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Maxwell Anderson enjoyed great commercial success with a series of plays set during the reign of the Tudor family, who ruled England, Wales and Ireland from 1485 until 1603. One play in particular – Anne of the Thousand Days – the story of Henry VIII's marriage to Anne Boleyn – was a hit on the stage in 1948, but did not reach movie screens for 21 years. It opened on Broadway starring Rex Harrison and Joyce Redman, and became a 1969 movie with Richard Burton and Geneviève Bujold. Margaret Furse won an Oscar for the film's costume designs.
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Anne of the Thousand Days
ANNE OF THE THOUSAND DAYS
Anne of the Thousand Days
DUKE OF NORFOLK
LORD PERCY, EARL OF
The curtain rises in darkness. Then a single spotlight comes up to show, sitting at stage right, a young woman dressed in a gray fur-trimmed costume of a fashion usual at the time of Henry VIII. There are dark hangings behind her, broken only by a small, barred window which the lights project on one panel of the curtains.
The young woman is Anne Boleyn, and the time is the evening of May 18, 1536.
If I were to die now—
but I must not die yet,
It’s been too brief. A few weeks and days.
How many days, I wonder, since the first time
I gave myself, to that last day when he—
when he left me at the lists and I saw him no more?
Well, I can reckon it.
I have time enough. Those who sit in the Tower
don’t lack for time.
[She takes out a little wax tablet, with a stylus]
He could never cipher.
He was shrewd and heavy—
and cunning with his tongue, and wary in intrigue,
but when it came to adding up an account
he filled it with errors and bit his tongue—
till I slapped his hands like a child and took the pen
and made it straight.
“A king,” I said, “a king, and cannot reckon.”
I was his clever girl then, his Nan;
he’d kiss me then, and maul me, and take me down.
On the rushes. Anywhere.
Why do I think of it now? Would he kill me? Kill me?
Henry? The fool? That great fool kill me?
God knows I deserve it. God knows I tried to kill,
and it may be I succeeded.
I did succeed. I know too well I succeeded,
and I’m guilty, for I brought men to death unjustly,
as this death of mine will be unjust if it comes—
only I taught them the way. And I’m to die
in the way I contrived. . . . It may be. . . .
No, but Henry. He could not. Could not . . .
Could I kill him, I wonder?
I feel it in my hands perhaps I could.
So—perhaps he could kill me.
Perhaps he could kill me.
If it came tomorrow, how many days
would it have been,
[She makes a mark on the tablet]
beginning with our first day?
[The lights dim down and go out except on Anne’s face. She remains visible in reverie during the first few moments of the first scene]
The lights come up on a circle at stage left. A great window, partly of stained glass, is projected on the curtain background, and Mary Boleyn (she is the wife of William Carey, but that hardly counts for she has been the mistress of King Henry for four years, and she is only twenty-three) stands, peering through one of the panes. We are in the castle at Hever, owned by Thomas Boleyn, the king’s treasurer, and the year is 1526. It is early spring.thomas boleynenters from stage right.
You watch for someone?
I thought I saw the king on the road below.
We were to talk over the enclosure of a hunting park near Hever.
He’s here to see you, then?
I think so, child.
Not this time.
But I may speak to him in passing, surely?
Perhaps—but— [He pauses in embarrassment] I wonder if you could do this? Could you go to your room while he’s here—and not see him—and send no message?
Could you do this?
Go to my room! But for what reason? I have some rights in this house I should think—as your daughter, if not as the wife of my husband. And in the kingdom as the king’s mistress, which, God help me, I am, and which you have encouraged me to be!
Did you need encouraging, Mary? Think back on the fever you were in those days. Did you need encouragement?
If I am sent out of the way I shall ask the king why.
And now. I shall ask him now!
The truth is, the king sent ahead to make sure we two could speak alone. He and I.
He asked—not to see me?
Not in so many words—but—
That could mean—I was not to see him again.
One never gets used to these things—there’s always a hell to go through. But when a girl gives herself so completely—
You knew when I gave myself! And where. It has helped you! Yes, you live by it! Steward of Tunbridge and Penshurst, sheriff of Bradsted, viscount, king’s treasurer—and all these revenues have come to you since I opened my bedroom door to him!
