04 February 2007

Marmion and Other Deceptions

"Oh, what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practice to deceive!"

Back when I was that odd kid in high school and college that read Shakespeare for fun, I rummaged around for other authors of interest. In one of those strange coincidences, a friend recommended Sir Walter Scott. "You have to read Marmion," he said, "It mentions your name. And that quote you like? It's not Shakespeare, that's why you can't find it. It's Sir Walter Scott." So I secured my copy of Marmion, A Tale Of Flodden Field and off I read.

Marmion is a very long narrative poem written in six cantos and published in 1808. It's about the battle of Flodden Field in 1513, where the English army killed King James IV and slaughtered the Scottish army. It has enough operatic overtones to keep even Gabriele happy, I think.

The poem talks of Lord Marmion, who is interested in Clara de Clare, who is already engaged to Ralph De Wilton. Not to be thwarted, Lord Marmion forges a letter to get De Wilton in deep trouble. He is helped by his present mistress, Constance De Beverley, who breaks her vows and helps with the letter in hopes of winning Marmion. De Wilton claims the right to face Marmion in combat, and is defeated. Clara de Clare runs and hides from Marmion in a convent. Constance was walled up alive as punishment for breaking her vows, but manages to get a letter out proving De Wilton's innocence. De Wilton is reinstated as a knight after proving his innocence, and heads off to find Marmion and demand justice.

Meanwhile, Marmion heads for Scotland to supposedly talk peace. While he is there, the Battle of Flodden Field takes place, and Marmion is eventually killed in the battle. (Very nice, drawn out death scene) Ralph De Wilton arrives just in time to take part in the battle, fights with honor and regains all the status he lost because of Marmion's treachery. De Wilton marries Clara and you assume they live happily ever after...

(from First Canto – description of Marmion)

Along the bridge Lord Marmion rode,
Proudly his red-roan charger trode,
His helm hung at the saddlebow;
Well by his visage you might know
He was a stalwart knight, and keen,
And had in many a battle been;
The scar on his brown cheek revealed
A token true of Bosworth field;
His eyebrow dark, and eye of fire,
Showed spirit proud and prompt to ire;
Yet lines of thought upon his cheek
Did deep design and counsel speak.
His forehead, by his casque worn bare,
His thick moustache, and curly hair,
Coal-black, and grizzled here and there,
But more through toil than age;
His square-turned joints, and strength of limb,
Showed him no carpet knight so trim,
But in close fight a champion grim,
In camps a leader sage.

(Canto Two – Constance speaks to the Abbot)

“I speak not to implore your grace,
Well know I, for one minute’s space
Successless might I sue:
Nor do I speak your prayers to gain -For
if a death of lingering pain,
To cleanse my sins, be penance vain,
Vain are your masses too.
I listened to a traitor’s tale,
I left the convent and the veil;
For three long years I bowed my pride,
A horse-boy in his train to ride;
And well my folly’s meed he gave,
Who forfeited, to be his slave,
All here, and all beyond the grave.
He saw young Clara’s face more fair,
He knew her of broad lands the heir,
Forgot his vows, his faith forswore,
And Constance was beloved no more.
’Tis an old tale, and often told;.
But did my fate and wish agree,
Ne’er had been read, in story old,
Of maiden true betrayed for gold,
That loved, or was avenged, like me."

(Canto Sixth)

The instant that Fitz-Eustace spoke,
A sudden light on Marmion broke:
“Ah! dastard fool, to reason lost!”
He muttered; “’Twas nor fay nor ghost
I met upon the moonlight wold,
But living man of earthly mould.
O dotage blind and gross!
Had I but fought as wont, one thrust
Had laid De Wilton in the dust,
My path no more to cross.
How stand we now?—he told his tale
To Douglas; and with some avail;
’Twas therefore gloomed his rugged brow.
Will Surrey dare to entertain,
‘Gainst Marmion, charge disproved and vain?
Small risk of that, I trow.
Yet Clare’s sharp questions must I shun;
Must separate Constance from the nun –
Oh, what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practice to deceive!
A Palmer too!—no wonder why
I felt rebuked beneath his eye:
I might have known there was but one
Whose look could quell Lord Marmion.”.


Gabriele C. said...

Scott's poems and novels lend themselves to opera well. His Lady of the Lake was put into music by Rossin, La Donna del Lago; Donizetti wrote Lucia di Lammermoor and Il Castello di Kenilworth, Rossini an Ivanhoé, and Verdi used some Scott-based motives when he rewrote Aroldo.

If you go below my latest blogpost, you'll find some verses I translated from Latin. Yes, I'm getting ambitious recently. :)

Constance said...

I knew I could count on you to fill the gaps in my operatic knowledge. *g* Actually finding any copies of operas to listen to is a bit of a problem here. No one even to hum it for me... Can you post some day a beginner's guide? Operas to start with for the culturally impaired?

I've written a 23 page epic poem. It took me over a year. I can't imagine doing that for a living. Not much motivation to write epics since the Poetry Enforcers frown on anything over 40 lines. Maybe I should turn it into an opera! Everthing sounds better sung in Italian. :)

Gabriele C. said...

Lol, it surely does.

The problem with an opera guide for beginners is that even within opera tastes vary a lot. I got one fellow student started on it by Wagner's Ring which usually counts as delicacy for specialists. :) Then there are those who look down at Italian belcanto as inferior, those who think the only composer worth their admiration is Mozart and maybe Gluck being an acceptable second. Personally, I don't like Puccini (except for some arias) but I know some who prefer him to all other Italian composers.

An often recommended starter is Bizet's Carmen. Verdi's La Traviata might work as well. In case you want to try Wagner, get Tannhäuser or the Flying Dutchman. Mozart - well, Don Giovanni is his best opera, imho, but Figaro's Wedding (La nozee di Figaro) may be a better starter. And since I don't want to talk you out of Puccini, I'd suggest La Boheme.

Constance said...

Then the question becomes, which version of the opera? There's like 12 versions of La Boheme, the Marriage of Figaro versions go on for pages.

On the other hand, I'll settle for seeing what my local library has on CD. At $20-60 dollars an opera, I'd have to really like it to buy it. I have a cheap version of Wagner's The Flying Dutchman, and believe me, you get what you pay for. Parts are missing...

I wonder if I can listen to the The Barber of Seville without picturing classic Bugs Bunny? :)

Carla said...

Opera is out of my league, but I do like that Walter Scott poem. Epic poetry seems to have gone the way of the dodo, doesn't it?

Constance said...

Trust me, no one wants poems over 40 lines. My 23 page epic? I keep it around for my own amusement. Just to prove I could write on that scale. If I wanted to. And had sufficient caffeine.