The Life and Times of Tsar Ivan IV: Part I
Nicolas, chief adviser
(Curtain opens. Enter Chorus.)
How now, did God's belovéd hand descend
To separate by will the beasts from men?
What gift doth Man possess within his soul
That gives him wing to fly beyond his flesh?
'Twas that which gave him shape. 'Twas God's own grace,
The grace of love, as God is love. This love,
Though perfect gift, the devil did corrupt.
He gave the rose her pricking thorns and soaked
Her petals red with blood from his own vein.
And now, Man's love is but a blesséd curse.
A pound of flesh it steals from his soul's purse.
(Enter Ivan stage-right and noblemen stage-left.)
Our tragic tale begins with Ivan's crown,
The crown that came before apparent heir,
Before though after his betrothéd hand
To Anastasia of Romanov blood.
They joined in solemn vow both love and state,
But agéd bond shall tempt this holy bond.
The bond between a father and his son
Endures death's long respite. This bond begot
Both face and vile. The father, absolute
In rule and pride, may yet destroy his kin,
The greatest threat to crown and darkest sin.
(At Ivan's coronation ceromony)
Ivan (Addressing audience):
My loyal subjects, call me not your king.
Waste not your breath on such frivolity.
I am no king but lack that which a king
Requires, an earthly realm o'er which t' preside.
But my domain exceeds such lowly bonds.
I am no king but am the tsar, that god
Who reigns above the ancient Byzantines.
I say, this crown is mine, as rightful heir
Of th' throne, and all of Russia falls beneath
My ringéd hands. God makes no error, so
The grace bestowed in me is just. He sends
Divine responsibility upon
These worthy hands, so that His plan might be
Fulfilled. So, show me th' rank I thus deserve.
What speaks he now? If not my mind disproved
The stagg'ring notion, eyes and ears would tell
This was the tsar's return and not ascent.
I fear his father's ghost doth hold his soul.
But he is young, and evil spirits mayn't
Molest the chastity of children's souls.
He is no child. He is as that he spake.
I see he is instead his father's son.
(Gold coins begin to fall upon Ivan's head ceremoniously.)
Oh, if he would but drown i' his golden sea!
(Enter Nicolas stage-right.)
Reserve thy tongues. He's but his father's son
And not the man himself. The good will within
His soul repels his father's ghost. Of this,
I have full faith.
One may be certain o' naught.
For God did not make man infallible.
So spake the Lord aft He formed the clay
And then sent forth His Spirit. "It is good."
But since, the snake did sneak into Man's soul.
Let us have faith, my friends, in our
Most holy Father an' in the faultless Son.
(All exit. Curtain falls)
(Curtain opens. In palace room. Anastasia reading. Enter Ivan.)
Why doth my Anastasia hide from me?
Tell me, did she not hear her husband speak?
Did she not hear th' omnipotent, sacr'd word
That fell from lips with ease of equal strength
As when the Lord first spake "Let there be light"?
Why dost her heart not soar with joy?
I heard thee speak, and that's wherefore the wings
Of my poor heart are wett'd with sorrow's weight.
What dost thou mean by these strange words?
Thou thinkst my words are strange, my liege? Perhaps,
Though not as strange as what my eyes behold.
I have my own full flesh and soul.
In body, yay, my lord. But how must men
Be judged? Not by their looks but by their deeds
If you remember well, thy looks were once
The cause o' thy noble fear.
What of my looks?
Your face resembles that your father wore.
Today, your face and actions were of equal sort
In semblance of that vill'n so despised. My lord,
When that great crown was set upon thy head,
A greater fear was set upon thy nobles' hearts.
As they are so expect'd. For my supreme
Authority should never be denounced
By lowly souls!
Are these thy words, or doth
The words o' thy father still resound off
His palace walls?
A tsar's divinity doth die between
The sheets, along with former godly flesh.
I say, he no more holds his former strength.
His strength is now all mine. Bear that in mind.
(Ivan exits stage-left)
A demon's vessel oft knows not his bane.
Perhaps, my tsar, Athenas' mirror may
Yet shine before thine eyes. Do pray,
My love, this does not come to pass. For t' gaze
Upon the Mirror comes with heavy price,
To gaze upon thine own reflection pure,
An' behold the beast with deep his snares secure.
(Anastasia exits. Curtain falls.)
(Curtain opens. In Ivan's court. Ivan, Anastasia, Nicolas, and nobles seated.)
Now, then! The propositions that
Have so triumph'ntly sounded here today
Foretell eternal memory of our
Domain renowned and all our high esteem.
Tell me, is "our" a mask for "my," my lord.
You bear the name "tsarina," and not the name
Of tsar. Your influence remains inside
The palace an' chamber walls. Fear not, my queen,
Your name shan't be forgott'n, as it is next
Now I decree our product here
Today grants us retirement this night.
