The Sea Drake

 

Prologue

 

QUIQUIX

[at end of musical interlude, holding up hands for quiet]

Hush, hush, hush all! Now comes a joyous interlude, the theatrical recapitulation of those events which have this year glorified our beleaguered yet triumphant land. Forces Protestant and Catholic [twists hands in combat] have wrestled like two vipers in a pit, as King Philip of Spain sent against our peaceful shores an Armada of unparalleled size, fury, and ambition. The outcome – ah, for those who know it not, let me not dampen your anticipation through untimely revelation. But look! We are most graced by the agreement of Elizabeth, our sovereign, [removes cap, sweeping bow, Elizabeth nods] to portray Herself in this drama. Taking their own parts also are Sir Francis Drake, [Drake exits from royal table to barn side entrance] dragon of the seas, good Walsingham, [WALSINGHAM  exits from royal table to barn side entrance] secretary to our Monarch, and Mary, lady in waiting [Mary exits to stage]. And so, let the drama unfold. [another sweeping bow.]


 

Act One

[Early April 1588, the Queen's reception room]

 

 

[Iberia places Act I placard. Albion enters with cloth for table which he flings over the table and exits. Iberia brings in a tray with inkwell, feather and parchment and waits for Mary to place the items on the table. He then exits.]

MARY

[Without waiting for the jesters to leave, she begins her speech, arranging the tapestries and items on the table] Merrie old England! How merrie can she remain when Spain may soon send her ships against us? My Lady the Queen keeps a merry face for her subjects, but in her quiet hours, ah! we who serve her see how the coming war presses upon her. War not of the country's choosing, but occasioned by religion. Spain would kill to turn the whole world Catholic, with England forced to reply in like manner to make it Protestant. Myself, I am somewhat indifferent in the matter of religion – Catholic yesterday, Protestant today, but worshipping the same good God, so what matter? [Small fanfare. ELIZABETH enters and sits at her table, writing] But listen, the Queen has come to greet an old and often willful favorite. And handsome too! [exit]

 

 

[WALSINGHAM enters, preceding DRAKE]

 

WALSINGHAM

Your Majesty

The fleet commander, Sir Francis Drake.

 

ELIZABETH

[rising] Welcome! You have been too long away and too far from our company.

 

DRAKE

[deepest bow, sweep of hat] It is not meet for me to arrive, your Majesty, without invitation which, once a common thing, has lately become more scarce. Your recent word came to me at Plymouth – far from here, true – yet, perhaps not far enough.

 

ELIZABETH

What? You would be farther from your sovereign?

 

DRAKE

If I were some leagues south, along the Iberian coast, might I not be nearer my sovereign's true heart? [WALSINGHAM turns to leave]

 

ELIZABETH

Nay, stay, I would have my secretary lend his ear, and later, perhaps, his voice. Nearer to my heart while absent in Spain.... [lowers her head thoughtfully to her hand] It would seem you pose us a riddle. The great master of all the Atlantic [turns to WALSINGHAM] trudges here from Plymouth to present a conundrum. What do you make of it, Walsingham?

 

WALSINGHAM

A master of the sea...and the coast of Spain...one might, in these dire times, imagine them conjoined to the befuddlement of the Spanish king. This could be one reading.

 

ELIZABETH

[claps hands in mock delight] Of course! How could I miss such obvious implication. The great tailor of our Protestant cause, treading upon the hem of the Catholic nightshirt. [waves her hand to Drake] Well, away with you, go to it this instant.

 

DRAKE

[startled] Leave now? To harry the Spanish Armada while still in harbor? Is this...I have your Majesty's permission?

 

ELIZABETH

My sweet vice admiral, can I deny you anything?

 

DRAKE

[seeing a trap springing] Your Majesty, I would not venture to suggest—

 

ELIZABETH

[in sudden fury] To "suggest"? You come before me with transparent insinuations, as though I were a dullard schoolboy slouched beneath my dunce's cap. I will not have it! State plainly what complaint you bring, for surely you do not honor my invitation to bring good tidings. None do, these days.

 

DRAKE

Your Majesty, all winter my ships have lain inert, my men unoccupied at their chosen seamen's tasks while, our adversary—the adversary not of our anointed island alone, but of our true-found religion, if not of God Himself—makes ready a flotilla beyond any the world has seen. We are idle, weavers without wool! It cannot but chafe, for should we strike now, unsheathe our maritime blade, we might sever [WALSINGHAM, to the side and out of the Queen's sight, frantically waves him down] ....that is, serve you to our highest merit.

