David Bruce: George Peele’s The Battle of Alcazar: A Retelling — Act 4: Prologue, Scenes 1-2

— Prologue —

The Presenter said, “Now hardened is this unfortunate heathen — non-Christian — prince, and strengthened by the arms of Portugal, this Moor Muly Mahamet, this murderer of his progeny, and war and weapons now, and blood and death, attend the counsels of this cursed king, and to a bloody banquet he invites the brave Sebastian and his noble peers.”

Imagine this:

King Sebastian, Muly Mahamet, the Duke of Avero, and Stukeley attend a bloody feast featuring lots of blood, dead men’s heads in dishes, and human bones. The Furies and Death also attend the bloody banquet.

The Presenter continued, “This peerless prince arrived in a fatal hour to lose his life and the lives of many vigorous men, courageous Portuguese, drawn by ambitious golden looks.”

The golden looks were opportunities to achieve one’s ambitions.

The Presenter continued, “Let fame of him no wrongful censure sound.

“Honor was the object of his thoughts, ambition was his ground.”

— 4.1 —

Abdelmelec, Celybin, Zareo, and others met in the city of Alcazar. Celybin was Abdelmelec’s chief scout. Zareo was one of Abdelmelec’s military commanders. Abdelmelec’s army was here at Alcazar.

Abdelmelec said, “Now tell me, Celybin: What is the enemy doing?”

Celybin said, “The enemy, dread lord, has left the town of Arzil with a thousand armed soldiers to guard his fleet of thirteen hundred sail.

“Mustering his men before the walls of Arzil, he found he had two thousand armed cavalry, fourteen thousand foot soldiers, three thousand laborers known as pioneers, and a thousand wagon drivers, besides an almost numberless number of drudges, negroes, slaves, and muleteers, stable-boys, laundresses, and courtesans, and fifteen hundred wagons full of stuff for noblemen brought up in delicate surroundings.”

The Portuguese army was ill trained and ill managed. The noblemen had brought along with them way too many servants and way too many luxurious personal belongings. They were not used to military campaigns and battlefields.

Abdelmelec said, “Alas, good King Sebastian, thy foresight has been small, to come with women into Barbary, with laundresses, with baggage, and with trash, numbers unfit to multiply the soldiers of thy army.”

Celybin said, “Their payment to the soldiers in the camp is surpassingly slow, and food is scarce, with the result that many faint and die.”

Abdelmelec asked, “Where is he marching in all this haste?”

Celybin answered, “Some think he marches here with the intention of capturing this city of Alcazar.”

“To Alcazar?”Abdelmelec said. “Unconstant chance!”

Lady Fortune is fickle, but for whom was King Sebastian’s march unfortunate? For himself and his army because they were not prepared to fight a war, especially when heavily outnumbered? True. But it was also unfortunate for Abdelmelec because he was a good man whom history records as preferring not to fight.

Celybin said, “The brave and valiant King of Portugal quarters his power in four battalions, in the front of which, to welcome us, are placed thirty-six cannon.

“The first battalion, consisting of light-armed cavalry and the garrisons brought from Tangier, is led by Alvaro Peres de Tavero.

“Stukeley commands the left or middle battalion, which is composed of Italians and German horsemen. Stukeley is a warlike Englishman sent by the Pope, and he vainly calls himself the Marquis of Ireland.

“Alonso Aquilaz conducts the third battalion, which mostly consists of German soldiers.

“The fourth legion consists of none except Portuguese soldiers, of whom Lodevico Caesar has the chief command.

“In addition, there stand six thousand splendidly attired cavalry who are ready to fight where need requires.

“Thus I have told your royal majesty how King Sebastian is placed to brave us in the fight.”

Abdelmelec asked, “But where’s our nephew, the Moor Muly Mahamet?”

Celybin said, “He marches in the middle and is guarded on all sides by fully five hundred foot soldiers armed with arquebuses — firearms — and by six thousand useless soldiers armed with pikes.”

Pikes are useful weapons against cavalry, but poorly trained soldiers would not be able to effectively use their pikes.

Zareo said, “Great sovereign, please hear me speak, and let Zareo’s advice now prevail.

“While the time is still appropriate, and while these Christians dare to approach the battlefield with their warlike banners spread, let us quickly with all our forces meet them, and hem them in, so that not a man escape.

“That way, they will be careful another time how they touch the shore of Barbary.”

Abdelmelec’s army was much bigger than King Sebastian’s army, and so his army could surround King Sebastian’s army.

Using the royal plural, Abdelmelec said, “Zareo, hear our resolution.

“Thus our forces we will first dispose.

“Mahamet Seth, my brother, will have a thousand soldiers carrying firearms on horseback — all of them choice harguebuziers, and he will have ten thousand foot soldiers with spear and shield. These shall make up the right wing of the army.

“Zareo, you shall have in charge the left wing. You shall have two thousand light-armed horsemen and ten thousand cavalry.

“The main — center — battalion of foot soldiers carrying firearms, and twenty thousand horsemen in their troops, I myself will have in charge, surrounded by my trusty guard of janizaries, who guard me and are fortunate in war.

“And toward Arzil we will make our way.

“If, then, our enemy will balk our force and not fight, then in God’s name let him — it will be the best thing for him.

“But if he aims at the walls of Alcazar, then beat him back with bullets as thick as hail and make him know and regret his recklessness — the recklessness of him who rashly seeks the ruin of this land.”

— 4.2 —

King Sebastian, the Duke of Avero, and Stukeley talked together in the Portuguese camp north of the city of Alcazar.Others were present.

