ARCADIA BY SIR PHILIP SIDNEY: A MAJOR SOURCE MATERIAL FOR SHAKESPEARE'S KING LEAR
The pitifull state, and storie of the Paphgonian unkinde King, and his kind sonne, first related by the son, then by the blind father. The three Princes assaulted by Plexirtus and his traine: assisted by their King of Pontus and his troupes. Plexirtus succoured and saved by two brothers, that vertuously loved a most vicious man. Beseeged by the new King, he submitteth, & is pardoned. The two Princes depart to aide the Queene of Lycia.
T'was in the kingdome of Galacia, the season being (as in the depth of winter) very cold, and as then sodainely growne to so extreame and foule a storme, that never any winter (I thinke) brought foorth a fowler child: so that the Princes were even compelled by the haile, that the pride of the winde blew into their faces, to seeke some shrowding place within a certaine hollow rocke offering it unto them, they made it their shield against the tempests furie. And so staying there, till the violence thereof was passed, they heard the speach of a couple, who not perceiving them (being hidde within that rude canapy) helde a straunge and pitifull disputation which made them steppe out; yet in such sort, as they might see unseene. There they perceaved an aged man, and a young, scarcely come to the age of a man, both poorely arayed, extreamely weather-beaten; the olde man blinde, the young man leading him: and yet through all those miseries, in both these seemed to appeare a kind of noblenesse, not sutable to that affliction. But the first words they heard, were these of the old man. Well Leonatus (said he) since I cannot perswade thee to lead me to that which should end my griefe, & thy trouble, let me now entreat thee to leave me: feare not, my miserie cannot be greater then it is, & nothing doth become me but miserie; feare not the danger of my blind steps, I cannot fall worse then I am. And doo not I pray thee, doo not obstinately continue to infect thee with my wretchednes. But flie, flie from this region, onely worthy of me. Deare father (answered he) doo not take away from me the onely remnant of my happinesse: while I have power to doo you seruice, I am not wholly miserable. Ah my sonne (said he, and with that he groned, as if sorrow strave to breake his harte,) how evill fits it me to have such a sonne, and how much doth thy kindnesse upbraide my wickednesse? These dolefull speeches, and some others to like purpose (well shewing they had not bene borne to the fortune they were in,) moved the Princes to goe out unto them, and aske the younger what they were? Sirs (answered he, with a good grace, and made the more agreable by a certaine noble kinde of pitiousnes) I see well you are straungers, that know not our miserie so well here knowne, that no man dare know, but that we must be miserable. In deede our state is such, as though nothing is so needfull vnto vs as pittie, yet nothing is more daungerous unto us, then to make our selves so knowne as may stirre pittie. But your presence promiseth, that cruelty shall not over-runne hate. And if it did, in truth our state is soncke below the degree of feare.
This old man (whom I leade) was lately rightfull Prince of this countrie of Paphlagonia, by the hard-harted ungratefulnes of a sonne of his, deprived, not onely of his kingdome (whereof no forraine forces were ever able to spoyle him) but of his sight, the riches which Nature grauts to the poorest creatures. Whereby, & by other his unnaturall dealings, he hath bin driuen to such griefe, as even now he would have had me to have led him to the toppe of this rocke, thece to cast himselfe headlong to death: and so would have made me (who received my life of him) to be the worker of his destruction. But noble Gentlemen (said he) if either of you have a father, and feele what duetifull affection is engraffed in a sonnes hart, let me intreate you to convey this afflicted Prince to some place of rest & securitie. Amongst your worthie actes it shall be none of the least, that a King, of such might and fame, and so unjustly oppressed, is in any sort by you relieved.
