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A PROLOGUE TO SENECA’S TRAGEDY HIPPOLYTUS
A previous performance gave you chaste Penelope. Lest she erect the ladies’ proud crests, today’s play will give you chaste Hippolytus, so that a reputation for chastity might equally adhere to the menfolk. The situation is reversed. This austere young man refuses to play the soft suitor’s role. Phaedra replaces Penelope, a shameless woman replaces a modest one. Here a woman woos a man, a step-mother her step-son. Who can believe the crime? Let Crete boast of Minos and its excellent wine, of Daedalus’ wondrous craft, of being Jupiter’s homeland, and of its hundred cities. As long as Crete produces Phaedra (horrible land, to engender such a monster!), I congratulate our island for being so far removed. So let nobody explain this outrage to the women, let this disgrace to their sex stay concealed. But if a lady pluck at a young man’s cloak and display an eager curiosity about what is being enacted here, let him invent some clever fib, or claim that the tale is rudely invented. Let them be spared, kept in ignorance of their shame. If someone should think they are being too harshly derided, let him first know that wantons are being criticized, not good women. Furthermore, let him lay the blame on Hippolytus, an abrupt young fellow, celibate, hard, and truculent, who shunned all women with equal dislike, uncontrollable, a woodsman, a forest-dweller. Therefore he will pay a deserved penalty to womankind, laden down with calamities, swept away, ripped by thorns. There’s no need to outline the plot. Who among you does not know his Seneca? Nevertheless, we have given this assignment to Megaera. Everything will freely explain itself. I ask that you pay attention to our troupe — or at least give it as much attention as you would in a public theater.
CUP. At last I, Cupid, am leaving the cave of infernal night, making my way to the more pleasant abodes of the celestials. Perithous, you have been crazed more than enough, and you too, Theseus, who accompanied Perithous as a comrade. You have rioted enough in Tartarus. Now the ruler of the shades has feared enough for Proserpina and his kingdom of Erebus. But why has Megaera come from the Underworld? [Enter Megaera.]
MEG. Is Theseus to visit the Acheron with impunity? Is he to cause troubles unpunished, and create such a turmoil for the Styx? Is he to violate the marriage chamber of Dis and Proserpina unscathed, while at his leisure he obliges his friend as a companion? Has he nothing to do at home? He will have! And why has this household so long gone without a dire crime? Is Phaedra innocent all this time? Why is she not yet burning with a torch kindled by Hippolytus? She will burn, and is burning now. Out of her mind, now she feels my departure from Hades.
CUP. Stop, hateful Fury, and cease vexing a happy household with such a plague. I shall stay here, warding off your crime, I shall not allow my godhead to be sullied by this disgrace, my name to be thus slandered. For who in the world would not condemn my torches and fail to blame me for this love? But I swear by the black Styx I have just departed, this misdeed has nothing at all to do with my darts. Oh Phaedra, love one man out of all that exist, so long is it is not this one out of all possible men. It is a great sin to hate so good a boy, but a greater to love him. Phaedra, you should love your stepson, but love him as a step-mother. Such love is more pious than hatred. Cease, Phaedra, banish this rage from your heart, and don’t taint me with this undeserved shame.
MEG. Cupid, on what authority is this great tyranny over me permitted you? Even though you are a terror on heaven, earth, and Erebus, Megaera alone scorns your bow. Am I to feel your flames? Should Megaera love or be loved? I shall extinguish your flames with my torches, and with my fires quench yours. (Exit Cupid.)
And so I shall use my Furies to drive on aroused Phaedra. Let it be a small crime for a step-mother to hate a step-son. It is a great one for her to love him. This madness suits Phaedra. Let the step-mother destroy her step-son by impious fraud, but before that let her commit a worse sin by loving him, and let her disgraceful warmth end in savage hatred. Let her chastity lie abandoned, but let it be feigned and gather strength, let evil grow upon evil. Let a great wrong be committed, and let an innocent man be penalized for the malefactor’s guilt. Let crime be cloaked by crime, and let Theseus wound Hippolytus with an unrighteous prayer. Enough said. Why hesitate to bury my face in the Acheron? Why not relieve the earth of my noxious presence? [Exit.]
