David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s RICHRD III: A Retelling in Prose — Act 1, Scene 4

 — 1.4 —

Clarence and Brakenbury, the Lieutenant of the Tower of London, were in Clarence’s cell in the Tower of London.

“Why does your grace look so sad today?” Brakenbury asked.

Clarence replied, “I have passed such a miserable night, so full of ugly sights and ghastly dreams, that, as I am a faithful Christian man, I would not endure another such night even if it would buy me a world of happy days, so full of dismal terror was the miserable night!”

“What was your dream? I want to hear you tell it.”

“I thought that I had escaped from the Tower of London and had embarked on a ship to cross to Burgundy, and in my company was my brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who from my cabin persuaded me to walk upon the deck. From there we looked toward England and remembered a thousand fearful times that had befallen us during the wars of the House of York and the House of Lancaster. As we walked along upon the uncertain and unsteady footing of the deck, I thought that Richard stumbled and, in falling, struck me, who tried to steady him, overboard into the tumbling billows of the ocean.

“Lord! Lord! I thought what pain it was to drown! What a dreadful noise of waters was in my ears! What ugly sights of death were within my eyes!

“I thought I saw a thousand dreadful shipwrecks, ten thousand men whom fishes gnawed upon, ingots of gold, great anchors, heaps of pearls, precious stones, and jewels that were precious beyond anyone’s ability to judge their worth — all scattered on the bottom of the sea. Some lay in dead men’s skulls; and, in those holes where eyes did once inhabit, there were crept, as if in scorn of eyes, reflecting gems, which wooed the slimy bottom of the deep, and mocked the dead bones that lay scattered nearby.”

Brakenbury asked, “Had you such leisure in your time of death to gaze upon the secrets of the deep?”

“I thought I had,” Clarence said, “and often I strove to yield my soul, but always the malignant flood of water kept my soul in my body, and would not let it go forth to seek the empty, vast, and wandering air; instead, the ocean smothered my soul within my panting body, which almost burst in its attempt to belch my soul into the sea.”

“Didn’t you wake up because of this heavy anguish?”

“No, my dream continued after my life ended in my dream. Then began the tempest to my soul, which passed, I thought, over the melancholy River Styx with that grim ferryman — Charon — whom poets write about, and into the kingdom of perpetual night — Hell.

“The first there who did greet my newly arrived soul was my great father-in-law, the renowned Earl of Warwick, who cried aloud, ‘What scourge for perjury can this dark monarchy give false Clarence?’ And then he vanished.

“Next came wandering by a shadow like an angel, with bright hair daubed in blood; and he shrieked out loud, ‘Clarence has come — false, fickle, perjured Clarence, who stabbed me in the battlefield by Tewksbury. Seize him, Furies, and take him to your torments!’”

The shadow like an angel was Prince Edward, whom Clarence had helped kill in the Battle of Tewksbury. Prince Edward was calling on the Furies — ancient Greek avenging goddesses — to torment Clarence.

Clarence continued, “With that, I thought, a legion of foul fiends surrounded me, and howled in my ears such hideous cries that with the noise I awakened trembling, and for a time afterward could not but believe that I was in Hell, such a terrible impression the dream made on me.”

“It is no wonder, my lord, that the dream frightened you,” Brakenbury said. “I promise you that I was afraid when I heard you tell it.”

“Oh, Brakenbury, I have done things that now bear evidence against my soul — things I did for the sake of my brother Edward, and see how he repays me!” Clarence said.

He prayed, “Oh, God, if my deep prayers cannot appease You, but You must be avenged on my misdeeds, yet execute Your wrath on me alone and spare my guiltless wife and my poor children!”

He said to Brakenbury, “Please, gentle jailor, stay by me. My soul is heavy — sorrowful and tired — and I wish to sleep.”

“I will, my lord,” Brakenbury replied. “May God give your grace a good rest!”

Clarence fell asleep.

Brakenbury said to himself, “Sorrow interrupts seasons and the hours for sleeping, makes the night morning, and makes the noontime night. Princes have only their titles for their glories, outward honors for inward toils, and in return for the satisfactions that Princes are thought to enjoy, but do not, Princes often feel a world of restless cares. The conclusion is that, between the titles of Princes and the names of commoners, there’s no difference except the outward fame.”

The two murderers entered the cell.

“Ho! Who’s here?” the first murderer asked.

“In God’s name who and what are you,” Brakenbury asked, “and how did you come here?”

“I am a man who wants to speak with Clarence, and I came here on my legs,” the first murderer replied.

“Must you be so brief?” Brakenbury asked.

“Sir, it is better to be brief than tedious,” the second murderer replied.

The second murderer then said to the first murderer, “Show him our commission; talk no more.”

Brakenbury read the commission and said, “I am by this commission ordered to deliver the noble Duke of Clarence into your hands. I will not reason about what is meant by this because I want to be guiltless and not know the meaning. Here are the keys, there sits the Duke asleep. I’ll go to the King and inform him that I have resigned my charge to you.”

