The Complete Poetical Works, by Percy Bysshe Shelley

The Cenci. a Tragedy in Five Acts.

[Composed at Rome and near Leghorn (Villa Valsovano), May-August 5, 1819; published 1820 (spring) by C. & J. Ollier, London. This edition of two hundred and fifty copies was printed in Italy ‘because,’ writes Shelley to Peacock, September 21, 1819, ‘it costs, with all duties and freightage, about half what it would cost in London.’ A Table of Errata in Mrs. Shelley’s handwriting is printed by Forman in “The Shelley Library”, page 91. A second edition, published by Ollier in 1821 (C.H. Reynell, printer), embodies the corrections indicated in this Table. No manuscript of “The Cenci” is known to exist. Our text follows that of the second edition (1821); variations of the first (Italian) edition, the title-page of which bears date 1819, are given in the footnotes. The text of the “Poetical Works”, 1839, 1st and 2nd editions (Mrs. Shelley), follows for the most part that of the editio princeps of 1819.]

Table of Contents

Dedication, to Leigh Hunt, Esq.

Preface.

Dramatis Personae.

Act 1.

Act 2.

Act 3.

Act 4.

Act 5.

Note on the Cenci, by Mrs. Shelley.

Dedication, to Leigh Hunt, Esq.

My dear friend —

I inscribe with your name, from a distant country, and after an absence whose months have seemed years, this the latest of my literary efforts.

Those writings which I have hitherto published, have been little else than visions which impersonate my own apprehensions of the beautiful and the just. I can also perceive in them the literary defects incidental to youth and impatience; they are dreams of what ought to be, or may be. The drama which I now present to you is a sad reality. I lay aside the presumptuous attitude of an instructor, and am content to paint, with such colours as my own heart furnishes, that which has been.

Had I known a person more highly endowed than yourself with all that it becomes a man to possess, I had solicited for this work the ornament of his name. One more gentle, honourable, innocent and brave; one of more exalted toleration for all who do and think evil, and yet himself more free from evil; one who knows better how to receive, and how to confer a benefit, though he must ever confer far more than he can receive; one of simpler, and, in the highest sense of the word, of purer life and manners I never knew: and I had already been fortunate in friendships when your name was added to the list.

In that patient and irreconcilable enmity with domestic and political tyranny and imposture which the tenor of your life has illustrated, and which, had I health and talents, should illustrate mine, let us, comforting each other in our task, live and die.

All happiness attend you! Your affectionate friend,

PERCY B. SHELLEY.

Rome, May 29, 1819.

Preface.

A manuscript was communicated to me during my travels in Italy, which was copied from the archives of the Cenci Palace at Rome, and contains a detailed account of the horrors which ended in the extinction of one of the noblest and richest families of that city during the Pontificate of Clement VIII, in the year 1599. The story is, that an old man having spent his life in debauchery and wickedness, conceived at length an implacable hatred towards his children; which showed itself towards one daughter under the form of an incestuous passion, aggravated by every circumstance of cruelty and violence. This daughter, after long and vain attempts to escape from what she considered a perpetual contamination both of body and mind, at length plotted with her mother-in-law and brother to murder their common tyrant. The young maiden, who was urged to this tremendous deed by an impulse which overpowered its horror, was evidently a most gentle and amiable being, a creature formed to adorn and be admired, and thus violently thwarted from her nature by the necessity of circumstance and opinion. The deed was quickly discovered, and, in spite of the most earnest prayers made to the Pope by the highest persons in Rome, the criminals were put to death. The old man had during his life repeatedly bought his pardon from the Pope for capital crimes of the most enormous and unspeakable kind, at the price of a hundred thousand crowns; the death therefore of his victims can scarcely be accounted for by the love of justice. The Pope, among other motives for severity, probably felt that whoever killed the Count Cenci deprived his treasury of a certain and copious source of revenue. (The Papal Government formerly took the most extraordinary precautions against the publicity of facts which offer so tragical a demonstration of its own wickedness and weakness; so that the communication of the manuscript had become, until very lately, a matter of some difficulty.) Such a story, if told so as to present to the reader all the feelings of those who once acted it, their hopes and fears, their confidences and misgivings, their various interests, passions, and opinions, acting upon and with each other, yet all conspiring to one tremendous end, would be as a light to make apparent some of the most dark and secret caverns of the human heart.

On my arrival at Rome I found that the story of the Cenci was a subject not to be mentioned in Italian society without awakening a deep and breathless interest; and that the feelings of the company never failed to incline to a romantic pity for the wrongs, and a passionate exculpation of the horrible deed to which they urged her, who has been mingled two centuries with the common dust. All ranks of people knew the outlines of this history, and participated in the overwhelming interest which it seems to have the magic of exciting in the human heart. I had a copy of Guido’s picture of Beatrice which is preserved in the Colonna Palace, and my servant instantly recognized it as the portrait of La Cenci.

This national and universal interest which the story produces and has produced for two centuries and among all ranks of people in a great City, where the imagination is kept for ever active and awake, first suggested to me the conception of its fitness for a dramatic purpose. In fact it is a tragedy which has already received, from its capacity of awakening and sustaining the sympathy of men, approbation and success. Nothing remained as I imagined, but to clothe it to the apprehensions of my countrymen in such language and action as would bring it home to their hearts. The deepest and the sublimest tragic compositions, King Lear and the two plays in which the tale of Oedipus is told, were stories which already existed in tradition, as matters of popular belief and interest, before Shakspeare and Sophocles made them familiar to the sympathy of all succeeding generations of mankind.

This story of the Cenci is indeed eminently fearful and monstrous: anything like a dry exhibition of it on the stage would be insupportable. The person who would treat such a subject must increase the ideal, and diminish the actual horror of the events, so that the pleasure which arises from the poetry which exists in these tempestuous sufferings and crimes may mitigate the pain of the contemplation of the moral deformity from which they spring. There must also be nothing attempted to make the exhibition subservient to what is vulgarly termed a moral purpose. The highest moral purpose aimed at in the highest species of the drama, is the teaching the human heart, through its sympathies and antipathies, the knowledge of itself; in proportion to the possession of which knowledge, every human being is wise, just, sincere, tolerant and kind. If dogmas can do more, it is well: but a drama is no fit place for the enforcement of them. Undoubtedly, no person can be truly dishonoured by the act of another; and the fit return to make to the most enormous injuries is kindness and forbearance, and a resolution to convert the injurer from his dark passions by peace and love. Revenge, retaliation, atonement, are pernicious mistakes. If Beatrice had thought in this manner she would have been wiser and better; but she would never have been a tragic character: the few whom such an exhibition would have interested, could never have been sufficiently interested for a dramatic purpose, from the want of finding sympathy in their interest among the mass who surround them. It is in the restless and anatomizing casuistry with which men seek the justification of Beatrice, yet feel that she has done what needs justification; it is in the superstitious horror with which they contemplate alike her wrongs and their revenge, that the dramatic character of what she did and suffered, consists.

I have endeavoured as nearly as possible to represent the characters as they probably were, and have sought to avoid the error of making them actuated by my own conceptions of right or wrong, false or true: thus under a thin veil converting names and actions of the sixteenth century into cold impersonations of my own mind. They are represented as Catholics, and as Catholics deeply tinged with religion. To a Protestant apprehension there will appear something unnatural in the earnest and perpetual sentiment of the relations between God and men which pervade the tragedy of the Cenci. It will especially be startled at the combination of an undoubting persuasion of the truth of the popular religion with a cool and determined perseverance in enormous guilt. But religion in Italy is not, as in Protestant countries, a cloak to be worn on particular days; or a passport which those who do not wish to be railed at carry with them to exhibit; or a gloomy passion for penetrating the impenetrable mysteries of our being, which terrifies its possessor at the darkness of the abyss to the brink of which it has conducted him. Religion coexists, as it were, in the mind of an Italian Catholic, with a faith in that of which all men have the most certain knowledge. It is interwoven with the whole fabric of life. It is adoration, faith, submission, penitence, blind admiration; not a rule for moral conduct. It has no necessary connection with any one virtue. The most atrocious villain may be rigidly devout, and without any shock to established faith, confess himself to be so. Religion pervades intensely the whole frame of society, and is according to the temper of the mind which it inhabits, a passion, a persuasion, an excuse, a refuge; never a check. Cenci himself built a chapel in the court of his Palace, and dedicated it to St. Thomas the Apostle, and established masses for the peace of his soul. Thus in the first scene of the fourth act Lucretia’s design in exposing herself to the consequences of an expostulation with Cenci after having administered the opiate, was to induce him by a feigned tale to confess himself before death; this being esteemed by Catholics as essential to salvation; and she only relinquishes her purpose when she perceives that her perseverance would expose Beatrice to new outrages.

I have avoided with great care in writing this play the introduction of what is commonly called mere poetry, and I imagine there will scarcely be found a detached simile or a single isolated description, unless Beatrice’s description of the chasm appointed for her father’s murder should be judged to be of that nature. (An idea in this speech was suggested by a most sublime passage in “El Purgaterio de San Patricio” of Calderon; the only plagiarism which I have intentionally committed in the whole piece.)

In a dramatic composition the imagery and the passion should interpenetrate one another, the former being reserved simply for the full development and illustration of the latter. Imagination is as the immortal God which should assume flesh for the redemption of mortal passion. It is thus that the most remote and the most familiar imagery may alike be fit for dramatic purposes when employed in the illustration of strong feeling, which raises what is low, and levels to the apprehension that which is lofty, casting over all the shadow of its own greatness. In other respects, I have written more carelessly; that is, without an over-fastidious and learned choice of words. In this respect I entirely agree with those modern critics who assert that in order to move men to true sympathy we must use the familiar language of men, and that our great ancestors the ancient English poets are the writers, a study of whom might incite us to do that for our own age which they have done for theirs. But it must be the real language of men in general and not that of any particular class to whose society the writer happens to belong. So much for what I have attempted; I need not be assured that success is a very different matter; particularly for one whose attention has but newly been awakened to the study of dramatic literature.

I endeavoured whilst at Rome to observe such monuments of this story as might be accessible to a stranger. The portrait of Beatrice at the Colonna Palace is admirable as a work of art: it was taken by Guido during her confinement in prison. But it is most interesting as a just representation of one of the loveliest specimens of the workmanship of Nature. There is a fixed and pale composure upon the features: she seems sad and stricken down in spirit, yet the despair thus expressed is lightened by the patience of gentleness. Her head is bound with folds of white drapery from which the yellow strings of her golden hair escape, and fall about her neck. The moulding of her face is exquisitely delicate; the eyebrows are distinct and arched: the lips have that permanent meaning of imagination and sensibility which suffering has not repressed and which it seems as if death scarcely could extinguish. Her forehead is large and clear; her eyes, which we are told were remarkable for their vivacity, are swollen with weeping and lustreless, but beautifully tender and serene. In the whole mien there is a simplicity and dignity which, united with her exquisite loveliness and deep sorrow, are inexpressibly pathetic. Beatrice Cenci appears to have been one of those rare persons in whom energy and gentleness dwell together without destroying one another: her nature was simple and profound. The crimes and miseries in which she was an actor and a sufferer are as the mask and the mantle in which circumstances clothed her for her impersonation on the scene of the world.

The Cenci Palace is of great extent; and though in part modernized, there yet remains a vast and gloomy pile of feudal architecture in the same state as during the dreadful scenes which are the subject of this tragedy. The Palace is situated in an obscure corner of Rome, near the quarter of the Jews, and from the upper windows you see the immense ruins of Mount Palatine half hidden under their profuse overgrowth of trees. There is a court in one part of the Palace (perhaps that in which Cenci built the Chapel to St. Thomas), supported by granite columns and adorned with antique friezes of fine workmanship, and built up, according to the ancient Italian fashion, with balcony over balcony of open-work. One of the gates of the Palace formed of immense stones and leading through a passage, dark and lofty and opening into gloomy subterranean chambers, struck me particularly.

Of the Castle of Petrella, I could obtain no further information than that which is to be found in the manuscript.

The Cenci. a Tragedy in Five Acts.

Dramatis Personae.

COUNT FRANCESCO CENCI.

GIACOMO, BERNARDO, HIS SONS.

CARDINAL CAMILLO.

PRINCE COLONNA.

ORSINO, A PRELATE.

SAVELLA, THE POPE’S LEGATE.

OLIMPIO, MARZIO, ASSASSINS.

ANDREA, SERVANT TO CENCI.

NOBLES. JUDGES. GUARDS, SERVANTS.

LUCRETIA, WIFE OF CENCI AND STEP-MOTHER OF HIS CHILDREN.

BEATRICE, HIS DAUGHTER.

THE SCENE LIES PRINCIPALLY IN ROME, BUT CHANGES DURING THE FOURTH ACT TO PETRELLA, A CASTLE AMONG THE APULIAN APENNINES.

TIME. DURING THE PONTIFICATE OF CLEMENT VIII.

Act 1.

SCENE 1.1: AN APARTMENT IN THE CENCI PALACE. ENTER COUNT CENCI AND CARDINAL CAMILLO.

CAMILLO:

That matter of the murder is hushed up

If you consent to yield his Holiness

Your fief that lies beyond the Pincian gate. —

It needed all my interest in the conclave

5

To bend him to this point; he said that you

Bought perilous impunity with your gold;

That crimes like yours if once or twice compounded

Enriched the Church, and respited from hell

An erring soul which might repent and live:—

10

But that the glory and the interest

Of the high throne he fills, little consist

With making it a daily mart of guilt

As manifold and hideous as the deeds

Which you scarce hide from men’s revolted eyes.

CENCI:

15

The third of my possessions — let it go!

Ay, I once heard the nephew of the Pope

Had sent his architect to view the ground,

Meaning to build a villa on my vines

The next time I compounded with his uncle:

20

I little thought he should outwit me so!

Henceforth no witness — not the lamp — shall see

That which the vassal threatened to divulge

Whose throat is choked with dust for his reward.

The deed he saw could not have rated higher

25

Than his most worthless life:— it angers me!

Respited me from Hell! So may the Devil

Respite their souls from Heaven! No doubt Pope Clement,

And his most charitable nephews, pray

That the Apostle Peter and the Saints

30

Will grant for their sake that I long enjoy

Strength, wealth, and pride, and lust, and length of days

Wherein to act the deeds which are the stewards

Of their revenue. — But much yet remains

To which they show no title.

CAMILLO:

Oh, Count Cenci!

35

So much that thou mightst honourably live

And reconcile thyself with thine own heart

And with thy God, and with the offended world.

How hideously look deeds of lust and blood

Through those snow white and venerable hairs! —

40

Your children should be sitting round you now,

But that you fear to read upon their looks

The shame and misery you have written there.

Where is your wife? Where is your gentle daughter?

Methinks her sweet looks, which make all things else

45

Beauteous and glad, might kill the fiend within you.

Why is she barred from all society

But her own strange and uncomplaining wrongs?

Talk with me, Count — you know I mean you well.

I stood beside your dark and fiery youth

50

Watching its bold and bad career, as men

Watch meteors, but it vanished not — I marked

Your desperate and remorseless manhood; now

Do I behold you in dishonoured age

Charged with a thousand unrepented crimes.

55

Yet I have ever hoped you would amend,

And in that hope have saved your life three times.

CENCI:

For which Aldobrandino owes you now

My fief beyond the Pincian. — Cardinal,

One thing, I pray you, recollect henceforth,

60

And so we shall converse with less restraint.

A man you knew spoke of my wife and daughter —

He was accustomed to frequent my house;

So the next day HIS wife and daughter came

And asked if I had seen him; and I smiled:

65

I think they never saw him any more.

CAMILLO:

Thou execrable man, beware! —

CENCI:

Of thee?

Nay, this is idle:— We should know each other.

As to my character for what men call crime

Seeing I please my senses as I list,

70

And vindicate that right with force or guile,

It is a public matter, and I care not

If I discuss it with you. I may speak

Alike to you and my own conscious heart —

For you give out that you have half reformed me,

75

Therefore strong vanity will keep you silent

If fear should not; both will, I do not doubt.

All men delight in sensual luxury,

All men enjoy revenge; and most exult

Over the tortures they can never feel —

80

Flattering their secret peace with others’ pain.

But I delight in nothing else. I love

The sight of agony, and the sense of joy,

When this shall be another’s, and that mine.

And I have no remorse and little fear,

85

Which are, I think, the checks of other men.

This mood has grown upon me, until now

Any design my captious fancy makes

The picture of its wish, and it forms none

But such as men like you would start to know,

90

Is as my natural food and rest debarred

Until it be accomplished.

CAMILLO:

Art thou not

Most miserable?

CENCI:

Why miserable? —

No. — I am what your theologians call

Hardened; — which they must be in impudence,

95

So to revile a man’s peculiar taste.

True, I was happier than I am, while yet

Manhood remained to act the thing I thought;

While lust was sweeter than revenge; and now

Invention palls:— Ay, we must all grow old —

100

And but that there remains a deed to act

Whose horror might make sharp an appetite

Duller than mine — I’d do — I know not what.

