To see a commentary note, click on a blue square. To see the Latin text, click on a green square.
S. THOMAS OF CANTERBURY
Dedicated to God, to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and to the same St. Thomas
ST. JOSEPH of ARAMATHEA
CHORUS OF 4 SOULS
RICHARD, THE KING’S FATHER
THE EARL OF LEICESTER
THE EARL OF GLOUCESTER
PETER OF BLOIS
THE EARL OF KENT
FOUR MURDERERS, namely BRITO
THE EARL OF CORNWALL]
ACT I, SCENE i
St. Joseph of Aramathea leads out a chorus of four newly-purged souls.
Your lengthy punishments have yielded to pious prayers, and your error has yielded, burned out by the sacred fire wherewith a long span of years has bathed your straying souls. Now draws near a day that knows no ending, there dawns a brightness that has no sunset. Rejoice, you lively minds, breathe heaven’s eternal peace. Heaven’s highest voice is summoning you to marriage with the Lamb. Lift up your heads, eternal light will bless your holy bosoms. Now it pleases you to have endured a lengthy time of terrible exile. Now you may join the choirs of the blessed, all your filth scoured away.
At length it is clear that Joseph has taught the truth. I affirm that I have taught those things which our Lord, taken from the cross and rolled into these arms, committed to me with a faint murmur as He rested His fainting head on this left shoulder of mine: “Behold, you noble centurion from Aramathea, who are placing My limbs in your very own tomb, you must gather My limbs from the ends of the earth. You are to make your way to that island girt by the British Sea. Here are more of My limbs, you shall grant them eternal life in place of death, they are destined to claim heavenly homes. There a festive crown will come into being for you.”
I have obeyed Your words, my Saviour, I have given Your faith to the Britons. It grew, and bore this fruit, among others. With trembling hand I saved the pure seed, the pious seed grew up, and You have watered it. It was not yet granted me to water it with the dew of my blood, the glory of martyrdom, that honeyed reward, was not yet granted to Britain. It will be given later, spilt blood will open heaven for the Britons, many a purple-clad Englishman will throng the skies. St. Alban saw the gates of heaven thrown open, and others earned the right to have their laurels dyed with their own blood.
And now Thomas, that noble man, aspires to the purple, trampling on the impious mandates of powerful kings. Let him be observed by you. He will demonstrate this: the road from earth to the stars is easy for the stout of heart. Thomas will show the way. Learn that there was a flame by whose aid the thousand years that detained you can be avoided. Live a day intermingled with mortals, the following day will see you souls triumphing in heaven, an eternal Companion will repay you for this brief delay. Being pious spirits, you will not regret having assumed mortal garb and witnessing the bitter struggle of a great man, a pious spectacle for the world. Take your seats. Behold how the savage Furies are preparing war against Thomas. They are offering him falsely seductive bonds, he rejects the offer. Should they wish to subdue his neck with a glittering collar, he refuses. They make ready golden manacles and fit them to his hands, but this prelate casts them off, he who is unschooled in becoming bewitched by false splendor.
The violent gang indignantly gnashed its teeth at being scorned, it brooded, it menaced, but the sturdy athlete did not yield to its threats. Affliction opened wide the gates, he entered. Affliction, he preferred your filth to golden chains. They retreated, swollen with their crime. Ambition, that companion and president of the royal Court, is grown fat with the spoils of two kings who pollute it with equal disdain for Albion. She bears a painted ostrich, she helplessly observes the starry beasts, not lifted above the sordid ground by any flight. The following shield belongs to Sloth, it carries a bear, heavy with many a shadow, who snores amidst the northern snows, knowing not what the sun sees in mid-year, or what the winter brings to the earth. Envy is redolent of the Lerneian swamp, it is a toad bloated with its innate poison, it is a watchful serpent patrolling its every shore. Our prelate is their enemy without. These monsters are fomenting war against our prelate, but he will remain standing, unshaken by any power.
