BERTRAM; OR, THE CASTLE OF ST. ALDOBRAND (1816)
CHARLES ROBERT MATURIN (17821824)
Maturin’s five-act tragedy Bertram, starring Edmund Kean in the title role, was performed at Drury Lane on 9 May 1816 and ran for twenty-two nights. Maturin received £1000 for the play, which had seven editions in 1816. On the basis of its great popularity, Maturin hoped to become a successful playwright, but his dramas never again achieved the same public approval. In this very Shakespearean work, Imogine, wife of St. Aldobrand, many years past had once loved Count Bertram, but married Aldobrand to raise the sinking fortunes of her house and father. Bertram’s unexpected re-appearance after a shipwreck revives her desire for him. At the end of the final Act, Bertram stabs Aldobrand, who dies at the feet of Imogine; Imogine goes mad and when the monks discover her dead son lying on the tomb of Aldobrand she says ‘(with a frantic laugh) The forest fiend hath snatched him He rides the night-mare through the wizard woods’. Bertram is captured, and Imogine dies at his feet just before he is killed by his captors.
Imogine in her apartment a lamp burning on the Table She walks some time in great agitation and then pushes the light away.
Imo. Away, thou glarest on me, thy light is hateful;
Whom doth the dark wind chide so hollowly?
The very stones shrink from my steps of guilt,
All lifeless things have come to life to curse me:
Oh! that a mountain’s weight were cast on me;
Oh! that the wide, wild ocean heaved o’er me;
Oh! that I could into the earthy centre
Sink and be nothing.
Sense, memory, feeling, life extinct and swallowed,
With things that are not, or have never been,
Lie down and sleep the everlasting sleep :
(She sinks on the ground.)
If I run mad, some wild word will betray me,
Nay let me think what am I? &150; no, what was I?
(A long pause.)
I was the honoured wife of Aldobrand;
I am the scorned minion of a ruffian.
Imo. Who art thou that thus comest on me in darkness?
Clot. The taper’s blaze doth make it bright as noon.
Imo. I saw thee not, till thou wert close to me.
So steal the steps of those who watch the guilty;
How darest thou gaze thus earnestly upon me;
What seest thou in my face?
A mortal horror.
If aught but godless souls at parting bear
The lineaments of despair, such face is thine.
Imo. See’st thou despair alone?
Nay, mock me not, for thou hast read more deeply,
Else why that piercing look.
I meant it not
But since thy lonely walk upon the rampart
Strange hath been thy demeanour, all thy maidens
Do speak in busy whispers of its wildness
Imo. Oh hang me shuddering on the baseless crag
The vampire’s wing, the wild-worm’s sting be on me,
But hide me, mountains, from the man I’ve injured
Clot. Whom hast thou injured?
Whom doth woman injure?
Another daughter dries a father’s tears;
Another sister claims a brother’s love;
An injured husband hath no other wife,
Save her who wrought him shame.
Clot. I will not hear thee.
Imo. We met in madness, and in guilt we parted
Oh! I see horror rushing to thy face
Do not betray me, I am penitent
Do not betray me, it will kill my Lord
Do not betray me, it will kill my boy,
My little one that loves me.
Clot. Wretched woman
Whom guilt hath flung at a poor menial’s feet &150;
Rise, rise, how canst thou keep thy fatal secret?
Those fixt and bloodshot eyes, those wringing hands
Imo. And were I featureless, inert, and marble
Th’ accuser here would speak
Clot. Wilt thou seek comfort from the holy prior?
Imo. When I was innocent, I sought it of him
For if his lip of wrath refused my pardon,
My heart would have absolved me
Now when that heart condemns me, what avails
The pardon of my earthly erring judge?
Clot. Yet, hie from hence, upon their lady’s bower
No menial dares intrude.
Imo. That seat of honour
My guilty steps shall never violate
What fearful sound is that?
Clot. Alas, a feller trial doth abide thee;
I hear thy lord’s approach.
Madness is in thy looks, he’ll know it all
Imo. Why, I am mad with horror and remorse
He comes, he comes in all that murderous kindness;
Oh Bertram’s curse is on me.
Ald. How fares my dame? give me thy white hand, love.
Oh it is pleasant for a war-worn man
To couch him on the downy lap of comfort
And on his rush-strewn floors of household peace
Hear his doffed harness ring Take thou my helmet;
(To page who goes out.)
Well may man toil for such an hour as this.
Imo. (standing timidly near him)
Yea, happier they, who on the bloody field
Stretch when their toil is done
Ald. What means my love?
Imo. Is there not rest among the quiet dead;
But is there surely rest in mortal dwellings?
