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Why, Madness, do you chew over these secret broodings and breathe your threats inwardly, but do not ready your torches for action? Make Gloucester’s wrongdoing complete. King, visit the men of Gloucester, who were once yours, and boast of your scepter, the reward of cruel murder. Brood on the uncertain fears of your brother’s realm. People stare at your handsome visage. Let the fickle York mob gape, admiring your august glory. Why drag out even slight delays? You will be completely miserable: let your criminality rage on further — for a brief time. Dare to do whatever crime your savage mind devises, let the King’s ultimate wickedness turn the realm topsy-turvy. Not yet have your hands dripped with kindred blood. Not yet are your royal nephews smothered, and in vain you must seek an incestuous marriage with your niece. Fill your father’s household with crime. Quickly let Buckingham’s anger learn to rage. Kill the tyrant, take the scepter — if you can. But you cannot, and you will pay a fitting penalty for such an upheaval. See, Richmond comes, the exile comes. He claims his promised kingdom and the royal marriage already arranged. Come, let swords be drawn. Stir hatreds, deaths, dire slaughter. Make an end to these quarrels. Lo, the exile will rule, nor let the King find exile. By your hand, Richmond, let Richard die. It is done enough. I, Madness, shall spare England hereafter, and seek for myself a new home.


BRACK. [Alone.] O fostering Ruler of the heavenly beings, Who governs the glory of the earth, spare Brackenbury. In Your mercy, stay the rage of this harsh sovereign and free my steadfast faith from grave punishment. In his thirst for power he never ceases to feel dread, nor is his sick ambition for rule ever free of cares. Terrible Richard burns with fear. He wields his illegal scepter with a timid hand, and is suspicious of new conspiracies against himself. Whilst the King, guarded by a huge escort, visited his own Gloucester in a quest for popularity, he pondered the deceits of uncertain Fortune, how easily power collapses before an onslaught, being exceedingly anxious about the unstable condition of the realm as long as his nephew draws breath. The fierce uncle is eager that his two nephews give up the ghost, to their own sorrow, and that the boys quench his fear for the kingdom with their own blood.
Just now, while I was intent on my prayers, John Green brought me a warrant from the King. He orders me to prepare a sad death for the little rulers and lay cruel hands on the princes whom I, the Governor of the Tower, hold in bondage. Edward, can Brackenbury alone kill your sons? I willingly obey royal commands, I serve you gladly, Richard. But oh, my piety forbids me to kill your brother’s offspring. The poor boys lie within a squalid cell, and only a butcher waits on the prisoners. Oh the dire wickedness of the sovereign, hideous, ferocious! My doubtful mind is torn between fear and hope, and in its distraction it is beset by confusion. Now I am terrified of the King’s threats. I know my own mind well enough, and it forbids me to be afraid, since I am conscious of no wrongdoing. Where the Fates pull me, I shall follow. What, Richard, are you preparing for your subject? What cruel inspiration do you have? What, brutal one, do you plan? I have been pious. I have never stained my hands with the blood of Kings. Why do you accuse me? I have kept the faith. I have been innocent, I have been guiltless. Does your reign alone fear no stain of sin? Why, Shame, do you stubbornly flee the Court and seek the humble cottage? Let him who would live piously forsake the Court. Splendor, glittering over-brightly, blocks the pious light of happy Fortune and my mind, stricken, is oppressed. Even if the Fates restrain me, willingly I shall come to you, Edward, as the sad messenger of your children’s murder, a wretch being stricken by the steel along with them.
But why does Tyrell hasten here from the King? Are we ruined? Alas, my heart dances with alarm. What heavy penalty does he prepare for me, a loyal man? Whatever it is, I shall gladly bear it, even if I suffer my downfall. [Enter Tyrell.]
TYR. [To himself.] Why, my cowardly mind, do you hesitate to carry out the King’s orders and imagine to yourself vain fears? He who thinks sad thoughts will greatly be afraid. Why, Tyrell, are you afraid to gratify your sovereign? The King commands. Necessity will be guiltless. You will free anxious Richard of great care, and the King’s liberal rewards will enrich you. The House of York will be content with its ruler, and so let the royal children breathe out their hateful life. What man foolishly wishes to fight on behalf of the dead, or is so insane as to defend the princes’ lifeless bodies. Whatever is to be dared will be dared. An over-nice sense of shame is a bad servant for a King. [To Brackenbury.] Brackenbury, glory of the knighthood, are the bastard whelps of their father still alive?
BRACK. The final day of their life has only been delayed.
TYR. Are you not terrified by the ruler’s dreadful anger?
BRACK. I willingly follow wherever the Fates summon me.
TYR. Is it not fitting to obey the King’s commands?
BRACK. It is never fitting for a King to command the basest things.
TYR. Is it right for those to live whom the sovereign hates?
BRACK. It is not right to hate those whom everyone loves.
TYR. Do you not think it reasonable for a ruler to be torn by anxiety for his kingdom?
BRACK. I think it criminal to heal a wound by doing mischief.
TYR. The realm cannot be put on a sound footing as long as they are alive.
