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A Tragedy

Dedicated to the Blessed Mother of God,
Always called Virgin,
and to the English Martyrs





Mute Parts



HENRY Rochester, is German Luther still raging, is he still a rebel and, unconquered by my hand, has he failed to abandon his heresy?
ROCHESTER It is necessary that this man, who does not know how to be bent, must be broken. If overwhelmed by your hand, he will perhaps yield, even if he should never with to yield for the better.
HENRY We shall overwhelm him. No commotions in France?
AUDLEY Nor is the stiff-necked Scotsman taking up arms. Your fleets rule the sea, all is tranquil.
HENRY And would that my heart were too! My beloved son of More, I would have you take earnest care that day after tomorrow’s night will see dancing.
JOHN I am readying festive games for my serene prince. My duty is to desire to please, but a king’s is to give pleasure.
HENRY Let me be left alone. [The rest exit, leaving Henry alone.] So do these conditions suit a royal name? Does my life’s thread run along so that I, a source of fear to the world by my race, must go a-begging to men of the lowest sort? What’s the good of having stricken the seas with my harsh scepter? Or of having given new laws to conquered peoples? Whatever part of England’s immense shore the ocean washes acknowledges my government. When I had broken in its gates I yoked Tournai, Caesar himself would be happy to have earned a place in my camp. A terrified world has learned what Henry’s wrath and Henry’s favor can accomplish. Lo Rome, our true capital, puffed up over its mitered Pope invoked my aid and I came to its support. Do you rule, Clement? You should acknowledge that this is my doing. You should be ashamed of that anathema of yours, because you can be said to have stricken your friend, when you refuse Henry the freedom of his bed while you have the freedom of a Rome given back to you by him. I am accused of rejecting holy Catherine with a black torch, and it is called a crime to have wed Boleyn with a new one. They deny it befits a king to do that which is permissible to any man from the common herd. Hence the wretched muttering of the fickle Commons. Hence the vociferous clergy foments hatred against me, the indomitable heart of the gentleman from Rochester hounds me. I am compelled to marry. More, a man renowned for his virtue and sharp of wit, supports Catherine. I have courted him. Both of them, being mild men, decline to be caught. I have added an angry man’s threats. Both remain steadfast and refuse to be swayed by threats. Now I am breaking the harsh yoke of the Pope of Rome, determined to cast it off. Let it be granted me to annul this impious marriage to my brother’s wife, or all my rights will disappear, violated. Did the great victor, conquering York with the arms of Lancaster, combine these roses and powerfully confirm the British scepter for one single hand so that, amidst the amenities of public peace, I should be the single man to endure this government helplessly? [Enter Cacodaemon.]


HENRY I am here. Who intones my name with an ill-boding voice?
CACODAEMON Are you remembering the combined roses and confirmed scepter? Are you remembering your father’s disposition and the civil war, extinguished by that old man? I would have it added that I myself preside over the throne of England and wield your scepter according to my will, varying a medley of crimes. Slaughters, murders, the raging bane of the common people and a plague on the Peerage, after fifty years polluted by king’s mutual loathings, he overthrew these and shut them in a dungeon, burying them under the heavy weight of laws. Do you recall him? He who took pleasure in chaste consorts and the piety of a holy bed, serves as an example for pious kings. But you must take another road, headlong. Too late you retrace your steps if now you begin to take wholesome counsels or idly seek a limit for your aroused wrath. A tyrant’s rage which can be stopped or can conceal itself is pitiful. Trust me, when a lazybones sets limits on his wrongdoings, not to be transgressed, this rebounds against its author, he grows feeble. Catherine is in exile, hated but noble for her purity and born of kings, while unchaste Anne, the whore, obtains the royal bedchamber. It is unclear whether she is a daughter or a wife to her husband. She throws his household into confusion with her questionable offspring, as she gives birth to a sister for herself, a niece for her husband. The astonished common folk are amazed by the horror of this monstrosity, your friends shudder. As the foreign nations roar, they shout that this evil must be suppressed by Spanish steel. The Pope brandishes his thunderbolt from on high. Will you sluggishly stand still to be stricken? Are you holding back your hands while the world is hurling its vengeful missiles? Do you want to go against them, and yet set a limit on your modest crimes, and now make delays and idle dreams with your complaints? You need to think on your great father’s glory, or is it your pleasure to take last place? Let crimes make any degree of evil secure. Behold, I have returned (this I owe to your love’s impious torches), I am the genius and the strength of your tyrannical throne. I promised you my hands, with which I have never been stinting in my fraudulent arts, by which, when they are outstretched, chaste virtue can be captured. Exit.
HENRY He’s departed? Oh what great quaking and shaking has assaulted my limbs? See here, I have doubts that the beings of heaven and Hell are nonexistent. Am I wrong, or is he returning? How well versed he is in my every secret thought! Let whoever is a trusty guard at my door come here. Let Audley be present. Come, Cromwell. Cranmer, there’s need for holy things if ever there was.


