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ACT III, SCENE i
THE EMPEROR, STILBO
Stilbo gives the Emperor Michael the worst possible advice about how to govern.
STIL. My prince, would you like my advice on government?
EMP. I would. Draw up a chair and sit down.
STIL. This, Caesar, is your first concern: that you lead tranquil days, as is your wont, with the clouds banished. Make a show of worshiping God and the crew of saints. Religion, that delightful invention of the ancients, restrains peoples with its faith and its fear. No true virtue, but only a virtuous mask, enters into royal households.
EMP. For my part, I used to revere the priests of the Thunderer almost as if they were gods on earth. They are powerful because of their art of government and their experience. How Methodius manages to drag the court about according to his whim!
STIL. Let the shepherd’s crook rule in churches, and the scepter in royal courts. All that tribe of priests should steer clear of the court. If somebody wishes to disturb your affairs with his urging or warning, even if he is heaven-sent, get rid of him quickly. A priest can preside over a sheepfold, but not a court.
EMP. Both shepherds, the king and the priest, rule over the uncouth masses.
STIL. Agreed, but let the priest feed his flock on holy fodder. Altars and churches are accustomed to serve up such pabulum, not courts.
EMP. What rule of life, what style should govern one’s manners?
STIL. Understood by none of your followers, keep your mind as hidden as you please. Beware lest the royal court see into your heart. Maintain a distance between your facial expression and your heart, between your tongue and your mind. Let whatever you say have its hidden meanings. Seem calm and hide your hatred, seem troubled and conceal your love. Let a smile disguise your irate passion. A show of severity will win you friends, whereas pleasant favoritism will catch your enemies in its snares. Be sportive while discussing important matters, mix in playful touches with your concerns, and let wine conceal those concerns. Wear a fierce look while forgiving, and look calm while exercising your vengeful fury Let your punishment show you to be merciful, and your forgiveness display you as severe. Let anybody who wishes to gain a better understanding of his sovereign be branded an enemy, let the court proscribe him as a felon.
EMP. Explain the arts of possession. What’s the route to great wealth? What kind of effort amasses piles of gold?
STIL. There are a thousand arts of possession, it requires no lengthy effort. If you deem nothing profitable to be base, you will fill your coffers. Heavy taxation gives the leaders of kingdoms heaps of gold. Let your commoners groan under their taxation. The wealthy throng will shake off this yoke, whereas the poor man complies. Invent excuses for levies. At one time, announce a war you never intend to wage. At another, impose the burdens of peacetime: triumphs, churches, obelisks, highways, theaters, games, walls, and whatever is wont to drain kingdoms of their wealth. Once you have scraped your gold together, either drag your heels, or, if you must engage in some new undertaking, use it in a way that makes the people cheer you. Deal out gifts (a sweet half of your wealth will suffice for you). Let anything in your realm, sacred or profane, be put up for sale: the honor of the purple toga, the fasces, the tiara, offices, the senate, and the courtroom with its laws, its bench, and ordinances. When nothing else remains, invent new grades of noble honors for men to purchase. He who has a great landed estate or shines with an abundance of tawny gold, let him subtract from his pile what your need requires in the form of a loan. If the ingrate refuses to fork over, bring him down, but not relying on any single witness.
EMP. By what art is a people overcome and made to submit to government?
STIL. By a show of steel. Let your sword be poised, ready to strike. Let the scourge threaten, and nobody will cast off his yoke.
EMP. And by what terms do I manage my lords?
STIL. Divide them. Drain them dry. Prune them. Lest they have a meeting of the minds and join in furtive leagues, rouse the Fury of discord. Let whoever imagines he is the foremost have cause to dread the man in second place. Let envy infuriate them. If some one of them rises in wealth and can wander about over too large a tract of land, let him be sent abroad as ambassador and while away his time in foreign courts, until he drains his estate of its wealth and impoverishes himself. If a man is lifted up to the stars by popularity, breeding, or the support of his fellow lords, lop him off in accordance with that principle of Tarquin: let your scythe mow down the ardent heads of such proud fellows. If you have no reason, invent one. If your fictitious crime fails to advance you, send him far from the palace, send him to the camp and battle’s doubtful outcome. Wars kill off the questionable gentlemen the laws fail to eliminate.
EMP. What better way is there to enlarge one’s borders?
