Poetical Tragedies

Mordred: A Tragedy in Five Acts.

by William Wilfred Campbell


 

ACT I.


 

SCENE VI.—A rose garden adjoining the Castle.

Enter LAUNCELOT.

     Launcelot.     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 kerls 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 maiden,
What can she want of me? Aye, here she comes.

 

Enter GUINEVERE, veiled.

 

     Guin.     My lord forgive this meeting in this place.
(Aside) O, if he like it not!

 

     Launcelot.     Wouldst thou ask mine aid?

 

     Guin.     Yea, wouldst thou aid a maiden in distress?

 

     Launcelot.     Lady, all maidens have a right to a true knight’s help.

 

     Guin.     My lord hast thou ever loved?

 

     Laun.     Many fair women have I seen, but none to love as thou

  meanest.
Why askest thou me 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.) Kind 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, thou 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 inshrined. 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.
My lord!

 

     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! Oh hell 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 damned Launcelot,

Who twixt his hell and Arthur’s heaven hath got.

 

     Guin.     Then I am 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, tomorrow

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
Oh hideous evil. Guinevere, my love,
We were damned 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.
Oh 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 fringéd 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.
[Curtain.