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ACT III, SCENE i
BASILIUS, LEO, SABATIUS, PAPIAS, PROCLUS, MOROCCHUS, BALBUS, THEOPHILUS &c.
Having stationed his soldiers in ambush, Leo attends the stage-play.
BAS. The performance is readied. Balbus is awaiting the Augustus.
LEO Go, my son. Let a loyal band of noblemen gather her. Let Morocchus be present, accompanied by a company of soldiers. It is well, our quarry will enter into our hidden trap. Alas, rebellious Balbus, what forfeits you will pay! Continue this scheme you have invented behind that false face of yours, and prepare a sad end for the Augustus by your steel. The wiliness of your ungrateful mind requires another theater, and you will stand on another stage as the accused.
MOR. Your soldiers have furtively come into the court, and a ready-handed band of soldiers are asking for your signal.
LEO Oh, well done! Stand here behind me. When I loudly exclaim prevent this crime, my servants, you rush onto the stage and arrest all the participants in this unspeakable crime. But see, the nobles are approaching, my mood must be concealed by my facial expression. Oh you glory of the ruddy gown, join me in witnessing the witticisms these masked actors have prepared.
ACT III, SCENE ii
Balbus is arrested while playing the masked part of Alexander the Great onstage
THE TRAGIC INTERLUDE
ALEXANDER THE GREAT
TWO OTHER NOBLEMEN OF ALEXANDER
STRATO King of Sidon
ABDOLOMINUS a gardener
SIX DANCING DRUNKARDS
August sovereign, we shall present the deeds of the Macedonian ruler and his double fortune. One the one hand, mighty in his government, he elevates Abolominus, raised in a country cottage, to the scepter, while on the other, he succumbs to wine. He gets drunk, he grows passionate, and in his insanity he he kills Clytus, whom he had befriended because of the brilliance of his good merits. This is enough. Favor us with your kindly glance, Caesar.
King Strato is brought before Alexander and stripped of his ornaments.
BOY Macedonian lord, Strato is brought here for punishment, a loyal ally of Darius but disloyal to yourself.
ALEX. Strip the guilty man. He whom Alexander’s favor has been unable to tame will be tamed by Alexander’s fury. Let Abolominus wield Sidon’s scepter. (Abdolominus is seen, tending his garden.)
BOY Abdolominus, be of good cheer matching your good fortune, and receive the emblems of your new lot in life. Your squalor is to be swapped for the purple, your hoe for a scepter.
ABD. Why subject an old man to your rude teasing?
BOY I swear by the stars, there’s no room for teasing here.
ABD. Am I to imagine that the scepter is being given to a man who scarcely seeks it? A scepter is something which is sought by the bloody arts of warfare and the wicked ones of deceits. Let me be allowed to continue as I have started, and let no vain trick deceive my old age. (He continues the work he has begun.)
BOY I swear by heaven, there’s no deceit, no vain trick. You are going to rule.
ABD. God forbid!
BOY Alexander commands it.
ABD. Well then, tell him this: the favor and good will of the giver are more welcome than the gift. Nonetheless he is unwisely taking away from an unwilling man greater gifts than the ones he is promising.
BOY What is greater than a kingdom?
BOY Is there some agreement saying that you can’t be a king and exercise self-control?
ABD. Because of the scepter the mind swells up and cannot govern itself.
BOY Since the realm is subject to him, let him learn to be subject to himself.
ABD. He who presides over a realm does not know how to be subject to himself.
BOY Let him who wants to preside over others preside over himself.
ABD. So it is. But he is known to others, but unknown to himself. Amidst the turmoils of his realm and the flux of affairs, his mind is scarcely governed. His royal court despoils it of lawfulness and right thinking, it jealously denies his heart any holy inner sanctums. Tall things tremble as their pinnacles waver, while lowly ones enjoy peace. Better, oh better, shall I control my destiny if I am safe in my marshland hut.
LEO (Aide.) Whew, very truly said!
BOY You are manufacturing a delay, but you cannot resist. Let your squalor be transformed into a rich estate. (He is invested with the royal regalia.)
ABD. Oh, sad weight! Farewell, fostering peace of mind.
