David Bruce: George Peele’s DAVID AND BATHSHEBA, AND THE TRAGEDY OF ABSALOM: A Retelling — Scene 5 and Chorus 1

— Scene 5 —

In Jerusalem, King David and his trainof attendants met David’s son Absalom.

King David asked, “My Absalom, what are thou doing here alone, and why do thou bear such displeasure in thy brows?”

“Absalom has great cause to be displeased, and in his heart to shroud and conceal the wounds of wrath,” Absalom replied.

“Againstwhom should Absalom be thus displeased?” King David asked.

Absalom replied, “Against wicked Amnon, thy ungracious son, my half-brother and fair Thamar’s half-brother by the king, my step-brother by mother and by that part of his family: Amnon has dishonored David’s holinessand affixed a blot of wanton evil on his throne, raping my sister Thamar when he feigned asickness — a sickness sprung from the root of heinous lust.”

King David asked, “Has Amnon brought this evil on my house, and has he allowed sin to smite his father’s bones?

“Smite, David, deadlier than the voice of Heaven, and let hate’s fire be kindled in thy heart. Flame in the arches of thy angry brows, making thy forehead, like a comet, glare, to cause false Amnon to tremble at thy looks.”

The appearance of a comet in the sky was a malicious omen.

King David continued, “Sin, with his sevenfold crown and purple robe, begins his triumphs in my guilty throne.”

Sin’s sevenfold crown consists of the seven deadly sins: Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth (Laziness), Wrath, Envy, and Pride.

King David was guilty of the sin of lust.

King David continued, “There he sits watching with his hundred eyes our idle minutes and our wanton thoughts, and with his tempting baits, made of our frail desires, gives us the hook that hauls our souls to Hell.”

In Greek mythology, the giant Argus had one hundred eyes.

“But with the spirit of my kingdom’s God, I’ll thrust the flattering tyrant from his throne, and scourge his bond-slaves from my hallowed court with rods of iron and thorns of sharpened steel.

“So then, Absalom, don’t thou revenge this sin. Leave it to me, and I will chasten Amnon.”

“I am content,” Absalom said.

Referring to King David in the third person, Absalom said to him, “Grant, my lord the king, that he himself with all his other lords would come up to my sheep-feast on the plain of Hazor.”

The sheep-feast was part of a sheep-shearing festival.

King David said, “No, my fair son. I myself with all my lords will cause thee too much expense; yet some of my lords shall go.”

Kings travel with large retinues. Feeding, sheltering, and entertaining all these people is expensive.

Absalom said, “But let my lord the king himself take pains to attend. The time of year is pleasant for your grace, and gladsome Summer in her shady robes, crowned with roses and with planted flowers, with all her nymphs, shall entertain my lord, and, from the thicket of my verdant groves, will sprinkle honey-dews about his breast, and cast sweet balm upon his kingly head.

“So grant thy servant’s request, and go, my lord.”

“Let it content my sweet son Absalom that I may stay in Jerusalem, and thou accept my other lords as your guests.”

Absalom asked, “But shall thy best-beloved Amnon go?”

“Why do you want Amnon to go with thee?” King David asked.

“Yet do thy son and servant so much grace,” Absalom requested, not answering the question.

“Amnon shall go, and all my other lords, because I will give grace to Absalom,” King David replied.

Cusay and Uriah, with others, entered the scene.

Cusay said, “If it pleases my lord the king, his servant Joab has sent Uriah from the Syrian wars.”

King David said, “Welcome, Uriah, from the Syrian wars. Welcome to David as his dearest lord.”

Uriah replied, “Thanks be to Israel’s God and God’s grace that Uriah finds such greeting with the king.”

Uriah was relieved that King David did not seem angry at him.

“No other greeting shall Uriah find as long as David governs in the chosen seat and consecrated throne of Israel,” King David said.

King David had been elected — chosen — by God to succeed Saul as King of Israel.

He continued, “Tell me, Uriah, about my servant Joab. Does he with truth fight the battles of our God and for the honor of the Lord’s anointed?”

King David was the Lord’s anointed.

Uriah answered, “Thy servant Joab fights the chosen wars with truth, with honor, and with high success, and, against the wicked King of Ammon’s sons, he has, by the finger — the power — of our sovereign’s God, besieged the city of Rabbah, and taken control of the court of waters, where the conduits run, and of all the Ammonites’ delightsome springs.

“Therefore he wishes that David’s mightiness would raise soldiers in Israel, and come in person to the city of Rabbah, so that her conquest may be made the king’s,and Joab fight as his subordinate.”

