English Literature

Becket and other plays by Alfred Tennyson

Becket and other plays by Alfred Tennyson.jpg


HENRY II. (son of the Earl of Anjou).
THOMAS BECKET, Chancellor of England, afterwards Archbishop of
GILBERT FOLIOT, Bishop of London.
ROGER, Archbishop of York.
Bishop of Hereford.
HILARY, Bishop of Chichester.
JOCELYN, Bishop of Salisbury.
HERBERT OF BOSHAM | friends of Becket.
WALTER MAP, reputed author of ‘Golias,’ Latin poems against
the priesthood
GEOFFREY, son of Rosamund and Henry.
GRIM, a monk of Cambridge.
SIR RICHARD DE BRITO | the four knights of the King’s
SIR WILLIAM DE TRACY | household, enemies of Becket.
JOHN OF OXFORD (called the Swearer).
ELEANOR OF AQUITAINE, Queen of England (divorced from Louis of France).

Knights, Monks, Beggars, etc.


A Castle in Normandy. Interior of the Hall. Roofs of a City seen thro’ Windows.

HENRY and BECKET at chess.

So then our good Archbishop Theobald
Lies dying.

I am grieved to know as much.

But we must have a mightier man than he
For his successor.

Have you thought of one?

A cleric lately poison’d his own mother,
And being brought before the courts of the Church,
They but degraded him. I hope they whipt him.
I would have hang’d him.

It is your move.

Well—there. [Moves.
The Church in the pell-mell of Stephen’s time
Hath climb’d the throne and almost clutch’d the crown;
But by the royal customs of our realm
The Church should hold her baronies of me,
Like other lords amenable to law.
I’ll have them written down and made the law.

My liege, I move my bishop.

And if I live,
No man without my leave shall excommunicate
My tenants or my household.

Look to your king.

No man without my leave shall cross the seas
To set the Pope against me—I pray your pardon.

Well—will you move?

There. [Moves.

Check—you move so wildly.

There then! [Moves.

Why—there then, for you see my bishop
Hath brought your king to a standstill. You are beaten.

HENRY (kicks over the board).
Why, there then—down go bishop and king together.
I loathe being beaten; had I fixt my fancy
Upon the game I should have beaten thee,
But that was vagabond.

Where, my liege? With Phryne,
Or Lais, or thy Rosamund, or another?

My Rosamund is no Lais, Thomas Becket;
And yet she plagues me too—no fault in her—
But that I fear the Queen would have her life.

Put her away, put her away, my liege!
Put her away into a nunnery!
Safe enough there from her to whom thou art bound
By Holy Church. And wherefore should she seek
The life of Rosamund de Clifford more
Than that of other paramours of thine?

How dost thou know I am not wedded to her?

How should I know?

That is my secret, Thomas.

State secrets should be patent to the statesman
Who serves and loves his king, and whom the king
Loves not as statesman, but true lover and friend.

Come, come, thou art but deacon, not yet bishop,
No, nor archbishop, nor my confessor yet.
I would to God thou wert, for I should find
An easy father confessor in thee.

St. Denis, that thou shouldst not. I should beat
Thy kingship as my bishop hath beaten it.

Hell take thy bishop then, and my kingship too!
Come, come, I love thee and I know thee, I know thee,
A doter on white pheasant-flesh at feasts,
A sauce-deviser for thy days of fish,
A dish-designer, and most amorous
Of good old red sound liberal Gascon wine:
Will not thy body rebel, man, if thou flatter it?

That palate is insane which cannot tell
A good dish from a bad, new wine from old.

Well, who loves wine loves woman.

So I do.
Men are God’s trees, and women are God’s flowers;
And when the Gascon wine mounts to my head,
The trees are all the statelier, and the flowers
Are all the fairer.

And thy thoughts, thy fancies?

Good dogs, my liege, well train’d, and easily call’d
Off from the game.

Save for some once or twice,
When they ran down the game and worried it.

No, my liege, no!—not once—in God’s name, no!

Nay, then, I take thee at thy word—believe thee
The veriest Galahad of old Arthur’s hall.
And so this Rosamund, my true heart-wife,
Not Eleanor—she whom I love indeed
As a woman should be loved—Why dost thou smile
So dolorously?

My good liege, if a man
Wastes himself among women, how should he love
A woman, as a woman should be loved?

How shouldst thou know that never hast loved one?
Come, I would give her to thy care in England
When I am out in Normandy or Anjou.

My lord, I am your subject, not your—

God’s eyes! I know all that—not my purveyor
Of pleasures, but to save a life—her life;
Ay, and the soul of Eleanor from hell-fire.
I have built a secret bower in England, Thomas,
A nest in a bush.

And where, my liege?

HENRY (whispers).
Thine ear.

That’s lone enough.

HENRY (laying paper on table).
This chart here mark’d ‘Her Bower,’
Take, keep it, friend. See, first, a circling wood,
A hundred pathways running everyway,
And then a brook, a bridge; and after that
This labyrinthine brickwork maze in maze,
And then another wood, and in the midst
A garden and my Rosamund. Look, this line—
The rest you see is colour’d green—but this
Draws thro’ the chart to her.

