To see a commentary note, click on a blue square. To see the Latin text, click on a green square.
ACT IV, SCENE i
LORD HASTINGS [Alone.]
In squalor the Queen sits in the holy shrine. Her kinsmen languish in bondage, and by our vote Gloucester is now declared Regent of England. The Great Seal is taken away from the Archbishop of York. The Claudian has administered a vigorous tongue-lashing to this fellow, since he betrayed the Seal to a weak woman. A happy lot will bless everything. Our enemies are prostrate, and now await a sorry death at Pomfret. Hasten, Fates, let them pay heavy penalties soon! But why do I hesitate to approach the sacred Council?
RICHARD DUKE OF GLOUCESTER, HENRY DUKE OF BUCKINGHAM, THE CARDINAL, THE BISHOP OF ELY, LORDS STANLEY AND HASTINGS
GLOUC. Illustrious Peers of the realm, you whom the noble nation of England has engendered, are you not moved by the Queen’s great crime? Are your high-born minds still able to tolerate this infamy? How long will the woman’s malice remain concealed? Hostile to us, she holds her son captive in asylum, so that this troublemaker may provoke the princes of England with her mutterings and wound us with her words, and throw the mob into an uproar as if the loyalty of the protectors were doubtful, to whom the careful Council has entrusted the care of the Duke of York, The fact that the enemy is far removed does not alone protect the little boy, nor does his customary regimen. Rather, the well-regulated play of little boys attracts him. A child delights in fun shared with playmates of the same age: a young lad does not play with an old man. The boy will depend more on play with his brother. Who does not know that great things often grow from small beginnings?
It would be a great stain on our King, and his shame would not lightly mar our loyalty, if the sneering rumor that the royal brother flees to altars in terror were to spread to the French. Nothing flies faster than slander, nor does established public opinion die quickly. Therefore let men be sent by the sacred will of this Council, whose loyalty to the King is undoubted, nor suspect to the Queen, and is known to the nation at large. Let them bid her release her son from prison and return him to his brother. But this work requires your trustiness, Cardinal Archbishop, outstanding in honor, if Your Holiness has no objection. The solace of the King demands this, the safety of his brother, the established peace of the nation. If the obstinate Queen should cling to her son, if her mother-love fails to oblige us, let the King’s final orders overcome the grieving woman. She will be found guilty of malice, hatred, stubbornness.
I should gladly hear your opinions. For, as God sustains my life, I shall never obstinately urge my views, but a better opinion will readily sway me.
BUCK. Who would not be moved by the prince’s loneliness, disgraceful to the Nobles’ honor and the national safety, so long ignored? As long as the crazed mother oppresses her son, locked away in the holy prison, the pent-up boy bears great dishonor to his sovereign, nor will asylum offer the little brother safety. The idle rabble will assail us with scurrilous accusations, saying that the mighty have no care for the King’s welfare. Not only the mother can claim the birth of her child (and in her folly she thinks he was born only for her pleasure). The honor of the realm summons him, and bids the nation care for him, forgetting his sweet mother. I agree that the Cardinal Archbishop can best urge this. But if this fearful mother forgets that love has its limits, he will order that the boy be removed by force.
HAST. Why should the boy cling in his mother’s arms? Or why does she begrudge his brother a share in the King’s triumph? If in her terror she is afraid of her son’s danger, his father’s numerous kinsmen will guard him here, and this man here is appointed Regent by the sacred Council. The King’s loving subjects will care for him. In the next place, the mutual consolation of brothers calls. If the stubborn mother refuses to yield him up, let the Cardinal Archbishop snatch the boy and remove him.
