Arthurian and Grail Plays
Guenevere: A Play in Five Acts
By Stark Young
A day later. One of the chambers in Sir Mordred's castle. The wounded knights lie in the adjoining room to the left. On the right is a window with bars. A flight of steps outside leads up to the door at the back. The room has a canopied bed, tapestries, and armorial ornaments. Below is the sound of hammering. Dagonet sits by the window. Sir Colgrevaunce stands by the window.
Dagonet, what means that knocking?
They mend what wreck Sir Launcelot wrought.
Yesterday, my lord, when he came here
To succour my lady. In he rode and smote
Thrice with his spear, and the hinges groaned.
And he smote down the door, and stoutly thrang
Amid the press, hewing about from right
To left, until Sir Mordred came and yielded
Him in terror, and granted the queen's release.
You saw it, boy?
Yea, did I. some day my Jesu grant
That I may be a man, even such a knight
As our Sir Launcelot, and serve some lady
Like the queen.
The lad dreams. Right, thou art in the orient
Of life, and at that hour the daylight's hue
I do not know all thou sayst, my lord.
But why lingers the queen here? To still
The shame maybe. Let her then tell,
She cometh now?
Not yet, my lord.
Haply she will tell us when she comes.
Hither, boy, and tell us more of this
Late prowess of Sir Launcelot's. Shut to
The door, the wind from yonder casement blows
Too much over the floor here.
(Exeunt Dagonet and Sir Colgrevaunce. Enter Sir Mordred. He makes a circuit of the room, and examines the bars of the window.)
I'll seem to hesitate. 'Twill make him like
A goaded horse by mad leaps lead himself
To mishap--there's jealous prying for you.
Yea, my lord, the chamber is vacant, come.
Too fast intent to hear. 'Tis sport to watch
This greatness with its single view and aim,
And keen half-sight, steer for its end, all blind
To the rest. My lord, 'tis vacant here. Come!
(Enter King Arthur.)
The queen is in the courtyard with the hounds
And falcons, the bird's flight seems to charm her.
'Tis fair without, and yet methinks the air
Hath lost the nipping flame that spurs the blood.
'Tis stale and heavy. I like not the red
Streak in the west, nor the dun mound over it.
Knows naught, poor wretch, of what draws over
'Tis a poor, weary, foolish world where we
Blow in like wind, ruled by dark outer forces,
That floods the hollows and low places here
On our globe, and lo! is gone again.
Nay, nay, my lord, naught ever came of dreaming.
Sir Mordred I repent that ever I
Did lend mine ear to this. A grievous hurt
To me and mine will fall of it if she
Be false. If she is not, then all this shame
Were undeserved of her.
Then give it up, my lord.
Nay, we have gone too far now to draw back,
Yet I do repent me. You were
Too forward in it.
It was not I, my lord, but those behind
That pushed me on as kinsman to yourself,
Saying the court reeked with the stench of the queen's
There's foulness in thy words, I like it not.
'Twere best forgotten all. Why should we credit
Vile slander. Thou knowest--
I had some warning of this same thing once
From Merlin, the wizard, long before I took
The daughter of Leodograunce to wife.
But when I saw her I did heed him not.
Still, whether she be false or true, I will
Not swear. To me she hath been ever fair
And gentle, and to my knights and to all ladies,
A queen among women and a woman among
Queens. And that Sir Launcelot loves her
I dare say. He hath succoured her from danger,
But she, my lord, loves she him?
Whether she loveth him I will not say--
Thou wilt not say. Men say that thou striv'st not
For certainty, loving the peace of thy court
More than thy wife and
Thou holdest well the evil said of me.
Whether she loveth him or not I will
Not say. God hath given him fair seemliness
Of form, and hardiness to work so largely
That he hath had always the better in combat.
And she hath a heart passionate and wild,
But yet her soul beats high--
Nathless ere this have men said that they took
Long draughts of love together.
Her lofty soul yearns toward the heights, she fain
Would keep the purity of the court,
And love Sir Launcelot as soul loves soul,
But then her eye takes fire at sight of him,
Her veins surge hot with the glory,
And beauty of this world,--the mortal strife
'Twixt flesh and spirit, which hath won I know not.
My lord, I speak, methinks, as should become
Your nephew, and I am but an unwilling
Mouthpiece of mine ears.
It is an old lie.
Yea, my lord, an old lie, and I
Do doubt it altogether.
It is a lie.
Yet there be whispers in the court.
And 'twould be well to prove it false.
About Sir Launcelot and the queen, my lord.
Men say that when Sir Launcelot departs,
She in her secret bosom writhes and welters
Like a madwoman, though she give no sign
Outwardly to men.
She is the queen.
Aye, my lord, and bears it with a proud
Countenance, as though she felt no fears
Of her love, nor scented her own peril.
She is the queen.
