Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University
Ate brings another dumb show, this time of Omphale, daughter of the king of Lydia, with a club and a lion skin. Hercules, “the mirror [verre?] of the world” (IV.i.3) — follows, doing woman’s work — spinning with a distaff. (This cross-dressing enslavement is referred to in Antony and Cleopatra.) Omphale whacks him with a slipper on the head and they exit. Ate explains, first quoting Ovid’s Heroides: “Quem non Argolici mandata severa tyranni, / Non potuit Juno vincere, vincit amor” [“He whom the tyrant’s mandate could not move, / Nor Juno’s self subdue, submits to love”] (IV.i.1-2). Hercules was a conqueror on the field and over monsters but yielded to love of Omphale and became “maidenly” (IV.i.10). So victorious Locrine “Falleth in love with Humber’s concubine, / And so forgetteth peerless Guendoline” (IV.i.12-13). Corineus is displeased with this.
Locrine revels in his triumph. The Scythians have been mowed down like grass and the brooks run red with their blood; Humber has paid for his “deceits and crafty treacheries, / … guiles and damned strategems” (IV.ii.10-11). Locrine waxes Anglo-Saxon with alliteration and an ubi sunt apostrophe (but anti-elegiac) to the vanquished Humber: “Where are thy horses … ? / Where are thy soldiers … ?” (IV.ii.13, 15). An epic simile — “Even as the country clowns with sharpest scythes / Do mow the withered grass from off the earth” (IV.ii.17-18) — reveals a playwright distant from actual yardwork. Corineus warns all enemies of this blessed plot, this England:
And thus, yea thus, shall all the rest be served
That seek to enter Albion ‘gainst our wills.
If the brave nation of the Troglodytes,
If all the coal-black Ethiopians,
If all the forces of the Amazons,
If all the hosts of the barbarian lands,
Should dare to enter this our little world,
Soon should they rue their overbold attempts,
That after us our progeny may say,
There lie the beasts that sought to usurp our land.
For mighty Jove, the supreme king of heaven,
That guides the concourse of the meteors,
And rules the motion of the azure sky,
Fights always for the Britons’ safety.
Locrine hears some shrieking, and two soldiers lead in Estrild, who compares herself with Hecuba after the fall of Troy and bemoans her own fate in the hands of her enemies: “I must abide the victor’s insolence” (IV.ii.63). She envies the dead: “Thrice hapless I, whom Fortune so withstood, / That cruelly she gave me to my foes. / O, soldiers, is there any misery / To be compared to Fortune’s treachery?” (IV.ii.72-75). Locrine finds her fair and “feel[s] the force of Cupid’s sudden stroke” (IV.ii.88).
O that sweet face, painted with nature’s dye,
Those roseal cheeks mixed with snowy white,
That decent neck surpassing ivory,
Those comely breasts which Venus well might spite,
Are like to snares which wily fowlers wrought,
Wherein my yielding heart is prisoner caught.
How true is that which oft I heard declared:
One dram of joy must have a pound of care.
The two soldiers presenting Estrild squabble over who found her first. And the long delay for this from when they first led her in suggests another, this time lengthy, insertion (Maxwell 43). Locrine has the two imprisoned and tells Estrild he “favours” her (IV.ii.125). But “How can he favour me that slew my spouse?” (IV.ii.126), she wonders, anticipating Anne in Richard III. She blames Locrine for killing Humber while he insists it was “the chance of war” (IV.ii.127). Estrild claims that Humber “was linked to me in marriage bond” (IV.ii.131) — another anamoly suggesting revision. “Better to die renowned for chastity” (IV.ii.134), she claims, Lucrece-like;
What would the common sort report of me,
If I forget my love, and cleave to thee?
Locrine: Kings need not fear the vulgar sentences.
Estrild: But ladies must regard their honest name.
Locrine: Is it a shame to live in marriage bonds?
Estrild: No, but to be a strumpet to a king.
