Scene:  David Bathsheba, who the king sees as his Vicegerent, is alone in an isolated part of a forest, dressed in black.  He is standing outside of an encampment of soldiers headed to meet with the army raised by Donalbain, Malcolms brother.  The Vicegerent, reading in seclusion away from the camp, is approached by Malcolm, who seeks the advice of his Vicegerent.

Malcolm:  Why am I by all creatures waited on?  Why do the prodigal elements supply life and food to me, being more pure than I, simple, and further from corruption?  Why brook’st thou, ignorant horse, subjection?  Why dost thou, bull, and bore so seelily, dissemble weakness, and by one man’s stroke die, whose whole kind you might swallow and feed upon?  Weaker I am, woe is me.  I, can do no wrong?  I, not subject to any earthly authority?  I, derive my authority directly from the rule of god?  Tell me, why shouldst such innocence be subject to my perverted will, if I be not subject to the will of innocence?

Bathsheba:  Know that there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.  The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, and a hell of heaven. Criticize not yourself, but know that only Christ our lord can judge an unjust king.

Malcolm:  Then I welcome his judgement.  I have debated in my soul what wrong, what shame, what sorrow I shall breed.  I, who hath devoured such innocence, should not roam free, most especially when my conscience is imprisoned by my lust!  I am but an attorney from the court of hell.  In my voluptuousness: your wives, your daughters, your matrons, and your maids could not fill up the cistern of my lust; and my desire all continent impediments would o’erbear that did oppose my will: better MacBeth than such a one reign.

Bathsheba:  You embrace the thirst for knowledge and understanding which god hath stirred up in you; prove all things and hold that which is good.  Know that god, and your subjects alike, hath given you the sovereign right to act on their behalf.  The majority hath consented to your rule, and your rule serves them.

Malcolm:  And what of the minority?

Bathsheba:  They too must abide, for you have brought peace to the commonwealth.

Malcolm:  Did I bring peace to that innocent minority of one named Ardea?

Bathsheba:  Your subjects are the authors of your actions, for they hath given you the sovereign right to act on their behalf.  Therefore you cannot injure them, nor can you be accused of injustice.

Malcolm:  What I committed in those quarters was a sin, and no rhetoric you spew can convince me otherwise.  I am not fit to wear the crown!  Oh, that momentary joy should breed eternal pain.

Bathsheba:  It is a glorious thing to establish peace, and kings approach the nearest unto god by giving life and safety unto men.  Know’st this my lord, the first time that we smell the air as babes fresh from the womb, we cry, for we are born to suffer, and to do so as noble creatures.  Whatever reprise we have from this perpetual sadness is a gift, and that you hath provid’d peace to your kingdom, you have done the work of god.  I pray you listen me, for hath you not in your own wisdom chosen me to minister to you?

Malcolm:  The devil’s office must thou do for me.

Bathsheba:  You are too absolute my lord.  Please do let me minister, for we, ignorant of ourselves, beg often our own harms, which the wise powers deny us for our good; so find we profit by losing of our prayers.  Do not banish reason, but let your reason serve to make the truth appear where it seems hid, and hide the false that seems true.”

Malcolm:  Say what you will, for you in me can nothing worthy prove unless you would devise some virtuous lie.

Bathsheba:  Tell me, is god without sin?

Malcolm:  He is.

Bathsheba:  And tell me, what is the greatest of all sins?

Malcolm:  Murder.

Bathsheba:  And god hath not murdered?

Malcolm:  No.

Bathsheba:  What of Sodom and Gomorrah?

Malcolm:  They were cities corrupt with sin.  Their purging was just.

Bathsheba:  And what of Judas?

Malcolm:  He took his own life.

Bathsheba:  Does god not know each event before they be disclosed to humanity?

Malcolm:  He does.

Bathsheba:  So did god not then know that when he did choose Judas, that he would succumb to sin?

Malcolm:  He did, but still, the choice belonged to Judas alone.

Bathsheba:  But, did Christ not need Judas to succumb to sin so that Christ might find his way upon the cross?

