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GLOUC. Most splendid Rivers, glory of your house, guardian of the youthful King, my noble lord. Just as Electra snatched her brother from her mother’s menace and preserved him for his father’s kingdom, so you faithfully escort your nephew from the land of Wales and return him safe to his nation. England is grateful to you for its sovereign, for the return of this sweet pledge of the realm’s future security. With justice the crowds sing praises to your loyalty. Our efforts are pleasing to all Britain, and we have expressed equal gratitude to you. Wales knows your selfless efforts, and this long journey bears equal witness to your care for the King, now that Wales has lost its Prince. When the Titan with his flaming locks returns day to the world and routs the flitting shadows, together we shall join the King on the road leading to Stony Stratford. At daybreak we shall push on at a fast pace, since that one place cannot lodge so many Nobles.
RIV. O glorious Claudian, Regent of this land, noble Duke and scion of the royal family, my sense of duty bids me place at the King’s disposal whatever assets Fortune has granted me. My life, owed to him, must be laid down in battle, if the threats of the enemy cannot otherwise be broken. By rights, this night I owe much to you, since I have been a guest at your table. Now a welcome drowsiness relaxes my body, and I must take my weary self to bed. I hope for a quiet sleep tonight. [Exit.]
GLOUC.Your most noble Grace, star of Buckingham, to whom once a stag, revealing himself, gave a name, and Hastings, born of a line of noble fathers, observe: with night summoned, the sun lets go his reins and bathes his horses’ sweaty manes in the sea, and the moon surveys an empty sky as she enjoins quiet on mankind. A gleaming escort of stars follows, spreading a faint light in the sky. A little farther along a place will be entirely free for us, where no companion can secretly overhear. Don’t you see how badly off we Nobles are? Don’t you see how long the virtue of the Peerage has been spurned? Although we belong to the King’s high bloodline, and our family is distinguished by great titles, we are nevertheless granted no access to the King. They refuse to let an uncle live with his nephew. Where will such a mother’s impudence come to an end? Already England’s glory has yielded to a woman. See here, our trustworthiness is doubted. Our due honour is buried and our noble blood, an object of scorn, has become tainted. Now the sacred guardianship of the King is entirely entrusted to his mother’s kin, although we scarcely yield to them in honor and although our loyalty to our nephew is equal to theirs. It hardly befits his mother’s low born family — lowborn except that lust for the kingdom rashly inspired her marriage — to deny her son his noble uncles and surround him with baser companions. This is dishonorable to the sovereign and to us. Rather, he will be guarded by a more powerful retinue, because evil awaits us, if any man of the sort who bear ill will against us should shut up the royal person and intercept his first affections, so that they themselves may grow old in his favor. The mind, once bent in a given direction (and deceits beguile naive boys) does not even in its later years reject that which has long pleased it. Mature age, having recourse to its original affections and delights, gives its approval. Nor, once, did Edward the Fourth correct himself, though he was older than this boy, and although for a long time his stepmother greatly encouraged his self-discipline, so slow to develop.   Alas, how often he used to repent his acts, even if his tardy conscience did not put right his earlier mistakes, as I am afraid Lord Clarence learned. Too well, I fear, Clarence knew how readily my gullible brother used to defer to his wife. Too much, alas, too much our alleged evildoings goaded him on, because a wife despises anyone whom her husband favors. How long this harsh fate oppressed our affairs! How much ruin could the treacherous Queen have created, if my clever mind had not averted it! But He, the blessed One Who makes the heaven to whirl with His touch and punishes sad crime with His harsh thunderbolts, freed me with His strong right hand. Ah me, how often my brother, stirred up in one of his short-lived tantrums by the trickery of these folk, killed off people condemned to harsh death, vainly calling on Jove for mercy! In his anger he was never wont to spare his own blood — alas, he added his own kinsmen to his heap of victims.
But I am bewailing old evils while a new one threatens. For if only our common enemy clings to the King’s side, and if the House of Grey, hating us, will crowd about the throne, then soon our enemies’ power will destroy us. This savage family will dare misuse the King’s name to our ruin. May provident father Jove prevent this, since at his death Edward sanctified the holy truce and our ancient wound is healed by peaceful times — and because we have mutually joined hands with pretended pledges of peace. When peace had been made, the King’s sacred power was strong than the doubtful alliances of the Nobles, and at the royal command we struck a treaty. Is anyone so touched by insanity that in his folly he believes a new friend can be made out of an old enemy? Does a short friendship last longer in the mind than an enduring hatred nursed for many years? So now we must make our plans. The longer evil creeps along, the stronger it becomes, the more force it gathers.
