the Annotated Popular Edition of


by Francis Beaumont

amd John Fletcher

c. 1611


Featuring complete and easy-to-read annotations.


Annotations and notes © Copyright ElizabethanDrama.org, 2018
This annotated play may be freely copied and distributed.




The Iberians:

A King and No King is a fine tragicomedy featuring one

of Elizabethan literature's funniest characters, the cowardly

Arbaces, King of Iberia.

and obsequious Captain Bessus. More notably, this play is

Arane, the Queen-Mother.

one of several of the era to explore the controversial subject

     Panthea, her daughter.

of incest. Our plot is driven primarily by the outrageous

Gobrias, Lord-Protector.

mood-swings of the King of Iberia, Arbaces.

Bacurius, a Lord.


Mardonius, a Captain.

Bessus, a Captain.

The text of the play is taken from Beaumont and Fletcher,

a collection of plays presented as part of the Mermaid

Two Sword-Men.

series, cited at #3 below, with some emendations made

Three Shop-Men.

based on the original 1619 quarto.

Citizens’ Wives, &c.

     Philip, a servant.


The Armenians:

     Mentions made in the annotations of Dyce, Bond,

and Weber refer to the commentary of these scholars in

Tigranes, King of Armenia.

their editions of our play.

Lygones, a Lord

     The most commonly cited sources are listed in the

     Spaconia, daughter of Lygones.

footnotes immediately below. The complete list of footnotes

appears at the end of this play.

Gentlemen, Attendants, &c.

     1. Oxford English Dictionary (OED) online.

     2. Crystal, David and Ben. Shakespeare's Words.


London; New York: Penguin, 2002.

During the First Act the Frontiers of Armenia;

     3. Strachey, J., ed. Beaumont and Fletcher, Vol. II.

Afterwards the Metropolis of Iberia.

London: Vizetelley & Co., 1887.

     6. Dyce, Alexander, ed. The Works of Beaumont and

Fletcher. London: Edward Moxon, 1863.


     7. Bond, R. Warwick., ed. The Works of Francis

Beaumont and John Fletcher. London: George Bell &

     E.H.C. Oliphant (The Plays of Beaumont and Fletcher.

Sons, 1904.

New Haven: Yale University Press, 1927), in his study of

     8. Weber, Henry. The Works of Beaumont and Fletcher.

the collaborations of Beaumont and Fletcher, assigns to 

Edinburgh: John Ballantyne & Co., 1812.

our two authors the following scenes:

     Beaumont: Acts I, II, III; Act IV, scene 4: Act V, scenes

2 and 4.

     Fletcher: Act IV, scenes 1, 2 and 3; Act V, scenes 1 and 3.




The Camp of Arbaces, on the Frontiers of Armenia.

Scene I: the long war - stretching for a full decade perhaps -between the Armenians and Iberians has finally ended; our play's opening Scene takes place in the camp of the victorious Iberians, who have been led by their king Arbaces. An important key to the plot is that the Iberian leaders have not been home since the war broke out all those years ago.
     Iberia here refers to a small but distinct polity or nation-state lying directly to the east of the Black Sea; Armenia, historically, has comprised a much larger region east and south of the Black Sea, and often contained Iberia within its borders; none of this is important to our story, as Beaumont and Fletcher were simply using these names for their general exotic nature.

Enter Mardonius and Bessus.

Entering Characters: Mardonius and Bessus are Iberian military commanders, or captains; looking forward to celebrating their kingdom's victory over Armenia, the pair also review the circumstances that led to the sudden end of the conflict.


Mar.  Bessus, the king has made a fair hand on't; he

= been successful.1


has ended the wars at a blow. Would my sword had

= "I wish".

a close basket hilt, to hold wine, and the blade would

= the sense is "closed off", containing no open sides.1


make knives! for we shall have nothing but eating

and drinking.


Bes.  We that are commanders shall do well enough.

= both Mardonius and Bessus have men serving under them.



Mar.  Faith, Bessus, such commanders as thou may:

= truly.  = ie. "may do well enough""; Mardonius, a man's 
     man and real soldier, begins teasing Bessus over his
     pretensions to possessing military prowess.


I had as lieve set thee perdu for a pudding i' the dark

10-11: perhaps "I would rather (had as lieve) put you into

as Alexander the Great.

     a concealed (in the dark) position to ambush (set thee


     perdu) a sausage (pudding) than Alexander the Great."1,7

Bes.  I love these jests exceedingly.


Mar.  I think thou lovest 'em better than quarrelling,

= fighting.


Bessus; I'll say so much in thy behalf. And yet thou art

valiant enough upon a retreat: I think thou wouldst kill


any man that stopt thee, an thou couldst.

= if; Mardonius is pulling no punches in mocking Bessus.


Bes.  But was not this a brave combat, Mardonius?

= an excellent battle or duel.


Mar.  Why, didst thou see ‘t?


Bes.  You stood with me.

= it is quickly becoming clear that the two men are not
     really equals: while Bessus addresses Mardonius with
     the respectful "you", Mardonius addresses Bessus
     with the familiar "thee".