When I was young I thought of nothing else

But pleasure; and I fed on honey sweets:

105

Men, by St. Thomas! cannot live like bees,

And I grew tired:— yet, till I killed a foe,

And heard his groans, and heard his children’s groans,

Knew I not what delight was else on earth,

Which now delights me little. I the rather

110

Look on such pangs as terror ill conceals,

The dry fixed eyeball; the pale, quivering lip,

Which tell me that the spirit weeps within

Tears bitterer than the bloody sweat of Christ.

I rarely kill the body, which preserves,

115

Like a strong prison, the soul within my power,

Wherein I feed it with the breath of fear

For hourly pain.

CAMILLO:

Hell’s most abandoned fiend

Did never, in the drunkenness of guilt,

Speak to his heart as now you speak to me;

120

I thank my God that I believe you not.

[ENTER ANDREA.]

ANDREA:

My Lord, a gentleman from Salamanca

Would speak with you.

CENCI:

Bid him attend me

In the grand saloon.

[EXIT ANDREA.]

CAMILLO:

Farewell; and I will pray

Almighty God that thy false, impious words

125

Tempt not his spirit to abandon thee.

[EXIT CAMILLO.]

CENCI:

The third of my possessions! I must use

Close husbandry, or gold, the old man’s sword,

Falls from my withered hand. But yesterday

There came an order from the Pope to make

130

Fourfold provision for my cursed sons;

Whom I had sent from Rome to Salamanca,

Hoping some accident might cut them off;

And meaning if I could to starve them there.

I pray thee, God, send some quick death upon them!

135

Bernardo and my wife could not be worse

If dead and damned:— then, as to Beatrice —

[LOOKING AROUND HIM SUSPICIOUSLY.]

I think they cannot hear me at that door;

What if they should? And yet I need not speak

Though the heart triumphs with itself in words.

140

O, thou most silent air, that shalt not hear

What now I think! Thou, pavement, which I tread

Towards her chamber — let your echoes talk

Of my imperious step scorning surprise,

But not of my intent! — Andrea!

[ENTER ANDREA.]

ANDREA:

My lord?

CENCI:

145

Bid Beatrice attend me in her chamber

This evening:— no, at midnight and alone.

[EXEUNT.]

_100 And but that edition 1821; But that editions 1819, 1839.

_131 Whom I had edition 1821; Whom I have editions 1819, 1839.

_140 that shalt edition 1821; that shall editions 1819, 1839.

SCENE 1.2: A GARDEN OF THE CENCI PALACE. ENTER BEATRICE AND ORSINO, AS IN CONVERSATION.

BEATRICE:

Pervert not truth,

Orsino. You remember where we held

That conversation; — nay, we see the spot

Even from this cypress; — two long years are past

5

Since, on an April midnight, underneath

The moonlight ruins of Mount Palatine,

I did confess to you my secret mind.

ORSINO:

You said you loved me then.

BEATRICE:

You are a Priest.

Speak to me not of love.

ORSINO:

I may obtain

10

The dispensation of the Pope to marry.

Because I am a Priest do you believe

Your image, as the hunter some struck deer,

Follows me not whether I wake or sleep?

BEATRICE:

As I have said, speak to me not of love;

15

Had you a dispensation I have not;

Nor will I leave this home of misery

Whilst my poor Bernard, and that gentle lady

To whom I owe life, and these virtuous thoughts,

Must suffer what I still have strength to share.

20

Alas, Orsino! All the love that once

I felt for you, is turned to bitter pain.

Ours was a youthful contract, which you first

Broke, by assuming vows no Pope will loose.

And thus I love you still, but holily,

25

Even as a sister or a spirit might;

And so I swear a cold fidelity.

And it is well perhaps we shall not marry.

You have a sly, equivocating vein

That suits me not. — Ah, wretched that I am!

30

Where shall I turn? Even now you look on me

As you were not my friend, and as if you

Discovered that I thought so, with false smiles

Making my true suspicion seem your wrong.

Ah, no! forgive me; sorrow makes me seem

35

Sterner than else my nature might have been;

I have a weight of melancholy thoughts,

And they forebode — but what can they forebode

Worse than I now endure?

ORSINO:

All will be well.

Is the petition yet prepared? You know

40

My zeal for all you wish, sweet Beatrice;

Doubt not but I will use my utmost skill

So that the Pope attend to your complaint.

BEATRICE:

Your zeal for all I wish; — Ah me, you are cold!

Your utmost skill . . . speak but one word . . .

[ASIDE.]

Alas!

45

Weak and deserted creature that I am,

Here I stand bickering with my only friend!

[TO ORSINO.]

This night my father gives a sumptuous feast,

Orsino; he has heard some happy news

From Salamanca, from my brothers there,

50

And with this outward show of love he mocks

His inward hate. ’Tis bold hypocrisy,

For he would gladlier celebrate their deaths,

Which I have heard him pray for on his knees:

Great God! that such a father should be mine!

55

But there is mighty preparation made,

And all our kin, the Cenci, will be there,

And all the chief nobility of Rome.

And he has bidden me and my pale Mother

Attire ourselves in festival array.

60

Poor lady! She expects some happy change

In his dark spirit from this act; I none.

At supper I will give you the petition:

Till when — farewell.

ORSINO:

Farewell.

[EXIT BEATRICE.]

I know the Pope

Will ne’er absolve me from my priestly vow

65

But by absolving me from the revenue

Of many a wealthy see; and, Beatrice,

I think to win thee at an easier rate.

Nor shall he read her eloquent petition:

He might bestow her on some poor relation

70

Of his sixth cousin, as he did her sister,

And I should be debarred from all access.

Then as to what she suffers from her father,

In all this there is much exaggeration:—

Old men are testy and will have their way;

75

A man may stab his enemy, or his vassal,

And live a free life as to wine or women,

And with a peevish temper may return

To a dull home, and rate his wife and children;

Daughters and wives call this foul tyranny.

80

I shall be well content if on my conscience

There rest no heavier sin than what they suffer

From the devices of my love — a net

From which he shall escape not. Yet I fear

Her subtle mind, her awe-inspiring gaze,

85

Whose beams anatomize me nerve by nerve

And lay me bare, and make me blush to see

My hidden thoughts. — Ah, no! A friendless girl

Who clings to me, as to her only hope:—

I were a fool, not less than if a panther

90

Were panic-stricken by the antelope’s eye,

If she escape me.

[EXIT.]

_24 And thus editions 1821, 1839; And yet edition 1819.

_75 vassal edition 1821; slave edition 1819.

SCENE 1.3: A MAGNIFICENT HALL IN THE CENCI PALACE. A BANQUET. ENTER CENCI, LUCRETIA, BEATRICE, ORSINO, CAMILLO, NOBLES.

CENCI:

Welcome, my friends and kinsmen; welcome ye,

Princes and Cardinals, pillars of the church,

Whose presence honours our festivity.

I have too long lived like an anchorite,

5

And in my absence from your merry meetings

An evil word is gone abroad of me;

But I do hope that you, my noble friends,

When you have shared the entertainment here,

And heard the pious cause for which ’tis given,

10

And we have pledged a health or two together,

Will think me flesh and blood as well as you;

Sinful indeed, for Adam made all so,

But tender-hearted, meek and pitiful.

FIRST GUEST:

In truth, my Lord, you seem too light of heart,

15

Too sprightly and companionable a man,

To act the deeds that rumour pins on you.

[TO HIS COMPANION.]

I never saw such blithe and open cheer

In any eye!

SECOND GUEST:

Some most desired event,

In which we all demand a common joy,

20

Has brought us hither; let us hear it, Count.

CENCI:

It is indeed a most desired event.

If when a parent from a parent’s heart

Lifts from this earth to the great Father of all

A prayer, both when he lays him down to sleep,

25

And when he rises up from dreaming it;

One supplication, one desire, one hope,

That he would grant a wish for his two sons,

Even all that he demands in their regard —

And suddenly beyond his dearest hope

30

It is accomplished, he should then rejoice,

And call his friends and kinsmen to a feast,

And task their love to grace his merriment —

Then honour me thus far — for I am he.

BEATRICE [TO LUCRETIA]:

Great God! How horrible! some dreadful ill

Must have befallen my brothers.

LUCRETIA:

35

Fear not, child,

He speaks too frankly.

BEATRICE:

Ah! My blood runs cold.

I fear that wicked laughter round his eye,

Which wrinkles up the skin even to the hair.

CENCI:

Here are the letters brought from Salamanca;

40

Beatrice, read them to your mother. God!

I thank thee! In one night didst thou perform,

By ways inscrutable, the thing I sought.

My disobedient and rebellious sons

Are dead! — Why, dead! — What means this change of cheer?

45

You hear me not, I tell you they are dead;

And they will need no food or raiment more:

The tapers that did light them the dark way

Are their last cost. The Pope, I think, will not

Expect I should maintain them in their coffins.

50

Rejoice with me — my heart is wondrous glad.

[LUCRETIA SINKS, HALF FAINTING; BEATRICE SUPPORTS HER.]

BEATRICE:

It is not true! — Dear Lady, pray look up.

Had it been true, there is a God in Heaven,

He would not live to boast of such a boon.

Unnatural man, thou knowest that it is false.

CENCI:

55

Ay, as the word of God; whom here I call

To witness that I speak the sober truth; —

And whose most favouring Providence was shown

Even in the manner of their deaths. For Rocco

Was kneeling at the mass, with sixteen others,

60

When the church fell and crushed him to a mummy,

The rest escaped unhurt. Cristofano

Was stabbed in error by a jealous man,

Whilst she he loved was sleeping with his rival;

All in the self-same hour of the same night;

65

Which shows that Heaven has special care of me.

I beg those friends who love me, that they mark

The day a feast upon their calendars.

It was the twenty-seventh of December:

Ay, read the letters if you doubt my oath.

[THE ASSEMBLY APPEARS CONFUSED; SEVERAL OF THE GUESTS RISE.]

FIRST GUEST:

Oh, horrible! I will depart —

SECOND GUEST:

And I. —

THIRD GUEST:

70

No, stay!

I do believe it is some jest; though faith!

’Tis mocking us somewhat too solemnly.

I think his son has married the Infanta,

Or found a mine of gold in El Dorado.

75

’Tis but to season some such news; stay, stay!

I see ’tis only raillery by his smile.

CENCI [FILLING A BOWL OF WINE, AND LIFTING IT UP]:

Oh, thou bright wine whose purple splendour leaps

And bubbles gaily in this golden bowl

Under the lamplight, as my spirits do,

80

To hear the death of my accursed sons!

Could I believe thou wert their mingled blood,

Then would I taste thee like a sacrament,

And pledge with thee the mighty Devil in Hell,

Who, if a father’s curses, as men say,

85

Climb with swift wings after their children’s souls,

And drag them from the very throne of Heaven,

Now triumphs in my triumph! — But thou art

Superfluous; I have drunken deep of joy,

And I will taste no other wine to-night.

Here, Andrea! Bear the bowl around.

A GUEST [RISING]:

90

Thou wretch!

Will none among this noble company

Check the abandoned villain?

CAMILLO:

For God’s sake,

Let me dismiss the guests! You are insane,

Some ill will come of this.

SECOND GUEST:

Seize, silence him!

FIRST GUEST:

I will!

THIRD GUEST:

And I!

CENCI [ADDRESSING THOSE WHO RISE WITH A THREATENING GESTURE]:

Who moves? Who speaks?

[TURNING TO THE COMPANY.]

95

’tis nothing,

Enjoy yourselves. — Beware! For my revenge

Is as the sealed commission of a king

That kills, and none dare name the murderer.

[THE BANQUET IS BROKEN UP; SEVERAL OF THE GUESTS ARE DEPARTING.]

BEATRICE:

I do entreat you, go not, noble guests;

100

What, although tyranny and impious hate

Stand sheltered by a father’s hoary hair?

What if ’tis he who clothed us in these limbs

Who tortures them, and triumphs? What, if we,

The desolate and the dead, were his own flesh,

105

His children and his wife, whom he is bound

To love and shelter? Shall we therefore find

No refuge in this merciless wide world?

O think what deep wrongs must have blotted out

First love, then reverence in a child’s prone mind,

110

Till it thus vanquish shame and fear! O think!

I have borne much, and kissed the sacred hand

Which crushed us to the earth, and thought its stroke

Was perhaps some paternal chastisement!

Have excused much, doubted; and when no doubt

115

Remained, have sought by patience, love, and tears

To soften him, and when this could not be

I have knelt down through the long sleepless nights

And lifted up to God, the Father of all,

Passionate prayers: and when these were not heard

120

I have still borne — until I meet you here,

Princes and kinsmen, at this hideous feast

Given at my brothers’ deaths. Two yet remain,

His wife remains and I, whom if ye save not,

Ye may soon share such merriment again

125

As fathers make over their children’s graves.

O Prince Colonna, thou art our near kinsman,

Cardinal, thou art the Pope’s chamberlain,

Camillo, thou art chief justiciary,

Take us away!

CENCI [HE HAS BEEN CONVERSING WITH CAMILLO DURING THE FIRST PART OF BEATRICE’S SPEECH; HE HEARS THE CONCLUSION, AND NOW ADVANCES]:

I hope my good friends here

130

Will think of their own daughters — or perhaps

Of their own throats — before they lend an ear

To this wild girl.

BEATRICE [NOT NOTICING THE WORDS OF CENCI]:

Dare no one look on me?

None answer? Can one tyrant overbear

The sense of many best and wisest men?

135

Or is it that I sue not in some form

Of scrupulous law, that ye deny my suit?

O God! That I were buried with my brothers!

And that the flowers of this departed spring

Were fading on my grave! And that my father

140

Were celebrating now one feast for all!

CAMILLO:

A bitter wish for one so young and gentle.

Can we do nothing?

COLONNA:

Nothing that I see.

Count Cenci were a dangerous enemy:

Yet I would second any one.

A CARDINAL:

And I.

CENCI:

145

Retire to your chamber, insolent girl!

BEATRICE:

Retire thou, impious man! Ay, hide thyself

Where never eye can look upon thee more!

Wouldst thou have honour and obedience

Who art a torturer? Father, never dream,

150

Though thou mayst overbear this company,

But ill must come of ill. — Frown not on me!

Haste, hide thyself, lest with avenging looks

My brothers’ ghosts should hunt thee from thy seat!

Cover thy face from every living eye,

155

And start if thou but hear a human step:

Seek out some dark and silent corner, there,

Bow thy white head before offended God,

And we will kneel around, and fervently

Pray that he pity both ourselves and thee.

CENCI:

160

My friends, I do lament this insane girl

Has spoilt the mirth of our festivity.

Good night, farewell; I will not make you longer

Spectators of our dull domestic quarrels.

Another time. —

[EXEUNT ALL BUT CENCI AND BEATRICE.]

My brain is swimming round;

Give me a bowl of wine!

[TO BEATRICE.]

165

Thou painted viper!

Beast that thou art! Fair and yet terrible!

I know a charm shall make thee meek and tame,

Now get thee from my sight!

[EXIT BEATRICE.]

Here, Andrea,

Fill up this goblet with Greek wine. I said

170

I would not drink this evening; but I must;

For, strange to say, I feel my spirits fail

With thinking what I have decreed to do. —

[DRINKING THE WINE.]

Be thou the resolution of quick youth

Within my veins, and manhood’s purpose stern,

175

And age’s firm, cold, subtle villainy;

As if thou wert indeed my children’s blood

Which I did thirst to drink! The charm works well;

It must be done; it shall be done, I swear!

[EXIT.]

_132 no edition 1821; not edition 1819.

End of Act 1.

Act 2.

SCENE 2.1: AN APARTMENT IN THE CENCI PALACE. ENTER LUCRETIA AND BERNARDO.

LUCRETIA:

Weep not, my gentle boy; he struck but me

Who have borne deeper wrongs. In truth, if he

Had killed me, he had done a kinder deed.

O God Almighty, do Thou look upon us,

5

We have no other friend but only Thee!

Yet weep not; though I love you as my own,

I am not your true mother.

BERNARDO:

Oh, more, more,

Than ever mother was to any child,

That have you been to me! Had he not been

10

My father, do you think that I should weep!

LUCRETIA:

Alas! Poor boy, what else couldst thou have done?

[ENTER BEATRICE.]

BEATRICE [IN A HURRIED VOICE]:

Did he pass this way? Have you seen him, brother?

Ah, no! that is his step upon the stairs;

’Tis nearer now; his hand is on the door;

15

Mother, if I to thee have ever been

A duteous child, now save me! Thou, great God,

Whose image upon earth a father is,

Dost thou indeed abandon me? He comes;

The door is opening now; I see his face;

20

He frowns on others, but he smiles on me,

Even as he did after the feast last night.

[ENTER A SERVANT.]

Almighty God, how merciful Thou art!

’Tis but Orsino’s servant. — Well, what news?

SERVANT:

My master bids me say, the Holy Father

25

Has sent back your petition thus unopened.

[GIVING A PAPER.]

And he demands at what hour ’twere secure

To visit you again?

