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ACT V, SCENE i
CATESBY, THE DUKE OF BUCKINGHAM
CATES. [Alone.] Happy Gloucester exults now that the helpless prey is caught in his nets: the longed-for prize has fallen into his hands. His fraudulence is exercised in safety. Both nephews are shut up in a dark prison. He is now pleased to promise himself the glories of rule, his dead brother’s throne. Just as a clever dog can identify distant beasts by their scent, after he has detected prey in the neighborhood, and attacks their quick necks, following their tracks with his nose pressed to the ground, so in every way Richard struggles to grasp his brother’s scepter in his hand: he covets the kingdom of England, which he now almost takes for granted. The seeds of the coming reign are now sown. The angry Peers cannot stand the Queen’s family. They fiercely clamor for retribution whilst her nervous kinsmen squabble in the courtrooms. The Duke secretly plots to destroy whoever rails against his undertakings. But, fearing treachery, is he is afraid to weave his wiles without the help of Buckingham. He has ordered me to kindle a fire in that haughty mind and rouse his hatred against the royal children, so that the scepter will fall out of their hands. Buckingham will aid their uncle’s wily schemes and the hostile Duke will gain the kingdom. In the meantime, so that the Lords will suspect nothing, they are bidden to deliberate about a date for the coronation. Catesby, why hesitate to procure the Duke his throne? I see Buckingham walking this way. The arrogant man with his swollen head! I shall weave snares for him. [Enter Buckingham.]
Choicest flower of England, Jove-descended, greatest glory of this tottering land, why do you cultivate your leisure in such a carefree way, heedless of your personal safety? What an injury would be received by the fallen state of the kingdom, if aroused youthful rage should overwhelm you unawares! At that feverish age, truculence is scarcely softened.
BUCK. If anybody, powerful in a lofty place, is immune from the rule of the fickle goddess and is able to boast that his happy position stands in an unassailable position, lofty Lord Buckingham can. But what kind of murky oracle are you uttering with that unclear statement? Doesn’t my enemy seek my head in vain, locked up in a choice cell?
CATES. But let this place be freed of all witnesses.
BUCK. Servants, retire from my side.
CATES. The highborn nature of a great-minded man fears nothing, so long as great virtue denies that it can be defeated. Rivers and Lord Grey have won the reward for their arrogance. But this only the beginning of evil. The King, brandishing his scepter with a boyish hand, is furious. He threatens that someday his injuries will not go unavenged; nor has he tolerated the harsh chains of his brother and uncle. His mother, tearing her hair, seeks revenge. In whatever way one of her kinsmen chances to be a man of lower birth, she thinks he belongs to her party. Now, therefore, be prudent and think about these things. Even if Richard’s hands have spared your enemies and the Queen’s relatives have been allowed to continue drawing breath, they will accuse you before a King who is one of their own. Their rage will never cease to punish you. Even if they give up the ghost because you fear them, if you extinguish your legitimate anger with their blood, you will still have the King to fear, as long as crime conquers crime and these interrelated families howl dire ruination.
BUCK. A boy’s quick anger is soon suppressed.
CATES. The easy anger of a boy is more headstrong.
BUCK. A day will end it. Anything that vehement soon vanishes.
CATES. His parent’s great sorrow will never let it die. His mother is goaded on by her kinsmen’s bonds — and his mother’s complaints goad on the King.
BUCK. Gloucester was a partner in this crime.
CATES. Rage is satiated by revenge. It does not debate about guilt — it just punishes crime.
BUCK. The Duke’s authority will lessen the boy’s fierce disposition.
CATES. So long as he stays a boy.
BUCK. But he will always fear his uncle.
CATES. Royal rank does not know how to fear any man.
BUCK. What wholesome plan can protect us?
CATES. Only one that prevents the King from killing you.
BUCK. Will his brother’s anger drive her son that far?
CATES. Her son can do no harm if he is dead.
BUCK. Is killing the King the sole cure for this evil?