But before they could make him answere, his father began to speake, Ah my sonne (said he) how evill an Historian are you, that leave out the chiefe knotte of all the discourse? my wickednes, my wickednes. And if thou doest it to spare my eares, (the onely sense nowe left me proper for knowledge) assure thy selfe thou dost mistake me. And I take witnesse of that Sunne which you see (with that he cast up his blinde eyes, as if he would hunt for light,) and wish my selfe in worse case then I do wish my selfe, which is as evill as may be, if I speake untruely; that nothing is so welcome to my thoughts, as the publishing of my shame. Therefore know you Gentlemen (to whom from my harte I wish that it may not prove ominous foretoke of misfortune to have mette with such a miser as I am) that whatsoever my sonne (ô God, that trueth binds me to reproch him with the name of my sonne) hath said, is true. But besides those truthes, this also is true, that having had in lawful manage, of a mother fitte to beare royall children, this sonne (such one as partly you see, and better shall knowe by my shorte declaration) and so enioyed the expectations in the world of him, till he was growe to justifie their expectations (so as I needed envie no father for the chiefe comfort of mortalitie, to leave an other ones-selfe after me) I was caried by a bastarde sonne of mine (if at least I be bounde to beleeve the words of that base woman my concubine, his mother) first to mislike, then to hate, lastly to destroy, to doo my best to destroy, this sonne (I thinke you thinke) undeseruing destruction. What waies he used to bring me to it, if I should tell you, I should tediously trouble you with as much poysonous hypocrisie, desperate fraude, smoothe malice, hidden ambition, & smiling enuie, as in any living person could be harbored. But I list it not, no remembrance, (no, of naughtines) delights me, but mine own; & me thinks, the accusing his traines might in some manner excuse my fault, which certainly I loth to doo. But the conclusion is, that I gave order to some servants of mine, whom I thought as apte for such charities as my selfe, to leade him out into a forrest, & there to kill him.
But those theeves (better natured to my sonne then my selfe) spared his life, letting him goe, to learne to live poorely: which he did, giving himselfe to be a private souldier, in a countrie here by. But as he was redy to be greatly advaunced for some noble peeces of service which he did, he hearde newes of me: who (dronke in my affection to that unlawfull and unnaturall sonne of mine) suffered my self so to be governed by him, that all favors and punishments passed by him, all offices, and places of importance, distributed to his favourites; so that ere I was aware, I had left my self nothing but the name of a King: which he shortly wearie of too, with many indignities (if any thing may be called an indignity, which was laid upon me) threw me out of my seat, and put out my eies; and then (proud in his tyrannie) let me goe, nether imprisoning, nor killing me: but rather delighting to make me feele my miserie; miserie indeed, if ever there were any; full of wretchednes, fuller of disgrace, and fullest of guiltines. And as he came to the crowne by so unjust meanes, as unjustlie he kept it, by force of stranger souldiers in Cittadels, the nestes of tyranny, & murderers of libertie; disarming all his own countrimen, that no man durst shew himself a wel-willer of mine: to say the trueth (I think) few of the being so (considering my cruell follie to my good sonne, and foolish kindnes to my unkinde bastard:) but if there were any who fell to pitie of so great a fall, and had yet any sparkes of unstained duety lefte in them towardes me, yet durst they not shewe it, scarcely with giving me almes at their doores; which yet was the onelie sustenaunce of my distressed life, no bodie daring to shewe so much charitie, as to lende me a hande to guide my darke steppes: Till this sonne of mine (God knowes, woorthie of a more vertuous, and more fortunate father) forgetting my abhominable wrongs, not recking danger, & neglecting the present good way he was in doing himselfe good, came hether to doo this kind office you see him performe towards me, to my unspeakable griefe; not onely because his kindnes is a glasse eue to my blind eyes, of my naughtines, but that above all griefes, it greeves me he should desperatly adventure the losse of his soul-deserving life for mine, that yet owe more to fortune for my deserts, as if he would cary mudde in a chest of christall. For well I know, he that now raigneth, how much soeuer (and with good reason) he despiseth me, of all men despised; yet he will not let slippe any aduantage to make away him, whose just title (ennobled by courage and goodnes) may one day shake the seate of a never secure tyrannie. And for this cause I craved of him to leade me to the toppe of this rocke, indeede I must confesse, with meaning to free him from so Serpentine a companion as I am. But he finding what I purposed, onely therein since he was borne, shewed himselfe disobedient unto me. And now Gentlemen, you have the true storie, which I pray you publish to the world, that my mischieuous proceedinges may be the glorie of his filiall pietie, the onely reward now left for so great a merite. And if it may be, let me obtaine that of you, which my sonne denies me: for never was there more pity in saving any, then in ending me; both because therein my agonies shall ende, and so shall you preserve this excellent young man, who els wilfully folowes his owne ruine.