Only last night, but 'tis a lie--
What is a lie?
My lord, it is a lie I blush to tell.
Some caitiff swore Sir Launcelot to have come
Here to the queen, even last night.
Came here? God's life!
Be calm, my lord, my men slept 'fore the door,
He could not enter there, nor by yon threshold
Where the knights sleep. There is no place
Save the window here and that is barred.
Why did you start, when your hand touched the bar?
Did I start, my lord?
Aye, and broke off your speech. Why do you hold
The bar as if you fear to fall?
Hold the bar, my lord?
You trifle with me, dog, playing parrot thus!
Put up your sword, wild man. I would save you
Even at this last moment. Some hand
Hath torn the bar out of its place, and all
Its fellows likewise have been set loosely
In notch again.
My brain scorches. Let me but wait with thee,
Mordred, till the end.
Come, we cannot wait here.
(Mordred takes down the torch. Exeunt. The chamber is dark.)
(The door from the knights' chamber opens, and the light streams into the room. Guenevere stands at the door. Lyone, Enid, and Ygraine are with her. Dagonet carries a lighted lamp and a torch. The ladies have their lamps still unlit. Sir Colgrevaunce follows them in, and stands near the door.)
My lady, I do speak for them that here
Lie weary past all standing with their wounds.
We ask why stayest thou here within these walls?
They slime with falseness.
Well may you know that tis not any love
For this foul place that keeps me here, 'tis dread
Lest word of this should come to the king and new
Strife rise, now through me. This poor realm is
Already like to flame a holocaust
From courtly feuds and smouldering ashes, dull
And waiting to be stirred, kindred hates
And new-old grudges. Pray God none come
By me. Therefore when you are come with me
To Camelot and the court, speak not of this
Black, treacherous deed, but 'scape the noise and scandal.
Three days let us bide here as if we came
By chance into this castle of Sir Mordred's,
Where entertainment proffered pleased us so
That we must needs remain to bask in it.
Meantime the hours will pass--
Knight (in chamber to the left)
Nay, we shall be shamed, they are traitors all.
Nay, the queen hath judged aright, 'tis well.
Let Mordred sour now, uneasy, crafty,
Brewing discontent, better this cloak
To hide his guilt than some new war in Britain.
Here too my knights lie wounded in my cause,
Think you I will forsake them thus? Not so,
But I will take them with me hence to-morrow
If they be strong enough. If not I bide.
Knight (in chamber)
'Tis half the world's mishap lies in that word
Ye lack nothing, fair knights? Then sweet sleep
Visit your eyelids all the night long. God
Gave sleep for brave men.
Knights (in room)
Jesu keep thee, my lady.
They are already half asleep, my lady,
And my brain muddles strangely since I supped.
Here within is the tankard we drank from--
It was a sleepy draught. Think you 'twas drugged?
I know not. Wherefore?
Mine eyes are lead--aye me, my heart is heavier
With some foreboding. 'Tis foolish surely,
But I do feel that if I sleep I shall
'Tis but the wound in thy arm. Set down the cup.
Good night. God keep thee, my lady, good night.
'Tis a strange drowsiness, would God I had it.
I have it not either.
Ygraine and Enid, ye have wearied much
This day, and thirst for the sweet mead of dreams
In the cup of sleep. Lyone le Blanche, my fair
Lyone, thy head hath need of resting-place,
Though thou know'st it not. For love in the heart
Like the sea-air.
Ah, tell me not, have I not loved? Now do
Thou kiss me here on my brow, for I have strange
Shadows on my soul to-night, and I
Have need of woman's love. Wherefore I know not,
But my heart is sad.
(The three ladies light their lamps at hers, and kiss her forehead as they go out.)
Good night, and a long sweet sleep to thee.
Good night, and the honey of dreams to thee, my lady.
Nay, I protest, though I do love
I fain would stay with thee, my lady. I have
No need of sleep.
Ah, nay, go to thy pillow, child. There, there,
I kiss dear rest upon thy brow. Do I
Not know, have I not loved?
God, have I not loved!
What hast thou done, my lady?
'Tis nothing. Smother those sconces,
(He puts out torches by the window.)
How beautiful thou art, my lady, thou
Art like the meadows.
Like the meadows--how, child?
Why, now 'tis summer in the meadows, so
For thee it is the summer of thy beauty.
Beauty hath her seasons like the air,
Hath she not, my lady?
Her spring and summer and autumn--
And winter. True, very true! Boy, canst thou sing?
'Twill be sung badly, for I am not gay
To-night. Art thou too sad, my lady, yea,
Thou'st said it. Last night I could not sleep,
And while I tossed in wakefulness I heard
Knights clatter in their sleep; one leapt out
Of bed, one dreamed he grasped a naked sword.
It bodes no good, my lady. And this eve
At dusk I saw big knights in the outer courtyard
Polishing their mail, and all the squires
Busily set. What doth it mean, my lady?
