Proving a Villain
A Shakespeare-inspired poetry collection by Charles Marlow.
I'll be revenged on the whole pack of you.
-Twelfth Night, Act V, Scene 1.
Laughing, contented in a happy ending
Of bridal-trains and wine, you never thought
Of me. I heard your singing rise
As, too sick for words, I threw my clothes
Some books, a bible, meagre things
Into a case in the steward’s room
And wrestled it down an atrium that rung
With the wedding-toasts and Feste’s inane drole.
For years, I had stood silent by and watched
In the gilded chambers and painted halls,
Stared through Dorian pillars, gentle-eyed
To see my mistress, see her perfect face,
As if ‘twere made of warm Byzantine gold,
Perched upon a golden bough to sing.
In the servant’s rooms, I spent my rest alone,
Far from those giggling idiots, hunched,
And cursed the stars that saw me born to serve.
You forget that once, I too, loved.
I remember how I walked alone
In the salt-tinged breeze of the garden paths
Through the lemon-trees. By the terrace-side
I would stand, awkward in my steward’s chain
And stifling woolen clothes, and solemnly dream
Of a coronet of magisterial grace,
How I would stride softly in my branched velvet-gown.
As I inhaled the warm Illyrian air,
The olive-groves and fruits, I could almost taste
The cloying scent of her perfumed hair,
Almost felt the cool, smooth touch of skin
As in the twilight, I felt her lips find mine,
Heard her gasp and grip the day-bed’s edge…
Was it such a heinous crime to love? To hope?
To tremble with desire as I held
That letter in my hands? Remember me,
As to the service of some other, unknown lord,
I drag my suitcase down the carriage-lane
Hunching my shoulders to the first few drops of rain.
Exit MALVOLIO. ▲
King RICHARD III:
Have mercy, Jesu!—Soft! I did but dream…
-Richard III, Act V, Scene 2
KING RICHARD III:
Hate me if you will. I know hate well;
I saw it, felt it, held it like a blade,
Used it. Now I have been betrayed;
I see Oxford, Talbot flutter in that crowd,
And- great God, Mowbray?- men whom I had loved,
Fought with, watched our kingdom, soiled with blood,
Quake, riven beneath a weakened hand.
My father saw it too; he had to try
To save his England from limp-wristed rule.
Anarchy and violence here, the channel awash
With pirates, bloody riot, week to week
More fresh defeats in France, more comrades dead
On stinking fields of mud. So he turned coat,
Rose up, for he served no bastard line
But all England herself- and yet he died
Slain by that French witch, the clash of swords
Still echoing round the land- stay, men, a while,
And listen. My brother ruled with charm,
A flashing smile, yet married bad- a poor romance
To let those greedy Woodvilles in our court!
When brother Edward died, I took the crown-
I admit that. The prince was just a boy,
I could not let his reign be torn apart
By armoured warlords, back to those dark days:
Wakefield, Towton, Mortimer’s Cross-
I saw the hell the wars had brought,
The anarchy unleashed- the fire, the blood.
England needed someone on the throne
And I stepped forth; I love this land,
It swells within my breast, it lights my eyes,
How could I let it fall back into that?
Ah, I see the Stanleys have arrived,
Hovering like vultures on their hill
To pick our corpses clean when I am dead,
Simper to that upstart-milksop Richmond
Pleading their case for posterity and land
When he has ripped this blood-stained crown away.
I know my fate. My story will be told,
Unknown, uncaring men will hate my soul.
I shall be made a twisted creature, black
In plots and perjury. The future holds no place for me;
I feel the coming years stretch out so dark,
Darker than the gulf that yawns below
Into the cold oblivion of death-
Yet when I face my maker I shall say
‘I served my kingdom. Judge me as you will’,
Then, then, I shall ride my destrier to a land
Where I may rest; I need not fear
Assassin's blades, the treachery of friends;
How distant was my last full night of sleep?
Great God, I’m tired, tired of this world.
The trumpets sound- it is a deathly knell
For thousands, shivering in their harness, cold
To know their deaths will write no songs, no plays;
For me, I shall wear the burial shroud
Of bravery, not tyranny. I mount,
I charge, I fall a king- so let them say
From dishonest life I bore an honest death,
And though I will be unhorsed, beaten down,
And beaten into mud I proudly ride
To take the field with broadsword at my side
As England sees me die beneath her crown.
Exit KING RICHARD III. ▲
My lord, you know I love you.
I think thou dost;
-Othello, Act III, Scene 3.
That pride in your heart today was the same
Shroud of power as those gilded days
Of hope, when the Rialto’s shimmering haze
Glimmered on halberds, the horses striding high
And banners dancing in the blue, roaring sky.
Your eyes, the same wild, onyx eyes
Flash the same sharp glare, the wild light
They had as when from the galley’s heaving dark
The two of you ran, stumbling, onto the deck again
To turn, laughing, tasting the cool rain.
Your breastplate, your cloak, the same tight, swelling red,
The bright gold-crimson of Venice, as when
You stumbled through the bodies of your choking, dying men,
Thrust your sword through smoke, heard the trumpets cry
At the stones, and the slick, sodden fumblings of the dead.
Your head bears the same mane of deepened black
Curved around your nape, as when you stood, proud
Above the sparkling blue, on the harbour’s stone, your uniform a shroud
For desperation. You adjusted your cloak,
Silent in dignity at the quiet side of the crowd
Silent and alone; you dimmed those flaring eyes
Stopped the trembling of your hand with the hilt at your hip,
And watched your friend march to meet his fate
As you watched Othello stepping from the ship. ▲
Charles Marlow was educated in England and Scotland, and reads and writes poetry as a hobby.