the Annotated Popular Edition of




by George Peele

Performed c. 1596
First Published 1599


Featuring complete and easy-to-read annotations.


Annotations and notes © Copyright ElizabethanDrama.org, 2019
This annotated play may be freely copied and distributed.




The love of King David and Fair Bethsabe.

With the Tragedie of Absalon.

As it hath ben diuers times plaied on the stage.

Written - by George Peele.


Printed by Adam Islip.




David and his Family:

     George Peele's David and Bethsabe is the only history

play (of the era's approximately 600 extant dramas) to be

David, King of Israel and Judah.

adopted totally from the Bible, specifically retelling much of

     Cusay, a lord, and follower of David.

the story of King David. Though the characters constantly

appeal to God, Peele knowingly and gleefully focuses on all

Amnon, son of David by Ahinoam

the elements of David's tale that he knew his audience would

     Jethray, Servant to Amnon.

enjoy the most - murder, rape, incest, adultery and war.

Chileab, son of David by Abigail.

     Written in iron-fisted and rigorously unwavering iambic

Absalon, son of David by Maacah.

pentameter, yet containing in almost every line a touch of

Thamar, daughter of David by Maacah.

alliteration, David shows off Peele's great skill as a poet, and

Adonia, son of David by Haggith.

possesses a number of passages, especially in the Prologue

Salomon, son of David by Bethsabe.

and opening scene, of undeniable beauty and grace.

Joab, captain of the host to David, and nephew of


     David and son of his sister Zeruia.

Abisai, nephew of David and son of his sister Zeruia.

     The text of the play is taken from Alexander Dyce's

Amasa, nephew of David and son of his sister Abigail;

1874 edition of David and Bethsabe, cited below at #3.

     also captain of the host to Absalon.

Jonadab, nephew of David and son of his brother


     Shimeah; also friend to Amnon.

     Mention of Dyce, Bullen, Keltie, Blistein and Manly

Other Characters:

in the annotations refers to the notes provided by each 

of these editors in their respective editions of this play,

Urias, a warrior in David's army.

each cited fully below.

     Bethsabe, wife of Uriah.

     The most commonly cited sources are listed in the

          Maid to Bethsabe.

footnotes immediately below. The complete list of

footnotes appears at the end of this play.

Nathan, a prophet.

     1. Oxford English Dictionary (OED) online.

Sadoc, high-priest.

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

     Ahimaas, his son.

London, New York: Penguin, 2002.

Abiathar, a priest.

     3. Dyce, Rev. Alexander. The Dramatic and Poetical

     Jonathan, his son.

Works of Robert Greene and George Peele. London:

Achitophel, chief counsellor to Absalon.

George Routledge and Sons: 1874.

     4. Bullen, A.H. The Works of George Peele, Vol. II.

Ithay, a Captain from Gath.

Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1888.


     5. Keltie, John S. The Works of the British Dramatists.

Hanon, King of Ammon.

Edinburgh: William P. Nimmon, 1873.

Machaas, King of Gath.

     6. Blistein, Elmer, ed. The Works of George Peele

Woman of Thecoa.

(Charles T. Prouty, gen. ed.). New Haven: Yale University

Press, 1970.

Messenger, Soldiers, Shepherds, and Attendants.

     22. Manly, John Charles. Specimens of Pre-Shakspe-

Concubines to David.

rean Drama, Vol. II. Boston: Ginn and Company, 1897.



A: Background: Saul and the Rise of David.

     Saul was Israel’s first king. Having led his people to numerous military victories, Saul finally fell into the Lord’s disfavour when, in attacking the Amalekites, he ignored God’s injunction to “have no compassion on them, slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, oxe and sheepe, camel and asse” (1 Samuel 15:3). Samuel instead captured the Amalekite king Agog alive, and his soldiers saved the enemy's best lambs, sheep and oxen in order to sacrifice them to the Lord.

     God, angry (“Beholde, to obey, is better then sacrifice”, 1 Sam. 5:22), rejected Saul, and chose David, son of Jesse, a shepherd boy, to become Israel's next king. The Lord’s spirit deserted Saul, and was replaced by an evil spirit, which tormented (“vexed”) him; Saul took the advice of his servants and sent for David, a known musician, and when David played his harp for Saul during his fits of madness, the evil spirit left the old king.

     Saul kept David in his household, and David grew up to be a strong military leader; but Saul, jealous of the younger man, tried for years to kill David, but to no avail, as David was protected by the Lord. David spent years in hiding, until Saul was finally killed – he actually fell on his own sword – during a battle with the Philistines, at which point David fulfilled his destiny to become king of Israel.

     After ruling from the city of Hebron for the first seven and a half years of his reign, David founded a new capital for Israel at Jerusalem; here he built a Palace, and here he also housed the Ark of the Covenant, thus making Jerusalem Israel's combined political and religious center.9 Israel's second king continued to roll up military victories, finding further glory as a slayer of all of Israel’s enemies - the Philistines, the Moabites, the Edomites, the Ammonites, and the Syrians.

     Our play begins as Israel's army, under the command of David's nephew Joab, is besieging the Ammonite city of Rabbah, located about 40 miles north-east of Jerusalem. David is not with the army, but rather at home, in the Palace. To this point in the Biblical account, David has never done anything wrong in the eyes of the Lord.


B: 16th Century Bibles Available to Peele.

     George Peele had several Bibles to use as potential sources for David and Bethsabe. A close comparison of the play's text to various passages in the different Bibles makes it clear that the Bishop's Bible of 1568 was Peele's primary go-to version, but he did also borrow from other Bibles as the spirit moved him.

     The close degree to which Peele followed the Bible verse-by-verse as he wrote much of David, especially in a number of the longer speeches, is striking. So much so, that your editor decided to include in the notes many of the Bible verses adopted by Peele so that you, the reader, may enjoy the comparisons; indeed, it is pleasing and easy to imagine Peele sitting with quill in hand and an open Bible on his desk or table, glancing frequently at each successive verse as he wrote line after line of his play.

     For the record, here is a list of the various Bibles Peele had to choose from in the mid-1590's as he composed David:

     1. The Wycliffe Bible was the first English language Bible, a translation composed, at least in part, by the theologian John Wycliffe in the 1380's. Wycliffe died in 1384 before finishing his project, but others completed the Bible for him. The Wycliffe editions are handwritten, as they predate Gutenberg's invention of the printing press by more than half a century.

     2. The Tyndale Bible, written by William Tyndale (c. 1494-1536), was the first Bible printed in the English language; Tyndale only completed the New Testament and the first five books of the Old before being strangled and burned at the stake for his heresy of publishing a Bible in a vernacular language.

     3. The Coverdale Bible, published by Miles Coverdale (1488-1568), a disciple of Tyndale's, in 1535, completed Tyndale's translation, and was hence the first complete printed English translation of the Bible.

     4. The Matthew Bible was published in 1537 by another Tyndale follower, John Rogers (c.1500-1555), who worked under the pseudonym Thomas Matthew. Rogers was the first Englishman to translate the Bible from the original Greek and Hebrew languages, rather than from the Latin Vulgate Bible, as earlier translators had done.
     In 1539, Richard Taverner (1505-1575) published what became known as the Taverner Bible, a modestly revised version of the Matthew Bible.

     5. The Great Bible, initially published in 1539, was the first authorized English language version of the Bible. The project was overseen by Thomas, Lord Cromwell (Henry VIII's secretary), and Miles Coverdale; the resulting Bible borrowed heavily from previous translations.

     6. The Geneva Bible was first published in completed form in 1560 by the Church of Geneva in Switzerland. It was the first Bible to add numbered verses to the Chapters. This was the Bible most used by Shakespeare.

     7. The Bishop's Bible of 1568 was basically revised version of the Great Bible, published under the authorization of Elizabeth I.

     All Biblical quotations in the annotations, unless otherwise noted, are from the Bishop's Bible.

This Note was prepared in large part from information appearing in the website GreatSite.com.23


C: the Strange Case of Multiple Spellings of Proper Names Within David and Bethsabe.

