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The Cenci

By Percy Bysshe Shelley

Act IV

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)
                                       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,
      Die in despair, blaspheming; to Bernardo,                       50
      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.
      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
      Said she?

                 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.'
                                                         [Exit ANDREA.

                    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.
                                                       [Exit LUCRETIA.

      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.'

CENCI (kneeling)
      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!

                                      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 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.
                                                       [Exit LUCRETIA.
      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.

                      What? Speak!

      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.
                                                       [Exit LUCRETIA.
      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.

                                                  How slow
      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

      They come.

                  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.

                                    Noble ladies!

      Are ye resolved?

                        Is he asleep?

                                       Is all

              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.

                                        Well, follow!

      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.

                      My God!
      If he be now a cold, stiff corpse--

                                           Oh, fear not
      What may be done, but what is left undone;
      The act seals all.

                          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.

                               Miserable slaves!
      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!

                                             Even whilst
      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!

                                           He is--


      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.

LUCRETIA (aside)
                             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!


SAVELLA (to his followers)
      Go, search the castle round; sound the alarm;
      Look to the gates, that none escape!

                                            What now?

      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?

                          Dead; murdered!

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.
                                                       [Exit BERNARDO.

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
      Desperately fighting.

                             What does he confess?

      He keeps firm silence; but these lines found on him
      May speak.

                  Their language is at least sincere.

        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,

      Knowest thou this writing, lady?


                                             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.

                                 Is it so,                           100
      Is it true, Lady, that thy father did
      Such outrages as to awaken in thee
      Unfilial hate?

                      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.

                                         You own
      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.

                                           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
      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.