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ACT III, SCENE i
THE GHOST OF BRITANNICUS, CHARON

Synopsis

GHOST By the road where Care, Grief, Horror, and tardy Shame, where Disease, father of Death, and his brother Sleep, where baleful Death drag me thanks to a great crime, by this road I travel towards the black pools of Dis. I make my way with ease, as Pluto’s gate yawns, the downward path leads me, greedy Chaos swallows me. Lo, I see the sluggish pools of Lethe. “I was overcome by epilepsy when I collapsed.” Thus, tyrant, do you confound Lethe with the Styx as a bitter jest, you who make me taste of Lethe as a lethal bane? But, Domitius, I happily taste of this bane rather than share your feasts. For it decreased the dolors which you doled out to me, Domitius. But it will not erase the memory of my murder and of your crime. Rather I shall pray the goddesses of Erebus and all of Erebus itself (if prayers sway the goddesses, if Erebus punishes sins), that they mete out equal penalties to you in turn. But what penalties can be equal? Indeed, as an imperial precursor I shall prepare everything combined in one: the Danaides’ urn, Sisyphus’ rock, the arrogant Lapith’s wheel, Tantalus’ apple, Tityus’ bird, and any evil greater than these. But why am I delaying. Hey, Charon!
CHARON Who calls me?
GHOST No ordinary shade.
CHAR
. They’re all the same to me.
GHOST The shade of Britannicus.
CHAR. I recognize Claudius’ boy, murdered by Domitius. What do you seek?
GHOST I crave to cross the Styx, to visit the vale of the blessed.
CHAR. It is not permitted my skiff to bear an unburied corpse.
GHOST But the same night saw my death and my pyre; night, lest Phoebus bear witness and shun the crime; night, lest life return meanwhile return to me. Rather, the blustery sky wept for me with the downpour that Nero does not weep. With its waters it washed away the gypsum which disguised the crime, and all but quenched the funeral fire. Water, fire, sky, now swelled, shivered, thundered, then groaned. You would have thought the wounded gods were shouting in heaven. Or, if they were to keep their silence, that they were astonished by the horror of the evil deed, yet still gave out loud groans. If tongue gave out the thunder of irate Jove, if eye beamed forth his lightning-flash, if hand his lightning, then tongue, hand, and eye published Jove’s wrath. Nor was this one single night: stars fell, the moon traveled backwards, light fled, the sky faded. They could see nothing save crime. But they desired to witness a crime at which they might at least shudder. They heard ghosts howl, they believe the world to be ripped from off its axis, or a new Chaos to have broken asunder. Twice, thrice they placed my body on the pyre; twice, thrice the delaying pyre rejected it. Finally it consumed it with a moan, with its black smoke both drawing forth tears - and giving them concealment. These monstrosities moved everyone. Unmoved, Nero hastened on the rite, terrifying the innocent gods. From this, Charon, you may comprehend crime, and crime’s burial.
CHAR. Brothers’ mutual hatred is no new thing, and already it is well known that a scepter refuses a partner. But their own treachery will destroy the wicked. Where do you seek to travel?
GHOST A pious and innocent lad, I seek the abodes of the Blessed.
CHAR. The abodes of the Blessed do not await those guilty of debauchery. A timely death took you off, who had been corrupted by him before you were poisoned by his bane.
GHOST I confess that he toyed with me when I was an innocent lad. This is Domitius’ sin, not mine.
CHAR. Hey, but debauchery polluted you two equally; ruined chastity does not return.
GHOST But savage death plucked me off during his banquet-rites, when no time was granted me for embracing my sister in my enemy’s sight, no eulogy before the people, no funeral procession. Was he the more savage, or I the more wretched? Nothing could be more wretched than me, more savage than he.
CHAR. Why assign trifles the weight of great things? This is a step along the way of crime, not the end of the journey. Up to now, crime has been committed. If you knew what is destined to occur, you would call it piety. Your hope lies in these things: the evil grows daily. Indeed, the pious emperors of Rome who have lived, who will live, will never equal impious Nero’s pious five-year span, in which you, a brother, died by your brother’s scheming. You were fortunate to die and avoid the coming slaughters. But you may speak these things better in an Underworldly forum.
GHOST I shall speak, and I shall pray that crime be heaped on crime. Let all right perish, let mother-right fail, A brother’s rights have failed. Let hateful Nero do things hateful in the eyes of mankind, the gods of the Underworld, those of the heavens - and of himself.