“Do so, it is a wise thing to do,” the first murderer said. “Fare you well.”

Brakenbury departed.

The second murderer asked about Clarence, “What, shall we stab him as he sleeps?”

“No; if we do that, then he will say it was done cowardly, when he wakes up,” the first murderer said.

“When he wakes up! Why, fool, he shall never wake up until Judgment Day.”

“Why, at that time he will say we stabbed him while he was sleeping.”

“The urging of that word ‘judgment’ has bred a kind of remorse in me,” the second murderer said.

“Are you afraid?”

“I am not afraid to kill him, since we have a warrant for it, but I am afraid of being damned to Hell for killing him. On Judgment Day, no warrant can defend us.”

“I thought you were resolute and resolved,” the first murderer said.

“So I am, but not to commit this murder. I am resolute and resolved to let Clarence live.”

“Go back to Richard, Duke of Gloucester, and tell him that.”

“Please, wait a while,” the second murderer said. “I hope my holy mood will change; it usually keeps hold of me only until a man can count to twenty.”

“How do you feel now?”

“Truly, I have some dregs of conscience still inside me.”

“Remember the reward we will get when the deed is done,” the first murderer said.

“By God’s wounds, Clarence dies,” the second murderer said. “I had forgotten about the reward.”

“Where is your conscience now?”

“In Richard, Duke of Gloucester’s purse.”

“So when he opens his purse to give us our reward,” the first murderer said, “your conscience will fly out.”

“Let it go; there’s few or none who will welcome it.”

“What if it comes to you again?” the first murderer asked.

“I’ll not meddle with it; it is a dangerous thing. A conscience makes a man a coward. A man cannot steal, but his conscience accuses him. He cannot swear, but it stops him. He cannot lie with his neighbor’s wife, but it detects him. A conscience is a blushing, shame-faced spirit that mutinies in a man’s bosom; it fills a man full of obstacles. My conscience once made me restore a purse of gold that I found; a conscience beggars any man who keeps it. A conscience is turned out of all towns and cities because it is a dangerous thing, and every man who means to live well endeavors to trust to himself and to live without it.”

“By God’s wounds, my conscience is even now at my elbow, persuading me not to kill the Duke of Clarence,” the first murderer said.

“Arrest the devil — your conscience — in your mind, and do not let him loose; the devil wants to curry favor with you only in order to make you sigh.”

“Tut, I am strong-framed; he cannot prevail with me, I promise you.”

“Spoken like a brave fellow who respects his reputation,” the second murderer said. “Come, shall we fall to work?”

“Hit him on the head with the hilt of your sword, and then we will throw him in the barrel of sweet malmsey wine in the next room and drown him.”

“Oh, excellent plan!” the second murderer said. “We will make a sop of him.”

A sop is a piece of cake or bread soaked in wine.

“Listen,” the first murderer said. “He is waking up and stirring. Shall I strike him?”

“No, first let’s talk with him,” the first murderer said.

“Where are you, jail keeper?” Clarence said. “Give me a cup of wine.”

“You shall have wine soon enough, my lord,” the second murderer said.

“In God’s name, who are you?” Clarence asked.

“A man, as you are,” the second murderer replied.

“But you are not, as I am, royal,” Clarence said.

“Nor are you, as we are, loyal,” the second murderer said.

“Your voice is thunderous, but your looks show you to be a commoner,” Clarence said.

“My voice is now King Edward IV’s, my looks are my own,” the second murderer said.

“How darkly and how deadly do you speak!” Clarence said. “Your eyes menace me. Why do you look pale? Who sent you here? Why have you come?”

Both murderers stuttered, “To, to, to —”

Clarence finished for them, “To murder me?”

Both murderers said, “Yes, yes.”

“You scarcely have the hearts to tell me so, and therefore you cannot have the hearts to do it,” Clarence said. “In what, my friends, have I offended you?”

The first murderer said, “You have not offended us, but you have offended King Edward IV.”

“I shall be reconciled to him again,” Clarence said.

“Never, my lord,” the second murderer said, “so prepare to die.”

“Are you handpicked from out of the entire world of men to slay the innocent?” Clarence asked. “What is my offence? Where are the witnesses who accuse me? What lawful jury has given its verdict to the frowning judge? Or who has pronounced the bitter sentence of poor Clarence’s death?

“To threaten me with death before I have been convicted by the course of law is most unlawful. I command you, as you hope to have redemption by Christ’s dear blood that was shed for our grievous sins, to depart and lay no hands on me. The deed you undertake is damnable — if you commit it, you will be damned to Hell.”

“What we will do, we do upon command,” the first murderer replied.

“And he who has commanded us to do it is the King,” the second murderer said.

“Mistaken wretches!” Clarence said. “The great King of Kings has in the tablets of his law — the Ten Commandments — commanded that you shall commit no murder. Will you, then, spurn and reject contemptuously God’s command and carry out the command of a mere man? Take heed; for God holds vengeance in His hands, and He will hurl His vengeance upon the heads of those who break His law.”

