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The Lamentable Tragedy of the Duke of Palermo

Henry Chettle and William Shakespeare, discovered and transcribed by Homer R. Winslow, presented by Edmund Wilson


Lucia, thou first camest to our Naples
A malapert and saucy serving maid,
Yet soon thou didst subdue our royal household—
Our Franks dépaysés in this foreign place—
To order strict and partial harmony
With sullen strangers, for thou dids’t interpret,
Adept at both the tongues, for all our court,
And now, parbleu, ma chère, thou servest us
As our best prompter.


Let me then, my liege,
Stay ever by your side, and go with you.
I have, besides, another anxious reason:
By this same messenger who brought to you
These tidings came a letter from Palermo
That bore the news my agèd mother there
Is dying and would see me ere she passes.
So I would seek Palermo and receive
Her final breath. Thus, all unspied upon,
I shall spy out what machinations
May be afoot against your Majesty.
For safely I may travel as your page,
So none shall know me when we do embark,
And you, my liege, I think, must don rude garments,
Like some poor trafficker in figs and dates.
An’t please your Majesty, I’ll straight to market
And fit you with a lading of these fruits,
As if I bought provision for the palace.


Dépêche-toi, donc, and waste no moment there!
Find also the false dress for me to wear.


I’ll have the boat made ready.


Bon, allons!
Mort de ma vie, quelle situation!

He hurries out.


So far, so good. Now comes the test of it,
The trial of my swift Sicilian wit,
To lead astray this dunce and dunderhead
And, with God’s help, to leave the dizzard dead.


Backstage during the intermission. Fran and Winslow.

FRAN (nervous): I’m sorry about that slip. It’s been haunting me that way all through the rehearsals—I was afraid I was going to say it.

WINSLOW: It’s all right. It made them laugh.

FRAN: Don’t you think it might be a good idea to skip Terry’s scene with you and Lucia. I’m sure he’s had more drinks.

WINSLOW: I don’t think he’ll let us down.

FRAN: You love that scene with the Clown. It might have a scholar in stitches. But nobody who doesn’t get the allusions and the Elizabethan vocabulary is going to understand a word of it.

WINSLOW: It’s no more difficult than some of Shakespeare’s clown scenes.

FRAN: That goes for Shakespear, too. Either they cut them or they have to mug them.

WINSLOW: It’s too late to leave it out. Don’t worry, dear. It’s going to be all right.—Go and see if Lucia’s ready.

He goes on stage. Fran goes to the door of a dressing room. Lucia emerges in her page costume.

FRAN: You’re ready, little linnet?

Chuck and Terry, together, come out of another door laughing, and Terry goes on stage.

FRAN (to Chuck): Have you been drinking, too?

CHUCK: Giovanni has to steel himself.

FRAN: Now don’t actually beat Spooky up when it comes to the duel scene!

CHUCK: Why not?

FRAN: You know you mustn’t bully inferiors.

CHUCK: Inferiors? He’s just had me fired.

FRAN: You know what I mean. You were saying that you and he were on different levels. So don’t.

The bell rings. The backstage goes dark.


Placard: “Palermo.” The Duke sits looking at a miniature. Terry-Clown enters before he has finished his apostrophe to it.


Tis well, Ardelia, my sweet wife, that thou
Liv’st not to endure these dark and bloody days—
Thou who didst awe the people with thy beauty,
Whom after years I still beheld with wonder
The sharer of my table and my bed.
Like any common shepherd, I was dazzled;
My pride itself did vail before thy pride.
These days, I say, are dark, yet every day
Is darkling since thou went’st. There is no dawn
For my sad spirit since its sun is gone.


You are sad, my lord.


Say, where hast thou been hiding?
In some low stews, I’ll warrant, or some tavern.
Beware our sly Cataines and cunning coles,
Crackhalters quick to cozen Northern gulls.
Thy master called for thee and thou cam’st not.

TERRY-CLOWN: I’faith, a man of the North who hath scaped without a pox the bona robas of Turnbull Street and the coney-catchers of Ram’s Alley hath nought to fear from the golls of your Southern fingerers or the trulls of your Sicilian trugging-houses. No haggard like a German haggard!

WINSLOW-DUKE: (to the audience): A word of explanation here. A haggard is one who resists a cony-catcher. (Continuing) Thou boastest like a very Teuton. Look to it that thou be’st not provoked in a coil with our Mafia hacksters.

TERRY-CLOWN: Nay, for me provoked is prorogued.


TERRY-CLOWN: I strive to appease the bully, and should the rogue still provoke, eftsoons I prorogue again.

WINSLOW-DUKE: Meantime, thou may’st catch a firking.

TERRY-CLOWN: Nay, I’ll find some pat firk to firk off.

WINSLOW-DUKE (to the audience—he has been thoroughly enjoying this dialogue): Shakespeare may have written this! Firk was a common Elizabethan word. It was used in several senses: as a verb, it meant, to whip and to dart off; as a noun, it could mean a trick, a dodge. You have all three of these meanings here.—(To the Clown) What is thy business, sirrah, now that thou art come at last?

TERRY-CLOWN: A young man to see you, my lord—though he hath more the mien of a maid. He speaks our tongue, yet I fear some mischief.

WINSLOW-DUKE: Bid him enter, and do thou stay by.

Clown goes out.

WINSLOW-DUKE (putting aside the miniature): Ardelia, whom I trusted, my staunch bride, Now must I fear deceit on every side.

Clown enters with Lucia in her page’s costume.