     The 1599 original quarto of David and Bethsabe contains myriad printer's errors; the most striking of these mistakes is that many of the proper names are spelled in two or more different ways throughout the quarto.
     An additional curiosity is that there is a difference in the preponderance of spellings based on whether the name appears between the two Choruses of the play (the second section) or in the first and third sections that occur before the first and after the last Chorus respectively. (To make this easy to follow, let's call the first section, which comprises about the first 800 lines of the play, up to the first Chorus, Section I; Section II comprises the approximately 1400 lines between Chorus I and II; and Section III the final 450 lines from Chorus II to the end).

     Here is a list of the major offenders:

     1. The name of the woman known in modern times as Bathsheba is spelled Bethsabe only in Section I, mostly Bersabe in Section II, and mostly Bethsabe in Section III.

     2. The capital city of the Ammonites is spelled Rabath only in Section I, and only Rabba in Section II.

     3. Absalon appears almost exclusively as Absolon in Section I, about twice as many times as Absalon over Absolon in Section II, and Absalon only in Section III.

     4. The name of the King of the Ammonites is spelled Ammon only in Section I, but mostly Hannon in Section II.

     5. Abisai's name appears in multiple ways throughout the play: Abisai, Abisay, Abyssus and Abyshai.

     With respect to the sharp difference between the way most of these names are spelled in Section II on the one hand and the outer sections I and III on the other, David Editor John Manly provides a simple explanation: to wit, Section II was set or printed by a different person than the one who prepared the outer sections.

     As to how and why such blatant discontinuities could occur, no one knows, but it provides a good example of the lack of quality control, and a seeming absence of any proof-reading, that plagues early copies of Elizabethan plays.


D: Peele's Choice of Proper Names for David.

     Another intriguing feature of David and Bethsabe is that Peele does not appear to have borrowed his spellings for the characters' names from the same Bible.

     For example, Rabath appears this way only in the Wycliffe Bible, and Rabba is from the Bishop's and Coverdale Bibles; we also have Bethsabe (Bishop's only) and Bersabe (Wycliffe only).

     Many of the name choices appear in multiple Bibles; Isboseth, for example, is found in the Bishop's, Coverdale, and Geneva Bibles.

     On the other hand, Peele's spelling for Ammon (David's son), Ithay, and both spellings for the Ammonite king - Ammon and Hannon - appear in none of the Bibles at all.

     Of course, the modern reader has enough to do to focus on following the densely allusive and poetical language of the play to have to worry about dealing with multiple spellings of the major characters' names; so, in order to minimize confusion, I have settled on the following spellings for this edition of the play:

     1. Bethsabe for David's lover and later wife.

     2. Rabbah for the capital city of the Ammonites, following Dyce.

     3. Absalon for David's third son.

     4. Hanon for the king of the Ammonites.

     5. Abisai for David's nephew.

     In addition, this edition will employ Amnon for David's first son, following Dyce, which is the spelling found in all the Bibles (other than the Wycliffe).


E. Peele's Use of Alliteration.

     Alliteration has a long and noble history in English poetry. The earliest English epic poems, such as Beowulf and the later Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, were written in densely alliterative lines (but without regular meter).

     Peele uses alliteration almost continuously throughout the play. While the notes point out some of the more dramatic and interesting of the examples, you may wish to note as you read the healthy proportion of lines in the play which contain even just a pair of alliterative words, and sometimes two pairs.

     Examine, for example, the following four lines chosen more or less at random from David's first speech; every line contains an alliterative pair of words:

     Of moss that sleeps with sound the waters make

     For joy to feed the fount with their recourse;

     Let all the grass that beautifies her bower

     Bear manna every morn instead of dew…


F. Settings, Scene Breaks and Stage Directions.

     The original quarto of David and Bethsabe did not identify scene settings, nor were there any scene breaks; we have generally adopted the setting suggestions of Manly; the scene break suggestions are the editor's
     As is our normal practice, some stage directions have been added, and some modified, for purposes of clarity. Most of these minor changes are adopted from Dyce.



By George Peele

Performed c. 1596

First Published 1599


Prologus: the Prologue, sometimes called a Chorus, is a device used to introduce the play to an audience, and is recited by a single actor.
     The first part (lines 1-15) of the Prologue consists primarily of an extolling of David's musicianship. In the second part (lines 16-23), the narrator asks for inspiration from the Muses to inspire him as he tells his tale in order to raise or elevate the minds of his readers.


Of Israel's sweetest singer now I sing,

1: the Prologue may indeed be sung; the singer will sing about David, Israel's second king, who was also famous for his skill as a musician. Blistein notes that only the Geneva Bible refers to David as "the sweete singer of Israel" (2 Samuel 23:1), but he misidentifies the sourced verse as Psalms 23:1.


His holy style and happy victories;

2: holy style = could mean "the excellence of his expression".
     happy victories = ie. (many) military victories, which demonstrate the favour shown him by the Lord.

Whose Muse was dipt in that inspiring dew

3-4: David's sublime musical skills were inspired by a Muse.
     The Muses were the nine goddesses who protected the various arts; artists were often described as being inspired by a Muse. Terpsichore was the name of the Muse of choral dance and song.


Arch-angels stillèd from the breath of Jove,

4: Arch-angels = numbering seven, the arch-angels comprised a specific class of angels who took part in the affairs of humanity (see the note at line 8 below).7
     Note how Peele easily mixes pagan and Christian imagery.
     stillèd = distilled.
     Jove = the name of the Roman king of the gods was often used to refer to the Christian God.

Decking her temples with the glorious flowers

= adorning her brows.


Heavens rained on tops of Sion and Mount Sinai.

6: Heavens = Heavens and Heaven will almost always be pronounced as a monosyllable, with the medial v omitted: Hea'ns.
     Sion = ie. Zion, originally a fortress on the top of a hill in south-east Jerusalem, then used, as here, to mean the hill itself; eventually Zion came to refer to the city of Jerusalem, and then the nation or people of Israel as a whole.8
     Mount Sinai = the mountain on the Sinai Peninsula where Moses received the Ten Commandments.8,9

Upon the bosom of his ivory lute

= a small plucked instrument, usually used to describe an early guitar; in the Bible, however, David is always described as playing a harp, which he was believed to pluck with his fingers, and not a pick (Lockyer, p. 734).9


The cherubins and angels laid their breasts;

= the beings known generically as angels are divided into 3 classes (called hierarchies), each of which contained 3 sub-classes (called choirs); the second hierarchy is named the counselors, of which the cherubim are the second choir; the third hierarchy is called the messengers, whose first choir is comprised of the arch-angels (see the note at line 6) and second choir the angels.7

And, when his consecrated fingers strook

= sacred, sanctified.2  = ie. struck.


The golden wires of his ravishing harp,

10: wires = pronounced with two syllables: WI-yers.
     ravishing = entrancing;1 ravishing is also pronounced with two syllables: RAV-'shing.

He gave alarum to the host of Heaven,

11: gave alarum = "raised an alarm for", or "raised a call to arms to", ie. alerted.
     host of Heaven = ie. the angels; though the phrase was often used to refer to the stars and planets.


That, winged with lightning, brake the clouds, and cast

= archaic language for "broke through".  = tossed.

Their crystal armour at his conquering feet.

13: a line in Christopher Marlowe's Tamburlaine, Part One, describes "angels in their crystal armours" who "fight a doubtful battle".


Of this sweet poet, Jove's musiciän,

And of his beauteous son, I prease to sing.

15: his beauteous son = ie. Absalon, the beautiful third son of David, whose tale here complements that of David and Bethsabe.
     prease = press, ie. endeavor, strive.1


Then help, divine Adonai, to conduct

= alternate title for God, used as a substitute for his "ineffable name";1 St. Jerome employed this epithet in Exodus 6:3 of his famous Latin translation of the Bible known as the Vulgate: "qui apparui Abraham Isaac et Iacob in Deo omnipotente et nomen meum Adonai non indicavi eis".
     Adonai is pronounced as a three-syllable word, with the stress on the second syllable: a-DON-ai.

Upon the wings of my well-tempered verse

= pleasant, agreeable.1


The hearers' minds above the towers of Heaven,

= pronounced as a mono-syllable.

