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KING STEPHEN

A DRAMATIC FRAGMENT

by John Keats

 

ACT I. -

SCENE I. Field of Battle. -

Alarum. Enter King StephenKnightsand Soldiers. -

STEPHEN. If shame can on a soldier's vein-swoll'n front

Spread deeper crimson than the battle's toil

Blush in your casing helmets! for seesee!

Yonder my chivalrymy pride of war

Wrench'd with an iron hand from firm array

Are routed loose about the plashy meads

Of honour forfeit. O that my known voice

Could reach your dastard earsand fright you more!

Flycowardsfly! Glocester is at your backs!

Throw your slack bridles o'er the flurried manes

Ply well the rowel with faint trembling heels

Scampering to death at last!

FIRST KNIGHT. The enemy

Bears his flaunt standard close upon their rear.

SECOND KNIGHT. Sure of a bloody preyseeing the fens

Will swamp them girth-deep.

STEPHEN. Over head and ears

No matter! 'Tis a gallant enemy;

How like a comet he goes streaming on.

But we must plague him in the flank- heyfriends.

We are well breathed- follow! -

Enter Earl Baldwin and Soldiersas defeated. -

STEPHEN. De Redvers!

What is the monstrous bugbear that can fright

Baldwin?

BALDWIN. No scare-crowbut the fortunate star

Of boisterous Chesterwhose fell truncheon now

Points level to the goal of victory.

This way he comesand if you would maintain

Your person unaffronted by vile odds

Take horsemy Lord.

STEPHEN. And which way spur for life?

Now I thank Heaven I am in the toils

That soldiers may bear witness how my arm

Can burst the meshes. Not the eagle more

Loves to beat up against a tyrannous blast

Than I to meet the torrent of my foes.

This is a brag- be't so- but if I fall

Carve it upon my 'scutcheon'd sepulchre.

Onfellow soldiers! Earl of Redversback!

Not twenty Earls of Chester shall brow-beat

The diadem.

[Exeunt. Alarum.

SCENE II. Another part of the Field. -

Trumpets sounding a Victory. Enter Glocester

Knightsand Forces. -

GLOCESTER. Now may we lift our bruised vizors up

And take the flattering freshness of the air

While the wide din of battle dies away

Into times pastyet to be echoed sure

In the silent pages of our chroniclers.

FIRST KNIGHT. Will Stephen's death be mark'd theremy good

Lord

Or that we gave him lodging in yon towers?

GLOCESTER. Fain would I know the great usurper's fate. -

Enter two Captains severally. -

FIRST CAPTAIN. My Lord!

SECOND CAPTAIN. Most noble Earl!

FIRST CAPTAIN. The King-

SECOND CAPTAIN. The Empress greets-

GLOCESTER. What of the King?

FIRST CAPTAIN. He sole and lone maintains

A hopeless bustle mid our swarming arms

And with a nimble savageness attacks

Escapesmakes fiercer onsetthen anew

Eludes deathgiving death to most that dare

Trespass within the circuit of his sword!

He must by this have fallen. Baldwin is taken;

And for the Duke of Bretagnelike a stag

He fliesfor the Welsh beagles to hunt down.

God save the Empress!

GLOCESTER. Now our dreaded Queen:

What message from her Highness?

SECOND CAPTAIN. Royal Maud

From the throng'd towers of Lincoln hath look'd down

Like Pallas from the walls of Ilion

And seen her enemies havock'd at her feet.

She greets most noble Glocester from her heart

Intreating himhis captainsand brave knights

To grace a banquet. The high city gates

Are envious which shall see your triumph pass;

The streets are full of music. -

Enter Second Knight. -

GLOCESTER. Whence come you?

SECOND KNIGHT. From Stephenmy good Prince- Stephen!

Stephen!

GLOCESTER. Why do you make such echoing of his name?

SECOND KNIGHT. Because I thinkmy lordhe is no man

But a fierce demon'nointed safe from wounds

And misbaptized with a Christian name.

GLOCESTER. A mighty soldier!- Does he still hold out?

SECOND KNIGHT. He shames our victory. His valour still

Keeps elbow-room amid our eager swords

And holds our bladed falchions all aloof-

His gleaming battle-axe being slaughter-sick

Smote on the morion of a Flemish knight

Broke short in his hand; upon the which he flung

The heft away with such a vengeful force

It paunch'd the Earl of Chester's horsewho then

Spleen-hearted came in full career at him.

GLOCESTER. Did no one take him at a vantage then?

SECOND KNIGHT. Three then with tiger leap upon him flew

Whomwith his sword swift-drawn and nimbly held

He stung away againand stood to breathe

Smiling. Anon upon him rush'd once more

A throng of foesand in this renew'd strife

My sword met his and snapp'd off at the hilts.

GLOCESTER. Comelead me to this Mars- and let us move

In silencenot insulting his sad doom

With clamorous trumpets. To the Empress bear

My salutation as befits the time.

[Exeunt Glocester and Forces.

SCENE III. The Field of Battle. Enter Stephen unarmed. -

STEPHEN. Another sword! And what if I could seize

One from Bellona's gleaming armoury

Or choose the fairest of her sheaved spears!

