Commentary notes can be accessed by clicking on a blue square. The Latin text can be accessed by clicking on a green square.
THE MARTYRDOM OF ST. PELAGIUS
ACT I, SCENE i
ST. PELAGIUS, WARDEN
PEL. Tell me, warden, what’s this turning-point, this change in my affairs? Why am I at length relieved of my dungeon’s darkness? Has the agreed-upon price been paid for my person? Has Hermogius ransomed me and is he summoning me home?
WARD. The reason for this sudden change is hidden from me. Abderramenus only commanded me to bring you here, released from your bondage. This is the one thing I know. Soon he himself will be here, and, if I am not mistaken, he intends to make everything understood to you. You must wait for his announcement.
PEL. That’s well. Meanwhile I’d like a few words with Raguel. If it’s no trouble, pray fetch him here to me. (Exit warden.)
ACT I, SCENE ii
PEL. This is the way of it, Pelagius, I’ve almost achieved my wish. After nearly four years in this filthy cell, at last you returned to the longed-for light. You are leaving a thousand risks to your faith, this criminal land, and the hateful yoke of this impious nation. You return to your homeland untainted by sin, where you can once more revisit your country’s sweet altars and friendly homes, where you can be free again and have the leisure for God, where it will be granted you by your uncle to refresh your youthful virtue with pious milk in safety, and renew your youthful sanctity by drinking from the sweet honeycombs of beloved piety. Today brings the end of my evils, and returns myself to me. Thus my mind foresees. Ah, Raguel’s here. (Enter Raguel.)
ACT I, SCENE iii
RAG. What do I see? You freed from imprisonment, boy?
PEL. That’s so, friend. A little time remains until it’s achieved. I’m summoned here at the king’s command. For, if I’m not wrong, Hermogius is asking for the return of my redeemed self, and the king is finally preparing to send me home. He wanted me to await an interview here. Meanwhile, Raguel, my faith and grateful affection bid me share my joy with you.
RAG. Nothing happier could befall me to than to have a share in your joy. After Hermogius was defeated in battle, he gave you into the Moor’s hands, when fierce Abderramenus wanted you to be handed over as a hostage for his good faith until the governor could redeem you for an agreed-upon sum of gold. But since in his piety he would not abandon you to our evil enemy at your tender age, it was his will that I stand by you as your constant companion and tutor, lest the impious sect of the Moors taint you with any of its poison, and infect you with its plague in the impressionable flower of your youth. From that time, what bond of faith has bound me to you, and what constant concern for you has held me in its grip can be attested by God, and by you yourself as well, Pelagius. How many times I have feared the wiles of their unclean king! How often I have feared the barbaric threats of that tyrant, lest his mad lust defile the snow-white purity of your mind, or frighten you and shake your tender young faith! Now with what joys my heart is filled! What great pleasure I feel, when you are returning to your ancestral home with your faith intact, pure of stain! Your innate virtue, the snow-white purity of your chaste heart, the ardor of your piety, your honorable morality, the strength of your constancy, unshaken by your evils — I see these have earned you heaven’s careful care.
PEL. Why would you want thus to deny that these things are due to yourself alone? Why are you striving to shift your credit and praise to my undeserving self? Rather, my friend, it has been your prayers and lamentations, your constant care, and your faith amidst hardships which that have earned me such great favor from heaven and God. I am obliged to admit that, next to God, it is your doing that I have been steadfast in the faith, chastely free from sin, and untouched in my life. You are my partner in these evils, my companion in exile, and my one consolation in my miseries. You have made me immune to the unspeakable plague of our sordid times and to the plague of the Styx. You inspire my noble spirits to fair things, and are always planting lofty seeds in my mind. Oh when, my friend, will it be granted me to repay you my thanks for your merits and your affection? Someday, Raguel, God will give you what you deserve. And sooner or later, I hope, I will pay back something myself. Certainly, you will remain in my heart as long as I live, and the memory of your good deserts will never leave my heart. (Enter Zunelmus.) But the hinge is creaking, the king’s son is here. Perhaps he will tell me something more definite. Leave, Raguel, and in the meantime I’ll try to find out everything (Exit Raguel.)