The second murderer said, “And that same vengeance God hurls on you, for false forswearing and for murder, too. You took an oath on the Holy Eucharist to fight on behalf of the House of Lancaster.”

The first murderer said, “And, like a traitor to the name of God, you broke that vow; and with your treacherous blade you laid open the bowels of your sovereign’s son. You fought for your Yorkist brother Edward, and you murdered Prince Edward, the Lancastrian son of King Henry VI.”

“You had sworn to cherish and defend Prince Edward.”

“How can you urge God’s dreadful law against us, when you have broken it in such a significant degree?”

“Alas!” Clarence said. “For whose sake did I do that ill deed? I did it for Edward, for my brother, for his sake. Why, sirs, he sends you not to murder me for this because in this sin he is as deep as I. If God will be revenged for this deed, you should know that He will do it publicly. Do not take the cause of complaint and the punishment for the sin away from God’s powerful arm; God needs no devious or lawless course to cut off those who have offended Him.”

The first murderer asked Clarence, “Who made you, then, a bloody agent, when the finely growing, splendid, lively, and brave Plantagenet — Prince Edward, that Princely youth — was struck dead by you?”

“Who made me a bloody agent? My brother’s love, the devil, and my rage,” Clarence answered.

“Your brother’s ‘love,’ our duty, and your sin,” the first murderer said, “provoke us here and now to slaughter you.”

The brother the first murderer referred to was Richard, but Clarence thought that he meant Edward.

“Oh, if you love my brother, do not hate me,” Clarence said. “I am his brother, and I love him well. If you are hired for a reward, go back again, and I will send you to my brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who shall reward you better for my life than Edward will for tidings of my death.”

“You are deceived,” the second murderer said. “Your brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester, hates you.”

“Oh, no, he loves me, and he holds me dear,” Clarence said. “Go from me to him.”

Both murderers replied, “Yes, we will.”

They meant that after they had murdered Clarence, they would go to Richard and collect their reward for committing the murder.

“Tell Richard that when our Princely father the Duke of York blessed his three sons with his victorious arm, and charged us from his soul to love each other, he little thought of this divided friendship,” Clarence said. “He did not think that the friendship between us three brothers would be broken. Tell my brother Richard to think of this, and he will weep.”

“Yes, he will weep,” the first murderer said. “He will weep millstones instead of tears, just as he taught us to weep.”

“Do not slander Richard, for he is kind,” Clarence said.

“Right, he is kind,” the first murderer said. “He is as kind as snow during harvest time. You deceive yourself. Richard is the man who sent us here now to slaughter you.”

“It cannot be,” Clarence said, “for when I parted with him, he hugged me in his arms, and he swore, with sobs, that he would labor to bring about my delivery from the Tower of London.”

“Why, so he does,” the second murderer said. “Even now he delivers you from this world’s bondage to the joys of Heaven.”

The first murderer said, “Make peace with God, for you must die, my lord.”

“Have you that holy feeling in your soul that you counsel me to make my peace with God, and are you yet to your own soul so blind that you will war with God by murdering me?” Clarence replied. “Ah, sirs, consider, the man who set you on to do this deed will hate you for the deed.”

“What shall we do?” the second murderer asked.

“Relent, and save your souls,” Clarence replied.

“Relent!” the first murderer said. “That would be cowardly and womanish.”

“Not to relent is beastly, savage, devilish,” Clarence said. “Which of you, if you were a Prince’s son, being imprisoned away from liberty, as I am now, if two such murderers as yourselves came to you, would not beg for life?”

Clarence said to the second murderer, “My friend, I see some pity in your looks. Oh, if your eye is not a flatterer, come and be on my side, and beg for me, as you would beg if you were in my distressful situation. What beggar will not pity a begging Prince?”

The second murderer relented and tried to warn Clarence: “Look behind you, my lord!”

The first murderer stabbed Clarence a few times as he said, “Take that, and that. If all this will not kill you, I’ll drown you in the barrel of malmsey wine inside this other room.”

The first murderer carried the still-breathing Clarence out of the cell.

The second murderer said to himself, “A bloody deed, and desperately dispatched! How I would like to, like Pontius Pilate, wash my hands of this most grievous and guilty murder!”

Pontius Pilate had reluctantly allowed the crucifixion of Jesus to take place, but he had washed his hands in an attempt to show that he was not taking responsibility for his act.

The first murderer returned and said to the second murderer, “Hey! Why didn’t you help me to murder Clarence? By Heavens, Richard shall know how slack you have been!”

“I wish that Richard could know that I had saved the life of his brother, but that did not happen!” the second murderer replied. “You take the fee for committing the murder, and tell Richard what I just said, for I repent and I am sorry that the Duke of Clarence has been slain.”

The second murderer exited.

The first murderer said, “I do not repent the murder. Go, coward that you are. Now I must hide Clarence’s body in some hole, until Richard, Duke of Gloucester, makes an order for his burial. And when I have my reward for committing the murder, I must run away, for this murder will out — murders do not remain hidden — and here I must not stay.”

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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