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  Vortigern Studies > Vortigern > Art & Literature > Play 2 > Act 1, scene 1

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Scene 1.1 Before a monastery

Shout. Enter Vortiger.

Will that wide -throated beast, the multitude,
Never lin
[1] bellowing? Courtiers are ill-advis'd
When they first make such monsters.
How near was I to a sceptre and a crown!
Fair power was e'en upon me; my desires
Were tasting glory till this forked
[2] rabble
With their infectious acclamations
Poisoned my fortune. They will here have none
As long as Constantine's
[3] three sons survive,
As if vassals knew not how to obey
But in that line, like their professions
That all their lifetime hammer out one way,
Beaten into their pates with seven years'
[4] bondage.
Well, though I rise not king, I'll seek the means
To grow as close to one as policy
[5] can,
And choke their expectations.

Enter Devonshire, Stafford.

Now, good lords,
In whose kind loves and wishes I am built
As high as human dignity can aspire,
Are yet those trunks that have no other souls
But noise and ignorance something more quiet?

Nor are they like to be for ought we gather.
Their wills are up still: nothing will appease 'em;
Good speeches are but cast away upon 'em.

Then, since necessity and fate withstand me,
I'll strive to enter at a [straighter] passage.
Your sudden
[6] aids and counsels, good my lords.

They're ours no longer than they do you service.

Music. Enter certain Monks [including Lupus and] Germanus,[7] Constantius being one, singing as [at] precession[, and Aurelius and Uther]. Song.

Boast not of high birth or blood;
To be great is to be good.
Holy and religious things,
Those are vestures fit for kings;
By how much man in fame shines clearer,
He to heaven should draw the nearer,
He deserving best of praises
Whom virtue raises.
It is not state, it is not birth;
The way to heaven is grace on earth.
Sing to the temple him so holy
Sin may blush to think on folly.

Vessels of sanctity, be pleas'd a while
To give attention to the public peace,
Wherein heaven is serv'd too, though not so purely:
Constantius, eldest son of Constantine,
We here seize on thee for the general good,
And in thy right of birth.

On me! For what, lords?

The kingdom's government.

Oh, powers of blessedness!
Keep me from [growing] downwards into earth again;
I hope I am further on my way than so.
[To Monks] Set forward.

You must not.


I know your wisdom
Will light upon a way to pardon us
When you shall read in every Briton's brow
The urg'd necessity of the times.

What necessity
Can be i' th' world but prayer and repentance?
And that business I am about.


Hark, afar off still!
We lose [and] hazard much. Holy Germanus
And reverend Lupus, with all expedition
Set the crown on him.

No such mark of fortune
Comes near my head.

My lord, we are forc'd to rule you.

Dare you receive heaven's light in at your eyelids
And offer violence to religion? Take heed,
The very beam let in to comfort you
May be the fire to burn you; on these knees,
Hardened with zealous prayers, I entreat you
Bring not my cares into the world again.
Think with how much unwillingness and anguish
A glorified soul parted from the body
Would to that loathsome [gaol] return again;
With such great pain a well subdued affection
Reenters worldly business.

Good my lord,
I know you cannot lodge so many virtues,
But patience must be one. As low as earth
We beg the freeness of your own consent,
Which else must be constrain'd, and time it were
Either agreed or forc'd. Speak, good my lord,
For you bind up more sin in this delay
Than thousand prayers can absolve again.

Were 't but my death, you should not kneel so long for't.

'Twill be the death of millions if you rise not,
And that betimes too. Lend your helps,
[9] my lords,
For fear all come too late.

This is a cruelty
That peaceful man did never suffer yet,
To make me die again that was once dead,
And begin all that ended long before.
Hold, Lupus and Germanus, you are lights
Of holiness and religion. Can you offer
The thing that is not lawful? Stand not I
Clear from all temporal charge by my profession?

Not when a time so violent calls upon you.
Who's born a prince is born [for] general
[10] peace,
Not his [own] only; heaven will look for him
In others' business and require
[11] him there.
What is in you religious must be shown
In saving many more souls than your own.

Did not great Constantine, our noble father,
Deem me unfit for government and rule,
And therefore [pressed] me into this profession,
Which I have held strict and love it above glory?
Nor is there want in me; yourselves can witness
Heaven has provided largely for your peace
And bless'd you with the lives of my two brothers:
Fix your obedience there, leave me a servant.

[To Lupus and Germanus] You may even at this instant.

[Constantius is crowned.]

Oh, this cruelty!

Long live Constantius, son of Constantine, King of the Britons!


They have chang'd their tune already.

I feel want
And extreme poverty of joy within me:
The peace I had is parted 'mongst rude men;
To keep them quiet I have lost it all.
What can the kingdom gain by my undoing?
That riches is not bless'd, though it be mighty,
That's purchas'd with the spoil of any man,
Nor can the peace so filch'd ever thrive with 'em;
And if't be worthily held sacrilege
To rob a temple, 'tis no less offence
To ravish meditations from a soul,
The consecrated altar in a man,
And all their hopes will be beguil'd in me.
I know no more the way to temporal rule
Than he that's born and has his year[s] to him
In a rough desert; well may the weight kill me,
And that's the fairest good I look for from't.