The matter in it self lamentable, lamentably expressed by the old Prince (which needed not take to himselfe the gestures of pitie, since his face could not put of the markes thereof) greatly moved the two Princes to compassion, which could not stay in such harts as theirs without seeking remedie. But by and by the occasion was presented: for Plexirtus (so was the bastard called) came thether with fortie horse, onely of purpose to murder this brother; of whose comming he had soone aduertisement, and thought no eyes of sufiicient credite in such a matter, but his owne; and therefore came him selfe to be actor, and spectator. And as soone as he came, not regarding the weake (as he thought) garde of but two men, commaunded some of his followers to set their handes to his, in the killing of Leonatus. But the young Prince (though not otherwise armed but with a sworde) how falsely soever he was dealt with by others, would not betray him selfe: but bravely drawing it out, made the death of the first that assaulted him, warne his fellowes to come more warily after him. But then Pyrocles and Musidorus were quickly become parties (so just a defence deserving as much as old friendship) and so did behave them among that companie (more iniurious, then valiant) that many of them lost their lives for their wicked maister.
Yet perhaps had the number of them at last prevailed, if the King of Pontus (lately by them made so) had not come unlooked for to their succour. Who (having had a dreame which had fixt his imagination vehemently upon some great daunger, presently to follow those two Princes whom he most deerely loved) was come in all hast, following as well as he could their tracke with a hundreth horses in that countrie, which he thought (considering who then raigned) a fit place inough to make the stage of any Tragedie.
But then the match had ben so ill made for Plexirtus, that his ill-led life, & worse gotten honour should haue tumbled together to destructio; had there not come in Tydeus & Telenor, with fortie or fiftie in their suit, to the defence of Plexirtus. These two were brothers, of the noblest house of that country, brought up fro their infancie with Plexirtus: men of such prowesse, as not to know feare in themselues, and yet to teach it others that should deale with them: for they had often made their lives triumph over most terrible daungers; never dismayed, and euer fortunate; and truely no more setled in their valure, then disposed to goodnesse and justice, if either they had lighted on a better friend, or could haue learned to make friendship a child, and not the father of vertue. But bringing up (rather then choise) having first knit their minds unto him, (indeed craftie inough, eyther to hide his faultes, or never to shew them, but when they might pay home) they willingly held out the course, rather to satisfie him, then al the world; and rather to be good friendes, then good men: so as though they did not like the evill he did, yet they liked him that did the evill; and though not councellors of the offence, yet protectors of the offender. Now they having heard of this sodaine going out, with so small a company, in a country full of evil-wishing minds toward him (though they knew not the cause) followed him; till they found him in such case as they were to venture their liues, or else he to loose his: which they did with such force of minde and bodie, that truly I may justly say, Pyrocles & Musidorus had never till then found any, that could make them so well repeate their hardest lesson in the feates of armes. And briefly so they did, that if they overcame not; yet were they not overcome, but caried away that ungratefull maister of theirs to a place of securitie; howsoever the Princes laboured to the cotrary. But this matter being thus far begun, it became not the constacie of the Princes so to leave it; but in all hast making forces both in Pontus and Phrygia, they had in fewe dayes, lefte him but only that one strong place where he was. For feare having bene the onely knot that had fastned his people unto him, that once untied by a greater force, they all scattered from him; like so many birdes, whose cage had bene broken.