And guide them so in this thrice-haughty flight,

= ie. lofty flight; thrice is simply an intensifier.


Their mounting feathers scorch not with the fire

20-21: "so that they do not get burned by the fire that only

That none can temper but thy holy hand:

thou, God, can control and moderate."
     There is an allusion here to the mythological story of Daedalus and Icarus, who were being held prisoner by King Minos on the island of Crete: Daedalus built wings for his son Icarus and himself to use to escape Crete; Daedalus warned the boy not to fly too close to the sun, but Icarus ignored his father, and in his pride flew too high; the sun melted the wax holding the feathers of his wings together, and he plunged to his death into the sea.


To thee for succour flies my feeble Muse,

22: the narrator's Muse will not be up to the job to inspire him to tell his tale with enough skill, and so the Muse (and hence the narrator himself) asks God to assist her.

And at thy feet her iron pen doth use.

= ie. a chisel to engrave or carve out her poetry;24 pens of


iron are mentioned frequently in the literature of the time; the Bible mentions iron pens in Job 19:24 and Jeremiah 17:1.
     Note that the Prologue ends with a rhyming couplet; important speeches, the last speeches of characters in a scene, and scenes in and of themselves often signaled their conclusions by use of a rhyming couplet.

The Prologue-speaker, before going out, draws a


curtain and discovers Bethsabe, with her Maid,

= reveals.

bathing over a spring:


she sings, and David sits above viewing her.

The Prologue: Peele's Prologue was held in high enough regard to be included in later collections of religious - and especially Jewish - poems and the such; examples include 1913's The Hebrew Anthology and The Standard Book of Jewish Verse of 1917.


The Royal Palace, Jerusalem.

Bible Verses Depicted in Scene I: 2 Samuel 11:1-6.

Scene Settings: the original 1599 edition does not provide locations for the scenes; I have largely adopted those suggested by Manly.

David sitting on the Palace roof,

Entering Characters: David is the King of Israel; he

watching Bethsabe below bathing over a spring.

would perhaps appear to the audience on the balcony at the back of the stage.
     Bethsabe is a beautiful woman whose husband Urias is in the Israelite army, which is at present besieging the Ammonite capital city of Rabbah, about 40 miles north-east of Jerusalem.


124: The Song is sung by Bethsabe; note that the song is comprised of rhyming couplets (except perhaps for the final two lines).


Hot sun, cool fire, tempered with sweet air,

= moderated.


Black shade, fair nurse, shadow my white hair:

2: fair = beautiful.
     shadow = screen (from the sun).
     white hair = no doubt meaning blond or golden; the OED identifies some specific usages of white to mean "pale-yellow"; such light colouring would support the suggestion of the song that the singer owns a light complexion that is too delicate to stand the strong Middle-Eastern sun.
     Note the coupled antonyms in the first two lines: hot and cool, black and white.

Shine, sun; burn, fire; breathe, air, and ease me;


Black shade, fair nurse; shroud me, and please me:

Shadow, my sweet nurse, keep me from burning,


Make not my glad cause cause of mourning.

6: "do not let that for which I have reason to rejoice - my fair complexion (which in Elizabethan times was considered most attractive) - become a liability by burning in the hot sun."
     Note the wordplay in doubling-up the use of cause in this line, a feature greatly favoured by Peele.

Let not my beauty's fire

7-10: these lines give us a good example of dramatic irony: the audience knows that David is watching, and about to seduce Bethsabe, while Bethsabe herself remains ignorant of her immediate fate.
     7-8: note how fire, which Bethsabe previously used to describe the sun, is in line 7 used to describe her own beauty, which may inflame the passion of anyone who might see her.


Inflame unstaid desire,

= immoderate, unrestrained.

Nor pierce any bright eye

9-10: "nor come into the field of vision of any man who


That wandereth lightly.

happens to be glancing around."
     pierce = penetrate.
     lightly = unthinkingly; but light also was used to mean wanton or unchaste.1


Beth.  Come, gentle Zephyr, tricked with those perfumes

12-26: Bethsabe's first speech is an apostrophe to Zephyr,
     the west wind of mythology.
         tricked = adorned.

That erst in Eden sweetened Adam's love,

13: the wind is described as having refreshed Eve (Adam's
) in the Garden of Eden.
         erst = formerly, once upon a time.


And stroke my bosom with thy silken fan:

= balmy, soft.1

This shade, sun-proof, is yet no proof for thee;

15: Bethsabe's shade is safe from the sun, but cannot stop
     the wind from entering.
         no proof = ie. not impenetrable.1


Thy body, smoother than this waveless spring,

And purer than the substance of the same,


Can creep through that his lances cannot pierce:

= ie. that which.  = ie. the sun's.
     Note the miniature metaphor in this line comparing the sun's rays breaking through the vegetation to a soldier's lance piercing an object like a body.

Thou, and thy sister, soft and sacred Air,

= properly speaking, there was no deity of the air per se, as
     there were for the various winds.


Goddess of life, and governess of health,

= another word for goddess.2

Keep every fountain fresh and arbour sweet;

= shady retreat, ie. a bower, formed by encircling trees,
     shrubs and vines.1


No brazen gate her passage can repulse,

22: no brass (brazen) gate can stop the air from passing
     through it.

Nor bushly thicket bar thy subtle breath:

23: bushly thicket = dense growth of brush; bushly may
     be a typo for bushy or even bosky, as bushly exists
     nowhere else in literature.3
         subtle = fine or delicate.1


Then deck thee with thy loose delightsome robes,

24: deck thee = "dress yourself" (especially with beautiful
     or rich garments).1
         delightsome = delightful; delightsome was a popular
     word in the 17th century.

And on thy wings bring delicate perfumes,


To play the wantons with us through the leaves.

= the phrase carries the sense of "behave playfully" or



David.  What tunes, what words, what looks, what
     wonders pierce

My soul, incensèd with a sudden fire?

= inflamed; note how David returns to the fire imagery of 


What tree, what shade, what spring, what paradise,

     the Prologue and the Song.

Enjoys the beauty of so fair a dame?


Fair Eva, placed in perfect happiness,

32: "beautiful Eve, set in Eden"; note the use of Eva for Eve for purposes of meter.
     32-36: briefly, even Eve with her heavenly singing did not bring more joy to Adam then Bethsabe is giving to David with her speech and music.

Lending her praise-notes to the liberal heavens,

33: ie. "praising generous (liberal) Heaven in song".


Strook with the accents of arch-angels' tunes,

34: sung in the sublime style or manner of, or perhaps ac-
     companied by, the arch-angels.
         strook = struck.

Wrought not more pleasure to her husband's thoughts

= worked, ie. brought.


Than this fair woman's words and notes to mine.

May that sweet plain that bears her pleasant weight

= could mean "meadow".1


Be still enamelled with discoloured flowers;

= beautified by colour.  = ie. multi-coloured, variegated.1

That precious fount bear sand of purest gold;

= fountain, ie. spring.


And, for the pebble, let the silver streams

= ie. in place of the pebbles.

That pierce earth's bowels to maintain the source,

= ie. keep the spring filled with water.


Play upon rubies, sapphires, chrysolites;

= name given generically to any of various green gems.1

The brims let be embraced with golden curls

= waters.1  = ie. surrounded.


Of moss that sleeps with sound the waters make

= note the lack of subject-verb agreement with curls and

For joy to feed the fount with their recourse;

= ie. the waters' flow.


Let all the grass that beautifies her bower

= shady retreat.

Bear manna every morn instead of dew,

= the food miraculously provided for the Israelites in the
     wilderness during their exodus from Egypt.


Or let the dew be sweeter far than that

That hangs, like chains of pearl, on Hermon hill,

= the highest peak in the Anti-Lebanus mountains that lie on the border between Syria and Lebanon; the reference is from Psalms 133:3: "It is also like unto the dew of Hermon, which falleth down the hill of Zion."
     Unless otherwise noted, all Biblical quotes in the notes are from the 1568 Bishop's Bible, Peele's most frequent source, with modernized spelling.


