Keyser’s written about the scene of the death of Surrey in The Tudors before. That was when I first saw it late last summer. I noted back then rather briefly how affecting I found the scene, and I’ve thought a bit more about it in the interim. I thought I’d share these ruminations with you all (I’ve animadverted elsewhere to the high quality of the writing for that show).
The scene concerns the Earl of Surrey. His father was Thomas Howard, the Duke of Norfolk, who escaped execution only because syphilitic Henry VIII died the night before the execution, so the sentence wasn’t carried out. The duke’s son wasn’t so lucky. He also happened to be a poet of note, which is of some relevance to the scene. In fact, the earl played a major role in introducing the sonnet form of poetry into English. This is indicated in an earlier scene, where the earl reads a poem to his friend Brandon, who later betrays him, which leads to the trial shown later.
The poem recited is a translation of Martial 10.47:
Vitam quae faciant beatiorem,
Iucundissime Martialis, haec sunt:
Res non parta labore, sed relicta;
Non ingratus ager, focus perennis;
Lis numquam, toga rara, mens quieta; 5
Vires ingenuae, salubre corpus;
Prudens simplicitas, pares amici;
Convictus facilis, sine arte mensa;
Nox non ebria, sed soluta curis;
Non tristis torus, et tamen pudicus; 10
Somnus, qui faciat breves tenebras:
Quod sis, esse velis nihilque malis;
Summum nec metuas diem nec optes.
There are actually two variants of the earl’s translation. I’ve taken the trouble to collate them, and a few simple emendations make the poem scan better. Here’s my version:
My friend, the things that do attain
the happy life be these, I find:
the riches left, not got with pain,
the fruitful ground, the quiet mind,
The equal friend, no grudge, no strife,
no charge of rule nor governance,
without disease the happy life,
the household of continuance,
The diet mean, no dainty fare,
true wisdom joined with simpleness,
the night dischargèd of all care,
where wine the wit may not oppress,
The faithful wife without debate,
such sleeps as may beguile the night.
Contented with thine own estate,
ne wish for death, ne fear his might.
One thing worth noting is that as the poem in the show, the pronunciation “discharg’d” is clearly wrong. The scansion demands that the final syllable be fully pronounced as “-ed”, unlike “joined” in the previous line, which is clearly a monosyllable (already by the sixteenth century, the ending “-ed” was generally reduced to “-d”/”-t”, but the fuller version was maintained for metrical convenience in poetry; Shakespeare has this variation all the time).
Another thing to note is the reference to the poems as “trifles”. This word is important later in the trial scene.
Now, here’s another small scene of note. This is Edward Seymour, the Earl of Hertford (later Duke of Somerset) talking to his wife about Surrey. Hertford was the brother of the now dead Jane Seymour (Henry VIII’s favorite wife), and so the uncle of Henry’s presumptive heir, the young Prince Edward (later VI).
Note that Hertford complains to his wife that Surrey says of Hertford and his wife that “we rose high by murdering the innocent.” This phrase too will become important.
Now we get to trial of Surrey, who’s been betrayed by his friend Brandon, and brought to trial through the machinations of Hertford.
I don’t know why, but I find this scene very affecting. Partly, it’s the music. I still don’t understand why the scene with Katherine Parr and her now bad relations with Lady Mary (the future Queen Mary, who has by now become an embittered Catholic and has come to hate Katherine as a Protestant). The music for the final scene of the condemnation starts in the Mary scene, then grows in intensity during the condemnation scene. It starts with a sort of jagged ground base, with a more melodic and majestic them placed over it. As the music progresses, the majestic theme grows more dominant, reaching a crescendo at the actual condemnation. Then it gradually recedes as the earl recites a truncated version of the poem about the happy life. Perhaps the effectiveness of the scene comes from the ability of literature to restore calm and repose after the horrific details of the execution (the barbaric practice of hanging, drawing and quartering.). (And interestingly, the earl was in reality only beheaded. So the gruesomeness must be intentionally emphasized by the screen writer.)
The music was composed by a Canadian composer named Trevor Morris. Here’s the music by itself (it gets rather overwhelmed by the dialogue):
Oddly enough, it bears a certain structural resemblance to the tune “Chevaliers de Sangreal” written by Hans Zimmer for movie of The Da Vinci Code.
So, okay, what do those earlier scenes have to do with the trial scene. First, the guy in the audience with the woman beside him is Brandon, who looks rather guilty about the whole thing. Then, starting at about the 3:10 mark, the foreman of the jury comes to inform Hertford that the jury thinks that the charges are ridiculous, noting that the jury feels it inappropriate for a man to be condemned for “trifles”. Ha! That recalls Surrey’s reference to his own poems with that very word. Hertford then replies by jocularly asking the rhetorical question, “When ever has innocence been cause to save a man’s life?” Ha again! This of course recalls Hertford’s annoyed indication to his wife that Surrey had denounced the two of them for having “risen high murdering the innocent”. Doubly ironic that he should have taken offense at the truth and now is demonstrating that truth by murdering the accuser himself. For when the foreman of the jury objects that the law has to be obeyed, Hertford menacingly indicates that failure to comply with the king’s wish to get rid of Surrey (which of course is Hertford’s wish) will result in dire consequences for the jury.
Note also that when it comes time for the verdict to be announced by the foreman, he looks to Hertford, who gives him a meaningful glare back in return. And then, when the gruesome details of the execution are read out, we first see Surrey wince at the words “your privy parts cut off”. The judge proceeds with “and your bowels take out of your body and burnt before you”, and the foreman then looks down (presumably in guilt) at the word “burnt”.
As I say, I don’t really know what exactly it is about the scene that I find affecting, but affecting it is. Another decision I don’t quite get is the way the music ends. It doesn’t have a proper end but instead fades away as Surrey walks out of court (and life). The scene sort of grows in intensity through the sentencing, but then the tension resolves itself as the poem of the “Happy Life” seems to override the horribleness of reality, and then just drifts away…
For amusement’s sake, here’s the end of the condemnation scene with German dubbing. They actually do a pretty good job getting the words to match the mouthing of the actors (though the enunciation is a bit lacking in emotion). Anyway, the dialogue isn’t so well integrated into the music, and since it mimics solely the words spoken, all the background noise of the original version is lost, which makes the music easier to hear (and the recording of the music seems in any case to be played louder than in the English version.
Des Lebens Glück bestimmend sind;
Friedvoller Sinn; der rechte Freund.
Kein Groll, kein Streit.
Weisheit mit Schlichtheit im Verein.
Die Nächte heiter, sorgenfrei.
“Who does not wish, your grace, with all their heart, for the quiet mind? Tell me a single soul who has ever found it?”