CARD. In order that the brother may take pleasure in his brother’s hall, or so that my willing effort might be useful for England, I refuse to do nothing within my power. But if the mother persists in restraining her son in the holy shrine, and if the King alone cannot command the presence of his brother, it is nonetheless improper to violate the established laws of the Church. They say St. Peter first laid these down, ancient faith confirmed them, and a long line of rulers has respected them. It is well known that these sacred agreements have spared many a good man. Neither does the Ister, offering refuge to the savage Alani, nor the Hircanian land, freezing with year-long snow, nor far-flung Scythia dare to violate them. No sacrilegious man breaks a trust given us by God. But the mother’s lap will surrender to the little King his brother, and a parent will not begrudge consolation to her son. If the brother’s palace constantly lacks the other brother, and his mother keeps her son confined in this holy prison, in no way will my devout effort be condemned: blind mother-love will be the sole obstacle.
BUCK. Rather, the sole obstacle would be the mother’s stubbornness! I shall dare to stake my life on this: let her fancy no cause for fear, either for herself or for her son. Nobody will willingly fight a woman. I would wish that all her relatives were female, they would cause less trouble for England! Their crimes, not their base origins, engender all our hostility against them. Even if the Queen is not dear to us, nor her relatives, what is the point of disliking the King’s brother, who is a kinsman of the royal family? Unless our honor were hateful to her, and she wanted to threaten us with the brand of infamy, she would never deny us her son. For the loyalty of the Peerage has never been questioned. But the Nobles will leave her her son, if only the mother will dwell in a suitable place. Therefore if she denies her son to us, whose faith is by now sufficiently established, this will be monstrous female stubbornness, not the fear of a panic-stricken mind. If this unhappy mother, who is able to fear a shadow, persists in her terror, all the more her mother-love bids us take precautions lest the Queen send abroad her holy plaything, her son. Better to break the established guarantees of the Church a thousand times than for the Council to put up with such disgrace, for others to mock our fine selves, who are able to stand by and watch as the King’s brother falls. So it will be proper to snatch the son from the church, freed from his mother, lest we rightly become a laughingstock to foreign nations.
Nor should I willingly do harm to asylum, to which ancient tradition has given much strength. Although, had it been up to me, I should not have been the first to grant this privilege to churches. As matters now stand, I should concede this right to the altars if a persistent creditor should hound his debtors and cruelly threaten them with bondage, people whom adverse fortune has ruined, or whom the wasteful sea has reduced to debt. Surely it is piety that their rescued persons are protected at the altar. But is it not unholy to offer safety to impious citizens, thieves and murderers, whom no fear can restrain? If the accepted rights of asylum only protect those harassed by bad luck, why should they extend to robbers, to killers, to bad men? Alas, the sacred place teems with wicked men. Surely God is not a patron of villains. Surely Peter did not create these laws for the benefit of thieves. The holy places encourage them to rob others’ goods and entrust the loot to itself. A wife, laden down with stolen goods, deserts her husband and, mocking the fellow, stores up her booty in the church. Often the murderer sallies forth to do his killing, thinking that this place will offer safe refuge for him when his work is done. Therefore to take these kindly religious privileges away from thieves does not violate the rights of asylum, and at the same time will be pleasing and holy in God’s sight. That which an over-gentle Pope or some merciful ruler or other granted in his imprudence, that which posterity, induced by superstition, never impaired — but let us preserve these rights guaranteed to shrines. Nothing, however, protects the Duke, shut up in the sanctuary. Right, nature, law forbid these unjust injuries.
Nor do we heed the injunctions of any prince or prelate, and for this boy any place is sufficiently safe against violence. Let religious safeguards restrain the threats of the law, if harsh necessity urges mercy. But what sad necessity oppresses the Duke? His royal birth ensures his loyalty to the King; his young age, innocent of evil, guarantees his guiltlessness. Why should the innocuous Duke invoke this sacred trust? Somebody else requests baptism for an infant, but a grown man petitions the right of sanctuary for himself: let the boy beg for this at the urging of his own mind. What can a guiltless boy ask for? How has he deserved sanctuary? Even if he were grown up he could not tolerate prison. The fretful child should immediately come to hate the altars. If someone having stolen others’ goods flies there, the right of sanctuary protects him, but he will give up his goods.