From this let the world learn that the good is not destitute, that Honor is uniquely the companion and the reward of virtue. Escorted by three virtues, he comes to succor the afflicted, with his noble hand he wrenches away the vices’ foul shields. Having turned back, fierce Ambition has yielded to Modesty. You, Fortitude, triumph over your Sloth, and Envy yields the noble palm, bested by Charity. The victor breaks down Afflictions doors and out comes Thomas, unbested by evils. He does not refuse to let Honor crown his locks: what a great man he is! Soon the sacred decrees of pontiffs will say he has been received into heaven. He will provide an example how those fires may be avoided, the fires which endlessly purge those tainted by light sin with their great delay. Behold this fine example and learn of the triumphs he celebrates. He alone will offer his head to every suffering, he alone will bare his breast for battle, for the Furies’ thousand evils. Whatever suffering Ambition and Envy can heap upon his head will remain until Virtue rescues him, lifts him to the stars, and places him upon the throne that is his due. After the death of Thomas, heaven’s splendor awaits you.
ACT I, SCENE ii
ST. THOMAS, THE FRENCH AMBASSADOR
THOMAS The fair day has risen from the watery ocean and lo, I catch sight of my nation and familiar home. Alas, cruel life has hounded me with seven years of suffering as I have borne the king’s harsh injunctions and, a shepherd, have been snatched way from my flocks as an exile, sojourning in strange cities. What minds has my misery not touched and moved with piety? France has tearfully witnessed my sufferings, Rome and the far-flung world has commiserated with me. Only England, proud with its ancestral sea, has been cruel to me and always remained dry-eyed, under a king who knows not how to be swayed by miserable ills, until God turned things to the better, giving me to my nation and my nation to me. As a favor, Henry has granted King Louis’ request that I might at length be allowed to die in my homeland, to whom it was not permitted to live out my days in a homeland free from fear.
AMBASSADOR I am happy to congratulate you on the sight of your homeland and on the peace restored to your Church, prelate, and on that day granted to you in accordance with your prayers, on which, in the sight of heaven, the onlooking people of France and Normandy, and King Louis, you received the king’s pledge and was accepted by your Henry. [Aside.] And yet, if my advice were to be of any weight, ah, he would still cling to France, nor make a new trial of the king’s savage mind, and that lion, so dangerous to touch. [Aloud.] Let my sovereign’s final words advise you. As you were committing your sails to the winds and your ship to the sea, tearfully he said that King Henry’s kisses are not trustworthy, his signs of peace are empty, and delay in departure would be more safe.
THOMAS Once I feared these things, now fear tries to renew itself against a mind that has changed. Let him thunder death, I shall confront it. Would that by my death I could put an end to the evils of my nation, my king and people! Let Henry rise up again, I have long suffered his oppression. He established new laws against the clergy, I have abrogated them, and so all this storm has sought my head. Could I tolerate the clergy’s heavy downfall? He strove to subordinate holy things to profane laws, the clergy to the civil court. That was all his ardor, that his zeal. Another law grew out of that one, that for no man should there be a right of appeal to the metropolitan. The law was given me for my signature, this seemed to surpass every crime, it divided the clergy and the Church. I did not suffer it. I gave occasion for anger and quarrel, and I shall give it, if his wounding seeks my exile.
AMBASSADOR You speak worthily of an archbishop, and display loyalty to your king even against his will. But is the son milder than the father? Does young Henry favor your cause any more than does his father? The hatred of either king is hard to bear.
THOMAS His mind is young, his age easily led to every evil. Even now his ready trust harkens to light whispers, either those which the slanderer excites with his hostile art, or the rumor which is wont to fly from the lips of the crowd. These things provoke the headstrong boy and alienate him from me. Add to this the anger and the blind chagrin of the bishops’ envy, those whom I have stricken with dire anathema, banished from the sacred Court for their crime. For the duty of crowning the boy resided me, by injurious loyalty they stole this out of my hands and anointed him as king, and likewise by treacherous guile they have inflamed the haughty youth against me, as they saw my life being led amidst toilsome troubles.
