The Brides’ Tragedy, Act III


An apartment in Orlando’s palace.

HESPERUS seated. Attendants. Enter to them CLAUDIO.

The bridegroom’s here?

Yonder he sits, my lord,
And since the morn’s first hour, without the motion
Even of a nerve, as he were growing marble,
Has sat and watched: the sun blazed in at noon
With light enough to blind an eagle’s ken;
He felt it not, although his eyeballs glared
Horribly bright: I spoke; he heard me not;
And, when I shook his arm, slept on in thought:
I pray you try him.

Sir, good Hesperus,
I wait at your desire; we are to end
Our match at tennis. Will you walk with me?

Your voice is weak as silence to his sense.


My brother, you must join us at the banquet;
We wait your coming long; how’s this?

My lord,
Like trance has held him since the dawn of day;
He has looked down upom yon wood since then,
Speechless and still.


L. Ern.
Now health and good be here,
For I have missed my son the livelong day.
Why, what an idle loiterer thou art;
By this, your vacant sight must ache with gazing
Upon that view. Arise; I’d have you with me,
To fix upon some posy for the ring
You wed your love with. Death! Some fearful change
Is here. Speak; speak and tell me if he lives.

He does, my lord, if breathing is to live,
But in all else is like the coffined dead;
Motion and speech he lacks.

L. Ern.
O heavens! Orlando,
Tell me ’tis false.

I would ’twere in my power,
But it doth seem too true.

L. Ern.
Ride like the wind,
Fetch him the aid of medicine. See you not
Some vision has come to him in the night,
And stolen his eyes and ears and tongue away?


Oh, you are come in time to see him die;
Look, look, Olivia, look; he knows us not;
My son, if thou dost hear me, speak one word,
And I will bless thee.

He is dumb indeed.

Let me come near him. Dearest Hesperus,
If thou behold’st these poor unbeauteous cheeks,
Which first thy flattering kindness taught to blush;
Or if thou hearest a voice, that’s only sweet
When it says Hesperus; oh gentle love,
Speak any thing, even that thou hatest Olivia,
And I will thank thee for’t: or, if some horror
Has frozen up the fountain of thy words,
Give but a sign.

Lady, alas, ’tis vain.

(kneeling) Nay, he shall speak, or I will never move,
But thus turn earth beseeching his dull hand,
And let the grass grow over me. I’ll hold
A kind of converse with my raining eyes,
For if he sees not, nor doth hear, he’ll know
The gentle feel of his Olivia’s tears.

Sweet sir, look on her.



L. Ern.
Kind heaven, let him hear, though death should call him.

[Pause, a clock strikes.

The hour is come.



A room in Mordred’s cottage.


And must I wake again? Oh come to me,
Thou that with dew-cold fingers softly closest
The wearied eye; thou sweet, thou gentle power,
Soother of woe, sole friend of the oppressed,
I long to lay me on thy peaceful breast.
But once I saw thee, beautiful as moonlight,
Upon a baby’s lips, and thou didst kiss them,
Lingering and oft,
(As a wild bee doth kiss a rifled flower,
And clips its waist, and drops a little tear,
Remorsefully enamoured of his prey;)
Come so to me, sweet death, and I will wreath thee
An amorous chaplet for thy paly brows;
And, on an odoured bank of wan white buds,
In thy fair arms
I’ll lie, and taste thy cool delicious breath,
And sleep, and sleep, and sleep.


O here, good mother,
We’ll talk together.

What; of Hesperus?
Methinks he has grown cold.

Oh no; he is
More full of courtship than he ever was;
Don’t think him cold, dear mother, or I may:
I’m sure he loves me still; I’ll go to him,
‘Tis nigh the appointed hour.

My child, it is a chill and gloomy evening,
So go not out. Thy Hesperus will come,
And thou wilt live on every word of his
Till thine eyes sparkle. What means this despondence?

Dear mother, I will strive to be at ease,
If you desire; but melancholy thoughts
Are poor dissemblers. How I wish we owned
The wealth we’ve lost.

Why girl, I never heard
One such regret escape your lips before;
Has not your Hesperus enough?

Too much;
If he were even poorer than ourselves,
I’d almost love him better. For, methinks,
It seemed a covetous spirit urged me on,
Craving to be received his bride. I hope
He did not think so; if he does, I’ll tell him
I will not share his wealth, but dwell with you.
O that he’d come! How each dull moment drags
Its lazy wing along when he is absent.
When was he here?

Last night.

