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LOND. I How long will England be divided by quarrels? How long will harsh Fortune heap calamities on calamities? Terrible evil has lately oppressed us. The harsh Fates know no limits to our punishments. Will the angry royal family, so full of murders, ever be at peace? Will no heir to the throne safely wield the scepter? But now they have no Lancastrian pretender to fear, since that dynasty has been overcome with steel. Now the unhappy royal family prepares a new crime for itself. How much disaster my mind, accustomed to evils, foresees! There is no trust in the kingdom, and mad ambition does not know how to spare its own kindred. The common folk stand about and mutter that the Duke of Gloucester is striving for the throne. Oh the uncle’s crime, cruel, horrible! The little nephews languish in an obscure prison. The appointed day for the coronation is put off. Throngs of petitioners cluster only at Gloucester’s door. There the glory of the Court shines, there goes anybody sentenced for a crime who wants to beg for leniency. Anyone who stands at the King’s doorway finds it bare, and if any faithful servant tries to see the King, a well-trained detail of soldiers wounds him.
LOND. II Alas, dear friend, faithful partner in this harsh lot, how we are oppressed by this serious situation! A savage whirlwind aims at exhausted England, and baleful evil regains its lost strength.
Tell me what misfortunes await our weary citizens.
LOND. II My hair standing on end, I shall briefly summarize the unholy crime. While, at my leisure, I wandered about the city in order to discover the news, and while I pondered the common joy of this new reign, behold, the people were being swept along in a mad rush. Blindly the crowd hurried along. Amazed, I immediately joined the throng. We were carried to the Cathedral. I pricked up my ears out of curiosity. Expecting there to be some holy service, I stood still, plunged in thought. And behold, a sanctimonious preacher mounted the pulpit, a man said to be distinguished at his letters but besmirched by foul habits, Dr. Shaa. Presently he began his sermon with the text Bastard slips shall not take deep root. And then he advised us: “How long has the realm been damaged by adultery and a false marriage! How greatly the gods will honor marital chastity! How greatly do they abhor the criminal offspring of adultery, witnesses to the sins of their fathers! God soon reveals secret wrongdoing and returns the inheritance to the true heir. Elizabeth, the wrongful mother who gained possession of the King’s corrupted bed, has by her seductiveness cheated the faith of marriage,” he declaimed with that unclean mouth of his. “And since Edward’s bed was first pledged to Lucy, therefore this woman has usurped Lucy’s marriage, this wicked mother Elizabeth, and by the sin of adultery has tainted her offspring. Nor has this broken vow alone rendered unclean the children of this father. His mother’s pollution proves that the offspring are corrupt. For her secret lewdness has mixed in bastards with the children of the great Duke. Their different appearances persuades me that Edward was a false child: only Richard displays his father’s image. The fact that he has the Duke’s face proclaims that he is King. Now, therefore, he lawfully lays claim to his father’s realm.” Soon he began to praise Gloucester to the heavens “because in him the royal splendor has always shone, because here the true likeness of his father flourishes. How his many virtues bless him!” He bade the citizens to admire this man, to favor him alone.
Everybody was stupefied, hung their heads, muttered, looked at one another. Gloucester arrived: by being late he failed to hear his own praises. He was accompanied by a large escort. When Shaa saw the Duke (as if a King of England had dropped out of the sky), he said “Behold, dear citizens, behold your prince!” Again he urged them to admire and cultivate this man, as if he regretted that his previous blandishments had been wasted in the Duke’s absence. “This is the true image of his father, this is the face of the Duke. His father cannot die as long as Richard lives!” Escorted by his retinue and sighing deeply, the Duke pushed through the throng, offered his face for inspection, and stationed himself on high.
But what was the result of this sermon?
v When Shaa had perceived that his praises had fallen flat, and that no happy populace was shouting “long live King Richard” (for at that point the people were astounded, amazed at this unspeakable crime), he grew ashamed of his effort and finally recognized his misdeed. His abandoned sense of shame sought in vain to regather itself, and he feared for his virtue, which he had previously disdained. The wretch, fleeing the faces of his fellow-citizens, secretly stole home. But what means this crowd of townsmen assembled in the Guildhall?
LOND. I The Lord Mayor has ordered his citizens to gather here, so that the noble scion of the Buckinghams may advise us about most weighty matters.
