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CASSANDER Lavinia’s husband and a jealous man
LAVINIA wife of Cassander
RUPERTUS servant of Cassander
SMERALDA handmaid of Lavinia
CHILDREN sons of Cassander
ADRIANUS father of Ascanius
FERDINANDUS father of Valerius
ASCANIUS, VALERIUS two young men
PHANIO alias FLORIO Ascanius’ man
PANTALEO Valerius’ man
ELENCHIO a parasite
TRAPULA a doctor of medicine
CEREBERINUS a procurer
BIBERIA a bawd
LUDOVICUS, GLORIANUS visitors from abroad
TALANTA, AURELIA whores
GRIPUS a fisherman
CONGRUO, PALINURUS servants of Gripus
CURIO a musician (Cassander’s false name)
ACT I, SCENE i
VALERIUS, CURIO, PANTALEO
VAL. Have a look, Pantaleo, and see that we have no witness to our undertakings on our left or on our right.
PAN. The panorama is empty down to the end of the street. Keep going.
VAL. So let’s do that for which we came. This is Cassander’s house, looking very cheerful, and there’s Lavinia’s bedchamber. While she’s lying in her soft bed you must so sooth her with your sweet tunefulness that she will always be kind and friendly towards me.
CUR. I can do so with elegance.
VAL. Cassander’s away. If the gods are willing, I’ll make him come home wearing a different look, with the face of a bull and his head adorned with the horns of Actaeon.
CUR. So here’s your song of Orpheus, with which he soothed that three-headed dog in the Underworld. I’ll use it to make Lavinia randy down to her very fingertips. He plays on the bass viol.
VAL. Sweet god of love, by your godhead I pray you, you who preside over this darkness, you father of the night, that I may enjoy the soft embraces of soft little Lavinia unbeknownst to that jealous husband of hers, who cleverly stands watch over her just like that watchful dragon kept guard over the golden apples of the Hesperides. Then I shall sprinkle your altar with incense, Syrian nard, and exotic spices. He plays again. Come hither that I may embrace you, you darling of our people. Let all my hireling musicians fall silent, for it is you who are my Orpheus and my Arion. But am I to hope that I am to gain Lavinia’s love by these overtures?
CUR. Why not, Valerius, why not? Music does the work of love-philters. It is a Siren, an enchantress pure and simple, which bewitches the ears and could soften the manners of Penelope herself. Give me a lute and the milk-white virgins who cluster about it, and with my songs I’ll lure them into a brothel.
VAL. Ah, I fear Lavinia is most chaste and scorns love.
CUR. You’re wrong, Valerius. You fail to understand the female nature, with the result that you believe as you do. For that animal, frail and inconstant, is very prone to sporting and lust. Why do women arrange their hair in curls? Why do they decorate their ears with gems from the Indies, and despoil their skin with all manner of cosmetics? Why do they use rouge on their pale cheeks and ornament their bare necks with gold and gems, unless for the sale of sport, sumptuousness, and sex? For, Valerius, these ornaments are the bewitchments of the court, and wholly the enticements of whores. For heave’'s sake, you know I’m telling the truth. For you may see women of that kind all over Venice, women who reek of the pharmacy, like so many star-spangled peacocks. But if you were to see them naked and stripped bare, they would nauseate you and make you puke.
VAL I weary of these women when I recall Lavinia. For charm and modesty dance upon her face like the decent Graces, her golden locks gleam like sunbeams, her bow gleams whiter than ivory, her crystal eyes shine forth love’s fiery rays, smiling Aurora has touched her cheeks with her rosy fingers, nectar flows from her coral lips, her mouth is a receptacle of sweetness that sheds its dew, her tongue drips the honey of Hyblaea, and Cupid reclines on her swelling breasts. Why should I say more? She is the fairest of them all, without any falsifying art.
CUR. Heavens, you give a lifelike picture, Apelles could paint no woman more beautifully.|
VAL. Let’s go, Curio, we’re wasting our time. I’ll speak to Lavinia tomorrow. May Cupid bring it about that I gain my wish. Exit Valerius.
