the trap and lay the springe and mine.
Not such a greatness crumbles in a day.
Much might be lost by hastening the issue.
Some one must work upon the moody King
And mould him softly, cunningly to knowledge
Of his cuckoldship. It must be deftly done,
Or like spark i’ the powder, it would send
Our plottings and hopings out o’ the skyhole.
VIV. It is well.
MOR. Meanwhile we watch the Queen and Launcelot,
Each action, aye, the changing of their faces;
Till knowledge be garnered of their secret commerce.
Who will approach the King?
DAG. (heard without, singing)
Morning her face is,VIV. Here cometh one who may work the matter.
Blue seas her eyes,
All of earth’s sweetness
In their light lies.
Coral her lips are,
Red reefs of doom,
There do Love’s ships drive
Down to their doom.
MOR. Who be it? Not the fool?
VIV. Yea, the fool! He is not all surface, he is deep,
Yea, deep for me. .
MOR. May he be trusted?
VIV. Yea, like one who is in love.
Leave me, Prince, I would sound him.
DAG. (enters, singing)
There would I shipwreck,Ho, Vivien!
Swooning to death,
Passing to darkness
On the winds of her breath.
VIV. Well, fool, and what wert thou singing?
DAG. ’Twas but a fool’s carol.
VIV. If thou wert not a fool I would say thou wert in love.
DAG. (starts) Well guessed, Vivien.
And by Our Lady, thou art in the right of it.
VIV. And who might be the object, sir fool?
DAG. Madam, I am deep in love with three mistresses,
To wit, the past, the present, and the future.
VIV. And how be that, fool?
DAG. The first be my breakfast which I have had,
The second my dinner which I have just eaten,
And the third be my supper which, like the morrow,
Is the more joyful as yet to come.
VIV. Wouldst thou do me a favor?
DAG. What be it?
VIV. Dost thou love the King?
DAG. Yea, that I do, though he be sometimes like a great child,
Spoiled on the weather-side.
There be something grieves him.
VIV. Yea, well hath he cause to grieve!
DAG. Thou dost say so! What be the cause?
VIV. The Queen.
DAG. Why, she be well favored?
VIV. Yea, but treacherous.
DAG. Aye! Knowest thou that?
VIV. Yea, and more!
DAG. Then is hell come on earth!
What wilt have me do?
VIV. I would have thee warn the King.
DAG. The King!
VIV. Yea, the King.
DAG. As well ask the cricket to pipe for the thunderstorm.
Dost thou crave my destruction so dearly?
VIV. Thou alone canst do it and survive,
Thou art so little in his estimation,
And thou must.
DAG. Yea, Vivien, I will. O poor world,
Where e’en royalty cannot ’scape the blight!
God save us all! I will e’en commence now.
Here cometh the King. [Exit VIVIEN.
The King enters at the left.
DAG. Though she bade me hellward, I will obey.
But what evilment is abroad now,
That would I know? There’s something back o’ this.
The King a cuckold! Then Heaven help us all!
I would this were dispatched, yet how to do it
Passeth my understanding.
AR. Well, sir fool,
Hast a merry message for my heart to-day?
DAG. Yea, sire.
AR. Then mouth it, fool.
DAG. He who cometh to the wall hath crossed the last ditch.
AR. Thine is but grim comfort, fool.
DAG. Then is it thine, King; and he who garners not i’ the morning
Can laugh with death.
AR. Indeed, thou art over-weird.
Come, play me a masque.
DAG. A masque, sire! Should it be merry?
AR. Aye, merry, or thou ruest it!
DAG. Here be a comedy, sire:
There be a king, sire,—
DAG. And there be a queen, sire,
And there be a bishop—nay, a knight.
AR. And what then?
DAG. The knight taketh the queen!
AR. And the king, fool?
DAG. Oh, he be fool’s-mated, ha, ha, ha!
AR. And where is the comedy, fool?
DAG. Oh, the fiends laugh i’ the pit.
That be the comedy! ha, ha, ha!
AR. Ha! Hast thou a moral?
DAG. Nay, not a moral, sire! Morals be not in it.
AR. Thou art but a wry fool to-day.
DAG. (aside) My plan faileth.
(to the King) Yea, sire, I passed an uncommon sorry night.
AR. How, fool?
DAG. I dreamed of thee, Sire, and as I love thee
I liked it not.
AR. What was thy dream?
DAG. I dreamed I saw thee stand, and back of thee
A great blackness, that thou sawest not,
And from the shadow loomed—pardon me, sire—the Queen
AR. Ha, and what?
DAG. Forgive thy poor fool, Sire, but methought I saw Sir Launcelot.
AR. (in a terrible passion) Heaven damn thee, beast! scum!
[Knocks DAGONET down and would throttle him.
Did the greatest knight i’ this kingdom
Dare even dream such a thought, I would hack him to earth!
DAG. Slay me, great Arthur, but forgive thy fool.
AR. Knowest thou not thou hast slandered the whole realm?
DAG. I am but a poor fool, sire.
Enter GWAINE, a tall, clumsy youth in scullion’s dress.
AR. Who art thou?
GWA. Thou must tell me.
AR. I am the King.
GWA. Art thou? Thou lookest like one.
AR. Whence comest thou?
GWA. I came out o’ the marches yestermorn,
Where I served my father i’ the bogs,
Intentioning to be a knight,
And they put me down in the kitchen.
AR. Thou wouldst be a knight?
AR. And wherefore?
GWA. That I might serve the King.
AR. Thou wouldst serve me?
GWA. That I would!
AR. (loosening DAGONET) Then hang yonder imp i’ the crane over the castle wall.
GWA. Come, rat!
[Lifts DAGONET and hangs him on the crane.
DAG. Oh, oh, the shame!
GWA. Hath such as thou shame?
DAG. Yea, I house me a soul.
GWA. Then is it poorly lodged. [Goes out.
AR. (strides back and forth) Yea, a fool!—worse than a fool!
Arthur, why wilt thou shame thyself even in thought?
Out, damned suspicion, that insulteth my dignity!
AR. Madam, I would entreat thy pardon!
GUIN. Wherefore, my lord?
AR. For a thought. Guinevere, I am unworthy of thy queenliness.
GUIN. Nay, nay, my lord. I am but flesh and blood.
AR. Thou art a Queen!
GUIN. Yea, and a weak woman.
AR. It seemeth we be strangers even yet.
GUIN. Aye, my lord.
AR. Thou art cold, madam, and I like that iciness.
It well becometh this whiteness I uphold.
What wouldst this morning, my Queen?
GUIN. I would know of the tournament thou hast in hand.
AR. Yea, the tournament!—the tournament!
I fear I am over-moody, forgetful at times.
Hast thou seen Launcelot?
GUIN. (starts) Why Launcelot, my lord? He is not the King.
AR. Yea, not the King, but he hath charge of such matters.
Knowest thou, my lady, that Arthur loveth Launcelot?
Yea, had Arthur a brother or a son, would he were Launcelot!
And were Launcelot evil, the heavens would distil poison.
GUIN. Yea, my lord, but thou forgettest the tourney.
AR. Heralds have been sent out, and throughout the kingdom
Jousts are called, with strange and wondrous tests.
GWA. Well, what next?
AR. Sirrah! the Queen!
GWA. (doffs his cap) Morrow, madam!
AR. To your knees! by my blade, to your knees!
GWA. By my legs, I am no lick-spittle to claw the earth.
Kneel to your own woman, I’ll to none!
AR. Death! down on your life! [Draws.
GUIN. Nay, nay, he will kneel.
GWA. Not he! King or other man, I can crack a neck.
Come on, give me a quarterstaff and I’ll knock your
Kings like nine-pins.
GUIN. (gets between) Nay! nay!
AR. Wilt thou kneel?
GWA. I will fight, but I will not kneel,
Not to mine own mother. Gwaine is honest, but a plain man.
GUIN. And thou shalt not kneel, if thou wilt not.
Thou art well-favored, hadst thou manners.
GWA. Manners, madam, like fine feathers,
But hide the lice i’ the bird.
Gwaine loveth acts, not appearances.
AR. Madam, wilt thou that I make him kneel?
GUIN. Nay, but grant his wish.
AR. What wilt thou, knave?
GWA. That I be made a knight.
AR. Thou must kneel to be knighted.
GWA. Not to man.
AR. To thy God, then.
GWA. So be it, if it must. [Kneels.
AR. What be thy name?
GWA. They called me Gwaine i’ the marches.
[ARTHUR lifts his sword. GWAINE leaps to his feet.
Wouldst thou hit a man when he is down?
AR. I would knight thee, clown; ’tis the mode.
GWA. Oh, but be careful, King, i’ the doing. [Kneels.
AR. Art thou of noble blood?
GWA. Dost thou mean honest? Gwaine is plain; if thou meanest i’ the getting, no one can mis-call Gwaine’s mother.
AR. (raises his sword and strikes him with the flat on the shoulder) Rise, Sir Gwaine.
GWA. (rises) Is it done, King?
AR. It is in sooth.
GWA. Then, King, am I thine, but yours first, madam.
Gwaine is plain but honest; I would have a sword, King.
AR. Go, get thee one!
GWA. Dost thou mean it, King?
GWA. (goes to the arras and, taking one down, proceeds to buckle it on) Then this one pleaseth me.
GUIN. Stop, knight, ’tis the King’s!
GWA. Then will it be the King’s still. [Goes out.
AR. What more wouldst thou with me, my lady?
GUIN. I would speak of one Mordred.
AR. My son! what of him?
GUIN. My lord, I would have him banished the Court.
He is sinister on my sight, and exceeding forward.
I like him not. Wilt thou promise?
AR. It is a heavy matter. We will consider it.
ACT II. SCENE 4.
Enter ELAINE and her retinue.
A Squire. Lady, this is the place; we will retire.
Within short space the Queen doth come this way.
[Exeunt all except ELAINE.
EL. They say she is all goodness, she will grant
That I may meet this noble knight and fair,
And know my love returned, or else I die.
Enter GUINEVERE and ladies.
GUIN. Lady, what wouldst thou? [ELAINE kneels.
EL. O most noble lady, I am a maid,
Called Elaine, daughter unto Astolat’s lord,
Who cometh to thee, madam, for kind help
Upon the matter of a maiden’s love.
It rendeth me so, unless it be returned
My heart will burst in twain, and I will die.
GUIN. Maiden, thy tale is sad; be thy quest pure,
The Queen will help thee; be thy person wronged,
By Arthur’s mighty kingdom, thou art ’venged.
EL. Nay, madam, Elaine’s love is white and pure,
And he she loves is noble as any knight
In all this kingdom. Forgive my boldness, madam,
And by that love thou bearest to the King,
Our great lord, high Arthur, help me now,
And bring me to the face of him I love.
GUIN. Of truth, thou hast a boldness in thy love.
(aside) There is an innocence in this fair maid
Doth make me pity her, so deep in love
For some false face that made a summer toy
Of her frank passion. Yea, I pity her.
(to ELAINE) Maiden, to-morrow we do hold a tourney.
Thou wilt be present with us in the Court,
And thou canst note the knights and seek thy lover,
If he be ’mid the guests of noble Arthur.
EL. Oh, thank thee, noble madam, may kind Heaven
Bless thee in thy great wifehood to the King.
GUIN. Come, maiden, thou wilt follow in our train.
ACT II. SCENE 5.
Enter VIVIEN disguised as a strange maiden, followed by men bearing a great stone with a sword thrust in it.
AR. Whence comest thou unto our Court, strange maiden,
And on what quest art sent?
VIV. Nine days are past and gone, O noble King,
Since thou didst advertise throughout the land
The kingdom be gathered for tests at Camelot,
And marvellous feats might here performèd be.
Wherefore I, knowing of that noble pride
With which you hold the flower of your great Court
For manhood’s purity, woman’s chastity,
Have deigned to show before the world, great King,
The truth whereof thou boastest.
AR. It is bold, indeed, but Arthur keeps his word.
What be the tests?
VIV. First, here to test thy knighthood’s purity,
We bring a sword sunk fast in yonder stone
By magic’s force, and he who plucks it forth
Must be a knight who hath not known a woman,
Save in the lawful mode of marriage bed.
