David Bruce: George Peele’s The Battle of Alcazar: A Retelling — Act 5: Prologue, Scene 1 (Conclusion)

— Prologue —

The Presenter said:

“May evil fall to him that so much evil thinks, and may evil befall this foul ambitious Moor Muly Mahamet, whose wily schemes with the smoothest flattery of speech have tied and tangled in a dangerous war the fierce and manly King of Portugal.”

Lightning flashed and thunder sounded.

The Presenter continued:

“Now the heavens throw forth their lightning-flames and thunder over Africa’s deadly battlefields. Blood will have blood; foul murder will not escape the whip of retribution.”

Imagine this:

Fame, looking like an angel, hangs three crowns upon a tree.

The Presenter continued:

“At last Fame descends, as Iris did to finish fainting Dido’s dying life.”

Dido, the Queen of Carthage, fell in love with the Trojan Aeneas after Troy fell and the surviving Trojans led by Aeneas made an emergency landing in Carthage. The two had a love affair, and Dido was despondent after Aeneas left Carthage to fulfill his destiny of going to Italy and becoming an important ancestor of the Romans. She committed suicide by falling on her sword, and the goddess Juno sent another goddess, Iris, to cut her thread of life so she could enter the Land of the Dead.

The Presenter continued:

“The goddess Fame descends from her stately bower, and on the tree, like fruit newly ripe and ready to fall, she places the crowns of these unhappy kings, whom formerly she kept in the eye of all the world.”

Imagine this:

Ablazing starappears.

The Presenter continued:

“Now fiery stars and streaming comets blaze, which threaten the earth and princes of the same.”

In this society, comets were regarded as ill omens.

Imagine this:

Fireworks appear in the sky.

The Presenter continued:

“Fire, fire whirls round about the axle of heaven, and from the foot of the northern constellation Cassiopeia, in a fatal hour, consumes these fatal crowns.

Imagine this:

One crown falls.

The Presenter continued:

“Down falls the diadem of the King of Portugal.”

Imagine this:

 The other crowns fall.

The Presenter continued:

“The crowns of Barbary and kingdoms fall.”

The crowns of Barbary were those of the Moor Muly Mahamet and of Abdelmelec. The kingdoms were Barbary under the rule of the Moor Muly Mahamet and Barbary under the rule of Abdelmelec.

The Presenter continued:

“Alas, that kingdoms may not stand stable! And now approaching near the dismal day, the bloody day wherein the armies join in battle, Monday the fourth of August, in the year fifteen seventy-eight, the sun — the brightest planet in the highest heaven — shines wholly on the parched earth.”

People in this society called the sun a planet.

The Presenter continued:

“The heathens, eagerly directed against their foe, begin the battle with much cannon-fire. The Christians with great noise of cannon-shot send angry military attacks against the enemy.

“Listen, and hear how war begins its song with dreadful clamors, noise, and the sound of trumpets.”

— 5.1 —

The battle of Alcazar began. King Sebastian’s Christian army formed a square formation because they were outnumbered. The Christian army fought well at the beginning and forced many soldiers of Abdelmelec’s army, which had surrounded the Christians, to flee. Abdelmelec, who was ill, talked with Zareo, one of his military leaders. A train of attendants was present.

Sitting in his chair of state, Abdelmelec said, “Speak, Zareo, tell me all the news. Tell me what Fury wanders in our camp and has forced our Moors to turn their backs. Zareo, tell me what event predicted this ill, what ill compelled this despicable cowardice?”

Zareo said, “My lord, this is such chance as war provides; war is unpredictable. Such chances and misfortunes as these attend on Mars, the god of battle and of arms.

“My lord, after our fierce cannon-fire we sent our Moors into action with the smaller shot of their firearms, as thick and as quickly as hail follows hail, to charge the Portuguese army. But then the valiant duke, the devil of Avero, the death-dealing bane of Barbary, filled full of blood-lust, broke through the ranks, and with five hundred cavalry, all men-at-arms, eager and full of might, assaulted the middle wing, and put to flight eight thousand of our firearm-bearing foot-soldiers, and twenty thousand Moors with spear and shield, and by so doing the Duke of Avero won the honor of the day.”

Abdelmelec said to himself, “Ah, Abdelmelec, do thou live to hear this bitter process of this first attempt in this battle?”

He then gave orders, “Labor, my lords, to renew our force of fainting Moors, and fight it out to the last.

“Bring me my horse, Zareo!”

He intended to mount his horse and go into battle to rally his troops.

