Scene: Kings and Queens and All Their Heirs

When I Met Gerhard Schröder
January 28, 2011
John Knocks at the Door
February 9, 2011

As many of you know, one of my favorite movies of all time is The Lion in Winter. Most impressive to me is the script (and, of course, how well that script is executed). Inspired by the play of language and character, I composed this little scene—though not half as witty as the ones James Goldman created in 1966.

***

[Scene: In the Queen’s bedroom. The king is pacing while she sits in front of a mirror and combs her hair.]

Q: It occurs to me, dear, how little care you took to teach our boys the things you soldiers do with swords.

K: And what is it we do? So different than a needle? We shape our history, and by the means of conquered men and certain soldiers slain. There’s no mystery in warfare. Needling, that’s another business…

Q: Your son seems to have missed it. Look at him, he spends more time with books than bows and arrows. And he’s no penchant for needles. No brain for it either, I do say.

K: Don’t foist him on me; he’s ours! What of the lullabies you sang him, cradled in your arms, while other sons drank until the moon was sick of watching it? What of the sons who hunted with their fathers, feasting for the game they caught at last, so carefully eluding capture? What of the nights when fathers speak to sons of what it means to be a man?

Q: You presume too much. You should be master of your gender before you teach your sons to master it themselves.

K: [Deeply offended] What are you saying, woman?

Q: There is no font of masculinity in you, no treasure trove of manhood. You’re king, just the same, nothing’s to undo that now. And so will your son be. Wedded or otherwise.

K: He’ll wed if I say he’ll wed.

Q: It’s funny, love’s never taken to commands before. I wonder what privilege you have that it makes exception for the King of England?

K: Such humor, my dark queen. Would you wish away an heir to see your son scouting off with boys?

Q: It is no matter either way; there’s no changing it. If you wed him, which is against the church but Popes allow it anyway, he’ll forge affairs in darkened rooms and long-lost castles between the battles he designs to flee. Or you can give him the crown with blessings, have him sleep with half the court, and let his business be as nature wills it. In either case, your funeral brings a heavy burden on the boy’s weary head.

K: You’ve no more reverence for my office than the French.

Q: Why should I? It half belongs to the French, I think, the other half to egos married to the dust. They were great once, those kings of proper sexuality, but still they died, as all men do, and it was little matter afterward.

K: How can you say such a thing of your husband?

Q: [Laughs] He was a paltry thing; the only vigor in his frame was a disjointed chin and billowing mouth.

K: He handled orders well, and battles with an iron spirit.

Q: He handled battles as anyone who lusts for land. He was a shallow human being, if king. I hardly remember that he was at all.

K: Pray you don’t confuse your husband was with husband is.

Q: [Laughs again] Subtle differences, I know, but surely they are enough for this stout mind.

K: If stoutness comes with age, I’ll be your advocate.

Q: Kindness was never one of your stronger suits.

[Silent pause]

K: So what of Philip?

Q: What of him? He’s to be king, isn’t he?

K: But without an heir, unless he weds.

Q: And if he weds, he’ll spread more seed in squires than his wife.

K: As ever, the sole of tact.

Q: Come off it, Richard! Do you think we can amend his deepest urges? Do you think it’s fixable like wounds are healed? It’s a fault of nature, or of nature’s blessing, either one, but nothing to be changed. Just leave him be!

K: And watch my kingdom rot?

Q: You’ll be gazing from the grave, if God has any say.

K: He has less interest in my kingdom than I do.

Q: And perhaps for better. The line of Richard is a febrile thing, effete, and cumbersome for scribes to praise in all the history books. Better to find a natural Lord, who does more for legend than you or Philip.

K: And so my kingdom? I should watch it die?

Q: It won’t die, anymore than clouds disappear and return when they are so ordained. Your kingdom ends with you, dear.

K: I should be so comfortable with death.

Q: Why not? It’s got you from the start. Why fight it? Save your energy for quilting, like I do.

K: It’s not a king’s business.

Q: But battle is, I see.

K: Protecting his land, growing his family—

Q: And so you have, dear. Now let it rest a while. Your business with the crown is fleeting.

K: I have no other occupation, no other skill.

[She hands him a needle and they stare at each other momentarily]

Q: It’s not an easy craft, but if you master patience, it will suit you.

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