King David said, “God and Joab’s prowess has not done this without Uriah’s valor, I am sure. Uriah, since his true conversion from a Hittite to an adopted son of Israel,has fought like one whose arms were lifted by Heaven, and whose bright sword was sharpened with Israel’s wrath.

“Go, therefore, home, Uriah, and take thy rest. Visit thy wife and household with the joys thatavictor and a favorite of the king’s should exercise with honor after battle.”

Uriah replied, “Thy servant’s bones are not yet half so broken down, nor constituted on such a sickly and weak mold, that for so little service he should faint, and seek, as cowards do, the refuge of his home.

“Nor are his thoughts so sensually stirred by the thought of having sex with his wife that he would hold back the arms with which the Lord would use to smite Israel’s enemies and fill their circle with his conquered foes, and instead enjoy the wanton bosom of a flattering wife.”

King David had had sex with Bathsheba, and he was worried that she would become pregnant. Because Uriah had been away from his wife in order to fight for Israel, he would know that he was not the cause of the pregnancy. Therefore, King David wanted Uriah to have sex with Bathsheba so that if she became pregnant he would think that he had caused the pregnancy.

King David said, “Uriah has a beautiful and sober wife, yet young, and framed of tempting flesh and blood.

“So then, when the king has summoned thee from military service, if thou unkindly would refrain from joining with her in her bed, sin might be laid upon Uriah’s soul, if Bathsheba by frailty hurt her reputation.”

In other words, Bathsheba might commit adultery and lose her reputation if Uriah did not go home and satisfy her in bed.

King David continued, “So then go, Uriah, and take solace in her love. She whom God has knit to thee, tremble to loosen.”

Uriah and Bathsheba were united by the knot of marriage; that marriage could fail if Uriah were to loosen the knot that united them.

Uriah replied, “The king is much too solicitous about my comfort. The Ark and Israel and Judah dwell in palaces and rich pavilions.”

The Ark of the Covenant held the two stone tablets on which God had written with his finger the Ten Commandments.

Uriah continued, “But Joab and his brother dwell in the fields, suffering the wrath of winter and the sun: And shall Uriah (of more shame than they) banquet, and loiter in doing the work of Heaven?”

One of the seven deadly sins is sloth. One should be zealous in doing the work of God.

Uriah continued, “As surely as thy soul does live, my lord, my ears shall never lean to such delight, when holy labor calls me forth to fight.”

King David said, “Then be it with Uriah’s manly heart as best his reputation may shine in Israel.”

Uriah replied, “Thus shall Uriah’s heart be best content, until thou dismiss me back to Joab’s bands.

“This ground before the king my master’s doors shall be my couch, and this unwearied armshall be the proper pillow of a soldier’s head, for never will I lodge within my house, until Joab triumph in my secret vows.”

He lay on the ground.

The secret vows were the ones that Uriah had just made. They were secret from Joab because he was not present to hear them. Uriah had vowed to return to Joab and help him triumph over the Ammonites.

King David ordered an attendant, “Fetch some flagons of our purest wine, so that we may welcome home our hardy friend with full carouses to his past fortunes and to the honors of his future arms.”

Wine was usually mixed with water. Undiluted wine was a treat.

He continued, “Then I will send him back to the siege of Rabbah, and I will follow with the strength of Israel.”

King David intended to raise soldiers and go to Rabbah and finish conquering it.

An attendant returned with flagons of wine.

King David said, “Arise, Uriah. Come and pledge the king.”

Uriah said, “If David thinks that I am worthy of such a grace, I will be bold and pledge my lord the king.”

He stood up.

King David said, “Both Absalom and Cusay shall drink to good Uriah and his happiness.”

“We will, my lord, to please Uriah’s soul,” Absalom said.

King David said, “I will begin and make the first toast, Uriah. I drink to thyself and all the treasure of the Ammonites, which here I promise to impart to thee, and I bind that promise with a full draught.”

King David drank.

Uriah said, “What seems pleasant in my sovereign’s eyes, that Uriah shall do until he is dead.”

King David ordered, “Fill his cup.”

An attendant filled Uriah’s cup with wine, and he drank.

King David then said, “Follow Uriah, you who love your sovereign’s health, and do as he has done.”

Absalom said, “May anyone who does not love David, or anyone who denies his authority, thrive badly and live poorly in Israel.”

He then said, “Uriah, here is to the health of Abisai, Lord Joab’s brother and thy loving friend.”