BUCK. Claudian Regent, prince of the royal blood, since unhappy England seems to burn again with churning tumult, and civil war begins to grumble, I have ordered my agent to whisper in your ear with secret murmur this formal statement: the Duke of Buckingham will follow your standard. For a long time I have sought to meet you face to face, so that we could speak together. The insolent Queen mistreats us. This crime out to be put down immediately. Evil, once born, begets further wrongdoing and knows no limit. You ought to cure such a plague upon the kingdom. The Peerage will tolerate anything, rather than allow the Queen to sport with our blood, rather than that this fierce woman should rouse her son against us.
GLOUC. For this, Your Grace, I call you the defender of the nation the protector of England, reeling from a mother’s crime. I call You to witness, You of the heaven who prescribes laws for kings, and you, ye heavenly hosts, that I seek only to revive England’s ancient honor. A grave wound needs strong medicine. The Queen is absent, unable to aid her captive relatives. Now it is possible safely to remove from the King all the pestilences of his realm. Now it is proper to restrain sleeping Rivers and to lock this guest in the building. If he makes his escape, then he only proves his guilt. [A servant appears.] You, my man, you must seek the keys to this house where Rivers has recently retired as a guest. If they are denied to you, say you are acting by royal authority. Let no servant break outside, but keep them all shut within. And secretly instruct my own men, although dark night looms and it is not yet day, that they should guard my person as we approach our nephew at daybreak.
HAST. If you rashly chain the Queen’s kinsmen in a gloomy dungeon, the fickle mob will immediately riot, since you are passing unfair judgments. You accuse men scarce guilty of crimes or misdeeds.
GLOUC. They both injure their sovereign’s dignity and plot harm against the Nobility. They seek to tear England asunder, although the decrees of the Royal Council by rights ought to have appointed me, the King’s uncle, Regent of this land. The Marquis, brother of the Greys, has plowed the British Sea with his huge fleet. Is he able to arm so many troops for our destruction, and squander the royal treasure, piled up by so many kings?
HAST. But if Lord Grey sees his uncle bound in chains, he will immediately gather a band of soldiers and put a close guard on Edward. Trembling England will take up arms. Civil war will pull apart our miserable people, everything will burn with the frenzy of war, and the people will purge away this wrongdoing with our slaughter.
GLOUC. Watchful guards defend all the roads, so that no man can break his way though Northampton and reach the King before us. I have decided that, after the day-star has dispelled the flitting shadows and the shining torch of Phoebus has routed the night, we should be the first to see the King, so that thus our loyalty, welcome to the sovereign, will shine forth.
BUCK. Direct my strong right arm. My zeal cannot be overcome. No effort can tire out my anxious care for you, our great Duke. I shall never betray you.
HAST. Sooner will the heaven be merged with the sad Underworld, stars will swim in the sea, fire befriend the raging floods, night conquer day, than you will have cause to condemn my loyalty. [Enter Lord Rivers.}
RIV. [To himself.} I know not what dreadful evil my mind foretells. My limbs shiver with fear, my heart dances with dread. I wonder why these people ask for the keys of the inn. What great change of affairs has come about? These men loaded last nights table with a feast. Are they about to confine me, to punish me with a shameful death? They are my friends, and loyalty dislikes deceit. My mind vacillates, cannot decide what it wants. If I flee, there is no safe place for refuge. If I hide, then in my folly I shall appear conscious of guilt. Well then, the innocence of my consciences rules out any fright, and I am resolved to stay. Whatever comes to pass, I shall bear it. I shall approach the Dukes to hear what is the matter.
GLOUC. Oh, you enemy of the King, you audacious, impious rascal! You aim to visit punishment on the Nobility, you sow insolent discords. You invoke the royal will to our destruction, and, in your madness, you disturb the realm with your quarrels. You will be responsible, so you think, for this unspeakable crime.
RIV. Great prince, think nothing of the kind of me. Let my loyalty, I beg, be free of this accusation.
GLOUC. Such a wicked threat against your King! Shall we allow you freely to seek our blood? Will you alone assault the high glory of the English? [To his followers.] You, punish this man, lock him up in a dark dungeon. The rest of you, guard my person as escorts.