Mary, girl, I’ve always loved you. I wouldn’t want to hurt you in any way. And all these things are true. The king has been generous to me because you were generous to him—and I know that and I’ve known it all the time. But could I have refused what he gave? I’ve been grateful to you, Mary—and ashamed of having to be grateful—yet I couldn’t refuse what was offered. And now—if you’ve lost the king, I don’t know how to help with that. I shall help any other way I can. . . . You still have your husband.
Who wants my husband?
I’m caught here, Mary—we’re all caught. . . .
It’s true, though. The moment I became all his, and held nothing back, I had lost the king, and I knew it. Yes, I’ve lost him—
[maryturns Away. As she does so an elegantly robed prelate enters from stage right. The girl goes out past the ecclesiastic without trusting herself to speak. The newcomer isCardinal Wolsey]
You’ve told her?
The earl is with her.
The king rode close behind me, Thomas.
My dear Cardinal, I have encouraged Anne with the young noble. He’ll have the greatest estates in the north of England. It was something off my mind that Anne should like him and want him, for she’s not easy to please. It never entered my head that the king had noticed her. What can I say to her now?
To send the earl away.
I think they have a sort of engagement between them.
Well—the king’s here.
I think it would need more time.
Suppose you take the king to look at your hounds. Tell him that Anne had ordered a new dress and there’s some trouble with it—her hands tremble over the fastenings, and other rubbish of that sort. I’ll speak to Anne and to the earl.
Well—if you’ll manage it.
[henry viiienters behind the servant. A rough, shrewd, merry, brutal man in the thirties, accustomed to making himself at home in this house and with all his subjects when he thinks the effect might be good.norrisandsmeatonenter after him]
[ToNorrisandSmeaton] Wait for me, gentlemen. Only your king, Thomas. No ceremony. Only your Henry. [Nevertheless he gives his hand to be kissed andboleynkisses it. norrisandsmeatongo out] And how’s the vicar of hell this chilly spring morning?
I keep warm, Majesty.
I’m sure you do. With your feet on the devil’s fender. Meanwhile toasting your paddocks at God’s altar.
And running the king’s errands. It’s a busy life.
Has he done my errand?
Yes, he has.
May I smell this pretty posy of yours?
My lord, if you mean Anne, she’s still at her mirror, and—if you could give her a half hour.
We’ve this whole day.
There was a clump of red deer grazing within view when I last looked out. In velvet, but they give promise of sport later.
We’ll see them. We’ll see your red deer, and afterward we’ll appraise what was seen in that same looking glass.
Good hunting, Majesty.
You won’t be with us?
It happens there is a poor soul in the house who seeks the ministrations of a religious. I must go where I am called.
You will go wherever it’s most profitable for the Cardinal of York to be at any given time. So go there, and no more of these holy thin excuses.
[He goes out]
There’s no hurry about the deer. I want three words with you.
There’s always a temptation, when a man’s in my position, that he’ll think of the nation as his own trough, and get all four feet in it and eat from one end to the other. I don’t want to look like that to anybody.
You don’t, my sovereign.
I’m a religious man, Boleyn. I want to do what’s right in the eyes of God and the church. And myself—and my people—and you.
That’s a swath of folk to satisfy—if you include God.
I include both God and the women—among them your daughters. What will your daughters say of me—the two of them together—talking at night?
What two women say together—talking at night of one man who has wanted them both—and taken both. No man will ever know that. But I think—if you don’t mind—
I’ve asked you.
I think you go a little rapid with Annie. You’ll need to be gentle.
But she’ll have me—in the end?
She’s no fool, my lord.
[After a pause] What I do is God’s will.
Now, if a man or a monarch could be sure of that!
I’ve worked it out, in my mind—
I pray to God.
I tell you this first, Boleyn.
God answers prayer. That’s known. Every morning I go on my knees
and pray that what I do may be God’s will.
I pray him to direct me—that whatever thought
comes to my mind—whatever motion
floods in my heart—shall be God’s will—and I
only His instrument. Wherever I turn,
whatever I do—whether to reach for food,
or thread my way among the crossed paths of the law,
or interpret the holy word,
or judge men innocent—or guilty—
every morning I pray Him on my knees
nothing shall rise in my brain or heart but He
has wished it first.