Happy is he who, far from the turmoil of the court, is free to indulge in some fine hunting. What pleasure to hear high sounds intermixed with low — sounds of horns, youths, and dogs as they run at full cry through caves, dales, and high hills! What more welcome twang of the lyre or harp could ever reach my ears? What utility is conjoined with hunting’s pleasure! It strengthens the frame, and at the same time it sharpens the eye and the ear, it provides a semblance of war both for those on horse and afoot, and teaches one to learn and bear the military life. But I don’t know who has entered the forest. [Enter Pandarus.]
PAN. Greetings, Hippolytus, great glory of the countryside, but better of the city. May Diana be with you, always favorable to your enterprises, and may every grove always provide you beasts in abundance for the wounding. May those mountain spirits, the satyrs and Pans, favor you, and may the boars feel none of your blows that is not piercing. And even though you are said to hate girls inflexibly, may the Nymphs bring water with which you may quench your thirst.
HIPP. I receive your greeting as welcome, whoever you are, and I give you whatever greeting you want. But if you chance to be coming from the city, what’s new there? Has my father Theseus returned?
PAN. Forgive me for what I say, Hippolytus, he has neither returned nor, even though he has long been away, is there any hope of his return, since he has obviously abandoned all concern for his nation and family. For he accompanies his Perithous, and places that man ahead of you and his Phaedra, if I may speak the truth; by his deeds he abandons his responsibility as a husband. And this injury does not touch just Phaedra, for he has harmed the both of you in great matters. He killed Phaedra’s brother and left her sister as carrion for wild beasts. But the woman who was your first mother, once one of the axe-bearing maidens, if you ask where she is, she is laid low by Theseus’ sword. Nor did he formally wed her. Why? For no other reason than that you, as a bastard, would not inherit his kingdom. He gave you brothers, but brothers he seeks to put ahead of you, while Phaedra wants them to remain subordinate.
HIPP. I beg you, stop chafing our household’s ancient wound. Who would willingly hear about his family’s dishonor? Theseus is doing his duty by a friend, and will do all his duty by his people, his country, Phaedra, and myself, when the god brings him home. And I myself am aware how indebted I feel towards Phaedra.
PAN. At least as much as you can, Hippolytus, you should. I have perceived the very substantial marks of her great love. Your face, which the other women call severe and fierce, she praises as brave, and she commands those lads with girlish flowing locks to stay far away, thinking that manly beauty should be cultivated in moderation. Hippolytus, she thinks your unkempt hair, the hard set of your distinguished mouth, your ability to tolerate dust and sun, are much more suitable. When you steer your horses by the bridle on their hard necks, she admires the rider. If you chance to be throwing the javelin, she praises your arms. In sum, if you do anything at all, she extols you and takes pleasure. She only begs that you abandon your hardness of mind. What profit, if a gem glitters without any virtue when a plant grows, if it has no strength? What profit, if beauty shines when there is no love? She urges you to imitate Diana’s bow, which grows soft and feeble unless she loosens it. Thus she desires that your heart, like that bow, be relaxed with love’s joy.
HIPP. That I am pleasing to my step-mother is her gift, but also my burden, since a greater responsibility falls on me to comport myself in a manner worthy of such a good parent, demanding that I display corresponding gratitude for her great favors. Henceforth she will occupy a mother’s place in my heart, not a step-mother’s. I ask this one thing, that she allow me to follow the divine pursuit of woodcraft, to cultivate this life with Nature herself as my guide.
PAN. If it would please you to follow our universal parent, she has granted to all beings not only the love of marriage, but a shifting and promiscuous one to the beasts of the forest. A doe born to her stag-sire becomes his mate, and a doe submits to a stag dropped from her womb. And there are also reported to be races of men where a daughter marries her father and a mother her son, and their mutual loyalty is intensified by this double bond.