Ald. Deep loneliness hath wrought this mood in thee,
For like a cloistered votaress, thou hast kept,
Thy damsels tell me, this lone turret’s bound
A musing walk upon the moonlight ramparts,
Or thy lute’s mournful vespers all thy cheering
Not thine to parley at the latticed casement
With wandering wooer, or
Imo. (wildly) For mercy’s sake forbear
Ald. How farest thou?
Imo. (recovering) Well well a sudden pain o’ th’ heart.
Ald. Knowest thou the cause detained me hence so long,
And which again must call me soon away?
Imo. (trying to recollect herself) Was it not war?
Ald. Aye, and the worst war, love
When our fell foes are our own countrymen.
Thou knowest the banished Bertram why, his name
Doth blanch thy altered cheek, as if his band
With their fierce leader, were within these towers
Imo. Mention that name no more on with thy tale
Ald. I need not tell thee, how his mad ambition
Strove with the crown itself for sovereignty
The craven monarch was his subject’s slave
In that dread hour my country’s guard I stood,
From the state’s vitals tore the coiled serpent,
First hung him writhing up to public scorn,
Then flung him forth to ruin.
Imo. Thou need’st not tell it
Ald. Th’apostate would be great even in his fall
On Manfredonia’s wild and wooded shore
His desperate followers awed the regions round
Late from Taranto’s gulf his bark was traced
Right to these shores, perchance the recent storm
Hath spared me further search, but if on earth
His living form be found
Imo. Think’st thou he harbours here
Go, crush thy foe for he is mine and thine
But tell me not when thou hast done the deed.
Ald. Why are thou thus, my Imogine, my love?
In former happier hours thy form and converse
Had, like thy lute, that gracious melancholy
Whose most sad sweetness is in tune with joy
Perhaps I’ve been to thee a rugged mate
My soldier’s mood is all too lightly chafed
But when the gust hath spent its short-liv’d fury,
I bowed before thee with a child’s submission,
And wooed thee with a weeping tenderness.
Imo. (after much agitation) Be generous, and stab me
Ald. Why is this?
I have no skill in woman’s changeful moods,
Tears without grief and smiles without a joy
My days have passed away ‘mid war and toil
The grinding casque hath worn my locks of youth;
Beshrew its weight, it hath ploughed furrows there,
Where time ne’er drove its share mine heart’s sole wish
Is to sit down in peace among its inmates
To see mine home for ever bright with smiles,
’Mid thoughts of past, and blessed hopes of future,
Glide through the vacant hours of waning life
Then die the blessed death of aged honour,
Grasping thy hand of faith, and fixing on thee
Eyes that, though dim in death, are bright with love.
Imo. Thou never wilt thou never wilt on me
Ne’er erred the prophet heart that grief inspired
Thou joy’s illusions mock their votarist
I’m dying, Aldobrand, a malady
Preys on my heart, that medicine cannot reach,
Invisible and cureless look not on me
With looks of love, for then it stings me deepest &150;
When I am cold, when my pale sheeted corse
Sleeps the dark sleep no venomed tongue can wake
List not to evil thoughts of her whose lips
Have then no voice to plead
Take to thine arms some honourable dame,
(Blessed will she be within thine arms of honour)
And if he dies not on his mother’s grave
Still love my boy as if that mother lived.
Ald. Banish such gloomy dreams
’Tis solitude that makes thee speak thus sadly
No longer shalt thou pine in lonely halls.
Come to thy couch, my love
Imo. Stand off unhand me.
Forgive me, oh my husband;
I have a vow a solemn vow is on me
And black perdition gulf my perjured soul
If I ascend the bed of peace and honour
Ald. ’Till what?
Imo. My penance is accomplished.
Ald. Nay, Heav’n forefend I should disturb thy orisons
The reverend prior were fittest counsellor
Farewell! but in the painful hour of penance
Think upon me, and spare thy tender frame.
Imo. And doest thou leave me with such stabbing kindness?
Ald. (to Clotilda who goes out) Call to my page
To bring the torch and light me to my chamber
Imo. (with a sudden impulse falling on her knees)
Yet, ere thou goest, forgive me, oh my husband
Ald. Forgive thee! What?
Imo. Oh, we do all offend
There’s not a day of wedded life, if we
Count at its close the little, bitter sum
Of thoughts, and words, and looks unkind and froward,
Silence that chides and woundings of the eye
But prostrate at each others’ feet, we should
Each night forgiveness ask then what should I?
Ald. (not hearing the last words) Why take it freely;
I well may pardon, what I ne’er have felt.
Imo. (following him on her knees, and kissing his hand)
Dost thou forgive me from thine inmost soul
God bless thee, oh, God bless thee
Ald. Farewell mine eyes grow heavy, thy sad talk
Hath stolen a heaviness upon my spirits
I will unto my solitary couch Farewell.