(to LAUNCELOT) Wouldst try, pure knight?
LAUN. Yea, I would, doth great Arthur will,
Though all the fiends of hell clutched nether end.
Do other knights but make the trial first.
[A number of knights come forward, try to pull the sword out of the stone, but fail. LAUNCELOT then places his feet on the stone and grasps the sword and pulls with all his might, but the sword remains fixed.
AR. It is in sooth a marvel!
LAUN. It seemeth grown therein,
Yea, I will bend and strain until it comes.
It will not. [Stands to take breath.
GUIN. It is enough!
VIV. Wouldst thou try again, pure knight?
LAUN. Yea, I will try till I die, if it come not.
[Tries again, bends his whole strength, then staggers to his feet.
Methought the earth’s roots hung thereon.
I am shamed!
AR. ’Tis enough!
VIV. Wilt not try again, pure knight?
LAUN. (with set face) Yea, now for Camelot’s glory.
Launcelot’s manhood pulls on his side, Hell on that.
[Braces himself and gives one terrible tug, then falls back fainting.
EL. ’Tis he!
[Rushes out and falls fainting on his breast. The Queen’s women lift her and bear her out.
GUIN. Great Heaven!
AR. ’Tis enough! away with it, maiden; thy magic hath outdone our noblest worth.
VIV. (scornfully) Is there no pure man here will make a trial?
GWA. (emerges from the throng still dressed in scullion’s dress) Yea, I will try, although I rend the stone.
[Leaps on to the stone and plucks the sword out with both hands with a great pull, and waves it aloft with an exultant shout. The throng starts back.
How now, mighty King?
AR. ’Tis a great marvel!
LAUN. (steps forth) Thou must face Launcelot to the death—the death!
[Faces GWAINE and draws.
GUIN. My God!
[Her maids support her; she hides her face in her mantle.
GWA. I would not slay thee.
LAUN. Thou canst not!—Keep you!
[They fight. Knights try to separate them.
AR. Nay, back, more room! give them more room!
[Continue fighting; each draws blood, but neither gives way.
GUIN. (aside to the maids) Be he slain?
A Maid. Neither be slain, madam.
AR. Enough! I say enough!
GWA. Must we stop the exercise?
AR. It is enough, you are both brave knights.
LAUN. Gwaine, thou art better than I.
GWA. Thou art the best I have met.
Wilt thou take the hand of Gwaine?
LAUN. Yea, I will, though it hath pressed me hard.
AR. Clear the Court.
[Trumpets blow and the throng falls back.
ACT II. SCENE 6.
PLACE—An outer room in the castle.
GUINEVERE walking back and forth. Enter LAUNCELOT, kneels, would take her hand.
LAUN. Madam! [GUINEVERE draws back coldly.
LAUN. Madam, what means this coldness?
Thou wert not ever wont to meet me thus!
GUIN. Where hast thou left the maid of Astolat?
LAUN. Maid of Astolat!
GUIN. Yea, that frail pink-and-white that pillowed thy breast,
What time thou didst faint; some slim cowslip miss
Such as do flatter you strong men by their weakness.
Go, flippant knight, and seek your skim-milk love.
Guinevere would hate thee but for scorn.
God curse the day I ever let thee love!
LAUN. Madam, each word thou utterest, like a dagger,
Doth stab with cruel agonies my heart.
If Launcelot hath sinned in loving thee,
That love is maiden unto all save thee.
Yea, I am damnèd daily for thy face,
And even thou dost scorn me!
GUIN. A truce of words; I saw with mine own eyes
What all the Court and all the world doth know.
Launcelot’s Love, the Maid of Astolat,
Is mouthed by all fools’ lips in all men’s ears,
Till Guinevere is even Mordred’s scorn.
I’d slay thee, were I only but a man.
LAUN. Madam! by my love!—
GUIN. By thy love, a flimsy, forsworn thing,
A toylet of a moment! Such as thou!
And I! I gave—By Heaven! I pluck thee out,
And thrust thee from me, thou false, handsome face!
Thou devil-eyed to lead hearts on to ruin!
LAUN. Madam, wilt thou not hear?
GUIN. Nay, nay, begone! I scorn thee, yea, I hate!
LAUN. (sadly) Yea, Guinevere, I go, to come no more.
It is well seen that thou hast tired of me.
Thou hast driven Launcelot mad! mad!
The world reels round me, I am all alone.
All else the visions of a noisome dream.
I am mad, mad, Guinevere!
And dost thou smile? here’s for the lonely dark!
Ho, ho! the world’s one hideous mockery.
[Leaps from the casement.
GUIN. Nay, nay, Launcelot! Launcelot!
Come back! I love thee, I forgive thee all!
(falls on her face) O Heaven! I have driven him away,
Nevermore, oh, never to return.
O Love! O Love! my maddened heart will break.
O foolish stars, why smile on this grim night,
Lighting the heartless heaven with your eyes?
O foolish birds, why pipe across the dark,
Calling the rosy morn, the false-faced morn,
While hearts are breaking here amid the dark?
Nay, ‘tis the foolish wind wooing the silly trees.
He never will return, nor will forgive.
O poor white hand! he nevermore will clasp.
O wayward lips! he nevermore will kiss.
O heart, break! break!
Enter a Maid.
Maid. Madam, here cometh the King.
Enter the King.
AR. Watchest thou the splendor of the night?
GUIN. Yea, there is a burden in the distant sea,
And a soft sadness from the far-off night
Of ghost-winds footing under the haunted dark.
It groweth chill, my lord.
AR. We will go within. [Exeunt both.
Enter GWAINE and DAGONET.
GWA. Yea, mad! mad! stark, raving mad, you say?
DAG. Yea, mad. His eyes were like balls o’ fire,
An’ his face fixed like he followed a vision
Or walked i’ his sleep,
An’ his hands did beat the air the while he shouted a war song.
It hath frighted me out of a week’s sleep.
GWA. Yea, he is indeed mad. ’Tis this crazy love.
And he such a man, the best i’ the world.
I will take horse and follow him.
Drop that lanthorn, fool, and help me wi’ this buskin,
’Tis new to me. The best i’ the world, damn this love!
Fool, wert thou ever in love?
DAG. Yea, thou knowest I be a fool.
GWA. Then be wise like Gwaine, fool, and scorn love;
’Tis but a mad fever o’ the head and marrow.
It creepeth in by the eyes and spoileth a good man.
It killeth sleep and maketh a mock at feeding.
It heateth the blood and routeth caution.
’Ware of love, fool, an’ thou wouldst be wise.
DAG. Yea, thy words be like what the wind said to the wall.
GWA. And what be that?
DAG. Stand up while I blow thee down!
Art thou off now?
GWA. Yea, till I find him.
Tell the King Gwaine hath ta’en French leave, but he will
come again when he bringeth the best man i’ the kingdom.
Ho! without there! Fool, go ahead with that lanthorn.
ACT II. SCENE 7.
Enter VIVIEN and MORDRED.
VIV. Prince, and do you weaken now again?
MOR. Yea, Vivien, I have only half a heart
For this ill business.
VIV. ’Tis but a lack of manhood in thy blood,
That runs to water dwelling on puerile things,
Like parent-love and other sickly longings,
Forgotten with forgetting of the paps.
Now, me, my memory knows no parentage
Save circumstance and mine own nimble wits.
’Tis but our acts that build the bridge of fate
Across this perilous river men call life.
Some kneel and pray, trust some fond deity,
And build in fancy safety for themselves,
Then soon are churning ’mid the ravening flood.
Others do build them piers of solid stone,
Or use men’s bodies for to tread upon.
These get the surest over.—Hast seen the Queen?
MOR. Ha, that one name hath more to conjure with
Than all your sophistries, to my dark soul.
Yea, how I hate that woman! I am but
The hideous toad that poisons on her sight.
Though I may sense the glories of this earth
With all its wealth, the heaven o’er-bridged with stars,
And know love’s heights and depths, and pity’s well,
Brimming with pearls of tears and woman’s eyes;
I am but hideous Mordred after all.
VIV. Yea, in her eyes art hideous, not in mine.
MOR. Woman, thou liest! It wert natural
To love the perfect shape and noble form,
The sunny face and splendid laughing eye;
But canst thou love the wry and gnarlèd shape
And beetle-browed, night-shaded soul like mine?
I am a toad, a bat, a gnarlèd stump.
Those hideous in nature are my kin.
Woman, thou liest, when thou speakest of love!
VIV. Nay, Mordred, do not scorn me! Thou’rt a man
In more than mere out-seeming; ’tis thy fate,
Thy whole grim spirit, Vivien pitieth.
Wouldst thou but love me, Vivien would be
Thy queen, thy slave, the ’venger of thy wrongs,
That call to heaven.
MOR. Nay, nay, it cannot be, thou wastest words.
I like thee least in this strange mood of thine.
Love is no word for Mordred, rather hate,
And thou wert made for plottings, not for joys.
Yea, we will marry in compact of ill,
And will beget as child, black, black revenge.
This is my mood.
VIV. Now thou art natural! There is much to do.
Our schemes o’erreached, proud Arthur’s jealousy
As yet untouched, and Launcelot fled the Court
In some queer madness. How likest the conditions?
MOR. He must come back, I am a devil at root.
We’ll seethe him in the Queen’s despairs and sorrows.
I have a plan,—she giveth soon a feast
Of autumn fruits unto her favorite knights,
And I will go, although she hates my face,
For I misdoubt she fears me even now.
There is a joy to know, if thou’rt not loved,
That thou canst wield an influence over those
Who otherwise would pass thee by in scorn.
Well, I do know a poison, subtle, sharp,
That when it bites it is the tooth of death.
This will I get inserted in some fruit,
And manage that one knight will eat of it,
Sir Patrise, brother unto that Sir Mador,
Who hates the Queen for that she scorned his love,
And not being present will call for loud revenge
Upon his brother’s death ’gainst Guinevere.
Proud Arthur, then, will call upon some knight
To prove her innocence upon the sword,
And her extremity makes Launcelot sane.
He will return. Then I will trap him with her,
Set Arthur and Launcelot at bitter war,
And wrest the kingdom from their weakened hands.
This is my plot, now for the working of it.
Down all compunction! Mount all dark resolves!
Let me be Mordred inward as well as out,
All inky poison of soul, even that I,
Who’d trample others, must crush out myself.
VIV. Yea, Prince, indeed, ’tis seen thou hast a mind
Of subtle working fit to rule a king.
Thou wilt be greater than great Arthur yet,
When thou sittest in his place.
MOR. Nay, woman, tantalize me not with hopes.
’Tis not the splendid end that leads me on.
’Tis but the getting there that Mordred loves;
The mood of one who’d trample on the flowers
In some fair garden whence he is excluded.
Here is the poison. That will be thy part
To get it hidden in the special fruit,
And get it fed unto the special man
Whose snuffing out will pander to our end.
VIV. Give me the poison!
MOR. Here it is, this small pill,
So petty, but all-powerful.
’Tis wondrous that this tiny polished globe,
Could hide betwixt the finger and the thumb,
Hath power to open the gateways of this world,
And in a sudden sleep dislodge a soul.
Hast thou an agent for to do this work?
VIV. Yea, that I have.
MOR. Not the fool again?
VIV. Yea, the fool!
MOR. See he does this better than the last. ’Tis the more perilous. Thinkest he will undertake it?
VIV. Yea, he will.
MOR. By what compulsion?
VIV. By that most powerful of all most powerful compulsions. He loveth me.
MOR. And thou wilt use him, put him on the rack,
Which is thine influence?
VIV. See my little finger; he is as the yarn
That I may wind around it.
MOR. Thou art a devil! Ho! ho! Mordred hath mirth!
And this be life? Mordred that mirth, yea, Vivien, mirth!
See, woman, that thou failest not.
Mordred is roused, it must be. [Exit MORDRED.
VIV. Ho! ho! Thou art travelling my road at last.
I must haste hence and find me Dagonet.
ACT II. SCENE 8.
DAG. I’m but the ghost of mine old former self,
Who, once a jester, am now but the jest
Of some outrageous fortune. Sleep hath fled,
My meat hath no more taste unto my mouth,
The wine but heavy lees within the cup.
I am so held in love for Vivien
That I must end this foolish spark o’ life.
