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ACT II, SCENE i
VALERIUS, CURIO (CASSANDER)
VAL. I’ve set the whole matter out for you in due order, Curio
CUR. I understand.
VAL. And furthermore I’m carrying this love-token with myself.
CUR. You stole that glove from her against her will, Valerius?
VAL. Gently, Curio, gently. If I’m granted the opportunity to speak with her, my mind tells me that her attitude will be well-disposed enough towards me, and that she will turn her attention to love. For Cassander’s suspiciousness has cast this bridle on her.
CUR. (Aside.) Really? Damn me if you aren’t going to go to ruin, Valerius?
VAL. Why this sudden anger, Curio? Pray what’s the meaning of this drawn sword? What kind of crime are you preparing in your uncontrolled madness?
CUR. Valerius, you’ve done me a great injury, which I do not care to let go unavenged.
VAL. What have I done? How have I earned your anger? Haven’t I loved you like a brother? Have you come to such a point of lunacy that now you forget my affection?
CUR. I’m not the man you imagine. (Removing his disguise.) Behold Cassander. Why are you turning aside your head, you great rascal?
VAL. (Aside.) Am I asleep or dreaming? Indeed, this is the very man. I’m caught in a snare from which I can’t escape.
CASS. How did you commit such a base crime?, to seduce my bride to wantonness and fill my house with infamy and disgrace? Aren’t you ashamed of these things? But all innate shame has departed your mind, you bold-faced fellow.
VAL. Pray that all fellows in disguise go hang.
CASS. Lavinia used to exist, she used to be the glory of this city, the bright honor of the female sex, outshining the others in candor and purity, just as much as ruddy Cynthia outshines the lesser stars and bow-wielding Delia outshines the nymphs of the forest. I have no idea if she still is. Now I am afraid she has been corrupted by your fancy words and blandishments.
VAL. (Aside.) My divided mind makes me uncertain. I have no idea what to do.
CASS. Is this your idea of gratitude, foul man?? This is the good faith of a friend? After Lentulus induced us to shake hands, I hoped you would be a second Pylades to myself. Oh, how my hope was dashed! Those serious quarrels which agitated me and your father did not arouse me as much as this act of ingratitude.
VAL. Cassander —
CASS. I don’t care to listen. Get out of my sight, I tell you, lest I send your ungrateful self to join the pallid shades of Erebus. You plague on modesty, you bane on chastity, you cancer on the nobility, you ulcer of the Venetians. (Exit Valerius.) Oh, that beauty is a transitory thing, a fleeting shadow, which falls prey to foul old age. It is only the brief gift of a moment. It robs all men of their wits, it infatuates them, and yet how swiftly the glory of beauty steals away, as when the pale leaves of a lily wilt and the scarlet hue of roses fades. What wise man would ever be captivated by the love of such a frail good? But see here, here’s Ascanius coming out of my house, another corruptor of my wife. Now I’ll disguise myself as Cario once more, so that I might discover everything that’s been transacted within.
ACT II, SCENE ii
ASCANIUS, CURIO (CASSANDER)
ASC. It’s the mark of a timid coward to lay down his arms at the first encounter. Fortune favors the brave.
CUR. I’d like to be able to change myself into a snake now, so as to force this impious fellow’s jaws apart and choke him with the worst of examples.
ASC. I fought bravely under Cupid’s auspices. A kiss was my catapult, lover’s eloquence my sword, an embrace my catapult, wheedlings my weapons.
CUR. This battle consumes my heart and stabs me in the breast.
ASC. She resisted stoutly, but I for my part vigorously pressed my assault so as to terrify her. Finally Lavinia took to her heels and fled into her chamber as if taking asylum, and so this sweet battle of Venus was ended.
CASS. I can scarcely restrain myself from going for his eyes.
ASC. And yet I have no doubt I’ll triumph over her, even if she seems very stiffnecked and ignorant of love. For this is the way of women, that they must conduct themselves modestly, even if they are very eager for pleasure and love.
CASS. Bah! Jupiter on high, do you see these things? Do you hear these crimes? If no vice is added to your sense of shame, Lavinia, you will be far dearer to me than Juno is to Jove. But if becomes corrupted by base lust, I’ll make you an example for all the world.
ASC. Who’s this talking nearby? Was that you, Curio? Come here so I may tell you about my love’s success.
CASS. No, I heard everything from my place of concealment.
ASC. I gained a great hope of having my way, as long as the chance of speaking to her in Cassander’s absence is granted me.
CASS. What entered your head to make you believe that?
ASC. Because these women who pretend to be chaste and seem more modest than the rest are the ones who most greatly rejoice in clandestine amours.
CASS. And you imagine Lavinia to be like them?