LUCRETIA:

At the Ave Mary.

[EXIT SERVANT.]

So, daughter, our last hope has failed. Ah me!

How pale you look; you tremble, and you stand

30

Wrapped in some fixed and fearful meditation,

As if one thought were over strong for you:

Your eyes have a chill glare; O, dearest child!

Are you gone mad? If not, pray speak to me.

BEATRICE:

You see I am not mad: I speak to you.

LUCRETIA:

35

You talked of something that your father did

After that dreadful feast? Could it be worse

Than when he smiled, and cried, ‘My sons are dead!’

And every one looked in his neighbour’s face

To see if others were as white as he?

40

At the first word he spoke I felt the blood

Rush to my heart, and fell into a trance;

And when it passed I sat all weak and wild;

Whilst you alone stood up, and with strong words

Checked his unnatural pride; and I could see

45

The devil was rebuked that lives in him.

Until this hour thus you have ever stood

Between us and your father’s moody wrath

Like a protecting presence; your firm mind

Has been our only refuge and defence:

50

What can have thus subdued it? What can now

Have given you that cold melancholy look,

Succeeding to your unaccustomed fear?

BEATRICE:

What is it that you say? I was just thinking

’Twere better not to struggle any more.

55

Men, like my father, have been dark and bloody,

Yet never — Oh! Before worse comes of it

’Twere wise to die: it ends in that at last.

LUCRETIA:

Oh, talk not so, dear child! Tell me at once

What did your father do or say to you?

60

He stayed not after that accursed feast

One moment in your chamber. — Speak to me.

BERNARDO:

Oh, sister, sister, prithee, speak to us!

BEATRICE [SPEAKING VERY SLOWLY, WITH A FORCED CALMNESS]:

It was one word, Mother, one little word;

One look, one smile.

[WILDLY.]

Oh! He has trampled me

65

Under his feet, and made the blood stream down

My pallid cheeks. And he has given us all

Ditch-water, and the fever-stricken flesh

Of buffaloes, and bade us eat or starve,

And we have eaten. — He has made me look

70

On my beloved Bernardo, when the rust

Of heavy chains has gangrened his sweet limbs,

And I have never yet despaired — but now!

What could I say?

[RECOVERING HERSELF.]

Ah, no! ’tis nothing new.

The sufferings we all share have made me wild:

75

He only struck and cursed me as he passed;

He said, he looked, he did; — nothing at all

Beyond his wont, yet it disordered me.

Alas! I am forgetful of my duty,

I should preserve my senses for your sake.

LUCRETIA:

80

Nay, Beatrice; have courage, my sweet girl.

If any one despairs it should be I

Who loved him once, and now must live with him

Till God in pity call for him or me.

For you may, like your sister, find some husband,

85

And smile, years hence, with children round your knees;

Whilst I, then dead, and all this hideous coil

Shall be remembered only as a dream.

BEATRICE:

Talk not to me, dear lady, of a husband.

Did you not nurse me when my mother died?

90

Did you not shield me and that dearest boy?

And had we any other friend but you

In infancy, with gentle words and looks,

To win our father not to murder us?

And shall I now desert you? May the ghost

95

Of my dead Mother plead against my soul

If I abandon her who filled the place

She left, with more, even, than a mother’s love!

BERNARDO:

And I am of my sister’s mind. Indeed

I would not leave you in this wretchedness,

100

Even though the Pope should make me free to live

In some blithe place, like others of my age,

With sports, and delicate food, and the fresh air.

Oh, never think that I will leave you, Mother!

LUCRETIA:

My dear, dear children!

[ENTER CENCI, SUDDENLY.]

CENCI:

What! Beatrice here!

Come hither!

[SHE SHRINKS BACK, AND COVERS HER FACE.]

105

Nay, hide not your face, ’tis fair;

Look up! Why, yesternight you dared to look

With disobedient insolence upon me,

Bending a stern and an inquiring brow

On what I meant; whilst I then sought to hide

110

That which I came to tell you — but in vain.

BEATRICE [WILDLY STAGGERING TOWARDS THE DOOR]:

Oh, that the earth would gape! Hide me, O God!

CENCI:

Then it was I whose inarticulate words

Fell from my lips, and who with tottering steps

Fled from your presence, as you now from mine.

115

Stay, I command you — from this day and hour

Never again, I think, with fearless eye,

And brow superior, and unaltered cheek,

And that lip made for tenderness or scorn,

Shalt thou strike dumb the meanest of mankind;

120

Me least of all. Now get thee to thy chamber!

Thou too, loathed image of thy cursed mother,

[TO BERNARDO.]

Thy milky, meek face makes me sick with hate!

[EXEUNT BEATRICE AND BERNARDO.]

[ASIDE.]

So much has passed between us as must make

Me bold, her fearful. —’Tis an awful thing

125

To touch such mischief as I now conceive:

So men sit shivering on the dewy bank,

And try the chill stream with their feet; once in . . .

How the delighted spirit pants for joy!

LUCRETIA [ADVANCING TIMIDLY TOWARDS HIM]:

O husband! Pray forgive poor Beatrice.

She meant not any ill.

CENCI:

130

Nor you perhaps?

Nor that young imp, whom you have taught by rote

Parricide with his alphabet? Nor Giacomo?

Nor those two most unnatural sons, who stirred

Enmity up against me with the Pope?

135

Whom in one night merciful God cut off:

Innocent lambs! They thought not any ill.

You were not here conspiring? You said nothing

Of how I might be dungeoned as a madman;

Or be condemned to death for some offence,

140

And you would be the witnesses? — This failing,

How just it were to hire assassins, or

Put sudden poison in my evening drink?

Or smother me when overcome by wine?

Seeing we had no other judge but God,

145

And He had sentenced me, and there were none

But you to be the executioners

Of His decree enregistered in heaven?

Oh, no! You said not this?

LUCRETIA:

So help me God,

I never thought the things you charge me with!

CENCI:

150

If you dare to speak that wicked lie again

I’ll kill you. What! It was not by your counsel

That Beatrice disturbed the feast last night?

You did not hope to stir some enemies

Against me, and escape, and laugh to scorn

155

What every nerve of you now trembles at?

You judged that men were bolder than they are;

Few dare to stand between their grave and me.

LUCRETIA:

Look not so dreadfully! By my salvation

I knew not aught that Beatrice designed;

160

Nor do I think she designed any thing

Until she heard you talk of her dead brothers.

CENCI:

Blaspheming liar! You are damned for this!

But I will take you where you may persuade

The stones you tread on to deliver you:

165

For men shall there be none but those who dare

All things — not question that which I command.

On Wednesday next I shall set out: you know

That savage rock, the Castle of Petrella:

’Tis safely walled, and moated round about:

170

Its dungeons underground, and its thick towers

Never told tales; though they have heard and seen

What might make dumb things speak. — Why do you linger?

Make speediest preparation for the journey!

[EXIT LUCRETIA.]

The all-beholding sun yet shines; I hear

175

A busy stir of men about the streets;

I see the bright sky through the window panes:

It is a garish, broad, and peering day;

Loud, light, suspicious, full of eyes and ears,

And every little corner, nook, and hole

180

Is penetrated with the insolent light.

Come darkness! Yet, what is the day to me?

And wherefore should I wish for night, who do

A deed which shall confound both night and day?

’Tis she shall grope through a bewildering mist

185

Of horror: if there be a sun in heaven

She shall not dare to look upon its beams;

Nor feel its warmth. Let her then wish for night;

The act I think shall soon extinguish all

For me: I bear a darker deadlier gloom

190

Than the earth’s shade, or interlunar air,

Or constellations quenched in murkiest cloud,

In which I walk secure and unbeheld

Towards my purpose. — Would that it were done!

[EXIT.]

SCENE 2.2: A CHAMBER IN THE VATICAN. ENTER CAMILLO AND GIACOMO, IN CONVERSATION.

CAMILLO:

There is an obsolete and doubtful law

By which you might obtain a bare provision

Of food and clothing —

GIACOMO:

Nothing more? Alas!

Bare must be the provision which strict law

5

Awards, and aged, sullen avarice pays.

Why did my father not apprentice me

To some mechanic trade? I should have then

Been trained in no highborn necessities

Which I could meet not by my daily toil.

10

The eldest son of a rich nobleman

Is heir to all his incapacities;

He has wide wants, and narrow powers. If you,

Cardinal Camillo, were reduced at once

From thrice-driven beds of down, and delicate food,

15

An hundred servants, and six palaces,

To that which nature doth indeed require? —

CAMILLO:

Nay, there is reason in your plea; ’twere hard.

GIACOMO:

’Tis hard for a firm man to bear: but I

Have a dear wife, a lady of high birth,

20

Whose dowry in ill hour I lent my father

Without a bond or witness to the deed:

And children, who inherit her fine senses,

The fairest creatures in this breathing world;

And she and they reproach me not. Cardinal,

25

Do you not think the Pope would interpose

And stretch authority beyond the law?

CAMILLO:

Though your peculiar case is hard, I know

The Pope will not divert the course of law.

After that impious feast the other night

30

I spoke with him, and urged him then to check

Your father’s cruel hand; he frowned and said,

‘Children are disobedient, and they sting

Their fathers’ hearts to madness and despair,

Requiting years of care with contumely.

35

I pity the Count Cenci from my heart;

His outraged love perhaps awakened hate,

And thus he is exasperated to ill.

In the great war between the old and young

I, who have white hairs and a tottering body,

40

Will keep at least blameless neutrality.’

[ENTER ORSINO.]

You, my good Lord Orsino, heard those words.

ORSINO:

What words?

GIACOMO:

Alas, repeat them not again!

There then is no redress for me, at least

None but that which I may achieve myself,

45

Since I am driven to the brink. — But, say,

My innocent sister and my only brother

Are dying underneath my father’s eye.

The memorable torturers of this land,

Galeaz Visconti, Borgia, Ezzelin,

50

Never inflicted on their meanest slave

What these endure; shall they have no protection?

CAMILLO:

Why, if they would petition to the Pope

I see not how he could refuse it — yet

He holds it of most dangerous example

55

In aught to weaken the paternal power,

Being, as ’twere, the shadow of his own.

I pray you now excuse me. I have business

That will not bear delay.

[EXIT CAMILLO.]

GIACOMO:

But you, Orsino,

Have the petition: wherefore not present it?

ORSINO:

60

I have presented it, and backed it with

My earnest prayers, and urgent interest;

It was returned unanswered. I doubt not

But that the strange and execrable deeds

Alleged in it — in truth they might well baffle

65

Any belief — have turned the Pope’s displeasure

Upon the accusers from the criminal:

So I should guess from what Camillo said.

GIACOMO:

My friend, that palace-walking devil Gold

Has whispered silence to his Holiness:

70

And we are left, as scorpions ringed with fire.

What should we do but strike ourselves to death?

For he who is our murderous persecutor

Is shielded by a father’s holy name,

Or I would —

[STOPS ABRUPTLY.]

ORSINO:

What? Fear not to speak your thought.

75

Words are but holy as the deeds they cover:

A priest who has forsworn the God he serves;

A judge who makes Truth weep at his decree;

A friend who should weave counsel, as I now,

But as the mantle of some selfish guile;

80

A father who is all a tyrant seems,

Were the profaner for his sacred name.

GIACOMO:

Ask me not what I think; the unwilling brain

Feigns often what it would not; and we trust

Imagination with such fantasies

85

As the tongue dares not fashion into words,

Which have no words, their horror makes them dim

To the mind’s eye. — My heart denies itself

To think what you demand.

ORSINO:

But a friend’s bosom

Is as the inmost cave of our own mind

90

Where we sit shut from the wide gaze of day,

And from the all-communicating air.

You look what I suspected —

GIACOMO:

Spare me now!

I am as one lost in a midnight wood,

Who dares not ask some harmless passenger

95

The path across the wilderness, lest he,

As my thoughts are, should be — a murderer.

I know you are my friend, and all I dare

Speak to my soul that will I trust with thee.

But now my heart is heavy, and would take

100

Lone counsel from a night of sleepless care.

Pardon me, that I say farewell — farewell!

I would that to my own suspected self

I could address a word so full of peace.

ORSINO:

Farewell! — Be your thoughts better or more bold.

[EXIT GIACOMO.]

105

I had disposed the Cardinal Camillo

To feed his hope with cold encouragement:

It fortunately serves my close designs

That ’tis a trick of this same family

To analyse their own and other minds.

110

Such self-anatomy shall teach the will

Dangerous secrets: for it tempts our powers,

Knowing what must be thought, and may be done.

Into the depth of darkest purposes:

So Cenci fell into the pit; even I,

115

Since Beatrice unveiled me to myself,

And made me shrink from what I cannot shun,

Show a poor figure to my own esteem,

To which I grow half reconciled. I’ll do

As little mischief as I can; that thought

Shall fee the accuser conscience.

[AFTER A PAUSE.]

120

Now what harm

If Cenci should be murdered? — Yet, if murdered,

Wherefore by me? And what if I could take

The profit, yet omit the sin and peril

In such an action? Of all earthly things

125

I fear a man whose blows outspeed his words

And such is Cenci: and while Cenci lives

His daughter’s dowry were a secret grave

If a priest wins her. — Oh, fair Beatrice!

Would that I loved thee not, or loving thee,

130

Could but despise danger and gold and all

That frowns between my wish and its effect.

Or smiles beyond it! There is no escape . . .

Her bright form kneels beside me at the altar,

And follows me to the resort of men,

135

And fills my slumber with tumultuous dreams,

So when I wake my blood seems liquid fire;

And if I strike my damp and dizzy head

My hot palm scorches it: her very name,

But spoken by a stranger, makes my heart

140

Sicken and pant; and thus unprofitably

I clasp the phantom of unfelt delights

Till weak imagination half possesses

The self-created shadow. Yet much longer

Will I not nurse this life of feverous hours:

145

From the unravelled hopes of Giacomo

I must work out my own dear purposes.

I see, as from a tower, the end of all:

Her father dead; her brother bound to me

By a dark secret, surer than the grave;

150

Her mother scared and unexpostulating

From the dread manner of her wish achieved;

And she! — Once more take courage, my faint heart;

What dares a friendless maiden matched with thee?

I have such foresight as assures success:

155

Some unbeheld divinity doth ever,

When dread events are near, stir up men’s minds

To black suggestions; and he prospers best,

Not who becomes the instrument of ill,

But who can flatter the dark spirit, that makes

160

Its empire and its prey of other hearts

Till it become his slave . . . as I will do.

[EXIT.]

_77 makes Truth edition 1821; makes the truth editions 1819, 1839.

End of Act 2.

Act 3.

SCENE 3.1: AN APARTMENT IN THE CENCI PALACE. LUCRETIA, TO HER ENTER BEATRICE.

BEATRICE [SHE ENTERS STAGGERING AND SPEAKS WILDLY]:

Reach me that handkerchief! — My brain is hurt;

My eyes are full of blood; just wipe them for me . . .

I see but indistinctly . . .

LUCRETIA:

My sweet child,

You have no wound; ’tis only a cold dew

5

That starts from your dear brow. — Alas! Alas!

What has befallen?

BEATRICE:

How comes this hair undone?

Its wandering strings must be what blind me so,

And yet I tied it fast. — Oh, horrible!

The pavement sinks under my feet! The walls

10

Spin round! I see a woman weeping there,

And standing calm and motionless, whilst I

Slide giddily as the world reels . . . My God!

The beautiful blue heaven is flecked with blood!

The sunshine on the floor is black! The air

15

Is changed to vapours such as the dead breathe

In charnel pits! Pah! I am choked! There creeps

A clinging, black, contaminating mist

About me . . . ’tis substantial, heavy, thick,

I cannot pluck it from me, for it glues

20

My fingers and my limbs to one another,

And eats into my sinews, and dissolves

My flesh to a pollution, poisoning

The subtle, pure, and inmost spirit of life!

My God! I never knew what the mad felt

25

Before; for I am mad beyond all doubt!

[MORE WILDLY.]

No, I am dead! These putrefying limbs

Shut round and sepulchre the panting soul

Which would burst forth into the wandering air!

[A PAUSE.]

What hideous thought was that I had even now?

30

’Tis gone; and yet its burthen remains here

O’er these dull eyes . . . upon this weary heart!

O, world! O, life! O, day! O, misery!

LUCRETIA:

What ails thee, my poor child? She answers not:

Her spirit apprehends the sense of pain,

35

But not its cause; suffering has dried away

The source from which it sprung . . .

BEATRICE [FRANTICLY]:

Like Parricide . . .

Misery has killed its father: yet its father

Never like mine . . . O, God! What thing am I?

LUCRETIA:

My dearest child, what has your father done?

BEATRICE [DOUBTFULLY]:

40

Who art thou, questioner? I have no father.

[ASIDE.]

She is the madhouse nurse who tends on me,

It is a piteous office.

[TO LUCRETIA, IN A SLOW, SUBDUED VOICE.]

