To see a commentary note, click on a blue square. To see the Latin text, click on a green square.
ACT II, SCENE i
THE EARL OF LEICESTER, TWO HERALDS
LEICESTER Let that place be readied for festive games and Mars’ dances, let life be led even amidst the quiet doldrums of peace. Youths delight in disturbing the peace with a strife that is not serious. A play will give weight and decorum to this business, the king himself will play the leading part, the French ambassador has the second role, and the next is held by the younger brother, the Duke of Aquitaine, devoted to his brother. Then the happy peers follow in the steps of their leaders. Let every man admitted to the king’s dances and games carefully mark who is presiding over the king’s dances and games — even a lion playfully outstretched in the quiet shade is a source of terror to the beasts. Attend to this, you heralds, let the place be free for festive games, this is your responsibility. And let each of you note who obeys your rules for the dances, so that each dancer may earn worthy credit more for this more than for his movement. But see, the earth resounds with the martial sound of feet, their costume shows they are ready for the dances.
ACT II, SCENE ii
KING HENRY, PETER OF BLOIS, AMBASSADOR, RICHARD, LEICESTER, TWO HERALDS
HENRY What does the man of Bois intend to do amidst the flitting armed dances and games?
BLOIS I have important things to disclose to Your Serenity. But if the late hour is bothersome, I can seek an easier time for an audience with my prince.
HENRY Although games rarely seem to mix with serious affairs, or royal arms with the clerical habit, nevertheless both things pertain to a king, both to a Plantagenet, and my games and arms have long since learned to defer to holy gowns.
BLOIS Prince, by this mark I recognize your arms. That sport is royal which heeds the bridle and limits imposed upon it. Those arms are worthy of a king which fall still when they hear the voices of innocent suppliants.
HENRY But tell me what God, Who sways royal scepters, enjoins upon me in the person of Blois? What does the holy Church command?
BLOIS Humbly she approaches you, he avows you are a kindly son to his suppliant mother.
HENRY I subordinate my royal name to a Name so great. I grant whatever you ask, speak.
BLOIS. Therefore by means of me, no matter inept a messenger, with a single voice God and the Church commend to you their common father, the prelate of Canterbury, and in his name.
HENRY Never does the accursed name of that proud prelate strike my unwilling ears but that at the same time lightning from threatening heaven terrifies my heart, always that name carries with it the word anathema with its dire bond.
BLOIS. He commends himself to you in suppliant tones.
HENRY And in thundering tones he consternates me, as with a loud voice the demented prelate rails against my reverend noble bishops everywhere, they who set the consecrated badge of royalty on my brow during the holy coronation rite. Ferociously he thunders his terrific censure against all of them.
BLOIS Thomas never allows himself to lose the honorable duties with which he serves his king. But he hopes to find men softened, and humbly seeks your audience, bent on performing his due.
HENRY So that in my sight he may furiously spew his wrath against my men, curse and damn them to the inmates of Hell, in order to celebrate proud triumphs over me.
BLOIS To kiss your hand with lowered lips.
HENRY Naturally he seeks this hand, which he denies to have been duly consecrated. But the hand he rejected when it was well-disposed he shall find to be strong as he groans, his neck oppressed. He shall find it just, and he shall acknowledge it to belong to his prince.
BLOIS Kindness will supply whatever beautifies the hand of Henry. This will prove it to be strong, just, and well consecrated with the favor of heaven, and will show it to be yours. See here, great prince, a great harvest of praises summons you, by it you may restore the clergy and your troubled nation and Church. Just give admission to this holy man, prostrate before his prince. Thus you will give the world a noble and enduring monument of your piety.
HENRY If I could subdue this raging old man with his stubborn heart, or banish him far beyond my borders, I could do more to solace England, I could better give pious protection to the Church.
BLOIS It is the mark of a king to grant a ready ear to suppliants.
HENRY And the mark of fools to do so for men of ill will.
BLOIS. It demonstrates an upright heart when a man freely seeks admission to the king.