ACT III, SCENE ii
NERO, POPPAEA

Synopsis

NERO Poppaea, my love’s pomp, goddess of my spirits, light of my eyes, splendor of earthly goddesses, you who reflect the sun with your light, the Muses with your voice; in your glories you surpass the glories of all, you surpass all women in divinity, all goddesses in beauty, worthy of the love of a Caesar, of the bed of Jove. I used to marvel at those things reputation said of you - oh grudging reputation! - but when I see you I marvel the more, for I am seeing miracles. I love you, and I pray you love me in return. Why stay silent? I, Caesar, love you, and I pray you love me in return.
POPPAEA Because petty love speaks out while great love stays silent. I want to speak, but am ashamed. A great urge impels me to speak, a great one forbids me. Bashfulness scarce dares, while love is sharply daring. But let bashfulness be more decorous. Love presses me the more. What single thing can a double mind say? How ill modest, silent shame agrees with burning, raging love! Why conceal my downfall? Alas, I am overcome, entranced by your beauty, Nero, you Phoebus on earth. What woman, Phoebus, can see the loving in your eyes and not love? What woman can taste the loving on your lips, and not love? What woman can hear the loving on your tongue, and not love? Intoxicated, I confess, I am falling in love. Catch me as I fall. Let Anteros be Eros’ partner. Unrequited love is wretched, requited love is blessed. But I fear, alas, I fear that, as is men’s way, you pretend to love me, but do not. You want me subdued, but once I am, you refuse to protect me. You win great praise, a great prize, if a woman falls because of the wiles of two gods, Caesar and Love. But if - and may this not happen! - you do not love me, how can you make her unhappier than by causing her to fall in love? You would be kinder, Nero, to kill me than not to love me.
NERO I swear by the gods and goddesses, and by the things above them, by your name and divinity, Poppaea, which is dearer to me than my soul and my empire, that my mind is overmastered by love of Poppaea. I swear by your hatred, I swear by your love (nothing harsher to me than the one, more welcome than the other), I live by your love, I die by your loathing.
POP. Am I to believe you are in love? Oh, I do believe. For you love Acte. This sluttish handmaid seduces your affections. You are accustomed to subservience towards her. But what do you gain from her, whether she is slave or freedwoman, except the slavish, the cheap, the sordid? Am I to receive the leftovers of this vile, notorious serving-girl?
NERO Acte is splendid, I confess, as is Venus. But when you shine like Diana, Acte yields to her in whose bosom resides Diana, in whose countenance Venus. She shone by night, let your light summon the day. Let that night depart, let this day remain forever. If now I should stray, let night remain, and day depart. How does he who does not know you sin against you?
POP. But it does not befit a prudent wife, and it is a crime for a chaste one, to toss off Otho’s yoke — which is light, but you can still call it a yoke. He, happy with his life, dainty in his feasting, surpasses the blessed among mankind, and rivals the gods. Ostentatious in character, elegant in dress, powerful in wealth, he gives over his days to sleeping, his nights to wine. These are important, single, first, and supreme, they are his all. I seem to be Fortune, I turn Fortune’s wheel. With him I play the first role. Nero, will you assign me the second? You love Otho and are depriving him of what he loves the most?
NERO So will my happy rival Otho enjoy the woman whom I, Caesar, lack? I refuse to have Jove as my rival, let alone Otho. He is a dead man by his own testimony, like Candaules. Let him yield his wife to Gyges, to whom he showed her naked. Rather let Otho live, a beloved friend. No, not beloved, nor a friend, since he is a rival. But let him live. But so that he will not claim my darling, let him depart and govern the province of Lusitania. Let him depart so that he will not commit adultery with his own wife. Surely Caesar is not to love more than Otho, put prosper the less? Will Otho offer you anything of which Caesar cannot offer more? If you are divine for Otho, for Caesar you will be a goddess. City, world, Otho, Caesar - what will you not command? Caesar, the city, the world will offer you incense and prayers.
POP. But, Jupiter, you have your sister-wife Juno (and these marriages, unless they involved gods, would be very dubious), daughter of morose, incompetent, feckless Saturn (unless he was a father and king, he would have been an exile and a fool), should I call her the daughter of shameless Rhea - or of a whore? For a notorious whorehouse produces a whorish wolf. Will this jealous, barren, insolent Juno (and I think she will soon give birth to a fine Vulcan), will this Juno tolerate a Semele as a rival? Will she allow her Jupiter to be estranged, or will she prepare a poisoned cloak, either for me, a Creusa, or for you, a Hercules? Whom will this offended wife spare - or rather, whom will she not harm?
NERO Why do you cast in my teeth the abhorred name of a wife always hateful to my mind? I detest her worse than snake or dog. She will have no power. Watch me, she will dare nothing. Or suppose she dares, suppose she is able, suppose the crime is done: that crime itself will help me in its harming. Heaven will grant aid if earth restrains me. For heaven will be denying itself whatever it refuses you. I shall not delay, Octavia will fall out of heaven.
POP. But will schoolmaster Seneca approve, will Burrhus?
NERO I am determined to do this, whether they approve or not.
POP. But the people will defend her with their love.
NERO Is the people to oppose its love to mine? Is it to defend her when it cannot protect its own interests? If they dare anything, both she and they will pay the forfeit.
POP. But one name remains, and that makes me shudder even more: that of Augustus, indeed that of Augusta your mother, nor is this an empty name. She rules, she issues orders, she plays the master. You are not free, Nero, nor an emperor. You are a name, you are not Nero. You are a schoolboy, not Ninus but Ninus’ son. As a girl, in her quest for power, she allowed herself, or even sought, to be defiled at the hands of her brother and of Lepidus, and next of Pallas, and even the incestuous bed of her uncle. And now, to retain it, she is done up in finery, lascivious, wanton, prostituting herself to you when you are in her cups. She makes this evildoing public, she even boasts of it. But the people, the Senate, the army can scarce tolerate this arrogant, greedy woman, guilty of debauchery and murder. Just so, in the reign of Oedipus the citizenry feared the plague at Thebes, feared the gods, hostile towards their unclean prince. Come now, return yourself to your origins, to your mother, return your soldiers, citizens, and the gods to this incestuous situation. Who is permitted to impregnate his mother, why bother to say this is a sin? Though loving be piety, loving one’s mother in this manner is an abomination, a mother who does not love you, and will tolerate no wife for her son - save one he hates. So I shall return to Otho. Or rather, I shall go where I shall not hear Nero’s name or shame. Or at least I shall rather hear of Nero’s shame, and of his punishments for shamefulness, than witness them as an accomplice or share in his punishments as a partner.
NERO Why pile hatreds upon hatreds? Why add fires to flames? I confess I loved her when she deserved it, when she fostered and favored my affairs. Now she oppresses me harshly, very harshly she presses me. But I shall quickly cast off the weight. You see that her ostentation has been diminished. No longer does a German garrison guard her house. Her home has been placed far away, lest crowds gather there to greet her. Nobody offers her consolation save a few women, but it is uncertain whether they do so out of affection or hatred. If this is still insufficient, I want her dead. Indeed, to satisfy you, let the populace, my wife, Acte, Burrhus, Otho, Seneca, my mother, the whole world go to ruin.

 

ACT III, SCENE iii

Enter the actor Paris; a little later Burrhus and Seneca, Anicetus, and others.