Mar.  I did so; but methought thou winkedst every blow

= "closed your eyes at".

they strake.

= common variation of struck.


Bes.  Well, I believe there are better soldiers than I, that


never saw two princes fight in lists.

= an enclosed space used for a combat.


Mar.  By my troth, I think so too, Bessus, − many a

= truly, an oath.1

thousand: but, certainly, all that are worse than thou


have seen as much.


Bes.  'Twas bravely done of our king.

36: to his credit, Bessus takes his companion's relentless

     insults with decent good humour; of = by.


Mar.  Yes, if he had not ended the wars. I'm glad thou

darest talk of such dangerous businesses.


Bes.  To take a prince prisoner in the heart of his own

= king.


country, in single combat!

= to prevent the further slaughter of more soldiers by continuing their multi-year war, the kings of Armenia and Iberia agreed to settle the conflict with a one-on-one battle; Arbaces, the king of Iberia, defeated Tigranes, the king of Armenia, giving Iberia the victory. Note that the combat does not have to end with one party being killed; here, presumably, Tigranes was overcome by Arbaces, and submitted rather than be killed.


Mar.  See how thy blood cruddles at this! I think thou

44-45: "look at how your blood curdles (cruddles) in fear

couldst be contented to be beaten i' this passion.

just in recounting this fight! I believe you would be satisfied



with a beating while you are in this emotional state (passion)."
     A recurring motif in the play (unfortunately for Bessus) is Bessus' getting smacked around.

Bes.  Shall I tell you truly?


Mar.  Ay.


Bes.  I could willingly venture for ‘t.

= take a chance.2


Mar.  Hum; no venture neither, good Bessus.

= risk.2


Bes.  Let me not live, if I do not think it is a braver 

55-56: Bessus allows that the king's combat was even a


piece of service than that I'm so famed for.

     greater martial act than his own famous feat!


Mar.  Why, art thou famed for any valour?


Bes.  Famed! Ay, I warrant you.

= assure.


Mar.  I’m e’en very heartily glad on't: I have been 

= even.

with thee ever since thou camest to the wars, and this


is the first word that ever I heard on't. Prithee, who

= of it.  = "please (tell me)"; prithee is a common abbre-
     viation for "I pray thee". 

fames thee?

= "exalts or spreads your fame or reputation?"2


Bes.  The Christian world.


Mar.  'Tis heathenishly done of 'em; in my conscience,

= heathenishly humorously contrasts with Christian.


thou deservest it not.


Bes.  Yes, I ha' done good service.


Mar.  I do not know how thou may'st wait of a man in's

74-76: whereas Bessus was referring in line 72, of course,

chamber, or thy agility in shifting a trencher; but

to his military service, Mardonius, equivocating, takes


otherwise no service, good Bessus.

service to mean "domestic service": "I don't know what

kind of a job you would do serving another man in his rooms, or about your ability to clear a table (shift a trencher); but other than that, I cannot see you doing anyone any good service of any kind, my dear Bessus."
     of (line 74) = on.
     trencher (line 75) = a wooden plate.


Bes.  You saw me do the service yourself.


Mar.  Not so hasty, sweet Bessus: where was it? is the

place vanished?


Bes.  At Bessus' Desperate Redemption.

83: Bessus humorously gives the location of his great feat


     a name;  redemption = rescue.2

Mar.  At Bessus' Desperate Redemption! where's that?


Bes.  There, where I redeemed the day; the place 


bears my name.


Mar.  Prithee, who christened it?

= "please tell me".


Bes.  The soldier.

= soldiers.


Mar.  If I were not a very merrily disposed man, what

would become of thee? One that had but a grain of

= ie. "any man who had even just".


choler in the whole composition of his body would 

= bad temper.

send thee of an errand to the worms for putting thy

= humorous for "kill thee";  of = on.


name upon that field: did not I beat thee there, i' th'

head o' the troops, with a truncheon, because thou

= military baton or club.


wouldst needs run away with thy company, when we

= wanted to or felt compelled to.

should charge the enemy?


Bes.  True; but I did not run.


Mar.  Right, Bessus: I beat thee out on't.

105: the beating Mardonius administered to Bessus kept


     him from running away.

Bes.  But came not I up when the day was gone, and


redeemed all?


Mar.  Thou knowest, and so do I, thou meanedst to fly,

= run away.

and thy fear making thee mistake, thou rannest upon the

= "caused you to make a mistake".
         111-2: thou rannest…gavest = while thinking he was
     running away from the battle, Bessus was so panicked
     he ended up frenziedly charging the enemy!


enemy; and a hot charge thou gavest; as, I'll do thee

112-3: I'll do thee right = "I'll give you credit".

right, thou art furious in running away; and I think we


owe thy fear for our victory. If I were the king, and

were sure thou wouldst mistake always, and run away


upon the enemy, thou shouldst be general, by this light.

= a common oath.


Bes.  You'll never leave this till I fall foul.