RIV. Where will you drag me? What penalty does mighty Fortune decree? What evils now await me? If they want to put me to death, let them condemn me by a public trial. What hope of safety do I have?


ED. Although, bound by love of my country, I have left Wales and hurry along, I gladly leave Stony Stratford since they tell me that Gloucester is hastening here, as that single place cannot hold so many Nobles.
BUCK. Encircled by his kin, Edward now approaches. You who rejoice in your ancestral lineage, proceed. Let the commoners follow.
GLOUC. Long live the glorious King of England!
ED. Your sight is pleasing to me, uncle, since I have lately left barbaric regions. I return thanks equal to your good wishes.
BUCK. May God confirm your happy reign!
ED. I likewise praise your loyalty, your noble Grace.
GLOUC. My irresistible nature has dedicated my loyalty to your bidding, and my noble birth forbids me to deceive the King, although in other matters my sense of public duty commands my faith. Hostile fire will inhabit the waters, 7a ship will sail the stars, and a strange oak will rise up in the savage sea, if ever false loyalty corrupts me, heedless of you. Gladly I will give my life for you in battle. I seek to die dutifully, hostile to your enemies.
What ambition tempts you, arrogant Grey, or your brother and savage Rivers, so that you design to gain power over your prince and split the Nobility with foul discord? Behold, you disturb the English with your base quarrels, and the flower of high noble blood is made a mockery. Why does the Marquis of Dorset persist in threatening us? He brazenly broke into the Tower of Belinus, and with his greedy hand he loots the royal treasure and burdens the wide sea with a great fleet.
ED. I do not know what my half-brother the Marquis has been doing. Believe me, I have never doubted the loyalty of my uncle and his brother Grey.
GLOUC. Indeed, glorious King, such machinations are hidden from your ears. Rather, secret crime is at work. I say you are guilty of treason, wretched Grey. I declare that Vaughan is party to the crime, and at the same I call you, treacherous Haute, a betrayer of the nation [To his men.] Hide them in a squalid prison at once. Let them pay severe penalties to the nation.
A SERVANT OF THE KING Poor boy! He waters his cheeks with tears as he sees his brother dragged off to sad chains.
GLOUC [Overhearing.] I dismiss you from your service, my man, no do I wish you to stay at the Prince’s side. [To one of his own servants.] You, stand by the sovereign as a faithful companion. Constant toil will bind you to the King. [All the rest exit, leaving the servant to the King behind alone.]


SERV. K. This weak boy is not bearing up under the weight of his father’s kingdom. Overcome by its own powers, it is in a state of collapse. Sacred majesty, protected only by its own name, contemplates its most intimate enemies, while ambition secretly plans its baleful ruin. The credibility of this mistrusted reign is small, and the covert infighting of the land allows the anxious prince no rest. The man of humbler station is safer, and he will not be tormented by fear of losing the scepter or by the unequal rank of his parents’ families. Almighty God, Who makes the bright stars to turn and pains the globes in the sky with fire, defend the King of England, so that he, the true heir, may give laws to our land! [A servant of the Duke of Gloucester approaches, bearing a dish.] What servant quickly approaches? Where do you so haughtily direct your step?
SERV. G. The noble Rivers has sent me to his nephew.
SERV. K. Are you one of the Duke’s jailors?
SERV. G. As a loyal follower, it is my habit to be at his side.
SERV. K. why have you come here, acting as the uncle’s messenger to his nephew?
SERV. G. When hunger began to gnaw at dinnerless Gloucester, they set the Duke’s table with elegant foodstuffs. He intently surveyed the feast and sent choice morsels to Rivers. And he bade him put up with these troubles with a calm mind: nothing in these matters needs be feared.
SERV. K. Was Rivers so foolish as to reject these gifts?
SERV. G. The man whom long experience has taught to bear misfortune, as often as harsh Fortune thunders at him, has less need of consolation for his afflicted life. So after Rivers had expressed his heartfelt thanks, he commanded that these dainties be taken to Grey. Unaccustomed sadness has shattered him, and, since he is young, he has not learned how to cope with reversals. Rivers hopes the Duke’s kind words will steady his nerve, and that the supper will reassure his distraught mind. But now I must carry out such a great man’s orders. (Exit.)
SERV. K. Does falsehood lurk behind an innocent front, waiting to wound the unwary deeply? Or does a changed fortune bless us by a happy chance, freeing these poor men from the terrors of prison? May the end of such a storm turn out for the best! (Exit.)

Go to Act III of the First Action