ELY No prelate or prince has the right to alter this custom. Divine law ordains that the established rights of the Church protect the persons of debtors rescued from their creditors, whom bitter Fate perhaps obliges to go into hiding. LIkewise, papal decrees grant this sacred refuge to persons in distress. Let debtors only repay their creditors so that the debtor, deprived of his goods and freed from prison, may rehabilitate himself by his efforts and make good the damage. Who is so savage as to scourge naked backs?
BUCK. Certainly I shall vote for these motions. If a wife, deserting her husband, flees to the altar, can she not, with Peter’s blessing, be dragged out of Peter’s church? Suppose a pleasure-bent boy, hating school, clings to a shrine. surely his schoolmaster will not permit this. But that boy is afraid of the rod, this one has nothing to fear. I have understood that this holy privilege is granted to men, not boys. Let the altar be protector of the guilty, if so it wants. But let holy sanctuary be denied to this boy, since his feeble understanding does not know how to seek it, nor does his blameless life warrant it, nor has the prince, safe from harm, any cause to need it. That man scarcely damages sanctuary who helps somebody by denying it to him.
STAN. A hesitant mind can no longer doubt that it is of advantage to the King, to the English people, to England, that brother play with brother in one hall. I hope that we can gently soften the mother’s mind. Perhaps, induced by sound advice, she will surrender him. If this stubborn mother retains her son and refuses to follow holy advice, let a henchman liberate him for his brother, and an armed hand will restore the boy for play.
HOW. The son’s cradle-years have been conceded to his mother. His playful youth has glided on amidst its pleasures. Now his dear nation demands his remaining years. I, for my part, do not heed his mother’s heavy complaints. If she refuses to give us her son, released from the sacred prison, soldiers will free him for his brother.
GLOUC. Your Holiness, the Council unanimously requests that you serve as messenger to the mother, that our sacred order be carried out. You, Buckingham, join yourself to the Archbishop as a companion, and also Lord Howard, born of noble stock. But if this mother puts no limit on her love, and in her folly aims at stealing her child from us, stout soldiers will remove him from asylum. In vain this petulant woman, so unfortunate for her son, will lament her rescued offspring. (After they bee come down from the seates.) Now, Bishop, this serious task summons you. We, the next of kin, shall await the mother’s reply.
QUEEN ELIZABETH, THE CARDINAL, LORD HOWARD
CARD. Mighty mother, your Royal Majesty, even if these words are now said by my mouth, you must not imagine that they are mine. The Royal Council, meeting in full session, as well as Gloucester the Regent, have decreed that, although at Nature’s behest this boy has remained in his mother’s arms, inasmuch as his early age is best spent with his parent, the national honor scarcely permits this. In your folly you dishonor your son. Furthermore, the peace of England, shaken to its foundations, collapses while you languish in asylum out of idle fear. If the sovereign’s brother is kept in prison and lacks the consolation of his brother, the people will immediately suspect that the boys hate each other, since this lad flees to the holy altars in fright. So give up your son, freed from prison. Thus you will free your kinsmen from bondage and bring about a great solace for the prince, and the Peers will be secure.
QUEEN Excellent father, distinguished by the high honor of a Cardinal’s cap, I do not disagree that brother ought to remain with brother in one home, although both of them (whose young age has not yet taught them fear) would be safer if they were to remain in their mother’s lap. And because the younger is the less protected by his age, and also since a dangerous disease has long oppressed him, his great peril requires a mother’s care. So much the more threat is posed by a recurring disease, and a constitution once undermined cannot vigorously resist or protect itself against another attack. I know how much labor his dutiful nurse will give, who diligently cares for my son. But still, it is more suitable for him to be left to me, since I better know how to care for the little one, who has always clung to my arms. Nor can anyone cherish him more gently than the mother who has carried him at her breast.
CARD. Ah, dear Queen, nobody is so foolish as to deny that it would be best for your son to be left in your care. Now, the Peers would hope that the boy might live in his mother’s embrace, so long as both of you were staying in a suitable place. If, being an adult, you wish to dedicate your life to the holy shrines, and henceforth piously give your mind over to prayer, nevertheless let brother play with brother in one hall, freed from the church; let him not remain in this holy prison as his mother’s pious theft. With wisdom, a child is taken from his mother’s arms, and is not allowed to keep on babbling in her lap forever as a cranky infant. Just lately your Majesty was content that savage Wales should nourish the King and that your son should shine among barbarians.