Imo. There is no human heart can bide this conflict
All dark and horrible, Bertram must die
But oh, within these walls, before mine eyes,
Who would have died for him, while life had value;
He shall not die, Clotilda, ho, come forth
He yet may be redeemed, though I am lost
Let him depart, and pray for her he ruin’d.
Hah! was it fancy’s work I hear a step
It hath the speech-like thrilling of his tread:
It is himself.
It is a crime in me to look on thee
But in whate’er I do there now is crime
Yet wretched thought still struggles for thy safety
Fly, while my lips without a crime may warn thee
Would thou hadst never come, or sooner parted.
Oh God he heeds me not;
Why comest thou thus, what is thy fearful business?
I know thou comest for evil, but its purport
I ask my heart in vain.
Ber. Guess it, and spare me. (A long pause, during which she gazes at him)
Canst thou not read it in my face?
Imo. I dare not;
Mixt shades of evil thought are darkening there;
But what my fears do indistinctly guess
Would blast me to behold (turns away, a pause.)
Ber. Dost thou not hear it in my very silence?
That which no voice can tell, doth tell itself.
Imo. My harassed thought hath not one point of fear,
Save that it must not think.
Ber. (throwing his dagger on the ground.) Speak thou for me,
Shew me the chamber where thy husband lies,
The morning must not see us both alive.
Imo. (screaming and struggling with him.) Ah! horror! horror! off withstand me not,
I will arouse the castle, rouse the dead,
To save my husband; villain, murderer, monster,
Dare the bayed lioness, but fly from me.
Ber. Go, wake the castle with thy frantic cries;
Those cries that tell my secret, blazon thine.
Yea, pour it on thine husband’s blasted ear.
Imo. Perchance his wrath may kill me in its mercy.
Ber. No, hope not such a fate of mercy from him;
He’ll curse thee with his pardon.
And would his death-fixed eye be terrible
As its ray bent in love on her that wronged him?
And would his dying groan affright thine ear
Like words of peace spoke to thy guilt in vain?
Imo. I care not, I am reckless, let me perish.
Ber. No, thou must live amid a hissing world,
A thing that mothers warn their daughters from,
A thing the menials that do tend thee scorn,
Whom when the good do name, they tell their beads,
And when the wicked think of, they do triumph;
Canst thou encounter this?
Imo. I must encounter it I have deserved it;
Begone, or my next cry shall wake the dead.
Ber. Hear me.
Imo. No parley, tempter, fiend, avaunt.
Ber. Thy son (she stands stupified.)
Go, take him trembling in thy hand of shame,
A victim of the shrine of public scorn
Poor boy! his sire’s worst foe might pity him,
Albeit his mother will not
Banished from noble halls, and knightly converse,
Devouring his young heart in loneliness
With bitter thought my mother was a wretch.
Imo. (falling at his feet.) I am a wretch but who hath made me so?
I’m writhing like a worm, beneath thy spurn.
Have pity on me, I have had much wrong.
Ber. My heart is as the steel within my grasp.
Imo. (still kneelng.) Thou hast cast me down from light,
From my high sphere of purity and peace,
Where once I walked in mine uprightness, blessed
Do not thou cast me into utter darkness.
Ber. (looking on her with pity for a moment.) Thou fairest flower
Why didst thou fling thyself across my path,
My tiger spring must crush thee in its way,
But cannot pause to pity thee.
Imo. Thou must,
For I am strong in woes I ne’er reproached thee
I plead but with my agonies and tears
Kind, gentle Bertram, my beloved Bertram,
For thou were gentle once, and once beloved,
Have mercy on me Oh thou couldst not think it
(Looking up, and seeing no relenting in his face, she starts up wildly.)
By heaven and all its host, he shall not perish.
Ber. By hell and all its host, he shall not live.
This is no transient flash of fugitive passion
His death hath been my life for years of misery
Which else I had not lived
Upon that thought, and not on food, I fed,
Upon that thought, and not on sleep, I rested
I come to do the deed that must be done
Nor thou, nor sheltring angels, could prevent me.
Imo. But man shall miscreant help.
Ber. Thou callest in vain
The unarmed vassals all are far from succour
Following St. Anselm’s votarists to the convent
My band of blood are darkening in their halls
Wouldst have him butchered by their ruffian hands
That wait my bidding?
Imo. (falling on the ground.) Fell and horrible
I’m sealed, shut down in ransomless perdition.
Ber. Fear not, my vengeance will not yield its prey,
He shall fall noble, by my hand shall fall
But still and dark the summons of its fate,
So winds the coiled serpent round his victim.
[SOURCE: C. R. Maturin, Bertram; or, The Castle of St. Aldobrand, 2nd edn (London: John Murray, 1816), pp. 17, 4657]
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