Do you know

I thought I was that wretched Beatrice

Men speak of, whom her father sometimes hales

45

From hall to hall by the entangled hair;

At others, pens up naked in damp cells

Where scaly reptiles crawl, and starves her there,

Till she will eat strange flesh. This woful story

So did I overact in my sick dreams,

50

That I imagined . . . no, it cannot be!

Horrible things have been in this wide world,

Prodigious mixtures, and confusions strange

Of good and ill; and worse have been conceived

Than ever there was found a heart to do.

55

But never fancy imaged such a deed

As . . .

[PAUSES, SUDDENLY RECOLLECTING HERSELF.]

Who art thou? Swear to me, ere I die

With fearful expectation, that indeed

Thou art not what thou seemest . . . Mother!

LUCRETIA:

Oh!

My sweet child, know you . . .

BEATRICE:

Yet speak it not:

60

For then if this be truth, that other too

Must be a truth, a firm enduring truth,

Linked with each lasting circumstance of life,

Never to change, never to pass away.

Why so it is. This is the Cenci Palace;

65

Thou art Lucretia; I am Beatrice.

I have talked some wild words, but will no more.

Mother, come near me: from this point of time,

I am . . .

[HER VOICE DIES AWAY FAINTLY.]

LUCRETIA:

Alas! What has befallen thee, child?

What has thy father done?

BEATRICE:

What have I done?

70

Am I not innocent? Is it my crime

That one with white hair, and imperious brow,

Who tortured me from my forgotten years,

As parents only dare, should call himself

My father, yet should be! — Oh, what am I?

75

What name, what place, what memory shall be mine?

What retrospects, outliving even despair?

LUCRETIA:

He is a violent tyrant, surely, child:

We know that death alone can make us free;

His death or ours. But what can he have done

80

Of deadlier outrage or worse injury?

Thou art unlike thyself; thine eyes shoot forth

A wandering and strange spirit. Speak to me,

Unlock those pallid hands whose fingers twine

With one another.

BEATRICE:

’Tis the restless life

85

Tortured within them. If I try to speak,

I shall go mad. Ay, something must be done;

What, yet I know not . . . something which shall make

The thing that I have suffered but a shadow

In the dread lightning which avenges it;

90

Brief, rapid, irreversible, destroying

The consequence of what it cannot cure.

Some such thing is to be endured or done:

When I know what, I shall be still and calm,

And never anything will move me more.

95

But now! — O blood, which art my father’s blood,

Circling through these contaminated veins,

If thou, poured forth on the polluted earth,

Could wash away the crime, and punishment

By which I suffer . . . no, that cannot be!

100

Many might doubt there were a God above

Who sees and permits evil, and so die:

That faith no agony shall obscure in me.

LUCRETIA:

It must indeed have been some bitter wrong;

Yet what, I dare not guess. Oh, my lost child,

105

Hide not in proud impenetrable grief

Thy sufferings from my fear.

BEATRICE:

I hide them not.

What are the words which yon would have me speak?

I, who can feign no image in my mind

Of that which has transformed me: I, whose thought

110

Is like a ghost shrouded and folded up

In its own formless horror: of all words,

That minister to mortal intercourse,

Which wouldst thou hear? For there is none to tell

My misery: if another ever knew

115

Aught like to it, she died as I will die,

And left it, as I must, without a name.

Death, Death! Our law and our religion call thee

A punishment and a reward . . . Oh, which

Have I deserved?

LUCRETIA:

The peace of innocence;

120

Till in your season you be called to heaven.

Whate’er you may have suffered, you have done

No evil. Death must be the punishment

Of crime, or the reward of trampling down

The thorns which God has strewed upon the path

Which leads to immortality.

BEATRICE:

125

Ay, death . . .

The punishment of crime. I pray thee, God,

Let me not be bewildered while I judge.

If I must live day after day, and keep

These limbs, the unworthy temple of Thy spirit,

130

As a foul den from which what Thou abhorrest

May mock Thee, unavenged . . . it shall not be!

Self-murder . . . no, that might be no escape,

For Thy decree yawns like a Hell between

Our will and it:— O! In this mortal world

135

There is no vindication and no law

Which can adjudge and execute the doom

Of that through which I suffer.

[ENTER ORSINO.]

[SHE APPROACHES HIM SOLEMNLY.]

Welcome, Friend!

I have to tell you that, since last we met,

I have endured a wrong so great and strange,

140

That neither life nor death can give me rest.

Ask me not what it is, for there are deeds

Which have no form, sufferings which have no tongue.

ORSINO:

And what is he who has thus injured you?

BEATRICE:

The man they call my father: a dread name.

ORSINO:

It cannot be . . .

BEATRICE:

145

What it can be, or not,

Forbear to think. It is, and it has been;

Advise me how it shall not be again.

I thought to die; but a religious awe

Restrains me, and the dread lest death itself

150

Might be no refuge from the consciousness

Of what is yet unexpiated. Oh, speak!

ORSINO:

Accuse him of the deed, and let the law

Avenge thee.

BEATRICE:

Oh, ice-hearted counsellor!

If I could find a word that might make known

155

The crime of my destroyer; and that done,

My tongue should like a knife tear out the secret

Which cankers my heart’s core; ay, lay all bare,

So that my unpolluted fame should be

With vilest gossips a stale mouthed story;

160

A mock, a byword, an astonishment:—

If this were done, which never shall be done,

Think of the offender’s gold, his dreaded hate,

And the strange horror of the accuser’s tale,

Baffling belief, and overpowering speech;

165

Scarce whispered, unimaginable, wrapped

In hideous hints . . . Oh, most assured redress!

ORSINO:

You will endure it then?

BEATRICE:

Endure! — Orsino,

It seems your counsel is small profit.

[TURNS FROM HIM, AND SPEAKS HALF TO HERSELF.]

Ay,

All must be suddenly resolved and done.

170

What is this undistinguishable mist

Of thoughts, which rise, like shadow after shadow,

Darkening each other?

ORSINO:

Should the offender live?

Triumph in his misdeed? and make, by use,

His crime, whate’er it is, dreadful no doubt,

175

Thine element; until thou mayest become

Utterly lost; subdued even to the hue

Of that which thou permittest?

BEATRICE [TO HERSELF]:

Mighty death!

Thou double-visaged shadow! Only judge!

Rightfullest arbiter!

[SHE RETIRES, ABSORBED IN THOUGHT.]

LUCRETIA:

If the lightning

180

Of God has e’er descended to avenge . . .

ORSINO:

Blaspheme not! His high Providence commits

Its glory on this earth, and their own wrongs

Into the hands of men; if they neglect

To punish crime . . .

LUCRETIA:

But if one, like this wretch,

185

Should mock, with gold, opinion, law, and power?

If there be no appeal to that which makes

The guiltiest tremble? If because our wrongs,

For that they are unnatural, strange and monstrous,

Exceed all measure of belief? O God!

190

If, for the very reasons which should make

Redress most swift and sure, our injurer triumphs?

And we, the victims, bear worse punishment

Than that appointed for their torturer?

ORSINO:

Think not

But that there is redress where there is wrong,

So we be bold enough to seize it.

LUCRETIA:

195

How?

If there were any way to make all sure,

I know not . . . but I think it might be good

To . . .

ORSINO:

Why, his late outrage to Beatrice;

For it is such, as I but faintly guess,

200

As makes remorse dishonour, and leaves her

Only one duty, how she may avenge:

You, but one refuge from ills ill endured;

Me, but one counsel . . .

LUCRETIA:

For we cannot hope

That aid, or retribution, or resource

205

Will arise thence, where every other one

Might find them with less need.

[BEATRICE ADVANCES.]

ORSINO:

Then . . .

BEATRICE:

Peace, Orsino!

And, honoured Lady, while I speak, I pray,

That you put off, as garments overworn,

Forbearance and respect, remorse and fear,

210

And all the fit restraints of daily life,

Which have been borne from childhood, but which now

Would be a mockery to my holier plea.

As I have said, I have endured a wrong,

Which, though it be expressionless, is such

215

As asks atonement; both for what is past,

And lest I be reserved, day after day,

To load with crimes an overburthened soul,

And be . . . what ye can dream not. I have prayed

To God, and I have talked with my own heart,

220

And have unravelled my entangled will,

And have at length determined what is right.

Art thou my friend, Orsino? False or true?

Pledge thy salvation ere I speak.

ORSINO:

I swear

To dedicate my cunning, and my strength,

225

My silence, and whatever else is mine,

To thy commands.

LUCRETIA:

You think we should devise

His death?

BEATRICE:

And execute what is devised,

And suddenly. We must be brief and bold.

ORSINO:

And yet most cautious.

LUCRETIA:

For the jealous laws

230

Would punish us with death and infamy

For that which it became themselves to do.

BEATRICE:

Be cautious as ye may, but prompt. Orsino,

What are the means?

ORSINO:

I know two dull, fierce outlaws,

Who think man’s spirit as a worm’s, and they

235

Would trample out, for any slight caprice,

The meanest or the noblest life. This mood

Is marketable here in Rome. They sell

What we now want.

LUCRETIA:

To-morrow before dawn,

Cenci will take us to that lonely rock,

240

Petrella, in the Apulian Apennines.

If he arrive there . . .

BEATRICE:

He must not arrive.

ORSINO:

Will it be dark before you reach the tower?

LUCRETIA:

The sun will scarce be set.

BEATRICE:

But I remember

Two miles on this side of the fort, the road

245

Crosses a deep ravine; ’tis rough and narrow,

And winds with short turns down the precipice;

And in its depth there is a mighty rock,

Which has, from unimaginable years,

Sustained itself with terror and with toil

250

Over a gulf, and with the agony

With which it clings seems slowly coming down;

Even as a wretched soul hour after hour,

Clings to the mass of life; yet, clinging, leans;

And leaning, makes more dark the dread abyss

255

In which it fears to fall: beneath this crag

Huge as despair, as if in weariness,

The melancholy mountain yawns . . . below,

You hear but see not an impetuous torrent

Raging among the caverns, and a bridge

260

Crosses the chasm; and high above there grow,

With intersecting trunks, from crag to crag,

Cedars, and yews, and pines; whose tangled hair

Is matted in one solid roof of shade

By the dark ivy’s twine. At noonday here

265

’Tis twilight, and at sunset blackest night.

ORSINO:

Before you reach that bridge make some excuse

For spurring on your mules, or loitering

Until . . .

BEATRICE:

What sound is that?

LUCRETIA:

Hark! No, it cannot be a servant’s step

270

It must be Cenci, unexpectedly

Returned . . . Make some excuse for being here.

BEATRICE [TO ORSINO AS SHE GOES OUT]:

That step we hear approach must never pass

The bridge of which we spoke.

[EXEUNT LUCRETIA AND BEATRICE.]

ORSINO:

What shall I do?

Cenci must find me here, and I must bear

275

The imperious inquisition of his looks

As to what brought me hither: let me mask

Mine own in some inane and vacant smile.

[ENTER GIACOMO, IN A HURRIED MANNER.]

How! Have you ventured hither? Know you then

That Cenci is from home?

GIACOMO:

I sought him here;

And now must wait till he returns.

ORSINO:

280

Great God!

Weigh you the danger of this rashness?

GIACOMO:

Ay!

Does my destroyer know his danger? We

Are now no more, as once, parent and child,

But man to man; the oppressor to the oppressed;

285

The slanderer to the slandered; foe to foe:

He has cast Nature off, which was his shield,

And Nature casts him off, who is her shame;

And I spurn both. Is it a father’s throat

Which I will shake, and say, I ask not gold;

290

I ask not happy years; nor memories

Of tranquil childhood; nor home-sheltered love;

Though all these hast thou torn from me, and more;

But only my fair fame; only one hoard

Of peace, which I thought hidden from thy hate,

295

Under the penury heaped on me by thee,

Or I will . . . God can understand and pardon,

Why should I speak with man?

ORSINO:

Be calm, dear friend.

GIACOMO:

Well, I will calmly tell you what he did.

This old Francesco Cenci, as you know,

300

Borrowed the dowry of my wife from me,

And then denied the loan; and left me so

In poverty, the which I sought to mend

By holding a poor office in the state.

It had been promised to me, and already

305

I bought new clothing for my ragged babes,

And my wife smiled; and my heart knew repose.

When Cenci’s intercession, as I found,

Conferred this office on a wretch, whom thus

He paid for vilest service. I returned

310

With this ill news, and we sate sad together

Solacing our despondency with tears

Of such affection and unbroken faith

As temper life’s worst bitterness; when he,

As he is wont, came to upbraid and curse,

315

Mocking our poverty, and telling us

Such was God’s scourge for disobedient sons.

And then, that I might strike him dumb with shame,

I spoke of my wife’s dowry; but he coined

A brief yet specious tale, how I had wasted

320

The sum in secret riot; and he saw

My wife was touched, and he went smiling forth.

And when I knew the impression he had made,

And felt my wife insult with silent scorn

My ardent truth, and look averse and cold,

325

I went forth too: but soon returned again;

Yet not so soon but that my wife had taught

My children her harsh thoughts, and they all cried,

‘Give us clothes, father! Give us better food!

What you in one night squander were enough

330

For months!’ I looked, and saw that home was hell.

And to that hell will I return no more

Until mine enemy has rendered up

Atonement, or, as he gave life to me

I will, reversing Nature’s law . . .

ORSINO:

Trust me,

335

The compensation which thou seekest here

Will be denied.

GIACOMO:

Then . . . Are you not my friend?

Did you not hint at the alternative,

Upon the brink of which you see I stand,

The other day when we conversed together?

340

My wrongs were then less. That word parricide,

Although I am resolved, haunts me like fear.

ORSINO:

It must be fear itself, for the bare word

Is hollow mockery. Mark, how wisest God

Draws to one point the threads of a just doom,

345

So sanctifying it: what you devise

Is, as it were, accomplished.

GIACOMO:

Is he dead?

ORSINO:

His grave is ready. Know that since we met

Cenci has done an outrage to his daughter.

GIACOMO:

What outrage?

ORSINO:

That she speaks not, but you may

350

Conceive such half conjectures as I do,

From her fixed paleness, and the lofty grief

Of her stern brow bent on the idle air,

And her severe unmodulated voice,

Drowning both tenderness and dread; and last

355

From this; that whilst her step-mother and I,

Bewildered in our horror, talked together

With obscure hints; both self-misunderstood

And darkly guessing, stumbling, in our talk,

Over the truth, and yet to its revenge,

360

She interrupted us, and with a look

Which told, before she spoke it, he must die: . . .

GIACOMO:

It is enough. My doubts are well appeased;

There is a higher reason for the act

Than mine; there is a holier judge than me,

365

A more unblamed avenger. Beatrice,

Who in the gentleness of thy sweet youth

Hast never trodden on a worm, or bruised

A living flower, but thou hast pitied it

With needless tears! Fair sister, thou in whom

370

Men wondered how such loveliness and wisdom

Did not destroy each other! Is there made

Ravage of thee? O, heart, I ask no more

Justification! Shall I wait, Orsino,

Till he return, and stab him at the door?

ORSINO:

375

Not so; some accident might interpose

To rescue him from what is now most sure;

And you are unprovided where to fly,

How to excuse or to conceal. Nay, listen:

All is contrived; success is so assured

That . . .

[ENTER BEATRICE.]

BEATRICE:

’Tis my brother’s voice! You know me not?

GIACOMO:

380

My sister, my lost sister!

BEATRICE:

Lost indeed!

I see Orsino has talked with you, and

That you conjecture things too horrible

To speak, yet far less than the truth. Now, stay not,

385

He might return: yet kiss me; I shall know

That then thou hast consented to his death.

Farewell, farewell! Let piety to God,

Brotherly love, justice and clemency,

And all things that make tender hardest hearts

390

Make thine hard, brother. Answer not . . . farewell.

[EXEUNT SEVERALLY.]

_140 nor edition 1821; or editions 1819, 1839 (1st).

_278 hither edition 1821; thither edition 1819.

SCENE 3.2: A MEAN APARTMENT IN GIACOMO’S HOUSE.
GIACOMO ALONE.

GIACOMO:

’Tis midnight, and Orsino comes not yet.

[THUNDER, AND THE SOUND OF A STORM.]

What! can the everlasting elements

Feel with a worm like man? If so, the shaft

Of mercy-winged lightning would not fall

5

On stones and trees. My wife and children sleep:

They are now living in unmeaning dreams:

But I must wake, still doubting if that deed

Be just which is most necessary. O,

Thou unreplenished lamp! whose narrow fire

10

Is shaken by the wind, and on whose edge

Devouring darkness hovers! Thou small flame,

Which, as a dying pulse rises and falls,

Still flickerest up and down, how very soon,

Did I not feed thee, wouldst thou fail and be

15

As thou hadst never been! So wastes and sinks

Even now, perhaps, the life that kindled mine:

But that no power can fill with vital oil

That broken lamp of flesh. Ha! ’tis the blood

Which fed these veins that ebbs till all is cold:

20

It is the form that moulded mine that sinks

Into the white and yellow spasms of death:

It is the soul by which mine was arrayed

In God’s immortal likeness which now stands

Naked before Heaven’s judgement seat!

