Arthurian and Grail Plays

Guenevere: A Play in Five Acts
By Stark Young

To
Edward Johnson
"longe quoa simul a domo profectos
diverse maria et viae reportant"

DRAMATIS PERSONAE
King Arthur.
Guenevere, his wife.
Sir Launcelot.

Nephews to the king, and brothers:
Sir Gawain
Sir Mordred
Sir Agravaine
Sir Gareth

Sir Kay, the seneschal.
Dagonet, the queen's page.
Morwena, the abbess at Boscastle.
Agatha, a sister.

Ladies to the queen:
Lyone Le Blanche
Ygraine
Enid

Knights of King Arthur's court; a woman; other minor persons:
Tor, Colgrevaunce, Peleas, Idawc, Bors, Uriens,
Meliagraunce,Cador, Breuse, Persaunt, Blamor, Urre.

GUENEVERE
"Quanto la cosa è più perfetta
Piú senta il bene e così la doglienza."

ACT I
A wood near Mordred's castle. A path runs across; on the right side the big rocks stand; on the left the ground is less broken. It is the first day of May, the wood is all green, and the wild flowers blooming. There is a sound of running water, and many birds sing in the trees.

Enter Sir Mordred, Sir Agravaine, and Sir Gawain.

Mordred
Curse those little feathered devils, all
The trees are full of them, singing as if
The air were silver sweet with feast bells,
And the world were sweet, and life sweet and free
From hate.

Gawain
Come, come, my lord, let the birds alone, their notes
Are sweet and limpid like the lives of simple
Men in this world.

Mordred
Aye, squeeze your stale morals from nature, brother,
For every weather a mood. As if she had
Not planted in our bloods the heaviness
Of hate, as I do hate Sir Launcelot,
And scorn the white-souled Arthur.

Agravaine
And I do hate this lusty knight.

Gawain
Brothers, brothers, stint your noise. Ye know
And well that had Sir Launcelot not proved
Himself in our behalf, we had been by now
Full cold at the heart-root. He hath saved us all,
And many a time, has wen-

Agravaine
Small matter that. He hath a joy in heat
And struggle.

Gawain
Small matter very like, and men do hate
The objects of their own ingratitude.

Agravaine
Daily and nightly he is with the queen.

Gawain
Ye know it not.

Mordred
Aye, do we. And the king is shamed--

Gawain
Nay, nay, spare that, you care not for Arthur, 'tis
Some privy hate you bear the queen, or grudge
Against Sir Launcelot.

Mordred
Tush! 'tis all prattle. Lend me your ear, good brother.
Come, think you not in any of us three
Were stuff for a king?

Gawain
Thou king? Said I not so? Shame, Mordred, shame!

Agravaine
Nay, nay, brother Mordred, 'tis the general cause
That moves thee, 'member that, the general cause.

Gawain
Be not so busy, I pray you, for of this
Will the whole realm be mischieved.

Mordred
Fall what may, what I have said I have said.

Gawain
That I believe, for thou hadst ever a tooth
For all unhappiness.

Mordred
King Arthur hath consented to this plan
To take the queen by force and lie in wait
For Launcelot to rescue her.

Gawain
Take the queen, thou sayest?

Agravaine
Then some romantic hour to catch the two
Together.

Gawain
Take the queen?

Mordred
Hist! here's two-the first is Idawc
Of Cornwall; 'tis your poetical,
Gapes-at-a-ballad cub-he'll be with us.
And old Sir Kay, sour as curds. (Enter Idawc and Sir Kay.) How now
Fair lords? We speak of the widening reft betwixt
The king and the queen, what think you?

Kay
'Tis a great tangle, this marriage knot.

Gawain
The king consents? To snare the queen?

Mordred
Consents, though we had nigh not brought him to it.
He hath a deeming strong as ours, but shuns
The outcome of such publishment of falseness
In the heart of the realm. 'Tis a dreamer, and his world
Peoples itself with airy shapes, and stretches
Rapt vistas for his eye to travel in,
Conversing with visions. They say he hath
Small ear for the queen but hourly weigheth him
Some cloud-vast enterprise or famous venture,
So that his kingdom is his spouse and not
The queen. To him she is fair womanhood,
The finer element within the scheme,
And not a woman. Therefore being human-

Idawc
True, dost thou--

Kay
True, most true. It is no king men see,
But is a mist.