STIL. If you launch a full-out invasion, like death. Claim entitlement according to the lofty law of our ancestors. To conquer kingdoms, conquer their leaders, and those you cannot defeat in battle, you must overcome by art. Divide their population by offering hope. Send in men who will win over the light minds of the common folk and the greedy ones of their lords with a golden hook. They ought to be ashamed at being oppressed by the yoke of a monstrous tyrant: liberty soothes them with its handsome shine. Hence savage wars sow discord in their populations, and of its own free will their weakened kingdom will yield to your arms. Bodies exhausted by disease require no great push to make them succumb. You can’t disrupt that nation’s people with your wily troublemaking? Rouse neighboring kings to arms. While each one seizes a portion of that more powerful dominion, you can appropriate the remainder with light skirmishing.
EMP. Advise me about the limits of largesse, and the precept for donatives.
STIL. Be openhanded in taking, but tight-fisted in giving. Let your first and most lavish crop of gifts enrich the scion of your Augustan household, and soon hereafter rain down a profitable shower on your friends.
EMP. Whom to you consider to be a friend?
STIL. Why, of course, the man who frames his life in accordance with your dictate, and is not behindhand in catering to your every wish, lawful or unlawful. He who is inspired only by virtue is scarcely your friend.
EMP. What about the noble deserts of my lords?
STIL. Treat them as you do flowers: love them when they smell sweet, but take no heed of their old beauties. For when your favor is distributed among them all, nobody repays you for what he receives. Your gifts should seek out chosen individuals, and whatever you shower on them all in common is wasted. If a man either mighty in war or outstanding in nourishing peacetime should do his duty and protect the security of the realm, you should praise him for his service. Thus you have repaid him enough for his merits. A single royal world, the favor of a friendly glance, or a nod to a servant is sufficient recompense for great merits. He who helps kings is doing his duty, not giving them a gift.
ACT III, SCENE iii
THE EMPEROR, STILBO, ARSAVERUS, THE FIRST BOY
Disguised as an ancient hermit,Arsaverus warms the Emperor Michael of an impending attempt at assassination, and names Theoctisus as if he were the prospective murderer.
BOY A bent-over old man has come to court from the forest, Caesar, and requests an interview.
EMP. Let him enter. Stilbo, you must overhear what he has to say. Hide behind the tapestries. (Enter Arsaverus.) What’s the reason you’ve left the bosom of your blameless woods and come to my lofty royal court?
ARS. Oh my son, the safety of your person is the single thing that made do this, burdened by years and cares though I may be.
EMP. So it is unbidden that you rashly have a concern for the safety of the Augustus’ person? Who charged you with this care for me?
ARS. Unbidden, the limbs have a concern for the head.
EMP. The limbs are wrong to shiver, when the head is strong.
ARS. The world’s safety depends on the Augustus alone.
EMP. The world’s safety is guaranteed by the Augustus alone. Here I am, safe and sound. See the strength in my shoulders, the vigor in my arms. The power of a Hercules suffuses these muscles and limbs with its celestial fire.
ARS. Youth indeed makes a man sound, but not safe.
EMP. The stars protect kings.
ARS. Why is it that a day rarely passes without bloodshed?
EMP. Sometimes heaven sleeps.
ARS. Will it stay awake forever, just for you?
EMP. I am unconcerned whether heaven stays awake or snores. My destinies guard me.
ARS. God has commanded that the chances of destiniesmust hang from a slender thread.
EMP. Augustus has commanded that they depend upon his will. Why chatter about destinies. Let the gods burst with envy, let the stars grumble, let Olympus bawl out, let the Sisters grumble over their savage work, as Caesar, I shall happily live out the life of a Nestor, even if the Fates are unwilling. The Sisters do their spinning within this head of mine. God is their match in heaven, Caesar is their match below.
ARS. Caesar, being an earth-born mortal, you have limbs of moral measurement. Forgive me, my prince, but a single urn awaits both Caesar-born boys and those of commoners. The distinctive feature of leading men is that they go floating to the shades all the quicker on a river of blood. Caesar, you darling of the Thunder, you beloved of the supernals, doing the bidding of heaven I am warning you that destruction hangs over your head.
EMP. Some foe is marking me down for murder.
ARS. Caesar, you should fear your death.
EMP. What Cyclops wields his weapons, what Typhoeus attacks Jove with his rebellious hand? Tell me who is the man responsible.
ARS. He is hidden.
EMP. What place in the world keeps him concealed?
ARS. That place which often conceals crimes beneath its colored walls, the palace.