My heart leaps up for joy to see her face,
A silly joy, such as a child might have,
Loving some star for plaything, out of reach.
Oh, what would I not do to even dare
To press the velvet of her dainty hand!
Back, down, poor foolish dreams! Now I must play
The frothy merriment of a world that’s gray.
There may be poison in the cup,Enter VIVIEN. DAGONET starts.
But still the foam must cling.
To keep the strong world’s courage up
Poor fools must laugh and sing;
With sobs below and smiles above,
A-masking day by day,
On trampled, bleeding hopes of love.
So whirls the world away!
There may be breaking of the heart,
Though merry laughs the eye.
Still we poor fools must act our part,
And laugh, and weep, and die.
Still must we sportive battles wage,
With foam of lightsome breath,
While underneath the currents rage
And wrecks are churned to death.
VIV. Thou growest gruesome, Dagonet; where hast lost thy mirth?
DAG. I know not, Vivien, I know not; belike I am a fool, indeed. Poor Dagonet is no more himself.
VIV. Poor Dagonet!
DAG. Why not call me fool? Dost thou pity me?
VIV. Yea, I do.
DAG. And since when?
VIV. Since I knew that thou wert a man.
DAG. Dagonet, the fool, a man?
VIV. Yea, since I knew as thou couldst love indeed.
DAG. That I love, Vivien, what knowest thou?
VIV. Yea, that thou hast a heart under thy mask. Yea, more, for whom thou hast this feeling. Wouldst thou win her grace?
DAG. (falls on his knees) Yea, yea, Vivien, for one
look, one smile. O Vivien, well thou knowest I am thy slave.
VIV. What wouldst thou do for my love?
DAG. Thou hast my heart bare in thy sight. Write on it what characters thou likest, for I am thine. I tell thee I am thy dog, thy slave.
VIV. Not dog, nor slave, but lover.
[VIVIEN holds our her hand, DAGONET crawls near and takes it.
DAG. O Vivien, dost thou mean this?
VIV. Yea, in sooth I will try thy love. Wouldst thou win my love, Dagonet?
DAG. Dost thou mock me?
VIV. Nay. (takes a little box from her girdle and opens it) Dost see this pill?
[Leans near and whispers in his ear.
DAG. (starts back) Nay! nay! not that!
VIV. That or nought.
DAG. Wouldst thou use me thus?
VIV. Thou art the man who’d win my love! I tell thee so must all who’d love Vivien.
DAG. Nay, nay, I must think. This is indeed death, death!
VIV. Yea, death or nought! I thought thou wert a man?
DAG. For that reason am I now in hell.
VIV. (takes his hand) Dagonet, dost thou love me?
DAG. O God! Yea, Vivien, give me the pill. I am not myself any more. I am thine, I will do it. Vivien, thou wilt not fail me?
VIV. See that thou dost not fail me, and be sure that thou doest this well.
DAG. I will. [Exit VIVIEN.
At last, O Dagonet, thou hast thy wish,
Thou’st passed the iron o’ that grim barrier
That shutteth comedy from black tragedy.
Dagonet, now thou art indeed a man!
Thou art pitied! Thou canst win love.
Thou canst snuff the candle out o’ a life.
Dost know thy former features any more?
And all for love!
O Love, that lights this worldYea, I am on fire. Snow! snow! Would I had snow to cool me!
Yet leaves us i’ the dark;—
I led thee to my couch,
A grave-cloth was thy sark!
O Love, we would be clothed,
And thou hast left us stark.
Fool, thou art no more a fool. Dagonet, thou art a man!
Thou lovest. This must be done. [Goes out.
ACT III. SCENE 1.
ARTHUR, MORDRED, DAGONET and Nobles.
Enter the Queen in great trouble. Enter SIR MADOR and Knights, bringing in a dead body and crying, “Treason! Treason!” The Queen takes her state.
AR. Who would accuse the Queen?
SIR M. ’Tis I, my liege.
AR. What be the substance of thine accusation?
SIR M. Murder, sire! murder most foul and treacherous!
Other Knights. Yea, murder most foul and treacherous!
AR. On whom?
SIR M. On the body of this knight, my brother, Sir Patrise, whom thou knowest to have been a courteous knight of much steadfastness to thee and the Court.
AR. It is most strange. Relate the circumstances.
SIR M. ’Twas at the banquet, Sir King, where we all invited of thy Queen, the Madam Guinevere, who sitteth there, and after meat, she, with much courtesy of seeming, did press on us to partake of some fruit, the which on partaking of, my brother, this dead knight, did fall in agony so extreme and mortal that his soul went out, and now he lieth as thou seest him.
Other Knights. Yea, ’tis true, ’tis as he saith, a most foul and damnable murder.
AR. (turns to the Queen) Madam, what sayest thou to this accusation?
GUIN. ’Tis a false, foul lie. I am innocent of this deed.
DAG. (aside) Yea, ’tis true!
AR. Thou seest this dead knight here, and these witnesses. As I am King I must see justice, even against thee. Hast thou no other defence to offer?
GUIN. Nay, my lord, as I am the Queen, ’tis a most damnable lie. ’Fore Heaven, I am innocent of this strange murder.
DAG. (aside) Now is my soul in flames!
SIR M. According to our ancient laws, when a guest dies in this most suspicious manner, where proof of grievous intent is present, the accused is condemned to be burnt at the stake.
GUIN. Great Heaven!
AR. ’Tis a foul punishment.
SIR M. But for a foul crime.
Other Knights. Yea, ’tis but justice.
AR. There is also a trial.
MOR. Yea, sire, the accused, being a woman, must have a knight to prove her innocence by his body on the body of the accuser ere the time of death be accomplished.
AR. Then be it so. The law must follow on the weight of these many witnesses. (turning to the Queen) Guinevere, Queen of Britain, I believe thee guiltless of the crime whereof thou art accused, as thou hast said. As King, I am not free to prove thine innocence with my body, but, as the King, unless thou procurest a knight to assoil thee ere the time appointed, I here condemn thee to be taken hence to a place of public note and there be burnt to death, as the law requireth.
GUIN. O great Heaven! [Falls in a swoon.
AR. Sir knight, art thou satisfied?
SIR M. Yea, on my body.
AR. Then clear the Court. [Exeunt Knights.
Madam, this is the heaviest hour of all my life.
GUIN. (supported by her ladies) Yea, my lord, thou wilt save me?
AR. That I will, in all justice. Ho, there, without!
Enter a Page.
Bring me Sir Hake on the instant! [Exit Page.
Enter SIR HAKE.
AR. I command that this stern sentence on the body of the noble Queen be proclaimed widely, and that messengers be sent, on pain of death, to find Sir Gwaine and Sir Launcelot, that if they be not procured here within the present month, the messengers pay the penalty with their bodies.
SIR H. Yea, Sire, it shall be done. [Exit.
AR. And thou, my Queen, retire to your apartments; I will come shortly to you. Keep up thy heart; as thou art innocent so will Heaven help thee.
GUIN. Yea, my lord, thou wilt save me, as I am innocent. [Exeunt GUINEVERE and her ladies.
AR. Ho, page, bring wine. (aside) I would forget my sorrow.
Bring wine, I say, and send me hither my fool! [Exit Page.
AR. Fool, I would forget my heaviness. Make me merry.
DAG. (aside) O God! (to the King) Yea, sire, what wouldst thou have?
AR. Some music.
DAG. Yea, sire. (sings)
Blue is the summer morning’s sky,AR. Would I had thy merry heart, fool.
And birds are glad and merry;
And Anna’s eyes are sweet and sly,
Her cheeks like any cherry;
Her lips like dewy rosebuds are
Upon the gladsome morning.
She is my love, my heart’s glad star,
In spite of all her scorning.
So fill the cup of gladness up,
And drink to youth and morning;
Let sadness go with evening sup,
I’m hers for all her scorning.
DAG. Yea, sire.
ACT III. SCENE 2.
LAUNCELOT discovered seated almost naked amid swineherds.
Once there was a castle hall,Ha! ha! Cowards, who’ll fight? (rises) Ha! ha!
Fair, fair to see;
Armored dight, and splendored all,
Filled with shout o’ revelry.
Came the hosts o’ fate and rage,
Thundered on its walls amain.
Sunken now like ruined age,
Never laughs its light again.
I loved a Queen and she loved me.
Aye, that were long ago!
Come now, wrack! come now, woe!
Strike now, lightning! beat now, snow!
Memory, I’ll ha’ none o’ thee!
Enter a Knight.
Knight. Who be this?
1st Swineherd. Him be mad, though him hurt us not, for us be soft wi’ him. Him tend a’swine.
2nd Swineherd. Him mun fight, but us not answer. Him be o’er hulk a man twa hanle a staff.
LAUN. Winds are cold and flowers are dead. All is past, past!
Knight. Ho, there! who be thou?
LAUN. ’Tis an old world, an old, old world, I tell thee truth. I loved a queen, but that be long past.
Knight. His wits be dull.—Who art thou, fellow?
LAUN. It hath been never summer this many a year.
Canst tell me why?
Knight. ’Tis summer now, thou fool!
LAUN. Nay, nay, ’tis but winter. I loved a queen—
Knight. Oh, damn thy queen! who art thou?
LAUN. Yea, damn all queens, I am with thee, friend,—
wilt thou fight?
Knight. Not with thee.
LAUN. Curse thee! thou shalt!
Knight. I tell thee I won’t.
LAUN. Then, damn thee, take that!
[Knocks him down.
Knight. Oh! oh! I am murdered!
LAUN. More! more!
GWA. Ha! at last, it seemeth!
1st Swineherd. Have care, master! Him be dread.
GWA. How long hath he been like this?
2nd Swineherd. ’Tis some time agone. At first him did tear the earth.
An’ bite hisself, but him be better now.
LAUN. I chased the moon, the silly moon,
Ahind a willard tree.
I knocked the stars like ninepins down,
One, two, three.
I loved a queen. Ha, ha! ’tis winter.
GWA. And this be he, the best o’ Arthur’s Court,
A ragged ninny, mouthing wanton froth,
The sport o’ pig-folk; this be love’s good work?
O Love! thou hast much to answer!
1st Swineherd. Him want allus twa foight.
GWA. Yea, he spoileth for a bout; ’tis often a right cure,
I will try it. God give it may bring him round!
(to LAUNCELOT) Ho, there, fellow!
LAUN. Ho thyself, windbag. Thou hast a fine voice, friend;
Canst thou call back memory?
GWA. Yea, I can.
LAUN. Canst thou find springtime? I loved, I loved—
GWA. Oh, damn love—dost thou know me?
LAUN. Know thee? know thee? I know thou art a man. Wilt thou fight, friend?
GWA. With a merry good-will.
LAUN. Then let’s to’t.
[GWAINE takes a quarterstaff; they fight hard and long. GWAINE belabors LAUNCELOT on the head, back and shoulders.
Ha! it raineth thoughts now. Come on, Hell, come on!
GWA. Yea, am I coming. (hits him harder) If I beat that fool’s love out o’ him I will do him a good deed. How’s that, and that?
LAUN. And that, and that? [Both fight till exhausted.
GWA. Launcelot, dost know thyself now?
LAUN. Methinks I partly do, under a cloud.
GWA. And dost thou know me?
LAUN. Methinks thou art the moon.
GWA. Fiends take this love! If I be the moon thou shalt find me no honeymoon.
[Hits him again; they fight fiercer.
LAUN. Come on, thou art welcome. Oh!
GWA. Well, dost thou know me yet?
LAUN. Methinks thou art one named Gwaine. Oh, my bones!
GWA. Be this winter?
LAUN. I be warm now?
GWA. An’ dost thou love a queen?
LAUN. What mean’st thou?
GWA. I would rid thee of this damned love.
LAUN. Then wouldst thou rid me of this life. Gwaine, thou art a noble soul, but thou canst not do that.
GWA. Art thou thyself now?
LAUN. Methinks I am—Yea, I have been mad.
GWA. Yea, and I have cured thee. Come, this be no place. Let us go. [Exeunt both.
ACT III. SCENE 3.
PLACE—Another part of the forest.
Enter LAUNCELOT and GWAINE.