Enter Audley, Cromwell, Cranmer.

CROMWELL What’s this pallor that has come over the royal cheeks?
AUDLEY What commotion has made this indomitable man fearful?
CRANMER Has some traitor done these things?
CROMWELL What hand could have done this?
AUDLEY With my sword I’ll search the nooks and crannies.
HENRY Stop, put up your useless steel My friends, I saw, I heard something from which my mind recoils. Should I reveal it, or should I rather keep it concealed?
AUDLEY Now our loyalty is not suspected by the king.
CROMWELL It is proven by long experience.
HENRY But proven loyalty is often shaken in the face of unusual circumstances.
CROMWELL Common things ask for loyalty, but difficulties demand it.
HENRY What if God does not approve our counsels?
CROMWELL He is kind, sway him with prayers.
HENRY What if Hell approves?
CROMWELL Even Hell’s counsels have their value.
HENRY What about conscience?
AUDLEY A useless hobgoblin of the common people.
HENRY Violence overwhelms a man bright with majesty.
CRANMER A man ignorant of majesty’s prerogatives.
HENRY But reputation —
CROMWELL That false popular chatter, a fickle opinion, it readily complies with a king’s edicts. Law, conscience, reputation, they are at your service. This ensnares the unwary Commons. Royal splendor dispels the clouds it strikes.
HENRY Set aside your spirits, friends, I have seen — Speaking in my presence was the genius or divinity who rules my scepter according to his will (so he said). He openly revealed everything I was pondering, he rebuked my delays, and promised his helping hands for my enterprises.
CROMWELL What was the shape of this apparition?
HENRY Terrible, cruel, menacing, such as your eyesight could not withstand. You shivered? But just now my shuddering heart was not to your liking, and my eye, fearful lest he return.
CRANMER I think the inner rooms of the palace need to be exorcised. Let those be summoned who by their art can bind and banish demons.
CROMWELL Wizards are forbidden by law.
CRANMER He is negligent if no law compels him? Wicked!
CROMWELL Am I to imagine ghosts to be fearful which an uncouth charm conjures up, or an old man with his rabid mouth? In its error, gullible fear has invented shades. No man returns to the upper world who has once attained to Hell, plunged in night, nor has any captive ever escaped eternal chaos. When a thick cloud covers Phoebus’ lamp and obstructs his lively light, a painted arch appears to our eyes, the common folk call it a rainbow, and the poet’s false authority attributes it to a goddess. Let the sun pop out, stronger with a new fire, let it banish the cloud, and this fictitious divinity perishes. Great-minded man, pardon your servant for speaking the truth. Busy care has deluded your weary mind, and while it was over-anxiously bent on taking counsel, it imagined it had glimpsed specters which no man sees. Henry, summon your great spirit, let the illusion vanish.
HENRY You are stringing together impressive words, but to no point. He stood here, he sprang forward, then he broke the royal throne I had abandoned. Here he made the air ring with fulminations, Cromwell, such as you would have heard with terror, at which the cold blood would have stood still in your veins, at which you would have been stricken dumb.
AUDLEY See, I am restoring a place for the royal chair, and with my sword I’ll make it safe. Though he breathes out fireballs and shoots forth dire lightning with his countenance, he won’t move me from here. Let infernal Jove’s cage be opened, his wicked crew will be warded off. Let him steal the fostering daylight, wrapping it in black cloud, with my flashing sword I’ll dispel the darkness. This sword is certain safety in an uncertain business.


Enter Cacodaemon.