HIPP. One law rules us, another the beasts. They are governed by appetite, we by reason which, sacred, decrees laws of just marriage.
PAN. But no young man scorns the god Love, who confers equal blessing on oceans, lands, and heavens. He is the universal bond, humanity’s father, a divine ardor, a refuge in evil times, a glory in favorable ones, youth’s highest good, a bestower of largess, father of wit, measure of humanity, source of constancy, teacher of life. In his absence, pleasure and all grace perish, the flintstone of an ardent heart, spur to high virtue, and glory’s torch.
HIPP. Human desire has placed in heaven this false god Love, born of his mother Sloth and his father Excess, the greatest reproach to the gods. No worse bane oppresses the earth: a day-by-day insanity, a crazed fury, a pleasant poison, a shameful campaigning, a servile yoke, a treacherous peace, a storm-tossed sea, a lazy business, an idle hallucination, a ruinous plague morals, an obscene heat, a teacher of foulness, a contriver of crimes. But, if you wish no more from me, I am seeking my friends.
PAN. In fact I do, that with a calm heart you read these tablets which a spirit, such as it is, wholly devoted to you gave me, while asking me to conceal its name for the moment. [Hippolytus takes the letter and reads aloud.]
HIPP. “Greetings to beloved Hippolytus. Pierced in the heart, she sends wishes for good health to Hippolytus, if perhaps she can send what she lacks herself. Ask not who I am. Ah, I am ashamed to add my name, and now I can plead my case without it. I do not wish to be known to you (for how would it help to know me?), before there should be some small hope of achieving my wish. Are you reading this? Or does your cruelty prevent you? Read on, I beg, for this letter is not written by an unfriendly hand.” [He breaks off.] But it is written by a shameless one, of a sort that nobody of chaste countenance can read. Nor do I care to ask her name, since she herself was ashamed to reveal it, and deservedly so. Let it remain concealed and keep to itself. But you, agent of this confessed crime, get away. If your end wouldn’t bring shame on me, you would pay a suitable penalty with a bloody death, and I can scarcely restrain myself. Won’t you relieve my eyes by getting out of my sight? [Exit Pandarus.]
Oh the smooth tongues and shameful faithlessness of panders! Oh the race of womankind, always impure, soft and bloodthirsty! Cold, yet able to set the world afire, base but arrogant! Weak, but how powerful! Timid yet rebellious, fickle but constant in evil. Stupid yet treacherous. Stubborn, bestial, impudent, wanton, greedy, disloyal, ungrateful, impious. Nature, mother of this huge world and of the human race, why didn’t you want us to grow spontaneously from the ground like trees, rather than engraft new shoots on such a stock? Why did you, such an artisan, want to employ woman? Would I enter a dragon’s cave, or that of a tiger, or a shaggy bear, or the lair of a dread lioness or any beast more terrible than these, sooner than tolerate a shameful woman in my bed. No such peril ever hangs over young men from fire or flood, from foeman’s strength or treachery, nor from poison’s plague, or the bane of death, from headlong falls, wild beasts, lightning, calamity, or the black arts, as comes from woman’s deceitful wiles. If the sailor shuns the reefs, the lamb the wolf, beasts the net, if a stag avoids the hound and the fish hates the hook, and likewise the bird the snares, why not flee women, lads, who is more dangerous? Flee, young men, tender men and too complaisant! For you I feel pity and shame. A snake lurks in the haystack, a viper in her bosom. A woman entirely overthrows her husband’s home and pursues his whole family with hatred. Who can recount woman’s manifold wickedness? Not even if all the earth and sky were the page, the water in rivers and ocean were the ink, and all the world’s wood the pen, could a scrivener set forth fully woman’s evils. But I fear the net has broken and I have fallen into the pit. [Enter a Naiad.]