 

ELIZABETH

Everyone would redesign our plans. It is the great game of the realm, among our Council and the Parliament and all who have opinion, to pry apart our policy to see where the joints misfit. And now come ship's carpenter Sir Francis – and you are Sir Francis by my grace, none other reason.

 

DRAKE

[bowing again] Forgive my impertinence, your Majesty.

 

ELIZABETH

I would like to. I would much like to. Blast! Do you think I let your ships lay by because I have no concern for the realm? Or because I have not the wit to see how they may be used? Your "inert" ships—are they now sunning themselves on some wayward isle?

 

DRAKE

No, my liege.

 

ELIZABETH

Where, then, do they recline?

 

DRAKE

Upon the shore, at the ministration of John Hawkins and the shipwrights.

 

ELIZABETH

And your men?

 

DRAKE

At home, my liege, or nearby in the seaside towns.

 

ELIZABETH

And what do they eat? Dung and offal?

 

DRAKE

[non-plussed] I do not know. I do not observe them eating.

 

ELIZABETH

But eat they do. Of fresh meat and greens, I wager, not the tubbed and brackish viands of a ship standing full sail at port. Would you enjoy a gift of 2,000 pounds, my duckykins?

 

DRAKE

[totally confused] My liege, that would be...too generous.

 

ELIZABETH

It would indeed, but that is the sum which remains in my coffers each month that your ships lie "idle" and I do not pay their crew or keep. [waves away his incipient protest] What else have you to ask of your sovereign?

 

DRAKE

Only that, as the season warms, you would loose us from our moorings. The Spanish fear me; they quake at my coming for the damage I have done them in the past. Free us to forestall King Philip and his ships, pen them in Lisbon harbor or whereall, rake the coast, hobble his commerce, bring the arch enemy of God to his knees—

 

ELIZABETH

[raising her hand but hiding a near smile] Careful, sir, you speak darkly of my cousin, Philip, a sovereign like myself. Do not lean so heavily on religion's staff. Philip believes much as you believe, though in an opposite direction. And do not sell short my cousin's resolve. Though slow to engage the gears of his mill, he grinds with fine concentration.

 

DRAKE

My point exactly, my liege! All the more reason you should--

 

ELIZABETH

I should?

 

DRAKE

You could—

 

ELIZABETH

Could I?

 

DRAKE

Madam. [bows low]

 

ELIZABETH

The protestations of your bent waist cannot negate the arrogance of your words. Not Drake but popinjay, forever preening, husbanding all glory  to yourself, denying the possibility of error. Is it any wonder I grew weary of your insolent presence? [imperious stance] Walsingham, the guards!

 

WALSINGHAM

To what end, your Majesty?

 

ELIZABETH

To remove this man to the Tower.

 

DRAKE and WALSINGHAM [in unison]

What cause?

 

ELIZABETH

For violent disrespect to the Crown, for treason, for...whatever embellishments I shall later add.

 

DRAKE

[more amazed than frightened] But my liege, what have I done, said, how....?

 

ELIZABETH

[sudden almost elfin laugh]  Oh, my Drake, my ruffled ducky-daddles, such consternation! You'd believe it of me, would you? And you too, Walsingham? That I would whisk a faithful servant of England to our dungeons for his mild swagger, so timely presented and so well earned? My memory is not short, Francis. You have ravaged the coast of Spain two years running, set back my cousin's plans by several seasons, stopped his flow of American gold, brought me back booty enough from his merchantmen to keep your "idle" fleet sleek and happy—and yourself not less so.

 

DRAKE

[relieved to the point of idiocy]  And I also burned, at Cape St. Vincent, 17 hundred tons of barrel staves!

 

ELIZABETH

Barrel staves as well! Good heavens, how fiercely must they have fought!

 

DRAKE

Well may your Majesty smile now, for you will have the last laugh. More than cannon balls or powder, the loss of those wooden trifles will cripple the Armada should it sail against us. Their food and water casks will perforce be made of green wood, which shrinks and twists. The water will leak, the provisions molder and go putrid.

 

ELIZABETH

The enemy trembles at your seamanship, yet it is your cunning they most should fear. And so, and so....Perhaps the time has come to grant your request, to set my sea beasts ravening again. That course has merit. [wanders about for a few seconds thinking] Then again.... [stands tall] You shall have our decision in due time. [calls off stage] Mary! Set out my things! [exit]

 

 

 

[SPLIT SCENE.  ELIZABETH and MARY stage left, Queen's chamber, DRAKE and WALSINGHAM stage right, still in reception room]

 

DRAKE

[waving his hat in frustration] What am I to make of that? Hawkins backs me, as does the Lord Admiral. What is my course?

