Some endeavors we undertake from an inner sense of need or desire, others we are called upon to perform by those to whom we are beholden or admire. The latter was the case when the Lady Aine Skye, of inestimable virtue and talent, asked me to enter the Iron Bardic competition at Honey War 2017. An Iron Bardic competition is a prize tourney in which the contestants are given in the morning a theme upon which to develop an original composition by a deadline in the evening. The theme I was assigned was “Prudence, as a synonym of Wisdom”.
I had to abandon all my ‘go-to’ methods of research and composition on this day. I had a short time between being assigned the theme and suiting up to defend my Barony and my Baroness against the invading forces from the neighboring baronies of Blath An Oir and Dragon’s Laire. So I scrapped any idea of writing a poem and fell back on my theatrical background; I decided to plot a play and write for it a pivotal scene. This, I figured, was something I could do while in battle.
I roughed out a plot about a new king who ascended the throne under questionable circumstances and is struggling to consolidate his hold on the kingdom. He has popular support, but is despised by much of the aristocracy. He also has to contend with the deposed queen of lands held overseas. The burden of the newly-acquired responsibilities weigh heavily upon his psyche, which as the play progresses becomes unbalanced by the heard -but unseen- ghost of the former king. I will leave up to the audience whether the ghost exists as a paranormal or a psychological phenomenon.
The scene I focused upon will be in the middle act of the play, when the king’s actions begin being influenced more upon by his unbalanced psyche than by rational thought. The dramatis personae of the scene are:
- King Donald -ruler of England
- Prince Don -son of the king and a privy councilor
- Prince Jared -husband of the king’s eldest daughter and a privy councilor
- Lady Devotia -a privy councilor
- Comenius -a spy master
- Ghost -the ghost of King Adonis, previous ruler of England
Act III, scene V: a courtyard
[Enter King Donald, Prince Don, and Prince Jared]
King Donald: Attend me, young lords. Princes, attend me
Tell me how goes my enterprise?
Prince Don: Sire, whom above all others I love,
Truer words than these I cannot speak.
England flourishes under your reign
As the crocuses flower after long Winter’s death.
The ploughman and the miller,
The swineherd and the tanner,
All rejoice to give a second tithe
To enrich the glory of your throne.
Prince Jared: Father, within your radiance I bask.
Know that my tongue I’d rather sever
Than speak ill news to you.
Yet the old king’s faction amongst the barons
Clamor and gnash their teeth.
They decry your wisdom and your words
And shout calumny from Parliament’s chambers.
King Donald: Weak and sniveling women, all of them.
Their dugs are dry and flat.
Jealous, they seek to grasp what I erect.
My own big hands have erected England
Out from the fleshpots of Adonis.
Barons, bah, hags they are.
We should grab them by their—-
Prince Don: Hist! Devotia comes.
[Enter Lady Devotia]
Lady Devotia: Good morrow, Sire. Princes, good morrow.
King Donald: Lady Devotia, eager am I to hear your news.
How goes the Church?
Lady Devotia: Sire, great is the honor you granted me
When into my charge the welfare of
The Church you placed. Know, o my king,
That my loyalty and love are ever yours.
From Westminster to Yorkminster have I traveled.
Even from Canterbury to Gloucester I have ridden.
I found your monasteries were full of monks
And your minsters held naught but clerks.
King Donald: So you found them. How did you leave them?
Lady Devotia: On their knees, Sire.
I changed your monks into clerks
And your clerks are now monks.
Abbott Simony has replaced Abbess Charity
As rule in the monasteries.
In the minsters I reminded the clerks of the vow of poverty.
Their coffers are now as empty as Our Lord’s purse.
Your treasury, however, overfloweth.
King Donald: Good. You’ve done well Devotia.
Would that all women had your assets.
Visit me tonight that we may
Speak of more you can do for your king.
I see my spy master approaches.
King Donald: What news from France, Comenius?
Comenius: Peace, Sire.
King Donald: No good news then.
Have you arrested the queen?
Comenius: No, Sire. She remains quiet in her estate.
King Donald: She plots treason. She seeks to steal my crown.
She will lie with words and lie with lords
To gain the throne, the cheating queen!
Comenius: Sire, I see it not.
All the news from France is of peace.
King Donald: False news! Lies! I wonder of thou art her man, Comenius.
Have I thy loyalty? Swear fealty to me, sirrah.
Comenius: Sire, I am your man. I am not your dog.
King Donald: You are not my man and I would not have you as my dog.
Princes Don and Jared: Yes, Sire?
King Donald: Put down this mad cur.
[Princes Don and Jared draw knives and stab Comenius]
Comenius: O, I am slain!
King Donald: Sons, bury that. Devotia, leave me.
[Exit Prince Don, Prince Jared, and Lady Devotia]
[Enter Ghost, unseen]
Ghost: Was that prudent?
King Donald: Comenius counseled prudence.
What wisdom in prudence
When Fortune favors the bold?
Ever have I grabbed Fortune by the short hairs
And made her my mistress, willing or no.
Ghost: Boldness wins the moment,
But loses the hour.
Prudence stores the fruits of Victory
Against the famine of setback.
King Donald: The fruits of Victory spoil when stored,
Turning sweetness to vinegar.
Wisest are those who bite deep
And let Victory’s juice perfume their beard.
Ghost: The bold bite deep, and with the fruit swallow the worm.
E’en now, a worm is on your council, chewing at the heart of England.
King Donald: A worm in my council. A torch shall I take to it.
If I cannot burnt he worm, then the heart shall burn,
And England too be damned.
I am very grateful to my friends who volunteered to do a dramatic reading in front of the Iron Bardic judges with me. We had time to do but a single run-through before the performance; however, their natural talents shone through. The actors who joined me were (in order of precedence): Dame Cristiana de Huntington; Mistress Aelisia of Cambrewell; HL Gerald de Huntington; HL Disa i Birkilundi; and HL Thalia de Maccuswell. Many thanks to Alasdair Mac Roibeirt for filming the performance.
I do not know at this time if ‘the Tragedie of King Donald the first’ shall ever be completed, but it is a work that I will continue to expand upon as time and inspiration allow.
To my fellow competitors in the competition: thank you for the beautiful and, at appropriate times, hilarious performances. Your art helps bring the middles ages alive for me in the SCA.
Lastly, I wish to express my admiration of, and gratitude to, Lady Aine for encouraging me to enter my first bardic prize tourney. The beauty of your music combined with the grace of your spirit are a lantern to my soul’s dark night.