Charles Lamb Suggests To-day's Reading

February 06, 2020

Christopher Marlowe

Christopher Marlowe (1564–1593).  Edward the Second.
"The reluctant pangs of abdicating royalty in 'Edward' furnished hints which Shakespeare scarcely improved in his 'Richard the Second,' and the death scene of Marlowe's King moves to pity and terror." -CHARLES LAMB.

Vol. 46, pp. 73-89 of The Harvard Classics

Act the Fifth
Scene III

[Kenilworth Castle]
Enter MATREVIS and GURNEY [and Soldiers,] with KING EDWARD

  Mat.  My lord, be not pensive, we are your friends;
Men are ordain’d to live in misery,
Therefore come,—dalliance dangereth our lives.
  K. Edw.  Friends, whither must unhappy Edward go?
Will hateful Mortimer appoint no rest?
Must I be vexed like the nightly bird,
Whose sight is loathsome to all winged fowls?
When will the fury of his mind assuage?
When will his heart be satisfied with blood?
If mine will serve, unbowel straight this breast,
And give my heart to Isabel and him;
It is the chiefest mark they level at.
  Gur.  Not so my liege, the queen hath given this charge
To keep your grace in safety;
Your passions make your dolours to increase.
  K. Edw.  This usage makes my misery to increase.
But can my air of life continue long
When all my senses are annoy’d with stench?
Within a dungeon England’s king is kept,
Where I am starv’d for want of sustenance.
My daily diet is heart-breaking sobs,
That almost rents the closet of my heart.
Thus lives old Edward not reliev’d by any,
And so must die, though pitied by many.
O, water, gentle friends, to cool my thirst,
And clear my body from foul excrements!
  Mat.  Here’s channel 1 water, as our charge is given.
Sit down, for we’ll be barbers to your grace.
  K. Edw.  Traitors, away! What, will you murder me,
Or choke your sovereign with puddle water?
  Gur.  No; but wash your face, and shave away your beard,
Lest you be known and so be rescued.
  Mat.  Why strive you thus? Your labour is in vain!
  K. Edw.  The wren may strive against the lion’s strength,
But all in vain: so vainly do I strive
To seek for mercy at a tyrant’s hand.  They wash him with puddle water, and shave his beard away.
Immortal powers! that knows the painful cares
That wait upon my poor distressed soul,
O level all your looks upon these daring men,
That wrongs their liege and sovereign, England’s king!
O Gaveston, ’tis for thee that I am wrong’d,
For me, both thou and both the Spencers died!
And for your sakes a thousand wrongs I’ll take.
The Spencers’ ghosts, wherever they remain,
Wish well to mine; then tush, for them I’ll die.
  Mat.  ’Twixt theirs and yours shall be no enmity.
Come, come away; now put the torches out,
We’ll enter in by darkness to Killingworth.

Enter KENT

  Gur.  How now, who comes there?
  Mat.  Guard the king sure: it is the Earl of Kent.
  K. Edw.  O gentle brother, help to rescue me!
  Mat.  Keep them asunder; thrust in the king.
  Kent.  Soldiers, let me but talk to him one word.
  Gur.  Lay hands upon the earl for his assault.
  Kent.  Lay down your weapons, traitors! Yield the king!
  Mat.  Edmund, yield thou thyself, or thou shalt die.
  Kent.  Base villains, wherefore do you gripe me thus?
  Gur.  Bind him and so convey him to the court.
  Kent.  Where is the court but here? Here is the king;
And I will visit him; why stay you me?
  Mat.  The court is where Lord Mortimer remains;
Thither shall your honour go; and so farewell.  Exeunt MATREVIS and GURNEY, withKING EDWARD.
  Kent.  O miserable is that commonweal,
Where lords keep courts, and kings are locked in prison!
  Sol.  Wherefore stay we? On, sirs, to the court!
  Kent.  Ay, lead me whither you will, even to my death,
Seeing that my brother cannot be releas’d.  Exeunt.

Note 1. Gutter.

