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The Marriage of Sir Gawaine: An Opera


The Marriage of Sir Gawaine: An Opera

by: John Seally (Author)
from: The European Magazine and London Review  May 1782 and July 1782

See Percy's Reliques of English Poetry. Vol. III. p. 2.

In nova fert animus mutatas dicere formas Corpora
                                                      OVID. MET.

Humbly inscribed to those who love antiquity for its nonsense more than for its sense.


Emma, a British princess, being hunting, is carried forcibly away by Hirvar, a magician, to his castle; where refusing to listen to his love, he lays a spell upon her, by which she is doomed to be frightfully ugly throughout the day, and only to resume her beauty at night; until some knight shall marry her, and submit himself to her will. Under such enchantment he suffers her to quit his castle.
      On her first being carried off, a damsel of her train repairs forthwith to King Arthur, imploring his assistance to relieve her mistress from the Magician's power. He undertakes it, but no sooner draws his sword against Hirvar, than he finds his arm unnerved, and himself under the power of his spell, who tells him he shall remain in that state, till he brings him a satisfactory answer to the following question: "What is woman's chief delight?"
       Emma, at liberty to rove under the influence of her enchantment, invokes the assistance of Merlin, who gives her a tablet, containing the answer to Hirvar's query, bidding her repair with it to King Arthur, who had suffered in her cause, and to demand of him, in return, a handsome Knight: All which is accordingly performed, on both sides. Arthur solves Hirvar's riddle, frees himself from the spell, and gives his nephew, Sir Gawaine, to Emma for a husband.
      Sir Gawaine, after being shocked at his bride all the day, is charmed with the sight of her at night; inquires an explanation of the mystery, and is told that it depends on his choice, whether she shall possess her beauty by day or night. He chuses the night: – She expresses some reluctance at the option, upon which he leaves the determination to her own will. This dissolves the charm which bound her.


"Tis true, 'tis pity, and pity 'tis 'tis true,"
That modern authors can find nothing new:
They say they're born some hundred years too late,
And when they write, men cry they imitate.
Exhausted fancy can no more invent,
She sleeps, poor soul, in Shakespeare's monument.
Hence every year such foreign inundations,
Of Greek, of Latin, and of French translations.
Hence every season is crammed down our throats,
Italian bombast set to Italian notes.
      Our puny bard, behind, knows well enough
      [Pointing to the back of the scenes.
His want of genius – but hates foreign fluff.
Too dull to invent, he humbly lays before ye,
With aid of fiddles, an old English story.
      Ye catgut tribe, if you have skill, now shew it;
For more on you depends, than on the poet:
And when you find the author growing dull,
Scrape loudly on, and make the music full.
But if, perchance, a thought may pass for good,
Why then, pray let the words be understood.
      Now, to ye all, he sends profound respects,
      [Addressing the House.
And hopes you'll treat with candor his defects.
Yet not in suppliant guise he means to teize ye,
For you may damn it, if it does not please ye.
The critic's frown will give but little pain,
And only teach him ne'er to write again.






Knights, Minstrels, &c.


A Hall in Hirvar's Castle.
Emma. Hirvar.


            I dare, I dare thy utmost spight,
                   Thy direst rage sustain;
            The heav'nly powers that guard the right,
                   Shall free me from thy chain.

            Tho' fraud and force my limbs controul,
                   And magic fetters bind;
            Yet freedom still inspires my soul,
                  No spells controul the mind.


            Yet, ere too late, accept my hand,
            And share with me the great command,
            O'er all the vassal powers of hell,
            That own obedience to my magic spell.
            Riches, grandeur, pomp, and state,
            All at thy command await.


            Tho' from my train by spells I'm torn,
            Thy suit I hate, thy proffers scorn.
            A foul Magician's boasted power
            May flourish for the present hour,
            But Heaven's high vengeance, soon or late,
            On his devoted head will pour his destined fate.


            Since thou dost my love disdain,
                   Tremble at my utmost rage;
            All intreaties now are vain,
                   Nothing shall my wrath asswage.

            Hence away to gloomy woods,
                  Noisome brakes, and lonely shade,
            Dreary dells, and sullen floods,
                  Which no mortal steps pervade.

            There, when morning bright shall dawn,
                  Vanish shall each blooming grace;
            Nor 'till day-light be withdrawn,
                  Shall resume their wonted place.
                              [Exit Hirvar.


            His malice, alas! how well he displays!
            While hideous I'm deemed for the rest of my days
                  I never can hope for a lover;
            But if his vile spell had commenced when 'twas dark,
            I then might have had some small chance for a spark,
                  As darkness each blemish might cover.


King Arthur's Hall.
Arthur and his Knights placed at the round Table.

A Minstrel advances, and sings the following Air:

             Now Arthur sits on Britain's throne,
                    A mighty King is he;
            Deck'd with the laurels he has won,
                  By feats of chivalry.