= let go of this topic.  = "get into an argument with you."1


Mar.  No more such words, dear Bessus; for though I

have ever known thee a coward, and therefore durst

= dared.


never strike thee, yet if thou proceedest, I will

= "if you continue on like this".

allow thee valiant, and beat thee.

= "grant you are"; in this speech, Mardonius has changed
     tacks: he would never beat Bessus if he were a coward;
     he would only thrash him if he were to be considered


Bes.  Come, come, our king's a brave fellow.

= Bessus tries to change the subject!


Mar.  He is so, Bessus; I wonder how thou camest to


know it. But, if thou wert a man of understanding, I

would tell thee, he is vain-glorious and humble, and

129-131: he is…in an hour = the extreme mood swings of
     their king, Arbaces, are the primary moving force of the


angry and patient, and merry and dull, and joyful and

sorrowful, in extremities, in an hour. Do not think me

131-3: Do not…hear it = "I would tell this to anyone, so


thy friend for this; for if I cared who knew it, thou

     don't think this sharing of my opinion of the king with

shouldst not hear it, Bessus. Here he is, with the

     you suggests I consider you a close friend or confidant;
     if I wanted to be discreet about who I told, I would
     never tell you."


prey in his foot.

= a metaphor from falconry;7 prey refers to the king's


Enter Arbaces, Tigranes,

Entering Characters: Arbaces is the King of Iberia, and the

two Gentlemen, and Attendants.

victor of the war; Tigranes, the King of Armenia, is his prisoner.
     Arbaces and Tigranes are both pronounced with three syllables, the stress on the second syllable: ar-BA-ces, ti-GRA-nes.


Arb.  Thy sadness, brave Tigranes, takes away

= as the victor of their combat, Arbaces uses the informal,
     and perhaps slightly insulting, "thee" in addressing
     Tigranes; Tigranes, however, will appropriately employ
     the respectful and formal "you" in addressing his


From my full victory: am I become

140-2:  am I…o'ercome him? = "do you think me of so 

Of so small fame, that any man should grieve

     little reputation that any man should feel ashamed when


When I o'ercome him? They that placed me here

     I defeat him?"

Intended it an honour, large enough


For the most valiant living, but to dare

= bravest person alive.

Oppose me single, though he lost the day.


What should afflict you? You are free as I;

146-8: You are…formerly = Arbaces actually is quite

To be my prisoner, is to be more free

magnanimous toward his opponent in his victory over him;


Than you were formerly: and never think,

he would be well within his rights to treat Tigranes more harshly. But the Iberian monarch is so indecorously insistent in talking about his generosity that he subtracts greatly from its value.

The man I held worthy to combat me


Shall be used servilely. Thy ransom is,

= treated.

To take my only sister to thy wife;


A heavy one, Tigranes; for she is

= weighty ransom.

A lady, that the neighbor-princes send

= kings.


Blanks to fetch home. I have been too unkind

= blank checks, as it were, for Arbaces to fill in the amount
     as he sees fit, if only he would allow the neighbouring
     kings to marry his sister.

To her, Tigranes: she’s but nine years old,

= she was.


I left her, and ne'er saw her since; your wars

= ie. "when I left her to go to the wars".

Have held me long, and taught me, though a youth,


The way to victory. She was a pretty child;

Then, I was little better; but now fame


Cries loudly on her, and my messengers

Make me believe she is a miracle.

= ie. the king has received numerous reports of his sister's


She'll make you shrink, as I did, with a stroke

     great beauty.

But of her eye, Tigranes.


Tigr.                              Is't the course of

165-171: the exasperated Tigranes berates Arbaces for
     boasting of his defeating Tigranes in Tigranes' own


Iberia to use their prisoners thus?

= treat.

Had fortune thrown my name above Arbaces',

167: ie. "had I been able to defeat you".


I should not thus have talked; for in Armenia

We hold it base. You should have kept your temper

169: ie. "we consider it bad form."


Till you saw home again, where 'tis the fashion,

Perhaps, to brag.


Arb.                 Be you my witness, earth,


Need I to brag? Doth not this captive prince

174-5: Need I…sufficiently = "why would I need to brag
     when the fact that the king I defeated is sitting here as
     my prisoner says it all?"

Speak me sufficiently, and all the acts

= speak for.


That I have wrought upon his suffering land?

= worked, ie. brought.

Should I, then, boast? Where lies that foot of ground


Within his whole realm, that I have not passed

Fighting and conquering? Far, then, from me


Be ostentation. I could tell the world

How I have laid his kingdom desolate,


By this sole arm, propt by divinity;

= supported by God or Providence.

Stript him out of his glories; and have sent


The pride of all his youth to people graves;

= populate, fill.

And made his virgins languish for their loves;

185: "and caused the maidens of Armenia to mourn for
     their slaughtered men."