GWA. Launcelot, thou art a fool. Thou art the King’s man, and the best. Thou hast an arm and a sword on it. Thou must come. I will no longer here.
LAUN. I may not; this hurt be too deep.
GWA. Curse thy hurt, man! thou art sound as I.
LAUN. ’Tis a deep hurt; Launcelot fights no more. Here I die.
GWA. Better go a monk. Thou art a fool, man. This love is a girl’s folly. Fighting is a man’s trade and his sword his true mistress. Gwaine will have no other. Come, thou art not dead yet.
LAUN. Aye, Gwaine, thou wastest words. Launcelot is ended.
GWA. Nay! nay! I gave my word I would bring thee. Will I have to go forsworn, else carry thee on my back. Have I cured thy madness but for this?
LAUN. Nay, nay, make peace best thou canst. Thou art a good fellow, but I cannot. Launcelot will die here.
GWA. I say, damn thee, thou shalt come!
LAUN. Thou liest!
[Both spring to their feet and draw. Trumpets without.
Enter the King’s Messengers.
GWA. Who comes?
Mess. From the King.
GWA. What want ye?
Mess. We seek two knights, Sir Launcelot and Sir Gwaine.
GWA. We be thy men—what be thy message?
Mess. The King desireth thee in great haste; the Queen be in great peril.
Mess. Yea, of her life. She be condemned to the stake if a knight assoil her not with his body on her accuser to-morrow noon.
LAUN. Dread Heaven!
GWA. What be the accusation?
Mess. Murder on the body of Sir Patrise.
LAUN. Enough! Hast thou brought horses?
LAUN. Then quick! on your lives! lead us hence!
[Exeunt LAUNCELOT and Messengers.
GWA. The foul fiend take this love! It be a queer sickness, indeed. Anon it made him like to luke water, and now he be all fire. It bloweth now up, now down, like the wind i’ a chimney. Yea, I love that man like a father his child. There is no sword like to his i’ the whole kingdom. An’ a wench that be a queen leadeth him like a goss-hawk. (voices without) Yea, I am coming. [Exit.
ACT III. SCENE 4.
Enter Court-ushers with trumpets, Soldiers and Knights. Enter the King, takes his state. Enter the Queen, in a black robe surrounded by her women; she comes to the foot of the throne, falls on her face.
GUIN. Arthur, thou wilt save me?
AR. My Queen, as the King I may not. My heart is hell.
Put thy trust in Heaven.
GUIN. ’Tis a dread death.
AR. Madam, could Arthur save thee he would. If thou diest, so doth my joy in this world. Keep thy heart!
GUIN. ’Fore God, I am innocent.
AR. Thou must trust to Heaven.
GUIN. That I do. [Rises and takes her state.
Court Chamberlain. Guinevere, Queen of Britain, of this dread crime whereof thou art accused, what hast thou to say?
GUIN. (rising) That I, Guinevere, Queen of Britain, am innocent of this most foul charge of which I am here accused, and here call on Heaven to prove on the body of that foul knight, my accuser.
Marshals enter and trumpets are blown.
Court Chamberlain. Doth no knight assoil the Queen?
GUIN. Heaven help me!
AR. Do no knights approach?
Page. Nay, sire.
AR. Then has the hour of my life’s sorrow come!
Enter SIR MADOR, doffs to the King.
SIR M. Sire, the time hath almost passed, and I demand a knight to do me battle, or that the Queen be burnt.
GUIN. (aside) Merciful Heaven!
AR. (to the Page) Do none come?
Page. Nay, sire.
DAG. Were I not bound to Vivien body and soul I would state the truth. Nay, I am accursed. There is but one way.
[Staggers to the front of the throne; the throng presses back in wonder.
DAG. (kneels) Sire!
AR. (in voice of thunder) Well, fool?
DAG. Didst thou not once make me a knight?
AR. Yea, in a moment of jest.
DAG. Then would I take this gage!
GUIN. Nay, nay! death, death! but not this insult!
What base knight of this Court hath prompted this?
DAG. None, none, my lady; ‘tis my wish.
AR. Take him out! Now is Arthur shamed!
[Knights hurry DAGONET out.
DAG. (aside) Now is hell indeed my portion!
GUIN. Sire, I would now die.
AR. Yea, my Queen, so would Arthur.
SIR M. Sire, the time be up. And I, as the accuser, now ask that thou, as King, wilt command that Guinevere, Queen of Britain, who standeth there, be taken from hence and burnt till she be dead. [A commotion without.
LAUNCELOT rushes in, draws, and faces SIR MADOR.
LAUN. And I say, nay!
ACT III. SCENE 5.
MOR. Now cursed be the womb that gave me birth!
Thrice cursed be the paps that gave me suck!
That I, but made for hellish plots and hates,
And inky thoughts and moods and black despairs,
The most unhappy man in this dread world,
Should house in me a dream of womanhood
Such as doth dwell in all the milk-white glory
And glamored stateliness of Arthur’s Queen.
Yea, would I now forego all I hold dear
In this life and the next, if such there be;
My chance of Heaven thrust to darkest Hell,
One hour like Launcelot to know her love.
Hell! Hell! I laugh at Hell! such flames I burn
Would scorch the northern ice-seas in their beds,
So deep a flame I hold me in my thoughts
Of madness for her love.—Yea, I am turned
A very subtle Satan that will plot
High Arthur’s downfall, Launcelot’s banishment,
And all the ruin of this present kingdom.
Yea, I will be a king and perch a crown
In its unsteady poisings on this brow,
So that by very glamor of my power
And inner majesty of mine iron soul,
I build in her a fancy for my person.
For I am Mordred; in this hour I’m great
In subtle cunning far beyond these days
Of mere brute strength and stature physical.—
Yea, I was born upon an evil time
Of evil parentage of sin and shame,
Thrice cursèd in the inner soul and form.
What sportive fate gave me the gifts I bear?
But I am willed to use them to my use.
Yea, I will use all deviltries and lies,
All plots and counterplots, to gain mine end.
This misbegotten now doth hold the key
To this doomed kingdom.
We are well met. Thou art upon the hour.
The plot grows closer to our waited end.
The net is weaving closer, mesh by mesh,
That traps the leopard and the lioness.
I have by long connivance, secret planned,
Built round me many knights who hold my weal,
Jealous of Launcelot and Arthur’s glory.
These will be with me when the stroke comes down.
A thousand swords will leap their scabbard mouths
At shout of Mordred! Yea, a thousand throats
Will cry me king when my fate topples Arthur.
VIV. Now art thyself, this be thy natural mood.
Yea, Mordred, when thou kingest it, there will be
A splendid thraldom to true kingliness.
For thou wilt sink a terror in men’s hearts
Of king’s prerogatives will make them fear
The very sound and rumor of thy name;
And there will go before thee waves of will
Presaging thunders of thy royal coming.
But wilt thou then, my lord, remember Vivien,
When thou dost come unto thy royalty,
Her who did place thy footsteps in the way
That led thee to these gateways of success,
And bade thee trample on thy youthful fears
And doubts and milksop fancies of the mind,
And gave into thy hand an iron mace,
And bade thee use it? Wilt thou think on her,
The only one who loved thee for thyself,
The single soul that knew thee in the dark,
And loved thee for thy nobler qualities?
MOR. What wouldst thou have me promise?
VIV. I would be a queen!
MOR. Ha! thou climbest high!
Be careful or thy stairway
In toppling over carry thee to ruin.
(aside) This be her trend! I must match cunning with cunning,
And tie this serpent in her venomed coils.
Were she a man I would admire her much,
But not as woman! She be Mordred’s queen,
When queen of women there be one Guinevere!
(to VIVIEN) When I am king thou wouldst then be the queen?
’Tis a daring thought!
VIV. Not more than thou bearest,
That Mordred, squat and monster, lorn, despised,
Misgotten, friendless save to such as me,
Should rise in dreams to heights of Arthur’s glory,
And even sigh to husband Guinevere.
MOR. What now? Thou devil!
VIV. Ha! Now I stabbed thy longings to the quick,
And probed thine ink-heart.—Thou dost love the Queen,
Thou, who dost dwell so far below her scorn!
MOR. Witch-hag or devil! Wert thou but a man,
And I would quickly send thee to that place
Where thou belongest.
VIV. Nay, I fear thee not.
I am too much a part of all thy plans
For thee to quarrel with. Stab me and thou stabbest
The life of all thy longings. Let my blood,
And with it flows the making of thy dreams.
MOR. (aside) ’Tis as she says. She’s woven in my web,
And I must keep her, evil though she be.
Yea, Mordred! Mordred! (to VIVIEN)
Vivien, thou art hasty
In dreaming Mordred would do thee an evil.
’Twas but the sudden mantling of the blood.
Yea, I indeed do owe thee overmuch,
And Mordred will pay thee with what gratitude
Of words and acts as such as he possesses.
Yea, when my mind dwells on the what I was,
And that which I now am, an admiration
Sudden and great comes o’er me at the change
And the swift transformation thou hast made.
Thou took’st a youth from out his sickly longings,
Vague, undefined with musings on this world,
And sick with evil of a shadowed fate,
Dried up his kindness, showed him he was iron,
And gave the keys of cruelty to his hand
Wherewith to pick the lock of this poor kingdom.
Yea, I am wrapped in admiration vast.
Then I would shudder did an evil thought,
Wandering vaguely through my caverned mind,
But stop and grin me. Now it seems mine act
Would neck and neck with Hell’s most foul desire.
Yea, thou hast right in pride of workmanship
In building from material thou hadst
So deft a moulded villain to thy hand.
Yea, Vivien, fear not Mordred will forget,
When every waking moment on his bed,
And every devil knocking on his sill,
Mindeth him of cause for gratitude.
VIV. Wilt thou promise?
MOR. Nay, I will never promise!
What part have I with pledges in this world,
Save pledge that I will topple all to ruin?
This gave I Fate, as sure as I am Mordred.
I tell thee, woman, I am thy slave no more,
Nor slave to any, be it man or devil.
VIV. What art thou then?
MOR. I am thy master. Thou wilt be my slave,
Thou cunning plotter, schemer to my hand,
To be my dagger, poison, flaming brand,
My very slave, convenience, creature, tool;
And if thou art not, I’ll trample, trample thee.
I tell thee I will thrust this kingship out;
Will spin these actors round my crooked thumb,
Until this devil Mordred walketh king.
Little didst dream what demon thou wert raising
When thou didst conjure Mordred.
VIV. Darest thou me?
MOR. Yea, look into my glass and ask thyself
What Mordred hath in life to hope or fear?
But I do tell thee, woman, Mordred in hell
Will be no tortured creature spinning round,
But himself the very devil.
To show my power of evilment, I tell thee,
I know thy fatal liking for myself.
’Tis the one part of thee that now can suffer,
The only part of thee that holdeth good.
VIV. Nay, I will not hearken!
MOR. (seizes her wrist) I’ll bind thee on the rack as thou hast me,
Or, rather, finding me there, stretched my sorrows,
And show thee all the fiend that thou hast roused.
Then hear me: I do scorn that love of thine:
Do trample on, despise, as I do thee!
VIV. (falls on her face) Nay, Mordred, thou breakest my heart.
Nay, curse me not.
MOR. Yea, ask the rack for mercy when it racks,
Or seek for honey in the aspick’s sting!
Yea, more, I tell thee plainly to thy face,
Guinevere makes hell within my breast,
And thou, my slave, wilt help me to her arms.
VIV. One little smile, one little word of peace!
MOR. Nay, silence, or a curse! Wilt thou do this?
VIV. Thou knowest I will, let me but touch thy hand!
Trampled on, despised, I love thee still.
MOR. Now to the point: Launcelot goes this night
To secret assignation with the Queen—
This saving of her life hath patched their quarrel—
And thou must find for me the hour of meeting,
Must intercept the trusted messenger,
And bring me secret knowledge of the time.
I go now with some knights unto the King,
To force his leave for this our undertaking,
And put their secret love to open shame.
Thou must watch near the apartments of the Queen,
And take by fraud or force knowledge of the hour,
And bring it to my ears with thy best speed.
VIV. Yea, I will.
He hath read true, I am his slave at last.
Aye, what a splendid devil he doth make!
There is no man like him in all this world.