BOY Now hurry along to court and pay your homage to Macedonian’s ruler.
AB D. With what a reluctant course I am being led into deep water, having been commanded to abandon my harbor! (He is brought before Alexander.)
ALEX. May this happy day bless your reign, Abdolominus. But in what spirit do you accept this change from obscurity?
ABD. With the same spirit with which I which I hope to rule. Nature demands these hands of mine exclusively for agriculture. Since I possessed nothing, my mind wanted for nothing. He is happy who, living in a humble dwelling, can crook a snook at the Fates. If the hand is unfamiliar with the scepter, the mind does not know troubles. If a head does not glitter with a golden crime, neither does it groan when wounded by gnawing care. He is not clad in double-dyed purple, but his hand is not reddened by any blood. Why, entranced by some trifling good, should I mount up to a turreted royal dwelling at my advanced age? I did better to lurk safely in my lowly abode.
ALEX. A statement worthy of a king! You deservedly assume command. Thus I decree, it is spoken. A king does as he pleases. Now I rule as Jupiter and on earth and a god in this world, since I bestow kingdoms. (Sitting next to Leo, alongside the stage, Papias speaks with his companions.)
PAP. Do you see, you who are mighty in your government, what the ruler of a royal court is able to do?
At this point, Alexander is worshiped by the Persians with adulation and incense, as if he were a god. There ensue a dance of drunkards belonging to every station of life.
After the dance follows a drinking bout by Alexander the Great and his lords, during which Clytus is killed.
ALEX. (Clutching a huge goblet filled with wine.) Let us drink, my lords. Let flush-faced Bacchus triumph over our table. The Euphrates has submitted our yoke, the Indus will do so, and the Persian worships me as his victor. We are lifted up as high as the stars. Now let no man boast of the glories of vain Philip. As a youth, I surpass that old man, a son surpassing his father. I call this Herculean goblet to bear witness, and I challenge you, my lords, to pledge your faith with equal-sized cups. My first draught belongs to Clytus. (He completely drains his goblet.)
CL. Should I dishonor the name of Philip with an ungrateful goblet? I detest wine.
ALEX. By Jove, I swear you’ll drink.
CL. I’d rather drink blood. I disown this evil.
ALEX. (Hurling himself at Clytus, he is prevented by his followers.) A treasonous speech! My divinely-inspired anger fires me against this rebel. May he die!
EP. Oh prince, stay your hand!
ALEX. To arms, to arms, my soldiers! We are betrayed. To arms, to arms! Smash this dangerous head with your thrysus, Bacchus. Let him fall, let him perish, let him die. (Escaping the clutches of his followers, he lurches towards Leo as if he were inebriated.)
LEO Prevent this crime, my servants. You ingrate! Balbus plotted this scheme, that beloved of the Augustus, whom I set among the purple-clad leaders of my government.
BALB. The wolf attacks its enemies, Leo. Let them be stricken.
LEO So Leo deserves to be stricken.
BALB. (Feigning drunkenness.) To arms, to arms, to arms, to arms, quickly, quickly
LEO. Hold him tightly. What accomplice does your criminal plot have, traitor? Tell me.
BALB. You are the traitor, I’ll dice your scurvy body into a thousand bits. Has he fled? Has he gone? (He drags about the soldiers clinging to him.)
LEO. You’re drunk, you mime?
PAP. His frenzy drove him out of his mind.
LEO (Shouting furiously.) Ah, ah!.
BAS. His bloodthirsty frenzy drove him out of his mind.
SAB. I see the trick. How well did similar drunken frenzy reveal the crimes of the Macedonian ruler! How often did he stain his hands with blood, out of control thanks to the frenzy of Bacchus! Our actor reproduced this crime in the theater, miming his dementia. Bear witness, Marcus. Did Balbus drink the wine that had been poured into the goblet?
MAR. You must believe my evidence. Balbus drank down the wine, drunkenly swallowing the full cup.
LEO My heart sinks with a vague uncertainty.
BALB. What’s this? Is the ground refusing to bear my stumbling feet?