King Sebastian said, “Why, tell me, lords, why did you leave Portugal and cross the seas with us to Barbary? Was it to see the country and no more, or else to flee before you were attacked?

“I am ashamed to think that such as you, whose deeds have been renowned heretofore, should slack in such an act of consequence. We come to fight, and vow to die fighting, or else to win the thing for which we came.

“Because Abdelmelec, as if he were pitying us, sends us messages to counsel quietness, you stand stunned, and think it sound advice. As if our enemy would wish us any good.

“No, let him know we scorn his ‘courtesy’ and we will resist his forces whatsoever. Cast fear aside. I myself will lead the way and make a passage with my conquering sword, knee-deep in the blood of these accursed Moors; all they who love my honor, follow me.

“If you were as resolute as is your king, the walls of Alcazar would fall before your face, and all the force of this lord of Barbary — Abdelmelec — would be destroyed, even if it were ten times more than it is.”

The Duke of Avero said, “So well do these words suit a kingly mouth that they are persuasive enough to make a coward fight. But when advice and prudent foresight are joined with such magnanimity, trophies of victory and kingly spoils inevitably adorn his crown, his kingdom, and his fame.”

Bearing news, Christopher de Tavora, Don de Menysis, and Hercules entered the scene.

Hercules said, “We have seen upon the mountaintops a huge company of invading Moors, and they, my lord, will fall upon our heads as thick as winter’s hail in a surprise attack.

“It is best, then, at once to take steps to avoid this gloomy storm. It is in vain to strive with such a stream.”

The Moor Muly Mahamet entered the scene.

He said to King Sebastian, “Behold, thrice-noble lord, uncalled I come to counsel where necessity commands, and the honor of undoubted victory makes me exclaim upon this dastard flight.

“Why, King Sebastian, will thou now delay, and let so great a glory slip from thy hands?

“Let’s say that you march to Larissa now. The forces of the foe have come so near that the foe will block the passage across the river, and so unexpectedly you will be forced to fight.”

Larissa was a port town about a dozen miles away.

The Moor Muly Mahamet continued, “But know, king, and know, thrice-valiant lords, that a few blows will serve to achieve victory. I ask but only this, that with your army you march into the battlefield.

“For now all the opposing army is resolute to leave the traitor Abdelmelec helpless in the fight and fly to me as to their rightful prince.

“Some cavalry have led the way by already deserting the traitor, and they vow that their companions will do the same.

“The enemy army is full of tumult and of fear.

“So then as you have come to plant me in my throne, and to enlarge your fame in Africa, now — now or never — bravely execute your sound and honorable resolution, and end this war together with the life of Abdelmelec, who usurps the crown with tyranny.”

King Sebastian said, “Captains, you hear the reasons of the King of Morocco, the Moor Muly Mahamet, which so effectually have pierced my ears that I am fully resolute to fight, and whoever refuses now to follow me, let him be forever accounted cowardly.”

The Duke of Avero said, “May shame be the share of that man who flees when kings fight! I, the Duke of Avero, lay my life before your feet.”

Stukeley said, “As for my part, lords, I cannot sell my blood dearer than in the company of kings.”

Everyone exited except the Moor Muly Mahamet.

He said, “Now I have set these Portuguese to work cutting a path for me to the crown of Morocco. If they don’t do that, then they will dig their graves with their weapons here.

“You bastards of the Night and Erebus, you fiends — you Furies — you hags that fight in beds of steel, range through this army with your iron whips, drive forward to this deed this Christian crew, and let me triumph in the tragedy, even if it is sealed and honored with the blood both of the King of Portugal and of the barbarous MoorAbdelmelec.”

The Furies fight in beds of steel. The steel is their armor, which they sleep in.

The Moor Muly Mahamet continued, “Ride, Nemesis, goddess of vengeance, ride in thy fiery cart, and sprinkle gore among these men of war, so that either party, eager for revenge, may honor thee with the sacrifice of death.

“And Nemesis, having bathed thy chariot-wheels in blood, descend and take to thy tormenting hell the mangled body of that traitor-king Abdelmelec, who scorns the power and force of the King of Portugal.

“Then let the earth discover to his ghost such tortures as usurpers feel below.

“Let him be racked in proud Ixion’s wheel.”

In the Land of the Dead, Ixion is bound on a flaming wheel that constantly spins.

The Moor Muly Mahamet continued, “Let him be tormented with Tantalus’ endless thirst.”

In the Land of the Dead, Tantalus stands in a stream of water with fruit-bearing branches above his head. Whenever he stoops to drink, the water level lowers and the stream dries up. Whenever he reaches for fruit to eat, the wind blows the branches just out of his reach. He is forever thirsty and hungry, and water and fruit are always just out of his possession.

The Moor Muly Mahamet continued, “Let him be prey to Tityus’ greedy bird.”

In the Land of the Dead,Tityus has been sentenced to lie chained on the ground as two vultures eternally dig into his body and eat his liver.

The Moor Muly Mahamet continued, “Let him be wearied with Sisyphus’ immortal toil.”

In the Land of the Dead, Sisyphus is punished to forever roll a boulder up a hill. Just as he reaches the top of the hill, he loses control of the boulder and it rolls back to the bottom of the hill again. Sisyphus can never accomplish his goal.

The Moor Muly Mahamet continued, “And lastly for revenge, for deep revenge, of which thou are goddess and deviser, damned let him be, damned, and condemned to bear all the torments, tortures, plagues, and pains of hell.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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