EMP. This adversary lives and breathes in the same house as myself?
ARS. He does, Caesar, and while he lives and breathes his unfriendly hand yearns to rob you of the breath of life.
EMP. I shall arrange it that the rascal burns on a blazing pyre and inhales its flames, until he exhales the breath of life. Tell me who he is.
ARS. Heaven has hidden his name.
EMP. Let heaven fly apart, when the sky bursts along with its gods. So you savagely distress me with your denunciation of evils, while the man responsible goes unmentioned? I swear by Chaos of the shades, if you do not immediately name the architect of this crime, I shall compel you to die for your silence, being ripped apart limb from limb in a hideous punishment.
ARS. God keeps secrets hidden in His secret places, it is sinful for a mortal to know them.
EMP. Encourage His divinity with your prayers. Extort from God the name of this felonious soul.
ARS. Come, let us join in prayer to heaven. (They both kneel.) Supreme Father of kingdoms and Protector of kings, reveal who it is who is planning this wrong in his secret mind, the one whom such a great Fury damns with guilt, so that he would plot murder with his savage craft, the murder of a sacred person. God, reveal him. (When they finish their prayers, the stage-building opens behind them. Soon a light is seen in the air, and within the light the name THEOCTISTUS is gradually revealed in successive letters. At this sight the emperor collapses to the ground.)
EMP. It’s Theoctistus. Oh, the crime! The strength deserts my benumbed limbs. Lift me up, Stilbo. (Stilbo comes running and with his extended hands he lifts up the emperor.)
STIL. Augustus, what panic has laid you low? Regain your spirits.
EMP. Where did the old man go?
STIL. Into thin air. I imagine he kindly descended from heaven, so as to avert your imminent murder. Offer thanks to the Thunderer, and let no altar go without its smoke, victims, hymns, and prayer.
EMP. Should I give thanks to the Thunderer for holding back His lightning and allowing such a monster to exist in my royal household? Theoctistus, the man who presides over the world with that eyebrow of his, the severe censor of the court, is readying his knife against my heart? Is this what his external austerity amounts to? Oh, his deceptive life! Oh, the signs of his false face! In a royal court it is uncertain whom to avoid, and whom may be safely cultivated. The hidden hand makes a sport of obedience. A show of love makes a mockery of dutifulness. The face deludes with artfulness, good faith eludes you. Theoctistus is disguising Orcus with that celestial face of his.
STIL. We can’t delay. Protect your side with a strong bodyguard. Let your soldiers keep vigil under arms. Meanwhile let us examine the man’s inner sanctums, his writing-desks, documents, and all his household. More evidence of his crime will reveal itself.
EMP. I shall not be behindhand in taking your advice.
ACT III, SCENE iii
METHODIUS, THEOCTISTUS, EUBULUS, TWO SERVANTS OF EUBULUS
While Theoctistus informs Methodius about the current state of affairs, there is a fight at court.
METH. Thus Caesar has taken mercy on Jannas and quashed his appointed exile, spurning his mother’s rule.
THE. The penalty has been revoked. The mage has been allowed to enjoy the city.
METH. I was congratulating myself on peaceful days, with the night banished! A vain hope! A cloud full of night and storm is looming, hanging above our heads, threatening evil with a rain as hard as stones. Whom will it spare? The plague of that monster out of Lerna is well known: tear off its head, it replaces them with seven. But if this Hydra gathers strength and renews its warfare, God, Who defeated its first blows, will do the same with its new ones.
THE. We must always be afraid, since we have this deadly adversary at our breast. We should have eliminated this pestilence with the fire of Hercules. This was my intention. But, oh youth, always swerving aside to the worse! He is mild when a felony requires a just punishment, but harsh when there is room for forgiveness. How how frail is the state of our empire! It is looking at headlong ruin, and it is already tottering thanks to the shoving of a boy. I see that honors are for sale, granted for a prayer and a price. I see that, with the choir of virtues driven far away, the realms of the vices are being cultivated.
METH. Why this sad state of affairs?
THE. Would you expect anything else, when a boy controls our realms?
METH. It is the person who gave the boy control of our realms who overthrew our enemy. His mother ought to be guiding his scepter.
THE. Caesar refuses to subordinate himself to his helpless mother.
METH. Let him be compelled.
METH. Let Bardas apply is hand.
