*Author’s Note: Please accept my apologies as this draft is as yet incomplete, however I have posted it in the interests of whetting the appetite for further instalments as U.S President Donald Trump’s administration wends its way toward its own inevitable version of the Battle of Bosworth Field.
As a very wise man in antiquity once stated:
“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players”
With that in mind, what follows will attempt to live up to this dictum. The play below takes the guise of a senatorial satire, or a congressional caricature if you will, that seeks to provide some wry observations of the melodrama that is contemporary American politics, embellished still further with a smattering of glib insights into the internal machinations of the most influential political offices in the entire Western world.
It is undeniable, from even the most cursory sideways glance, that the current American political situation has devolved of late into such high farce that it would be difficult, if not impossible, for any budding author to exaggerate sufficiently to give these events enough satirical edge, or to lampoon such bizarre circumstances with the requisite vigour and piquancy to be worthy of more than one’s passing attention, let alone amusement. Therefore, I have elected instead to adopt a more tangential approach to depicting the humour of the situation, in preference to a more direct, and perhaps less subtle parody- something that would epitomise the standard comedic fare being currently directed from all quarters at the rather hapless, incumbent American President.
The following play is my Shakespeare-inspired interpretation of these recent and current events, providing sardonic commentary on those unrelenting battles being fought over recent decades between the American Democrats (as represented by the House of Lancaster) and their Republican counterparts (as represented by the House of York). I hope to rather pointedly reference some of the main political players and their respective roles in these presidential proceedings, as seen through the lens of Shakespearean drama, as circumstances have unfolded with an air of inevitability during the more recent political history of the good ol’ U.S of A.
On a final point of interest, you may notice that I have utilised a number of literary allusions derived from some of my favourite English poets, with some of their most influential works interspersed liberally throughout the play. I have particularly referenced works by such luminaries as John Donne, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Andrew Marvell, John Milton, John Dryden, John Keats, William Blake and Percy Bysshe Shelley, as well as including some of those wonderful sonnets penned by Shakespeare himself. Each poetic reference has been used, often with subversive intent, not only to give greater context to the action of the narrative, but also to highlight what I believe to be a common thread of cognition that links these creative icons together, forming an uniquely English literary perspective on life and love. I believe this shared perspective further enhances those themes that I had hoped to develop most prominently in adapting Shakespeare’s play, “Richard III”, for my politically-inspired purpose.
Thus, without further ado, herewith I present for your edification, entertainment and reading pleasure, the story of the remarkable rise and precipitous fall of a ruthlessly ambitious and utterly venal man. A man hellbent on the remorseless acquisition of power and influence for its own sake; a power he would obtain mainly through subterfuge, collusion and murderous villainy of the highest order.
It is also the story of his thoroughly deserved comeuppance, whereupon the forces of progressive morality, nobility of purpose and cultural enlightenment eventually prevail over the rapacious greed, mendacity and reactionary behaviour of a leader who was entirely unfit to assume the obligations and mantle of the offices to which he so gracelessly aspired.
Richard, Duke of Gloucester (soon to be King Richard III):
Deformed in body through a severe scoliosis, and twisted in mind by his hatred of not only his own hideous form, but also those near and supposedly dear to him. In response to this self-loathing, he finds refuge and solace in aggressive bluster, topped off by an over-weaning self-confidence verging on narcissism. He is inherently evil and fatally corrupt, as well as sadistic and manipulative, and so will stop at nothing to achieve his ultimate goal of becoming King. His undoubted (though often under-appreciated) intelligence, his political savvy, and his at times dazzling use of blunt language keep his audience of loyal followers suitably enthralled—and his subjects and rivals are thus kept firmly under his thumb, or more accurately perhaps, beneath his boot-heel … Donald Trump
Richard’s right-hand man in his schemes to gain power. The Duke of Buckingham is almost as ruthless, amoral and ambitious as the much maligned King whose interests he serves … Steve Bannon
King Edward IV:
The older brother to Richard (Donald Trump) and Clarence (Jeb Bush), and the King of England at the start of the play. Edward was the driving force behind the Yorkists’ brutal overthrow of the Lancastrian regime, but as King he soon sought to unify the various political factions that had initially epitomised his reign, turning them instead against those common enemies from beyond England’s shore, a tactic that seemed quite successful at first, at least up until the Black Prince’s rebellion came to fruition. He is, however, blissfully unaware of his youngest brother Richard’s scheming ways and, more tellingly, his none-too-subtle designs on assuming Edward’s throne … George.W.Bush
George, Duke of Clarence:
The gentle and naively trusting brother, born between Edward (George W Bush) and Richard (Donald Trump) in the York family, and thus a classic embodiment of middle child syndrome. Richard eventually has Clarence murdered before he can achieve the mantle of his older sibling (King Edward), since he stood squarely between Richard and his attainment of the ultimate prize: the British Crown … Jeb Bush
Widow of the recently deceased King Henry VI (Bill Clinton), and mother of the slain Black Prince Edward (Barack Obama). In medieval times, when kings were deposed, their children were often killed to remove any threat from the royal line of descent—but their wives were frequently left alive because they were considered somewhat harmless, if not inconsequential. Margaret’s husband was deposed and murdered (along with their children) by the family of King Edward IV (George W Bush) and Richard of Gloucester (Donald Trump). As a result, she is consumed with bitterness and detests both Richard and his fellow Yorkists, all of whom were complicit in not only the destruction of the House of Lancaster, but also in usurping their God-given right to rule … Hillary Clinton
The young widow of Edward, the Black Prince (Barack Obama), who in turn was the son of the former King, Henry VI (Bill Clinton), and Margaret of Anjou (Hillary Clinton). Lady Anne hates Richard (Donald Trump) with a passion for his part in the death of her husband. For reasons of politics—and no doubt for his own sadistic and sexual pleasure—Richard attempts to persuade Anne to marry him, against not only her own better judgement, but also the wave of nausea and dread that would surely envelope her with his every fond caress … Michelle Obama
Queen Elizabeth (aka Lady Gray):
The wife of King Edward IV (George W Bush) and the mother of the two Young Princes (at that time the would-be heirs to the English throne) and their older sister, young Elizabeth (Ivanka Trump). After Edward’s death, Queen Elizabeth (also known as Lady Gray) is at Richard’s mercy. Richard rightly views her as an enemy not only because she opposes his ruthless rise to power, but also because she is an intelligent and strong-willed woman who represents a potential threat to him. Elizabeth is part of the Woodeville family; her kinsmen—Dorset, Rivers, and Gray—are her allies in court … Condoleezza Rice
Dorset, Rivers, and Gray:
The aforementioned kinsmen and allies of Queen Elizabeth, and members of the Woodeville and Gray families. Rivers is Elizabeth’s brother, while Gray and Dorset are her sons from her first marriage. Richard eventually executes Rivers and Gray, but Dorset flees and manages to survive … Newt Gingrich, Paul Ryan, John McCain
Duchess of York:
Widowed mother of Richard, Clarence, and King Edward IV. The Duchess of York is Queen Elizabeth’s mother-in-law, and she is very protective of Elizabeth and her children, who are the Duchess’s grandchildren. She becomes very angry with Richard for his repeated heinous and treasonous actions as the play unfolds … Barbara Bush
The Young Princes:
The two young sons of King Edward IV (George W Bush) and his wife, Elizabeth (Condoleezza Rice). Notably, their names are actually Prince Edward and the young Duke of York, but they are often referred to collectively as “the Young Princes”. Agents of Richard murder these boys—Richard’s own nephews—in the Tower. Young Prince Edward, the rightful heir to the throne, should not be confused with the elder Edward, Prince of Wales (known as the “Black Prince”: first husband of Lady Anne, and the son of the former King Henry VI.) … Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio
The former Queen Elizabeth’s daughter. Young Elizabeth enjoys the fate of many a Renaissance noblewoman. She thus becomes a mere pawn in political power-brokering, and is promised in marriage at the end of the play to Richmond (Jared Kushner), the Lancastrian rebel leader, in order to unite the warring houses of York and Lancaster … Ivanka Trump
Two of Richard’s flunkies among the nobility, who generally do his bidding in matters of a delicate, or even a contentious nature … Scott Pruitt and Rex Tillerson (Acts 1-4), John Bolton and Mike Pompeo (Acts 5-7)
A murderer whom Richard hires to kill his cousins, the Young Princes in the Tower … Dick Cheney
Earl of Richmond (or “Henry Tudor”, soon to be King Henry VII):
A member of a branch of the Lancaster royal family, Richmond gathers a force of rebels to challenge King Richard for the throne. In the play, he embodies all the regal qualities of goodness, justice, and fairness—all those things that Richard lacks. Richmond is portrayed in such a glowing light not least because he founded the subsequent Tudor dynasty, that still ruled England during Shakespeare’s time … Jared Kushner
A lord who maintains his integrity, remaining loyal to the family of King Edward IV (George W Bush). Hastings loses his life for making the mistake of trusting Richard … Mike Flynn
Lord Stanley, Earl of Derby:
The stepfather of Richmond. Lord Stanley secretly helps Richmond (Jared Kushner), although he is under Richard’s constant and watchful gaze … Al Gore
The Bishop of Ely (John Morton):
The ultimate fence-sitter in the War of the Roses conflict as it evolves. Although a closet Lancastrian sympathiser by inclination, he ends up playing both sides against the middle in this bitter factional dispute. Ultimately, the Bishop’s feeble attempts at reconciliation between the Yorkist leaders and the Lancastrians lead to nothing but failure, and as a consequence he becomes a sworn enemy to both sides in the conflict. His colourful and controversial memoirs, currently being transcribed at the calligrapher (and creatively entitled “A Canterbury Tale”), are surely destined to become one of the most widely read works of the High Middle Ages, and will no doubt take pride of place in the fiction section of the Libraries at the Monastery of Ely, Merton College in Oxford and at Gloucester Cathedral … James Comey
Lord Mayor of York City:
A once popular and influential, if somewhat unsophisticated fellow whom Richard and Buckingham dupe and then use as a pawn in their ploy to help Richard become King … Boris Johnson
The Archbishop of York (Thomas Rotherham):
An ally of Edward IV (George W Bush), who appointed him Keeper of the Privy Seal, and then Lord Chancellor, and even more so of his wife, Queen Elizabeth (Condeleeza Rice). The Archbishop of York helps to provide sanctuary in Westminster Abbey for the recently widowed Queen, by releasing the Great Seal of England to her for her and her young son’s protection from Richard, who had just assumed the role of Lord Protector for the heir to the throne … Nigel Farage
The Archbishop of Canterbury (Cardinal Bourchier):
A man of considerable power within the church hierarchy, whom Buckingham convinces to enable the release of the young Duke of York from sanctuary at Westminster Abbey, thereby facilitating his unfortunate murder at the hands of his devious uncle … Mike Pence
A friend of Queen Elizabeth, Dorset, Rivers, and Gray, who is executed by Richard along with Rivers and Gray at Pontefract (“Pomfret”) Castle … Mitt Romney
Gramm, Leach & Bliley:
Moneylenders of nefarious purpose, and dubious repute … Robert Rubin, Alan Greenspan, Ben Bernanke
A Russian-born former courtesan, turned secret agent for the wily Grand Prince of Moscow: Ivan III (Vladimir Putin). She would soon become the highly favoured mistress of the former King Henry VI (Bill Clinton), who was blissfully unaware of her rather sordid past and her foreign affiliations. Her surprising emotional vulnerability eventually leads to her downfall, leaving her with an unenviable reputation as a scarlet woman, who soon becomes a pariah across the entire kingdom … Monica Lewinsky
A one-time Habsburg countess, and former niece to the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick III. Her betrothal in an arranged marriage to Richard, Duke of Gloucester (Donald Trump) soon followed, although her new husband remained stubbornly determined to keep their liaison secret once they returned to England. She is currently locked high in the Tower in York City, where she remains his prisoner, at (among other things) his sexual beck and call … Melania Trump
Generals loyal to King Richard III: … John Kelly, Jim Mattis and H.R.McMaster
The Mormear of Caithness, the northernmost region of the Scottish highlands, who sets himself against the hegemony of the British Crown, going rogue and recklessly threatening his neighbouring earldoms and fiefdoms with destruction … Kim Jong Un
Mystic and seer, a renowned alchemist whose technical wizardry can bewilder the most cynical onlooker, not only dumbfounding various members of the aristocracy, but also bewitching and beguiling the common throng with his mesmerising presence, and his preternatural skills in the finer aspects of that darkest of the dark arts: “Science” … Elon Musk
Madwoman of Cheapside:
Escaped lunatic from the asylum at “Bedlam”, who accosts King Richard in the street, threatening to embark on a relentless campaign of harassment against both the King and his followers, only to meet a sticky end once Richard’s patience finally runs out … Maxine Waters
Grand Prince Ivan III of Moscow (“Ivan the Great”):
Supreme leader of the Russian people. Fiercely patriotic, and utterly ruthless in the protection of his own interests and those of his people, but who also continues to work tirelessly in broadening his sphere of influence beyond his own borders by either invading neighbouring lands, or through his vast network of spies and agents who have systematically infiltrated the Royal courts of those nations on friendly terms, and particularly of those who would otherwise consider themselves his mortal enemies … Vladimir Putin
The Russian Bear Hunt:
Master of the Hounds to the Grand Prince of Moscow, Ivan the Great … Robert Mueller
Carter, the page boy:
A poor, unfortunate page boy, mauled to death after being attacked by an enormous Russian bear just prior to Grand Prince Ivan’s Royal Hunt … Carter Page
Actors/Cast of Characters in the Russian play within a play (known as “Much Ado About Nothing”):
Eugene Ohr/Claudio … Bruce Ohr
Manforte … Paul Manafort
McCabe/Conrad … Andrew McCabe
Don John … John Brennan
Stefan Halper/Dogberry the Watchman … Stefan Halper
Countess Veselnitz … Natalia Veselnitskaya
Claudio’s wife … Nellie Ohr
Conrad’s wife … Jeannie Rhee
Post Play performances:
Kavanaugh the Poet:
A Gaelic poet, whose wit and whimsical turn of phrase concerning the vagaries of relations with the fairer sex leaves his audience rolling in the aisles … Brett Kavanaugh
Russian folk balladeers, dancers and poets
A collection of local Muscovite artists, who each give the evening’s theatrical performances a tantalising taste of the traditional Russian culture and aesthetic … Emin Agalarov, Aras Agalarov, Yevgeny Prigozhin, Oleg Deripaska, Sergei Gorkov, Sergei Kislyak, Kirrill Dmitriev, Natalia Veselnitskaya, Viktor Yanukovych.
Miscellaneous walk ons and bit part players:
Various ruffians, scoundrels, spies, toadies, minions and liegemen, all of whom are somewhat incidental to the central drama of the play, but who otherwise flesh out the mise en scene at the periphery of the play’s action … Rod Rosenstein and the Deep State Players
Characters not appearing in the play proper, but integral to the plot and/or action:
Richard II: … John Fitzgerald Kennedy
Henry Bolingbroke/Henry IV: … Lyndon Baines Johnson
Henry V: … John Fitzgerald Kennedy (in a dual role)
Richard, Duke of York: … George Bush Snr.
King Henry VI: … Bill Clinton
Edward, The Black Prince: … Barack Obama
Our story begins in the year 1478, during the reign of the Yorkist King Edward IV. The “War of the Roses” has been raging on and off for over two decades, with the two rival branches of the Royal House of Plantagenet, the Houses of York and Lancaster, fighting tooth and claw for ultimate supremacy, and hoping to wrest absolute control of the English throne for their posterity. However, it is King Edward’s youngest brother, the hunchbacked Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who is at the forefront of our narrative, with his aspirations to procure the throne, whether by hook or by crook, up until his eventual well-earned demise, being the primary focus of our twisted tale.
The Duke of Gloucester is a thoroughly misbegotten creature who represents the very culmination of centuries of royal inbreeding, deformed in both body and mind. His pervasive self-loathing has been sublimated into a cruel and sadistic personality, that not only lusts remorselessly for power, but also has an utter disdain for the health and welfare of others. Richard simultaneously projects an inflated sense of his own self-importance, with an air of unabashed entitlement that inevitably leads him to covet the throne of his eldest brother.
His envy and ruthless ambition is destined to soon be sated, therefore, with the brutal murder of his elder brother (the Duke of Clarence), and then further still by the death (from ostensibly “natural” causes) of the eldest sibling King Edward, leaving only Edward’s very young sons (“the Young Princes”) as heirs to the throne. Sadly for them, the young lads find themselves the final remaining obstacles in the path of their uncle’s remorseless scheme to becoming the supreme ruler of all England.
But, before we delve further into the action of the play, some background detail is essential for those unfamiliar with the history of this infamous rivalry:
The House of Lancaster’s claim to the English throne stems from a rather dubious usurper in Henry Bolingbroke, a not-so-delightful rogue who would subsequently become King Henry IV after defeating and deposing his cousin, Richard II, in 1399. Upon the assassination of this erstwhile monarch, the new King would soon embark on a massive program of expenditure to curry favour with the peasantry, promising to build a “Great Society” to elevate every downtrodden soul in the kingdom from their privations, a scheme that was meant to promote the welfare of those denizens at the very lowest echelons of civil society. This scheme would come to serve the dual purpose of being seen ostensibly to improve the lot of the poor serfs (a noble aim without doubt), whilst simultaneously ensuring that they would form a bulwark against any possible uprising or rebellion being fomented against Lancastrian rule, with these serfs being left forever indebted to the largesse of the Crown. This was to be an ongoing tactic employed by the Lancastrian Kings down through the ages, whereupon the championing of the poor soon became nothing more than a political tool, albeit one of noteworthy effectiveness, ensuring the relative stability of their various reigns. Needless to say, the rub so to speak was that this required the peasants to remain as peasants, and for the poor to remain poor in perpetuity, since the establishment of a “middle class” of burghers and other bourgeois upstarts was entirely anathema to maintaining the emotional blackmail of this alleged, and some would say largely illusory, compassion.
Upon his death, King Henry IV was succeeded on the throne by his young son, who as Henry V came to embody all that a king should be in his brief tenure as monarch. A renowned miscreant in his youth, the young “Prince Hal” would mingle seamlessly with the lowlifes of the demimonde in the various gaming houses, taverns and bordellos of the city, but then reformed completely on the death of his father in becoming a paragon of virtue (in the public eye at least) in his short but highly successful reign. After a famous and rousing victory over the French at the Battle of Agincourt, Henry V became the supreme ruler of England and France, only for him to die unexpectedly from dysentery at 36 years of age.*
*At the tender age of 16, a young Prince Hal had managed to survive an arrow shot by a rebel soldier that pierced just under his left eye, penetrating the skull backward to the occiput; a wound incurred during the torrid Battle of Shrewsbury. Purpose built tongs had to be designed, then specially made to carefully insert nearly six inches into his wound, to grip and then extract the metal arrowhead from his cranium. It then took a further three weeks to cleanse and close up the hole left behind. It was a miraculous recovery indeed, and one that stood in stark contrast to the rather mundane nature of his eventual demise.
Henry V’s untimely death thus elevated the heroic King’s infant son to the throne, who thereafter became King Henry VI. After ruling through a series of regents throughout the remainder of his childhood, the younger Henry’s reign was destined to be somewhat compromised by his tendency to mental instability, but even more so by the compulsive womanising he undertook with almost every one of those sundry scullery maids, domestics, flower sellers and other lowly attendants who were unfortunate enough to cross his path. Ultimately, it was a rather indiscreet illicit affair he maintained with a former Russian courtesan, Baroness Lewinsky, that would come to compromise his rule to its utmost, as it not only reflected poorly on his lack of discretion and political judgement, but also it cast doubt in the minds of his subjects on his ability to keep all of his irons in the fire without constantly getting his fingers burnt.
Lamentably, King Henry would compound this perception by coming under the undue influence of three thoroughly unscrupulous money lenders in Gramm, Leach and Bliley, who persuaded the degenerate King to make various financial decisions that would eventually come to fatally compromise the wealth of his entire kingdom. These decisions favoured the nefarious usurers mightily, but many of the most vulnerable of his subjects were either left homeless or destitute, even many years after his demise, while fortuitously the majority of the most wealthy land barons remained largely unscathed by (or even on occasions profited from) the King’s financial profligacy.
King Henry VI’s throne was soon challenged by the Duke of Gloucester’s father Richard, Duke of York, leading to an initial defeat of the Lancastrian forces in the Battle of St Albans in 1455, a defeat that marked the beginning of the “War of the Roses” between the two noble houses. Henry’s Queen, a formidable woman formerly known as Margaret of Anjou, further stoked the embers of this conflict between the upstart Yorkists and the Lancastrians by publicly labelling all of her husband’s rivals and their followers as “a basket of deplorables”, an unnecessarily provocative comment that predictably led to a loss of popular support for the Lancastrian cause, and an even more deadly turn in their feud.
The ensuing conflict would eventually result in the capture of her husband at the Battle of Northampton in 1459, and subsequently to a period of Henry and his Queen living in exile for the best part of a decade after Henry had been miraculously rescued by loyalist forces. Ultimately, an uprising of these Lancastrian loyalists led firstly to her husband’s brief restoration to the crown in 1470, before he was once again overthrown, imprisoned and then ultimately murdered in the Tower shortly thereafter at the hands of his Yorkist rivals. As was the custom at the time, Queen Margaret’s life was spared, having been political neutered in Yorkist eyes upon the death of her husband, a decision they would later no doubt come to regret, as she remained a thorn in their collective side thereafter, harbouring ambitions for the crown herself in spite of seemingly having no legitimate claim to the throne by right of ascension.
Upon the defeat of Henry VI, his erstwhile rival’s eldest son ascended to the throne, becoming King Edward IV, where an albeit short-lived peace and stability was soon achieved. However, the new Yorkist King was then to meet many almost insurmountable challenges, principal among which was the first ever successful attack on English soil by barbarous Andalusian Berbers and Moors from the continent. These Islamic invaders managed to mount a decisive incursion into the northern city of York, wherein they sacked and destroyed the two tallest castle keeps in the entire city, leading to hundreds of peasants and soldiers being burned to death or crushed as these two symbols of Yorkist supremacy were razed unceremoniously to the ground.
King Edward took little time in setting about planning and executing reprisals for this impudence, sending forth crusaders to Granada (in the southern most regions of the Iberian peninsula), and also to the Maghreb in North Africa to hunt down the various caliphs and their generals who were thought to be responsible for this vicious attack. His crusaders even made their way to the Holy Lands, to the very heart of Ottoman Caliphate, but these latter forays became not only hideously expensive to finance, but also led to great deal of bloodshed, and the loss of tens of thousands of innocent lives. This provided little if any worthwhile gain for England’s security, especially as the crusaders failed to find any of the legendary (some might suggest mythical) weapons of mass destruction responsible for the York City devastation, but nonetheless the fruitless search for this particular Holy Grail placed an appalling strain upon the solvency of the King’s treasury.
Other notable incidents that characterised Edward’s eventful reign included the establishment of Guantanamo castle on the island of Majorca to house those Islamic fighters captured by his crusaders, and who were then brought back from Africa and the Middle East for some friendly persuasion in picturesque surroundings, and where they could particularly enjoy the various water-sports that were on offer there.
Of course, King Edward’s largesse was not merely confined to enemy combatants in far off lands, but also to his own subjects who were to benefit from a vastly improved homeland security, where the populace were made to feel safer from any further attacks through a great broadening of the powers of the constabulary who policed the cities and surrounding townships. Every conversation between the peasants and amongst the townsfolk was to be monitored through a network of informants, and every act of a private and personal nature was from now on to be faithfully recorded for the edification of those public officials whose task it was to scrutinise such important affairs, purely in the public interest of course. Such actions ensured that all patriots acted solely in the interest of their sovereign realm, and individual freedoms were frowned upon as serving to undermine the protection of the people against the spectre of further terrorist attacks.
After 8 years of Edward IV’s reign, the House of York’s grip on power was to be challenged by the heir apparent to the albeit dubious Lancastrian claim to the throne: Edward of Westminster, the “Black Prince” of Wales. The son of Margaret of Anjou and the former King Henry VI, the Prince had been living in exile in a large township on the Swahili coast of East Africa, under the rule of the Moaheb sultanate. The young Prince organised the local community whilst he was residing there, hoping to raise an army that would allow him to retake England for himself, and thereby regaining the Lancastrians’ “rightful” place as the sovereign rulers of England. This period of exile had been preceded by a four year stint of spiritual enlightenment spent on the island of Java under the tutelage of the great Rishi Soetoro, before then completing his formative education in the Sandwich Islands. Now, patiently biding his time in his African idyll, the Black Prince vowed he would soon be ready to launch his ultimate campaign for hope and change across the British Isles, with his zealous army of followers all-too-faithfully in tow.
Eventually, the Black Prince arrived on English soil where he first established a beachhead at East Anglia, and shortly thereafter a settlement was under construction that would soon come to be known as Washing Town. This township was founded on some reclaimed swamp land, yet in spite of this inauspicious beginning it soon became a thriving hub of activity. Sadly though, it would become even more conspicuous for the extreme level of institutionalised graft and corruption to be found there as time went by.
To fund the construction of the town, the young Prince foolishly curried favour with those self same unscrupulous usurers who proved the undoing of his dear father. Through his naive complicity with these money lenders, he would soon allow an incredibly high level of unregulated money printing to occur under his watch, an action that utterly devalued the local currency. This action served to thoroughly undermine the monetary worth of the hard toil of his own subjects, whilst compounding the error further by authorising negative interest rate loans to be established for the sole benefit of these same financial wunderkinds, allowing them to engage in the most outrageous and predatory speculative practices. By virtue of these decisions, many of dubious merit at best, all of this aforementioned speculation became effectively underwritten by the taxes extracted from his followers, in addition to those raised from the common folk whose assets were to be confiscated as his seat of power expanded from beyond the Washing Town environs into the surrounding hills and valleys.
As the Prince further consolidated his base of power, he began to cultivate a cult of personality among his acolytes, to the extent that these deluded zealots believed to a man that Prince Edward could not only control the weather, but had the power to even keep the tide at bay, like a modern day King Cnut. This adulation was sorely tested, however, when all those hundreds of windmills and sun traps he had constructed around Washing Town failed miserably to quell any of the winter storms and squalls that routinely rolled in off the North Sea, let alone to forestall the frosts and snowstorms that often blighted the region. Nor did they even remotely ameliorate the stifling heat of summer, in a climate that provided a most conducive environment for all those flies and mosquitoes that swarmed in their millions around the reclaimed swamp that gave Washing Town its pungent and oppressive ambience.
Before launching his planned final drive toward York City in his bid to unseat the incumbent King Edward IV, the Black Prince decided to take some time out to embark upon a grand tour around the Mediterranean Sea, with a view to forging alliances that he might soon rely upon should he manage to overthrow the current regime. Beginning in Libya, then moving on to Tunisia and Egypt, before finally travelling throughout the Levant, The Prince offered his good will and unequivocal support to all of those incumbent rulers and potentates of these regions. By the most amazing of coincidences, no sooner had our would be pretender to the English throne left each of these countries in turn on his Arab Spring Tour, that spontaneous rebellions or civilian uprisings would suddenly break out, each devolving inevitably into widespread death and destruction across the countryside, on the path to the bloody carnage of all out civil war.
His goodwill mission to North Africa and the Middle East complete, the young Prince then set off on his homeward voyage aboard the galley of a notorious corsair. He soon struck up a firm friendship with a wandering Bedouin who had joined the ship as they sailed along the treacherous Barbary Coast. Whilst examining an arquebus confiscated from a captured Hungarian soldier, the weapon unexpectedly discharged in the Prince’s hand, killing the mysterious Bedouin standing before him instantly. Once the shock of what had occurred to his new found companion had properly sunk in, the Black Prince and his corsair hosts buried the hapless Arab anonymously at sea, according not only to his religious custom, but also to convenience. Unbeknownst to all, the young prince had inadvertently (not to mention serendipitously) killed the infamous Abu Abdallah, none other than the devious Arab mastermind behind the twin tower attacks in York City only a few years earlier.
Whilst the Black Prince was otherwise engaged on his sojourn overseas, the remaining Lancastrians worked assiduously to completely undermine the integrity of the political scene in Yorkist territory through the mass importation of unskilled foreigners to form voting blocs, and by establishing widespread gerrymander through the propagation of multiple rotten and pocket boroughs within the York City and surrounding electorates to unduly influence the representative balance in the House of Commons.