I’ll see him crowned, climb he there o’er my body.
ACT III. SCENE 6.
PLACE—An audience room in the castle.
Enter MORDRED, SIR AGRAVAINE and other Knights.
MOR. ’Tis a delicate business we be come upon,
Though one of grave importance, therefore I
Will stand i’ the background. Thou, Sir Agravaine,
Being a kinsman not o’ the sinister side,
May speak the plainer. Let it fall on me.
Yea, I will answer with my body here.
SIR AG. Yea, I will put it plainly to the King,
And show the evil placed upon our house,
And that foul insult tendered King and kingdom
By overbearing Launcelot and the Queen.
Other Knights. Yea, we are with you.
Enter a Page.
SIR AG. We would see the King. [Exit Page.
AR. What means this sudden assembling of knights
At this strange hour?
SIR AG. We’d bring a matter to thy hearing, King,
Of grave import unto thyself and us
Of thine own household, who’d uphold thy pride.
Yea, one affecting the dignity of this land.
AR. What be this matter?
SIR AG. The matter is one which toucheth thine own honor,
And hath to do with Launcelot and the Queen.
AR. Dost thou insult thy King? [Draws.
SIR AG. Nay, ’tis thou dost insult thyself and us,
Dost thou not listen!
Other Knights. Yea, King, ’tis true.
AR. Tis treason, damnable treason ’gainst my Queen,
’Gainst myself and ’gainst this noble kingdom!
SIR AG. Wilt thou hear me, King?
Other Knights. Yea, hear him.
AR. Then I will hear thee further, but ’tis plain
You prove this on your bodies to the death.
If this strange lie be not as true as Heaven,
Each man who thinks this damnèd treason dies!
Knights. ’Tis just, King; we will prove it on our bodies.
SIR AG. We think, Lord Arthur, thou art over-blind
To certain things that compromise thine honor,
And some of us have reason to suspect
Sir Launcelot holdeth commerce with the Queen.
AR. Stop, caitiff!
SIR AG. Wilt thou not hear it?
AR. Have ye forgotten that my name is Arthur?
Or is this nobleness a vanished dream?
SIR AG. We would prove this same upon our bodies,
By taking of them in the very act.
AR. No more! by heaven, no more! I say, no more!
Or by my crown, I’ll cleave thy caitiff tongue,
And spatter thine evil brains on yonder pavement,
That dared impeach my royalty of such dishonor.
SIR AG. Nay, King, we will die for the truth of this matter.
Knights. Yea, Lord Arthur, we are so prepared.
AR. Nay, ye are mad, blind, besotted mad.
SIR AG. Nay, King, here is Sir Mordred, who will show
The truth whereof we speak. [MORDRED comes forward.
AR. Ha! ’Tis thou at bottom o’ this ill!
MOR. Sire, I would but do my duty to this kingdom,
And to the honor of your kingly place.
Sir Agravaine is over-blunt in speech,
And speaketh sudden on a cruel matter;
Yet he hath but the right in this grave question,
Nor doth dishonor thee in this respect
More than do any of these loyal knights,
But rather would show wherein thine honor lieth.
If dishonor lies therein, it doth not lie
On them who’d prove the evilment suspected,
But rather on those who by their treasonable act
Have brought this shame upon us. It would seem
That thou dost love Sir Launcelot even more
Than the unsullied honor of thy Queen.
AR. Nay! Speak no more! Thou hast insulted Arthur.
If but one thousandth part of this be true,
Then is great Arthur’s glory brought to ground.
AR. No more of words! What wouldst thou have me do?
MOR. Sire, we would that thou give opportunity
To prove the cruel substance of our coming
By taking the doers in the very act,
And trapping Launcelot in the Queen’s apartment.
AR. Go on! Death! Speak on! Accursed me!
MOR. If thou wilt go abroad this coming night,
And advertise thy going, and grant to us
Sufficient knights to make the matter proof,
We will fulfil this matter with our lives.
Knights. We will.
AR. And it hath come to this!
MOR. Sire, wilt thou grant this?
AR. Yea, I will grant it, but, by Arthur’s honor,
The knight returning from such vile ambushment
Without full proof unto the open world
Of that which spills the sea of Arthur’s glory,
Shall die the foulest death this kingdom lends!
On this condition only do you go.
MOR. Yea, we accept the conditions.
Knights. Yea, we do.
ACT III. SCENE 7.
PLACE—A passage near the Queen’s apartments.
VIV. Now, slave, but do the bidding of thy master,
And soon the boding hour will draw anigh
When Guinevere will queen a royal hunchback.
Now serve me well, my wits, until I play
The issue of this matter to my mind.
[Retires into an alcove.
Enter UNID, the Queen’s Maid, with a ring.
UNID. Now, drat that page! What can the matter be?
This ring must go, but who will be the bearer
It bothereth me to discover. [Passes out on left.
Enter DAGONET on right.
DAG. O me! me! me! that ever I did that deed!
(to spirit) Nay! nay! spirit, come not here!
Hide, hide that woeful face. Sleep, sleep
Quiet i’ the grave! Dagonet meant it not.
Ha, ha! I’ll laugh and be merry. ’Tis but my wits.
I’ll think on Vivien.—Nay, nay, not that face!
I slew thee not! Away! away! away!
’Tis but a fancy, but it lifts the hair
In frosty bristles, makes the eyeballs stare,
And turns me to a horror. Away! away!
UNID. What play is now, sir fool, that thy wit playeth?
DAG. Oh! ’tis thou!
UNID. ’Tis said that thou art looking at the Queen,
And wouldst oust Sir Launcelot. Thou art a bold fool.
DAG. Nay, nay, ’tis thou, sweet Unid, rendeth my heart.
UNID. Now art thou a kind fool.
DAG. Is the Queen within?
UNID. She sleepeth.
DAG. I will sing thee a song. (sings)
It rose upon a month o’ May,UNID. Well acted, fool, and well sung!
When woods were filled with laughter
Came Margery tripping up the way,
And Jock a-stealing after.
(to spirit) Away! away!
It rose in autumn’s afternoon,
When love was dead, and laughter,
That Jock went striding ’neath the moon,
And Margery pining after.
(to spirit) Away! I say, away!
DAG. Yea, it is a part of me.
UNID. (aside) He will do. (to DAGONET) Fool, wilt thou deliver a message for me?
DAG. Yea, by my love.
UNID. It be a pressing business, and a private one.
[Speaks in a low voice.
Thou seest this ring. It is the Queen’s. Thou needs must find Sir Launcelot, and deliver it to him privately and say: “This night afore midnight.”
DAG. What doth it mean?
UNID. It meaneth, do thy part, and shut thy ears and mouth, and put a padlock on thine inward thoughts. Wilt thou do it?
DAG. Yea, that I will, ’tis for the Queen. (to spirit)
Away! away! Haunt me not!
UNID. What aileth thee?
DAG. Did I speak?
UNID. Thou spokest as to someone.
DAG. ’Tis but an infirmity.
UNID. ’Tis a queer one. Thou wilt be speedy and private?
DAG. That I will. Not one kiss?
UNID. Away! away! Haunt me not!
[Exit. VIVIEN comes from the alcove.
VIV. Ha! thou false lover!
[DAGONET drops the ring.
DAG. ’Tis thou!
VIV. Caught in the act, soft words and lovers’ songs,
And rings exchanged, and even kisses proffered.
Thou double-dealer! Thou wouldst seek my love?
DAG. I tell thee thou are wrong. ’Tis the appearances are at fault.
VIV. Thou liest! Didst thou not offer to buss her?
DAG. ’Twas but a sally to cover mine inward thoughts.
VIV. Thou liest again. What were those low words she spake, when she took thy hand?
DAG. ’Twas but a message she gave me on a private matter.
VIV. Oh! oh! very private, Dagonet, very private!
DAG. I cannot tell thee of its import.
VIV. Nay, thou canst not, for thou liest.
DAG. I tell thee, Vivien, thou wilt madden me.
I tell thee I love thee only, and thou knowest it.
VIV. What was the substance of that message?
DAG. If thou must have it—and thou draggest my heart out—it was from the Queen: the words, “to-night afore midnight.”
VIV. A true story! To thee?
DAG. Nay, to Sir Launcelot.
VIV. Thou liest! Canst thou explain that ring she gave thee? [Picks it up.
DAG. ’Tis the Queen’s.
VIV. Ho! ho! And thou the trusted messenger! ’Tis a likely story. Wouldst have me believe it?
DAG. Vivien, I tell thee that I love thee, and am in hell for thee, aye in hell!
VIV. Thou forgettest thine important message, thou most trusted lover and messenger!
DAG. Vivien, wilt thou not believe me?
VIV. Go, go, I tell thee; I will see thee again.
Now cometh the hour when my revenge approacheth,
Now winds my web about doomed Camelot,
An angered fate hangs o’er these castle walls.
There will be bloody deeds abroad to-night.
Rise, spirits of old vengeance and affright!
Vivien conquereth! Wait! wait!
ACT IV. SCENE 1.
(Rise outer curtain.) Passage near the Queen’s apartments.
DAG. ’Tis little I can do, but I will mend
The devilment that I have helped to cause.
Hark, now they come! Here I will take my stand.
’Tis over my dead body, when they come,
That they’ll come at her. Ho! stand without!
(sounds heard without)
Enter MORDRED, SIR AGRAVAINE and other Knights with torches and naked swords.
(draws) Where go you, masters?
MOR. We go this road; ’ware how you stop our way.
DAG. The man who goes this road goes o’er my body.
SIR AG. Louse! Take that! [Stabs DAGONET; he falls.
MOR. ’Tis the King’s jester.
DAG. You have leeched my folly. Now is the jest ended. Vivien! [Dies.
A Knight. He was a man, after all.
MOR. Onward, knights, to better game than this,
Though little we know the tragedy that ended
When yon poor light went out! Come this way!
(Rise inner curtain.) The Queen’s apartment.
Enter LAUNCELOT and GUINEVERE.
LAUN. I come this night to bid you a long farewell,
Before I leave this kingdom’s shores for ever.
This love doth hold me in a demon’s grasp,
And my heart breaks to feel great Arthur’s love,
And all the time we twain be meeting thus.
GUIN. Nay, nay, Launcelot, leave me not forlorn,
I cannot live without thee. Thy strong arms
And thy warm kisses are to me the one
Fair garden springing on this drearsome earth.
LAUN. Lady, I must go. My lands in France,
Tribute to my sword, I’ll make a kingdom,
And pass my days in memories of thee.
GUIN. Nay, nay, thou wilt not go! And if thou must
My heart will bleed for thee until my death.
UNID. (hurrying in) Madam, there is treason roused without.
Many armèd knights do come this way.
LAUN. Now is the end come I have long expected,
The grim fatality of all my fears,
The nightmare real at last. Quick, my sweet!
Kiss me your latest now! This is my death!
GUIN. Launcelot, hasten! save, oh, save thyself!
I will bar them with my body here.
They will but trample a dead, dishonored Queen,
Whom brute fatality made its passing sport.
Quick! that way!
LAUN. Nay, nay, sweet love, but I will die with thee,
And show great love can make a greater death.
(draws) Would to God I had mine armor!
[Loud knocking heard at the door, and the voice of MORDRED heard without.
MOR. Come out, thou traitor, Launcelot, and show the world
The face of him who hath dishonored Arthur!
Come out, thou traitor!
GUIN. Launcelot, save thyself, there is time yet.
LAUN. Nay, love, I’ll end me here, if be my fate.
Ho! Cowards without! I am a single man,
Devoid of armor, having but my sword;
Yet will I open and give you hell’s glad welcome.
[Unbars the door; SIR AGRAVAINE rushes in.
[Brains him. LAUNCELOT drags him aside and bars the door.
Quick! Help me to this armor!
[Takes the arms from SIR AGRAVAINE’S body and arms himself.
GUIN. (helping him) Aye, love, if prayers are aught, will mine clothe thee.
Voices outside. Open up, traitor, open up!
GUIN. Great God, Great God, help this poor Queen who prays!
[LAUNCELOT buckles his armor.
LAUN. Now am I ready. Fare thee well, sweet love!
