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  • Title: The Mirror for Magistrates (Selection)
  • Editors: Michael Best, Sarah Milligan, Joey Takeda

  • Copyright Internet Shakespeare Editions. This text may be freely used for educational, non-profit purposes; for all other uses contact the Editor.
    Authors: William Baldwin, John Higgins
    Editors: Michael Best, Sarah Milligan, Joey Takeda
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    The Mirror for Magistrates (Selection)

    The Mirror for Magistrates is an anthology of narrative poems telling of those in power who suffered a tragic fall from grace. First published in 1555, later editions added material from various writers; the edition of 1575 included additions by John Higgins, including the story of Cordelia's life and death. Like Chaucer's "Monk's Tale," the Mirror for Magistrates follows the tradition of Boccaccio, whose De Casibus Virorum Illustrium (Of the Falls of Famous Men) tells the stories of famous men whose good fortune abruptly came to an end.
    The life of Cordila (as her name is spelled here) is a good example of tragedy conceived fundamentally as the inevitable turning of Fortune's wheel, where the subject of the tragedy is not necessarily the cause of her own downfall. While her father, King Leire, is clearly guilty of misjudgement and excessive attention to flattery, Cordila's defeat and imprisonment is brought about by a kind of echo of Leire's foolishness, since the rebellion against her is led by the sons of Gonerell and Ragan. Her actual death, by suicide, is of course choice, and the narrative makes much of her moral failure at the end as well as emphasizing the fickleness of Fortune.
    The narrative is expecially interesting in the way it is presented from Coridila's point of view (apparently narrated after her death). Her tragedy is made personal and, to a degree, interior. This extract is a modernized version of the edition by Lily Bess Campbell (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1946, 146-60). The syntax is often tricky to untangle, as Higgins contorts sentences to allow for the right word to appear for the rhyme.
    0.5[Cordila's death]
    Cordila shows how by despair when she was in prison she slew herself. The year before Christ.
    [She describes Leire's trial of his daughters' loves.]
    1For sith I see thee pressed to hear that wilt record
    What I Cordila tell to ease my inward smart,
    I will recite my story tragical each word,
    To thee that givest an ear to hear, and ready art;
    5And lest I set the horse behind the cart,
    I mind to tell each thing in order so
    As thou mayest see and show whence sprang my woe.
    My grandsire Bladud hight that found the baths by skill,
    A feathered king that practiced for to fly and soar,
    10Whereby he felt the fall God wot against his will,
    And never went, rode, reigned nor spake, nor flew no more.
    Who, dead, his son, my father, Leire therefore
    Was chosen king, by right apparent heir,
    Which after built the town of Leircester.
    15He had three daughters. First and eldest hight Gonerell;
    Next after her my sister Ragan was begot;
    The third and last was, I, the youngest named Cordell,
    And of us all, our father Leire in age did dote.
    So, minding her that loved him best to note,
    20Because he had no son t'enjoy his land,
    He thought to give where favor most he found.
    What though I youngest were, yet men me judge more wise
    Than either Gonerell or Ragan had more age,
    And fairer far. Wherefore my sisters did despise
    25My grace and gifts and sought my praise t'assuage.
    But yet, though vice 'gainst virtue die with rage,
    It cannot keep her underneath to drown,
    But still she flits above, and reaps renown.
    Yet nonetheless my father did me not mislike.
    30But age so simple is, and easy to subdue;
    As childhood weak, that's void of wit and reason quite.
    They think there's nought, you flatter feigned, but all is true;
    "Once old and twice a child," tis said with you,
    Which I affirm by proof, that was define:
    35In age my father had a childish mind.
    He thought to wed us unto nobles three, or peers,
    And unto them and theirs divide and part the land.
    For both my sisters first he sent, as first their years;
    Required their minds, and love, and favor t'understand.
    40Quoth he, "All doubts of duty to aband,
    I must assay and eke your friendships prove;
    Now tell me each how much you do me love."
    Which when they answerèd they loved him well, and more
    Than they themselves did love, or any worldly wight,
    45He praised them and said he would again, therefore,
    The loving kindness they deserved in fine requite.
    So found my sisters favor in his sight;
    By flattery fair they won their father's heart,
    Which after turnèd him and me to smart.
    50But not content with this he minded me to prove,
    For why he wonted was to love me wonders well.
    "How much dost thou," quoth he, "Cordile thy father love?"
    "I will," said I, "at once my love declare and tell.
    I loved you ever as my father well,
    55No otherwise. If more to know you crave,
    We love you chiefly for the goods you have."
    Thus much I said, the more their flattery to detect,
    But he me answered thereunto again with ire,
    "Because thou dost thy father's agèd years neglect,
    60That loved thee more of late than thy deserts require,
    Thou never shalt to any part aspire
    Of this my realm among thy sisters twain,
    But ever shalt undoted aye remain."
