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HENRYI am come to the noble threshold and the house renowned for its holy prelates. From here responses are customarily sought and given amidst doubtful affairs, from here I am seeking responses for my fearful mind, as the apparition bade me do. That fearsome face still hovers before my eyes, still issues sounds, which my timid ear still drinks in. It bad me visit Thomas, he would give me sure relief from my cares. Enter a royal retainer, gasping.
A runner belonging to the nearby king approaches, bringing news. I’ll show him this signet to satisfy his doubtful trust. How much joy this unexpected solace will give the prelate’s troubled mind! With the king bested, Thomas will rejoice, his judgment will fall on men well-disposed. Noise within.
Keep silent, I swear — Hold your feet in silence.
MESSENGER What a crime! Woe’s me! By what escape will you pious saints let me flee this land, savage and bloody with unheard-of crime? Oh savage day, on which I’d rather die! Who will let me be snatched away by the fickle south wind? What old man will make me flying feathers and point the way to heaven? Swiftly may I be borne from here, here where wrath sheds consecrated blood, where it breathes unexpiated sin in churches.
HENRY“Where it breathes unexpiated sin in churches?” Who has violated holy things with his unspeakable hand? Tell me, whoever he is will pay forfeits for his crime.
MESSENGER Oh great prince, let me alone be weighed down by these woes, a royal heart is not equal to so great an evil, barbaric, accursed.
HENRY Tell me, I want to know of this monstrosity, whatever it is.
MESSENGER On the topmost floor of the archbishops’ palace there is a privy place which religious custom preserves for holy men alone, inaccessible to the profane Commons. Here the prelate was wont to make offerings to appease God. Here this — Oh me! Let me grieve in silence, prince.
HENRY Reveal the crime, upon your life.
MESSENGER Here this crime, I say, here this murder happened. I saw the bloody ground soaked with blood. Thomas!
HENRY Take care not to abuse that name.
HENRY Speak up, what happened?
MESSENGER I cannot speak for sorrow.
HENRY Speak up, I warn you.
MESSENGER Here he lies, done in by murder.
HENRY Thomas killed? A prelate and a father? Thomas? Can any savage man commit such a great crime, and under the king’s nose? The fine glories of praises worthy of Henry’s throne and scepter are finished. You have reigned, boy. Base prince, slothful, helpless boy. Thus, thus you are inert. These things befit your leisure, your play and games, you idle fellow. Wake up, my lazy mind, with full fury follow the kindled torch. Either I shall visit this crime with a worthy vengeance, or by a like one I shall die. I admit I am disgusted and ashamed by this, but still I shall hear it. Describe the killing, its means, and all its evils.
MESSENGER If you wish to hear, prince, if it is permitted me to tell. Our crime would be disgraceful for barbaric lands, with his fleeing torch Phoebus never shuddered while looking at so great a wrong. No bosom of earth ever produced the like.
HENRY You are speaking in riddles, cut short this great delay.
MESSENGER Now the time was at hand when the clergy is wont to celebrate Vespers, and the declining day was hastening to plunge its golden head in the waves, when the prelate, joined with all his clergy, was preparing himself. And behold, an armed foe broke down the door, the clerics scattered here and there for fear, and only one companion, a companion in his agony, stood fast out of love for his prelate. The cavernous church range with great noise, with united voices they shouted and called out, bawling that he was an enemy of the commonweal, a bane upon the realm, and a traitor. The prelate kept his silence.
HENRY Deservedly so.
MESSENGER Then they called out “Where’s the prelate? Where’s the prelate?” And he, serene with a placid countenance, alone and fearless, when hear his holy name, with a light murmur said “Here he is.”
HENRY Oh the man’s great heart, worthy of a courageous prelate and of Thomas! Then what cruel soul stained his hand with the murder? Come, tell me.
MESSENGER Then those men, bursting in with a great rush, came in the brazen gates (for the pious archbishop refused to let them be barred), and no reverence for the sacred place, no fear of an offended God, was able to keep them out. The first wound was dealt his companion. For he, seeing a sword levelled against the prelate, blocked the blow with his arm. Then the confederates raged, each man fell to his part of the work they had chosen to do, they grieved that the killing was incomplete. A second man, yet worse, brought both steel and death, and with a stroke cut off the glory of that holy head. The prelate fell with a murmur, with a dying man’s voice offering a prayer for himself, for his people for his enemy, for the clergy. This was the end of the murder, but not of the crime. Next, one after another they slashed at his holy head, much besmeared with blood. This one thrust his hand where before he had inflicted a wound, nor now did the ruffian spare the prostrate man, rejoicing in the horrid crime. And (should I speak to add this?) with his brains dashed out. Oh baleful deed! The vile killers lie in secret lurking-holes. This might have seemed the end of the crime, but they —
HENRY I haven’t the time, hold your tongue. Off with you and your bloody crime, go, run, hurry, fly. Exit Messenger.