THE. Bardas? He ties our empire’s hands behind its back as it topples. With Bardas serving as his tutor, Michael is trampling piety’s laws under his profane foot.
METH. Imitating his mother, teach him those laws of piety. Play the part of his father.
THE. For a long time I’ve been troubled, carrying this great weight on my Sisyphus-neck, but my work has been wasted. Even the sacred freedom of giving advice is perished. Caesar chose to postpone the exile I did my best to resist, and what did I receive other than threats from the Augustus and his dislike? Stilbo, that father of felonies and his guide in committing all manners of crime, asks for the purple. Caesar shows his favor to this undeserving man. Theodora resists, and I deny his worthiness. Hence we are equally hated. The credit of truth is disdained, and a lying style of service rules the roost at court. A man with a mind fertile in the arts of misrepresentation, and with a face that matches his mind, schooled in the shifts of Vertumnus and ready to heed the beck of every change in fortune, he is joined to the Augustus and equally rules the court. What about that crew devoted to Hell’s play? They call these people boys. How they fill the profaned court with their sports! They take turns in acting out sacred rites, untouched by any shame for this horrid sin. One of them, wearing vestments, plays the part of the priest, and adores God in the form of a bogus host. Another fills the role of an acolyte, and the rest of their crew sneers, and humorously swears that the genuine rites performed by a priest at the altar are vanities.
METH. A chill horror permeates my unaccustomed limbs, a coldness assaults my inmost being. Oh the accursed sin! Does the universe still run in its appointed cycles? Does the earth stand firm? Does profound peace still hold heaven in its grip? Is the city safe, not shaken off its foundations? Do we live out this day unharmed? Do we still breathe this air, after heaven has been insulted by this terrible sin? Almighty Father of this world, Pillar of things, hold Your flaming fire, oh hold it.
VOICE OFFSTAGE Bring lightning, bring fire, bring flame.
METH. Avert the plague.
VOICE OFFSTAGE Let the plague die. Strike, kill, slaughter, destroy. (Two wounded servants of Eubulus run across the stage.)
SERV. 1 Oh, faith of the world! Heaven help him, spare that innocent person from death.
THE. There’s a commotion in the court.
SERV. 2 Violence is murdering the man. A blameless man is being destroyed, a harsh calm comes over me.
THE. What violence? What blameless man? Perhaps they’re trying to murder me. You must depart, prelate. Get to safety by retiring within, since your about to be vexed by sudden evils. (Enter Eubulus, wounded and bleeding.)
EU. We are betrayed, my friend.
THE. Blood covers Eubulus.
EU. Peace has been banished. The royal court is turning into an armed camp, and Michael’s childish frenzy is increasing. Might is right. Law has perished, and virtue lies prostrate. I was denying you are tainted with guilt, and received this cruel reward for speaking truth.
THE. On my behalf?
EU. My breast is welling forth blood, I require a physician. You must fear the same, if you are not on your guard. (Exit.)
THE. He who’s heart is infected by the black plague of sin must fear. His conscience forbids Theocritus to feel fear. I have no idea for what blemish the court has condemned me, or to what fault I am supposed to be prone. But if right is to be called criminal, my breast is exposed for the wounding.
METH. Here, here you must go, you beloved champion of the saints. No man provides heaven with a better sight than he who tramples his woes with a manly foot. Go where the Thunderer’s cause and the salvation of our affairs summons you. Destroy the wiles of biting envy. Is murder threatened? Scorn it. Are they flattering you? Shun them. Let virtue remain upright, though under attack. If this world is preparing your death, the stars grant you life. The palm awaits the victors. Meanwhile let the chaste order of priests pay honors at the altars, so that God might be appeased and supply help in these dubious times, and so He might restore the right.
ACT III, SCENE iv
Stilbo and Jannes set snares for Theoctistus, as he steels himself to remain steadfast.
THE. Theoctistus, you stand midway between life and death. Go into the palace, you die. Flee and you regain your safety. Shall you enter or flee? I shall not flee, I shall not enter. I am considering doing both, by fleeing the vicious court, as far as I may, and entering by following God. You sole Salvation of tottering kingdoms, You Who guide royal scepters with Your artful hand, You Who alone move the minds of leading men as You desire, grant strength to my mind, grant that I can break Caesar’s resistance by my admonitions. Thus may Your great name flourish in the world, and also Your rule, and the fear of You. (Here he pauses, as if in a trance. Enter Stilbo and Jannes.)
