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Full Online Book HomePlaysJohn Woodvil; A Tragedy - Act 2
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John Woodvil; A Tragedy - Act 2 Post by :atisa Category :Plays Author :Charles Lamb Date :May 2012 Read :3782

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John Woodvil; A Tragedy - Act 2

ACT II

(SCENE.--An Apartment in Woodvil Hall.)


(John Woodvil--alone.)

(_Reading Parts of a Letter._)

"When Love grows cold, and indifference has usurped upon old
Esteem, it is no marvel if the world begin to account _that
dependence, which hitherto has been esteemed honorable shelter.
The course I have taken (in leaving this house, not easily wrought
thereunto,) seemed to me best for the once-for-all releasing of
yourself (who in times past have deserved well of me) from the
now daily, and not-to-be-endured, tribute of forced love,
and ill-dissembled reluctance of affection.

"MARGARET."

Gone! gone! my girl? so hasty, Margaret!
And never a kiss at parting? shallow loves,
And likings of a ten days' growth, use courtesies,
And shew red eyes at parting. Who bids "farewell"
In the same tone he cries "God speed you, Sir?"
Or tells of joyful victories at sea,
Where he hath ventures? does not rather muffle
His organs to emit a leaden sound,
To suit the melancholy dull "farewell,"
Which they in Heaven not use?--
So peevish, Margaret?
But 'tis the common error of your sex,
When our idolatry slackens, or grows less,
(As who of woman born can keep his faculty
Of Admiration, being a decaying faculty,
For ever strain'd to the pitch? or can at pleasure
Make it renewable, as some appetites are,
As, namely, Hunger, Thirst?--) this being the case,
They tax us with neglect, and love grown cold,
Coin plainings of the perfidy of men,
Which into maxims pass, and apothegms
To be retailed in ballads.--
I know them all.
They are jealous, when our larger hearts receive
More guests than one. (Love in a woman's heart
Being all in one.) For me, I am sure I have room here
For more disturbers of my sleep than one.
Love shall have part, but Love shall not have all.
Ambition, Pleasure, Vanity, all by turns,
Shall lie in my bed, and keep me fresh and waking;
Yet Love not be excluded.--Foolish wench,
I could have lov'd her twenty years to come,
And still have kept my liking. But since 'tis so,
Why, fare thee well, old play-fellow! I'll try
To squeeze a tear for old acquaintance sake.
I shall not grudge so much.--

(To him enters Lovel.)


LOVEL
Bless us, Woodvil! what is the matter? I protest, man,
I thought you had been weeping.

WOODVIL
Nothing is the matter, only the wench has forced some
water into my eyes, which will quickly disband.

LOVEL
I cannot conceive you.

WOODVIL
Margaret is flown.

LOVEL
Upon what pretence?

WOODVIL
Neglect on my part: which it seems she has had the wit
to discover, maugre all my pains to conceal it.

LOVEL
Then, you confess the charge?

WOODVIL
To say the truth, my love for her has of late stopt
short on this side idolatry.

LOVEL
As all good Christians' should, I think.

WOODVIL
I am sure, I could have loved her still within the
limits of warrantable love.

LOVEL
A kind of brotherly affection, I take it.

WOODVIL
We should have made excellent man and wife in time.

LOVEL
A good old couple, when the snows fell, to crowd
about a sea-coal fire, and talk over old matters.

WOODVIL
While each should feel, what neither cared to acknowledge, that stories oft repeated may, at last, come to lose some of their grace by the repetition.

LOVEL
Which both of you may yet live long enough to discover. For, take my word for it, Margaret is a bird that will come back to you without a lure.

WOODVIL
Never, never, Lovel. Spite of my levity, with tears I confess it, she was a lady of most confirmed honour, of an unmatchable spirit, and determinate in all virtuous resolutions; not hasty to anticipate an affront, nor slow to feel, where just provocation was given.

LOVEL
What made you neglect her, then?

WOODVIL
Mere levity and youthfulness of blood, a malady incident to young men, physicians call it caprice. Nothing else. He, that slighted her, knew her value: and 'tis odds, but, for thy sake, Margaret, John will yet go to his grave a bachelor. (_A noise heard, as of one drunk and singing_.)

LOVEL
Here comes one, that will quickly dissipate these humours.

(_Enter one drunk_.)

DRUNKEN MAN
Good-morrow to you, gentlemen. Mr. Lovel, I am your
humble servant. Honest Jack Woodvil, I will get drunk
with you to-morrow.

WOODVIL
And why to-morrow, honest Mr. Freeman?

DRUNKEN MAN
I scent a traitor in that question. A beastly question. Is it not his Majesty's birth-day? the day, of all days in the year, on which King Charles the second was graciously pleased to be born. (_Sings_) "Great pity 'tis such days as those should come but once a year."

