Gorboduc, king of Britain and last of the line beginning with the legendary Brute, decides that he will not wait until his death before handing over the rule of his kingdom. In addition, he decides that he will set aside the rule of primogeniture and divide Britain between his two sons, Ferrex and Porrex. To Ferrex, the older, he plans to give all lands south of the Humber River; to Porrex, the younger, he intends to give those lands north of the Humber.
Calling in his chief advisers, Gorboduc tells them what is in his mind. Arostus is in complete agreement with the king’s wishes, but Philander and Eubulus warn of the dangers of the plan. Although they admit that the king will be able to aid his sons in the early years of their reigns, they feel that the sons might not be willing to take advice from their father after he places power in their hands. The advisers also warn that when the authority of the kingdom is divided, the allegiance of the people might be divided, and they point out that Ferrex might very well resent having to share the kingdom with a younger brother, since custom made it the rule that the firstborn son inherited the entire kingdom. Last of all, they warn Gorboduc that history has proved a kingdom divided is easier prey to foreign conquest.
Gorboduc listens to his counselors. When they finish speaking, however, he tells them his mind is made up, that he feels the advantages to be gained by dividing the kingdom during his lifetime outweigh the disadvantages. Accordingly, he sets his plan in operation, not knowing that his queen, Videna, is extremely jealous of her older son’s prerogatives and hates the younger son for receiving a part of the kingdom that she feels rightfully belongs in its entirety to Ferrex.
Gorboduc sends trusted advisers of his own with each of the princes when they take over their separate domains, but before long both sons begin to disregard their father’s counselors. Instead, they listen to young men who prey upon their vanities. Ferrex seeks the advice of a parasite named Hermon, a man who flatters the young ruler’s ego. Hermon tells Ferrex that as the older son he should not have been given such a meager part of Britain and that, according to custom and his own ability, Ferrex should have been made ruler of the entire domain.
(The entire section is 949 words.)