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Commentary notes can be accessed by clicking on a blue square. The Latin text can be accessed by clicking on a green square.
ACT III, SCENE i
MONTEZUMA, CORTEZ, MEXICANS, SPANIARDS
COR. Great-hearted prince, noble glory and chief of the western world, I am come as my king’s representative from far-distant climes of another world, where rising Phoebus harnesses his horses, a king to whom God’s great favor and his own martial virtue have given the power to subdue a countless widespread people and place eastern lands under his yoke. Have no fear, prince, we have not come to ravage your homes with our steel or load our ships with the wealth of your opulent nation. We have a nobler aim. Caesar, that servant of peace and master of war, is minded to do previously unheard-of good for yourself and these lands. He would wish to be considered a friend by you, not an enemy. He is well-schooled in caring for humankind, skilled in shaping ignorant peoples in accordance with the best of laws, and lavish in showering his benefits on all quarters of the world. He mercifully requests that you and your nation consent to take shelter in a share in his favor
MONT. This great man of the east of whom you speak so highly has heretofore been unfamiliar to us, nor has report of such a great man penetrated to these parts. Whoever he may be, truly indeed he has earned the right to be regarded as a great lord and a rare glory, as far as I can gather from your words. But come, tell me, is he in the habit of showering such great benefits for free, or does he expect a price for his efforts?
COR. He asks and expects this one thing, that you gratefully acknowledge the grant of his favor and be steadfast in displaying towards him the faithfulness of a dutiful client.
MONT. What are you saying? The faithfulness of a dutiful client? You go too fast, my friend. What else?
COR. That these infamous sacrifices cease, that a limit be placed on the dire things of your infamous superstitions, and that the cult of your abominable gods be abolished everywhere in your territories, my prince.
MONT. What a reform! An excellent omen of his new favor! That my first effort should be to erase fear of the gods from men’s minds!
COR. You are the victim of delusion, king. They are not gods, as you suppose. They are foul monsters of Tartarus’ Styx, a brood ever hostile to mankind. But there is one supreme God in heaven, the creator of all things, the God that rules nature. He is bountiful, mild, and He loves us men. He hates blood-sacrifices, and rejoices only in being adored with the heart’s pious and chaste love. My prince, we bring you His rite of worship.
MONT. Supposing I very much liked this religion of yours, should my people therefore be compelled to worship your new God against its will.
COR. Nothing of the kind, my prince. We are not in the habit of compelling any man to submit to the yoke of our sacred Law. Once God’s religion has been explained, full freedom of worship is granted everybody. For our kindly God takes no pleasure in compelled worship, but in His piety He grants to each man the exercuse of his own free will. But to abolish the sin of this murderous custom, to banish the blood-thirsty monsters of Hell’s Styx, to prohibit rites abominable in the sight of both God and Man, and to eradicate the cruelty of human sacrifice and render humankind merciful to itself, this is the task of a hero and. my prince, this is my task. Caesar requests this, and, if you refuse, he commands it.
MONT. Just as I scorn the arrogant threats of your speech, so, I must admit, I admire your audacity, the bold-facedness with which you, the freebooter of an unknown king, dare impose such a mandate on me, and at my own court at that. Or that this king of yours could have imagined that I would let his representative get away unscathed for hurling such reproaches against me, who am known as the dreadful ruler and terror of the western world. I who have subjected as many unconquered peoples and rival nations to my yoke as, perhaps, he has bested individual men. But, since someone has been found in the world who is so mad as not to fear issuing orders to Montezuma and even dares lay down the law for him, you in turn must go back to your Caesar bearing this response. Tell him that, if he indeed is such a great king as your words tell me he is, as if he were worthy to be my enemy and is the chief of the eastern world, I myself an the chief of the western one. Indeed, after I have quite finished subduing the peoples of the north and south, then, perhaps, I might find a way of penetrating to this world. In the interim, he needs to know that I take no account of his demands and thrifts. If he wishes to enforce them, let he himself make a speedy arrival, surrounded by an army, since he has no power in words alone, and let him bring all the might of the east along with himself. Then he will discover that Montezuma repays threats with threats.