AMBASSADOR Faithless crime always persecutes the right. And yet if the evil has not yet grown so strong that it may shun my advice, I have decided to do everything in my power to join the boy to you in better faith. My sovereign’s commands also have an eye to this, this is where my affection points me, to make the young king’s mind well-disposed towards you.
THOMAS May that God Who powerfully sways and strengthens kings’ minds second your intentions! Oh my life is not so wretched. God provides aid for it with His strong hand, heaven militates for me, and kingdoms conspire for me with their hospitable faith. And look here, I see citizens hastening towards me, I’ll go to meet them.
ACT I, SCENE iii
ST. THOMAS, TWO CITIZENS
THOMAS Persons beloved to Christ, longed for in my countless prayers and wishes, after the harsh ills of my life receive me both as a friend of peace and as his flock’s faithful guide. Come forward, embrace me, give me to yourselves as a man returned, give me to myself.
CITIZEN 1 Deprived of the pontiff for seven years, the clergy of England receives him upon his return with a gladsome voice, every household resounds with cheering.
CITIZEN 2 With a unanimous voice the loyal people, which has previously wept for its stolen father, bereft, greets him, just now returned.
THOMAS I receive and return the welcome responses of you both, and I praise your faith, mindful amidst harsh affairs. Would that had befallen the powerful men!
CITIZEN 1 And I hope that all England comports as your happy Canterbury has conducted itself in its duties, its common father having been returned.
THOMAS God second your wishes, and may I not be wrenched from my people sooner than the Fates take away my life.
CITIZEN 2 Oh beloved prelate, long has the state felt your absence and groaned. How greatly you relieve everybody of that pain your exile inflicted on all men’s minds. God at length gave back you and yourselves, we enjoy ourselves. Today we see our holy things, our prelate, our father given back.
THOMAS And I am given back to myself. God bear witness how often my mind failed me when the memory of my dear flock came over it, for this reason my exiles were harsh, and every city possessed me as a fresh exile as often as the example of my city and its pioius citizens came to mind. But let all pain depart, abolished together with my exile. The storm has abated, leaving us a happy day. As great as was the sadness that oppressed us, still greater is the countervailing happiness. We enjoy the longed-for day, and we enjoy ourselves. Let Him Who has given us afflicted folk this day grant us long to enjoy it.
ACT I, SCENE iv
The curtain is drawn to reveal the younger Henry sitting on his throne, crowned, holding a scepter in his right hand and in his left an orb.
HENRY The little tract of Anjou is enclosed on the east by the lands of Tours, to the west it borders on the Bretons, westward its limit is bounded by Picardy, and to the south it menaces Maine where it fronts it. My grandfather held it, his father did not surpass these borders. The Plantagenet, enclosed within these confines, was content with his plot of land, a good man enjoying peace, and, impoverished, he plied the arts of an upright citizen and gained a name for being a loyal Frenchman. My grandmother Matilda enlarged this Duke, she put the scepter in Geoffrey’s hand. Hence the Norman, the Aquitaine, the citizen of Britanny, and the other English Briton across the sea serve my father. My father? No, they are at my service. The Englishman and the Frenchman acknowledge the glory of this face, for my benefit flow the Loire, Garonne, Thames and Seine. I wield no fictitious scepter, I do not just occupy the stage as a make-believe ruler for the short space of a play, wearing a false costume until the final applause. The glitter of this facade is real, my scepter truly holds these nations in check? And why should not my scepter alone do the checking? Why should I, having been grated as share of rule with my father, not rule alone? One sun is enough for the world, by itself it shines upon the stars: what part of the world is governed by two kings? My left hand encircles a miniature world, why should my power not suffice for the world? Let it suffice, I grow great, no boundary will set a limit upon my enterprises, upon my desires. As the Loire, swelling with a roaring current, flows through Anjou fields, swollen by fourteen streams, and enters the ocean as the envy of the sea, the ocean’s great companion, so I shall be violently borne through the kingdoms of this world, I shall be enlarged by subjugated realms. Knowing no peer among humankind, I shall allow God alone to govern my scepter. I have been meek enough, I have granted enough to my father’s old age. Being no king’s son, he has kinged it long, let him yield. My pedigree is derived from high kings on either side. He promises I shall soon wield the scepter: that it should soon be wielded, but a diminished one. I shall make it be given hold, in the end let the king’s realms be subject to me alone. Enter Richard, Leicester, and others.