Oh the shameful crime! And your name is far more shameful, Henry. Someday this accursed crime will redound on you, someday you will be called a model of crime by your people. Do you think posterity will prize the empty name of king? This worthy crown upon your golden hair? Farewell, you disgrace upon my brow. I prefer a private life, I shall never be reputed the author of the crime at such a price.
CITIZEN 2 A man cannot be called the author of a crime who was not a party to it.
HENRY No man will imagine such a great crime was not a king’s work.
CITIZEN 2 Whoever he is, if he knew you he would deny it.
HENRY Of course, when he knows I was Thomas’ enemy at first.
CITIZEN 1 And that, your hostility put off, you were a pious son of that holy father, a king, a leader.
HENRY In either case this crime will not thus disappear, in this way I will avenge the wrong and show myself to be a king, a leader, and a son to the holy man. Continue, my mind, continue, wholly seethe with passions. If in your ferocity you seek a method for your anger, imitate the murder. The crime cries out for an avenger, but one worthy of the crime.
RICHARD A king’s heart should be more mild even in its rage.
HENRY Great wrath suits an angry sovereign.
RICHARD Even a gentle mind harbors anger, You can be quiet and punish this crime.
HENRY Me be quiet thus! Shall my slothful mind be sluggish when faced with the death of Thomas? He who spares crime commits it. Do you suffer such a spectacle for your prince, citizens? He foretold this who forecast great evil for me, brother, for me whose astonished sick mind failed me. Alas, his prediction of great evil was true, this is the doleful day, this is that doom, my doom will expiate it. On the day I promised myself to enjoy , I have unhappily lost Thomas. Oh Thomas, oh father, I must always mourn. What a prophet he was of calamity impending for your England! So you meet me as you were about to be consulted on my own behalf. I swear by your pious shade, by your spirit that dwells in heaven, affection for you drew me here, I came as a pious man. I was thirsty for your counsel, my earlier rage had subsided, I was obeying the voice of heaven. A humble Henry had decided to visit his father. Woe’s me, a bloody misfortune has taken away my father! Too late I invoke my pious father for the first time, in vain.
RICHARD What sacrilegious man dared commit this crime, disgraceful even for barbaric nations, while a Plantagenet was on the throne? Tell me, men. Why are you silent thus?
HENRY He is the same as an enemy to the king, whoever conceals a person hateful to that king. I swear Canterbury will atone for this insult to the scepter with the blood of many a citizen, because it signifies its approval by its stubborn silence.
CITIZEN 2 This one evil is lacking to your citizens, that, being innocent, they should have to do atonement for the crimes they are lamenting.
RICHARD If the author is revealed, let this evil cease.
CITIZEN 1 If anyone could reveal its author! Applied force had the power. Who was able to surround this holy house with a circle of soldiers? Who was able to dispatch here four men of the Court puffed up with authority and steel, thundering with threats that Thomas was impious, so that we demanded him as a traitor. Let us citizens go, or all Canterbury perishes along with Thomas.
HENRY Sons do not assume their fathers’ guilt. Let a man be pious according to that consideration, an armed England will mourn Thomas, having put on martial cloaks.


Enter Brito, Moreville.

BRITO Who would imagine a mortal heart could contain such sadness, and yet not break?
MOREVILLE And (which transcends the bounds of amazement) who would think a mortal heart could feel such guilt, and yet not break?
BRITO Be still, enough and more of punishment. Alas, the sorrow! Alas, what swift Harpy has snatched my heavy heart with her bloody claws and gnaws at it with piercing teeth? What Fury grips me tight in her clenched hand, and scourges me with her flail-like snakes? Enter Tracy.
TRACY In the name of earth, sky, stars, supernals, infernals, and everything that has ever existed! What am I to suppose this monstrosity of evil portends? It hastens, by greater and yet greater effort it redoubles its name. Yawn open, earth, I pray, and hide me in your deepest caverns, those where no sound will ever reach my ears, where I will never hear mountain ridges, nor deepest vallies, nor the fall of rivers, nor the very rocks reproaching my crime.
BRITO Does an evil worse than our common ills possess Tracy?
