David Bruce: George Peele’s DAVID AND BATHSHEBA, AND THE TRAGEDY OF ABSALOM: A Retelling — Scene 15, Chorus 2, Scene 16

— Scene 15 —

The battle, which had taken place by the Wood of Ephraim, was over. Absalom’s army had lost, and he had attempted to escape by riding away on a mule. But his long hair got caught in the branches of a tree, the mule kept going, and Absalom was left hanging by his hair.

Absalom said to himself, “What angry angel, sitting in these shadows, has laid his cruel hands upon my hair and holds my body thus between Heaven and earth?

“Has Absalom no soldier near his handwho may untwine for me this unpleasant curl, or wound and cut this tree that seizes his lord?”

One of his soldiers could untangle and release his hair or cut off the branches that held Absalom’s hair.

Absalom did not mention cutting his hair in order to be released.

“Oh, God, see the glory of Thy hand, and the choicest fruit of nature’s workmanship, hang, like a rotten branch, upon this tree, fit for the axe and ready for the fire!

“Since thou withhold all ordinary help to release my body from this bond of death, oh, let my beauty fill these senseless plants with the sense and power to release me from this plague, and work some wonder to prevent the death of Absalom, whose life thou made a special miracle!”

Joab and one of his soldiers entered the scene.

The soldier said to Joab, “My lord, I saw the young Prince Absalom hanging by the hair upon a shady oak, and he could by no means get himself freed.”

Joab asked, “Why didn’t thou slay the wicked Absalom, that rebel to his father and to Heaven, so that I might have given thee for thy pains ten silver shekels and a golden belt?”

The soldier replied, “Not for a thousand shekels would I slay the son of King David. Absalom’s father ordered that neither thou, nor Abisai, nor the son of Gath — Ithay — should touch Absalom with the stroke of deadly violence. King David’s order was given in the hearing of us all, and, if I had done it, then, I know, thou thyself, before thou would abide and suffer the king’s rebuke, would have accused me as a man of death. I would have been executed immediately.”

Joab said, “I must not now stand trifling here with thee.”

As a military man, Joab knew that some rebels, despite being pardoned, rebel again.

Absalom begged, “Help, Joab, help, oh, help thy Absalom! Let not thy angry thoughts be laid in blood, in the blood of him who in former times cherished and nourished thee, and softened thy sweet heart with friendly love.

“Oh, give me once again my father’s sight, my dearest father and my princely sovereign, so that, as I shed tears of blood from my wounded heart before his face, the ground may witness, and the heavens record, my last submission perfect and full of pity.”

Joab replied, “Rebel to nature, hate to Heaven and earth! Shall I give help to him who thirsts after the soul of his dear father and my sovereign lord? Now see, the Lord has tangled in a tree the health and glory of thy stubborn heart, and made thy pride curbed with a plant that lacks the senses of an animal.

“Now, Absalom, how does the Lord regard the beauty whereupon thy hope was built, and which thou thought God’s grace did glory in?

“Don’t thou find now, with fear of instant death, that God does not love any superficially handsome body or superficially handsome face, when the valuable soul, which ought to be virtuous, is stuffed with nothing but pride and stubbornness?

“But I am preaching to thee while I should revenge thycursed sin that stained Israel and makes her fields blush with her children’s blood!

“Take that as part of thy deserved plague, which worthily no torment can inflict. You deserve to be punished so much more than this.”

Joab stabbed Absalom with a spear.

Absalom cried, “Oh, Joab, Joab, cruel, ruthless Joab! Herewith thou wound thy kingly sovereign’s — David’s — heart, whose heavenly temper hates the sight of his children’s blood, and who will be sick, I know, for Absalom.”

He addressed his absent father: “Oh, my dear father, I wish that thy melting eyes might pierce this thicket to behold thy son, thy dearest son, gored with a mortal spear!”

He then said, “Yet, Joab, pity me. Pity my father, Joab. Pity the distress of the soul of him who mourns my life, and who will die, I know, when he hears of my death.”

Joab said, “If he were so compassionate about thy condition, why did he send me against thee with the sword? All Joab intends to do to give thee pleasure is to dispatch and kill thee quickly and thus stop thy pain.

“Absalom, believe that Joab’s pity is in this; in this, proud Absalom, is Joab’s love for thee.”

Joab stabbed Absalom again and then exited with the soldier.

Absalom said, “Such love, such pity may Israel’s God send thee, Joab, and for His — God’s — love to David pity me!”

He again addressed his absent father: “Ah, my dear father, see thy bowels bleed. See death assault thy dearest Absalom. See, pity, pardon, pray for Absalom!”

Five or six soldiers who were enemies to Absalom entered the scene.

The first soldier said, “See where the rebel in his glory hangs.

“Where is the virtue — the power — of thy beauty, Absalom? Will any of us here now fear thy looks, or be in love with thy golden hair wherein was wrapped rebellion against thy sire, and ropes prepared to stop thy father’s breath?”

The image was of Absalom intending to strangle his father with his — Absalom’s — long hair.

“Our captain Joab has begun to pledge a drink to us, and here’s an end to thee and all thy sins.”

By wounding Absalom, it was as if Joab had began to drink a toast to his soldiers’ health. With Absalom dead, the rebellion would be over, and King David’s soldiers would no longer die in the battles of civil war.