Or balm which trickled from old Aaron's beard. −

50: from Psalms 133:2: "It is like unto a precious ointment poured upon the head, which runneth down upon the beard, even upon Aaron's beard, which also runneth down the skirts of his garments".
     Aaron was the brother of Moses, and the first high priest of the Hebrew nation.9

Cusay, come up, and serve thy lord the king.

51: his lyrical interlude complete, David calls for his servant.


Enter Cusay above.

Entering Character: Cusay, a lord and retainer of David's,


     appears on the roof, ie. the balcony at the rear of the

Cusay.  What service doth my lord the king command?


David.  See, Cusay, see the flower of Israel,

= ie. Bethsabe.


The fairest daughter that obeys the king

= meaning only that she is one of the king's subjects.

In all the land the Lord subdued to me;


Fairer than Isaac's lover at the well,

60: Isaac was the son of Abraham, who instructed his oldest servant to return to Abraham's home in Mesopotamia to find Isaac a wife. Arriving at a well outside the city of Padan Aram, the servant asked the Lord for a sign; a young woman, named Rebecca (who turned out to be the grand-daughter of Abraham's brother) happened by, who gave the servant water, and from this act the servant new this was his gal. (Genesis 24).

Brighter than inside-bark of new-hewn cedar,

61: because wood of the cedar, the famous evergreen tree, was used to build David's Palace, he would be familiar with the appearance of cut cedar trees (2 Sam. 5:11); (it is unclear how flattering it would be to Bethsabe to be compared to a tree's innards).


Sweeter than flames of fine-perfumèd myrrh,

= myrrh is a resin extracted from certain trees, used in perfume (see e.g. Proverbs 7:17); earlier editors note that fine probably should be fire, to go with flames.

And comelier than the silver clouds that dance

= more graceful;2 comlier is pronounced with two syllables
     here: COM-lier.


On Zephyr's wings before the King of Heaven.

= Zephyr is the west wind, mentioned earlier by Bethsabe
     in her first spoken line in Scene I at line 12.


Cusay.  Is it not Bethsabe the Hethite's wife,

66-67: Bethsabe = Bethsabe will always be stressed on its

Urias now at Rabbah siege with Joab?

first syllable: BETH-sa-be.
     Hethite = ie. the Hittites, a people who flourished in Asia Minor from 1900 to 1200 B.C., but at the time of David's reign (1010 - 970 B.C.),10 had a presence in Palestine.9
     Urias = Bethsabe's husband; at this moment, Urias, an officer in David's army, was with the besieging army at Rabbah.


     Rabbah = the first seven times the city is mentioned in the original edition, it is spelled Rabbath, as it appears in the Wycliffe Bible; the remaining eleven times, it is spelled Rabba, as it appears in both the Bishop's and Coverdale Bibles; I have chosen to follow Dyce's decision to print Rabbah, the Geneva Bible's spelling, everywhere (the KJV would also go on to use Rabbah).
     Joab = a nephew of David, and commander-in-chief of David's army.9

David.  Go know, and bring her quickly to the king;


Tell her, her graces hath found grace with him.

70: in this punning line, graces means "good qualities" and

     grace means "favour".


Cusay.  I will, my lord.




David.  Bright Bethsabe shall wash, in David's bower,

76-82: David's brief soliloquy both begins and ends with a
     rhyming couplet; his speech also gives time for Cusay
     to go downstairs to Bethsabe.

In water mixed with purest almond-flower,

= the almond tree's light-pink blossoms appear before the
     tree leaves.9


And bathe her beauty in the milk of kids:

= young goats.

Bright Bethsabe gives earth to my desires;

= ie. "is a living embodiment of".1


Verdure to earth; and to that verdure flowers;

= ie. "gives verdure"; verdure refers to green vegetation

To flowers sweet odours; and to odours wings

= flowers is pronounced as a single syllable here.


That carry pleasures to the hearts of kings.

79-82: a chain of connections of "the house that Jack built"

variety: Bethsabe gives wings to the sweet smell (odours) that she gives to the flowers that she gives to the verdure that she gives to the earth that she gives to David's desires.


Enter Cusay, below, to Bethsabe,

she starting as something affright.

85: Bethsabe is startled at Cusay's appearance.


Cusay.  Fair Bethsabe, the King of Israel


From forth his princely tower hath seen thee bathe;

And thy sweet graces have found grace with him:


Come, then, and kneel unto him where he stands;

The king is gracious, and hath liberal hands.

= ie. is generous.


Beth.  Ah, what is Bethsabe to please the king?

= who.


Or what is David, that he should desire,

94-95: Bethsabe is censorious: basically, "why would David

For fickle beauty's sake, his servant's wife?

want to commit the sin of taking Urias' (his servant's) wife


just because he is attracted by her beauty?" Bethsabe describes her beauty as fickle, meaning "changeable", because it is so transitory (a common trope in Elizabethan drama).

Cusay.  David, thou know'st, fair dame, is wise and just,


Elected to the heart of Israel's God;

= selected; to this point in David's history, he has been fully
     in God's favour.

Then do not thou expostulate with him

= remonstrate.2


For any action that contents his soul.


Beth.  My lord the king, elect to God's own heart,

102-4: much debated lines, primarily revolving around who

Should not his gracious jealousy incense

his in line 103 and whose in line 104 refer to: they could


Whose thoughts are chaste: I hate incontinence.

mean God, but Keltie suggests Bethsabe has Urias in mind.
     gracious jealousy = perhaps an oxymoron; gracious suggests showing favour; jealousy is a common attribute ascribed to God, who tolerates no unfaithfulness; but if Urias is meant, the meaning of jealousy is more obvious.
     incense = provoke, kindle. 1,5
     chaste: I = an early editor cited by Bullen suggested replacing the colon and I with and.


Cusay.  Woman, thou wrong'st the king, and doubt'st
     his honour,

= suspects; Cusay, who has never yet seen David act in any
     manner that could be called wicked, finds Bethsabe's
     resistance to appear before the king blameworthy.

Whose truth maintains the crown of Israel,


Making him stay that bade me bring thee straight.

= wait.  = commanded.  = right away.


Beth.  The king's poor handmaid will obey my lord.

110: Vivien Westbrook, in her book Long Travail and

Great Paynes,11 notes the similarity of Bethsabe's response to Cusay to that which the Virgin Mary responded in part to the angel in Luke 1:38 ("Behold the handmaiden of the Lord"); Peele's intent, she argues, is to completely exonerate Bethsabe for what David will do to her. (See her introduction, p. xxxiv).11


Cusay.  Then come, and do thy duty to his grace;

And do what seemeth favour in his sight.

113: ie. "and do that which will deserve his favour".


[Exit, below, with Bethsabe.]


David.  Now comes my lover tripping like the roe,

= moving lightly or nimbly.  = a small species of deer.


And brings my longings tangled in her hair.

= desires.1  = perhaps a subtle bit of foreshadowing of the
     ultimate fate of David's son Absalon.

To joy her love I'll build a kingly bower,

= enjoy, clearly suggestive.  = shady and leafy retreat.


Seated in hearing of a hundred streams,

= within the sound.

That, for their homage to her sovereign joys,

121: homage = reverence shown.1
     sovereign = greatest.1
     joys = Dyce suggests the meaning is "charms".


Shall, as the serpents fold into their nests

= "like the way", or "just as".

In oblique turnings, wind the[ir] nimble waves

123: oblique turnings = literally "slanting revolutions".1
         their = ie. the hundred streams of line 20.


About the circles of her curious walks;

= delicate, careful, or prompted by curiosity.1

And with their murmur summon easeful sleep


To lay his golden sceptre on her brows. −

= ie. personified Sleep's.

Open the doors, and entertain my love;

127-9: David commands his servants.


Open, I say, and, as you open, sing,

     entertain = receive as a guest.1

Welcome, fair Bethsabe, King David's darling.


Enter, above, Cusay, with Bethsabe.


Welcome, fair Bethsabe, King David's darling.


Thy bones' fair covering, erst discovered fair,

134: Thy bones' fair coverings = a unique description of Bethsabe' skin; Elmer Blistein, in his notes to our play contained in The Dramatic Works of George Peele, observes that the imagery of bones is a favourite of Peele's, who mostly uses them in a figure of speech known as a metonymy (meaning that bones is used to represent something else, usually the human body) (p. 259);6 indeed, bones appears 15 times in our play.
     erst discovered fair = previously revealed to be beautiful.