Does my brother bring any news? Or the Earl of Leicester, a noble hand in battle, loyal to his king, powerful for his popularity?
RICHARD This is where rumor enters, does it pause to knock at royal doors? Whatever rumor flies abroad, true or false, I come here to discover what it means.
LEICESTER Bountiful day has dawned, let it be a happy one for the king, who receives his people with a happy brow and noble countenance.
HENRY Leicester, you see your king full of high spirits. Brother, you behold him filled with affection for you. Enter the Earl of Glocester.
GLOUCESTER The recent dawn has brought a ship from France bearing Thomas of Canterbury. Returned, he is complaining of his lengthy exile and removing priests from their altars.
HENRY No storm at sea is more violent than Thomas. Perhaps my father has come back with him, a companion in his return, and has held his hand in the ship.
GLOUCESTER No ship would carry Thomas and the king together. The French ambassador has come carried by it, and he straightway seeks the great king’s Court.
RICHARD He will explain the liberty thanks to which Thomas comes back, and the altered conditions which sway France, if such there be.
HENRY Come, let triumphs, feasts and royal banquets be readied, and also arms, but the arms of friends, by which the ambassador may learn the arms I control as ally and son-in-law of his king. I want this Frenchman, entertained by my brilliant magnificence, to report back to my father-in-law a glory befitting England. This, brother, is your charge, the ambassador remains to be intercepted by Montfort, let him go to met him, when he has been met let a strong band bring him to me. The rest of you retire. Let the model of the world waiting to be conquered return to my hand. Am I wrong, or will this arriving ambassador provide a lucky omen for my desires? I shall charm the Frenchman: my father-in-law is to be won over to me by the ambassador’s words. When won over, he will give great strength and might to my scepter. He will join me as a great shield and wall to be erected against my father. But the slippery road to rule is to be trodden with a slow foot. The world’s model is grasped in my left hand, but the world cannot be grasped without great effort.
1. The scepters of kings, the purple of the wealthy, and whatever the world boasts of is whirled with an uncertain impulse, varied according to the will of elusive fortune.
Only virtue, planted in pious hearts, scorns these laws, for, shining with unsullied honors, it gleams with enduring glory.
Neither wealthy purple nor the Ganges with its golden sand will weaken it, nor the thundering tyrant’s voice will shake it with its manly strength.
2. Lo, England, your Thomas bears witness to this, having experienced brazen toils, he whose holy locks are encircled by the miter of Canterbury’s altar.
Alas, what toil hounds him! What a crop of perils weighs down his head and rends the manly heart of this excellent prelate!
3. Hence, leaving his nation’s sweet soil and his dear home, this great-hearted exile hastned over the swollen sea, through rocks and snowy mountains.
For thus during harsh times indomitable virtue grows, thus it luxuriantly flourishes by means of its own injury. Like the palm, it gathers strength and courage from the very steel.
4. Rome, he sought your sacred homes and the Saints’ high shrines, he whom the priest shining with his triple tiara received with a holy embrace.
At whose bidding, having foreknowledge that he was hastening towards a readied death, he did not shrink from going back to England to quash the king’s edicts, a new soldier.
Go to Act II