QUEEN I was never content. But I did not have equal maternal anxiety for the both of them. At that time, the King’s good health bade me fear nothing. But this one’s limbs are weak from much sickness, and can scarce support his tottering frame. Why does his uncle care so much about my son? If a premature fate were to take off my boy, and the greedy Sisters cut short his dear life’s thread, his suspicious death would nonetheless make the Duke of Gloucester seem guilty, and he would not avoid a reputation for treachery. But does he think his honor, or that of the King, to be injured if this boy stays in the safest of places? The trust of sanctuary has never been doubted. Let him allow the boy to dwell here with me. I have made up my mind to hide myself here in safety rather than fear the penalties of dire imprisonment, as my kinsmen do. Would that they were hidden now in asylum, rather than giving their hands to your fetters!
HOW. Oh, do you have any privy knowledge of their crimes?
QUEEN I do not know that they have done anything, nor why chains oppress them. But my fear has not been unfounded, that those who do not bother to invent a reason for imprisoning them would not hesitate to kill them without a trial.
CARD. [Aside to Howard.] Her anger is aroused — no more about her relatives. [Aloud.] When their case is brought before a judge they will be freed, nor do you have anything to fear at the hands of the Nobles.
QUEEN Rather, what forbids me from fearing those pious hands, when an innocent life does not serve to protect my relatives? Am I, the Queen, who was the cause of these evils for my unfortunate kinsmen, any more beloved to my enemies? Or does the fact that I am joined to the royal family protect me? Does it confer any less glory on my family that my brother is uncle to the King? No, my son will linger here with me, unless somebody more clever than you produces an argument. I fear the Nobles’ fidelity all the more because they greedily demand my son without cause.
CARD. They are all the more suspicious of your maternal embrace, lest perhaps numbing fear assault your breast and induce you to send your son to foreign lands. If it pleases you to deny your son to his uncle, violent hands will afterwards wrench him away and at length you will hand him over, smitten by legitimate force. The agreed-upon rights of asylum do not protect him, as he is too young to know how to ask for them, and his upright life has bidden him fear nothing. The Nobles do not think the promised right of asylum to be violated if they free your son from the shrine. They threaten you in reluctance with the Council’s sacred violence. The uncle’s love for his nephew is so great that he fears the prince’s disgraceful exile.
QUEEN Is the uncle so madly in love with his little nephew that he fears nothing so much as that a small boy might escape his clutches? Does he think he can persuade his mother to let the little boy escape her, when a lingering disease forbids his departure? Or what place can protect the boy better than asylum, which neither the fierce Caucus nor huge Thrace has ever violated? But you say the innocent boy does not know how to deserve asylum. Now, therefore, in vain the little one seeks the protection of the church. Dear friend, the Regent gives excellent advice! The rights of sanctuary can protect a wicked thief, but a child, whose blameless life forbids him fear, whose youth, unconscious of evil, bids him be free of anxiety, cannot have need of shrines! I pray to God that He finally dismiss this justly conceived fear from my heart. The Protector thinks my son basely clings to the church (and, I pray, let him be a protector of these boys, not an enemy raging against his own) — or does he want him so that brother can play with brother within a single house? For a long time now, sickness has prevented the boy from playing, a lingering disease. Or are playmates for his early years to be denied the little boy, unless ones of equal rank, and someone joined to him by royal blood, can be found? But at that age there is less likelihood that playmates of equal rank can get along together. Therefore the Peerage wrongly assures itself that there will be a mutual consolation for the two brothers. A contentious nature, assured of its own rights, creates fraternal hatreds while it plays. Domestic strifes have great appeal for boys, and the aroused passions of brothers immediately take offence and are less able to tolerate insults. Let the boy have any playmate at all, rather than his own brother. The fun of fraternal contact quickly sours, and domestic pleasures cannot long remain delightful.