BRACK. If they are dead, Richard’s tyranny will be hated.
TYR. The first art of government is to let yourself be hated.
BRACK. Calamity often bypasses us — but sometimes it crushes us.
TYR. The man who dreads unpopularity does not want to govern.
BRACK. Odious governments never endure.
TYR. Does it matter to you whether the boy lives or dies?
BRACK. Scarcely, as long as he does not die by my doing.
TYR. Does your hand fear defenseless boys?
BRACK. I, who have no fear of the military camp, am terrified of doing wrong.
TYR. This is the thanks with which you heedlessly repay your King?
BRACK. Yes, I repay no debt with crime.
TYR. Do you not fear the raging sovereign’s anger?
BRACK. A noble mind never yields to fear.
TYR. But the dread King levels many threats at you. Look, a tardy Phoebus sinks into the deep sea, yielding the empty sky for his sister to illuminate. So receive the King’s letter to you, bidding you immediately surrender to me the keys of the Tower, so that I can carry out the command this night.


BRACK. [Alone.] Oh blind desire for rule, oh the very great wickedness of this raging King, oh the criminal scepter of this uncle, dripping with his kinsmen’s blood! Noble boys, alas, kindred hands are destroying you, they oppress you little lads. Only your family can give you an enemy. After the boy learned that he had lost the throne, that his uncle held the stolen scepter, thus spoke the poor lad, drenching his cheeks with tears, drawing sighs from deep within his breast: “I care naught for the kingdom. I pray that my uncle does not rob me of my life.” Alas, what man of the Caucasus, what rude Indian could restrain his tears? Afterwards the poor boy took no interest in his appearance, his clothing hung loose and unfastened. The image of this sad, groaning prince always hovers before my eyes, nor do the little King’s complaints cease to strike my soul. But Tyrell makes his unhappy return here. [Enter Tyrell.]
TYR. Huge Dighton and Forrest the butcher are busy inside, doing their trusty job of murder. I shall wait until they accomplish the princes’ death.
BRACK. Have the two boys succumbed to their fate?
TYR. They are still alive. But Dighton and Forrest are preparing their end.
BRACK. Cannot the King’s anger be appeased in another way?
TYR. Fear, not anger, makes the King cruel.
BRACK. Tell me what answer the King made when Green brought him the news that the princes would never die by my sword.
TYR. When first he learned this, he fell into a great lethargy. The blood deserted his face and he grew gray as ash. From deep within his breath he sighted, and, striking his left side near his heart, he suddenly abandoned the throne. In his rage he strode along, shaking his head. He savagely bellowed in his silent breast, whence his blood finally rushed forth, seething as if pouring out of a furnace, and flooded his burning cheeks. And he grew quite red, as if dyed in the Red Sea or smeared with vermilion. His eyes blazed with a fiery glance, his hair stood up like erect bristles. He was set afire by the same torches as was Orestes, for the Furies goaded both to kill their relatives. They differ in one respect, however: that one was driven by his dead mother’s ghost, but he is greatly provoked by fear of his living nephews — and by his seething anger against you.
And on the night after the King received your answer, he groaned in the presence of his private page, and broke out with these sad lamentations: “Bah, what sane man would ever pledge his loyalty? Where is a grateful mind? Where has Piety exiled herself? Leaving this world, polluted by wickedness, she has gone into hiding, and now it is impossible to trust anybody. The men whom I nourished, as a father his sons, whom I imagined would be most faithful to myself should any sad necessity vex me, these have abandoned their parent and broken their faith. They no longer will dare anything at my bidding.” His page, standing nearby the sovereign, immediately responded: “But in the next room lies a man (I now make so bold as to say), of the sort who will gladly carry out the King’s command which that man refuses ever to obey, even if it be very arduous, so long as it pleases you.” When the King asked of him this man’s identity, he named me. On the instant the King rushed to my chamber. There he found me and my brother in bed. Then the King said playfully, “Does it please you to retire so early?” Then he called me aside and revealed his intentions for the princes’ quick and secret death. And I, seeing who was the man urging this, and at the same time seeing what sort of man I should become by obeying him, and being unable to tolerate the King’s lamentations, thereupon volunteered to do this deed for him. So at daybreak he gave me a letter written to you, which I was to hand-deliver. He ordered that you should turn over the keys of this lofty Tower to me, so that I might quickly carry out the King’s mandate, entrusted to me by night. [Enter Dighton and Forrest.]
DIGHT. Both lifeless boys are smothered.
BRACK. Woe is me, horror creeps through my limbs.
TYR. By what manner of death were the boys taken?
DIGHT. When the wandering evening star surveyed the baleful sky and the vigilant cock had announced the evening shadows, see here, while each nephew lay stretched out in bed and both boys were enjoying a pleasant sleep, we tiptoed into their cell and suddenly wrapped the brothers up in their bedclothes. When they were caught up, we leaned on them with might and main. After their faces were covered by feather pillows and their windways blocked by mattresses, soon both were deprived of air and smothered, since they could not breathe. See, both are dead and stretched out on the bed. [A curtain is briefly opened to reveal the dead boys.]