May a propitious God avert this evil omen! [Enter the Duke of Buckingham, the Lord Mayor of London, a nobleman, Fitzwilliam the Recorder, and two servants of Buckingham.]
BUCK. Moved, my fellow citizens, by love of you, today I shall speak of most serious matters. These are of greatest advantage to the nation, nor will they be unpleasant for you to hear, you whom this good fortune blesses on every side. For the happy times, for which you have so often prayed, for which you in your exhaustion have so long hoped in vain, the happy times which one would not be ashamed to have purchased at any price, by any effort, are now freely at hand. If you ask me to enumerate these great, longed-for things, they are secure tranquillity for your lives, sweet protection for your children, security for your wives. Alas, what great fear as oppressed you for so many centuries! For, by the gods and whatever heaven holds, among so many and so great deceptions who has been able to enjoy his property in safety? What solace has there been for our children? Who has been able to be master in his own house?
The mind shudders to think of describing the tyranny which, scourging the very inmost parts of the nation, has bled households white. Nor has this pestilence known how to spare the innocent. Why must I describe how much taxation was frequently imposed, how many imposts extorted by force have been squandered on luxury? Nor can the impoverished citizen pay his huge taxes. A light fine has grown into an immense thing, and a heavy penalty is exacted for a trifling offense. I think my fellow citizens remember Burdett, whom the King unworthily ordered beheaded because of a witty joke, even though the judge in the case shuddered at this unspeakable wrongdoing. And Cooke was for a long time a noble Alderman of your city. Alas, what great penalties that poor man paid because he had great personal obligations to men whom that evil King cordially disliked! It is not needful for me to recall the remainder of his victims. I think that scarce any of you here does not remember that bloodthirsty time, who is not conscious of his own fear, imposed either by the King’s wicked rage or the huge indulgence he granted to so many wicked felons. For in his anger the victorious King, having gained his rule by the sword, had the foul habit of thinking anyone guilty of treason who was related by blood or joined by friendship to somebody towards whom he had conceived a disliking.
But there was another evil worse than this one. Untrustworthy, he clung to this way of life, scarcely because an uncertain end of the war still vexed him, but, far worse, because he encouraged the civil strife which flourished at that time. The Nobles burned with hidden hatred against each other, nor will the aristocracy ever be more beset by feuding than when Edward wielded the scepter in his wicked hand. Civil wars broke out on all sides, to such an extent that the greater part of our countrymen died. Then there was a foul slaughter of our citizens, such as conquered France never witnessed. These killings wore out the powerful English race, it despoiled us of our old-time strength. This general murder consumed whole cities. And doubtful peace offered just as many perils as war. Lords were bankrupted, and whoever held land was wiped out. Who escaped the ruler’s anger? Now no wretch was free from fear, nor was any time more full of threats. Who could be dear to anyone, when he hated his own brother? Who could trust others, when his own brother was seen to be treacherous to him? Or who could be mild and sparing to others, when he had so often brought ruin on his own brother?
I shall not linger on the subject of what manner of friends the King used to cultivate, or the kinds of honors with which he decorated them. Who does not know that a single mistress had more power than all the realm’s great men? To be sure, I mention these things to you against my will, but why be silent about things known to every one of you? Where was he not driven by the great heat of his lust, the blind madness of his love? What virgin, a little more comely than the rest, what woman, outstanding for her handsomeness, was there whom he did not snatch from her mother’s lap, from her husband’s embrace? Although the tyrant’s oppression was universal, your city surpassed all others in feeling his menaces. He should rather have enhanced your glory, because you are the capital of the realm and because then the King, often defended by you, owed you many rewards. In his life he spurned your great kindnesses, and now that he is dead he can render you no thanks.
But see, there remains one man born of the same blood, a King destined to be more grateful to his subjects, more able to reward you for your merits and swiftly respond to your petitions. Nor, I think, have those things escaped your mind which the learned preacher has already announced. This interpreter of God’s will has never lied. This cleric summons the uncle to his brother’s throne. God has commanded Gloucester to rule, lest an unclean nephew should wield the scepter or adultery blight the glory of the kingdom. Richard is the unique heir of his brother. Both the Commons and the high-minded Peerage have decided humbly to beg the uncle of the King to protect the glory of the kingdom and, as heir, to assume the burden of ruling this flourishing island. I know that he will be reluctant to do this. The great labor of governing deters him; being exposed to envy, he will resist. He will say that an unpopular reign cannot maintain the peace: in how many waves is the deceiving splendor of kingship tossed!