NAIAD O worthy youth, whom I could imagine to be a divinity, or perhaps you are really a god, and certainly you could be Phoebus; or, if you should be a mortal, it was a happy mother who brought to light, a happy nurse who gave you suck. Fortunate your brother and sister, if you chance to have any, fortunate the ground you walk upon, fortunate the spear you throw, fortunate the beast you are to strike, fortunate whatever is wielded by your hand, happy whoever gazes at your eyes. But she will be happier than the rest by far who will be your bride, whom you will condescend to ennoble with the favor of your bed. But if no girl is yet destined for your bed, let I be she. Let us enter the marriage bed together.
HIPP. Indeed, whoever you are, you imagine yourself great and exceedingly fair, thinking it a light matter that for your sake Hippolytus should change his way of life and break the locks of his chastity.
NAIAD Hippolytus, I confess this is a great thing I ask, and I myself think I am undeserving of such a gift. Love’s torch has me very bold, Hippolytus. But it is not, as you imagine, chastity to lead an uncouth life and wear out your beauty’s excellence. For I never come out so early in the morning, nor return so late at night, that I don’t see you sweating in your glade, calling to your hounds in a loud voice, nor can Phoebus see you abed as he rises or sets, such is your thirst for hunting. You err in your noble mind. But this frame of mind is not so much to be corrected as steered onto the right path by a gentle hand. Chastity pleases a chaste man. Why shouldn’t it be pleasing? But this ambiguous word chastity creates empty fears for you. The god has decreed one can beget children and still remain chaste. The chastity of the marriage bed shines no less than that of a celibate. You can be at once chaste and a husband. But if the pleasure of forests occupies you so much, and this is how you define the word pleasure, why does the pleasure of a beloved wife not affect you too, a pleasure greater than any belong to that hunting of yours? Hippolytus, you don’t know what pleasure of life you are fleeing, you don’t know, Hippolytus. And assuredly you are fleeing. Ask husbands, both human and divine.
HIPP. This is not a virgin’s sentiment, nor one suitable for a virgin. Diana, holy goddess and avenger of violated chastity, have you the patience to listen patiently to such wickedness, to permit it in your forest?
NAIAD Hippolytus, my reputation is unsullied, if you should investigate it; nobody accuses my life of any wrong. But I burn within, I confess, and my heart, unschooled until now, submits with difficulty to love’s first yoke. This ill-fitting burden sits upon my soul. I am presenting you with an offering of my young reputation, still preserved, and of my youth. You give me yours in return. Let us each pluck the other’s first, untouched rose, let us burn with a shared torch. How pleasant it would be to die by such an excellent fire! For if Juno herself were to yield me her brother and husband, I think I could prefer you to Jupiter himself. I pray you, do not think it a sin for nymphs to fall in love within these woods of ours. Aurora once burned for Cephalus, Salmacis for her lad, Venus for Adonis, and even your bow-wielding goddess, Hippolytus, for that young man of Mt. Latmos.Let us, I ask, be numbered in that happy throng. Have pity on a love confessed by a nymph who was never going to confess, save that her ultimate passion compelled this speech. It was hard not to speak, hard to speak. Shame checked my tongue, love urged it on. It was death to hide my feelings, death to be rejected. My hope took a middle course. “Tell him,” it said, “and perhaps he will give you a kindly hearing. If not, it is better to die having spoken.” I long held my peace, and endurede more than you’d think a girl could. But, overcome, I am compelled to seek aid by my entreaties. You can save your lover, and likewise destroy her. Tell me what fate you intend for me. But, I pray, let me not strike you as no more than something fit to die.
HIPP. Whence this dire plague of the female sex? Oh the race of Naiads, always over-bold, who often imprison young men within their fountains! Where can I beat a retreat? What caves can I seek out in my misery? Where hide myself? For me no safe place in forest or city is free of this seductive plague. From now on, these glades will also be suspect to me, as will caves and bramble-bushes, and I myself will be suspect. For I am now under suspicion, lest I have given you a softer hearing than I should. So why not break off this pointless conversation? [Exit.]
