BERTRAM; OR, THE CASTLE OF ST. ALDOBRAND (1816)

CHARLES ROBERT MATURIN (1782–1824)


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.


ACT IV.
Scene II.

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.

                                                            Enter Clotilda.

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?
Clot.                                     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.
Clot.                                     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?
Imo.                                     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.

Enter Aldobrand.

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
            ’Till that –
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.
                                                [Exit Aldobrand.
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.

Enter Bertram.

            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. 1–7, 46–57]


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