If I would brag. Should I, that have the power

= this clause concludes the sentence begun in line 180; the sentence is a typically complex Elizabethan one, in which the premise appears at the end of the sentence, the conclusion at the beginning, and a list of various claims Arbaces asserts he could have made appear in between them (separated here by semi-colons, which actually makes this sentence easier to read: the clauses were all originally separated only by commas): "if I wanted to brag, I could tell all of these things to the world: how, etc..."

To teach the neighbor-world humility,


Mix with vain-glory?


Mar. [Aside]             Indeed, this is none!

= ie. not bragging; Mardonius frequently provides
      humorous and ironic commentary for the audience.


Arb.  Tigranes, no: did I but take delight

= "if I did take delight".

To stretch my deeds as others do, on words,

= exaggerate.


I could amaze my hearers.


Mar. [Aside]                   So you do.


Arb.  But he shall wrong his and my modesty,

198-9: But he…boast = "any man who thinks I am apt to

That thinks me apt to boast: after an act

     brag is unfair to or demonstrates injustice with respect
     to my, as well as his own, good or temperate character


Fit for a god to do upon his foe,

A little glory in a soldier's mouth

201-2: "it is acceptable, indeed proper, for a soldier to exult


Is well-becoming; be it far from vain.

     a bit when he can - it is not vain at all."


Mar.  [Aside]

'Tis pity, that valour should be thus drunk.

= ie. inebriated, and therefore more prone to a loosening of


     the tongue.

Arb.  I offer you my sister: and you answer,


I do insult: a lady that no suit,

208: I do insult = "that I insult you".

Nor treasure, nor thy crown, could purchase thee,

     208-210: a lady…with me = "this is a woman that you


But that thou fought'st with me.

only could have gotten by being courageous enough to

fight with me; otherwise, no amount of wooing, nor wealth, nor even a crown, would have won her."


Tigr.                                        Though this be worse

Than that you spoke before, it strikes me not;

= Bond suggests "affects", a term from astrology.


But that you think to overgrace me with

The marriage of your sister troubles me.


I would give worlds for ransoms, were they mine,

Rather than have her.


Arb.                         See, if I insult,

= "he says I am insulting him".


That am the conqueror, and for a ransom

= ie. "I, who am".

Offer rich treasure to the conquerèd,


Which he refuses, and I bear his scorn!

= ie. "and yet I am required to".

It cannot be self-flattery to say,


The daughters of your country, set by her,

= set in comparison to.

Would see their shame, run home, and blush to death


At their own foulness. Yet she is not fair,

= ugliness.3

Nor beautiful, those words express her not:

= do not describe her well enough.


They say, her looks have something excellent,

That wants a name. Yet were she odious,

= ie. there is no name for it.


Her birth deserves the empire of the world:

Sister to such a brother, that hath ta'en


Victory prisoner, and throughout the earth

= Victory is personified.

Carries her bound, and should he let her loose,

= ie. Victory.


She durst not leave him. Nature did her wrong,

= dares.  = now Arbaces refers to his sister; Elizabethan
     playwrights used an abundance of pronouns, rendering
     some of the passages tricky to interpret.

To print continual conquest on her cheeks,

234: ie. she conquers in love all who meet her.


And make no man worthy for her to take,

236-7: And make…near her = a strange line: the only man
     worthy of marrying Arbaces' sister is Arbaces, who is too
     close to her in kinship (too near her) to do so.

But me, that am too near her; and as strangely

237-8: and as…for me = a cryptic line; perhaps "and Nature


She did for me; but you will think I brag.

     (She) did the same for me", ie. "no woman is as worthy
     for me to take as a wife as my sister is."
         strangely = wonderfully.8


Mar. [Aside]  I do, I'll be sworn. Thy valour and thy

240-4: in this aside, Mardonius, apostrophizing to the king,

passions severed would have made two excellent

     uses "thee" to signal his contempt.


fellows in their kinds. I know not whether I should be

         240-2: Thy valour…their kinds =  the king's twin
    characteristics of courage and unbridled emotionalism
    (passions) are, could they be separated (severed),
    substantial enough to comprise two separate individuals.
          in their kinds = in their own natures.1

sorry thou art so valiant, or so passionate: would one

243-4: would one…away = "I wish one of the two qualities


of 'em were away!

     would disappear!"


Tigr.  Do I refuse her, that I doubt her worth?

Were she as virtuous as she would be thought;

247-250: the beginning of another lengthy and complex


So perfect, that no one of her own sex

sentence; these lines comprise a list: "(1) were your sister

Could find a want; had she so tempting fair,

as virtuous as she wants everyone to think she is; (2) were


That she could wish it off, for damning souls;

she so perfect, that no woman could find in her a single defect (want);1 and (3) even if she had such great beauty (fair)5 that she would wish she could get rid of it to prevent it from causing, due to its tempting quality, others' souls to be damned;"7

I would pay any ransom, twenty lives,


Rather than meet her married in my bed.

Perhaps I have a love, where I have fixed

253-5: Tigranes finally notes that he may just have his own
     sweetheart elsewhere.


Mine eyes, not to be moved, and she on me;

= altered.

I am not fickle.