CATES. Crime cannot be conquered save by another crime. Necessity makes some evildoing honorable. The prey is captured in outspread nets; both nephews are caught up as well as if they were bound in chains. They will die at the Claudian Duke’s slightest nod. They are dead already, if you would consider your interest. One of your henchmen secretly supports Gloucester. This sentry, a man whom you least think to be false, secretly observes your habits, lest you perhaps attempt anything against him. Even if you see nothing to fear, you should be afraid. The loyalty of many is doubtful, nothing is firm. Think everything to be hostile. A troubled countenance is wont to pretend much, and it manufactures deceits. Father Thyestes, trusting his sons to his brother, drank their commingled blood.
BUCK. [To himself.] What now? Why do you hesitate? What plan, madman, do you twist about in your mind so long? Do you regret that the Lords are imprisoned? This is the thought of a sluggard. The King’s anger terrifies this may, will you fear a boy? A woman? The Fates oppress her kindred. From her side hatred is directed against this glorious, all-powerful Duke, whom everyone fears. Do you seek safety? For this reason you will be more secure. Trust in the most powerful and give your loyalty to the Duke.
CATES. If the Fates, hastened along, take away the King’s life, Richard the heir will procure the scepter for himself. You alone are the pillar to support the tottering nation. With your help, Gloucester can easily obtain the kingdom. You will protects the lives of the both of you.
BUCK. [Still to himself.] This little prince will never sport with my blood; his severed head will repay me for his threats. The loss of a prince is a small thing, if you are able to save your life. The glory of kingship is scarce fit for little boys. This would not be the King’s reign, it would belong to his mother, at whose prompting the angry boy is armed only for the killing of his kinsmen. [Enter Gloucester.] Claudian Protector, sole hope of the House of York, partner in my dangers, your nephew is preparing a grim death for us. Edward’s son bemoans the downfall of his family, and mixes in serious threats with his tears. Either the offspring of the King is to be chained and cast into a dark dungeon, or he will placate the vengeful Furies of his household with our death.
GLOUC. The powerful torches of the avenging Fury and the harsh threats of the irate King make my hair stand on end. We must form some wholesome scheme. Evil is accustomed to grow stronger the longer it creeps on alone. We have only a short time for planning.
BUCK. A grievous remedy must be applied to a great evil. Look here, crime cannot easily be conquered. The King’s blind anger is a constant threat. Vengeance, armed with a scepter, fights most savagely. I invoke God, the highest glory of the heavens, as my witness: I shall follow you as leader of my life, whatever you advise.
GLOUC. Horror creeps throughout my trembling limbs. I know the boyish nature of the King, fierce, intractable. He cannot be bent, he can be broken. He will prepare a sad end for us, if we let him. It is right to break the bonds of the King’s life, but, alas, I am ashamed to diminish my brother’s kingdom by so doing. Everywhere the populous House of Lancaster will laugh at the downfall of a rival dynasty. But, since it is needful to take precautions for my own life and improper to burden the nation with grief, by right of blood I lay claim to my brother’s scepter. And I call you the author of your own security. If you pledge your loyalty to my endeavors, I swear by the gods who hold heaven that my son, my sole consolation, will marry your daughter. And the Earldom of Hereford, which you claim, will be yours. Wealth, furnishings, whatever outstanding thing my home possesses, all this will be yours.
BUCK. I swear by the same gods that the stars will be joined as eternal companions with the sea, water with fire, the ravening wolf with sheep, dark night with the son, the Thames will lack water for its fish, before I am so perfidious as to desert your faction.
CATES. Now, frantic one, accomplish your vows. First, transfer the little princes to the Tower and give your nephews new servants whom you estimate will do your bidding. Then there will be no access to the King. Next, shift public attention to your household, turn your subjects’ eyes away from the King. After that, hangers-on will gather at your front door.
GLOUC. Surely it is useful to conceal our scheme from the Nobles until they yield the stolen scepter into our hands.
CATES. Messengers will be sent abroad announcing that it has hitherto been impossible to crown the royal head, and that at your command the Peerage should assemble in order that this great festival of England may be celebrated. While the Nobles, plunged in thought, make their way to London and reside in the city, stripped of their forces, and before those who are planning violence can join together, you safely snatch the scepter from the boy and control it, while their loyalty to each other is still untested.
BUCK. But this device will scarcely deceive noble Hastings. Lord Stanley and the Bishop of Ely will also be in the city, and will detect this ruse if they perceive that we are meeting apart in secret.