Idawc
Dost thou remember once at harvest time-
'Twas at the dying twilight, and the moon,
Drowsily waking from the dusky east,
Did shed a glamourous vapour o'er the water,
Bargemen hither, thither ran to light
Their torches, music strummed, and on the bank
Thronged with embarkings for the river pageant-

Agravaine
Came what-well what is't at the pageant? Here's
No time for fooling, youth.

Idawc
Why, on a barge sheathed all in golden samite,
We saw the white queen like fair summer wings
Upon a lotus flower. There apart
Stood Arthur musing, chin in hand, or gazed
On the stars, and sad dim space, as he would read
Their meaning. Lo! one said, "Seest not the queen
Upon yon barge, my lord?" Arthur turned
Where she did beckon him to look on her,
And said, "White hue on yellow, sure some sign,
Fair virtue thus surmounteth jealousy."
So killed all joyaunce with his moral carp.
But Launcelot beheld her as a vision,
And cried, all dazed with her loveliness,
"God's life, thou'rt fairer than the heaven!"

Kay
Odds, by my beard, 'tis past my patience.
What woman cares to prate of attributes,
Of whys and wherefores and such moral twaddle?
These axioms be poor pudding for their stomachs
When they might hear men sing their beauty's praise-

Idawc
Fie, my lord!

Kay
Fie not. The king is blinded with star-dust,
For once I ventured: "If thou thoughtest more
Of this same fleshly world, my lord,
'Twere better haply for thee and for it."
Said I, "There's holiness as true, I wis,
About the humblest, rushlit cottage door
As at the Portal of the Starry Lamps.
Men's souls need human fellowship to ripen
Them for God, as many twigs do lift
Higher the flame." Methought in that
I was fair eloquent-

Mordred
And he-mark me it was some ponderable
Stuff he spake-

Kay
He turned and said, "Here in this life the soul
Is solitary and yearns ever toward
The Solitary, the Great One beyond."
Meaning somewhat I dare say, for he bent
Upon me his wide-dreaming eye
Till I was wildered with their steady burning.

Mordred
Come, 'tis no time now for remembrances.
Soon come the knights to hear our plot. They will
Lend hands, for ever trouble-brew draws men.
From diverse causes-

Gawain
Aye, some like me for stubborn certainty
Desire to prove at all costs what they know.

Agravaine
Be not too sure.

Gawain
For some men rather would be sure and die
Than live in midst of doubtings. Ah how,
How if this cause splits brothers thus, will all
The court be rent!

Mordred
Some for gain-

Gawain
Aye, you will reward them, brother.

Mordred
I did not say so.

Agravaine
Leave wrangling, they are at hand.

(Enter knights, Sir Bors, Sir Uriens, Sir Tor, and others. All wear blank shields.)

Mordred
Good morrow, fair knights! The time doth press, come, come,
Ring me round here, and let me speak our plan.
Who here knows not the shame that flares at court,
Open as day? Think not the king deceived;
He hath a deeming, but he is full loth to speak,
Seeing how ofttimes Sir Launcelot hath served
The king and the queen and saved their worship.
And if we take not Launcelot with the queen
And make accusal, you know the accuser must
Prove't on Sir Launcelot himself; the which
No living wight hath yet done. But if
We take him-

Meliagraunce
But, my lord, how may this be done?

Mordred
Peace, and I will tell you. This day
Is the queen's maying and even now she rides
To woods and fields. With her come ten of the Queen's
Knights,
Who ride thus ever near to her, and joust
For her, and wear no manner of arms but hers.
They shall be dressed in green and white, and go
Gathering herbs and flowers to deck themselves
For maying. There'll be songs-

Meliagraunce
Well?

Mordred
Well, I saw them start, and they shall come
This way, and we will take them.

(Confusion.)

Nay, nay, stir not, nor mutter discontent,
But hear me. We will take the queen and hers
To my castle hard by, she will send in secret
Unto Sir Launcelot and he will come.