NAIAD Arrogant man, Antiope was not your mother, but some shaggy tigress on a Caucasian crag. I must not think him born of Theseus his father, but rather he was sired by some untamed bull. Naiad, shamed and despised, go and hide your face in the forest. Hippolytus, what praise or glory will it be for you to be written as the cause of death on my tomb? A new title, full of reproach, of girl-scorner, has attached itself to you. But go on, toy with girls contemptuously, celebrate your savage triumph, hard, you harsh and cruel man. Let every girl court you, but none win you. Nemesis will repay all of this, and I pray she does repay it. Let her survey this barbarian’s high contempt. Take vengeance, goddess. May he meet the worst of deaths. Let Hippolytus pay for the hate engendered by scorned love. Let an avenger soon arise for this shameful rejection, may she bring the Furies of a spurned woman in love.
I pray you see on what ocean the breeze of your kindness has blown our troupe. So far, we have spread sail, and are held on the high sea, far from land. If perhaps some sharp tongue has raised a typhoon, in what harbor can our ship shelter other than that of your favor? We have not studied acting, we are ignorant of Roscius’ art. We are not professional players, nor do we care to be. So all the more reason for you to be fair to our troupe, if it is offended (although not badly) in an art that is not its own. Our chorus has earnestly bidden me to beg your pardon. So please pardon it. Your forgiveness alone will substitute for a huge financial reward. And our poet asks to be given this single coin for his final effort, he who has often contrived that plays be staged for your benefit. But at this point the wall will receive his lute, here he hangs up his weapons, here he lets his ancient horse out to pasture, setting aside his art and his actor’s gloves. There’s no need to ask forgiveness of the ladies. If Hippolytus has said something stinging against them, vengeance has been exacted. he has paid the penalty in abundance, penalties about which I fancy the women themselves are weeping, possibly wishing they could have been diminished by a goodly measure. And see, Hippolytus has given hideous evidence that henceforth nobody should spurn them. Let no man scorn with impunity these goddesses on earth. Unless we have displeased you, give your applause to our troupe. [The audience does so, but as they are still clapping, an unexpected figure appears: Momus, the god of captious criticism. He gestures for silence.]
Silence. What’s the meaning of this stupid noise? What’s this applause of yours, your empty favor? Well, it’s proof of your bad judgement and corrupt morals, not evidence that something’s been done well. Marcus Cato chewed out Aulus Albinus because he planned on writing Roman history in Greek (“I myself am a Latin-speaker, ignorant of that language”), and was apologetically deprecating about his works. Cato said that Albinus preferred to apologize for a fault than not to commit it. In the same way, which of your troupe can offer such an excuse? “We have not studied Roscius’ art, we are ignorant of acting.” To be sure, but who compelled your troupe to act? Who forced you to put on a play? We are accustomed to ask for and grant forgiveness when some power obliges people to err against their will. But who made you do this, for what are you immediately asking pardon, desiring speedy forgiveness? It is not the part of a modest man to desire pardon for a fault, but rather to be free of the fault and do his own job. True decency is not thought to lie in feeling remorse, but in doing that which fits your native talent. Let him untrained in ball-playing refrain from playing at the ball. The man who does not know how to act ought to quit the stage, and each artisan should ply his own trade. It is very praiseworthy, and suitable for a modest man, if he practices the actor’s art, proclaimed disgraceful by a very excellent law. For what does the stage possess that is modest, and not impudent? It is an exercise in scurrility and wantonness, a factory for turning out shameful jests, an academy of licentiousness. What decent man capers or acts on the stage? It is a fine thing to be a mime, gesticulate, make faces, swear by the gods, and to disguise an adolescent man as a girl. Does acting sneak in as the eighth Liberal Art? Is anything upright done aright according to this “art”? What beauty has the stage? What actor plays his part well? How many solecisms of gesture and face do they commit! This one was excessive in his gesture, that one made none at all, a third was uncouth. This man’s voice “went over the top,” that one’s “dried up.”