            In council wise, in battle brave,
                  He fears no mortal foe;
            With nervous arm, and trenchant glave,
                  He speeds the fatal blow.

            None to oppose him dare come nigh,
                  All keep aloof with wonder;
            As lightning do his arrows fly,
                  He cleaves the foe like thunder.

            Here to his court he doth invite
                  Knights who are brave and tall;
            Whose comely mien, and armour bright,
                  Grace well his ample hall.


            Come, jolly knights, ne'er spare your wine,
            Drink, drink, until your noses shine;
            Bouse pottle-deep, for I assure ye,
            'Twill much augment your martial fury.

            For well you know our occupation
            Is oft times full of tribulation;
            And wit and strength alike it asks,
            To execute such arduous tasks.

            Sometimes 'tis ours to quell a giant,
            And tallest knights not half so high a'nt;
            So lesser man to beat a bigger,
            Had need be a more potent swigger.

            Or when the word's to attack a dragon,
            We close should hug th' auxiliar flaggon;
            For how can we his flame oppose,
            Better than with a fiery nose?

            Or when we pay the honours due
            To damsels fair, but cruel too,
            We'll find the grape's enlivening juice,
            At such coy times, of sovereign use.

            Then all ye flowers of chivalry,
            Quaff off this social bowl with me;
            Wine's the best cordial of the soul,
            So revel on without controul.


                   'Tis merry in the hall,
                   When beards wag all.


            Lo! King, behold a suppliant maid
                  Implore a boon of thee;
            O quickly lend thy valorous aid,
                  To set my Princess free.

            A Necromancer hath her borne
                  Unto his dreary bower,
            Where she inthralled and forlorn,
                  Abides his magic power.

            Loud let your sword and target clank,
                  Before it be too late;
            For I perceive that you have drank
                  Enough t'achieve the feat.


Arthur to his Knights:
            Sir knights, behold a business serious,
            Which yet, I trust, will nothing scare us.
            Who can find mettle in his gizzard,
            To grapple with this desperate wizzard?


            O King, if not too great a boon,
                  I wish yourself would fight him;
            For sure he bragged so vile a loon,
                  As Arthur could not fright him.

            He swore you was a coward base,
                  And vowed if once within his claws,
            He'd trim the beard from off your face,
                  And send you home with naked jaws.


            Since me he hath provoked by name,
            It standeth with my mighty fame,
            For me alone to go and trounce him,
            Which I shall do, maugre his bouncing.


            Fair damsel this thief who your mistress has taken,
            If he falls in my clutches shall not save his bacon;
            His heels I'll trip up, and his castle pull down,
            And the edge of my whinyard shall scalp off his crown.

            On horseback I'll strait get, and hye to his dwelling;
            When I'm once in his castle, he'll think there's all hell in:
            And quickly I'll try, with my sword escalarbor,
            Whether he or King Arthur shall prove the best barber.


Hirvar, solus.


            Warned by my art King Arthur is a coming,
            To attack my castle 'bout this wayward woman.
            A spell I've laid full wide the walls around,
            And all his steps will be on magic ground;
            So that unnerved his powerless arm must yield,
            And leave me master of the unfought field.
            Then if my question right he don't resolve,
            To me his lands and kingly power devolve.

Enter Arthur, and winds the Bugle.

            The castle's strong, the wall's of wond'rous thickness.
            What's in my guts? Hiccup – a little sickness.
            The wine I drank o'er night was surely sour.
            And now for penance doth my bowels scour.

Enter Hirvar.

            But here he comes – faith, a tremendous figure –
            He is much stronger than I thought, and bigger.
            Would I'd not blown his horn; but since 'tis done,
            By a fierce look a battle oft is won.       [Aside.
            Caitiff, submit thyself, or taste my prowess:
            My head a little seems, I-don't-know-howish.
            Thy limbs I'll strait chop off were they of oak –
            Alas! Alas! I cannot strike a stroke.

            Now Arthur, yield, my spell has taken.

            Ah me! I feel a dreadful quaking.

            Thyself and land,
            To my command,
            Yield, or my riddle answer.

            Propose it, then,
            Thou pest of men;
            I'll do it, if I can, Sir.

            Then, this shall thy sole ransom be,
                  I'll have no other hire,
            That truly thou dost tell to me,
                  What's woman's chief desire.


                  Three days I do give thee,
                  If they can't relieve thee,
            Ere thou dost return to my bower;
                  Thou must give up thy land,
                  And wait cap in hand,
            Submitting thyself to my power.


            The point is knotty, but there's no denial:
            My doom is fixed – so I must make a trial.
            Barring enchantment's magic fetters,
            I'd not have truckled to his betters.
            And if we'd come to't, hand to fist,
            I think the poltroon had not missed
            A hearty drubbing.
            But none would venture in their senses,
            To seek old Satan in his trenches;
            And if I had a thousand lives,
            I needs must, when the Devil drives,
            Submit to snubbing.


