Fiction > Harvard Classics > Percy Bysshe Shelley > The Cenci
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Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822).  The Cenci.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
 
Act I
 
Scene I
 
 
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.—        5
It needed all my interest in the conclave
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        10
An erring soul which might repent and live:—
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        15
Which you scarce hide from men’s revolted eyes.
  Cenci.  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        20
The next time I compounded with his uncle:
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.        25
The deed he saw could not have rated higher
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        30
That the Apostle Peter and the saints
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        35
To which they show no title.
  Camillo.                Oh, Count Cenci!
So much that thou mightst honourably live
And reconcile thyself with thine own heart
And with thy God, and with the offended world.        40
How hideously look deeds of lust and blood
Thro’ those snow white and venerable hairs!—
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.        45
Where is your wife? Where is your gentle daughter?
Methinks her sweet looks, which make all things else
Beauteous and glad, might kill the fiend within you.
Why is she barred from all society
But her own strange and uncomplaining wrongs?        50
Talk with me, Count,—you know I mean you well.
I stood beside your dark and fiery youth
Watching its bold and bad career, as men
Watch meteors, but it vanished not—I marked
Your desperate and remorseless manhood; now        55
Do I behold you in dishonoured age
Charged with a thousand unrepented crimes.
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        60
My fief beyond the Pincian-Cardinal,
One thing, I pray you, recollect henceforth,
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;        65
So the next day his wife and daughter came
And asked if I had seen him; and I smiled:
I think they never saw him any more.
  Camillo.  Thou execrable man, beware!—
  Cenci.                Of thee?        70
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,
And vindicate that right with force or guile
It is a public matter, and I care not        75
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,
Therefore strong vanity will keep you silent
If fear should not; both will, I do not doubt.        80
All men delight in sensual luxury,
All men enjoy revenge; and most exult
Over the tortures they can never feel—
Flattering their secret peace with others’ pain.
But I delight in nothing else. I love        85
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,
Which are, I think, the checks of other men.
This mood has grown upon me, until now        90
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,
Is as my natural food and rest debarred
Until it be accomplished.        95
  Camillo.                Art thou not
Most miserable?
  Cenci.                Why, miserable?—
No.—I am what your theologians call
Hardened;—which they must be in impudence,        100
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—        105
And but that there yet 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:        110
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        115
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,        120
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,        125
Speak to his heart as now you speak to me;
I thank my God that I believe you not.
 
Enter ANDREA
  Andrea.  My Lord, a gentleman from Salamanca
Would speak with you.        130
  Cenci.  Bid him attend me in the grand saloon.  [Exit ANDREA.
  Camillo.  Farewell; and I will pray
Almighty God that thy false, impious words
Tempt not his spirit to abandon thee.  [Exit CAMILLO.
  Cenci.  The third of my possessions! I must use        135
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
Fourfold provision for my cursed sons;
Whom I had sent from Rome to Salamanca,        140
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!
Bernardo and my wife could not be worse
If dead and damned:—then, as to Beatrice—        145
(Looking around him suspiciously.)
I think they cannot hear me at the door;
What if they should? And yet I need not speak
Though the heart triumphs with itself in words.
O, thou most silent air, that shalt not hear        150
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
        155
  Andrea.                My lord?
  Cenci.  Bid Beatrice attend me in her chamber
This evening:—no, at midnight and alone.  [Exeunt.
 

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