The Cenci: A Tragedy in Five Acts.
COUNT FRANCESCO CENCI.
GIACOMO, BERNARDO, his Sons.
ORSINO, a Prelate.
SAVELLA, the Pope's Legate.
OLIMPIO, MARZIO, Assassins.
ANDREA, Servant to CENCI.
NOBLES. JUDGES. GUARDS, SERVANTS.
LUCRETIA, Wife of CENCI and Stepmother of his children.
BEATRICE, his Daughter.
The SCENE lies principally in Rome, but changes during the fourth
Act to Pretrella, a castle among the Apulian Apennines.
TIME. During the Pontificate of Clement VIII.
SCENE I.--An Apartment in the Castle of Petrella. Enter 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?
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
What I most seek! No, 't is her stubborn will, 10
Which, by its own consent, shall stoop as low
As that which drags it down.
Thou loathèd wretch!
Hide thee from my abhorrence; fly, begone!
Yet stay! Bid Beatrice come hither.
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;
As thou wouldst save thyself from death and hell, 20
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.
What! like her sister, who has found a home
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
Be changed, lest I should drag her by the hair. 30
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!
Even now the accusing Angel waits to hear
If God, to punish his enormous crimes,
Harden his dying heart!'
Why--such things are.
No doubt divine revealings may be made.
'T is plain I have been favored from above,
For when I cursed my sons, they died.--Ay--so. 40
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)
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,
Die in despair, blaspheming; to Bernardo, 50
He is so innocent, I will bequeathe
The memory of these deeds, and make his youth
The sepulchre of hope, where evil thoughts
Shall grow like weeds on a neglected tomb.
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
Of my possessions nothing but my name; 60
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;
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.
LUCRETIA (stops him)
Oh, stay! it was a feint; 70
She had no vision, and she heard no voice.
I said it but to awe thee.
That is well.
Vile palterer with the sacred truth of God,
Be thy soul choked with that blaspheming lie!
For Beatrice worse terrors are in store
To bend her to my will.
Oh, to what will?
What cruel sufferings more than she has known
Canst thou inflict?
Andrea! go, call my daughter
And if she comes not, tell her that I come.
What sufferings? I will drag her, step by step, 80
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?
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,
A rebel to her father and her God, 90
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
Body and soul a monstrous lump of ruin.
The Lady Beatrice--
Speak, pale slave! what
My Lord, 't was 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.'
Go thou quick, Lucretia, 100
Tell her to come; yet let her understand
Her coming is consent; and say, moreover,
That if she come not I will curse her.
With what but with a father's curse doth God
Panic-strike armèd 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
Awe her before I speak? for I on them 110
Did imprecate quick ruin, and it came.
Well; what? Speak, wretch!
She said, 'I cannot come;
Go tell my father that I see a torrent
Of his own blood raging between us.'
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,
Which sprung from me as from a hell, was meant 120
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
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
With leprous stains! Heaven, rain upon her head 130
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 loathèd lameness! All-beholding sun,
Strike in thine envy those life-darting eyes
With thine own blinding beams!
For thine own sake unsay those dreadful words.
When high God grants, he punishes such prayers.
CENCI (leaping up, and throwing his right hand toward Heaven)
He does his will, I mine! This in addition,
That if she have a child--
Horrible thought! 140
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,
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!
And that the child may from its infancy 150
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,
Or what may else be more unnatural;
So he may hunt her through the clamorous scoffs
Of the loud world to a dishonored grave!
Shall I revoke this curse? Go, bid her come,
Before my words are chronicled in heaven.
I do not feel as if I were a man, 160
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;
I feel a giddy sickness of strange awe;
My heart is beating with an expectation
Of horrid joy.
She bids thee curse;
And if thy curses, as they cannot do,
Could kill her soul--
She would not come. 'T is well,
I can do both; first take what I demand, 170
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.
It must be late, mine eyes grow weary dim
With unaccustomed heaviness of sleep.
Conscience! O thou most insolent of lies!
They say that sleep, that healing dew of heaven,
Steeps not in balm the foldings of the brain
Which thinks thee an impostor. I will go, 180
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!
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.
SCENE II.--Before the Castle of Petrella. Enter BEATRICE and LUCRETIA above on the ramparts.
They come not yet.
'T is scarce midnight.
Behind the course of thought, even sick with speed,
Lags leaden-footed Time!
The minutes pass.
If he should wake before the deed is done?
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.
'T is true he spoke
Of death and judgment with strange confidence
For one so wicked; as a man believing 10
In God, yet recking not of good or ill.
And yet to die without confession!--
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
All mortal things must hasten thus
To their dark end. Let us go down.
[Exeunt LUCRETIA and BEATRICE from above.
How feel you to this work?
As one who thinks
A thousand crowns excellent market price
For an old murderer's life. Your cheeks are pale. 20
It is the white reflection of your own,
Which you call pale.
Is that their natural hue?
Or 't is my hate, and the deferred desire
To wreak it, which extinguishes their blood.
You are inclined then to this business?
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
Are ye resolved?
Is he asleep?
I mixed an opiate with his drink; 30
He sleeps so soundly--
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?
Ye know it is a high and holy deed?
We are resolved.
As to the how this act
Be warranted, it rests with you.
Hush! Hark! what noise is that?
Ha! some one comes!
Ye conscience-stricken cravens, rock to rest
Your baby hearts. It is the iron gate, 40
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.
SCENE III.--An Apartment in the Castle. Enter BEATRICE and LUCRETIA.
They are about it now.
Nay, it is done.
I have not heard him groan.
He will not groan.
What sound is that?
List! 't is the tread of feet
About his bed.
If he be now a cold, stiff corpse--
Oh, fear not
What may be done, but what is left undone;
The act seals all.