Believe me, my fellow citizen, a boy cannot sustain such a great burden. A proverb echoes in my ear, unhappy the kingdom ruled by a child. The throne requires gifted intelligence, full maturity, such as you see in the boy’s uncle. Therefore, if public safety is dear to you or if peace treaties, which we have so long hoped for, are advantageous, you will ratify the choice of the Peerage. Let Gloucester be declared King unanimously. He will be more eager to undertake such a labor if assailed by your request, even though he was previously unwilling. Therefore state your opinion frankly. [The people do not respond. Buckingham, aside to the Lord Mayor.] Why this deep silence? Why do the Commons keep quiet?
MAYOR [Aside.] Perhaps the people misunderstood what you said.
. [Aside.] I will address them again, going into the matter more deeply. [Aloud.] Citizens, those bad times are over. By happy fortune, nuturing peace at long last flourishes, unless someone should be insane enough to despise his own welfare, or knows not know to profit from it. As long as Edward oppressed England, fiercely raging with that truculent expression of his, in what waves was this island continually tossed? The lives of our citizen were not safe, our goods were never locked away from anyone. Extravagance and the King’s lust dissipated everything. What virgin was untouched? What wife was free of unjust shame? His whim was law. That power of his was miserable for all our citizens, but by far most miserable for you Londoners, even though his position urged kindness towards you. v But one man exists who can avenge such dangers, the Duke himself, born of the royal stock — the glory of Gloucester, revered by every man, whom the law of the land has long commanded to rule, the sole remaining heir of the royal family.
The bastard offspring of a wicked mother vainly claims his adulterous father’s throne. A most excellent man has recently revealed these facts to you when, as a preacher, he gave his sermon. No pious man will condemn his words. Moved by them, the noble order of the Peerage and a great crowd of citizens have decided humbly to beg the uncle that he assume his rule, nor let this bastard nephew injure the national honor. He will do this willingly, if he perceives that you of your own free will desire it. Therefore express your opinion with a public acclamation ([The people still remain silent.] The Mayor and others going to the Duke.) What’s this? Are they still silent? This thing is exceeding strange.
MAYOR [Aside.] It is customary for one man to issue public instructions to the citizenry about great matters. Perhaps if he makes the request, they will respond. Address your fellow citizens, spokesman of the city.
FITZ. What lunatic will deny that everything is occurring much more fortunately than was the case when the Duke’s late brother was King? It is not necessary for me to rehearse all the details; this most preeminent of Dukes has recalled them. You yourselves can easily bear witness about these two times. Who does not know how the previous reign oppressed us, how the new one shines? Therefore this high-minded Lord now wants to know if it is your will that the Duke of Gloucester should rule. For it is established that each social order has made up its mind, and the English Peerage call him the true King of England. Who does not know what kind of a man he his, how great he is? Dr. Shaa, that learned preacher who by his art opens up heaven, has demonstrated to everyone by what right he, as heir, claims the glory of rule. Therefore make manifest your will with a public exclamation. [More silence.]
BUCK. (Rounding the Mayor in the eare [i. e., aside.]) This silence is too stubborn. [To the people.] My friends, I desire to speak to you about these matters at such length, induced not by any sense of legal right, but rather moved by the love of you, since I wish to reveal to you a previously unknown boon. This thing will be of advantage to each and every one of you. I beg you, immediately give an open sign of your opinion.
MAYOR [Aside to Buckingham.] The whole hall is a-buzz with a low murmur. The citizens are silent, and they look behind them, wondering what this shouting was. They are proclaiming no reign for the Duke.
BUCK. [Aside to the Mayor.] By heaven, that was a favorable acclamation, a loud shout — as long as nobody mutters anything to the contrary. [Aloud.] Therefore, since this public acclaim is unanimous, I request that you join me as companions tomorrow. As suppliants, we shall all address the Duke, asking if he will assume the title of sovereign.
A NOBLEMAN (Weeping behind the Duke, turning his face towards the wall.) Alas, unhappy man, why wet your cheeks with tears? Does it help to bemoan this criminal deception? Tears may be a furtive act of piety, but nonetheless a dangerous one. You Who alone see the world’s fate, great Father, protect the innocent wretches from a sad death. But I am a follower of the Duke.

Go to Act III of the Second Action