Meliagraunce
Aye, he will come, mark you he will come!

Mordred
Aye, he will come. We'll seem to yield, then take
Him later with the queen. The king himself shall
see it.

Agravaine
Sir Launcelot will come to rescue her,
The king shall be brought, and we shall catch our birds
Together.

Kay
Here's Cador and Breuse linked arm in arm, and drunk
As always. 'Tis strange they lack preferment
At court. Now sure 'twill not be long for them,
Such worthlessness could never fail to be
Rewarded by the state. Sir Breuse hath bound
A tavern garland on his brow, and look,
Cador hath him a bread-cake for a shield.

(Enter Cador and Breuse.)

Cador
Steady, steady!
Breuse
Steady! We go to make a kingdom now.

Cador
Aye, we be statesmen, and 'twere well to walk
Straight.

Breuse
'Tis a hard matter.

Cador
Keep hold on me, and 'twill be well.

Kay
Aye, that's politic. Ho! young sops,
What is't in the air?

Breuse
'Tis a new king I scent, methinks.

Mordred
We have no time for them, come, come! Doubt not
But we shall catch our birds together.

Gawain
Catch them together-how? Think you the queen
Will bide an hour longer than need be
In thy black walls?

Mordred
That I do. Sir Launcelot hath pained
Himself too much already on her part,
She will keep low to 'scape the scandal. That,
Or we can hobble up her knights that they
Will not depart so speedily. The queen
Will not desert them methinks.

Gawain
Scandal!

Mordred Aye, scandal, 'tis the eye of the matter.

Cador
Scandal, what is scandal?

Kay
'Tis piety with a bit of news to tell.
A fair garland thou hast, my lord.

Breuse
To keep my memory green, belike.

Kay
The fruit of the vine is within, is't not? A gallant
Shield hast thou, Cador. 'Twill keep off death.

Cador
Truly it may be.

Breuse
Nay, nay, eat not thy defence, brave lord. Stand up!

Kay
'Twere more avail to swallow thy spear, methinks.
'Twould help thee stand.

Breuse
Art thou the king, Sir Mordred, yet-yet?

Mordred
Silence, thou muddled fool. Not yet, nor ever!

Breuse
I went to say I could not worship thee.
I serve the fallen angel that the priest
Told me of, naming him not.

Mordred
Angel?

Breuse
Wine, 'tis a fallen angel.

Knight
Keen-carved, Sir Garland.

Kay
Sure one would listen at thine ear as at
A sea-shell for the empty roaring.

Mordred
'Tis no time for such chaffering. Get them aside,
Good Sir Kay, stop but their noise and I
Were much beholden to you.

Kay
'Twould merit somewhat. Come, ye princely wits,
Let me but tell my latest dream-'twas that
A shower of wine will fall this Friday next-

Cador
Wine! Haste thee, Breuse, find one that hath a moat
To sell. Good Sir Kay, tell more!

Kay
Come then and I will satisfy you. (They go to the left of the stage.)

Gawain
My lords, let me speak.

Agravaine
Nay, hear him not, my lords, for he had rather
Corruption bred and rotted at the court
Than he should stir his sluggish feet in struggle.

Knight
Craven! Fie!

Second Knight
We'll hear Sir Gawain.

Cries
Sir Gawain! Sir Gawain! Fie! Craven! Sir Gawain!

Gawain
Hear me briefly. My lords, it is a grievous
Thing to wreck a good man's fortune. God
Will break the evil. Therefore have we no need
To avenge the king. That Launcelot is false ye
know
Not yet, but know if he be found so what
Will fall on us. Shipwreck and storm and split-
Arthur is king, but Launcelot hath lands,
Hath bournes and territories of huge extent
Here in this island, and doth own a realm
In Fraunce, castles and followers. Let but
Discord raise her head between them two,
And this demesne of Britain will be rent
In twain, racked and overwhelmed; the fellowship
Of the King's Round Table broke, the noblest face
And form of chivalry be felled and gutted
In a civil strife. And if in truth-

Agravaine
Hurry, man, art thou old Nestor come
Back from Hell, and windier than ever?

Mordred
True, brother. Come closer, Sir Knights, and ye
Shall see the better justice of our plans. (They withdraw to left.)