CACODAEMON “This sword is certain safety in an uncertain business.” This sword supplies the strength to your wavering scepter, your polluted bed, your broken promises, your churches with their expelled saints, your holy men’s bones, disturbed and given to the flames, your realms deprived of law, judges, sacred divinities. It ought to do penitence. The sluggish senses of mortals! Their greed, barring its own advantageous path, instructed by no counsels to pursue better things, insufficiently moved by any admonition! What fine crimes are you concocting in your riotous heart, crimes worthy of your scepter, about which no day will ever fall silent, for which no posterity will atone? So there is a child by you and Boleyn: will it be deemed a bastard? Aggressive action might have the power, but delays are destroying it. Am I a source of fear? This is what comes of putting your faith in me so late. This senate is customarily protracted by a discourse which is not frank, I am adding that with which they allow themselves to be captivated, and adding gifts to my arguments. Enter a table.
Come hither, quickly set aside your pointless fears. Hurry, see how these gifts shine as they reflect the dancing flame. They allure your hands, grasp them. Each of you is beholding his heart’s desire. A crown of myrtle, Henry, the symbol of Venus, is reserved for you. Seize it boldly.
HENRY My hand is prevented by the fire, nor will it bear the flame.
CACODAEMON Cromwell, this ivory wand (a crafty thing) suits you, a clerk. It’s leading you by a straight line, albeit a black one: you cunningly work your dire deceptions.
CROMWELL My helpless hand does not pass beyond these hot torches.
CACODAEMON Cranmer, let your greedy hand attempt whatever it wants, by polluting miters it will make you a wealthy man. Take hold. Why are you stepping back, empty-handed?
CRANMER This intolerable fire tortures me.
CACODAEMON Your ambition is sufficiently unquenchable, yet it is afraid of flames? Audley, you disdain the flashing from angry Jove. The flashing of this dagger is summoning you, let whoever stands in your way fall by its wounding.
AUDLEY This magic fire baffles my boldness.
CACODAEMON So let’s put our heads together, my friends. These flames are preventing us from enjoying the good things we crave, both their light and heat obstruct us. Do you want to lie in waiting until they fail, their ardor exhausted, and endure a long hunger, or rather to subdue these long delays with a dark rain? Thus, thus we should act. Let spilt blood quench the hateful lights of these lamps. Albeit the blood we pour on them be the precious, holy blood of More and Rochester, it will overmaster the fire and give you an easy passage to the good things you desire. You have learned the condition in which England stands, and how it can be overthrown. Her clergy thrives and, happy with a multitude of learned men, walls everything round. Nowhere is there an avenue whereby you may innovate in all things, unless novelties come into being and the old vanish. Let the order of holy prelates be cast into confusion quickly, let a new one arise, let its choice members wear on their heads miters worthy of Cranmer. And with the prelates thrown into rout, our ancestral religion will fall, let its overthrown monuments crush or intimidate its devotees. If anyone displays his torch to Peerage or Commons, and with his foot shows the way of truth, let him be caught by craft. If this be refused, let him die. Foolishly pitying his people, a prince perishes. Whatever blood it may have cost him, a tyrant will make a way whereby his errant lust may be carried. You must subside. Let this storm grow calm, let your swollen ambition lurk hidden in your inmost hearts until it may come forth to work harm. Be mindful of my counsel, its author will elude you. A short sleep will erase my image from your minds. [He chants his incantation.]
Sleep, you dweller in deepest Hell, you single servant of the Styx to whom Nature can ascribe no sin, you are skilled in deceiving mortals and swindling them with your delightful theft. You take away the tediums of our unhappy life, and, for the benefit of the weary, you cast a welcome shadow over our minds, like a brief death. You are no mean augur of things to come, nor are you an inept mimic of things past, and you are prudently wont to intersperse sure things with doubtful, true with false, employing your guile. You visit those of highest degree and lowest, governing them all by one and the same law. Be you present, bearing much poppy on your pregnant brow, and in your hand a wand thrice dipped in Lethe’s dew. Come alike to the king and to his servants, weigh on them, bound in heavy slumber, and cherish their limbs under your darkling wings. And, touching their eyes with a sleep-bringing bough, cheat them with peaceful stillness. Let my shade depart from their minds, but let my precepts remain graven in their inmost fibers, by no day to be erased. Let their hearts breathe black venom, but let none of them know why they are breathing forth black venom from an evil heart. Exit.


A trumpet.