Scene IV

[The royal palace]
Enter Young MORTIMER

  Y. Mor.  The king must die, or Mortimer goes down;
The commons now begin to pity him.
Yet he that is the cause of Edward’s death,
Is sure to pay for it when his son’s of age;
And therefore will I do it cunningly.
This letter, written by a friend of ours,
Contains his death, yet bids them save his life.  [Reads.]
“Edwardum occidere nolite timere, bonum est
Fear not to kill the king, ’tis good he die.”
But read it thus, and that’s another sense:
“Edwardum occidere nolite, timere bonum est
Kill not the king, ’tis good to fear the worst.”
Unpointed as it is, thus shall it go,
That, being dead, if it chance to be found,
Matrevis and the rest may bear the blame,
And we be quit that caus’d it to be done.
Within this room is lock’d the messenger
That shall convey it, and perform the rest;
And by a secret token that he bears,
Shall he be murdered when the deed is done.—
Lightborn, come forth!


Art thou as resolute as thou wast?
  Light.  What else, my lord? And far more resolute.
  Y. Mor.  And hast thou cast 1 how to accomplish it?
  Light.  Ay, ay, and none shall know which way he died.
  Y. Mor.  But at his looks, Lightborn, thou wilt relent.
  Light.  Relent! ha, ha! I use much to relent.
  Y. Mor.  Well, do it bravely, and be secret.
  Light.  You shall not need to give instructions;
’Tis not the first time I have kill’d a man.
I learn’d in Naples how to poison flowers;
To strangle with a lawn thrust through the throat;
To pierce the windpipe with a needle’s point;
Or whilst one is asleep, to take a quill
And blow a little powder in his ears;
Or open his mouth and pour quicksilver down.
And yet I have a braver way than these.
  Y. Mor.  What’s that?
  Light.  Nay, you shall pardon me; none shall know my tricks.
  Y. Mor.  I care not how it is, so it be not spied.  [Gives letter.]
Deliver this to Gurney and Matrevis.
At every ten mile end thou hast a horse.
Take this; [Gives money] away! and never see me more.
  Light.  No!
  Y. Mor.  No;
Unless thou bring me news of Edward’s death.
  Light.  That will I quickly do. Farewell, my lord.  [Exit.]
  Y. Mor.  The prince I rule, the queen do I command,
And with a lowly conge to the ground,
The proudest lords salute me as I pass;
I seal, I cancel, I do what I will.
Fear’d am I more than lov’d;—let me be fear’d,
And when I frown, make all the court look pale.
I view the prince with Aristarchus’ eyes,
Whose looks were as a breeching to a boy.
They thrust upon me the protectorship,
And sue to me for that that I desire.
While at the council-table, grave enough,
And not unlike a bashful puritan,
First I complain of imbecility,
Saying it is onus quam gravissimum, 2
Till being interrupted by my friends,
Suscepi that provinciam 3 as they term it;
And to conclude, I am Protector now.
Now is all sure: the queen and Mortimer
Shall rule the realm, the king; and none rule us.
Mine enemies will I plague, my friends advance;
And what I list command who dare control?
Major sum quam cui possit fortuna nocere. 4
And that this be the coronation-day,
It pleaseth me, and Isabel the queen.  [Trumpets within.]
The trumpets sound, I must go take my place.

Enter the Young KING, QUEEN ISABELLA, the ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY,Champion and Nobles

  A. of Cant.  Long live King Edward, by the grace of God
King of England and Lord of Ireland!
  Cham.  If any Christian, Heathen, Turk, or Jew,
Dares but affirm that Edward’s not true king,
And will avouch his saying with the sword,
I am the champion that will combat him.
  Y. Mor.  None comes, sound trumpets.  [Trumpets sound.]
  K. Edw. Third.  Champion, here’s to thee.  [Gives a purse.]
  Q. Isab.  Lord Mortimer, now take him to your charge.