Eventually, the Black Prince returned to English soil, where he soon rallied the troops in Washing Town together and marched on toward the northern capital, York City. In the forest beyond the outskirts of the city, he met up with his mother Queen Margaret and her followers to assess the best potential plans of attack against the King’s enclave, but they soon became somewhat hesitant in the face of his vastly superior forces and heavily fortified positions. Rather than a direct frontal attack to dethrone the King, the Prince and his mother resolved instead to launch a relentless propaganda campaign amongst the townsfolk designed to undermine the faith of the populace in the Yorkists in general, and the King and Duke of Gloucester in particular. This was to be achieved by disseminating paid agent provocateurs liberally amongst the town folk, who relentlessly lampooned the alleged lack of intelligence and the perceived failings of the King and his sibling. The Duke of Gloucester’s physical deformities in particular were a constant source of mirth and merriment in the taverns and the marketplaces of the city, where these agents would relentlessly mimic and mock his general appearance, stumbling gait, pale complexion and unruly hairstyle.
Once the King and the Duke realised what treason was being plotted against them, they marshalled their powerful Yorkist forces to hunt down and root out the interlopers, and in the ensuing melee the Black Prince was put to the sword and a sizeable portion of his army were either killed or maimed. Meanwhile, his loyal wife Anne and his mother Queen Margaret somehow managed to escape, living to fight yet another day for the apparently forlorn Lancastrian cause, a cause that refused to die in spite of the very best efforts of their adversaries. The lifeless corpse of the Black Prince, on the other hand, was hastily buried in a shallow, unmarked grave directly beneath the keystone in the arch of the Micklegate Bar, in ironic counterpoint to its primary purpose as the ceremonial entrance point to the city for receiving and then honouring visiting dignitaries and monarchs.
Now we find ourselves in the present day. It is mid winter in England’s north and in spite of his recent run of glorious victories, the Duke of Gloucester finds himself in the throes of a strange melancholy, as the continued existence of his regal sibling, and his inconvenient issue, begin to rankle interminably……………..
Act I Scene 1:
York City. A busy city street.
It is in the full chill of midwinter, with people walking to and fro in front of a large and foreboding tower. A brisk and bitter wind is whistling down the street, and the condensation from the breath of the common throng clings tightly to the cold stone walls of the building.
A lonely figure stands hunched over in the cold, gripping his overcoat tightly against his chest as he gazes out on the cityscape before him. It is Richard, the Duke of Gloucester, cowering there against the tower wall, a tower that had once stood proudly in London Town, only to then be dismantled stone by stone and rebuilt at the Duke’s request (and with no expense spared) in the city of York as a monument to his family’s ultimate supremacy.
The rebellion of the Black Prince has just been quashed, but Richard was unduly stung by the criticism some of Edward’s traitorous operatives had recently been spreading about the city regarding his rather ungodly appearance. Richard’s vanity had indeed been badly wounded as a consequence, so he sought the services of a local apothecary with a view to helping him, at the very least, with his ghostly pale complexion. Richard was soon to be mightily pleased with the effects of the prescribed concoction, with his skin tone being miraculously transformed from its usual deathly pallor to a more vibrant and virile caramel orange hue. Our hero could not wait to exclaim his new found feelings of confidence in his transformed appearance to the world, yet almost immediately to then lament the cruel hand that fate had dealt him in being born so misshapen and repulsive to the fairer sex.
Now is the winter of our discontent,
Made glorious summer by this sun of York!
But I, alas, am not shaped for sportive tricks,
Nor made to court an amorous looking glass;
I, that am rudely stamped and want love’s majesty
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;
I, that am curtailed of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deformed, unfinished, sent before my time
Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them—
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to see my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own deformity.
Realising belatedly that he was not well cut out to avail himself of more than the merest tincture of the pleasures of the flesh, Richard resolved in that moment to become a villain par excellence; to revel in the discomfiture of others, to gain pleasure from the tears of the grieving widow or the abandoned child, to find mirth in the face of pain and anguish wherever it might be found. So, he laid a course directly for treachery and deceit, making landfall at first light upon his own brother, the unfortunate Duke of Clarence, in whom he saw not a loving older brother, but instead merely his greatest obstacle to power should his oldest brother, King Edward IV, ever shuffle from the mortal coil.
As such, it had now become necessary to sow the seeds of discord and distrust between his two brothers, to set one against the other through subtle deception by the spreading of lies, distortions and misrepresentations. In the midst of drunken carousing with Edward one winter’s eve, one such seed was planted subtly by Richard in the King’s mind; that his other brother, the Duke of Clarence, had designs upon the throne and was actively plotting against him. Whilst outwardly fond of Clarence, Richard secretly despised his brother’s complete lack of vigour and general passivity, seeing his low energy levels as a sign of his undeniable weakness of character. The Duke was also, to Richard’s mind, merely riding on the coat-tails of his stronger siblings and valiant forebears, basking in so much unearned and reflected glory, rather than relying solely on victories won due to his own mettle and toil.
(Enter Clarence, guarded, and Brackenbury)
Brother, good day. What means this armèd guard
That waits upon your Grace?
Tend’ring my person’s safety, hath appointed
This conduct to convey me to the Tower.
Upon what cause?
Clarence: (shrugs shoulders)
Because my name is George.
Or, perhaps because ’tis not!
Alack, my lord, that fault is none of yours.
The King has harken’d after prophesies and dreams,
These have moved his highness to commit me now!
‘Tis not the King that sends you to the Tower:
My Lady Gray, his wife, Clarence, ’tis she
That tempers him to this extremity.
Why, this it is, when men are ruled by women!
Brackenbury : (interjecting)
I beseech your graces both pardon me;
His Majesty hath straitly given in charge
That no man shall have private conference,
Of what degree soever, with his brother.
We know thy charge and will obey.
Well, your imprisonment will not be long:
Meantime, have patience.
(Exeunt Clarence, with Brackenbury)
Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous,
By drunken prophecies, libels and dreams,
To set my brother Clarence and the King.
Simple, plain Clarence, I do love thee so
That I shall shortly send thy soul to heaven,
If heaven will take the present at our hands.
But who comes here? Hastings?
What news abroad?
No news so bad abroad as this at home:
The King is sickly, weak and melancholy
And his physicians fear him mightily.
Now, by Saint Paul, that news is bad indeed.
O, he hath kept an evil diet long,
And overmuch consumed his royal person.
‘Tis very grievous to be thought upon!
I’ll be along presently.
There was suddenly no time to lose, as it appeared that soon King Edward was destined to meet his maker. Thus the Duke of Clarence needed to be dealt with post haste before the web of lies and deceit became untangled, or the death of the King would undo all the best laid schemes that Richard had previously put in train. So, away to the Tower it was, where Richard resolved to despatch the increasingly inconvenient Clarence with the utmost urgency, hopeful of then leaving only the “Young Princes” in his path to power when Edward’s anticipated final curtain would finally fall.
(Exeunt Richard, on horseback)
Act I Scene 2:
York City. Under the keystone at Micklegate Bar, on the edge of the city centre. The corpse of the former King, Henry VI, is carried in on a bier. Followed directly behind by Lady Anne, the widow of Edward the Black Prince, dressed in mourning clothes, and several armed guards accompanying her.
Set down, set down your honorable load,
If honor may be shrouded in a hearse,
Whilst I awhile obsequiously lament
Th’ untimely fall of virtuous Lancaster.
Be it lawful that I invocate thy ghost
To hear the lamentations of poor Anne,
Wife to thy Edward, to thy slaughtered son,
Stabbed by the selfsame hand that made these wounds.
O, cursèd be the hand that made these holes;
Cursèd the heart that had the heart to do it;
Cursèd the blood that let this blood from hence.
(Enter Richard, Duke of Gloucester)
What black magician conjures up this fiend
To stop devoted charitable deeds?
Villains, set down the corpse or, by Saint Paul,
I’ll make a corpse of him that disobeys.
Avaunt, thou dreadful minister of hell.
Thou hadst but power over his mortal body;
His soul thou canst not have. Therefore begone!
Sweet saint, for charity, be not so curs’d.
Foul devil, for God’s sake, hence, and trouble us not,
For thou hast made the happy Earth thy hell,
Filled it with cursing cries and deep exclaims.
If thou delight to view thy heinous deeds,
Behold this pattern of thy butcheries.
(Points to the corpse)
Indeed, ’tis true, I slew this noble King,
And hath sent him swiftly to his Heaven.
He was much fitter for that place than Earth,
Yet I have taken scant pleasure in it.
So, dear lady, spare thy wrathful curses,
I did not kill your once belov’d husband,
He was slain instead by King Edward’s hand!
In thy foul throat thou liest: Queen Margaret saw
Thy murderous falchion smoking in his blood;
Which thou once didst bend against her breast,
But that thy brothers beat aside the point.
Richard: (feigning hurt feelings)
I was provoked by her slanderous tongue
Which laid guilt upon my blameless shoulders.
Is not the causer of the timeless deaths
Of Henry and Edward Plantagenet,
As blameful as the executioner?
Thou art the cause, and most accursed effect.
Richard: (leaning closer to milady, and whispering in honeyed tones)
Divine perfection of a woman!
Thy beauty was the cause of that effect;
Thy beauty: which did haunt me in my sleep,
To undertake the death of all the world,
So I might live one hour in thy sweet bosom.
Lady Anne: (recoiling momentarily in a mixture of horror and indignation)
If I thought that, I tell thee, homicide,
These nails should rend that beauty from my cheeks.
Richard: (carefully and furtively putting his right arm around Lady Anne’s shoulder in a gesture of supportive affection)
It is a quarrel most unnatural,
To be revenged on him that loveth thee!
Surely, thou hast more than ample reason
To distrust this lamentable creature,
Standing before thee, bereft in love’s thrall!
But, have pity on this restless spirit,
Who hath gazed upon a wandering star,
Daring to dream of snatching it hither,
Predicting that there in heaven will find:
That from thine eyes love’s knowledge shall derive.
(Then, thrusting his left hand southward toward milady’s nether regions, Richard (surprisingly) met little resistance. It would seem that Lady Anne, ever the pragmatist, realised belatedly that in the fortunes of war, to the victor inevitably goes the spoils!)
Reason is our soul’s left hand, Faith her right,
By these we reach divinity!
Say, then, my peace is made.
I would I knew thy heart.
‘Tis figured in my tongue.
I fear me both are false.
Then never man was true.
Well, well, put up thy sword.
But shall I live in hope?
All men, I hope, live so.
Vouchsafe to wear this ring.
To take is not to give.
Look, how this ring encompasseth thy finger.
Even so thy breast encloseth my poor heart;
Wear both of them, for both of them are thine.
(Exeunt Lady Anne, and her entourage)
Richard: (to himself)
Was ever woman in this humour woo’d?
Was ever woman in this humour won?
I’ll have her; but I will not keep her long.
What! I, that kill’d her husband and his father,
To take her in her heart’s extremest hate,
With curses in her mouth, tears in her eyes,
The bleeding witness of her hatred by;
Having God, her conscience, and these bars
And I nothing to back my suit at all,
But the plain devil and dissembling looks,
And yet to win her, all the world to nothing!
Hath she forgot already that brave prince,
Edward, her lord, whom I, some three months since,
Stabb’d in my angry mood at Tewksbury?
A sweeter and a lovelier gentleman,
Framed in the prodigality of nature,
Young, valiant, wise, and, no doubt, right royal,
The spacious world cannot again afford
And will she yet debase her eyes on me,
That cropp’d the golden prime of this sweet prince,
And made her widow to a woeful bed?
On me, whose all not equals Edward’s moiety?
On me, that halt and am unshapen thus?
My dukedom to a beggarly denier,
I do mistake my person all this while:
Upon my life, she finds, although I cannot,
Myself to be a marvellous proper man.
I’ll be at charges for a looking-glass,
And entertain some score or two of tailors,
To study fashions to adorn my body:
Since I am crept in favour with myself,
Will maintain it with some little cost.
But first I’ll turn yon fellow in his grave;
And then return lamenting to my love.
Shine out, fair sun, till I have bought a glass,
That I may see my shadow as I pass.
Act I Scene 3:
Having seen to it that Henry VI’s body was suitably interred, burying him in a pauper’s grave beside the turbulent whitewater of a small brook adjacent to the Ouse River Bridge, Richard then set his sights firmly upon a confrontation with Henry’s widow, the one time Queen: Margaret of Anjou. In spite of others in the Yorkist camp perceiving her as little more than nuisance value, Richard rightly believed that she was still a woman of considerable power and boundless ambition, and therefore remained a potential obstacle to his plans to gain his desired ascendancy to the throne of England.
Richard’s closest confidant and ally, the Duke of Buckingham, had just informed him that John Morton, the Bishop of Ely, was in possession of some damaging correspondence from the former Queen Margaret; letters that exposed her pivotal role in the recent uprising of her son, Edward the Black Prince. Whilst the good Bishop had initially been extremely reluctant to release these missives to Buckingham, perhaps hoping in vain to provide some cover for Margaret’s treasonous actions, it was eventually impressed upon him in no uncertain terms that, should he not comply with the Duke’s request, he would be compelled to do so, and by lethal force if necessary.
Thus, with proof of Margaret’s traitorous actions confirmed to his satisfaction, Richard of Gloucester immediately rode off on horseback to the exotically named Xanadu, the former Queen’s palatial estate that lay a few miles to the East in the York City hinterland, with a view to confronting her over her role in that recent rebellion by her son and his cohorts.
Upon his arrival at Xanadu, Richard was ushered through the body of the manor into an ornate and elaborate garden paradise at the rear, where her ladyship awaited him, standing defiantly beneath a stately pleasure dome of oriental design, boasting an ornate glass ceiling of awe-inspiring intricacy. Running by the structure was a stream blessed with a charming ambience, while beyond that were twice five miles of fertile ground with walls and towers girdled all around. Beyond the bright gardens were many a blossoming incense-bearing tree, surrounded then by forests, ancient as the hills, so that the garden became completely enfolded in sunny spots of greenery.
The former Queen was clad in the most bizarre raiments imaginable for a lady of her position and standing, with a buttoned double breasted straw-coloured suit top, under which she wore somewhat incongruous black and gold pantaloons that seemed not only at odds with her royal status, but also her gender. She explained that her attire was more than 150 years old, having been allegedly brought back from the mystic Far East by the Venetian trader Marco Polo in the late 13th Century. Reputedly, it was once worn by a certain Yuan Dynasty Princess known as Kököchin, a member of the Royal Court of the great Mongol Emperor, Kublai Khan! Or, at least, that was the tale the merchant in the town who sold it to her would have had her believe.
To Richard’s eye, her garb seemed more suited to Kublai Khan’s manservant than to that of a lady of the Royal Court, no matter whether of the Chinese or the English variety. “Well, to each his own”, Richard thought.
Richard: (with his trademark tact)
What interesting attire, milady.
Thou cutteth a fine figure of a man!
Villain! Thou art the lowest of creatures.
Crawl back under that rock whence thou cometh!
Richard: (feigning a fawning disposition)
Is that how thou greeteth invited guests?
‘Twas thee who summon’d me hence, dear lady.
“Summon’d” thee? Surely thou speaketh in jest!
How so, O’ malform’d spawn of the devil?
By thy rebellious acts in York city,
To further the claims of thy upstart son.
Am I to suffer for my Edward’s sins?
I am guiltless, despite thy assertions.
Foul wrinkled witch, what makes thou in my sight?
Couldst thou not knoweth thy obligations?
Wert thou not banished, on pain of death,
Upon the demise of thy lech’rous spouse?
I was; but I do find more pain in banishment
Than death can yield me here by my abode.
Did York’s dread curse prevail so much with heaven?
That Henry’s death, my lovely Edward’s death,
Their kingdom’s loss, my woeful banishment,
Could all but answer for that peevish brat?
Can curses pierce the clouds and enter heaven?
Why, then, give way, dull clouds, to my quick curses!
If heaven have any grievous plague in store
Exceeding those that I can wish upon thee,
O, let them keep it till thy sins be ripe,
And then hurl down their indignation
On thee, the troubler of the poor world’s peace!
No sleep close up that deadly eye of thine,
Unless it be whilst some tormenting dream
Affrights thee with a hell of ugly devils!
Thou elvish-mark’d, abortive, rooting hog!
Thou that wast seal’d in thy nativity
The slave of nature and the son of hell!
Thou slander of thy mother’s heavy womb!
Thou loathed issue of thy father’s loins!
Thou rag of honour! thou detested………
Have done thy charm, thou hateful wither’d hag!
But thou canst scarcely talk to me of “peace”,
When thy son hath worn a destructive path
Across the Holy Lands, ere this past spring,
From Benghazi to the Levant. Co-sign’d,
It seemeth to me, by thy sullied hand.
Thou art the most brazen of demagogues!
‘Twas nought to do with me that my Edward,
In youthful zeal, didst bring such misery!
How naive dost thou consider me, witch?
Thy Edward was but a puppet to thee!
His actions that fomented these conflicts
Were, in nature, entirely innocent!
And bloody wars that broke out in his wake
Were mere consequences unintended!
A most convenient fabrication!
Thy conscience clear’d with a wave of thy hand.
Those drums of war doth beat in hostile lands,
At the whim of Mullahs bent on revenge,
For past injustices that bred disdain,
And made loyal envoys ripe for slaughter.
Such bad, bad experiences, ’tis true,
But false tales make thy motives crystal clear!
Thy fictions dwell in their own sad domain,
Entwin’d in a tangled web of deceit.
Poisonous villain! Misogynous knave!
Grope for manly “truths” if thou desire it.
‘Tis a woman’s right to choose false from true.
My feminine prerogative, in fact!
Such tremendous hate in thy heart thou hast.
Thy deceptive nature is plain to all!
Deceiving foes is something I cherish,
As it advances my malign purpose!
Richard: (leaning over her imposingly)
Thy misdeeds fester in those dank corners,
Found within the dungeon of thy conscience,
And my hope most fervent: thou remaineth,
Imprison’d by tormented memories,
As I bear righteous arms to strike thee down,
And banish thy unworthy soul to hell,
For unpunish’d crimes thou hast committed.
(Raises his broad sword and strikes her dead with one deft blow)
Richard: (to himself, standing over Margaret’s bloodied corpse)
I’ve now return’d this most taxing burden,
With one sword’s blow, to her maker’s bosom,
Consign’d her to her sweet oblivion,
Where perhaps the supreme higher power,
Might recast this pugnacious fighter’s will,
Whilst she dwells in His affordable care.
(Pauses thoughtfully, in a moment of solemn lucidity)
Without her, follows to this land and me,
To thee, herself, and many a Christian soul,
Death, desolation, ruin and decay!
His soliloquy finished, Richard dragged Margaret’s lifeless corpse to the edge of the stream, crossed himself in a vague attempt at piety, and then gently lowered her body into the flowing waters. She floated down the stream as it widened to a river, there meandering with a mazy motion through wood and dale until it reached a vast cavern, measureless to man, where her body sank in tumult. Onward and onward her body was carried, until it faded beyond view, headed ultimately toward a lifeless ocean.
With his sacred duty to the dead complete, Richard quickly bestrode his agile steed and began riding apace back to York city, and to the Tower where his hapless brother Clarence awaited his date with destiny, a fate Richard was clearly hopeful of expediting before there was any chance that King Edward’s death might precede it.
As he rode back along the country lanes, Richard gazed about the fields that lay on either side of the road, where fleetingly it seemed to him, in a rare and all-too-brief moment of clarity, that his country was dying. The vines in the vineyards seemed strangely withered, with their grapes now shrivelled and dry, not plump and robust as they had seemed on his forward journey. The wagon loaded with corn that he had seen along the way there now lay askew with its front axle broken, sheared off no doubt by the undue weight of its load. Its bounty now lay strewn about on the ground, spoiling in the hot summer sun, while the farmers ploughed in the surrounding withered fields for bread in vain.
As he rode on, questions swirled around in Richard’s mind about the course he had just deliberately set himself upon in despatching so brutally the former Queen, and what might be the cost of the impending murders of all of those remaining relatives who stood in his path to attaining the English crown. “What is the price of experience?”, he wondered. “Do men buy it for a song? Or wisdom for a dance in the street?”
These simple yet utterly perplexing questions hung in the air for a moment or two, whilst Richard thought on it further: Eventually, on the subject of experience, he came upon the answer: “No! It is bought with the price of all that a man hath: his house, his wife, his children!” Whilst pondering the significance of this “price” that might indeed need to be paid, yet another thought crossed his ever more crowded conscience, this time as regards that ever-ephemeral abstraction known as wisdom: “But what of wisdom, that most precious and elusive of all commodities?”, he wondered. “Surely, it can only be sold in a desolate market where none can come to buy!” After a short interval, a diminutive voice inside his head replied; “And just as surely it can only be earned through devotion, respect and reverence to God, and in the shunning of evil and sin!” Stifling a sudden impulse to laugh out loud, Richard immediately replied under his breath, as if to reply to an unseen expositor or oracle: “Well, there’s no hope of that, now is there!”
As such vexed questions of philosophy and morality served no immediate purpose to him, and being generally unused to the vagaries of such nuanced cognitive processes at the best of times, Richard decided instead to focus his intent purely upon completing the task at hand without the slightest recourse to conscience, or even a modicum of concern for any unintended consequences these actions might inevitably impose.
It is an easy thing, Richard thought, to triumph in the summer’s sun. He could readily speak the laws of prudence to the homeless wanderer, yet still listen impassively to the hungry raven’s cry in the wintry season, when his red blood was fill’d with wine and with the marrow of lambs, all without the slightest hint of compassion or remorse. Similarly, it was an easy thing, he thought, to laugh at wrathful elements, to hear the dog howl at the wintry door, or to listen to the ox in the slaughter house moan, in the certainty that he could remain entirely aloof and unmoved by such dreadful portents and indurate suffering.
Richard had long since chosen to see a God on every wind and a blessing on every blast; To hear sounds of love in the thunder storm that destroyed his enemy’s house; Or to rejoice in the blight that covered his fields, and the sickness that cut off his children. Thus, the course Richard was now planning to embark upon on his road to power should surely be no different at all, he thought, and any cost would be but a mere trifle to the conscience of one as robust and resilient as he.
Richard resolved instead to rejoice heartily in the tents of his own overwhelming prosperity. Inevitably, there would always be slaves grinding at the mill, or captives in chains, or poor in the prisons, while soldiers in the field were fated to find themselves where their shatter’d bones lay them: groaning among the happier dead.
For Richard, that groan and the dolor would now be quite forgotten, as he decided that the injustices of the world were to be of no further consequence to him, even those that came directly from the actions at his own hand. He was henceforth to be nought but an island, entire of himself in a sea of iniquity, and such considerations would deter him not one moment longer from his brutal and ambitious mission.
Richard heard a bell tolling in the distance as he rode briskly into town, and strangely he came to the singular belief that it was tolling for him alone. In this instant, it finally dawned on him: It had always been an easy thing for others to talk of patience to the afflicted, those such as he who were forced by fate to live on the merest scraps of life. Such unfortunate creatures had clearly been abandoned by God, and were of such misshapen form or misbegotten lineage, that they were routinely to suffer the mocking derision of even the most plebeian of people. Instead, those of Richard’s ilk were expected to merely wither and shrivel in a discrete corner without so much as a whimper, awaiting the smallest crumb of kindness or favour from their supposed “betters”.
Well, that was certainly not to be so any longer for such a “deplorable” a creature as he! Richard was now even more determined to make his path to glory in his own image, in his own way and in his own time. No wall could be built too long, no tower too high, no barricade too impenetrable to keep Richard, Duke of Gloucester, from his ultimate destiny!
(Exeunt, riding off into the distance)
Act 2 Scene 1:
York City. The Tower, where Clarence awaits word from his brother, King Edward, hoping against hope that he might be summoned to him, so that he might clear his name of these wrongful accusations of treason that had been unjustly levelled against him. Clarence was sitting in a lime tree bower within the centre courtyard of the tower, a place of contemplation usually reserved for the condemned prior to their execution, when his brother Richard arrived to offer comfort and consolation to his brother.
Richard! Dearest brother, thou art well come.
I regret I’ve lost beauties and feelings,
Such as those that would have been the most sweet,
To my remembrance even when advanc’d age
Hath dimm’d mine eyes to blindness! Woe, alas!
Richard: (feigning concern)
My gentle-hearted Clarence! Thou hast pined
And hunger’d after Nature, many a year,
In the great City pent, winning thy way
With sad yet patient soul, through evil and pain
And strange calamity! It shan’t be long,
Dear brother, before Edward sees reason,
And thou canst once more enjoy sweet freedom!
As I looked out this very eve, the last rook
Beat its straight path along the dusky air.
Homewards, I blest it! Deeming its black wing
(Now a dim speck, now vanishing in light)
Had cross’d the mighty Orb’s dilated glory,
While I stood’st gazing; or, when all was still,
Flew creeking o’er my head, and had a charm
For thee, my kind-hearted Richard, to whom
No sound is dissonant which tells of Life!
I’m grateful, brother, for thy well-wishes.
I hope thy blessing is returned in kind,
For ’tis thee who needs the Lord’s Grace, not I.
I’ve seen the World in a grain of sand,
And Heaven in a wild flower,
Held Infinity in the palm of my hand,
and Eternity in an hour!
I must hasten now to King Edward’s side,
And entreat His Majesty on your behalf.
Trust me, sweet Clarence, I shalt not fail thee!
Clarence: (to himself)
As virtuous men pass mildly away,
And whisper to their souls to go,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say,
“The breath goes now,” and some say, “No,”
So let us melt, and make no noise,
No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move;
‘Twere profanation of our joys
To tell the laity our love.
Moving of the earth brings harms and fears,
Men reckon what it did and meant;
But trepidation of the spheres,
Though greater far, is innocent.
As Richard walked away from his brother, he thought of how much he despised his trusting and innocent disposition, not to mention his complete lack of perceptiveness as to Richard’s own true nature and motivations. He thought of his brother Clarence’s naivety thus:
“This life’s dim windows of the soul, Distorts the heavens from pole to pole,
And leads you to believe a lie, When you see with, not through, the eye.”
With this in mind, Richard then wandered down into the town to a local public house of his acquaintance where he met with two ruffians who, for the princely sum of 30 gold nobles, were hired to deal with his milquetoast sibling once and for all. A warrant in Richard’s hand was then given to these murderers, a missive in which Clarence was summoned from the Tower to confront the King over the allegations that had been made against him. As one might expect, Richard had ensured that his brother would not survive this final journey, and some hours later Clarence’s body was indeed found in the bushes by the highway some four miles out of town, stabbed multiple times in the chest, abdomen and neck, with much blood and gore spread round the scene giving the impression of a frenzied attack.
When notified of the murder of his brother, Richard feigned distress and shock at first, then collecting himself to wax philosophically to those gathered around him:
“Man was made for joy and woe, Then when this we rightly know, Through the world we safely go. Joy and woe are woven fine, A clothing for the soul to bind.”
As Richard accepted the consolations and expressions of sympathy from those around him, he could not help but smile inwardly at his well laid plans having come to fruition so successfully. He consoled himself with a final thought on his late, lamented brother:
“Some are born to sweet delight, Some are born to endless night!”
Act 2 Scene 2:
The Tower, in Richard’s private quarters situated high atop the newly constructed castle keep that arose from the west wing of the tower, a turret heavily machicolated to protect against unwanted intrusions by allowing boiling oil to be dropped on those plebeians below who might have the impudence to arrive uninvited.
Richard and his partner in crime, the Duke of Buckingham, are pacing back and forth across the room, engaged in vigorous debate over the most pressing affair of state imaginable; namely how Richard, the hideously hunchbacked Duke of Gloucester, might conquer that most insurmountable of foes: namely the indomitable and curvaceous, yet not-always-so-fair Lady Anne. Having made short work of the former Queen Margaret, as well as his own weak-willed brother Clarence, Richard planned to wed and bed the Black Prince’s widow in due course in the expectation of an upcoming ascent to the kingly throne, that is of course once his sickly older sibling, King Edward, had finally reached the end of his ever shortening rope.
Richard: (attempting some impromptu verse)
Her raven-hair’d beauty dost beguile me,
But to win her I must dress in finery
Of the highest fashion to hide my form,
Lest it should invoke her womanly scorn.
Buckingham: (responding in kind)
All the finest silken cloth in the realm,
Could but scarcely hide thy misshapen form,
But a prodigious gift for poetic arts,
Hath been known to make the hardest of hearts,
Soften through those persuasive allusions,
That pander to love’s grander illusions!
Could I rely upon thy promotion,
To produce words of suasive devotion,
To seduce this creature most feminine,
And release that wanton harlot within?
But what of thy wife, Countess Melania?
Wilt she not object most strenuously,
To thy assignation with Lady Anne?
Our union is one of convenience,
Purely for political purposes.