Enter OLIMPIO and MARZIO
Is it accomplished?
Did you not call?
I ask if all is over?
We dare not kill an old and sleeping man;
His thin gray hair, his stern and reverent brow, 10
His veinèd hands crossed on his heaving breast,
And the calm innocent sleep in which he lay,
Quelled me. Indeed, indeed, I cannot do it.
But I was bolder; for I chid Olimpio,
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, oh, hear
A father's curse! What, art thou not our father?'
And then he laughed. I knew it was the ghost 20
Of my dead father speaking through his lips,
And could not kill him.
Where, if ye dare not kill a sleeping man,
Found ye the boldness to return to me
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;
And when a deed, where mercy insults heaven-- 30
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!
Stop, for God's sake!
I will go back and kill him.
Give me the weapon, we must do thy will.
Take it! Depart! Return!
[Exeunt OLIMPIO and MARZIO.
How pale thou art!
We do but that which 't were a deadly crime
To leave undone.
Would it were done!
That doubt is passing through your mind, the world
Is conscious of a change. Darkness and hell 40
Have swallowed up the vapor 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
We strangled him, that there might be no blood;
And then we threw his heavy corpse i' the garden
Under the balcony; 't will 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
By that which made me tremble, wear thou this! 50
(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
To a just use. Live long and thrive! And, mark,
If thou hast crimes, repent; this deed is none.
(A horn is sounded)
Hark, 't is the castle horn: my God! it sounds
Like the last trump.
Some tedious guest is coming.
The drawbridge is let down; there is a tramp
Of horses in the court; fly, hide yourselves! 60
[Exeunt OLIMPIO and MARZIO.
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
Fearless and calm; all ill is surely past.
SCENE IV.--Another Apartment in the Castle. Enter on one side the Legate SAVELLA, introduced by a Servant, and on the other LUCRETIA and BERNARDO.
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;
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 tonight,
Which is, I know, a hell of angry dreams,
It were not well; indeed it were not well.
Wait till day break.
(Aside) Oh, I am deadly sick! 10
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;
'T were perilous; you might as safely waken
A serpent, or a corpse in which some fiend
Were laid to sleep.
Lady, my moments here
Are counted. I must rouse him from his sleep,
Since none else dare.
Oh, terror! oh, despair!
Bernardo, conduct you the Lord Legate to 20
Your father's chamber.
[Exeunt SAVELLA and BERNARDO.
'T is 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.
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,
Which we must pay so dearly, having done. 30
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.
Oh, horrible, 't is all discovered!
What is done wisely is done well. Be bold
As thou art just. 'T is 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
All thou wouldst hide. Be faithful to thyself, 40
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,
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
As the world's centre. Consequence, to me, 50
Is as the wind which strikes the solid rook,
But shakes it not.
(A cry within and tumult)
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!
I know not what to say--my father 's dead.
How, dead! he only sleeps; you mistake, brother.
His sleep is very calm, very like death;
'T is wonderful how well a tyrant sleeps.
He is not dead?
LUCRETIA (with extreme agitation)
Oh, no, no!
He is not murdered, though he may be dead; 60
I have alone the keys of those apartments.
Ha! is it so?
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.
Can you suspect who may have murdered him?
I know not what to think.
Can you name any
Who had an interest in his death?
I can name none who had not, and those most
Who most lament that such a deed is done;
My mother, and my sister, and myself. 70
'T is 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
Have fallen there, for all his limbs lay heaped
And effortless; 't is true there was no blood.
Favor me, sir--it much imports your house
That all should be made clear--to tell the ladies
That I request their presence.
Enter Guards, bringing in MARZIO
We have one.
My Lord, we found this ruffian and another 80
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
Under the dark rocks to the glimmering moon,
Betrayed them to our notice; the other fell
What does he confess?
He keeps firm silence; but these lines found on him
Their language is at least sincere.
"TO THE LADY BEATRICE.
That the atonement of what my nature 90
sickens to conjecture may soon arrive, I
send thee, at thy brother's desire, those
who will speak and do more than I dare
Thy devoted servant,
Enter LUCRETIA, BEATRICE, and BERNARDO
Knowest thou this writing, lady?
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.
Is it so, 100
Is it true, Lady, that thy father did
Such outrages as to awaken in thee
Not hate, 't was more than hate;
This is most true, yet wherefore question me?
There is a deed demanding question done;
Thou hast a secret which will answer not.
What sayest? My Lord, your words are bold and rash.
I do arrest all present in the name
Of the Pope's Holiness. You must to Rome.
Oh, not to Rome! indeed we are not guilty. 110
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
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
What ye neglect, arming familiar things 120
To the redress of an unwonted crime,
Make ye the victims who demanded it
Culprits? 'T is ye are culprits! That poor wretch
Who stands so pale, and trembling, and amazed,
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.
That you desired his death?
It would have been 130
A crime no less than his, if for one moment
That fierce desire had faded in my heart.
'T is true I did believe, and hope, and pray,
Ay, I even knew--for God is wise and just--
That some strange sudden death hung over him.
'T is 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?
Strange thoughts beget strange deeds; and here are both;
I judge thee not.
And yet, if you arrest me, 140
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
Which is a mask without it. 'T is 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.
Now leave us free; stain not a noble house 150
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.
I dare not, Lady.
I pray that you prepare yourselves for Rome.
There the Pope's further pleasure will be known.
Oh, not to Rome! Oh, take us not to Rome!
Why not to Rome, dear mother? There as here
Our innocence is as an armèd heel
To trample accusation. God is there, 160
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,
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?
Ha! they will bind us to the rack, and wrest 170
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
Which is in every heart! Oh, misery!
(She faints, and is borne out)
She faints; an ill appearance this.
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
All things to guilt which is its nutriment. 180
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
Stand at the judgment-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.