255: "I am not so inconstant", ie. "my heart is not so


Arb.                Is that all the cause?

257: "is that the only reason you have to not marry my
     sister?" Arbaces is dismissive, and insultingly so, of
     Tigranes' loyalty to his own beloved.


Think you, you can so knit yourself in love

= tie or unite.

To any other, that her searching sight

= Arbaces' sister's.  = piercing.2


Cannot dissolve it? So, before you tried,

260: it = ie. the bonds of love between Tigranes and his

You thought yourself a match for me in fight.

     260-1: So…in fight = Arbaces' point is that Tigranes' determination to not be overcome by Arbaces' sister when he meets her is similar to that determination he presumably had not to lose to Arbaces in their single-combat - and is further doomed to the same failure.


Trust me, Tigranes, she can do as much

In peace as I in war; she'll conquer too:


You shall see, if you have the power to stand

= withstand.

The force of her swift looks. If you dislike,

= sharp.2  = ie. "still don't like her after you meet her".


I'll send you home with love, and name your ransom

Some other way; but if she be your choice,


She frees you. To Iberia you must.


Tigr.  Sir, I have learned a prisoner's sufferance,

= to suffer as a prisoner should.

And will obey. But give me leave to talk

= permission.


In private with some friends before I go.


Arb.  Some two await him forth, and see him safe;

= "attend him".

But let him freely send for whom he please,


And none dare to disturb his conference;

I will not have him know what bondage is,


Till he be free from me.


[Exit Tigranes with Attendants.]


                                   This prince, Mardonius,

Is full of wisdom, valour, all the graces


Man can receive.


Mar.                And yet you conquered him.


Arb.  And yet I conquered him, and could have done’t

Had’st thou joined with him, though thy name in arms

= "even if you had".  = reputation or fame.


Be great. Must all men that are virtuous

= valiant.1

Think suddenly to match themselves with me?


I conquered him, and bravely; did I not?

= excellently.


Bes.  An please your majesty, I was afraid at first −

= if it; an (it) please your majesty (or lordship, etc.) is a
     common phrase of deference.


Mar.  When wert thou other?

= ie. anything but.


Arb.                                   Of what?


Bes.  That you would not have spied your best

299ff: Bessus presumes to suggest Arbaces did not fight from the most advantageous tactical position, and advises him on what he should have done!

advantages; for your majesty, in my opinion, lay too


high; methinks, under favour, you should have lain thus.

= with your permission.  = Bessus accompanies his words
     with a demonstration.



Mar.  Like a tailor at a wake.

303: Mardonius compares Bessus' posturing to a tailor

defending himself with his yardstick from bullies at an English parish festival (wake);1,7 tailors generally were held in low regard in Elizabethan society, and the target of many jokes.


Bes.  And then, if't please your majesty to remember, at

one time − by my troth, I wished myself wi' you.

= truth.  = "I could have been out there with you."


Mar.  By my troth, thou wouldst ha' stunk 'em both


out o' th' lists.

= ie. field of battle.


Arb.  What to do?

311: Arbaces is unusually permissive with Bessus, and
     curious as to what he will suggest.


Bes.  To put your majesty in mind of an occasion: you 

= "a situation that arose (during your fight)."

lay thus, and Tigranes falsified a blow at your leg, 

= feigned, a term from fencing.1


which you, by doing thus, avoided; but, if you had

whipped up your leg thus, and reached him on the ear,


you had made the blood-royal run about his head.

= would have.


Mar.  What country fence-school didst thou learn that at?

= rustic fencing-school; country suggests an absence of


Arb.  Puff! did not I take him nobly?

= pshaw!


Mar.                                         Why, you did

324-5: Mardonius' daring words to the king reveal his role

And you have talked enough on't.

     as mentor and close advisor to Arbaces.


Arb.                                        Talked enough!


Will you confine my words? By Heaven and earth,

= Heaven is almost always pronounced as a one-syllable
     word, with the medial 'v' omitted: Hea'n.

I were much better be a king of beasts

= "would be better off if I were".


Than such a people! If I had not patience

Above a god, I should be called a tyrant


Throughout the world: they will offend to death

= "my subjects dare to offend me".

Each minute. Let me hear thee speak again,

333-4: Let me…earth again = ie. "if you say another word,


And thou art earth again. Why, this is like

     then you are dead."

Tigranes' speech, that needs would say I bragged.

= "who felt obliged to", or "who had to".


Bessus, he said I bragged.


Bes.  Ha, ha, ha!


Arb.                           Why dost thou laugh?

By all the world, I'm grown ridiculous


To my own subjects. Tie me to a chair,

And jest at me! But I shall make a start,

= the sense is, "I am going to do something about this".


And punish some, that others may take heed

344-5: take heed…haughty = ie. "learn from them not to be

How they are haughty. Who will answer me?

     so arrogant."


He said I boasted: speak, Mardonius,

Did I? − He will not answer. Oh, my temper!


I give you thanks above, that taught my heart

= ie. God, or the gods.

