top of page
  • Charles Marlow

Proving a Villain

A Shakespeare-inspired poetry collection by Charles Marlow.

Twelfth Night Shakespeare Malvolio
Illustration: The Pittsburgher / Painting: Daniel Maclise

"Malvolio’s Soliloquy"


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.



"Richard’s Soliloquy"


Have mercy, Jesu!—Soft! I did but dream…

-Richard III, Act V, Scene 2


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-

Now- Bosworth.

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.

Alarum within

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.



"To Iago"


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.

bottom of page