Kay (on the right)
Calm thee, calm thee! Spare thy words. The world
Hath deafened itself already with much speech.

Breuse (mounts a rock)
I'll be a king, have I not a crown?

Kay
But little in it.

Cador
Brains were not missed in a king, good sir. He is
My friend.

Breuse
I will be an historical king, and marry
Me three wives.

Cador
Nay, sweet friend, when thou art king, wed not.
King married is not king, but the queen's husband.

Breuse
Weep not, thou mayst serve me.

Kay
Aye, listen yonder.

Gawain
If Launcelot doth then love the queen, hath he
Not championed her more than the saintly Arthur?
If still ye head on this I say I am
Not with you, and depart.

Bors
Nor will I hear your tales, nor share your counsels.

Blamor
Nor I be traitor 'gainst the noblest knight
In all the world.

Mordred
Wilt thou take hence that two?

Gawain
Glad were I. When they be sober they
Will give me thanks.

Kay
Go, Cador, and thou Breuse, this man hath found
A fishpond lately dried. 'Twill hold thy wine.

Cador
Come, come, good Sir. What is't to Friday? (Exeunt Gawain, Breuse, Cador, Bors, and Blamor.)

Agravaine
They are like some fishes, my lord, and dread the light.

Kay
Let Launcelot and the queen be caught.

Knight
Ho! Sir Kay, 'tis the cream, the cake of solid
Sense.

Mordred
Silence, I pray you.

Kay
Have I not told the king to tread on Earth?
Answer me that.

Agravaine
Yea, yea, greybeard.

Kay
Once Sir Launcelot changed mail with me
And saved me at a venture. Odds, at my
Best feasts they cannot eat for love. I had served
Him for his courtesy-leave out the queen-
And I had fed him fat as the Duke of Dutchmen.

Agravaine
Rattle your keys, Sir Kay, instead of your tongue,
Your jams are sweeter than your words.

Kay
Sweeter for thy tongue haply; for it
Hath tasted of more jam than of wise words.

Tor
The shame burns deep, the purging of the court
Will uplift all the realm and bring to bloom
Again the chaste flower of the earlier days.

Persaunt
Nay, I dare swear my lady's purity. Be the truth
As it may, shame unto a man that speaks
Shamefully of a lady and a queen.

Agravaine
You wear fresh flowers, youth, but they will fade.

Cries
I am against this thing. Let it be tried, Cowards!
And I!

(Confusion, and the taking of sides.)

Mordred
Thus is the whole court rent to many minds,
The venture is dangerous.

Agravaine
Nay, speak to them with that tongue of thine and they
Will follow--

Mordred
Fair lords, young knights full of the noble fire
Of youth, put up your swords, hear me!

(Confusion.)

Knights
Sir Mordred! Fie! Cowards! Sir Mordred!

Mordred
My lords, none of us would the queen took hurt
From this we go to do. Think ye not so.
The thing is this, doubt like a hidden mould
Eats up the peace of the court--sure the thing
Touches us all equally. Certain
Evil would I rather choose than blank
Uncertainty.

Knight
And after she is ta'en, my lord, what then?

Mordred
Then I will feign hot love for her, and threaten
Masteries. Sir Launcelot will come
And we shall see what door the wind blows in.

(There is the sound of talk and laughter.)

Agravaine
They come.

Mordred
'Tis too late but to prove the thing as planned.

Persaunt
Would I had kept out of this.

Kay
Too late for temperance after the lips are wet.

(Exeunt all, hiding themselves behind rocks and trees to the left. Enter the queen with twelve knights and three ladies, all in green and white, wearing wreaths and bearing garlands of flowers.)

Guenevere
But leave, good sirs, this hunting talk
Of falcons, jesses, leash and lure, there's love,
We have not spoke of that, and it is May.
Sing my lord, one of the songs you learned
In your knave service at the court.

Gareth
'Tis but a kitchen song, my lady, sung
By humble wenches at ring-time.

Guenevere
Sir Knight, if thou wert armed, I'd send thee back
To bring me water in thy helmet all
This way, as penance for thy dulness.
Cannot the humblest woman sing her love,
My lord? Love maketh any woman as
A queen, I pray you sing.

