The Tragedy of Tragedies

by Henry Fielding

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1100

According to the legends told in his lifetime, Tom Thumb’s peasant father and mother were unable to have any children until Tom’s father went to the magician Merlin and received from him a charm that resulted in the wife’s giving birth to the valiant but diminutive Tom Thumb. When he reaches manhood, Tom Thumb enters the service of King Arthur, in whose court he accomplishes great deeds and earns a vast reputation. At the court, Queen Dollallolla falls in love with Tom Thumb, loving him, in fact, as much as she loves drinking, but she keeps her love a secret from all. Least of all does she tell King Arthur, who is afraid of no one except his queen.

Tom Thumb’s greatest achievement is his victory over the giants who dwell in the land ruled by the amazonian Queen Glumdalca. Tom subdues ten thousand giants and then returns with the surviving foes fastened to his chariot, among them the comely Queen Glumdalca. Because of their size, all the giants except the queen, who is a foot shorter than her subjects, have to be left outside the castle walls. Queen Glumdalca is brought into the castle. As soon as he sees her, King Arthur falls in love with her.

Eager to reward Tom Thumb for his great deeds, the king promises him anything within reason. Tom at first replies that permission to serve his king is sufficient reward. When pressed, however, he asks for the hand of Princess Huncamunca, with whom he has long been in love. The queen is furious that her daughter should become the wife of the man the queen herself loves. She rails at her husband and swears that the marriage should not take place, but the king for once holds his own against his virago queen and tells her to be quiet. The queen, furious also at her husband, goes to Lord Grizzle, a discontented courtier, to secure his aid in preventing the marriage. Lord Grizzle, who is himself in love with Princess Huncamunca, is quite willing to oblige and promises the queen that he will kill Tom Thumb. Too late, Queen Dollallolla realizes that she does not want Tom killed. She hopes, instead, that King Arthur will die so that she might be free to marry Tom.

When King Arthur tells Princess Huncamunca of his decision to marry her to Tom Thumb, the princess is only too happy to hear of his decision, for she has been in love with Tom for a long time. She has also been afraid that she might die an old maid and, as old superstition would have it, be doomed to lead apes through hell. After the king has gone, Lord Grizzle comes to plead his suit with Princess Huncamunca, who tells him that she loves him, too. Taking her cue from the career of the queen of the giants, who has had twenty husbands, Princess Huncamunca decides that she can love both Tom and Lord Grizzle. She promises to marry Lord Grizzle, and he leaves at once to secure a license for the ceremony.

Shortly after Lord Grizzle has left on his happy errand, Tom Thumb comes to the princess’s apartment. Learning of her promise to Lord Grizzle, he pays no attention to it. While he is talking with the princess, Queen Glumdalca comes into the room and offers herself to Tom Thumb, who, she says, would take the place of her twenty former husbands. Tom refuses, saying he prefers the smaller gold coin of Princess Huncamunca to the large dross coin of the giant. Queen Glumdalca leaves...

(This entire section contains 1100 words.)

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in a fury, but her anger abates when she discovers that the king is in love with her.

Tom Thumb hurries Princess Huncamunca off to a parson, who marries them quickly and wishes them at the same time a long life and many children. Lord Grizzle, returning just after the ceremony, finds Princess Huncamunca married to his rival. The princess assures him that there is room in her heart for two husbands and offers to marry him as well. This does not appease Lord Grizzle, who rushes out to create a rebellion and kill Tom Thumb.

That night, the ghost of Tom Thumb’s father appears to King Arthur and warns him that Tom’s life and the king’s rule are both endangered by Lord Grizzle and his rebels. After the ghost’s departure, the king sits meditating on what he has been told until the queen, rousing from a drunken slumber, comes to see what is the matter. She is unable to set the king’s mind at ease.

The next morning, Tom Thumb, in company with the giant, goes forth to subdue the rebels. On the way to the battlefield, Merlin’s magic vouchsafes Tom Thumb a vision in which he sees that he is doomed to be eaten by a red cow. The vision puts him in awe of death, but when Merlin then reveals that Tom will become famous through the medium of the stage, Tom is willing to die.

Lord Grizzle and the army of rebels he has raised under the banner of democracy and freedom advance to meet Tom Thumb and the giant. In the bloody engagement that ensues, Lord Grizzle kills Queen Glumdalca, and Tom avenges her by killing Lord Grizzle. Once their leader is dead, the rebels disperse. Tom cuts off Lord Grizzle’s head and starts a victorious march to the castle.

In the castle, the king, queen, and princess await news of the battle, certain that Tom Thumb will triumph and save them from the rebels. Their hopes are fulfilled when a courtier runs in and tells them of Tom’s success, but their happiness is short-lived, for the courtier goes on to tell how, on his march back to the castle, Tom Thumb met a large red cow that swallowed poor Tom at a gulp.

Queen Dollallolla, outraged at the courtier for bringing news of her loved one’s death, seizes a sword and kills him. The courtier’s mistress then kills the queen. Princess Huncamunca, anxious to avenge her mother’s death, slays the courtier’s mistress. Another courtier uses the occasion to kill Princess Huncamunca because of a grudge he has long held against her. The princess’s maid then avenges her mistress by killing Huncamunca’s murderer. The king, dispensing justice, kills the maid. Then the king, with bodies lying all around him, kills himself, with the thought that his only glory is that he is the last to die.