Not so, great king: here stoops a faithful servant
Would sooner perish under it with cheerfulness
Than your meek soul should feel oppression
Of ruder cares; such common, coarse employments
Cast upon me your subject, upon Vortiger.
I see you are not made for noise and pains,
Clamours of suitors, injuries and redresses,
Millions of rising actions with the sun,
Like laws still ending and yet never done,
Of power to turn a great man to the state
Of his insensible monument with o'erwatching.
To be oppress'd is not required of you, my lord,
But only to be king: the broken sleeps
Let me take from you, sir; the toils and troubles,
All that is burthensome in authority,
Please you lay't on me, and what is glorious
Receive it to your own brightness.

Worthy Vortiger,
If 'twere not sin to grieve another's patience
With what we cannot tolerate ourselves,
How happy were I in thee and thy charity.
There's nothing makes man feel his miseries
But knowledge only: reason, that is plac'd
For man's director, is his chief afflicter,
For though I cannot bear the weight myself,
I cannot have that barrenness of remorse
To see another groan under my burthen.

[Aside] I'm quite blown up
[14] a conscionable way;
There's even a trick of murdering in some pity.
The death of all my hopes I see already:
There was no other likelihood, for religion
Was never friend of mine yet.

[To Monks] Holy partners
In strictest abstinence, fastings and vigils,
Cruel necessity has forc'd me from you.
We part I fear forever, but in mind
I will be always here; here let me stay.

My lord, you know the times.

Farewell, bless'd souls, I fear I much offend;
He that draws tears from you takes your best friend.

Flourish. [Exeunt all but Vortiger.]

Can this great motion of ambition stand
Like wheels false wrought by an unskillful hand?
Then, time, stand thou too; let no hopes arrive
At their sweet wishfulness till mine set forward.
Would I could stay this [existence] as I can
Thy glassy counterfeit in hours of sand!
I'd keep thee turn'd down till my wishes rose,
Then we'd both rise together.
What several inclinations are in nature!
How much is he disquieted, and wears royalty
Disdainfully upon him like a curse.
Calls a fair crown the weight of his afflictions,
When here's a soul would sing under the burthen!
Yet well recovered: I will seek all ways
To vex authority from him; I will weary him
As low as the condition of a hound
Before I give him over, and in all
Study what most may discontent his blood,
Making my mask my zeal to th' public good.
Not possible a richer policy
Can have conception in the thought of man.

Enter [three] Graziers.

An honourable life enclose your lordship.

Now, what are you?

Graziers, an't like your lordship.

So it should seem by your enclosures;
What's your affairs with me?

We are your petitioners, my lord.

What? Depart!
Petitioners to me! Y'have well deserv'd
My grace and friendship, have you not a ruler
After your own election? Hie to court,
Get near and close, be loud and bold enough,
You cannot choose but speed.


And that will do't,
We have throats wide enough,
[19] we'll put 'em to't.



[1] lin: stop
[2] Constantine: British usurper (406-11 AD), killed by the general Constantius.
[3] forked: two-legged.
[4] seven years': the usual period of apprenticeship
[5] policy: strategy
[6] sudden: immediate
[7] expedition: speed
[8] affection: temperament, disposition
[9] Lend your helps: Vortiger asks Devonshire and Stafford to join him kneeling.
[10] general: i.e., of the general populace. Vortiger has cleverly put the two concepts of peace - Constantius's religious inner harmony and the civil welfare of the kingdom - in opposition, making Constantius's retreat from the temporal world seem ironically selfish.
[11] require: seek, ask for
[12] You may even at this instant: i.e., "Place the crown on his head now."
[13] laws still ending and yet never done: "A reference, presumably, not to Acts of Parliament, like the later Mutiny Act, but to proclamations and ordinances of the Privy Council, which were to take effect for a limited period only, but which were constantly renewed and extended" (Bald).
[14] blown up: shattered
[15] I will be always here; here let me stay: i.e., "In spirit I will always be close to the monastery, but leave me behind in the outside world as you enter."
[16] sing under the burthen: sink under the burthen (Q), which prompts Bullen in the following line to emend "recovered" to "recover't", which is not illogical; but the true of sense of "Yet well recovered" is "but all is not lost," i.e., Vortiger, temporarily frustrated in that Constantius has declined to turn the cares of government over to him, now comes up with the alternate plan of "vexing authority from him." Q's variant also dismisses the pun on "burthen," or burdoun, the low undersong or accompaniment, which was sung while the leading voice sang a melody (cf. The Witch V.ii, As You Like It III.ii, The Two Gentlemen of Verona I.ii), or else the refrain or chorus of a song, a set of words recurring at the end of each verse (cf. The Tempest I.ii).
[17] enclosures: with the pun on "clothes"
[18] speed: be fortunate
[19] throats wide enough: an echo of the scene's opening line

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