Enter Soldiers, with KENT prisoner

  Y. Mor.  What traitor have we there with blades and bills?
  Sol.  Edmund, the Earl of Kent.
  K. Edw. Third.        What hath he done?
  Sol.  A would have taken the king away perforce,
As we were bringing him to Killingworth.
  Y. Mor.  Did you attempt this rescue, Edmund? Speak.
  Kent.  Mortimer, I did; he is our king,
And thou compell’st this prince to wear the crown.
  Y. Mor.  Strike off his head! he shall have martial law.
  Kent.  Strike off my head! Base traitor, I defy thee!
  K. Edw. Third.  My lord, he is my uncle, and shall live.
  Y. Mor.  My lord, he is your enemy, and shall die.
  Kent.  Stay, villains!
  K. Edw. Third.  Sweet mother, if I cannot pardon him,
Entreat my Lord Protector for his life.
  Q. Isab.  Son, be content; I dare not speak a word.
  K. Edw. Third.  Nor I, and yet methinks I should command;
But, seeing I cannot, I’ll entreat for him—
My lord, if you will let my uncle live,
I will requite it when I come to age.
  Y. Mor.  ’Tis for your highness’ good, and for the realm’s.—
How often shall I bid you bear him hence?
  Kent.  Art thou king? Must I die at thy command?
  Y. Mor.  At our command—Once more away with him.
  Kent.  Let me but stay and speak; I will not go.
Either my brother or his son is king,
And none of both them thirst for Edmund’s blood:
And therefore, soldiers, whither will you hale me?  Soldiers hale KENT away, to be beheaded.
  K. Edw. Third.  What safety may I look for at his hands,
If that my uncle shall be murdered thus?
  Q. Isab.  Fear not, sweet boy, I’ll guard thee from thy foes;
Had Edmund lived, he would have sought thy death.
Come, son, we’ll ride a-hunting in the park.
  K. Edw. Third.  And shall my uncle Edmund ride with us?
  Q. Isab.  He is a traitor; think not on him; come.  Exeunt.

Note 1. Planned.
Note 2. A very heavy burden.
Note 3. I have undertaken that office.
Note 4. I am too great for fortune to injure. Ovid, Metam. VI. 195.

Scene V

[Berkeley Castle]

  Mat.  Gurney, I wonder the king dies not,
Being in a vault up to the knees in water,
To which the channels of the castle run,
From whence a damp continually ariseth,
That were enough to poison any man,
Much more a king brought up so tenderly.
  Gur.  And so do I, Matrevis: yesternight
I opened but the door to throw him meat,
And I was almost stifled with the savour.
  Mat.  He hath a body able to endure
More than we can inflict: and therefore now
Let us assail his mind another while.
  Gur.  Send for him out thence, and I will anger him.
  Mat.  But stay, who’s this?


  Light.        My Lord Protector greets you.  [Gives letter.]
  Gur.  What’s here? I know not how to construe it.
  Mat.  Gurney, it was left unpointed for the nonce;
“Edwardum occidere nolite timere,”
That’s his meaning.
Light.  Know ye this token? I must have the king.  [Gives token.]
  Mat.  Ay, stay awhile, thou shalt have answer straight.
This villain’s sent to make away the king.  [Aside.]
  Gur.  I thought as much.  [Aside.]
  Mat.        And when the murder’s done,
See how he must be handled for his labour.
Pereat iste! 1 Let him have the king.  [Aside.]
What else? Here is the key, this is the lake, 2
Do as you are commanded by my lord.
  Light.  I Know what I must do. Get you away.
Yet be not far off, I shall need your help;
See that in the next room I have a fire,
And get me a spit, and let it be red-hot.
  Mat.  Very well.
  Gur.        Need you anything besides?
  Light.  What else? A table and a feather-bed.
  Gur.  That’s all?
  Light.  Ay, ay; so, when I call you, bring it in.
  Mat.  Fear not thou that.
  Gur.  Here’s a light, to go into the dungeon.  [Gives a light, and then exit withMATREVIS.]
  Light.  So now
Must I about this gear; 3 ne’er was there any
So finely handled as this king shall be.
For, here’s a place indeed, with all my heart!
  K. Edw.  Who’s there? What light is that? wherefore com’st thou?
  Light.  To comfort you, and bring you joyful news.
  K. Edw.  Small comfort finds poor Edward in thy looks.
Villain, I know thou com’st to murder me.
  Light.  To murder you, my most gracious lord!
Far is it from my heart to do you harm.
The queen sent me to see how you were used,
For she relents at this your misery:
And what eyes can refrain from shedding tears,
To see a king in this most piteous state?
  K. Edw.  Weep’st thou already? List awhile to me
And then thy heart, were it as Gurney’s is,
Or as Matrevis’, hewn from the Caucasus,
Yet will it melt, ere I have done my tale.
This dungeon where they keep me is the sink
Wherein the filth of all the castle falls.
  Light.  O villains!
  K. Edw.  And there in mire and puddle have I stood
This ten days’ space; and, lest that I should sleep,
One plays continually upon a drum.
They give me bread and water, being a king;
So that, for want of sleep and sustenance,
My mind’s distempered, and my body’s numb’d,
And whether I have limbs or no I know not.
O, would my blood dropp’d out from every vein,
As doth this water from my tattered robes.
Tell Isabel, the queen, I look’d not thus,
When for her sake I ran at tilt in France,
And there unhors’d the Duke of Cleremont.
  Light.  O speak no more, my lord! this breaks my heart.
Lie on this bed, and rest yourself awhile.
  K. Edw.  These looks of thine can harbour nought but death:
I see my tragedy written in thy brows.
Yet stay a while; forbear thy bloody hand,
And let me see the stroke before it comes,
That even then when I shall lose my life,
My mind may be more steadfast on my God.
  Light.  What means your highness to mistrust me thus?
  K. Edw.  What mean’st thou to dissemble with me thus?
  Light.  These hands were never stain’d with innocent blood,
Nor shall they now be tainted with a king’s.
  K. Edw.  Forgive my thought for having such a thought.
One jewel have I left; receive thou this.  [Giving jewel.]
Still fear I, and I know not what’s the cause,
But every joint shakes as I give it thee.
O, if thou harbour’st murder in thy heart,
Let this gift change thy mind, and save thy soul!
Know that I am a king: O, at that name
I feel a hell of grief! Where is my crown?
Gone, gone! and do I still remain alive?
  Light.  You’re overwatch’d, my lord; lie down and rest.
  K. Edw.  But that grief keeps me waking, I should sleep;
For not these ten days have these eye-lids clos’d.
Now as I speak they fall, and yet with fear
Open again. O wherefore sitt’st thou here?
  Light.  If you mistrust me, I’ll begone, my lord.
  K. Edw.  No, no, for if thou mean’st to murder me,
Thou wilt return again, and therefore stay.  [Sleeps.]
  Light.  He sleeps.
  K. Edw.  [waking]. O let me not die yet! O stay a while!
  Light.  How now, my lord?
  K. Edw.  Something still buzzeth in mine ears,
And tells me if I sleep I never wake;
This fear is that which makes me tremble thus.
And therefore tell me, wherefore art thou come?
  Light.  To rid thee of thy life.—Matrevis, come!


