THE KING’S ATTRITION, by WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

Scene:  The same.  Enter Celie and Volumnia. 

Celie:  To marry him is hopeless.  To be his whore is witless.

Volumnia:  It wouldst be a political arrangement that would preserve what little power I have, and offer us the privacy we need.  With Malcolm dead our future becomes uncertain.  I wouldst do this for us.  Banquo is the mob’s choice to succeed Malcolm, and marriage to him would unite the various factions within our state.  So we must endear ourselves to him.  *Enter Banquo, who kneels before the queen.*  Arise, you shall not kneel.

Banquo:  Lady, I have nothing to say, but that I am your most obedient servant, and upon my knees I charm you.  I am your husband, if you will marry me.  If not, I’ll die your servant.  To be your fellow, you may deny me, but I’ll be your servant whether you will or not.  *Rises.*

Volumnia:  Thou wouldst possess me?

Banquo:  Thou art too dear for my possessing.  I will not take you on gift of any man, for there is no virtue that possession would show us, rather, tell thyself a king doth dote on thee.

Volumnia:  Think you I am no stronger than my sex, that I should need a man to dote on me?

Banquo:  Be cheer’d; make not your thoughts your prison.  Know, dear queen, I intend so to dispose you as yourself shall give me counsel.  Feed and sleep; my care and pity is so much upon you.  That I remain your friend and servant upon which ever terms best suit you.  If I could write the beauty of your eye, or of your very being, I wouldst compare thee to a summer’s day, but that for thy eternal summer shall not fade.  Thou art a merciful construction of good women.

queenbustVolumnia:  Dost thou think a beautiful body makes a beautiful person?

Banquo:  Your beauty runs far deeper than skin m’lady.

Volumnia:  What thinks thou of the king now dead?

Banquo:  It has been said that the flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long.

Volumnia:  Flames have no morality.  What dost though think of the king’s virtue, or lack thereof.

Banquo:  He was my master; and I wore my life to spend upon his haters.

Volumnia:  Then thou should spend upon me.  Canst thou see that I weep not for the king?

Banquo:  Moderate lamentation is the right of the dead: excessive grief the enemy of the living.

Volumnia:  You are as quick with words, as you are diplomatic.

Banquo:  Men could not prevail with all their oratory, yet hath a woman’s kindness over-ruled- and therefore, I tell you I return great thanks and in submission will attend to you.

Volumnia:  The master you served, know you how old I was when first he ravaged me?  When first he stole my innocence with not mine, but my brother’s consent?

Banquo:  *Looking down.*  I know not m’lady.

Volumnia:  *Looking straight to him without any hesitation in her resilient gaze.* I was but in my fourteenth year.

Banquo:  Than you were three years my senior when first he did the same with me and call’d it the Spartan tradition.  *Finally looking up to meet Volumnias gaze.*  I am ashamed that men are so cruel.

Volumnia/Celie:  *Silence.*

Banquo:  Is he not approved in the height a villain, that hath slander’d and dishonour’d our kinswoman?

Volumnia:  So he is.

Banquo:  No more but that I know the more one sickens the worse at ease he is, and that he that wants contentment and compassion is without humanity’s best friends.  I know that the property of rain is to wet and fire to burn; that good pasture makes fat sheep, and that a great cause of the night is lack of the sun; that he that hath learned no contentment or compassion by nature may consider himself darker than night which has at least the moon to offer illumination.  Such is a life of unbalance and instability, and such was the life of Malcolm.  He did want in contentment and compassion, and so, as it is the lion’s nature to kill, so too was his own nature, but he did not stop with killing the flesh only, but also the spirit through his barbaric actions.  In taking his own life he did make the greatest offering he could to the world.  Better once he should do this than never, for never is too late.

Volumnia:  *Volumnia is silent in consideration for a moment.*  And what wouldst we make of the bedchamber?

Banquo:  Dear queen, I intend so to dispose you as you, yourself, shall give me counsel.

Volumnia:  A moment my lord.  *Volumnia and Celie step aside.  Volumnia whispers to Celie for a moment and then stops, waiting for a response from Celie.  There is hesitation, but then a reluctant nod.  Volumnia turns back to Banquo.*  When first married to Malcolm was I, I ask’d of children, to which he did say, quoth he; ‘Wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners?’  His seed did support his words, and so a child we had not.  Celie is my lover now, and my love shall go to no other, but still I want a child, and so we shall make use of the bedchamber ceremonially until my one wish is granted and then no more.

Banquo:  I have neither the scholar’s melancholy, which is  emulation, nor the musician’s, which is fantastical, nor the courtier’s, which is proud, nor the  soldier’s, which is ambitious, nor the lawyer’s, which is politic, nor the lady’s, which is nice, nor the lover’s, which is all these: but it is a melancholy of mine own, compounded of many simples, extracted from many objects, and indeed the sundry’s contemplation of my travels, in which my often rumination wraps me in a most virtuous sadness.  I’ll leave our child my virtuous deeds behind; and would my father had left me no more, for sadness was left to me by my patriarch via the bloodied hands of Macbeth. Love all, trust few, do wrong to none, be able for thine enemy rather in power than use, and keep thy friend under thy own life’s key.  Be checked for silence, but never tax’d for speech.  What heaven more will, than thee may furnish.  So was my father’s only lasting lesson to me, for he died before grown I was at the hands of one tyrant.  And so these lessons I have taken to heart and would try to pass on my own child.

Volumnia:  For appearances then, I should say: Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper, thy head, thy sovereign, one that cares for thee, and for thy maintenance; commits his body to painful labor, both by sea and land; to watch the night in storms, the day in cold, whilst thou liv’st warm at home, secure and safe; and craves no other tribute at thy hands but love, fair looks, and true obedience- too little payment for so great a debt.  Such duty as the subject owes the prince, even such a woman oweth to her husband; and when she is forward, peevish, sullen, sour, and not obedient to his honest will, what is she but a foul contending rebel, and graceless traitor to her loving lord?  I asham’d that women are so simple to offer war where they should kneel for peace, or seek for rule, supremacy, and sway, when they are bound to serve, love, and obey.  Why are our bodies soft, and weak, and smooth, unapt to toil and trouble in the world, but that our soft conditions, and our hearts, should well agree with our external parts?  This I shall say, for should the public know of our true relationship they wouldst think you weak and overturn your rule.  Our marriage wouldst preserve a nation that deserves not preservation, but with the hope that it one day will be so deserving.

Banquo:  Then we are agreed.  We shall never be younger, so let us call upon Vicegerent Elian Solomon.

Volumnia:  We are like two planks, each standing against the other to turn our individual weaknesses into a stronger state.  To others I should say thou art an elm, my husband, I a vine whose weakness, married to thy stronger state.  *To Celie.*  My husband, who I made lord of me.

Banquo:  No m’lady.  I am thine, and only then is my crown is called content.  *Banquo again kneels before both women.  The lights go dark.*

 

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Rambler About Rambler

Jason John Horn is a writer and critic who recently completed his Master's in English Literature at the University of Windsor. He has composed a play, a novella and a number of short stories and satirical essays.

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