THE. The Augustus’ fair-minded favor should forbid such great guilt to attach to an innocent man. On be half of my father I, his son, fall at your knees.
SAB. You beg for forgiveness, even though you yourself fall under suspicion of harboring evil intentions. You will pay the same price as your father. Lictor, cart off these men, guilty of a terrible crime. You stay? I’ll pierce your heart. (He points his dagger.)
BALB. Where is my spinning head flying?
LEO Shut your mouth. I forbid you to say more as a trick. This rebel ought to have been dragged off to his punishment long ago.
BALB. The world’s whirling.
LEO Do you continue to mutter that you’re confused in your cups? (He lunges at Balbus.)
PAP. Pray restrain your anger’s violent passion. Your anger’s just resentment anger will manage to brand these fellows with the marks of unjust evildoing.
LEO Regarding this enemy?
BAS. The common folk and the rumor of the court will proclaim as innocent whoever dies without a trial, removed by your mind’s wrath.
LEO A man whose genuine madness matches that which he feigns with his face.
PAP. And your subjects will proclaim you a merciless tyrant.
LEO My lords will proclaim that a rebel has rightly been executed.
BALB. Dark night’s chaos veils my eyesight.
SAB. If Balbus were to be put to death, the men whose faith he recruited for this felony will raise their hands in open battle, seeking to punish you.
LEO With their leader killed, they would be shattered and take to their heels.
BAS. If no evidence proves their guilt, the royal court will keep them safe within its walls. Hence the Augustus will always have something to fear. A dagger will be aimed at your throat, your banquets will be tainted by deadly poison. How often will doubts about your servants’ loyalty interrupt your peaceful sleep in the middle of the night, how many terrors will that provoke?
LEO That’s a trifle. When the rebels are uprooted they will suffer a complete collapse.
PAP. They are hidden, my sovereign.
LEO I swear by the Thunderer, I shall flush out these beasts, and when they are driven from their lurking–places, I’ll overwhelm them with a shower of missiles. (Balbus appears to be sleeping.)
PRO. But see how peaceful sleep has settled his limbs.
LEO Let an everlasting slumber close his eyes forever.
PAP. This sleep goes to show that his drunken madness was not feigned. They say that a man who hatches such a bloody crime in his brain is hagridden by his unspeakable mind’s Furies. But could a man who sees his plan discovered and brought to light, and perceiving that he was accused of plotting a hideous murder, so calmly fall asleep?
LEO I believe he is pretending to have fallen asleep. But be that as it may. Until he has slept off his stupor, let him live. And yet I am determined to slaughter Theophilus out of my hatred for his father. Lictor, fetch the son of that unhappy parent. Let their hateful family perish. (Raising his hand, he pretends that he is about to strike Theophilus.)
THE. Help me, father! Oh, I perish! (Balbus betrays himself in order to rescue his son.)
BALB. Hold your hand, you brutal monster. You tiger, do you rage against a child?
LEO Well done. I triumph. Oh, you are going to give your head to the Styx! Is this how you misleadingly conceal your horrible guilt behind a false face, you Sinon? I have found the way. You stand quite revealed, Balbus. But before you suffer your punishment, tell me what companions are bound to you by equal guilt. What confederate entered into this Giant-like conspiracy? Speak up! You refuse? Take him off, lictor, to the fearful evils of punishment. Take him to the rack. I shall be present, as a companion to the torturers.
THE. Where, where are you being taken off, laden down by those chains, father? Oh, Caesar!
BAS.. Go away, you plague, move your feet.
THE. (Falling to his knees.) Give me back my father.
BAS.. First he must experience the savage tortures of the executioners. You must go your separate way.
ACT III, SCENE iii
Theophilus laments his father’s downfall.