This blood-red line?

Ay! blood, perchance, except thou see to her.

And where is she? There in her English nest?

Would God she were—no, here within the city.
We take her from her secret bower in Anjou
And pass her to her secret bower in England.
She is ignorant of all but that I love her.

My liege, I pray thee let me hence: a widow
And orphan child, whom one of thy wild barons—

Ay, ay, but swear to see to her in England.

Well, well, I swear, but not to please myself.

Whatever come between us?

What should come
Between us, Henry?

Nay—I know not, Thomas.

What need then? Well—whatever come between us. [Going.

A moment! thou didst help me to my throne
In Theobald’s time, and after by thy wisdom
Hast kept it firm from shaking; but now I,
For my realm’s sake, myself must be the wizard
To raise that tempest which will set it trembling
Only to base it deeper. I, true son
Of Holy Church—no croucher to the Gregories
That tread the kings their children underheel—
Must curb her; and the Holy Father, while
This Barbarossa butts him from his chair,
Will need my help—be facile to my hands.
Now is my time. Yet—lest there should be flashes
And fulminations from the side of Rome,
An interdict on England—I will have
My young son Henry crown’d the King of England,
That so the Papal bolt may pass by England,
As seeming his, not mine, and fall abroad.
I’ll have it done—and now.

Surely too young
Even for this shadow of a crown; and tho’
I love him heartily, I can spy already
A strain of hard and headstrong in him. Say,
The Queen should play his kingship against thine!

I will not think so, Thomas. Who shall crown him?
Canterbury is dying.

The next Canterbury.

And who shall he be, my friend Thomas? Who?

Name him; the Holy Father will confirm him.

HENRY (lays his hand on BECKET’S shoulder).

Mock me not. I am not even a monk.
Thy jest—no more. Why—look—is this a sleeve
For an archbishop?

But the arm within
Is Becket’s, who hath beaten down my foes.

A soldier’s, not a spiritual arm.

I lack a spiritual soldier, Thomas—
A man of this world and the next to boot.

There’s Gilbert Foliot.

He! too thin, too thin.
Thou art the man to fill out the Church robe;
Your Foliot fasts and fawns too much for me.

Roger of York.

Roger is Roger of York.
King, Church, and State to him but foils wherein
To set that precious jewel, Roger of York.

Henry of Winchester?

Him who crown’d Stephen—
King Stephen’s brother! No; too royal for me.
And I’ll have no more Anselms.

Sire, the business
Of thy whole kingdom waits me: let me go.

Answer me first.

Then for thy barren jest
Take thou mine answer in bare commonplace—
Nolo episcopari.

Ay, but Nolo
, my good friend,
Is quite another matter.

A more awful one.
Make me archbishop! Why, my liege, I know
Some three or four poor priests a thousand times
Fitter for this grand function. Me archbishop!
God’s favour and king’s favour might so clash
That thou and I——That were a jest indeed!

Thou angerest me, man: I do not jest.


ELEANOR (singing).

    Over! the sweet summer closes,
The reign of the roses is done—

HENRY (to BECKET, who is going).
Thou shalt not go. I have not ended with thee.

ELEANOR (seeing chart on table).
This chart with the red line! her bower! whose bower?

The chart is not mine, but Becket’s: take it, Thomas.

ELEANOR. Becket! O—ay—and these chessmen on the floor—the king’s crown broken! Becket hath beaten thee again—and thou hast kicked down the board. I know thee of old.

True enough, my mind was set upon other matters.

What matters? State matters? love matters?

My love for thee, and thine for me.


    Over! the sweet summer closes,
The reign of the roses is done;
Over and gone with the roses,
And over and gone with the sun.

Here; but our sun in Aquitaine lasts longer. I would I were in
Aquitaine again—your north chills me.

    Over! the sweet summer closes,
And never a flower at the close;
Over and gone with the roses,
And winter again and the snows.

That was not the way I ended it first—but unsymmetrically, preposterously, illogically, out of passion, without art—like a song of the people. Will you have it? The last Parthian shaft of a forlorn Cupid at the King’s left breast, and all left-handedness and under-handedness.

      And never a flower at the close,
Over and gone with the roses,
Not over and gone with the rose.

True, one rose will outblossom the rest, one rose in a bower. I speak after my fancies, for I am a Troubadour, you know, and won the violet at Toulouse; but my voice is harsh here, not in tune, a nightingale out of season; for marriage, rose or no rose, has killed the golden violet.

Madam, you do ill to scorn wedded love.

ELEANOR. So I do. Louis of France loved me, and I dreamed that I loved Louis of France: and I loved Henry of England, and Henry of England dreamed that he loved me; but the marriage-garland withers even with the putting on, the bright link rusts with the breath of the first after-marriage kiss, the harvest moon is the ripening of the harvest, and the honeymoon is the gall of love; he dies of his honeymoon. I could pity this poor world myself that it is no better ordered.