HENRY Why does the festive sound of a trumpet strike my ears? Is there some triumph? Norfolk comes, happier than usual, the Duke is bringing his son, the famed Admiral of the Fleet. Come, tell me, what events have occurred?
NORFOLK This triumph follows as the fruit of your auspices, Henry. With your indomitable hand you remain as the sole champion of the stormy sea.
HENRY So has that water-borne robber, a fright to so many peoples, emboldened by the spoils of so many nations, fallen and added to Surrey’s trophies?
SURREY He is laid low by my hand, but by royal auspices.
HENRY Set forth the manner of the fight, happily relate the hardships you have undergone.
SURREY We had scarce abandoned the coasts of your England, cleaving the bounding main with our whitened prow, when from afar a huge ship, heavy with its proud furniture and flying billowing linen sails, sent shot and shell against a small vessel. And now the sea’s hateful gangs were at hand, drawing near to their prey. You could see the small craft wandering in mid-sea, fending off its doom by what flight it could, and the ship avoided its enemies’ gaping jaws by meandering a twisting course, fleeing now here, now there. And now it broached its weary side to the roiling sea’s sandbanks, now it made itself sterner thanks to the strength of its men. In my indignation I hastened to the aid of those fearful sailors. I dispatched a pinnace to relay my words to the cruel pirate: they should free that ship of all fear and port their arms. They must furl their proud sails if they did not crave their doom, and their humbled mast must lower its flag. Their ship resists. Without delay, having called on the holy wrath of our offended God, I covered my head with a helmet, my chest with a three-ply breastplate, and gave the call to arms. Quicker than the East wind, the ships came together. The crews shot flames, missiles, fatal balls, and steel. Mars and men’s shouting nourished their strength. The roar and clangor of the naval trumpet blazed forth. Frequent broadside shook the ships’ joints, fiery volleys flashed, liquefied stones belched flames while the sea-nymph Thetis glowed amidst her waves. Apollo grew dim behind a smoky cloud. The pitch-black rain of shot was dense, and stole the daylight from our eyes with its dusky murk. All around us we heard the screams of men dying a bitter death. This man hung atop a high wave, that one was pulled down by a wind-driven vortex into the shallows of the waters. In her crazed bosom a reddened Thetis gobbled down fighter’s weapons and the husks of corpses. For a long time the fight went undecided. With my ready hand I aimed a gun in the enemies’ faces, and, like a dire whirlwind, it flew through the air bearing certain death. As when Vulcan, fanned by the evil southerly wind, lays low a roaring forest with its laurel foliage, or a golden field of crops, or as whenthe sluggish winter crackles and a rushing torrent is blown from an Alpine peak, driven by the easterlies, so the quaking helmsman, stricken by this unfriendly mass, unfriendly to his surprized ship, groaned, was drenched with the spray, and was dashed headlong into the heaving waters, his helm shattered. And the sails, which once did not know how to be loosened, now hung in tatters. Their sailors quaked with fear, groaned, and died in a fearful slaughter. Thus we made a proper ending to these stubborn fellows’ day. Part of them bobbed in the water amidst our prows, and the rest are enduring an unfamiliar captivity, learning what it is to play the pirate beneath your sky, over whose harbors Astraea presides and will preside as long as you are sovereign.
HENRY Thus the besieged ocean ought to be freed, thus the wicked pirate’s fury should be suppressed by us. An ocean free for trade and the easy passage of foreigners is your doing. Though content with this payment, you may expect a new reward from my bounty. [Exit.]
CROMWELL I congratulate Surrey on his honors. Being illustrious, may he crown his father, feeble with age, with laurel. He bids green days return, he snatches the distaff from the Fates and strengthens his portion with a stronger thread.
NORFOLK I confess that in him I have obtained my highest desire, that, while I myself am yielding to the weight of years, he will come forth as a pillar of the nation. He is a servant of Henry and joined to you, Cromwell, by a close bond. He has not grown up unworthy of his father and forebears, and, his father’s hope, he has born welcome fruit, since the time our English youth gained a laurel crown when, the Scots defeated, in death James stained the young man’s hand; he baptized our family arms with the blood of a cruel king.
CROMWELL The fidelity of the House of Howard can never be sufficiently praised by an title, which Henry holds in the highest place and the greatest royal affection. Hence the king justly promises himself your support and help, as he handles and undertakes every weighty thing.
NORFOLK May the earth open and swallow me before I break faith or abandon the king when he commands me! He bids it? I put armor on my ancient breast, I flatten my hair with a brazen helmet. I myself shall endure the ocean’s swollen threats.
CROMWELL The times enjoin no such labors on an old man. Yet the royal heart is afire with wrath.
NORFOLK Does anybody forbid him to lash out in his anger?
CROMWELL His subjects stay his hand, and Parliament, not well enough schooled in obeying royal commands.
NORFOLK My assent will make them willing for anything at all.
CROMWELL We have grown familiar with the supreme influence of your family, our favor is bestowed on you, you friends of the scepter. By your favor, protection has been bestowed on many citizens, fortune on many, it has made all men your friends. The king has given you this ability, he asks for this favor in return: to those he has made powerful he asks that, that they permit themselves to be powerful on their sovereign’s behalf.
NORFOLK If the power he has granted us can be at the king’s service, let it be so. Just tell us, all circumlocution set aside.
CROMWELL Foreign nations are taking hard our king’s happy marriage. The Spaniard is murmuring about taking up arms. The Pope greets us with his threats What is do be done here?
NORFOLK Let us go to meet an armed king under arms ourselves, let prayers and the approval of our cause by the Doctors’ schools sway the pontiff.
There’s no hope the pontiff can be persuaded, decrees once ordained he says are sacrosanct. Soon you will see interdictions nailed to church doors, and those doors locked by decree of this supreme pastor. He will strike us with anathema; having cursed us direly, he will consign us to the inmates of Hell. By a shared destiny, he will deal with our citizens as with our king, and, with its citizenry shattered, the realm will be given to foreign nations as a bloody spoil. Suppose that the kings of France and Scotland, the hostile king of Spain and the Belgian all remain asleep. Suppose that slumber shackles them all. Yet this nation will fall, shot by its own missiles. Civil wars and ancient slaughters will return, hatreds will arise anew, the fury of the provoked Commons will fall upon us, bringing chaos.
NORFOLK But can Henry avert such great evils by sending the woman away? Peace can easily be purchased at that price.
CROMWELL Easier can you spin the stars in new orbits, quicker will the sea forget how to surge, this earth upon which we stand will lack a foundation, and fire will leave the hollow globe of the moon, before the king can be torn away from his Boleyn. I do not think we should suggest something to which he will not listen.
NORFOLK And what limit may be placed upon our miseries?
CROMWELL What limit? Let the Pope’s law be repealed, let us banish him before he can banish us. This medicine which will make us sound is dire, but it will make us sound. Therefore let the question be about our safety, whatever crime strengthens this is just. The rifled property of the clergy will furnish us plenty of weapons. The king’s opulent generosity will turn the spoils of monks into rewards for his followers, from which Surrey will carry off a great part, from which Norfolk will carry off the greatest, from which, thanks to these gifts, their exhausted house will grow great again.
NORFOLK But who is offering resistance?
CROMWELL Salvation herself cannot save them, they will perish.
NORFOLK With this hope I shall obey the king’s decisions. When this storm shall have ceased, the king will beach his ship on this single shore.