The soldiers stabbed Absalom, who died.

The first soldier said, “Come, let us take the beautiful rebel down, and in some ditch in the midst of this dark wood,let us bury his body beneath a heap of stones. Let us bury the body of him whose stony heart did hunt his father’s death.”

Joab, Abisai, and some soldiers, including a drummer and an ensign carrying the army’s flag, entered the scene.

Joab said, “Well done, brave soldiers! Take the traitor down, and in this miry ditch inter his bones, covering his hateful breast with heaps of stones. This shady thicket of the dark wood of Ephraim shall always and forever scowl on his cursed grave. Night-ravens and owls shall ring his fatal knell and sit exclaiming on his damned soul. There shall they heap their preys of carrion, until all his grave shall be clad with stinking bones, so that the grave may make the senses of every man loathe the sight and stink of his grave.

“So shall his end breed horror to his reputation, and eternal shame to his traitorous deed.”

— Chorus 2 —

The Chorus said this:

“Oh, dread-causing President — God — of His just judgment, Whose holy heart is never touched with compassion solely for fickle beauty or for glorious shapes, but is touched with compassion for the virtue of an upright soul that is humble and zealous in his inward thoughts, although in his face and body he is loathsome and deformed!

“Now, since this story lends us enough abundance to make a third discourse of David’s life, adding thereto his most renowned death, and all the deaths of all those whom at his death he judged, here end we this section, and what here is lacking to please the audience, we will supply with treble willingness.”

Notes:

Actually, King David’s death does not appear in the play or in this retelling of the play.

At this point in the original edition of the play, a few lines of a deleted or accidentally left-out scene or passage appears:

Absalom met with three or four of his servants or gentlemen and said, “What good is it, Absalom, unhappy Absalom, sighing I say what good is it, Absalom, to have revealed a far more worthy womb”

— Scene 16 —

Near the battlefield, trumpets sounded. Joab, Ahimaas, and Cusay marched onto the scene. With them were Amasa and all the other followers of Absalom. Amasa was King David’s nephew, but he had been the leader of Absalom’s army.

Joab said, “Soldiers of Israel, and you sons of Judah, who have fought in these painful and disgusting battles, and ripped old Israel’s bowels with your swords, the godless general of your stubborn arms — Absalom — has been brought by Israel’s helper — God — to the grave: a grave of shame, and the scorn of all the tribes of Israel.

“Now, then, to save your honors from the dust, and keep your hot bloods at a moderate temper by your bones, let Joab’s ensign shelter your manly heads. Direct your eyes, your weapons, and your hearts to guard the life of David from his foes. Error has masked your much-too-forward minds, and you have sinned against the king chosen by God to rule Israel, against his life, for whom your lives are blessed, and you have followed a usurper to the battlefield.

“In that usurper’s just death, your deaths are threatened.

“But Joab pities your disordered and confused souls, and therefore he offers pardon, peace, and love to all who will be friendly and reconciled to Israel’s welfare, to David, and to Heaven.”

Joab wanted Absalom’s former followers to again become faithful followers of King David.

Joab then said, “Amasa, thou are the leader of the army that under Absalom have raised their arms. Now be a captain wise and politic, careful and loving for thy soldiers’ lives, and lead them to this honorable league of friendship.”

If Amasa, the leader of Absalom’s army, were to pledge his loyalty to King David, the defeated rebel soldiers were likely to do the same.

“I will,” Amasa said. “At least, I’ll do my best. And for the gracious offer thou have made I give thee thanks, as much as I give thee thanks for allowing me to keep my head.”

Amasa, who could have been beheaded as punishment for being a traitor, then said to his defeated soldiers, “So then, you deceived poor souls of Israel, since now you see the errors you fell into, now be appeased with thanks and due submission, and as you see my — your captain’s — precedent, here cast we, then, our swords at Joab’s feet, submitting with all zeal and reverence our goods and bodies to his gracious hands.”

Amasa and his defeated soldiers cast down their swords and knelt.

Joab said, “Stand up, and all of you take your swords again.”

All stood up and took their swords.

Joab continued, “David and Joab shall be blessed herein.”

Ahimaas, the son of the high priest Sadoc, said, “Now let me go inform my lord the king about how God has freed him from his enemies.”

“Another time, Ahimaas, not now,” Joab said. “But, Cusay, go thyself, and tell the king the happy message of our good success.”

“I will, my lord,” Cusay replied, “and I thank thee for thy grace.”

He exited.

Ahimaas asked, “What if thy servant — me — should go, too, my lord?”

Joab asked, “What news have thou to bring since Cusay has gone?”

Ahimaas had no new news, but he could go by a route different from the one Cusay took and perhaps get to King David faster than Cusay could.

Ahimaas requested, “Yet give Ahimaas the contentment he would receive by running on so sweet a charge.”

Much of the message was sweet: The army opposing King David had been decisively defeated and the civil war was over. But part of the message was not sweet: Absalom, King David’s rebelling son, was dead.

Joab replied, “Run, if thou will, and may peace be with thy steps.”

Ahimaas exited.

Joab ordered Amasa and the defeated soldiers, “Now follow, so that you may salute the king with humble hearts and reconciled souls.”

Amasa said, “We follow, Joab, and go to our gracious king, and our swords shall honor him to our deaths.”

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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