Synopsis

NERO But what’s this? Gloomy Paris enters, who often cheers my soul. Is a tragedy being readied for us, Paris? Are you playing Hecuba, or putting on Helen for me? Your countenance speaks of the one, your spirits of the other, though your costume of neither. Why is it you are shuddering? Whatever it is, speak up, Paris.
PARIS It is a tragedy, but I wish it were a play. This is no Hecuba or Helen complaining about her ills, but rather an Agave, Althaea, or Medea, or more evil woman yet, if such there be, who seeks evils for her kinfolk. Oh monsters among mothers! Oh women who outdo the savage beasts!
NERO Surely Philomela’s feast is not being set at Rome? What is it?
PAR. An evil deed is being prepared, worse than the one of Thrace.7
NERO What is it?
PAR. A thing at which the tongue sticks, the mind shudders.
NERO What is it? Doubtful matters torture one more, things briefly spoken relieve the doubter. Speak out.
PAR. You mother —
NERO Who? what?
PAR. Alas, your mother

NERO What about her? Perhaps she’s mourning my dead brother.
PAR. A trifle.
NERO What, therefore? She’s publishing Claudius’ murder.
PAR. A trifle.
NERO Then what? She is a greedy, arrogant whore.
PAR. A trifle. I do not shiver at old things that have been heard.
NERO So what is worse?
PAR. She’s selected Plautus for her bed — and for your throne.
NERO Of what Plautus are you speaking? Rubellius?
PAR. You can call him a rebel, on whom your mother bestowed a rank derived from Augustus.
NERO Tell me who revealed this outrage.
PAR. Her friend Silana betrayed the crime to Calvisius, Calvisius immediately reported it to Atimetus, and Atimetus told me. I did not wish to keep silent about this unspeakable evil.
POP. This is a mother? This is an Augusta? Thus she glorifies her relatives? Thus she loves you? Or rather hates you? Oh, the step-motherly beast! O shame of women, dire ambition! Does she thus place everything second to power? Her son too? Does she mount towards authority by murder? Her son’s too? Why be terrified, my Nero? Dispose of a mother who is trying to dispose of her son. Let her who did not know you as a loving son come to know you as an indignant Caesar. She set the example: imitate it. Though its imitation be perilous, surpass her in daring. When dangers threaten, the wise man strikes first. It is not criminal to employ crime to defeat a criminal woman.
NERO Monstrous mother, do you so wretchedly thirst for the scepter? This is a thirst that surpasses that of wretched Tantalus. Do you think it a light thing to bear the scepter, to bear it away, according to whim? Is this what you taught me? Is this how you hold me? Do you hold me thus? To bear the scepter is arduous. Let it be more than arduous to bear it off. We gained it with difficulty, it is much more difficult to make us lose it. Scepters arm him who wield them, but destroy him who seeks them. Do you wish great power? You will not be as powerful as you are now, for you shall lose what you have, nor gain what you lack. But alas, what man will my scepter show to be loyal? Who will swear or offer his wealth, his power for my benefit? Seneca, you are wont to offer counsel when I am in doubt. Burrhus, you are wont to inflict retribution on those who deserve it. You have both heard of my impious mother’s crime. What do you urge, Seneca? Why not strike down this guilty woman, Burrhus?
SENECA What should I urge on an emperor? There is no room for taking counsel, when the facts require courage the more. You who are consul, decide. You who are Caesar, command.
NERO But Burrhus hears phlegmatically, and silently gives his denial.
BURRHUS I say neither nay nor aye, nor do I know what accusation I should make.
NERO Are you deaf, that you hear these accusations, and do not know that she is guilty? Are you so obtuse that you deny her guilt, and punishment?
BUR. If she is guilty.
NERO What’s this? If she is guilty. This is Burrhus’ loyalty? I presume this is how you thank her for giving you preferment. But someone else will act.
BUR. Why doubt my faith?
NERO Because it is loyal to a traitress.
BUR. Thus you call your mother?
NERO Thus she demonstrates herself
BUR. Monstrosities are being spoken of. But every person must be given an opportunity for defending himself, even more so for a mother. Nor is an accuser present to confront her. Only one voice has been raised against her in this unfriendly household. And (if it is permitted to speak of things I have seen) the darkness refutes it, the wakeful night given to feasting, all these circumstances so conducive to rashness in those with free time on their hands. Nevertheless, if she is convicted of the accusation, I promise her death. Let her hear these charges, let her establish her innocence or pay the forfeit.
NERO Do so, go, let this innocent dame put up a fine defense. But while she lives, she does so on the condition that Nero is condemned to death.
Seneca, Burrhus, and the others exit to visit Agrippina, save for Nero, Poppaea, and Anicetus.
POP. Has he left thus? Do you thus grow cool, Nero? Thus do you waver? Thus do you cling to Agrippina? She will put up an excellent defense - I suppose she doesn’t know how to speak! Do you think that good words will fail her evil mind? Filled with hate, she feigns great love. This accusation does not lower her spirits but rather kindles them, nor, acquitted, does she rejoice, but feels chagrin and rage for being held in suspicion. If you work some crime against her in turn, better either not to do so or else to do it with your full enthusiasm - but do so secretly. Open hatreds bars revenge. Devote yourself to revenge, revive your faint determination. Think that moderation in crime is a foolish thing. When you have stored this wisdom in your mind, if you do not act you will receive an injury.
NERO Uncertain, I am caught between being Caesar and being a son. My angry mind is Caesar’s, my pious mind a son’s. Revenge is welcome to Caesar, her safety is welcome to her son. My anger, yield to my piety; safety, set a limit on revenge. Return, son, now that Caesar is banished.
POP. Why are you hesitating, Caesar? Are you pious towards your impious mother? Piety is a private matter, anger suits a ruler. Revenge upon her is your safety, her safety your penalty. Piety is worse than anger, revenge better than safety. Rule, Caesar, as is reasonable.
NERO But she is my —
POP. Rather, her own.
NERO. — mother.
POP. But a wicked mother.
NERO It is a dire sin to harm even an evil mother.
POP. It will be right to do to her what she prepared against her son.
NERO Let her be

