Commentary notes can be accessed by clicking on a blue square. The Latin text can be accessed by clicking on a green square.
THE FALL OF THE EMPIRE OF MEXICO
ACT I, SCENE i
MEX. So have you done as I told you, Taclaxus? Does my father know his son has returned from the camp and asks for an interview as soon as possible?
TAC. Your requested interview will soon be granted, my prince. Your father expressly commanded you to wait here. In the meantime, my dear prince, I hope we can enjoy a moment’s conversation
MEX. You are welcome to me, since you are almost Mexus’ single support, and I acknowledge your zeal. I appreciate your love and unshakable loyalty amidst doubtful affairs.
TAC. Oh you sweet glory of your father’s race, Mexus, you who are growing to be the pillar of your nation. With what joy it fills my heart that, after so many achievements, after having conquered so many nations with your victorious hand, amidst the clash of arms and a thousand martial glories, the memory of Taclaxus has not faded from your memory. But, no matter what my happiness may be, no less anxiety troubles my heart, nor am I glad to see you returned here. I fear you are exposing your person to doubtful dangers. Trust me, my prince, at this time the court offers you nothing safe, everything at home is thrown into turmoil. The strange enemy who is rumored to have lately come to our shores is now in the middle of the city, all but besieging your father. And you know of your stepmother’s old tricks, of the great art with which she designs your downfall, and how she has come close to making your father entirely her own, easily making him dance to her tune.
MEX. Ah, my stepmother’s tricks are all too familiar. And you’ll soon learn more than you know, my friend. Ah, that people, of whom rumor says so many strange and novel things. Tell me who has come, and from where. For I regard what I have heard so far as vague and uncertain rumor.
TAC. This unknown race says they have have been borne a long distance over the immense sea, coming from a distant part of the world. And this is certainly shown by all their manners and costume, that they have nothing in common with ourselves. But they admit they are nothing more than men, even though they might seem superhuman. The common folk do not think they are: some regard them as sons of thunder, while others regard them as children of heaven and a race belonging to the sky, imagining them to be either messengers of the gods or the gods themselves in human guise.
MEX. What’s the reason for such an opinion, and what’s the source of our citizens’ foolish brain-sickness?
TAC. Blind, foolish brain-sickness though it may be, there is nevertheless some reason for this gullible mistake: the skill of these men and their ardent use of amazing weapons, completely unfamiliar in these regions is proof that they are superhuman, so that our silly commoners regard them as nothing less than gods. And, above all else, there is their terrifying way of making war, the dire thunder of their booming weapons, which is the greatest cause of our panic.
MEX. Am I think that any nation is more skilled at the art of warfare than ourselves? With what aspersions are you insulting the name of Mexico?
TAC. Ah, my prince, I’m telling the truth, aspersion though it may be. In confronting these men, we Mexicans are nothing at all when it comes to experience in war or the manner of our arms. Who knows how to overcome the thunderbolts of Jove himself? Nature hurls her lightning blindly and with a random strike. But these men ply their fearful thunder with art, and wield their lightning with a most accurate hand. Once the call for battle has been sounded, you can immediately see their battle-line entirely engulfed in forked fires. Their men stand in their ranks, unmoved, amidst the great noise of the terrible roaring and the pitch-black smoke of their fire-belching tubes. They deal out flying death from a long way off, and lay everything low with a slaughter we have never seen before. Just as rain driven by an easterly wind scourges the earth, when a horrid Jupiter fetches winter squalls from the south and bursts the clouds in the black sky, so they rain death on our ranks from those dire tubes of theirs.
MEX. You affirm the truth of something that has often been said to me, but that I have never believed. I’m amazed that my father can calmly receive such terrible enemies into his territories. We ought to have exerted ourselves might and main to ward off this plague.
TAC. What should he do? Your father, alas, has complete lost his courage, all but unmanned by the responses of the gods. Long ago a stern divine oracle predicted that the final doom of the Mexican empire is at hand. He despairs that heaven’s decree can be overcome, and so he is eager to come to an agreement with the Spanish, thinking it better to have them as friends than enemies.