ASC. Why not? When a woman has pert eyes, Curio, you may recognize her as a handmaid of Cupid, imbued with wanton ways.
CASS. But tell me how you approached her.
ASC. By myself, while she was alone. There was no witness to our conversation.
CASS. Didn’t she rebuff you when you tried to plant kisses? Didn’t she furrow her brow? Didn’t she cry out?
ASC. Yes, she refused and put up a struggle, as women do. But coldly and languidly, as if she desired to be overcome in the struggle.
CASS. (Aside.) I don’t like this beginning about the kiss. (Aloud.) I know you embraced her.
ASC. Oh, I wrapped my arms around her tightly.
CASS. (Aside.) Ah you witch, why didn’t you gouge out his eyes? (Aloud.) Did you handle her breasts?
ASC. Very frequently, although that noli me tangere was always on her lips. But this is only customary, Curio, as you know.
CASS. The very same thing is done by scurvy whores in a brothel. Why did you not rule her out quickly? Didn’t you do anything quickly? Did she make no mention of Cassander to you?
ASC. Yes. As it seems, she greatly fears him, which is the reason she refuses clandestine amours. For I know she fears lest she be found out thanks to her negligence. But if Cassander were to be away from home for a couple of days, my mind rejoices in the thought that I could win the prize and enjoy the possession of her.
CASS. (Aside.) This is what my mind has always forecast. Indeed his opinion is true. You are ruined, Cassander, Lavinia is corrupt.
ASC. Why are you talking to yourself again, Curio?
CASS. I’m complaining of my misfortune for having married a witch.
ASC. What dealings do you have with Lavinia?
CASS. You’ll find out in a minute. (Removes his disguise.) Hey, do you know who I am, you sacrilegious fellow?
ASC. But, but, I’m looking at Cassander? What are these tricks?
CASS. You deep-dyed villain, if I were to run you through with this sword you’d pay a price yo match your evildoing. Aren’t there many virgins of excellent beauty, born of noble stock, for you to pursue? Or, if chaste wives and the marriage-bed aren’t to your taste, in the red light district there are whores for sale with whom you can take your pleasure. Transfer your affection to them and keep away from married women. Aren’t you ashamed of this action, Ascanius? But your honest morals are dead, as is your good faith and your sense of shame, and this something that cannot return once it has perished. You impious adulterer, you bold-faced fellow, you’ll never get away with this unavenged.
ASC. This jealous man is about to go mad, I have no chance to linger here any longer. I pray all these inquisitive Curios go hang. (Exit.)
CASS. In truth, those men live a wretched, unhappy life who marry wives and contract marriages. For if your wife is pretty and neat, as the poets say Helen was, then these little descendants of Venus’ Paris will snatch after your darling. But if you marry an unhandsome and unkempt one, living with her will make you nauseous. If I had never entered into the labyrinth of evil, all these horrible monsters would not have been piercing my heart, I mean sorrow, concern, and a suspicion that does not know how to rest, even in my dreams.
ACT II, SCENE iii
RUP. I was down at the harbor, to see what shipping has come from Brindisi. There were a number of merchantmen, but all the sailors denied having seen Cassander.
CASS. I humbly you call on you, you divinities of heaven, if you have any concern for the married bedroom, come forth, come forth as my avengers.
RUP. But who’s this? Unless my eyes are bleary, I’m looking at my master. But why this change of costume? Why does his face look so tear-stained? He’s shaking his head. May the gods make this turn out well!
CASS. These fellows have dared to tempt my wife’s fidelity and infect her once-chaste heart. They have attempted to use the poison of impious love to quench the sacred torches of my marriage. Oh Lucina, Lucina, are you being so slothful when you witness these crimes?
RUP. I fear what the matter might be, his eyes are blazing so.
CASS. Meanwhile, disgraced and helpless, I am muttering about this insult, and idly wasting my anger on vain complaints.
RUP. I’ll approach and speak to him. (Crosses over.) Gods preserve you, master.
CASS. I have no remaining hope for preservation, Rupertus. I’m ruined, I’m ruined.
RUP. Gods forbid, I pray.
CASS. If there’s any misery to make a man miserable, I’m experiencing this, such monstrous mountains of misfortune are oppressing me.
RUP. What are these misfortunes that so miserably macerate you?
CASS. Lavinia. Oh, would that I could erase that name from mind altogether! Lavinia has destroyed me.
RUP. Good heavens, you’re wrong. For she loves you alone, she longs for you, she dreams of you, she tortures her mind because you’ve been away from home so long, neglecting your family.
CASS. Oh Rupertus, you don’t know women’s tricks. They rub their eyes to produce wretched tears, so that in their craftiness they might better deceive their husbands. They are descended from crocodiles. You shouldn’t trust them.
