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THE DUKE OF BUCKINGHAM, A LONDONER
Let the Mayor come first accompanied with citizens, then the Duke with other nobles: they assemble at Bernhardes Castle.
BUCK. Reverend throng of citizens, of the kind which the glorious city of London produces in abundance, see how every man is come here with happy step, of his own free will, how every sort of townsman has thronged here, so that they might give back to Gloucester the scepter usurped by his bastard nephews, lest these spurious offspring befoul the reign. (He sendeth his man into the palace.) But you, give the Duke advanced notice of our coming, lest such an upheaval might immediately disturb the anxious man. Tormented by England’s heavy travails, his fellow citizens humbly beg that he will deem this approach by his faithful subjects compatible with his dignity, while they consult with him about very serious matters.
Kingship is a great burden, nor does its sweet poison immediately attract good men, men whom civil madness will vex with its everlasting threats. Lo, men choose elegant manors for themselves by fraud, and no weapons suffice to protect the sovereign. And although — [Here he observes that he is losing the people’s attention and breaks off.] — but this public address is oppressive. Why do I persist in it? Because even if his great care for the crown recommends this pious duty to him and his faithfulness renders the Duke free of any suspicion of coveting the throne, I still fear that the idea that an uncle’s reign is infamous will deter him, as long as his nephews are alive. He has a deep sense of honor. The Duke desires to remain in obscurity, removed from the violent evils of envy. (His servant retourneth and secretly reporteth to the Duke, whom he sendeth againe.)
Citizens, the Regent, made suspicious by the size of our crowd, refuses to give us a hearing unless he knows the reason for our approach. [To the servant.] Report to him that a large number of Nobles and also the Lord Mayor, escorted by many citizens, humbly wish to consult with him. A domestic evil troubles us, which this band of people will entrust to his ears alone. [To the crowd.] But let us abase ourselves and petition Gloucester. With many prayers we shall beseech this reluctant man that, as the legal heir, he must occupy the throne of this kingdom.
But see, escorted by two bishops, the pious prince appears on his balcony. Ah, this blessed Duke thinks only of divine matters!
A LONDONER Oh lying fraud, doing its work with boldness! While it cheats, wearing an alien guise, in its self-confidence it fears nothing. But the Duke thinks nobody else able to withstand his hidden evil, and his criminality is self-deceiving. [Enter Gloucester.]
BUCK. Great Prince, this numerous crowd of citizens requests that it be permitted to address Your Excellence about a serious matter. They bring unheard-of great things for the kingdom, and great glory for yourself. But the crowd does not dare express its pious bidding, unless you signify that this is permitted.
GLOUC. It will be permissible to speak your mind. It is advantageous to know the public will.
BUCK. The people, having long suffered tyranny, are delighted that the day has at last dawned on which they may finally free themselves of their ancient fear, and on which there is welcome security for their lives. So, unique heir, when the Commons met in full assembly and discussed public matters, by their vote they ratified that you should claim the glory of the kingdom. Nor does the scepter, oppressed by the Queen Mother’s adultery, tolerate the unclean offspring of your brother. So now this crowd of citizens has come, so that by public acclamation it might humbly ask much of you — that you free your fellow citizens of their long-standing terror, and that with a wise hand you govern the kingdom that rightfully belongs to you.
GLOUC. Although I know full well how truthful are the people’s claims, I nonetheless fear the shades of my late brother, nor am I so insane as to be a cruel uncle to my nephews. Nor will the public attack me with wild statements that I am seeking my brother’s throne. Nor, by the same token, let foreign nations wound me with reproaches if I, the uncle, should feloniously usurp the throne from my nephews by deceit, or should seize my kinsman’s scepter that is not properly mine. Rather, I shall remain withdrawn, safe from the injuries of envy. Blind ambition does not beset my mind. The duties of overseeing my kinsman’s kingdom weigh on me sufficiently.
But I do not regret that you have said these things to me. Rather, your love compels me to express my gratitude. I beg you, do not love my nephew the less because I administer his government as a private citizen. Although, as a boy, he has not learned how to rule, nevertheless he is assisted by my efforts. This boy will sufficiently protect the glory of the realm, which nobody denies has recently come to flourish more. After the Protectorship was entrusted to me, ancient hatred ceased; threats were dissolved, and grudges, defeated, have languished, partially because of good counsel, but mostly in accordance with the will of God. Let nothing injure the King’s rule, good gentlemen. It is fitting that I be content with the title of subject.
BUCK. Allow us to say a little in our turn, famous Duke. His subjects will not permit your nephews to rule, the great Peers forbid it, the lowly Commoners forbid it. They are zealous to purge the throne of the blot of adultery. If you stubbornly refuse the scepter, they still hope by their entreaties to persuade some nobleman of the sort who delights in the splendor of royal pomp. Therefore let these people hear your decision about these matters.
GLOUC. I regret that the people begrudge his children their father’s kingdom, since I honor my late brother’s memory. Would that they would tolerate his nephew’s rule! But nobody can govern an unwilling people. Since I see that they have decided this by their unanimous vote, and since they are deposing my illegitimate nephews, inasmuch as I, the sole heir, have a claim on the laws of the realm, being my father’s sole surviving son, and inasmuch as it is needful to defer to my fellow citizens, I bow to your wishes. Behold, I lay claim to my rightful kingdom. And I think I am created King all the more since this is done by the vote of my subjects. I accept the care of England, and also that of France: as King I claim my two kingdoms, and as sovereign I shall hold the reins of England more legitimately. The peaceful tranquility of our citizens assures me of this. Then conquered France will learn to bear our bridle. Subdued, France will enrich English glory. And if I were such a wretch as not to seek such glory, I hope that the treacherous Fates break my life’s thread.
CHORUS King Richard! King Richard! King Richard!
The Duke and noblemen go in to the King, the Mayor and citizens departe away.
LOND. Sad crime seeks the appearance of virtue, and vice is ashamed of its own unsightly face. Alas, what naive man is unaware of these hidden deceits, of the uncle’s thousand schemes? Who fails to see that his brother’s kingdom was not already promised to him by deceit? In public he refuses the throne he secretly sought by his wiles. His pretended piety condemns the scepter which he acquires. Just as a bishop twice refuses to be consecrated, albeit, perhaps, he has actually lobbied for the office, so the King, willingly compelled, wields the boy’s usurped scepter. But we common folk are obliged to witness these stage-plays. A King is permitted to do what he wants, nor does a ruler always measure his desires according to pious law. Often it is best not to know something — which you know full well.
Go to Act IV of the Second Action