MEX. I fear that father is hastening to fulfill the oracles. I fear that in his blindness he does not hurry along the doom of himself and his nation. But these new guests, tell me their numbers, how many companies they bring with themselves.
TAC. Their number is indeed small, barely over a thousand, but assuredly their handiwork is indomitable in battle.
MEX. What are you saying? Should the might of the Mexican empire tremble at this band? Are we the laughing-stock of such a small number? The unspeakable disgrace! What’s happened to our erstwhile virtue? Alas, where has our lively energy in war gone and the noble martial glory of Mexicanse? Granted that we are not their equals in weaponry, and that thanks to their foreign art they know how to shoot forked lightning from tubes. Surely we should be able to overwhelm them by our numbers.
TAC. If they would only bring their own strength to the battlefield, then I should admit we would have a glimmer of hope. But Tlaxcala has supported them by adding its own forces. They have overmastered this people, against whom we have long fought in vain, in the space of about a single month. Now they are coming with their allied fighting bands, although each of these forces would have the ability to terrify us by itself.
MEX. And what is the purpose of their bold enterprise? What do they want? What is the reason which brought them to attack our territories, although we have done them no harm?
TAC. They have offered some pretext or other, that they are coming to the aid of those oppressed by our unfriendly yoke, to give them relief in their wretchedness, and to do good for one and all.
MEX. Oh, fine enthusiasms! Oh, these men’s noble cause! But I have deep suspicions of the purpose of these kind offices. I fear lest these gentlemen are aiming to acquire Mexico’s wealth.
TAC. Alas, we all likewise fear this same thing. This is the reason, my prince, why I cannot by any means approve of your return at such a juncture. I fear this will not stop this evil, but rather expose you to grave danger, and destroy our entire kingdom along with yourself. Our single hope has resided in your auspices, and in the army. But inasmuch as you return unbidden, I am afraid lest the queen make your father regard this as a crime. Thus you might fall victim to her fury and leave your brother an open road to the throne. Then too, you will be exposing your person to our foreign enemies. It is necessary for them to fear you as much as possible. But if you are placed under arrest, they will have no fear and the entire royal family will fall into their clutches. Believe me, my prince, the camp alone offers you asylum now. In the camp, you will be removed from the fury of your enemies. The camp alone can keep you safe from your stepmother’s scheming.
MEX. Alas, Taclaxus!
TAC. Why do you groan?
MEX. You claim the camp is safe for me? You should be aware that the camp is teeming with hirelings in the queen’s employment, paid to murder me.
TAC. What evil thing do I hear?
MEX. Two have been discovered just now. I’m bringing them with them, so that at a single stroke I might reveal to my father his wife’s machinations and his own mistake. Granted that he is a husband, he’s also a king and a father. Even if he should refuse to obey this law, I would imagine that all the cities added to his empire and all the peoples lately conquered by my doing will speak on my behalf and give me sufficient protection. If she should persist in trying to hasten my downfall, so that it will be my lot to fall at court, I will be happy to die rather than live a life hateful to the gods.
TAC. After such a crime what can surprise me? Now I appreciate that the gods truly are angry. Heavens, what evils press us both from outside and from within! If you must perish, my prince, I fear that the final day has come for Mexico. But your courage must remain unshaken. Thus, I trust, you will destroy those who are paving the way for your downfall. The people loathe them, but you are adored by one and all. And he who has the affection of his fellow citizens is well protected. (Enter Axacus.) But Axacus is approaching.
MEX. Leave me to him, and keep everything secret. (Exit Taclaxus.)
ACT I, SCENE ii
AX. Do I see you returned, brother?
MEX. And Guegus too, whom you’ll see soon enough.
AX. What man are you talking about, brother? What’s Guegus to me?
MEX. I suppose I’m to think Axacus has no idea what his mother is contriving against the person of Mexus?
AX. You’re speaking an entirely dark, abstruse riddle.
MEX. Time will solve it.
AX. I have no idea what these words of yours are meant to convey. And I certainly had no inkling that I would be treated thus by my returned brother.