Patience; I can endure his silence. What, will none

= no one.


Vouchsafe to give me answer? Am I grown

= deign, condescend.

To such a poor respect? or do you mean


To break my wind? Speak, speak, some one of you

= perhaps meaning "to have me exhaust myself with

Or else, by Heaven −

     talking"; a person with a disease of the lungs that


     caused difficulty in breathing was said to be broken-

1st Gent.          So please your −


Arb.                                          Monstrous!

356f: Arbaces has really worked himself up to a pitch of


I cannot be heard out; they cut me off,

     complete irrationality; monstrous is trisyllabic:

As if I were too saucy. I will live



In woods, and talk to trees; they will allow me

To end what I begin. The meanest subject


Can find a freedom to discharge his soul,

= "say what's on his mind".

And not I. Now it is a time to speak;


I hearken.

= "I'm listening."


1st Gent.  May it please −


Arb.                               I mean not you;

Did not I stop you once? But I am grown

369-370: But I…idly = "but I have apparently reached a


To talk but idly: let another speak.

point where I speak in vain (idly)", ie. "no one listens to anything I say."
         It is worth noting that the original quarto reads "But I am grown / To balk, but I desire, let another speak"; to balk means "to ignore", which here can be modified to mean "to be ignored", so that the line as it appeared originally does make sense (desire would have to be trisyllabic: de-SI-er); the passage has elicited a great deal of commentary by early editors, but I have adopted the reading accepted by Dyce.


2nd Gent.  I hope your majesty −

372: Arbaces' response suggests the 2nd Gentleman speaks
     in an affected way, deliberately lengthening his words.1


Arb.                                   Thou drawl'st thy words,

= several of the early editions, including the original, 
     have drawest here, which has the same meaning as
     drawl'st of "prolonging".1

That I must wait an hour, where other men

375-6: That I…instants = "so that I have to wait an hour


Can hear in instants: throw your words away

     to hear what you have to say, whereas other men can

Quick and to purpose; I have told you this.

     tell me their thoughts in a brief moment."


Bes.  An't please your majesty −

= if it.


Arb. Wilt thou devour me? This is such a rudeness

= the sense is "engulf", suggesting a complete eclipsing.


As yet you never showed me: and I want

= lack.

Power to command too; else, Mardonius


Would speak at my request. − Were you my king,

I would have answered at your word, Mardonius:


I pray you, speak, and truly; did I boast?


Mar.  Truth will offend you.

= read as "the truth".


Arb.                                  You take all great care

What will offend me, when you dare to utter


Such things as these.


Mar.  You told Tigranes, you had won his land

With that sole arm, propped by divinity:


Was not that bragging, and a wrong to us,

= ie. the soldiers.

That daily ventured lives?

= "risked our lives?"


Arb.                               O, that thy name

399-401: "oh, if only your fame and reputation were as great


Were great as mine! 'would I had paid my wealth

as mine! and if only I had disposed of my wealth, so that

It were as great, as I might combat thee!

we were equal in our financial conditions, so that I could fight you!"
     Arbaces is touching on a convention of dueling, which is that no man should ever deign to challenge or fight with another who is not of equal status and rank to himself.


I would, through all the regions habitable,

Search thee, and, having found thee, with my sword


Drive thee about the world, till I had met

Some place that yet man's curiosity


Had missed of; there, there would I strike thee dead:

Forgotten of mankind, such funeral rites

= by.


As beasts would give thee, thou shouldst have.


Bes.                                                              The king

Rages extremely: shall we slink away?


He'll strike us.


2nd Gent.  Content.

= "sounds good to me"


Arb.  There I would make you know, 'twas this sole arm.

I grant, you were my instruments, and did

417-8: I grant…commanded you = "I'll allow that you (my soldiers) acted on my behalf, but you only performed what I commanded you to do."
     instruments = means, agents.


As I commanded you; but 'twas this arm

Moved you like wheels; it moved you as it pleased. −

= the image is of interlocking wheels, in which the turning
     of one (the king's sword-wielding arm) causes all the
     others to move.
         Moved = ie. "which moved".


Whither slip you now? What, are you too good

= "and where are you going?" The others are sliding away
     from him!

To wait on me? Puff! I had need have temper,

= "I must need a good temper", ie. it is necessary for the
     king to be able to keep his composure and equanimity,
     to rule such a people.


That rule such people; I have nothing left

At my own choice: I would I might be private!

= "I wish I were a private citizen!"


Mean men enjoy themselves; but 'tis our curse

= men of lower status or rank.  = "my" (the "royal we").

To have a tumult, that, out of their loves,

= commotion.1  = ie. "love for me".


Will wait on us, whether we will or no.

= "whether we want them to or not".

Go, get you gone! Why, here they stand like death;


My words move nothing.


1st Gent.                       Must we go?


Bes.                                                 I know not.

432: the self-contradictory rantings of the king confuse
     the others.


Arb.  I pray you, leave me, sirs. I'm proud of this,

434-5: the king is highly sarcastic.

