Poetical Tragedies

Mordred: A Tragedy in Five Acts.

by William Wilfred Campbell





     Mordred.     Now cursed be the womb that gave me birth!

Thrice cursed be the paps that gave me suck!
That I but made for hellish plots and hates,
And inky thoughts and moods and black despairs,
The most unhappy man in the dread world,
Should house in me a dream of womanhood
Such as doth dwell in all the milk-white glory
And glamored stateliness of Arthur’s Queen.
Yea would I now forego all I hold dear
In this life and the next, if such there be,
My chance of Heaven thrust to darkest Hell,
One hour like Launcelot to know her love.
Hell! Hell! I laugh at Hell, such flames I burn
Would scorch the northern ice-seas in their beds.
So deep a hell I hold me in my thoughts
Of madness of her love.—Yea I am turned
A very subtle Satan that will plot
High Arthur’s downfall, Launcelot’s banishment,
And all the ruin of this present kingdom.
Yea, I will be a King and perch a crown
In its unsteady poisings on this brow,
So that by very glamor of my power
And inner majesty of mine iron soul,
I build in her a fancy for my person.
For I am Mordred, in this hour I'm great
In subtle cunning far beyond these days
Of mere brute strength and stature physical,—
Yea I was born upon an evil time
Of evil parentage of sin and shame
Thrice cursed in the inner soul and form,
What sportive fate gave me the gifts I bear?
But I am willed to use them to my use.
Yea I will use all deviltries and lies,
All plots and counter-plots to gain mine end.
This misbegotten now doth hold the key
To this doomed kingdom.




We are well met. Thou art upon the hour.
The plot grows closer to our waited end.
The net is weaving closer mesh by mesh
That traps the leopard and the lioness.
I have by long connivance, secret planned,
Built round me many knights who hold my weal,
Jealous of Launcelot and Arthur's glory.
These will be with me when the stroke comes down.
A thousand swords will leap their scabbard mouths
At shout of Mordred! Yea a thousand throats
Will cry me King when my fate topples Arthur.


     Vivien.     Now art thyself, this be thy natural mood.

Yea Mordred when thou kingest it, there will be
A splendid thraldom to true kingliness.
For thou wilt sink a terror in men's hearts
Of King's prerogatives will make them fear
The very sound and rumor of thy name.
And there will go before thee waves of will
Presaging thunders of thy royal coming.
But wilt thou then, my Lord, remember Vivien,
When thou dost come unto thy royalty,
Her who did place thy footsteps in the way
That led thee to these gateways of success,
And bad thee trample on thy youthful fears,
And doubts and milksop fancies of the mind,
And gave into thy hand an iron mace,
And bade thee use it? Wilt thou think on her,
The only one who loved thee for thyself,
The single soul that kept thee in the dark,
And loved thee for thy nobler qualities?


     Mordred.     What wouldst thou have me promise?


     Vivien.     I would be a Queen!


     Mordred.     Ha! thou climbest high!

Be careful or thy stairway
In toppling over carry thee to Hell. (aside)
This be her trend I must match cunning with cunning,
And tie this serpent in her venomed coils.
Were she a man, I would admire her much,
But not as a woman! She be Mordred's Queen,
When Queen of women there be one Guinevere!
(To VIVIEN) When I am King thou wouldst then be the Queen?
'Tis a daring thought!


     Vivien.     Not more than that thou bearest,

That Mordred, squat and monster, lorn, despised,
Misgotten, friendless save to such as me,
Should rise in dreams to heights of Arthur's glory,
And even lust to bed with Guinevere.


     Mordred.     What now? Thou devil!


     Vivien.     Ha! Now I stabbed thy longings to the quick,

And probed thine ink-heart.—Thou dost love the Queen,
Thou, who doth dwell so far below her scorn!


     Mordred.     Witch-hag or Devil! Wert thou but a man,

And I would quickly send thee to that hell
Where thou belongest.


     Vivien.     Nay, I fear thee not.

I am too much a part of all thy plans
For thee to quarrel with. Stab me and thou stabbest
The life of all thy longings. Let my blood,
And with it flows the making of thy dreams.