 

WALSINGHAM

It will come clear. I will lend my tongue to your endeavor, as her Majesty suggested.

 

DRAKE

I need not tongues but ships.

 

 

 

MARY

Which things am I to prepare, my lady?

 

ELIZABETH

Anything. Nothing! It was but a ruse to give me time to ponder.

 

MARY

Are decisions so difficult for a sovereign?

 

ELIZABETH

I despise decisions. Policy is best when it hangs free like clothing on the line, blown this way and that by the winds of time and circumstance.

 

 

 

DRAKE

Never has there been such a monstrous fleet as the Spanish now put together. Our ships are leaner, faster, our guns heave cannon balls the greater distance, but daily the strength of the cursed King Philip increases. I long to smash him!

 

WALSINGHAM

His kingdom is near bankrupt, all his wealth flows to the bankers to pay back loans. We have the edge.

 

DRAKE

But I can do no good in port.

 

WALSINGHAM

True, sir. It badly restricts your access to barrel staves.

 

 

 

ELIZABETH

How fortunate I am to have you with me. You are the sole Mary who has not been quite contrary. Mary Tudor, my sister, doused my co-religionists with buckets of blood. Mary Stewart, queen of Scots, styled herself my successor or usurper, but the headsman's axe removed that chance. I would that it had not removed her head as well, for though I loved her little, she served me better as a martyr living than one dead. You were Catholic once, my Mary?

 

MARY

Yes, my lady, but on my soul I swear—

 

ELIZABETH

Swear less, Mary, lest you commit yourself to more than you might mean. Your religion  is of no concern to me. My Council, my Parliament, all warn me that religious sedition will steal my people from defense of the realm. But I say that the love of my people for England and myself—and my love for them—will hold firm their allegiance.

 

MARY

[peering wistfully into the reception room] Sir Francis seems put out.

 

ELIZABETH

Put out he is, because he cannot put out to sea. Or so he thinks, and let him think it for a bit. How is a woman – even a queen – to rule great roomfuls of men but by wit and guile and confusion? Leave them filled with hope and wonder, but not with secure knowledge. Silly ganders. Silly drakes.

 

[Iberia removes Act I placard and places Interact placard. Albion brings in tray and places inkwell, feather and parchment on it. Iberia moves chair to side and moves table to back wall with Albion’s help. Albion picks up tray, Iberia picks up Act I placard and both exit out barn side entrance.]


 

Intermission

 

QUIQUIX

[Walking SL, in front of barn side entrance.] Ladeeees and gentlemen! The battle of the century [Connie and Sue place length of blue chiffon at front of stage on cement floor. They stand behind pillars.] is about to be enjoined. Defending champion, Albion England, [Albion enters through barn side entrance, swaggers R, then L and back to R in front of R pillar on cement floor. He carries a melon boat in one hand.] yet underdog, is matched against the mighty heavyweight challenger, Iberia Spain. [Iberia enters from barn side entrance, swaggers R, then L and stops in front of L pillar on cement floor. He carries a watermelon boat in each hand.] Stripped to battle gear, [Quiquix snatches Iberia’s hat off and tosses it to the side, as Albion throws his hat off to the other side.] they enter the channel from opposing corners and circle for advantage. [Albion and Iberia slowly circle each other, watching each other for advantage.] The champion is lithe and trim, [Albion does a quick jig] riding high on the waterline [He raises his boat over his head] and fitted with cannon that can deliver rapid one-two jabs to keep the challenger at bay. [Albion spits out a few quick watermelon seeds at Iberia.] But Spain far outweighs the champion in poundage of galleons and men [Iberia moves ponderously around and stretches his arms wide in a crescent.] and is rumored to have developed a tactical maneuver both novel and cunning. Yes, look there, Iberia has formed a hitherto unknown crescent attack, swinging in to hit England's line from both right and left. [Iberia, arms wide, threatens with first his right ship and then his left while shooting watermelon seeds.]

 

HECKLER 1

Kick him in the scupper! [Albion looks confused and backs onto the stage where he looks right and left for help

 

HECKLER 2

Avast, scurvy lubbers!

 

HECKLER 3

Your mother doesn't wipe her fo'c'sle! [Iberia swings wide in a circle again, heading back for another one two punch.]

 

HECKLER 4

Sissy masts!  [Hecklers keep up throughout intermission.]