ACT I, SCENA iv
ZUN. Greetings, my friend. I have gained my wishes. The fatehr has at last yielded to his son’s entreaties, so that I hope that henceforth, the prison door unlocked, I will have the opportunity to converse with my friend more often, and tighten the bonds of our fidelity by keeping frequent company.
PEL. What are you saying, Zunelmus? What do your murky words imply? You’re speaking in riddles.
ZUN. Long ago you could have recognized my affection. From the time I first laid eyes you, the innate sweetness of your manners, your affable grace, and the welcome brightness of your countenance have swept me off my feet. But I have been carried away even more by the unusual power of the mind within that handsome body of yours, the rich vein of your intelligence, and your endowments. Nor has my love lain idly within me. I have often visited you, pent up in your dark cell, and often provided you with entertainment and consolation. Ah, but you have no idea with how many entreaties I was meanwhile besieging my father, that the undeserved chains might fall from your hands, and next that the enjoyment of the sunlight and the brilliance of our court might be given you. Henceforth you are allowed the full liberty of the court, and my father’s favor will embrace you even more than that.
PEL. Alas, Zunelmus!
ZUN. Why drag forth these sad groans from your breast?
PEL. I’m groaning because I’m being cheated of my hope. These things had convinced me that the welcome day had finally come which would redeem me from my captivity. But this hope was an empty mockery, a foolish vapor that vanished into thin air. For it gave me hope in the manner of an unfriendly stepmother, so that the chagrin of my frustrated mind is all the greater.
ZUN. Even if everything has not gone as you would have wished, surely the transformed nature of your exile should not be a new source of sadness.
PEL. I recognize your good will towards me, Zunelmus. I gratefully acknowledge your zeal, your friendly loyalty. My affection for you, prince, albeit it may have proved less happy, is nonetheless no less sincere. But pardon me for complaining that your office of kindness towards myself has been excessive. You imagined that my being freed from imprisonment would be a welcome thing. But you were mistaken, if I weren’t given the freedom to return to my homeland at the same time. Until I gain this, no other form of liberty will be to my liking.
ZUN. So you rate the brilliance of the court lower than the darkness of imprisonment? You prefer gloomy solitude to the company of Zunelmus?
PEL. Since I know you are an intimate, my friend, let me freely express my feelings. I do not prefer my black cell to the free light of day or to the enjoyment of your company. I do prefer security to all things which endanger my faith. This is more important to me than life itself.
ZUN. In what respect can this be a source of fear for you?
PEL. I should be a source of fear to myself, at least in this respect: even if no man’s persuasion were to attempt to corrupt my morals and seduce my youthful conscience with his tricksy wiles, nevertheless how could my youthful virtue and piety persevere amidst so many vices of your court and alien religion, without suffering anything from the common contagion? Forgive me for saying a harsher word, Zunelmus. Our religion forbids things which yours freely allows, and many things you deem praiseworthy are held to be abominable by the purity of Christ’s law. It teaches all men earnestly to subdue all the urgings of the flesh, and to wage a never-ending war against pleasure. This law allows nothing of ourselves to be our own, if a man wholly is yearning after God. But, with your permission, let it be said that your law seems to supply more spurs to wantonness than bridles. Which assuredly convinces me that your court is scarcely agreeable to virtue or pure faith. I prefer to remain hidden, locked away in my cell, and to be removed far away from here, from this example of a softer life. (Enter the court.]
ZUN. My father’s here. I hope he’ll give you better counsel himself.
PEL. Rather, I hope he’ll grant me a return to my prison.
ACT I, SCENE v
PELAGIUS, ZUNELMUS, ABDERRAMENUS, MAGUEDUS &c.
ABD. You have your wish, my son. Look here, in answer to your entreaties I’m loosening the boy’s fetters, and permit him the enjoyment of our court. My son, I am ceasing to condemn your enthusiasm any more. Pelagius’ shining face befits his pedigree, as does the great comeliness that makes his body shine in the gymnasium. No sign of a happy intelligence is lacking. Oh, how much you are worthy of a better lot in life, my boy! Your star has deserved to shine in my court long before now. But what signs of sadness do I see in your face, Pelagius? Why does your color change, why are your eyes downcast, and why does your breast show fear with its frequent groans? So do you see anything deadly in mine, or rather something of love? So tell me what cause provokes such great fears.