THE. So Father is being bundled off to the rack and to punishment? Oh, the sad weight of our affairs! Oh the heavy fate! What have I done wrong? A son, I have betrayed my father. He was being well protected by his sleep: genuine or feigned, it was nevertheless protecting him. My shout awoke him. Unlucky shout! Unhappy shout! Shout dire both for myself and for my father! You ungrateful soul! Do you betray your father? Yes, for I feared death. Feeble heart! Do you rob your father of life so as to avoid your own death? So that you might enjoy the light of day, do you condemn to darkness the man who gave you that light? Oh, the wrong! Why did I not offer my breast for the bloody blow? Why did I not receive the cold steel in my marrow? Why did I not fall in silence? A son’s good faith, love’s law, and nature’s rule would have proeferred this. I wretchedly violated my trust and the ordinances of piety, and all love’s law, and the law of nature. Oh life, too dear when purchased at such a price! I paid with my father’s head. I purchased safety at the cost of my father’s destruction. The peace of his son dragged this father through a thousand punishments. How the torturer is plying his brutal hand, practising a thousand arts of inflicting pain, so that the crime of his accomplices might stand revealed. How cruelly Caesar presses him! I am experiencing idle delays. I’ll go and persuade the Augustus by my entreaties. And yet who will overcome Leo by prayers? I shall mix in tears. The hot fury of his anger will dry these showers of my eyes. I’ll add threats. What fly hurls threats at a grim elephant? I appeal to you Virgin, regarding my concerns for my father. You correct the wrongdoing of the guilty, and you protect the innocent. Whichever fate attaches to my father, dispel these woes with your mighty hand.
ACT III, SCENE iv
BASILIUS, THEOPHILUS, MOROCCHUS
Using promises and threats, Basilius tries to induce Theophilus to betray his father’s counsels.
BAS. The boy is here, the scion of that hateful house. Come now, Morocchus. Since Balbus has experienced a variety of torments and stubbornly holds his tongue, you must break the boy with terror. Make him reveal his father’s associates.
MOR. Leave that task to me.
BAS. Calm down. First I’ll take the road of deceit. Theophilus (do you hear the sound of my voice?), Theophilus, to whom I am bound by my first loyalty and the same untroubled course of our lives, you must give your help, if you have a concern for your father’s welfare. Overcome by pain, Balbus has confessed his crime. And yet, being a considerate friend, he persists in his refusal to bring his confederates to light. And so he is condemned to the stake, and a cell holds him, weighed down by brazen chains. Tomorrow he is to be burned alive. Oh, what a nasty way to die! What son would rejoice in having Leo as his father? Come, come, Theophilus, I faithfully offer you a helping hand. The door of that dark dungeon must break and fly open. Let us break it down.
THE. With what hand?
BAS. Yours and mine.
THE. Will a huge prison succumb to the hand of a child?
BAS. Call on other strength. If you know somebody who was party to your father’s counsel, call on him for help in your extremity.
THE. I don’t know a soul, I swear.
BAS. It is your father’s fate which is at stake, and your own security. Stop your dissimulation. I promise I’ll keep your secrets.
THE. I’m protecting nothing secret. Surely a son should not know what his father is transacting in his private chamber?
BAS. Who should a father trust, if he fears his son?
THE. Someone he does not fear.
BAS. I’m being mocked. I swear by heaven’s eternal lights, I’m being mocked. Are you refusing to trust a friend with a secret?
THE. I’m concealing no secret.
BAS. Pain will compel you to divulge what decline refuse to tell me freely. Come here, Morocchus, you dark son of Pluto, extort the names of the silent partners in his father’s guilt.
MOR. He refuses to tell you. There’s no need for hard steel. I’ll chew up this stubborn one with the teeth I use to eat little boys. Come, my stubborn friend, disclose your father’s wrongdoing. Name his companions, if you don’t want to be torn apart by my fatal claws.
THE. I have no concern for those fatal claws of yours, nor do I fear the threats of your chewing mouth I swear by the inmost chamber of my private mind, my prince, you are asking for things I do not know. I am not wittingly concealing any felony.
BAS. You persist in your denial? Ply your steel, Morocchus.
MOR. (Points to his sword.) Do you see this instrument of dire death? I swear I’ll chop you into a thousand bits if you do not confess.
THE. My fathers doings are kept secret from me, as are his confederates.
MOR. (As if about to strike him) I’ll hit the liar.
BAS. Hold off. It should be unworthy of Morocchus to hit a child.