Last night? Now pr’ythee
Don’t jeer me so, I’m sure, not many days;
But all is night when he’s not here to light me,
So let it be last night; although that night
Had days for hours, yet in Love’s book and mine
‘Tis but an empty cypher, a black round.
Oh, I’ve not lived, I’ve not been Floribel
Since the last mellow echo of his voice
Lent the air music; is’t not a sweet voice?
What can you liken to it?

Pan’s honeycomb
Of many vocal cells.

How dull you are;
There’s nought beneath the thunder-choir so grand;
The wood-birds and the waterfalls but mock him.
He said, dear mother, I should be his countess;
To-day he’d come to fetch me, but with day
I’ve laid my expectation in its grave.
Dost think he will deceive me? Silly girl,
Querulous ingrate, why do I torment me?
Sweet mother, comfort.

Be you sure he’ll come
With his whole princely train of friends and kindred,
And he will lift thee to his gorgeous car,
And place thee at his side, a happy wife.

Fie! you cajole me, like a sulky child,
With gilded cars; but oh! I wish ’twere here.
How gloomily the clouds look, and the wind
Rattles among the brown leaves dolefully;
He will be very chill, heap up the fire.
Hush! hark! What’s that?

Only your dear father
Heavily breathing in his sleep; he’ll wake
With his sad smile upon his patient face,
Looking so dear in sickness.

But ’twill cure him,
When he knows all and sees my bridegroom with me,
I know it will: and there’s the horse’s step,
I’ll just run out, it is not cold at all.—

Go, my love,
But you must come to ask your father’s blessing,
And bring your Hesperus with you.

That I will.



A wood.

Enter HUBERT and a Huntsman.

No answer to our shouts but mocking echo?
Where are our fellow huntsmen? Why, they vanished
Like mist before the sun, and left us here
Lost in the briary mazes.

Shame on the rogues
For this their treatment. But look upwards, Hubert,
See what a mighty storm hangs right above us.

The day is in its shroud while yet an infant;
And Night with giant strides stalks o’er the world,
Like a swart Cyclops, on its hideous front
One round, red, thunder-swollen eye ablaze.

Now mercy save the peril-stricken man,
Who ‘mongst his shattered canvas sits aghast
On the last sinking plank alone, and sees
The congregated monsters of the deep
For his dead messmates warring all, save one
That leers upon him with a ravenous gaze,
And whets its iron tusks just at his feet:
Yet little heeds his wide and tearless eye
That, or the thunder of the mountain flood
Which Destiny commissions with his doom;
Where the wild waters rush against the sky,
Far o’er the desolate plain, his star of hope
In mockery gleams, while Death is at his side.


That flash hath rent the heavens; this way for shelter.

Some steps above there stands a noble oak,
That from the sun roofs ever-during night
With its thickwoven firmament of leaves:
Thither betake we.



Hence did I seem to hear a human voice,
Yet there is nought, save a low moaning sound,
As if the spirits of the earth and air
Were holding sad and ominous discourse.
And much I fear me I have lost my path;
Oh how these brambles tear; here ‘twixt the willows;
Ha! something stirs; my silly prattling nurse
Says that fierce shaggy wolves inhabit here,
And ’tis in sooth a dread and lonely place;
There, there again; a rustling in the leaves.


‘Tis he at last; why dost thou turn away
And lock thy bosom from my first embrace?
I am so tired and frightened; but thou’rt here;
I knew thou wouldst be faithful to thy promise,
And claim me openly. Speak, let me hear thy voice,
Tell me the joyful news.

Aye, I am come
In all my solemn pomp; Darkness and Fear,
And the great Tempest in his midnight car,
The sword of lightning girt across his thigh,
And the whole dæmon brood of night, blind Fog
And withering Blight, all these are my retainers;
How: not one smile for all this bravery?
What think you of my minstrels, the hoarse winds,
Thunder, and tuneful Discord? Hark, they play.
Well piped, methinks; somewhat too rough, perhaps.

I know you practise on my silliness,
Else I might well be scared. But leave this mirth,
Or I must weep.

‘Twill serve to fill the goblets
For our carousal; but we loiter here,
The bridemaids are without; well-picked thou’lt say,
Wan ghosts of woe-begone, self-slaughtered damsels
In their best winding sheets; start not, I bid them wipe
Their gory bosoms; they’ll look wondrous comely;
Our link-boy, Will o’ the Wisp, is waiting too
To light us to our grave—bridal I mean.

Ha! how my veins are chilled—why, Hesperus!