BRACK. Do I see the princes’ livid bodies? Now, alas, by this infanticide this bed is made a bier. What harsh man can restrain his tears in the face of such evils? Alas for me, they lie here, done in by their uncle’s deceit. What man of Colchis, what race dwelling by the Caspian Sea or belonging to a nomadic home in Scythia dares such a thing? Never did fierce Busiris sprinkle his altars with youthful blood, never did Diomedes feed tiny limbs to his herds as fodder.
TYR. It is well. Now, Richard, possess your brother’s throne in security, and possess the glories of sovereignty. [To Dighton and Forrest.] Bury them under the lowest stair of this gloomy dungeon. Let a sufficiently deep-dug grave hide the brothers, then let them quickly be covered with a cairn of rocks. Spread abroad rumors that the three Sisters took them off spontaneously. Pretend that the little princes died a sudden death. These are the King’s orders. Heed them zealously. Now take the keys, stubborn Brackenbury. [Exeunt Tyrell, Dighton, and Forrest.]
BRACK. Oh the fierce cruelty of our age! Oh the King’s harsh spirit! Oh his barbaric mind, savagely overthrowing the fixed laws of nature! Have you murdered the innocent princes, the pious boys, you monster, you Procustes? Have you murdered your own? Land, sky, gloomy realm of Tartarus, do you see this sad felony? Can you bear such an outrage, Saturn, bristling with your forked thunderbolt? Plunge your starry head in deep Acheron, radiant Titan, let day perish for the world. Who was ever such a foe to his family that he stained his hand with childish blood? Now, Nero, bloodstained by matricide, you are a pious man. This crime is greater than the unspeakable murder of Pelops. Only Medea slaughters tender children. It has always been shameful to kill a fellow citizen. It has been very foul to deprive a woman of the light. But to rob innocents, young ones, babes, of their life, who because of their youth do not know what life is, is an exceedingly horrible misdeed. What man who fiercely kills his own will spare others? A man who visits black death on the innocent, on those whom the greatest care commends to him as dear? Alas, alas, England, in what floods are you tossed? Depart, Piety, and let trust find itself a new home. Behold, a protracted thirst for blood is hovering over the kingdom.


QUEEN [Alone.] Alas, my heart quakes because of my recent fear. Chill dread seeps through my bloodless limbs. Thus do apparitions terrify me in the night, to my misery, and nightmares disturb me in my restlessness. But You, Father, Who makes the bright stars to turn and rules the fiery sun with its scattered light, avert this evil, baleful, gloomy omen. Now pleasant quiet has fallen on everything and an easy sleep has stolen over my weary face. I saw, alas, a menacing boar come trotting along. Gnashing, he gored my sons with his cruel tusk and savagely killed them. Mighty master of heaven’s palace, if any dire misfortune threatens my sons, let it flourish against this head, let the angry man’s thunderbolt sooner seek their mother. [Enter the Lady-in-Waiting.]
LADY [To herself.] When will there be any free time for slaughter, that will put an end to the stricken mother’s grief? Foolish one, will you conceal the sad news from the mother? Or does the mind delight in poring over all its sorrows, in storing up enduring miseries? [To the Queen.] Oh you, who once swelled with pride in your royal pomp, mighty Queen —
QUEEN Poor woman, why do you halt in mid-sentence? Your voice, though bidden, does not speak, your cheeks are disfigured by copious tears.
LADY The gnashing boar has gored with his tusk —
QUEEN What crime still remains?
LADY Ah, your sons —
QUEEN. I want to know my misfortunes immediately.
LADY Alas, both princes are foully smothered. [The Queen swoons.] Her shaken mind falters. Get up, alas, you poor woman. Ease your failing spirit. She breathes, she is reviving. Slow to come, death eludes the unhappy.
QUEEN Now you can rule, wicked uncle. Your fierce anger will not fear weak boys. Wield your evil scepter. Only one thing is lacking from your wrongdoing: now seek my blood. I, wretch that I am, shall not be a witness to your crime. In my misery, whom should I mourn? My kinsmen? My children? Or myself, whom the Fates have allowed to survive these evils? I, their mother, have murdered my sons. Edward, I killed you when I stropped your side of your escort. And then you, sweet boy, forsook asylum. A suppliant mother lowered to her knees, I pray You Who wield avenging fires, thundering Father, let Your missiles be hurled against this perjurer. May You in Your anger ransack Olympus for Your thunderbolts, and may heaven’s bombardment wreak vengeance on this impious man.
LADY No, think
calmer thoughts, soften your spirit, heal your heaving mind, ease your cares.
QUEEN Oh the uncle’s crime, such as cruel Procustes did not know, nor a wild man of Colchis! Oh the deceiving pledge of the impious Cardinal, to whom in my madness I entrusted my son! Oh dearest sons, my children, whom your cruel uncle’s sword has killed! Nor has
one crime sufficed for him. He begrudges me, your mother, your funeral rites.

Go to Act II of the Third Action