LOVEL
Drunk in a morning! foh! how he stinks!

DRUNKEN MAN
And why not drunk in a morning? can'st tell, bully?

WOODVIL
Because, being the sweet and tender infancy of the day,
methinks, it should ill endure such early blightings.

DRUNKEN MAN
I grant you, 'tis in some sort the youth and tender nonage of the day. Youth is bashful, and I give it a cup to encourage it. (_Sings_) "Ale that will make Grimalkin prate."--At noon I drink for thirst, at night for fellowship, but, above all, I love to usher in the bashful morning under the auspices of a freshening stoop of liquor. (_Sings_) "Ale in a Saxon rumkin then makes valour burgeon in tall men."--But, I crave pardon. I fear I keep that gentleman from serious thoughts. There be those that wait for me in the cellar.

WOODVIL
Who are they?

DRUNKEN MAN
Gentlemen, my good friends, Cleveland, Delaval, and Truby.
I know by this time they are all clamorous for me.

(_Exit, singing._)

WOODVIL
This keeping of open house acquaints a man with strange companions.


(Enter, at another door, Three calling for Harry Freeman._)

Harry Freeman, Harry Freeman.
He is not here. Let us go look for him.
Where is Freeman?
Where is Harry?

(_Exeunt the Three, calling for Freeman._)


WOODVIL
Did you ever see such gentry? (_laughing_). These are they that fatten on ale and tobacco in a morning, drink burnt brandy at noon to promote digestion, and piously conclude with quart bumpers after supper, to prove their loyalty.

LOVEL
Come, shall we adjourn to the Tennis Court?

WOODVIL
No, you shall go with me into the gallery, where I will shew you the _Vandyke I have purchased. "The late King taking leave of his children."

LOVEL
I will but adjust my dress, and attend you.

(_Exit Lovel._)

JOHN WOODVIL (_alone_)
Now Universal England getteth drunk
For joy that Charles, her monarch, is restored:
And she, that sometime wore a saintly mask,
The stale-grown vizor from her face doth pluck,
And weareth now a suit of morris bells,
With which she jingling goes through all her towns and villages.
The baffled factions in their houses sculk:
The common-wealthsman, and state machinist,
The cropt fanatic, and fifth-monarchy-man,
Who heareth of these visionaries now?
They and their dreams have ended. Fools do sing,
Where good men yield God thanks; but politic spirits,
Who live by observation, note these changes
Of the popular mind, and thereby serve their ends.
Then why not I? What's Charles to me, or Oliver,
But as my own advancement hangs on one of them?
I to myself am chief.--I know,
Some shallow mouths cry out, that I am smit
With the gauds and shew of state, the point of place,
And trick of precedence, the ducks, and nods,
Which weak minds pay to rank. 'Tis not to sit
In place of worship at the royal masques,
Their pastimes, plays, and Whitehall banquetings,
For none of these,
Nor yet to be seen whispering with some great one,
Do I affect the favours of the court.
I would be great, for greatness hath great _power_,
And that's the fruit I reach at.--
Great spirits ask great play-room. Who could sit,
With these prophetic swellings in my breast,
That prick and goad me on, and never cease,
To the fortunes something tells me I was born to?
Who, with such monitors within to stir him,
Would sit him down, with lazy arms across,
A unit, a thing without a name in the state,
A something to be govern'd, not to govern,
A fishing, hawking, hunting, country gentleman?

(_Exit_.)


(SCENE.--Sherwood Forest.)


(SIR WALTER WOODVIL. SIMON WOODVIL.)
(_Disguised as Frenchmen_.)


SIR WALTER
How fares my boy, Simon, my youngest born,
My hope, my pride, young Woodvil, speak to me?
Some grief untold weighs heavy at thy heart:
I know it by thy alter'd cheer of late.
Thinkest, thy brother plays thy father false?
It is a mad and thriftless prodigal,
Grown proud upon the favours of the court;
Court manners, and court fashions, he affects,
And in the heat and uncheck'd blood of youth,
Harbours a company of riotous men,
All hot, and young, court-seekers, like himself,
Most skilful to devour a patrimony;
And these have eat into my old estates,
And these have drain'd thy father's cellars dry;
But these so common faults of youth not named,
(Things which themselves outgrow, left to themselves,)
I know no quality that stains his honor.
My life upon his faith and noble mind,
Son John could never play thy father false.

SIMON
I never thought but nobly of my brother,
Touching his honor and fidelity.
Still I could wish him charier of his person,
And of his time more frugal, than to spend
In riotous living, graceless society,
And mirth unpalatable, hours better employ'd
(With those persuasive graces nature lent him)
In fervent pleadings for a father's life.