GLOUC. Certain select Lords have gathered together at my bidding in order to consider most serious matters, lest their minds be fixed on our undertakings.
BUCK. But who else will be party to your plan? A great deed cannot be accomplished by a few.
GLOUC. Many will join my faction, if they think it to their advantage.
BUCK. But what about those who refuse to side with us?
GLOUC. Who will not be frightened by the man who possesses the scepter? Royal authority cannot fail to enforce our will.
BUCK. Win over the fickle mob with many gifts. Heap lavish bribes on those who can easily be persuaded to cleave to your faction. Those who cannot be induced by money will be constrained by fear.
CATES. It is difficult immediately to determine the Nobles’ sympathies.
GLOUC. As if very anxious about public matters, I shall continually ask advice from those whom I suspect. As I doubtfully set forth many matters and we ponder secrets of state together, their secret opinions will come to light. Hastings alone openly sides with the King and pays the proper respect to the little princes. That man, popular with the English and very powerful, must either delight in my gaining the scepter or must die.
CATES. The fellow has favored Edward overmuch. His sworn loyalty can never be shattered.
GLOUC. Still, we should test his perverse mind. Possibly you will break this hesitant man with fear. Meanwhile, I shall consult the nobles about England’s affairs. [Exit Gloucester and Buckingham.]
CATES, What to do now, Catesby? You should look out for yourself. Summon your cleverness of mind, your cheating and trickery, the whole Catesby. If Hastings helps Gloucester obtain the throne as a partner in his scheme, the value of your loyalty will be lessened and less trusted thereafter. But if he gives up his hostile ghost, on the grounds that in his stubborn fidelity he excessively supports the boys, you alone will dominate Leicester as Hastings’ successor. The two Dukes will trust you more. Well then, let him die so that my glory may grow. May a dire sword pierce his unfortunate guts! I shall pretend that he favors the little princes overmuch, that this stubborn man cannot be bent by any entreaty.
LORD STANLEY, LORD HASTINGS
STAN. My heart is dumbfounded, struck by uncertain fear. Driven back and forth, it does not know how to compose itself. I foresee evil. What does this division of the Council into two parts mean? One part meets in the Tower, the other at the City Hall, and God knows what this aloof Lord plots in his clever mind: to gulp down the kingship with our help? To kill us? To set traps for the King? Whatever it is, I fear it greatly.
HAST. Put aside your fears, noble Stanley. Do not torture your mind with needless suspicion. As long as Catesby is present (and he never fails to appear at these meetings) there is no harm they can do to us which I in my absence do not hear about from him.
STAN. Debauched loyalty is not infrequently hidden behind a pleasant exterior, and foul vice fights under the concealment of virtue’s image. A few days do not suffice to lay bare a false front.
HAST. Loyalty remains constant when it is heaped with rewards. The men of Leicester cheerfully obey my commands, and my word carries much weight at Northampton. I entrust all my affairs to that man.
STAN. In the middle of hard times, it is too late for taking precautions. Blind lust for kingship fears no violence. In his impotent youth, the King will be swept aside immediately, and afterwards Gloucester will direct his hidden evildoing against those of us who have shared in his crimes, whomever he comes to fear. We are easy prey for our enemy. We should return to our country seats, where our followers can protect us with their forces. That way, perhaps, his treacherous rage will fear to make a beginning.
HAST. For no good reason we are afraid of this good luck of ours. The Dukes are accustomed to speak to me with kind words, and they always cultivate me. I myself have already made Catesby aware of the hopes, the fears, the rumors that circulate among the common people. My great devotion to the King has troubled others. The citizenry turn to the Duke, to the King’s neglect. Because he hid these things from me, I am displeased. But to flee? Flight would make us seem guilty, and if we were hauled back his anger would destroy us all the more. Our innocent lives will preserve us if we stay. But if any harm were to await us, I would prefer that it would be worked by some criminal mind, not by our own flight. Believe me, this trickery you are so silly as to fear amounts to nothing. Rude chaos will be transformed into a heaven, the stars will cling to the earth, the sea to fire, sooner than Catesby will violate his sworn loyalty to me.
STAN. The outcome will soon give credence to these ills.