COR. His army is not so far away, my prince, as you might wish.
MONT. What you say surprises me. Tell me, please, where is it?
COR. Right here in the city.
MONT. What are you saying? An army here? What force? This single band of freebooters? These companies? This is all the strength of your empire? What an insignificant enemy!
COR. You’re mistaken, my prince. He has as many thousand neb under arms as the number of us individuals who come here. But I think this band of ours will suffice to give you plenty of trouble.
MONT. Is that really so? So, pray tell, what do you promise yourself to achieve with that band, what do you fancy you will accomplish?
COR. My task is to break your pride, to organize your uncouth peoples along better lines, and to thoroughly subjugate the western hemisphere.
MONT. The audacity of this insolent fellow!
COR. The people of Tlaxcala ought to have taught you already what kind of friend and enemy the Spaniard is, inasmuch as their downfall served as an example of how daring we can be. You will learn this by your own example. So you must know that you are my prisoner, here in this very palace.
MONT. What do you say?
MEX. The shame, the disgrace! You, you robber, you traitor, you hold my father in your clutches?
COR. You are in vain, Mexus. My soldiers are already stationed on all sides and hold the palace besieged.
MONT. So I’m captured under the pretext of a conference? Such is your good faith.
COR. I don’t recall making any pledge of good faith, nor did I humbly request a conference. with you. I wished to be given a friendly reception. But I know I said I’d pardon you if you refused to grant me an audience
MONT. So what will you do with me, rash man?
COR. I’ll treat you as a king. Within your own court you’ll be a king. But take care not to leave it before I have placed these realms on a sounder foundation.
MONT. What right do you have over my realm, traitor?
COR. The same that you do over all those peoples you have subjected, my king, and all the more so because I shall give them better laws.
MONT. You give laws? I trust that before this you will be butchered in front of the altars of the gods. Trust me, soon my irate people will avenge me.
COR. I’ve no time for empty threats. My prince, I leave you to yourself and your court. You will be able to consult your nobles. (Exit Cortez and the Spaniards.)
ACT III, SCENE ii
MONT. Consult my nobles? Ah, rather I’ll consult the gods. Let me be alone. Quicuxtemocus. (Exit his court, Enter Quicuxtemocus.)
ACT III, SCENE iii
MONT. Has the priest of the gods performed the rites?
QUIC. He has performed everything according to your command. A blood-atonement of a thousand souls has been made to the chief god, and then the god of war received two thousand human sacrifices.
MONT. And did he provide any kind of happy oracle?
QUIC. The prophet is announcing the gods’ responses to no man. But, filled with horror and sacred dread, he has come to the court to tell you everything in person.
MONT. Bring him to me at once.
ACT III, SCENE iv
MONT. You gods of deliverance, thanks to whose divine will the glory and support of the Mexican empire has thus far endured, if you have any care for our piety and the honor we have paid you, if I have heaped your altars so often with sacrificial gore and the entrails of children, if my constant care has been for your temples, your religion, honor, and glory, now, now attend to our affairs, I pray, and stop the downfall of our collapsing empire. Or, if I must die and such is fated to be, grant that Montezuma dies a death worthy of himself. (Enter Quicuxtemocus and the priest.)
ACT III, SCENE v
MONTEZUMA, QUICUXTEMOCUS, PRIEST
MONT. Come tell me, you priest and spokesman of our sacred gods, do you bring any omen from your reverend shrines?
PRIEST Alas, a grievous, sad, horrendous, terrible one!
MONT. So is there no hope for our collapsing affairs?
PRIEST Some hope remains, it is a perfect hope, and yet one which I scarcely think you would wish to survive, my prince.
MONT. What is the questionable hope? Pray explain your obscure words.
PRIEST My mind scarcely has the courage. The gods, alas, require a very dear sacrifice.
MONT. Then this bloodshed has not sufficed? So give them more. We still have ten thousand captives. Get to work and kill them all. Consume our entire supply of victims.