Gareth (sings)
The white-thorn blossoms blow,
And sweet buttercups in the grass,
Go woo, my lad, go wooing!
In winter frosts the blood is slow,
But lusty May makes every lass
Come smiling to your wooing.
Weave marigolds within your hair,
Go woo, my lad, go wooing,
For spring makes all the lasses fair
And ready for your wooing!

Guenevere
'Tis a fair chaunt. Sweet season hath ever sweet song.
Lo! there a little woodland pool, rimmed round
With crocuses, and tangled water-flags,
Here shepherd's purse and vetch and meadow-sweet--
See how the blue sky lieth in it--come--
And now a cloud sails by. This is the time
When maids may learn what manner of fortune waiteth
Them, and who their knights haply may be.
Therefore Lyone and Enid and Ygraine,
Bide with me here. And ye, Sir Knights, shall leave
Us and go on a little space ahead,
And one by one each maid shall search the pond
For her fate's image.

Lyone
Thou too wilt read thy glass, wilt thou not, my lady?

Guenevere
Nay, nay, I am an aged dame, and all
My ships are in already. Seest thou not
The furrows in my picture there?

Lyone
'Tis but the ripple from the rushes breaks
Thy feature, else 'twere fair as the flowers mirrored
Near the marge.

Guenevere
Ah, flatter me not, child, 'tis youth alone
Hath still its bright sails growing on the horizon's
Verge, flocking like gulls, the crafts of hope.
Now do ye listen to this play of fortunes.
Sir Knights, ye shall go on, nor dare look back,
And when that ye are gone, one of these maids--
But ye must know not which--shall watch her here
In the water for her true love's face to look
Over her shoulder. Meanwhile ye shall
Draw lots to find which knight returns. 'Tis he,
By the faith of this blue pond, shall be her lord.

Gareth
Go now, my lady?

Guenevere
Yea, but go not too far. And he that wins,
If he be wise, will hasten back
To meet the fair eyes laughing in the pool.

(Exuent knights to left.)

I will take me three petals thus and tear
In one a rent--thou seest--and ye shall choose
One each, and she that holdeth the torn leaf--
Wit ye 'tis the pierced heart-- 'tis she shall watch
First in the pool. Choose quickly. (They choose.)
Ah, Lyone le Blanche, my lily maid,
Tis thou; then kneel thee here, one comes.
Child, thy fair hair mingles its pale gold with the
crocus
Flowers, and is as fair as they. Hist!

(Enter Sir Colgrevaunce. He comes and looks in the pool.)

Lyone
Sir Colgrevaunce!

Colgrevaunce
Lyone!

Guenevere
Fie fie, Lyone, thy cheeks are flame, and thine,
Sir Knight!

Colgrevaunce
'Tis but the stooping.

Guenevere
Ah nay, now I do swear these eyes have met
For love ere this. 'Tis a pretty jest to bribe
Beforehand Mother Fortune thus. Ye shall plight
Your troth with rush-rings from this friendly bank.
Go now, my lord, send others to assay.

Colgrevaunce
God send another good grace as mine.

Guenevere
Now, Enid and Ygraine, choose ye from these
Two petals, as but now ye chose. Who has't?
'Tis thou, Ygraine? Then kneel. (Ygraine kneels.)

Ygraine
Ah, Jesu, keep me, my lady, some reptile stirs
The slime beneath and muddies the whole pool.
'Tis an ill omen, I will not read my lot
To-day. (Rises.)

Enid
Nor I. See, all is foul, 'tis an ill omen.

Guenevere
Think you? I will not say these signs are true
Or false, seeing we know not what be hid
From the eye of man. Yet I like it not.

Ygraine
Still it muddies, I will not look!

Guenevere
Then let us leave it and go on. (They start out to the left.)

Enid
What noise was that, the sound of bosses clanking
On armed heel?

(Enter Mordred and the knights. The latter have their visors down.)

Mordred
Good morrow, madam.

Guenevere
My lord, you know this is the first of May,
When men's souls like the white clouds float in
dreams.
What means this froward battlement of steel
At such a time? Out of my way, I like it not.