Malcolm:  He did.

Bathsheba:  And did god not know that Judas would be consumed by a guilt so intense he would take his own life?

Malcolm:  *Silence.*

Bathsheba:  My lord, did he not know?

Malcolm:  He did.

Bathsheba:  Then did not god put into motion, with his divine foreknowledge, the sequence of events that would serve to consume the life of Judas?

Malcolm:  But these things were all just.

Bathsheba:  According to who?

Malcolm:  God.

Bathsheba:  By what right.

Malcolm:  By his divine right.

Bathsheba:  And such is your own right.

Malcolm:  Did god lust after another’s wife as I did this evening.

Bathsheba:  He did.

Malcolm:  Blasphemy!  The devil can cite scripture to serve his own purpose!

Bathsheba:  Is it not written in The Gospel According to Matthew, Mary was espoused to Joseph, and that Joseph was her husband?

Malcolm:  It does so say.

Bathsheba:  And is it not also written in The Gospel According Luke that Mary was espoused to Joseph?

Malcolm:  It does.

Bathsheba:  And if a woman is espoused to one man and another comes to know her and makes her with child, is it not fair to say that he did commit adultery?  That he did covet his own neighbour’s wife?

Malcolm:  *Silence.*

Bathsheba:  Do my words not speak truly my lord?

Malcolm:  They do.  But still, god hath never spoiled such innocence as I.  He hath not ravaged a child in any way such as I have.

Bathsheba:  But he has.  Is it not written in Luke, than an angel sent by god did tell Mary she would conceive, and did Mary not ask how this could come to pass as she knew not man?

Malcolm:  So it is written.

Bathsheba:  Did god ask permission of Mary?  Or was this a burden put upon her?

Malcolm:  *Silence.*

Bathsheba:  And was the virgin Mary, not as near a child as the one whom you came to know this evening?

Malcolm:  *Silence.*

Bathsheba:  My lord, this cloak I wear is not one of decoration, but a symbol of my studies, and my beliefs.  I can assure you that nowhere in the gospels did god ask permission of the virgin Mary.  Mary was told, not asked, and she did yield.  A virgin this evening was made aware of the burden she was made to bear and did yield.  Is this not true?

Malcolm:  Why then doth my soul scratch and tear within?  I do hear still her mother’s words: In bloody death and ravishment delighting, nor children’s tears nor mothers’ groans respecting, swell in their pride, the onset still expecting.  How many lambs might the stern wolf betray, if like a lamb he could his looks translate!  How many gazers mightst thou lead away, if thou wouldst use the strength of all thy state!

Bathsheba:  You have a conscience.  As corn ov’rgrown by weeds, so heedful fear is almost chok’d by unresisted lust.  There are those who, without your law, would serve as such weeds, would indulge in sins far worse than those over which you ache, and they would choke the good crop of Scotland and not so much as flinch afterward, but rather their transgressions would only serve to whet the appetite of unquenchable lust.  And their numbers would outman a seven-nation army.  Your sins compared to theirs are minute and saves the masses from such a plague with such a small cost.  He is mad that trusts the tameness of a wolf, a boy’s love or a whore’s oath, and such are the multitude who people your kingdom.  Like Christ you do save sinners from themselves.  Without your law this earth would be the bastard child of hell, and not as it is in heaven.  This general evil they maintain, for all men are bad, and in their badness reign, would surely sour and devour all of Scotland.  Humanity must perforce prey on itself, for that is the nature of the sin we are born into since Adam did partake of the forbidden tree.

Malcolm:  But should I not be godlike?

Bathsheba:  Was god so pure as you believe?  Did he not need to indulge in sin to save the many?  Name a sin that god hath not committed and I will deliver my soul to hell’s fury by sheathing your own sword into my heart.  I say this boldly for I know that all of our righteousness is as filthy rags.

Malcolm:  Surely he did not commit incest.

Bathsheba:  Surely he did, for we are all god’s children are we not?

Malcolm:  We are.

