Lady Godiva


Time: About 1050.

Place: Coventry, England.

Characters: Lady Godiva; Lord Leofric of Coventry, Husband of Lady Godiva; Marie Andot, maid to Lady Godiva, and peasants of Coventry.

Scene: The dressing room of Lady Godiva. The room is charmingly decorated in the French style of that period, already finer than any other fashion in Europe.

Lady Godiva: (Seated before her dressing table.) I am so beautiful. My hair is softer than silk and darker than the eyes of a tiger. My eyes reflected in the mirror are like two stars glowing alone in the heavens. Has any one possessed a skin so delightful as mine? I am sure that Cleopatra, the Queen of Sheba, or Salome were not lovelier than I am. I am the most beautiful woman in England.

Marie Andot: Lady Godiva, you are the most beautiful woman in Europe. You are the most beautiful woman in the world.

Lady Godiva: How enchanting to hear praise in this uncouth England. I know you are flattering me, Marie, but I love it nevertheless. Besides, I know it is the truth you are saying. But what is the good of being beautiful among such swine? There is no one in Coventry who knows that I am beautiful, or who cares. I could ride through Coventry naked; no one would be thrilled by my glorious body. O, France, why did we ever leave you?

Marie Andot: But you insisted upon marrying that ridiculous Lord Leofric. I knew you could never really love him.

Lady Godiva: My marriage was a foolish girl’s whim. But I am not really married. I have never been alone with my husband. You know that, Marie. I am still a girl. I cannot stand his black beard, his gruff manners. If he were to touch me I should scream. And the big bully is afraid of me. His attempts to make love to his wife are most absurd. O, Marie, I am so miserable.

Marie Andot: Do not be so sad, Lady Godiva. There is one who really cares. The mysterious knight has sent you another poem. (Hands her mistress a parchment folded in two.)

Lady Godiva: O, how lovely! Give it to me quick, Marie. The one ray of sunshine in this dreary life. Marie, you are a dear. (Reads aloud the following poem.)

To Lady Godiva, Most Beautiful of All the Women That Have Ever Lived.

            In all my dreams — awake or in slumber —
            Faces haunt me — my soul encumber —
            They call to me from the vast deep.
            They call to me from the vasty deep.
            And when the dawn destroys the night
            They fill my room with luminous light: —
            Darling faces dripping dew,
            And all these faces look like you.

Lady Godiva: Isn’t this precious? How wonderful. How true. Surely no Englishman could ever pen such fervid lines. I love him, Marie, I love him. If I could only see him. Who can he be? Where can I find him?

Marie Andot: Whoever he is he is certainly a courageous knight. He must be in hiding somewhere near the castle and has probably bribed one of the servants to slip this under the door. If Lord Leofric knew he would slay all the servants in his rage.

Lady Godiva: Lord Leofric be damned, as we say in the court of France. I will yet find my darling poet knight and I shall love him in this very room. Lord Leofric shall wear the longest pair of horns that ever a husband wore. You shall see, Marie. I am in love. When a French lady loves she denies her lover nothing. He shall see my hair which reaches to my knee. He shall see my wonderful figure. I shall make his dreams come true, his poems a reality.

Marie Andot: Lady Godiva, you are indeed a mistress worth serving. I would die for you. Nowadays these modern women profess to be little interested in love. Why in London they are actually demanding . . . (a knock is heard on the door. Lady Godiva hastily places the poem in her corsage. Marie opens the door.)

Marie: (closing the door) The delegation of peasants is here. Shall they be shown up?

Lady Godiva: Well — let them come up. I love them because they hate Leofric. The brute wishes to tax them until they can barely subsist. I will listen to what they have to say and plead their cause before his lordship. He is afraid of me. (Another knock is heard at the door.)

Marie: Here they are, Lady Godiva. (Five well built, comfortably dressed peasants enter the room. One, with one of those open candid faces which denotes the sneak, acts as spokesman for the others, who seem stunned by the grandeur of the room. His name is Leigh Blunt.)

Leigh Blunt: Most gracious lady, you are so kind to us poor starving beggars. Therefore we have come to beg of you to plead our cause before his lordship. Our taxes are already too heavy for such feeble backs as we possess. Daily we toil from early morning till late at night. And always the lord becomes richer while we become poorer. Now on top of this we have been notified that our taxes would be raised again in a fortnight. Lord Leofric — (He pauses. A heavy step is heard quickly advancing towards the room. It is Lord Leofric. He bursts into the door like a tornado. His face is livid. He can barely talk for anger. The peasants tremble. Blunt almost faints. Lady Godiva and Marie Andot are speechless.)

Lord Leofric: (To the peasants) Out of this room, you damned vermin. How dare you enter the palace without my consent? I shall have you all flogged to-morrow in the square. I shall flog you myself right now. (He takes a dainty shepherd stick belonging to Lady Godiva and strikes Blunt across the back. Blunt is dazed for a second, then, followed by his fellows, dashes hastily out of the room.) And you go too! (pointing to Marie. For a moment she hesitates, but as his stick goes up she follows the others. Lady Godiva draws herself up haughtily and attempts to follow. But her husband stops her.) You stay right here. I am going to tell you things necessary for you to know. To begin with, you must never meddle with my affairs. I am the Lord of Coventry, not you. That I married you without possessing your love, I know. I suffer daily for that {92} stupendous error. You know I love you. When it comes to that, you are the master, I am the slave. To you I am ridiculous, a crude squire unable to touch your heart like the cavaliers of France. Well, I don’t blame you very much. But one thing I will not stand for, and that is interference with the management of Coventry. I know my people. They hate you. They love me. You are always good to them. I am always bending them to my will. Yet they would die for me, and they would not stir a finger for you. You, the beautiful French lady, are really powerless over the meanest peasant in my county, while I am only powerless before you.

