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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Closing Scene of the First American Tragedy Regularly Produced

By William Dunlap (1766–1839)

[Leicester: A Tragedy. By William Dunlap. Performed at the Theatre in John Street, New York, 1794.—The Dramatic Works of William Dunlap. 1806.]

Scene draws, and discovers a table, lights, etc. A covered dish at each end. EDRED with the attendants.

MATILDA.Why does he not more quickly follow me?

I fear—I fear. His brow is darkly clouded;

Slow he speaks, and solemn. All is mystery.

How changed, alas! Alas! who is not changed!

He comes, and still the same black clouds hang on him.

Why walks my lord thus gloomily wrapt up,

With folded arms and eye devoid of pleasure?

There was a time—
LEIC.There was a time, indeed.

Pr’ythee think that I am weary. Heaven knows

The speed with which I’ve posted from my duty

To meet—no matter. Is the supper ready?

MAT.Art thou not well, my lord?
LEIC.Ay, very well;

Exceeding well. Is this the seat for me?

MAT.If it so please thee, sir.[They sit.]Throw off thy mantle.

LEIC.Not yet.

MAT.Where is thy friend?
LEIC.He will be here

Anon. And where’s thy brother Linneric?

MAT.My lord forgets that Linneric is ill.

By thee is placed a dish thou lovest much;

I pr’ythee eat. Here do I make my choice.

[In great distress and agitation, she offers to uncover the dish next to her. LEICESTER rises solemnly; while he speaks, she is violently agitated.]
LEIC.Hold, madam. It has ever been my mode,

Before I eat, to address to Heaven a prayer.

All-seeing Mercy! if what is now about

Be in thy sight acceptable, bless it:

And for this food, thou who can’st make the wholesomest

Meats pernicious to this mortal tenement,

Canst likewise, by thy power give nourishment

And sweet refreshment from the most pernicious;

We therefore may—
HOWARD.[Without.]Villains! audacious knaves!

MAT.What means this? We’re betrayed—[Exit to the noise, attendants follow.]

LEIC.Now, faithful Edred.

EDR.Thus be all evil far removed from Leicester.

[EDRED changes the dishes, shifts the covers, and exit.]
LEIC.Methinks the pangs that I did feel for her

Are o’er. She makes her guilt appear so plain,

I now can firmly sit and see her fall,

A victim to her own pernicious arts.

MAT.Thy friend, perhaps by weariness enticed,

Hath drank of wine too freely; but ashamed

At seeing me, retired. Now to our seats.

Will my lord help himself to that he likes?

LEIC.[Uncovering the dish next him.]Here do I make my choice.

MAT.And here choose I.

LEIC.[Rises.]Hold, Matilda! touch not—

MAT.[Alarmed.]What means my lord?

LEIC.That food is poisoned.

MAT.Alas! what meanest thou?

LEIC.Thou art discovered. Fallen, fallen Matilda!

I did intend to see thee take the bait

For me prepared; but gentle mercy hinders.

During the tumult were the dishes changed,

And that which thou wast on the point of tasting

Was crossed upon the cover; thou knowest wherefore.

MAT.’Tis well. Eternal Providence, I thank thee!

It is not chance which thrice this day hath saved

The worthiest gentleman that England owns.

To avoid foul infamy I sought thy life;

Heaven hath preserved thee, and I am caught.

But think not, Leicester, I will live to bear

This load of guilt and shame. I have a friend

That will avenge thy wrongs, although thou would’st not.

[Stabs herself. LEICESTER advances to her. Attendants support her. Some go off.]
Leicester, pity my youthful paramour;

His guilt is innocence compared to mine.

My brother Linneric will soon be here:

The knowledge of his coming drove me on

To desperate exertion. Oh! I faint.[Noise without.]

Quick—stop those ruffians—defend thee, Leicester.

Bear me from this scene.—Forgive—forgive—forgive.[Exit, borne off.]

Enter ASSASSINS, who advance towards LEICESTER with drawn swords. On the other side, enter HENRY CECIL, his sword drawn.
HEN.Stand all aside, leave Leicester to my arm.

LEIC.[Throwing off his mantle, and discovering his armor.]Come all! murderers alike! Leicester defies ye all;

Armed and prepared, ye vainly seek his life.

Enter HOWARD, EDRED, and PEASANTS. They drive off the ASSASSINS, and exeunt.
HEN.Defend thee!
LEIC.Ungrateful boy, who art thou?

HEN.Thy mortal foe, Lord Leicester. Defend thee!

LEIC.Rash youth, forbear! I would not shed thy blood;

But for yon woman, thou hadst never fallen.

HEN.No more. Stand on thy guard. This to thy heart!

[LEICESTER stands on his defence; HENRY drops his sword and runs on LEICESTER’S.]
Now do I thank thee! thank thee, generous Leicester!

LEIC.[Supports him.]O, heavenly powers! my sword has pierced thee through!

HEN.Never came joy so welcome to my heart.

O could this blood, ungrateful, expiate

The injuries I’ve done thee—But I faint—[Falls.]

Did’st thou but know how, while I sought thy life,

I loved thee much, much better than myself—

Weak wretch! thou’rt caught; hell, hell, thou hast me now!

LEIC.Poor youth! But quick, ere thy fast fleeting breath

Hath left thee quite, resolve my pressing doubts.

Who art thou?

HEN.Henry Cecil is my name.

I knew Matilda ere she was thy wife—

I faint—Oh, Matilda! thou hast undone me!

LEIC.She hears thee not; pale Death, ere this, sits ghastly

On her visage. Lost Matilda! Speak, poor youth,

Yet speak, if thou hast breath. Art thou Lord Cecil’s brother?

HEN.Brother to him, and to yon bleeding corpse.

He did slay Cecil, and I murdered him,

Thinking ’twas thee, my lord. So turns the wheel,

And Guilt doth punish guiltiness. I sink—

Down plunged to torments fierce and everlasting.

LEIC.Nay, think not so, poor soul: who shall set bounds

To Heaven’s unbounded mercy? Leicester forgives thee;

And shall Heaven’s gates be shut upon repentance?

Look up, and give some sign of blessed hope.

[HENRY starts up so as to reach LEICESTER’S hand; kisses it, throws himself back, and expires. LEICESTER stands over him, pitying. Enter HOWARD, EDRED, etc.]
HOW.Art thou unhurt, my lord?
LEIC.My body is

Untouched, but sorely is my spirit wounded,

Howard. O complicated tale of woe!

Poor guilty wretches! may your sufferings here,

Upon this mortal shoal, this bank, whereon

So many goodly souls are stranded, prove

Atonement ample for your heinous crimes!

How quick hath Justice followed on the heel

Of Perpetration! Here let the guilty

Tremble, and be well assured, one eye there is

Which never, never sleeps.