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Truth or Rumour


Truth and Rumour. Which is which?

My characters, Truth and Rumour. Which is which? Or, which is whom? That’s the point about the times of Richard III.

In Dark Sovereign, Truth introduces herself to her audience. She finds it difficult. Truth’s audience has already met her identical twin sister, Rumour. People cannot tell the women apart. So, are they listening to Truth, or to Rumour? The audience must decide.

Having identified herself, Truth explains how the queen, Elizabeth Woodville, has caused many of the domestic troubles during the twenty years of Edward IV’s reign. Favouring her own Woodville family, Elizabeth has cut off the “old nobility” from its accustomed perks of office. Her meddling affects everything: from disbursing others’ estates, to assigning appointed offices and partners in marriage to her siblings and favourites. Powerful men have been shunned. Anger rises, fury bubbles; factions sharpen blades. Queen Elizabeth Woodville stands on the brink of major trouble.

Dark Sovereign, Act 1, Scene 3

TRUTH is discovered, sitting in King Edward’s chair. Her garment is similar to RUMOURs, but of coarse, unadorned material, suited for ‘plain truth’.

TRUTH, to the audience:  Their fury raged for a three-years-day,

and all the while the carrion princes peck’d at Warwick’s bones.

All that estate they divided,

and though their storm abated by little bits,

methinks their envy minish’d never a whit.

Dark Sovereign, the full text, 2nd edition

Dark Sovereign, the full text,          2nd edition, with Arden-style glossary.

Rising: But stay, you are uncertain of me!

You wrong me, mortals, every way. Bear me good mind:

I am a spirit, whole, in most men’s heart.

I have you! Ha! About the eyes, whereat you speak,

make I no doubt t’assign the doubt that I must answer:

Your doubting answers to one only name.

Such a one came at you in your way: She mock’d you,

bid you quest to truth chastis’d with lies, wi’ falsehood.

Sweet didymists! We are twins. She was my sister, Rumour. [2]

I am Truth. Where she is gaudy, I am plain.

Where she would put impediment to history,

I, without dissembly, answer truly,

when the course gives me to understand.


Truth or Rumour? Elizabeth Woodville (1437–92), Queen Consort of Edward IV of England. A grasping, covetous woman, by some accounts.

Verdict by Truth, or by Rumour? Elizabeth Woodville (1437–92), Queen Consort of Edward IV of England. A grasping, covetous woman, by Rumour’s account. Truth’s opinion is little better. Portrait, circa 1471

Soft! Here comes one that can cunning

equal with the Florentines. [3]

Since the fore-end of Edward the Fourth his reign,

this lady hath rent England into parts. [4]

Her kin have too much; other hath too little; [5]

most all have set their heart to enmity to her.

And all because King Edward stew’d in coming passion

of the male kind. Fourteen years ago he stole a marriage [6]

—with a lady some steps below—

and she the widow to a knight, Sir John Grey, slain,

for cause of Lancaster! at Saint Albans field.

Moreover, her father and her brother bloody quarrel had

to Edward the Fourth at Towton.

Yet notwithstanding, here she stands,

Elizabeth Woodville, wife to King Edward, queen of England.

RUMOUR, off: She’s voic’d to be a witch!

TRUTH: Sister Rumour!


RUMOUR: Sister Verity.

TRUTH & RUMOUR embrace.

TRUTH places RUMOUR on her left.

TRUTH: Stand by me, so. Thine advocacy’s needful

for each malapert and prating head.

The part siníster shalt thou play. [7]

To the audience: Rumour ushers in the darkest clearness.

RUMOUR: There is as darksome truth as talk;

more, rumour is oft the same that truth. [8]

All-telling talk will have the queen a witch,

that, by art magic, snared the king; and she,

well over-summer’d, is five winters elder than he is.

He wish’d to mistress her; but she, full ripe of woman cunning,

kept him from her bed, whereon, in ’s lust, he burn’d.

When he besought her for her favour,

she did threat to thrust his dagger in her breast,

making vow as she would sooner die,

th’intemerate slave of chastity, [9]

than Edward’s other tool might prick her flesh.

TRUTH: Such a naughty talk of pricks!

RUMOUR: Please thee wit: There’s more is just

in love than war, for love abides no chivalry.

Thy sister as I am, this is truth:

King Edward wedded her he would but bed.

Wherefore fames do noise abroad: The queen’s a witch!

TRUTH: O, Rumour, pooh!

She chanc’d upon a woman’s chance,

and ’twas her chancing, won a king. [10]

If chastity be sorcery, then many a woman’s a witch,

for many a man’s bewitched withal.