Therefore, the Countess hath but little choice
To acquiesce and allow my desires,
Whether in or out of the bedchamber!
Any protestations she cares to make
Are thus destin’d to fall upon deaf ears.
Still, ’tis better to keep this tryst secret,
So the Countess is kept well in the dark!
If the “ball and chain” learns of thy affair
It shall doubtless lead to trouble and strife!
My dearer half shall no doubt please herself,
No matter of what crime I’m deem’d guilty!
Let’s delay no longer; Lady Anne awaits
And love’s destiny is in the offing!
So Richard and his literary offsider, the not-quite-so-noble Duke of Buckingham, rode off to the Black Prince’s estate on the outskirts of Washing Town. Undeterred by the hostile reception he was likely to receive from the acolytes of the recently deceased would-be usurper, Richard confidently headed east at some pace, certain that the prize awaiting him there would be all the sweeter for hearing the distant chorus of consternation arising from those unpatriotic vermin residing in the swamp waters of that corrupt, little backwater township.
Act 2 Scene 3:
Casa di Caprio, the magnificent hacienda-styled villa sitting high atop the tallest hill overlooking Washing Town. Beyond the main building’s manicured grounds were surrounding plantations of coffee, tobacco and cacao, where the Spanish-speaking braceros and slaves who were indentured to the former Black Prince harvested these cash crops from dawn till dusk.
In short order, Richard and the Duke of Buckingham arrived on horseback, tied their mounts to the hitching rail, and then strode confidently inside. There they met with Lady Anne’s maid servant, who then ushered them into the reception room to await her ladyship.
(Enter Lady Anne)
Lady Anne: (still wearing Richard’s ring, feigning disdain but secretly pleased at his arrival)
A sudden pall hath enshrouded my home,
And Lo! Who else but thee, noble Gloucester!
Hast thou come to claim thy prize, foul devil?
Thy shape of beauty moves away the pall,
Of our dark spirits, and o’er-darken’d ways!
Thou art more lovely and more temperate
Than a summer’s day, and more refreshing
Than endless fountains of immortal drink,
Pouring unto us from the heavens’ brink.
Lady Anne: (in mock derision)
Thy silver’d tongue belies a blacken’d heart!
Let’s now leave the woeful world behind us,
With careless lips, eyes and hands desirous,
To enslave our bodies to passion’s needs,
That are soon reconciled in carnal deeds,
Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.
Let’s retire to my bedchamber, milord,
To abandon ourselves to lust and need,
Where thou shalt match thy eloquence in deed!
Lady Anne then ascended the stairs and turned to Richard, giving him a conspicuous “come hither” look as she entered the bedchamber above. Richard acknowledged her with a wink, and when she had gone from his view he turned to Buckingham and thanked him for his service in scripting those two crucial snippets of dialogue that he had then used so tellingly in wooing the reluctant wench now awaiting him in her boudoir.
Richard: (attempting to match his literary offsider with a dash of poetic verse of his own, albeit somewhat more vulgar than romantic in its context)
Thy honey’d words hath soothed the savage breast,
Of that luscious creature whom I shall best,
In the brutish battleground of her bed,
In stark remembrance of her maidenhead!
Buckingham: (taken only slightly aback by the crudeness of his prosaic friend)
The pleasure is most surely mine, milord.
Anything to help that promotes thy cause.
Richard: (continuing in a poetic vein)
That dark lady was heartily impress’d,
With false declamations of tenderness.
Now, thy poetic skills have won her trust,
And ensured her assent to sate my lust.
Richard then convinced his friend to gather his writing materials together and to sneak furtively into Lady Anne’s bedchamber, wherein to hide himself under her bed, where hopefully he might find inspiration to compose suitable words of love and devotion with which Richard might impress his new found love. Fortunately for Buckingham, in a manner common to ladies of the court in this era, Lady Anne’s preparations to make herself more amenable and demure for the erotic congress to follow were laborious and time consuming. With the various unguents, fragrant oils, emollients, powders and perfumes being applied liberally to various parts of her ladyship’s no doubt voluptuous body, the hapless Duke managed to roll out a series of poems designed to weaken the moral resolve of even the most reluctant ingénue.
The scents of rose-water, oil of cloves, lavender and sandalwood emanating from Lady Anne’s dressing room were becoming ever more overpowering to the senses as he finished his screed, but before he could extricate himself from her room unseen, Lady Anne had re-entered her bedchamber and was making her way, scantily clad, to the bed where Richard awaited her, blissfully unaware of the unwelcome interloper who hid in the shadows beneath them. Meanwhile, Richard stood proudly by the bed as he watched in anticipation as his tender prey became, in his mind at least, a willing accomplice to her own erotic demise.
Richard no doubt believed that the two prospective lovers were completely unequal partners in this transaction of matters sexual; he for contemplation and valor formed, while she for softness and sweet attractive Grace. His fair, large front and eye sublime declared his absolute rule; with hyacinthine locks round from his parted forelock which hung in manly clusters, down to but not beneath his broad shoulders. She wore her unadorned umber tresses dishevelled as a veil down to the slender waist, and in wanton ringlets waved in the way a vine curls her tendrils, implying subjection, but required with gentle sway: by her yielded, and by him best received. He was thus aroused to the utmost as he watched her prepare herself to yield to his lust with such coy submission, modest pride, and sweet, reluctant amorous delay.
While outwardly she seemed the very picture of sexual readiness and desire, for her part Lady Anne’s wan expression, her pouting lips and her gentle tousling of her long black hair hid her true feelings; those of sheer terror and violation at having to submit to the bestial lusts of the man who had only recently slain her husband, and then his father, in cold blood. She must choose, she thought, to just ignore that sick, sinking feeling that threatened to overwhelm her. She must strive to overcome that pervasive sense of utter revulsion that had shaken her to her very core. She must resolve, instead, to fixate solely on attaining her ultimate revenge on that cloven-hoofed demon that now stood before her. Thus, she tenderly wrapped her arms around his serpentine body, and the lovers then fell upon the soft, luxurious bed in rapturous embrace.
Richard: (breathless in anticipation of the earthly delights to follow)
Should I, at thy harmless innocence, melt?
License my roving hands, and let them go,
Behind, before, above, between, below,
Oh my America! My new-found-land!
Anne: (in rather more forlorn than sweet surrender)
Come to me now, my sweet love’s conqueror!
Richard: (pausing to express his admiration for her raven-haired voluptuousness, even whilst in flagrante delicto)
In old age, black was not counted fair,
Or if it were, it bore not beauty’s name.
But now is black beauty’s successive heir,
And beauty slander’d with a bastard shame!
Anne: (replying coyly, in the midst of “battle”)
Sweet beauty hath no name, no holy bower,
But is profaned, if not lives in disgrace!
My soul doth tell my body that he may
Triumph in love: flesh stays no farther reason,
But rising at thy name doth point out thee
As his triumphant prize. Proud of his pride,
He is contented thy poor drudge to be,
To stand in thy affairs, fall by thy side.
Anne: (wistfully, with more than a tinge of regret)
Love is too young to know what conscience is:
Yet who knows not conscience is born of love?
Then, gentle cheater, urge not my amiss,
Lest guilty of my faults thy sweet self prove!
Richard: (revelling, having surrendered completely to his carnal desires)
For, thou betraying me, I do betray
My nobler part to my gross body’s treason!
No want of conscience hold it that I call
Thy “love” for whose dear love I rise and fall.
After a couple of hours or more of torrid lovemaking, of every conceivable variation, deviation and aberration, Richard decided to enhance his romantic credentials still further by reading a poem that he alleged to have prepared in honour of his new love’s consummate elegance and beauty. With this pièce de résistance, Richard hoped to win not just the body of the beautiful Lady Anne, but also her mind and her heart, and thus holy matrimony would be assured to follow soon thereafter.
Richard: (reading from Buckingham’s hastily written poems)
So we thy airs contemplate, words and heart
And virtues, but we love the centric part.
Nor is the soul more worthy, or more fit
For love, than this, as infinite as it.
But in attaining this desired place
How much they err that set out at the face.
The hair a forest is of ambushes,
Of springs, snares, fetters and manacles;
The brow becalms us when ’tis smooth and plain,
And when ’tis wrinkled shipwrecks us again—
Smooth, ’tis a paradise where we would have
Immortal stay, and wrinkled ’tis our grave.
The nose (like to the first meridian) runs
Not ‘twixt an East and West, but ‘twixt two suns;
It leaves a cheek, a rosy hemisphere,
On either side, and then directs us where
Upon the Islands Fortunate we fall,
(Not faint Canaries, but Ambrosial)
Thy swelling lips; to which when we are come,
We anchor there, and think ourselves at home,
For they seem all: there Sirens’ songs, and there
Wise Delphic oracles do fill the ear;
There in a creek where chosen pearls do swell,
The remora, thy cleaving tongue doth dwell.
These, and the glorious promontory, thy chin,
O’erpassed, and the straight Hellespont between
The Sestos and Abydos of thy breasts,
(Not of two lovers, but two loves the nests)
Succeeds a boundless sea, but yet thine eye
Some island moles may scattered there descry;
And sailing towards thy India, in that way
Shall at thy fair Atlantic navel stay;
Though thence the current be thy pilot made,
Yet ere thou be where thou wouldst be embayed
Thou shalt upon another forest set,
Where many shipwreck and no further get.
When thou art there, consider what this chase
Misspent by thy beginning at the face.
Rather set out below; practise my art.
Some symmetry the foot hath with that part
Which thou dost seek, and is thy map for that,
Lovely enough to stop, but not stay at;
Least subject to disguise and change it is—
Men say the devil never can change his.
It is the emblem that hath figured
Firmness; ’tis the first part that comes to bed.
What a strange concoction thou art, milord.
The soul of an artist, but the instincts of a knave,
Ennobling my mind, yet defiling my body.
Such a paradox in so misshapen a man!
Inwardly, Lady Anne was not only struck by the apparent irony of Richard’s seemingly dual personality, but also of her current unenviable situation, having to feign sexual interest in a man whom she despised, and who physically and emotionally repulsed her. She also took a moment to lament the necessity for women such as herself, widowed and with a family decimated by the fortunes of war or civil conflict, who are then forced to find some small consolation (or ensure their own survival) through an undesired union with another man; even one who might be a mere shadow of their former husband in style, wit and decorum. It was either that or eke out a living hand to mouth on the streets, or find themselves debased still further as a whore in one of the many squalid ‘stewes’, bawdy houses or brothels that proliferated in the darkest corners of the realm. Such was the life for such women since time immemorial – thrown out, often through no fault of their own, into the very margins of civil society: neglected, abused, debased and discarded. Fortunately, perhaps, this sorry situation had conveniently afforded her that rarest of opportunities: to obtain sweet revenge against the very man who had so recently murdered her once beloved husband!
Richard: (reading from another of Buckingham’s hastily scrawled scripts)
I wonder, coy mistress, what thou and I
Did, till we loved? Were we not weaned till then?
But sucked on country pleasures, childishly?
Or snorted we in the Seven Sleepers’ den?
’Twas so; but this, all pleasures fancies be.
If ever any beauty I did see,
Which I desired, and got, ’twas but a dream of thee.
Lady Anne: (suggestively)
As our two loves be one, and, thou and I
Love so alike, then none do slacken, none can die!
Are thy appetites so insatiable,
That I, thrice risen, shall die once again?
Lady Anne: (Launching herself upon him once more)
Now let us sport us while we may,
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapped power.
Had we but world enough, and time,
And coyness, Lady, were no crime
We would sit down and think which way
To walk and pass our long love’s day.
But at my back I always hear
Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy stamina hath now deserted thee?
Then, let us cease this promiscuous fun,
Rest thy weariness in soft, silken sheets,
And thus surrender to oblivion.
As Richard rolled over having completed his requisite debauchery to his satisfaction, his contorted carcass soon lay motionless and within minutes he was loudly snoring, thus confirming to Lady Anne that the time was nigh to strike. Having subdued her prey into such a state of sweet exhaustion, she now reached up to the bed head above him, where inlaid in the detail of its carving was a jewel-encrusted dagger, obscured as to its true purpose by appearing to be an ornamental crucifix feature. As she clutched that dagger and raised her arm above her head to strike, the Duke of Buckingham suddenly appeared from his hiding place under the bed and, firmly grasping her wrist, drove the dagger downwards instead into the abdomen of the unfortunate, and soon to be ill-fated Lady Anne.
Her sudden screams awoke the slumbering Richard, who in a half-dazed state watched on passively as the last vestiges of life ebbed out of milady’s naked body, writhing and contorted in agony on the bed beside him. After a few short moments, her struggling ceased and her body lay completely motionless in a large pool of blood, while the Duke of Buckingham looked on dispassionately at his sordid handiwork.
By Saint Paul! I owe thee my life, my friend.
Duke of Buckingham:
Think no more upon it, milord. A pleasure.
(pauses, then crosses himself as he eulogises the fallen Lady Anne)
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
Richard: (glancing down with rueful venom at Lady Anne’s now bloodless body)
When by thy scorn, O murd’ress, I am dead
And that thou think’st thee free
From all solicitation from me,
Then shall my ghost come to thy bed,
And thee, feign’d vestal, in worse arms shall see;
Then thy sick taper will begin to wink,
And he, whose thou art then, being tir’d before,
Will, if thou stir, or pinch to wake him, think
Thou call’st for more,
And in false sleep will from thee shrink;
And then, poor aspen wretch, neglected thou
Bath’d in a cold quicksilver sweat wilt lie
A verier ghost than I.
What I will say, I will not tell thee now,
Lest that preserve thee; and since my love is spent,
I’d rather thou shouldst painfully repent,
Than by my threat’nings rest still innocent.
The expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action; and till action, lust
Is perjur’d, murderous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust;
Enjoy’d no sooner but despised straight;
Past reason hunted; and no sooner had,
Past reason hated, as a swallow’d bait,
On purpose laid to make the taker mad:
Mad in pursuit, and in possession so;
Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme;
A bliss in proof, and prov’d, a very woe;
Before, a joy propos’d; behind, a dream.
All this the world well knows; yet none knows well
To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.
Having vented his spleen sufficiently at milady’s corpse, and then having listened patiently to Buckingham’s thoughts on the vicissitudes of the pursuit of carnal desires, Richard soon came to his senses and dressed himself hurriedly, and before long the two men were to horse. The two Dukes then rode off with great haste, racing back through those very same ornate gates that marked the entrance to the grounds of Casa di Caprio. Soon, they were headed down the hillside at a fast gallop, toward the township that lay below them upon the swampy plain- Washing Town; that den of iniquity that Richard had now decided, in renewed indignation and fury, must be destroyed once and for all, so that every last remnant follower of the Lancastrian cause should be obliterated from the very face of the Earth.
Act 2 Scene 4:
The Blacksmith’s on the outskirts of Washing Town. Midnight. A stiff breeze rolling in off the North Sea.
After their brush with death at the hands of Lady Anne, Richard and Buckingham were determined to rid themselves of any semblance of resistance once and for all. Having stolen their way into a wooden “smithy” on the edge of town, the two men overpowered and killed the unfortunate blacksmith, and then set about stoking up the burning coal in the hearth to a high intensity. Strapping bundles of branches and straw together, the two men set them alight in the hearth and then rode off into the township, spreading the flames to the straw and thatched roofs of the surrounding houses as they went. Soon many of the homes were well alight, with the slumbering residents initially unaware of the conflagration about to consume them. Through the town the two men rode until they could no longer hold their flaming torches, whereupon they dropped them among some discarded rubbish nearby, and then rode straight out of town to the top of the nearest lookout, where they watched this evolving catastrophe unfold from a discrete distance.
At first there was an eerie silence, but it wasn’t long before the first screams started to pierce the night sky. In very short order, these screams became a cacophony as panicked residents of the town were either trapped within their burning homes, or else ran about in a panic through streets that were becoming increasingly impassable as the flames spread quickly from house to house across the length and breadth of the township. Eventually, the entire town was engulfed in a firestorm, fanned by the strong winds that were sweeping in from the ocean to the East. This swirling vortex of fire quickly destroyed every last free standing building within the township, while the intense pall of smoke suffocated any of those fortunate enough to avoid being directly burnt in the flames. A stash of gunpowder exploded in the midst of this melee, but that blast only added very little to the general chaos and confusion that was already well in train. Eventually, the township was reduced to a mere smouldering ruin, while the few whimpering cries that emanated from the precious few poor souls who still remained clinging, all-too-briefly, to their barest thread of life, were soon to fall completely and ominously silent.
Richard: (attempting ironic commentary)
This is certainly the way the world ends;
Not with a bang, but a woeful whimper!
Buckingham: (somewhat aghast)
Mere words are barely adequate,
To describe so appalling a sight!
And our dried voices,
When we whisper together,
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass!
Richard: (temporarily beset by his conscience)
A hollowness pervades me,
Despite enemies now vanquish’d.
Yet, I can but wonder; Is it like this
In death’s other kingdom?
Buckingham: (waxing lyrical)
This is the dead land,
This is the quagmire land.
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man’s hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.
Success beyond ev’ry expectation,
Yet horrors beyond all redemption!
Thus, it has been wisely written:
“Between the idea and the reality,
Between the motion and the act,
Falls the Shadow!”
Night comes, but without darkness or repose,
A dismal picture of the gen’ral doom:
Where Souls distracted when the Trumpet blows,
And half unready with their bodies come.
Those who have homes, when home they do repair
To a last lodging call their wand’ring friends.
Their short uneasy sleeps are broke with care,
To look how near their own destruction tends.
Those who have none sit round where once it was,
And with full eyes each wonted room require:
Haunting the yet warm ashes of the place,
As murder’d men walk where they did expire.
Richard: (gesturing to the dismal vista before them)
Alas, my gentle and eloquent Duke,
There are no such souls left to thus repair
Those sad, remnant homes in abject ruin!
Nought left but desolation and despair,
In this valley of dying stars,
In this hollow valley,
This broken jaw of our lost kingdom!
And what will not ambition and revenge
Descend to? Who aspires must down as low,
As high he soared, obnoxious first or last
To basest things. Revenge, at first though sweet,
Bitter ere long back on itself recoils.
Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
Remember us—if at all—not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men,
The stuffed men.
Such eyes I dare not meet in dreams
Nor in death’s dream kingdom!
But, let’s have done with such superstition.
We must return to York to attend the King.
My brother is at life’s very brink,
And I aim to be there for the fall.
Act 3 Scene 1:
London. The palace. King Edward IV is lying ill in his bed within the royal bedchamber. His wife, Queen Elizabeth is in attendance at his bedside, doting upon his every need and whim in applying tepid sponges to his fevered brow, and offering him cups of broth and small morsels of food for sustenance in view of his rather tenuous state of health: a heady combination of morbid obesity, anxiety neurosis, polyarticular gout and dropsy.
(Enter Rivers, Grey, Dorset, Lord Stanley and Hastings, with various attendants)
King Edward IV: (in a weak and sickly voice)
I have summon’d thee all to make amends
To once bitter adversaries at court.
I ev’ry day expect an embassage
From my Redeemer to redeem me hence;
And now in peace my soul shall part to heaven,
Since I have set my friends at peace on earth.
Rivers and Hastings, take each other’s hand;
Dissemble not your hatred, swear your love.
By heaven, my heart is purged from grudging hate:
And with my hand I seal my true heart’s love.
So thrive I, as I truly swear the like!
King Edward IV: (turning to address his wife, still tending to him lovingly)
Madam, yourself are not exempt in this,
Nor your son Dorset, Buckingham, nor you;
You have been factious one against the other,
Wife, love Lord Hastings, let him kiss your hand;
And what you do, do it unfeignedly.
Here, Hastings; I will never more remember
Our former hatred, so thrive I and mine!
King Edward IV:
Dorset, embrace him; Hastings, love Lord Marquess.
This interchange of love, I here protest,
Upon my part shall be unviolable.
And so swear I, my lord
King Edward IV: (gesturing to Buckingham)
Now, princely Buckingham, seal thou this league
With thy embracements to my wife’s allies,
And make me happy in your unity.
Whenever Buckingham doth turn his hate
On you or yours,
(To the Queen)
but with all duteous love
Doth cherish you and yours, God punish me
With hate in those where I expect most love!
When I have most need to employ a friend,
And most assured that he is a friend
Deep, hollow, treacherous, and full of guile,
Be he unto me! This do I beg of God,
When I am cold in zeal to yours.
King Edward IV:
A pleasing cordial, princely Buckingham,
Is this thy vow unto my sickly heart.
There wanteth now our brother Gloucester here,
To make the perfect period of this peace.
Good morrow to my sovereign King and Queen:
And, princely peers, a happy time of day!
King Edward IV:
Happy, indeed, as we have spent the day.
Brother, we have done deeds of charity;
Made peace of enmity, fair love of hate,
Between these swelling wrong-incensed peers.
A blessed labour, my most sovereign liege:
Amongst this princely heap, if any here,
By false intelligence, or wrong surmise,
Hold me a foe;
If I unwittingly, or in my rage,
Have aught committed that is hardly borne
By any in this presence, I desire
To reconcile me to his friendly peace!
A holy day shall this be kept hereafter:
I would to God all strifes were well compounded.
My sovereign liege, I do beseech your majesty
To take our brother Clarence to your grace.
Why, madam, have I offer’d love for this
To be so bouted in this royal presence?
Who knows not that the noble duke is dead?
(They all start)
You do him injury to scorn his corpse.
Who knows not he is dead! Who knows he is?
Queen Elizabeth: (in shock)
All seeing heaven, what a world is this!
King Edward IV:
Clarence is dead? My order was revers’d!
How could this be so?
Richard related to all those present how the two ruffians, dressed as messengers from the court, had taken the Duke of Clarence from the Tower using forged papers, on the pretext of taking him to a meeting with the King to appeal for clemency. Clarence’s mutilated body had then been found by the side of the road several hours later, and those same fiends responsible for the heinous act had long since vanished into the aether, without so much as a trace left behind to help in their capture.
The grief-stricken King Edward was now filled with a deep and abiding remorse for his rash imprisonment of his gentle brother, due purely to unfounded speculation and his own baseless suspicions of treason, in an action that led, at least indirectly, to Clarence’s demise at the hands of those murderous villains. Edward soon banished all those attending from the bedchamber so that he could be alone with his grief, with only his wife Elizabeth and his trusted brother Richard remaining behind to console him.
(Exeunt Rivers, Dorset, Grey, Lord Stanley, Hastings, Buckingham and their various attendants)
King Edward IV: (ruefully)
My brother slew no man; his fault was thought,
And yet his punishment was cruel death.
Oh, poor Clarence!
Thou didst love our fair brother so, my liege,
That makes his fall from Grace all the harder,
And this woeful grief most acutely felt!
King Edward IV: (sobbing)
Yet nothing can to nothing fall,
Nor any place be empty quite;
Therefore I think my breast hath all
Those pieces still, though they be not unite;
And now, as broken glasses show
A hundred lesser faces, so
My rags of heart can like, wish, and adore,
But after one such love, can love no more.
Queen Elizabeth: (distressed, draping herself over Edward’s body)
Oh no! My love, my soul, my life hath gone!
Queen Elizabeth knelt by her dead husband’s body for the longest time, sobbing bitter tears of regret. Then, after the initial flood of tears had finally subsided, she then spoke from the heart to her husband, whose immortal soul she imagined was now ascending heavenward as just reward for a life well led.
Queen Elizabeth: (bowing her head, with eyes closed, whispering in hushed tones)
Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,
So do our minutes hasten to their end;
Each changing place with that which goes before,
In sequent toil all forwards do contend.
Nativity, once in the main of light,
Crawls to maturity, wherewith being crown’d,
Crooked eclipses ‘gainst his glory fight,
And Time, that gave, doth now his gift confound.
Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth,
And delves the parallels in beauty’s brow,
Feeds on the rarities of nature’s truth,
And nothing stands but for his scythe to mow.
And yet to times in hope my words shall stand,
Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand.
The Duke of Gloucester eventually excused himself, taking his leave to allow his brother’s widow to be alone with her grief. Meanwhile, news of Richard’s announcement of Clarence’s untimely death had spread through the palace among the various maids and manservants, until it reached the ear of not only Clarence’s mother, the Duchess of York, but also sadly to be overheard by his two young children, who had the misfortune to first hear of their father’s death second hand from the indiscreet chatter of the staff.
Act 3 Scene 2:
The Palace. Another of the many reception rooms within, where the various members of the King’s extended family tend to congregate. The Duchess of York is consoling her two young grandchildren, the son and daughter of the murdered Duke of Clarence.
Please, grandam, tell us our father is not dead!
Duchess of York:
Peace, children, peace. The King doth love thee well.
Grandam, we heard, from our good uncle Gloucester!
He said the King, provoked to it by the Queen,
Devised impeachments to imprison him;
And when my uncle told me so, he wept,
And pitied me, and kindly kissed my cheek,
Bade me rely on him as on my father,
And he would love me dearly as a child.
Duchess of York:
Incapable and shallow innocents,
You cannot guess who caused your father’s death!
Ah, that deceit should steal such gentle shape,
And with a virtuous visor hide deep vice.
He is my son, ay, and therein my shame,
Yet from my dugs he drew not this deceit.
Think you my uncle did dissemble, grandam?
Duchess of York:
Ay, child. What noise is this?
(Enter Queen Elizabeth, hair dishevelled, with Dorset and Rivers accompanying her)
Queen Elizabeth: (distressed)
Ah, who shall hinder me to wail and weep,
To chide my fortune and torment myself?
I’ll join with black despair against my soul
And to myself become an enemy.
Duchess of York:
What means this scene?
To make an act of tragic violence.
Edward, my lord, thy son, our king, is dead.
Why grow the branches when the root is gone?
Why wither not the leaves that want their sap?
All springs reduce their currents to mine eyes,
That I, being governed by the watery moon,
May send forth plenteous tears to drown the world.
Ah, for my husband, for my dear lord Edward!
Take comfort, mother. What God hath lent us,
In kindness from His most bounteous hand,
Must be return’d in kind with thankfulness.
In common worldly things, ’tis called ungrateful
With dull unwillingness to repay a debt.
Madam, bethink you, like a careful mother,
Of the young prince your son. Send straight for him.
Let him be crowned. In him your comfort lives.
Drown desperate sorrow in dead Edward’s grave
And plant your joys in living Edward’s throne.
(Enter Richard, Buckingham, Hastings, Stanley and Ratcliffe)
Richard: (to Queen Elizabeth)
Sister, have comfort. All of us have cause
To wail the dimming of our shining star,
But none can help our harms by wailing them.
(turning to his mother, the Duchess of York)
Madam, my mother, I do cry you mercy;
I did not see your Grace. Humbly on my knee
I crave your blessing.
Duchess of York:
God bless thee, and put meekness in thy breast,
Love, charity, obedience, and true duty.
Of course, Richard had no intention of obeying his mother’s wishes and thus become a mere compliant lap dog to Edward’s heir. Far be it for him to reach a ripe old age as the genial and kindly uncle to those gilt-edged, precocious brats. It had indeed been many a summer since Richard had felt remotely obliged to listen to that rancorous old crone, or to be at all persuaded by her outwardly demure, yet inwardly guileful and malevolent persona.
Let’s cheer each other in each other’s love.
Though we have spent our harvest of this king,
We soon shall reap the harvest of his son.
The broken rancor of your high-swoll’n hates,
But lately splintered, knit, and joined together,
Must gently be preserved, cherished, and kept.
‘Twould seemeth good that, with some little train,
Forthwith from Ludlow the young prince be fetch’d
Hither to London, to be crowned our king.
Why “with some little train”?
Marry, my lord, lest by a multitude
The new-healed wound of malice should break out,
Which would be so much the more dangerous….
I hope the King made peace with all of us;
And the compact is firm and true in me.
And so in me, and so, I think, in all.
Hastings: (with Stanley and Ratcliffe in unison)
And so say I!
Then be it so, and go we to determine
Who they shall be that straight shall post to Ludlow.
Richard bade his mother and Edward’s widow to go about their business in preparation for the young Prince’s return to the palace, whilst ushering Hastings, Rivers, Stanley and Ratcliffe out of the room to discuss amongst themselves who might accompany Richard and Buckingham on their journey to escort the young Prince Edward back to London to be crowned as the new King. Of course, Richard and his henchman Buckingham had other ideas entirely.
Act 3 Scene 3:
The palace. Queen Elizabeth’s bedchamber. The Queen is sitting with her mother-in-law, the Duchess of York, and various attendants awaiting word of her son’s safe return from Ludlow. The Archbishop of York is also in attendance, offering his condolences for the Queen’s lamentations over her husband’s recent death.
Duchess of York:
Lord Rivers and Lord Grey are sent to Pomfret,
And, with them, Sir Thomas Vaughan, prisoners!