HENRY When a man treacherously resists yet aspires to a royal audience, this demonstrates an impious heart.
BLOIS Rather he is demonstrating a desire to retract his errant steps, if in any way he gave the first offense.
HENRY The proud prelate is not showing this. Rather, he flaunts his crime before my eyes.
BLOIS In unhappy affairs a meek majesty attracts to itself even an obstinate offender.
HENRY Scepters are ruined. Then at length kings fall to ruin, when the royal pinnacle is shaken by the arrogant. He who makes himself a suppliant with a hangdog look foolishly humiliates himself. Tell your prelate that access to me is denied to his hypocritical entreaties.
AMBASSADOR Since this man’s noble glory, his tested virtue, once sought the presence of my king, now it wrests entreaties from me and makes me a suppliant to you, great-hearted prince. Give your consent to this holy prelate. Every place is safe for virtue.
HENRY How easy rascality deceives pious perceptions, putting on deceit! A false shadow cheats you, feigned virtue has covered over fraud, just as his deceitful crocodile tears formerly misled your king.
AMBASSADOR Perhaps you have received an injury. It is a mark of a lofty character for an injured party to forgive. To maintain a mind that is a match for every evil is the mark of a king, and the essential characteristic of God. Your fortune made you godlike, now let your virtue demonstrate that you are such.
HENRY And it will prove it. God never shows Himself mild to a man who knows no mildness, His avenging hand pursues him from behind. So such shall I be as I pursue Thomas, and I shall do so unless he retracts his step, unless his prostrate fury abandons its hatreds.
RICHARD Why does the prelate’s candid request stir up tumultuous emotions in you? Or in giving your consent what could you fear? Since there is no appearance of evil, it is advantageous to try the experiment. Forbid yourself to grow wrathful, admit Thomas. If he gives any offense, your clemency will turn it to the better. If anything should occur, you will garner undoubted glory and assured honor, no matter what happens to him.
HENRY He who hopes for a sure scepter and carefree days must debar rebels from his presence. I admit Thomas bears no weapons, but his mind is always armed, he searches out furtive avenues for my oppression. Under a feigned expression he deceitfully hides truculent hatreds, which he proves by his deeds. If he loathes me, what good can he bring? For the humble petition of an enemy scarce delights his foe, an enemy’s deadly gift kills albeit he wears a pleasant face. Suppose I were to yield to this petitioner and he were to go away holding amble booty, he would arrogantly proclaim I was idle, defeated, and unable to venture anything after being so often hit by his shafts; that, frightened by his censures and broken by his threats, I bent my neck and offered up my conquered hands. Will Phoebus ever behold such a crime? Will later posterity ever behold such a foul blot on my name and scepter? Oh, may I perish before being bested thus! Meanwhile support your refusing brother, this rebuff proves I am a brother to you, if I yielded to his request I would scarce be your brother. When the Fates call me away, I desire to bequeath you my scepter and government possessed of its full strength. And report this back to your prelate, you man of Blois. If he desires to be safe, if he wants to see my face, let him set aside his anger, let him absolve my bishops, let him be reconciled to them, so he may hope for my grace.
BLOIS You bid me carry these words back to my Thomas? Does my king enjoin such hard things on me?
HENRY Look here, you may soften my words as you see fit, but I would wish you not to lessen their substance.
ACT II, SCENE iii
THE EARL OF LEICESTER
LEICESTER What’s this? Does the boy scorn so great a prelate’s entreaties with a stubborn ear? Does he refuse to hold out his hand for the kissing? Oh our nation’s misfortunes! Oh its bitter fate! From its fertile bosom have issued so many truly pious and Christian sovereigns, and how unlike the descendents its sees cropping up, impious, harsh and fierce! Once England’s scepters shone when they were wielded by men zealous to protect pontiffs with their assured strength, to attend with the greatest honor on prelates of the holy flock, washed with Christ’s ruddy blood. By this flourished the realm’s glory, by this the people’s prosperity, by this piety thrived. But now what madness has overcome their successors! How they are puffed up beyond human limit! And would this were the limit, and not a step towards future crime! For what great crimes will he commit as an adult, who has done these things as a boy?