CUR. I’ll wait here a while observing the stars, to see if Mars sleeps in Venus’ embrace this night. The Fates will not watch over your undertakings, you scurvy people. Had the gods not created the female race, men would not have thus sought to gain heaven in their folly. Oh that Cupid, mighty with his flames and his arrows, breaks men’s lofty, noble spirits! Who would not burst his guts witnessing the manners of those who call themselves the servants of Venus? This one fawns on his cruel mistress like a puppy, heaping her with insincere praises, when in truth neither beauty nor modesty shines in her countenance. That one begs, complains, and dissolves in tears, should his mistress frown and rebuke him. But I’ll hold my tongue, for I catch sight of Vulcan wearing his horns. And here is the very man I’m waiting for, Valerius’ rival Ascanius, who adores Lavinia. I take turns in being the boon companion and fellow wastrel of the both of them, and both of them have placed me in charge of their amatory affairs.
ASC. This is the very hour, Phanio, and this is the street where Curio promised to meet me.
CUR. [From his side of the stage.] He’s mentioning me by name. I’ll go to meet him. May the gods bless you, Ascanius.
ASC. Well met, Curio.
CUR. You’re enjoying the health of an athlete?
ASC. Save that the love-disease torments me — it’s feeding on my liver like the vulture of Prometheus — I’m enjoying the health of a champion.
CUR. Don’t be downcast on that score. For love is the pure essence of our noble Ascanius, whatever he doesn’t love is worthless. The man who does not know how to woo a maiden is a lifeless corpse, I mean the man who does not know how to issue sighs from deep within his breath, sighs such as they say are love’s silent harbingers, as he repeats over and over those shopworn lovers’ complaints, I’m ruined. I’m dead, or how to plant kisses like a dove or loll on his mistress’ soft bosom. The man is a toadstool who does not know how to recite lewd tales, to fondle breasts, to wheedle softly, to caress, to beseech, and all the other things which befit the well-schooled courtier.
ASC. I’ve never shrunk from Venus’ school so that I am not thoroughly versed in this science. As a henchman of Venus I have exercised my mind in this gymnasium ever since my adolescence. But these silly pastimes are quite meaningless, Curio, now that I am receiving a beating in Venus’ realm of love.
CUR. You have given an elegant description of your manners, Ascanius. For all you courtiers are Phaethons, sons of Phoebus. Your Zodiac is the brothel, your heavenly signs are the signs hung outside taverns and brothels. Your solstice is not in Capricorn or Cancer, but in the Tropic of the Virgin (not to mention her Tropic of Pleasure). This is my riddle, Ascanius. You can guess the rest.
ASC. Pray spare me your mordant jests, your tongue is bilious, your heart too acid. But you are fully aware of my reason for coming. Have you remembered your promise, Cario? Both of us have heeded the time and the place, and if the rest matches, than you have made me very grateful to yourself. I mean, have you written that love-letter.
CUR. Here’s a love-song for you. Read it and sign your name.
ASC. No, that’s your job.
CUR. Ascanius greets golden-haired Lavinia.
ASC. You have wittily assumed the identity of Anacreon.
CUR. I don’t want any public praise, Ascanius. When I beheld your wide-open little eyes, those repositories of love, your milk-white and unlined brow wherewith you surpass the goddess of Cyprus, and your neck, glittering with gems like a globe surrounded by a necklace of stars, fiery Cupid straightway crept into my heart. Unless you apply a cure to this wound, I am wholly slain. My balm and the cure for this disease will come from you alone.
ASC. I applaud your rich vein of talent, Curio. By heaven, that poem is written with good humor and lovingly. From it Lavinia can divine my wish, for its conclusion summarizes what’s on my mind.
CUR. What, if you please, will become of this letter now, Ascanius?
ASC. Cassander lives here, there’s Lavinia’s bedchamber. I’ll leave it wedged in this window, so that she ASC understand that I love her wholeheartedly. For doubtless she’ll read it when she awakes.
CUR. I understand.
ASC. It’s done. Now it’s growing light. Why linger here any longer, Curio? Tomorrow I’ll join in love’s battle. Exeunt.