  K. Edw.  I am too weak and feeble to resist:—
Assist me, sweet God, and receive my soul!
  Light.  Run for the table.
  K. Edw.  O spare me, or despatch me in a trice.  [MATREVIS brings in a table.]
  Light.  So, lay the table down, and stamp on it,
But not too hard, lest that you bruise his body.  [KING EDWARD is murdered.]
  Mat.  I fear me that this cry will raise the town,
And therefore, let us take horse and away.
  Light.  Tell me, sirs, was it not bravely done?
  Gur.  Excellent well: take this for thy reward.  GURNEY stabs LIGHTBORN [who dies.]
Come, let us cast the body in the moat,
And bear the king’s to Mortimer our lord:
Away!  Exeunt [with the bodies.]

Note 1. Let this man die.
Note 2. Perhaps for “lock.”
Note 3. Business.

Scene VI

[The royal palace, London]

  Y. Mor.  Is’t done, Matrevis, and the murderer dead?
  Mat.  Ay, my good lord; I would it were undone!
  Y. Mor.  Matrevis, if thou now growest penitent
I’ll be thy ghostly father; therefore choose,
Whether thou wilt be secret in this,
Or else die by the hand of Mortimer.
  Mat.  Gurney, my lord, is fled, and will, I fear
Betray us both, therefore let me fly.
  Y. Mor.  Fly to the savages!
  Mat.  I humbly thank your honour.  [Exit.]
  Y. Mor.  As for myself, I stand as Jove’s huge tree,
And others are but shrubs compar’d to me.
All tremble at my name, and I fear none;
Let’s see who dare impeach me for his death!


  Q. Isab.  Ah, Mortimer, the king my son hath news
His father’s dead, and we have murdered him!
  Y. Mor.  What if he have? The king is yet a child.
  Q. Isab.  Ay, but he tears his hair, and wrings his hands,
And vows to be reveng’d upon us both.
Into the council-chamber he is gone,
To crave the aid and succour of his peers.
Ay me! see here he comes, and they with him.
Now, Mortimer, begins our tragedy.

Enter KING EDWARD THE THIRD, LORDS, and Attendants.