STIL. Our business is poised on the knife’s edge, Jannes. (Sees Theoctistus.) Do you see the man.
JAN. He’s barely breathing?
STIL. How he stays still, like a stone statue!
JAN. How peace has come over this unquiet fellow!
STIL. I imagine he’s practising how to die, with an eye to the future.
JAN. Soon we’ll be giving him an incurable way of experiencing hideous death.
STIL. Come, stir up the Stygian crew with your incantation, do what we have decided on. The time and the place advise us. Now Caesar comes to his predestined pinnacle, under my guidance.
JAN. Go back quickly. I shall devise incantations fit for my apt devices.
ACT III, SCENE v
STILBO, THE EMPEROR, BASILIUS, JANNES, BARDAS, THEOCTISTUS, NON-SPEAKING PARTS
When Jannes sets false images in modion, Theoctistus is brought under suspicion of genuine wrongdoing.
The non-speaking parts are Michael, Bardas, Basilius, Theoctistus, an evil spirit, two bodyguards, all of them false, who play their parts by dancing.
STIL. Observe, Caesar. Theoctistus is stirring up the infernal crew. This fictitious masque comes from Orcus. You will look upon the fate decided for your person. This dark-clad gentleman wears the face of Theoctistus, modest in appearance, but a foul beast within. You will see the shape of his mind revealed in outward signs. This young fellow, shining with a fine countenance, represents yourself, Caesar, with his bright gold hair. The shade on the left represents Bardas, the one on the right Basilius. (At the prompting of an evil spirit, Theoctistus seeks to gain Michael’s crown.) How greedily he seeks to gain the resplendent glory of your head!
EMP. Sooner will you steal the crown of Jove of the Underworld.
STIL. These two companions of the Augustus stand in the way of his malign attempt. (With nods and gestures the genius signals that Basilius and Bardas must be murdered.) The spirit is indicating that the both of them must be killed by fraud or violence, so that he will have a clear way to gaining his wishes.
BAS. Me to be murdered?
STIL. He grows fearful, and, though his mind resists, he finally decides that such a great crime must be committed. Notice, Basilius, how you are first enmeshed in his deceptions. (Theoctistus places a snake on a piece of paper. It turns into a gold chain, which is put on Basilius. It kills him, as if it were a very potent poison.) This snake, filled with poison, changes into a bejewelled necklace. The virus seeps though his bones and kills him.
BAS. Such a dire monster prepares doom for Basilius? Let’s rip him to shreds.
EMP. Restrain your anger, let the crime continue to be enacted. (The false Theoctistus offers a sleeping draught in a cup to put Bardas in a slumber. Soon, when he is asleep, he murders the false Michael with a drawn dagger.)
STIL. He mixes poppy in with the wine, so that a profound slumber may overcome Bardas. Behold his cruel, brutal, monstrous felony.
EMP. Is this hellish person striking me? Me?
BAS. But why does he strike with my blade?
STIL. Watch. You will put the final touch on this bloody story. (He replaces the blood-stained dagger in the sheath of the sleeping Bardas. The false Bardas, caught with the evidence of the dagger, is put to death by the bodyguards, as if he were Michael’s assassin.)
BARD. What’s this, you villain. Is it on me that such an unheard-of evil — (The true Theoctistus comes back to himself and exits.)
THE. Strengthened by this hope, I enter the proud hall.
BARD. With this hope, rascal? Is it on me that such an unheard-of evil is to be blamed? Are you planning such a bestial form of murder? Oh you unspeakable bane on the earth!
BAS. Poison for me?
EMP. A blow for Caesar?
BARD. A snare for me?
STIL. Theoctistus is arranging these things. You see the man’s unholy mind, what treachery lurks deep in his heart, when the elegance of his false face is smiling? And he is living?
BARD. And breathing?
BAS. And still enjoying happy, sunny, cloudless days? Oh the punishment for his crimes, too slow in coming! Let him be arrested and put to death by a thousand methods.
STIL. May you choose to be cruel, Caesar, mayyou choose to be harsh when your enemies’ impiety is raging, forgetful of human ways.
EMP. Go, hasten, Basilius. Let the praetor blockade the threshold of the Augustus’ house with steel. Let soldiers keep sleepless watch, so that Theoctistus never sets foot in the court.
BAS. I’m hurrying on my way.
ACT III, SCENE vi
THE EMPEROR, BARDAS, STILBO
Bardas and Stilbo urge Michael that, after Theoctistus has been killed and his mother relegated to a nunnery, he should seize sole control.