MEX. So I believe. I expect you imagined I’d be more humble when I came back. That is, if you did expect me to come back. But I want you to know that Mexus has not yet set aside his old ways. I know how it stands between us, brother mine. And I trust I shall preserve the dignity which the gods have given me, whatever hostile wrath may be intending against my person. Certainly I have escaped my first dangers, thanks be to the gods, and evaded enemy traps safe and sound.
AX. As far as I can conjecture from your words, you believe that I have undertaken some base crime against your life. I’m surprised you have learned of this before I myself have. As far as your dignity goes, since you are behaving in such a high-spirited way, I’ll be frank in expressing my opinion. I acknowledge that you are older than me, brother, and I shall always revere that fact with due honor. But the prerogative of dignity you assume for yourself in public affairs, I do not so clearly see, unless you possibly assume that the scepter our father wields during his life is yours by right after his death. But I must confess that I acknowledge no such right. For kings of Mexican blood are chosen by vote. You know full well that, thus far, nothing of hereditary right is allowed in a king, and that our nation is accustomed to select kings of its choosing. Therefore it still remains undecided whether the people will bestow the scepter on you or on myself. If it rejects you and awards me the scepter, brother, you will discover that the law upholds me.
MEX. Congratulations on your forthrightness, brother. How well you have learned your mother’s lessons! Nevertheless, I am surprised that you don’t yet understand the meaning of the advice she has given you, the reason she champions your cause so vigorously. Surely, boy, she bids you have high hopes and teaches you to but great faith in popular favor. But she’s a little more keen-sighted than that and perceives that you have no hope in this, since she knows full well in what direction popular sentiment inclines. This is the reason why she is taking another way to put your reign on a surer foundation.
AX. I trust her move against you is not unlawful or unseemly.
MEX. Do you fancy a stepmother could contrive anything of the kind against a stepson?
AX. So what am I to believe? You appear to be complaining of some unspeakable crime. You prattle on about my mother’s schemes, and are constantly railing against her fraudulent designs. Of these I know nothing. Please explain your jokes.
MEX. Your mother’s loyal counselor Quicuxtemocus will do a better job of explaining her plans to you. I leave you to him. I have a more pressing concern.
AX. Since you’re being so rude to me, brother, I shall leave you to yourself.
MEX. Go back to your mother’s bosom. Report my words to her. She’ll shed light on them and offer you consolation. (Exit Axacus.)
ACT I, SCENE iii
MEX. What is the meaning of my father’s long delay? But the hinge is creaking, it’s father. But Quicuxtemocus and Truxellus are here too. The outrage! (Enter Montezuma, Quicuxtemocus, and Truxellus.)
ACT I, SCENE iv
MONTEZUMA, MEXUS, QUICUXTEMOCUS, TRUXELLUS
MONT. You here, prince? By whose command do you return? Who summoned you?
MEX. I am at length returned, father, to inform you of the new kingdoms added to your own, and at the same time so that I might sufficiently enjoy your friendly embrace. I could not refrain from thanking my father in person for having employed a prosperous feat of arms in subduing all the nations on the western sided, and extended your empire as far as Guatemala, because he has relied on my auspices and has seen fit to invite his son to have a share in such a great field of glory, praise, and prestige.
MONT. Rather you should have thought fit to refrain from your father’s embrace and give me these thanks by means of a messenger, rather than adding guilt to your praises. Although deserting the camp would be a capital crime for any man, how much more so in a general himself! And how much more serious in condition of our empire and the doubtful crisis of our realm, when it behooved you to wait on my command against our new enemies!
QUIC. Great king, I admit that your son has exceeded the bounds of his due observance towards his king and father. And yet, although such a speedy return from the camp could be suspicious in any other man, Mexus’ virtue is too well-known and distinguished for any grounds for suspicion to arise from him.
MONT. This forwardness of my son is an offence against my authority. I see that my command has begun to weigh on him. He refuses to submit any longer, and believes that his father’s victories are his in his own right, so that henceforth he will think nothing superior to himself. He imagines heroes set the standard for himself, and that it is shameful for such men to endure regulation.
TRUX. My august prince, although I admit this would be a source of anxiety in anyone else, something to be guarded against with every care, in this matter you have no need for caution. He’s your son, and his transgression deserves a good father’s ready forgiveness.