    Then to the King of Albany for wife he gave
    65My sister Gonerell, the eldest of us all;
    And eke my sister Ragan for Hinnine to have,
    Which then was Prince of Camber and Cornwall.
    These after him should have his kingdom all
    Between them both; he gave it frank and free,
    70But nought at all he gave of dowry me.
    At last it chanced the King of France to hear my fame,
    My beauty brave was blazèd all abroad each-where,
    And eke my virtues praised me, to my father's blame
    Did for my sisters' flattery me less favor bear.
    75Which, when this worthy king my wrongs did hear,
    He sent ambassage, liked me more than life,
    T'entreat he might me have to be his wife.
    My father was content with all his heart, and said,
    80He gladly should obtain his whole request at will
    Concerning me, if nothing I herein denied.
    But yet he kept by their enticement hatred still.
    Quoth he, "Your prince his pleasure to fulfil,
    I grant and give my daughter as you crave,
    85But nought of me for dowry can she have."
    King Aganippus well agreed to take me so,
    He deemed that virtue was of dowries all the best.
    And I contented was to France my father fro
    For to depart, and hoped t'enjoy some greater rest.
    90I married was, and then my joys increased,
    I got more favor in this prince his sight
    Than ever princess of a princely wight.
    But while that I these joys enjoyed at home in France,
    My father Leire in Britain waxèd agèd old,
    95My sisters yet themselves the more aloft t'advance,
    Thought well they might be, by his leave or sans, so bold
    To take the realm and rule it as they would.
    They rose as rebels void of reason quite,
    And they deprived him of his crown and right.
    100Then they agreed it should be into parts equal
    Divided; and my father threescore knights and squires
    Should always have, attending on him still at call.
    But in six months so much increasèd hateful ires
    That Gonerell denied all his desires,
    105So half his guard she and her husband reft,
    And scarce allowed the other half they left.
    Eke as in Scotland thus he lay lamenting fates,
    Whenas his daughter so sought all his utter spoil.
    The meaner upstart gentles thought themselves his mates
    110And betters eke, see here an aged prince his foil.
    Then was he fain for succor his to toil
    With all his knights to Cornwall, there to lie
    In greatest need, his Ragan's love to try.
    And when he came to Cornwall, Ragan then with joy
    115Received him, and eke her husband did the like.
    There he abode a year and lived without annoy;
    But then they took all his retinue from him quite,
    Save only ten, and showed him daily spite,
    Which he bewailed, complaining durst not strive,
    120Though in disdain they last allowed but five.
    On this he deemed himself was far that time unwise,
    When from his daughter Gonerell to Ragan he
    Departed erst, yet each did him, poor king, despise;
    Wherefore to Scotland once again with her to be
    125And bide he went; but beastly cruel she,
    Bereaved him of his servants all save one,
    Bade him content himself with that or none.
    Eke, at what time he asked of each to have his guard
    To guard his grace whereso he walked or went,
    130They called him doting fool, and all his hests debarred,
    Demanded if with life he could not be content.
    Then he too late his rigor did repent
    Gainst me, and said, "Cordila now adieu,
    I find the words thou toldst me too too true."
    135And to be short, to France he came alone to me,
    And told me how my sisters him, our father, used.
    Then I besought my king with tears, upon my knee,
    That he would aid my father thus by them misused,
    Who nought at all my humble hest refused
    140But sent to every coast of France for aid
    Wherewith my father home might be conveyed.
    The soldiers gathered from each quarter of the land,
    Came at the length to know the king, his mind and will,
    Who did commit them to my father's aged hand,
    145And I likewise of love and reverent mere goodwill
    Desired my king, he would not take it ill,
    If I departed for a space withal,
    To take a part, or ease my father's thrall.
    This had, I parted with my father from my fere,
    150We came to Britain with our royal camp to fight;
    And manly fought so long our enemies vanquished were
    By martial feats, and force by subjects' sword and might.
    The British kings were fain to yield our right,
    And so my father well this realm did guide
    155Three years in peace, and after that he died.
    Then I at Leircester in Janus' temple made,
    His tomb and buried there his kingly regal corpse,
    As sundry times in life before he often bade;
    For of our father's will we then did greatly force;
    160We had of conscience eke so much remorse
    That we supposed those children's lives too ill,
    Which break their father's testament and will.
    And I was queen the kingdom after still to hold,
    Till five years past I did this island guide.
    165I had the Britons at what beck and bay I would,
    Till that my loving king, mine Aganippus, died.
    But then my seat it faltered on each side;
    Two churlish imps began with me to jar,
    And for my crown waged with me mortal war.
    170The one hight Morgan, th'elder son of Gonerell
    My sister, and that other Conidagus hight
    My sister Ragan's son that loved me never well;
    Both nephews mine, yet would against me, Cordel, fight
    Because I loved always that seemed right;
    175Therefore they hated me, and did pursue,
    Their aunt and queen as she had been a ewe.
    This Morgan was that time the Prince of Albany,
    And Conidagus King of Cornwall and of Wales;
    Both which at once provided their artillery,
    180To work me woeful woe, and mine adherents bales:
    What need I fill thine ears with longer tales?
