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BUCK. Venerable prelate of the Isle of Ely, once free, put aside your chagrin, even if you now linger in my hall as a prisoner. For although the savage ruler entrusted you to my faith, I promise not to be severe. You have instead a friend, a man like yourself. Now recollect the status of your prior life, and think on who you were, not who you are.
ELY I am fortunate because I feel myself free in this prison (if you will pardon the expression). But why should I not rue my fate, because a sign of your kind disposition has been lacking? However, in the midst of my afflictions I am consoled by the virtue of your spirit, which does not consider the abundance of your power so much as the wish of the needy.
BUCK. This indication of your desires is welcome to me, no matter how adverse these circumstances may appear to you. Since you handle me in such a friendly way, no matter how little I deserve it, I shall strive to ensure that you will eventually come to agree by experience that what I say is true. Do not your condemn your fate as hard, but rather approve of it. Nor think it such an evil that you are not free, but rather consider it a source of good cheer that you enjoy life while this tyrant holds the harsh reins of state. Think it a profit not to be beheaded. His bold rage granted you life — as long as he does not take it away.
With how many murders has he bloodied his mad hands? How many men has the rage of his mind consigned to death? I cannot say, the words fail me. My sorrow bids me be silent. Oh the crime, incredible in any age, which posterity will not credit! This uncle, alas, drove his nephews out of the kingdom. Just drove them out of their kingdom? He put the poor boys to death. My sorrow scarcely admits a bridle, it seeks revenge.
ELY Belonging to a famous race of Dukes, you give excellent advice. This proverb once circulated amongst our forefathers, that empires gained by evildoing are soon destroyed. Unless you devise a cure for this injury, infection will seek out the hidden wounds of the realm. There is equal glory in killing a tyrant and an enemy.
BUCK. But I would prefer that he wield his scepter in safety (perhaps his wrath will harm only a few) than that he he be defeated and dethroned. He is not the sort who is savage to his kinsmen. Anger, which knows no bounds, provokes him with its goad. However, I know his prudent brain looks out for the nation’s welfare, and that peace and fairness will flourish for our citizens. Therefore he is to be praised, who is gripped by concern for the kingdom, and to whom the security of his citizens is dear.
ELY [Aside.] Arrogantly he spews out his hatred, and cannot restrain himself. He mingles secret anger with his compliments. So cautiously excite his hatred of the King, but in a way that you estimate will make him follow you the more. [Aloud.] It is foolish to conceal that which you immediately betray. I know that you will place no trust in me if I only wanted to curry favour with you by saying other than I think. I swear by God, if my prayers had not gone unanswered, and if the glory of the realm (which passed to Duke Edward) had remained firm for Henry, then, Henry, I would not have forsaken your party. But when the turnings of the Fates decreed otherwise and they gave the scepter to King Edward, rather than leaving it intact for Henry, as I would have preferred, in my unhappiness I was not so provoked by anger that I was misled into serving as the pious champion of a dead man. What hostile man dares kick against a victor? Afterwards I prudently deferred to the victor’s wishes and was quickly received into his good graces. In your lifetime, Edward, I never broke faith with you, and I prayed that the glorious scepter of the realm be given to your children. “May the King’s progeny wield England’s enduring reins.” What God wove is not for me to unravel. Yet the man who was Regent of the nation and now shines on the throne — I shall restrain myself. Rather, sacred matters have a greater claim on an elderly Bishop, not matters of state. Now I am sufficiently schooled by my misfortunes, prayer alone befits me.
BUCK. [Aside.] He was speaking of the King, then bit his tongue. I will gladly hear his wise thoughts about the King. [Aloud.] Continue, Father, Do not suppress what you started to say, and you may speak your mind in safety. In this there is not only no danger, but an advantage more pleasing to your wishes will soon befall you. You will be my advisor regarding uncertain matters, which was my intention when by my entreaties I obtained custody of you in my home. Imprisonment at another’s hands would perhaps be more inconvenient for you. Here you should regard yourself as a free man.