And all mine eyes with all thy beauties pierced:

135: And = as Dyce notes, And perhaps means "have", or else a line may have dropped out, another common printer's error.
     pierced = this is already the fifth time Peele has used pierce / pierced in the play; there will be eight appearances in all.


As Heaven's bright eye burns most when most he climbs

136-9: just as the sun is the strongest when it is at its highest
     point in the sky, so Bethsabe scorches, ie. inflames,
     David's soul.
        Heaven's bright eye = common poetic description of
     the sun.
         he = ie. the sun.

The crookèd zodiac with his fiery sphere,

137: crooked = curved, referring to the path of the sun.6
     zodiac = the celestial belt along which the planets, the sun and the moon appear to revolve around the earth; we may note that though Copernicus had announced a century earlier that the sun was in fact the center of the solar system, Elizabethan authors continued to describe the heavens as rotating around the earth.
     fiery sphere = the word sphere likely simply refers to the geometric shape of the sun.
     However, in the plays of the era, spheres was primarily used to describe a Ptolemaic view of the universe, in which the sun, the moon, the planets and the stars were imagined each to occupy a particular and literal celestial sphere around the earth, the spheres all concentric, and each rotating around the earth as they carry the heavenly bodies with them; thus fiery sphere may describe the sphere containing the sun.
     We may note that there was an alternate conception of the heavens, one in which the universe comprised a different set of concentric spheres, four in total; each sphere was composed of one of the four elements all matter was believed to be made up of, to wit (from the outermost to the innermost), fire, air, water and earth; in this sense fiery sphere could be used to refer to the largest and furthest sphere (see line 138).


And shineth furthest from this earthly globe;

So, since thy beauty scorched my conquered soul,

= scorched connects with burns (line 136) and fiery (line


I called thee nearer for my nearer cure.

140: David puns on nearer: the first nearer means "closer"
     (the modern meaning), and the second means "most
     direct way (to cure me)."1


Beth.  Too near, my lord, was your unarmèd heart

142-3: "I was already too near to you, when your heart,

When furthest off my hapless beauty pierced;

     unprotected as it was (as if by armour), was pierced
     by my luckless (hapless) beauty."


And would this dreary day had turned to night,

= if only. 

Or that some pitchy cloud had cloaked the sun,

= black.


Before their lights had caused my lord to see

= ie. the light of the day and the sun both.  = ie. permitted.

His name disparaged and my chastity!

147: "both his reputation and my honour disgraced." Note how awkwardly the sentence is written to fit the iambic meter: a more standard arrangement of the words - "His name and my chastity disparaged" - does not work metrically.


David.  My love, if want of love have left thy soul



A sharper sense of honour than thy king,

= ie. with a.  = ie. "than that possessed by your king".

(For love leads princes sometimes from their seats,)

= ie. kings.  = from their thrones, a metaphor for "to behave
     in ways inappropriate for a monarch".


As erst my heart was hurt, displeasing thee,

152-3: "then, as earlier I had displeased you, which gave me

So come and taste thy ease with easing me.

pain, come and give relief to my injury while getting a taste of pleasure yourself."
     Suddenly, David, who is decreasingly subtle, sounds like a bullying pervert.
     Note that David again has finished a speech with a rhyming couplet.


Beth.  One medicine cannot heal our different harms;

155-8: Bethsabe picks up on David's talk of injuries and responds to his sleazy offer with a dense medical metaphor of her own.
     155: Bethsabe points out (1) their injuries are of a different nature, as David's are self-inflicted, and (2) thus cannot be cured by a single act.
     Note that medicine is disyllabic: MED-'cin.


But rather make both rankle at the bone:

= fester.2

Then let the king be cunning in his cure,

157: "so why don't you find a more clever way to heal your


Lest flattering both, both perish in his hand.

158: "so as to prevent you from successfully beguiling or

     misleading both of us, which would cause us both to
     die through your fault."


David.  Leave it to me, my dearest Bethsabe,

Whose skill is cónversant in deeper cures. −

= ie. David means himself here.


And, Cusay, haste thou to my servant Joab,

= hurry.

Commanding him to send Urias home


With all the speed can possibly be used.


Cusay.  Cusay will fly about the king's desire.



David Recalls Urias: in the Bible, David sends for Urias only after finding out that Bethsabe is pregnant with his (David's) child; his purpose in doing so is to have Urias sleep with his wife so that he will believe the child is his. This delicate factor is omitted in our play, so that David's motive in sending for the soldier would be technically unclear at this point in the play.

The Dialogue Between David and Bethsabe: in the Bible, there is no conversation between the king and his new mistress; it is all invented by Peele, which allows him to portray Bethsabe as entirely innocent in the matter, wholly unwilling to submit to David's sexual aggression.
     Here are the Bible's relevant lines (2 Sam. 11:2-6):
      "2 And in an evening-tide, David arose out of his bed, and walked upon the roof of the king's palace, and from the roof he saw a woman bathing herself, and the woman was very beautiful to look upon.
     3 And David sent to enquire what woman she should be: and one said, Is not this Bethsabe the daughter of Eliam, and wife to Urias the Hethite:
     4 And David sent messengers, and took her away: and she came in unto him, and he lay with her...and returned unto her house.
     5 And the woman conceived, and sent and told David, and said: I am with child.
     6 And David sent to Joab, saying: Send me Urias the Hethite. And Joab sent Urias to David."


Before the Walls of the City of Rabbah,
the Capital City of Ammon.

Bible Verses Depicted in Scene II: 2 Sam. 12:26-28.

Backstory to Scene II:
when King Nahas of the neighbouring kingdom of Ammon died, David, in a gesture of friendship, sent some ambassadors to Rabbah, the Ammonite capital, to express Israel's condolences; but the new Ammonite king, Nahas' son Hanon, was convinced by his advisors that the messengers were really spies, so Hanon stripped them of their clothing ("cut off their garments in the middle, even hard unto the buttocks of them"; 2 Sam. 10:4), and in the ultimate act of humiliation, shaved off half their beards, before sending them packing. (2 Sam. 10:1-4).

     David recognized an insult when he saw one, and he sent his army to fight the Ammonites; led by Joab, the Israelite army engaged the Ammonites in battle outside the gates of Rabbah, while the mercenary Syrian army Hanon had hired just for the occasion ran away, then returned, and then were crushed as well by the Israelites. (2 Sam. 10:5-18)
     The Syrians consequently made peace with the Israelites; the following spring, the Israelites returned to Ammon and defeated the Ammonites; the Israelites then went on to besiege their capital city Rabbah. (2 Sam. 10:19, 11:1).

Enter Joab, Abisai, Urias, and others,
with drum and ensign

Entering Characters: Joab is the commander-in-chief of the Israelite army; since he is the son of David's sister Zeruia, Joab is a nephew of David's.
     Abisai is Joab's brother; he is one of Israel's greatest warriors, and leader of a group of soldiers known as the "Mighty Soldiers", who showed unwavering loyalty to David (the Bible refers to them also as "The Thirty", though they numbered 37). Urias, Bethsabe's husband, was a member of The Thirty. (2 Sam. 23:18-19, 38).
     ensign = the soldier who carries the army's banner.


Joab.  Courage, ye mighty men of Israel,


And charge your fatal instruments of war

= load.1  = death-dealing weapons.

Upon the bosoms of proud Ammon's son[s],

= the men or soldiers of Ammon, the name of the nation the
     Israelites are fighting.


That have disguised your king's ambassadors,

4-5: see the introductory note entitled Backstory to Scene II

Cut half their beards and half their garments off,

     at the beginning of this scene above.
         disguised = changed the appearance of, or disfigured.1


In spite of Israel and his daughters' sons!

= "in defiance of" or "in scorn of".

Ye fight the holy battles of Jehovah,

7: Ye = old plural form of you.
     Jehovah = common Old Testament name for God.