His illness seized him, and he mourned, “Oh, the goal is lost! The goal is lost!

“Thou King of Portugal, thrice-happy chance it is for thee and thine that heaven abates my strength and calls me away.

“My sight fails; my soul, my feeble soul shall be released from prison on this earth. Farewell, vain world! For I have played my part.”

Abdelmelec fell back into his chair of state and died.

As the fighting continued, Muly Mahamet Seth entered the scene. Because his older brother, Abdelmelec, had died, and he was next in line of succession, Seth was now the Sultan of Morocco and so had the title of Muly.

Seth looked at Abdelmelec, realized that he was dead, and said, “Brave Abdelmelec, thou thrice-noble lord! Not such a wound would be given to Barbary even if twenty armies of our men had been put to the sword, as Death, pale Death, with his fatal death-giving arrow has given to Barbary by taking you.

“Abdelmelec, my brother and my king, is dead, whom I might have revived with the good news that I bring.”

Zareo said, “His honors and his insignias Abdelmelec has resigned to the world, and from a manly man, look, in the twinkling of an eye, he has become the senseless stock we see!”

Seth said, “You trusty soldiers of this warlike king, be counseled now by us and take this advice. Don’t let Abdelmelec’s death be reported in the camp, lest with the sudden sorrow of the news the entire army will be wholly discouraged and defeated.

“My Lord Zareo, thus I comfort you. Our Moors have bravely borne themselves in the fight and are likely to get the honor of the day, if anything may be gotten where such loss is present.

“Therefore, we will bring forward my noble brother, wearing this apparel he wore as he died, to the battlefield, and set him in his chair with cunning props to keep him upright, so that our soldiers of Morocco may behold their king, and think he is resting in his tent.”

Zareo said, “Your advice is very shrewd and good.”

Seth said, “Go, then, and see that it is speedily performed.”

Zareo propped the body of Abdelmelec up in his chair.

Seth said to the corpse, “Brave lord, if Barbary recovers from this, thy soul with joy will sit and see the fight.”

The fighting continued, andthe Christians fled. On the battlefield, the Duke of Avero was slain.

On the battlefield, King Sebastian and Stukeley met and talked together.

King Sebastian said, “Don’t thou, Stukeley, oh, Stukeley, see the great dishonor done to Christendom?

“Our cheerful attack thwarted in its springing — growing — hope.

“The brave and mighty prince, the Duke of Avero, slain in my sight. May joy now befall his ghost, for like a lion he bore himself in battle!

“Our lines of battle are now all disordered, and because of our cavalry’s strange retreat our middle wing of foot-soldiers have been overwhelmed.

“Stukeley, alas, I see my error!

“False-hearted Moor Muly Mahamet, now, to my cost, I see thy treachery! I had been warned to beware a face so full of fraud and villainy.”

King Sebastian exited, the battle continued, and two enemy soldiers attacked Stukeley.

In another part of the battlefield, the Moor Muly Mahamet and his young male servant — his page — were fleeing.

The Moor Muly Mahamet ordered, “Villain, get me a horse!”

Thinking that the Moor Muly Mahamet wanted a horse so he could return to the battle, the page said, “Oh, my lord, if you return, you die!”

Muly Mahamet said, “Villain, I say, give me a horse so I can flee — so I can cross the river, villain, and flee!”

His page exited.

The Moor Muly Mahamet said to himself, “Where shall I find some unfrequented place, some uncivilized land, where I may curse my fill, and I may curse my stars, my mother, my unlucky astrological planets, and my wet-nurse, and I may curse the fire, the air, the water, and the earth, and I may curse all the causes that have thus conspired in one, to nourish and preserve me so I can suffer this shame?”

He addressed the astrological star or planet — this society used the terms interchangeably — that had doomed him to suffer ill fortune:

“Thou that were predominate at my birth, thou fatal star, whatever planet thou be, spit out thy bad poison, and all the ill that fortune, fate, or heaven may foredoom a man.”

He addressed others whom or that he blamed for his ill fortune:

“Thou malevolent wet-nurse, guilty of all, and thou mother of my life, who gave birth to me, cursed may thou be for bearing such a cursed son! Cursed be thy son with every curse thou have!

“You elements of which this clay consists — this mass of flesh, this cursed, crazed corpse — destroy, dissolve, disturb, and dissipate what water, fire, earth, and air congealed.”

Amid the noise of battle, the page returned with a horse.

The page said,Oh, my lord, these ruthless Moors pursue you at the heels, and come with full speed to put you to the sword!”