That you will be entreated from my sight.


[Exeunt two Gentlemen, Bessus, and Attendants.


Mardonius is going out.]

438: ie. Mardonius will be called back before he exits the



Why, now they leave me all! − Mardonius!


Mar.  Sir?


Arb.      Will you leave me quite alone? methinks,

Civility should teach you more than this,


If I were but your friend. Stay here, and wait.


Mar.  Sir, shall I speak?


Arb.                         Why, you would now think much

To be denied; but I can scarce entreat

450-1: but I…would have = "I barely can get anyone to do


What I would have. Do, speak.

     what I ask them to."


Mar.                                But will you hear me out?


Arb.  With me you article, to talk thus. Well,

= negotiate, as if stipulating terms of a treaty.2,16

I will hear you out.


Mar.  [Kneels.] Sir, that I have ever loved you,


My sword hath spoken for me; that I do,

= Mardonius means that his lifetime of fighting in wars on
     Arbaces' behalf proves his loyalty to the king.

If it be doubted, I dare call an oath,


A great one, to my witness; and were 

462: Mardonius' verse lines contain a great number of
     irregularities, such as this line of only 9 syllables, and
     line 466 below with its superfluous syllable; for a brief
     discussion, see Postscript 3 at the end of the play.

You not my king, from amongst men I should


Have chose you out, to love above the rest:

Nor can this challenge thanks; for my own sake

= "but I wouldn't demand thanks for doing this."
     challenge = demand as a right.


I should have done it, because I would have loved

The most deserving man, for so you are.


Arb. [Raising him.]


Alas, Mardonius, rise! you shall not kneel:

We all are soldiers, and all venture lives;

= "risk our".


And where there is no difference in men's worths,

472-3: And where…jests = "amongst men of equal

Titles are jests. Who can outvalue thee?

     worthiness, it would be a joke to have their relationships
     to each other be defined by their titles;" Arbaces' point
     is that Mardonius should not need to treat him differently
     than other men do just because he is the king.


Mardonius, thou hast loved me, and hast wrong;

= "you have been wronged."

Thy love is not rewarded; but believe


It shall be better: more than friend in arms,

= ie. better rewarded from now on.  = ie. "you are more
     than my".

My father and my tutor, good Mardonius!

= "you are (like) my father".


Mar.  Sir, you did promise you would hear me out.


Arb.  And so I will: speak freely, for from thee


Nothing can come, but worthy things and true.


Mar.  Though you have all this worth, you hold some

That do eclipse your virtues.

= conceal, prevent from being seen.


Arb.                                  Eclipse my virtues!


Mar.                                                           Yes,


Your passiöns, which are so manifold, that they

= expressions of emotions.  = variable or diverse.1

Appear even in this: when I commend you,


You hug me for that truth; when I speak of your faults,

You make a start, and fly the hearing. But −

= run from listening.


Arb.  When you commend me! Oh, that I should live


To need such commendations! If my deeds

496-7: If my deeds…earth = "if my deeds alone did not
     proclaim my praiseworthiness around the world".

Blew not my praise themselves about the earth,


I were most wretched! Spare your idle praise:

= "I would be".

If thou didst mean to flatter, and shouldst utter


Words in my praise, that thou thought'st impudence,

My deeds should make 'em modest. When you praise,

= ie. "the praise my actions actually deserve are much
     greater in comparison (should make'em modest) than
     the accolades you are giving me."


I hug you! 'tis so false, that, wert thou worthy,

= "this is such a lie".

Thou shouldst receive a death, a glorious death,


From me. But thou shalt understand thy lies;

For shouldst thou praise me into Heaven, and there


Leave me enthroned, I would despise thee though

= notwithstanding or then.7,8

As much as now, which is as much as dust,


Because I see thy envy.

= malice.


Mar.  However you will use me after, yet,

= treat.

For your own promise sake, hear me the rest.


Arb.  I will, and after call unto the winds,

513-5: "the wind will hear what I have to say with as much
     patience as I will have to listen to you."


For they shall lend as large an ear as I

= the phrase lend an ear dates back at least to 1480.1

To what you utter. Speak.


Mar.                          Would you but leave

= cease.


These nasty tempers, which I do not say

Take from you all your worth, but darken 'em,

= subtract.  = "conceal them"; Mardonius reprises his


Then you would shine indeed.

     eclipsing imagery of line 485.


Arb.                                    Well.


Mar.                                         Yet I would have

524-6: "It is not that I want you to be perfect: rather, you

You keep some passiöns, lest men should take you

     should hang onto some of your imperfections (ie. your


For a god, your virtues are such.

     undesirable emotionalism), because people otherwise

     will mistake you for a god, as your virtues are so
     inhumanly great."


Arb.                                   Why, now you flatter.


Mar.  I never understood the word. Were you

= ie. "I only speak the absolute truth."

No king, and free from these wild moods, should I

= "if I had the opportunity to".


Choose a companiön for wit and pleasure,

= "intelligent conversation and my own pleasure".