HENRY. Dead is he, my Queen? What, altogether? Let me swear nay to that by this cross on thy neck. God’s eyes! what a lovely cross! what jewels!

Doth it please you? Take it and wear it on that hard heart of yours—
[Gives it to him.

HENRY (puts it on).

    On this left breast before so hard a heart,
To hide the scar left by thy Parthian dart.

ELEANOR. Has my simple song set you jingling? Nay, if I took and translated that hard heart into our Provençal facilities, I could so play about it with the rhyme—

HENRY. That the heart were lost in the rhyme and the matter in the metre. May we not pray you, Madam, to spare us the hardness of your facility?

The wells of Castaly are not wasted upon the desert. We did but jest.

There’s no jest on the brows of Herbert there. What is it, Herbert?


My liege, the good Archbishop is no more.

Peace to his soul!

HERBERT. I left him with peace on his face—that sweet other-world smile, which will be reflected in the spiritual body among the angels. But he longed much to see your Grace and the Chancellor ere he past, and his last words were a commendation of Thomas Becket to your Grace as his successor in the archbishoprick.

Ha, Becket! thou rememberest our talk!

My heart is full of tears—I have no answer.

HENRY. Well, well, old men must die, or the world would grow mouldy, would only breed the past again. Come to me to-morrow. Thou hast but to hold out thy hand. Meanwhile the revenues are mine. A-hawking, a-hawking! If I sit, I grow fat. [Leaps over the table, and exit.

He did prefer me to the chancellorship,
Believing I should ever aid the Church—
But have I done it? He commends me now
From out his grave to this archbishoprick.

A dead man’s dying wish should be of weight.

BECKET. His should. Come with me. Let me learn at full The manner of his death, and all he said. [Exeunt HERBERT and BECKET.

Fitzurse, that chart with the red line—thou sawest it—her bower.


ELEANOR. Ay—there lies the secret of her whereabouts, and the King gave it to his Chancellor.

To this son of a London merchant—how your Grace must hate him.

ELEANOR. Hate him? as brave a Soldier as Henry and a goodlier man: but thou— dost thou love this Chancellor, that thou hast sworn a voluntary allegiance to him?

Not for my love toward him, but because he had the love of the King.
How should a baron love a beggar on horseback, with the retinue of
three kings behind him, outroyalling royalty? Besides, he holp the
King to break down our castles, for the which I hate him.

For the which I honour him. Statesman not Churchman he. A great and
sound policy that: I could embrace him for it: you could not see the
King for the kinglings.

FlTZURSE. Ay, but he speaks to a noble as tho’ he were a churl, and to a churl as if he were a noble.

Pride of the plebeian!

And this plebeian like to be Archbishop!

True, and I have an inherited loathing of these black sheep of the
Papacy. Archbishop? I can see further into a man than our hot-headed
Henry, and if there ever come feud between Church and Crown, and I do
not then charm this secret out of our loyal Thomas, I am not Eleanor.

FlTZURSE. Last night I followed a woman in the city here. Her face was veiled, but the back methought was Rosamund—his paramour, thy rival. I can feel for thee.

ELEANOR. Thou feel for me!—paramour—rival! King Louis had no paramours, and I loved him none the more. Henry had many, and I loved him none the less—now neither more nor less—not at all; the cup’s empty. I would she were but his paramour, for men tire of their fancies; but I fear this one fancy hath taken root, and borne blossom too, and she, whom the King loves indeed, is a power in the State. Rival!—ay, and when the King passes, there may come a crash and embroilment as in Stephen’s time; and her children—canst thou not—that secret matter which would heat the King against thee (whispers him and he starts). Nay, that is safe with me as with thyself: but canst thou not—thou art drowned in debt—thou shalt have our love, our silence, and our gold—canst thou not—if thou light upon her—free me from her?

Well, Madam, I have loved her in my time.

ELEANOR. No, my bear, thou hast not. My Courts of Love would have held thee guiltless of love—the fine attractions and repulses, the delicacies, the subtleties.

Madam, I loved according to the main purpose and intent of nature.

ELEANOR. I warrant thee! thou wouldst hug thy Cupid till his ribs cracked— enough of this. Follow me this Rosamund day and night, whithersoever she goes; track her, if thou canst, even into the King’s lodging, that I may (clenches her fist)—may at least have my cry against him and her,—and thou in thy way shouldst be jealous of the King, for thou in thy way didst once, what shall I call it, affect her thine own self.

FITZURSE. Ay, but the young colt winced and whinnied and flung up her heels; and then the King came honeying about her, and this Becket, her father’s friend, like enough staved us from her.


Yea, by the Blessed Virgin! There were more than
I buzzing round the blossom—De Tracy—even that
flint De Brito.

ELEANOR. Carry her off among you; run in upon her and devour her, one and all of you; make her as hateful to herself and to the King, as she is to me.

FITZURSE. I and all would be glad to wreak our spite on the rose-faced minion of the King, and bring her to the level of the dust, so that the King—

ELEANOR. Let her eat it like the serpent, and be driven out of her paradise.


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