(All exit both sides but Ivan, Nicolas, and Anastasia)
What's this I hear? The tsar must sleep
As every man must sleep? O mighty tsar,
Dost not divinity maintain thine eyes
You would do well to keep your tounge
Between your teeth. Since I so humble accept'd
This crown, I've but received thy venom's sting.
Forgive my fault. I have forgott'n how high
A tax it takes to sit erect upon thy throne.
Thou hath a gaze so keen.
I need but gaze
As keen as busy spear to keenly see
The lust that is my right.
By state, you're right to use your right, your right
To take, your right t' consume. What your
Flesh doth desire, you just write law, and it
Becomes your right. But though your flesh
Shall be fulfilled, your heart remains bereft.
This void, my tsar, I shall not heed command
To fill, despite what strength so tow'rs above.
Where is the loyalty and love to thy
Ordained, true love that you once swore t' uphold?
That, sir, is precisely where my loyalty lies.
Why, it would go against my charge as wife
And subject if I made attempt to give it
To any else.
Your words are just, my dear.
Though they're but hollow words, know this,
I will possess thy loyalty, if thou
So force my hand to wield my force
I shall not force the force that lurks inside
Thy soul. I shall not tempt the devil's wrath.
Thy words resound i' my hallow ears. Now if
My lord permits, I go t' unite with my
Dear husband lost, if only in my dreams.
(Exit Anastasia stage-left.)
Dear Nicolas, have thee the name so foul
Of th' dark torment'r who rapes my dear wife so.
Her soul is not solely afflict'd, my lord.
What other parts of her are strick'n?
The demon's eyes have seen beyond thy gaze.
Pray tell, who else endures this demon's grasp?
It need grieve not my lord. His pow'r protects
His throne from wicked hearts and only wakes
And waxes wide as each day's sun gives wane.
Thou hath excelled thy father's legacy.
Oh, but what use is it without th' return
Of Anastasia's love? Why doth she not
Hold pride for me in her great heart and see
Th' great god I have become? Why is she blind
To both my greatness and my love?
Do pray the Lord will send relief t' thy burd'n.
But bear in mind, His soft response requires
To lend a blind and open ear. Therefore,
Do closely heed His quiet, whisper'd word.
(All exit. Curtain falls.)
(Curtain opens. Stage dark. A lone light shines to reveal Ivan already onstage. The rest of the stage remains dark.)
Ivan (Eyes to ceiling):
Dear father i' Heaven, save me from my vise.
Since I received my crown, I naught have prayed
To thee, but now I do in its complete
Demise, its failure t' grant what I desire.
All of the strength of the crown, despite
How much I gain, does not secure my queen's
Pure love. I ask for guidance, th' way, the rough,
Unpavéd road into my love's own heart.
(Eyes come down.)
Perhaps I shall gain my answer in
The deep'ning darkness of my dreams this night.
(Exit Ivan stage-left. Stage dark for a few moments. Then, a lone light shines and follows Ivan as he re-enters stage-left.)
Sleep beckons me with her sweet siren call.
As sailors drift to ship's steep edge, I drift
To th' edge of consciousness. Yet I resist.
For last I leapt from that tall bough, I leapt unto
Cold, icy waters of uncertainty and despair.
And God then saved me not from th' sea's surging rage.
Instead, he left me lone in its waters dark.
Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?
Alas! Am I forever damned to be denied her love?
(Another light shines on entering hooded figure stage-right. Rest of stage remains dark, except for Ivan and Figure.)
Dear Ivan, hearken to thy Father's word!
What's this? Who stands before my eyes
Though door remains secure and shut?
Perhaps the Lord hath thrown a line to me.
By Jove! Our heavenly Father followed m' strict
Command. He sends heav'nly host to earthly realm
To save my lowly soul!
Thy words ring false.
Thou art remiss on charges three. God sent
Me not, nor am I of His realm, nor have
I come to save thy soul.
Then Satan's work
Doth stain thy hands.
I serve not he.
Then thou art servant chaste of th' Holy One.
Nor do I serve this being.
Controls thy deeds?
I am the master over all
Doth thou possess servants true?
I am my own servant true. I once possess'd
A nation full of servants true. Now none
Are in my charge.
To whence did they escape?
They escaped me not. Forsook did I their aid.
Relief from service? Why?
They had no wing
To follow me.
And where were wings of need?
For where I am.
And where is this?
Thou knowest not thy own domain? Thou bear
No memory of palace thine? For that is where
I know this place.
Then why didst thou
I mean, from whence dost thou appear?
I wandered the Earth and wondered how I lost
My golden seat.
Art thou a fallen king?