ELY I feel a sense of gratitude proportionate to your deeds, illustrious Duke, but I am not inclined to discuss the doings of princes. Here deceit often lurks behind a pleasant front. The things that are well said, men often twist to ill advantage. A fable of Phrygian Aesop teaches this anxiety. The lion decreed the following law for the animals. He sternly announced the penalty of death unless every horn-bearing animal should quit the forest. A wild animal who had only a bulging forehead, fearing the King’s command, unhappily made ready to flee. It chanced that a fox met him as he scurried along. Curious, he asked the reason for this flight. The animal said, “I am fleeing the woods, since I fear the lion’s decree.” The fox laughed and spoke to the creature. “You fear in vain, silly thing. The lion has no interest in you. Your forehead only bulges, it has no horn.” “I know that well enough,” said the hapless animal. “But if the gnashing lion were to say that there was a horn, what then? If I am killed, I will surely make a fine speech for the defense.” He gave a smile. “May everything turn out for the best!”
BUCK. No worry, the roaring lion will not harm you, nor will the boar wound you with his tusk. The King will hear nothing of what you say to me in private.
ELY By Hercules, if he were to hear this conversation and not take it amiss, then I would not be afraid. Possibly he might even be grateful. But on the other hand, if (as I predict) his bad disposition were to do the interpreting, and the truth were not to be weighed in the balance, then this conversation would kindle a great evil for the both of us.
BUCK. [Aside.] I want to hear this, whatever it is. [Aloud.] Readily I shall take whatever responsibility may be required. Do not be afraid. Just humor me, Father.
ELY By Hercules, since the Regent possesses the scepter I shall not comment on the rightfulness of his claim. I would pray (although humbly) for that which is needful for the salvation of our land, whose reins he now grasps and of which I have been a loyal citizen. Would that a merciful God had added to Richard’s endowments — although he abounds in these, and scarcely requires my praise — that which He in His kindness has more liberally bestowed upon Your Grace. Then he would flourish more in his natural endowments and would better manage the reins of government. But I shall restrain myself. Better for me to keep silent about these things.
BUCK. [Aside.] I wonder why he stops, why he lapses in mid-speech. I shall speak in earnest with this trembling priest. [Aloud.] Worshipful Father, why do you stay your uncertain mind? Your voice begins, checks itself as you start broken sentences, finishing nothing. Your breathing is heavy. I neither know what loyalty you nurse towards the King, nor what affection you have cherished for myself. Inasmuch as you, a preacher, heap praises on me (although I find nothing praiseworthy in myself), my mind is all the more uncertain, but I have the suspicion that your brain is seething with hatred or that you are moved with blind love when you conceive these ideas. Either an idle fear inhibits you from daring speak your mind, or a sense of shame that scarcely befits an old man. Speak out. To you in your doubtfulness I pledge my honor. These secluded premises are safe. I shall listen to you as if I were a deaf man.
ELY [Aside.] What is it? You perceive his promises. The Duke is exceedingly swollen with pride. Greedily he yearns for honors, he hates the sovereign. Being in seclusion, why are you afraid to reveal your mind to him? You are paving the way either for the King’s downfall or (if you ignite the torches of the Duke’s wrath) your own exile. [Aloud.] Ever since I have been a prisoner (if you will pardon this expression) according to the royal will, although I have experienced nothing of unpleasant confinement, I have been easing my careworn heart with books. In my reading I learned an excellent maxim, that nobody is born free to live for himself alone. Rather, his parents have a claim on part of him, as do his kinsmen. But most of all his fatherland, that common parent of us all, ought to allure a dutiful man. When I reflect on this, when I ponder the condition of the nation, which this tyrant now oppresses with his yoke just as much as the great glory of Kings used to shine, I want to pay my debt to my nation. His reign promises a collapse of the realm. But a greater source of hope is not wanting for our hapless citizens, as long as I see your body, your fair form, the intellect and matching eloquence, the great resources, the rare virtue of this Duke to whom, above all others, the safety of the state is dear. I congratulate my tottering nation, to which is available a Peer able to heal such ills, who can manage evenhandedly the reins of state now grasped by Gloucester the tyrant (even if that ancient word scarcely pleases him, since he wields the scepter unlawfully.).
Nor would I detest is reign, if this royal honor had not changed the erstwhile Duke’s unbridled habits, and if he had not acquired a new personality along with his new title. Oh noble realm of England, which has suffered many woes, which will suffer worse ones if this tyrant rules!
But why should I continue to rehearse his great misdeeds? I know what kind of road he has paved to the kingship. He has stained his hands with the murder of those Nobles he thought to oppose his wicked intentions. Oh accursed greed for power, where do you drag men’s minds? But his criminal madness rushes onward. It dares whatever it has grown to desire, scarcely putting a limit on its evildoing. And he has accomplished a crime beyond credence: will any age believe that a son by himself accuses his mother of unchastity? Unfilially he brands her with a false mark of shame, falsely calls his two brothers bastards, also stamps his nephews with an impious mark of disgrace. He condemns his brother’s offspring as being of uncertain parentage. This is the preservation of a family’s reputation?