PRIEST The gods do not require them, my prince. They demand a single victim but a more beloved one — Axacus.
MONT. What are you saying?
MONT. They demand my son Axacus? The darling of his father and mother? The crime!
PRIEST No other victim can appease the angry gods.
MONT. Is this how the gods thank their patron? Is this how they repay me for my good deserts? It is not so. I see, ah I see the source of this perfidious scheme: Mexus is the man responsible for this evil. I know that this envious man is trying to encompass his brother’s ruin.
PRIEST So you doubt my credit, my prince? Beware to provoke the gods’ anger yet more, and hand over the victim, if you wish to be saved.
MONT. You rascal! You yourself will sooner fall victim. Quicuxtemocus, keep this evil wrapped in darkness. I’ll find a way of exposing your crime, you traitor. [Exeunt Quicuxtemocus and the priest.]
ACT III, SCENE vi
MONT. Slave! Bid Mexus come here quickly. [Exit a servant.] Alas! Should I turn my back on the gods, or on my own kinsmen? So should harmless Axacus die as a victim? Alas, if the gods themselves demand this, even the gods are sinful. [Enter Mexus.]
ACT III, SCENE vii
MONT. Mexus, has your brother not yet died at the altar in your place?
MEX. What are you saying, father?
MONT. You seem disturbed, my prince.
MEX. Who would not be moved by what you say, father? So is the father going to immolate his son for the gods?
MONT. Either you do not understand me, or you don’t want me to see your guilty schemes and criminal undertakings.
MEX. Alas, father, what crime do you mean?
MONT. The priest can tell you better. For, my prince, he was just here with me.
MEX. I confess that I myself cannot comprehend this dark chaos of evildoing and this mystery of iniquity. But this consolation remains for me, that I have a mind free of evil and a heart accustomed to facing hardships.
MONT. By your own profession, my prince, you are always innocent of crime. But I believe your dark chaos will soon be exchanged for some illumination. Meanwhile, my prince, you will be locked in a cell. Take him to the prison, soldier.
MEX. I want to say something more. Alas, I admit I should have lived too long, father, at the point where I would see you, father, become a laughing-stock to your enemies and myself fallen pray to the wiles of slanderers. Oh, woudl that I die, so I might not see the conclusion of this sad drama played out! (Exit Mexus. Enter Axacus.)
ACT III, SCENE viii
MONT. Alas, my son, why are you here? Do you understand the fate with which the gods are menacing yourself?
AX. I know it father, and now I am come to offer myself as a victim for the sake of my nation. Command my death.
MONT. You, my son? You a victim? Ah, sooner Mexus!
AX. What a thing you say, father!
MONT. My son, I can scarcely bring myself to imagine the gods are the architects of this crime. A snake lurks in the grass. Not just one consideration renders your brother suspect in my eyes. I believe he himself has set this trap for you.
AX. So is Mexus always suspect, father? I would imagine others are more suspicious. Indeed, I would rather imagine that Quicuxtemocus was responsible.
MONT. What are you saying son? You accuse this loyal minister of wrongdoing?
AX. I have no idea how much his loyalty is known to you. But I do know that he has just gone out and began to excite the citizenry, bawling that you are a rebel against the gods who refuses to grant their demands.
MONT. Quicuxtemocus is saying these things?
AX. Yes, father, and I fear that, if you do not quickly hand me over as a victim, some worse evil will soon transpire. For the people, stirred by his harangue, is calling out and hurling most unworthy imprecations against you.
MONT. What are you saying? And the priest? Has he gone out too?
AX. They both have, both Quicuxtemocus and the priest.
MONT. Ah, the traitor. I see, yes, I see their tricks. (Enter Taclaxus.)
ACT III, SCENE ix
TAC. August prince, the queen demands an immediate audience. She is sick, worried, anxious, and she has some secret to disclose, which she would like to reveal to you right now.
MONT. Ah, I fear she has nothing happy to say in this lamentable state of affairs.
Go to Act IV