POP. Rather, let her not be.
NERO— guilty.
POP. And she is guilty of the crime.
NERO What remedy is there?
POP. Crime as a remedy for crime is a speedy one.
NERO But a grave one.
POP. She must be removed.
NERO By what means?
POP. By what means is she not to be removed? By violence.
NERO Go on.
POP. By deceit.
NERO Continue.
POP. By violence and deceit.
NERO Go ahead, proceed.
POP. By poison.
NERO I don’t like that.
POP. By steel.
NERO Nor that.
POP. Then what?
NERO There’s scarcely an opportunity for poison, and use of steel is a crime. Let nobody accidentally slip some poison into her food, since this method is now too familiar thanks to Britannicus’ death. It would be difficult to suborn the servants of this woman, now she’s on her guard and, thanks to her own experience with evildoing, is wily at avoiding traps. Indeed, thrice the attempt has been made but she’s baffled them by swallowing antidotes beforehand.
POP. On her guard against Caesar? Once that was a crime.
NERO Steel cannot remain concealed. Nor can anybody be found for such a deed, who will not refuse my bidding. Alas for me, who will lessen my great anxieties? This is a job that will bear a worthy reward.
ANICETUS Although the means that have been mentioned do not please, and these plans might bring injury on their author, because they involve conspiring against the very mother of Caesar, since, Caesar, your safety is at stake, indifferent to my own, I offer you my head and hand. Hand will be compliant, head will invent a scheme by which she can be removed unawares, swift and sure.
NERO Anicetus, pedagogue worthy of me, my avenger, you win me over if you act as you act now. But so as to render me blessed, explain the means of her death.
ANIC
. In the amphitheater I saw a ship in the midst of the water that broke apart on its own, spilling out wild beasts for the fight, and after they had been disgorged it came back together. It is possible to build such a ship, so that part of it is cleverly constructed to fall apart. When your mother has been invited aboard, and borne on a sea-cruise, let the machinery suddenly give way as the ship disgorges her unawares, or let the weight of the machinery crush her unexpectedly. Accidents occur nowhere as often as at sea. Nothing makes you a hostage to fortune more than sailing, such a trifle separates life from death. So, if she falls headlong into the sea, who will be so unreasonable as to attribute to crime the blame (if they think there is any blame) which should fall on the winds and the waves? And indeed, after she has been done in, you can dedicate a temple and altars to her, and do whatever can prove you to be pious, if you are pleased by feigned piety.
NERO It pleases me, Anicetus. I shall put this into effect without delay.

ACT III, SCENE iv
AGRIPPINA, BURRHUS, SENECA, ACERONIA, OTHERS

Synopsis

BURRHUS Augusta, I have explained the accusation put forward by those who would hold you guilty. Either defend yourself, or pay the forfeit with your fate.
AGRIPPINA Silana, being barren, has no experience of parents’ pious affections. For a mother, unlike a whorish harlot, does not change her children. In reporting my name bankrupt Calvisius does his final service for an old woman, but not his best. So am I to be branded as a parricide, is Caesar to be advised of the branding? Oh, the horrible wickedness! I thank Domitia most heartily for her hatred. And if she contends against me in love for Nero (if a contention with me suits her), let her also contend in duty. Now shamefully with the help of her bedfellow Atimetus, and boldly with the help of Paris the actor, she is writing stage-plays. She was enjoying the opulent watering-holes at Baii, when by my schemes were being prepared his adoption, the proconsulship, the honor of being chosen consul, and everything else that provides imperial honor for my son. For that there should be anybody (but who is it?) who would accuse me of tempting the urban soldiers, of weakening the provinces’ loyalty by deceit, of having enticed slaves, even freedmen to wrongdoing by my wiles! Certainly, if Britannicus had ruled I would have enjoyed power. Life has been denied to him, but should Nero not live? If Plautus or anyone else were to gain the empire, I should lose a protector, who does not cast ill-chosen words or accusations against me, such as a slandered mother could not defend herself against, except to her son. And I have no doubt I shall defend myself. For what an evil should I be, if I were not absolved! Nor do I think it to be no crime to doubt a mother’s loyalty. I shall not be able to tolerate this, nor will pious Caesar. But if it is to be tolerated, why does he complain? Why does he not undertake an inquiry? It is complained of me that I am worthy to be held in suspi7cion by Nero, and slaves are putting me on trial. Oh shameful fate, abominable, impious deed!
SENECA Augusta, your situation moves us much, but our loyalty moves us more concerning Caesar, who has received an injury. Console yourself, master your great spirits. Would that we could absolve you as being innocent, as we can listen to you! But what we can do is pity you. For us these things suffice. Hence let this be sufficient for Caesar.
AGRIP. How miserable am I, that you pity me! Oh, how guilty I am, that I cannot be absolved! You pity me? I was the object of your loathing. I am not absolved? But I was judge of life and death. Alas, whence have I fallen? I must visit Caesar, I want to. The son will be a fair judge of his mother. Let us see if he who sees me will account me guilty. Let us go to him.
BUR. Rather, Caesar is coming to you. (Enter Nero.)
AGRIP. I am being accused iniquitously, my Nero, I am being falsely accused. These whores iniquitously accuse the Augusta of crimes, they falsely accuse your innocent mother of crimes. But what is the accusation? Lesé majeste against you. In truth, your majesty was created and enlarged by me. Why say more? Your own mother (unless you think it an accusation to be a mother) washes away the guilt, defends herself. You must believe that in your mother reside love, piety, and loyalty. Having deserved nothing, why fear anything from me? You would do better to fear them, and fear for me. They have dared attack me, and with your mother out of the way they will attack you. And so will you, who wield in your hand Jove’s lightning and Phoebus’ arrows, see the slander of these whores, the slander of these children of Tantalus, leveled against me, and suffer it? You hear the accusation, and you believe this evil?
NERO I do not believe these slanders, mother, nor shall I allow them. Let those who bear witness against you suffer whatever you shall have brought against them. Let Silana go to distant shores as an exile, let Calvisius be an exile, let Atimetus be an exile. Leave Paris to me. Decree whatever honors you choose for your own people, I shall not deny your wish. A mother’s anger must be borne, her fury must be placated. Let piety be cultivated, wrath set aside, fury abolished. Let love dispel hatred, loyalty dispel treachery, and good will banish fury. Hug me tight, mother. Thus a son ought to be united with his mother, thus hand ought to be given to hand, thus lips should be planted on lips. Why do you shiver, mother?
AGRIP. I am afraid.
NERO What? Of me?
AGRIP. Rather for my own sake
NERO And why for yourself?
AGRIP. I am a mother unworthy of such a good son. Your piety casts blame on me, though I be blameless.
NERO If you knew how much I love you, you would say that even more. I have never loved you as I love you now. Why are you shivering, mother?
AGRIP. How much I want to believe your words, and yet I fear! I easily believe what I want, but even more easily what I fear.
NERO He who is always afraid of death is always dying. Who believes makes loyalty grow, who fears diminishes it. I would have you neither disdain nor fear all things.
AGRIP. Who knows to fear the doubtful knows how to progress in safety. Peril quickly overtakes the unready, and nobody is more quickly undone than he who fears nothing. Security is the seed of calamity.
NERO Here you may see everything in safety, here nothing is doubtful. You fear that which needs to be feared; you fear evils of your own devising. The mind conscious of its evildoing fears evil. So ought I to be afraid of you, rather than you of me?
AGRIP. Because you can do the greater harm.
NERO But I have the lesser desire.
AGRIP. You wield the scepter.
NERO But it is my pleasure to share it.
AGRIP. With whom?
NERO With you.
AGRIP. You joke.
NERO I’m serious.
AGRIP. Why this?
NERO It is my wish.
AGRIP. Oh credulous womanly hope! Has he said enough? Do not pretend: heaven does not allow two suns, nor the world two Caesars.
NERO Heaven allows one moon, the world will bear one mother of a Caesar. If you desire to request anything, you will quickly gain whatever you ask. You refuse to ask, but you will gain what you do not ask.
AGRIP. Dismiss me. Rule alone.
NERO You rule by yourself. You know how to rule. Unless you are my partner in ruling, I do not care to rule.
AGRIP. I shall not desert you, if such is your will.
NERO So sail with me to the banquet I have prepared. Let us celebrate this day, for me triumphal.
AGRIP. I follow. Let Jupiter preserve these goods for you and for me.