The Moor Muly Mahamet said, “A horse, a horse, villain, a horse! So that I may immediately cross the river and flee.”

The page said, “Here is a horse, my lord, as swiftly paced as the flying horse Pegasus. Mount the horse, and save thyself by flight.”

The Moor Muly Mahamet said, “I will mount the horse, but may I never pass the river until I am revenged upon thy soul, accursed Abdelmelec! If not on earth, then when we meet in hell. Before the grim judges Minos, Rhadamanth, and Aeacus, I will crave combat upon thy ghost and drag thee through the loathsome hellish pools of Lethe, Styx, and fiery Phlegethon.”

He mounted the horse and exited.

Elsewhere on the battlefield, the enemy had wounded Stukeley. With him were Hercules and Jonas, who were angry at him for leading them to Morocco, where they had suffered this loss.

Hercules said, “Stand, traitor, stand, ambitious English-man, proud Stukeley, stand, and don’t move before thou die. Thy eagerness to follow wrongful arms and leave our famous expedition that was intended by his Holiness for Ireland has here been foully betrayed and has tied us all to the ruthless fury of our heathen foe, for which, as we are sure to die, thou shall pay satisfaction with thy blood.”

Stukeley said, “Go away, base villains! Do you reproach me with shame for the infamy of this injurious war when He Who is the Judge of right and wrong determines the outcomes of battle as pleases Him best?

“But since my stars foredoom me to this tragic end that I must perish by these barbarous Moors, whose weapons have made a passage for my soul to break out from the prison of my breast, then you proud malicious dogs of Italy, strike on — to the earth strike down this body, whose mounting, aspiring mind stoops to no feeble stroke.”

Jonas asked, “Why do we allow this Englishman to live?”

Hercules and Jonas stabbed Stukeley.

Jonas continued, “Villain, bleed on; may thy blood run in channels and meet with the blood of those whom thou to death have done.”

Hercules and Jonas exited.

Alone, Stukeley said, “Thus Stukeley, slain with many a deadly stab, dies in these desert fields of Africa.”

He then addressed you, the readers of this book:

“Listen, friends; and with the story of my life let me deceive and not feel the torment of my death.

“In England’s London, lordings, I was born on that brave bridge, the bar that thwarts the Thames River.”

London Bridge had supports that partially dammed the river during the changing of the tides.

Stukeley continued, “My golden days, my younger careless years, were when I touched the height of Fortune’s wheel, and lived in the affluence of wealth and ease and comfort.

“Thus I was in my country carried long aloft, but a discontented humor drove me from there to cross the seas to Ireland and then to Spain.

“In Spain I had welcome and right royal pay from Philip the Second, whom some call the Catholic King. There in Spain Tom Stukeley glittered all in gold, mounted upon his jennet — a Spanish horse — that was as white as snow, shining like the sun-god Phoebus Apollo in King Philip the Second’s court.

“There, like a lord, famous Don Stukeley lived, for so they called me in the court of Spain, until, because of a blow I gave a bishop’s manservant, a strife began to rise between his lord the bishop and me, for which we both were banished by the king.

“From thence to Rome rode Stukeley all ostentatiously, received with royal welcomes by the Pope. There Pope Gregory the Great graced me and made me Marquis of Ireland.

“My tale will be short because my remaining life is short.

“The coast of Italy and Rome I left. I was at the time made lieutenant general of those small forces that sailed for Ireland, and with my companies of soldiers I embarked at Ostia, which is located at the mouth of the Tiber River.

“I spread my sails, and with these men of war in a deadly hour we arrived at Lisbon.

“From thence to this — to this hard exigent — I, Stukeley, was driven to fight or else to die. I was dared to go to the battlefield — I who never could endure to hear Mars the god of war’s drum but he must march.

“Ah, sweet Sebastian, had thou been well advised, thou might have managed arms successfully! But from our cradles we were all marked and destined to die in Africa here.

“Stukeley, the story of thy life has been told. Here breathe thy last, and bid thy friends farewell. And if thy country’s kindness be so much, then let thy country kindly ring thy knell by ringing the bell.

“Now go and in that bed of honor die, where brave Sebastian’s breathless corpse lies.”

King Sebastian of Portugal had died before him.

Stukeley continued:

“Here ends Fortune’s rule and bitter rage.

“Here ends Tom Stukeley’s pilgrimage.”

He died.

