Robert Browning’s, A Blot in the ‘Scutcheon
by Curtis Ashley, Kate Sanchez & Madelin De Jesus
Act I , scene 1 opens to Gerard, a warrener (or gamekeeper) talking to other retainers (followers) of Lord Tresham. The group is in a lodge on grounds referred to as “Lord Tresham’s Park.” They are discussing the imminent arrival of Earl Mertoun, who is asking for grace from Tresham to marry his sister, Mildred. Gerard shows disinterest in the matter, and the other retainers criticize him for it. One of the retainers reminds Gerard that the Earl will be coming by soon, and Gerard hastily makes an exit.
In Act I , scene 2, the play shifts to a saloon in the mansion of Lord Tresham where Lord Tresham is sitting with Earl Mertoun, Austin (Lord Tresham’s brother), and Guendolen (Lord Tresham’s cousin). Lord Tresham and Earl Mertoun are talking to each other, while Austin and Guendolen are making comments to the side (but not aside to the audience). Tresham and Mertoun are discussing the possibility of Mertoun marrying Mildred. Tresham expresses his past hesitation to allow Mertoun to propose to her at all, but he has seen that his character and his house are noble enough for the courtship to commence. Austin and Guendolen are talking about Mertoun’s age and wit, Guendolen commenting that he may not be mature. Austin notes that Mildred herself is only 14, not that mature herself. Guendolen seems convinced enough, as when they disperse, she makes her way to Mildred’s chambers to talk with her about Mertoun.
That is just where Scene 3 of Act I opens. Guendolen talks to Mildred about marrying Earl Mertoun, and she is not enthusiastic at all. Guendolen reiterates claims that Lord Tresham and Austin made earlier, but Mildred has a rebuttal for each. One point Mildred makes is that Lord Tresham is too vested in the family’s honor and lineage. Mildred then cites that she is tired and can no longer entertain Guendolen or her conversation. Guendolen leaves, and Mildred places a lamp by her stained glass window. Not long after, a cloaked figure climbs through her window, singing a song. The person turns out to be Earl Mertoun. Mildred and Mertoun talk, and it is apparent that the two already know each other and have shared the same bed. Mildred is ashamed of their sin and is unsure whether they are fit to become married. Mertoun tells Mildred of the conversation he had with her brother Lord Tresham in the saloon earlier that day, reassuring her that everything will be fine. They part ways as he slinks back out the window.
The single scene in Act II begins with Gerard being corralled into the library by Lord Tresham. Lord Tresham asks Gerard to repeat unsettling news to him. Gerard tells Lord Tresham that for nearly twenty nights, he has watched a figure scale a wall beside Mildred’s window, climb inside, and remain there for two hours. Lord Tresham asks for more details, and why Gerard did not bring this to him upon the initial sighting. Gerard explains that he did not want to intrude on Mildred’s privacy, but on this occasion he could not keep it to himself. Taking his story for true, Tesham calls in his sister under the pretense of showing her a line from a book. He later reveals his true intentions, and gets her to admit to allowing someone into her chambers. In the same conversation, Mildred accepts the proposal from Earl Mertoun. Guendolen and Austin enter the library, bearing witness to Tresham hounding Mildred for bringing shame to the family. Mildred faints, and Tresham leaves the mansion. Austin exits the room once more, which is when Guendolen asks Mildred (who has finally revived) who the night-lover is. Mildred refuses to answer. After a series of questions, Guendolen comes to the correct assumption that the night-lover is Earl Mertoun. Guendolen calls for Austin, who lets them know that Tresham is out of sight.
At the beginning of Act III , scene 1, Earl Mertoun is planning to scale Mildred’s bedroom once again. When he sees Mildred’s signal, he makes his way toward the wall. He is grabbed by Lord Tresham and forced into the moonlight where his identity is revealed. In anger, Lord Tresham tells him to draw his sword, but Earl Mertoun will not. Lord Tresham attacks him anyway, and it is clear that the wounds he inflicts are fatal. Still alive, Mertoun asks for Lord Tresham’s forgiveness and for him to convey his love to Mildred. Lord Tresham in return asks for his forgiveness. Earl Mertoun forgives him and dies. Austin, Guendolen, and Gerard arrive shortly after. Lord Tresham asks Gerard to dispose of the body.
In Act III , scene 2, the final scene of the play, Lord Tresham enters Mildred’s chambers, where she was expecting Earl Mertoun. Instead, she is met by a much calmer Lord Tresham than from before. She notices this change in attitude and asks why he is here instead of the Earl. Lord Tresham shows his empty scabbard, and she concludes that he killed her lover. Mildred scolds Tresham for his obsession with the family’s honor. As Guendolen explicitly stated in the previous scene, Mildred says she will soon die of a “broken heart.” Lord Tresham explains what happened and asks for her forgiveness. She avoids forgiving him and eventually dies in his arms. When Austin and Guendolen arrive, Lord Tresham reveals that he has drunk poison, and that he too is close to death. Lord Tresham dies, leaving an “unblotted ‘scutcheon” for his brother and cousin, asking them not to allow any more harm to come to it.