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Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley

THE CENCI: ACT 2.


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,
We have no other friend but only Thee! _5
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
My father, do you think that I should weep! _10

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;
Mother, if I to thee have ever been _15
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;
He frowns on others, but he smiles on me, _20
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
Has sent back your petition thus unopened. _25
[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
Wrapped in some fixed and fearful meditation, _30
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:
You talked of something that your father did _35
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?
At the first word he spoke I felt the blood _40
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
The devil was rebuked that lives in him. _45
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:
What can have thus subdued it? What can now _50
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.
Men, like my father, have been dark and bloody, _55
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?
He stayed not after that accursed feast _60
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
Under his feet, and made the blood stream down _65
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
On my beloved Bernardo, when the rust _70
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:
He only struck and cursed me as he passed; _75
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:
Nay, Beatrice; have courage, my sweet girl. _80
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,
And smile, years hence, with children round your knees; _85
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?
Did you not shield me and that dearest boy? _90
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
Of my dead Mother plead against my soul _95
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,
Even though the Pope should make me free to live _100
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.]
Nay, hide not your face, 'tis fair; _105
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
That which I came to tell you--but in vain. _110

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.
Stay, I command you--from this day and hour _115
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;
Me least of all. Now get thee to thy chamber! _120
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
To touch such mischief as I now conceive: _125
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:
Nor you perhaps? _130
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?
Whom in one night merciful God cut off: _135
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,
And you would be the witnesses?--This failing, _140
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,
And He had sentenced me, and there were none _145
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:
If you dare to speak that wicked lie again _150
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
What every nerve of you now trembles at? _155
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;
Nor do I think she designed any thing _160
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:
For men shall there be none but those who dare _165
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:
Its dungeons underground, and its thick towers _170
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
A busy stir of men about the streets; _175
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
Is penetrated with the insolent light. _180
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
Of horror: if there be a sun in heaven _185
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
Than the earth's shade, or interlunar air, _190
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
Awards, and aged, sullen avarice pays. _5
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.
The eldest son of a rich nobleman _10
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,
An hundred servants, and six palaces, _15
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,
Whose dowry in ill hour I lent my father _20
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,
Do you not think the Pope would interpose _25
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
I spoke with him, and urged him then to check _30
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.
I pity the Count Cenci from my heart; _35
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,
Will keep at least blameless neutrality.' _40
[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,
Since I am driven to the brink.--But, say, _45
My innocent sister and my only brother
Are dying underneath my father's eye.
The memorable torturers of this land,
Galeaz Visconti, Borgia, Ezzelin,
Never inflicted on their meanest slave _50
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
In aught to weaken the paternal power, _55
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:
I have presented it, and backed it with _60
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
Any belief--have turned the Pope's displeasure _65
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:
And we are left, as scorpions ringed with fire. _70
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.
Words are but holy as the deeds they cover: _75
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;
A father who is all a tyrant seems, _80
Were the profaner for his sacred name.

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

GIACOMO:
Ask me not what I think; the unwilling brain
Feigns often what it would not; and we trust
Imagination with such fantasies
As the tongue dares not fashion into words, _85
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
Where we sit shut from the wide gaze of day, _90
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
The path across the wilderness, lest he, _95
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
Lone counsel from a night of sleepless care. _100
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.]
I had disposed the Cardinal Camillo _105
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.
Such self-anatomy shall teach the will _110
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,
Since Beatrice unveiled me to myself, _115
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.]
Now what harm _120
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
I fear a man whose blows outspeed his words _125
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,
Could but despise danger and gold and all _130
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,
And fills my slumber with tumultuous dreams, _135
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
Sicken and pant; and thus unprofitably _140
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:
From the unravelled hopes of Giacomo _145
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;
Her mother scared and unexpostulating _150
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:
Some unbeheld divinity doth ever, _155
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
Its empire and its prey of other hearts _160
Till it become his slave...as I will do.

[EXIT.]

END OF ACT 2.