EMP. When wrath swells the heart, the mind refuses to preside over serious matters. When wrath gives place, a more placid area for deliberating great counsels opens up. A great matter is at stake. What catastrophe should befall the man whom with his final words my beloved father bid me entrust control over myself during my minority? Good faith acknowledges him as the man responsible for its restitution. Renewed piety, extra honor for our churches, and statuary attached to altars call him their father. The common folk, both clergy and laity, stand agape him, and the enthusiasm of my lords admits far and wide that he as a god on earth. My mother herself adores him, she loves and follows his advice as her guide in the greatest matters. It is sufficiently clear that he who would destroy this man in death, would have many things to fear.
STIL. What quiet has suddenly come over you and made you mild? What soft fear destroys the shafts of your wrath? I had imagined you were considering torments for the guilty man, and that means of inflicting a lingering death were being readied. As I see it, you are pondering in what way the guilty fellow may make his escape. You are asleep, Caesar, when it comes to the cause of yourself and your kingdom, unless you make haste to eradicate this bane of the kingdom.
BARD. You see this plunderer’s intentions and you are still agreeable? Do you still tremble, uncertain? You will complain in vain when your household is already swimming in blood, your proud lords slaughtered by force and fraud, your own life, your scepter, and the glory of your realm are taken away at swordpoint. Do you fear unpopularity with your common subjects? For he has seduced them by his pleasant wiles and his craft. He who does not know how to endure unpopularity does not know how to enjoy high power. But you should not think that popular dislike is something to be feared. Granted that his erstwhile high glories recommend the man, grant him to be the darling of the commons and the lords, nevertheless popular favor attaches to a man while is still standing, but flees when he is laid low. A springtime flower gives delight as long as its fragrance is undamaged, but when its odor loses its sweetness, it lies trampled underfoot. Why fear things that are safe? His life is full of bogus virtue, his hatreds are hidden,, but when this crime he has conceived and his dagger aimed at Caesar’s throat have been revealed, popular sentiment will proclaim that he he has been rightly degraded and sent to his execution.
STIL. And even if popular sentiment were to grumble, would you hold your hand? Let private citizens be guided by such talk, but sovereigns by their own desire. This freedom nourishes their realms. If the commoners were to lament his removal, then he should die all the sooner, even if there were no other reason for his removal. He who has first lopped of heads dear to the general public wields the scepter longer, before they raise themselves up to the level of the supreme one or exercise rebellious daring and refuse to be guided by their ruler’s will.
EMP. I shudder at my mother’s threats.
BARD. An example of spiritual cowardice! Base character! Why this ignoble fear of a great mind? Should a man who quails at a woman govern men? Rise up, my prince, and show yourself to be the equal of great-hearted leaders. Let the moon rule the bevy of the stars when Phoebus is absence, but when Phoebus demands back the sky, let his sister abdicate.
STIL. Granted, as long as you were a child and unable to steer the helm of your mighty ship, your mother should have ruled. Now your mind and your hand hold the reins of this earth. Now the vigor of your age is ardent and fit for doing business. Your blood has matured to the point it is capable of warfare and your mind is filled with wisdom. Long trained by my words, let it wield even heaven’s scepter.
BARD. How long, tell me, how long will you allow our purple-clad leaders to be oppressed by the shameful yoke of a feeble woman? If realms enjoying fostering peace should require timely laws against crime, could a witless woman draft them? If the bugle sounds war, if the foe shakes our walls and the rage of battle should soak our nation in blood, would you beg for a helping female hand? Rather, you should command your mother to employ her humble thumb in spinning thread. He who permits a woman to preside over a kingdom subverts the laws of nature.
STIL. Take the scepter, Caesar, take it and free us men of our foul servitude. For a long time both lords and commoners have been ashamed to obey a woman’s commands.
BARD. Decide it thus, Caesar. Either rule by yourself, or abdicate. For what fool would tolerate this? Already Theoctistus is aiming his hand at your throat, with a single blow he is bringing death for us three. His crime needs to be warded off, his felony to be forestalled by his killing, is force to be beaten back by force. And yet your mother will not tolerate this. Let her tolerate it, let her howl. By the Styx, your adversary will suffer the punishments he intends for you,. (He pretends to be about to leave.)
EMP. Where are you off to in such a hurry, Bardas?