ACT III, SCENE v
A PAGE BOY

Synopsis

With happy omen, on festive occasion, with happy heart, with tuneful mouth, our joys are sung. These joys, Nero’s happy deeds, the fate of his mother require nothing but joy. No more happily did Nereus’ opulent daughter once take a husband, receiving in the sea the lofty gods with nectar and ambrosia , than Nero receives his mother with an opulent feast, happy mien, and grateful mind, if his countenance truly reveals a friendly mind, and an unfriendly mind does not spoil his countenance. The sparkling gem, the shining purple, the elegant furnishings, the golden garments, the golden vases, everything gilded, the pact of peace. The mother offers a kiss as a pledge of love for her son. The son kisses his mother to confirm their pact of love. She plants sweet kisses, sweeter herself. He confirms welcome things, more welcome himself. Wrath raises terrible storms, but loving-kindness scatters the black clouds. How foully clouds hide the sun! How fitly clouds yield to the sun! The world rejoices, free of quarrels. Peace grips our cities. Peace is granted, Janus’ double doors are shut. So why is it not lawful, why is it not needful for us to live in joy, as Caesar is joyous? Why should we not want, why indeed should we not rejoice in garlanding our locks with fresh flowers, in a decent manner? Minerva’s festival is now being celebrated. Let our songs praise learned Pallas, let the flute play a song about sweet Pallas. Pallas, protect these good things for us! (Here Furies terrify the boy.)
But alas, what terror disturbs my happy breast? Am I deceived? Or do I see shades, if these are indeed shades, raging? Do I shudder at their sight? Minerva, drive these evil things from us! (Exit, terrified.)

 