THE DUKE OF GLOUCESTER, CATESBY, HOWARD (A KNIGHT)
GLOUC. Hope and fear distract my mind. My heart is tormented by the two possible outcomes. The vision of kingship always hovers before my eyes, but, despite my doubts, my great ambition drives me onward, troubling my heart. Desire for rule is a fire that, once kindled, cannot be extinguished, and now the scepter alone holds any delight for me. I shall not stop until I have realized my highest wish. The uncertainty of the Nobles’ loyalty vexes me greatly. I scarcely know whom to admit to my confidence, and my schemes are not put on a secure footing.
HOW. Why distress your anxious heart? Anybody who dares great things does not know fear. Now you are seeking the kingship, and Fortune favors the brave. The first art of government is to be able to constrain the citizenry by fear. The ruler who shows fear stirs up rebels. The man who rules with authority and wields a harsh scepter with his royal hand will dare everything.
GLOUC. A coward’s fear does not bother my heart. Depart, piety, if you hide yourself in my mind. The sword will kill off anything which you judge to be opposed to you. Now is the time to use steel to open a way for my scheme: whatever enemy stands in my way will be slaughtered.
HOW. You hold the Queen’s relatives captive at Pomfret, why have you not killed them off? Spare their lives and you’ll embolden others, and, moreover, mild treatment brings down punishment on yourself. Let them give up their hateful ghosts by the sword. You will encourae your supporters, and everybody else will be unhinged by terror.
GLOUC. I want my enemies here to die too, those who I am clever enough to realize stand between me and the scepter, so that the same fear will strike everybody equally. The people whose hesitant minds resist even my slightest whim, will soon be taken into custody and loaded down with heavy chains. What way does Hastings’ mind incline?
CATES. Only against your person.
GLOUC. He refuses to join my faction?
CATES. Sooner will the narrow straits of Ithaca flow with abundant water and the greedy waters of the Sicilian sea stand stock still, sooner will the dark night give light to the land. He hates deceit. Fiercely nodding his head, he pledges everlasting loyalty to Edward’s son, says that he will be a wholehearted enemy to the enemies of the King.
GLOUC. He will learn what a King’s weapons can achieve, he will pay for my anger with his blood! Let people learn to obey out of fear of their ruler. But how can I have his head?
CATES. He is insanely infatuated with Shore’s wife — his lust cannot control its fires. You should claim that she is practicing witchcraft against your life. If her unlucky lover were to take up his mistress’ defense, blinded by love and feverish with zeal, you can immediately charge him with being part of this conspiracy. Accuse of him of treason, and soon the axe will take off his unfortunate head.
GLOUC. At my bidding, the Lords whom I know for certain to be leaning towards the King will very soon gather at the Tower. I’ll attack him publicly, accuse him of the crime. A Yeoman will quickly remove head with an axe, and the Council will be so amazed that it will not detect my trickery.
CATES. If the Lord is clever enough to avoid the Council meeting, we shall have to hit on some new idea.
GLOUC. Visit this Hastings fellow immediately, and if he hesitates prod him on with pleasant words. don’t allow him to miss the Council meeting.
CATES. Will you inflict death on Hastings alone?
GLOUC. Lord Stanley and the Bishop of Ely will be caught up in chains, so that the dungeon will tame their loyal souls. If anybody is so stubborn as to raise objections with his feeble spirits, and is not cowed by Hastings’ destruction, murderous steel will remove his poor head. His disloyal guts will be spilled by a sword. In crime, moderation is a foolish thing.
LORD HASTINGS, LORD HOWARD, HASTINGS THE PURSUIVANT
L. HAST. I wonder why my horse stumbled on the way here and disgraced me by falling on the ground. May God avert this evil omen! But why do Fate’s pointless pranks disturb me? Stanley trembles because of a nightmare. He tells me that in a dream a boar wounded his head with its tusk, so that his shoulders were smeared with blood. So in his foolishness he urged me to take cowardly flight. Playful Fortune loves to play tricks on us, and laugh at men distressed by these insignificant happenings. No hostility actually threatens us.
HOW. Come along, noble Hastings, hurry up your pace.
L. HAST. [To a passing priest.] It is a good thing you are here, holy Father. Please hear my confession for a moment.
HOW. Leave it. Why waste time talking to this priest? There is no need for a confessor [Aside.] — yet. This unfortunate is so self-confident that he perceives nothing. As soon as he is condemned he’ll have need of a confessor!
