Poetical Tragedies

Mordred: A Tragedy in Five Acts.

by William Wilfred Campbell



SCENE III.—The KING's lodge in the forest. ARTHUR walking back and forth.

     Arthur.     Would I had not done this! Heaven this hour

Be kind to this poor king, suspend thy wrath.
For my past frailties judge me not too heavy.
Oh, were it dawning! Nay if it be shame,
Night roll for ever round for your shrouding glooms,
Hide Arthur’s woe in your convenient black.
Rise not, O, pitiless Day with searching white,
Showing abroad catastrophe and doom.
Hark ’tis the messenger. Now my royal soul,
Is it black or white, is it death or life to thee?
(Enter Messenger) Sire!


     Arthur.     Speak! Is it calamity?


     Mess.     Yea, Sire, it is calamity, Sir Launcelot ta’en,—


     Arthur.     In the Queen’s chamber?


     Mess.     Yea, Sire.


     Arthur.     Then sable Night shut out the morning now.

O, Blackness, bury Arthur in thy shroud!
O, Calamities pelt, pelt your fire!
Sink now, proud Arthur, sink to rise no more.


Enter MORDRED and two KNIGHTS.


     Mordred.     We bring you evil news in sorry haste.
Launcelot ta’en by us in the Queen’s apartments,
When we, hailing him traitor, would bring him out,
Then he mad with a devil did issue forth,
And slay the most of us, so that we are scarce fled with our lives,
As these two knights do witness.


     Knights.     Tis true, King.


     Arthur.     Murder and Treason walk abroad this night.

Adultery and Incest leave their graves.
Arthur, Arthur thou art a king no more!


     Mordred.     We would arrest the Queen, did we know thy will.


     Arthur.     O, Night! Night! Night!


     Mordred.     ’Tis not an hour for grief and memories, Sire,

But action, instant action, is the word.
If thou wouldst keep thy kingdom. Sir Launcelot knoweth
That thou wert privy to this heavy matter,
And swearing direst vengeance on us all,
Buildeth a party for to help the Queen,
And oust thee from thy royalty.


     Arthur.     Dost thou not know I loved this Launcelot.

And had I chosen a brother or a son,
It had been Launcelot! Oh thou cruel World!
Thou hast no cloud of evils brooding dire,
So much hath rained. Mordred take my crown,
To illegitimacy pass my glory now.


     Mordred.     Nay Sire! but be a king until thou takest

A King’s dread vengeance on thine enemies.


     Arthur.     Enemies thou sayest. Who so low,

To stoop to hate this cuckold, shaméd king.
I am a king no more, my Table Round
Is but a stall-yard where the swine of men
Will rend and snarl and tear my glory down.




     Gwaine.     This is a bad and foolish matter, King,
And thou wert fool to fetch it to an issue.
But now thou makest bad worse. Didst thou send out
For Launcelot’s arrest and the Queen’s murder?


     Mordred.     The order hath gone out in the King’s name.

’Tis gone too far for compromises now.


     Gwaine.     Tis thou hast done all this, thou Plotter!


     Mordred.     Thou liest! Tis but the natural end of circumstance that

  worked its issue. I tell thee, the King ordered this.


     Gwaine.     King, didst thou give these orders?


     Arthur.     Gwaine thy words were ever over-blunt,
But now they’re fitting. None need show me reverence.


     Gwaine.     Know I not reverence, but I would of facts.
Didst thou proclaim that Guinevere should die
Being found of treason foul against thy person,
And doom her to the stake tomorrow noon?


     Arthur.     The Queen! the queen! thou sayest, I’ll have no queens!
If there be a Queen tomorrow in this land,
She shall die the death! ’tis the King’s word!


     Mordred.     Now thou hast thine answer.


     Gwaine.     Then fear Sir Launcelot’s hate and split this kingdom,
Topple yonder King and bring him down,
As thou wouldst love to. Gwaine will none o’ this.
The Pope shall hear it! What’s a woman worth!
That truth, or untruth, she should wreck a kingdom?


Enter a Messenger in haste.


     Mordred.     Speak!


     Mess.     Sir Launcelot and many Knights have rescued the Queen

  and have taken her to Joyeous Guarde, and in the quick struggle Sir Gareth, and Sir Lynnette were slain.


     Arthur.     More woes! More woes! Where will this end?


     Mordred.     (To SIR GWAINE) Now art thou satisfied?


     Gwaine.     (To MESS.) What! Thou liest! tell me my brothers be



     Mess.     ’Tis true, Master, mine own eyes saw them dead.


     Gwaine.     Hell! who did the deed?


     Mess.     Sir Launcelot himself. He rode quick i’ the Court and lighted

  and hacked without looking at whom he met, to reach the Queen, whom bearing to horse, he stayed not to see who were dead or wounded but straight rode away.


     Gwaine.     This world or the next, he will answer me!
Hell! mine own two brothers, and all for a damned wench!
Queen or no, King, thou shalt answer here.
Yea, all shall answer for this damnèd business.


     Mordred.     Yea, I will help thee. ’Twas most unnatural,
Who never harmed him, he should serve them so.


     Gwaine.     Launcelot, Launcelot, now I cast thee out,
One world won’t hold us!


     Mordred.     This works my way. O World, thou art moulding swift
To my poor vengeance!
(To Arthur.) Sire what wilt thou do?


     Arthur.     To arms, to arms, we’ll siege him in his hold.
’Tis death that cures dishonor. He will reap
The swift dread harvest of Heaven’s retribution.


     Gwaine.     Would Launcelot were but two men, I’d slay him twice.
’Twould suit my feelings.