BARD. Where my justified ardor urges. I am determined to remove this threaten of death from your person.
EMP. Have no doubt, your wish will soon be granted.
BARD. “Soon” is a slow word. Let it be given quickly, quickly. The enemy is at hand.
EMP. Consider him a dead man.
BARD. While he enjoys the breath of life? While he prepares a plague for you?
EMP. While we are protected by arms.
BARD. Arms are defeated by stratagems.
EMP. His stratagems have been brought to light. Nobody fears a fraud once it has been detected.
BARD. You should fear a fraud from which you cannot protect yourself, even when it has been revealed.
EMP. I can protect myself against this one.
EMP. By delay.
BARD. There’s death in delay.
EMP. And life.
BARD. Yes, that of your enemy.
EMP. Consider him dead.
BARD. Show me how I can believe this.
EMP. Make me sole ruler.
STIL. You should seize that. For a long time our realms have required you as their sovereign.
EMP. But my mother?
BARD. Lock her up.
BARD. In the household of a lowly flock of women. Let her join the ranks of consecrated virgins. There she can bother God with her ancient prayers as a dethroned mother, while men manage the state.
EMP. What if she is proud and refuses to dwell in a holy retreat?
BARD. She may nevertheless be compelled to do so
EMP. I should compel my mother?
STIL. She’s a woman.
EMP. But of the Augustan family.
BARD. A shifting, changeable, pliable, and frail family.
STIL. Let it be called an act of piety to consign a woman to a consecrated house. Let her be compelled to be pious, a woman corrupted by the glitter of the royal court. It is her impiety that advises her to steal her son’s due glory of rule.
EMP. The laws of nature forbid a man to do violence to his mother.
STIL. The laws of nature allow the recovery of stolen goods.
BARD. Why lecture me about the laws of severe nature? Nature enjoins you to do whatever serves your advantage. If some recalcitrant parent resists this law, I trample on that parent. You are manufacturing delays, Caesar. You must finally make up your mind. Tell us, do you feel that Theoctistus’ death should be prepared?
EMP. I do.
BARD. And remove your mother far from the court?
EMP. I do.
BARD. You assume sole government of your realms.
EMP. I assume it, I embrace it, I want it. Thus far, my friends, I have chosen to play an unshaven Cato in my play. I am abandoning that role. Enough time has been spent on fooleries. Your loyalty, long proven in most important matters, holds steady on its course. I see how devoted your minds are to myself. I approve the destruction of my adversary and my mother’s retirement. Let punishment come down on malefactors. However I first want to scrutinize Theoctistus’ secret inner sanctums.
BARD. So go ahead, let us abandon delay. (Exit Michael.)
ACT III, SCENE vii
Jannes and Stilbo, overjoyed by the result of their first deception, plot a new one.
STIL. Who could deny fraud is an invincible god? I worship you, fraud, the single goddess of my prayers. Oh continue on your victorious course, carry our crime to its conclusion.
JAN. I acknowledge the pronouncement of a second Sibyl, make your prophecy. It the way open for our wiles?
STIL. We are blessed, Jannes. This boy was gullible in hearing our fiction, and in his inflamed mind he is vowing our enemy’s destruction.
JAN. Ho for triumph! The our shadowy scheme has prevailed. Oh what applause shakes my inmost heart! Oh, how this happy feeling bathes my astonished senses! Will fury lay low our adversary with a vengeful downfall? Let infernal Chaos resound with “Ho, for triumph!”
STIL. We are sounding the triumphs on a premature trumpet, Jannes. Our enemy stands secure, and unrestrainedly triumphs over our grief. Better first to bring our wishes to a safe conclusion. Often the soldier who happily sings a paean while his enemy remains unkilled experiences the mockery of malign fortune, and, conquered, will issue an unhappy lamentation. Let us play out Act Five of our drama. Soon Caesar will invade this man’s inaccessible haunts, looking for further evidence of his cheats.
JAN. Fortune has granted us an opportunity for deceit. Here’s the gem I recently took from Berillus. (He gives Stilbo the gem of the dead Berillus, to be hidden among Theoctistus’ papers.) While, together with the Augustus, you rifle his cabinets, skillfully contribute this gem, so that it will unexpectedly come to the emperor’s hand. Hence this evidence of murder will prove to be Theoctistus’ undoing. The boy will fall into a rage.
STIL. I understand, consider it done. This work calls me. (Chorus or interlude.)
Go to Act IV