Poetical Tragedies

Mordred: A Tragedy in Five Acts.

by William Wilfred Campbell




SCENE III.—Another part of the Castle.


     Vivien.     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?


     Mordred.     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.


     Vivien.     What is thy plot?


     Mordred.     To hold the world at bay.


     Vivien.     ’Tis too vague.


     Mordred.     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.


     Vivien.     Yea, ’tis my thought.


     Mordred.     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.


     Vivien.     Yea, then will my hate,—my love,—


     Mordred.     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 o’ the powder, it would send
Our plottings and hopings out o’ the skyhole.


     Vivien.     It is well.


     Mordred.     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?


     Dagonet.     (Heard without singing.)

Morning her face is,
Blue seas her eyes,
All of earth’s sweetness
In their light lies.

Coral her lips are,
Read reefs of doom,
There do Love’s ships drive,
Down to their doom.


     Vivien.     Leave it to me, here cometh one who may work the matter.


     Mordred.     Who be it? Not the fool?


     Vivien.     Yea, the fool! He is not all surface, he is deep,

Yea, deep for me.


     Mordred.     May he be trusted?


     Vivien.     Yea, like one who is in love.

Leave me Prince, I would sound him.


     Dagonet.     (Enters singing.)

There would I shipwreck,
Swooning to death,
Passing to darkness
On the winds of her breath.


Ho Vivien!


     Vivien.     Well, fool, and what wert thou singing?


     Dagonet.     ’Twas but a fool’s carol.


     Vivien.     If thou wert not a fool I would say thou wert in love.


     Dagonet.     (Starts) Well guessed, Vivien.

And by Our Lady, thou art in the right of it.


     Vivien.     And who might be the object, sir Fool?


     Dagonet.     Madam, I am deep in love with three mistresses,

To wit, the past, the present, and the future.


     Vivien.     And how be that, Fool?


     Dagonet.     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.


     Vivien.     Wouldst thou do me a favor?


     Dagonet.     What be it?


     Vivien.     Dost thou love the King?


     Dagonet.     Yea that I do, though he be sometimes like a great child,

Spoiled on the weather-side.
There be something grieves him.


     Vivien.     Yea, well hath he cause to grieve!


     Dagonet.     Thou dost say so! What be the cause?


     Vivien.     The queen.


     Dagonet.     Why, she be well favored?


     Vivien.     Yea, but treacherous.


     Dagonet.     Aye, knowest thou that?


     Vivien.     Yea, and more!


     Dagonet.     Then is hell come on earth!

What wilt have me do?


     Vivien.     I would have thee warn the king.


     Dagonet.     The king!


     Vivien.     Yea, the king.


     Dagonet.     As well ask the cricket to piper for the thunderstorm.

Dost thou crave my destruction so dearly?


     Vivien.     Thou alone canst do it and survive,

Thou art so little in his estimation,
And thou must.


     Dagonet.     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.


The King enters at the left.


     Dagonet.     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.


     Arthur.     Well, sir Fool,

Hast a merry message for my heart to-day?


     Dagonet.     Yea Sire.


     Arthur.     Then mouth it, Fool.


     Dagonet.     He who cometh to the wall hath crossed the last ditch.


     Arthur.     Thine is but grim comfort, Fool.


     Dagonet.     Then is it thine, King, and he who garners not i’ the

Can laugh with death.


     Arthur.     Indeed, thou art over-weird,

Come, play me a masque.


     Dagonet.     A masque, Sire! Should it be merry?


     Arthur.     Aye, merry, or thou ruest it!


     Dagonet.     Here be a comedy, Sire;—

There be a king, Sire;—


     Arthur.     Yea.


     Dagonet.     And there be a queen, Sire,

And there be a bishop—nay, a knight.


     Arthur.     And what then?


     Dagonet.     The knight taketh the queen!


     Arthur.     And the king, Fool?


     Dagonet.     Oh, he be fool’s-mated, ha, ha, ha!


     Arthur.     And where is the comedy, Fool?


     Dagonet.     Oh, the fiends laugh i’ the pit.

That be the comedy! ha, ha, ha!


     Arthur.     Ha! Hast thou a moral?


     Dagonet.     Nay, not a moral, sire! Morals be not in it.


     Arthur.     Thou art but a wry fool to-day.


     Dagonet.     (aside) My plan faileth.

(to the King) Yea, sire, I passed an uncommon sorry night.


     Arthur.     How, fool?


     Dagonet.     I dreamed of thee, Sire, and as I love thee I liked it not.


     Arthur.     What was thy dream?


     Dagonet.     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


     Arthur.     Ha, and what?


     Dagonet.     Forgive thy poor fool, Sire, but methought I saw Sir



     Arthur.     (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!