CER. Hey, Biberia, burn some incense in my bedchamber. Sweep away the cobwebs and be quick about clearing them out of the windows, so that my house may shine. (To another servant.) And you, take a comb and give my wall-hangings a brushing. (Enter Elenchio.)
ELEN. Hey you, Cerberinus, look at this whoremaster’s filth, you who scrape a living from the lips of your whores, you corrupter of the youth, you seducer, you public plague.
CER. Who’s disturbing me while I’m plotting my evil?
ELEN. Your old friend Elenchio is talking to you.
CER. That was you, my ruinous villain? Hasn’t the Pit swallowed you down yet? How are you doing?
ELEN. I’m a victim of the pecuniary plague.
CER. Fill your gullet with a drink of wine, you’ll become more than sufficiently healthy.
ELEN. I’d like to see you cure yourself with that remedy.
CER. How are you faring nowadays?
ELEN. I’m among the number of the planets. I stray hither and thither like a wondering star.
CER. If you’re a planet, doubtless you’re Mercury. So I’ll take care lest you wrest away my purse. For you have the fingers of a kite: they grasp whatever they touch. But what reason had you for addressing me with such a loud voice?
ELEN. So as tell you of my miseries. Just give me an ear.
CER. I’m give you two empty ones.
ELEN. In days of yore Gnathos flourished, the parasitic art was famous, that was our Golden Age. These adamantine days have followed, making us go hang. This is my unhappy self-appraisal. For lately I was the darling of Valerius and Ascanius. They used to entertain me with a royal feast, and I in my turn entertained them with my elegant grace, with sallies and Attic witticisms. But I wretchedly pine and wither away, now that Curio has joined their company. That musician enchants them with his songs, just as Orpheus did the beasts. Elenchio is shown the door. I pray that all the gods might convey him to his hanging. For he has undone me with misfortune. Trust me, I haven’t tasted wine for two days. My belly is as transparent as Phoenician lantern. Like the chameleons, I live on Indian air alone.
CER. Now we’re even, since this calamity miserably torments me too. For you know full well how desperately in love Valerius was with Talanta recently, just as Ascanius was with Aurelia. Every day they drank at my establishment like a bunch of Greeks, from which no small profit accrued to me, Elenchio. But now they have foresworn my house and disowned their mistresses, to whom they had been promised. Since they had been on the verge of buying the girls out of my servitude, by heaven, this destroyed and cheated my fortune — unless I can find suitable guests elsewhere. The procuring art is likewise going to the devil. But who are these people I see heading this way?
ELEN. Whew! I see that pleasant Ludovicus, that man of seven years, that glory of the pot-houses and brothels. At the same time I see Glorianus, who finds his happiness in costumes from beyond the sea. He is always rattling on about foreign nations, although the boaster has never laid eyes on them. We’ll hide here and overhear their conversation.
LUD. Albeit at this age my hair is white, signor Glorianus, my mind has not grown elderly. Indeed, every day my heart flourishes and thrives. I have survived to this age fit for girls without pharmaceutical aids, and I have fought under the shield of Venus, not without glory, having not dried up when it comes to pleasurable matters. I am just as youthful now as when the first beard marked my cheeks. I’m full of juice, and a young man’s marrow is afire burns within my bones. I have no interest in oysters, crabs, potatoes, sea holly, wanton doves, which are aphrodisiacs, as the physicians prattle. Let all hairy old men smeared with stinking salves, shriveled prey of the Acheron, go hang, men who only dream of silver and gold as they doze upon their money-bags. Give me dice and gaming-pieces, give me a pretty little girl, a soft bed, honeyed kisses, bumpers of vintage wine, dainties to eat, musicians, and parasites to make me laugh until my sides split, and a fig for the devil.
ELEN. Gods love me, how delighted I am to listen to him! For he is one of Cupid’s veteran campaigners. How well he enumerates all the enticements of the wanton way of life! Oh Cerberinus, would that I had some victims here, so that I could make sacrifice to this Jove on earth!
CER. With habits of his kind, he’s worth his weight in gold. For if our poor Eucleos were to adopt them, parasites and procurers would be thriving.
LUD. What are you doing, Glorianus? Are we doing to the brothel or to the theater?
