Arthurian and Grail Plays

Guenevere: A Play in Five Acts
By Stark Young

The throne-end of the council-hall. The throne at the back to the right is under a blue canopy, spangled with gold, the whole elevated on a dais. To the left are arched doorways leading to the courts. Bells are ringing. Two knights on guard.

First Knight
'Tis the third bell for the court.

Second Knight
Aye, the trial of the queen hath caused delay
In opening the tribunal.

(Enter Sir Kay.)

First Knight
The queen will be tried, then, this day. What hast
Thou heard in the matter, Sir Kay?

Ask me not. Are mine ears then carrion dumps?

Second Knight
Much both false and true, methinks. Men say
The queen would fain stay at the court, holding
Her present station. There are two ways open: one
To bide here as queen, the other to depart--

First Knight
With Launcelot to Joyous Garde?

Second Knight
Aye, with Launcelot.

First Knight
Then she is traitress to the king, sayest thou?

Second Knight
Men say it.

First Knight
And the king?

Second Knight
This treason hath power to stir a sea that tops
The very promontories of men's souls.

First Knight
Life were not dearer than her station. 'Twere
Better she be dead than queen no longer.
Second Knight
Few there be that will arm to speed the queen's death.

First Knight
Few. Not I.

Second Knight
'Tis a dark hour.

Carp, carp! What then, what would ye have? Wrong
Or right, the queen hath courted hazards, wooed
Mishaps. Can one head think for the world? Once
I said to her: "Look, madam, look to your road!
Whatever your thoughts be of wrong or right,
The world goes on its destined pace, and where
You err 'tis you that fall. And men sing on
Though your poor ears be stopped with death."

Second Knight
Forgotten of men, that were the tragedy
Of death methinks.

First Knight
All may not be so wise as thou, Sir Kay.

All do not try.

Second Knight
I have spoke more of question than of what
Mine ears have gleaned about this buzzing court.
Mark you, Sir Knights, mark you, and mark you
Mark you the queen will be forgot in the bloody
Strife that follows on this day. I have
An inkling of Sir Mordred's schemes. Mark you,
The queen will be forgot. First Sir Mordred
Strips Sir Launcelot's forces from the king,
Then he revolts. His eyes are green long since.

First Knight
True. There is wind of it very like. 'Tis through
The queen he strikes the king. Were she not here
He'd find another way.

Second Knight
Guenevere had eyes that saw ere this, wherefore
Hath she been blind and sightless in this treachery?

First Knight
She hath a sorrow of her own, poor lady,
Bleak winter yelling round her troublous heart.

Second Knight
They say the queen is contrite.

First Knight
I know not if her mood be so, my lord.
She seemeth as one grieving for the end
Her deed hath wrought, but holds not shame nor sor--
For the deed, feeling that heaven in some deep way
Doth justify this love and madness.

Second Knight
I understand not such things, but I know
That men may do these things, but women never.

Faugh! 'tis rubbish. Thus my cook will say
"Bread must be so, and cake be thus, or they
Will never rise." I tell thee 'tis all rubbish.
Leaven is leaven, and fire, fire! And men
And women burn and rise and fall, as bread
And cake, alike. 'Tis rubbish but 'tis men's
Philosophy, I look not there for sense.

Second Knight
Here comes Sir Launcelot, and his kin with him
Stepping with his steps.

(Enter Sir Launcelot, Sir Bors, Sir Lionel, Sir Urre, and others.)

All your kindred and their followers
Do stand without, ready and armed
If there be need. We drank your wine with you
When fortune ran it, and now we will drink water.
Your will is ours--

Most noble kinsmen, I am much beholden
To you. Give me your counsel, for if ever
Man needed it, 'tis I at this time.

My lord, this calm of thine is well--

'Twas spoken idly--what is counsel now?
Who thinketh I will let harm light on her
Doth know me not. No red drop brims at my
Heart's fountain but doth run for her.

And we are strong--

My sword hath rived in twain men's flesh ere this!
For every sorrow laid on her I will
Set wells of blood running in this vile court,
And many filthy, lying mouths will set
To eating up their ordure! Spread wreck--

Hold, my lord, the king comes.