But you say the inexperienced boy did not request sanctuary? What messenger betrayed these secrets? You inquire, let the Claudian inquire — but he will hear. But suppose he did not ask for it, or suppose that the little boy can want to leave this sanctuary. In any event, he will remain against his will. If I demand the church for myself alone, it will at the same time guard what is mine. No man sacrilegiously steals a horse from a shrine — is a boy unable to hide safely in a church? English law has made the mother a child’s legal guardian when the father is dead. If the law does not transfer her inherited property to another man, let the law relegate the ward to the mother’s lap. What legal mandates, hostile a female legal guardian, authorize the removal of her wards from sanctuary? When Edward, conquered by the Queen Mother, fled hostile hands and miserably surrendered his extorted scepter to his enemies, in my pregnancy I immediately sought refuge at the holy altars. There the King was first born and saw the light of day, there he celebrated his first birthdays. He was no little source of anxiety to his father’s enemies, and he rendered uncertain the credibility of that uneasy peace. Asylum offered both of us a safe home until I was fortunate enough to leave the church and restore my son to the arms of his returned father. Would that the trustworthiness of the palace were now so assured! Nor let anyone ask the cause of this fear. The boy will remain in this holy house with me. And if any man has violated the guarantees of asylum, let that impious fellow enjoy the benefits of sanctuary. For I do not begrudge this holy benefit even to my enemies.
CARD. [Aside to Howard.] What are we doing? Anger tears at her blinded mind. Sometimes she lashes out fiercely at Gloucester. An irate heart is not affected by light entreaty. [Aloud.] There is no use in fencing with words. I bear the sacred mandates of the supreme Council, which you fear to obey in vain. Suspicion’s agony is greatly deceived, it is tortured by its own error. If, Queen, you entrust your dear son to his uncle and the rest of the Nobility, in which England has long prided itself, I shall never fear to pledge my dear life as security for your son. But if you, his mother, refuse us your son, I shall not return to persuade you, but you will be obliged to surrender him anyway. [To Howard.] She is trembling. Her mind is divided. Are we prevailing?
QUEEN [To herself.] Horrible fear has struck my limbs; overwhelmed by terror, my blood freezes. What am I doing? Hesitant dread divides my mind: my son pulls it one way, his powerful uncle the other. I call on the true God and whatever happiness my husband’s shade enjoys in heaven, to bear witness: now, Edward, I want nothing else for my son than that he may powerfully wield your scepter in the royal hall and give laws to the English, and that the royal family may live forever in happiness.
Why do you vacillate? Are you betraying your son? Are you, a mother, giving the sought-for one over to death? Do not your relatives’ chains terrify you? If the Regent should think of England’s honor, see, he already possesses the King’s elder son. Let him be content with him. Let him allow a mother her solace, for the nation does not demand him. He asks for one; I, a mother, demand both. I ask for one to be given me, I to whom two are owed.
But, madwoman, have you no fear of his threats? Can you bear the Nobles’ great violence? But you still lose your son and you see your kinsmen die by your wound. [To the Cardinal.] Cardinal Father, let a mother’s complaint hurry along; she does not make even a small delay. [To herself.] The uncle threatens that nearby violence will soon assault me. Guarantees of sanctuary do not protect my child. The soldiers will never give me passage for a swift escape, and armed guards are everywhere. And what safe home can receive my son, if he is removed from here? The Cardinal’s faithfulness is not untested and the authority of the holy Father has always been great. Entrust your son to him.
But are you, a mother, able to see your son torn from your bosom, the ultimate downfall of his father’s royal family? Rather, let Gloucester rage furiously. I shall bear it, I shall tolerate it, as long as my son remains!
You are wrong. You shall lose both your sons at the same time — and they are yours — nor can you put up with Gloucester.