PEL. I see that I am rightly astonished, great prince. I cannot be sufficiently amazed at these sudden changes in my unexpected fortune, since just now prison and harsh chains oppressed me, and I’m summoned to your royal home as a new guest. Meanwhile, I scarcely see for sure how I can have deserved such praise of a foreign king.
ABD. Your virtue has earned it, and the strength of a mind born for great things.
PEL. Prince, do you call me, who long ago unhappily lamented having my parents snatched away by an unkind fate, and witnessed my house collapsing and all but extinct by now, born to great things? Ah, allow me to be hidden in darkness, so that I may have the leisure to devote myself to sorrow alone, and continue always to cultivate a virtue suitable to my misfortunes.
ABD. On the contrary, boy. I have decided to relieve you of such great woes and recompense you fortune’s former mockeries by giving you a better lot in life. My favor will raise you to a higher station than that from which unfavorable fortune has cast you down.
PEL. You hold me in increasing astonishment. How you speak, my prince! What rank are you offering me?
ABD. A rank which Abderramenus might confer with his bountiful hand, and which Pelagius might wish.
PEL. Having been brought here to live as a hostage for a little time, at an alien court, exiled from my native soil, should I accept honors which must soon be resigned, come what may? What if Hermogius were to pay you the agreed-upon sum this very night, and the morrow return me to my native land?
ABD. Hermogius has his own plans, and let him have them. Perhaps I have my own. You should abandon your concerns. Stop speaking about Hermogius. It’s clear he’s either forgotten about you once and for all, or he values gold more highly than he does you. However it happened, he couldn’t be less loving towards to you. Hence you should put me to the test and see if I am better disposed to you than Hermogius himself. would be. And I would certainly venture to say you will find me more generous. So, whether the old man seeks you back or leaves you here in neglect, it will be no less in your interest to have become our adherent.
PEL. Oh, my father’s pain for me! Why, prince, are these words of your intended to deceive me? For at the same time you offer Lord knows what ample gifts of fortune for me, and promise royal favor and new honors, you meanwhile insidiously seek to make my uncle’s good faith towards myself suspect. But I clearly see where this deceit is tending. You should know that by this trick you are vainly striving to erase the love of my Hermogius from my heart. I know that thus far he has lacked the ability to redeem my person, but never the will. But, as for the fact that you are providently moved by concern for me and freely trumpet your love for me, I acknowledge your sudden favor towards my undeserving self, and I feel due gratitude towards you. Nevertheless, if you wish to do me a kindness, I beg you to put me away in my prison cell once more. I would regard this as the greatest boon.
ABD. You young ingrate! Is this how you requite my love? In your eyes, do I have a reputation for being treacherous and harmful? Go on heaping such accusations on an undeserving men, boy. Although you regard me as an enemy, I’ll soon make you feel I’m a father, and you’ll exchange your hatred of me for affection. This is a fitting kind of revenge for a king. Meanwhile, my son, you should overcome this stubborn mind by your friendship. Take him within the palace, and let a royal escort accompany thy, let the court use kinder delights to relieve his body, broken by its long duress in prison. I have need of your advice, Maguedus. (Exeunt omnes except Abderramenus and Maguedus.)
ACT I, SCENE vi
ABD. Although this may perhaps strike you as a trifling matter, it’s very dear to my heart. In some way I don’t understand, this boy seems to exude something above the common run. What candor marks his noble mind! Lord, what vigor shines in all his body, what grace on his countenance! I’m ashamed to have kept him locked up in prison so long, it’s embarrassing to have been unaware of his merits. Now it pleases me to add him to my court as its new star. Perhaps he will turn out to my profit, if he grows up nourished by my favor, and learns to bear honors commensurate with his breeding. But there’s one thing standing in the way, he’s a Christian.
MAG. I would not want to condemn your thinking, my prince. But if I may be permitted to speak my mind freely, I don’t think there’s only one thing standing in the way of your plan. Many other risky throws of the dice remain. It has never been possible to break one’s faith concerning a hostage in one’s possession. Nor do I think the Spaniard would let it pass unavenged if you were to convert a hostage once entrusted to you into a foreign faith, having been deprived of his ancestral rite. And furthermore, what’s the advantage of this effort, if the boy is soon ransomed and asked back by his own people?
