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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


A fortnight on the daz’d and queasy seas
I nothing eat but figs and dates.


I, too,
Did have a surfeit of this syrup’d fruit—
And when we came to port, I inly quaked
For fear we should be questioned, and our
Discoverèd, since figs as futile are
For Sicily as pilchards fetch’d to Yarmouth.
—Come then, my liege, and softly through the
We’ll make our cloakèd way.



Lead on, sweet page,
Thou hast ever proved a torch, a star, to me.
Diantre! En avant! Ventre-saint-gris!

They go out.


I like not this. This page is too glip-lipped.

Needs must I glimpse what passes in the crypt.

Perfidio follows Charles and Lucia. A noble Sicilian and his wife appear, and at the same time a Sergeant. During the scene that follows, other men and women appear, both Sicilians and French.


Sweet husband, what a winter do we face,
Sans grain, sans flesh of cattle or of swine.
Our mares and geldings they have rapp’d away
To ride against the Turks.


May the Turks mince them!
May the false Crescent of the infidel
Cut down this beast that falsely bears the Cross,
As if a carrion raven did croak forth
He were the Holy Ghost!


These dogs of Dagoes,
This scum of Sicily, sometimes carry arms
To catch their masters in a guet-apens.
—Come, fellow, what hast thou hid beneath thy

He searches the Husband.

THE HUSBAND: Lay off, thou swallower of frogs!


And thou, bold wench,
What hast thou in thy bodice?

He puts his hand in her bosom.


Touch her not!

While the Sergeant is mishandling the Wife, the Husband snatches his sword.


By thine own sword be slain and sent to Hell!

He stabs the Sergeant, who falls dead.

THE HUSBAND (to the crowd who have gathered):

Enough of Frankish insolence! Have at them!

THE SICILIANS (who begin fighting the French):

Mordanu li Franchiski! Down with the filthy Frogs!

THE FRENCH: Mort aux sales Siciliens! Down with the Dagoes!

A SICILIAN (pointing to a woman):

She lies with the Franks, this strumpet, and she
hath a Froggish baby in her womb. Do her to

They set upon the woman.


They cannot speak, they lisp!

To a Frenchman, whom two other Sicilians are holding.

Say céci, knave!


sesí, sesí.

The French all try to pronounce the word and fail. The Sicilians slay them and chase them out.

The curtain descends, and while the scene is being changed, Winslow comes before it.

WINSLOW: I find that this part is historical. Though our author does sometimes take liberties, these horrors he presents were real. Today they ought not to surprise us. The language issue in Sicily—was most acute. It became a national grievance. And this ought not to surprise us either.


Placard: “The Crypt.”

A black catafalque with a coffin on top. The draperies reach to the ground. The Duke, Constance, Violante and the Clown stand around in black dominoes with hoods. Giovanni, in his Friar’s gown, presides. All are chanting as Charles and Lucia enter right.

LUCIA (to Charles):

They do but play at obsequies and dirges.
The coffin’s empty, and the hooded friar
Hath rallied here your faithful followers.


Seize him! Disarm him! Clown, do thou bar the
Look you, it is the Angevin!


Zut, alors!

Terry-Clown locks the door, then he, the Duke and Queen Constance lay hands on Charles and take his sword.


And I the son of Conradin, dread sir—Giovanni di
(Producing the Crowned Skull)
See how my father, wearing still the crown,
Doth ghastly glare and grin at his destroyer!
   The curtains of the inner stage open and reveal
the Skeletons.
Behold his court who muster to avenge him!


Avenge! Avenge! Avenge!


Nay, give the boorish princeling back his sword.
‘Tis I must fit him—I in single combat!
I’ll wound and drag him to his spikèd coffin.


Ah, jeopard not thy noble spirit, prince,
With odds of such a heavy adversary!
We shall dispatch him as we first prepared.
Were we to lose thee, we should leaderless
Be left. Thou lit’st our flame to fight dishonor.
Our tears can never wash away our woes!


Nay, loyal Violante, my quick blade,
Well-schooled in glitt’ring play, shall featly pierce
And slice and barbecue this lumbering ox!
Else were it treason to my father’s name.
—Give back his sword.

The Duke returns it. In the meantime, without being noticed, Perfidio has crept down by a stair that leads on the right to the church above.

Now, Charles the Dog, have at you!

They fight. Giovanni still holding the skull under his left arm. Giovanni has the advantage, but when he has driven Charles into the corner where Perfidio is lurking, the latter trips up Giovanni, and he falls upon Charles’s sword.


Brought low by base Perfidio, the spy,
Undone by unassuagèd pride, I die.
Good Duke, sweet Violante, to whom, dead,
I’ll never, as we vainly hop’d, be wed:
Thou livest; to our lofty mission look:
See that this monstrous frog ‘scape not our hook.

Violante kneels beside him.

The Skeletons rush up behind Charles and hold him. The Duke and the Clown wrest away his sword.

MRS. SIMMS-CONSTANCE: A coffin for the tyrant: load him in.


Like Nürnberg’s Iron Maiden, the grim coffin
Is lin’d with ravenous fangs.