Lady Godiva: You are not telling the truth. It is you who are blinded. You are so heartless that you cannot see. All you think of is taxes, taxes and taxes. You who are so rich are about to levy another tax upon the poor tillers of the soil. They have come to me to aid. They know I would do all in my power to lighten the burden on their backs. They are a simple, pure-minded folk, worshipping God and bowed by misery and want.

Lord Leofric: That is not true. They are a prosperous, shrewd, cheating, evil minded and vicious folk who are only happy when some powerful man rules over them as I do. I am going to raise the taxes because in Coventry they are the lowest in England. They know that very well and would not dare to complain of me. An evil minded race, that’s what they are.

Lady Godiva: You are wrong. I say they are a pure minded and honest people. I would trust my life to them. They worship me. I could ride through Coventry naked, and not one would dare to look. I know your people better than you do, Lord Leofric.

Lord Leofric: Ha, ha, ha. Ride naked through Coventry. If you ride through Coventry naked and no one looks I shall not raise the taxes. Ha, ha, ha, here is a rare chance for you, Lady Godiva. Ha, ha, ha.

Lady Godiva: Very well, to-morrow noon I shall ride naked through Coventry.

Lord Leofric: But what will people say? It is impossible. I was only ——

Lady Godiva: Are you a man of honor? You just said that if I rode through Coventry naked you would not raise the taxes. A lord should always keep his word.

Lord Leofric: I have never broken my word. Very well, ride through Coventry to-morrow as you say. I shall give orders that no one be on the streets and that the blinds be drawn. Lady Godiva, I wish you well. (Lady Godiva looks at him intently. Then she walks towards the window. He stars at her, then abruptly walks out of the room. She gazes after him until the Curtain Falls.)


The following day. Noon.

(A road in Coventry. Some trees to the right. A young man very handsomely dressed in blue silk steps out from the little wood. He is a poet. He is also Lord Leofric, who has shaved off his mighty beard and clothed himself in the delicate garments of a gentleman. He has a manuscript in one hand and is intent upon memorizing this poem:
            In all my dreams — awake or in slumber —
            Faces haunt me, my soul encumber.
            They fill my room with luminous light: —
            They call to me from the vast deep.
            And all these faces look like you.
            They fill my room with luminous light: —
            Darling faces dripping dew,
            And all these faces look like you.

The Poet: O if I shall have but the strength to say these lines to her. This is the supreme moment of my life. Never until now have I realized how truly the word is the ultimate achievement of man. Hitherto I have always failed her because of my inhibition of speech. Now at last I feel that my soul has wings. Now at last I know my voice will speak and touch her heart. The word is mine. Presently she shall be here and I will speak to her as I have never spoken before. She will be astounded and delighted. She will suddenly see that she is mine, has always been mine, will always be mine. In that breathless moment all her sorrows and mine, all her limitations and mine, will drop from us like sunlight falling from the sky. For the first time in our lives we shall actually be real and splendid. For the first time we shall realize how wonderful is life, how superb we are, how exquisite we can be. There in the distance I can see her. Even thus she is the most beautiful thing in the world. There is light all about her. As she draws nearer my heart beats with an intensity I had not conceived possible. Dear God, give me the strength to play my part as it should be played. (He steps behind a tree. There is the sound of hoof beats coming nearer. Lady Godiva, nude on a black horse and seated on a silken saddle, comes into view. The instant that she appears the Poet steps in front of her horse and seizes the reins.)

The Poet: Lady Godiva, you are the most beautiful woman in the world. In all this mighty universe there is not again a beauty so overwhelming as yours.

Lady Godiva: (In a shocked voice) How dare you, sir?

The Poet: I dare everything for you. What are law, conventionality, society, rules and morals where you are concerned? To behold the most perfect form ever possessed by human being or angel I would gladly pay the price of my life. Having beheld you, Lady Godiva, I have already lived more greatly than any mortal since recorded time. If I have offended, ride your horse across my prostrate body until my life blood stains the dust. Even so I should die supremely happy.

Lady Godiva: Very well, over you I shall ride, albeit you are a comely young man. But you have offended God when you dared to commit this sacrilege.

The Poet: The greater the crime I have committed for you, the better. But before you slay me, Lady Godiva, permit me to recite these simple lines inspired by the constancy of my devotion for your own dear self. I know how inadequately I express a longing which the greatest poet could not fitly describe.

Lady Godiva: But be quick, I am beginning to feel chilly. (He attempts to place his blue silk mantle about her.) Stop, you shall not touch me. Read your lines, young man.

The Poet:
            In all my dreams — awake or in slumber —
            Faces haunt me, my soul encumber.
            They bend above me as I sleep
            They call to me from the vast deep.
            And when the dawn destroys the night
            They fill my room with luminous light: —
            Darling faces dripping dew,
            And all these faces look like you. {93}

Lady Godiva: O, my darling, you have come to me at last. You are the poet of my dreams, the knight of my longings. Come here. Kiss me. (He puts his arms about her. Their lips meet. The minutes roll. Six minutes pass ere the first kiss is ended.) Now darling, place your mantle about me. Let us fly. Take me to your castle.

The Poet: That I will do at once. (He places his cloak about her and mounts the horse, holding her to his breast.)

Lady Godiva: And where is your castle, my perfect lover? The Poet: It is yonder. (He points to Coventry Castle in the distance.)

Lady Godiva: Coventry Castle! I came from there. Who are you?

The Poet: I am Lord Leofric.

Lady Godiva: What, my husband?

Lord Leofric: Not yet, but I will be as soon as we reach the castle!

Lady Godiva (Nestles close to him, sublimely happy): Gallop speedily, my darling. (The horse thunders off the stage as the Curtain falls.)

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