[A BELL STRIKES.]

One! Two!

25

The hours crawl on; and, when my hairs are white,

My son will then perhaps be waiting thus,

Tortured between just hate and vain remorse;

Chiding the tardy messenger of news

Like those which I expect. I almost wish

30

He be not dead, although my wrongs are great;

Yet . . . ’tis Orsino’s step . . .

[ENTER ORSINO.]

Speak!

ORSINO:

I am come

To say he has escaped.

GIACOMO:

Escaped!

ORSINO:

And safe

Within Petrella. He passed by the spot

Appointed for the deed an hour too soon.

GIACOMO:

35

Are we the fools of such contingencies?

And do we waste in blind misgivings thus

The hours when we should act? Then wind and thunder,

Which seemed to howl his knell, is the loud laughter

With which Heaven mocks our weakness! I henceforth

40

Will ne’er repent of aught designed or done

But my repentance.

ORSINO:

See, the lamp is out.

GIACOMO:

If no remorse is ours when the dim air

Has drank this innocent flame, why should we quail

When Cenci’s life, that light by which ill spirits

45

See the worst deeds they prompt, shall sink for ever?

No, I am hardened.

ORSINO:

Why, what need of this?

Who feared the pale intrusion of remorse

In a just deed? Although our first plan failed,

Doubt not but he will soon be laid to rest.

50

But light the lamp; let us not talk i’ the dark.

GIACOMO [LIGHTING THE LAMP]:

And yet once quenched I cannot thus relume

My father’s life: do you not think his ghost

Might plead that argument with God?

ORSINO:

Once gone

You cannot now recall your sister’s peace;

55

Your own extinguished years of youth and hope;

Nor your wife’s bitter words; nor all the taunts

Which, from the prosperous, weak misfortune takes;

Nor your dead mother; nor . . .

GIACOMO:

O, speak no more!

I am resolved, although this very hand

60

Must quench the life that animated it.

ORSINO:

There is no need of that. Listen: you know

Olimpio, the castellan of Petrella

In old Colonna’s time; him whom your father

Degraded from his post? And Marzio,

65

That desperate wretch, whom he deprived last year

Of a reward of blood, well earned and due?

GIACOMO:

I knew Olimpio; and they say he hated

Old Cenci so, that in his silent rage

His lips grew white only to see him pass.

Of Marzio I know nothing.

ORSINO:

70

Marzio’s hate

Matches Olimpio’s. I have sent these men,

But in your name, and as at your request,

To talk with Beatrice and Lucretia.

GIACOMO:

Only to talk?

ORSINO:

The moments which even now

75

Pass onward to to-morrow’s midnight hour

May memorize their flight with death: ere then

They must have talked, and may perhaps have done,

And made an end . . .

GIACOMO:

Listen! What sound is that?

ORSINO:

The house-dog moans, and the beams crack: nought else.

GIACOMO:

80

It is my wife complaining in her sleep:

I doubt not she is saying bitter things

Of me; and all my children round her dreaming

That I deny them sustenance.

ORSINO:

Whilst he

Who truly took it from them, and who fills

85

Their hungry rest with bitterness, now sleeps

Lapped in bad pleasures, and triumphantly

Mocks thee in visions of successful hate

Too like the truth of day.

GIACOMO:

If e’er he wakes

Again, I will not trust to hireling hands . . .

ORSINO:

90

Why, that were well. I must be gone; good-night.

When next we meet — may all be done!

GIACOMO:

And all

Forgotten: Oh, that I had never been!

[EXEUNT.]

_91 may all be done! / Giacomo: And all edition 1821; Giacomo: May all be done, and all edition 1819.

End of Act 3.

Act 4.

SCENE 4.1: AN APARTMENT IN THE CASTLE OF PETRELLA. ENTER CENCI.

CENCI:

She comes not; yet I left her even now

Vanquished and faint. She knows the penalty

Of her delay: yet what if threats are vain?

Am I not now within Petrella’s moat?

5

Or fear I still the eyes and ears of Rome?

Might I not drag her by the golden hair?

Stamp on her? keep her sleepless till her brain

Be overworn? Tame her with chains and famine?

Less would suffice. Yet so to leave undone

10

What I most seek! No, ’tis her stubborn will

Which by its own consent shall stoop as low

As that which drags it down.

[ENTER LUCRETIA.]

Thou loathed wretch!

Hide thee from my abhorrence: fly, begone!

Yet stay! Bid Beatrice come hither.

LUCRETIA:

Oh,

15

Husband! I pray, for thine own wretched sake

Heed what thou dost. A man who walks like thee

Through crimes, and through the danger of his crimes,

Each hour may stumble o’er a sudden grave.

And thou art old; thy hairs are hoary gray;

20

As thou wouldst save thyself from death and hell,

Pity thy daughter; give her to some friend

In marriage: so that she may tempt thee not

To hatred, or worse thoughts, if worse there be.

CENCI:

What! like her sister who has found a home

25

To mock my hate from with prosperity?

Strange ruin shall destroy both her and thee

And all that yet remain. My death may be

Rapid, her destiny outspeeds it. Go,

Bid her come hither, and before my mood

30

Be changed, lest I should drag her by the hair.

LUCRETIA:

She sent me to thee, husband. At thy presence

She fell, as thou dost know, into a trance;

And in that trance she heard a voice which said,

‘Cenci must die! Let him confess himself!

35

Even now the accusing Angel waits to hear

If God, to punish his enormous crimes,

Harden his dying heart!’

CENCI:

Why — such things are . . .

No doubt divine revealings may be made.

’Tis plain I have been favoured from above,

40

For when I cursed my sons they died. — Ay . . . so . . .

As to the right or wrong, that’s talk . . . repentance . . .

Repentance is an easy moment’s work

And more depends on God than me. Well . . . well . . .

I must give up the greater point, which was

To poison and corrupt her soul.

[A PAUSE, LUCRETIA APPROACHES ANXIOUSLY,

AND THEN SHRINKS BACK AS HE SPEAKS.]

45

One, two;

Ay . . . Rocco and Cristofano my curse

Strangled: and Giacomo, I think, will find

Life a worse Hell than that beyond the grave:

Beatrice shall, if there be skill in hate,

50

Die in despair, blaspheming: to Bernardo,

He is so innocent, I will bequeath

The memory of these deeds, and make his youth

The sepulchre of hope, where evil thoughts

Shall grow like weeds on a neglected tomb.

55

When all is done, out in the wide Campagna,

I will pile up my silver and my gold;

My costly robes, paintings, and tapestries;

My parchments and all records of my wealth,

And make a bonfire in my joy, and leave

60

Of my possessions nothing but my name;

Which shall be an inheritance to strip

Its wearer bare as infamy. That done,

My soul, which is a scourge, will I resign

Into the hands of him who wielded it;

65

Be it for its own punishment or theirs,

He will not ask it of me till the lash

Be broken in its last and deepest wound;

Until its hate be all inflicted. Yet,

Lest death outspeed my purpose, let me make

Short work and sure . . .

[GOING.]

LUCRETIA [STOPS HIM]:

70

Oh, stay! It was a feint:

She had no vision, and she heard no voice.

I said it but to awe thee.

CENCI:

That is well.

Vile palterer with the sacred truth of God,

Be thy soul choked with that blaspheming lie!

75

For Beatrice worse terrors are in store

To bend her to my will.

LUCRETIA:

Oh! to what will?

What cruel sufferings more than she has known

Canst thou inflict?

CENCI:

Andrea! Go call my daughter,

And if she comes not tell her that I come.

80

What sufferings? I will drag her, step by step,

Through infamies unheard of among men:

She shall stand shelterless in the broad noon

Of public scorn, for acts blazoned abroad,

One among which shall be . . . What? Canst thou guess?

85

She shall become (for what she most abhors

Shall have a fascination to entrap

Her loathing will) to her own conscious self

All she appears to others; and when dead,

As she shall die unshrived and unforgiven,

90

A rebel to her father and her God,

Her corpse shall be abandoned to the hounds;

Her name shall be the terror of the earth;

Her spirit shall approach the throne of God

Plague-spotted with my curses. I will make

95

Body and soul a monstrous lump of ruin.

[ENTER ANDREA.]

ANDREA:

The Lady Beatrice . . .

CENCI:

Speak, pale slave! What

Said she?

ANDREA:

My Lord, ’twas what she looked; she said:

‘Go tell my father that I see the gulf

Of Hell between us two, which he may pass,

I will not.’

[EXIT ANDREA.]

CENCI:

100

Go thou quick, Lucretia,

Tell her to come; yet let her understand

Her coming is consent: and say, moreover,

That if she come not I will curse her.

[EXIT LUCRETIA.]

Ha!

With what but with a father’s curse doth God

105

Panic-strike armed victory, and make pale

Cities in their prosperity? The world’s Father

Must grant a parent’s prayer against his child,

Be he who asks even what men call me.

Will not the deaths of her rebellious brothers

110

Awe her before I speak? For I on them

Did imprecate quick ruin, and it came.

[ENTER LUCRETIA.]

Well; what? Speak, wretch!

LUCRETIA:

She said, ‘I cannot come;

Go tell my father that I see a torrent

Of his own blood raging between us.’

CENCI [KNEELING]:

God,

115

Hear me! If this most specious mass of flesh,

Which Thou hast made my daughter; this my blood,

This particle of my divided being;

Or rather, this my bane and my disease,

Whose sight infects and poisons me; this devil

120

Which sprung from me as from a hell, was meant

To aught good use; if her bright loveliness

Was kindled to illumine this dark world;

If nursed by Thy selectest dew of love

Such virtues blossom in her as should make

125

The peace of life, I pray Thee for my sake,

As Thou the common God and Father art

Of her, and me, and all; reverse that doom!

Earth, in the name of God, let her food be

Poison, until she be encrusted round

130

With leprous stains! Heaven, rain upon her head

The blistering drops of the Maremma’s dew,

Till she be speckled like a toad; parch up

Those love-enkindled lips, warp those fine limbs

To loathed lameness! All-beholding sun,

135

Strike in thine envy those life-darting eyes

With thine own blinding beams!

LUCRETIA:

Peace! Peace!

For thine own sake unsay those dreadful words.

When high God grants He punishes such prayers.

CENCI [LEAPING UP, AND THROWING HIS RIGHT HAND TOWARDS HEAVEN]:

He does his will, I mine! This in addition,

That if she have a child . . .

LUCRETIA:

140

Horrible thought!

CENCI:

That if she ever have a child; and thou,

Quick Nature! I adjure thee by thy God,

That thou be fruitful in her, and increase

And multiply, fulfilling his command,

145

And my deep imprecation! May it be

A hideous likeness of herself, that as

From a distorting mirror, she may see

Her image mixed with what she most abhors,

Smiling upon her from her nursing breast.

150

And that the child may from its infancy

Grow, day by day, more wicked and deformed,

Turning her mother’s love to misery:

And that both she and it may live until

It shall repay her care and pain with hate,

155

Or what may else be more unnatural.

So he may hunt her through the clamorous scoffs

Of the loud world to a dishonoured grave.

Shall I revoke this curse? Go, bid her come,

Before my words are chronicled in Heaven.

[EXIT LUCRETIA.]

160

I do not feel as if I were a man,

But like a fiend appointed to chastise

The offences of some unremembered world.

My blood is running up and down my veins;

A fearful pleasure makes it prick and tingle:

165

I feel a giddy sickness of strange awe;

My heart is beating with an expectation

Of horrid joy.

[ENTER LUCRETIA.]

What? Speak!

LUCRETIA:

She bids thee curse;

And if thy curses, as they cannot do,

Could kill her soul . . .

CENCI:

She would not come. ’Tis well,

170

I can do both; first take what I demand,

And then extort concession. To thy chamber!

Fly ere I spurn thee; and beware this night

That thou cross not my footsteps. It were safer

To come between the tiger and his prey.

[EXIT LUCRETIA.]

175

It must be late; mine eyes grow weary dim

With unaccustomed heaviness of sleep.

Conscience! Oh, thou most insolent of lies!

They say that sleep, that healing dew of Heaven,

Steeps not in balm the foldings of the brain

180

Which thinks thee an impostor. I will go

First to belie thee with an hour of rest,

Which will be deep and calm, I feel: and then . . .

O, multitudinous Hell, the fiends will shake

Thine arches with the laughter of their joy!

185

There shall be lamentation heard in Heaven

As o’er an angel fallen; and upon Earth

All good shall droop and sicken, and ill things

Shall with a spirit of unnatural life,

Stir and be quickened . . . even as I am now.

[EXIT.]

_4 not now edition 1821; now not edition 1819.

SCENE 4.2: BEFORE THE CASTLE OF PETRELLA. ENTER BEATRICE AND LUCRETIA ABOVE ON THE RAMPARTS.

BEATRICE:

They come not yet.

LUCRETIA:

’Tis scarce midnight.

BEATRICE:

How slow

Behind the course of thought, even sick with speed,

Lags leaden-footed time!

LUCRETIA:

The minutes pass . . .

If he should wake before the deed is done?

BEATRICE:

5

O, mother! He must never wake again.

What thou hast said persuades me that our act

Will but dislodge a spirit of deep hell

Out of a human form.

LUCRETIA:

’Tis true he spoke

Of death and judgement with strange confidence

10

For one so wicked; as a man believing

In God, yet recking not of good or ill.

And yet to die without confession! . . .

BEATRICE:

Oh!

Believe that Heaven is merciful and just,

And will not add our dread necessity

To the amount of his offences.

[ENTER OLIMPIO AND MARZIO BELOW.]

LUCRETIA:

15

See,

They come.

BEATRICE:

All mortal things must hasten thus

To their dark end. Let us go down.

[EXEUNT LUCRETIA AND BEATRICE FROM ABOVE.]

OLIMPIO:

How feel you to this work?

MARZIO:

As one who thinks

A thousand crowns excellent market price

20

For an old murderer’s life. Your cheeks are pale.

OLIMPIO:

It is the white reflection of your own,

Which you call pale.

MARZIO:

Is that their natural hue?

OLIMPIO:

Or ’tis my hate and the deferred desire

To wreak it, which extinguishes their blood.

MARZIO:

You are inclined then to this business?

OLIMPIO:

25

Ay,

If one should bribe me with a thousand crowns

To kill a serpent which had stung my child,

I could not be more willing.

[ENTER BEATRICE AND LUCRETIA BELOW.]

Noble ladies!

BEATRICE:

Are ye resolved?

OLIMPIO:

Is he asleep?

MARZIO:

Is all

Quiet?

LUCRETIA:

30

I mixed an opiate with his drink:

He sleeps so soundly . . .

BEATRICE:

That his death will be

But as a change of sin-chastising dreams,

A dark continuance of the Hell within him,

Which God extinguish! But ye are resolved?

35

Ye know it is a high and holy deed?

OLIMPIO:

We are resolved.

MARZIO:

As to the how this act

Be warranted, it rests with you.

BEATRICE:

Well, follow!

OLIMPIO:

Hush! Hark! What noise is that?

MARZIO:

Ha! some one comes!

BEATRICE:

Ye conscience-stricken cravens, rock to rest

40

Your baby hearts. It is the iron gate,

Which ye left open, swinging to the wind,

That enters whistling as in scorn. Come, follow!

And be your steps like mine, light, quick and bold.

[EXEUNT.]

SCENE 4.3: AN APARTMENT IN THE CASTLE. ENTER BEATRICE AND LUCRETIA.

LUCRETIA:

They are about it now.

BEATRICE:

Nay, it is done.

LUCRETIA:

I have not heard him groan.

BEATRICE:

He will not groan.

LUCRETIA:

What sound is that?

BEATRICE:

List! ’tis the tread of feet

About his bed.

LUCRETIA:

My God!

If he be now a cold, stiff corpse . . .

BEATRICE:

5

O, fear not

What may be done, but what is left undone:

The act seals all.

[ENTER OLIMPIO AND MARZIO.]

Is it accomplished?

MARZIO:

What?

OLIMPIO:

Did you not call?

BEATRICE:

When?

OLIMPIO:

Now.

BEATRICE:

I ask if all is over?

OLIMPIO:

We dare not kill an old and sleeping man;

10

His thin gray hair, his stern and reverend brow,

His veined hands crossed on his heaving breast,

And the calm innocent sleep in which he lay,

Quelled me. Indeed, indeed, I cannot do it.

MARZIO:

But I was bolder; for I chid Olimpio,

15

And bade him bear his wrongs to his own grave

And leave me the reward. And now my knife

Touched the loose wrinkled throat, when the old man

Stirred in his sleep, and said, ‘God! hear, O, hear,

A father’s curse! What, art Thou not our Father?’

20

And then he laughed. I knew it was the ghost

Of my dead father speaking through his lips,

And could not kill him.

BEATRICE:

Miserable slaves!

Where, if ye dare not kill a sleeping man,

Found ye the boldness to return to me

25

With such a deed undone? Base palterers!