The Skeletons open the lid, which is seen to be studded with long spikes. The others carry Charles to the coffin.


Unhand me, goblins, Devil’s brood! Morbleu!
What make you in God’s temple, nom de Dieu?


Avenge! Avenge! Avenge!

While they are putting him into the coffin and closing the lid, Perfidio turns to sneak up the stair. Giovanni partly rises and, tackling him as at football, brings him down. For this purpose, he has to drop the Skull. Terry-Clown swiftly picks it up and, holding it under his arm like a football, plunges across the stage and makes a touchdown on the other side.

TERRY-CLOWN: Touchdown for Hillsdale! Hillsdale 13, Middlebury 9!

THE SKELETON (led by Terry):

Hillsdale! Hillsdale! Hillsdale! Avenge! Avenge!


Let vile Perfidio feel those splinters’ sting!
Impact him in the coffin with the King!

The Skeletons seize Perfidio, who struggles.

MRS. SIMMS (coming out of her role): What’s going on here? I won’t put up with this!

She tries to intervene.

TERRY-CLOWN: Take her away and have her soundly firked!

Two of the Skeletons take her arms and make as if to escort her out. Winslow tries to go to her rescue. She slaps away their arms.

WINSLOW (to the Skeletons): Don’t!

In the meantime the other Skeletons have been cramming Perfidio into the coffin. They fasten the lid and sit on it. One, however, abstains and stands aside.

Terry starts a football song, in which the Skeletons join.

So hit the line for Hillsdale,
   For Hillsdale wins today!
And the Middlebury team will tremble
   When they see the red and gray!

TERRY-CLOWN: Now, boys, all together. Avenge! Avenge! Avenge! Go, bid the soldiers shoot!

Winslow makes gestures to quiet them. Perfidio and Charles, who have landed on a mattress below the coffin and have come out through the open side of the catafalque, now appear behind it.


The monsters are loose again!

WINSLOW-DUKE (to Charles and Perfidio):

Please pretend to be dead.


Things are getting out of hand.


Hadn’t you better ring the curtain down?

WINSLOW-DUKE: If you’d just lie down again.


I don’t think you can handle it.

FRAN (to Chuck):

Do something.

CHUCK-GIOVANNI (who is sitting up):

Lay off, Skeletons. Can it, Terry. If Perfidio and
Charles will be dead, I’ll be dead, too. Come on,
we’ll all be dead.

WINSLOW-DUKE: Yes: let us finish the play. Please. (To the audience.) I’m sorry for this disturbance.

Giovanni falls dead with a percussive flop. Perfidio and Charles subside behind the catafalque.

FRAN-VIOLANTE (going into her mad scene):

Ah, uncle, see, how like a knight he lies
In marble on some brave crusader’s tomb.
And I in the next compartment.
   (She stretches out beside Giovanni.)
Now my flesh
To marble freezes. Now the footsteps pass
Above the pavement stone—and we are stone.
We hear mass chanted, supine, side by side.
Eternity drips on. Our passion passes,
Leaving us pale. Oh, never, never more
To dance i’ the spring. Our limbs are turn’d to
We lie forever in death’s long defeat.


Defeat, defeat. My child, defeat is sure.
Giovanni lost, our cause is lost. Farewell,
Dear niece. Farewell to life. Thou’rt mad, and I
Weighed down with the sad impotence of eld
That cannot keep what once my dukedom held.

He stabs her, then stabs himself. Shouts are heard from outside. The Duke, tottering, opens the door. A Sicilian comes running up.


The Duke! Oh, my good lord, the people have risen!
They storm the market-place and put to death
Those lispers who speak not our rugged language.
Their Charles was here, but now, they say, is mur-

WINSLOW-DUKE (sinking down):

Pray God, they conquer! I am old, and I
Can only, never acquiesce, but die.

He dies.


Winslow comes before the curtain.

WINSLOW: And now, before delivering the Epilogue, I should like to invite my distinguished colleague, Dr. Edgar J. Creech of Pratt College—perhaps at present the world’s leading authority on the texts of Elizabethan drama—who has honored us with his presence here tonight—to favor us with a few words on his impressions of the play which we have just performed. I am sure that Dr. Creech understands that what I fear I must call the monkeyshines in the final scene were not a part of the actual text and represented a perhaps pardonable injection of under-graduate high spirits. Our actors, in their riotous behavior, had, in fact, I think, caught something of the spirit of the roistering Elizabethans. Dr. Creech, would you care to give an opinion—on the possible provenance of the play?

CREECH (rising): I don’t need to make any allowances for the alleged interpolations of the actors in order to give a verdict on this ridiculous charade. The so-called text of the play is no more authentic than these interpolations. The thing is a forgery from beginning to end. It is necessary only to indicate that—among the many outrageous absurdities—the word Dago, derived from the Spanish name Diego, originated in the United States sometime early in the nineteenth century, and that the word Frog, in the Elizabethan period, meant a Dutchman not a Frenchman. (Winslow smiles.) To try to make us accept such balderdash is, on somebody’s part, a barefaced piece of impudence. (He sits down.)

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