    They did prevail by might and power so fast
    That I was taken prisoner at last.
    In spiteful sort they usèd then my captive corse,
    185No favor showed to me, extinct was mine estate.
    Of kindred, princess blood, or peer was no remorse,
    But as an abject vile and worse they did me hate.
    To lie in darksome dungeon was my fate,
    As t'were a thief, mine answers to abide,
    190Gainst right and justice, under jailor's guide.
    For liberty at length I sued, to subjects were,
    But they kept me in prison close devoid of trust,
    If I might once escape, they were in dread and fear,
    Their fawning friends with me would prove untrue and just.
    195They told me take it patiently I must,
    And be contented that I had my life
    Sith with their mothers I began the strife.
    Whereby I saw might nothing me prevail to pray,
    Or plead, or prove, defend, excuse or pardon crave.
    200They heard me not, despised my plaints, sought my decay,
    I might no law, nor love, nor right, nor justice have,
    No friends, no faith, nor pity could me save;
    But I was from all hope of license barred,
    Condemned my cause like never to be heard.
    205Was ever lady in such woeful wreckful woe,
    Deprived of princely power, bereft of liberty,
    Deprived in all these worldly pomps, her pleasures fro,
    And brought from wealth, to need, distress, and misery?
    From palace proud in prison poor to lie;
    210From kingdoms twain to dungeon one, no more;
    From ladies waiting, unto vermin store.
    From light to dark, from wholesome air to loathsome smell,
    From odor sweet to sweat, from ease to grievous pain,
    From sight of princely wights to place where thieves do dwell,
    215From dainty beds of down to be of straw full fain:
    From bowers of heavenly hue to dens of dain;
    From greatest haps that worldly wights achieve;
    To more distress than any wretch alive.
    218.1[Cordila is visited by Despair]
    With that she spake "I am," quoth she, "thy friend Despair,
    220Which in distress each worldly wight with speed do aid;
    I rid them from their foes if I to them repair.
    Too long from thee by other captives was I stayed.
    Now if thou art to die no whit afraid,
    Here shalt thou choose of instruments--behold--
    225Shall rid thy restless life; of this be bold."
    And therewithal she spread her garment's lap aside,
    Under the which a thousand things I saw with eyes:
    Both knives, sharp swords, poignado all bedyed
    With blood, and poisons prest which she could well devise.
    230"There is no hope," quoth she," for thee to rise
    And get thy crown or liberty again,
    But for to live long lasting, pining pain."
    "Lo here," quoth she, the blade that Dido of Carthage hight,
    Whereby she was from thousand pangs of pain let pass;
    235With this she slew herself after Aeneas's flight
    When he to sea from Tyrian shores departed was;
    Do choose of these thou seest from woes to pass,
    Or bid the end prolong thy painful days,
    And I am pleased from thee to get my ways."
    240With that was I, poor wretch, content to take the knife
    But doubtful yet to die, and fearful, fain would bide.
    So still I lay in study with myself at bate and strife
    What thing were best of both these deep extremes untried.
    My hope all reasons of despair denied,
    245And she again replied to prove it best
    To die, for still in life my woes increas't.
    246.1[Cordila curses the cousins, praying that they turn against each other.]
    God grant a mortal strife between them both may fall,
    That one the other may without remorse destroy.
    That Conidagus may his cousin Morgan thrall
    250Because he first decreased my wealth, bereft my joy.
    I pray you gods he never be a roy.
    But caitiff may be paid with such a friend
    As shortly may him bring to sudden end.
    Farewell my realm of France, farewell, adieu.
    255Adieu mes nobles tous, and England now farewell.
    Farewell mesdames my ladies, car je suis perdue,
    Il me faut aller, Desespoir m'a donné conseil
    De me tuer, no more your queen, farewell.
    My nephews me oppress with main and might,
    260A captive poor, 'gainst justice all and right.
    And therewithal the sight did fail my dazzling eyne,
    I nothing saw save sole Despair bade me dispatch,
    Whom I beheld, she caught the knife from me I ween,
    And by her elbow carrion Death for me did watch.
    265"Come on," quoth I, "thou hast a goodly catch,"
    And therewithal Despair the stroke did strike
    Whereby I died, a damnèd creature like.
    Which I, alas, lament; bid those alive beware:
    Let not the loss of goods or honor them constrain
    270To play the fools and take such careful cark and care,
    Or to despair for any prison pine or pain.
    If they be guiltless let them so remain;
    Far greater folly is it for to kill
    Themselves despairing, than is any ill.
    275Sith first thereby their enemies have that they desire,
    By which they prove to deadly foes unawares a friend;
    And next they cannot live to former bliss t'aspire
    If God do bring their foes in time to sudden end;
    They lastly, as the damnèd wretches, send
    280Their souls to hell, whenas they undertake
    To kill a corpse, which God did lively make.