Absalom drank.

Uriah said, “I pledge Lord Absalom and Abisai’s health.”

Uriah drank.

Cusay said, “Here now, Uriah, to the health of Joab, and to the pleasant journey we shall have when we return to the siege of mighty Rabbah.”

Cusay drank.

Uriah said, “Cusay, I pledge thee all with all my heart.”

Because his cup was empty, he said, “Give me some drink, you servants of the king. Give me my drink.”

An attendant filled Uriah’s cup with wine, and he drank.

King David said, “Well done, my good Uriah! Drink thy fill, so that David may rejoice in thy fullness.”

By “thy fullness” King David meant Uriah’s being full with wine. In different circumstances, the words could mean Uriah’s being full of virtue.

“I will, my lord,” Uriah answered.

Absalom said, “Now, Lord Uriah, drink one full draught to me.”

“No, sir, I’ll drink to the king,” Uriah said. “Your father is a better man than you.”

Uriah was becoming drunk. Some drunk people become rude.

“Do so, Uriah,” King David said. “I will pledge thee immediately.”

King David wanted Uriah to be drunker. Some drunk people do such things as forget their vows.

“I will, indeed, my lord and sovereign,” Uriah said. “I’ll for once in my days be so bold.”

“Fill his glass,” King David ordered.

“Fill my glass,” Uriah said, giving an attendant his glass.

“Quickly, I say,” King David said.

“Quickly, I say,” Uriah said.

He was so drunk that he had started to repeat what others said.

He said, “Here, my lord, by your favor now I drink to you.”

Uriah drank.

King David said, “I pledge thee, good Uriah, immediately.”

King David drank.

Absalom said, “Here, then, Uriah, once again for me, and to the health of David’s children.”

Absalom drank.

“David’s children!” Uriah said.

“Aye, David’s children,” Absalom said. “Will thou pledge me, man?”

“Pledge me, man!” Uriah said.

“Pledge me, I say,” Absalom said, “or else thou don’t love us.”

“Do you talk? Do you talk?” Uriah said. “I’ll drink no more; I’ll lie down here.”

King David said, “Instead of lying down here, Uriah, go home and sleep.”

King David’s purpose in getting Uriah drunk was to muddle his thinking so that he would forget his vows and go home to Bathsheba. If being drunk meant he wouldn’t be able to have sex with her this night, he could have sex with her the next day.

“Oh, ho, sir!” Uriah said. “Would you make me break my vows?”

He lay down and said, “Home, sir! No, indeed, sir! I’ll sleep upon my arm, like a soldier. I’ll sleep like a man as long as I live in Israel.”

King David thought, If nothing will serve to save his wife’s reputation, I’ll send him with a letter to Joab to put him in the front lines of the wars, so my purposes may take effect.

If Uriah were to serve in the front lines — the most dangerous position in battle — he could be killed and then King David would be able to marry Bathsheba.

King David ordered, “Help him in, sirs.”

He and Absalom exited.

Cusay said, “Come, rise, Uriah. Get thee inside and sleep.”

“I will not go home, sir,” Uriah said. “That’s for certain.”

Cusay replied, “Then come and rest thyself upon David’s bed.”

“On, afore, my lords,” Uriah said. “On, afore.”

— Chorus 1 —

The Chorus entered and criticized the evil behavior of King David:

“Oh, proud revolt of a presumptuous man, laying his bridle on the neck of sin, ready to bear him past his grave to Hell!”

King David was like a man getting on a horse that was ready to carry him to Hell.

“The death-prophesying raven, which in his voice carries the dreadful summons of our deaths, flies by the fair Arabian spices and Arabia’spleasant gardens and delightsome parks, seeming to curse them with his hoarse caws, and yet stoops with hungry violence to eat a piece of hateful carrion.

“Just like that raven, wretched man, displeased with those delights that would yield a quickening savor — a life-giving aroma — to his soul, pursues with eager and unquenched thirst the greedy longings of his loathsome flesh.

“If holy David has so shaken hands with sin, what shall our baser spirits glory in?

“This king who is giving lust her rein pursues the sequel with a greater ill.

“Uriah in the front lines of the wars has been murdered by the hateful heathens’ sword,and David enjoys his too dear Bathsheba.

“Readers, know that this has happened, and that Bathsheba has given birth to a child, whose death the prophet solemnly does mourn.”

After the death of Uriah, King David married Bathsheba, but the prophet Nathan rebuked King David because of his sin and predicted the death of his child who was conceived in adultery.

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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