QUIC. If this were not a matter between you and your son, I am aware what sound counsel would require. But it is the part of a mild father to concede something to his sons, which he would think a great felony in anyone else, and deservedly so.
MEX. How prettily you both pass over my cause in silence! If I make one request, something I have long prayed for, father, let these men be made my advocates. Their favor towards me has not been so ready, as I recall.
MONT. You ingrate! This is how you excuse your offence? You heap these men with reproaches when they strive to clear you of blame? Is this how hope to mollify an angry father?
MEX. I admit I have done wrong and acted rashly in leaving the camp without having previously consulted my father and king. It would have been proper to have asked for your leave in advance, and to have placed less trust in my love’s ardor. But if I relied overmuch on your good will, I preferred to set a low value on my reputation and be marked by a certain taint of guilt, rather than not enjoy my father’s embrace, as I so greatly desired. I hope that you will ascribe this to my love rather than my criminality, so that I will not appear guilty of disdaining your government.
MONT. Any excuse, no matter how slight, ought to prevail with a father. I forgive you your offence. Yet you need to return quickly to the camp you have left, and there to await your father’s command. And don’t let this fault slip from your mind. To make amends for this, subordinate your own authority to my supreme rule. Teach by your example how much royal power is to be revered.
MEX. I shall readily comply, father. You know how highly I value your royal command. Although I am returning to certain death, I shall go, I shall speedily return to camp.
MONT. What are you saying, my son? What dangers threaten you?
MEX. Those which criminal anger customarily pose, and which a hired assassin can create.
MONT. You say that assassins are sent against yourself?
MEX. Yes, those which hostile guile have sent against me.
MONT. Is this wrong revealed by definite proof?
MEX. I have brought a pair of men along with me, compelled by their conscience freely to confess the dire crime.
MONT. Is the ringleader and architect of this foul deed known?
MEX. Known all too well, father! But you’d rather not know. Nor is it fitting that I reveal the person. My zeal for your good name and my concern for honor forbids.
MONT. So what am I to think? Has a member of my household dared such a great crime? Oh cruel fate! How misfortune threatens me with ruin on every side! How much I fear for my Mexican empire! Come, son. You will inform your father about everything inside, in the privacy of the palace. I swear by the stars, the person responsible for this felony will not be slow in paying forfeits. [Exeunt Montezuma and Mexus.]
ACT I, SCENE v
QUIC. Behold, Truxellus, the day of decision has come, the day which is bound to give us the scepter or give us death. I have not yet revealed all my plans to you. Now the occasion requires you understand them thoroughly. Do the things the prince has to say strike you as amazing?
TRUX. I must admit that the tale he has to tell astonishes me.
QUIC. The queen herself is the ringleader of this crime.
TRUX The queen? Gods!
QUIC. And she has ventured this at my advice.
TRUX. So you are betrayed? Aren’t you terrified?
QUIC. Have no fear. Everything will turn out well, in accordance with my wishes. These men will deny all he has said. Her hope is that the entire thunderbolt will fall on Mexus’ head, and that she will not only be regarded as innocent of wrongdoing, but also the victim of Mexus’ scheming, and pity for her will induce her doting husband to avenge his consort.
TRUX. I can readily understand that a stepmother can scheme against her stepson. But I’m surprised that you would expose your person to such great dangers.
QUIC. I should fear dangers which will give me the scepter?
TRUX. The scepter for you?
QUIC. The queen’s hope is trust to pave the way to the throne for Axacus. My own intention is otherwise. I am thinking of nothing less than the scepter for myself, my friend. The time is favorable, and our entire people are dead set against Montezuma. This was my first gleam of hope. But I could attempt nothing safely, as long as Mexus was in possession of the camp. But now, thanks be to the gods, that difficulty has been removed, and there scarcely remains any further step on the ladder up to government.
TRUX. You are undertaking an arduous task, one worthy of your intellect. If only fortune favors your enterprises, will you will return our nation to itself. And yet I fear a sad outcome.
QUIC. Be more hopeful, my friend. “Fortune favors the brave.” When my plan is fully laid out for you, you will think that our hope is not in doubt. But come inside with me a little while, I’ll completely explain how the thing can be managed.
Go to Act II.