What hero of thy dreams art calling, girl?
Look in my face—Is’t mortal? Dost thou think
The voice that calls thee is not of a mouth
Long choaked with dust? What, though I have assumed
This garb of flesh, and with it the affections,
The thoughts of weakness and mortality?
‘Twas but for thee; and now thou art my bride;
Lift up thine eyes and smile—the bride of Death.

Hold, hold. My thoughts are wildered. Is my fancy
The churlish framer of these fearful words,
Or do I live indeed to such a fate?
Oh! no, I recollect; I have not waked
Since Hesperus left me in the twilight bower.

Come, we’ll to our chamber,
The cypress shade hangs o’er our stony couch,
A goodly canopy; be mad and merry;
There’ll be a jovial feast among the worms.
Fiends, strew your fiercest fire about my heart,


Or she will melt it.

Oh, that look of fury!
What’s this about my eyes? ah! deadly night,
No light, no hope, no help.

What! Darest thou tremble
Under thy husband’s arm, darest think of fear?
Dost dread me, me?

I know not what to dread,
Nor what to hope; all’s horrible and doubtful;
And coldness creeps—

She swoons, poor girl, she swoons.
And, treacherous dæmons, ye’ve allowed a drop
To linger in my eyes. Out, out for ever.
I’m fierce again. Now shall I slay the victim
As she lies senseless? ah! she wakes; cheer up,
‘Twas but a jest.

A dread and cruel one;
But I’ll forgive you, if you will be kind;
And yet ’twas frightful.

Why, ’twere most unseemly
For one marked for the grave to laugh too loud.

Alas! he raves again. Sweetest, what mean you
By these strange words?

What mean I? Death and murder,
Darkness and misery. To thy prayers and shrift;
Earth gives thee back; thy God hath sent me for thee;
Repent and die.

Oh, if thou willest it, love,
If thou but speak it with thy natural voice,
And smile upon me; I’ll not think it pain,
But cheerfully I’ll seek me out a grave,
And sleep as sweetly as on Hesperus’ breast.
He will not smile, he will not listen to me.
Why dost thou thrust thy fingers in thy bosom?
Oh search it, search it; see if there remain
One little remnant of thy former love,
To dry my tears with.

Well, speak on; and then,
When thou hast done thy tale, I will but kill thee.
Come tell me all my vows, how they are broken,
Say that my love was feigned, and black deceit;
Pour out thy bitterest, till untamed wrath
Melt all his chains off with his fiery breath,
And rush a-hungering out.

Oh piteous heavens!
I see it now, some wild and poisonous creature
Hath wounded him, and with contagious fang
Planted this fury in his veins. He hides
The mangled fingers; dearest, trust them to me,
I’ll suck the madness out of every pore,
So as I drink it boiling from thy wound
Death will be pleasant. Let me have the hand,
And I will treat it like another heart.

Here ’tis then;

[stabs her.

Shall I thrust deeper yet?

Quite through my soul,—
That all my senses, deadened at the blow,
May never know the giver. Oh, my love,
Some spirit in thy sleep hath stolen thy body
And filled it to the brim with cruelty.
Farewell! and may no busy deathful tongue
Whisper this horror in thy waking ears,
Lest some dread desperate sorrow urge thy soul
To deeds of wickedness. Whose kiss is that?
His lips are ice. Oh my loved Hesperus,


What a shriek was that; it flew to heaven,
And hymning angels took it for their own.
Dead art thou, Floribel; fair, painted earth,
And no warm breath shall ever more disport
Between those rubious lips: no, they have quaffed
Life to the dregs, and found death at the bottom,
The sugar of the draught. All cold and still;
Her very tresses stiffen in the air.
Look, what a face: had our first mother worn
But half such beauty, when the serpent came,
His heart, all malice, would have turned to love.
No hand but this, which I do think was once
Cain, the arch-murtherer’s, could have acted it.
And I must hide these sweets, not in my bosom;
In the foul earth. She shudders at my grasp;
Just so she laid her head across my bosom
When first—oh villain! which way lies the grave?


Enter HUBERT and a Huntsman.

It is a fearful and tempestuous time:
The concave firmament, the angel’s bridge
O’er the world’s day and night, is visibly
Bowed down and bent beneath its load of thunder;
And through the fiery fissures of the clouds
Glistens the warfare of armed elements,
Bellowing defiance in earth’s stunned ear,
And setting midnight on the throne of day.

The roar has ceased; the hush of intercalm
‘Numbs with its leaden finger Echo’s lips,
And angry spirits in mid havoc pause,
Premeditating ruin in their silence.

Hard by should stand a lone and tattered shed,
Where some tired woodsman may by chance be stretched,
Watching his scanty food among the coals;
There may we chafe our drenched and chilly limbs.