But why do I complain of this? Was this the end of his crime? It was but a step along the way: his wickedness did not stop here. Now, possessing his brother’s throne, he was not afraid to dare greater things. Alas, this wretched uncle stained his hands with the killing of his kinsmen, slaughtering the innocents. Thus let the glowing power of a thunderbolt burst forth! Or will he spare others, who cruelly murders his own? What fool can hope for better things? His baleful wickedness foreshadows greater monstrosities.
Now, therefore, let the condition of our times give us warning. By the eternal Godhead, by England’s glory, if your family, distinguished by its its titles, is dear to you, succor the wretched, break off these delays of our destiny. Seize the crown, dethrone the defeated tyrant. Claim the glory of this usurped throne. Nor let a just cause frighten you in your hesitation. Defend your fellow citizens, let the safety of the nation be dear to you. Now you can scarcely lack helpers for this work. The entire populace, rebellious, mutters defection. They would rather submit to the yoke of the barbarous Turk than have an impious King sport with their blood. How much more they would make you sovereign, in whom a distinguished race gleams! Sleep on my advice, and do not spurn the proffered throne of England when you are able to help many men. Nor let the labor deter you, if you think there is any in it. But grant that it is arduous: since it is for the public peace of the nation, it is scarcely to be shirked.
And if you adamantly refuse, swear by the true God, by the faith of a great Duke, and also by the oath you took to St. George when you were first inducted into the distinguished Order of the Garter, that this conversation will bring nothing down upon my head. I beg this of you, supported by the common prayers of our citizens. If you seek to transfer the scepter to another’s hand, return the defeated House of Lancaster to its ancestral throne or marry Edward’s daughter to the proud bed of some Peer. Thus the tyrant will receive his unholy comeuppance.
[Aside.] Why is he so silent? I am amazed. I fear very much for myself. He sighs, Does he deceive my trust in him?
BUCK. I see your heart is torn by fear. I regret that by my silence I have given you grounds for grief. Bless you for your virtue, I shall not break my oath. Oh great Governor of heaven and Judge of this world, how greatly the English race is indebted to You! Merciful God, Who often protects the reeling state of the nation with a kindly hand, now at last decide a limit for these heavy sorrows. Father, mercifully inspire our minds, to that by Your guidance we might seek a ruler to wield a just scepter with a royal hand, to bring succor to our exhausted affairs. Reverend Bishop of the See of Ely, you have given me sufficiently clear proof of your disposition towards me, and I can testify about your devotion to your country.
Our guilt is equal, so fear no betrayal. I shall candidly speak my mind, and say why I sided with him as a supporter. After Edward, fourth of that name, was not able to ward off the distaffs of the Fates, who required him to die, I was not well disposed towards his children. For in recognition of my merits he had offered me no reward worthy of my lineage, nor in his envy had he displayed his esteem by granting me high titles. Therefore at the time I scarcely cultivated the bereft sons of this unfriendly father. There is a popular expression that a kingdom is easily overthrown when a child holds the reins as King. Then, Richard, I supported your undertakings as a friend. At that time I used to think you a merciful man, though now I see you are savage. By this deception he greatly seduced our faithful minds into declaring him by popular acclaim Guardian both of England and of the King. His mind was so inflamed by this new rank that, although he occupied the second highest position in the realm, he immediately became dissatisfied with anything less than the scepter. He demanded for himself all the dignities of kingship as a temporary measure, until his weak nephew would outgrow his tender years. And when he saw us hesitate, and that we were not breaking our oath towards the nation, then this evil uncle proclaimed that his nephews were bastards. In the end we believed him and swiftly handed over the reins of our kingdom. He condemned Duke Clarence’s son: his father’s crime nullified his claim to rule.