(The Queen's Knights have come up on the left; commotion off the stage in that direction.)

Guenevere
Hold yet, my knights, 'tis useless, ye have no shields.
If my lord Arthur or Sir Launcelot
They, if they were here, would teach thee how
To budge, thou caitiff Mordred.

Mordred
Aye, but our lord Arthur is not here,
Nor thy Sir Launcelot. If either were,
Who knows what he would do? So I will speak.

Guenevere
Speak then and go.

Mordred
Hear then and stay. 'Tis long that I have loved thee,
And passing well, and have long eyed my time.
This day I have thee, and thou leavst me not
Till thou dost love with me, or I and all
These my men-at-arms be dead. Come
To my castle near, come willingly, for come
Thou shalt, whether thou wilt or no.

Guenevere
Hast spoken?

Mordred
Aye, madame, for the nonce.

Guenevere
Then this is my answer. Your love and you I spurn
Out of my path like offal. Know, Sir Mordred,
I had liefer cut my throat in twain
Than love with you. Who these be, for there
Are knights among your menials here, what men
Of my lord's these be, that lend their hands to you
And do preserve this vile incognito,
I know not, but what they be I know,
Vile dust to which your spittle give a mould
And shape, without it, formless atoms.

Mordred
Slow, madam, slow, your hot words cannot sink
In my cold ears.

(Off the stage to the left, the Queen's Knights break nearer through the ranks of Mordred's men.)

Colgrevaunce
Ho, we come, my lady!

Mordred
Back, puppets.

Gareth
Way there, cowards!

Guenevere
Nay, nay, ye are not armed!

Peleas
Whether we die or not we care not, so
We keep thee safe.

Colgrevaunce
We care not! On, on!

(Confusion increases off the stage to the left.)

Guenevere (aside to Dagonet)
Go boy, go Dagonet, go, take this ring,
Watch thy chance and go. Give to Sir Launcelot
This ring, and pray if he would ever see
My face again, to come and succour me
From shame. Go, spare not thyself!

Lyone
O Jesu in heaven, help thy knights!

Guenevere
Stay, stay your blows!

Mordred
Stay your blows.

Persaunt
Stay your blows, fools!

Guenevere
The most valiant are as chaff before armed baseness.
And this I know, good men have naught to fear
Save only cowards. Therefore, Sir Mordred, slay not
My knights. I will go with you if you hurt
Them not, and bring them to my prison,
For I will slay myself if they be not
In presence while I am with you.

Mordred
For your sake, madam, it shall be done. But where
Is Dagonet, the page? Nay, madam, you
Have played me false. Give the boy chase, you two,
(Aside) But do not stop him. Let there be litters
Made, and bring these wounded after us.

(The queen and her ladies go out with Sir Mordred and his party. The wounded knights are borne on litters made from the shields and spears. Sir Agravaine remains. Enter Sir Kay.)

Kay
Come you not with us, my lord? We wait.

Agravaine
No, I will bide if haply the page returns here.

Kay
How will it end? Think you Sir Launcelot
Will come?

Agravaine
Think you 'twill ever rain again?

Kay
There'll be wild deeds to follow this day's work,
Sure man's devilry doth pass the devil;
And thy brother hath outdevilled Hell. I'll no
More o't, but get me home.

Agravaine
Go plan a feast, 'tis suited to thy wits
Some better than these plotted policies.

Kay
Belike 'twere better for thee too. The realm
Were safer then. And sure thy brains and belly
Are all one. (Exit Kay.)

Agravaine
Sour but sharp likewise. 'Tis no noodle head.

(Enter Dagonet running.)

Dagonet
Gone, oh, my lady!

Agravaine
Stop your whimpers, cub, have you found him?
Speak, fool!

Dagonet
Yea, my lord, at the edge of the wood, he had
Already got word of mischief to the queen.
And hither gat him armed.

Agravaine
He comes?

Dagonet
Close behind, my lord, there! there's his breastplate
Flashed through the trees--there! my lord.

Agravaine
Ha, ha, the broth thickens, come, come, shag-head.

Dagonet
There, my lord!

(To the right is heard the sound of a galloping horse.)