King David's God, and ours, and Jacob's God,

= Jacob was one of a pair of twin sons of the aforementioned Isaac and Rebekah. Peele uses the expression Jacob's God seven times in the play (two of those times righteous and jealous appear between Jacob's and God) and Jacob's ruler once.
     The expression is metrically clean and can be used to easily complete the ten-syllable count of a line. The phrase had been used repeatedly by Thomas Sternholde (1500-1549) in his important translation of the Psalms into English verse; the work, originally called Versification of Certain Chapters of the Proverbs of Solomon, was reprinted multiple times, and, in the words of the National Biography, "has had a larger circulation than any work in the language, except the authorised version of the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer."14

That guides your weapons to their conquering strokes,

= who.


Orders your footsteps, and directs your thoughts

= manages, directs.

To stratagems that harbour victory:

= contain, comprise.1


He casts his sacred eyesight from on high,

And sees your foes run seeking for their deaths,

13: "in order to avoid".


Laughing their labours and their hopes to scorn;

14: God laughs at the enemies' efforts and scorns their
     expectations (hopes).
         Blistein notes that to laugh one to scorn was a
     common trope in the Bible; e.g. 2 Kings 19:21.

While 'twixt your bodies and their blunted swords

= between.  = ie. the edge removed to make the enemy's
     swords ineffective.


He puts on armour of his honour's proof,

= tested power, or impenetrability.1

And makes their weapons wound the senseless winds.

17: the sense is that the enemy's swords, thanks to God's


intervention, will only be good for slashing at the wind.
     senseless = without possession of the physical senses, ie. unable to feel.
     Bullen notes the similarity between this line and one in Christopher Marlowe's Tamburlaine, Part One (Act III.ii): "and make your strokes to wound the senseless lure."

Abis.  Before this city Rabbah we will lie,


And shoot forth shafts as thick and dangerous

= arrows.

As was the hail that Moses mixed with fire,

21-23: allusion to the seventh Plague of Egypt, in which the


And threw with fury round about the fields,

     Lord sent hail mixed with thunder and lightning (fire)

Devouring Pharaoh's friends and Egypt's fruits.

     against the land of the Pharaoh, destroying the crops
     of this agricultural nation. (Exodus 9:19-26).


Urias.  First, mighty captains, Joab and Abisai,

25-28: Urias recommends they assault the city's water supply.
     Joab is always pronounced with two syllables (JO-ab), while Abisai, as noted earlier, has three (a-BI-sai).


Let us assault, and scale this kingly tower,

Where all their conduits and their fountains are;

= a disyllable: CON-duits.


Then we may easily take the city too.

25-28: commentators have long explained that Rabbah had a fortified upper town, in which most of the population lived, and a lower town, where the stream that supplied the city with its water was located. Capturing the city's source of water puts its citizens in a particularly perilous situation.

     Except for the Matthew Bible, all the contemporary Bibles describe the water source as the city of waters or water city (2 Sam. 12:27); Peele, however, seems to have borrowed his idea of a kingly tower from the Matthew Bible, which calls the water supply "the castle from whence they had their water."


Joab.  Well hath Urias counselled our attempts;

And as he spake us, so assault the tower:

= spoke to, ie. recommends to.


Let Hanon now, the king of Ammon's son[s],

Repulse our conquering passage if he dare.


Enter Hanon, Machaas, and others, upon the walls.

Entering Characters: Hanon is the king of Ammon; Machaas is the King of Gath, a Philistine city located about 30 miles south-west of Jerusalem. Machaas appears as an ally of the Ammonite monarch.
     What follows is what had become one of the fabulous conventions of Elizabethan literature, in which the leaders of two armies, prior to battle, approach each other and exchange hilariously infantile insults. This mutual taunting between foes first appeared in Christopher Marlowe's Tamburlaine plays. The idea may have been inspired by the actual practice of English armies during times of civil war to send demands of surrender to each other before battle.


Hanon.  What would the shepherd's-dogs of Israel

= Hanon plays on the phrase shepherd's dog, a common expression used to refer to a sheep dog; shepherd is a reference to David, who as a young man worked as the shepherd of his family; to call another a dog was a serious insult in Elizabethan times.


Snatch from the mighty issue of King Ammon,

38: "take from the children (ie. citizens) of the king of Ammon". At 2 Sam. 10:19, the Bibles all refer to the "children of Ammon": see the note in the next line.

The valiant Ammonites and haughty Syrians?

= proud or high-minded Syrians, the name used to collectively identify all the allies of the Ammonites;6 we may note that the Bible asserts that the Syrians had made peace with the Israelites prior to the siege of Rabbah, "and so the Syrians feared to help the children of Ammon any more" (2 Sam. 10:19).


'Tis not your late successive victories

= ie. "recent series of".

Can make us yield, or quail our courages;

= intimidate, dispirit.1


But if ye dare assay to scale this tower,

= attempt, assault.1

Our angry swords shall smite ye to the ground,

= ie. off of the tower.


And venge our losses on your hateful lives.

= avenge.  = odious.1


Joab.  Hanon, thy father Nahas gave relief

46-47: the Bible, at 2 Sam. 11:2, states that David had sent

To holy David in his hapless exile,

emissaries to Hanan to express his condolences for the new king at the death of his father, King Nahas, who had "shown kindness unto me"; but what the nature of that kindness was is described nowhere in the Bible.
     Commentators have suggested that when David was in exile during the period when he was running from Saul's persecution, he found sanctuary in Moab, where Nahas, as the king of neighbouring Ammon, also kindly received David at the time; Nahas did this, goes the theory, as a snub to Saul and Israel, the Ammonites' longtime enemy.
     Note that Hanon, showing at least a modicum of respect, has addressed Joab as you, but Joab, showing his disdain for the Ammonite, does not reciprocate, choosing instead to address the king with the highly insulting thou; Machaas, in addressing Joab, follows the Israelite's lead.


Livèd his fixèd date, and died in peace:

= "and lived to his appointed time"; the idea is that he died
     a natural death, rather than prematurely falling in a war.

But thou, instead of reaping his reward,


Hast trod it under foot, and scorned our king;

= "stepped all over it".

Therefore thy days shall end with violence,


And to our swords thy vital blood shall cleave.

= life-sustaining.2  = adhere.


Mach.  Hence, thou that bear'st poor Israel's shepherd's-

54: Machaas, reminding Joab once again of David's humble
     beginnings, compares Joab to a shepherd, and thus
     indirectly likens the Israelites to sheep, being led to
         Hence = "go away!" or "begone!"

The proud lieutenant of that base-born king,

55: proud = arrogant.
         lieutenant = a military officer acting in the name of a


And keep within the compass of his fold;

56: "and stay within the boundary of David's sheep's pen
     (fold)"; Machaas is highly disrespectful of the Israelite

For, if ye seek to feed on Ammon's fruits,

57-58: Machaas scorns the attempts of the Israelites to
     defeat and plunder both the Ammonites' and their the
     allies' lands.


And stray into the Syrians' fruitful meads,

= meadows.

The mastives of our land shall worry ye,

59: mastives = ie. mastiffs, large guard dogs.
         worry = seize by the throat and tear to pieces; the
     verb to worry was commonly used to describe dogs
     attacking sheep.1


And pull the weesels from your greedy throats.

= windpipes.  = rapacious.1


Abis.  Who can endure these pagans' blasphemies?


Urias.  My soul repines at this disparagement.

= complains, feels discontent.2


Joab.  Assault, ye valiant men of David's host,

= "attack!"  = army.

And beat these railing dastards from their doors.

= abusive cowards.


[Assault, and they win the tower;


and then Joab speaks above.]


Thus have we won the tower, which we will keep,

Maugre the sons of Ammon and of Syria.

= "notwithstanding the power of".1


Enter Cusay below.


Cusay.  Where is Lord Joab, leader of the host?


Joab.  Here is Lord Joab, leader of the host.


Cusay, come up, for we have won the hold.

= stronghold or fortress.2


Cusay.  In happy hour, then, is Cusay come.

= hour is disyllabic here: HOW-er (we may note that the

      first syllable actually sounded more like ho at the time).


Cusay goes up.


Joab.  What news, then, brings Lord Cusay from the king?


Cusay.  His majesty commands thee out of hand

= immediately.1

To send him home Urias from the wars,


For matter of some service he should do.