Mistake me not in this strange garb, my lord.


Lucia! Safe from Naples? Little linnet,
How dids’t thou fly?


I shipp’d with our good fisher,
And with a passenger that will astound
Your ears to hear on. Charles the Angevin
Hath, by his agent, one Perfidio,
Got wind of what is plotted. In disguise,
He hath joined his fleet that masses at Messina
And straight moves on Palermo, where he plans
To slay our patriots, after Easter vespers,
Fresh from their prayers and pious applications
Of bread and wine that, through our Saviour’s blood,
Have purified their hearts, which shall be spitted
To shed their own; their throats that have voiced
   God’s anthem,
Shall now like those of squeaking swine be slit.
We must find means to frustrate this, my lord.
All seething Sicily awaits your word.

WINSLOW-DUKE (to Clown):

Now, sirrah, babble not of this abroad.
Nay, we shall keep thee close.—I must take counsel
Of Prince Giovanni. Meantime, brave Lucia,
Stay here and see this rascal stray not forth
To gossip in the wine-shops.


Ay, my lord.

The Duke hurries out.

TERRY-CLOWN: They call thee “little linnet.” Canst thou sing? This Sicily hath nought but scrannel pipes and caterwauling fit only for the ears of goats.

LUCIA: I sing neither for goats nor knaves.

TERRY-CLOWN: I am an honest knave, forsooth.

LUCIA: And, forsooth, a sore ill-favored.

TERRY-CLOWN: Nay, Mistress Pert, I have bussed and culled better than you.

LUCIA: My lord the Duke wants discretion. He should sink thee deep in dungeon lest thou prate.

TERRY-CLOWN: If so, I’ll do as Queen Eleanor. Sunk at Charing Green, she rose again at Queenhithe.

LUCIA: Your skin should have a sound swaddling.

TERRY-CLOWN: My master loves me well, hath never swing’d me. And mayhap you will love me, for I love a lass that takes no teasing, but snap snap makes smart riposte.

LUCIA: An almond for a parrot!

TERRY-CLOWN: Woulds’t thou lead apes in Hell then?

LUCIA: Were I to play at barleybreak with you, I’d soon find myself in Hell with a knave and a cungerhead.

TERRY-CLOWN: Marry, she takes the wall and makes me walk i’ the kennel.

LUCIA: Marry mew, marry muff, marry hang you, goodman dog.

Enter Winslow-Duke with Giovanni and Constance.

WINSLOW-DUKE (to the audience): That scene really belongs to the subplot, but I couldn’t resist leaving it in. How Swinburne would have chortled over it!


Would, madam, thou hadst brought with thee from
A basket of those poisonous Spanish figs
That first bring cramps, then a convulsèd death.

MRS. SIMMS-CONSTANCE (producing one from her corsage):

We always carry one about our person.
We never know what enemy may deserve
This sovran remedy.


Take it, good Lucia,
And give it to the Angevin when the thirst
That will assail him in our streets adust
Demands assuagement. For I like it not,
My prince, the cruel means you have devis’d
To make him die in torment.


Would I were
Phalaris, that old tyrant of your island,
Who roasted culprits in a brazen bull,
Red-heated from a fire stok’d beneath it,
Whose roarings were the howls of burning sinners.
I can afford no bronze nor cunning sculptors,
But, having some skill at carpentry, have contriv’d
An engine to repress the Angevin
And make us mirthful with his mangled groans!

WINSLOW-DUKE (to Lucia):

Try first the fig. I like not deeds of horror,
E’en when provok’d by horror and deserv’d.

Wilt thou not sing, Lucia, to relieve
The heavy burdens of this somber house—
That old song that the Duchess lov’d. Alas.
‘Twill make me sadder but my rancor pass.

LUCIA (sings):

When the south wind doth blow
   Beneath a leaden sky,
   We seek, my love and I,
A nook no man may know,
And there we clip and kiss.

When fading of the gale
   Unveils an azure sky,
   We sleep, my love and I,
Drows’d by the sun’s dwale,
Yet wake to kiss and clip.

Might we forever kiss
   In shadow or in sun,
   The two that play at one,
Then were we wise, ywis,
To dwell and die like this.


How sooth and plaintive-sweet this music falls!
She was want to sing it at her virginals.
—But now a long farewell to music’s charms:
We face contention’s strife and war’s alarms.


TISDALE: “Drugged by the sun’s dwale”?

CREECH: A soporific drink. Farfetched.

TISDALE: Did the Mafia exist in the Renaissance?

Creech, not knowing, does not reply. Tisdale glances at him.

TISDALE: One would have to check on that.

No reply.


Placard: “A Street in Palemro.” Charles and Lucia, still disguised.


Put off a little still your majesty,
My liege, to wear this humble merchant’s garb.
Your guards, disguisèd, too, shall seek the church
Like harmless worshippers, and till the springe be
You must not show yourself among the people,
Who, at your sight, might spit their hate like Etna.
But come to where your loyal followers,
Those of our people who defend the Franks,
Do wait to hear the trumpet of your word,
Be rous’d to ardor by your royal presence.
   (Spooky-Perfidio slips in at the side and listens to
the conversation).
They are gathered in the darkness of the crypt,
Where none dare enter, for they fear the dead
In that most dedicate and dreadful place.
   (Producing the poisonous fig)
A fig, my liege, to slake your parchèd throat,
In this our scorch’d and dusty Sicily?
—I would not send him to a death so cruel.
I have borne so long I almost come to pity
His stout and obstinate stupidity.

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