The Step-Mother, by Terence

Act the Second.

Scene I.

Laches, Sostrata .

Lach. Oh heav’n and earth, what animals are women!
What a conspiracy between them all,
To do or not do, love or hate alike!
Not one but has the sex so strong in her,
She differs nothing from the rest. Step-mothers
All hate their Step-daughters: and every wife
Studies alike to contradict her husband,
The same perverseness running through them all.
Each seems train’d up in the same school of mischief:
And of that school, if any such there be,
My wife, I think, is schoolmistress.

Sostra. Ah me!
Who know not why I am accus’d.

Lach. Not know?

Sostra. No, as I hope for mercy! as I hope
We may live long together!

Lach. Heav’n forbid!

Sostra. Hereafter, Laches, you’ll be sensible
How wrongfully you have accus’d me.

Lach. I?
Accuse you wrongfully? — Is’t possible
To speak too hardly of your late behavior?
Disgracing me, yourself, and family;
Laying up sorrow for your absent son;
Converting into foes his new-made friends,
Who thought him worthy of their child in marriage.
You’ve been our bane, and by your shrewishness
Brew’d this disturbance.

Sostra. I?

Lach. You, woman, you!
Who take me for a stone, and not a man.
Think ye, because I’m mostly in the country,
I’m ignorant of your proceedings here?
No, no; I know much better what’s done here,
Than where I’m chiefly resident. Because
Upon my family at home depends
My character abroad. I knew long since
Philumena’s disgust to you; — no wonder!
Nay, ’twere a wonder, had it not been so.
Yet I imagin’d not her hate so strong,
’Twould vent itself upon the family:
Which had I dream’d of, she should have remain’d,
And you pack’d off. — Consider, Sostrata,
How little cause you had to vex me thus.
In complaisance to you, and husbanding
My fortune, I retir’d into the country:
Scraping, and laboring beyond the bounds
Of reason, or my age, that my estate
Might furnish means for your expense and pleasure.
— Was it not then your duty, in return,
To see that nothing happen’d here to vex me?

Sostra. ’Twas not my doing, nor my fault indeed.

Lach. ’Twas your fault, Sostrata; your fault alone.
You were sole mistress here; and in your care
The house, though I had freed you of all other cares.
A woman, an old woman too, and quarrel
With a green girl! oh shame upon’t! — You’ll say
That ’twas her fault.

Sostra. Not I indeed, my Laches.

Lach. ’Fore Heav’n, I’m glad on’t! on my son’s account.
For as for you, I’m well enough assur’d,
No fault can make you worse.

Sostra. But prithee, husband,
How can you tell that her aversion to me
Is not a mere pretense, that she may stay
The longer with her mother?

Lach. No such thing.
Was not your visit yesterday a proof,
From their denial to admit you to her?

Sostra. They said she was so sick she could not see me.

Lach. Sick of your humors; nothing else, I fancy.
And well she might: for there’s not one of you
But want your sons to take a wife: and that’s
No sooner over, but the very woman
Which, by your instigation, they have married,
They, by your instigation, put away.

Scene II.

Enter Phidippus .

Phid. (to Philumena within). Although, Philumena, I know
my pow’r
To force you to comply with my commands;
Yet yielding to paternal tenderness,
I e’en give way, nor cross your humor.

Lach. See,
Phidippus in good time! I’ll learn from him
The cause of this. — (Going up to him.) Phidippus, though I own
Myself indulgent to my family,
Yet my complacency and easiness
Runs not to that extreme, that my good-nature
Corrupts their morals. Would you act like me,
’Twould be of service to both families.
But you, I see, are wholly in their power.

Phid. See there!

Lach. I waited on you yesterday
About your daughter: but I went away
No wiser than I came. It is not right,
If you would have the alliance last between us,
To smother your resentment. If we seem
In fault, declare it; that we may refute,
Or make amends for our offense: and you
Shall carve the satisfaction out yourself.
But if her sickness only is the cause
Of her remaining in your family,
Trust me, Phidippus, but you do me wrong,
To doubt her due attendance at my house.
For, by the pow’rs of heav’n, I’ll not allow
That you, although her father, wish her better
Than I. I love her on my son’s account;
To whom, I’m well convinc’d, she is as dear
As he is to himself: and I can tell
How deeply ’twill affect him, if he knows this.
Wherefore I wish she should come home again,
Before my son’s return.

Phid. My good friend Laches,
I know your care, and your benevolence;
Nor doubt that all is as you say; and hope
That you’ll believe I wish for her return,
So I could but effect it.

Lach. What prevents it?
Tell me, Phidippus! does she blame her husband?

Phid. Not in the least. For when I urg’d it home,
And threaten’d to oblige her to return,
She vow’d most solemnly she could not bear
Your house, so long as Pamphilus was absent.
— All have their failings: I am of so soft
A nature, I can’t thwart my family.

Lach. Ha, Sostrata! (To Sostrata, apart.)

Sostra. Wretch that I am! Ah me! (Aside.)

Lach. And her return’s impossible? (To Phidippus .)

Phid. At present.
— Would you aught else with me? for I have business
That calls me to the Forum.

Lach. I’ll go with you.


Scene III.

Manet Sostrata .

Sostra. How unjustly
Do husbands stretch their censures to all wives
Because of the offences of a few,
Whose faults reflect dishonour on the rest!
— For, heav’n so help me, as I’m innocent
Of what my husband now accuses me!
But ’tis no easy task to clear myself;
So fix’d and rooted is the notion in them,
That Step-Mothers are all severe. — Not I;
For I have ever lov’d Philumena
As my own daughter; nor can I conceive
What accident has drawn her hatred on me.
My son’s return, I hope, will settle all;
And, ah, I’ve too much cause to wish his coming.


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01