Whatever haps—and we may meet no more
This side of darkness—carry to thy grave,
That Launcelot loved thee, thee, and only thee.
GUIN. O Launcelot, my heart breaks!
[They embrace. The Queen faints.
LAUN. (to the Maids) Take her back from this, protect her, keep her safe.
This work is not for her sweet presence. Now Heaven help
The man that meeteth Launcelot’s blade this night!
Voices without. Coward! Traitor! wilt thou open up?
LAUN. Yea, traitors who forswore the name of knight,
When like some drunken rabble ye polluted
The gentle sacredness of these apartments!
And every man who shamed her ears to-night
(throws open the doors) Shall die! die! die! Come on, ye fiends!
[They rush in and then fall back in surprise.
Ha! ha! here’s wine that Launcelot’s blade would drink!
[Rushes forward, hacking fiercely with his sword; twelve knights fall one after the other.
MOR. God of heaven, let us back! This man be mad!
[Retreats with four knights; LAUNCELOT slays the rest.
LAUN. Come on, ye fiends of hell! I’ll back me here!
Launcelot is indeed a man of honor!
ACT IV. SCENE 2.
PLACE—SIR LAUNCELOT’S apartment.
Enter several Knights with torches and swords.
SIR BAN. Hello there! wake up!
Knights. Hello! Within! Within!
[Loud knocking heard at the doors.
Enter several other Knights. Enter SIR LAUNCELOT.
LAUN. What means this, that ye be armed?
SIR BAN. Strange horrors woke us frozen from our beds. Hideous nightmares beset us. Some heard moanings, some that grave-bells rang, and others saw strange spectres, and I myself heard clash of mighty arms, and quick each man found himself leaped from his bed, naked blade in hand. What may it portend? We be much affrighted.
LAUN. ’Tis a true portent. Now the end hath come
Of peace and happiness for this doomèd kingdom.
To-night, on private meeting with the Queen,
In her apartments, there was I surrounded,
And, hounded traitor, slew so many knights,
There’s scarce one left to tell the King the story.
Knights. A most foul and dastard attack! The kingdom is doomed!
Enter a Messenger.
LAUN. The Queen! quick! the Queen! what of her?
Mess. An order hath but come in the King’s name:
And she is to be burnt to-morrow noon.
LAUN. Never! by my blade, she shall not die!
Knights. She shall not! she shall not! on our lives!
ACT IV. SCENE 3.
PLACE—The King’s lodge in the forest.
ARTHUR walks back and forth.
AR. Would I had not done this! Heaven this hour
Be kind to this poor King, suspend thy wrath.
For my past frailties judge me not too heavy.
Oh, were it dawning! Nay, if it be shame,
Night roll forever round your shrouding glooms,
Hide Arthur’s woe in your convenient black.
Rise not, O pitiless day, with searching white,
Showing abroad catastrophe and doom.
Hark! ’tis the messenger. Now, my royal soul,
Is it black or white, is it death or life to thee?
AR. Speak! Is it calamity?
Mess. Yea, sire, it is calamity; Sir Launcelot ta’en—
AR. In the Queen’s chamber
Mess. Yea, sire.
AR. Then, sable Night, shut out the morning now!
O Blackness, bury Arthur in thy shroud!
O Calamities, pelt, pelt your fire!
Sink now, proud Arthur, sink to rise no more!
Enter MORDRED and two knights.
MOR. We bring you evil news in sorry haste.
Launcelot ta’en by us in the Queen’s apartments,
When we, hailing him traitor, would bring him out,
Then he, mad with a devil, did issue forth
And slay the most of us, so that we are scarce fled with our lives,
As these two knights do witness.
Knights. ’Tis true, King.
AR. Murder and Treason walk abroad this night.
Adultery and Incest leave their graves.
Arthur, Arthur, thou art a King no more!
MOR. We would arrest the Queen, did we know thy will.
AR. O Night! Night! Night!
MOR. ’Tis not an hour for grief and memories, sire,
But action, instant action is the word,
If thou wouldst keep thy kingdom. Sir Launcelot knoweth
That thou wert privy to this heavy matter,
And, swearing direst vengeance on us all,
Buildeth a party for to help the Queen
And oust thee from thy royalty.
AR. Dost thou not know I loved this Launcelot?
And had I chosen a brother or a son,
It had been Launcelot! O thou cruel world!
Thou hast no cloud of evils brooding dire,
So much hath rained. Mordred, take my crown.
To illegitimacy pass my glory now.
MOR. Nay, sire, but be a King until thou takest
A King’s dread vengeance on thine enemies.
AR. Enemies, thou sayest! Who so low
To stoop to hate this cuckold, shamèd King?
I am a King no more, my Table Round
Is but a stall-yard where the swine of men
Will rend and snarl and tear my glory down.
GWA. This is a bad and foolish matter, King,
And thou wert fool to fetch it to an issue.
But now thou makest bad worse. Didst thou send out
For Launcelot’s arrest and the Queen’s murder?
MOR. The order hath gone out in the King’s name.
’Tis gone too far for compromises now.
GWA. ’Tis thou hast done all this, thou plotter!
MOR. Thou liest! ’Tis but the natural end of circumstance that worked its issue. I tell thee, the King ordered this.
GWA. King, didst thou give these orders?
AR. Gwaine, thy words were ever over-blunt,
But now they’re fitting. None need show me reverence.
GWA. I know not reverence, but I would of facts.
Didst thou proclaim that Guinevere should die,
Being found of treason foul against thy person,
And doom her to the stake to-morrow noon?
AR. The Queen! The Queen! thou sayest? I’ll have no queens!
If there be a Queen to-morrow in this land,
She shall die the death! ’Tis the King’s word!
MOR. Now thou hast thine answer.
GWA. Then fear Sir Launcelot’s hate and split this kingdom,
Topple yonder King and bring him down,
As thou wouldst love to. Gwaine will none o’ this.
The Pope shall hear it! What’s a woman worth
That, truth or untruth, she should wreck a kingdom?
Enter a Messenger in haste.
Mess. Sir Launcelot and many knights have rescued the Queen and have taken her to Joyeous Guarde, and in the quick struggle Sir Gareth and Sir Lynnette were slain.
AR. More woes! More woes! Where will this end?
MOR. (to SIR GWAINE) Now art thou satisfied?
GWA. (to Messenger) What! Thou liest! tell me my brothers be slain?
Mess. ’Tis true, master, mine own eyes saw them dead.
GWA. Hell! who did the deed?
Mess. Sir Launcelot himself. He rode quick i’ the Court, and lighted and hacked without looking at whom he met, to reach the Queen, whom bearing to horse, he stayed not to see who were dead or wounded, but straight rode away.
GWA. This world or the next, he will answer me!
Mine own two brothers, and all for a damned wench!
Queen or no, King, thou shalt answer here.
Yea, all shall answer for this fatal business.
MOR. Yea, I will help thee. ’Twas most unnatural,
Who never harmed him, he should serve them so.
GWA. Launcelot, Launcelot, now I cast thee out!
One world won’t hold us!
MOR. This works my way. O world, thou are moulding swift
To my poor vengeance!
(to ARTHUR) Sire, what wilt thou do?
AR. To arms, to arms! we’ll siege him in his hold.
’Tis death that cures dishonor. He will reap
The swift, dread harvest of Heaven’s retribution.
GWA. Would Launcelot were but two men, I’d slay him twice
’Twould suit my feelings.
ACT IV. SCENE 4.
(Rise outer curtain.) Court at Camelot.
Enter two Gentlemen.
1st Gent. Were I the weaker kind, I’d trickle tears
For this poor kingdom. Hast thou seen the Pope’s bull?
2nd Gent. Yea, forbidding the carrying on of his strange war,
And commanding Arthur to take back his Queen,
And give Sir Launcelot passage from the Kingdom.
He be a wondrous knight, this Launcelot.
’Tis pity this love o’ercome him. [Both pass out.
Enter VIVIEN and MORDRED.
VIV. My heart grows hot to bring things to an issue.
MOR. Patience! and thou wilt see the issue come.
Launcelot banished, Arthur follows after,
With blustering Gwaine, both ravening for war.
Arthur will leave me regent, then’s mine hour.
[Both pass on.
(Rise inner curtain.) Enter ARTHUR, takes his state. Knights and Ladies. Trumpets blow without. Enter LAUNCELOT with the Queen, draped in black, with her Ladies. LAUNCELOT leads the Queen, who stands. LAUNCELOT kneels. ARTHUR averts his face. LAUNCELOT speaks.
LAUN. Sire, by order of the Pope of Rome,
And your most royal promise, here I bring
Unto your keeping Guinevere the Queen,
And dares one knight within these roayal precincts
Impugn her chastity or queenliness,
I meet him with my body.
AR. Madam, I acknowledge you as Queen.
It is the will of Heaven I submit.
But loving wife thou art no more to me.
Not Pope nor Prince can white thy black in this.
[GUINEVERE takes her state.
GUIN. Arthur of Britain, I answer thee, the King,
I am no more thy wife, nor ever was,
Nor am I shamed as Queen to own the love
I’ve borne for Launcelot. In the coming world
He will be mine, as I am truly his.
I wronged thee not, great Arthur, but ’twas thou
And hellish circumstance have wrecked my days.
’Tis the Queen’s answer, she will speak no more.
AR. Sir Launcelot Du Lake, arise! [LAUNCELOT stands.
Launcelot Du Lake, thou traitor knight,
Sinner against the honor of this realm,
I banish thee forever from this kingdom,
On pain of foulest death, dost thou return.
LAUN. Sire, I accept the issue.
MOR. ’Tis but a gentle majesty that leans
To mercy such as this. Were I thy King—
GWA. Yea, get thee quick. Fast as thou nearest France,
We sail the faster. Thou shalt meet with Gwaine,
And pay his brothers’ spirits thou hast slain,
Thou foul, lewd traitor!
LAUN. Lord Arthur, thou hast reason to scorn me now,
And all thine anger stabs mine inward soul;
But now ’tis open I must tell thee true,
I love Queen Guinevere as mine own body,
And her alone will love unto my death,
As to none other. For this woeful love,
I’ll answer to my God who put it there,
And not to man, nor even to thee, proud King.
And yet I say it, yea, with breaking heart,
I love thee King, as doth no other man;
And did no hideous fate come in between
I had been thy Launcelot still.
AR. (aside) Great God! Now my heart breaketh.
(to LAUNCELOT) Begone, false knight. ’Tis enough.
LAUN. Yea, yet a little, sire, it is the end.
If Gwaine would hearken, I would answer him
For his two brothers.
GWA. Nay, nay, I’ll not hearken.
LAUN. ’Tis ended, then, but I would say to thee,
That nothing, next to this most heavy matter,
The most dread, sorrowful matter in this poor world,
Hath grieved me so as that I did that deed.
All blinded with my sorrow for the Queen,
I knew not ’twas your brothers that I slew.
GWA. Nay, nay, blood, blood alone will answer.
LAUN. (to the Queen) And thou, sad Guinevere, thou queen of women,
Sweetest of soul and form upon this earth,
I’ll look upon thy beauteous face no more.
Let womanhood blossom in the days to come,
There nevermore will be one like to thee.
[Bends and kisses her hand. GUINEVERE goes toward him.
GUIN. Launcelot, take me with thee; I am thine!
AR. And thou, the Queen?
GUIN. I am no Queen of realm save this man’s heart.
And where he treads, that land to me alone
Beloved of the kingdoms of this earth.
Oh, take me, Launcelot, my lord, my king!
AR. Ladies, the Queen to her apartments!
LAUN. I would not shame thy kindness, Guinevere.
We were each other’s ere this world began,
And we together, unshamed yet shall go
To meet our God. Sweet love, farewell, farewell.
[Hurries out. The Queen borne slowly to her apartments, weeping.
AR. O black, brute Evil, why was Arthur born?
Now is all loveliness gone out from life.
Yea, I will sink. Nay, I am Arthur still.
The Kingly still, defying Hell and Fate.
To arms! to arms! Red battle is my mood!
MOR. Yea, battle!
GWA. Yea, blood for blood! my brothers’ spirits call.
AR. My heart awakens! Mordred, as my regent,
I leave thee filial keeper of my crown,
My queen and kingdom, while I wed with war,
And bring as issue yon foul Launcelot’s doom.