Duchess of York:
Who hath committed them?
The mighty Dukes, Gloucester and Buckingham.
For what offence?
I have disclosed all I know, your highness.
Queen Elizabeth: (dismayed)
Ay me! I see the ruin of my house.
The tiger now hath seized the gentle hind.
Insulting tyranny begins to jut
Upon the innocent and aweless throne.
Welcome, destruction, blood, and massacre.
I see, as in a map, the end of all!
Duchess of York: (shaking her fist skywards)
O’ accurs’d days, where blind ambitions reign,
Setting blood on blood, brother on brother,
And spurring damned war upon themselves.
Enough of brutality and bloodshed!
So let me die, and look on death no more.
Queen Elizabeth rightly feared for not only the safety of her young son and the heir to the throne (the young Prince Edward), but also for her youngest son (the young Duke of York), and also for herself as the nominal Queen. Elizabeth thus sought sanctuary in Westminster Abbey for herself and her son York to protect them both from the Duke of Gloucester’s no doubt nefarious schemes. The Archbishop of York, who was in attendance ministering to the grieving widow, upon hearing of this possibly treasonous development, offered to assign the Great Seal of England to Queen Elizabeth, by which he would be treating her, and not her son (nor her brother in-law Richard), as the lawful monarch. He offered also to take it upon myself to protect the Queen and her youngest son, and to conduct them both to sanctuary. With the aged Duchess of York in tow, they hastily fetched the young Duke, gathered all their belongings and valuables together and left the palace, putting themselves as far from harm’s way as they possibly could in the limited time they had at their disposal.
Act 3 Scene 4:
Richard and Buckingham arrived on horseback accompanied by the young Prince, who was soon to be crowned as the new King: Edward V. The two conniving Dukes had managed to convince the heir to the throne that he should remain at the Tower for his own safety until his coronation. This was to be necessary particularly up until the alleged co-conspirators in Rivers and Gray could be captured, so that the young Prince’s safe passage back to London could be assured.
At the gate to meet them was the Lord Mayor of York City, an affable if unrefined and none too bright gentleman whom the two Dukes had convinced of the need to foil a plot alleged to be afoot to kidnap the Prince and thereby prevent his rightful ascension to the throne. Thus, he was more than willing to assist them by welcoming Edward to the safety of the Tower, where he could vouchsafe that the young Prince would have no contact with the outside world, more particularly anyone other than those completely loyal to the Dukes of Gloucester and Buckingham.
In due course, the young Prince was shown to his luxurious living quarters high atop the Tower, in the apartment formerly occupied by the secret bride of the Duke of Gloucester, the countess Melania. She had been relocated temporarily to another part of the Tower to make way for the future king, and was reputedly none-too-happy to lose her gilded cage, even for the briefest of times. The living area of the apartment was the last word in opulence and splendour, decorated with white marble Corinthian columns spread liberally around the perimeter of the room, with elaborate capitals of acanthus leaves and scrolls in 24 carat gold leaf. The ceiling was bordered by embossed gold leaf cornices, and in the centre was an elaborate hand-painted fresco depicting Grecian gods and other mythological figures in heavenly surroundings. Around the room were also scattered various priceless objet d’art, including Athenian vases and urns, statues of both Eros and Psyche, and a large painting in a gold frame of Apollo being led by Aurora, the Greek goddess of dawn.
Welcome, sweet Prince. Herewith is York’s finest,
As would befit a future sovereign!
(Gesturing to the view of the cityscape below)
With a most glorious panorama,
Spreading before us, of our fair city.
A thing of beauty is a joy forever!
I shall drowse here a sleep full of sweet dreams,
And reside in health with quiet breathing.
WithalI canst not hearers the city’s din,
But shall rejoice in its cheerful splendour!
God bless your Grace, with health and happy days!
Welcome, dear nephew, my thought’s sovereign.
Sweet prince, the untainted virtue of your years
Hath not yet dived into the world’s deceit
Nor more can you distinguish of a man
Than of his outward show; which, God he knows,
Seldom or never jumpeth with the heart.
Those uncles which you want were dangerous;
Your grace attended to their sugar’d words,
But look’d not on the poison of their hearts :
God keep you from them, and from such false friends!
God keep me from false friends, but they were none!
Leave me alone to my thoughts, dear uncle,
Lest my melancholy does leave a pall
On thy most lavish hospitality.
Yes, of course, my liege. Upon my orders
York’s Lord Mayor is at thy disposal.
(Exeunt all but Prince Edward)
Prince: (to himself whilst gazing about at all the splendid artworks around him)
Such a lustrous feast for both eye and mind!
(picking up a Grecian urn from its plinth)
Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness,
Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring’d legend haunts about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?
(having replaced the urn, now the young Prince turns his attention to a marble statue of Psyche)
O latest born and loveliest vision far
Of all Olympus’ faded hierarchy!
Fairer than Phoebe’s sapphire-region’d star,
Or Vesper, amorous glow-worm of the sky;
Fairer than these, though temple thou hast none,
Nor altar heap’d with flowers;
Nor virgin-choir to make delicious moan
Upon the midnight hours;
No voice, no lute, no pipe, no incense sweet
From chain-swung censer teeming;
No shrine, no grove, no oracle, no heat
Of pale-mouth’d prophet dreaming.
(pauses, contemplating all the treasures he has just beheld)
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
(Exeunt: retiring to his bedchamber)
Act 3 Scene 5:
The Tower. Dawn.
The young Prince and heir to the throne awakened in the gilded palace of sin that had only recently served as the bedchamber for the Duke of Gloucester’s secret consort, the Countess Melania. As he lay there on that bed in quiet contemplation, he soon noticed that above him on the ceiling were various scenes depicting all manner of cherubim, satyrs and nymphs cavorting suggestively with one another in the verdant forests and idyllic meadows, whilst various Greek myths were then represented in each corner of the fresco.
As he gazed around the perimeter of the ceiling, he noted various explicit scenes from mythology rendered in somewhat graphic detail. In the first corner of the ceiling, the story of Danaë (the young daughter of King Acrisius of Argos) was portrayed: impregnated by Zeus when he quite cleverly turned himself into a shower of golden rain, that then fell down upon her naked and unsuspecting body. In the second corner, the tale of Leda and the Swan was starkly rendered, with Zeus this time transforming himself into a swan, and then raping the wife of Sparta’s King Tyndareus. In the third, the myth of Callisto, the Princess of Arcadia, was shown in all its perverse glory, with Zeus once again disguising himself, this time as the goddess Artemis, to then through this deception have his lustful way with her. Then finally to the last, where the myth of Europa (the daughter of King Agenor of Tyre) was depicted. Zeus metamorphosed this time into an eagle and ravished the poor innocent woman in a willow-thicket, and this was rendered with no depravity left to the imagination.
Of course, such scenes of debauchery would normally have been rather daunting to the sensibilities of any pious young teenage aristocrat, let alone the heir apparent to the English throne. Yet, being couched in Greek mythological trappings had perhaps lent these depictions an artistic license they did not deserve, which thus allowed him to largely overlook their inappropriately lewd and perverse content. As a consequence, his thoughts were soon to move on unencumbered to matters of more immediate importance, particularly in planning to make his way safely to London in a timely fashion, to be then reunited with his beloved mother the Queen, and his brother York.
With that in mind, the young Prince quickly bathed and dressed himself, and was soon sitting on a divan when his uncle, Richard, called upon him.
The cock is up! Now, arise my sweet Prince.
Hast thou slept well in my fair mistress’ bed?
Surely ’twas an experience to savour.
For thy hospitality, I’m grateful.
Prithee prevail upon it further still,
Whilst my soldiers seek those conspirators,
Who hath remain’d elusive to capture.
So, do remain here as our welcome guest,
Until safely made can thy journey can be.
The Tower is most pleasant and secure,
So it shall do very nicely indeed!
We shall stay here till our coronation.
(pauses, gazing around the room once more, impressed by its grandeur)
Did Julius Caesar first build this place?
The Tower was first built by Caesar’s hand;
Which, since, succeeding ages have re-edified.
Methinks the truth should live from age to age,
As ’twere retail’d to all posterity,
Even to the general all-ending day.
Julius Caesar was a famous man;
With what his valour did enrich his wit,
His wit set down to make his valour live.
Death makes no conquest of this conqueror;
For now he lives in fame, though not in life.
His legacy indeed prodigious be,
Yet, I dismantl’d this place stone by stone,
And rebuilt it to suit mine own image;
And consign’d Caesar to obscurity.
Caesar’s ideal is one to emulate,
And I, through valour and wit, do propose
That if I live until I be a man,
I’ll win our ancient right in France again,
Or die a soldier, as I lived a King.
Richard: (excusing himself)
I regret I must soon depart, Edward.
I shall leave thee in our Lord Mayor’s care,
So I might be given greater freedom
To deal with those most elusive traitors.
The Young Prince was thus left to his own devices in the Tower, whilst Richard left to hunt down the alleged conspirators who were plotting against him. Meanwhile, Buckingham had convinced Hastings (the trusted former right hand man to Edward IV) and Cardinal Bourchier that the young Duke of York was too young and naive to have asked of his own volition for sanctuary, and that he was in no imminent danger that would even require the Church’s protection. Thus, they both had proceeded to journey to London, where they soon retrieved the young Duke from sanctuary so that he might join his brother under the “protection” of their uncle.
Soon, the two young boys were reunited in the Tower in York City, where they could at least while away the hours in each other’s company. The young Princes were well fed, and servants attended their every need and whim, but they both had a nagging and lingering sense of foreboding as to what might occur between now and Edward’s coronation, which was set down for one week hence. The boys felt somewhat relieved, however, at the constant presence of Hastings, whom they knew as a loyal friend and subject of their father, and whose devotion to the true descent of the former King Edward’s rightful heirs was known to be unwavering.
Act 4 Scene1:
The parlour of Baroness Lewinsky’s relatively modest York City home.
Richard had long since given up any pretensions of searching himself for the mythical co-conspirators to the hapless Rivers and Grey, and instead left his soldiers to continue their fruitless fool’s errand without him, whilst he made his way instead to the abode of Baroness Lewinsky, the former mistress of the degenerate King Henry VI. Richard had actively cultivated her friendship during those difficult years, using her intimate connection to King Henry as a means of gathering information to undermine the interests of the Lancasters in general, while simultaneously having the fortuitous effect of nurturing an ever-burgeoning clandestine relationship between Richard and the Baroness’ own sovereign ruler: Ivan the Great, the Grand Prince of Moscow. Through this relationship, Richard hoped to find a trusted ally with whom he could align if ever the opportunity arose to seize the English throne, which he firmly believed he was predestined to one day attain. For his part, Ivan clearly admired the Duke of Gloucester for his ruthless ambition, predatory attitude and complete lack of moral compass; features which made him not only a highly dangerous potential adversary, but equally a more than useful comrade that he might one day use in his constant battle with the other continental European aristocrats who regularly plagued the integrity of his borders.
Over the years, Richard had almost exclusively utilised his friend Catesby as an intermediary between the Baroness and himself, passing messages to and fro between the two, thereby allowing the Grand Prince to keep abreast of all of those intrigues and affairs of England’s Royal Court, almost as soon as these events had actually occurred. In return, Ivan not only supplied the insatiable Duke of Gloucester with an endless supply of his most highly sought after courtesans, but also offered him generous financial inducements that effectively underwrote Richard in his relentless push to maximise his power and expand his ever-widening sphere of political influence.
This secret alliance was now to become instrumental in Richard’s final act of deceit in his path to the throne, wherein he sought Baroness Lewinsky’s help in potentially casting doubt upon the legitimacy of the young Prince Edward’s current claim to the throne, whether by hook or by crook. As luck would have it, the young Baroness had recently learned, through her many spies and informants at court, that the former King Edward IV had been secretly pre-contracted in marriage to a beautiful widow, Lady Eleanor Butler, the daughter of the Duke of Shrewsbury. This action was reputed to have taken place some 3 years prior to his marriage to the current Queen (Lady Gray, the former Elizabeth Woodeville), and the existence of such a pre-contract for marriage, under English law at that time, therefore nullified completely the legitimacy of any marriage that Edward undertook thereafter. Happily, this delicious tidbit of information totally negated any claim that either of the Princes in the Tower would have had to England’s throne. Thus, with the benefit of this undercover Russian reconnaissance and intelligence, the path had been miraculously cleared for Richard to claim the throne as the “rightful” heir, now being his former brother Edward’s nearest “legitimate” living relative.
(Enter Catesby and Richard)
Milady, it’s been too long since last we spoke.
How fares Grand Prince Ivan? Is he in health?
He is hale, hearty and in full vigour.
He sends kind regards to thee, good Catesby,
Hath he return’d safely from the Crimea,
After quelling rebellion there this Spring?
Prince Ivan hath fought off those vile rebels,
In the pay of Europe’s aristocrats
Inciting civil unrest and affray!
He’s restor’d comfort and order to all.
Agents of our Black Prince and his mother,
Had their stamp all over that rebellion.
I am well reliev’d at Ivan’s victory,
Which secures his sacred territory.
Baroness: (with a wry smile)
The Grand Prince passes on his gratitude
For thy most judicious slaughter of both.
It serves our higher purpose to collude,
To work in tandem as kindred spirits,
And through the use of shared intelligence,
Tighten our grip on the reins of power.
An intelligence from my informants,
About King Edward’s betrothal contract
With Lady Eleanor of Shrewsbury,
Clears thy path to become the lawful King!
‘Tis a most fortuitous happenstance!
Edward’s bastard offspring are thus annull’d!
Thus, they represent a threat no longer.
Pray, thank the Grand Prince for his interest.
By your leave, mistress, we must now depart.
We have a coronation to attend!
(Exeunt Richard and Catesby)
Act 4 Scene 2:
Outside the Tower. At the large iron gate that provides the only entry point to the imposing edifice.
Queen Elizabeth, the Duchess of York, Lord Stanley and a disguised Lord Dorset have gathered at the gate to the Tower, hoping to gain entry to visit the young Princes within. Brackenbury and the Lord Mayor of York are barring their entry with their guards at their back, under strict instructions from the Dukes of Gloucester and Buckingham.
Master Lieutenant, pray you, by your leave,
How doth the Prince and my young son York?
Right well, dear madam. By your patience,
I may not suffer thee to visit them.
The King hath strictly charged the contrary.
The King? Who’s that?
I mean, the Lord Protector.
The Lord protect him from that Kingly title.
I am their mother. Who shall bar me from them?
No, madam, no. I may not leave it so.
I am bound by oath, and therefore pardon me.
Be of good cheer, mother.
How fares your Grace?
O Dorset, speak not to me. Get thee gone.
Death and destruction dogs thee at thy heels.
Thy mother’s name is ominous to children.
If thou wilt outstrip death, go, cross the seas,
And live with Richmond, from the reach of hell.
Go, hie thee, hie thee from this slaughterhouse,
Lest thou increase the number of the dead
And make me die the thrall of Margaret’s curse,
Nor mother, wife, nor England’s counted queen.
Lord Stanley: (to Dorset)
Take all swift advantage of the hours.
You shall have letters from me to my son
In thy behalf, to meet thee on the way.
Be not ta’en tardy by unwise delay.
Duchess of York: (to Dorset)
Go thou to Richmond, and good fortune guide thee.
(to Queen Elizabeth)
Go thou to sanctuary, and good thoughts possess thee.
I to my grave, where peace and rest lie with me.
Queen Elizabeth: (Looking back to the Tower)
Pity, you ancient stones, those tender babes
Whom envy hath immured within your walls.
Rough cradle for such pretty little ones.
Rude ragged nurse, old sullen playfellow
For tender Princes, use my babies well.
So foolish sorrows bid your stones farewell.
Act 4 Scene 3:
Lord Hastings had just met with his good friend Catesby at his stately home to express his concern regarding any likely delay in the coronation of the heir to the throne, young Prince Edward. Hastings had not been too perturbed by the capture and forthcoming execution of Lord Rivers and Lord Gray, as they were his longstanding personal enemies over many decades. He was, however, happy to tell Catesby that he was prepared to defend the rightful line of Royal succession of the young Prince at the risk of his own death. Little did he know that his friend Catesby was soon to be more than happy to oblige him. Thus it transpired that Catesby had arranged for Hastings to meet with Buckingham and Richard at the Tower that evening to allay his concerns, but had gone ahead of him to let the two Dukes know of this potentially inconvenient fly in the Royal ointment.
(Enter Catesby and Buckingham)
I fear that Hastings shall not acquiesce
To Richard wearing the garland Royal
Should our plans succeed in discrediting
The young Prince’s tainted claim to the throne.
Fear not, noble Catesby. ‘Tis of no mind.
Our Russian intelligence leaves no doubt,
That Edward’s bastard hath no righteous claim,
Despite Hastings’ thorny protestations.
Richard is aware of this allegiance,
And intends to deal with him presently!
What dost he suggest we do to rid us
Of this inconvenient naysayer?
Since the testy gentleman is so hot
That he will lose his head ere give consent
His master’s child, as worshipfully he terms it,
Shall lose the royalty of England’s throne,
He plans to soon fulfill his heart’s desire!
Now, noble peers, the cause why we are met
Is to determine of the coronation.
In God’s name, speak. When is the Royal day?
Are all things ready for the Royal time?
They are, wanting but the nomination.
Who knows the Lord Protector’s mind herein?
Lord Hastings, you and he are near in love.
I thank his Grace, I know he loves me well.
I’ve not yet sounded him on that subject.
Welcome milord, speaking of the devil!
Richard: (in jest)
I doth resemble that dark gentleman!
Surely not remotely so, Lord Protector.
Thy deeds belie that characterisation!
His grace looks cheerful and smooth this morning.
Richard: (with a sudden scowl and pained expression on his face)
I pray you all, tell me what they deserve
That do conspire my death with devilish plots
Of damned witchcraft, and that have prevailed
Upon my body with their hellish charms?
The tender love I bear your Grace, my lord,
Makes me most forward in this princely presence
To doom th’ offenders, whosoe’er they be.
I say, my lord, they deserved death.
Then be your eyes the witness of their evil.
(shows his withered arm)
Look how I am bewitched! Behold mine arm
Is like a blasted sapling withered up;
And this is Edward’s wife, that monstrous witch,
Consorted with that harlot, strumpet Shore,
That by their witchcraft thus have marked me.
If they have done this deed, my noble lord –
If? Thou protector of this damned strumpet,
Talk’st thou to me of “ifs”? Thou art a traitor-
Off with his head. Now by Saint Paul I swear
I will not dine until I see the same.
(guards enter and grasp Hastings forcibly by each arm)
O bloody Richard! Miserable England,
I prophesy the fearfull’st time to thee
That ever wretched age hath looked upon –
Come, lead me to the block. Bear him my head.
They smile at me who shortly shall be dead.
Act 4 Scene 4:
London. The Palace.
Lord Hastings was soon to be carted off to the chopping block in the Tower in York for his allegedly treasonous defence of that delight of many a cold winter’s night, his sweet if not especially innocent mistress Jane Shore. Meanwhile, some distance away at Pontefract (Pomfret) castle, Richard’s staunchest ally Sir Richard Ratcliffe was busy despatching Rivers, Gray and Vaughan in the most brutal fashion imaginable at his master’s behest. Being among the nearest relatives and last remaining loyalists to Lady Gray (the former Queen Elizabeth), their demise was indeed vital, clearing the way with exquisite timing for Richard to be crowned as King of England virtually unopposed.
To put further icing on the political cake, Ratcliffe had also sent his various emissaries out amongst the York City townsfolk, spreading rumours of Edward’s alleged serial infidelities and more particularly of his marital pre-contract to Lady Eleanor Butler, a narrative that he hoped would sway public opinion once and for all against the two young Princes held in the Tower, who were now clearly shown (through the agency of intelligence derived from those Russian informants) to be merely ill-bred little bastards with no legitimate claim to the throne. As a further consequence, Lady Gray’s marriage to King Edward had also been effectively annulled not only by the law of the land, but now also in the eyes of the great majority of the broader populace.
With victory almost within his grasp, and nearly all of his potential obstacles to power eradicated, Richard now ventured back to London with his trusty henchman Lord Buckingham and loyal Catesby in tow, where plans for his coronation had already been well and truly set in motion. On the steps of the Palace, a massive platform had been erected with a huge throne set in the centre, with smaller chairs on either side where various dignitaries, lords and ladies, and various members of the clergy (Abbots, Canons, Bishops, Archbishops and Cardinals) would be seated whilst the newly crowned King gave his acceptance speech, allowing them an aspect of appropriate reverence and awe to his most supreme and puissant majesty!
As word of the coronation of the new sovereign, soon to be known as King Richard III, filtered around the kingdom, a huge crowd (of a magnitude never before seen in similar circumstances) gathered to hear his acceptance speech, eagerly anticipating that the new King would soon set England on a course to far greater prosperity, eliminating any entrenched corruption and particularly in negating the pernicious influence of the usurers and land barons who had previously all but monopolised the benefits previously obtained from the largesse of the crown.
(Enter King Richard III, in pomp, crowned; Buckingham, Catesby, a Page, and others)
King Richard III:
Give me thy hand, cousin of Buckingham!
(ascends the throne)
Thus high, by thy advice
And by thy assistance is King Richard seated.
Why, Buckingham, I say, I would be King!
Why, so thou art, my thrice renowned liege.
King Richard III:
O bitter consequence! –
That Edward and his brother should still live.
Can I be plain? I wish the bastards dead!
Your Grace may do your pleasure, in due course.
I shall resolve your Grace immediately!
Buckingham returned with a certain man by the name of Tyrrel, whom the good Duke knew to have, figuratively at least, ice cold water running through his veins and to be capable of almost any deed, no matter how gruesome, if the price was right. King Richard looked Tyrrell directly in the eye and immediately was struck by a callous and menacing indifference he saw there, and instinctively Richard knew he was just the right man for the task at hand. Richard soon took the opportunity to take this psychopathic gentleman to one side for a quick, discreet word before his inauguration speech:
King Richard III:
Wouldst thou kill a friend of mine, my good man,
If I were to ask for thy assistance?
I’d rather kill two foes of thine, my liege.
King Richard III:
Why, there thou hast it: two deep enemies,
Foes to my rest and my sweet sleep’s disturbers
Are they that I would have thee deal upon:
Tyrrel, I mean those bastards in the Tower.
Let me have open means to come to them,
And I’ll soon rid you from the fear of them.
King Richard III:
Thou sing’st sweet music. Hark, come hither, Tyrrel
Go, by this token: rise, and lend thine ear.
There is no more but so: say it is done,
And I will love thee, and prefer thee too.
‘Tis done, my gracious lord.
With his coronation ceremony successfully behind him, all that was left (pending the slaughter of the babes in the Tower, of course) was a rousing inauguration speech to inspire the populace to rally behind him as loyal subjects.
King Richard III: (reading out his speech, pre-prepared by Lord Buckingham)
We, the citizens of the realm, can now join in a great communal effort to rebuild our sovereign nation, and to restore its promise to its people. We will face challenges, and we will face hardships, but I am confident that with your support we can achieve our goal of a more equitable and prosperous kingdom.
We are gathered now on these steps to honour the peaceful and orderly transition of power. This transition has been made all the more seamless since the death of my dear brother, the former King Edward IV, by the graceful withdrawal from public life of his former Queen, Lady Gray. I offer her not only my condolences on her recent loss, but also my everlasting loyalty and affection.
Notwithstanding my personal feelings, and the love I have for my dear departed brother and his fair wife, it pains me to admit that my brother’s reign was, on the whole, an utter catastrophe for England. Under his rule, a small number of land barons and usurers became more and more wealthy at the expense of the common folk, whose jobs disappeared into the hands of slave labour imported illegally into the kingdom, whilst fields were often left untilled, and the mills and the blacksmiths’ hearths often lay idle due to all those foreign goods being smuggled in under cover of darkness into our fair kingdom. Those lucky few who did remain in some form of gainful employment merely struggled to eke out a miserable existence without adequate reward for their labours.We are one nation — and your pain is my pain. Your dreams are my dreams; and your success will be my success. We share one heart, one home, and one glorious destiny.
To every Englishman, in every city near and far, small and large, from hilltop to hilltop, and from ocean to ocean, hear these words:
“Ye shall never be ignored again.”
The time for empty talk is over. Now arrives the hour for action.
We shall make Britain powerful again. We must strengthen our military to restore our position as the greatest sovereign power in the entire world, feared by our foes and respected by our allies. We will no longer defend borders on foreign soil but then fail to protect our own borders at home.
We shall make Britain safe again. Our borders have recently been breached by those Islamic hordes who razed the two tallest castle keeps in the kingdom, which showed a weakness that makes us seem more vulnerable in the eyes of the world. We will therefore reinforce our old alliances and form new ones — and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will soon eradicate completely from the face of the Earth.
We shall make Britain wealthy again. We shall embark on a program of building many more roads and fortifications, with new shipping ports, mills and granaries to provide greater potential for gainful employment for the peasantry to improve their lot in life. We will get our people away from the need to beg in the streets, and instead get them back into work — rebuilding our country with English hands and English labour.
We shall make Britain proud again. Your voice, your hopes, and your dreams will define our British destiny. And your courage and goodness and love will forever guide us along the way. A new national pride will stir our souls, lift our sights, and heal our divisions.
At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to Great Britain. Through our loyalty to our kingdom, we shall rediscover our loyalty to each other.
And yea, verily! With God’s Grace, we shall indeed make Britain great again!
God bless you all. And God bless our sovereign realm.
Throughout his speech, a tumultuous applause greeted King Richard’s every utterance, which the gathered throng saw as a rallying cry to restoring the hard won rights and freedoms that had been enshrined at Runnymede some 250 years before (in the year 1215) with the Magna Carta Libertatum.
At the speech’s conclusion, the crowd in unison raised three cheers to the King, and as they left the forecourt of the palace they were imbued with a newfound sense of optimism and hope for a more prosperous future, where even the most lowly of subjects would now have the opportunities afforded by the expansion of a stronger and more robust kingdom, now engaging with the wider world from a position of strength and with renewed purpose.
Alas, those hopes and dreams were soon to be proven to be thoroughly misplaced, as the newly crowned King’s word and deed became ever more widely divergent.
Act 4 Scene 5:
Tyrrel had completed his mission to the Tower, wherein he suborned two unscrupulous ruffians in Dighton and Forrest to assist him with the assassination of the two young Princes. The foul deed was soon done, and Tyrrel had now returned to London to inform the new King of the news, and in expectation of the favours he might now receive.
The tyrannous and bloody deed is done.
The most arch of piteous massacre
That ever yet this land was guilty of.
Dighton and Forrest, whom I did suborn
To do this ruthless piece of butchery,
Although they were flesh’d villains, bloody dogs,
Melting with tenderness and kind compassion
Wept like two children in their deaths’ sad stories.
‘Lo, thus’ quoth Dighton, ‘lay those tender babes:’
‘Thus, thus,’ quoth Forrest, ‘girdling one another
Within their innocent alabaster arms:
Their lips were four red roses on a stalk,
Which in their summer beauty kiss’d each other.
A book of prayers on their pillow lay;
Which once,’ quoth Forrest, ‘almost changed my mind;
But O! the devil’–there the villain stopp’d
Whilst Dighton thus told on: ‘We smothered
The most replenished sweet work of nature,
That from the prime creation e’er she framed.’
Thus both are gone with conscience and remorse;
They could not speak; and so I left them both,
To bring this tidings to the bloody king.
And here he comes
(Enter King Richard)
All hail, my sovereign liege!
King Richard III:
Kind Tyrrel, am I happy at thy news?
If to have done the thing you gave in charge
Begets your happiness, be happy then.
For it is done, milord.
King Richard III:
And thou didst see them dead?
I did, milord.
King Richard III:
And buried, gentle Tyrrel?
The chaplain of the Tower hath buried them;
But how and in what place, I do not know.
King Richard III:
Thou hast my gratitude, loyal Tyrrel.
I shall reward thee mightily indeed
For dispensing with those treasonous spawn,
Who threaten’d the peace of our sov’reign realm.
Tyrrel: (Bowing, and withdrawing from the Royal presence)
I remain thy humble servant, my liege.
King Richard III: (to himself)
The son of Clarence have I pent up close;
His daughter meanly have I match’d in marriage;
The sons of Edward sleep in Abraham’s bosom,
And Anne, “my wife”, hath bid the world good night.
Now, for I know the Breton Richmond aims
At young Elizabeth, my brother’s daughter,
And, by that knot, looks proudly o’er the Crown,
To her I go, a jolly thriving wooer!
Act 5 Scene 1:
Dunrobin Castle, in the Earldom of Sutherland in the far north of Scotland.