SIR WALTER
I would not owe my life to a jealous court,
Whose shallow policy I know it is,
On some reluctant acts of prudent mercy,
(Not voluntary, but extorted by the times,
In the first tremblings of new-fixed power,
And recollection smarting from old wounds,)
On these to build a spurious popularity.
Unknowing what free grace or mercy mean,
They fear to punish, therefore do they pardon.
For this cause have I oft forbid my son,
By letters, overtures, open solicitings,
Or closet-tamperings, by gold or fee,
To beg or bargain with the court for my life.

SIMON
And John has ta'en you, father, at your word,
True to the letter of his paternal charge.

SIR WALTER
Well, my good cause, and my good conscience, boy,
Shall be for sons to me, if John prove false.
Men die but once, and the opportunity
Of a noble death is not an every-day fortune:
It is a gift which noble spirits pray for.

SIMON
I would not wrong my brother by surmise;
I know him generous, full of gentle qualities,
Incapable of base compliances,
No prodigal in his nature, but affecting
This shew of bravery for ambitious ends.
He drinks, for 'tis the humour of the court,
And drink may one day wrest the secret from him,
And pluck you from your hiding place in the sequel.

SIR WALTER
Fair death shall be my doom, and foul life his.
Till when, we'll live as free in this green forest
As yonder deer, who roam unfearing treason:
Who seem the Aborigines of this place,
Or Sherwood theirs by tenure.

SIMON
'Tis said, that Robert Earl of Huntingdon,
Men call'd him Robin Hood, an outlaw bold,
With a merry crew of hunters here did haunt,
Not sparing the king's venison. May one believe
The antique tale?

SIR WALTER

There is much likelihood,
Such bandits did in England erst abound,
When polity was young. I have read of the pranks
Of that mad archer, and of the tax he levied
On travellers, whatever their degree,
Baron, or knight, whoever pass'd these woods,
Layman, or priest, not sparing the bishop's mitre
For spiritual regards; nay, once, 'tis said,
He robb'd the king himself.

SIMON
A perilous man. (_Smiling_.)

SIR WALTER
How quietly we live here,
Unread in the world's business,
And take no note of all its slippery changes.
'Twere best we make a world among ourselves,
A little world,
Without the ills and falsehoods of the greater:
We two being all the inhabitants of ours,
And kings and subjects both in one.

SIMON
Only the dangerous errors, fond conceits,
Which make the business of that greater world,
Must have no place in ours:
As, namely, riches, honors, birth, place, courtesy,
Good fame and bad, rumours and popular noises,
Books, creeds, opinions, prejudices national,
Humours particular,
Soul-killing lies, and truths that work small good,
Feuds, factions, enmities, relationships,
Loves, hatreds, sympathies, antipathies,
And all the intricate stuff quarrels are made of.

(_Margaret enters in boy's apparel_.)

SIR WALTER
What pretty boy have we here?

MARGARET
_Bon jour, messieurs_. Ye have handsome English faces,
I should have ta'en you else for other two,
I came to seek in the forest.

SIR WALTER
Who are they?

MARGARET
A gallant brace of Frenchmen, curled monsieurs,
That, men say, haunt these woods, affecting privacy,
More than the manner of their countrymen.

SIMON
We have here a wonder.
The face is Margaret's face.

SIR WALTER
The face is Margaret's, but the dress the same
My Stephen sometimes wore.

(_To Margaret_)

Suppose us them; whom do men say we are?
Or know you what you seek?

MARGARET
A worthy pair of exiles,
Two whom the politics of state revenge,
In final issue of long civil broils,
Have houseless driven from your native France,
To wander idle in these English woods,
Where now ye live; most part
Thinking on home, and all the joys of France,
Where grows the purple vine.

SIR WALTER
These woods, young stranger,
And grassy pastures, which the slim deer loves,
Are they less beauteous than the land of France,
Where grows the purple vine?

MARGARET
I cannot tell.
To an indifferent eye both shew alike.
'Tis not the scene,
But all familiar objects in the scene,
Which now ye miss, that constitute a difference.
Ye had a country, exiles, ye have none now;
Friends had ye, and much wealth, ye now have nothing;
Our manners, laws, our customs, all are foreign to you,
I know ye loathe them, cannot learn them readily;
And there is reason, exiles, ye should love
Our English earth less than your land of France,
Where grows the purple vine; where all delights grow,
Old custom has made pleasant.

SIR WALTER
You, that are read
So deeply in our story, what are you?

MARGARET
A bare adventurer; in brief a woman,
That put strange garments on, and came thus far
To seek an ancient friend:
And having spent her stock of idle words,
And feeling some tears coming,
Hastes now to clasp Sir Walter Woodvil's knees,
And beg a boon for Margaret, his poor ward. (_Kneeling_.)

SIR WALTER
Not at my feet, Margaret, not at my feet.

MARGARET
Yes, till her suit is answer'd.