     Dagonet.     Slay me, great Arthur, but forgive thy fool.


     Arthur.     Knowest thou not thou hast slandered the whole realm?


     Dagonet.     I am but a poor fool, sire.


Enter GWAINE, a tall, clumsy youth in scullion’s dress.


     Arthur.     Who art thou?


     Gwaine.     Thou must tell me.


     Arthur.     I am the King.


     Gwaine.     Art thou? Thou lookest like one.


     Arthur.     Whence comest thou?


     Gwaine.     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.


     Arthur.     Thou wouldst be a knight?


     Gwaine.     Yea.


     Arthur.     And wherefore?


     Gwaine.     That I might serve the King.


     Arthur.     Thou wouldst serve me?


     Gwaine.     That I would!


     Arthur.     (loosening DAGONET) Then hang yonder imp i’ the crane

  over the castle wall.


     Gwaine.     Come, rat!

[Lifts DAGONET and hangs him on the crane.


     Dagonet.     Oh, oh, the shame!


     Gwaine.     Hath such as thou shame?


     Dagonet.     Yea, I house me a soul.


     Gwaine.     Then is it poorly lodged.

[Goes out.


     Arthur.     (strides back and forth) Yea, a fool!—worse than a fool!

Arthur, why wilt thou same thyself even in thought?
Out, damned suspicion, that insulteth my dignity!




     Arthur.     Madam, I would entreat thy pardon!


     Guin.     Wherefore, my lord?


     Arthur.     For a thought. Guinevere, I am unworthy of thy queenliness.


     Guin.     Nay, nay, my lord. I am but flesh and blood.


     Arthur.     Thou art a Queen!


     Guin.     Yea, and a weak woman.


     Arthur.     It seemeth we be strangers even yet.


     Guin.     Aye, my lord.


     Arthur.     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.


     Arthur.     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.


     Arthur.     Yea, not the King, but he that 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.


     Arthur.     Heralds have been sent out, and throughout the kingdom

Jousts are called, with strange and wondrous tests.


Re-enter GWAINE.


     Gwaine.     Well, what next?


     Arthur.     Sirrah! the Queen!


     Gwaine.     (doffs his cap) Morrow, madam!


     Arthur.     To your knees! by my blade, to your knees!


     Gwaine.     By my legs, I am no lick-spittle to claw the earth.

Kneel to your own woman, I’ll to none!


     Arthur.     Death! down on your life! (Draws.)


     Guin.     Nay, nay, he will kneel.


     Gwaine.     Not he! King or other man, I can crack a neck.

Come on, give me a quarterstaff and I’ll knock your
Kings like a nine-pins.


     Guin.     (Gets between.) Nay! nay!


     Arthur.     Wilt thou kneel?


     Gwaine.     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.


     Gwaine.     Manners, madam, like fine feathers,

But hide the lice i’ the bird.
Gwaine loveth acts, not appearances.


     Arthur.     Madam, wilt thou that I make him kneel?


     Guin.     Nay, but grant his wish.


     Arthur.     What wilt thou, knave?


     Gwaine.     That I be made a knight.


     Arthur.     Thou must kneel to be knighted.


     Gwaine.     Not a man.


     Arthur.     To thy God, then.


     Gwaine.     So be it, if it must. (Kneels.)


     Arthur.     What be thy name?


     Gwaine.     They called me Gwaine i’ the marches.


     Arthur.     Lifts his sword.)


     Gwaine.     (Leaps to his feat.) Woulds’t thou hit a man when he is



     Arthur.     I would knight thee, clown; ’tis the mode.


     Gwaine.     Oh, but be careful, King, i’ the doing. (Kneels.)


     Arthur.     Art thou of noble blood?


     Gwaine.     Dost thou mean honest—Gwaine is plain, if thou meanest

  'i the getting, no one can call Gwaine’s mother a whore.


     Arthur.     (raises his sword and strikes him with the flat on the

  shoulder) Rise, Sir Gwaine.


     Gwaine.     (rises) Is it done, King?


     Arthur.     It is in sooth.


     Gwaine.     Then, King, am I thine, but yours first, madam.

Gwaine is plain but honest; I would have a sword, King.


     Arthur.     Go, get thee one!


     Gwaine.     Dost thou mean it, King?


     Arthur.     Yea.


     Gwaine.     (going to the Arras and taking one down proceeds to

  buckle it on.) Then this one pleaseth me.


     Guin.     Stop, knight! ’Tis the king’s.


     Gwaine.     Then will it be the king’s still. (Goes out.)


     Arthur.     What more woulds thou with me, my lady?


     Guin.     I would speak of one Mordred.


     Arthur.     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?


     Arthur.     It is a heavy matter. We will consider it.