Make my forces ready. France! is the word.
All. (drawing swords and shouting) Yea, battle!
ACT IV. SCENE 5.
PLACE—A corridor in the palace.
Enter two Gentlemen.
1st Gent. Hast heard the news? Mordred’s usurped the kingdom, hath seized the Queen, and, backed by half the realm, doth challenge Arthur to a warm home-coming. ’Tis said he hath plotted this long time, and now hath proved his chances. How stand you in this most bitter struggle?
2nd Gent. I’m for Arthur, and now for Dover and France this coming night.
1st Gent. Then I am with you. May we bring these shores
New peace from this usurper when we come!
Enter VIVIEN with a dagger.
VIV. Nay, he shall never make her Queen. Nay, never!
She shall die first! No Queen but Vivien
Shall royal it while Mordred lifts the crown.
His slave, his creature, yea, in all save this.
I’ll make her beauty wan, I’ll curtain her lights.
Yea, she shall queen in Tartarus this night.
[Sounds heard without. VIVIEN gets behind the tapestry.
Enter MORDRED as King.
MOR. Now have I reached the pinnacle of my revenge
In these uncertain heights of Arthur’s glory.
And even now I sicken of the struggle;
Even now I top a tower of fear.
A thousand swords, would leap at my command,
And swim this land in blood at my one word,
Would at a stronger power but turn and rend me.
The thousand throats that this morn shouted “Mordred!”
To-morrow morn may shout as loud for Arthur.
’Tis but a petty thing to be a King,
And strut an hour to crown a people’s will
And make them think they wield a majesty,
And hold a phantom rule; then pass and be
A little dust in a forgotten heap.
Nay, ’tis not worth the blacking of a soul,
The letting of a single human life,
The fouling o’er of youthful memory.
And I am now this self-contemnèd thing,
A man of truest sorrows who descended
From out the pedestal of nobler dreams,
And used the subtle intrigues of this world
To climb this pyramid of human weakness.
And now I hate it as I hate myself
Who stooped to gain it. Yet must Mordred king
This realm with a tyranny that fear
Wields o’er a monarchy that knows not love,
And burn his heart out for a woman’s scorn.
Yea, she shall be my queen if love can win her.
Enter GUINEVERE as a State Prisoner.
MOR. Madam, I would detain you.
GUIN. Usurper! why this bringing of me here?
I deemed the shelter of a sisterhood
Were not denied me.
MOR. Madam, I would to you unfold this matter.
I am not all you think me in your scorn.
Though I be born misshapen, yet my soul
Hath appetite for beauty like a man’s
That shows the inward in the outward mien.
Madam, I would lay the matter plainly:
I have long been a victim to thy beauties,
And would new-make thee Queen of this old kingdom.
GUIN. Never! Were Launcelot or Arthur standing by,
Insulter of thy Queen, thou quick wouldst die.
Make way! Make way!
MOR. Madam, have compassion on my weakness!
A soul is lodged within this crooked body.
No man hath ever loved as Mordred loves.
GUIN. Make way! this be hideous!
MOR. Let your sorrow plead for Mordred’s sorrow.
As thou hast loved Launcelot unhappy,
So he loves thee.
GUIN. Show it by closing quick this audience.
I am all Launcelot’s, this world and the next,
As Heaven knoweth.
MOR. Then thou wilt not have compassion?
GUIN. I pity thee, but this may never be.
GUIN. As I am a Queen, never!
MOR. Lady, thy pity doth but lttle help me.
Yet will I show thee Mordred hath a heart.
Know thou hast killed the spark of Mordred’s hope,
And silenced the music of this world for him;
Yet, lady, as rightful King of this great land,
He grants thee safest passage where thou wilt.
GUIN. I would go to a nunnery.
MOR. As thou wilt. Not one word? Not one token?
GUIN. Prince, thou hast my respect and gratitude
For this thine act. [Exeunt GUINEVERE and her train.
VIVIEN comes forward.
VIV. Ha, ha, ha! King Mordred!
MOR. (springs forward and draws) Fiend! thou diest! (He clutches her, they stand confronting each other) Nay, nay, and thou didst hear all? Nay, I will not kill thee. Thy punishment hath been more than I could mete thee. I see sharp agony in thine evil face. Yea, woman, thou hast suffered.
VIV. O God! My love! My love! [Would stab herself.
MOR. Nay, die not! (throws the dagger away) Thou deservest thy reward. Mordred will crown this farce and make thee Queen.
VIV. Me! thy wife?
MOR. Nay, nay, or mistress even; only Queen.
ACT IV. SCENE 6.
PLACE—France. A tent on the field near LAUNCELOT’S castle.
ARTHUR paces to and fro.
AR. I would I were on British soil again!
This leaguer goes but feebly. I am sick
Of losing battles to this Launcelot,
Whose strength and prowess in far kinder days
Were my heart’s pride. Arthur, thy star grows dark.
Thou canst not keep the love of woman. Nay,
Men’s friendships turn to traitor on the lips.
O Merlin, couldst thou now but see thine Arthur!
Mess. Sir Launcelot met Sir Gwaine beneath the wall,
And of all the bloody fights betwixt them two,
Which have enhorrored this ensanguined war,
This was the bloodiest.
AR. Speak on!
Mess. Sir Gwaine be mortal wounded, so it seemeth.
Mess. He even fought on after he was down,
Till his blade fell from out his palsied hand.
AR. This time maketh thrice that he hath been defeated,
And surely this will cool his fiery blood.
He is the strongest hater I have known
In all my royalty. He would as lief go
To hell, so that his foe might forfeit heaven.
Enter GWAINE, born by Squires and Attendants.
GWA. Let me forth—forth, I say! Hell! caitiffs I be better now.
I would at him! Oh!
Attendants. Sire, if he rest not he will die.
The blood runneth from him in streams
So we cannot quench it, do he not lie still.
GWA. King, I be a shamed man. Damn this world!
I will shut it out o’ my knowledge. I be in pieces.
AR. Thou hast had enough, temper thy hates.
And do thy brothers more they lodge in hell.
I am for England.
GWA. Nay, King, let me but once more.
AR. Thou canst scarce utter, thou wilt die.
GWA. Nay, I will stand his front so long as I may hold a blade, and shake it at him!
Enter a Messenger in great haste.
AR. Whence come you?
Mess. From England. Mordred hath made him King.
AR. Nay! nay!
Mess. ’Tis true, and seized the Queen.
AR. Great Heaven!
Mess. Even now he sitteth robed in thy late state,
And wieldeth puissance.
GWA. The damned hunchback!
AR. O world! would I were gone! My Queen untrue,
My heart’s best brother traitor, even my son,
Mine ill-got son doth rend me. Who would now
Hold fate with sunken Arthur?
(to the Messenger) Be there more?
Mess. Nay, sire, I came in haste at the first news,
Though it is said that he would wed the Queen!
AR. A thousand devils take him!—Nay, not that,
Not that most foul completion!
Ho! Sir Hake, Sir Mark! Ho, knights without!
AR. Mordred’s usurped the kingdom. We must haste to England now. The siege is raised. Yea, I will blot him out or make an end righting mine old glory.
GWA. (borne out) Now are my chances gone. Gwaine is disgraced. This is a world of woe. I’ll fight no more. But one more bout, and my sword might ha’ done it.
ACT V. SCENE 1.
(Rise outer curtain.)
Enter two Soldiers.
1st Sol. Ho, without there!
2nd Sol. What news?
1st Sol. Arthur is back for England with all his forces, and the King hath sent an army to withstand his landing, and himself leaveth to-night to follow them.
2nd Sol. He be a rare King, this hunchback. He hath a marvellous power. His knights be feared of him, but ’tis said he's just.
1st Sol. He be not lawful got, 'tis said, but none can say his rule be foul.
2nd Sol. ’Tis said that the new Queen be a witch an’ hath holpen him wi’ her deviltries.
1st Sol. God save us if it be true! Yet it is safe to say: God save the King an' Queen. 'Tis better to cry a witch Queen than to be split i' the gullet.
2nd Sol. Yea, wi' plenty ale i' the pewter and meat o' the spit, no matter who queens or kings it, so says I. I'm for Mordred an' the witch.
1st Sol. So be I till the next change comes.
(Rise inner curtain.) Enter VIVIEN as Queen, with many Ladies and Pages; takes her state. Enter a Knight, who kneels.
VIV. What news from France, Sir Bors?
Knight. Arthur cometh back, my lady.
Knight. Yea, my lady, the army be embarked.
VIV. Oh, short and bitter!
MOR. Well, madam!
VIV. (to the Ladies) Begone! [Exeunt all.
(to MORDRED) Hast thou heard the news?
MOR. ’Tis as I have long expected. He now cometh back.
VIV. Art thou prepared?
MOR. Yea, if ’tis death thou meanest.
And ’twere better so. Thou art a Queen already!
I had not thought thou wouldst so look the Queen.
VIV. Mordred, would that thou mightst also see
I wear a heart, a woman’s heart, beneath
This queenly mask!
MOR. A heart?
VIV. That beats and breaks for thee!
MOR. I’m not myself, I am a hunchback king
Who stole his father’s rule by subtlety,
And keepeth it by power of being a devil.
I know not love. Woman, thou art mad!
Art thou not satisfied with what thou art?
I made thee all that woman’s heart might crave.
Revenge, ambition, these all can I grant,
But love, a commodity not in Mordred’s giving.
Use this thy power to surfeit while it lasts;
To-morrow it will topple. I’m o’er-weary
Of all this sycophancy of creeping men,
Who fear my power and sneer upon my back;
A pageantry of lies where human worms,
Who crawl to-day, to-morrow get a sting
And use it on the hand that ’friended them.
I cannot mould the face to popular form,
And hide the thought behind the outward act,
And make good ill, ill good, by royal patent.
Nay, I can scorn, and I can hate,—yea, strike,
When rules the mood, yea, I’m a very devil;
But cheat myself and others to what I am,
And be a popular dream, a fancied god,
The victim of a world’s delusiveness,
What manner I am, I were not made for this.
Yea, coming struggle, I meet thee with a joy,
’Twere scarce expected. Madam, I bid farewell.
We worked this masque together, thou and I,
And if it like thee little, blame not Mordred.
I go to-night to meet my sire in battle.
Such fight will be this kingdom hath not known
In all its sorrows. Britain’s darkest hours
Are blacking on her, I feel I go to death.
I leave some knights to guard thee. If thou desirest,
Thou canst withdraw unto some convent close
Till this blows over.
VIV. Nay, Vivien flees not. She dies first. Woman or Queen,
She will be found where dangers threaten thee
And menace thy kingliness. O Mordred,
Thou knowest not the woman that I am.
Take me with thee as thy heart’s true slave.
Where thou diest, there would Vivien die,
Or where thou goest, there would she wander, too.
MOR. Nay, nay, ’tis vain, I am a man apart.
Thou knowest not the iron I am become.
Mordred needs no shield of kindly help
Other than what unkind nature gave him.
Woman, thou dost unqueen thyself, I tell thee.
Thou wastest thy words on Mordred.
VIV. O brute, O cruel shape, not natural man,
Hast thou no feeling?
MOR. I go forth to-night
To wreck my father, stem his tide this way
Unto his rightful kingdom. Speak me love!
Rather tell the lamb skipping the mead
Go ask the wolf for suckle.
VIV. Nay, Mordred, slay me now, and thou wilt know
Vivien had blood full warm to flow for thee.
MOR. Woman, I’m all iron and adamant,
And yet I pity thee, for thou hast hell.
I would not slay thee—rather fare thee well.
VIV. O God! Mordred! Mordred! Is this all?
And I have moulded him unto this iron
I beat against. It is my punishment!
O God! O God! Nay, I will go with him,
And die with him if need be. Now, my wits!
But how? How? How?
Enter a Page.
Page. Madam, the King?
VIV. He hath just left.—Stay, doest thou go with him?
Page. Yea, madam.
VIV. Dost see this jewel?
Page. Yea, madam, it be wondrous indeed.
VIV. It will be thine—wilt thou stay,
And let another go in thy stead.
Page. The King trusteth me.