(Enter King Arthur, Sir Mordred, Sir Gawain, Dagonet, and the court. Few are armed. Arthur sits. Mordred and his party take their place on the right of the throne.)

My lords, good morrow. The queen comes not yet?
What justice is there to be rendered?
For the king must needs judge timely and wisely though
The man hath vitals tortured on the rack.

My lord, here is a man whose fields are waste
And grain downtrodden by your last assay
Of hunting.

Enough, enough, you shall be paid. Sir Kay,
Look to it.

Aye, my lord, pay, pay, we are always paying.

(Enter Cador and Breuse, drunk.)

'Tis out of form and reverence that ye come
Thus here, muddled with wine.

'Tis out of form and reverence what we have
To tell the king. 'Tis somewhat for thy ears.

Speak, then.

Last night before the feast, in a dark place--
Some say the dark is devilled--before the cups
At the feast, I heard two speak together.

What said they, good fellow?

Thou heardst it, Breuse, what was't? I cannot think.
My lord, I wake not early thus all days.

I cannot think. Sure the place was dark,
And they spake ill.

Spake ill?

One was a kinsman of the king.


High-voiced and hot.

Who? Cudgel thy brains, who?

Who, sweet friend?

Speak, thou leanest heavily! Leave rocking,
Thou art not the ship of state.

'Tis thou, thou weight. Speak!

Take these two hence, Gawain. Kinsmen? Spake

'Tis naught, my lord. It is a drunken fancy
Now I do think me, Dagonet did sing
A ballad of King Mark's black treachery
Against Tristram his kinsman. This same tale
Is but the coinage of their drunken ears
From the same song.

Treachery--did they say treachery?

Spake ill, no treachery.

Didst thou sing so, boy?

Not I, my lord.

'Twas then another.

Very like, 'tis naught. Let us begin again.

Here is a woman, lord, whose husband scorns
And beats her like a dog.

My lord, King Arthur, by your leave. I loved
This man with a mad, woman's love, and he--
My lord, he loved me. But he spurns me now,
And flouts me in my face. He hath struck me
And I bore with that, cursed me and I took that,
But he hath wronged me, and I will--

Wronged thee? He hath wronged thee?

Yea, shamefully.

Calm thee, calm thee, thou wretched broken wretch.
Thou shalt have justice, there is much too much
Of wrong done in the world.
Nay, I would not have him hurt, my lord.

Aye, that is the way of woman. Pardon me,
My lord Arthur, I must speak-- 'tis wisdom.
Woman, if thou dost love a man, and fain
Would keep his love, show not the excess of thy
Affection and feed him well. Many is a brute
To be held by the muzzle and not by the heart-

Ho, Sir Kay, thy words o'ershoot thee, man,
Thou hast been seneschal so long that thou
Dost think all things concerned with food.

If I am cynical of men, my lord,
'Tis this.

'Tis wherefore?

My lord, I have seen them eat.

Here is another woman who hath wrongs
She cannot tell--

So have we all, woman.

She wears her wits awry.

'Tis no new ailment.

My lord, she hath--

The queen, make way for the queen!

Woman, thou shalt return.

(Enter Guenevere. A noise of cries and wailing comes from the outer courts. Guenevere takes her stand at the left of the throne. Launcelot comes nearer to the front.)

Madam, there are charges here to-day
Imperilling thy life and Launcelot's honour.
What noise dins in the court?

My lord, it is the people making dole,
And wailing lest the queen be burned.

Lay it, such clamour is unseemly.

My lord, let me speak.

Ah, Sir Launcelot, Sir Launcelot,
Thee have I loved in gone days passing well,
And now thou hast cast sorrow over me.
Once I mind me, 'fore mine eyes were weary
Feeding on their dear faces, thou didst take
My knights on the Quest of the Holy Grail, and
That goodly company met whole again.
But now thou hast done worse and ta'en away
More than my Round Table. And thou hast edged
Treachery 'twixt me and thee.

Hear me, my lord.

Hear him, hear him! Hear him not! Sir Launcelot!

My lord, go slow. To lose a noble friend
Is like a loss of the dear life, is such
A loss; for a man's friends are his life.
Go slow, a day may show the evil, but
The time is longer that makes manifest
The good.