In which season the blind King (hauing in the chief cittie of his Realme, set the crowne upo his sonne Leonatus head) with many teares (both of joy and sorrow) setting forth to the whole people, his owne fault & his sonnes vertue, after he had kist him, and forst his sonne to accept honour of him (as of his newe-become subject) eve in a moment died, as it should seeme: his hart broken with unkindnes & affliction, stretched so farre beyond his limits with this excesse of cofort, as it was able no longer to keep safe his roial spirits. But the new King (having no lesse lovingly performed all duties to him dead, then alive) pursued on the siege of his unnatural brother, asmuch for the revenge of his father, as for the establishing of his owne quiet. In which siege truly I cannot but acknowledge the prowesse of those two brothers, then whom the Princes neuer found in all their travell two men of greater habilitie to performe, nor of habler skill for conduct.
But Plexirtus finding, that if nothing els, famin would at last bring him to destructio, thought better by hublenes to creepe, where by pride he could not march. For certainely so had nature formed him, & the exercise of craft conformed him to all turnings of sleights, that though no ma had lesse goodnes in his soule then he, no man could better find the places whence argumets might grow of goodnesse to another: though no man felt lesse pitie, no man could tel better how to stir pitie: no ma more impudet to deny, where proofes were not manifest; no man more ready to confesse with a repenting maner of aggravating his owne evil, where denial would but make the fault fowler. Now he tooke this way, that having gotten a pasport for one (that pretended he would put Plexirtus alive into his hads) to speak with the King his brother, he him selfe (though much against the minds of the valiant brothers, who rather wished to die in brave defence) with a rope about his necke, barefooted, came to offer himselfe to the discretion of Leonatus. Where what submission he used, how cunningly in making greater the faulte he made the faultines the lesse, how artificially he could set out the torments of his owne coscience, with the burdensome comber he had found of his ambitious desires, how finely seeming to desire nothing but death, as ashamed to live, he begd life, in the refusing it, I am not cunning inough to be able to expresse: but so fell out of it, that though at first sight Leonatus saw him with no other eie, then as the murderer of his father; & anger already began to paint revenge in many colours, ere long he had not only gotten pitie, but pardon, and if not an excuse of the fault past, yet an opinion of a future amedment: while the poore villaines (chiefe ministers of his wickednes, now betraied by the author therof,) were delivered to many cruell sorts of death; he so handling it, that it rather seemed, he had rather come into the defence of an unremediable mischiefe already comitted, then that they had done it at first by his consent.
In such sort the Princes left these recociled brothers (Plexirtus in all his behaviour carying him in far lower degree of service, then the ever-noble nature of Leonatus would suffer him) & taking likewise their leaves of their good friend the King of Pontus (who returned to enjoy their benefite, both of his wife and kingdome) they privately went thence, hauing onely with them the two valiant brothers, who would needs accopanie them, through divers places; they foure dooing actes more daungerous, though lesse famous, because they were but privat chivalries: till hearing of the faire and vertuous Queene Erona of Lycia, besieged by the puissant King of Armenia, they bent themselues to her succour, both because the weaker (& weaker as being a Ladie,) & partly because they heard the King of Armenia had in his company three of the most famous men living, for matters of armes, that were knowne to be in the worlde. Whereof one was the Prince Plangus, (whose name was sweetened by your breath, peerlesse Ladie, when the last daie it pleased you to mention him unto me) the other two were two great Princes (though holding of him) Barzanes and Euardes, men of Giant-like both hugenes and force: in which two especially, the trust the King had of victorie, was reposed. And of them, those two brothers Tydeus and Telenor (sufficient judges in warlike matters) spake so high commendations, that the two yong Princes had even a youthfull longing to have some triall of their vertue. And therefore as soone as they were entred into Lycia they joyned theselves with them that faithfully served the poore Queene, at that time besieged: and ere long animated in such sort their almost ouerthrowne harts, that they went by force to relieve the towne, though they were deprived of a great part of their strength by the parting of the two brothers, who were sent for in all hast to returne to their old friend and maister, Plexirtus: who (willingly hoodwinking themselues from seeing his faultes, and binding themselves to beleeve what he said) often abused the vertue of courage to defend his fowle vice of injustice. But now they were sent for to aduaunce a conquest he was about; while Pyrocles and Musidorus pursued the deliverie of the Queene Erona.