Poetical Tragedies

Mordred: A Tragedy in Five Acts.

by William Wilfred Campbell




Enter DAGONET the King's fool.

     Dagonet.     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 all a draggled pond
In dirty weather.




     Vivien.     And thou fool, but a wry toad on its edge.


     Dagonet.     And thou the snake’s head lifted in the sedge,

Aye, sweet Vivien.


     Vivien.     Why snakest thou me fool? Methought that thou favoredst



     Dagonet.     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?


     Vivien.     Can’st thou be wise for once Dagonet?

Yea let me teach thee.


     Dagonet.     And what is it to be wise?


     Vivien.     To leave aside that mummer’s lightsome talk,

And show a front of silent dignity.


     Dagonet.     Like the King?


     Vivien.     Aye, like the King.


     Dagonet.     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 wise
And full of sighs,
And care and evil borrow;
When to be a fool
Is to go to school
To Happy-go-luck-to-morrow?

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


     Vivien.     Aye Dagonet, thou art indeed a happy fool.

Wilt thou shew me how to make love?


     Dagonet.     (Kneels in mock humility) Sweet Vivien, I am thy knight.


     Vivien.     Is it all thou canst say?


     Dagonet.     What would’st thou have more?


     Vivien.     Oh lover’s talk.


     Dagonet.     Thou meanest as lovers speak?


     Vivien.     Yea.


     Dagonet.     After wedding or afore, sweet Vivien?


     Vivien.     Afore, of course, stupid fool.


     Dagonet.     (Folds his hands and recites solemnly.)


Butter frups and mumble rings,
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!


     Vivien.     And now thou art the fool in earnest.


     Dagonet.     Yea, and the better lover.


     Vivien.     And what after wedding, thou wise fool?


     Dagonet.     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.


     Vivien.     And had’st thou never a lover’s longing, Fool?


     Dagonet.     Yea, but I cured me.


     Vivien.     Wilt thou give me that receipt, Dagonet?


     Dagonet.     I filled my mouth wi’ honey, and my couch wi’ prickles,

And went to sleep on't.
(Vivien laughs and retires behind the curtain.)


     Dagonet.     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 the darks of its own sorrow.
Yea, Dagonet, thou art too much of 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.




     Arthur.     Well fool, what mummeries now?


     Dagonet.     I be holding a black Friday service, Sir King.


     Arthur.     And what sayest thou in thy supplications?


     Dagonet.     I think on thee Sir King, and I think on poor Dagonet.

And I say, Lord have mercy upon us!


     Arthur.     A pious wish, Sir fool, but why pitiest thou me?


     Dagonet.     For thy poverty, Sire?


     Arthur.     Why poverty, fool?


     Dagonet.     Yea King, thou hast a crown, thou hast wealth,

And power and lands, and yet thou lackest
The cheapest commodity i’ the whole world.


     Arthur.     And what be that, fool?


     Dagonet.     (Going out.) Sunshine, Sir King, that be the cheapest





     Launcelot.     Sire!


     Arthur.     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.


     Launcelot.     Yea King, but methought thou sentest for me with most

  urgent commands.


     Arthur.     Yea, most urgent.


     Launcelot.     The knights and men-at-arms await below,

And all the splendid cortege 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.


     Arthur.     I go not forth!


     Launcelot.     Thou goest not, and why?


     Arthur.     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?


     Launcelot.     Yea Arthur, I have seen this Mordred.

Yea, mine Arthur, thou hast indeed a sorrow,
And could thy Launcelot but help thee bear it!


     Arthur.     What thinkest thou of this Mordred, this my son?

Likest thou him not?


     Launcelot.     He is so strange, so small, so queer of limb,

At first I marvelled, then I pitied, then¾


     Arthur.     Yea, and what?


     Launcelot.     I met his eyes, and straightaway 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 forbodings. While I mused he passed,
But left that chill behind him in my blood.
And yet he seemeth a soul, Sire, to be pitied.


     Arthur.     Yea, all but pity, Arthur’s son should claim.


     Launcelot.     ’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.


     Arthur.     I bear it not, Launcelot, it beareth me down,

Down into black 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 dreams where all are shadows
Till I seem but a shadow-king walking in a realm of shadows.


     Launcelot.     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 thee
Of this distemper.


     Arthur.     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 and bring
The Princess Guinevere to Camelot.


     Launcelot.     Nay Sire, not I! Not Launcelot!


     Arthur.     By thy love for me, thou wilt 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, Oh 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.


     Launcelot.     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.


     Arthur.     Launcelot, I would rather die than go.


     Launcelot.     Yea Arthur, I would rather die than go.


     Arthur.     Launcelot lovest thou thine Arthur?


     Launcelot.     Yea Arthur, well thou knowest.


     Arthur.     Wilt thou honor me as a king?


     Launcelot.     Yea to the death.


     Arthur.     Then the king commands that thou goest for the love thou

  bearest Arthur.


     Launcelot.     Yea Sire, I go. [aside] And all fears go with me.