The forest has more tenants than I knew:
Look underneath this branch; seest thou not yonder,
Amongst the brushwood and the briary weeds,
A man at work?

My life upon’t some miser,
Who in the secret hour creeps to his hoard,
And, kneeling at the altar of his love,
Worships that yellow devil, gold.

‘Tis buried;
And now he stamps the sod down, that no light
May spy his mistress; with what a doleful look
He marks its grave, and backward walks away,
As if he left his all of sight behind.

Let us steal towards it; I would have a peep
Upon this hidden jewel.



Shall I turn back and try to thrust my soul
In at her lips, and so re-animate
The beauteous casket while this body dies?
I cannot:—not the universe of breath
Could give those little lips their life again.
I’ve huddled her into the wormy earth,
And left the guilty dagger at her side.
Dead Innocence! and must unkindly thistles,
And rank thick hemlock, force their bristling roots
Into thy lovely breast? Fool! Is’t not done?
Why stand I tampering midst the listening winds?
My fears are lying traitors.

[Bells at a distance.

Wedding bells,
Thanks for your merry voices; ye have waked
A sudden hurry round about my heart,
I’ll think it joy. Now for my second bride.



A saloon in Orlando’s palace.

OLIVIA, VIOLETTA, Nurse, and Attendants.

You keep me long: am I not yet attired?
Have ye not tricked me out enough? In faith,
I am so vain to think I need no more.

One moment, madam;
This little necklace, like the marriage yoke
Pleasantly binding, I must clasp around you.

A pretty toy, and prettily disposed;
I have, I know not why, this livelong day
Wept drops enough to bead a thousand such.
Where’s Violetta? Come, look up, my girl,
Make thine eyes sparkle; mine are very moist.

Shake off this sadness, lady, ’tis not meet
At such a moment; think upon your bridegroom,
How his affections seek thee.

Gentle maid,
I’ll not be sad; yet, little Violet,
How long I’ve worn thy beauty next my heart,
Aye, in my very thoughts, where thou hast shed
Perpetual summer: how long shared thy being:
Like two leaves of a bud, we’ve grown together,
And needs must bleed at parting.

No, not so;
I am thy handmaid still; and when your lord
Is absent, as he will be, at the tourney,
The court, or camp, we’ll drive the long hours on
With prattle as of old.

Thanks, I’ll be cheerful;
But joy’s a plant the showers of many sorrows
Must water, ere it bloom. Good nurse, your pardon,
You’ve known me for a froward child before.

Now, on the scanty remnant of my life,
Grief’s an ill wedding garment; if you’d put
One of your rosy smiles on, what a grace
You’d look and be. Why, all these ohs and sobs
Are more like funeral noises.

‘Troth they are,
And ’tis the funeral of that Olivia
You nursed and knew; an hour and she’s no more,
No more the mistress of her own resolves,
The free partaker of earth’s airs and pleasures;
My very love, the poorest gift I have,
(Which, light as ’tis, I thought you all did prize,)
Is not my own. We must be strangers, girls;
Give me your hands and wishes.

There is one,
Old now, and withered, truly we might call it
Yours, and not mine; oft has it brought you food,
Led you, and served you; yet in gladness parts
To make way for a younger and a worthier.

My kind old nurse; nay, now you are forgetting
Your words of cheer; this hand shall never want
Aid while I live, your service will be needful;
My house would seem a strange and dismal place
Without your pleasant looks.

Well, my dear child,
I hope you’ll give my arms a new Olivia;
Blush not; the old will talk.

Whose hand is this
I know not from my own? Young Violet’s?
My beauteous innocence, you must be with me
Oft, as you said: Go to, my nurse forbids
Our weeping.

Don’t chide me then, Olivia,
I’m a sad fool, but do not chide.

A gem
For Friendship’s crown, each drop. My loving maids,
To each a farewell that I cannot speak;
All have my heart, and well can read its meaning.
Henceforth I’ll look upon my maiden years
As lovely pastoral pictures; all of you
Shall smile again ‘neath Memory’s wizard pencil;
The natural beauties that we’ve marked together
Will look you back again; the books we’ve loved
Will talk to me of your sweet-worded praises,
The air of our old haunts whisper your voices;
Trust me, I’ll not forget you.

Dearest lady,
May all the blessings that rain down from heaven
Upon the marriage-bed, descend on yours;
May many children, innocent and fair,
With soft embracements throng about your knees,
Domestic pleasures ever turn your hour-glass,
And, when the long sleep falls upon your eyes,
Content and holy Peace, the twins of Eden,
Draw round the curtain ‘twixt you and the world,
And watch beside you all the dreary night.