How disgraceful tragedy’s subject matter! How turgid is Seneca! How much he deals in exaggeration! He is, as it were, a heap of words, swollen like a blown-up bladder, sounding rather over-ripe in his Cordoban way, always embroidering on the same stuff in the same manner. And why is this new patch sewn on the old material? How unlike it was in color, not even made out of the same wool.
What kind of comedy was produced yesterday? Rivales, loved without a rival by its supporters, a twice-baked biscuit, a death, not a comedy. How pleasant was that bawd with her depraved morals! Weren’t her vices quite enough by themselves, without having to fill the theater full of whores, unless fun turned into wantonness under the guise of pointless songs and jokes? Hasn’t the stage given us a playwright more eloquent and learned? Hasn’t it produced a good poet?
You also clapped for yesterday’s tragedy, unless it should rather be deemed a comedy, fit only for wrapping drugs and dried mackerel, bloodless and thin, pedestrian, so devoid of feeling and lacking in muscle, like wine so diluted that it lacks all color and flavor. Why was our divine Elisa craftily thrown in, commanding applause for something more worthy of being hissed? That beggar Irus inflicted a disgrace on the iambics, a vile character. And (which is the height of impropriety for a lofty tragic character), he comically raised a laugh. A starveling, debased Ulysses, clothed in rags, foists himself all over the stage and, like a shadow, never leaves it, always fulminating. Is it no concern for him who created this work how you in the audience are faring? Does he always place his own amusement ahead of your convenience?
Can anyone born on this side of the the sea write praiseworthy verses in Latin? You cannot more foolishly pit your lantern against the sun, your drop against the vast ocean, than you can spout poetry inspired by a Roman Muse.
Who could value such a mediocre poem at even a groat? For, like poppy mixed with Sardic honey and a coarse spice wrecks a pleasant meal, as a jangling and untuned lyreoffends the ear, because a pleasant banquet could have been held without these annoyances, so this rather gentle art, born to please the spirits, if it does not attain the pinnacle of delight, falls flat to the earth.
Is this all the return we get on the huge expense that might better have been spent on the poor? For this we wasted our precious hours? For this enterprise we have given our time? Is this the reason for our porters’ sweat, that blocked doorway, shattered windows, shouting, expectation, all this hubbub? See here, hang me if I don’t get more pleasure out of the professional theater, shilling a ticket. This single thing makes me happy, that nothing pleases Momus.
Momus, if you had kept your name concealed, your words would have given you away, that harsh style of yours. Your foul tongue proved you are Momus, that ugly face, that unbecoming color of your hair. Who can subdue that burning inflammation of your hair? Can I reply to such an apparition, impiously carping at gods, man, and nature out of loathing for the gods, the best of men? It has always been my greatest triumph to elude this fellow. But who can escape the heavy blast of his mouth? Who can please a man who is displeased by Seneca? A man who takes no delight in the tragic buskin or the light comic slipper, who thinks the grand to be turgid, the humble debased, who calls the joyful a disgrace and the laughable wanton? Vulcan, Minerva, the lord of the sea, each have had to put up with this fellow as the censor of their efforts. Vulcan made Man. He didn’t like the job, since each man doesn’t have a window in his breast so that each of his thoughts can be seen clearly. Minerva built a house. Because it isn’t a grain mill, he does not like it. It is to be altered immediately, if the house next door should happen to encroach. And see, the ruler of the sea created a bull. The god’s bull annoyed him because the horns did not project so as to protect the eyes. And he blasted the creatrix of all things because she gave bulls horns on his head rather than his forelegs, on the grounds that he is stronger in the forelegs than the head, and this way the bull’s impact would have been greater when he charged. Thus this man, born of mother Night and father Sleep, not excelling at anything himself, nevertheless criticizes the excellent, befouling everything with the touch of his filthy tongue. As for the aspersions he cast against plays, which he gathered up at the crossroads, although I think them fitter to be laughed at than refuted, allow me briefly to examine the more serious.