ACT III, SCENE vi
AGRIPPINA, NERO, ANICETUS, CREPEREIUS, ACERONIA, OTHERS

Synopsis

NERO Augusta my mother, oh my sweet mother, Caesar’s good genius, your son’s salvation, since you wish to depart (and you wish this for my sake), farewell, mother. Farewell, mother, and fare well for my sake. Guard your safety. It is for your sake that I live and reign. But first I must kiss my mother. Give me your sweet hand for the kissing, first let me plant a kiss on your lips. Oh how pleasant! And a kiss on your eyes. Oh how delightful! And a kiss for these breasts. Oh cruel kiss, how regretfully I part from you! I am unable to satisfy my love with your sight. Why not remain? Why flee me? But since you wish to depart (and you wish this for my sake), farewell, mother. A sumptuous ship awaits you. Yours ran onto a reef and shattered, so mine awaits you. Take Anicetus as guide on your journey. Farewell, mother.
AGRIP. Farewell, Caesar, who bids me fare well so often, a man worthy to fare well forever, if you strive to be pious towards your mother. I always pray for your welfare. See that this fever is not recurrent for our affliction. Take care lest a new storm overcloud our sun. Your great good will makes me safe but timid, since it is so unaccustomed. Let it stand firm. Farewell, Caesar. [Exeunt omnes except for Caesar.]
NERO Farewell for the last time. If this is not sufficient, farewell for ever. “Lest this fever is not recurrent for our affliction” - die! “Lest a new storm overcloud our sun” — may this storm overwhelm and drown you! Let Zephyrus drive against Eurus, Notus against Boreas; let Eurus rebuff Zephyrus, and Boreas Notus. May storm arouse wind, and wind arouse savage storm. May mountains of water raise her to the stars, may valleys of water drag her down to Tartarus. May wave overwhelm wave, flood overflow flood. May sea pour forth rains, may rains make sea to swell. May whirlwind stir sea, may sea gather whirlwind. Let seas thunder as if they belonged to heaven. Let sea grind ship on the reefs, let ship crush reef. May the ship discharge its load, and may ocean devour it. But why are the stars a-glitter? Why does the moon shine? Do you begrudge this, stars? Moon, do you shudder at the crime? Why not flee, stars? Moon, why not cover your head? The sun went backwards at the killing of the children. Does the moon bring the killing of a mother, without fleeing? Does it wish to reveal the deed? That’s it. It craves to witness the deed. So come, let the deed be revealed - but let it first occur. As long as it occurs, stars and moon, look on as you please. But now there’s need of redoubled night. I want shadows, so that all will be of one single color, or so that there will be no color at all. But if the crime can only occur in the light, light I shall supply. Why are the whirlwinds silent, why the waves sluggish? Are you preserving her? Or are you accusing me of the guilt? The whirlwinds are disobedient, the waves are hostile. Accuse me of the guilt, as long as she dies. Come, convict me of the crime, but let the crime prevail. Break asunder the sky, pour forth the hateful sea. Confound earth and Underworld, sky and ocean. But why am I calling on stars, moon, whirlwinds, and waves, which are deaf to human pleas, though savage if nobody calls? Anicetus, all my hope is placed in you. Destroy her and I live; fail to destroy her and I die. Safety bids me forestall her in crime - a son’s safety, which ill accords with his mother’s. Protect me, Anicetus, nor delay your aid. Come as the herald of salvation, rescuer from anxiety, author of happiness. And, longed-for, he comes. But alas, he comes gasping, sad, and amazed. [Enter Anicetus.]
Is it accomplished, Anicetus?
ANICETUS Not nothing, nor what I would have wished.
NERO Concerning me or her?
A
NIC. Concerning neither.
NERO But there is no middle ground.
A
NIC. There is now.
NERO What do you mean, there is now?
A
NIC. Now neither has enough been accomplished, nor again nothing at all.
NERO What has been done?
A
NIC. If you allow, I shall tell.
NERO I allow.
A
NIC. When the ship received her, which was to carry her captive and cast her into the sea, the sailors spun no delays, but left the harbor. The calm sea, friendly breeze, and stars offered themselves as guides. Darkness, storms, and whirlwinds would have pleased me more. But the ship, borne along, plowed the azure sea, and the shore echoed the beats of its oars as they vied with each other. The rising and falling oars propelled the ship, the breeze assisted, and they cleaved the sea. At this point your mother, well-equipped with Bacchus’ gold and purple, retired, and Polla stretched out at the reclining woman’s feet. Meanwhile Crepereius stood near the steersman. For the benefit of reclining Agrippina, Polla recalled - and recalled with good cheer - how you repented your offensiveness and quarrel, and how your mother had regained, indeed had gained an increased measure of the good-will she had previously lost. While she was recalling these things, the ship was carried out to open sea, and I gave the signal. The canape, weighted with lead, collapsed. Crepereius was crushed and fell lifeless. The stronger bulkhead of the structure protected Agrippina and Polla, and the ship failed to break apart at my signal. Everybody acted, although not everybody knew how to act, and those who did not created a considerable delay for those who knew. Augusta rent her garments and tore her hair. Tears drenched her face, and she railed at the gods. Overwhelmed by the evils we had created, seething with anger, when she saw sea and naught but sea, as the situation was hopeless, she said as follows: “Is this the reward you give me for my gift? I am worthy of this ship, I confess it, for I gave birth to such an evil, in my folly I gave life and power to Caesar. Lift up your face from Acheron if you wish, my husband, and sate yourself on my punishment, if for such you hunger. Poor man, I was the cause of your cruel death, I was responsible, alas, for the death of your son. See, see, I am conveyed to your shades, as I deserve, unburied, overwhelmed by the waves of the abyss.”
NERO A swan-song, for sure. How sweet it sounds!
A
NIC. Then the oarsmen saw that they should act so to make the ship list to port, and so sink her. But their agreement came too slow, and others, struggling to the contrary, allowed the women a gentle fall into the water. At last the ship, weighted down by the collapsed lumber, gaped open, drank in the sea. A wailing went up, the shrieking of women resounded, dire death stared them in their fearful eyes. Each person sought to escape a watery death. This man, naked, grasped a plank and cleaved the waves. That one sought the uninhabited shore by swimming. The Fates sank many in the bottomless brine. On the brink of death, Polla cried out that she was Agrippina, calling for help for the ruler’s mother. We believed and, availing ourselves of the weapons the situation offered, we shoved her down with oars and put her to death with a pole. “Augusta ” she said, but death by sea cut off the rest.
NERO Commendable, but I want to hear how the sea swallowed up my mother herself. This is the prey I am hunting. Libyan lions do not attack anything but bulls, the eagle does not attack the housefly, Caesar’s quarry is the Augusta.
A
NIC. Seeing what was done to the other woman, the Augusta had no doubt that the trickery was woven for her. (Enter Burrhus and Seneca.) I do not know whether she kept quiet out of sorrow or scheming. In the murk of night she quietly slipped beneath the waves, but soon bobbed up, paddling at the water with her hands at her terror’s urging, since death by sea or weaponry was at hand. She only swam in a wounded, half-dead manner, for an oar had inflicted a grave wound in her shoulder. But she was not so injured as to swim off without a struggle. For she felt contempt for death and still had trust in many people who both dared and hoped to convey aid to their mistress though her powers be shattered, and to lift her out of the water. As she trailed her sluggish arms they encouraged her with their shouts until her breast cleared the water and, met by some fishing smacks, she was conveyed to the Lucrine lake, and finally was borne to her villa in safety.