                  How small is the chance
                  Of the falchion or lance,
            The sabre, the bow, and the dart;
                  Which a fiend with a spell,
                  That is borrowed from hell,
            Can foil with such damnable art.      [Exit.

            [To be continued.]

(The European Magazine, July, 1782)


Dedicated to those who love antiquity for its nonsense more than for its sense.

(Continued from Vol. I. p. 324.)


Emma sola, in a Desert; Merlin's Cave in view:

            In these huge rocks that pendent ride
            Upon the mountain's craggy side,
            Methinks strange semblances I spy,
            Of monsters horrid to the eye.
            But, ah! no figure sure was known
            More grimly hideous than my own.
            My beauty's blasted, and disgrace
            Attends this late admired face;
            Nor all the tears I've shed to day,
            Can wash one single stain away.
            To rudest stones the sculptor's art
            Can ev'ry charm and grace impart;
            But when a woman's beauties fade,
            They're past the reach of mortal aid.


                  Ah! where is each grace
                  That e'er-while decked this face,
            And each blooming feature did gild;
                  Not a trait is there left,
                  Of the whole I'm bereft,
            By that traitor in magic so skilled.


            But to great Merlin I'll my prayers address,
            Protector he of virtue in distress.


            Mighty Merlin, lend thine aid
            To a chaste, but hapless maid;
            Grant my suit, restore my beauty,
            And thro' life I'll shew my duty.

Merlin appears.

            Hark, hark, my words attend,
            Merlin's thy trusty friend,
                  And comes to-take thy part;
            Not all the powers of Hell
            Can long maintain their spell,
                  'Gainst my superior art.

            Soon as a comely Knight,
            Valiant in skill and fight,
                  Shall take thee for his wife;
            And yield his sovereign will
            To guidance of thy skill
                  Without regret or strife.

            The charm then quick dissolving,
            Thy beauty thence revolving,
                  Shall take its wonted place;
            Each charm the eye delighting,
            With graces more inviting,
                  Shall deck thy lovely face.


            Thanks, gracious Merlin, for thy joyful news;
            What maid bewitched would such a cure refuse?

            The fell Magician, but this morn,
                  By dint of magic lore,
            Has great King Arthur put to scorn,
                  As he assailed his bower.
            'Twas in thy cause, fair maid – that was – the King
            Did on himself such dire misfortune bring.

            Lament no more, since I'm thy friend;
            Thou, by my art, shalt all amend.
            His ransom is a riddle dark,
                              [Giving her a tablet.
                  Which this doth clear explain;
            Haste, quick, and meet him in his park,
                  And ease him of his pain.
            And for thy meed take thou his vows,
            Some comely Knight to make thy spouse.


King Arthur, wandering and musing.


            My Druids I've consulted all,
                  All their opinions bring;
            But yet my mind remains in thrall,
                  Each says a different thing.
            Some tell me riches, pomp and state;
                  Some raiment fine and bright;
            Others say mirth and flattery;
                  And some a jolly Knight.
            Tho' all these things are subject to debate,
            The last opinion seems to bear most weight.


            What a sad pack of lubbers are then all these Druids,
            I'll wheedle old Merlin to get them some new heads;
            For those they have on are so wholly worn out,
            If he can't give them better they'd best be without.


            Now for the Wizzard's castle – tho' I doubt,
            When I am in, if ever I get out.
            But faith is given, and Knights must keep their troth,
            Tho' I confess I feel me somewhat loath.

Enter Emma.

            Sir King, cast off that heart-felt gloom,
            From potent Merlin do I come;
            And tho' I am most foul to see,
            Thy remedy must come from me.

            Chuse thy reward, set but my heart at ease,
            Thou, to my utmost power, thyself shalt please.

            Tho' I seem hideous to the sight,
            I fain would wed some comely Knight:
            Then in your court kind Arthur see,
            And chuse a handsome one for me.

            My lady grim, of Knights I've plenty;
            Instead of one, thou shalt have twenty.

            These lines here wrote by Merlin shew,
            Without a doubt the answer true,
                              [Presenting the tablet.
            Your business with the Wizzard done,
            I'll then make bold to claim my boon.
                              [Curtsies low, and exit.

Arthur reading the Tablet.


            O ho, Master Hirvar, I now am most happy,
            For with this dear scroll I surely shall trap you.
            Tho' shameful to say, I've been puzzling my brain
            To find out a thing that as day light was plain.


The Magician's Castle.

Enter Hirvar.
            O here comes Arthur.             [Enter Arthur
            Well, Sir, how's your noddle?
            I fear with study you have made it addle.
            Your answer strait.