Meanwhile, King Richard contemplated the tantalising prospect of seducing and then wedding his very own niece (the young Elizabeth) to shore up his otherwise vice-like grip upon the throne, especially against the potential threat of that last surviving Lancastrian stalwart in Henry Tudor, the Earl of Richmond. However, his attention was soon turned by necessity to other pressing affairs of state, as Britain was beset by various challenging issues of note, both at home and abroad.
Principal among those matters requiring the most immediate redress was the emergence of a belligerent and expansionist nation to Britain’s far north. A despotic ruler had come to power in recent times in the Scottish Mormeardom of Caithness, and this rogue was now threatening those adjacent lands that comprised the Earldom of Sutherland to the west, as well as the islands to the north: the Orkneys and the Inner and Outer Hebrides.
The would be despot in question, known to the locals as Kjim-Jone Maddadsson the Younger, claimed to be the direct lineal heir of the legendary former Mormear of Caithness (and one time Earl of Orkney), Harald Maddadsson, who had centuries before fought a bitter and protracted war that eventually led to the partitioning of this region into two separate, self-governing nation states.
Sutherland and Caithness had remained the bitterest of rivals ever since, separated by a demilitarised buffer zone and with heavy fortifications on either side of the divide, with eternally vigilant sentries who had their respective hair-triggers always at the ready. The impasse between these two enemies was largely maintained by the presumed certainty of their mutual destruction should one contemplate aggression toward the other, a concept that had (up till now at least) ensured a perpetual stability of sorts, based primarily on their mutual distrust and their eminently sensible instincts for self-preservation.
For his part, the dictatorial Maddadsson ruled Caithness with an absolute iron fist, in stark contrast to his rather pudgy frame and buffoonish facade. The entire populace were held so firmly in his thrall that they were barely able to form an individual thought without it first being uttered by their fearless leader. Kjim-Jone was entrenched in his position of power by the fanatical support of a veritable legion of deranged zealots, all of whom were hell bent on the utter destruction of any neighbouring tribes who even so much as dared to glance casually in their general direction.
Over recent years, Caithness had surreptitiously engaged in a campaign of systematic espionage in those adjacent lands, sending forth hundreds of spies and “sleepers” who had then infiltrated the surrounding towns and villages with the purpose of not only gathering intelligence and information, but also to remain in place as a vanguard of 5th columnists should open hostilities ever break out between them in the future.
Recently, Maddadsson had commissioned all of his nation’s blacksmiths, stonemasons, carpenters and alchemists to direct their not inconsiderable expertise solely to his military purposes, specifically to the creation of a “domesday machine”; one that could potentially bring utter devastation to all of his enemies abroad, both real and imagined.
After several years of failed technological experiments, these various specialists in their fields had constructed a gigantic catapult, about 10 falls (or 20 storeys) high, and capable of launching metal or stone projectiles over distances of more than 10 miles. While that distance was well short of the 23 miles needed to bring the much despised Dunrobin Castle into range, it had nonetheless successfully brought the Orkneys to the north into the firing line for launching a destructive first strike, an especially auspicious prospect given Kjim-Jone Maddadsson’s pathological hatred of those island dwellers, whom he viewed as illegally occupying islands that were his by hereditary right, having been once completely under the dominion of his direct forbears.
With the current Scottish King (James III) being so beset by a myriad of civil conflicts with his unruly and rebellious nobility, he had been effectively reduced to the role of a mere compliant lap dog and puppet to the powerful English crown. As a consequence, many of the surrounding northern Earldoms and Fiefdoms, now faced with this impending threat of a new and potentially destructive “domesday” weapon, appealed instead to the new King of England for his protection, hoping for a show of strength to deter this would-be aggressor, and thus to restore the fragile peace and knife-edge stability the region had teetered happily upon for centuries.
Therefore, the newly-crowned King Richard III soon made his way to the aforementioned Dunrobin Castle, the palatial seat of the Earl of Sutherland, with a view to formulating a forceful and proportionate response to neutralise this new threat to the general order, and to hopefully intimidate that deranged rogue into submission. With Catesby and Ratcliffe accompanying him, King Richard initially met with Sutherland’s Earl (along with several other baronial representatives from the other surrounding Fiefdoms and Principalities in the firing line) in the castle’s Drawing Room, where he stood at a huge bay window overlooking the surrounding ornate gardens and the sea beyond, contemplating the limited options available to him to neutralise this miscreant Mormear.
After a brief interlude of salutations, followed by a preliminary address outlining the present situation of Caithness’ recent aggression, the Scottish noblemen soon divulged to King Richard and his generals that they had been given special dispensation to ignore the recent Royal edict banning the frivolous game of golf (by Scotland’s King James II in 1457), and instead they had been allowed to repair to the nearby links for a friendly game to discuss the situation further, in relaxed surroundings more conducive to solving such a vexatious problem.
Thus the men journeyed to nearby Dornoch links (a little more than 10 miles away, as the crow flies), where they kitted themselves up in a garb suitable for walking around the rugged heaths and undulating meadows of the course, following which they chose from a large array of golfing clubs in the Earl’s possession, many of which were no doubt confiscated to comply with the former King James’ ban on the game. Having then all teed off at the first hole, the group were soon playing their next shots towards the green, where King Richard was notable for his skill and accuracy in striking the ball quite close to the pin. In spite of this, the others deferred to their Royal guest, who was given the honour of putting first.
King Richard III: (lifting his head all of a sudden, in the midst of putting)
So wicked a despot needs to be tamed,
Lest other rogue nations follow his lead.
What course of action shouldst we adopt, sire?
King Richard III: (ruminating aloud)
Perhaps we couldst build a high wall of stone,
Some thirty ell high, and ten ell in girth,
Along Sutherland’s northernmost border,
Forming an impregnable barrier
To cordon this rogue off from his supplies,
And prevent him building this new weapon.
And foment unrest amongst his subjects,
To starve them of both hope and sustenance!
Catesby: (holding the flag for his lord and master)
The wall canst avail us little, my liege,
When, to the far north, his Viking allies
Shalt ferry food and weaponry to spare
Across those northern seas on fleets of ships.
King Richard III: (modestly)
Such a thorny dilemma this presents,
Demanding a solution of genius!
(pauses, possibly for effect)
Build a colossal catapult, Catesby!
One that doubly exceeds that of our foe.
(calling out to Ratcliffe, and anyone else who would listen)
Send for my finest Royal engineers!
Lockheed and Martin, Northrop and Grumman;
Good men, one and all. Assign them to the task!
Short work shalt they make of this tall order!
They shalt produce a much bigger weapon
Than that faithless tyrant couldst e’er conceive.
This catapult will be one for the ages!
A structure of Biblical proportions…..
And as thou art often known to say, sire,
In such manly contests, size doth matter!
King Richard III: (retrieving the golf ball from the hole)
Yea, verily. The bigger the better.
England’s pride must be assert’d at all costs!
We’ll thus surpass this villain’s construction
With a consummate one of our own.
General #1 (Kelly):
Our armies stand in readiness, liege,
To repel this aggressor; Or attack,
Should events dictate taking such action,
With our fullest force and righteous vigour.
General #2 (Mattis):
Our soldiers canst not spell the word “defeat”!
They fight with happy hearts and strong spirits.
This loutish knave is spoiling for a fight,
And that young asshole surely needs shooting!
General #3 (McMaster):
War is but life and death competition
With the nation’s security at stake!
‘Twould be a dereliction of duty
To allow this threat to go unheeded.
King Richard III:
Without a doubt, We are mightily pleas’d,
To have on hand so many generals,
To meet this vexing challenge before us.
(launching a booming drive off the next tee, then staring admiringly at the result)
Too many generals are ne’er enough!
Indeed! A truer word was ne’er spoken.
Milords! I bring news from the northern isles.
Caithness’ Mormear hath launched a projectile
That passed right over the Orkney islands,
Threatening the safety of that Earldom.
The populace in fear are cowering,
Expecting, at any time, further strikes!
King Richard III:
None hath shown more contempt for this kingdom,
Nor for the welfare of their own people,
Than this most depraved regime in Caithness!
We must work together to thus confront
This recalcitrant who wouldst threaten us:
Inciting chaos, turmoil and terror!
General #1 (Kelly):
King Richard III:
(strolling along the fairway, in search of his errant golf ball)
We must meet his threat with response in kind,
With all the fire and fury we canst rouse.
If the righteous many do not confront
The wicked few, then evil shall triumph.
General #2 (Mattis):
King Richard III:
(pauses, having found his golf ball, and now preparing his next shot)
When decent people and sov’reign nations
Become as bystanders to history,
Then satanic forces of destruction
Shalt gather power and increase in strength!
General #3 (McMaster):
Highness, thou art wisdom personified!
King Richard had thoroughly enjoyed his game of golf on those hallowed links on this special occasion and, as a keen student of the finer aspects of the game, he was eager to impart the wisdom acquired from those observations he had derived from propelling small golf balls over vast distances across the more picturesque parts of the Scottish moorlands. Not only did Richard see this activity as an interesting analogy for the upcoming conflict with Caithness’ rebellious Mormear, but also as a means of better understanding those immutable laws of our Earthly realm; laws that the King believed should better define our place as sentient beings within God’s created universe. Thus, as God’s representative here on Earth, King Richard felt compelled to share his observations with his generals and followers as he completed his round of golf, particularly so that all present could be encouraged to be of a like mind, having no doubt been suitably enlightened by his insightfulness and omniscience.
King Richard III: (standing over his ball, preparing to chip onto the green)
‘Tis a most germane observation that
This game of golf teaches much about life;
(pauses, concentrating on the shot at hand)
Alteration of motion is always
Proportion’d to the motive force impress’d;
(chipping delicately onto the green to within inches of the cup)
And is made in the direction of the
Same line in which that force hath been impress’d.
(with a polite wave to acknowledge the applause from his devoted retinue at his mastery of the game)
And ev’ry object persists in its state,
Of being either at rest or moving
Uniformly in a straight line forward,
(putting delicately into the centre of the cup for a birdie, the raising his finger to highlight the point he was about to make)
Except insofar as it is compell’d
To change its state by the force impress’d on’t.
(picking his ball out of the cup and raising it up in triumph, and then walking off to the next tee)
At the next tee, Richard hit a very wayward drive into the gorse, a long way off to the right of the fairway. Clearly displeased at his error, the King cried out to his lowly dogsbody to fetch the errant ball so he could tee up once again, without penalty.
King Richard III:
Mulligan! Fetch my ball from that scrub!
That wind and the sun’s glare were most grievous
In breaking my Royal concentration!
Prithee, play thy first shot once again, sire.
We were witness to thy misadventure!
King Richard III:
(after a short pause, teeing up again and then addressing the ball in preparation for his drive, he continued as though his mistake had never happened)
But, the most important observation
I’ve made is more apt to our circumstance.
That is, each and ev’ry action shalt have
An equal and opposite reaction!
(driving the ball with even greater vigour than usual, launching it like a missile down the middle of the fairway)
If this errant rogue is foolish enough
To attempt an attack upon our realm,
We shalt respond with equivalent force,
And leaveth him to lament his folly.
Generals (All): (in unison)
We shalt destroy him upon thy word, sire!
King Richard III:
We shalt rain hellfire down upon this rogue!
Indeed, he hath his own death warrant sign’d,
Shalt he persist in this belligerence!
(raising his voice commandingly)
Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war!
(aside to Catesby standing next to him)
If thou desire to know a greater truth,
Hell hath no fury like a monarch scorn’d!
(Exeunt all, playing golf)
Act 5 Scene 2:
King Richard had then embarked on his return journey to Dunrobin castle, having been suitably refreshed after his glorious round of golf at Dornoch, after which followed a lavish feast of flame roasted pheasant and boar that his host, the Earl of Sutherland, had kindly arranged for them to all partake prior to leaving those hallowed links on their homeward journey.
Upon arriving back at Dunrobin Castle, the guests all soon retreated to the drawing room for a “wee dram” of the Earl’s finest whisky before retiring for the day. After a more than modest tipple of that pure and potent distillation (made from the Earl’s finest barley, and malted no doubt with great care over a smoky peat-fire prior to its fermentation), the King and his men were soon settled into their comfortable beds well satisfied with the events of the day, and thus were well and truly sent off blissfully into the Land of Nod.
On the morrow, the King and his party arose and came down to breakfast, only to find that the good Earl of Sutherland had, unbeknownst to them, invited yet another guest to join them in their formulation of plans suitable to tackle this real and present threat posed by the upstart Mormear to the north. That guest was the renowned mystic and seer, Elias Monk, an international man of mystery and intrigue who was said to have descended directly from that legendary Celtic Druid-warrior of centuries past, Cathbad.
Not only was Elias Monk a very fine and learned purveyor of spells and potions, but he was also an alchemist of considerable skill and notoriety, in spite of his relative youth. His inventions and prowess in those various dark arts at the very frontiers of scientific knowledge had led to him to accumulate not only worldwide fame, but great wealth and global influence as well. In return for sponsoring his various speculative endeavours, those various Kings he had previously served had come to enjoy the fruits of great prosperity as a consequence of the advantages his technological breakthroughs had bestowed upon them.
In addition, Elias’ ability to foretell the future was simply legendary, and many thought him to be a not merely a visionary but a holy prophet, and he was widely referred to amongst the nobility by his Latin derived nickname, “Sidereus Nuncius” (literally “the Starry Messenger”). Meanwhile, the overwhelming majority of the common folk tended to believe instead that Elias Monk was either possessed by demonic spirits, or was dabbling in sorcery and witchcraft to perform the unholy handiwork of the devil.
King Richard III: (admiringly)
Thy reputation precedes thee, young man.
Thy deeds are indeed the stuff of legend!
I thank thee, sire! Thou art too kind by half.
I am nought but thy most humble servant.
King Richard III:
Hast thou comest to offer thy service,
To rid the Crown of this mutinous rogue?
I pledge my fullest support, Majesty.
Such insolence canst not be countenanced!
King Richard III:
Indeed, such a rogue canst not be condoned.
How might thou solveth this problem swiftly?
I must delve into the dark arts to solve
This vexing problem that beleaguers us.
King Richard III:
What wondrous alchemy dost thou propose?
Elias Monk: (gesturing to the large window where stood a strange contraption which was pointed skyward)
Hither, sire. Come ye first and bear witness.
Behold, a device, of mine own design,
To gaze upon thy glorious cosmos.
I call this invention a “telescope”.
King Richard III: (approaching the strange apparatus with a mixture of curiosity, trepidation and bemusement)
What strange magic is this, that would allow
One to look upon the brink of heaven?
Elias Monk: (gesturing to the King to look through the eye piece)
Place thine eye upon the lens, Majesty,
And thou canst view the Moon and the planets!
At night, the stars above reveal themselves,
In all their intricacy and glory,
As jewels enriching the firmament,
Emblazon’d upon a black velvet sky!
King Richard III: (awestruck)
An impressive contrivance, noble sir.
A marvel for the ages, to be sure!
Canst thou apply such ingenuity
To bring this northern renegade to heel?
I can, sire. We must meet his fire with fire!
But, instead of a bigger catapult
To whip this mongrel dog into submission,
Might I suggest a rocket, Majesty?
King Richard III:
By Saint Paul, I have never heard this term.
What dost thou mean by this strange expression?
It is a most novel device, my liege.
A large caber, loaded with gunpowder,
Which is propell’d heavenward with great force
By an engine of my own devising.
King Richard III:
An “engine”? I profess I am bewilder’d
By such novel concepts and turns of phrase.
An “engine” is a new apparatus,
That applies a force to move an object.
My engine runs on a distillation
Of pure paraffin from my alembic,
Mixed in accordance with a recipe
Derived from the Persian “Book of Secrets”.
King Richard III:
Is that a tome of obscure alchemy?
Yea, ’tis indeed Highness!
Also known as the “Kitab al-Asrar”,
By the famed Zakariyya al-Razi;
Alchemist, scholar and philosopher.
King Richard III: (changing the subject)
What advantage does this “rocket” bestow?
Wherein lies its destructive potency?
At the top of the pole rests a “warhead”,
Laden with gunpowder and quicksilver,
Then encased in a film of phosphorus.
Once this missile strikes the stone castle walls,
It will burst into flame and molten ore,
With enough force to raze them to the ground!
King Richard III:
A splendid and worthy idea, indeed!
I shall engage my Royal Engineers,
To build a score or more of these rockets,
To train them upon the Mormear’s fortress!
I will see to it that it is done, sire.
Prithee, milord. I beg your indulgence.
I shall require a small advance of funds
From thy treasury for my expenses.
Elias Monk then began to elaborate upon an extensive list of his requirements: all the base metals, sulphur compounds, minerals and various solvents as specified in the “Magnum Opus” and the “Book of Secrets” to allow him to work with that most suitable “prima materia” that he would need to help create his Philosopher’s Stone.
A task of this magnitude clearly required a significant financial investment, and primarily through King Richard’s generous patronage, if it hoped to be successful, and Elias was not remotely backward in providing ample and remarkably eloquent advocacy for stipulating his exact monetary requirements if this were to be achieved.
Given the urgency of the situation, and the stellar reputation of the world renowned mystic in his current employ, King Richard was hardly in a position to refuse, having been sufficiently blinded by the complexity of the science advocated by this unimpeachable expert, and what might be involved in his scholarly, if possibly indecipherable, advice.
Elias Monk, now suitably cashed up for the task at hand, thus launched into his work, hellbent on building his massive arsenal of “rockets” that would bring wholesale death and destruction to those enemies of the Crown to the north. Working assiduously through the painstaking processes of calcination, dissolution, separation, putrefaction, sublimation and fermentation, our intrepid alchemist toiled away in the bowels of Dunrobin Castle until the very moment of exaltation arrived, when those twenty five paraffin powered projectiles were completed and thus ready to be deployed, to be then sent on their path to destroying that impudent upstart from Caithness.
Act 5 Scene 3:
The Ord-of-Caithness, an abrupt, broad, lofty, granite mountain overhanging the sea, on the mutual border of Sutherland and Caithness.
King Richard and his generals gathered upon the Ord-of-Caithness, a solid rock headland that rose over 600 feet high above the ocean’s surface, giving them a panoramic view of the array of more than twenty rockets deployed along the rolling plains below, all of which were aligned toward Castle Girnigoe, the seat of the dreaded Mormear of Caithness, located about 3 miles north of the coastal town of Wick.
Peering through a looking glass custom made for him for just this purpose by the ever-inventive Elias Monk, King Richard could easily make out the shadowy towers of Girnigoe Castle arising from its rocky cliff top promontory, which overlooked the vast expanse of the North Sea to the East, and Wick Bay to the South. Below him, that self same industrious alchemist could be seen pouring over the writings of such luminaries as Euclid and Pythagorus, and then repeatedly consulting his trusty Astrolabe in order to triangulate the positions of each and every rocket launch site relative to its angle of inclination and then the distance to the target castle. In this way, Elias could plot the expected successful trajectory of each missile in turn with unerring accuracy.
Soon, Elias signalled the King that all his calculations and preparations were completed, and two soldiers stood at the ready beside each rocket to light the wick, whilst the other foot soldiers and knights on horseback stood at a safe distance, prepared at any moment to charge headlong into the fray.
It soon transpired that the Earl of Sutherland had secreted a spy and embedded him seamlessly within the Mormear’s inner circle at court, and this agent had only now confirmed that Caithness’ leader was currently in residence within the walls of Castle Girnigoe, and thus all that remained was for King Richard to give the signal to unleash wholesale shock and awe upon the rebellious rogue and his followers.
After a few minutes of eerie silence, the King raised his arm and dropped it sharply, and twenty five rockets, christened “Merlin” rockets by their maker (in honour of the famed Celtic wizard of yore), exploded into the air and flew forward on an arc tracking toward the seaside castle that stood obliviously in the distance.
King Richard III: (peering through the looking glass)
O’ canst thou see, by dawn’s early light,
What proudly we hailed, at twilight’s last gleam?
Sent on their way, through a perilous flight,
O’er ramparts we watch, them gallantly stream!
General #1 (Kelly): (pointing toward Giringoe Castle, silhouetted in the distance)
On the shore dimly seen, through sea spray mist,
Where the haughty foes, in silence repose.
What doth that breeze, o’er the towering cliff,
When it blows, half conceal, yet half disclose?
General #2 (Mattis): (interjecting excitedly)
‘Tis catching the gleam of morning’s first beam,
And in its full glory, shines in the stream!
King Richard III: (anticipating the imminent impact, presupposing the outcome)
Those rockets’ red glare, bombs bursting in air,
Give proof through the gloom, of smiting his lair!
General #2 (Mattis): (turning around and delivering a rally cry to his troops, who are standing at the ready)
Our land of the free, is home to the brave!
So conquer we must, as our cause is just!
The powerful, explosive-laden rockets struck one after the other in rapid succession against the walls of Castle Girnigoe, with their collective strikes making for an incredible cumulative force that seemed certain to consign the stone structure to rubble. As expected, a great conflagration certainly ensued, but once this had extinguished, remarkably, only a few of the more minor parts of the overall edifice had crumbled away to any significant degree under the brunt of the main impact.
Kjim-Jone Maddadsson awoke abruptly from his slumbers and, bleary -eyed, ran out onto the landing to see what this sudden cacophony was all about. As luck would have it, in his haste to investigate the commotion, he suddenly lost all traction on the wet stone surface, and his feet slipped out from under him. Falling backwards, he struck the back of his head on the very edge of the first step in a sickening blow. The Mormear’s generals immediately rushed to his aid, but it soon became apparent that the stricken leader’s life had been brought to an abrupt and entirely unexpected end.
With their fearless leader lying motionless in an ever-widening pool of his own blood, the once steadfast resolve of his generals and the rampant zealotry of his soldiers rapidly melted away, even as King Richard’s massive army was seen in the distance making their way steadily overland, promising to arrive at the perimeter of the castle within the hour. Caithness’ generals motioned to their soldiers to lay down their arms in surrender, as there now seemed little point in fighting to the death in futile service of their now deceased leader, and his wantonly destructive and nihilistic agenda. Whilst some predictably refused to comply and promised to fight on for “the cause” (whatever that might be) to their death, the majority were only too happy to comply with the order to surrender, especially now that they had been finally freed from the stifling, coercive influence of Kjim-Jone’s deranged dogma.
Upon arriving at Castle Girnigoe, King Richard’s forces soon put the few remaining pockets of resistance to the sword, whilst the Earl of Sutherland’s men took the enemy generals and the surrendering soldiers away for confinement and further interrogation. His soldiers then began piling anything remotely combustable into a heap, and set the castle aflame. Huge battering rams were smashed into some of those walls that had remained steadfast to the initial rocket attack, leaving mere mounds of rubble behind wherever they went.
In the end, all that remained of the castle was a ruined skeleton of the remnant stone walls, a hollow shell of what had once been an awe inspiring landmark. King Richard had thus ensured that the edifice could never again be used as a base for any future rebellions.
King Richard III: (in bemusement at the simplicity of the conquest)
Where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That war’s havoc and battle’s confusion,
A home and country, should leave us no more?
Their blood hath wash’d out their foul pollution!
General #1 (Kelly): (with his usual cocksure bombast)
No refuge could save the hireling or slave
From terror of flight, or gloom of the grave!
King Richard III: (triumphantly)
Thus be it ever, when freemen shalt stand
‘Twixt belov’d homes and war’s desolation.
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may Heaven’s land
Praise the Power that preserved a nation!
Act 5 Scene 4:
The forecourt of Dunrobin Castle.
Having secured a famous victory at the Battle of Castle Girnigoe, King Richard and his cohorts prepared to return to London, where he hoped to address those further pressing matters of state that had been placed temporarily on the back burner whilst attending to the northern rebellion. But first, King Richard had a matter of greater immediacy to attend: that being in honouring the young mystic whose inventions had led to the almost bloodless resolution of this most recent Scottish conflict.
Elias Monk knelt humbly before King Richard, who then duly raised his broadsword, poised it briefly over his head before then knighting him, an honour bestowed on him for his pivotal role in the timely elimination of the rebellious Mormear. Sacks full of freshly minted gold Angels and silver Groats were then presented to Elias as full and final payment for his services, which he duly packed one by one onto the pallet of his purpose built pageant wagon.
This wagon, six wheeled and articulated at the front axle, was of the kind mainly used by groups of travelling players, with an enclosed room at the bottom, and an upper level platform above it that was open to the air. It was already heavily laden with a multitude of scientific tools and instruments, along with his vast collection of various powders, mixtures, oils and potions, all hermetically sealed in their individual glass canisters, and no doubt essential for the commission of his alchemical craft. The wagon’s design was an optimal choice to allow Elias the opportunity to properly demonstrate the wonders of his latest inventions, and also to facilitate the various scientific experiments he hoped to perform publicly, to the delight and amazement of both the common folk and nobility alike.
Piles of leather-bound books were also prominently stacked all the way around the perimeter of the lower level floor, with a multitude of major works procured from around the entirety of the known world. Most of the greatest pillars of ancient wisdom were well represented; from Plato to Aristotle to Democritus to Euclid to Pythagorus to Archimedes to Galen, as well as the alchemical foundation works of such luminaries as Zosimos of Panopolis on through to those of the estimable Hermes Trismegistus. These weighty tomes were further embellished by treatises written by many of the most learned Eastern and Far Eastern scholars, exemplified by such masters of the scientific arts as Nāgārjuna Siddha, Jābir ibn Hayyān, Omar Khayyam and Muhammad ibn Zakariyyā al-Rāzī, whose writings had been meticulously transcribed by Benedictine monks from their native tongues into Ecclesiastical Latin for ease of comprehensibility. These classical sources were further augmented by more modern scientific dissertations by such recent European exponents as Peter Abelard, Duns Scotus, Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, Robert Grosseteste, William of Occam and Roger Bacon.
It was thus readily apparent to even the most casual observer that Elias Monk had accumulated, and then comprehensively absorbed and mastered, an incredibly impressive body of knowledge, covering a very wide variety of disciplines and an awe-inspiring breadth of technical expertise, which encompassed the realms of the fields of not only mathematics, metallurgy, chemistry, geometry, astronomy and optics, but also including the broad range of pre-medieval philosophy, along with both traditional European and Far Eastern medicine.
Indeed, King Richard had never in his life met so learned a gentleman as this enigmatic young seer and mystic. Nor had he ever been so in awe of the intellect or perspicacity of any man, whether of the highest or lowest station, as he was now in Elias’ august company. In light of his unabashed admiration for his scholarly reputation and imposing presence, Richard was determined that he would indeed spare no effort or monetary inducement in persuading Elias to return with him to London, and in procuring him as his newest principal aide and chief confidant.
King Richard III:
Prithee, noble sir. Let us escort thee
On thy return journey to London town.
It shall give us a fine opportunity
To become even better acquainted,
And perhaps to come to some arrangement
That might be to our common benefit.
If it pleases your most puissant Highness,
I shall join thee on thy return journey,
On one minor, but crucial condition.
I request that thou giveth due regard
To my brilliant new plan to transform
England into a hub of industry.
King Richard III:
What dost thou propose, my noble lord,
To achieve a task so improbable,
Setting our Merrie England on a path
To such sustainable prosperity?
I regret, sire, I must keep the detail
Of my plans a closely guarded secret.
King Richard III:
Am I to merely trust in thy great skills,
Without any facts at my disposal?
Facts, which at first seem so improbable,
Will, even on such scant explanation,
Drop the cloak which has thus far hidden them
And stand in naked and simple beauty!
King Richard III:
Not from the stars do I my judgement pluck;
And yet methinks I have Astronomy,
But not to tell of good or evil luck,
Of plagues, of dearths, or seasons’ quality;
Nor can I fortune to brief minutes tell,
Pointing to each his thunder, rain and wind,
Or say with princes if it shall go well
By oft predict that I in heaven find:
But from thine eyes my knowledge I derive,
And, constant stars, in them I read such art
As truth and beauty shall together thrive,
If from thyself, to store thou wouldst convert;
Or else of thee this I prognosticate:
Thy end is truth’s and beauty’s doom and date.
Thou art too kind in thy esteem, my liege.
I shall, in time, repay thy faith in me.
King Richard III: (putting his arm paternally around the young man’s shoulders and guiding him toward his heavily-laden wagon)
Youth of delight, come hither!
Let us delay our journey no longer.
Come now and see the opening new morn,
And behold an image of truth new born.
Doubt is fled and clouds of reason banish’d,
Dark disputes and artful teasing vanish’d.
Folly is to prowl through an endless maze,
Tangled roots shall doubtless perplex her ways.
How many poor souls have thus fallen there!
