King Arthur Or The British Worthy "War Is The Trade Of Kings"

John Dryden

"War Is The Trade Of Kings"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: The death of Charles II, friend of the theater, in 1685, ended the chances of the poet laureate, Dryden's, producing this opera intended as a sequel to Albion and Albanius. The Revolution of 1688 brought him further ruin. As a Catholic, he could not get a government position. But he worked on translations and wrote or revised a half dozen plays. Finally in 1691 King Arthur was performed with music by the famous Henry Purcell (1659–1695). It was published the same year. The story relates that after the Britons defeat the forces of the Saxon King Oswald of Kent, the magic of Oswald's wizard Osmond overcomes the magic of Arthur's Merlin. Meanwhile, blind Emmeline, promised to Arthur, is spirited away by the returning Oswald, who surprises her and her maid Matilda in a pavilion. Angered by the treachery of his vanquished foe, Arthur follows and overtakes them. He upbraids Oswald, not for persisting in the fight after his defeat, but for stealing Emmeline.


ARTHUR
For you have wronged me much.
OSWALD
Oh, you would tell me,
I called more Saxons in, to enlarge my bounds.
If those be wrongs, the war has well redress'd ye.
ARTHUR
Mistake me not; I count not war a wrong.
War is the trade of kings, that fight for empire;
And better be a lion, than a sheep.
OSWALD
In what, then, have I wronged ye?
ARTHUR
In my love.
OSWALD
Even love's an empire, too; the noble soul,
Like kings, is covetous of single sway.