Urias.  'Tis for no choler hath surprised the king,

92-93: "I hope that no anger has seized (surprised)1 the king

I hope, Lord Cusay, 'gainst his servant's truth?

which has caused him to suspect my loyalty (truth) to him?"
     choler = also known as yellow bile, one of the four humours, or fluids, which in the Middle Ages were believed to comprise the human body (the others being blood, phlegm and black bile). An excess of yellow bile was thought to cause irritability or bad temper.


Cusay.  No; rather to prefer Urias' truth.

= ie. promote Uriah for his loyal service.


Joab.  Here, take him with thee, then, and go in peace;


And tell my lord the king that I have fought

98-104: these lines are adopted from 2 Sam. 12:28.

Against the city Rabbah with success,


And scalèd where the royal palace is,

The conduit-heads and all their sweetest springs:

= reservoirs or water sources.1


Then let him come in person to these walls,

102-6: Joab knows that the residents of Rabbah will soon be desperate without fresh water, and so wants David to come finish the job and capture the city proper himself, so that he may reap the glory of having done so, before the Ammonites surrender; this is an honourable offer by Joab.

With all the soldiers he can bring besides,


And take the city as his own exploit,

Lest I surprise it, and the people give

= seize.1


The glory of the conquest to my name.


Cusay.  We will, Lord Joab; and great Israel's God

Bless in thy hands the battles of our king!


Joab.  Farewell, Urias; haste away the king.

= hurry away to.


Urias.  As sure as Joab breathes a victor here,


Urias will haste him and his own return.

= hurry himself; note how Urias generally refers to himself

     in the third person, a common manner of speaking in
     Elizabethan drama.


[Exeunt Cusay and Urias.]


Abis.  Let us descend, and ope the palace' gate,

= open.

Taking our soldiers in to keep the hold.

119: Abisai suggests they strengthen their defenses now that


     they have captured the tower.

Joab.  Let us, Abisai: − and, ye sons of Judah,


Be valiant, and maintain your victory.

= valiant is disyllabic: VAL-yant.




The House of Amnon in Jerusalem,

Bible Verses Depicted in Scene III: 2 Sam. 13:1-7.

Enter Amnon, Jonadab, Jethray, and Amnon's Page.

Entering Characters: Amnon is the oldest son of David, by his first wife Ahinoam; Jethray is Amnon's servant.
Jonadab is a nephew of David, the son of his brother Shimeah, and thus a first-cousin to Amnon; Jonadab is described at 2 Sam. 13:3 as a "friend" of Amnon's, which implies the pair are "bosom buddies".
     We may note that Peele spelled Amnon's name as Ammon (the Coverdale Bible's spelling) throughout the play; but because this is too easy to confuse with Ammon when it refers to the land of the Ammonites, I have chosen to follow Dyce in using the more common version of the name, with an 'n'.


Jonad.  What means my lord, the king's belovèd son,

1-8: Jonadab inquires as to why Amnon, who has at his
     disposal everything that can give a man joy and peace
     of mind, looks so unwell.


That wears upon his right triumphant arm

2-3: Jonadab compares the power that Amnon wields to a

The power of Israel for a royal favour,

     favour, ie. a token of affection, such as a glove or hand-
     kerchief, that a woman gives a man to wear.1
         That = who.
         power = pronounced in one syllable; Israel is di-


That holds upon the tables of his hands

4-5: Jonadab then compares all the honour possessed by

Banquets of honour and all thought's content,

          Amnon to a feast he may consume at his leisure.


To suffer pale and grisly abstinence

6: the independent clause begun in line 1 ("What means my

To sit and feed upon his fainting cheeks,

 lord") is finally continued here, after a round of dependent


And suck away the blood that cheers his looks?

clauses (lines 1.5-5).
     6-8: personified abstinence is imagined to be drinking away Amnon's blood, causing his sallow appearance; abstinence also contrasts with Banquets in line 5.
     suffer (line 6) = allow.
     grisly (line 6) = grim.2


Amnon.  Ah, Jonadab, it is my sister's looks,

10f: Amnon explains that he appears bloodless because he   

On whose sweet beauty I bestow my blood,

     is love-sick, consumed with his desire for his half-sister
     Thamar, the daughter of David with his third wife Maacah.


That makes me look so amorously lean;

= an interesting pairing of words: Amnon is gaunt in his
         The Geneva and Coverdale Bibles describe Amnon
     as lean at 2 Sam. 13:4; the other Bibles use the word

Her beauty having seized upon my heart,


So merely consecrate to her content,

Sets now such guard about his vital blood,


And views the passage with such piercing eyes,

That none can scape to cheer my pining cheeks,


But all is thought too little for her love.

13-17: difficult lines: Amnon's heart, which is completely

(merely) dedicated to serving Thamar, keeps watch (with its piercing eyes) over the blood which passes through it with such diligence that none of the blood can leave the heart to flow to Amnon's cheeks to give it colour.
     merely (line 14) = the original quarto prints merrily here, properly corrected by all editors to merely.
     his vital blood (line 15) = its life-giving blood.
     scape (line 16) = escape.
     pining (line 16)= wasted-away.2


Jonad.  Then from her heart thy looks shall be relieved,

And thou shalt joy her as thy soul desires.

= enjoy; Jonadab, who is described at 2 Sam. 13:3 as a
     "very subtle (ie. crafty)1 man", has a plan to help his
     friend get his half-sister.


Amnon.  How can it be, my sweet friend Jonadab,

22-23: compare 2 Sam. 13:2: "And he was so sore vexed,


Since Thamar is a virgin and my sister?

     that he fell sick for his sister Thamar; for she was a

     virgin, and he thought it hard for him to do any thing
     to her.


Jonad.  Thus it shall be: lie down upon thy bed,

Feigning thee fever-sick and ill-at-ease;

27: "pretend you are sick with a fever and in discomfort;"
     the phrase ill at ease can be traced back to the 14th


And when the king shall come to visit thee,

Desire thy sister Thamar may be sent

= request that.  = ie. half-sister.


To dress some dainties for thy malady:

30" "to prepare (dress) some delicious food for you in
     your sickness"; in 2 Sam.13:5, Jonadab's advice adds
     that she should be asked to prepare the food in Amnon's

Then when thou hast her solely with thyself,

= alone.


Enforce some favour to thy manly love.

32: Jonadab is euphemistically suggesting Amon should
     rape Thamar.

See where she comes: entreat her in with thee.

33: "look, here she comes; ask her to go inside with you."


Enter Thamar.

Entering Character: Thamar is David's daughter with



Tham.  What aileth Amnon, with such sickly looks


To daunt the favour of his lovely face?

= the sense is, "blemish the attractiveness".


Amnon.  Sweet Thamar, sick, and wish some
     wholesome cates

40: sick = ie. "I am sick".
     wish = desire.
     cates = delicacies.

Dressed with the cunning of thy dainty hands.

41: "prepared by you with your skillful and artful hands."


Tham.  That hath the king commanded at my hands;


Then come and rest thee, while I make thee ready

= ie. "yourself".  = "prepare for you".

Some dainties easeful to thy crazèd soul.

= soothing.  = impaired by illness.1


Amnon.  I go, sweet sister, easèd with thy sight.


[Exeunt Thamar, Amnon, Jethray, and Page.]

Thamar's Arrival: note how the scene jumped from Amnon planning to ask David to send Thamar to him immediately to Thamar's appearance before him, she having already been instructed by David to go to the prince.
     This lack of continuity is too jarring to be deliberate, and the editors generally agree that there is a missing scene here.


Jonad. Why should a prince, whose power may command,

51-54: in the first part of this soliloquy, Jonadab notes the


Obey the rebel passions of his love,

     irony of Amnon, who has the power to order anyone to
     do anything, allows himself to be controlled by his own

When they contend but 'gainst his consciënce,


And may be governed or suppressed by will? −

54: Jonadab suggests that Amnon should be able to keep his
     emotions in check; the undesirability of losing control of
     one's feelings was a common theme in Elizabethan

Now, Amnon, loose those loving knots of blood,

55-57: Jonadab returns to the image of Amnon's blood being stopped up, causing him to lose the colour in his countenance.
     loose = release, free.
     loving knots of blood = the clumping of Amnon's blood, caused by his love for Thamar, which hence cannot flow; Jonadab plays with the expression love-knot, which refers to a complex knot, either literal or figurative, which represents true love.1


That sucked the courage from thy kingly heart,

= the original quarto prints an ambiguous sokte here, which
     could be soaked or locked, but I have adopted Dyce's
     reading of sucked.