They stumble all night o’er bones of the dead,
And feel they know not what but they should care,
And lead the others when they should be led.
Act 5 Scene 5:
Streets of London Town.
King Richard and his entourage, accompanied by Elias Monk perched high upon his pageant wagon of mystery and wonder, arrived back in London in triumph having just quashed the northern rebellion so successfully. They rode from the outskirts of town toward the the Palace of Westminster near the city’s centre along roads lined with hundreds of curious onlookers who had rushed out of their homes to catch a glimpse of the passing parade.
As they cantered down those cobblestone streets, near to where the charter’d Thames River flows, Elias soon cast his eye about and duly noted a mark in every face around him; marks of weakness and marks of woe wherever he looked. In every cry of every man, and in every infant’s cry of fear, he heard only the self-imposed manacles that were forged in the mind of those enchained souls who dwelt there. The cries of the chimney-sweepers, the sighs of the hapless soldiers and the curses the youthful harlots directed at their crying infants filled the air with a chorus of disapproval, overwhelming what should have been a lively and cosmopolitan scene passing before him.
Instead, a pall of impenetrable gloom descended upon Elias, giving him a sudden, strange sense of foreboding. He now saw the vaults and buttresses of the immense Cathedral before him, not as imposing structures of awe-inspiring beauty, but as a pitiless behemoth casting a blackening shadow that spread ominously over the common folk who lived and toiled beneath its lofty spires. As they approached Westminster Palace, Elias saw not the opulence and splendour of a regal residence, but all of his attention was diverted instead to that reddish liquid that oozed from the cracks in its outer stone walls, running in rivulets down to the cobbled street below. Elias imagined that this flow of ochre fluid was the blood of all those unremembered soldiers who had lost their lives so brutally on battlefields past, fighting to preserve the power and majesty of the monarch who was no doubt residing in blissful ignorance within.
As if to add further justification to the symbolism of Elias’ vision, King Richard was clearly completely oblivious to any such perceptive insights into the plight of own his loyal subjects. As he rode through those self same London streets, with his generals at his side and flanked by a battalion of his best soldiers, he saw only the amorphous blur of the common throng lining the streets; crowds who were rejoicing, it seemed to him, in an exultant parade of their conquering hero and his victorious army. Similarly, the Cathedral was, to him at least, a majestic symbol of the supreme will of the Lord Almighty, whilst also an extension of King Richard himself by his Divine association. As the rightful King, Richard had thus assumed the role of God’s earthly representative, and had therefore been thoroughly invested with not only His holy authority, but in His bountiful Grace and favour.
As they stood before the Palace of Westminster, King Richard turned to Elias to remark:
King Richard III:
I heard it claim’d that Jesus once walk’d here,
On his long journey to Glastonbury.
But did these blessed feet in ancient times
Walk upon England’s rolling mountains green?
And was Jesus, the Holy Lamb of God,
On England’s pleasant pastures truly seen?
I have read ancient scrolls, your Majesty,
That depict just this momentous event!
Cast into exile with Mother Mary,
Jesus journeyed to our verdant shores,
And, with Joseph of Arimathea,
He built our first church at Glastonbury!
King Richard III:
And He sunk his sacred staff in the soil,
And Glastonbury’s Holy Thorn tree grew!
Then so it was the Countenance Divine
Shone forth upon our clouded, rolling hills.
And thus was our Jerusalem built here,
Amongst these dread-fill’d, dark Satanic Mills.
King Richard III: (not quite modestly)
Our green and pleasant land was truly bless’d
To be the refuge for the Good Lord’s Son.
But now our nation is surely twice bless’d
To have His very image now enthroned!
Elias Monk: (in fawning admiration)
We are indeed fortunate to receive
The benefit of thy boundless wisdom!
Act 5 Scene 6:
The Oval Office, Palace of Westminster.
Shortly thereafter, King Richard and his newly acquired aide and confidant entered the Palace of Westminster, where a meeting was soon take place at the behest of Lord Stanley, the Earl of Derby. Lord Stanley was a very wealthy and highly influential man, and not a gentleman that even the King could trifle with easily. His Lordship had just returned from Paris, where he had attended a conference held with dignitaries drawn from every nation in the known world, who had gathered there to discuss the recent alarming trends that had been observed in the world’s climate patterns.
Among the many anecdotes relied upon as evidence of an impending climate apocalypse was a particularly memorable one from an ancient mariner, whose long grey beard and glittering eye made him a spectacle to behold, indeed. He told a tale, in rhyme and metre, of his once proud ship lost hopelessly upon an endless ocean, beset by innumerable tempests of monstrous proportions that drove it so far to the South, to a place where no ship nor sailor had yet explored. Whilst there, he and his crew-mates encountered mists and snow of wondrous cold, and ice that floated by mast-high as green as emerald. Ice was here, ice was there, ice was all around, and it cracked and growled, and roared and howled like noises in a swound!
Much to the crew’s chagrin, when the fog and mist had lifted, they became so becalmed with not a breath of wind, and for days and weeks they drifted; eerily still with not a breath nor motion, like a painted ship upon a painted ocean, whilst the very deeps did rot, that ever this should be, where slimy things did crawl with legs upon a slimy sea! All about, in reel and rout, the death-fires danced at night; and the water, like a witch’s oils, burnt green, and blue and white! So parched were they from stern to stem, by the hot and copper sun beating down on them, until their every tongue, through utter drought, was withered at the root. Those sailors’ spoke, but it came to nought, as though they were choked with soot!
Perhaps, though, what was most persuasive of all in this tale of utter woe and dread, was the apparition that appeared before them of a hideous ship of the dead. The womanly spectre piloting that ghostly bark was a fearsome sight to behold, her skin as white as leprosy: a life-in-death foretold! The death ship’s sails were restless gossameres, its boards were black as coal, its death knell tolled a hollow sound that chilled the very soul!
So shaken were they by such portents of doom, the nobles decided to a man, that they must act and soon, lest destruction befall their homeland. They knew that, at its core, our common creed should be, at very least: “He prayeth well, who loveth well, both man and bird and beast”.
The consensus soon came for global unity, to cease exploiting Nature’s gifts with impunity; they resolved instead to pass a motion, that expressed the essence of their devotion: “He prayeth best, who loveth best, all things both great and small; For the dear God who loveth us, He made and loveth all!” And so they went like ones that hath been stunned, and were of a sense forlorn; so sadder and much wiser men, they rose the morrow morn.
As a consequence of this nightmarish tale, a more unified position was soon reached, amongst those great minds (with fevered imaginations) who consequently preached: that the litany of catastrophic weather events distinguishing this current era, from droughts to floods, heatwaves to blizzards, frosts to wildfires, and earthquakes to erupting volcanic caldera, must surely be solely due to the influence of unworthy humanity, whilst the ever-increasing global population nearing 450 million souls, verged on sheer insanity!
As a result of these profound beliefs, it was decided that humanity had reached a defining moment, where it would be necessary for society’s elite to perform, on their behalf, a supreme act of atonement: that radical change was required to limit the damage being wrought by our modern, medieval society, by transforming the global economic development model for the first time in human history!
Lord Stanley, who had frequently disparaged the dubious merits of the impoverished masses, now become an even more staunch advocate for draconian measures to be dispensed, by restricting the frivolous freedoms enjoyed by the plebeian classes, whom he saw as nothing more nor less than a scourge and a pestilence.
(Enter Lord Stanley, and entourage)
King Richard III:
Milord! What news emanates from Paris?
The end of the world is nigh, Majesty!
King Richard III:
What hath caused so cursed a disaster?
Our path to destruction hath been set down
Through the outrageous freedoms of the serfs!
King Richard III:
What is proposed to help redress this plight?
It hath been agreed to limit their rights
And autonomy to a minimum,
By curbing their use of cheap energy,
Creature comforts and labour-saving tools!
(pauses, turning his attention to the shadowy figure standing to one side of the King)
Whom do I have the pleasure to address?
I am known by many a name, milord,
But hereabouts I am Elias Monk.
An honour. Thy acclaim precedes thee, sir.
Thou art too kind by half in thy praises.
‘Tis certainly a vexing dilemma………
Might I broach a possible solution?
By all means, avail us of thy wisdom.
The only way to reverse man’s impact,
On the weather events that assail us,
Is to transform our industries and farms,
Using the most advanced technologies.
What new technologies dost thou propose?
Our reliance on sun, wind and water
Is the path to sin and devastation!
Redemption comes not from enforced serfdom,
But from cleaner, modern technologies.
Namely, steam power from coal or crude oils,
Produced by steam engines of my design.
No longer will animal dung be burnt
To warm our homes, or for cooking of food.
No more will our rivers be diverted
In dams and canals for the water wheel.
No longer will our trees and shrubbery
Be clear’d or fell’d to feed our homefire hearths.
King Richard III:
‘Twould seem an ideal solution, indeed.
I concede thy solution has merit,
And it could benefit Mother Nature,
But I fail to see how this “solution”
Addresses the problem of the peasants!
The problem of adverse weather events
Can be solv’d without harming the peasants.
Woe, alas! ‘Tis a shame to miss this chance
To bring the unwashed peasantry to heel.
King Richard III:
Well, be that as it may, ’tis a grand plan.
Elias can always be relied on
To come to the fore with a solution.
Set thyselves to work, and let it be done!
Act 6 Scene 1:
Once the meeting had concluded, the King retired to bed at the end of an exhausting day, whereupon he endured a night of fitful slumber, tormented by vivid dreams of a prophetic nature, with apocalyptic themes adorned in bizarre mythological motifs of various kinds.
In the dim half-light that filtered through the stained glass window at the side of the King’s bed, appeared a shadowy female figure, her lithe yet shapely form scantily clad in sheer, gossamer-like wisps of the finest white silk, and her snaky hair brandishing wantonly in the winds.
King Richard III: (speaking in his dream)
What manner of ghostly spectre invades my sleep thus?
The Ghostly Wraith: (standing naked blithely before him)
I am the ancestral mother of all earthly life. But alas, I am faint with travel, like the dark cloud disburden’d in the day of dismal thunder. I must wrap a turban of thick clouds round my lab’ring head, and fold the sheety waters as a mantle round my tired limbs. My roots are brandish’d in the heavens, with my fruits in earth beneath. Why dost thou now conjure me forth, and what enlightenment can I bestow?
King Richard III:
‘Tis not I who conjured thee, O’ unearthly apparition. I prefer instead to focus my intent on more worldly concerns. I have no time, nor inclination, to dabble in the metaphysical. Unwilling do I look up to the heavens, and unwilling count the stars, yet my curiosity has indeed been piqued by your offer. What possible enlightenment canst thou offer, for one as powerful and omniscient as I?
The Ghostly Wraith:
I offer thee the gift of prophesy, as thy future is a story already written in blood, and etched in stone. Thy reign shall be beset by horrors unimaginable, where even the blazing sun above shall blacken, and the moon run red, whilst the stars shall fall from the very heavens above, causing the sky to recede completely from our worldly view. Then there shall come a prolonged period of disease, pestilence and death that spreads across not only thy own kingdom, but across all the lands of the known world. Then the very ground shall shake and the rivers run dry, whilst beasts of every conceivable shape and form shall roam the land in abject hunger and utter deprivation as shadows of their former selves, longing for a merciful death that will never come.
King Richard III:
If it be thus, then I shall seize upon the burning power of those stars, and bring forth those howling terrors, the progeny of all-devouring fiery kings! I shall stand without fear nor conscience, if it should bring me a glorious victory over any who dare oppose me! I shall then bring forth from my teeming bosom myriads of flames to smite them, one and all!
The Ghostly Wraith: (recoiling in disgust)
Desist now, whilst thou still can! Stamp not with solid form this vig’rous progeny of fires! If thou dost not heed these crucial warnings, both the devouring and the devoured shall roam on dark and desolate mountains, in forests of Eternal Death, relentlessly shrieking amongst the hollow’d trees! If thou wouldst stamp them with thy signet, they shall thenceforth roam abroad both far and wide, leaving me void as death.
King Richard III: (with mock derision)
Ah! I am drown’d in shady woe, but also in visionary joy!”
But, before his voice uttered another syllable, and before that shadowy figure could answer him further, she had vanished unheeded and was no more.
No sooner had King Richard wiped the sweat from his fevered brow, and then settled back to a restless sleep, that another vision was called forth into his somnolent imagination. A vigorous youth with blond flowing locks stood beside him, haloed by a shaft of pearly incandescent light. The young man then lent forward to Richard, and duly crown’d his Royal head with garlands of a ruddy vine.
The Gilt-Haired Youth: (in a malicious tone)
Arise, horrent Demon! Surround thyself with red stars of fire that whirl about in furious circles ’round thee!
King Richard III: (pondering briefly before replying)
I am no demon; but I am the incumbent King of England, and one who is a cut above all those shadows of men, in fleeting bands upon the winds, that shall soon divide the heavens of Europe!
The Gilt-Haired Youth: (in a strange unearthly monotone)
‘Round thee roll the clouds of war. Man shall thus become an Angel, Heaven a mighty circle turning, and God a tyrant crown’d!
King Richard III: (with false bravado)
I fear them not! Let them come, and from ev’ry corner of the realm. Angel or Devil, King or Tyrant, or Almighty God matters not to me.
The Gilt-Haired Youth:
Albion’s Angel, smitten with his own plagues, in thoughts perturb’d shall arise from the bright ruins as a fiery King, serpent-formed, and seek his ancient temple, which stretches out its shady length along the Island white!
King Richard III:
Am I to assume that I am Albion’s Angel, or is it the dreaded Richmond of whom you speak? If ’tis I, then I should reassure thee that my thoughts are not remotely “perturbed”, nor are they ever likely to be so!
The Gilt-Haired Youth: (undeterred)
Aged Ignorance is preaching once again, canting, on a vast rock, perceiv’d only by those senses that are clos’d from thought: Bleak, dark, abrupt it stands, and it overshadows London city. The youth of England will then see his bony feet upon the rock, and his flesh will then be consum’d in flames; they shall see the Serpent temple lifted high above, shadowing the Island white; and then, finally, they will hear the voice of Albion’s Angel, howling in flames, seeking the trump of Last Doom!
Before King Richard could question him further, the gilt-haired youth had faded completely from view, leaving in his place a cold and bloodless stone wall. Unperturbed by the youthful spectre’s prophecy, the King settled back into the land of dreams, confident that these unsettling visions were all merely a figment of his long-dormant conscience, dwelling no doubt upon the trail of corpses that he had scattered so carelessly along his path to power.
It was not long, however, before a third vision appeared, one more potent and vivid than before: A pure black eagle appeared from under a flaming crescent moon, and then descended swiftly and silently, perching itself imperiously on the wooden post at the foot of his bed. Its keen eye fixed intently upon the King, and then spoke thus:
The Black Eagle: (forcefully)
Awake! For morning, in the bowl of night, has flung the stone that puts the stars to flight!
King Richard III:
Begone! ‘Tis not yet morning whilst ever the sinking moon, pale from weariness, wanders companionless among the stars, like a joyless eye.
The Black Eagle:
Thou wouldst do well to heed my words, knave! The lion and the wolf shall soon stalk Europe’s darkening forests, scouring the countryside endlessly for the sick, the defenceless and the frail to sate their ravening appetites. The Churches’ spires shall then be brought low, submitting to the glowering moon and its lone companion star. And Lo! the Hunter of the East shall catch the Sultan’s turret in a noose of light! Then, the worldly hope men set their hearts upon shall turn to ash and, like snow upon the desert’s dusty face, it shall shortly thereafter be gone.
King Richard III: (defiantly)
Being forewarned, I shall stand apart, and thus ensure neither my kingdom, nor I, shall in shame endure this fate.
Fear not! ‘Tis all but a chequer-board of nights and days, where Destiny with men for pieces plays. Hither and thither moves, and mates, and slays, and one by one back in the closet lays! Our Merrie England shall be rampant and remain defiant still, even as Europe cowers in it’s coward’s shame!
The Black Eagle: (spreading his wings and flying about the room in circles)
Beware! The Moving Finger writes, and having writ, moves on: not all thy piety and wit shall lure it back to cancel half a line, nor all thy tears wash out a word of it.
King Richard III: (scoffing)
Be assured, I shall ne’er be prisoner to my past misdeeds!
Black Eagle: (returning to its accustomed perch)
Then, thou shouldst prepare for the coming of the guided one! His face shall soon shine upon the surface of the moon, and then he will return from his hidden realm to rule over both Man and beast!
King Richard III: (defiantly)
This would be ruler shall find I am not so easily cast aside!
Black Eagle: (ignoring the interjection)
Then there will come a time of great upheaval and violence for those who resist this implacable foe! Thy lands will be blighted by a great plague that will ravage thy subjects without mercy, and then shall unexpectedly abate, but only after a great conflagration of hellfire consumes all in its path.
King Richard III:
I stand ready for any challenge to my divine right to rule. I will not be intimidated so easily by the alleged prophecies of a glorified carrion crow!
Black Eagle: (growing impatient at the King’s impertinence)
Fiend! Thou shalt indeed make a hell of heaven, and a heaven of hell, such is thine arrogance and intransigence!
And with that the eagle flew upward and then swooped below the burning crescent where it vanished completely.
From the shadows, almost immediately upon the eagle’s disappearance, emerged a Tyger, a massive brutish beast with gnashing teeth and piercing eye, growling under its breath as it paced back and forth at end of the King’s bed.
King Richard III: (recoiling in fear, a look of sheer terror in his eyes)
Tyger Tyger, burning bright, in the forests of the night; What immortal hand or eye, could frame thy fearful symmetry?
The Tyger stared intently at the frightened King, as its muscles tensed and it coiled itself up, seemingly ready to pounce upon its prey at any moment.
King Richard III: (in a wavering voice, hoping to break the impasse)
In what distant deeps or skies, burnt the fire of thine eyes? On what wings dare he aspire? What the hand, dare seize the fire?
The Tyger’s gaze never left the fearful King’s face for even a moment, as it crouched even lower to the ground beneath.
King Richard III: (quaking in fear)
And what shoulder, & what art, could twist the sinews of thy heart? And when thy heart began to beat, what dread hand? & what dread feet? What the hammer? what the chain? In what furnace was thy brain? What the anvil? What dread grasp, dare its deadly terrors clasp?
An eternity seemed to pass without the Tyger moving even a muscle, with Richard almost rendered speechless in the grip of such dread and fear.
King Richard III: (continuing haltingly, in a raspy voice that was now barely audible)
When the stars threw down their spears, and water’d heaven with their tears: Did he smile his work to see? Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
With that the Tyger finally spoke, but it was in a language that Richard could not remotely decipher. A mixture of growls and snarls was certainly intermingled, however, amongst the spoken words, which implied a hostility and displeasure in tone that was clearly evident, in spite of a lack of any coherent message being able to be gleaned from the beast’s rather cryptic monologue.
At least the beast’s piercing and hostile gaze had relented, leading the King to feel momentarily more relaxed in spite of this brutish predator coiled up like a spring only a matter of a yard or so away from him, seemingly ready to devour him at any instant should he even flinch.
When the Tyger had finished speaking, three words seemed to impress themselves, almost subliminally at first but with increasing insistence, upon the King’s mind:
“Compassion”, “Moderation”, “Humility”.
Over and over these three words reiterated, as if written on his soul by some unseen hand. Clearly, its droning repetition signified something of great importance, but for reasons that remained wholly mysterious and elusive from the King’s limited perspective.
The Tyger then suddenly became startled, turned sharply about and bounded away, disappearing in a cloud of dust until the room fell back into that silent and solitary retreat once again. King Richard then breathed a huge sigh of relief and, slightly shaken though he was by the torrent of dreams and visions he had just endured, rolled back over in his bed and soon fell fast asleep, even as the cock was preparing to rise for its first crow of the coming morning.
Act 6 Scene 2:
Over the next few months, London was a hive of activity as King Richard’s edict to transform the economy was in full swing, instigated by the miraculous inventions of his wunderkind offsider, Elias Monk. Elias’ steam engines had miraculously transformed the way various cottage industries and businesses performed, allowing them greater productivity with less labour, and as a consequence the populace had begun to enjoy a prosperity they had never known before. The engines were used not only to pump their water and to heat their homes, but also to mill their grain and weave their cloth. Soon, new applications for his inventions were found in ploughing their fields and in propelling their boats up and down the Thames, whilst in the mines they helped to ease the burden of physical toil for the pit workers, whilst also reducing their reliance upon the ox and the draught horse for carting much heavier loads.
But Elias’ mind was a restless one, and thus he was not even remotely satisfied with inventing such revolutionary and transformative technology. As a consequence, the young mystic was already hard at work on a design to supersede this new “steam engine” with one that attained an even greater level of sophistication and utility. Elias called this next innovation the “internal combustion engine”, comprising a series of pistons using a combustion chamber of liquid fuel which, when ignited with a mixture of air, could propel a crankshaft or turbine with even greater power and efficiency than would be remotely possible from its predecessor, using only steam from boiling water under pressure.
One fateful day, however, Elias was experimenting with liquefying various tars and greases to provide the optimum combustible fuel for his prototype engine, when an unexpected explosion occurred dowsing the hapless inventor in flaming tar and liquid, burning his face and arms and rendering him completely and permanently blind as the burning fuel seared cruelly into both of his eyes.
As he lay amongst the debris, wracked in agony and cast into darkness by his injuries, Elias found very little comfort in the knowledge of his tremendous contributions in improving society as a whole, nor from benefitting the quality of life of so many individuals within it, because he was only too well aware that those heady days of genius and invention were now at an abrupt and entirely unexpected end as a consequence of this absolute calamity.
When he was eventually discovered, Elias was clinging to life by a thread and could barely speak with the pain, but was able nonetheless to direct his handlers in how best to treat his burns; with wadding soaked in rose water initially, followed by wine and vinegar compresses, and then following those ministrations with Hippocrates’ regime of dressings impregnated with a mixture of rendered pig fat, resin and bitumen. Whilst this was no doubt best practice in the circumstances, there followed weeks and months teetering on the very brink of death, with fevers, rigors, delirium and agonising pain dogging his every waking moment.
On hearing of this dreadful accident, King Richard lent the services of his best physicians, who prescribed blood letting and a series of purges to facilitate his recovery, whilst Elias’ faithful assistants tended to his wounds with great care and fed him small spoonfuls of nourishing broths and mugs of tepid ale to sustain him.
Eventually, Elias had recovered sufficiently to be lucid enough to allow an audience with the King, who soon after visited the stricken inventor in nearby St. Bartholomew’s Hospital to enquire as to the progress of his recuperation.
King Richard III: (sitting at Elias’ bedside, alarmed at the young man’s horrific disfigurement)
How goeth thy recovery, milord?
Elias Monk: (in a wavering voice)
The wounds continue to heal, Majesty,
But my progress is otherwise quite slow.
King Richard III:
And how goeth thy vision, Elias?
Alas! Thy dear friend and servant has been,
For the last month or more, hopelessly blind;
So, this heaven, this earth, this universe,
Which I, by my wondrous discoveries
And clear demonstrations hath enlarged
A hundred thousand times beyond the ken
Of the wisest men of bygone ages,
Henceforward shall be dwindled down for me
Into such a minute space as is fill’d
By my own wretched bodily sensations!
King Richard III:
I am sadden’d to hear such sorry news.
One’s sight is a most precious gift to lose.
Be assured, thou shalt have safe haven here,
For all the time that thou shouldst require it.
I appreciate thy kind sentiments.
My future lies at the monastery,
In pursuit of spiritual matters,
Since Science canst avail me no longer!
King Richard III:
When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is Death to hide
Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide,
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
Thou fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts: who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is Kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.
King Richard III: (placing his hand upon Elias’ forehead in a gesture of sympathy)
I wish thee well, O’ Starry Messenger.
Thy matchless deeds shall ne’er be forgotten.
May God’s Grace guide thee on life’s broken path.
Act 6 Scene 3:
King Richard walked from the grounds of the hospital in a daze, distraught that this young man whom he had so admired had been so cruelly dealt with by fate: not only robbed of his eyesight (and thus being unable to engage in the ground-breaking scientific study that had been his talent and vocation), but also having his conspicuously handsome features so brutally and permanently disfigured. Richard wandered aimlessly through the city streets for several hours with a heavy heart, through the market areas and merchant stalls of East Cheap before then turning northward until he came upon a familiar and welcome sight from his youth, a popular tavern known as The White Hart.
This galleried traveller’s inn was indeed a veritable hive of activity, a place where people from all walks of life socialised and conducted their business, then taking their meals and refreshing their thirst with strong wine and ale. Private rooms were also available for the weary traveller to rest, many whilst stopping over on their way to a pilgrimage, or in their travels to and from London Town for any number of other sundry purposes. The occasional cries and screams that would emanate from the demented and insane residing within the asylum at the Hospital of Bethlen (or “Bedlam” as it is more commonly known), located immediately adjacent to the inn, only added to its cosmopolitan ambience.
In no hurry to resume his royal duties, and still grieving for his dear friend’s grievous misadventure, Richard entered the inn and proceeded to find a discreet corner where he could observe the other patrons and their activities in relative anonymity. It was soon readily apparent to him that a broad cross-section of English society was indeed represented, from the lowliest ploughman to the noblest of gentlemen, although two knights on an adjacent table were the most conspicuous, being engaged in earnest and animated conversation about their most recent journey.
The younger of the two Knights, in particular, cut a striking figure, with a lithe yet athletic build and stunningly beautiful features. His raven-haired flowing locks of shoulder length framed his perfectly proportioned face, accompanied by a well-defined chin, soft full lips and piercing brown eyes that immediately evoked both intelligence and perceptiveness. Richard was immediately beguiled by this young man, and with this in mind he soon came forth from his seat to engage both of the young Knights in conversation, eager to learn more about them.
For their part, the two young Knights recognised their sovereign immediately, in spite of his features being somewhat concealed under his hooded cloak. As he came over to greet them, they wisely chose to play along with the King’s apparent desire to remain incognito during his sojourn at the inn.
King Richard III:
Well met, good fellows! What are ye named?
I am known by friend and foe as Redcrosse.
A pious, and chivalrous knight-errant.
(pauses, then gesturing toward his handsome friend seated opposite)
This is my brave and bold friend, Britomart.
King Richard III:
Dost ye returneth from a pilgrimage?
We returneth from defending the Faith,
Noble lord, with the Knights Hospitaller;
Fighting the scourge of Ottoman pirates,
And the Sultan’s horde at the siege of Rhodes!
We put those damned heathens to the sword!
‘Twas a tale of great valour and kinship.
We then travell’d across the continent,
To join the Castillians in their siege
Of the Moslem enclave of Granada,
Where the Lord succour’d us in our just cause.
And we shall soon embark on our next quest;
Journeying to the shores of Llyn Ogwen,
On the trail of Arthurian legend,
To find the sword of brave Sir Galahad!
King Richard III:
Such fine examples thou art to us all!
I wish ye both Godspeed and good fortune.
King Richard and the two Knights became increasingly comfortable in each other’s company as the hours rolled on, swapping tales of the bloody battles they had waged, the acts of heroism they had performed (or else had witnessed first hand from their comrades in arms), and speaking of all the far flung places and diverse cultures they had experienced during the course of their travels throughout Europe, Asia Minor and the Near East.
As the wine flowed freely, and with their appetites duly sated by a generous and hearty meal, the conversation soon took a more fanciful turn, where the aim was to entertain with imaginative tales that were designed to impress not only the other two warriors seated at their table, but also the rather motley collection of random patrons who had now gathered about them to listen to the adventures and intrigues of these three noble gentlemen.
King Richard began these flights of fancy with a tale of a young man in Bavaria, whose experiments led him to explore the very nature of life itself:
King Richard’s Tale:
My story begins in the laboratory of a young scholar, who through a series of unorthodox experiments in chemistry and human anatomy, had stumbled quite by accident upon a great discovery, giving him the ability to bring life to tissue that was no longer living. As a result, this young man set out to create his own living, breathing, human-like creature; and so he set about robbing the graves of the recently deceased to harvest their organs and tissues, which he then skilfully assembled to produce his creation.
Once his creature was put together with all the skill, diligence and care he could muster, the young man then brought it abruptly to life by harnessing a lightning strike in a violent storm. Soon, however, he was to become utterly repulsed by the hideousness of his creation, with its guttural and incoherent speech making communication impossible, and its awkward and uncoordinated gait leading it to blunder about the laboratory wantonly, destroying everything in its path. Whilst the young man slept, the rejected creature made its escape, searching in vain for another human being who would not be so revolted by so grotesque a creature. This newly animated beast, rejected at every turn, eventually ran amok in the township in a rage, killing several innocent people and destroying all that stood in his path.