Doth baneful Fate will thus that we must see
To understand, be blind to act? Oh, would
That I were blind in this. For well I know
That now indeed is my whole kingdom mischieved.

(Cries without.)

There will be war, Sir Launcelot, now, 'twixt me
And thee, thy blood and my blood, cruel strife,
Tearing the vitals of this realm. Mine arm
Is powerless for seeing what will fall.
Madam, I rejoice to see thee weep,
'Twere best wept sooner when there was some boot

Then I will out, willy nilly. King Arthur,
I own the debt I owe to thee, for thou
Didst give me knighthood, and of thee
Have I had honour and much worship. Yet
In all thy quarrels have I lent what aid
I might in thy behalf, shoulder and heart
Have been thine, buckler and helm and sword,
Vassal and steed, been thine. Nor have I cast
Green eyes of envy on thy station, nor
Champed a restive bit, hearing thy fame
Exalted, as have some nearer of kin
To thee, I name them not.

Why do ye glare on my nephew Mordred?
But 'tis naught.

But I did add
Ever what inches I might unto thy stature.
In all thy heat thou canst not yet forget
How many a venture have we had together
Of joy or woe. Therefore, my lord, for this
Old brotherhood, I pray thee think on me,
And judge not rashly.

Yea, truly must I think on thee, yea, truly,
Bitter or sweet, still must I think on thee.

Nay, think what thou wilt then, on my soul I care
Not. I cannot sit as thou and weigh
Vantage 'gainst vantage, and knit prudence up,
Search whether't be good or bad or what,
Teach mine eyes to rob their sockets of flight,
And stop mine ears with silence. 'Tis fitter work
For hermits and white hairs, not men. I know
No honied speech nor do I value aught
The slippered dalliance of the favoured few,
But strike with this arm what harmeth me or them
I love. 'Tis many times I championed her
Whilst thou sat dreaming high emprise or plan
To win wide rumour for thy name. Thinkst thou,
God's life, I can no longer wield this sword?
'Tis blood for blood, hate for hate thou'lt have?
She is the queen, who then shall judge her?

Stay, Sir Launcelot, thou art mad in thy heat.
'Tis hot blood that hath cost thee dear ere this.

Thou knowst 'tis fellowship and humility
That kept me thine, not lack of realm or power.
Lands have I, kinsmen and followers,
And all are hers whom through me ye would shame--
Therefore show me him that dares accuse her.

The clamour in the court increases.

My lord, it cannot be stilled. Some there be
That think the queen condemned to be burnt, and
Bewail piteously her death. But some
Deem she is cleared of blame, and they do growl
And mutter underneath their breaths, and curse
Loudly this tribunal.

But how if she be pardoned here?

(Noise in Sir Mordred's party to the right.)

My lord, to my eyes, judging as best I may,
If she bide here there will be blood and strife,
Whether she be burned or pardoned. Either
Way is dangerous.

Nay, hear ye this, if she stay not as queen,
She shall not stay at all.

Yea, think ye we will let the queen be burnt?

To arms for the queen!


To arms, to arms! For the king! For Mordred! For
the queen!

Mordred? what cause is that?

I pray you, Sir Knights--

The queen speaks! Let us hear the queen!

Stop your gabble, fools, and hear the queen!

She hath been overlong silent now.

Silence, she is yet the queen!

The queen! the queen!

I will put off thy crown and robe before
I speak in trial.

Speak. 'Tis well!

Lords and vassals of this island realm
Hear me speak. I will say briefly and
Have done. My lords, I am a woman, whom
The gods built bigger than their wonted mould,
Wilder, more diverse, waging fiercer war
And conflict 'twixt the good and evil. He
That hath pinions larger than the common flight
Must needs take greater pains lest they be sullied.
My lord Arthur, I have ever loved
Thee since I came from Cameliard,
My father's land, loved thee as men love saints.
Not with the petty pulsing of the veins,
Nor jealousies nor heat of mad desire,
But at the topmost of my soul's bent.

Is that the love men ask of women--good men?
I know not.