 

QUIQUIX

England is holding back now, wary, seeming confused and off-balance. Lacking Spain's measured discipline, her line has turned ragged. [Albion continues to back up slowly then moves toward Iberia and shoots a few seeds but Iberia just keeps swinging around and steps on the stage.] Albion slips in to take a few tentative jabs at Iberia's midsection, the challenger does not flinch. Wait, what's this? Spain is showing sudden distress [Iberia stops, faces audience and looks sick. He staggers.] and a somewhat green cast. He staggers, turns and – yes, spews into the water. [Iberia vomits over the side of the stage.] Sir Francis's odd training exercise in barrel-burning, considered a low blow by some and ill-timed preening by others, has made its mark. [Albion circles around to take advantage of Iberia’s weakness.]  Never count the champion out when it comes to discovering an opponent's weakness. [Thunder sounds. The  lights flicker. Wind begins to rise.] But here comes bad news for both fighters, battle fans – a mean turn to the weather. The winds grow and push at champion and challenger alike, the seas rise and heave, [Sue and Connie begin to raise the water cloth making ripples across it as it rises.] rendering both skill and might of little avail. [Albion and Iberia raise and lower their ships above and below the cloth so they are alternately visible and not visible.] The challenger is down, the champion also! This battle of titans has turned into a common street brawl beneath leaden skies as the tempests o'erwhelm and obscure the view. [Iberia and Albion disappear behind the water cloth as well as their ships Lightning, thunder and wind continue through end of the scene.] I can see nothing further. There is but one way left to determine the victor…return to our drama, wherein all matters will be writ clear – or at least, less murky. [One of Iberia’s ships suddenly leaps above the cloth and smashes on the cement floor. The water lowers enough to see Albion and Iberia locked in combat. Their ships smash into each other and then are tossed over the cloth onto the cement floor. Albion and Iberia both fall to the stage floor and the water cloth drops on top of them. Wind, lightning and thunder reach a crescendo and then cut to sudden silence and darkness. In darkness Albion and Iberia stand and carry cloth off. Linda and Derek clean mess off floor.]


Act Two

[Late August 1588, the Queen's reception room]

 

[Lights up. Albion removes Interact placard places Act Two placard. Iberia places vase of flowers on table and moves chair in front of table. Both exit. ELIZABETH enters from barn side entrance and Mary from SR. Elizabeth sits in chair and slumps back, exhausted. MARY attends her on bended knee.]

 

ELIZABETH

Lost! Oh God, how came it to be?

 

MARY

Such evil tidings—our ships driven aground, scattered, oh, my lady.

 

ELIZABETH

And so soon, at Tilbury, the troops I reviewed stood eager to repel the invaders should they come. Now what is to deflect the Spanish flood from our shore? Drake captured! That is the cruelest blow, news to rejuvenate the limp and twisted smile of my cousin. Could not my duckling swim to safety? What net has caught his fine webbed feet?

 

MARY

[rising] Should I see what reports have lately come? Better news may have been delivered.

 

ELIZABETH

No, stay, I need you by my side a while longer. How could it be so quickly squandered? All come undone, the glue that I toiled these 30 years to squeeze into the joints of the realm washed out with the waves of the sea. England at the mercy of a stooped and humorless enemy.

 

MARY

[hand to ear] My lady, I hear a strange voice speak in your hall.

 

ELIZABETH

[shifting upright] Who? I heard it not.

 

MARY

Clearly stated, words of defeat and resignation – such as have never before been voiced within these walls.

 

ELIZABETH

[surge of anger] Have spies infiltrated while my attention was diverted? I will have their heads! [amused illumination] Ah, Miss Mary, you work in subtle ways. You are right, your sovereign has slipped into uncharacteristic gloom. My words issue like an obscuring fog. But those mists must lift, for England's sake, and I must back to work. Thirty years gone, perhaps, but thirty others yet to come to take their place. [touches MARY's shoulder affectionately] So, to put the kingdom to rights – or at least to salvage it from wrongs. [door opens and WALSINGHAM puts in a tentative foot] What, did I call you?

 

WALSINGHAM

No, your Majesty, but I bring...um, something that might stir your interest.

 

ELIZABETH

It might, though more likely it would not. I told you to let me be.

 

WALSINGHAM

What I bring would let you be more than you were.

 

ELIZABETH

I am besieged by mysticism. Can you not speak plainly?

 

WALSINGHAM

What I can speak is less than what I can show. [steps aside and DRAKE walks in]

 

ELIZABETH

[bounding to her feet] You? Here?

 

DRAKE

[slight smile] I will remove myself if your Majesty prefers.

 

ELIZABETH

Ever impertinent, even as a ghost. How dare you cause me such anguish and grief? What have you done with my ships?

 

DRAKE

Used them for the spoilage of the enemy.

 

ELIZABETH

They are not sunk?