Eventually, the townsfolk gathered together in an angry mob and chased him into an old windmill. The creature soon stood atop the windmill, howling in rage at those below who had rejected him. The townspeople then set the wooden mill alight, and soon the structure was totally consumed by flames, burning the misbegotten creature alive. The young scholar was then left to ponder the folly of his ambitions, and the death and destruction that his curiosity and blind arrogance had wrought on those townspeople, shattering the former peace and tranquility that had once been enjoyed by that close knit community.
At the conclusion of Richard’s tale, those around him were so transfixed by so splendid a tale of wonder and mystery that it took a few moments for the gathered throng to express their appreciation.
However, they were soon all raising their goblets and tankards in loud acclamation of Richard for his most intriguing tale, with perhaps the exception of a couple of clergymen at the periphery of the gathering, who were rather taken aback by the ideas being expressed, verging (to their minds at least) on blasphemy.
Nonetheless, they chose to remain mute in view of the overwhelming acceptance of the remaining onlookers, and the generally convivial mood of the occasion. They instead anxiously awaited a reply in kind from the next speaker to take the floor: Redcrosse, a Knight of great chivalry and piety.
Redcrosse Knight’s Tale:
I wish to tell the story of an obscure Knight of the Round Table, in the form of Sir Yorick, a rather corpulent and sanguine fellow who embodied very little of the nobility, decorum and chivalrous attributes one might expect from those who would generally aspire to the Knightly station.
Sir Yorick soon set out on his trusty steed, an aptly named grey stallion known as Gravitas, on a quest to find the legendary Holy Grail. Yorick was no doubt champing at the bit to engage in all manner of derring-do in rescuing various damsels in distress, or engaging in mortal combat with other errant Knights, or perhaps in slaying various Dragons, Griffins and the like, but unfortunately he had to be mindful of the less than optimal health and fitness of the ever-loyal Gravitas. Therefore, Sir Yorick rarely ventured far on his quest from those most established highways and byways of the Kingdom, as he could clearly ill afford to stray too far at all from either comfortable lodgings or food and refreshment; purely in the best interests of his beloved animal, of course.
One fine day, our brave Knight came upon a diminutive young woman, wearing a pretty striped bonnet. She was being rather grievously manhandled in a most ungentlemanly fashion by a ruffian who was clearly intoxicated, and who certainly had nothing but the most unseemly and lustful of intentions. The poor waif was obviously too polite and kind of heart to resist these inappropriate advances forcefully enough, and it was then that Sir Yorick saw his opportunity for a belated act of utmost chivalry in protecting the virtue of the unfortunate young lady. Sir Yorick therefore interceded on her behalf, but the man in question protested violently, leaving the Knight with no other alternative but to run the blaggard through with his sword.
The young woman, who went by the name of Becky, was certainly quite startled and bemused at first, but she quickly gained her composure, albeit briefly, and smiled coyly at her noble protector, then draping her arms around his ample girth in gratitude for his having come so decisively to her aid. She was quite small in stature and slight in build, with pale complexion, sandy coloured hair and a demure, attractive face adorned with very large, green eyes that would make even the hardest heart soften in her adoring gaze.
It was at this point that the young woman suddenly became very faint and went totally limp in Sir Yorick’s arms, overcome no doubt by the close brush with moral compromise that she had just endured. Whilst the good Knight struggled manfully with the unconscious woman, he soon spied an inn a short distance down the road, and so carried her flaccid body to the front door, where his cries for help were soon answered, and the inn’s mistress quickly ushered him in.
Once inside, the brave knight sought a bed upon which to lie the young waif down, in the hopes of allowing her time and a soft repose to recover herself after her ordeal. The mistress of the inn explained that she would unfortunately require a small dispensation to allow Sir Yorick access to one of the rooms upstairs, as it would make it virtually impossible for her to gain payments from any of her other guests for their lodgings if they were to become aware of her giving him any such special favours.
The mistress guided the knight up the stairs and to the nearest bedroom, where she excused herself to allow him to remain undisturbed whilst administering to the young lady’s needs. Once he had laid the young woman down on the soft feather bed, she slowly began to regain consciousness, before awakening fully with a sudden start. The young woman could now scarcely catch her breath such was her acute distress, and she motioned frantically to Sir Yorick to loosen her collar and her bodice to aid her by now very laboured breathing. Having done so, the young and innocent woman lay helplessly before her protector, her heaving bosom exposed with her milk white skin so smooth and soft and dewy with sweat that Sir Yorick, a man of modest moral fibre at the best of times, could scarcely contain himself a moment longer.
Of course, it goes without saying that the poor, unfortunate Sir Yorick was left with a lifetime of regret after that fateful day, and night, of unbridled passion with that helpless young waif, having engaged in such lewd and lascivious acts that would leave a permanent black mark on his conscience, and sullied his formerly unblemished reputation.
When he awoke the following morning, the goose had clearly flown, and he soon noticed that his once bulging money pouch had been completely emptied, leaving the chastened knight with no other recourse but to sheath his sword, remount Gravitas and head back home with his tail between his legs. His days of questing for the Grail, or any other holy relic for that matter, were clearly at an end.
His tale concluded, the party of revellers attending to his story gave the knight a rapturous applause and a hearty cheer for his efforts, with the exception of young Britomart, who was strangely subdued at the conclusion of his tale. For their part, the two clergymen thought the tale scandalous, and as a consequence they left the gathering in disgust that such a pious young Knight could stoop to telling so ignoble a story.
Rather than responding with a tale of his own, Britomart offered the next tale to any of the gathering that might care to intercede, at which point an apothecary then raised his hand excitedly to claim centre stage.
The Apothecary’s Tale:
My story is one of a doctor of my acquaintance, a man of quite noble intentions, diligent and hard working, but with an agile mind that was particularly fascinated by the nature of Good and Evil. Knowing that every man and woman, whether of high or low estate, has within them elements of both Good and Evil, the idealistic doctor hoped to use his skills as a physician to work toward a cure for this illness of the mind that we, in our ignorance, refer to as “Evil”.
So, the good doctor studied assiduously, and experimented meticulously and methodically, until his mastery of chemistry led him to discover a concoction that he believed would separate evil thoughts and darker impulses from the better values and the upright moral character of the human mind. Rather than submit others to the risks of taking such an untested and unproven chemical compound, the doctor instead resolved to take it himself to demonstrate the wonder of his discovery, one which he hoped would transform our less than civilised society into a safer and more benevolent place for one and all.
At first, the doctor was thrilled with the progress of his experiment, as all his darkest thoughts and immoral urges simply melted away after drinking his daily potion. But it wasn’t long before the young physician awakened every morning in a dishevelled state, having had a restless night of which he had no memory. As the weeks went by, these effects become more intense, although once he had fully awoken he felt completely invigorated and refreshed, and so thought little of it.
At around this time, a series of brutal murders began occurring on a regular basis on the streets of London, all perpetrated by the same hideous brute of a man in a reign of terror that had the law abiding citizens of the city cowering in fear. The man was described as very tall, powerfully built, and hirsute with coarse, ugly features, and with disproportionately large hands and feet. This maniac roamed the streets at night committing various acts of violence and brutality, often without provocation, yet had thus far managed to evade capture.
As the days and weeks went on, the young doctor began to realise that his restless nights, of which he had no memory, were not merely confined to his bed, but instead involved him leaving his lodgings and wandering the streets at night, because his clothing was often torn or wet from rain or blood-stained when he awoke the following morning. Then it suddenly dawned upon him, in a flash of inspiration and clarity, that he and this mindless brute stalking the good people of London were one and the same person.
In acute distress at the thought of the deaths and grievous harm he had wrought through his actions, the young doctor promptly destroyed his concoction, resolving never again to experiment in so dangerous a fashion. Alas, his nightly episodes continued even without his taking the potion, and they seemed to be getting more and more violent rather than less, while the spate of violent crimes perpetrated by his alter ego continued unabated.
The good doctor was thus left with little choice, and was soon found dead in his lodgings at his own hand, without even so much as a short note of explanation. The reign of terror then ended as abruptly as it began, and the citizens of London could once again walk the city streets without fear or hesitation.
The gathered onlookers were unanimous in their praise of the young apothecary’s tale, and they soon drank to his health in thanks for so compelling a story.
The next onlooker to come forward in response was an elderly man who identified himself as an artist, a painter of panel portraits for wealthy patrons.
The Artist’s Tale:
Many years ago, I had occasion to paint a single panel portrait of a young aristocratic gentleman whose youthful beauty was so exceptional that my best efforts could barely do justice to the subject of the piece. When I was finished, I remarked (with a touch of poetic license perhaps) that my portrait had preserved his youth and his great beauty for all eternity, even as those handsome features and his youthful presence were unfortunately destined to fade and dwindle with each passing year. My simple, and seemingly innocuous statement was to prove to be one of quite startling, and ultimately devastating consequences.
It transpired that the young man in question had cursed my portrait shortly thereafter in his despair at my revelation, and in dread fear that it would become an ever-present reminder of the loss of his most handsome features, while the painting was destined to remain forever beautiful and youthful. Thus, the young man offered forth his immortal soul, if only this portrait would retain in his stead all of the visible signs of not only the passage of time, but also of the scars and distortions of his many and varied vices, sins and corruptions.
As the years passed, the young man remained as youthful and beautiful as the day that I painted him, but rumours soon spread far and wide as to his increasingly depraved behaviour and callous indifference to others, while my portrait of him was kept from prying eyes, locked away at home in his attic. His activities lapsed further and further into complete hedonism, debauchery and corruption, while tainting or damaging any and everyone unfortunate enough to come into his life in the process.
All the while, away from the public gaze his portrait grew more and more grotesque, such that it had ironically become an ever-present reminder of the depths to which his behaviour had sunk, and the sheer ugliness and depravity that resided within his very soul.
Finally, so distressed was he by my portrait, serving as a pictorial representation of all of his many vices and gross perversions, that the young man one day lashed out with a knife in a fit of rage, stabbing his own portrait right through the heart. The next day his body was found lying beneath this portrait, now restored to its former youth and beauty, whilst his corpse bore all the scars and deformities earned through the wages of an utterly dissolute life of unbridled malevolence and profanity.
The gathering crowd were suitably impressed with this cautionary tale, and once more raised a hurrah to the young artist’s tale.
It was not long, however, before the next to raise his hand came forth: a young seafarer, still dressed in his crewman’s garb, having just this morning alighted from his ship in dock nearby on the River Thames.
The young seafarer, fresh from sailing along the Guinea coast of West Africa on a Portuguese caravel, was eager to relate a story told to him by a castaway whom he and his fellow crewmen had just rescued.
The Seafarer’s Tale:
My crew mates and I had just found an English sailor, barely clinging to life, floating on a raft just to the west of the Azores Islands, in the wide expanse of the Mare Tenebroso. Because I was the only English speaker on board the vessel, I was the only person to whom the sailor could confide the story of his fantastic adventures.
As our ship sailed back to port, the sailor told me of being shipwrecked in a violent storm, and then washed up on an uncharted island. Exhausted from his ordeal, he soon lost consciousness on the beach, only to awaken many hours later to find his arms and legs had been fastened tightly to the ground, with several fine ligatures across his body from the armpits to the waist that bound him similarly, and steadfastly to the ground. All about him were hundreds and hundreds of tiny people, not more than six inches high, amongst whom were men, women and children, with people from all walks of life represented from the lowliest tradesmen to highest of public officials.
Even though he could have no doubt broken those bonds that fastened him if he had applied his greatest effort, he was tempered by the concern that his great size could lead him to inadvertently crush, or otherwise injure or kill the tiny inhabitants of the island.
Therefore, he acquiesced to the desires and directives of those little people in keeping him thus constrained for their safety. While their strange language and customs were certainly alien to him at first, he gradually learned their ways and how to communicate with them, gaining their trust to such an extent that he eventually won his freedom, and in short order became a valued and highly esteemed member of their society.
Eventually, however, the difficulties that his mountainous size presented to those little people, not to mention to their society in general, in feeding, clothing, bathing and housing him became insurmountable, and an unfortunate misunderstanding soon occurred that led to an escalation in their simmering conflict, forcing the sailor to flee the island in fear of his life, setting out onto the uncharted ocean on a makeshift raft, hoping against hope that he would be rescued by a passing ship.
Our caravel duly returned the gentleman in question to civilisation at our home port of Lisbon, where he thanked us for our care and then went merrily on his way. Even though his story somewhat defied belief, he spoke in such earnestness and conviction that I was left in no doubt whatsoever as to the veracity of the strange marvels he claimed to have witnessed and experienced in his travels.
At the conclusion of the Seafarer’s delightful tale, another call was made for anyone else there present to come forth to match those storytellers who had gone before, whereupon a crippled old man in ragged clothes took centre stage to tell his story.
The Adventurer’s Tale:
A long time ago, when I was in the full flush of youth, I had a most adventurous spirit, with a hankering to travel far and wide to exotic lands. I had read of the travels of Marco Polo to the Far East, and of that noble knight Sir John Mandeville to Asia Minor and India, and so I set out upon a journey across Europe to seek an exciting life full of incident and adventure.
In my travels, I met another young tearaway much like myself, whom I knew only as Dravot, and we knocked about from place to place; working at some places, thieving and swindling at others, whilst also taking time, I must confess, to sample some of the local feminine delicacies along the way!
Those were great times indeed, filled with joy and laughter, and not a few close scrapes where we barely escaped with our lives, from various angry husbands, fathers or townspeople who took exception to our behaviour. When we had had our fill of wine, women and song on the road, we made a pact to travel to the edge of the known world, in the footsteps of Alexander the Great, where we could set ourselves up as Kings, lording it over the natives and living a life of luxury and indulgence.
Thus we made our way to Venice, where we sailed across the Mediterranean Sea to Constantinople, and from there to Trebizond on the southern edge of the Black Sea. We then travelled overland, and endured great adversity over very rugged terrain, fighting off many hostile tribesmen along the way, until we reached a region known as Kafiristan. Here was the land of which we had always dreamed: filled with so many sights and natural wonders of great beauty, and the perfect place for Dravot and I to establish an empire of our very own.
We soon gained the confidence of the native tribesman when, during a violent skirmish with a neighbouring tribe, an arrow hit Dravot in the chest directly over his heart, and he was saved fortuitously by the leather-bound Bible he always carried over his heart. The sight of Dravot, unharmed by an arrow protruding from the very centre of his chest caused the natives, friend and foe alike, to fall to their knees, thinking that this strange man must indeed be some kind of God.
Thus, Dravot and I at last saw our chance for ultimate glory as a consequence of this rather serendipitous event. We convinced the Kafiris that Dravot was in fact the reincarnation of Alexander the Great himself, a man who was still spoken of with such awe and reverence in their folkloric tradition. The Kafiris came to revere us both as Gods. They fashioned crowns of gold for us to wear, and soon offered us all their wealth at our disposal, tending to our every whim.
As the months rolled by, I learned more of the history of the Kafiri; how they had once ruled over a far wider area in the mountains and valleys surrounding them, only to be driven out by Moslem tribesmen who now encircled them in their current enclave. It transpired that the Kafiris harboured ambitions of re-establishing their realm to its former glory and extent, and so Dravot and I formed an army of soldiers amongst the most able of their number, and launched a series of successful raids on the surrounding tribes, using the superior weaponry we had brought along with us, particularly our crossbows and arquebuses that struck fear into the hearts of the enemy. In this way, we hoped to help them make Kafiristan great once again!
All was going according to our well laid plans, and Dravot and I were living like kings in our very own Empire on the edge of the known world, until one day my friend made his most fatal mistake; by falling in love with one of the Kafiri women and then taking her as his bride. Unbeknownst to both of us, the young woman believed, according to her native superstition, that she would be turned immediately to stone if she was to have any sexual contact with an immortal God. So it was that she became so frightened on their wedding night at the prospect of having to submit to the carnal desires of a God that she scratched his face in terror, drawing blood.
Once the other Kafiri learned of Dravot’s mortality, they turned on us in a twinkling of an eye, and brutally bashed and tortured us to within an inch of our lives. Dravot was then pushed out onto a rope bridge across a deep ravine, and the ropes were then cut and he plunged hundreds of feet to his death on the rocks below. For several months afterward, I was kept prisoner by the Kafiri, where I was regularly beaten and half starved, until eventually an opportunity to escape presented itself.
Through many hardships, and with great perseverance I managed to make my way to India, where I recuperated sufficiently to embark on my homeward journey to England. Since then I’ve lived a life of complete anonymity, content with my lot as a humble peasant, never again to aspire to such lofty ambitions above my worldly station.
At the conclusion of the Adventurer’s Tale, when another round of drinks had been imbibed, and when the hearty cheers, laughter and hubbub had subsided, a mule driver then rose to take his turn in the evening’s proceedings.
The Muler’s Tale:
I have a tale of an entirely different character, one which tells not so much about the way we live, but of a black-hearted man who ultimately receives his comeuppance, while nonetheless leaving a trail of heartache and destruction in his considerable wake.
One dark and stormy night, at a social gathering amongst the political elite, I had the misfortune to meet a mysterious man who went by the name of Augustus Melmotte. He had lived until recently in the city of St. Petersburg, where he had amassed a substantial fortune as a merchant and wealthy landowner. During his early life in Russia, he had reputedly been very well connected indeed, having formed numerous close relationships with many of the most influential members of Moscow’s royal court; so much so that he may well have even been in the good graces of Grand Prince Ivan himself.
“Why misfortune?”, you ask. Well, although Melmotte appeared to be a wealthy and successful man of good standing and repute, even being recently elected as an esteemed member of His Majesty’s Parliament, he was soon to prove himself to be anything but reputable in his dealings with me.
I found him to be an utterly corrupt and venal man, prepared to swindle any naive and trusting souls who might find themselves unfortunate enough to be engaged in business with him. In spite of his reputation as a wealthy man about town, he lived largely on the generosity, and often errant stupidity, of his creditors, most of whom would inevitably find their pockets empty when the time for recompense finally arrived. Until his day of reckoning at least, he continued to live the high life on the fat of the land, indulging his every whim and vice, without so much as a second thought for the welfare of those around him.
Not content with mere financial skullduggery, his sexual proclivities and various perverse activities with certain actresses, prostitutes and other women of easy virtue were clearly not the sort of behaviour one would expect from a gentleman of his high station. It was rumoured, in fact, that even his election to parliament lacked legitimacy, and may have been obtained purely through bribery and subterfuge, and whereafter he had acted as an illicit agent of the Grand Prince of Moscow in undermining the authority of the Crown.
How do I know of all this? Well, I wasn’t always the lowly mule driver you see before you today. I was once held in very high esteem as an Attorney to the Court of Common Pleas, and had only just been elevated to the rank of Serjeant-at-Law, with the world literally at my feet, when I came upon this dread scoundrel Melmotte, and my fortunes took a severe downward turn in short order thereafter.
After our first chance meeting, my first serious involvement with him was to be at Westminster Hall, where a buxom and comely young lass by the name of Mistress Daniels was suing this bounder Melmotte for breach of promise, alleging that he had promised to marry her and had then subsequently reneged, having had his way with her in the interim. In response, Melmotte claimed that Mistress Daniels was merely a woman of ill repute who had traded her sexual favours for money, and then produced evidence of payments to her through an intermediary that tended to support his version of events. In spite of my misgivings as to the veracity of his witness’ statement, I was forced to dismiss the unfortunate woman’s case due to the weight of this contrary evidence.
Only a few months later, Melmotte found his way back to the court once again, having swindled a neighbour in a land deal. Once again, what appeared to be a straightforward case, with clear cut guilt on Melmotte’s part, quickly descended into a tangled web of intrigue, with witnesses either recanting (likely under threat, or else through financial inducement), or disappearing mysteriously into the aether, so that once again the elusive cad escaped the justice he so richly deserved.
I soon became completely obsessed with bringing this utter villain to account, even composing a dossier of all of his activities and business dealings, and then interrogating all of his friends and associates in the hope of finding anything incriminating at all that might knock him down off his lofty perch, and to bring him to righteous justice for his litany of crimes and misdemeanours. However, in the process of trying to elicit further incriminating evidence from some criminals who were closely involved in his shady business dealings, my own reputation was to be fatally compromised when my innocent associations with such low life scoundrels were discovered, leading me to be unjustly cast out from my chosen profession in disgrace.
The fact that Melmotte’s financial schemes were destined only a short while thereafter to come crashing down around him was of cold comfort to me, given all that I had lost in my stubborn pursuit of bringing him to the fullest account for his many misdeeds.
Now, as I tend to the care of my mules, who are now my only source of steady income, I am certainly given an ever-present reminder as to the folly of my previous short-sightedness, hubris and intransigence.
These evening festivities continued well past midnight, as it seemed there were many assembled who also thought they had an intriguing story to tell. Some of the tales that were spun, of varying quality and profundity, throughout the evening covered such wide ranging subjects as:
- A grizzled ship’s captain, utterly obsessed with tracking down and killing the huge white whale that previously maimed him, becomes so blinded by his all-consuming rage and lust for revenge that it leads not only to his own death, but also to the tragic loss of his ship and most of his crew;
- The amorous adventures and sexual peccadilloes of a foundling who is initially disinherited, then is eventually reconciled with his benefactor;
- A rich woman left at the altar by a callous fiancé, who then becomes a recluse, raising her adopted daughter to be cold and heartless toward her suitors to exact a strange, vicarious revenge on men in kind;
- The tale of a sailor, castaway on a tropical island for more than 20 years, fighting for survival against the elements, tribes of cannibals and hostile mutineers, before eventually being rescued;
- The starcrossed romance between the daughter of a gentleman of modest means and a handsome, but haughty and aloof young man, who almost misses his chance for marriage to her through his complete lack of social graces and self-awareness, and her premature misjudgement of his true character; And last but not least,
- The bizarre tale of a young girl who falls down a rabbit hole, and experiences many extraordinary and other-worldly adventures with various strange creatures, all of whom speak in riddles.
With such a broad array of interesting yarns to ponder, and having had more than a little wine over the course of the evening, Richard called the storytelling session to an end and retired to a room upstairs, glancing back to catch a fleeting glimpse of that handsome young Knight in Britomart, who had so captivated him earlier in the evening.
Lying in his bed, Richard’s mind was swirling with thoughts of the brilliant Elias Monk, his horrible injuries and disfigurement, and the raven-haired knight who had filled his heart with such unexpected, yet burning desire.
As he was about to drift off to sleep, a figure appeared silhouetted at the door. As the figure moved toward him, the tall and athletic build of this person came into clearer focus. Richard’s heart was now pounding in his chest with anticipation as the shadowy figure consolidated into the form of Britomart, that handsome young man that had so entranced and beguiled him earlier in the evening.
Richard sat bolt upright in the bed as Britomart came toward him, when the young knight allowed his garment to fall from his shoulders, revealing (to Richard’s great surprise and relief) that the noble knight was in fact a woman; a radiant beauty in fact who combined grace and strength in equal measure, being perfectly formed with a lean and shapely, yet quite muscular physique.
Richard’s relief was palpable, as his instant attraction to the young Knight suddenly became not only more easily explicable, but also considerably more palatable.
Britomart: (with a grin, and quite a fetching twinkle in her eye)
Thou art quite the proud stallion, I see!
King Richard III: (clasping her naked body roughly to him)
Come hither, and I wilt prove it anon!
Britomart: (cheekily, then pushing him effortlessly, yet with some force, back onto the bed)
Hold fast, milord!
‘Twould be a strange story for the ages,
Sire, if e’er a horse couldst bestride a Knight!
King Richard duly complied, lying on his back passively as the bold and brazen Britomart had her way with him. He could only marvel at her raw power and fierceness, with her every muscle tensed and every sinew taut in her unrestrained abandonment to her most lustful desires. Richard had never before experienced such luscious lips, so agile a tongue or such adept fingers, and so forcefully and powerfully applied, taking him to the very limits of his endurance, and to the utmost in intense pleasure and gratification.
As Britomart continued to redefine the lengths to which a subject could express her absolute devotion to her monarch, Richard could not believe his good fortune in ensnaring so delectable a treat in so unlikely a place as the White Hart Inn.
When the dust had fully settled after their fiercely fought, yet intimate skirmish of the flesh, the two combatants lay quietly in each other’s arms in blissful exhaustion.
I would hope thou dost apprehend, milord,
That the tale of Sir Yorick wast mine own!
That dullard Redcrosse has not enough wit,
To tell so ironic a tale as that.
So naive and full of virtue is he,
That he believeth the waif a victim!
King Richard III:
Thou didst appear none too joyous with him,
Now I knoweth wherefore thy angst hath come!
Redcrosse is so dumb in matters of love,
That he didst not suspect my womanhood!
And had he done so, I doubt my virtue,
By that pansy, wouldst have been endanger’d!
King Richard III:
He doth not knoweth what he be missing!
He seeketh the Holy Grail, far and wide,
Yet herewith lays the holiest of Grails!
(grabbing her firmly, yet tenderly to once again re-enter the fray)
Hither be a shrine worthy of worship!
Be resolute, my brave Sir Galahad!
King Richard III: (in mock heroic style)
My good blade carves the casques of men,
My tough lance thrusteth sure,
My strength is as the strength of ten,
Because my heart is pure!
Britomart: (responding in kind, with an impish grin)
Ensure thy steed is rightly shod,
So thou hast nought to fear,
O’ just and faithful Knight of God,
Ride on! The prize is near!
Having just engaged in the most glorious night of bliss and ecstasy that Richard had ever experienced, or was ever likely to for that matter, he awoke the following morn to find, to his astonishment and despair, that his beloved Britomart had gone, leaving only a note, hastily scrawled, that lay upon the nightstand next to him.
In it she wrote:
“Love is my sin and thy dear virtue hate,
Hate of my sin grounded on sinful loving,
O’, but with mine compare thou thine own state,
And thou shalt find it merits not reproving;
Or, if it do, not from those lips of thine,
That have profaned their scarlet ornaments
And seal’d false bonds of love as oft as mine,
Robb’d others’ beds’ revenues of their rents.
Be it lawful I love thee, as thou lov’st those
Whom thine eyes woo as mine importune thee:
Root pity in thy heart, that, when it grows,
Thy pity may deserve to pitied be.
If thou dost seek to have what thou dost hide,
By self-example mayst thou be denied!
Richard was left desolate. He searched the White Hart top to bottom, but although Redcrosse was still slumbering noisily in his room, young Britomart was nowhere to be seen. The mistress of the inn said she had seen him exit the building abruptly just on dawn, whereupon he mounted his horse and rode off to the north without saying what his ultimate destination might be.
Noting distress in the King’s face, the woman enquired if anything was the matter, to which he replied:
“A maiden knight–to me is given
Such hope, I know not fear;
I yearn to breathe the airs of heaven
That often meet me here.
I muse on joy that will not cease,
Pure spaces clothed in living beams,
Pure lilies of eternal peace,
Whose odours haunt my dreams;
And, stricken by an angel’s hand,
This mortal armour that I wear,
This weight and size, this heart and eyes,
Are touch’d, are turn’d to finest air.”
The mistress was no doubt left somewhat bemused and bewildered by such a passionate outpouring of resignation and regret by a sovereign toward a knight of the realm. She certainly could not remotely have been expected to fully comprehend the true nature of the King’s feelings, but it is fortunate perhaps that an innkeeper’s wife can often be privy to many strange and wondrous things that she must, by necessity, either disregard or condone, particularly those that would otherwise defy a simple and unambiguous explanation!
Richard returned to his room, sitting on the bed in silence for the longest time, before finally gathering his belongings together and heading back to the palace to attend to affairs of state, chastened by his experience but soon to be infused with a renewed sense of purpose and vigour.
Act 6 Scene 4:
The Palace of Westminster.
King Richard returned to the Palace to find his royal court in an uproar. His loyal supporters, Catesby and Ratcliffe, took the King to one side at the first opportunity to warn him of some potential treachery and skulduggery afoot amongst some of his trusted retinue, who were apparently acting surreptitiously in the Lancastrian cause.
One of his most trusted bodyguards, a man by the name of Peter Stokes, had formed an illicit, and rather tawdry relationship with one of the page boys, who was privy to many of the confidential conversations held amongst the King’s trusted inner circle. This Page was then allegedly passing this information on to Stokes, who would then use that intelligence to undermine the interests of the Crown by passing it on through a chain of emissaries to the King’s enemies in France, those remnant followers of the banished Earl of Richmond.
King Richard therefore ordered that the young page boy and this Peter Stokes be taken forthwith to the Tower in York for interrogation, where he was confident that his jailers had more than sufficient expertise to extract a confession, and thereafter to enact an appropriately gruesome and painful punishment suitable for any that might harbour such thoughts, or have the temerity to commit such scurrilous acts of Treason against him.