NERO So she has escaped? Thus? The quarry has fled? What remains? She will be here, she will be here, roaring horribly like a tigress aroused by an errant javelin, rolling those wild eyes, issuing threats with that truculent mouth. Nothing will sate her greedy hunger save blood, nor will any blood but mine quench her gaping thirst. I seem to see, I see that savage face. I seem to perish, and perish by her cruel hand. I swear by the gods of the upper, lower, and middle worlds, this rushing Fury will come here bringing vengeance. “To arms, to arms!” she will compel her slaves. “To arms, to arms!” she will summon the soldiery. Now this wild beast is seeking the Senate and the people, she is telling of her murdered friends, she is making a demonstration of her shipwreck and of her wounding, alas too light! But what resources have I unless you advise me, Seneca? Unless, Burrhus, you bestir yourself and bring me support? Why are you standing here? My safety summons you to this, too. Are you disposed to advise anything else? This is not the place. I shall listen to nothing. No need for advice, there is need for assistance and for advancing my mother’s death. Unless she is forestalled, Nero perishes at her hand. You, Seneca, are looking at Burrhus, and Seneca at you, Burrhus, wondering if the army is to be commanded to do this murder.
BURRHUS The dynasty of the Caesars and Germanicus’ memory bind the Praetorians’ loyalty, so that no harmful thing should befall his posterity. But better that Anicetus should keep his word.
A
NIC. I shall keep it. Let the whole of this crime be entrusted to me. I shall not delay. A crime at which the centuries will shudder, but about which none will keep silent, a thing which will make earth and heaven tremble, which will make its author blush and the Furies groan, this will be accomplished, accomplished by me, and for your sake.
NERO Now I begin to be a ruler, now I truly rule! This day confirms my scepter, this day grants me power. A freedman is responsible for this great deed done for me, a freedman is responsible for my mother’s demise. Hasten, Anicetus, choose yourself accomplices prompt to obey. Quickly fulfil your mandate.
A
NIC. I wish to have as accomplices a Centurion of the fleet, a ship’s captain, and a few sailors as helpers.
NERO They will be available. But do what you are doing quickly. (Exit Nero, Seneca, and Burrhus.)
A
NIC. (Alone.) Anicetus, now there is need for you to summon your skills, or rather your wits; for this job requires your wits. Gird your mind, put on the nature of the wild crags of the inhospitable Caucasus, and triple steel. Plug your ears to complaints, banish fear from your mind, and shut your eyes to this impious woman’s piety. I shall be deemed disloyal to Caesar, but loyal to the Augusta. Dare something, if you wish to become something. Come, come, do a thing which all will disapprove, approved by Caesar. You will undertake great things for evil, accomplish them for good, and the crime’s fruit will be such that you will believe it no crime at all. If there is any guilt, it belongs to the man giving orders. Caesar commands, and is to be obeyed. But see, Caesar is a son. He is harsh on his mother, and his mother on him. Hasten. His gratitude will return. But it has previously perished, and suppose she perish with the result that Nero’s grounds for gratitude likewise perish. But he will repent. Cease. He will have second thoughts. Beware. Take care, lest he take her part after she has been murdered at his bidding. I fear both the one course and the other. Whether I act or no, there is fear in either choice, in either there is fear of Caesar: if I act, lest he quickly come to hate me, if I do not act, lest he die or kill me for disloyalty towards himself. He will hate the foul deeds that he orders committed. But he promises a reward, not to mention threatening death. Doing good for him, shall I be repaid with evil? He will die unless his mother dies first, and unless he or she dies, they will kill me. She will hold against me the crime undertaken, he will accuse me of the crime abandoned. What do I do? My loyalty to Nero must remain unsullied. But I have no loyalty towards her, but rather an ancient hatred. Hasten, and destroy the one of them you hate the more. Let present fear overmaster fear in the future. Now I have no avenue of retreat. Now I have no leisure for taking new counsel. Let my route consist of crimes piled on crimes. Bashfulness has perished, piety has perished, I am borne along in the direction Caesar commands. He who saves the woman Caesar has bid perish dies himself. But let her die first, and he too, I shall spare myself. (Enter Herculeius, a ship-captain, Oloaritus, a centurion, and sailors.) But see, the captain comes, with a few sailors. Do you know what to do, mates?
HERCULEIUS Caesar bids us do nothing save what you command.
A
NIC. And your attitude is?
HERC. I swear by Jove.
A
NIC. And thus stands your loyalty?
OLOARITUS I swear by Mars.
A
NIC. And so you will do this?
HERC. I swear by the sea-gods.
A
NIC. And you will do anything?
OLO. And everything.
A
NIC. If he commands a murder?
OLO. I shall commit a murder.
A
NIC. If a crime?
OLO. I shall do a crime.
A
NIC. What if a mother?
HERC. What mother?
A
NIC. His own.
HERC. What if it were my own? If ordered I will butcher my own. What if he orders me? I’ll butcher even myself. If I don’t do it, Caesar will see that it is done. But if I do it, Nero will reward me.
A
NIC. Do you fear nothing?
OLO. Nothing, Caesar excepted.
A
NIC. So will you go?
OLO. For Caesar, we will go against highest Jove.
A
NIC. It is fitting for Caesar to have such servants. It is good. (Enter Agerinus.) But see, happy Agerinus comes. He comes? What’s he bringing? Happy? I smell treachery. Presumably he says that shipwrecked Augusta swam away. The lying woman feigns ignorance of the evil by which she almost died. In the midst of treachery the only salvation is to be ignorant of that which you know. Shrewd. But you won’t escape thus. [To his companions.] While I’m asking him what’s new, let one of you toss a dagger between his feet. Thus we will set the stage for a new accusation. [Aloud.] Agerinus, why do you come so happily? And whom do you seek?
AGERINUS It pleases me to be happy. What affair is it of yours? I’m not seeking you.
A
NIC. Bravely spoken.
AGER. As is my wont.
A
NIC. Fine by me. But I suppose you want an audience with Caesar to be given.v
AGER. And I hope an audience with Caesar will be granted.
A
NIC. It will be granted, if first I learn what news you bring.
AGER. Must slaves first discover things meet to be told their masters? (The dagger is thrown.)
A
NIC. I suppose you visit us having come from meeting his mother.
AGER. Yes, having met her.
A
NIC. But Caesar will meet his mother.
AGER. There’s no need.
A
NIC. She’s ill.
AGER. She’s not.
A
NIC. She suffers from a wound.
AGER. Nor this.
A
NIC. She’s been shipwrecked.
AGER. Nor that.
A
NIC. Don’t deny it.
AGER. Why should I not deny it?
A
NIC. Indeed you are bringing some news.
AGER. Let me deliver it.
A
NIC. But you will not deliver it.
AGER. I shall.
A
NIC. Rather, hold your silence, traitor. You are caught red-handed. Look, look, friends: a dagger aimed at Caesar. This is the agent his mother (oh what a pious mother!) planned to employ, to sow ruination for her son, our prince. Fellows, bind this captive’s treacherous hands, cast him into chains.
AGER. Am I to die thus unheard?
A
NIC. Why should I pay any attention to words, when deeds condemn the accused? Your purpose is clear, and that of your mistress. You crave an audience with Caesar while armed with a dagger. But what did this mean? What design has your ardor? You alone are seeking to kill nobody but Caesar, just him alone. Why should I seek any further? Up on a cross with him, lads! We shall see ourselves, what the authoress of this infamy is herself doing, what else she is preparing in her cunning, whether she is ashamed to be caught out, and what she intends to do if she feels any shame — whether she can stand to live, or whether she prefers to die.