Where are my enemies? Hereclose at hand

Here come the testy brood. O for a sword!

I'm faint- a biting sword! A noble sword!

A hedge-stake- or a ponderous stone to hurl

With brawny vengeancelike the labourer Cain.

Come on! Farewell my kingdomand all hail

Thou superbplumb'dand helmeted renown

All hail- I would not truck this brilliant day

To rule in Pylos with a Nestor's beard-

Come on! -

Enter De Kaims and Knights&c. -

DE KAIMS. Is't madnessor a hunger after death

That makes thee thus unarm'd throw taunts at us?

YieldStephenor my sword's point dip in

The gloomy current of a traitor's heart.

STEPHEN. Do itDe KaimsI will not budge an inch.

DE KAIMS. Yesof thy madness thou shalt take the meed.

STEPHEN. Darest thou?

DE KAIMS. How dareagainst a man disarm'd?

STEPHEN. What weapons has the lion but himself?

Come not near meDe Kaimsfor by the price

Of all the glory I have won this day

Being a kingI will not yield alive

To any but the second man of the realm

Robert of Glocester.

DE KAIMS. Thou shalt vail to me.

STEPHEN. Shall Iwhen I have sworn against itsir?

Thou think'st it brave to take a breathing king

Thaton a court-day bow'd to haughty Maud

The awed presence-chamber may be bold

To whisperthere's the man who took alive

Stephen- me- prisoner. CertesDe Kaims

The ambition is a noble one.

DE KAIMS. 'Tis true

AndStephenI must compass it.

STEPHEN. Nono

Do not tempt me to throttle you on the gorge

Or with my gauntlet crush your hollow breast

Just when your knighthood is grown ripe and full

For lordship.

A SOLDIER. Is an honest yeoman's spear

Of no use at a need? Take that.

STEPHEN. Ahdastard!

DE KAIMS. Whatyou are vulnerable! my prisoner!

STEPHEN. No not yet. I disclaim itand demand

Death as a sovereign right unto a king

Who 'sdains to yield to any but his peer

If not in titleyet in noble deeds

The Earl of Glocester. Stab to the hiltsDe Kaims

For I will never by mean hands be led

From this so famous field. Do ye hear! Be quick! -

Trumpets.

Enter the Earl of Chester and Knights.

SCENE IV. A Presence Chamber. Queen Maud in a Chair of State

the Earls of Glocester and ChesterLordsAttendants. -

MAUD. Glocesterno more: I will behold that Boulogne:

Set him before me. Not for the poor sake

Of regal pomp and a vain-glorious hour

As thou with wary speechyet near enough

Hast hinted.

GLOCESTER. Faithful counsel have I given;

If waryfor your Highness' benefit.

MAUD. The Heavens forbid that I should not think so

For by thy valour have I won this realm

Which by thy wisdom I will ever keep.

To sage advisers let me ever bend

A meek attentive earso that they treat

Of the wide kingdom's rule and government

Not trenching on our actions personal.

Advis'dnot school'dI would be; and henceforth

Spoken to in clearplainand open terms

Not side-ways sermon'd at.

GLOCESTER. Thenin plain terms

Once more for the fallen king-

MAUD. Your pardonBrother

I would no more of that; foras I said

'Tis not for worldly pomp I wish to see

The rebelbut as dooming judge to give

A sentence something worthy of his guilt.

GLOCESTER. If't must be soI'll bring him to your presence.

[Exit Glocester. -

MAUD. A meaner summoner might do as well-

My Lord of Chesteris't true what I hear

Of Stephen of Boulogneour prisoner

That heas a fit penance for his crimes

Eats wholesomesweetand palatable food

Off Glocester's golden dishes- drinks pure wine

Lodges soft?

CHESTER. More than thatmy gracious Queen

Has anger'd me. The noble Earlmethinks

Full soldier as he isand without peer

In counseldreams too much among his books.

It may read wellbut sure 'tis out of date

To play the Alexander with Darius.

MAUD. Truth! I think so. By Heavens it shall not last!

CHESTER. It would amaze your Highness now to mark

How Glocester overstrains his courtesy

To that crime-loving rebelthat Boulogne-

MAUD. That ingrate!

CHESTER. For whose vast ingratitude

To our late sovereign lordyour noble sire

The generous Earl condoles in his mishaps

And with a sort of lackeying friendliness

Talks off the mighty frowning from his brow

Woos him to hold a duet in a smile

Orif it please himplay an hour at chess-

MAUD. A perjured slave!

CHESTER. And for his perjury

Glocester has fit rewards- nayI believe

He sets his bustling household's wits at work

For flatteries to ease this Stephen's hours

And make a heaven of his purgatory;

Adorning bondage with the pleasant gloss

Of feasts and musicand all idle shows

Of indoor pageantry; while syren whispers

Predestin'd for his ear'scape as half-check'd

From lips the courtliest and the rubiest

Of all the realmadmiring of his deeds.

MAUD. A frost upon his summer!

CHESTER. A queen's nod

Can make his June December. Here he comes. - -

THE END