MOREVILLE If some worse one possesses him, it awaits us too.
TRACY Does no great horrendous noise terrify you quaking men? I was sitting alone in the shade of a nearby grove, consoling my mind as best I could, scarce thinking, when the name of the murdered prelate Thomas was spoken to me in a voice so low that I, being close, could barely hear it, but the deaf oaks heard it straightway and “Thomas is murdered” rang throughout the whole grove. How my mind foresees some great ill! News will come to the ears of the Roman pontiff, it will denounce us and our crime. Enter Urse.
URSE Alas, unhappy men, flee, lest the whole population abandon us first. It took to its heels as if I could despatch the plague or even death by a single glance.
BRITO And let it flee, Urse. Whoever oppressed with heavy cares ever willingly looked at men living happy days?
MOREVILLE What guilty man is not afraid even to stand near to an innocent?
TRACY Who could bear having faces that bear witnesses to his crime and punishment always in his company?
URSE I don’t object, let everybody flee except you, you partners in my crime and punishment. Let your eternal company remain for me, and mine for you. Let one fortune bear us all whatever it has brought.
THE OTHER THREE Let them remain forever.
TRACY Bring it what it may, one fate will beset us all.
URSE But why should I pile your woes atop my own? Why demand that your joint share be assigned to me? Perhaps my mind dreams it will obtain a measure of relief from your miseries. But sooner would Etna, piled upon Vesuvius, lessen its boil, and Olympus, set on heavy Etna, would by its weight lighten Enceladus’ load.
MOREVILLE Indeed our fate denies us any relief, but it has no further place to fall.
URSE Have we reached the outermost limit of misery?
MOREVILLE The outermost.
TRACY And are we always to trudge over same things with our foot?
MOREVILLE And we are always to trudge over the same things with our foot.
TRACY And will this always oppress me? Always. In Hell there is nothing harsher. Always. Take this away, our minds will easily stand the rest. Why until now have we kept silent about the reason for the torments of our groaning hearts? Should we never let our mouths speak of it? That our weary minds might be even a little refreshed while the sorrow flows from our heart to our lips, then flows back again? Come, let it be expressed. This crime is the cause of all these tortures, and thought I foresee it falling on our heads with an even greater force, let it be expressed. Etna does not always spew forth its flames with impunity, yet still it spews them forth.
BRITO I like your example, let us imitate it right now.
TRACY You fellows damned to dire things, we four men joined our counsel against the archbishop. What fearful evils gather as the Furies prepare them against us!
URSE But sometimes the Furies proclaim their counsels in vain, our own are worse and have gained us an impious end.
MOREVILLE By our great exertion we’ve built a highway for murder by land and sea.
BRITO With our harmful voice we have proclaimed that the father of his nation was his nation’s betrayer.
TRACY But what bold face shall I try to narrate the catastrophe of this unspeakable tragedy? Alas, too late we are ashamed of it. With these swords of ours we cut the precious thread of his life.
URSE Of a sudden, we slaughtered our dear prelate.
BRITO We sons killed our loving father.
MOREVILLE We sheep our watchful shepherd.
TRACY During the highest feast.
URSE In a church.
BRITO At the altar.
MOREVILLE While he was preparing for the service.
TRACY While with his prayer, which knew no rejection, he was humbly approaching God, asking some good for men.
URSE No place but one in all the prelate seemed fit for the wounding. We sought his head, his reverend head. This alone received our swords, here we satisfied our rage.
BRITO A head which wore the highest crown of the English Church.
MOREVILLE A head noble Rome might have wished to have worn the supreme tiara.
TRACY If these and a thousand more reproaches were joined in one, a living man’s tongue could hardly utter them, yet we shall have to endure them. But, comrades, do you wish to end these wretched days in the single way we can?
TRACY No need for swords, we will use our crime alone to gain our death. With your imagination you may supply what is lacking from my words. As it is obvious that our guilt is divided among various persons, by a single stroke of a swift mind, by a single glance of a penetrating intellect, bring it to pass that the guilt, united into one, should break the authors of the crime or crush them with its weight. Come now.
MOREVILLE Farewell, you worst of lives.
BRITO Farewell, final scene of our play, I pray you do not spin out delays.
URSE Oh sweet chill, death’s harbinger, hurry and snuff out this heart.
TRACY Dear death, shut my weary eyes with deep slumber.
BRITO Oblivion, best of evils, pray steal over my senses. Oh peaceful death!