I fell from throne but fallen am I not.
Absolve away thy riddles dark.
No riddles dark. The darkest is now solved.
What riddle did thee solve?
T' regain my golden seat.
What seat is this?
The tsar's steep seat.
That seat is mine, you fiend!
Remiss, again. It's in my right to hold.
What sort of being doth dare make threats to me?
A ghost who clings still to this earthly sphere.
What is thy name?
My name is thine, but thou
Once called my flesh thy lord and father dear.
You lie! My father wouldst not suffer such
A fate. I charge thee show thyself, you vill'n!
(Figure removes hood. The face of the man is similar to Ivan's.)
Thou speaks the truth, then thou burns in Hell!
It is not so. When flesh expired, the gates
of Heaven's light and Hell's dark fire were closed
To me. Because I served no master, save myself,
No master beckoned me to his domain.
But now, my soul hath thee so called.
I summon'd thy grace? But how?
Thou prayed to fallen father for his aid.
I shall give answer to thy burden black.
I shall thee tell the way t' thy love's pure heart.
What is the way?
The way is closed to thee.
You came to say there is no way?
There is a way, but it is closed to thee.
A path is set but take it will thee not.
I will. I will, I say. I'll brave the road.
I'll fight whatever foe and pay the price
That grants her love, if it so mean my soul
Nay, thou would not lose thy soul.
I would, I would! Now speak your piece!
Of what desire is in thy wretch'd heart
Will be the jewels of thy crown.
My crown's my just inheritance. God would
Bestow it not to then remove what was
Thou didst not heed my words. Thy crown
Is not thy price. A man's weak heart doth hold
Strict limits. Th' two cannot be loved the same.
But thou won't tread this road so humble for thou
Would bear upon thy feet the dirt and dust
Of lowly souls.
If it so mean her love,
This dusty road will I now tread. I go
Anon to both my priest and love t' confess
My darkest sins.
(Ivan turns to leave. Figure laughs.)
Thou wilt remain with me.
For thou art more my son than thou art
Thy Anastasia's love. Thou wilt remain
With me and obey thy father's word.
Obey thee not. For I am th' tsar, and none's
Weak word surpasses mine.
(Figure laughs again.)
It thus begins.
I say, begone dark being!
(Ivan goes to push figure aside, but as he does, the figure's cloak falls off to reveal he is dressed in the same clothes as Ivan.)
Despis'd is this?
The only magic here
Is that which thou hath woven. Look upon
Thy father's face, and look upon thyself.
(Figure laughs again.. Ivan moves his face, and the figure's face simultaneously mimics his action, as a reflection.)
Thou wilt gain not my heart. For it
Belongs already in another's hand.
(Ivan runs figure off stage. Sound of glass breaking. Curtain falls.)
(Curtain opens. Stage dark. Footsteps.)
My lord! My lord!
(Light shines to reveal Nicolas entering stage-right.)
What was that deaf'ning roar?
I pray thy crown remains intact.
(Light follows Nicolas as he crosses the stage. As he approaches stage-left, a light shines to reveal Ivan sitting down, lost in thought, with shards of a shattered mirror around him.)
What hath the mirror done to suffer such
A demon hath appeared to me this night.
I had great need to break his dark domain.
If this be true, thou prove thy valor o'er
I've yet to prove the likes
Of valor. Now, where doth my Anastasia rest?
My lord, remain doth she in chamber walls.
When clatter came, she asked the source. We told
Her grace that it arose within the tsar's own room.
Replied she thus, "He thinks his crown is
A helmet of sufficient strength. What need
Let us make haste to her, my friend.
(Enter Anastasia, stage-right)
There is no need, my lord and tsar.
My curiosity hath roused me from
Please, I perceive my sins
Against my land and thy pure heart. I seek
Forgiveness from my love and queen.
Such mercy do you not. But if the great
Almighty tsar doth beg my grace, his pleas
Must bear his heart's true seal. I joyously
To thee bestow that which thou seeks. For thou
Returns to me this night. Thy lofty pride,
My tsar, I shall thee aid to temper tight.
For pride so blinds a man from his true worth.
(The stage gains light to signify the rising sun.)
Dawn breaks upon dear Russia's face. Light breaks
Upon my very soul.
Tonight, I have
Regained my husband lost, and we have all
Just gained a tsar who shall forever be
Renowned by all as Russia's greatest king.
(All exit, stage-left. Enter Chorus stage-right.)
Good Ivan hath surpassed his demons dark.
His love so great for his great queen
Allayed his vise so tight. This love though failed
To end this beast but only hushed his screams.
When love shall turn to pain, the devious
One shall then cease this gaping wound and use
His host's dark pain to rouse a fatal ruse.
(Exit Chorus, stage-right. Curtain falls.)