It bodes no good.
Ask me not, boy. Take down thy harp
And sing. Not loudly, 'tis late. Rouse not
The happy, happy souls that can lie down
(Aside.) If I were with him always, were
It well? Nay, passion feedeth on itself,
'Tis mastery of self that bringeth water
For the old stain.
Dagonet (by the window, sings)
Look out, my lady fair, and see
The lustre of the night,
The moon beneath her canopy
Sails beauteous and bright,
The hawthorn bough swings to and fro,
The nightingale sings low, sings low,
Look out, my lady fair!
Look out, my lady fair,--
Some cloud eats up the moon, I cannot sing.
See how the shadows grow, and now the wind
Gins rise. Dost hearken?
Thou'rt fanciful. Stir some low murmuring sound
Among thy strings, to bear thy song to me
Like distant burthen on an evening wind.
'Tis well--now come the gentle syllables
Slipping like pearls upon the lovely thread.
Lean out, my lady fair, and hear
The twitter of my lute that wings
My heart to thee--
Madam, I hear noises 'neath the window,
Rattle of pebbles and scratching 'gainst the walls.
It was some bed-sore knight in yonder room
Turning to rest him. Thou art sleepy, go,
Nay, go, good night.
God keep thee well, and make thee a good night,
(Exit Dagonet. Guenevere draws the bolt after him, and fastens other door.)
(Enter Sir Launcelot at the window.)
On yesternight to show my love for thee
I tore out of their sockets these iron bones,
Strove with might to show my love.
Ah, my beloved, I have set thee as
A seal upon my heart, as a signet ring
Upon mine heart have I set thee.
But yet, Sir
Launcelot, my blood is heavy
And mine. I know not wherefore I am racked
With dread. But now I did see black shapes hurtle
Think upon the gust; the wind doth reek
With pests and fevers, rank and rotten fogs
Come from the sloughs. This stinking of the air
Liketh me not. The stars are stubborn, all
This darkness here is much too thick.
'Tis so. But now the moon shined clear, now she
Is gone. The morbid air doth suck up humours
From the glens, a death-sweet perfume that
But half doth please me. The heaven is silent,
And round the world the mantle of the dusk
Cloaks heavily. What noise was that?
It was the clock at the postern gate that smote.
What hour, didst thou take count?
Eleven, my lady.
Think you it a lucky hour?
Nay, I know not, but I--
My lord Sir
Launcelot, it was a hapless
Hour that ever we twain met together.
I 'member me the day thou first didst come
To Camelot and the jousts. Ah, we were young--
And I did lack my sword and would have been shamed
Hadst thou not brought it to me wrapped in thy robe.
And I did see thee fight so strong and seemly.
And I saw thee, Queen
Guenevere, saw thee,
Fairest among all women and all queens.
And then as the rising moon looms like a white
Fire from the world's edge, flaming into heaven,
So burned up love through all my veins.
And as the streams of Araby do nurse
The myrtle flower, and the wind and the rain lead up
Till it bursts with prisoned sweetness, so hath love
Opened my heart. And yet to-night have I
Fears lest no good will come of it.
How often have we made our promises,
Made prayers to the cross that never more we fall
In deadly sin--Alas, Sir
An 'twere not for this earthly taint, thou hadst
Succeeded in the quest.
(The sound of wind and distant thunder without.)
Yea, madam, I had seen the Sangreal
But for this stain to blot it from mine eyes.
Once I saw a great clearness in a chamber,
And in the midst a silver table held,
Covered with red samite from my sight,
The cup that bore the blessed blood of God,
With many angels singing nigh. And then
The holy vessel of the Sangreal passed,
And the fire smote me in the visage that
I might not see, but only stand, my poor
Eyes hungering, my nostrils filled with the sweet
Savour round. For never did I battle
For God's sake, but only to win worship
Or be better loved of thee.
Many a night--
(Thunder. Guenevere goes to the window.)
The aspect of the heavens groweth perilous.
How sweet is hearth and fellowship on such
A night. Together--
Aye, frightened children cowering with dread.
Hark to the bellowing elements! Methinks
'Tis all the wrath of the world met here to-night.
Look how the wind heaves darkness past the window!
Come from the lightning's reach. 'Tis well. What was't?
Many a night, thou
Many a night, Sir Launcelot, have I
Lain in the castle of silence, when, slowly
Dropping dew-like round the caves of sleep,
Came dreams and separate lives. And then I saw
That other life our younger visions painted.
Ah, one soul liveth many lives, my lord,
During our days' short span. Without this taint
The purity of the court were still
And still unmarred were chivalry and worship.
But from our love I fear me there will come
Downfall and woe to many.
Grieve not thus o'ermuch. Dost not know well
God pardoneth all things sooner than despair?