MOREVILLE Death, you deep repose, bring silence at last to my chatterbox of a heart, quell this riot of crime. [The four lie down, in the hope that the weight of their sins will crush them. Nothing happens.]
TRACY How my unhappy mind revives!
URSE And mine. Life is returning to us all.
MOREVILLE Are we dying thus?
BRITO So have we retrieved the spirit hanging from our very lips?
MOREVILLE Does nearby death thus mock its devotees?
TRACY Alas, vain hope! Having heard of our error, Tantalus should be ashamed to complain that the fleeing river’s waters have eluded him, waters he had drunk in his hopes.
URSE This is the power of your advice, Tracy? “There’s no need for swords.” But listen to me for once, men, and draw your weapons.
BRITO Thus we should have done at first.
MOREVILLE In weapons death is sure.
URSE It should shame an armed man either to live against his will or to have to beg for death, let alone be shamefully mocked by a death he has invited.
TRACY For my part, I do not trust my sword now, after other and more powerful weapons have failed. But so that every approach to death may be tried, I too am drawing my sword, which I shall either sheathe in my breast or, if I have girt it on again, disgraced, I swear by the stars — So come then, beware lest you betray your trust.
MOREVILLE Rather, let each of us plunge our swords in one another’s breast, you in mine and I in yours.
BRITO Let it be so, let us fall on each other’s weapons.
TRACY Me fall by another man’s sword? I’ll never suffer that. I committed this crime, with this steel I’ll atone for it.
URSE You’ll atone by our own steel, but by the hand of Moreville. So let’s trade weapons. Thus each man will die by his own sword.
THE OTHER THREE Let’s trade.
TRACY I agree. And you, Moreville, whether you are burning with love’s fires or are provoked by frantic rage, I ask you in the name of your strong arms that you bend all your strength to my killing.
MOREVILLE I promise not to be behindhand in performing a service I’d rather be performed for me.
TRACY I promise to do the same.
URSE Brito, let’s likewise pledge our hands to mutual death. I start by promising you peace with death.
BRITO Then I promise yours. If my hand gives you death, you will fall. Just be sure to cut a portal in this heart so all my life and unhappiness may spill out together.
TRACY As two hostile armies rush at each other when the spirited bugle sounds to arms, we’ll rush together. [Suddenly they undergo a strange transformation.]
BRITO What place is this?
URSE What region?
MOREVILLE Who’s my companion?
TRACY Why this submissive posture?
URSE Why is my heart thumping so unusually fast?
MOREVILLE Why does torpor overcome my languid limbs?
TRACY Who has borne off the spoils, me being conquered. Or why do I have no weapon at my side? I seem to see weapons opposed to weapons, man to man.
MOREVILLE Don’t you see yourself or yours in them? Gather your scattered wits, gentlemen. Behold what a danger we have escaped unawares.
URSE Who has opposed himself to these menacing swords? Or for whom are they preparing death?
BRITO If your mind, altered for the better, recalls its former anger, our weapons, fitted in our hands, were bringing our own death.
MOREVILLE Do you remember this thing, Urse?
URSE Too well, alas, too well.
TRACY We all remember. Fury of mind dictates the worst of plans.
URSE Though it was against our will and we deserved to die, God in His goodness has indulged us with time for penitence.
MOREVILLE We should quickly grasp with this with an eager hand.
BRITO Perhaps it will quickly pass and Hell will demand us for punishment, unrepentant.
TRACY God has not bent our stubborn knees for no good purpose. I acknowledge and obey His will. I am the first to admit your murder, sainted prelate. I admit it and condemn my actions, with my voice testifying you are a true martyr. Though you will give to an undeserving man, yet, being pious, you will give forgiveness to a humble petitioner.
MOREVILLE And favor me too with your grace, indomitable martyr, guilty of the deed and repentant of my sin.
URSE And may your blood, with which our swords drip, have the power to intercede for my guilt.
BRITO Or if this blood of yours does not move your heart, may the blood of the slain Lamb have the power, to this anchor I commit my hope.
TRACY But lest I pour forth feeble prayers in vain, I add this vow. Immediately I shall go to Rome, to the feet of the supreme pontiff. I shall endure whatever punishment he appoints. If any comrade joins me, let him testify his faith, having sworn upon his sword.
MOREVILLE Who would refuse to be joined as your comrade? If I am deceiving you, let this my sword deceive me in battle.
URSE With me cut down, may my enemy bear off my spoils.
BRITO Into these ribs let him plunge his sword.
TRACY Let this be the first step of our pilgrimage.