And since He answers prayer,
and since He’s given me such heavy power to act,
power for good and evil,
He must answer this. He does answer.
I find such peace
in this, that not one morning my whole life long
shall I fail these devotions.
This is a noble thought, of course, but Your Majesty realizes that it might be used as an excuse for—
For doing as you please.
I’m quite serious, Boleyn. I want no trifling.
It was not my intention to trifle.
But you do! I tell you I pray and God answers!
Yes, my lord.
I am younger than you. I am younger than Wolsey.
I am younger than many dukes and earls and peers.
But I am the king of England. When I pray God answers.
I will not have this questioned.
Yes, my lord.
We’re sent as a delegation, my lord.
Come in, come in. Pour it on, whatever it is. Your king is your natural receptacle for whatever you can’t hold any longer.
The fact is we are sent to keep you amused while Sir Thomas Boleyn confers with his lady wife. There is a sort of kitchen rebellion afoot and his voice is needed.
Go, Boleyn, mollify your women.
If you’ll excuse me.
Come in, lads. I want a word with you, anyway—man to man, kingship aside. You buzz the girls you two—you’ve thrust your hands in amongst a flutter of larks often enough and pulled out the one you wanted. Tell me, what’s the best cast of all for a maiden?
A maid, Your Majesty?
I wouldn’t swear to that. Not medically. But a young one—a bit wild—uncaught.
I couldn’t say of my own knowledge, sir, but Tom Wyatt has an unfailing way. He writes them poems.
But you can’t catch a ticklish hoyden with madrigals. That’s for matrons.
Then your lure, Smeaton? Your favorite?
My king, my acquaintance doesn’t run among the grade of females you seek. I’m more successful with waiting women and ladies’ maids.
Don’t be modest, lad. I’ve followed your spoor so close there was scarce time to close the window you left by—or change perfumes to put me off the scent—
I’ve breathed your same air in some close quarters, singer. So speak on. Your lure. Your most seductive.
Why, being a singer, I sing to them a good deal—but, in addition to that—you will not be offended?
I’ll be offended if you keep back, musician. Be ashamed of nothing. We live in a new age, a new time. I was born within a year of the discovery of the new world. We revise all the old laws to suit ourselves. And the mysteries and manners.
Why, then, if you truly want her, make her believe you’re potent only with her, Majesty, and that will do the business. Make out that you’ve tried with numbers of others, gone to bed and kissed hotly, and hung embarrassed and unable. But with her you rouse up. You’re a man again. They can’t resist that. They open like—
Never mind the simile. There’s nothing like it. But, lad, this is new, this device.
I think it’s my own.
And ingenious. [norfolkenters] We’re speaking of the best way to woo a green maid, Norfolk. You’re a man of expedients. You know these things—if you haven’t forgotten them.
Why, my advice is, if you want a woman, take her.
There are certain preliminaries. There’s consent, anyway. You must have consent.
Nonsense. Take her and make her like it. Why should a woman have anything to say about it?
It may have been so in the good old days. Today we woo—and wait.
Do you wish her to be in love with you, my lord?
That I do.
Do you wish to be in love with her?
In love with her? I? Personally? Now, I’ll tell you the truth, so far my experience of being in love is like this: love is a kind of wanting, a panting and sighing and longing. What does a man desire of a lass, anyway? To be assuaged. He wants his pain assuaged. Well, that done, what more’s to be done?
Is it lèse-majesté, or may I ask—
Nothing is lèse-majesté in this conversation.
Have you ever been refused by a maid?
Refused? I? No, I think not. When I’ve wanted them I’ve had them. And once I’ve had a wench, I’m cured. That’s general, isn’t it? Broad and narrow?
My king, with me it’s the opposite. Once I’ve mixed flesh and lips with her I’m in danger of a golden wedding—should we both live.
It can happen so?
The poor gudgeon’s hooked now. He’ll never swim free again.
And she won’t look at me.
Keep me from that, good God!
Can you youngsters leave talking of virgins long enough to look at the venison?
Yes—come. Next to the haunch of a virgin there’s nothing like a haunch of venison.
[The lights go out on the scene]
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