L. HAST. Hastings, have you forgotten that very grim day when, in the shadow of the Tower walls, I met you, thoroughly shaking under the immediate threat of a hard death?
HAST. P. My friend, who confers unique distinction on our shared name, being born of such a noble family, I never forget such a serious, unhappy event. But then, thanks be to God, you suffered no harm and your accusers gained no profit, so there was a fair, balanced outcome for both parties.
L. HAST. [To himself.] You’d say this all the more if you knew what is in my mind — as certain people will soon find out. But nobody yet. [Aloud.] Ah, Hastings, to the best of my knowledge I was never less sure of my life than on that day. [To himself.] Now times have changed. Our enemies are being dragged to the block at Pomfret. This very day they are consecrating our peace with their blood. [Aloud.] I’ve never enjoyed such peace of mind, Hastings. I have never been so free from anxiety, as my life is not tossed by any storms.
HAST. P. May God grant it!
L. HAST. Why do you hesitate?
HAST. P. I pray that you are right.
L. HAST. I know I am.
HOW. Noble Lord, leave off this delay. The wise Council awaits you, my great friend, to hear your views about such important matters. [Exit the two Hastings.] He’s gone. Ah me, the poor man doesn’t know the catastrophe awaiting him! Ah, why do you insist on favoring the boy so much? False Catesby has deceived you with his counterfeit loyalty. Poor man, you are prey caught in his net.
THE DUKES OF GLOUCESTER AND BUCKINGHAM, LORD HASTINGS, LORD STANLEY, THE BISHOP OF ELY, YEOMAN OF THE GUARD
BUCK. Who among you, my good Lords, does not know how greatly the Claudian Duke is weighed down and vexed by his great concern for the realm? England looks to him alone for leadership, demanding that he can assume responsibility for its affairs. He has specially chosen you for your wisdom, so that he can dutifully take your advice and accomplish the great affairs of state with care. He is anxious to celebrate the coronation ceremony and crown the King, so as to honor the memory of his late brother. [Enter Gloucester.]
GLOUC. Venerable assembly of Lords, greatest flower of the realm, may God grant a happy outcome to these deliberations. Indeed, I am tardy because I am a sleepyhead, arriving at this assembly. I fear that this need for sleep is a bad advisor for doing business. Why did you fall out of bed and arrive here so early at your advanced age, Bishop of Ely? Rest is for the elderly, hard work for the young. They say that your garden grows a huge crop of strawberries. Pray allow me to pick a few for my meal.
ELY Nothing my garden grows will be withheld from you. I only wish I had something more elegant with which to please you.
GLOUC. My Lords, you may carry on your discussion about the requirements for the nation’s condition and security. Business calls me away for a moment. Please do not be disturbed by my absence. [Exit.]
HAST. While the King holds the scepter in a boyish hand, my Lords, we must make vigorous efforts to quell any discords, such as recently divided the kingdom. This is demanded by considerations of national safety, by the tender age of our brilliant sovereign, and by the oath taken in the presence of our dying King. There is no solace for the realm greater than this. And so if for their part the Peerage agrees to this policy, the kingdom will long flourish. On the other hand, if they are torn by dissension, it will soon go to ruin. We must purge the nation of the stain of civil war, and at the same time we of the Peerage shall remain free of the worst of crimes. [Reenter Richard, with Yeomen at his back.] But see here, the Duke is returning with hesitant step. Fuming, he shakes his head and frowns. With a sharp tooth he ferociously gnaws his lip. His angry heart must conceal some evil.
GLOUC. My Lords, what penalty do you pronounce for those who use sorcery to encompass my death — to kill me, born of the proud royal family, the elected Regent of this island?
HAST. The penalty given to traitors. Even if the malefactor is a man of high degree, I do not excuse him because of his station.
GLOUC. My sister-in-law has enchanted all my faculties.
HAST. My fellow Councilors bow their heads, amazed at your words. Let this horrid Queen play a richly-deserved penalty. I am less than pleased, however, about something that has hitherto escaped my ears. The Queen’s kinsmen were captured by my trickery. Today at Pomfret they have been beheaded, victims of my deceit.