A room in Mordred’s cottage.

Enter LENORA supporting MORDRED.

Here let me rest, in my old oaken chair:
My limbs grow faint, and yet, kind, careful nurse,
Your smiles have chased away my pains.

Dear husband,
A thousand thanks for those delightful words;
They bid me hope again and warm my heart.

It renovates the spirit thus to look,
With the clear eye of health and joyousness,
Upon the green creation. But I miss
A smile of hope, the copy of Lenora’s,
That’s wont to light my soul with its rich love;
Where is my peach-cheeked girl, my Floribel?

She will be with us soon; before you woke,
She went to ramble underneath the boughs,
And feed her forest birds; each bower she knows
Of eglantine and hawthorn; now the air
Is calm, she will return.

I hope she may;
Yet who could injure such a holy thing?
The frenzied tempest’s self, had it a will,
Would leave her path secure. My dear Lenora,
There is one thing I wish to see accomplished
Before I die.

What is it, love? And yet methinks ’twere fit
For me still to defer its execution,
And cheat you into living to that end.

Long have I prayed to see her beauty growing
Under some worthy husband’s firm protection.

What if she be already wedded?

That cannot be, she would have told unto me
The first emotions of her infant love;
She never had a thought concealed from me,
Even her slightest. ‘Tis impossible;
And yet you look in earnest; speak, and tell me
You only jest.

I speak indeed the truth;
Perhaps I was imprudent not to tell you,
But you were very ill, and, such the match,
You could not disapprove: Young Hesperus—

Lord Ernest’s son!

The same.

I’m satisfied,
My wish is all fulfilled. There’s not a man
Beneath the sun more noble; but his father
Was wont to be a stern imperious lord,
A scorner of the poor.

He did not know it.

He knew it not! That was a sad omission,
Unworthy of a parent; we might rue it.

This night our daughter’s bridegroom
Comes, as his own to claim her, and, ere this,
Doubtless has told the love-tale to his father.

I wish him speedy, he shall find a welcome,
In the poor man’s sole wealth, my hearty love.
Hark! There’s a step.

‘Tis Hesperus’; I know it.

Enter the Huntsman.

Who comes, who is it?

One, whose visage wears
The darkest sadness; such a man I’d choose
For the mute herald of disaster.

Would that my looks could mirror to your soul
The woe, each syllable of which in speaking
Tears through my heart. Alas! your lovely daughter—

What? Speak I pray thee. Has she met with aught?

Bid me die, or my fears.

Enter HUBERT with the body of FLORIBEL.

Here’s all that’s left
Of nature’s rarest work: this lifeless all.
Oh! fall some strange, unheard-of punishment
On Hesperus’ head.

Hesperus, Hesperus; oh!

[Falls back in his chair.

Aye, ’twas his hand that wrought its passage here,
And murdered love in its most sacred temple.

[Lenora takes the body into her lap and sits nursing it.

Alas! he heeds not; he is with his daughter.
Look at this other.

Oh! I cannot bear it;
Leave her, a mother’s agony is holy
As nature’s mysteries.

We’ll to the Duke,
And crush the viper in his nest, before
Report alarm him. Gently, gently tread
And wake not echo in this home of woe.

[Exeunt HUBERT and the Huntsman.

[Sings in a distracted manner.

Lullaby, lullaby, sweet be thy sleep!
   Thou babe of my bosom, thou babe of my love;
Close, close to my heart, dear caresser, you creep,
   And kiss the fond eyelid that watches above.

One touch of those warm lips and then to bed.
Where is my child? I held her in my arms,
Her heart was beating in my bosom. Ha!
It is not she that lies upon my breast,
It is not she that whispers in my ear,
It is not she that kisses my salt cheek;
They’ve stolen her from my couch and left this changeling,
Men call Despair—and she it is I suckle.
I know her by her killing lips of snow,
Her watery eye-balls and her tear-swoll’n cheeks.
My Floribel! oh they have ta’en her soul
To make a second spring of it, to keep
The jarring spheres in melody. Come, husband,
We’ll wander up and down this wintry world,
And, if we see a sadder sight than this,
Or hear a tale, though false, of half such horror,
We’ll closely hug our bosom-griefs in transport.
Why, husband! You’re asleep—you’re deaf—you’re dead!
I have not eyes enough to weep for both,
But I’ll go steal the sleeping world’s, and beg
A little dew from every sipping worm
To wet my cheeks with.

[Kelsall, 1851]