Whichever of you, captivated by royal honors, yearns to sweep the ground with a purple robe and, shi7you do not know the condition in which kingship exists. A long train of clamorous clients is attracted to royal splendor, whom Ambition, always gaping for lofty honors, drags along in golden chains. While each of these desires to gain the objects of his desire and sate his insatiable hunger, by fair means and foul, by that which is forbidden, by their flattery they draw a king’s mind to all things, by fair means and foul, by that which is forbidden. And when he has overleapt the holy restraints of justice and the limitations of a good mind, loosening the bridles of unconquerable license, he is like a torrent to which, when Boreas wholly overturns his jars, Scythian snows give courage, and it flows with a headlong rush toward the Stygian waters. He puts no limit on his crimes, no boundary on his wrongdoing, but rather strives to surpass his wickedness with a new crime, fearing no fatal punishment, having no dread of the thunderbolts wielded by the divine hand. For his mind is hardened by a long habit of wrongdoing, and surpasses the Getes in their barbarism, and the marble of the hard Caucasus. Oh the very sweet risk of a scepter, and your pleasant peril, by which illusion you bewitch men’s senses, you capture your prey, disguising your fatal hook, a hook with which you deceitfully inflict evil wounds on minds craving sweet things, wounds which bring a death that knows no cure! Kings rarely possess a rule free of felonies and that guards against crime, and these men Astraea nurses at her own breast, and has fed them the milk of holy justice. This age witnesses a century ripe in crime, rashly bearing a progeny which Impiety hounds with her furies. Nowadays the man who wields a scepter uncontaminated by impious luxury, unpolluted by innocent blood, is more rare than that bird born of the sun, the Phoenix, who uniquely among the feathered race is born from his father’s pyre.

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