GLOUC. This royal sorceress, assisted only by Mistress Shore, has betrayed me with her incantations. My frame staggers with disease, my eyes deny me sleep, my sluggish digestion refuses food, my pulse grows weak, this bloodless arm of mine has grown withered and refuses to work.
HAST. [To himself.] Ah, my heart quakes with chill dread! Alas, is my beautiful one destined for death? Is our love to be ended? The Queen would never associate herself with her husband’s mistress! These men are afraid to speak. But I feel confident: I shall answer the Duke. [Aloud.] If they did this, they must pay the ultimate penalty.
GLOUC. If they did this? You say this to me? If they did this? I’m talking about a deed which will cost you your head, wicked traitor.
Let the Protector give a blow on the Council-table; and let one of them of the gard break in thereat with his halbard and strike the Lord Stanley on the head.
YEO. Betrayal! Betrayal!
GLOUC. I accuse you of treason.
HAST. Me? Me?
GLOUC. You criminal betrayer of the nation.
ELY Oh, a Yeoman has stabbed noble Stanley. Is he dead? His face is smeared with blood.
GLOUC. My men, take this traitor to his death. Let a priest make a quick job of shriving him. By Saint Paul, I’ll not have my dinner before his head is off. And at the same time, throw the Cardinal Bishop of Ely and Lord Stanley into prison. Let some judge sentence that impudent Shore slut to pay the penalties for her crime.
HAST. Who could adequately mourn my misfortune? Alas, what shall I say? What lament can the nightingale make to match my tears? You spinner of falsehood, you artist of crime, I have been betrayed by the deceitful love of my friends, by evil lurking behind a pleasant front. Why do the harsh Fates begrudge me my life? Why has he exercised all his powerful skill to destroy me? Why does he need my misery to complete his happiness? But, madman, cease your tears. I swear by God, now turned against me, I call on you dead, wherever you have fled in Hell: I, an innocent man, am being dragged to my death. In my simple loyalty I never entered the palace, I never learned to live in luxury. Fortune has turned all her unfriendly gifts to my destruction.
GLOUC. So he snivels like a woman? Will this caterwauling gain him extra time? Why not take a sword and cut off his head? Take him away — why do you delay his destruction?
HAST. Sorrow likes to scatter her misfortunes on many, an I am not the only man chosen for punishment. The savage Sisters will direct their fatal distaff against my enemies as well. The blind Fates toy with humankind, they forewarn us to avoid calamity — and then prevent us from acting. Frightened by his nightmare, Lord Stanley does not bestir himself. In his dream a grunting wild boar gored his head with both its tusks, and his shoulders were drenched with blood. People have given Gloucester the name of The Boar for his emblem. Three times my horse slipped as I rode to this accursed Council meeting.
GLOUC. These Yeomen are asking for trouble. By giving time for his inane sobbing, they delay his beheading.
HAST. Ah me, there is no hope. Take me away to execution, you whom Fortune has given power over me. Why do I delay you with these tears? Drench your hands with pious blood. Farewell, heavenly sunlight, illuminating my dying day. Farewell, noble moon with your escort of glittering stars. Now the long night falls.
THE DUKE OF GLOUCESTER, TWO LONDONERS, A MESSENGER, A SERGEANT-AT-ARMS
GLOUC. Dear citizens, I have longed for you, even if you have arrived to late to help us. In the Tower just now Hastings and his disloyal confederates almost killed me. But God came to my aid, even if they had long concealed their plot. Just before ten o’clock today, as they say, we detected it and, as you see, were miserably constrained to put on whatever pieces of armor we could find. Now they are put down. Thanks either to our ability or to the grace of God, this evil will rebound against these worst of Peers, the authors of the plot. Now you have been summoned at my bidding, since this monstrous deed is now known to all, so that you can report the facts to anybody who asks you.
LOND. We shall dutifully follow your orders. [Exit Richard, leaving the Londoner free to speak his mind.] Oh dyed-in-the-wool crime, falsely hiding your murderousness! Oh evil, hidden behind a pleasant front! Who does not know the monstrous trickery of this savage Duke? Who has any doubt that his noble victim was undone by fraud? Often the crime comes back to haunt the evildoer, after he has cruelly injured others. [Enter a messenger.]
