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Rumour explains herself

The character of Rumour, in Dark Sovereign, explains herself

Key questions for anyone writing about the life of Richard III are: Were ‘the little princes in the Tower’ of London foully done to death? If so, who killed them? On whose orders? Answers have eluded historians for four centuries. At this remove in time the truth may never be revealed. That is the opening challenge in ‘Dark Sovereign’: I address it by murdering the princes within moments of the opening curtain. Two murderers then flee the stage, replaced by Rumour who tells her audience what she knows and, more to the point, what she doesn’t know:

RUMOUR: I wot not if these carcasses reek vital heat,

or lie in death. Ne aught I care,

for Rumour’s task is but to trumpet that I hear

till grey-beards write down me in learnéd books,

where I am taken for a gospel that is—curtsiesHistory!

The theatrical audience will soon meet Rumour’s identical twin sister, Truth. As the action moves forward, the twins argue about truth, lies—’th’imagin’d tale of fools’—and what actually took place.

Line and footnote numbers are removed here, and much of this dialogue will be cut for stage performances. My text is  longer than Hamlet, so, for theatrical performances Dark Sovereign will be severely edited. However, my play lays claim to a lasting record: Dark Sovereign is now the longest single-part play written in Renaissance English.

 Dark Sovereign — INDUCTION 2

 Enter RUMOUR, in darkness. Taking up the candle, she examines the bed.

Dark Sovereign

The Princes in the Tower, by Samuel Cousins, after Sir John Everett Millais. Mezzotint. National Portrait Gallery (RN37073). Public Domain

RUMOUR: Edward the fifth, child-king sans crown,

that never more shall crown beget;

and Richard, duke of York: Requiescatis in pace,

—if ye truly be dead! Were these or agents

for o’erween’d ambition rid ye this?

or night-born phantasms do serve the time?

th’occasions of my tongues? If these were ghosts,

their work was woven of the many’s mind,

and you shall live long years beyond tonight.

Be you in this world, or in another, brothers, sleep!

It is not given me to understand

whether this work were done, or no.

                        Lights: A spotlight reveals RUMOUR to the audience.

                        House-lights come up. RUMOUR, to her audience…

Ha! There are that hid their heads i’ th’ shade before.

                        Replacing her candle, she is free to move.

I know these company as you know me;

for I, friends, am Rumour. Ye still still tell my fames:

Men say! They say! ’Tis said! Holla, now you discern me:

I am each man his concubine, the envy and report of every she.

I am whatever company I keep.



Am I not allective? Fair?

Pale am I, for Rumour doth thrive in darkness.

Note how light falls from me, broken,

shiver’d out to myriads of scintills,

full o’ the rainbow’s art withal.


Thus and thus my voices multiply:

At break of day I vest a tattle in one only lip

—which whispers other ears—

until my hum accrues the sober susurrations

of a hundred souls at every matins chime.

By the space of no long time

they spread, transforméd,

from a thousand of prating voices

to a multitude at abay. At vespers bell, their addle fame,

compounded with ten thousand follies,

doth all split, like light that seeks out me to quash.


Tantalus courted me, by the well-offering, for my favour,

secrets of the gods; whérefore he by them condemnéd was

to stand in water to the nether lip, always parch’d by thirst.


My youth, that seems me well, is rather years,

for Rumour is older than the speech that was confounded

at the Tower in Babel. Adam and Eve took heed of me;

it was my serpent caus’d your forbears forth of Eden!


As for this tale, wonder if be true.

I wot not if these carcasses reek vital heat,

or lie in death. Ne aught I care,

for Rumour’s task is but to trumpet that I hear

till grey-beards write down me in learnéd books,

where I am taken for a gospel that is—curtsiesHistory!

Whereinsoever the presumption in me has no bounds.


Like to a mill-wheel set in time’s slow stream,

I, Rumour, latch the force of truth

to yoke th’engíne of mine invention.

And when I tire of sport, a noiseful,

seeming simple truth revolvéd is,

who lays claim to the mill-race.

Know, that seeks for truth, I thwart wi’ thee,

charming, with such Siren-sounds

as they should set thee to blind rocks.

Be ware, lest zeal-blind,

thou not run upon the stony shoal of falsehood.


I take my leave of you.

The instance neither Rumour’s time is, nor her place.

As cobs and crows that wait upon the plough,

so Rumour feasts it at the furrow left behind.

I leave this stroke to puzzle the sense

the while our toy unfolds.

Ponder, whether truth’s fair thread

were spun with lies and other wonders.


Princes, if ye live,

and that this was th’imagin’d tale of fools, hide close:

Keep far from Harry Tudor’s iron heels.

Otherwise, if ye be dead by Richard’s hand,

gently I bid you adieu.

                        RUMOUR may cover the PRINCES’ faces with bedclothes.

                        To the audience:

Ye wights to come, resign not your quest, for doubt.

Return we now upon a time eleven years before this night,

into an age from whence this act begun.

Then are we whither we may discover

how that this might be brought to pass.

                         RUMOUR blows out the candle.  Lights: All is dark.

Until again, farewell.

                        RUMOUR goes, in darkness.


RF / Text, from Dark Sovereign, Induction 2

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