VIV. ’Tis the will of one who loveth the King far more than ever thou couldst. ’Tis my will. Thou must stay. Quick, this way! [Exeunt both.
Re-enter MORDRED with his Knights.
MOR. Make haste! Make haste! Where tarrieth this squire of mine? We must ride to Dover ere it darkens.
A Knight. He cometh now, sire.
Enter VIVIEN, disguised as a Squire.
MOR. Dost thou keep thy King? Thou wert long in coming.
VIV. I came with all speed, sire.
MOR. Thou seemest over pink and white for this work. Canst thou fight?
VIV. Yea, sire, I can use a dagger.
MOR. Then follow.—Ho, there without! Now for Mordred’s doom!
ACT V. SCENE 2.
PLACE—The Kentish coast.
Landing of ARTHUR’S troops opposed by MORDRED. Battle going on in the distance. Enter GWAINE, borne ashore on a litter. Battle comes near.
A Soldier. They come this way. Here will we stand and guard thee.
[They put down the litter.
GWA. How goes the fight?
A Squire. Desperate hard. The enemy be strong,
As if half England would shove the other i’ the sea.
GWA. Give me my sword and help me up; I’ll fight.
A Leech. Sir knight, if you rise up it is your death.
GWA. Damn thee, to lie here helpless is to die,
With those fierce sounds of battle in mine ears.
Quick! my sword! mine old strength cometh back.
[A Squire hands him his sword; he leaps to his feet. The battle comes near, and they are all borne out fighting. Re-enter GWAINE, borne by Soldiers and the Leech.
Leech. I told thee thou wouldst die.
GWA. And so wilt thou some day, and, like a milksop, i’ thy bed.
’Twas a poor prophecy, though a sure one. It is naught.
Turn me over. Yea, I wedged some skulls, and clipped
Damned Mordred’s wings o’ some pen-feathers.
AR. So far the battle’s ours. This edge, at least,
Of Britain’s soil doth Arthur own to-night.
What be this?
GWA. ’Tis Gwaine, King, brought to bay at last.
AR. Thou wert mad to fight.
GWA. ’Twas madness not to fight with all that battle
Ringing its clarion thunders in mine ears.
All life be madness, and death but the healing of it.
I have reft some brain-pans i’ my time, ha, ha!
Tell traitor Launcelot—Yea, turn me softly;
’Twas a deft hand did give me that last stroke.
Leech. What be thy message, knight? thy time groweth short.
GWA. Yea, take away—tell Launcelot Gwaine’s vengeance waits him i’ the nether black. [Dies.
ACT V. SCENE 3.
Night on the battlefield. The royal tent, ARTHUR’S camp.
AR. Ho! there without! (Enter a Page) Send me Sir Bedivere. [Exit Page.
Enter SIR BEDIVERE.
AR. Is all safe i’ the camp?
SIR B. Yea, sire, the sentries are set and watch-fires ablaze. And all ready for battle i’ the first dawn.
AR. What of the enemy?
SIR B. They be the same, sire; all seemeth quiet i’ the camp.
AR. Remember all watchfulness, so there be no surprise. Thou canst go, Bedivere; I would fain sleep.
SIR B. Yea, I go, sire, and God keep thee this night.
AR. Stay, knight; Arthur of England is a lonely man,
Betrayed of those who should have loved him best.
To-night perchance he fronts the brink of death,
In bloody battle for his rightful kingdom.
Take this ring, knight, in memory of thy King,
(gives him a ring) Survive he not the morrow.
SIR B. God keep thee, sire. [Exit SIR BEDIVERE.
AR. Now what will morrow’s dawn-rise bring to Arthur?
Will it bring bloody victory or defeat?
How like an autumn wood is stript my glory.
Who short since was sole monarch of this realm.
O evil Spite, that ruleth this sad world!
Come, joy, come hope, there’s nothing sure but death.
Yea, I will sleep and muffle out my sorrows.
A little while. [Goes toward the couch.
Nay, Arthur will not pillow till he beds with death,
Or doth regain his kingdom. I will rest me here.
[Seats himself on a chair and wraps his cloak about him.
Now for oblivion’s peace!
O stricken King, thou art the loneliest to-night
In any realm.
[Leans forward; falls asleep. A Page steals in.
Page. He sleeps. [Exit Page.
AR. (starts and mutters) Launcelot! Launcelot! My friend! my friend! Guinevere! Ah! Guinevere!
Ghost of MERLIN rises.
Ghost. Arthur of England!
AR. (in his sleep) Merlin! Ah! Merlin!
Ghost. I come to tell thy doom. To-morrow, Arthur! to-morrow!
AR. Away, spirit! Affright me not. Away! Away!
[Ghost vanishes. ARTHUR starts up
Ah, did I dream of Merlin? ’Twas but fancy.
O Mage, to-night thy portents wander back
Unto my mind. Oh, couldst thou see thine Arthur!
To-morrow, said the voice within my dream.
To-morrow! Yea, to-morrow!
[Sits down again and folds his cloak. Sleeps. Mutters, “Mordred! my son Mordred!”
Ghost of GWAINE rises.
AR. Ah! ’Tis thou! Away! Away!
Ghost. King, fight not to-morrow.
AR. (in his sleep) Nay, I will!
Ghost. King, fight not to-morrow.
[Ghost vanishes; ARTHUR wakes.
AR. Yea, sleep is but the borderland o’ death.
’Tis twice! ’Tis twice! It is a certain portent.
Yea, Arthur fights, though Arthur dies, to-morrow.
Yea, now I’ll sleep, for I am over-weary.
Weary of life, yea, I am over-tired.
I would fain sleep, though night should have no morning.
This night is sweet. To-morrow cometh doom,
This hour for soft oblivion.
ACT V. SCENE 4.
PLACE—Near the battlefield.
Enter two Knights.
1st Knight. This day is Britain doomed and Arthur’s Court
Rent and dismembered by old grisled war.
2nd Knight. Meseems the kingdom’s severed like two tides
That meet together in some mountain course
To whelm other. Arthur’s star grows dark,
And Mordred’s darker. ’Tis the Queen, they say,
Hath cursed the realm with her godless loves.
Enter two other Knights, fighting on foot.
One. A Mordred! Ho! A Mordred!
The Other. An Arthur! An Arthur! Have at you!
[They close and each stabs the other. Both die.
1st Knight. Thus is the kingdom rent like doomsday’s crack.
Such awful portents have been told abroad
Since yesternight. Some say the world hath end.
2nd Knight. And what be they?
1st Knight. The crucifixes on the churches’ walls
Have trickled blood, and many abbey-bells
Have tolled the midnight, rung by no man’s hand.
Yea, even the dead have risen from their graves.
2nd Knight. Ora pro nobis!
1st Knight. Some even say that Merlin hath come back
And prophesied the kingdom at an end,
And all last night I dreamed such fearsome dreams
Of blight and pestilence and spectres dire;
I fear me much the end of days hath come.
2nd Knight. How goes the fight?
1st Knight. Yea, even fiercer, as two tidal waves
That roar together on some mighty bore,
And meet in thunders. Never hath such war
Been known in Britain since the ancient days.
The bowmen’s arrows darken all the sun,
The battle-axes clamor on the shields,
As on some morn the loud woodcutter’s din
By some bright hillside. Knight encounters knight
In serried thunders. All the kingdom’s turned
To one mad tournament of blood and flame.
[The battle is heard moving nearer. Both rush out.
Another part of the field. Enter ARTHUR, surrounded by his Knights.
AR. Now where is he, that monster foul, deformed,
In shape and spirit, Nature calls my son?
AR. Ah, Blot on all this sunlight, Creature dire,
Spawn of mine incest. There standest thou, my sin,
Incarnate now before me; mine old doom;
Thou that wast stronger in thine influences
To work dread evil in this hideous world
Than all the glory all my good might win.
AR. Yea, well say Father! Parent I this ill
That hath enrent my kingdom all in twain.
In that dread night of my licentious youth,
When I in darkness thy foul shape begot,
I worked a web of blackness round my fate
And thine, distorted phantom of my sin,
Not all the tolling of sweet abbey-bells
And murmur of masses sung this thousand years
Can sweep from this doomed kingdom. Father! Yea,
There is no truce betwixt us. Thou art Death
To all that I hold dearest on this earth.
Thou stood’st betwixt me and my gladder fate,
The one black spot on all my glory’s sun.
In thee once more mine evil blackens in,
Reddens mine eyesight! Have at thee, foul Curse!
AR. Have at you!
[They fight. ARTHUR wounds MORDRED. He falls.
A Knight stabs Arthur from behind.
AR. Ho! all the sunlight blackens! Mordred! Oh!
My glory darkens! Curtain not yon sun! [Dies.
MOR. Yea, this is all, and I were made for this,
To scatter death and desolation round
On this fair kingdom, ruin this sweet land,
And level all the pride of Arthur’s glory,
As men might level some great castle walls;
And sow with salt the fields of his desire,
And make him mock before the eyes of men.
Turn all his great joy into bitterness.
Yea, I his blood, and I were made for this.
O ancient, cruel Laws of human life,
O deep, mysterious, unfathomable Source
Of man’s poor being; we are ringed about
With such hard rinds of hellish circumstance
That we can never walk or breathe or hope,
Or eye the sun, or ponder on the green
Of tented plain, or glorious blue of heaven,
Or know love’s joy, or knotted thews of strength,
But imps of evil thoughts creep in between,
Like lizards in the chinks of some fair wall,
And mar life’s splendor and its fairness all.
’Tis some damned birth-doom blended in the blood
That prophesies our end in our poor acts.
Oh! we are but blind children of the dark,
Wending a way we neither make nor ken.
Yea, Arthur, I had loved thee sweet and well,
And made mine arm a bulwark to thy realm,
Had I been but as fair as Launcelot.
What evil germ, false quickening of the blood,
Did breed me foul, distorted as I am,
That I should mar this earth and thy great realm
With my wry, knotted sorrows? Launcelot’s love
Was manly, kind and generous, as became
A soul encased in such propitious frame.
The kingly trees well turn them to the sun,
And glory in their splendor with the morn.
’Tis natural that noble souls should dwell
’Twixt noble features, but the maimèd soul
Should ever be found in the distorted shape.
But I had loved as never man hath loved
Did nature only plant me sweet at first.
(to his Knights) And now I die, and blessed be my death,
More blessed far that I had never breathed.
Murder and Treason were my midwives dire,
Rapine and Carnage, priests that shrive me now.
Enter VIVIEN, disguised as a Squire.
VIV. Mordred! thou diest!
MOR. Who art thou?
VIV. I am Vivien.
MOR. Hence, hence, viper! thou incarnate fiend!
Not natural woman, but Ambition framed,
And all lust’s envy. Thou wert unto me
A blacker blackness. Did an angel come,
And whisper sweeter counsel in mine ears,
And trumpet hopes that all were not in vain,
But thou wouldst wool mine ears with malice dire,
And play upon the black chords of my heart.
Hence, devil! hence! Mar not my closing hours.
VIV. Oh, woe! woe! [Steals out.
MOR. (to the Knights) Now bear me slowly to great Arthur’s side
And let me place my hands upon his breast,
For he was mine own father! Alas! Alas!
So hideous is this nature we endure.
[The Soldiers place him by ARTHUR.
How calm he sleeps, Allencthon, as those should
Who die in glorious battle. Dost thou know,
O mighty father, that thine ill-got son,
Ill-got of nature and mysterious night,
To mar thy splendor and enwreck this world,
Now crawls to thy dead body near his death,
As would some wounded dog of faithful days
To lick his master’s hand? Blame not, O King,
If thou somewhere may know what I here feel,
Thy poor, misshapen Mordred. Blame him not,
The turbulent, treacherous currents of his blood
Which were a part of thine, nor let one thought
Of his past evil mar thy mighty rest;
He would have loved thee, but remember that.
Now, past is all this splendor, new worlds come,
But nevermore will Britain know such grace,
Such lofty glory and such splendid days.
Back of the clang of battle, back of all
The mists of life, the clamor and the fall
Of ruined kingdoms built on human days,
Arthur! Merlin! Mighty dead, I come!
[Springs to his feet.
Ho! Horse! To horse! My sword! A trumpet calls!
A Mordred! [Dies.