Cowards and traitors! Why, the very conscience

Which ye would sell for gold and for revenge

Is an equivocation: it sleeps over

A thousand daily acts disgracing men;

30

And when a deed where mercy insults Heaven . . .

Why do I talk?

[SNATCHING A DAGGER FROM ONE OF THEM, AND RAISING IT.]

Hadst thou a tongue to say,

‘She murdered her own father!’— I must do it!

But never dream ye shall outlive him long!

OLIMPIO:

Stop, for God’s sake!

MARZIO:

I will go back and kill him.

OLIMPIO:

35

Give me the weapon, we must do thy will.

BEATRICE:

Take it! Depart! Return!

[EXEUNT OLIMPIO AND MARZIO.]

How pale thou art!

We do but that which ’twere a deadly crime

To leave undone.

LUCRETIA:

Would it were done!

BEATRICE:

Even whilst

That doubt is passing through your mind, the world

40

Is conscious of a change. Darkness and Hell

Have swallowed up the vapour they sent forth

To blacken the sweet light of life. My breath

Comes, methinks, lighter, and the jellied blood

Runs freely through my veins. Hark!

[ENTER OLIMPIO AND MARZIO.]

He is . . .

OLIMPIO:

Dead!

MARZIO:

45

We strangled him that there might be no blood;

And then we threw his heavy corpse i’ the garden

Under the balcony; ’twill seem it fell.

BEATRICE [GIVING THEM A BAG OF COIN]:

Here, take this gold, and hasten to your homes.

And, Marzio, because thou wast only awed

50

By that which made me tremble, wear thou this!

[CLOTHES HIM IN A RICH MANTLE.]

It was the mantle which my grandfather

Wore in his high prosperity, and men

Envied his state: so may they envy thine.

Thou wert a weapon in the hand of God

55

To a just use. Live long and thrive! And, mark,

If thou hast crimes, repent: this deed is none.

[A HORN IS SOUNDED.]

LUCRETIA:

Hark, ’tis the castle horn: my God! it sounds

Like the last trump.

BEATRICE:

Some tedious guest is coming.

LUCRETIA:

The drawbridge is let down; there is a tramp

60

Of horses in the court; fly, hide yourselves!

[EXEUNT OLIMPIO AND MARZIO.]

BEATRICE:

Let us retire to counterfeit deep rest;

I scarcely need to counterfeit it now:

The spirit which doth reign within these limbs

Seems strangely undisturbed. I could even sleep

65

Fearless and calm: all ill is surely past.

[EXEUNT.]

_10 reverend]reverent all editions.

SCENE 4.4: ANOTHER APARTMENT IN THE CASTLE. ENTER ON ONE SIDE THE LEGATE SAVELLA, INTRODUCED BY A SERVANT, AND ON THE OTHER LUCRETIA AND BERNARDO.

SAVELLA:

Lady, my duty to his Holiness

Be my excuse that thus unseasonably

I break upon your rest. I must speak with

Count Cenci; doth he sleep?

LUCRETIA [IN A HURRIED AND CONFUSED MANNER]:

I think he sleeps;

5

Yet, wake him not, I pray, spare me awhile,

He is a wicked and a wrathful man;

Should he be roused out of his sleep to-night,

Which is, I know, a hell of angry dreams,

It were not well; indeed it were not well.

Wait till day break . . .

[ASIDE.]

10

Oh, I am deadly sick!

SAVELLA:

I grieve thus to distress you, but the Count

Must answer charges of the gravest import,

And suddenly; such my commission is.

LUCRETIA [WITH INCREASED AGITATION]:

I dare not rouse him: I know none who dare . . .

15

’Twere perilous; . . . you might as safely waken

A serpent; or a corpse in which some fiend

Were laid to sleep.

SAVELLA:

Lady, my moments here

Are counted. I must rouse him from his sleep,

Since none else dare.

LUCRETIA [ASIDE]:

O, terror! O, despair!

[TO BERNARDO.]

20

Bernardo, conduct you the Lord Legate to

Your father’s chamber.

[EXEUNT SAVELLA AND BERNARDO.]

[ENTER BEATRICE.]

BEATRICE:

’Tis a messenger

Come to arrest the culprit who now stands

Before the throne of unappealable God.

Both Earth and Heaven, consenting arbiters,

Acquit our deed.

LUCRETIA:

25

Oh, agony of fear!

Would that he yet might live! Even now I heard

The Legate’s followers whisper as they passed

They had a warrant for his instant death.

All was prepared by unforbidden means

30

Which we must pay so dearly, having done.

Even now they search the tower, and find the body;

Now they suspect the truth; now they consult

Before they come to tax us with the fact;

O, horrible, ’tis all discovered!

BEATRICE:

Mother,

35

What is done wisely, is done well. Be bold

As thou art just. ’Tis like a truant child

To fear that others know what thou hast done,

Even from thine own strong consciousness, and thus

Write on unsteady eyes and altered cheeks

40

All thou wouldst hide. Be faithful to thyself,

And fear no other witness but thy fear.

For if, as cannot be, some circumstance

Should rise in accusation, we can blind

Suspicion with such cheap astonishment,

45

Or overbear it with such guiltless pride,

As murderers cannot feign. The deed is done,

And what may follow now regards not me.

I am as universal as the light;

Free as the earth-surrounding air; as firm

50

As the world’s centre. Consequence, to me,

Is as the wind which strikes the solid rock,

But shakes it not.

[A CRY WITHIN AND TUMULT.]

VOICES:

Murder! Murder! Murder!

[ENTER BERNARDO AND SAVELLA.]

SAVELLA [TO HIS FOLLOWERS]:

Go search the castle round; sound the alarm;

Look to the gates, that none escape!

BEATRICE:

What now?

BERNARDO:

55

I know not what to say . . . my father’s dead.

BEATRICE:

How; dead! he only sleeps; you mistake, brother.

His sleep is very calm, very like death;

’Tis wonderful how well a tyrant sleeps.

He is not dead?

BERNARDO:

Dead; murdered.

LUCRETIA [WITH EXTREME AGITATION]:

Oh no, no!

60

He is not murdered though he may be dead;

I have alone the keys of those apartments.

SAVELLA:

Ha! Is it so?

BEATRICE:

My Lord, I pray excuse us;

We will retire; my mother is not well:

She seems quite overcome with this strange horror.

[EXEUNT LUCRETIA AND BEATRICE.]

SAVELLA:

65

Can you suspect who may have murdered him?

BERNARDO:

I know not what to think.

SAVELLA:

Can you name any

Who had an interest in his death?

BERNARDO:

Alas!

I can name none who had not, and those most

Who most lament that such a deed is done;

70

My mother, and my sister, and myself.

SAVELLA:

’Tis strange! There were clear marks of violence.

I found the old man’s body in the moonlight

Hanging beneath the window of his chamber,

Among the branches of a pine: he could not

75

Have fallen there, for all his limbs lay heaped

And effortless; ’tis true there was no blood . . .

Favour me, Sir; it much imports your house

That all should be made clear; to tell the ladies

That I request their presence.

[EXIT BERNARDO.]

[ENTER GUARDS, BRINGING IN MARZIO.]

GUARD:

We have one.

OFFICER:

80

My Lord, we found this ruffian and another

Lurking among the rocks; there is no doubt

But that they are the murderers of Count Cenci:

Each had a bag of coin; this fellow wore

A gold-inwoven robe, which, shining bright

85

Under the dark rocks to the glimmering moon

Betrayed them to our notice: the other fell

Desperately fighting.

SAVELLA:

What does he confess?

OFFICER:

He keeps firm silence; but these lines found on him

May speak.

SAVELLA:

Their language is at least sincere.

[READS.]

90

‘To the Lady Beatrice.

That the atonement of what my nature sickens to conjecture may soon

arrive, I send thee, at thy brother’s desire, those who will speak and

do more than I dare write . . .

‘Thy devoted servant, Orsino.’

[ENTER LUCRETIA, BEATRICE, AND BERNARDO.]

Knowest thou this writing, Lady?

BEATRICE:

No.

SAVELLA:

95

Nor thou?

LUCRETIA [HER CONDUCT THROUGHOUT THE SCENE IS MARKED BY EXTREME AGITATION]:

Where was it found? What is it? It should be

Orsino’s hand! It speaks of that strange horror

Which never yet found utterance, but which made

Between that hapless child and her dead father

A gulf of obscure hatred.

SAVELLA:

100

Is it so?

Is it true, Lady, that thy father did

Such outrages as to awaken in thee

Unfilial hate?

BEATRICE:

Not hate, ’twas more than hate:

This is most true, yet wherefore question me?

SAVELLA:

105

There is a deed demanding question done;

Thou hast a secret which will answer not.

BEATRICE:

What sayest? My Lord, your words are bold and rash.

SAVELLA:

I do arrest all present in the name

Of the Pope’s Holiness. You must to Rome.

LUCRETIA:

110

O, not to Rome! Indeed we are not guilty.

BEATRICE:

Guilty! Who dares talk of guilt? My Lord,

I am more innocent of parricide

Than is a child born fatherless . . . Dear mother,

Your gentleness and patience are no shield

115

For this keen-judging world, this two-edged lie,

Which seems, but is not. What! will human laws,

Rather will ye who are their ministers,

Bar all access to retribution first,

And then, when Heaven doth interpose to do

120

What ye neglect, arming familiar things

To the redress of an unwonted crime,

Make ye the victims who demanded it

Culprits? ’Tis ye are culprits! That poor wretch

Who stands so pale, and trembling, and amazed,

125

If it be true he murdered Cenci, was

A sword in the right hand of justest God.

Wherefore should I have wielded it? Unless

The crimes which mortal tongue dare never name

God therefore scruples to avenge.

SAVELLA:

You own

That you desired his death?

BEATRICE:

130

It would have been

A crime no less than his, if for one moment

That fierce desire had faded in my heart.

’Tis true I did believe, and hope, and pray,

Ay, I even knew . . . for God is wise and just,

135

That some strange sudden death hung over him.

’Tis true that this did happen, and most true

There was no other rest for me on earth,

No other hope in Heaven . . . now what of this?

SAVELLA:

Strange thoughts beget strange deeds; and here are both:

I judge thee not.

BEATRICE:

140

And yet, if you arrest me,

You are the judge and executioner

Of that which is the life of life: the breath

Of accusation kills an innocent name,

And leaves for lame acquittal the poor life

145

Which is a mask without it. ’Tis most false

That I am guilty of foul parricide;

Although I must rejoice, for justest cause,

That other hands have sent my father’s soul

To ask the mercy he denied to me.

150

Now leave us free; stain not a noble house

With vague surmises of rejected crime;

Add to our sufferings and your own neglect

No heavier sum: let them have been enough:

Leave us the wreck we have.

SAVELLA:

I dare not, Lady.

155

I pray that you prepare yourselves for Rome:

There the Pope’s further pleasure will be known.

LUCRETIA:

O, not to Rome! O, take us not to Rome!

BEATRICE:

Why not to Rome, dear mother? There as here

Our innocence is as an armed heel

160

To trample accusation. God is there

As here, and with His shadow ever clothes

The innocent, the injured and the weak;

And such are we. Cheer up, dear Lady, lean

On me; collect your wandering thoughts. My Lord,

165

As soon as you have taken some refreshment,

And had all such examinations made

Upon the spot, as may be necessary

To the full understanding of this matter,

We shall be ready. Mother; will you come?

LUCRETIA:

170

Ha! they will bind us to the rack, and wrest

Self-accusation from our agony!

Will Giacomo be there? Orsino? Marzio?

All present; all confronted; all demanding

Each from the other’s countenance the thing

175

Which is in every heart! O, misery!

[SHE FAINTS, AND IS BORNE OUT.]

SAVELLA:

She faints: an ill appearance this.

BEATRICE:

My Lord,

She knows not yet the uses of the world.

She fears that power is as a beast which grasps

And loosens not: a snake whose look transmutes

180

All things to guilt which is its nutriment.

She cannot know how well the supine slaves

Of blind authority read the truth of things

When written on a brow of guilelessness:

She sees not yet triumphant Innocence

185

Stand at the judgement-seat of mortal man,

A judge and an accuser of the wrong

Which drags it there. Prepare yourself, my Lord;

Our suite will join yours in the court below.

[EXEUNT.]

_6 a wrathful edition 1821; wrathful editions 1819, 1839.

End of Act 4.

Act 5.

SCENE 5.1: AN APARTMENT IN ORSINO’S PALACE. ENTER ORSINO AND GIACOMO.

GIACOMO:

Do evil deeds thus quickly come to end?

O, that the vain remorse which must chastise

Crimes done, had but as loud a voice to warn

As its keen sting is mortal to avenge!

5

O, that the hour when present had cast off

The mantle of its mystery, and shown

The ghastly form with which it now returns

When its scared game is roused, cheering the hounds

Of conscience to their prey! Alas! Alas!

10

It was a wicked thought, a piteous deed,

To kill an old and hoary-headed father.

ORSINO:

It has turned out unluckily, in truth.

GIACOMO:

To violate the sacred doors of sleep;

To cheat kind Nature of the placid death

15

Which she prepares for overwearied age;

To drag from Heaven an unrepentant soul

Which might have quenched in reconciling prayers

A life of burning crimes . . .

ORSINO:

You cannot say

I urged you to the deed.

GIACOMO:

O, had I never

20

Found in thy smooth and ready countenance

The mirror of my darkest thoughts; hadst thou

Never with hints and questions made me look

Upon the monster of my thought, until

It grew familiar to desire . . .

ORSINO:

’Tis thus

25

Men cast the blame of their unprosperous acts

Upon the abettors of their own resolve;

Or anything but their weak, guilty selves.

And yet, confess the truth, it is the peril

In which you stand that gives you this pale sickness

30

Of penitence; confess ’tis fear disguised

From its own shame that takes the mantle now

Of thin remorse. What if we yet were safe?

GIACOMO:

How can that be? Already Beatrice,

Lucretia and the murderer are in prison.

35

I doubt not officers are, whilst we speak,

Sent to arrest us.

ORSINO:

I have all prepared

For instant flight. We can escape even now,

So we take fleet occasion by the hair.

GIACOMO:

Rather expire in tortures, as I may.

40

What! will you cast by self-accusing flight

Assured conviction upon Beatrice?

She, who alone in this unnatural work,

Stands like God’s angel ministered upon

By fiends; avenging such a nameless wrong

45

As turns black parricide to piety;

Whilst we for basest ends . . . I fear, Orsino,

While I consider all your words and looks,

Comparing them with your proposal now,

That you must be a villain. For what end

50

Could you engage in such a perilous crime,

Training me on with hints, and signs, and smiles,

Even to this gulf? Thou art no liar? No,

Thou art a lie! Traitor and murderer!

Coward and slave! But no, defend thyself;

[DRAWING.]

55

Let the sword speak what the indignant tongue

Disdains to brand thee with.

ORSINO:

Put up your weapon.

Is it the desperation of your fear

Makes you thus rash and sudden with a friend,

Now ruined for your sake? If honest anger

60

Have moved you, know, that what I just proposed

Was but to try you. As for me, I think,

Thankless affection led me to this point,

From which, if my firm temper could repent,

I cannot now recede. Even whilst we speak

65

The ministers of justice wait below:

They grant me these brief moments. Now if you

Have any word of melancholy comfort

To speak to your pale wife, ’twere best to pass

Out at the postern, and avoid them so.

GIACOMO:

70

O, generous friend! How canst thou pardon me?

Would that my life could purchase thine!

ORSINO:

That wish

Now comes a day too late. Haste; fare thee well!

Hear’st thou not steps along the corridor?

[EXIT GIACOMO.]

I’m sorry for it; but the guards are waiting

75

At his own gate, and such was my contrivance

That I might rid me both of him and them.

I thought to act a solemn comedy

Upon the painted scene of this new world,

And to attain my own peculiar ends

80

By some such plot of mingled good and ill

As others weave; but there arose a Power

Which grasped and snapped the threads of my device

And turned it to a net of ruin . . . Ha!

[A SHOUT IS HEARD.]

Is that my name I hear proclaimed abroad?

85

But I will pass, wrapped in a vile disguise;

Rags on my back, and a false innocence

Upon my face, through the misdeeming crowd

Which judges by what seems. ’Tis easy then

For a new name and for a country new,

90

And a new life, fashioned on old desires,

To change the honours of abandoned Rome.

And these must be the masks of that within,

Which must remain unaltered . . . Oh, I fear

That what is past will never let me rest!

95

Why, when none else is conscious, but myself,

Of my misdeeds, should my own heart’s contempt

Trouble me? Have I not the power to fly

My own reproaches? Shall I be the slave

Of . . . what? A word? which those of this false world

100

Employ against each other, not themselves;

As men wear daggers not for self-offence.

But if I am mistaken, where shall I

Find the disguise to hide me from myself,

As now I skulk from every other eye?

[EXIT.]

_58 a friend edition 1821; your friend edition 1839.

SCENE 5.2: A HALL OF JUSTICE.
CAMILLO, JUDGES, ETC., ARE DISCOVERED SEATED; MARZIO IS LED IN.