     Mordred.     (Aside) ’Tis as she says. She’s woven in my web

And I must keep her, devil though she be.
Yea, Mordred! Mordred! (To VIVIEN.)
Vivien thou art hasty,
In dreaming Mordred would do thee an evil.
’Twas but the sudden mantling of the blood.
Yea, I indeed do owe thee overmuch,
And Mordred will pay thee with what gratitude
Of words and acts as such as he possesses.
Yea, when my mind dwells on the what I was,
And that which I now am, an admiration
Sudden and great, comes o’er me at the change,
And the swift transformation thou hast made.
Thou look’st a youth from out his sickly longings,
Vague undefined with musings on this world,
And sick with evil of a shadowed fate,
Dried up his kindness, showed him he was iron,
And gave the keys of cruelty to his hand
Wherewith to pick the lock of this poor kingdom.
Yea, I am wrapt in admiration vast.
Then I would shudder did an evil thought,
Wandering vaguely through my caverned mind,
But stop and grin me. Now it seems mine act
Would neck and neck with Hell’s most foul desire.
Yea, thou hast right in pride of workmanship
In building from material thou hadst
So deft a moulded villain to thy hand.
Yea, Vivien, fear not Mordred will forget,
When every waking moment on his bed,
And every devil knocking on his sill,
Mindeth him of cause for gratitude.


     Vivien.     Wilt thou promise?


     Mordred.     Nay, I will never promise!

What right have I for pledges in this world,
Save pledge that I will topple all to ruin.
This give I Fate, as sure as I am Mordred.
I tell thee, Woman, I am thy slave no more,
Nor slave to any, be it man or devil.


     Vivien.     What art thou then?


     Mordred.     I am thy master. Thou wilt be my slave,

Thou cunning plotter, schemer to my hand,
To be my dagger, poison, flaming brand,
My very slave, convenience, creature, tool;
And if thou art not, I’ll trample, trample thee.
I tell thee I will thrust this kingship out;
Will spin these actors round my crooked thumb,
Until this devil Mordred walketh king.
Little didst thou dream, what demon thou wert raising,
When thou didst conjure Mordred.


     Vivien.     Darest thou me?


     Mordred.     Yea, look into my glass and ask thyself,

What Mordred hath in life to hope or fear?
But I do tell thee, Woman, Mordred in hell
Will be no tortured creature spinning round,
But himself the very devil.
To show my power of evilment, I tell thee,
I know thy fatal liking for myself.
’Tis the one part of thee that now can suffer,
the only part of thee that holdeth good.


     Vivien.     Nay, I will not hearken.


     Mordred.     (siezes her wrist) I’ll bind thee on the rack as thou hast

Or rather finding me there, stretched my sorrows,
And show thee all the devil thou hast roused.
Then hear me, I do scorn that love of thine;
Do trample on, despise, as I do thee!


     Vivien.     (Falls on her face.) Nay Mordred, thou breakest my heart,

Nay, curse me not.


     Mordred.     Yea, ask the rack for mercy when it racks,

Or seek for honey in the aspick’s sting!
Yea, more, I tell thee plainly to thy face,
Guinevere makes hell within my breast,
And thou, my slave, wilt help me to her arms.


     Vivien.     One little smile, one little word of peace.


     Mordred.     Nay, silence, or a curse! Wilt thou do this?


     Vivien.     Thou knowest I will, let me but touch thy hand!

Trampled on, despised, I love thee still.


     Mordred.     Now to the point, Launcelot goes this night

To secret assignation with the Queen,
This saving of her life hath patched their quarrel,
And thou must find for me the hour of meeting,
Must intercept the trusted messenger,
And bring me secret knowledge of the time.
I go now with some knights unto the King,
To force his leave for this our undertaking,
And put their secret love to open shame.
Thou must watch near the apartments of the Queen,
And take by fraud or force knowledge of the hour,
And bring it to my ears with thy best speed.


     Vivien.     Yea, I will.

He hath read true, I am his slave at last,
Aye, what a splendid devil he doth make,
There is no man like him in all this world.
I’ll see him crowned, climb he there o’er my body.