Thus, Richard, you procured your throne. You rush in whatever direction your madness has drawn you: let it be permissible to do whatever you want. Now it is reasonable to fear no man, you have no dread enemy. Nobody can now obstruct your country’s ruination, you have savagely deprived a mother of her offspring nor, wretch do you abstain from family bloodshed. An unjust uncle, you killed your little nephews. And when news of their murder reached my ears, a sense of horror stole over my trembling limbs, the blood deserted my distended veins, my joints grew slack with dread. Are we naively promising ourselves safety when the security of our homes is not guaranteed? The many injuries I have suffered condemn you as unjust in my eyes. In vain I lodged just demands for the estates promised me, I claimed the title of High Constable. Wounded, I bore this ungrateful rejection badly. Will he ever give me new things, he who has never granted me anything belonging to himself? But even if he had given me something, he would not give me his thanks. For by my help he possesses the splendor of kingship. I acknowledge my fault. Lacking my assistance, he would never have taken his brother’s scepter in his ferocious hand. My crime rebounds against myself. I have inflicted a wound on my country. I shall atone for this if I devise a remedy. So I shall play the physician, as I have already determined when this hard man rejected my legitimate plea.
I shall restrain myself no longer. One after another, I shall tell you each thing that is hidden in my silent mind. When I perceived the King’s mind to be shot full of criminality, love turned to hatred and I prepared for revenge. this man I had suffered — I misliked his appearance, I could not look him in the face. I departed the royal Court and sought my home. When I began my journey I thought that the scepter could easily be snatched and transferred to my hand after the outraged populace bade me rule. So for a long time I took pleasure in the elusive title of King and, in my quest for the throne, wrongly regarded myself as the closest Lancastrian pretender. But while I was of this opinion, suddenly the Countess of Richmond met me on the way and asked me whether I would petition for her son’s return from the exile, if the King should be so kind as to grant it. Then, she said, she would arrange a betrothal of her son to a daughter surviving King Edward. She was unconcerned about a dowry: the royal favor would be a sufficient gift, nor did the mother seek more. Thus my kingship evaporated, when it forcibly struck my mind that the first claim on the throne belonged to this woman and her son. My throne was a dream, and I claimed the crown in vain. At first I fended off the Countess’ pious entreaties, while my mind pondered these maternal prayers more deeply. I finally concluded that, by divine inspiration, her intellect had devised a great good for England. If the two warring families, each laying dubious claim on the throne, were to join in marriage, this would mean everlasting tranquillity for our citizens and bind together a solid, sure treaty of peace. And there would be an assured heir for a doubtful England.
ELY O certain hope for our nation, salvation, solace! A kindly God begins to regard us afflicted ones. Oh sacred rights of a legitimate marriage for England, I congratulate you. Rejoice, consolation is coming. Now, to whom shall we reveal such secrets?
BUCK. First we must ascertain the mother’s mind.
ELY Now our undertakings will go according to our wishes. Look, a trusty servant of the Countess approaches and God, albeit slow to act, assists us unfortunates. [Enter Bray.] Bray, servant of your mistress the mighty Countess, act as the welcome messenger of salvation. Our storm-tossed raft nears the harbor of peace. Soon the born heir will wield the scepter, if he will obligate himself by oath to marry King Edward’s eldest daughter. Let the mother therefore strive for the happy reign of her son, so that our impious King might be dethroned.
BRAY Gladly I shall bear such happy news to my mistress, and I am at your service in all things. [Exit.]
BUCK. At last I shall take rightful revenge on the King. He will get little joy from his throne, gained so wickedly. Now the savage boar will find himself a mighty lion, jut as strong with his claws as he is with his tusks. Now pile crime on crime, cruelly drench your hands with murderous gore. Continue to deny me my rights so unfairly. Swollen, play the master, keep up your high spirits. An avenger-God pursues the arrogant from behind. You will be forced to hand over what of your own free will you deny me. Lately at York this haughty man, bloated with pride, encircled with the crown, shining in splendid garments, offered his face to be gawked at by the gaping citizenry. Likewise he crowned his wife, and the fickle mob heaped divine honors on him. His lofty pride portends a downfall.
ELY You, you will boldly punish the tyrant with death. If I were free, unfettered by your chains, and sufficiently protected by my island, I would not fear the threats of the raging King. Now give me leave to depart.
BUCK. A throng, when scattered, loses its power. A united band poses a stronger threat to its enemies. Tarry awhile, until I collect soldiers. Armed guards will protect you on your way.


The Countess mother, elated by hearing Bray’s news about the marriage of her son, that if the Earl of Richmond enters into a betrothal with King Edward’s eldest daughter she may hope for the lost throne, has ordered me to hasten to the Queen. I am to test her mind as if acting on my own initiative: as a trained physician, I can mingle with my medical advice talk about this holy alliance and the Countess of Richmond’s promised marriage. So now, Lewis, you must faithfully carry out these instructions. Persuade the mother not to refuse the Earl her daughter’s hand.