ACT II, SCENE iv
ST. THOMAS, PETER OF BLOIS
THOMAS What about the king? Has he set aside his wrath, does he favor me more kindly?
BLOIS The mad king spurns the duty of a father who out of pious love wishes to advise the son about his affairs. The savage ram scorns to heed his shepherd’s voice and, his protector rejected, will soon infect all the flock with a plague. In his arrogance he calls you proud. Hard-heartedly unbending, he calls you stiff of neck.
THOMAS Perhaps you aroused the boy’s unschooled heart with provoking quarrelsomeness. Perhaps you did not explain matters as humbly and submissively as I had instructed you.
BLOIS I bore myself as you had commanded me, scarcely as befits a prelate’s nuncio. He conducted himself as his lunacy and blind impulse of mind compels, not as due reverence toward a prelate and piety required.
THOMAS When the world’s mighty Creator, Who was able to create his mind and is able to govern it, shall command, he will exchange his savage nature for a pious one and, repentant of his deed, he will adopt a softer heart towards me.
BLOIS I have no gleam of hope for such a good.
THOMAS The king’s heart is youthful, it is quickly swept to wrath, and, as is youth’s way, the emotion he conceives will soon be set aside.
BLOIS The evil made habitual by usage will be late in banishing what he has long harbored in his breast.
THOMAS But God, moved by suppliants’ prayers, will give him a gentler mind.
BLOIS Rather, provoked by his impious crimes He will exact deserved penalties and hand him over to be punished for his faults.
THOMAS Let us seek to placate His hostile godhead with prayers, so He will soften His stern heart. Thus it will be given us to hope for better things.
BLOIS Would that it would be given us! Up to now, his deeds promise no grounds for hope for better things. Furthermore, the man has a stern martial spirit, harsh, and he delights in savage platoons of soldiery. [Exit.]
THOMAS Use your own prayers to beg him to do so. Yet such a boy does not exceed the reach of the all-controlling divinity’s strong hand, albeit, induced by blind madness, he rushes headlong into crimes. God knows how to tighten loose reins.
ACT II, SCENE v
THE EARL OF KENT, ST. THOMAS
KENT Henry sends his greeting and commands you to return to their altars the dismissed holy prelates who, through no fault of their own, set the crown on his brow and the sacred scepter in his hands, as was their office.
THOMAS Would that I could! The power of the supreme pontiff restrains my own, and since I wear a subordinate miter at his command, I cannot take back a man he suspended from sacred duties.
KENT You have been granted supreme power and authority, you can do it if you wish.
THOMAS Unless they repent and acknowledge their sin, and promise to pay due forfeit for it, offering their obedience to the superior priesthood, I cannot.
KENT Of course these things are owed to you, and you are baffled because they are denied you.
THOMAS They are owed to God, and His goodness, violated by this recent crime, demands grave punishment for such great sin.
KENT Our kindly God demands lighter things, and He forgives.
THOMAS Our just God demands heavier things, and He punishes.
KENT Let their deserted flocks move you, you are a shepherd.
THOMAS Would that their flocks would move their own shepherds!
KENT And so will churches go without their prelates, the people without their shepherd?
THOMAS Prelates, if they are pious, will not be lacking long, they will suppress rebels quickly, adopt submissive minds, and condemn their own deeds. Humbly they will beg for pardon and readily accept a due measure of correction. But if in their obstinacy they do not abandon their undertakings and continue in their actions without turning back, they will lack good men, good men will not desire them.
KENT Moderate yourself, learn sometimes to endure the king’s commands.
THOMAS I am unconcerned, as long as he commands the right.
KENT You will be compelled.
THOMAS I desire it, he will compel me when he commands the right.
KENT You will suffer punishment as a rebel.
