Poetical Tragedies

Mordred: A Tragedy in Five Acts.

by William Wilfred Campbell


 

ACT II.


SCENE V.—The Court.

Enter VIVIEN disguised as a strange maiden, followed by men bearing a great stone with a sword thrust in it.

     Arthur.     Whence comest thou unto our Court, strange Maiden.

And on what quest art thou sent?

 

     Vivien.     Nine days are past and gone, most noble King,

Since thou didst advertise throughout the land
The kingdom be opened for tests at Camelot
And marvellous feats might here performed be.
Wherefore I, knowing of that noble pride
With which you hold the flower of your great Court
For manhood’s purity, woman’s chastity,
Have deigned to show before the world, great King,
The truth whereof thou boastest.

 

     Arthur.     It is bold indeed, but Arthur keeps his word.

What be the tests?

 

     Vivien.     First, here, to test thy knighthood’s purity,

We bring a sword sunk fast in yonder stone
By magic’s force, and he who plucks it forth
Must be a knight who hath not known a woman,
Save in the lawful mode of marriage bed.
(To Launcelot.) Wouldst try, pure Knight?

 

     Laun.     Yea, I would, doth great Arthur will,

Though all the fiends of hell clutched nether end.
Do other knights but make the trial first.
(A number of knights come forward, try to pull the sword out of the stone but fail.
Launcelot then places his feet on the stone and grasps the sword and pulls with all his might, but
the sword remains fixed
.)

 

     Arthur.     It is in sooth a marvel!

 

     Laun.     It seemeth grown therein,

Yea, I will bend and strain until it comes.
It will not! (Stands to take a breath.)

 

     Guin.     It is enough!

 

     Vivien.     Wouldst thou try again pure Knight?

 

     Laun.     Yea, I will try till I die, if it come not.

(Tries again, bends his whole strength, then staggers to his feet.)

 

Methought the earth’s roots hung thereon.
I am shamed!

 

     Arthur.     ’Tis enough!

 

     Vivien.     Wilt not try again, pure Knight?

 

     Laun.     (with set face.) Yea, now for Camelot’s glory.

Launcelot’s manhood pulls on this side, Hell on that.
(Braces himself and gives on terrible tug, then falls back fainting.)

 

     Elaine.     ’Tis he! (rushes out and falls fainting on his breast. The

  Queen’s women lift her and bear her out.)

 

     Guin.     Great Heaven!

 

     Arthur.     ’Tis enough! away with it, Maiden, thy magic hath outdone

  our noblest worth.

 

     Vivien.     (Scornfully.) Is there no pure man will make trial?

 

     Gwaine.     (Emerges from the throng still dressed in scullions

  dress.)
Yea, I will try, although I rend the stone.
(Leaps on the stone and plucks the sword out with both hands, with a great pull, and waves it
aloft with an exultant shout. The throng starts back.
)

 

How now, mighty king?

 

     Arthur.     ’Tis a great marvel!

 

     Laun.     (Steps forth.) the man that hath done that must face

  Launcelot to the death,—to the death!
(Faces Gwaine and draws.)

 

     Guin.     My God! (Her maids support her, she hides her face in her

  mantle.)

 

     Gwaine.     I would not slay thee.

 

     Laun.     Thou can’st not!—Keep you! (they fight.) (Knights try to

  separate them.)

 

     Arthur.     Nay, back, more room! give them more room.

(Continue fighting, each draws blood, but neither gives way.)

 

     Guin.     (Aside to the maids.) Be he slain?

 

     A Maid.     Neither be slain, Madam.

 

     Arthur.     Enough! I say enough!

 

     Laun.     Sire!

 

     Gwaine.     Must we stop this exercise?

 

     Arthur.     It is enough, you are both brave knights.

 

     Laun.     Gwaine, thou art better than I.

 

     Gwaine.     Thou art the best I have met.

Wilt thou take the hand of Gwaine?

 

     Laun.     Yea I will, though it hath pressed me hard.

 

     Arthur.     Clear the Court. (Trumpets blow and the throng falls back.)