FIRST JUDGE:

Accused, do you persist in your denial?

I ask you, are you innocent, or guilty?

I demand who were the participators

In your offence? Speak truth, and the whole truth.

MARZIO:

5

My God! I did not kill him; I know nothing;

Olimpio sold the robe to me from which

You would infer my guilt.

SECOND JUDGE:

Away with him!

FIRST JUDGE:

Dare you, with lips yet white from the rack’s kiss

Speak false? Is it so soft a questioner,

10

That you would bandy lover’s talk with it

Till it wind out your life and soul? Away!

MARZIO:

Spare me! O, spare! I will confess.

FIRST JUDGE:

Then speak.

MARZIO:

I strangled him in his sleep.

FIRST JUDGE:

Who urged you to it?

MARZIO:

His own son Giacomo, and the young prelate

15

Orsino sent me to Petrella; there

The ladies Beatrice and Lucretia

Tempted me with a thousand crowns, and I

And my companion forthwith murdered him.

Now let me die.

FIRST JUDGE:

This sounds as bad as truth. Guards, there,

Lead forth the prisoner!

[ENTER LUCRETIA, BEATRICE AND GIACOMO, GUARDED.]

20

Look upon this man;

When did you see him last?

BEATRICE:

We never saw him.

MARZIO:

You know me too well, Lady Beatrice.

BEATRICE:

I know thee! How? where? when?

MARZIO:

You know ’twas I

Whom you did urge with menaces and bribes

25

To kill your father. When the thing was done

You clothed me in a robe of woven gold

And bade me thrive: how I have thriven, you see.

You, my Lord Giacomo, Lady Lucretia,

You know that what I speak is true.

[BEATRICE ADVANCES TOWARDS HIM;

HE COVERS HIS FACE, AND SHRINKS BACK.]

Oh, dart

30

The terrible resentment of those eyes

On the dead earth! Turn them away from me!

They wound: ’twas torture forced the truth. My Lords,

Having said this let me be led to death.

BEATRICE:

Poor wretch, I pity thee: yet stay awhile.

CAMILLO:

Guards, lead him not away.

BEATRICE:

35

Cardinal Camillo,

You have a good repute for gentleness

And wisdom: can it be that you sit here

To countenance a wicked farce like this?

When some obscure and trembling slave is dragged

40

From sufferings which might shake the sternest heart

And bade to answer, not as he believes,

But as those may suspect or do desire

Whose questions thence suggest their own reply:

And that in peril of such hideous torments

45

As merciful God spares even the damned. Speak now

The thing you surely know, which is that you,

If your fine frame were stretched upon that wheel,

And you were told: ‘Confess that you did poison

Your little nephew; that fair blue-eyed child

50

Who was the lodestar of your life:’— and though

All see, since his most swift and piteous death,

That day and night, and heaven and earth, and time,

And all the things hoped for or done therein

Are changed to you, through your exceeding grief,

55

Yet you would say, ‘I confess anything:’

And beg from your tormentors, like that slave,

The refuge of dishonourable death.

I pray thee, Cardinal, that thou assert

My innocence.

CAMILLO [MUCH MOVED]:

What shall we think, my Lords?

60

Shame on these tears! I thought the heart was frozen

Which is their fountain. I would pledge my soul

That she is guiltless.

JUDGE:

Yet she must be tortured.

CAMILLO:

I would as soon have tortured mine own nephew

(If he now lived he would be just her age;

65

His hair, too, was her colour, and his eyes

Like hers in shape, but blue and not so deep)

As that most perfect image of God’s love

That ever came sorrowing upon the earth.

She is as pure as speechless infancy!

JUDGE:

70

Well, be her purity on your head, my Lord,

If you forbid the rack. His Holiness

Enjoined us to pursue this monstrous crime

By the severest forms of law; nay even

To stretch a point against the criminals.

75

The prisoners stand accused of parricide

Upon such evidence as justifies

Torture.

BEATRICE:

What evidence? This man’s?

JUDGE:

Even so.

BEATRICE [TO MARZIO]:

Come near. And who art thou thus chosen forth

Out of the multitude of living men

To kill the innocent?

MARZIO:

80

I am Marzio,

Thy father’s vassal.

BEATRICE:

Fix thine eyes on mine;

Answer to what I ask.

[TURNING TO THE JUDGES.]

I prithee mark

His countenance: unlike bold calumny

Which sometimes dares not speak the thing it looks,

85

He dares not look the thing he speaks, but bends

His gaze on the blind earth.

[TO MARZIO.]

What! wilt thou say

That I did murder my own father?

MARZIO:

Oh!

Spare me! My brain swims round . . . I cannot speak . . .

It was that horrid torture forced the truth.

90

Take me away! Let her not look on me!

I am a guilty miserable wretch;

I have said all I know; now, let me die!

BEATRICE:

My Lords, if by my nature I had been

So stern, as to have planned the crime alleged,

95

Which your suspicions dictate to this slave,

And the rack makes him utter, do you think

I should have left this two-edged instrument

Of my misdeed; this man, this bloody knife

With my own name engraven on the heft,

100

Lying unsheathed amid a world of foes,

For my own death? That with such horrible need

For deepest silence, I should have neglected

So trivial a precaution, as the making

His tomb the keeper of a secret written

105

On a thief’s memory? What is his poor life?

What are a thousand lives? A parricide

Had trampled them like dust; and, see, he lives!

[TURNING TO MARZIO.]

And thou . . .

MARZIO:

Oh, spare me! Speak to me no more!

That stern yet piteous look, those solemn tones,

Wound worse than torture.

[TO THE JUDGES.]

110

I have told it all;

For pity’s sake lead me away to death.

CAMILLO:

Guards, lead him nearer the Lady Beatrice;

He shrinks from her regard like autumn’s leaf

From the keen breath of the serenest north.

BEATRICE:

115

O thou who tremblest on the giddy verge

Of life and death, pause ere thou answerest me;

So mayst thou answer God with less dismay:

What evil have we done thee? I, alas!

Have lived but on this earth a few sad years,

120

And so my lot was ordered, that a father

First turned the moments of awakening life

To drops, each poisoning youth’s sweet hope; and then

Stabbed with one blow my everlasting soul;

And my untainted fame; and even that peace

125

Which sleeps within the core of the heart’s heart;

But the wound was not mortal; so my hate

Became the only worship I could lift

To our great father, who in pity and love,

Armed thee, as thou dost say, to cut him off;

130

And thus his wrong becomes my accusation;

And art thou the accuser? If thou hopest

Mercy in heaven, show justice upon earth:

Worse than a bloody hand is a hard heart.

If thou hast done murders, made thy life’s path

135

Over the trampled laws of God and man,

Rush not before thy Judge, and say: ‘My maker,

I have done this and more; for there was one

Who was most pure and innocent on earth;

And because she endured what never any

140

Guilty or innocent endured before:

Because her wrongs could not be told, not thought;

Because thy hand at length did rescue her;

I with my words killed her and all her kin.’

Think, I adjure you, what it is to slay

145

The reverence living in the minds of men

Towards our ancient house, and stainless fame!

Think what it is to strangle infant pity,

Cradled in the belief of guileless looks,

Till it become a crime to suffer. Think

150

What ’tis to blot with infamy and blood

All that which shows like innocence, and is,

Hear me, great God! I swear, most innocent,

So that the world lose all discrimination

Between the sly, fierce, wild regard of guilt,

155

And that which now compels thee to reply

To what I ask: Am I, or am I not

A parricide?

MARZIO:

Thou art not!

JUDGE:

What is this?

MARZIO:

I here declare those whom I did accuse

Are innocent. ’Tis I alone am guilty.

JUDGE:

160

Drag him away to torments; let them be

Subtle and long drawn out, to tear the folds

Of the heart’s inmost cell. Unbind him not

Till he confess.

MARZIO:

Torture me as ye will:

A keener pang has wrung a higher truth

165

From my last breath. She is most innocent!

Bloodhounds, not men, glut yourselves well with me;

I will not give you that fine piece of nature

To rend and ruin.

[EXIT MARZIO, GUARDED.]

CAMILLO:

What say ye now, my Lords?

JUDGE:

Let tortures strain the truth till it be white

170

As snow thrice sifted by the frozen wind.

CAMILLO:

Yet stained with blood.

JUDGE [TO BEATRICE]:

Know you this paper, Lady?

BEATRICE:

Entrap me not with questions. Who stands here

As my accuser? Ha! wilt thou be he,

Who art my judge? Accuser, witness, judge,

175

What, all in one? Here is Orsino’s name;

Where is Orsino? Let his eye meet mine.

What means this scrawl? Alas! ye know not what,

And therefore on the chance that it may be

Some evil, will ye kill us?

[ENTER AN OFFICER.]

OFFICER:

Marzio’s dead.

JUDGE:

What did he say?

OFFICER:

180

Nothing. As soon as we

Had bound him on the wheel, he smiled on us,

As one who baffles a deep adversary;

And holding his breath, died.

JUDGE:

There remains nothing

But to apply the question to those prisoners,

Who yet remain stubborn.

CAMILLO:

185

I overrule

Further proceedings, and in the behalf

Of these most innocent and noble persons

Will use my interest with the Holy Father.

JUDGE:

Let the Pope’s pleasure then be done. Meanwhile

190

Conduct these culprits each to separate cells;

And be the engines ready; for this night

If the Pope’s resolution be as grave,

Pious, and just as once, I’ll wring the truth

Out of those nerves and sinews, groan by groan.

[EXEUNT.]

_164 pang edition 1821; pain editions 1819, 1839.

SCENE 5.3: THE CELL OF A PRISON. BEATRICE IS DISCOVERED ASLEEP ON A COUCH. ENTER BERNARDO.

BERNARDO:

How gently slumber rests upon her face,

Like the last thoughts of some day sweetly spent

Closing in night and dreams, and so prolonged.

After such torments as she bore last night,

5

How light and soft her breathing comes. Ay me!

Methinks that I shall never sleep again.

But I must shake the heavenly dew of rest

From this sweet folded flower, thus . . . wake, awake!

What, sister, canst thou sleep?

BEATRICE [AWAKING]:

I was just dreaming

10

That we were all in Paradise. Thou knowest

This cell seems like a kind of Paradise

After our father’s presence.

BERNARDO:

Dear, dear sister,

Would that thy dream were not a dream! O God!

How shall I tell?

BEATRICE:

What wouldst thou tell, sweet brother?

BERNARDO:

15

Look not so calm and happy, or even whilst

I stand considering what I have to say

My heart will break.

BEATRICE:

See now, thou mak’st me weep:

How very friendless thou wouldst be, dear child,

If I were dead. Say what thou hast to say.

BERNARDO:

20

They have confessed; they could endure no more

The tortures . . .

BEATRICE:

Ha! What was there to confess?

They must have told some weak and wicked lie

To flatter their tormentors. Have they said

That they were guilty? O white innocence,

25

That thou shouldst wear the mask of guilt to hide

Thine awful and serenest countenance

From those who know thee not!

[ENTER JUDGE WITH LUCRETIA AND GIACOMO, GUARDED.]

Ignoble hearts!

For some brief spasms of pain, which are at least

As mortal as the limbs through which they pass,

30

Are centuries of high splendour laid in dust?

And that eternal honour which should live

Sunlike, above the reek of mortal fame,

Changed to a mockery and a byword? What!

Will you give up these bodies to be dragged

35

At horses’ heels, so that our hair should sweep

The footsteps of the vain and senseless crowd,

Who, that they may make our calamity

Their worship and their spectacle, will leave

The churches and the theatres as void

40

As their own hearts? Shall the light multitude

Fling, at their choice, curses or faded pity,

Sad funeral flowers to deck a living corpse,

Upon us as we pass to pass away,

And leave . . . what memory of our having been?

45

Infamy, blood, terror, despair? O thou,

Who wert a mother to the parentless,

Kill not thy child! Let not her wrongs kill thee!

Brother, lie down with me upon the rack,

And let us each be silent as a corpse;

50

It soon will be as soft as any grave.

’Tis but the falsehood it can wring from fear

Makes the rack cruel.

GIACOMO:

They will tear the truth

Even from thee at last, those cruel pains:

For pity’s sake say thou art guilty now.

LUCRETIA:

55

Oh, speak the truth! Let us all quickly die;

And after death, God is our judge, not they;

He will have mercy on us.

BERNARDO:

If indeed

It can be true, say so, dear sister mine;

And then the Pope will surely pardon you,

And all be well.

JUDGE:

60

Confess, or I will warp

Your limbs with such keen tortures . . .

BEATRICE:

Tortures! Turn

The rack henceforth into a spinning-wheel!

Torture your dog, that he may tell when last

He lapped the blood his master shed . . . not me!

65

My pangs are of the mind, and of the heart,

And of the soul; ay, of the inmost soul,

Which weeps within tears as of burning gall

To see, in this ill world where none are true,

My kindred false to their deserted selves.

70

And with considering all the wretched life

Which I have lived, and its now wretched end,

And the small justice shown by Heaven and Earth

To me or mine; and what a tyrant thou art,

And what slaves these; and what a world we make,

75

The oppressor and the oppressed . . . such pangs compel

My answer. What is it thou wouldst with me?

JUDGE:

Art thou not guilty of thy father’s death?

BEATRICE:

Or wilt thou rather tax high-judging God

That He permitted such an act as that

80

Which I have suffered, and which He beheld;

Made it unutterable, and took from it

All refuge, all revenge, all consequence,

But that which thou hast called my father’s death?

Which is or is not what men call a crime,

85

Which either I have done, or have not done;

Say what ye will. I shall deny no more.

If ye desire it thus, thus let it be,

And so an end of all. Now do your will;

No other pains shall force another word.

JUDGE:

90

She is convicted, but has not confessed.

Be it enough. Until their final sentence

Let none have converse with them. You, young Lord,

Linger not here!

BEATRICE:

Oh, tear him not away!

JUDGE:

Guards! do your duty.

BERNARDO [EMBRACING BEATRICE]:

Oh! would ye divide

Body from soul?

OFFICER:

95

That is the headsman’s business.

[EXEUNT ALL BUT LUCRETIA, BEATRICE, AND GIACOMO.]

GIACOMO:

Have I confessed? Is it all over now?

No hope! No refuge! O weak, wicked tongue

Which hast destroyed me, would that thou hadst been

Cut out and thrown to dogs first! To have killed

100

My father first, and then betrayed my sister;

Ay, thee! the one thing innocent and pure

In this black, guilty world, to that which I

So well deserve! My wife! my little ones!

Destitute, helpless, and I . . . Father! God!

105

Canst Thou forgive even the unforgiving,

When their full hearts break thus, thus! . . .

[COVERS HIS FACE AND WEEPS.]

LUCRETIA:

O my child!

To what a dreadful end are we all come!

Why did I yield? Why did I not sustain

Those torments? Oh, that I were all dissolved

110

Into these fast and unavailing tears,

Which flow and feel not!

BEATRICE:

What ’twas weak to do,

’Tis weaker to lament, once being done;

Take cheer! The God who knew my wrong, and made

Our speedy act the angel of His wrath,

115

Seems, and but seems, to have abandoned us.

Let us not think that we shall die for this.

Brother, sit near me; give me your firm hand,

You had a manly heart. Bear up! Bear up!

O dearest Lady, put your gentle head

120

Upon my lap, and try to sleep awhile:

Your eyes look pale, hollow, and overworn,

With heaviness of watching and slow grief.

Come, I will sing you some low, sleepy tune,

Not cheerful, nor yet sad; some dull old thing,

125

Some outworn and unused monotony,

Such as our country gossips sing and spin,

Till they almost forget they live: lie down!

So, that will do. Have I forgot the words?

Faith! They are sadder than I thought they were.

SONG:

130

False friend, wilt thou smile or weep

When my life is laid asleep?

Little cares for a smile or a tear,

The clay-cold corpse upon the bier!

Farewell! Heighho!

135

What is this whispers low?

There is a snake in thy smile, my dear;

And bitter poison within thy tear.

Sweet sleep, were death like to thee,

Or if thou couldst mortal be,

140

I would close these eyes of pain;

When to wake? Never again.

O World! Farewell!

Listen to the passing bell!

It says, thou and I must part,

145

With a light and a heavy heart.

[THE SCENE CLOSES.]

SCENE 5.4: A HALL OF THE PRISON.
ENTER CAMILLO AND BERNARDO.

CAMILLO:

The Pope is stern; not to be moved or bent.

He looked as calm and keen as is the engine

Which tortures and which kills, exempt itself

From aught that it inflicts; a marble form,

5

A rite, a law, a custom: not a man.

He frowned, as if to frown had been the trick

Of his machinery, on the advocates

Presenting the defences, which he tore

And threw behind, muttering with hoarse, harsh voice:

10

‘Which among ye defended their old father

Killed in his sleep?’ Then to another: ‘Thou

Dost this in virtue of thy place; ’tis well.’

He turned to me then, looking deprecation,

And said these three words, coldly: ‘They must die.’

BERNARDO:

And yet you left him not?