RUMOUR concedes defeat with a shrug: The duchess,

his mother, took shame of their match, threatening him

that she’d denounce his kingly body for a bastard.

TRUTH: ’Tis of truth he fell a lip at counsel; [11]

the king would not be rul’d. Could we the future,

then had we heard said: Who reigneth o’er the self

to rule his passion, he is the more king. [12]

And yet is this lady so pleasing to her lord, she can no wrong. [13]

Puff ’d up with pride, and great of avarice,

Elizabeth hath rais’d a flock of kin, joining them in marriage

t’ th’ noblest in the land …

RUMOUR: … or whether they would, or no!

TRUTH: Four sisters put she to the heirs of earls;

another to the duke of Buckingham, and Harry not past lad-age.

Her brother John, a stripling, did she to the dowager

of Norfolk …

RUMOUR: … a lady of that years that had brib’d Sergeant Death!

TRUTH: … and she near three score years and ten!

RUMOUR: … and ten again.

TRUTH: ’Twas but t’attach the portion …

RUMOUR: … and withal her quality. The house of Woodvilles

is as covetous as Joseph’s brothers. And as rife.

TRUTH: And in this meanwhile, Clarence, loud as sounding brass,

proclaims his brother’s queen and kindred’s tree

in every way obscure.

RUMOUR: He takes no drink with her at meat,

publishing Elizabeth intends him dead.

The whiles she thinketh to be Judith to her kin,

the whiles the duke will have her Messalina. [14]

The king’s blood call her Lancaster’s hedge cuckoo in York’s nest …

TRUTH: … whereon Elizabeth, to have her due,

maligns whom Edward loves. Great lords casts she aside;

nor spouses to their issues grow, for want of noble mates. [15]

The Woodvilles fasten hands with all.

Thus Warwick raught to treason. [16]

RUMOUR: But soft! I hear a footfall on the stair!

TRUTH: Here comes the earl of Rivers, brother to the queen;

with Marquis Dorset, that’s her first-born by the knight

that fell for Lancaster.

RUMOUR: Come away. We’ll hear what they may say. They go.

From Dark Sovereign, ACT 1, SCENE 3, © Robert Fripp

* * *

Endnotes for the excerpt from Dark Sovereign, Truth or Rumour?

[1] 1.3.2. princes: Dark Sovereign uses this term more loosely to include the royal dukes than does any play of Shakespeare’s. As late as the reign of James I/VI, ‘Prince’ was a title extended only to the eldest son of the monarch. The longer formal title Prince of Wales being therefore redundant, it occurs less frequently in Period plays, although Shakespeare does use it in I Henry IV and Henry V.

[2] 1.3.14. didymists: doubters.

[3] 1.3.20. Florentines: Francesco Guicciardini, Niccolo Machiavelli.

[4] 1.3.22. parts: rival factions.

[5]  1.3.23. other hath: Other is a valid plural form. Hath as a literary plural dies at the stake with Hugh Latimer, according to OED. However, it occurs in Macbeth III.i.109, and King Lear III.i.27. (The Cambr. ed. preserves both examples, but many modern editions alter to have.)

[6] 1.3.26. stole a marriage: married secretly.

[7] 1.3.39. siníster: The stress falls on the middle syllable.

[8] 1.3.42. the same that truth: the same as truth.

[9] 1.3.51. intemerate: undefiled.

[10] 1.3.61. She chanc’d … won a king: She chanc’d upon a woman’s opportunity, and getting lucky, won a king.

[11] 1.3.67. fell a lip at counsel: sneered at or ignored advice.

[12] 1.3.70. Who reigneth … is the more king: Truth retrieves this paraphrase from ‘the future’. But then, she is spirit, and spirit is timeless. Cf. Milton, Paradise regain’d, 2, 466 (1671).

[13] 1.3.71. she can no wrong: In the context of the times, the expression is more literal than figurative. In modern use it is often ironic, but here it follows the legal maxim rex non potest peccare. Thus Starkey (c. 1538): ‘Hyt ys commynly said … a kyng ys above hys lawys’. Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs.

[14] 1.3.92. Judith: The widow who broke the siege of her home town by killing the Assyrian commander, Holofernes. § Messalina: The third wife of Claudius, who used her position to gratify her own ambitions, until brought down and executed in the year 48.

[15] 1.3.97. nor spouses to their issues grow: nor can their children obtain spouses. The verb grow to suggests expectation by virtue of tradition or inheritance. Cf. 5.1.77.

[16] 1.3.99. raught: reached for, turned to.