London. A room in the Tower of London.
(Edmund Mortimer; Richard Plantagenet; First Keeper; Second Keeper)
The imprisoned Mortimer waits for his nephew, Richard Plantagenet, to visit him. Old and wearied, he is near death. When Plantagenet arrives, Mortimer tells him the story of how Henry IV usurped the crown from Richard II. Mortimer was Richard II’s legitimate heir, but the Lancastrian kings (Henry IV, Henry V, and now the infant Henry VI) took the throne and suppressed the Mortimer family, finally imprisoning Mortimer himself for life. As Richard Plantagenet is the son of Mortimer’s sister, Richard in fact has a better claim to the throne than does the King. Mortimer warns him to be careful about pressing this claim, as the Lancastrians are well-installed, and dies. Plantagenet mourns him, and leaves to the parliament, intent on being restored as Duke of York, (129 lines)
Enter Mortimer, brought in a chair, and Keepers.
Kind keepers of my weak decaying age,
Let dying Mortimer here rest himself.
Even like a man new haled from the rack,
So fare my limbs with long imprisonment;
And these grey locks, the pursuivants of death,
Nestor-like aged, in an age of care,
Argue the end of Edmund Mortimer.
These eyes, like lamps whose wasting oil is spent,
Wax dim, as drawing to their exigent;
Weak shoulders, overborne with burdening grief,
And pithless arms, like to a withered vine
That droops his sapless branches to the ground.
Yet are these feet, whose strengthless stay is numb
(Unable to support this lump of clay),
Swift-winged with desire to get a grave,
As witting I no other comfort have.
But tell me, keeper, will my nephew come?
Richard Plantagenet, my lord, will come.
We sent unto the Temple, unto his chamber,
And answer was return’d that he will come.
Enough; my soul shall then be satisfied.
Poor gentleman, his wrong doth equal mine.
Since Henry Monmouth first began to reign,
Before whose glory I was great in arms,
This loathsome sequestration have I had;
And even since then hath Richard been obscur’d,
Depriv’d of honor and inheritance.
But now, the arbitrator of despairs,
Just Death, kind umpire of men’s miseries,
With sweet enlargement doth dismiss me hence.
I would his troubles likewise were expir’d,
That so he might recover what was lost.
Enter Richard Plantagenet.
My lord, your loving nephew now is come.
Richard Plantagenet, my friend, is he come?
Ay, noble uncle, thus ignobly us’d,
Your nephew, late-despised Richard, comes.
Direct mine arms I may embrace his neck,
And in his bosom spend my latter gasp.
O, tell me when my lips do touch his cheeks,
That I may kindly give one fainting kiss.
And now declare, sweet stem from York’s great stock,
Why didst thou say, of late thou wert despis’d?
First, lean thine aged back against mine arm,
And in that ease, I’ll tell thee my disease.
This day, in argument upon a case,
Some words there grew ’twixt Somerset and me;
Among which terms he us’d his lavish tongue
And did upbraid me with my father’s death;
Which obloquy set bars before my tongue,
Else with the like I had requited him.
Therefore, good uncle, for my father’s sake,
In honor of a true Plantagenet,
And for alliance sake, declare the cause
My father, Earl of Cambridge, lost his head.
That cause, fair nephew, that imprison’d me
And hath detain’d me all my flow’ring youth
Within a loathsome dungeon, there to pine,
Was cursed instrument of his decease.
Discover more at large what cause that was,
For I am ignorant and cannot guess.
I will, if that my fading breath permit
And death approach not ere my tale be done.
Henry the Fourth, grandfather to this king,
Depos’d his nephew Richard, Edward’s son,
The first begotten, and the lawful heir
Of Edward king, the third of that descent;
During whose reign the Percies of the north,
Finding his usurpation most unjust,
Endeavor’d my advancement to the throne.
The reason mov’d these warlike lords to this
Was, for that (young Richard thus remov’d,
Leaving no heir begotten of his body)
I was the next by birth and parentage;
For by my mother I derived am
From Lionel Duke of Clarence, third son
To King Edward the Third; whereas he
From John of Gaunt doth bring his pedigree,
Being but fourth of that heroic line.
But mark: as in this haughty great attempt
They labored to plant the rightful heir,
I lost my liberty, and they their lives.
Long after this, when Henry the Fifth
(Succeeding his father Bullingbrook) did reign,
Thy father, Earl of Cambridge then, deriv’d
From famous Edmund Langley, Duke of York,
Marrying my sister that thy mother was,
Again, in pity of my hard distress,
Levied an army, weening to redeem
And have install’d me in the diadem.
But as the rest, so fell that noble earl,
And was beheaded. Thus the Mortimers,
In whom the title rested, were suppress’d.
Of which, my lord, your honor is the last.
True; and thou seest that I no issue have,
And that my fainting words do warrant death.
Thou art my heir; the rest I wish thee gather;
But yet be wary in thy studious care.
Thy grave admonishments prevail with me.
But yet methinks, my father’s execution
Was nothing less than bloody tyranny.
With silence, nephew, be thou politic.
Strong fixed is the house of Lancaster,
And like a mountain, not to be remov’d.
But now thy uncle is removing hence,
As princes do their courts, when they are cloy’d
With long continuance in a settled place.
O uncle, would some part of my young years
Might but redeem the passage of your age!
Thou dost then wrong me, as that slaughterer doth
Which giveth many wounds when one will kill.
Mourn not, except thou sorrow for my good,
Only give order for my funeral.
And so farewell, and fair be all thy hopes,
And prosperous be thy life in peace and war!
And peace, no war, befall thy parting soul!
In prison hast thou spent a pilgrimage,
And like a hermit overpass’d thy days.
Well, I will lock his counsel in my breast,
And what I do imagine, let that rest.
Keepers, convey him hence, and I myself
Will see his burial better than his life.
Exeunt Keepers, bearing out the body of Mortimer.
Here dies the dusky torch of Mortimer,
Chok’d with ambition of the meaner sort;
And for those wrongs, those bitter injuries,
Which Somerset hath offer’d to my house,
I doubt not but with honor to redress.
And therefore haste I to the parliament,
Either to be restored to my blood,
Or make my will th’ advantage of my good.