THE. Put away your weapons, my prince. This Thraso’s f ury, bombastically expressed in his speech, makes no impression on me. I scorn his threats. For when Mars waxes hot in a man’s mouth, his hand goes cold for battle. (Draws his sword.) Come, Thraso, if martial strength inspires you, fight against me, a stout Giant against a child. This steel will dispatch your cowardly self down to the shades.
MOR. You babble, you midget? If my master’s commands did not prevent me, you would disappear into thin air, despoiled of your life.
THE. Oh you sheep, you timid sheep! This is the way of it. Safe from your enemy and the din or battle you breathe forth battle-lines. With your hands you break apart brazen battle-lines, you make the Caucasus shiver with your glance, and you lay low whatever horrible thing the universe might breed. But when a genuine enemy confronts you and pugnacious Bellona demands that you be a man, you quake at even a child’s weapons.
BAS. You put up with this, Morocchus?
MOR. Your orders oblige me.
BAS. Subdue the pert boy.
MOR. Me fight against a doll? Nobody has ever gained glory by killing a child. This is beneath my dignity.
BAS. I approve your high-minded self-control. Go far away, little boy, and mourn your father’s criminality.
MOR. Off with you, dwarf, plunge Balbus in darkness. (Exit Theophilus.)
BAS. Morocchus, to whom I am attached by fond good faith, there’s one thing I would ask. Your martial glory extols you to the stars, the earth proclaims your greatness. I burn with an equal zeal for a soldier’s praise. Tell me, what’s the speediest way to become a great warrior on everybody’s lips? Give me military advice.
MOR. I shall not be behindhand in doing as you ask. You must not fear the Thunderer, nor those idle visions of the gods above. Religion has nothing to do with Mars. Fear, even fear of the gods, makes men cowards, and keeps them away from battle, the shirkers. A soldier worships no gods but his weapons. For a brave man, his own right hand must be his god.
BAS. Should virtue invite no divinity to the camp?
MOR. When it’s time to perjure yourself, from your mouth you need to pour forth terrible oaths in their name. Let divinity be on your lips constantly, let it spew forth protestations calling on the Furies to bear witness. No soldier has ever been sparing in swearing his oath. Next, be hot for duelling: if you hear of a man who fears a fight, a man of broken spirit and uneager for praise, issue him a challenge and appoint a time and place for the fight. If he refuses to lift a hand in combit, you can return from the field victorious and loudly proclaim you have won the victory-palm. But if some bold-spirited soul should take the lead in calling you out, you must cleverly avoid a fight. Call upon a mediator, or say that royal command forbids. If you are a commander and pitch camp after a march, you should despoil the local rustics. Snatch whatever is stored up in their barns, makes their fields shine golden, or wanders about on their lands. Next, let your greed lay its hands on their money. Shake their wallets. If they deny they have any, don’t believe them: their gold is buried in pits. Threaten arson and their fear will betray its location. Having gained the profits of these poor farmers’ hoes, enjoy your gains. Let your hand gleam with gems, and your shoulders with purple. Luxury befits a fine devotee of Mars. Quickly fall into obscene frenzies. Venus soothes bristling Mars. If she’s a bride or a Vestal Virgin, rape her all the same. There’s a Helen everywhere, unless a Paris is unavailable. When your troops demand money as payment for their great effort, bid them go off on plundering expeditions and make their money by thievery. Let the traveler and the farmer pay the armed man his salary. Meanwhile, if Caesar provides any funds to be distributed to your companies, you should eagerly divert it to your purse.
BAS. Did Hector or Ajax walk this path? Was this Achilles’ way?
MOR. You are recalling very ancient things. Now virtue is something else, the course of military service is different. For the ancients, Bellona was a stepmother who gave birth to nothing other than wounds, cruel deaths, and hard campaigns. Today she treats captains more gently. Blood has been transformed into scarlet, steel into gold. Bruises shine with honorary collars, scars with gems. The goal of warfare is a wealthy household, a field bountiful with crops, a family tree purchased by theft, and the glory of a family.
BAS (Aside, to the spectators.) And Morocchus shines forth amidst these heroes like a drone among bees, the craven sheep!
Go to Act IV