MESS. A sharp sword has ended Howard’s life.
LOND. I beg you, tell me in a few words how the thing was done.
MESS. When the rough Yeoman had dragged the noble Peer to the place of execution, the great Lord lifted his eyes to the sky. With his pure mouth, he offered up a prayer. “Oh God,” said he, “let the shedding of my blood atone for whatever my stubborn pride has deserved.” The headsman scarcely awaited the end of his prayer before breaking the barrier of Hastings’ body with his sword. [Exit.]
LOND. The great kindness of his friends and his own nature, too trusting in happy times, have combined to destroy Hastings. An upright man, he did not suspect any sad crime until he was robbed of his life by the amiable author of this crime. [Enter a Sergeant-at-Arms loyal to Gloucester.] But a Sergeant-at-Arms approaches. What public proclamation does he want to make?
SERG. The criminal traitor Hastings, the chief of this evil, and his consorts set afoot a nefarious undertaking. [Aside.] (I, obedient to the Duke, lie to this crowd.) The conspirators formed a plot against the lives of prince Gloucester and high Buckingham, as the two sat at a meeting of the sacred Council, in order that, with the protectors out of the way, they might climb to the pinnacle of ruined England, no matter how ill-suited they were for the summit of power, and undertake the burden of ruling a collapsed nation. What man does not know that Hastings exerted an evil influence over the King’s mother? What man does not know that this corrupt fellow has based the royal name with his corrupt habits? What man does not know that this villain has deprived the kingdom of its pristine glory by word and by deed? How many virgins have been despoiled of their chastity by Hastings’ abandoned lust? How many marriage-beds has this adulterer befouled as he embraced his infamous mistresses? Indeed Mistress Shore, his undisguised mistress, that noble whore, was a party to this conspiracy: only last night he clasped her in his unchaste embrace, so that this man who polluted his life with high crimes has justly paid the highest penalty and forfeited his life. In truth, if, once he had been condemned, this traitor’s execution were delayed, his insane band of accomplices would seek to regain their leader in a lethal uprising. So his hurried execution will spoil the plans of these gentlemen, and frustrate the conspirators’ formidable rioting. [Exit.]
LOND. A hasty way of action disturbs great matters: in dogs, a premature birth produces blind pups.
ANOTHER LONDONER [Examining a bill posted by the Sergeant-at-Arms.] These words seem written by prophetic inspiration. Who could scribble this, or dream up these writings in such a short space of time? The letters seem written in a good fist, the pages well drawn-up, the prose style excellent. But this seems to me the most curious thing: how could such a fine document be gotten up in such a short time?
[A procession enters. Jane Shore has been condemned to do public penance. The Londoner speaks as the procession moves across the stage, singing the song given at the end of the scene.]
The Shewe of the Procession
Shore'’ wife in her petticote havinge a taper
burninge in her hand
the Bishop of London
LOND. Look at Mistress Shore, carrying a flickering candle in her hand. Dressed in a plain linen shift, she undergoes her shameful penance. This celebrated mistress of a King pays the penalty to the truculent Duke. Father Jupiter, climb down from heaven and gather up this sweet morsel for your couch! For you can imagine that Leda or Europa has descended to earth. You poor woman, I feel sorry, pained, embarrassed for you, no matter how shameless or wanton you may be. Since our Claudian Duke cannot take your life, in his anger he seeks to ruin your reputation.
As suppliants, we pour forth our prayers to God, let not our minds be corrupted by this notorious adulteress. Uphold the fidelity of wedded folk, free the marriage-bed from shame. Protect the sanctity of marriage, lest furtive Venus harm it. Purge the penitent of sin, let her set a wholesome example for posterity, lest furtive Venus befoul it.
[After the procession passes, the actors withdraw. The Epilogue comes out to speak.]
You have seen what dire machinations Richard has set in motion, what struggles his lust for the throne have visited on his afflicted land. As this raging boar, this bane of the kingdom, Gloucester, climbs towards the pinnacle of power, great Hastings’ blood has been shed because in his life he favored the little princes. Rivers, Vaughan and Grey, struggling against the new reign, have been locked away in the horror of prison and are destroyed with a lethal wound.
Go to Act I of the Second Action