SIR WALTER
Name it.

MARGARET
A little boon, and yet so great a grace,
She fears to ask it.

SIR WALTER
Some riddle, Margaret?

MARGARET
No riddle, but a plain request.

SIR WALTER
Name it.

MARGARET
Free liberty of Sherwood,
And leave to take her lot with you in the forest.

SIR WALTER
A scant petition, Margaret, but take it,
Seal'd with an old man's tears.--
Rise, daughter of Sir Rowland.

(_Addresses them both._)

O you most worthy,
You constant followers of a man proscribed,
Following poor misery in the throat of danger;
Fast servitors to craz'd and penniless poverty,
Serving poor poverty without hope of gain;
Kind children of a sire unfortunate;
Green clinging tendrils round a trunk decay'd,
Which needs must bring on you timeless decay;
Fair living forms to a dead carcase join'd;--
What shall I say?
Better the dead were gather'd to the dead,
Than death and life in disproportion meet.--
Go, seek your fortunes, children.--

SIMON
Why, whither should we go?

SIR WALTER
_You to the Court, where now your brother John
Commits a rape on Fortune.

SIMON
Luck to John!
A light-heel'd strumpet, when the sport is done.

SIR WALTER
_You to the sweet society of your equals,
Where the world's fashion smiles on youth and beauty.

MARGARET
Where young men's flatteries cozen young maids' beauty,
There pride oft gets the vantage hand of duty,
There sweet humility withers.

SIMON
Mistress Margaret,
How fared my brother John, when you left Devon?

MARGARET
John was well, Sir.

SIMON
'Tis now nine months almost,
Since I saw home. What new friends has John made?
Or keeps he his first love?--I did suspect
Some foul disloyalty. Now do I know,
John has prov'd false to her, for Margaret weeps.
It is a scurvy brother.

SIR WALTER
Fie upon it.
All men are false, I think. The date of love
Is out, expired, its stories all grown stale,
O'erpast, forgotten, like an antique tale
Of Hero and Leander.

SIMON
I have known some men that are too general-contemplative
for the narrow passion. I am in some sort a _general lover.

MARGARET
In the name of the boy God, who plays at hood-man-blind
with the Muses, and cares not whom he catches:
what is it _you love?


SIMON
Simply, all things that live,
From the crook'd worm to man's imperial form,
And God-resembling likeness. The poor fly,
That makes short holyday in the sun beam,
And dies by some child's hand. The feeble bird
With little wings, yet greatly venturous
In the upper sky. The fish in th' other element,
That knows no touch of eloquence. What else?
Yon tall and elegant stag,
Who paints a dancing shadow of his horns
In the water, where he drinks.

MARGARET
I myself love all these things, yet so as with a difference:--
for example, some animals better than others, some men
rather than other men; the nightingale before the cuckoo, the
swift and graceful palfrey before the slow and asinine mule.
Your humour goes to confound all qualities.
What sports do you use in the forest?--

SIMON
Not many; some few, as thus:--
To see the sun to bed, and to arise,
Like some hot amourist with glowing eyes,
Bursting the lazy bands of sleep that bound him,
With all his fires and travelling glories round him.
Sometimes the moon on soft night clouds to rest,
Like beauty nestling in a young man's breast,
And all the winking stars, her handmaids, keep
Admiring silence, while those lovers sleep.
Sometimes outstretcht, in very idleness,
Nought doing, saying little, thinking less,
To view the leaves, thin dancers upon air,
Go eddying round; and small birds, how they fare,
When mother Autumn fills their beaks with corn,
Filch'd from the careless Amalthea's horn;
And how the woods berries and worms provide
Without their pains, when earth has nought beside
To answer their small wants.
To view the graceful deer come tripping by,
Then stop, and gaze, then turn, they know not why,
Like bashful younkers in society.
To mark the structure of a plant or tree,
And all fair things of earth, how fair they be.

MARGARET (_smiling_)
And, afterwards them paint in simile.

SIR WALTER
Mistress Margaret will have need of some refreshment.
Please you, we have some poor viands within.

MARGARET
Indeed I stand in need of them.

SIR WALTER
Under the shade of a thick-spreading tree,
Upon the grass, no better carpeting,
We'll eat our noon-tide meal; and, dinner done,
One of us shall repair to Nottingham,
To seek some safe night-lodging in the town,
Where you may sleep, while here with us you dwell,
By day, in the forest, expecting better times,
And gentler habitations, noble Margaret.

SIMON
_Allons_, young Frenchman--

MARGARET
_Allons_, Sir Englishman. The time has been,
I've studied love-lays in the English tongue,
And been enamour'd of rare poesy:
Which now I must unlearn. Henceforth,
Sweet mother-tongue, old English speech, adieu;
For Margaret has got new name and language new.

(_Exeunt._

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