But that was not by any means the only problem with which King Richard had to contend, as Lord Buckingham had become so disaffected with the Yorkist cause that he had left abruptly from the court in Richard’s brief absence, and was now rumoured to be gathering his forces in Wales to mount an armed rebellion against him. This revelation shocked Richard to the very core, as the noble Duke of Buckingham had been his closest and most trusted ally up until this very moment, and it therefore defied earthly comprehension that he should suddenly turn on him in such a fashion.
Buckingham, back’d by those hardy Welshmen,
Is in the field, and his strength increaseth.
He is not alone in this treachery;
Morton of Ely is fled to Richmond!
King Richard III:
Ely with Richmond troubles me more near
Than Buckingham and his rash-levied strength.
Come, I have learn’d that fearful commenting
Is leaden servitor to dull delay;
Delay leads impotent and snail-paced beggary;
Then fiery expedition be my wing,
Jove’s Mercury, and herald for a King.
Go, muster men. My counsel is my shield.
We must be brief when traitors brave the field!
Act 6 Scene 5:
East Cheap. A street.
King Richard, in the company of Sir Richard Ratcliffe, rode through Cheapside with a small contingent of his finest troops, headed north of London to the encampment of his loyalist army, in order to rally them with words of inspiration as they prepare to battle the forces of the rebellious Buckingham. As he passed by crowds of curious onlookers, a madwoman riding a donkey blocked his path, and began hurling abuse and threats at the King and his followers.
Madwoman: (wide eyed, and bellowing loudly)
Scum of the Earth! Satan’s spawn! Scourge of God!
May God rain down murd’ring shot from heaven,
To dash thy brains and strike thee stone cold dead!
King Richard III: (sternly)
Stand aside, witch!
Thou maketh a spectacle of thyself.
Let there be no rest nor peace for thee!
Nowhere wilt thou be safe from our anger.
We shalt harass and harangue all of thee,
Wherever thou may toil, or dine, or sleep!
King Richard III: (impatiently)
Desist in thy riotous behaviour!
Thou shouldst wend thy way back home to Bedlam,
Whither thou canst receive the proper care
For thy warp’d mind and low intelligence.
Madwoman: (howls at the sky in frustration and rage)
I’ll not be afraid, nor be undermined,
And I canst not be intimidated!
King Richard III: (with a mocking tone)
Yet, I am term’d the scourge and wrath of God;
The only fear and terror of the world!
A riot is the voice of the unheard!
God will protect us! He is on our side,
On the side of what’s right and honourable.
Thou art accurs’d and are consign’d to hell!
King Richard III: (near the end of his tether)
Thou may curse my power, as well thou might.
The heavens may frown, the earth for anger quake;
But such a star hath influence in his sword
To rule the skies and countermand the Gods!
Madwoman: (shrieking at the top of her lungs)
Thou art deformed, crooked, old and sere,
Ill-faced, worse-bodied, shapeless ev’rywhere,
Vicious, ungentle, foolish, blunt, unkind,
Stigmatical in making, worse in mind!
With that torrent of abuse and vulgar insults, Richard’s patience finally ran
out. So, he struck the lunatic woman a mighty blow with his broadsword,
cleaving her not-so-neatly in two.
King Richard III:
We have been detain’d too much already;
Let’s tarry no longer and ride apace,
And reclaim my time lost to fool’s errands,
In trying to reason with lunatics!
(Exeunt, at the gallop)
Act 6 Scene 6:
An army encampment, North of London, shortly before returning to Westminster Palace.
Having sent the Madwoman of Cheapside to her maker, King Richard journeyed to his army’s encampment, just North of London. Once there, he gave his troops a rousing speech in preparation for their upcoming battle with Lord Buckingham’s forces, who had gathered together in Wales and were mobilising to the West of their current position.
After his motivational address, the King was forced to express to his soldiers his profound regret that he could not join them in mortal combat on this occasion, in view of his particularly painful heel spurs. He explained that they had become completely debilitating in the last week, particularly after he had just recently endured several strenuous and taxing rounds of golf in the course of his Kingly duties. Such are the fortunes of war!
Leaving his battle-hardened generals in charge on the eve of the conflict, King Richard returned once again to his palace at Westminster, where he set about making arrangements to host an inaugural state visit by none other than his long time friend and illicit confidant: Ivan the Great, the Grand Prince of Moscow. Although England and Russia had enjoyed less than amicable, and more often than not plainly inimical relations for many centuries, King Richard was determined to break with this tradition and to normalise relations between these two great nations, even though it ran totally against the prevailing and often quite adamant advice of his own generals and closest advisors.
Undeterred, King Richard laid out his plans for a lavish State Dinner and Ball, with no expense spared, to be held in the grandest ballroom in the Palace of Westminster. Gilt-edged invitations were soon sent out to the newly constructed Kremlin Palace for Grand Prince Ivan, his consort Sophia Paleologue, and his many advisors, bodyguards and a retinue of servants, attendants and retainers to attend.
Once it was received, his invitation was gratefully accepted by the Russian monarch, but then Ivan suggested that King Richard should, in the interim, attend a small preliminary gathering as his guest at his summer house, in the newly acquired Muscovite territory that lay just to the East of the township of Helsinki. In so doing, Ivan hoped that the two leaders might be able to meet in private, away from the prying eyes and ears of the courtiers of either royal court, where King Richard could also partake of some of that hospitality for which Russians were justly famous; engaging in the royal pursuits of hunting, hawking and fishing, along with an abundance of those various indoor sports to which the English King was well acquainted, and was widely known to be quite partial.
King Richard, with an entourage of his most trusted advisors, thus set sail from Bishop’s Lynn in Norfolk shortly thereafter. His ships headed East over the North Sea, and then across the length of the Baltic Sea, before finally arriving at the port of Helsinki. Once there, he was met by Ivan’s emissaries, who then guided him on the short carriage ride to the Grand Prince’s very pleasant, if somewhat remote lakeside summer retreat.
On arrival, the two men dispensed with etiquette and greeted each other with a firm handshake followed by a vigorous, manly hug of affection, much to the surprise and chagrin of both advisor and attendant alike. Richard’s advisors were surprised also to learn that the Grand Prince had a very respectable command of the English language, whilst King Richard astonished them even further by being able to communicate with his counterpart with a more than modest smattering of Russian phrases of his own.
Some barely discernible murmurs of discontent were soon to be overheard emanating from Richard’s advisors. Several of his entourage felt somewhat disconcerted by this apparent familiarity, and more particularly with the camaraderie their sovereign seemed to enjoy with the Russian Prince; a man who, until very recently at least, had been regarded as one of Britain’s most mortal enemies.
When the formal greetings and introductions had been dispensed with, Grand Prince Ivan then invited King Richard into the den alone, away from his trusty advisors, for a fireside chat on the pretext of getting better acquainted over an immodest tipple of the local Muscovite distillation, known to the common folk as Vodka, which had been brought especially for the occasion from the famed Chudov Monastery, residing within the Kremlin Palace walls.
Ivan the Great: (Glass of Vodka in hand, raising it in a toast)
Vverh dnom! (вверх дном) (Bottoms Up!)
King Richard III: (Raising his glass in kind)
Na Zdorovie! (На здоровье) Here’s some mud for thine eye!
(The two men share a generous swig)
Ivan the Great: (Pauses, admiring the quality of his tipple)
That vodka truly is “success distill’d”!
(Then, in his best approximation of the King’s English)
How goeth thine affairs of state, Comrade?
King Richard III:
All goeth according to plan, my friend:
The Caithness uprising hath just been quell’d,
The Lancastrians art in disarray,
And Britain’s economy is rampant!
Ivan the Great:
My great Empire thriveth also, Druzhishche (дружище)!
Taking back our homelands in Crimea,
And some recent conquests in Österland,
Hath expanded my sphere of influence,
Beyond all my wildest expectations.
King Richard III: (with a grin)
Excellent news all ’round, my dear Ivan.
Ivan the Great:
And thanks be to thee for interceding
In word and deed, without fear or favour,
On my behalf with those Aristocrats
That pollute the continent to the South.
King Richard III:
They were mere putty in my hands, my Prince!
Simply turning one against the other,
With all my guile and artful deception,
Topp’d with an ounce of intimidation!
Ivan the Great:
European Monarchs are such dullards,
But are still obstinate thorns in my side!
Thou hast them so confused and divided,
That they are just begging to be conquered!
King Richard III: (with a cautionary tone)
‘Tis best not to get ahead of ourselves!
Better to let them squabble ‘mongst themselves,
Allowing thee to go from strength to strength,
Tightening thy grip upon thine Empire.
As the night rolled on, Ivan and Richard enjoyed mightily a lively and animated conversation, all the while indulging in prodigious quantities of the local spirit. The two men laughed heartily and often at each other’s bawdy jokes, before settling down to a competition in various feats of manly strength and prowess; beginning with such activities as arm wrestling and weight lifting at first, until finally the two men stripped off their clothing completely, and then began wrestling with one another with intense vigour before the open fire. Eventually, both men fell upon the ground, sloppily drunk and completely exhausted, on top of a bear skin rug that lay directly in front of the hearth, utterly spent after their many indulgences and exertions over the course of the evening.
The following morning, King Richard’s entourage were confronted with the spectacle of the two naked men fast asleep and entwined in each others arms on the floor, just in that place where they had fallen the night before on that large bear skin rug. When the two unclad sovereigns were gradually roused from their slumbers, and once a suitable balm could be found for their aching heads after a night of constant drinking, the two leaders then dressed in more suitable bedroom attire and returned their respective quarters for a well earned rest, before embarking on the much anticipated bear hunt that had been planned for later that afternoon.
Act 6 Scene 7:
The Bear Hunt. A forest, to the west of Ivan the Great’s idyllic summer residence.
The Grand Prince’s Master of the Hounds was a Germanic martinet who went by the name of Herr Mueller. He had been tasked earlier that day with scouting for game in the Royal Forest adjacent to Ivan’s summer retreat, along with a retinue of pages and groomsmen hand-selected from King Richard’s and Prince Ivan’s entourages. Mueller took his lymer, which was tethered on a very long leash, out into the woods to track the quarry of the day, looking for any of the tell tale signs of game, especially of the variety that might be big and dangerous enough to challenge the prowess of these two virile and highly adept sovereign rulers during their afternoon’s hunt.
Herr Mueller followed some reasonably fresh bear tracks that had been left in the mud after recent rains, assessed any broken branches and droppings that might indicate proximity to the prey, and then carefully laid various baited traps and lures along their most likely routes of escape. Once this was completed, the Master sent his trusty lymer into all of those dark recesses, nooks and crannies where any of the area’s large brown bears might seek refuge, with the purpose of silently and stealthily assessing the “lay of the game”.
His mission completed to his satisfaction, Mueller returned to the Grand Prince where he proudly announced: “The game’s afoot!”; a proclamation greeted with great fanfare and anticipation by the assembled hunting party, who were at that time gathered about breaking bread and feasting on cured venison in preparation for the thrilling chase to follow.
When the likely path of the prey had been predicted to everyone’s satisfaction, a relay of dogs was positioned at intervals along the way to strategically and serially attack and harass any large bear as it attempted to make its escape. These dogs, who were a mixture of alaunts and mastiffs known for their ferocity and relentless attacking spirit, were more suitable for a bear hunt than the swifter but light weight greyhounds, whose great speed but lack of stamina made them better suited to more fleet footed quarry like deer, boar, hare or fox.
Richard and Ivan left their usual mounts in the stable, and instead each bestrode a courser more suited to the rugged terrain they were likely to encounter. These hardy and agile steeds, they reasoned, were also far less likely to be spooked by the ferocity of any bear that they might encounter than their flighty and coddled thoroughbred counterparts. The page boys were then sent off well ahead of the party to attend to the hounds, keeping them calm and well controlled in their relay positions until they could be released at the appropriate moment for maximum effect.
As the hunting party approached their final positions prior to flushing out the prey, the somber silence of the forest was suddenly broken by high-pitched squeals of pain and anguish. One of King Richard’s young pages, a lad known only as Carter, had inadvertently stepped into one of the bear traps that had been placed that morning by Herr Mueller. Once caught in the trap, his cries unfortunately attracted the attention of a very large brown bear who was ambling through the forest only a few yards away. This beast mauled the poor unfortunate fellow with a great ferocity, nearly ripping and tearing him asunder, until eventually the clamour of the other members of the hunting party approaching the scene caused the bear to lumber off once more, this time at surprising speed, and it disappeared without a trace back into the heart of the forest.
The hunting party eventually gathered solemnly around what remained of the young page, whereupon King Richard and the Grand Prince took a moment or two to recite some Holy verses in prayerful homage to their fallen comrade. They concluded with a few words offering a modicum of consolation to the other pages and groomsmen, who were clearly shocked and stunned by the brutality of this unanticipated tragedy:
King Richard III: (respectfully)
Greater love hath no one than poor Carter,
Who lay down his life in the King’s service!
Ivan the Great: (solemnly)
Of woe, destruction, ruin, and decay;
The worst is death, and death will have his day.
King Richard III: (aside, under his breath, growing weary of the pretence of compassion)
Nought in his brief and undistinguish’d life,
Became him quite like the leaving of it!
The two royal sovereigns each contributed a further brief prayer, then crossed themselves and rallied the troops to return to the hunt, appealing to their lust for revenge upon the vicious beast responsible for the gruesome slaughter of their one time comrade-in-arms.
King Richard III: (rallying the “troops” for the hunt at hand)
We shalt honour this young lad Carter best,
By resuming the hunt for this fierce beast!
Today is only one day, loyal friends,
In all of the days that shall ever be,
But what will happen in all the other days
Shalt depend on what thou doest today!
(Then calling out in one final rallying cry)
Let us write another page in history,
In that golden dossier of valour,
Giving that bear a taste of British steel!
The hunting party finally set out on the trail of the fearsome bear responsible for Carter’s death, with the Master of the Hounds at the lead. In spite of the carefully laid traps that Herr Mueller had set, there was not a bear to be seen as they hunted high and low throughout the afternoon, having likely been scared off by all the commotion earlier in the day.
Whilst King Richard and Grand Prince Ivan were doubtless disappointed by the lack of a big game adversary to track down and kill, they satisfied themselves instead with the hunting for mostly smaller game, particularly deer and wild boar, who were hunted down by the score and then killed in a crossfire hurricane of spears and arrows, throughout the course of the day.
All in all, the hunt had been brought to a more than satisfactory conclusion, even if the main prize that’s they had both originally sought eluded them. The only downside to the whole venture was some minor injuries amongst the servants and groomsmen, with the worst of them being the young Greek lad named George, who had suffered a minor gouging from one of the deer, probably as a result of imbibing too much ale the night before that impaired his reflexes in the heat of the moment. Nonetheless, King Richard’s surgeon was convinced that the young man would only be out of action for a couple of weeks, and that he would then be back to work as good as new, albeit a fair bit the wiser for his experience.
Act 6 Scene 8:
The Lawn, Ivan’s summer retreat. (The Play Within a Play)
Ivan and Richard returned from their hunt to a lavish feast at Ivan’s summer retreat, with a menu comprising flame roasted boar and venison, along with various other Muscovite delicacies. Once the feast was completed, it was announced that some entertainment had been arranged in King Richard’s honour, to take place outside on the grass in front of the main house.
The two leaders, with their various attendants and advisors, made their way around to where a makeshift stage had been built in their absence, with seating for the audience strategically placed in preparation for what Richard assumed to be a theatrical play of some kind. Ivan and Richard were soon seated in the two throne-like chairs that had been placed prominently in the centre directly in front of the stage, whilst their entourages made do with wooden benches on either side and behind them, arranged more or less in order of importance and influence from front to back, and from centrally to the wings.
Once everyone was seated, and the general hubbub had died down, the play began. To Richard’s eye it was a very strange play indeed, with three very bad actors playing in the lead roles. The King was later to learn that these three main performers went by the names of Halper, McCabe and Ohr, and were actually from a rather famous troupe of travelling players. Known as the Perkins Coie players, they toured regularly throughout Europe over the summer months, even venturing further north to the more far-flung regions such as Österland, bringing with them their self-styled brand of theatrical performance to both aristocrat and peasant alike.
The play that they were performing, a self-penned piece known as “Much Ado About Nothing”, focussed on courtly intrigues surrounding the ascent to power of a broadly unpopular ruler in a far off mythical kingdom. This newly crowned monarch was much beloved of the ignorant peasants, but was also deeply despised by certain prominent members of his own Royal court. These courtiers took it upon themselves to work behind the scenes to undermine their new King’s popularity at every turn, and to obstruct his every move on the political stage, whether by fair means or foul. These dissenters were motivated mainly by the hope of eventually deposing their sovereign through various complicated and underhanded schemes, replacing him instead with a leader deemed to be more enlightened and progressive; one who might better reflect the ethos of their kingdom and its subjects.
One of the principal actors in the piece, who went by the stage name of Eugene Ohr, assumed the central role of Claudio, a character whose suspicious nature makes him all-too-quick to believe in the evil rumours circulating regarding the new King’s alleged past indiscretions. He had descended into utter despair at his ascent to power, and this then led him to attempt to take his revenge in an act of treason against the Crown. Although ill-equipped for the demands of his role, and clearly lacking the charisma required to provide a more compelling performance, Ohr nonetheless plodded through his lines without the slightest emotional connection to the audience, while his character engaged in a variety of far-fetched machinations that strained what little credibility such a hackneyed plot could ever hope to achieve.
The Irish actor by the name of McCabe, on the other hand, was conspicuous by his over-confidence in his acting abilities playing the role of Conrad, a confederate of the new King’s main rival, Don John. Conrad was in possession of a certain dossier that cast aspersions on the King’s behaviour and integrity, the contents of which would normally have been given little credence by the general populace, let alone by the wiser members of the Royal court. But such was Conrad’s enthusiastic support for its content that the documents were taken largely at face value by a significant number of courtiers as a true and honest reflection of the King’s character. It was to Conrad’s misfortune, however, that the dossier’s contents were soon to be discredited, leaving him lamenting his loss of favour in the eyes of not only his peers but also of his sovereign, who duly cast him out into the ignominy of permanent exile.
Some of the other main players in the troupe fared somewhat better, with Nellie Ohr (in contrast to her husband) being a very fine actress indeed, nearly stealing the show with a bravura performance as the duplicitous heroine who encourages her husband Claudio to undermine the King. McCabe’s wife also toiled manfully in the less than glamorous role of Conrad’s conflicted, yet dutiful wife, but these lesser lights were among the few who played their roles with enough conviction to carry the play beyond the mediocre.
Last but certainly least was the worst actor of the trio, Stefan Halper, who played one of the pivotal roles in the play as Dogberry the Watchman, a portrayal that was a mere caricature of exaggerated villainy on the one hand, while constantly forgetting his lines on the other. In the action of the play, his character’s primary role was to guard the Royal palace from possible intruders, patrolling its environs with his various henchmen in order to keep out the assorted thieves, bounders and scoundrels who might endanger the King or his subjects, either physically, morally or financially. But rather than performing those duties expected of him, Dogberry turned his energies instead to attempting to entrap the King’s loyalists with false allegations of treason, for the purpose of blackmail for monetary gain. Ironically perhaps, Dogberry’s command of the English language was somewhat awry and provided the greatest obstacle to the success of his schemes, as he often used words in a completely inappropriate way, more often than not achieving the exact opposite of his intentions due to his failure to communicate coherently.
In one of the pivotal scenes of the play, the unscrupulous Dogberry is seen casting a watchful eye over the bona fides of a certain Countess Veselnitz, a somewhat manipulative and duplicitous woman who was seeking a private audience with the King. Being totally disinterested in his main role in guarding the King from any potential interlopers, Dogberry was more than happy to accede to her request, in return of course for her being complicit in the gathering of any information that might compromise the King, or otherwise cast him in an unfavourable light.
“Much Ado About Nothing”
Act 3 Scene 3* (*of the play within a play)
(Author’s Note: All of Dogberry’s mispronunciations and word substitutions are italicised and in bold)
Prithee, wherefore dost thou seeketh, mistress,
To perverse with our sov’reign most esteem’d?
Countess Veselnitz: (taken aback)
My good man, I had no such intention!
I thought thou requesteth to insult him?
Insolent wretch! I wish to speak with him,
So that I might convey intelligence
To the King about his adversaries.
It wouldst giveth advantage to hear it!
A Watchman as indigent as I could,
With the improper inducement of course,
Be persuaded to allow thee to pass.
Countess Veselnitz: (sidling up next to Dogberry, stroking his face and gazing suggestively into his eyes)
What sort of inducement wouldst thou prefer?
Dogberry: (temporarily taken off guard, and now sweating profusely and tremulous)
As pre-empting as thy offer might be,
I must confess to having other plans
In putting thy feline wiles to good use.
Countess Veselnitz: (draping one leg around him suggestively)
What intrigues wouldst thou haveth me perform?
A mere stifle is all I ask, mistress.
To enrage the King in conversation,
Wither he might declare his pretension
To stubborn acts of reason ‘gainst our realm.
Countess Veselnitz: (somewhat bemused, but persisting nonetheless)
I shall to thy request accede, watchman,
With the events to thee convey’d anon.
Dogberry: (gesturing to his offsider Manforte to accompany the lady)
Then I shalt let thee pass beyond this point.
Manforte shall take thee to the tower,
Where thy repeal shalt be consummated
In a private meeting with his Highness.
Dogberry’s offsider Manforte duly conveyed the Countess to the tower, where she expected to meet with the King to share information she had acquired about some of his enemies at court. She hoped this information would lead the King to look more favourably upon her family’s business interests, as well as those of her friends in the neighbouring kingdom who, it would be fair to say, had not enjoyed particularly favourable treatment from the previous monarchs in days gone by.
However, Countess Veselnitz was destined to be disappointed, as the King’s son met with her in the King’s stead, only very briefly and appearing completely unimpressed by her revelations, and was utterly disinterested in entertaining the possibility of dispensing any favours whatsoever for either her family or her friends.
As a consequence, she was also unable to extract anything remotely incriminating for Dogberry’s benefit, leaving her frustrated and none-too-pleased given the distinct lack of success achieved for all of her efforts. When she returned to the gate, she was greeted once again by Dogberry, who was just as unhappy with the Countess’ failure to deliver on her end of the bargain.
It appears our plans are thwarted, mistress!
Couldst thou not defile the King’s son and heir,
And supplicate him in our tangled web,
With thy legendary charm and beauty?
Alas, the King’s young son remained immune
To any such temptations of the flesh,
Despite using all the womanly wares
I possess in my ample arsenal!
A change of plans is in the offering!
We shalt encourage George, the King’s lackey,
To imbribe well beyond his fair measure
Of our local potent distillation,
To loosen even his most loyal lips!
Thus, the play meandered on with Dogberry trying every conceivable tactic to compromise his King, but he was thwarted at every turn, whether through his tendencies to miscommunication, plain bad luck, or because of the high degree of vigilance displayed by those within the King’s inner circle of advisors.
Finally, in the play’s denouement, the choice of title of the play becomes clear, as all Dogberry’s plans and schemes are seen for what they are, a politically motivated trifle, and a none-too-subtle attempt to entrap a ruler who, despite his acknowledged personal flaws, had not acted in any way to compromise his legitimacy as the nation’s King.
Act 5 Scene 4* (*final scene of the play within a play)
Woe alas! I have less than newt to show
For all my plans and schemes hath gone astride!
Don John: (defiantly)
We must persevere in our endeavours,
Until this unruly King is cast out,
For his many crimes ‘gainst taste and virtue!
(pausing to ponder further, and perhaps for effect, then raising his finger skyward)
In my gainsaying, I shall not repent,
And in naysaying, I shall not relent!
My dossier hath been discredited!
Thus, I must into exile flee, dear friends,
Or my time on this Earth shall meet its end!
Indeed, the King shall no doubt soon revoke
Those privileges my station allows,
To intimidate me into silence!
But I shall not to his coercion yield!
Our blessèd kingdom shall soon triumph o’er
This treasonous liar and charlatan!
Surely, we canst enwrap the sovereign,
In a web of his own lies and deceit?
Thus far he hath eluded our efforts
To bring him to full account for his crimes.
But, his luck surely canst not long endure,
Before his comeuppance comes, swift and sure!
The King shall doubtless ride his luck a’pace,
Yet nought have I to promote his demise.
No longer canst I tarry, gentle friends,
But prithee good fortune in thy labours!
I now for safe harbours abroad depart,
Wither innominate I shalt reside.
(mounting his horse, with parting words giving a not so subtle hint to the destination of his exile)
Au revoir, mes frères. Adieu to ye all!
(Exit Conrad, riding off)
Dogberry: (turning his attention to Don John)
The King hath his spies ev’rywhere, milord!
We must take care to hold our thoughts private.
One canst not know who watcheth the watchmen,
But this poor watchman dareth not find out!
Following the performance of “Much Ado About Nothing”, the Grand Prince had arranged to round off the evening with an eclectic mix of Russian folk ballads, dancing troupe performances, musical interludes and poetry readings from various local artists, in order to display his innate patriotism and deeply held love of his native culture. Thereafter, a vivid re-enactment was staged of “the Battle of the Ice”, a battle fought between the great Novgorodian Prince Alexander Nevsky and the Livonian Teutonic knights (sadly, given the season, without the benefit of any ice and snow), during which Ivan swelled with conspicuous pride as this pivotal event in Russian history was depicted in a highly spirited and realistic mock battle.
This entertaining mix was rounded out with a smattering of performers drawn from all around Britain and Europe, especially in honour of Ivan’s English guests. One of the highlights of the evening, from King Richard’s perspective at least, was a reading from a witty young Gaelic poet from just beyond The Pale, who told the humorous tale of a fair young maiden whose virtue was indelibly sullied by a prospective suitor, having the utter temerity to remove a lock of her hair without her consent. He called this charming piece of poetic whimsy “The Rape of the Lock”, and he delivered it with such perfect comedic timing and conviction that the King fairly roared with laughter at the gently mocking depiction of the foibles of the fairer sex. The young poet, known only as Kavanaugh of Kildare, began his reading thus:
“What dire offence from am’rous causes springs,
What mighty contests rise from trivial things?
Say what strange motive, Goddess! could compel
A well-bred lord t’ assault a gentle belle?
O say what stranger cause, yet unexplor’d,
Could make a gentle belle reject a lord?
In tasks so bold, can little men engage,
And in soft bosoms dwells such mighty rage?
Hear and believe! thy own importance know,
Nor bound thy narrow views to things below.
Some secret truths from learned pride conceal’d,
To maids alone and children are reveal’d:
What tho’ no credit doubting wits may give?
The fair and innocent shall still believe.
Think not, when woman’s transient breath is fled,
That all her vanities at once are dead;
Succeeding vanities she still regards,
And tho’ she plays no more, o’erlooks the cards.
For when the fair in all their pride expire,
To their first elements their souls retire:
Know further yet; whoever fair and chaste
Rejects mankind, is by some Sylph embrac’d:
What guards the purity of melting maids,
In courtly balls, and midnight masquerades,
Safe from the treach’rous friend, the daring spark,
The glance by day, the whisper in the dark?
When kind occasion prompts their warm desires,
When music softens, and when dancing fires,
‘Tis but their Sylph the wise celestials know,
Through honour is the word, with men below.
This erring mortal levity may call,
Oh blind to truth! the Sylphs contrive it all.
This to disclose is all thy guardian can,
“Beware of all, but most beware of man!”
Wounds, charms, and ardors were no sooner read,
But all this vision vanish’d from thy head.”
Having laid this foundation for the piece in his introduction, the action of the poem then began, delivered in a mock heroic tone and deriving much of its humour by drawing absurd comparisons with figures from Greek and Roman mythology. The trifling incident was then built up higher and higher, until it was given an equivalence to such classical epic tales as the abduction of Helen of Troy, and the Odyssey of brave Ulysses.
By the end of the tale, the absurdity of this comparison became readily apparent to all but the most ignorant of observers, leaving the rest rolling in the aisles in fits of laughter at the sheer idiocy of so much being made out of such an unlikely, and largely trivial event.
The evening’s entertainment drew to a close on this rather high note, and the two sovereigns then wandered off back to their respective bed chambers in very high spirits indeed, well satisfied with the course of the days events, and having further solidified their mutual admiration, co-operative relations and friendship.
Sadly though, King Richard’s stay had finally come to its end, with he and his entourage due to depart by ship for England from the port of Helsinki the following morning. Thus, in due course, the King would set sail for his homeland, refreshed from this most pleasant sojourn and ready to reassert his authority upon his return to his Kingdom, where some unfinished business with the rebellious Duke of Buckingham and Henry Tudor duly beckoned.