Poetical Tragedies

Mordred: A Tragedy in Five Acts.

by William Wilfred Campbell



SCENE IV.—Near the battlefield. Enter two Knights.

     1st Knight.     This day is Britain doomed and Arthur’s Court.
Rent and dismembered an old grisled war.


     2nd Knight.     Meseems the kingdom’s severed like two tides
That meet together in some mountain course
To whelm other. Arthur’s star grows dark,
And Mordred’s darker. ’Tis the Queen they say,
Hath cursed the realm with her godless loves.


Enter two other Knights, fighting on foot.


     1st Knight.     A Mordred! Ho! A Mordred!


     2nd Knight.     An Arthur! An Arthur! Have at you! (They close and

  each stabs the other. Both die.)


     1st Knight.     Thus is the kingdom rent like doomsday’s crack.
Such awful portents have been told abroad,
Since yesternight. Some say the world hath end.


     2nd Knight.     And what be they?


     1st Knight.     The crucifixes on the churches’ walls
Have trickled blood, and many abbey bells
Have tolled the midnight, rung by no man’s hand.
Yea, even the dead have risen from their graves.


     2nd Knight.     Ora pro nobis!


     1st Knight.     Some even say that Merlin hath come back
And prophesied the kingdom at an end,
And all last night men dreamed such fearsome dreams
Of blight and pestilence and spectres dire;
I fear me much the end of days hath come.


     2nd Knight.     How goes the fight?


     1st Knight.     Yea even fiercer, as two tidal waves,
That roar together on some mighty bore,
And meet in thunders. Never hath such war
Been known in Britain since the ancient days.
The bowman’s arrows darken all the sun.
The battle-axes clamor on the shields,
As on some morn the loud woodcutter’s din
By some bright hillside. Knight encounters knight
In serried thunders. All the kingdom’s turned
To one mad tournament of blood and flame.

(The battle is heard moving nearer. Both rush out. Another part of the field. Enter ARTHUR surrounded by knights.


     Arthur.     Now where is he, that monster, foul, deformed,
In shape and spirit, Nature calls my son?




     Mordred.     Here!


     Arthur.     Ah, Blot on all this sunlight, Creature dire,
Spawn of mine incest. There standest thou my sin,
Incarnate now before me, mine old doom,
Thou that wast stronger in thine influences
To work dread evil in this hideous world,
Than all the glory, all my good might win.


     Mordred.     Father!


     Arthur.     Yea, well say Father! Parent I this ill
That hath enrent my kingdom all in twain.
In that dread night of my licentious youth,
When I in darkness thy foul shape begot,
I worked a web of blackness round my fate,
And thine, distorted phantom of my sin,
Not all the tolling of sweet abbey-bells
And murmur of masses sung these thousand years,
Can sweep from this doomed kingdom. Father, yea,
There is no truce betwixt us. Thou art Death
To all that I hold dearest on this earth.
Thou stood’st betwixt me and my gladder fate,
The one black spot on all my glory’s sun.
In thee once more mine evil blackens in,
Reddens mine eyesight. Have at thee, foul Curse!


     Mordred.     Father!


     Arthur.     Have at you! They fight. (ARTHUR wounds MORDRED. He

  falls. A Knight stabs ARTHUR from behind.)


     Arthur.     Ho! all the sunlight blackens! Mordred! Oh!
My glory darkens! Curtain not yon sun!



     Mordred.     Yea, this is all and I were made for this,
To scatter death and desolation round
On this fair kingdom, ruin this sweet land,
And level all the pride of Arthur’s glory,
As men might level some great castle walls,
And sow with salt the fields of his desire,
And make him mock before the eyes of men.
Turn all his great joy into bitterness.
Yea, I his blood, and I were made for this.
Oh ancient, cruel Laws of human life,
Oh deep, mysterious, unfathomable Source
Of man’s poor being, we are ringed about
With such hard rinds of hellish circumstance,
That we can never walk or breathe or hope,
Or eye the sun, or ponder on the green
Of tented plain, or glorious blue of Heaven,
Or know love’s joy, or knotted thews of strength,
But imps of evil thoughts creep in between,
Like lizards in the chinks of some fair wall,
And mar life’s splendour and its fairness all.
’Tis some damned birth-doom blended in the blood
That prophecies our end in our poor acts.
Oh! we are but blind children of the dark
Wending a way we neither make nor ken.
Yea, Arthur, I had loved thee sweet and well,
And made mine arm a bulwark to thy realm,
Had I been but as fair as Launcelot.
What evil germ, false quickening of the blood,
Did breed me foul, distorted as I am,
That I should mar this earth and thy great realm
With my wry, knotted sorrows? Launcelot’s love
Was manly, kind, and generous as became
A soul encased in such propitious frame.
The kingly trees well turn them to the sun,
And glory in their splendour with the morn.
’Tis natural that noble souls should dwell
’Twixt noble features, but the maiméd soul
Should ever be found in the distorted shape.
But I had loved as never man hath loved
Did nature only plant me sweet at first.
(To his Knights.) And now I die, and blessed be my death,
More blessed far that I had never breathed.
Murder and Treason were my midwives dire,
Rapine and Carnage, priests that shrive me now.


Enter VIVIEN, disguised as a Squire.


     Vivien.     Mordred! thou diest!


     Mordred.     Who art thou?


     Vivien.     I am Vivien.


     Mordred.     Hence, hence Viper, incarnate Fiend.
Not natural, woman, but Ambition framed,
And all lust’s envy. Thou wert unto me
A blacker blackness. Did an angel come,
And whisper sweeter counsel in mine ears.
And trumpet hopes that all were not in vain,
But thou wouldst wool mine ears with malice dire,
And play upon the black chords of my heart.
Hence, Devil! Mar not these my closing hours.


     Vivien.     O, Woe! Woe! (Steals out.)


     Mordred.     (To the Knights.) Now bear me slowly to great Arthur’s

And let me place my hands upon his breast,
For he was mine own father! Alas! Alas!
So hideous is this nature we endure.


(The Soldiers place him by ARTHUR.)


How calm he sleeps, Allencthon, as those should
Who die in glorious battle. Dost thou know
Oh! mighty father that thine ill-got son,
Ill-got of nature and mysterious night,
To mar thy splendour and enwreck this world,
Now crawls to thy dead body near his death,
As would some wounded dog of faithful days,
To lick his master’s hand? Blame not, O King,
If thou somewhere may know what I here feel,
Thy poor, misshapen Mordred. Blame him not
The turbulent, treacherous currents of his blood
Which were a part of thine, nor let one thought
Of his past evil mar thy mighty rest;
I would have loved thee, but remember that.
Now, past is all this splendour, new worlds come,
But nevermore will Britain know such grace,
Such lofty glory and such splendid days.
Back of the clang of battle, back of all
The mists of life, the clamour and the fall
Of ruined kingdoms built on human days,
Arthur! Merlin! Mighty dead, I come!
(Springs to his feet.)
Ho! Horse! To horse! My sword! A trumpet calls!
A Mordred! (Dies.)