GLOR. As suits my taste and my humor, Ludovicus. By this light of day, you are very elegant, I adore you and esteem you highly. But pray tell me, how much you think I paid for this cloak? And these silk garments? They are one hundred percent foreign, and made in the very latest style.
LUD. I can’t guess, signor.
GLOR. By thunder, here you are seeing a hundred pounds, not a shilling less. I have reduced a large number of men to poverty, as they tried to ape me.
ELEN. See how this peacock begins to spread his feathers, how this donkey starts to show off his golden fleece. Soon, Cerberinus, he will recount the names of princes, kings, and ladies, although he has never met them.
GLOR. I brought back this bonnet from Germany, the Duke of Saxony give me this sword. He is a noble, warlike prince, and gave me a royal treatment as a visitor.
CER. Elenchio, you’re a prophet. I’ll skin this fellow alive and relieve him of his golden fleece, if he chooses my establishment for his hostel.
GLOR. The Queen of France, whose hand I have kissed very frequently, set this gold ring on my finger. And if you had seen how desperately the ladies of the English court doted on me, and how sadly they wept when I took my leave, oh, oh, oh —
ELEN. You hear? May the gods destroy me if stable-hands and threepenny simpletons don’t look down on this fellow, and yet he rattles on about ladies.
LUD. If there’s so much joy in foreign travel, before the bloom goes off my age I myself shall make trial of this delightful way of life. But into what climes should I particularly direct my steps, Glorianus?
GLOR. First, if you please, you ought to sail straight to Spain. But the husbands there are quite jealous. So you must take care not plant a kiss on a married woman or cast your eyes upon her in an over-familiar way. For if you err in this even the least little bit, they’ll make you a eunuch.
LUD. Really? I want to shun them like the reefs of Scylla and Charybdis.
GLOR. Next you should betake yourself to France.
LUD. So you say? The hell with France. Who does not know the rest? It is unsafe for lovers to ply their trade there.
GLOR. You may go to Germany, if you want. There they have the nectar of wine of ancient vintage, you may irrigate your old age with goblets full of the stuff. Or go to Britain, where winesots who take it strait vie with each other in tossing off rounds with a single gulp, and, if you chose, you can drink with them until daybreak. There are crowds of elegant women there, available at whatever price you care to name, who will give you a soft embrace.
LUD. On the wings of a Pegasus I shall fly to that Isle of the Blest, to those Elysian Fields.
CER. Would that I could entice this cuckoo onto my premises, this bird devoted to Venus and to loose living, so I could clip his silver wings and pluck him balder than Ludovicus!
ELEN. I’ll approach these fellows and worm my way into their company. (Crosses the stage.) The noble Cupid, Venus, Priapus and Bacchus send you their greetings.
CER. Elenchio, my boon companion, give me your hand. Where are you going?
ELEN. Straight to the auction-block. For if any man is seeking a parasite for himself, I’m for sale together with all my equipment.
LUD. You can join me and drink yourself silly. My table is always at your disposal, as long as you delight me with your jokes.
ELEN. You have filled my heart with joy and benevolence. I am not in the habit of refusing anyone who invites me dinner.
LUD. Who’s that man walking around by himself over there?
ELEN. A man of your ilk, a priest of Venus, the procurer Cerberinus, who has lately moved here from Florence.
LUD What a worthless toadstool I am for not having recognized him already!
CER. Here comes profit. Elenchio, you have blessed me.
LUD. No man’s friendship is more welcome to me than that of a procurer. Greetings.
CER. Hello to you too.
LUD. In your house do you have any pretty, succulent virgins whose company I may share, should I stay in your lodgings?
CER. Nobody will give you better. For my wares are not made up with cosmetics, they shine with their true beauty.
LUD. Give me your hand. To me, your words are sweeter than honey.
GLOR. As I began to tell you, Elenchio, not far from the land of Florida dwell horrendous one-eyed giants. We left them undisturbed. From there we took a long route and arrived at Guiana, where we glimpsed mountains of gold. Finally, loaded down with very ample booty, we headed for Italy by way of the Equinoctial Circle and the Cape of Good Hope.
