Poetical Tragedies

Mordred: A Tragedy in Five Acts.

by William Wilfred Campbell




SCENE II.—Castle at Camelot.


     Mordred.     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,
And take my shadow from this damnéd court,
Where so much ill begins to lift its head.
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,
And help to pull the ropes behind the scenes
That aid the puppets to their forcéd 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.
Oh! Mordred, what art thou, mis-shapen devil?
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 devil,
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 tomorrow morn,
They’d cover his face and laugh the world along,
Unmindful of his setting.




     Vivien.     Nay not so, there are two as would grieve thee.


     Mordred.     Aye, two?


     Vivien.     Yea, two, I and thy dog.


     Mordred.     Yea sooth would grieve my poor four-footed beast.

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, I would that I were shelved in earth.


     Vivien.     Doubtest thou my love?


     Mordred.     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?


     Vivien.     Yea all of thee, not thy mis-shapen 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 as 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.     (Kneels.) Oh! Launcelot thou hast damned me with thy

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.
     Vivien.     (Aside to MORDRED.) These words are rungs by which to
  build thy ladder.
Over the ruins of this dooméd kingdom.


     Mordred.     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.


     Vivien.     Hast thou no pride, Prince Mordred?

Yea, wait a breath, I’ll show thy wrongs too deep
To languish in a monkish wilderness.
What hast 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 mis-shapen 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.


     Mordred.     Where’er thou comest from, thou comest not from



     Vivien.     Yea, what cometh down from Heaven is not for such as

The day doth come when thou wilt call on me.


Re-enter GUINEVERE alone.


     Vivien.     Stay lady, I would speak with thee.


     Guin.     What art thou, woman?


     Vivien.     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?


     Vivien.     I would bring unto thy notice one,

Wronged of nature and his human kind,
Knowing where thine admiration stopped,
Might follow thy pity.


     Mordred.     Nay, all but pity. Pity is such a gift

That all the world would grant it, none receive.
Grant me thy scorn, lady, but withold 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 icéd heart of winter
Colder within its breast.


     Guin.     And what art thou, strange heap, that speakest thus unto the



     Mordred.     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 the proud black of some mock tragedy.
Art thou another fool?


     Vivien.     (Aside.) Ah! that will touch him.


     Mordred.     A fool, Madam! Callest thou Mordred a fool?

Takest thou 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 that thou art insolent.

Pass! You bar my way.


     Mordred.     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?


     Mordred.     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.


     Vivien.     (Aside.) He hath awakened at last.




     Guin.     Dost threaten thy queen? Make way, monster!


     Laun.     (Rushing forward.) Dost thou insult the Queen?


     Mordred.     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.


     Mordred.     (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).


     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.


     Mordred.     There is nought more to do but to slay me.

(Bares his breast.) Slay me ere I kill myself.


     Vivien.     Nay! Nay!


     Laun.     Kill thyself, Prince, Launcelot fights with men!

(To the Queen.) I will follow you, my lady.


Exit LAUNCELOT and the Queen.


     Mordred.     (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 mis-shapen, 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.