In another part of the battlefield, Muly Mahamet Seth and Zareo talked together. A train of attendants and some drummers and trumpeterswere present. The Moroccans had won the battle with a general slaughter of the Christian soldiers.

Muly Mahamet Seth said, “Retreat has sounded throughout our military camp, and now our conquering Moors cease from battle’s fury.

“Pay thanks to heaven with sacrificing fire, Alcazar, and you towns of Barbary.”

Muly Mahamet Seth said to Abdelmelec’s corpse, “Now have thou sat as if in a trance, and seen, to thy soul’s joy and the honor of thy house, the trophies and the triumphs of thy men, great Abdelmelec; and the God of kings has made thy war successful because of the rightness of thy cause, as have the efforts of thy and His friends, whom death and fates have taken from thee.”

He then said about Abdelmelec, “This was he who was the people’s pride, and he who was cheerful sunshine to all his subjects! Now we will have him taken away from here, so that royally he may be buried and embalmed as is fitting.”

He then asked, “Zareo, have you throughout the camp proclaimed what we previously ordered you to have proclaimed?”

Zareo said, “We have, my lord, and we have proposed rich rewards for them who find the body of the King of Portugal. For by those guards who had him in their charge we have learned and understand that he was done to death, and two prisoners, both of them Portuguese, have been set at large to search for and find the body of their royal king.”

Muly Mahamet Seth said, “But you hear no news of the traitorous Moor who fled the field and sought to swim the ford?”

Zareo replied, “Not yet, my lord; but doubtless God will tell and with his finger will point out the place he haunts.”

Muly Mahamet Seth said, “So let it rest, and on this earth we will bestow this kingly corpse of Abdelmelec until we provide further for his funeral rites.”

Zareo took the crown from Abdelmelec’s corpse and put it on Muly Mahamet Seth’s head while saying, “From him to thee as true-succeeding prince, with all allegiance and with honor’s signs, in the name of all thy people and thy land, we give this kingly crown and diadem.”

Muly Mahamet Seth said, “We thank you all, and as my lawful right, with God’s defense and yours, I will keep it.”

Two Portuguese men carried in the body of King Sebastian.

The first Portuguese man said, “As your grace instructed us, right royal prince, we have surveyed the fields and sandy plains, and in the place where the corpses of Portuguese lords was the thickest, we found the corpse of the noble King of Portugal, wrapped in his colors — his royal banner — coldly on the earth, and done to death with many mortal wounds.”

Muly Mahamet Seth said, “Look, here, my lords, this is the earth and clay of him who was a short time ago the mighty King of Portugal!”

He then said to the two Portuguese men, “There let him lie, and in return for finding his corpse, you are free to return from here to Christendom.”

Two other men carried in the corpse of the Moor Muly Mahamet.

The first person said, “Long live the mighty King of Barbary!”

“Welcome, my friend,” Muly Mahamet Seth said. “What body have thou there?”

The first person said, “This is the body of the ambitious enemy who squandered all this blood in Africa, whose malice sent so many souls to hell. I bring the body of the traitor Muly Mahamet, and as if he were thy slave I throw him at thy feet.”

Muly Mahamet Seth said, “Zareo, give this man a rich reward.

“And thanked be the God of just revenge because He has given our foe into our hands — our foe who is beastly, unarmed, slavish, full of shame.

“But tell me, how did this traitor come to his end?”

The first person said, “Seeking to save his life by shameful flight, he mounted on a hotly spirited horse of Barbary, and as he attempted to cross the stream, his headstrong steed threw him from his seat into the stream, where, as he sank often because he lacked the skill of swimming, it was my chance alone to see him drowned.

“By the heels I dragged him out of the pool of water, and hither I have brought him thus defiled with mud.”

The Moor Muly Mahamet was the third of three kings to die on this day of battle, and so the Battle of Alcazar is also known as the Battle of the Three Kings.

Muly Mahamet Seth said, “It was a death too good for such a damned wretch. But since our rage and rigor of revenge is forestalled by the violence of his end, we will do this: So that all the world may learn by him to avoid dragging kings into injurious war, we command that his skin be parted from his flesh and be stiffened and stuffed with straw in order to deter with fright those who see it from any such foul fact or bad attack. Take his corpse away!”

Some attendants carried away the corpse of the Moor Muly Mahamet.

Muly Mahamet Seth then said, “And now, my lords, here are my orders for this Christian king.

“My Lord Zareo, let it be your responsibility to see that the soldiers solemnly march, trailing their pikes and ensigns on the ground as a sign of respect, and with respect to perform the king’s funeral rites.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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