ACT III, SCENE vii

Agrippina with a wounded shoulder, lying on a couch, with one maid and a lamp.

Synopsis

AGRIP. Has Agerinus not yet returned? Has he not come yet? In the midst of dire things, how rotten a thing is delay! While he delays, my hope fades. Fear compels me to believe that all has been done that can be done. What does Nero’s hatred tolerate? What does it not tolerate? I have not deserved this. But does he handle me all the more unjustly because he hates me? Or rather does he hate me because he handles me unjustly? Though it be impious to hate me, it is more so to loathe me. But his loathing is without end or limit, his wickedness is endless, his worse than wickedness is boundless. His malice is an abyss: where’s the bottom or the shore? And so, Julia, you must take a double precaution: that you not be unaware of his evil, but nevertheless that you not appear to be aware. You cannot be ignorant of what he is doing, but still you ignore it. Perhaps it is something still worse, but what can be worse? I know not what. Can there be anything worse? There can, and in his power he can command it. Would that he would do it before I could suspect it! But yet I am suspicious, because nobody comes from him, not even Agerinus. What is the meaning of this shore now cleared of men, what is the meaning of this noise, this solitude? Are these the signs of my final misfortune? (A lamp.)
See, see that light, how it is suddenly quenched, how it suddenly flares up. The gods want this crime to be known, they want it to be unknown. Something makes them ashamed. (A maid.)
A maid, but only one remains: she too is about to depart. Are you too deserting this piteous woman? But why do the gates resound as they are broken open? What is this thing? Has it ever been allowed to break down the Augusta’s doors? Is this how Nero told you to visit his mother? Tell him that I am satisfactorily revived. Tell him that, thanks to the kindness of the gods and the auspices of Caesar’s genius, I have safely swum away from a serious accident. There’s no need for him to visit me. Rather, I have need of peace. (Anicetus and his henchmen break in.)
But what’s this? Why threateningly terrify me, Anicetus? Are you going to commit some wrongdoing? I do not think this crime to be ordered by a son against his mother. My son has not ordered you to kill me. Do you dare do this without orders? (Herculeius with cudgels.)
Why is this captain menacing me with his club? Is this how to treat the Augusta? Does it please you thus to pay your respects to the daughter of Germanicus? (Oloaritus with swords.)
Are you going to strike me with that drawn sword, centurion? Strike me in the belly. Let your sword be plunged in this womb. This is where you must stab, this is the womb that bore such a monster. Thus, if die I must, strike me, let me die decently. Ah. (Dies. The curtains are drawn.)

 

ACT III, SCENE viii
NERO ALONE

Synopsis

NERO How hesitantly my mind freezes! Hope on the one hand, dread on the other: hope is a dreamer’s vision, fear a Gehenna. When my mind goes back and forth in this dubious way I neither live nor die, but I am unhappy. Unhappy the man for whom hope and fear thus vacillate! If false hope cheats me, I am cheated to my unhappiness. How unhappily I dread, lest some true cause of dread oppress me! How unhappily I die, if my mother does not perish first! A great business is afoot, I confess. Let it be done featly, I pray. Hurry, Anicetus, finish it. Show yourself a man. Serve me, and destroy her. Destroy her, or you are dead. We are both dead: you will have lost your loyalty, I my kingdom, and ruin will overhang the both of us. Come, hurry, slay, beat, rend, stab, do in my mother, so that you may show me a true Caesar. Keep your name of Unconquerable as an unconquered omen. But she, rich in influence, rich in coin, on her guard out of fear, saved by her servant’s loyalty, will sniff this out and anticipate it in her turn, overturning the scheme, turning it against me. And she will overturn everything along with me. The ancient vixen does not quickly fall into the net. Rather this is a lioness who lays her snares to avoid mine. She will surpass my arts with her art, my violence with her violence, my evil with her own. Will Pentheus drive Agave from Bacchus’ sacrifices? Agave will drive down Pentheus, a sacrifice to Bacchus. Thus there is only one choice: strike or perish. Strike, Anicetus, and strike deep. Unless she is stricken, unless she perishes, my cruel quarry will strike us, and our only choice will be to perish. And thus hope on the one hand, dread on the other, toy with and shatter me. As a wave first raises up a ship, then casts it down, so my proud heart leaps up to the heights, now sinks under the weight of its heavy burden. In either condition it fares poorly, more out of hope and fear than reality. Here instinct says one thing has been done, hope another, fear a third, but they do not say what. Anicetus, preserve my hope, do the thing, banish my fear. But alas, hope flees, fear prevails. I believe what I hope, but what I fear I believe the more. Evils are the more to be feared, as they come the quicker. Thus hope on the one hand, fear on the other, become entangled, travel in new spirals, when great things are awaited. I have hope from Anicetus, but fear from Agrippina. Only Anicetus can place me in security. (Enter Anicetus ). And see, he has returned. Tell me, am I an unhappy dead man? Or have I killed her?
A
NIC. Must it be the one or the other?
NERO It must.
A
NIC. Then there’s no doubt you must hope for one of the two.
NERO No. But since I remain in doubt I seem to be dying.
A
NIC. There’s no delaying?
NERO No delaying. You speak of death when you speak of delay.
A
NIC. Then I’m speaking of death.
NERO What? Mine?
A
NIC. Gods forbid. I am speaking of your murdered mother.
NERO My mother?
A
NIC. Yours.
NERO Murdered?
A
NIC. And by this hand.
NERO I praise your hand, I kiss it. But you say this on your oath?
A
NIC. Upon my oath.
NERO What? Her dead? Can I believe this? Or do you wish . . .
A
NIC. Believe that Anicetus is speaking the truth, no less than you believe you are alive.
NERO I wish to, and I am unable to believe, thus great is this good. Nor is it easy to believe such tremendous things. But tell me the means. But now there is no need to know the means, as long as it assuredly has been done. It is a thing beyond belief, that you have been able to kill her. This is a deed that cannot satisfy me in the hearing. It will not satisfy me unless the eye happily sees what the ear has heard. In the seeing the eye guarantees the mind’s security. I want to go and look, if I may do so safely. May I?
A
NIC. Why not?
NERO You think her dead?
A
NIC. I know it.
NERO You’ve seen?
A
NIC. With these eyes.
NERO And by your hands?
A
NIC. These very hands.
NERO But —
A
NIC. What?
NERO I am afraid, lest she revive. Unless she has died . . .
A
NIC. Look at me.
NERO But if she is still breathing and gains her health . . .
A
NIC. Have no fear.
NERO You promise? I am going. You are either benefiting me or betraying me — or making me wholly blessed.

 

CHORUS 3
MEGAERA

Man is not a god, but a wolf to his fellow man. No beast treats a fellow animal as man treats man. No viper gnaws its mother’s innards save to live, or as a punishment. Nothing is as ungrateful, nothing as disloyal, nothing as hateful, nothing as hostile as man to man, the epitome of evil. Not without reason he is deemed to have been created from stone, since he resembles hard rock in his spirit. The Age of Iron witnessed men who were cannibals, misanthropes, blood-drinkers, eaters of human flesh. Did iron bestiality do more? Men are the Furies, we the Kindly Ones; they are unjust, we honest; they torture the undeserving, we punish the deserving; they do so avidly, we with sorrow. What Busiris, what Diomedes, what Sicilian Phalaris, or what tyrant of Thrace is to rule over Orcus? There is nobody in Orcus whom it tortures, save for those destined for punishment. For equal torment awaits those who are brutal tormentors of men, and this for an age longer than a human life-span.

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