Bathsheba:  Then, my lord, I propose to you this riddle:  He is no viper, yet he feeds on mother’s flesh which did breed him.  She sought a husband, in which labour she found that kindness is a father.  He’sa father, son, and husband mild; She mother wife and yet his child.

Malcolm:  What mean you by this riddle?

Bathsheba:  Do you not see?  Mary is the child of god, and yet he did make her with child, and she did then give birth to god in the flesh, so he is at once father, husband and child, and she mother, daughter and wife.  If this be not incest, then I know not what incest is.

Malcolm:  You apparell’d virtue in vice-strewn sentences.

Bathsheba:  I speak the truth.

Malcolm:  And what of suicide?  Surely you believe not that god hath committed this crime?

Bathsheba:  As with all sin, god to has engaged in this.

Malcolm: How so?

Bathsheba:  Did he not have foresight enough to see what the Romans would do to him?

Malcolm:  He did.

Bathsheba:  And did he then not choose a course of action which would certainly bring him to death?

Malcolm:  *A pause.*  What of jealously, pride, and vanity?

Bathsheba:  Does god not say in Exodus: ‘I the lord thy god am a jealous god’?

Malcolm:  It does.

Bathsheba:  Then surely he is jealous, for he himself hath commanded it so.  And that same Hebrew text has also been translated to say ‘prideful’rather than ‘jealous’.  Has it not.

Malcolm:  I have read it so.

Bathsheba:  Jealousy, greed, pride and vanity are all sins of the same ilk, if one indulges in one, then they cannot claim to rescind the others.

Malcolm:  It could be argued so.

Bathsheba:  And can Sodom and Gomorrah, whether just or not, be seen as an act of vengeance, or wrathfulness?

Malcolm:  *Silence.*

Bathsheba:  So the lord hath committed adultery, he has stolen innocence, committed murder and suicide both.  He is jealous, and vain, and prideful, wrathful and tainted by vengeance and greed.  He is a glutton for praise as he demands all worship him, and gluttony and slothfulness are sins married together much as vengeance and wrathfulness are, and so much like vanity and pride.  And surely he did bear false witness, for did he not in Hebrews say: ‘Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today and forever’?  And does it not also say in Malachi: ‘For I am the Lord, I change not’?

Malcolm:  It is so written.

Bathsheba:  Then why does god say in one breath, in Matthew: ‘whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also’, while in another breath in Exodus: ‘life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, wound for wound, stripe for stripe’?  For surely these two laws stand in contrast to each other as virtue and vice do.  So then how can god claim to forever be the same in both the Old and New Testament, when in each he gives opposite instruction?

Malcolm:  *A pause.*  And what of my Spartan tastes.  Does it not say in Leviticus that should a man know a man as he knowst woman that he shall surely die?

Bathsheba:  Do you eat oysters?

Malcolm:  When I have them.

Bathsheba: Do you eat snails?

Malcolm:  No.

Bathsheba:  Do you consider the eating of oysters to be moral and the eating of snails to be immoral?

Malcolm:  No.

Bathsheba:  Of course not.  It is all a matter of taste, isn’t it?

Malcolm: It could be argued so.

Bathsheba:  And taste is not the same as appetite, and therefore not a question of morals.

Malcolm:  It could be argued so.

Bathsheba:  Then could you not say simply that your taste includes both snails and oysters?

Malcolm:  If your argument were set in scripture it would carry more weight.

Bathsheba:  Then, does it not say in Galatians that there is neither woman nor man, for we are all one in Christ.  Does gender matter in the eyes of Christ?  And if you trust not these words, and do insist that a man who knowst another man the way man knowst woman must surely die, hath not all of history’s heroes died, and all in sin?  Do we not all commit sins that deliver us to mortality?  Kings and mightiest potentates must die…

Malcom:   …for that’s the end of human misery.  *A pause.*  Why can I not be compelled toward good?

Bathsheba:  It may seem easy, you imagine, to gravitate instantly toward the good, but how couldst thou protect something so perfect without evil?  How much we expel of sin, so much we expel of virtue.

Malcolm:  Then, since the heavens have shap’d my body so, let hell make crook’d my mind to answer it!