 

DRAKE

When last I saw, they rode high in our various harbors, in well earned rest. Thanks to your Majesty's wise foresight, they hit battle tight in their stays and in full trim. And I bring further reports. The Spanish fleet has foundered upon the Irish coast, its thousands drowned, its ships in flinders, while we, dear Lady, have suffered injury so small …as to be beneath mention.

 

ELIZABETH

The Dutch reports and those from France....?

 

DRAKE

False to the last letter. Except where they extolled the victory of my fleet. [MARY walks flirtatiously back and forth, trying to get his attention.]

 

ELIZABETH

The fleet all yours? If you swell too large you will burst. You were vice admiral to Lord Howard – but arrogant  self-promotion has long been your vice. Yet as it always does, the world, both here and Spain, will proclaim it Drake's victory – the Spanish think you steer your vessel by a magic mirror. So I would breast the tide to hold ill temper with thee. [again, a sudden explosion of spirit] You have done well, we have done well, England has done best. We should dance our victory, my duckling. [holds out her hand] Music! [Music for dance begins, very softly.]

 

DRAKE

Should we?

 

ELIZABETH

Do not ape your sovereign.

 

DRAKE

Before my sovereign, I am the very ape.

 

ELIZABETH

You are the very fool of flattery! For which I most extol you. Come.  [touches his shoulder. Music swells.]

 

[DRAKE takes the Queen's hand and they dance slowly around the table, then gradually ELIZABETH grows more animated, spinning with gaiety. DRAKE attempts to match her, a bit clumsily, and in answer to her joy quacks to the imagined beat and catches the eye of MARY at each turn]

 

DRAKE

Quack, quack. [Music swells to a finish.]

 

ELIZABETH

On dry land, still you ride the sea.

 

[the dance ends, and ELIZABETH falls into her seat. WALSINGHAM stands behind her right shoulder. DRAKE and MARY steal off to the left]

 

ELIZABETH

So, all is well.

 

WALSINGHAM

All? Most, for the moment, my liege. The victory is not complete. The Armada was driven as much by storm as by our might.

 

ELIZABETH

What matter the cause? Half the Spanish fleet driven to the bottom, the king's coffers as empty as a child's biscuit tin.

 

WALSINGHAM

Should we trust these newest happy reports more than those evil ones that preceded them?

 

ELIZABETH

Pooh! My dreary Puritan, always fearing the worst, even when faced with the best. Our hero returned does not succumb to such forebodings.  [turning to see DRAKE and MARY]What? Not content with clutching all credit to yourself, you would embrace my lady's maid as well? [MARY shrinks back]

 

DRAKE

[attempting to look innocent] Your Majesty, I was but…inquiring after your health.

 

ELIZABETH

And what in my health might be so deficient as to prompt inquiry?

 

DRAKE

Why…nothing, of course. I was but commenting on how exceedingly...resplendent you looked, thinking that perhaps you had taken some...special tonic from which I might equally benefit.

 

ELIZABETH

Feel free to expand upon the measures of my resplendence which so attract you.

 

DRAKE

[Dropping to one knee.] Ah, my Queen, your eyes are like the stars, your ears the shells from the sea, your hands the fluttering of sparrows –

 

ELIZABETH

Enough! My eyes strain against increasing blur, my ears lose sound to dissonance, my hands crab and catch. We grow old, you and I [DRAKE raises hand to protest] – nay, put aside denials, the years wind down and wind us down in their turning. Ah, my quaint quacker, what is left to us but to keep on?

 

DRAKE

There is much yet to accomplish, your Majesty. The Spaniards will not so soon put aside their ambitions, and I am not so soon ready to rest upon my laurels. [impassioned] Let me loose again next season, and I will return the conflict to their home and there extinguish it.

 

ELIZABETH

Such a cocky drake! And so militant. Why must the revolution of the years present ever again the images of war? I would put them aside, but they will not put me aside. It must be the nature of the nation-beast.

 

DRAKE

But we arm too to defend the truth of religion. Is not that the greater calling from on high?

 

ELIZABETH

Who knows God's desire– not even you, my bellicose theologian, or [indicating WALSINGHAM] this more circumspect and shrouded believer. And not, I assure you, a mere ruler of the realm. Ah, I fear this war will follow to my grave, if not beyond. But for today, let us put strife aside, while England rests free, my people happy, my ships safe, my commanders fit. [Music begins, quietly. Enter JESTERS, beckoning] And look – they come to lead us to the celebration. Take my arm, stalwart sea bird. You have earned it. [sweeps other arm to include audience] So have all. Follow us to the dance.

 

[ELIZABETH leads the cast, with music increasing in volume, drawing in the audience]