  1st Lord.  Fear not, my lord, know that you are a king.
  K. Edw. Third.  Villain!—
  Y. Mor.  How now, my lord!
  K. Edw. Third.  Think not that I am frighted with thy words!
My father’s murdered through thy treachery;
And thou shalt die, and on his mournful hearse
Thy hateful and accursed head shall lie,
To witness to the world, that by thy means
His kingly body was too soon interr’d.
  Q. Isab.  Weep not, sweet son!
  K. Edw. Third.  Forbid me not to weep; he was my father;
And, had you lov’d him half so well as I,
You could not bear his death thus patiently.
But you, I fear, conspir’d with Mortimer.
  1st Lord.  Why speak you not unto my lord the king?
  Y. Mor.  Because I think scorn to be accus’d.
Who is the man dares say I murdered him?
  K. Edw. Third.  Traitor! in me my loving father speaks,
And plainly saith, ’twas thou that murd’redst him.
  Y. Mor.  But has your grace no other proof than this?
  K. Edw. Third.  Yes, if this be the hand of Mortimer.  [Shewing letter.]
  Y. Mor.  False Gurney hath betray’d me and himself.  [Aside.]
  Q. Isab.  I fear’d as much; murder cannot be hid.  [Aside.]
  Y. Mor.  It is my hand; what gather you by this?
  K. Edw. Third.  That thither thou didst send a murderer.
  Y. Mor.  What murderer? Bring forth the man I sent.
  K. Edw. Third.  Ah, Mortimer, thou knowest that he is slain;
And so shalt thou be too.—Why stays he here
Bring him unto a hurdle, drag him forth;
Hang him, I say, and set his quarters up;
But bring his head back presently to me.
  Q. Isab.  For my sake, sweet son, pity Mortimer!
  Y. Mor.  Madam, entreat not, I will rather die,
Than sue for life unto a paltry boy.
  K. Edw. Third  Hence with the traitor! with the murderer!
  Y. Mor.  Base Fortune, now I see, that in thy wheel
There is a point, to which when men aspire,
They tumble headlong down: that point I touch’d,
And, seeing there was no place to mount up higher,
Why should I grieve at my declining fall?—
Farewell, fair queen; weep not for Mortimer,
That scorns the world, and, as a traveller,
Goes to discover countries yet unknown.
  K. Edw. Third.  What! suffer you the traitor to delay?  [Young MORTIMER is taken away by First Lord and Attendants.]
  Q. Isab.  As thou receivedest thy life from me,
Spill not the blood of gentle Mortimer!
  K. Edw. Third.  This argues that you spilt my father’s blood,
Else would you not entreat for Mortimer.
  Q. Isab.  I spill his blood? No.
  K. Edw. Third.  Ay, madam, you; for so the rumour runs.
  Q. Isab.  That rumour is untrue; for loving thee,
Is this report rais’d on poor Isabel.
  K. Edw. Third.  I do not think her so unnatural.
  2nd Lord.  My lord, I fear me it will prove too true.
  K. Edw. Third.  Mother, you are suspected for his death
And therefore we commit you to the Tower
Till farther trial may be made thereof;
If you be guilty, though I be your son,
Think not to find me slack or pitiful.
  Q. Isab.  Nay, to my death, for too long have I liv’d
Whenas my son thinks to abridge my days.
  K. Edw. Third.  Away with her, her words enforce these tears,
And I shall pity her if she speak again.
  Q. Isab.  Shall I not mourn for my beloved lord,
And with the rest accompany him to his grave?
  2nd Lord.  Thus, madam, ’tis the king’s will you shall hence.
  Q. Isab.  He hath forgotten me; stay, I am his mother.
  2nd Lord.  That boots not; therefore, gentle madam, go.
  Q. Isab.  Then come, sweet death, and rid me of this grief.  [Exit.]

[Re-enter 1st Lord, with the head of Young MORTIMER]

  1st Lord.  My lord, here is the head of Mortimer.
  K. Edw. Third.  Go fetch my father’s hearse, where it shall lie;
And bring my funeral robes.  [Exeunt Attendants.]
        Accursed head,
Could I have rul’d thee then, as I do now,
Thou had’st not hatch’d this monstrous treachery!—
Here comes the hearse; help me to mourn, my lords.

[Re-enter Attendants with the hearse and funeral robes]

Sweet father, here unto thy murdered ghost
I offer up this wicked traitor’s head;
And let these tears, distilling from mine eyes,

Be witness of my grief and innocency.  [Exeunt.]

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