Against my will I am obliged to desert the Duke’s hospitality. His disorderly planning causes me much anxiety. Therefore I shall consult my interests with this speedy escape. How much I now miserably fear the clutches of my enemies! But I shall make my way cautiously, seeking my island. Soon I shall take ship and cleave the salt sea. As a guest, I shall observe these wars from afar. A suppliant, I beseech you, mighty Judge of the universe, protect Your servant from the savage foe!


LEW. Queen, you who preserve the memory of your marriage with chaste fidelity, cease your tears. I have hopes that the end of your ills is at hand. Summoned by my entreaties, for a moment lend my entreaties a friendly ear. I have discovered a means whereby the truculent tyrant can pay his deserved penalties and your nieces can again wield the scepter with a happy hand, when our harsh King has been deposed. Richard has excited the hatred of the Peerage and the Commons, who are ardent for the overthrow of his rule. Now the people are wild with mutterings that a yoke has been imposed heavier than they can bear. Can we hope for the friendly reign of this prince? The uncle has given his nephews over to death. The citizens’ complaints strike high heaven. They cannot love someone whom they curse in public. The people would shake this servile yoke from off their neck, if Henry Earl of Richmond, now an exile, were the acknowledged heir to the throne. He is the assured Lancastrian pretender. If you bid him marry your daughter, no other claimant could argue his right to the throne.
QUEEN What happy news strikes my ears? What do I hear? Is my poor mind gullible? Even people less wretched than myself give easy credence to that which they crave, but cantankerous Fortune vetoes their wishes. Trust is always open to rumor, to its harm. The tyrant rules, Earl Henry is an exile. The public is of two minds, popularity is a shifting thing. What avenue to the throne is open to my daughter?
LEW. Your tremulous fear will make it harder to obtain your wish. Have faith in our cause. The salvation of our citizens is putting up a fight. A prudent mother, consider your family’s interests. Are you prostrate, heedless of the recent murder of your offspring? Why do you thus allow yourself to go unavenged? Let your grief for the killing of your kinsmen and the slander of your husband provoke you.
QUEEN. My mind promises hope, sweeping me along against my will. I would like to give my daughter Elizabeth’s hand in marriage, but Henry’s mother will perhaps spurn my offer. Seek her out, discover whether her old family grudge survives. It can be turned aside by the misfortunes of her exiled son, so that the family can be lifted out of its misery and be made powerful.
LEW. Your Majesty, I hasten to do your bidding.
QUEEN May God bless our plans. Happily I go forward with a confident step.

THE DUKE OF BUCKINGHAM (To his soldiers.)

Soldiers, let our enemy fall by an avenging hand. And next, whoever was an accomplice of the tyrant must be laid low, sharing in his punishment. Let our harsh sorrow show what anger can accomplish. Would that I could pour the blood out of this hateful fellow as a libation to God! There is no better sacrifice to Jove, no victim more suitable for drenching His altar with blood, than an unjust ruler or an impious tyrant. Nobody long retains a violent empire. Who is so mad as to hope that a kingdom can long flourish, or faith be preserved, by means of so much wrongdoing? I will demonstrate to you the wiles of his criminal mind. When he saw war was being prepared, he soon dispatched friendly letters. He promised me lands, denied me nothing. I perceived the trick and temporized, begging his pardon. Offended by this rebuff, he ordered me to come immediately. So far I have refused, but I am coming. At length I am coming, Richard — but to your harm. Hostile, I shall appear as an avenger, your enemy, the author of peace for the poor English. The Marquis of Dorset, escaping asylum, is collecting a large band of troops at York. The men of Devonshire follow Courtenay as their leader, and the holy Bishop of Exeter assists his brother’s forces. Guildford, a knight, marches against the impious tyrant with a throng of Kentish soldiers. Our enemy will be killed. These men seek war. Let this harsh butcher of his own kin pay the penalty.
So cut down this tyrant, this plague on his own nation, since his sacrifice is welcome to the people, since there are so many supporters eager to protect our party and revive our nation. And as general I am willing to undergo all hardships so that your enemy will perish, this fierce Nero. What do we need? Why do our pious weapons hesitate? It is very silly to think that treacherous enemies are defeated by our falling down and assaulting Jove with prayers. Let swords be drawn. We must join our forces. Rush to arms. A fierce enemy awaits you. Fight bravely. Let man struggle against man. Raise up the banners, let the trumpet signal battle and each soldier be excited by the raucous bugle.

Go to Act III of the Third Action