CAMILLO:

15

I urged him still;

Pleading, as I could guess, the devilish wrong

Which prompted your unnatural parent’s death.

And he replied: ‘Paolo Santa Croce

Murdered his mother yester evening,

20

And he is fled. Parricide grows so rife

That soon, for some just cause no doubt, the young

Will strangle us all, dozing in our chairs.

Authority, and power, and hoary hair

Are grown crimes capital. You are my nephew,

25

You come to ask their pardon; stay a moment;

Here is their sentence; never see me more

Till, to the letter, it be all fulfilled.’

BERNARDO:

O God, not so! I did believe indeed

That all you said was but sad preparation

30

For happy news. Oh, there are words and looks

To bend the sternest purpose! Once I knew them,

Now I forget them at my dearest need.

What think you if I seek him out, and bathe

His feet and robe with hot and bitter tears?

35

Importune him with prayers, vexing his brain

With my perpetual cries, until in rage

He strike me with his pastoral cross, and trample

Upon my prostrate head, so that my blood

May stain the senseless dust on which he treads,

40

And remorse waken mercy? I will do it!

Oh, wait till I return!

[RUSHES OUT.]

CAMILLO:

Alas, poor boy!

A wreck-devoted seaman thus might pray

To the deaf sea.

[ENTER LUCRETIA, BEATRICE, AND GIACOMO, GUARDED.]

BEATRICE:

I hardly dare to fear

That thou bring’st other news than a just pardon.

CAMILLO:

45

May God in heaven be less inexorable

To the Pope’s prayers than he has been to mine.

Here is the sentence and the warrant.

BEATRICE [WILDLY]:

O

My God! Can it be possible I have

To die so suddenly? So young to go

50

Under the obscure, cold, rotting, wormy ground!

To be nailed down into a narrow place;

To see no more sweet sunshine; hear no more

Blithe voice of living thing; muse not again

Upon familiar thoughts, sad, yet thus lost —

55

How fearful! to be nothing! Or to be . . .

What? Oh, where am I? Let me not go mad!

Sweet Heaven, forgive weak thoughts! If there should be

No God, no Heaven, no Earth in the void world;

The wide, gray, lampless, deep, unpeopled world!

60

If all things then should be . . . my father’s spirit,

His eye, his voice, his touch surrounding me;

The atmosphere and breath of my dead life!

If sometimes, as a shape more like himself,

Even the form which tortured me on earth,

65

Masked in gray hairs and wrinkles, he should come

And wind me in his hellish arms, and fix

His eyes on mine, and drag me down, down, down!

For was he not alone omnipotent

On Earth, and ever present? Even though dead,

70

Does not his spirit live in all that breathe,

And work for me and mine still the same ruin,

Scorn, pain, despair? Who ever yet returned

To teach the laws of Death’s untrodden realm?

Unjust perhaps as those which drive us now,

Oh, whither, whither?

LUCRETIA:

75

Trust in God’s sweet love,

The tender promises of Christ: ere night,

Think, we shall be in Paradise.

BEATRICE:

’Tis past!

Whatever comes, my heart shall sink no more.

And yet, I know not why, your words strike chill:

80

How tedious, false, and cold seem all things. I

Have met with much injustice in this world;

No difference has been made by God or man,

Or any power moulding my wretched lot,

‘Twixt good or evil, as regarded me.

85

I am cut off from the only world I know,

From light, and life, and love, in youth’s sweet prime.

You do well telling me to trust in God;

I hope I do trust in him. In whom else

Can any trust? And yet my heart is cold.

[DURING THE LATTER SPEECHES GIACOMO HAS RETIRED CONVERSING WITH CAMILLO, WHO NOW GOES OUT; GIACOMO ADVANCES.]

GIACOMO:

90

Know you not, Mother . . . Sister, know you not?

Bernardo even now is gone to implore

The Pope to grant our pardon.

LUCRETIA:

Child, perhaps

It will be granted. We may all then live

To make these woes a tale for distant years:

95

Oh, what a thought! It gushes to my heart

Like the warm blood.

BEATRICE:

Yet both will soon be cold.

Oh, trample out that thought! Worse than despair,

Worse than the bitterness of death, is hope:

It is the only ill which can find place

100

Upon the giddy, sharp, and narrow hour

Tottering beneath us. Plead with the swift frost

That it should spare the eldest flower of spring:

Plead with awakening earthquake, o’er whose couch

Even now a city stands, strong, fair, and free;

105

Now stench and blackness yawn, like death. Oh, plead

With famine, or wind-walking Pestilence,

Blind lightning, or the deaf sea, not with man!

Cruel, cold, formal man; righteous in words,

In deeds a Cain. No, Mother, we must die:

110

Since such is the reward of innocent lives;

Such the alleviation of worst wrongs.

And whilst our murderers live, and hard, cold men,

Smiling and slow, walk through a world of tears

To death as to life’s sleep; ’twere just the grave

115

Were some strange joy for us. Come, obscure Death,

And wind me in thine all-embracing arms!

Like a fond mother hide me in thy bosom,

And rock me to the sleep from which none wake.

Live ye, who live, subject to one another

As we were once, who now . . .

[BERNARDO RUSHES IN.]

BERNARDO:

120

Oh, horrible!

That tears, that looks, that hope poured forth in prayer,

Even till the heart is vacant and despairs,

Should all be vain! The ministers of death

Are waiting round the doors. I thought I saw

125

Blood on the face of one . . . What if ’twere fancy?

Soon the heart’s blood of all I love on earth

Will sprinkle him, and he will wipe it off

As if ’twere only rain. O life! O world!

Cover me! let me be no more! To see

130

That perfect mirror of pure innocence

Wherein I gazed, and grew happy and good,

Shivered to dust! To see thee, Beatrice,

Who made all lovely thou didst look upon . . .

Thee, light of life . . . dead, dark! while I say, sister,

135

To hear I have no sister; and thou, Mother,

Whose love was as a bond to all our loves . . .

Dead! The sweet bond broken!

[ENTER CAMILLO AND GUARDS.]

They come! Let me

Kiss those warm lips before their crimson leaves

Are blighted . . . white . . . cold. Say farewell, before

140

Death chokes that gentle voice! Oh, let me hear

You speak!

BEATRICE:

Farewell, my tender brother. Think

Of our sad fate with gentleness, as now:

And let mild, pitying thoughts lighten for thee

Thy sorrow’s load. Err not in harsh despair,

145

But tears and patience. One thing more, my child:

For thine own sake be constant to the love

Thou bearest us; and to the faith that I,

Though wrapped in a strange cloud of crime and shame,

Lived ever holy and unstained. And though

150

Ill tongues shall wound me, and our common name

Be as a mark stamped on thine innocent brow

For men to point at as they pass, do thou

Forbear, and never think a thought unkind

Of those, who perhaps love thee in their graves.

155

So mayest thou die as I do; fear and pain

Being subdued. Farewell! Farewell! Farewell!

BERNARDO:

I cannot say, farewell!

CAMILLO:

Oh, Lady Beatrice!

BEATRICE:

Give yourself no unnecessary pain,

My dear Lord Cardinal. Here, Mother, tie

160

My girdle for me, and bind up this hair

In any simple knot; ay, that does well.

And yours I see is coming down. How often

Have we done this for one another; now

We shall not do it any more. My Lord,

165

We are quite ready. Well, ’tis very well.

_105 yawn edition 1821; yawns editions 1819, 1839.

_136 was as a Rossetti cj.; was a editions 1819, 1821, 1839.

The End.

Note on the Cenci, by Mrs. Shelley.

The sort of mistake that Shelley made as to the extent of his own genius and powers, which led him deviously at first, but lastly into the direct track that enabled him fully to develop them, is a curious instance of his modesty of feeling, and of the methods which the human mind uses at once to deceive itself, and yet, in its very delusion, to make its way out of error into the path which Nature has marked out as its right one. He often incited me to attempt the writing a tragedy: he conceived that I possessed some dramatic talent, and he was always most earnest and energetic in his exhortations that I should cultivate any talent I possessed, to the utmost. I entertained a truer estimate of my powers; and above all (though at that time not exactly aware of the fact) I was far too young to have any chance of succeeding, even moderately, in a species of composition that requires a greater scope of experience in, and sympathy with, human passion than could then have fallen to my lot — or than any perhaps, except Shelley, ever possessed, even at the age of twenty-six, at which he wrote The Cenci.

On the other hand, Shelley most erroneously conceived himself to be destitute of this talent. He believed that one of the first requisites was the capacity of forming and following-up a story or plot. He fancied himself to he defective in this portion of imagination: it was that which gave him least pleasure in the writings of others, though he laid great store by it as the proper framework to support the sublimest efforts of poetry. He asserted that he was too metaphysical and abstract, too fond of the theoretical and the ideal, to succeed as a tragedian. It perhaps is not strange that I shared this opinion with himself; for he had hitherto shown no inclination for, nor given any specimen of his powers in framing and supporting the interest of a story, either in prose or verse. Once or twice, when he attempted such, he had speedily thrown it aside, as being even disagreeable to him as an occupation.

The subject he had suggested for a tragedy was Charles I: and he had written to me: ‘Remember, remember Charles I. I have been already imagining how you would conduct some scenes. The second volume of “St. Leon” begins with this proud and true sentiment: “There is nothing which the human mind can conceive which it may not execute.” Shakespeare was only a human being.’ These words were written in 1818, while we were in Lombardy, when he little thought how soon a work of his own would prove a proud comment on the passage he quoted. When in Rome, in 1819, a friend put into our hands the old manuscript account of the story of the Cenci. We visited the Colonna and Doria palaces, where the portraits of Beatrice were to be found; and her beauty cast the reflection of its own grace over her appalling story. Shelley’s imagination became strongly excited, and he urged the subject to me as one fitted for a tragedy. More than ever I felt my incompetence; but I entreated him to write it instead; and he began, and proceeded swiftly, urged on by intense sympathy with the sufferings of the human beings whose passions, so long cold in the tomb, he revived, and gifted with poetic language. This tragedy is the only one of his works that he communicated to me during its progress. We talked over the arrangement of the scenes together. I speedily saw the great mistake we had made, and triumphed in the discovery of the new talent brought to light from that mine of wealth (never, alas, through his untimely death, worked to its depths)— his richly gifted mind.

We suffered a severe affliction in Rome by the loss of our eldest child, who was of such beauty and promise as to cause him deservedly to be the idol of our hearts. We left the capital of the world, anxious for a time to escape a spot associated too intimately with his presence and loss. (Such feelings haunted him when, in “The Cenci”, he makes Beatrice speak to Cardinal Camillo of

‘that fair blue-eyed child

Who was the lodestar of your life:’— and say —

All see, since his most swift and piteous death,

That day and night, and heaven and earth, and time,

And all the things hoped for or done therein

Are changed to you, through your exceeding grief.’)

Some friends of ours were residing in the neighbourhood of Leghorn, and we took a small house, Villa Valsovano, about half-way between the town and Monte Nero, where we remained during the summer. Our villa was situated in the midst of a podere; the peasants sang as they worked beneath our windows, during the heats of a very hot season, and in the evening the water-wheel creaked as the process of irrigation went on, and the fireflies flashed from among the myrtle hedges: Nature was bright, sunshiny, and cheerful, or diversified by storms of a majestic terror, such as we had never before witnessed.

At the top of the house there was a sort of terrace. There is often such in Italy, generally roofed: this one was very small, yet not only roofed but glazed. This Shelley made his study; it looked out on a wide prospect of fertile country, and commanded a view of the near sea. The storms that sometimes varied our day showed themselves most picturesquely as they were driven across the ocean; sometimes the dark lurid clouds dipped towards the waves, and became water-spouts that churned up the waters beneath, as they were chased onward and scattered by the tempest. At other times the dazzling sunlight and heat made it almost intolerable to every other; but Shelley basked in both, and his health and spirits revived under their influence. In this airy cell he wrote the principal part of “The Cenci”. He was making a study of Calderon at the time, reading his best tragedies with an accomplished lady living near us, to whom his letter from Leghorn was addressed during the following year. He admired Calderon, both for his poetry and his dramatic genius; but it shows his judgement and originality that, though greatly struck by his first acquaintance with the Spanish poet, none of his peculiarities crept into the composition of “The Cenci”; and there is no trace of his new studies, except in that passage to which he himself alludes as suggested by one in “El Purgatorio de San Patricio”.

Shelley wished “The Cenci” to be acted. He was not a playgoer, being of such fastidious taste that he was easily disgusted by the bad filling-up of the inferior parts. While preparing for our departure from England, however, he saw Miss O’Neil several times. She was then in the zenith of her glory; and Shelley was deeply moved by her impersonation of several parts, and by the graceful sweetness, the intense pathos, the sublime vehemence of passion she displayed. She was often in his thoughts as he wrote: and, when he had finished, he became anxious that his tragedy should be acted, and receive the advantage of having this accomplished actress to fill the part of the heroine. With this view he wrote the following letter to a friend in London:

‘The object of the present letter us to ask a favour of you. I have written a tragedy on a story well known in Italy, and, in my conception, eminently dramatic. I have taken some pains to make my play fit for representation, and those who have already seen it judge favourably. It is written without any of the peculiar feelings and opinions which characterize my other compositions; I have attended simply to the impartial development of such characters as it is probable the persons represented really were, together with the greatest degree of popular effect to be produced by such a development. I send you a translation of the Italian manuscript on which my play is founded; the chief circumstance of which I have touched very delicately; for my principal doubt as to whether it would succeed as an acting play hangs entirely on the question as to whether any such a thing as incest in this shape, however treated, would be admitted on the stage. I think, however, it will form no objection; considering, first, that the facts are matter of history, and, secondly, the peculiar delicacy with which I have treated it. (In speaking of his mode of treating this main incident, Shelley said that it might be remarked that, in the course of the play, he had never mentioned expressly Cenci’s worst crime. Every one knew what it must be, but it was never imaged in words — the nearest allusion to it being that portion of Cenci’s curse beginning —

“That, if she have a child,” etc.)

‘I am exceedingly interested in the question of whether this attempt of mine will succeed or not. I am strongly inclined to the affirmative at present; founding my hopes on this — that, as a composition, it is certainly not inferior to any of the modern plays that have been acted, with the exception of “Remorse”; that the interest of the plot is incredibly greater and more real; and that there is nothing beyond what the multitude are contented to believe that they can understand, either in imagery, opinion, or sentiment. I wish to preserve a complete incognito, and can trust to you that, whatever else you do, you will at least favour me on this point. Indeed, this is essential, deeply essential, to its success. After it had been acted, and successfully (could I hope for such a thing), I would own it if I pleased, and use the celebrity it might acquire to my own purposes.

‘What I want you to do is to procure for me its presentation at Covent Garden. The principal character, Beatrice, is precisely fitted for Miss O’Neil, and it might even seem to have been written for her (God forbid that I should see her play it — it would tear my nerves to pieces); and in all respects it is fitted only for Covent Garden. The chief male character I confess I should be very unwilling that any one but Kean should play. That is impossible, and I must be contented with an inferior actor.’

The play was accordingly sent to Mr. Harris. He pronounced the subject to be so objectionable that he could not even submit the part to Miss O’Neil for perusal, but expressed his desire that the author would write a tragedy on some other subject, which he would gladly accept. Shelley printed a small edition at Leghorn, to ensure its correctness; as he was much annoyed by the many mistakes that crept into his text when distance prevented him from correcting the press.

Universal approbation soon stamped “The Cenci” as the best tragedy of modern times. Writing concerning it, Shelley said: ‘I have been cautious to avoid the introducing faults of youthful composition; diffuseness, a profusion of inapplicable imagery, vagueness, generality, and, as Hamlet says, “words, words”.’ There is nothing that is not purely dramatic throughout; and the character of Beatrice, proceeding, from vehement struggle, to horror, to deadly resolution, and lastly to the elevated dignity of calm suffering, joined to passionate tenderness and pathos, is touched with hues so vivid and so beautiful that the poet seems to have read intimately the secrets of the noble heart imaged in the lovely countenance of the unfortunate girl. The Fifth Act is a masterpiece. It is the finest thing he ever wrote, and may claim proud comparison not only with any contemporary, but preceding, poet. The varying feelings of Beatrice are expressed with passionate, heart-reaching eloquence. Every character has a voice that echoes truth in its tones. It is curious, to one acquainted with the written story, to mark the success with which the poet has inwoven the real incidents of the tragedy into his scenes, and yet, through the power of poetry, has obliterated all that would otherwise have shown too harsh or too hideous in the picture. His success was a double triumph; and often after he was earnestly entreated to write again in a style that commanded popular favour, while it was not less instinct with truth and genius. But the bent of his mind went the other way; and, even when employed on subjects whose interest depended on character and incident, he would start off in another direction, and leave the delineations of human passion, which he could depict in so able a manner, for fantastic creations of his fancy, or the expression of those opinions and sentiments, with regard to human nature and its destiny, a desire to diffuse which was the master passion of his soul.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/shelley/percy_bysshe/s54cp/volume8.html

Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:30