THOMAS Yet I shall suffer punishment as an innocent. My mind can scorn royal threats, and it is wont to do so when the paths of righteousness recede.
KENT Rebels fight with this sham, they defend themselves with this device: “timid piety, not fear, overcomes a man.” They are wont to think and think things other than those which always please the just, and their desire is their pleasure. Start to think wholesome thoughts.
THOMAS Feigned piety incautiously betrays itself by its own evidence. I have never had a heart concealed from, or hostile to, the prince, this he knows himself. But say now, Earl, permit me to review the past along with you. Why do you and your confederates refuse to heed me, the appointed metropolitan of our holy things, the servant of Christ, the father of all the realm, your father, the president of the sacred Court, and (which perhaps most moves your mind) a man returned to royal favor? Why have you dared violate the sacred inheritance of the Church by your crime, why have you plundered its goods? Why refuse to return your plunder? Take my advice, Earl, relieve yourself of so great a burden in exchange for better fruit. “Ill gotten gains are soon lost.” They torture and tear at their masters. At length grow wise, while you may.
KENT Seek this when you have performed what has been commanded, when you have proven yourself a pious prelate and an upright subject to your prince. First free your bishops and return them to their altars.
THOMAS Meanwhile you should ponder the pass to which things have come. You are a sufficient burden for yourself, you who are bound by grave anathema. Weigh this to yourself: he who cannot sustain his own cause does ill to undertake another’s.
KENT He preaches this who endured so many years’ flight from obedience, a stranger to his people! You tyrant over bishops, you disgrace to the realm, base, mad, a deserter of your flock, and (which a prelate should most guard against) you slave of the royal Court when it kindly favored you, in your excessive pride you fail to observe the limit of custom. But again, when the unstable Court alters its unsteady courses, you imagine flight itself to be scarce safe, more timid than a deer. Go to the place where once you were an exile and make your compaint.
THOMAS I pray a merciful God may have pity on you. How I would like to give you a little advice out of fatherly love, if madness did not wholly rule your heart! Meanwhile I shall retire, that I may pray to God on your behalf that you peacefully control your mind. (Exit.)
KENT Will he never do better? I’ll burst before achieve anything with him. No anxiety turns him to patience, he overcomes it and grows in his evils. This troubles me, this torments me, that he scorns threats and friendly promises alike. Nothing righteous changes the man’s mind but that which he pronounces to be pious and holy. He is ever exhorting, asking and urging us to be obedient to our prelate, that we should exchange the heavy thunderbolts of future vengeance for better fruit. I prophetically forewarned our kings, unless they nip this evil in the bud before it propagates itself, there would be prince of the Church such as this man is, and this business will have a wretched outcome.
2. For great virtue, enhanced and schooled by countless trophies, to abandon its triumphs in this noble struggle! Now, girding your heart with noble strength, you confront the threats of kings and peers, and, standing with head unbowed, you smile at the thunderbolts which come a-flying with their great crashes, suffering no wound.
3. This man, restraining his ardent zeal and cleaving to proper ways of government, his humility showing forth with eyes down cast, steadfast with composed mien, stands in the middle surveying his foes. And while their mad hearts’ ardor now spews forth furious fires, now shoots the shafts of its perverse tongue here and there, his virtue stands its ground, unmoved. He does not return their fires, in his indignation he does not turn back their missiles against them.
4. Hence Thomas, lofty with his humble heart, is unmoved by the swollen princes’ wrath, nor by curses stained with the Furies’ frenzy. Rather, what that man should regard as a decent token of great love, he humbly insists on using his holy mouth to plant a kiss on that dire hand.
1. He stakes no claim to supreme summits, he is not puffed up with a sense of supreme right, but rather, as when the bright dawn appears, the heliotrope suddenly turns its petals towards its fiery orb and with its humble, loyal head follows its Phoebus wherever he shines, so Thomas, shining with his divine mind, keeps his eyes fixed on heaven and always cleaves to it, wholly shaping his course wherever the glory of the supernals summons him.
Go to Act III