And give it passage to thy withered cheeks.


Now, Thamar, ripened are the holy fruits

58f: Jonadab shows his hypocrisy here; his expressed pity for what is about to happen to Thamar seems disingenuous considering he was the one who devised the scheme to help Amnon get access to Thamar.

That grew on plants of thy virginity;


And rotten is thy name in Israel:

60: meaning Thamar is about to lose her honour and good
     name throughout Israel; rotten contrasts with ripened
     in line 58.

Poor Thamar, little did thy lovely hands


Foretell an action of such violence

= predict.

As to contend with Amnon's lusty arms


Sinewed with vigour of his kindless love:

= strengthened.  = unnatural, ie. lacking natural feeling, as
     one would have for one's kin.

Fair Thamar, now dishonour hunts thy foot,

65: dishonour = ie. because she will no longer be a virgin
     despite her unmarried status.
         hunts thy foot = ie. it will chase her wherever she will


And follows thee through every covert shade,

= concealing.

Discovering thy shame and nakedness,

= revealing.


Even from the valleys of Jehosaphat

68: Even = like most disyllabic words with a medial "v",
     Even is pronounced as a monosyllable, with the "v"
     essentially omitted: E'en.
         Jehosaphat = a part of the Kidron Valley, lying on
     the eastern slope of Jerusalem.

Up to the lofty mounts of Lebanon;

69-70: the mountains of Lebanon were famous for their
     cedar trees.


Where cedars, stirred with anger of the winds,

70-71: the personified cedar trees of Lebanon spread the
     news of Thamar's dishonour.

Sounding in storms the tale of thy disgrace,

= proclaiming.


Tremble with fury, and with murmur shake

Earth with their feet and with their heads the heavens,


Beating the clouds into their swiftest rack,

74-75: the trees reveal Thamar's condition to the clouds,

To bear this wonder round about the world.

which will quickly scatter around the world and repeat what they have heard.
     rack = moving masses of vapour (Dyce); an interesting word used by writers to specifically describe fast-moving clouds.1



Jonadab's Pity: we may notice how unfair the world is to Thamar, who will lose her maidenhead, and thus her reputation, through no fault of her own, while Amnon does not have to worry himself about his reputation suffering in the same way.


Outside the Door to Amnon's House.

Bible Verses Depicted in Scene IV: 2 Sam. 13:15-20.

Thamar's Violation: we may note that Peele has chosen not to depict the actual rape of Thamar (2 Sam. 13:11-14), but only its immediate aftermath, on stage.

Re-enter Amnon thrusting out Thamar, and Jethray.


Amnon.  Hence from my bed, whose sight offends my soul

= "get away"


As doth the parbreak of disgorgèd bears!

2: "as does the vomit of bears"; one of the most disturbing
     similes in the canon; parbreak means "vomit", and
     disgorged means "having vomited".1


Tham.  Unkind, unprincely, and unmanly Amnon,

To force, and then refuse thy sister's love,


Adding unto the fright of thy offence

The baneful torment of my published shame!

= destructive.1  = proclaimed or well-known.1


O, do not this dishonour to thy love,

Nor clog thy soul with such increasing sin!


This second evil far exceeds the first.

4-10: since she has been robbed of her virginity, the least

Amnon can do is let her remain with him, so she does not have to show her shamed self to the world; Amnon's refusal to do this, which in a sense would at least demonstrate his willingness to take responsibility for his actions, is, she says, a worse failing than his rape of Thamar itself.
     Compare Thamar's brief speech at 2 Sam. 13:16: "There is no cause: This evil that thou putteth me away, is greater than the other that thou diddeth unto me."


Amnon.  Jethray, come thrust this woman from my sight,

And bolt the door upon her if she strive.

= fights or argues, ie. resists.


     Compare 2 Sam. 13:17: "(Amnon) called his boy that served him, and said: 'Put away this woman from me, and bolt the door after her.'"



Jeth.  Go, madam, go; away, you must begone;


My lord hath done with you: I pray, depart.

= finished.  = ie. please.


[Shuts her out. − Exit.]


Tham.  Whither, alas, ah, whither shall I fly,

= to where.  = flee.

With folded arms and all-amazèd soul?

23: folded arms = ie. her arms wrapped around herself.1
    all-amazed = completely stunned or dumbfounded.2


Cast as was Eva from that glorious soil,

= thrown out.  = ie. Eve.  = land, region.

(Where all delights sat bating, winged with thoughts,

= fluttering, a term from falconry, used with winged.


Ready to nestle in her naked breasts,)

To bare and barren vales with floods made waste,

27-29: Thamar describes the land outside Eden to where she
     and Adam were banished.
         vales = valleys.


To desert woods, and hills with lightening scorched,

= ie. lightning, pronounced as normal with two syllables.

With death, with shame, with hell, with horror sit;

= Dyce feels sit is in error, but is stumped as to what the


There will I wander from my father's face;

     right word was that was intended here.

There Absalon, my brother Absalon,


Sweet Absalon shall hear his sister mourn;

There will I lure with my windy sighs

33: lure = recall from flight, another term from falconry;
     lure is disyllabic here: LU-er; Dyce and others replaced
     the original word which appeared here, live, with lure.
         windy = airy, like breath.1


Night-ravens and owls to rend my bloody side,

= ravens is pronounce in one syllable: ra'ens.  = tear.

Which with a rusty weapon I will wound,


And make them passage to my panting heart.

= give the birds a path.
     After this line, Thamar may pause, as she contemplates, but is unable to act on, her suicide wish - but she would need to be holding a dagger in her hands; alternately, she may be simply asking why she stands there talking instead of moving on; see the note below at line 46.

Why talk'st thou, wretch, and leav'st the deed undone?


Rend hair and garments, as thy heart is rent

With inward fury of a thousand griefs,


And scatter them by these unhallowed doors,

= unholy doors, ie. the doors of Amnon's house.

To figure Amnon's resting cruëlty,

= represent or signify.  = Bullen wonders if wresting,
     meaning twisting or tearing, is intended here.


And tragic spoil of Thamar's chastity.

= spoil is pronounced as a one-syllable word.


Enter Absalon.

Entering Character: Absalon is Thamar' brother, and
     David's third son.


Abs.  What causeth Thamar to exclaim so much?

= cry out;2 we may note the example here of the stage

convention of a character, while alone on-stage, describing his or her thoughts and emotions out loud to no one in particular, but which may conveniently be overheard by any who are nearby.


Tham.  The cause that Thamar shameth to disclose.


Abs.  Say; I thy brother will revenge that cause.

= "tell me."


Tham.  Amnon, our father's son, hath forcèd me,

= raped.

And thrusts me from him as the scorn of Israel.


Abs.  Hath Amnon forcèd thee? by David's hand,

55-56: by David's…with him = a double, and therefore


And by the covenant God hath made with him,

     stronger, oath; Elizabethan characters often made vows
     on body parts.

Amnon shall bear his violence to hell;

= "carry his violent act with him".


Traitor to Heaven, traitor to David's throne,

Traitor to Absalon and Israel!


This fact hath Jacob's ruler seen from Heaven,

= (evil) deed.  = ie. God.

And through a cloud of smoke and tower of fire,

61-64: the flood of pronouns can sometimes make an Elizabethan sentence hard to follow; here, Absalon is describing God causing Amnon to suffer a destructive crash as he drives his chariot.


As he rides vaunting him upon the greens,

62: "as Amnon, boasting (vaunting), rides his chariot
     through the greenery".
         vaunting him = this is an example of the grammatical
     construction known as the ethical dative, in which the
     superfluous pronoun him adds emphasis to the clause.

Shall tear his chariot-wheels with violent winds,