By his pious edict, acting is condemned. So is everyone who stands upon the stage a disreputable man? The Praetor will deny this: “Whoever makes a spectacle of himself for pay will be branded with the mark of infamy.” Well then, the financial gain invites the mark, not the mounting of the stage. Who here is asking for compensation, or offering it? For what spectator here did the doors not open freely?
But it is a crime to dress up a young man in woman’s clothes. Always? What if fear of death were to compel a change of costume? What if the public good recommended it? As the historical record abundantly shows, when the son of Amyntas bade his young men don women’s clothes, he saved the chastity of all those and put and end to the Persian’s proud arrogance by their most excellent slaughter. Thus it is not simply a colossal offence for a youth to pass himself off as a tender lady. It is a crime for Clodius, not for Achilles. Clodius was attempting a debauch, but Thetis’ son was protecting his life. Therefore it is not the wearing of woman’s garments that is wrongful for a lad, but rather a depraved mind, lust, malice, and deceit. It is not one’s costume but his attitude that makes him disgraceful. A distinct kind of beauty is fitting for either sex. A man should not imitate woman’s ways, and a woman should not pursue a man’s function. But who can raise any similar objection against us? What of the kind has been devised? Who can ascribe any deception to our poet? You can’t say one scurrilous word on the subject. So did you choose to slander things you do not understand? Can’t we withstand your simpleminded speech? If you set yourself up as a judge, be discerning. If you want to be persuasive, prove something. By what authority, Momus, is this tyranny granted you? Should it be considered piety that your ignorance and dullness of intellect go unpunished. Is whatever displeases you a crime? Or do you alone have a pious mind? Cursed be the tongue that spoils a good text.
But, you say, this is a huge waste of time. But it isn’t, Momus, you’re lying. No time has been subtracted from our official studies. The time we’ve devoted to our plays is that customarily given over to recreation, sleep, conversation, and learned repose. Our chorus, Momus, can make a more fruitful use of time than anybody schooled by Momus. Or do you dare despise learned poetry? Do you hold the recitation of Seneca to be a waste of time? Momus, I prefer one of his lines to six hundred of yours. And I would prefer that kindly posterity read one Seneca-like work of mine than whatever composition was ever produced by the genius of Momus.
But you say the expense was great. But Momus, you can watch the play for free. Nobody is asking you for a contribution, save perhaps for your pardon, and the giving of either is always a serious business for you. The cost may be great in your eyes, but for us it is moderate. And because of it nobody will give any less to the poor. If these productions did not exist, nobody would give any more to charity. So where’s the loss, my lord? Momus, this statement of yours is wrong. There’s a place for thrift, but there’s also a place for honest expenditure. There’s a place for joking, playfulness, and dancing, and also one for serious matters and tears. We can provide an adequate accounting for our time without your help, no need for a Momus. Do you think crying and laughing to be outrageous? Aren’t you calling our actors, this House, a circus? Are you trying to take the humanity out of Man? Do you think the humanity would remain in the part that was left? Impudent man, has our youth, so talented, chaste, elegant, noble, and well-educated, formed a bad impression on you alone? Are you accusing this great House? Do you place no value on the University’s opinion? Can you condemn it with impunity? If you grant that that it is disgraceful for our troupe to have acted, then isn’t it shameful for so many learned men to sit in this audience? For the crime belongs to both groups alike.
Are you the ruler for measuring how we spend our time, our money, our leisure? Or are you the yardstick for measuring shame, a professor of propriety? Are you the measure of our morals, the arbiter of our lives? I scarcely desire to refute all the other things he said against us. [To the audience.] I think this is your responsibility. Our chorus runs to you, looking to you for aid and asking that you provide it against this evil person. It thinks it your duty to protect our troupe. For the entire fault lay in your approbation, which inspired us to don the buskin and comic slipper, and so the pleasure of the performances, if there was any, was yours.
Since our assembly taken place upon such great authority, if it is not permissible to sin, surely it is allowed us to make amends for whatever fault may have been committed in our earnest productions.
Wherefore, so that Momus’ guts may be burst, let your kindly applause once more resound on all sides.