Locrine promises her the queenship. She asks about Guendoline, but Locrine asserts that Estrild will not be harmed. “Then lo, brave Locrine, Estrild yields to thee” (IV.ii.146).
Corineus pitches a fit over this slight to his daughter Guendoline: “as thou lov’st thy life, so love thy wife. / But if thou violate those promises, / Blood and revenge shall light upon thy head” (IV.ii.178-180). The open antagonism is patched over until they return to Troynovant for discussions. But Locrine secretly curses Corineus, wishing him dead.
In the Historia as well as in the history plays of Shakespeare, “the effects of a bad king are seen in the immorality of his subjects, the disaffection and desertion of the nobles, civil war, and foreign invasion” (Gooch 26).
Humber’s hair has grown wild; his arms are bloodied and he carries a dart. He gripes about the impossibility of living off the land: “What basilisk was hatched in this place, / Where everything consumed is to naught?” (IV.iii.1-2). He blames dark Classical forces for preventing him from finding even a root to eat;
My very entrails burn for want of drink;
My bowels cry, Humber, give us some meat.
But wretched Humber can give you no meat;
These foul accursed groves afford no meat.
This fruitless soil, this ground, brings forth no meat.
The gods, hard-hearted gods, yield me no meat:
How then can Humber give you any meat?
Strumbo enters. He and his wife have had a baby, and he reports having come home late one night “with my stomach full of wine” (IV.iii.28-29) and his wife ready to lambaste him with a stick, or “set her ten commandments in my face” (IV.iii.41), meaning her fingernails (cf. 2 Henry VI I.iii.144-145, and The Taming of the Shrew). “I ran within her, and taking her lustily by the middle, I carried her valiantly to the bed, and flinging her upon it, flung myself upon her, and there I delighted her so with the sport I made, that ever after she would call me sweet husband, and so banished brawling forever” (IV.iii.41-47). She also brought some land into the marriage, so, in addition to taming the shrew, Strumbo is well off. He asks anachronistically “what’s a clock” (IV.iii.50) and sits down to see what he has for breakfast.
Humber emerges, griping still about the barrenness of the land. Strumbo’s impulse is to hide, but Humber spots him: “O Jupiter, hast thou sent Mercury / In clownish shape to minister some food?” (IV.iii.75-76). Humber demands food and threatens violence. Strumbo “had rather give an whole ox” than have his brains dashed out (IV.iii.84-85), but as he offers some food, the Ghost of Albanact strikes him on the hand, so Strumbo runs off. Humber chases after him, leaving the Ghost to remark:
Lo, here the gift of fell ambition,
Of usurpation and of treachery.
Lo, here the harms that wait upon all those
That do intrude themselves in others’ lands
Which are not under their dominion.
Locrine complains that Corineus has been a hindrance for seven years between Estrild and him. He prays to Venus and Mars and asks “Cupid, convey this monster to dark hell, / That disannuls thy mother’s sugared laws” (IV.iv.11-12). But he keeps Estrild secretly in a bejeweled hideaway:
Thither eftsoons, accompanied with my page,
I covertly visit my heart’s desire,
Without suspicion of the meanest eye,
For love aboundeth still with policy….
Humber enters, inspired by Chaucer: “O vita misero longa, foelici brevis!” (IV.v.1). He wails about how long he has had to live, “Devouring leaves and beastly excrements” (IV.v.5), having stones for pillows and nightmares about Locrine approaching. He calls on the forces of the underworld now to kill him. Receiving no response, he decides, “Nay, I will die, though all the gods say nay” (IV.v.30), and hurls himself into the river. The Ghost of Albanact rejoices:
Humber is dead! Joy heavens, leap earth, dance trees!
Now mayst thou reach thy apples, Tantalus,
And with them feed thy hunger-bitten limbs.
Now, Sisyphus, leave tumbling of thy rock,
And rest thy restless bones upon the same.
Unbind Ixion, cruel Rhadamanth,
And lay proud Humber on the whirling wheel.
The Ghost of Albanact will bring this news to his father Brutus in the Elysian fields.