ELEN. Did you see the Amazons, those warlike ladies?
GLOR. You do well to remind me. Hippolyta, their sovereign and their finest warrior, decorated this ear with a bejeweled earring.
LUD. What are we doing, Glorianus?
GLOR. I must hasten to court. Certain ladies are awaiting my arrival, and the Doge himself has invited me to dinner.
LUD. I’ll go to the theater. Everybody’s saying that the actors are going to perform a comedy.
CER. Before you depart, noble sirs, pray join me in a bumper of Leucadian wine. Here’s my establishment. Note its sign, it will always be open for you.
LUD. I won’t refuse that task. (Music plays.)
GLOR. What’s this celestial harmony?
ELEN. The whorish Sirens within are devising this melody.
LUD. So your girls are skilled at music, my procurer. They please me all the more.
CER. Hey, who’s within? Biberia, Aurelia, Talanta and Paegnium, bring out goblets and wine, and be quick about it.
ELEN. Indeed, this is Olympian music. I’d prefer it to the songs of Orpheus.
CER. Good for you, noble sirs. Good for you, Elenchio. Come, Talanta, give him his goblet. You, Aurelia, offer Glorianus a cup. Give us a napkin, Biberia. Where’s Paegnium with the dainties to nibble?
LUD. Good words, by Hercules, good words. Oh Cupid, when I behold Talanta you pierce my heart.
GLOR. My mistress the Countess of Paris has this same complexion. Foam-born Venus does not outshine you in beauty, Aurelia.
LUD. Let’s spend a happy night at your place, my procurer. Elenchio, you’re dismissed.
ELEN. Gods destroy me if I don’t love you more than these eyes of mine.
LUD. Let’s go, Cerberinus. Good-bye. Exeunt Ludovicus and Glorianus.
CER. Venus gave me these good things when she brought these wastrels here. I have lightly grazed these rams, I’ll fleece them down to their bare skin. You people take this stuff inside. Get going.
ELEN. Good-bye, my procurer.
CER. Good-bye, Elenchio. Exeunt.
LAV. Smeralda, I’m wondering what evil thing I’ve done to make Cassander so angry at me. The clear serenity of his brow has disappeared, now its beclouded by the shadows of wrath. For heaven’s sake, I don’t understand how his humors are out of balance. But I have often noticed how sighs emerge from deep within his breast, as if, after we have produced so many children, he is weary of our marriage. When he left our house, I know you remarked how he didn’t say good-bye in his usual way. He only made his departure while glaring at me, and behaving rudely. I’m puzzled by the meaning of this.
SMER. Don’t let these misfortunes vex or bother you, mistress. For peace and pleasure are not absent from a marriage-bed forever. The sun shines after cloudy weather, and peaceful times after quarrels.
LAV. Oh Lucina, patroness of the chaste marriage-bed, bear witness how dear unsullied chastity and love of my husband have always been to my heart.
SMER. You’re acting amiss. Wipe away your tears, don’t ruin your eyes by weeping.
LAV. Heaven, I scarcely imagined my husband was a man of that nature. Go inside and call Rupertus outside to me. I want a few words with him.
SMER. I’ll do it. Meanwhile, I pray you cease these tears. Exit.
VAL. Indeed, I’m undertaking an arduous and very difficult task, one which would surpass the labor of Paris. If Lavinia entirely refuses me, I’m ruined. If she agrees, my sense of shame is destroyed. I don’t know what I should do. I waver hither and thither. Oh, how ill-suited to each other are modest shame and inflamed love! I shall speak to her boldly. Thus, thus Cupid commands, thus Venus enjoins, since the whole city pronounces her to be a Cynthia on earth. If this is true, all my hope is vanished. But she’s a woman, and what is more inconstant than a woman, said to be lighter than a feather? The die is cast, I’ll go to meet her. As long as I gain my wish, to hell with my sense of shame, to hell with modesty and chastity.
LAV. Ascanius has insulted me by putting this letter in my window, and likewise that impudent musician, whoever he was.
VAL. But see, there she is at the door. I’ll approach her. (He crosses over.) Greetings, glory of Italy, little flower of the Venetians. Greetings, Lavinia. May all the gods and goddesses preserve you.