            You shall not wait.
                        [Presenting him with the tablet.

            What's this? Here take it back again:
            The reading scarce will pay the pain.

            Since this same writing does but seem to teize you,
            I'll try if with a song I more can please you.


            Then take assured from me this truth,
            "From age delivered down to youth,"
                  And sure I answer right;
                        In woman still,
                        To have her will,
                  Is her supreme delight.


                  O blister the mouth
                  That told thee this truth,
            And did me this ill-natured turn;
                  O how could I switch
                  That damnable witch,
            And in brimstone her gizzard would burn.


            The answer's right, you've leave to go,
            But learn henceforth to chuse your foe;
            And when your choleric blood is swelling,
            Beware to bluster near my dwelling.
            Your ransom's paid, but think upon it,
            'Twas more by luck, than wit, you won it.

                  Merlin's a potent wizard and I wis
                  That he too surely had a hand in this.
                  I'm overmatched so much that I'm afraid,
                  I soon must quit the Necromancing trade.
                                    [Aside. Exit.

            Indeed, friend Hirvar, being a Wizzard,
            To be outwitted, rather is hard.
            But now I'm fairly off this plot,
            My goody must not be forgot.
            A spouse I'll get her, if I can,
            My nephew Gawaine is the man.
            Wed her he shall; nor need it much him distress,
            For tho' she's ugly, he may keep a mistress.


Representing Night.

King Arthur's palace.

Sir Gawaine solus, after he is married:


            Tied neck and heels with such a frightful jade!
            Sure friendship's claims full dearly have been paid.


            Ah me! what woes conspire
                  To mark my hapless fate!
            That Fortune, in her ire,
                  Should give me such a mate.

            But since my King's relieved
                  From thraldom, and from woe;
            Tho' I so sore am grieved,
                  My ills I should forgoe.


            But, lo! she comes – I cannot bear the sight;
            The day was hideous – more I dread the night.
            Better by day to bear all sort of harms,
            Than clasp at night a fury in your arms.
                              [Turns away.

Enter Emma.

            Hither, Gawaine, turn thy face,
            Fly not from my chaste embrace;
            Dost thou aught in me descry,
            That's disgustful to the eye.


Sir Gawaine:
                  Transported I view thee,
                              [Turning to her.
                        What magical art
                  Hath imparted such beauty
                        To every fair part!
            With rapture I gaze, and with wonder admire,
            While each glance, and each smile, serve to fan the soft fire.


            But lest dæmons in derision
            Have decieved me by this vision,
            Lovely fair, to ease my pain,
            Tell me, shall these charms remain?

            With you it rests to change my plight,
                  So make the choice with care;
            Whether by day, or else by night,
                  Shall I be foul, or fair.

Sir Gawaine:
            To crown my future life with most delight,
            I shall not hesitate to name the night.

            So all the day, dejected and forlorn,
            Must I of each damsel be the scorn!

Sir Gawaine:
            The choice be thine, then, use thy sovereign will,
            I yield obedience to thy better skill.


            The spell is broke, the charm dissolved,
                  My face is now my own;
            Tho' late I was in clouds involved,
                  The dreary prospect's flown.

            Thrice happy be the hour to you
                  Thou didst accord with me;
            For thence the charms which please your view,
                  Both night and day shall be.
                              [They embrace.

Enter Merlin.

            Lo, Merlin comes to augment our present bliss:
            With your leave, Sir, I'll give the Sage a kiss.

Enter Arthur.

            Pray do as much for me, my pretty Miss.
            Wonderful works of Nature! how is this?

            King Arthur, there behold a happy pair:
            A peerless Knight blest with a peerless fair.

            To thee, great Merlin, his best thanks are due;
            His bride, his bliss, he owes alone to you.

            'Tis true I've helped him, but his own desert
            Has been his friend, much more than all my art.
            With her own will his blooming bride to arm,
            Was the sole spell that could dissolve the charm.


            Ye Britons your Conjuror ancient attend,
                  And mark well this sovereign rule;
            To your wives with compliance your own tempers bend,
                  For a husband should not be a mule.

            Great Merlin's sound doctrine sure no one can doubt,
                  And experience illustrates the theme;
            When wedlock is passed contradiction without,
                  How peaceful glide's life's silent stream.

Sir Gawaine:
            To the Knights who have got such fair damsels as this,
                  Such a rule there's no need to lay down;
            For still more compleatly to add to their bliss,
                  Must their own the more happily crown.

            Ye fair ones, with limits, this doctrine pursue,
                  Nor ask but what reason may grant;
            So your bliss never ceasing shall spring forth anew,
                  And each husband be still a gallant.


                  Ye fair ones &c.

A Dance.
Additional Information:
Originally published in two parts in The European Magazine (May 1782): pp. 321-325 and (July 1782): pp. 18-21.