Bathsheba:  Your conscience is what justifies you in god’s eyes, and by despairing, should thou stand excused for doing worthy vengeance on thyself, that didst unworthy slaughter upon others.  It appears in this confession: thereisnot one wise man among twenty that will praise himself.

Malcolm:  But men may construe things after their fashion, clean from the purpose of the things themselves.

Bathsheba:   Sometimes we are all devils to ourselves.  It has been said that men’s evil manners live in brass, while their virtues we write in water.  You seem to forget what virtue you bring.

Malcolm:  Virtuous sin?  Virtuous sinner?

Bathsheba:  Let us once lose our oaths to find ourselves, or else we lose ourselves to keep our oaths.  By being once false forever to be true.

Malcolm:  Teach me, dear creature, how to think and speak; lay open to my earthy-gross conceit, smother’d in errors, feeble, shallow, weak, the folded meaning of your words’deceit.  Against my soul’s pure truth why labour you to make it wander in an unknown field?  Are you a god?  Would you create me new?  Transform me, then, and to your power I will yield.

Bathsheba:  I shall pray tonight for guidance, but whatever words I offer you, it is you who must judge your own case, but know this: There is some soul of goodness in evil things.  Be you judge of your own case, and take shame with joy.  Sir, I can nothing say more, but that I am your most obedient servant.  *Bathsheba bows, and slowly stepping backwards exits into darkness.*

Malcolm:  And thus I clothe my naked villainy with odd old ends stol’n out of holy writ, and seem a saint, when most I play the devil.  But yet I pray: Batter my heart, three-person’d God; for you as yet but knock; breathe, shine, and seek to mend; that I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.  I, like an usurp’d town, to another due, labour to admit you, but O, to no end. Reason, your viceroy in me, I should defend, but is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue.  Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov’d fain, but am betroth’d unto your enemy ; divorce me, untie, or break that knot again, take me to you, imprison me, for I, except you enthrall me, never shall be free, nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.  This I pray, so why doth the devil then usurp on me?  Why doth he steal, nay ravish that which is thy right?  Accept my prayer, god, rise and for thine own work fight!  *Whilst Malcolm has his head down toward the audience four women enter, two from the left of the stage, and two from the right of the stage.  They form a half circle around Malcolm and each is veiled and dressed in black.  They appear as apparitions of: Volumnia, Ardea, Celie and Elizabeth, each women who Malcolm has, or will wrong in some grievous way.  There are none to witness this besides Malcolm, and so he is to be unsure throughout the play if they were real, or imaginary: a message from god, or an invention of his imagination.  They suddenly start to circle him.*

Volumnia:  Round about the despot go.

Ardea:  The poison’d soul, with swelter’d venom.  So it is in those whose lust doth ravage innocence.

Celie:  Vice doth burn in the corrupt, so it is with those who envy embrace.

Elizabeth:  Thy tongue is that of a snake, and so it is with those who lie to feed their greed!

Volumnia:  And in thy hand the devil’s fork, so it is with those who trust vengeance and wrath before justice.

Ardea: Ye hath blood which doth, like a hell-broth, boil, as is doth do in the slothful!

Celie:  Scales of dragons do comprise his flesh, harden’d ‘gainst his own sin.

Elizabeth:  Teeth of wolf adorn your mouth, which doth feed your gluttony, and nothing is more gluttonous than thy lust!

Volumnia: The ears of a ravin’d salt-sea shark, and the conscience of a dog.

All:  Such are the ingredients that do comprise an invitation to hell’s gate, all of which you do have.  *They all suddenly stop, with Volumnia directly behind him.*

Volumnia:  But one thing hath thee not yet done to seal your fate.  Spill your own blood, be it by sister, or mother, or child, or brother, or father or cousin or any means other…

All:  …and heaven will be clos’d to you.

*Exit women, walking slowly backwards.  Malcolm tries to follow each with his eyes and finds himself turning in a slow, seemingly endless circle.  When he finally stops, he is facing the audience, and though his head is clearly racing with thoughts, he remains silent.  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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