Poetical Tragedies

Mordred: A Tragedy in Five Acts.

by William Wilfred Campbell




     Vivien.     Prince, and do you weaken now again?


     Mordred.     Yea, Vivien, I have only half a heart

For this damned business.


     Vivien.     ’Tis but a lack of manhood in thy blood,

That runs to water dwelling on puerile things,
Like parent-love and other sickly longings,
Forgotten with forgetting of the paps.
Now me, my memory knows no parentage
Save circumstance and mine own nimble wits.
’Tis but our acts that build the bridge of fate
Across this perilous river men call life.
Some kneel and pray, trust some fond deity,
And build in fancy safety for themselves,
Then soon are churning ’mid the ravening flood.
Others do build them piers of solid stone,
Or use men’s bodies for to tread upon.
These get the surest over.—Hast seen the Queen?


     Mordred.     Ha, that one name hath more to conjure with

Than all your sophistries, to my dark soul.
Yea, how I hate that woman! I am but
The hideous toad that poisons on her sight.
Though I may sense the glories of this earth
With all its wealth, the heaven o’er-bridged with stars,
And know love’s heights and depths, and pity’s well,
Brimming with pearls of tears and woman’s eyes;
I am but hideous Mordred after all.


     Vivien.     Yea, in her eyes art hideous, not in mine.


     Mordred.     Woman, thou liest! It were natural

To love the perfect shape and noble form,
The sunny face and splendid laughing eye;
But canst thou love the wry and gnarléd shape
And beetle-browed, night-shaded soul like mine?
I am a toad, a bat, a gnarléd stump.
These hideous in nature are my kin.
Woman, thou liest, when thou speakest of love!


     Vivien.     Nay, Mordred, do not scorn me! Thou’rt a man

In more than mere out-seeming, ’tis thy fate
Thy whole grim spirit Vivien pitieth.
Would’st thou but love me, Vivien would be
Thy queen, thy slave, the ’venger of thy wrongs,
That call to heaven.


     Mordred.     Nay, nay, it cannot be, thou wastest words.

I like thee least in this strange mood of thine.
Love is no word for Mordred, rather hate,
And thou wert made for plottings, not for joys.
Yea, we will marry in compact of ill,
And will beget as child, black, black revenge.
This is my mood.


     Vivien.     Now thou art natural, there is much to do.

Our schemes o’er-reached, proud Arthur’s jealousy
As yet untouched, and Launcelot fled the Court
In some queer madness. How likest the conditions?


     Mordred.     He must come back, I am a devil at root.

We’ll seethe him in the Queen’s despairs and sorrows.
I have a plan,—she giveth soon a feast
Of autumn fruits unto her favorite knights,
And I will go, although she hates my face,
For I misdoubt she fears me even now.
There is a joy to know, if thou art not loved,
That thou canst wield an influence over those
Who otherwise would pass thee by in scorn.
Well I do know a poison, subtle, sharp,
That when it bites it is the tooth of death.
This will I get inserted in some fruit,
And manage that one knight will eat of it,
Sir Patrise, brother unto that Sir Mador;
Who hates the Queen for that she scorned his love
And not being present will call for loud revenge
Upon his brother’s death ’gainst Guinevere
Proud Arthur, then, will call upon some knight
To prove her innocence upon the sword,
And her extremity makes Launcelot sane.
He will return, then I will trap him with her,
Set Arthur and Launcelot at bitter war,
And wrest the kingdom from their weakened hands.
This is my plot, now for the working of it.
Down all compunction! Mount all dark resolves!
Let me be Mordred inward as well as out,
All inky poison of soul, even that I,
Who’d trample others, must crush out myself.


     Vivien.     Yea, Prince, indeed, ’tis seen thou hast a mind

Of subtle working fit to rule a King.
Thou wilt be greater than great Arthur yet,
When thou sittest in his place.


     Mordred.     Nay woman, tantalize me not with hopes.

’Tis not the splendid end that leads me on.
’Tis but the getting there that Mordred loves.
The mood of one who’d trample on the flowers
In some fair garden whence he is excluded.
Here is the poison. That will be thy part
To get it hidden in the special fruit,
And get it fed unto the special man,
Whose snuffing out will pander to our end.


     Vivien.     Give me the poison!


     Mordred.     Here it is, this small pill,

So petty, but powerful.
’Tis wondrous that this tiny polished globe,
Could hide betwixt the finger and the thumb,
Hath power to open the gateways of this world,
And in a sudden sleep dislodge a soul.
Hast thou an agent for to do this work?


     Vivien.     Yea, that I have.


     Mordred.     Not the fool again?


     Vivien.     Yea, the fool!


     Mordred.     See he doth this better than the last. ’Tis the more

  perilous. Thinkest he will undertake it?


     Vivien.     Yea, he will.


     Mordred.     By what compulsion?


     Vivien.     By that most powerful of all most powerful compulsions. He

  loveth me.


     Mordred.     And thou wilt use him, put him on the rack,

Which is thine influence?


     Vivien.     See my little finger, he is as the yarn

That I may wind around it.


     Mordred.     Thou art a Devil! Ho! Ho! Mordred hath mirth!

And this be life! Mordred hath mirth, yea, Vivien, mirth!
See woman that thou failest not,
Mordred is roused, it must be.



     Vivien.     Ho! Ho! Thou art travelling my road at last.

I must haste from hence and find Dagonet.