Methought there must be holiness somehow
When soul drinketh up soul for love. Somehow--
But since it may not be, we needs must grieve
And make but mournful cheer.
Not so, for all the quest and hoped-for heaven!
Surely God wearies of repentant wretches,
And the prostrate flesh of wailing men cumbers
The path of the world too much already.
Let me stand up till I be dead, I cry,
And if I sin I have eternity
To bide the punishment. I loved thee, thou
Art near me--
Beware! Thou dost o'erleap thyself, as ever
At the moment's heat. Yet I do love thee sure
No whit less that thou canst forget nice counsel
In fond madness. Reason speaks to reason
But unto heart only the heart can speak.
Heart calleth heart.
But who knows not man's heart is but Fate's tool.
And somewhere in the depths of space our separate
Fates call to each other through the void,
And draw them near.
Let us not reck of Fate!
And life sweeps by us like a wind of flame,
While we do wait unseeing in the caverns
Of Fate, like blind things in the sea-caves.
Alas, why looms the shade of Fate thus on thee?
I heard strange stories long ago amid
The leaping shadows of my father's hearth
And sea-howls echoed from the haunted crags,
And oft the dreaded of my Danish forebears,
Wyrd, great goddess of Fate, hath loomed on me,
Hath beckoned out of her marble mist, O Christ,
And I draw on but cannot read her face.
And 'yond her sitteth Darkness in the road.
O God, if Fate be in thy hand, let her
Not come upon me yet!
Nay, nay, thou art o'erwrought--who knows but I
May drive Fate back from thee with might of love?
Man's will is half his destiny.
She hath loved long the nations of the North,
Sea-king and thane, how if she wait their daughter?
How if e'en now she smote me from the sun?
Lo, at the window there, 'tis she!
Wyrd! 'Tis Fate! See you not her face
There in the blackness? Do I not know thy face,
Thou Hell-Queen? Now do I learn its feature!
Spare me, O Christ, Christ may not spare me from
'Tis frenzy come upon thee!
(Clamour without. Gauntlet strikes door.)
Nay, Thou'st said it!
(Thunder and wind. Flashes of lightning.)
Ah, traitor knight, we have thee! Come out! Open
to us! Ho!
Madam, is there any armour here that I
May cover my body 'gainst their numbers?
Alas, none, no armour here!
(Knocking and cries again.)
O God, this shameful cry I may not suffer.
Most noble Christian queen, if I am slain, good night,
And pray for my soul. Know well my kinsmen--they
Will save thee from the fire.
Nay, wit thou well, Sir
Launcelot, if thou
Art slain, I will take my death meekly as ever
Did any woman.
(Knocking. Cries. Sir Launcelot gets a bolt from the window. They are battering at the door with a beam.)
Leave your dashing, cowards, and I will set
Open the door.
As well ye may, traitor, for there be men
Here against all odds.
Eight! Twelve! Score!
Nay, have I not my knights? 'Tis strange they
Stir not at such
(She opens the door to their chamber.)
'Tis no matter.
Colgrevaunce! Sir Gareth! Ho! Wake, wake!
They wake not, O God, they wake not,
'Twas the tankard! Oh, treachery!
(Sir Launcelot opens the door wide enough to admit one man. A big knight pushes in. Sir Launcelot fells him with the bolt, draws him in, and fastens the door.)
Off with his
armour, help, madam! Do thou
Dash out the torches here when I am gone.
(Outside there is an astonished silence. Hammering and cries again. Sir Launcelot, now armed, opens the door and rushes into their midst. They fight on the stair and in the corridor. Guenevere has put out the torches. Darkness broken only by flashes of lightning. Mordred rushes terrified into the room, followed by Agravaine, whose helmet is broken off. They are revealed by a flash.)
Ah, God, Sir
(He is unbolting the door to the knights' chamber. She snatches the great tankard from the floor and hurls it.)
Coward, have that for thee!
(Lightning. Mordred has escaped. Agravaine lies on the floor.)
Dark! O God, dark! Oh, alas!
Who is it there that draweth nearer me?
Hell, is it thou revisitest me once more
To-night? Nay, it hath
No armour but a mantle, speak, oh speak!
Thou wilt not speak--I know thee! Oh, oh, oh!
(Enter Sir Launcelot with torch. He places torch in sconce by door.)
What woe is this? Thy cry hath roused the very
Falcons in the mews.
One touched me in the darkness! I am mad!
'Tis naught. Art thou hurt?
Nay, but do faint with dealing blows. Calm thee,
Calm thee! Thou shalt not come to harm. Hear
The wind moan!
How if the king knows not what hath befallen?
'Twere fond to think they would not tell him.
But he is just and blind--and yet 'twas Fate
That came but now to my window.
Some knight returns to--
(King Arthur stands in the doorway.)
Jesu Mari, it is--!