CARD. While your blind rage gathers its strength, your unfortunate headstrong love arms itself for your ruin. Why do you deny an uncle his beloved nephew, an uncle to whom the greater part of England’s care is entrusted? You unjustly condemn us of sloth and at the same time claim we are silly, since we fear none of those things of which you, in your folly, are frightened. But a careful concern for the realm joins me with Gloucester, nor is little Duke Richard’s life of greater concern to anybody else than us.
QUEEN I have never been so foolish or lacking in wit as to fancy that you are all silly, or to have insulted your faithfulness by my suspicion. I have need of your intelligence, also of your trust. If either is lacking, disaster will fall upon my head, and will prepare a great bane for the nation. Mad lust for power holds nothing in this world sacred. Noble ambition rages with the slaughter of brothers, and does not fear sin. The reliable testimony of the ancients proves this: Roman walls were drenched with fraternal blood. If kings were afraid to spare their own brothers, does a nephew idly fear his uncle?
If the royal brothers dwell apart, this will mean safety for both. Let us save one, by so doing you will save both. You are able to defend both in the person of one, nor will it be safe for both to dwell in the same house. A merchant does not place all his wares in a single ship when the gathering storm bids him fear, nor are tempests wont to give idle threats. Although I, conscious of the right, am able to hope I could keep my son in this sacred place, now matter how his cruel uncle might rage and threaten horrible things, I nonetheless put my son in your hands. And, in him, I also entrust to you his brother. It will be your duty to protect them. I, their mother, shall finally require them back from you then, when the terrible trumpet blows and all flesh stands before the Judge’s throne. I know how your loyalty shines, how great is the power of your right hand. I know your prudence, proven in so many matters, so that nothing is lacking in you for their protection. But if you come to mistrust your own ability, leave him to us, by God, by the chaste trust of King Edward’s marriage-bed. And to the extent you say I am too afraid, to that very same extent you must guard against fearing too little.
[To the boy.] Oh sweet pledge of trust, second glory of the realm, your mother’s empty hope, for whom I shall foolishly pray in vain for your father’s glory, your grandfather’s long life, let God, the Ruler of the world, be your protector amid so many storms. Let the wind-driven sail reach port safely. Unhappy one, receive a sad mother’s kisses, planted on your lips. He alone Who holds nature’s reins knows what new day will dawn when my kisses will press you again. Now your birthright gives you something to fear. If, poor one, you scarcely feel this wound, at least imitate your mother’s grievings. If your noble nature forbids tears, allow a mother her laments: I have already learned how to cry. Behold, take up your mother’s lamentations, the remains of your father’s miserable funeral. Or can anything be more pitiful than the death of King Edward? But there was another King Edward, who might have been able to wield the realm’s proud scepter. Here the child [ . . . ] — destined to be called King Edward’s young son, but more mine because he is born of my womb.
Then a noble bevy of my kinsmen supported me, nor did Fate break them with a common death. Now the dire custody of prison has torn away my brother. Richard with that loyalty of his, so much to be dreaded, possesses the King. Behold the sole remains of your father. In this boy was the sole hope of our fallen house, in whom everything is now being carried away. What sad end awaits you, my son? Alas, to what floods will your blameless life be exposed? Little one, if the harsh Fates demand you, which would be the final death of your family, I shall ask that while you are alive I, your mother, close your eyes with mine own hand, that you die at your mother’s bosom. Farewell, son, farewell. Farewell, consolation of your mother. Just as a cruel lion seizes young prey with its huge bite, while the mother is away, and bears it off in its maw, so the cruel uncle has ripped his nephew away from his mother’s breast. [Exit.}
HOW. [To himself.] Behold, her pale cheeks flooded with tears, she wraps her son’s young limbs with many an embrace, showering final kisses on him. Her sobs keep her from saying more; she bids her voice come forth, but it catches in her throat. Unhappy love, why do you so torment the mother’s dear heart? She departs, leaving her son behind her.
CARD. Fear not, noble prince. You are going to play with your brother. Although deprived of your mother, have no fear of the palace.
GLOUCESTER Beloved offspring of King Edward, I embrace you gladly. See, I plant loving kisses on your lips. May your happy glory become immortal!
Go to Act V of the First Action