LAV. I have no concern for their protection. Since they are wicked, they corrupt and pollute good morals.
VAL. Ah, don’t speak ill of those most elegant divinities, since they have endowed you with such great beauty.
LAV. Unsullied chastity is a gift better than the splendor of beauty or physical comeliness. For, like Phoebus’ laurel, it is evergreen, whereas beauty quickly withers, like a flower.
VAL. You’re an ingrate towards Venus when you ignore her gifts, which are women’s only ornaments. So would that you were less beautiful, or more friendly towards Venus and Eros!
LAV. Ah, is this what you want, that I befoul my chaste heart with the morals of a whore? I wholeheartedly reject that. For if chastity is wanting, beauty is a foul thing, just like the moon when deprived of the light of the sun.
RUP. Do you fancy our master is a jealous man, Smeralda? Then, by heaven, you are telling me about Lavinia’s hard circumstances. For it’s better to share a home with a rabid dog than with a man driven insane by excessive love.
SMER. At least that’s what I predict. But beware lest these things leak out which I am entrusting to your good faith and silence.
RUP. Just because a woman is a sieve, do you think that I too am full of chinks, you talkative little creature?
LAV. Get away with your shameless riddles, Valerius. By heaven, I can’t stand these lovers’ trifles. Pray remove your hand, and your amatory whispers are making my ears ring.
VAL. This hand, moistened by Cupid’s balsam, this bashful blush tinging your white face, these lips dripping with nectar — whom do they not move and set afire, Lavinia?
SMER. Rupert, I have no idea what business of yours might need my support. But our mistress has bidden me call you outside.
VAL. Perhaps she is mourning her husband’s absence.
SMER. No, it’s something else, even if this too troubles her mind. Heavens, women live under the harsh law that they must tolerate all ills with calmness.
RUP. So if you’re wise you live as a nun and lead a celibate existence.
SMER. Ah, heaven forbid! I’ll follow in my mother’s footsteps. I understand the purpose for which nature made me a woman.
RUP. Namely that you may make trouble for your husband after you’re married.
LAV. Remove your hand, Valerius? Why are you stealing my glove?
VAL. So as to have some keepsake of you. And you in turn must take these bracelets, pledges of my love.
LAV. Your gifts are nothing but birdlime and enticements to vice.
VAL. Ah, don’t fill the city with a reputation for stubbornness. Now Anaxarete is as hard as stone, she who was finicky in rejecting her lover’s entreaties.
LAV. Oh for heaven’s sake, you’re pouring words into deaf ears.
VAL. Venus loved Mars although she was married to Vulcan. Why shouldn’t Lavinia love Valerius?
LAV. Lucretia disdained Tarquin’s illicit love, why shouldn’t Lavinia disdain Valerius? If you want to swap examples, plenty occur to me. Please go way, forget this unspeakable love.
VAL. How can I go away when you yourself detain me, caught in the golden net of my love of you?
LAV. I don’t want to listen to any more of your foolishness. Come here, Rupertus. Go straight to the harbor, and ask each sailor whether any of them has seen Cassander at Brindisi.
RUP. I’ll do so.
LAV. But hurry.
RUP. You’re teaching a man who’s been taught. Exit.
LAV. I pray that all the gods return him safe and sound. Exit.
VAL. Though Lavinia may be more chaste than Cynthia herself, or though she may be like Danae pent up within hard walls, although Cassander may be a many-eyed Argos and the hound of the Styx may stand guard at his door, in the end Valerius will find a way to land in her lap like Jove’s golden shower. But why am I hesitating to go to the market=place, so that Curio may learn how my amours fared? Exit.
What if I have suffered a rebuff in this love-contest? Should I act as others are wont to do? I mean, should I beat my breast and put on a hangdog expression, walking around as filthy and ragged as Marsyias after Apollo skinned him alive? By no means. This is the mark of a low-down mind. I shall manfully endure whatever outcome fate brings my way. Let all those half-men who are imbued with such manners hang themselves on their mistresses’ doorsteps. I’ll enter her house with boldness. Why love if I am not daring? Why not be daring, if I am in love?