ABD. If this very day were to bring me the price of his redemption, this would scarcely move me to return him after he had been ransomed.
MAG. But civil faith and established law would call for war.
ABD. Cease your fear, you coward. Certainly I’d keep my faith. As long as the boy had abandoned his Christian rites before hand and accepted the worship enjoined by our law, then I would rightly retain the agreed-upon price for his person I had received, since religious faith is more important and more powerful than civil law. So this remains to be done: everything turns on this one hinge, it all depends on this, that the boy be confined to convert to Islam as soon as possible. And, if I am not deceived by my hopeful augury, I’ll make him abjure his Christian faith this very day. (Exit.)
ACT I, SCENE vii
MAG. And yet I don’t expect you’ll accomplish the thing that easily. How like himself is Abderramenus! For he just acted according to his habit of asking me for my advice and ignoring it. He’s always fixed on doing that which his passion-blinded mind suggests. My son’s sadly approaching. (Enter Rebmaguedus.)
ACT I, SCENE viii
MAG. What pale sorrow plays over your face, my son? What’s the cause of your grief?
REB. I’m tired of the light of day, father, I’m sick all over, I’m furious all other. I’ve never had greater need for your consolation.
MAG. You may entrust your grievance to safe ears.
REB. Lately I have been happy thanks to the king’s favor. I alone always satisfied Zunelmus’ heart, and alone was a god to him. But a single hour recast this fortune, in a single moment the fleeting goddess gave a new spin to her wheel. For, thanks to an ill omen, our new guest has stolen away my place. Pelagius has gained our sovereign’s entire attention. He was unknown, unseen, and yet he has victoriously cast me out of Zunelmus’ heart, and by himself possesses it entire. From the time that boy was unchained and taken into the court, I have never experienced the light of royal favor. The king is wholly devoted to him. Forgetful both of himself and of me, the king burns for him alone, and is single-mindedly intent on showing all his love to his new guest. If all this can be done in a single hour, father, what will happen over time?
MAG. Don’t imagine this favor has burst forth so recently, my son. For Zunelmus had started visiting him long ago, when he was locked in his cell. Unsparing of himself, he has often been in the habit of showing signs of love for the boy. But I am surprised that this sly son has so quickly infected his father’s heart with this poison. Now the old man’s mind is captivated almost to the point of delirium, and, in violation of law and right, he has decided to make this foreigner a member of his court. And he refuses to return this hostage, given as a pledge, even if he is redeemed, a thing which the laws of nations always forbid. Indeed, he has made up his mind to eradicate Christian worship from the boy’s heart and immediately convert him to our religion. Then he is prepared to raise him up with titles of great honor, and thus to promote this unknown person to a high position. Our own countrymen are cast down.
REB. And we tolerate this, father? Will this vile child carry off the honors that are due us? Will he vaunt himself in our court and appropriate to himself all our king’s affection? What outrages! Insufferable outrages! Alas, the hand of vengeance is too slow. A dire frenzy makes me boil, I am bursting with hatred. I cannot tolerate having the royal favor stolen from myself. Unless I’m given swift relief, I’ll forestall it with murder.
MAG. Restrain the passions of your agitated mind, my son. I don’t believe the boy will be so quick to renounce his ancestral religion. For he’s pious in his own way, and clings to Christ. And yet, if he’s not quick to fall in with the king’s wishes, in his recalcitrance he’ll fall from favor, or arouse the threats of the king, who is disposed to wrathfulness, and so in his stubbornness he’ll hasten on his own doom. So his enthusiasm needs to be fed with some tinder. The young man must therefore be encouraged with artfulness, and yet with caution, and it seems best to rely on the help of someone else. Raguel’s efforts will prove useful in this business, he’s very concerned about the boy’s welfare. When it seems to be the right time, I’ll furtively produce the old man to supply the boy with new determination if he wavers. You, my son, must keep your chagrin pent up in your silent breast, and learn how to feign a serene countenance amidst your evils. Whoever crosses the threshold of the powerful as their dependant and wants to grow as a happy child of the court must first of all carefully learn to keep his inmost thoughts hidden behind a false front.
Go to Act II