It should be you; or for honesty to interchange

533-4: interchange / my bosom with = ie. "exchange my


My bosom with, it should be you; or wisdom

     most intimate thoughts with".

To give me counsel, I would pick out you; 


Or valour to defend my reputation,

Still I would find out you, for you are fit

= ever, always.


To fight for all the world, if it could come

In questiön. Now I have spoke: consider


To yourself, find out a use; if so, then what

540: a use =  ie. "a beneficial way to use what I have told

Shall fall to me is not material.

     540-1: if so…material = "so long as you have learned a lesson from what I have just said, then it doesn't matter what happens to me", ie. "you can do whatever you want to me."


Arb.  Is not material? more than ten such lives

543f: the violence of Arbaces' mood suddenly disappears.


As mine, Mardonius. It was nobly said;

Thou hast spoke truth, and boldly such a truth


As might offend another. I have been

Too passionate and idle; thou shalt see

= foolish.


A swift amendment. But I want those parts

= lack.  = qualities.

You praise me for: I fight for all the world!


Give thee a sword, and thou wilt go as far

Beyond me as thou art beyond in years;

551: Arbaces confirms for us that Mardonius is older and
     much more experienced than he is.


I know thou dar'st and wilt. It troubles me

That I should use so rough a phrase to thee:

= ie. speak so brusquely.


Impute it to my folly, what thou wilt,

So thou wilt pardon me. That thou and I


Should differ thus!


Mar.                   Why, 'tis no matter, sir.


Arb.  'Faith, but it is: but thou dost ever take

= "you always".

All things I do thus patiently; for which


I never can requite thee but with love,

= "(sufficiently) repay".

And that thou shalt be sure of. Thou and I


Have not been merry lately: pray thee, tell me,

Where hadst thou that same jewèl in thine ear?

= "where did you get".  = earrings were in fashion for men


     in this period.7

Mar.  Why, at the taking of a town.


Arb.                                              A wench,

569ff: now the king banters playfully with Mardonius.


Upon my life, a wench, Mardonius,

= woman; Arbaces suggests Mardonius had or has a lover

Gave thee that jewel.

     who gave him the earrings as a gift.


Mar.                   Wench! They respect not me;

= pay attention to or notice.1


I'm old and rough, and every limb about me,

But that which should, grows stiffer. I' those businesses,

= "except for the one that should": Mardonius is self-


I may swear I am truly honest; for I pay

deprecating and coarsely suggestive!
     575-8: I' those…certainty = Mardonius suggests that when it comes to women, he properly pays for what he gets; the king continues to joke with the old soldier about the cost of prostitutes.
     Note that lines 575 and 576 appear to be what are called alexandrines, containing 6 instead of 5 iambs, and thus 12 syllables.

Justly for what I take, and would be glad


To be at a certainty.

= fixed rate.7


Arb.  Why, do the wenches encroach upon thee?

580: "do the whores impose themselves on you?" or
     perhaps "try to raise their prices on you?"


Mar.  Ay, by this light, do they.

= a vow of affirmation.


Arb.  Didst thou sit at an old rent with 'em?

= hold out for the old rate or price.7


Mar.  Yes, faith.


Arb.  And do they improve themselves?

= make a profit or increase their rates.1,7


Mar.  Ay, ten shillings to me, every new young fellow

= ie. "charged to me, and to every".

they come acquainted with.


Arb.  How canst live on't?

593: "how can you live on what is left over when you have


     to pay so much for these women?"

Mar.  Why, I think, I must petition to you.


Arb.  Thou shalt take 'em up at my price.

597: "you will pay them at my price;" but the line is
     ambiguous, as the king could mean "a price that I
     set", or "a price that I could pay."


Enter two Gentlemen and Bessus.

599: the Gentlemen and Bessus return to the stage, no doubt


     approaching Arbaces very hesitantly, even as they are
     able to hear the banter between Mardonius and the king.

Mar.  Your price!


Arb.  Ay, at the king's price.


Mar.  That may be more than I'm worth.


1st Gent.  Is he not merry now?


2nd Gent.  I think not.


Bes.  He is, he is: We'll show ourselves.


Arb.  Bessus! I thought you had been in Iberia by this; I

613: in Iberia = Arbaces has apparently ordered Bessus to
     return to Iberia ahead of him to bring news and instruc-
     tions back to Gobrias, the Lord Protector.
         this = this time.


bade you haste; Gobrias will want entertainment for me.

= lack; the sense is, if Bessus doesn't return early enough
     to inform Gobrias that the king is returning, he won't have
     time to prepare an appropriate reception for him.



Bes.  An't please your majesty, I have a suit.

= request, petition.


Arb.  Is't not lousy, Bessus? what is't?

= filled with lice; the king now is truly in a merry mood,
     taking Bessus' use of suit to mean a suit of clothing!


Bes.  I am to carry a lady with me −

= bring along.


Arb.  Then thou hast two suits.

622: one for the king - his current request, which he has
     yet to enunciate - and one for the lady, in the sense of