Since thou'rt ideal, they that love thee love
Thee as a mystic symbol, or a bodied
Soul of some dear thing, not as frail man.
Thou hast not known the low brown earth, nor it
Known thee. So wast thou ever loved, and so
Thou hast loved me, however much thou'st loved.
For thou knowst well, my lord, this is no husband's
Nor no lover's jealousy that moves
Thee in this sifting trial thus, but is
The jealous eye the king bends on the crystal
Perfectness of his long-dreamed-of court.
Thy kingdom is thy spouse, my lord, not I.
I fear I speak o'erboldly.

Nay, 'tis no matter. Speak.

Then, ah, then--

Well, well, then--?

I have loved Sir Launcelot too. All the pomp
And glory of this world, of sights and sound,
Of summer air and downs of May, of stars
And white dawn leaping over dewy fields,
Of life and love and the little moods men know,
And bossed arms, and chivalry, and jousts,
Of blood and wild, unquenchable revenge,
Of bowers drunk with music and sweet sound,
All this my woman's heart hath found to love
In him, Sir Launcelot. So have I loved
You both, but differently. Methinks that God
Hath placed in me such high, opposing tides
That if my soul be shipwrecked he could blame
Me not.

Madam, me seemeth 'twas all love with you.
Were there not other things stirring at court?

The diverse uses of the world make men
Take love only as a part of the whole
Existence, but women--as a jewel liveth
By the light, so live women by love.

Haply. And now?

Now--I speak not for the din.

What if ye be our queen no longer?

Go with me, thou shalt go with me, my lady!

Queen no more!

With Launcelot! Queen no more! With Launcelot!

Nay, nay, not Launcelot, let that have done.
Steal thou my crown, I go not hence with him
To Joyous Garde, to be his love. Nay, nay.
I will not so. Sure life turneth bitter
In the cup, and I must dash it from me.

Where wilt thou turn if thou art queen no longer?

If he rescue me hence, know ye 'twill be
To the sisters by Boscastle. There shall I
Be buried from this world, and let my soul
Crowd with its persons my life's stage. But if
I bide here--

Thou'lt burn! Treason! (Confusion.)

Aye, leave your howling, poor lean curs,
Fattened with this man's collops. Ah! Sir Mordred,
Why hast thou been so keen to fill black sails?
Art thou the giant Jubaunce or Goliath?
For I know well who set these on--

Madam, I pray thee, I am all for peace.

Yea, very like,--my lord Arthur, look--
Thy dove of peace hath need of armour plate
Beneath his quills.

(She tears off Mordred's cloak. He stands in his breastplate.)

Ah, cowards have ever need of steel. I leave
Thee now to the kind leeches, they will suck
Thy veins dry to a drop. But who am I
That speak? (She starts out.)

Nay, madam, nay, God's life, nay, dost think--?
Stay, thy cause must still be tried.

Queen no more. Aye, I have had my hour.
This hour my life hath spoken in full tone.
No more I strive in the world, for I am ashamed
Enough of men already. May I not
Go hence? I am all undone methinks.

'Tis I speak for her. Sir, what man shall judge her?
My lord kinsmen, close round.

(The kinsmen surround the queen. Exuent. Mordred and his party follow. The crowd vanishes. Sir Gawain and King Arthur remain.)

'Tis blood for wrong. Take sword and follow me.

But first have brought thine arms, my lord, 'twere folly
Else to venture.

Nay, God forearmed me in this matter.

Give over theories--

Hold me not, or I may do thee hurt.
Come, come, let the horn blow.

(The commotion without lessens. Enter knight.)

My lord, they have buffeted their way
Through the outer gate, and they are gone by horse
Toward Boscastle. The people cheer for joy
At their escape. Let make pursuit? Or not?

(A bell rings. Enter Sir Kay.)

My lord, Mordred hath seized the south tower, and is
In open rebellion.

Oh, traitors all! Oh, traitor roof that falls
Not on this day. (Flings off his crown.) Into the dust,
thou ring
Of wretchedness! To arms! To arms!

(A crowd pours into the room. Confusion. All the bells of the castle are clanging.)

To arms! To arms! To arms! (Without.) Mordred
for king! Mordred for king!
To arms!