RUP. Tell me what the matter is. For in the past you have made me your close confidant.
CASS. It’s been more than a months since my friend and companion Lentulus invited Lavinia and myself to dinner. Valerius and Ascanius were there at the banquet. The one is the son of Ferdinand, the other of Adrianus, whose fathers are litigating against me concerning a patrimony. And now, as you know, this suit is before the judge.
RUP. I understand. For a long time there have been serious quarrels between your families.
CASS. Lentulus did this so that by his auspices he might bring about peace between us and put an end to the suit. While at dinner we discussed various things. There were jests, jokes, and various kinds of witticism. But while we were eating and drinking they were over-familiar in casting wanton eyes on Lavinia. They toasted her more frequently than was reasonable. And when she drank they would always drink from the same part of the cup. This caused me heartache.
RUP. Thus far there’s no reason for being angry at Lavinia.
CASS. But hear the rest. Soon the table was cleared at Lentulus’ command and musicians were fetched to fill the hall with music. Presently they took turns in inviting Lavinia to dance. Meanwhile I secretly observed the wanton movements of their bodies, their sidelong glances, frequent sighs, and firmly-planted kisses. Finally she plucked at a lute and they were quick to praise her. She sang, they hung from her quivering mouth as if imbibing the words that issued forth. So, to investigate this more closely, I wormed my way into their company in this disguise. My false name was Curio, my profession that of musician and poet, a kind of fellow highly popular at court. Why say more? This plan proved as successful as I had hoped. Now I have sniffed out all there schemes. There’s no need to tell you the sequel here. Follow me to Claudius’ house so I may get out of this costume. As we walk along I’ll tell you the rest in its due order. Exeunt.
ACT II, SCENE iv
BIBERIA a bawd, AURELIA, TALANTA whores
BIB. My darlings, my dear ones, don’t grieve. You are acting badly, washing the rouge from your cheeks. Are you always dreaming about Ascanius and Valerius? They can go hang, you’ll find fresh lovers, and a fresh lover is best.
TAL. Why shouldn’t I cry? Why has Valerius spurned me, that treacherous ingrate?
AUR. Just as you feel pain for Valerius, so do I for Ascanius, who has likewise spurned me, chaste though I am.
TAL. Oh me, unhappy Talanta! Deceitful love! Perjured Valerius!
AUR. Oh me, unhappy Aurelia! Cruel fates! Ungrateful Ascanius!
BIB. What end are you going to make to today’s weeping, pray tell? Good gods, when I was sixteen years old, I remember, at that time I was a virgin, something rare and unusual nowadays. Many young men came flocking to me. For I was quite lovely, very beautiful, as you can tell from my face even now. And, by Hercules, I loved none of them more than the rest, but rather I loved them all in moderation and always kept my freedom. This is what I did, and it’s what you should do. For a whore is very like a prosperous town: she can’t thrive without many men. By thunder, I think you’re wrong to look to them alone. It’s most advantageous for a fine lady to love a single man, and spend her life with the man she has once married.
AUR. You offer us bad advice, Biberia. Thus far we have lived chastely, and we’ve made up our minds to die rather than let any man threaten our modesty.
BIB. Whew! I beg you to change your minds and enjoy your youth, which flits by gently and swiftly. Don’t let the best days of your life disappear without pleasure. Venus is welcome to young girls. And, my elegant dears, the burden of virginity is a heavy one. Thanks be to the gods, many years have flowed by since I relieved myself of that burden, and I don’t regret what I did.
TAL. All the worse for you, I am embarrassed by your speech.
BIB. Why? A girl with bashfulness in her face is without any value, and a whore without a thousand lovers isn’t worth a penny. For the mind delights in variety, and the more lovers you have, the more richly you profit. A girl who does not look out for her welfare is silly and worthless. You must turn a profit, and use your body to support your body while time permits. Thus you will prosper. Poor me, why don’t I have your youth, or you my philosophy?
AUR. You give bad advice. For the vices you recount pierce a virgin’s soul and wound her reputation. I pray for the death of a Lucretia rather than prostituting myself and staining my body with unchastity. For there are torments in the afterlife, Biberia. You ought to keep them in mind.
BIB. Tut, tut. Old wive’s tales, great nonsense. Are these dreams of the poets supposed to frighten me? Ha, ha, he.
TAL. Let’s put an end to this conversation, sister. For she’s sodden with wine and is suddenly becoming a chatterbox, hurting my ears with her foolishness.
BIB. Ha, ha, he. These things trouble the finicky because of their naughtiness, but I don’t suppose the torments of the Acheron ever occurred to Thais.
AUR. Biberia, we want you to take our letters to Ascanius and Valerius, together with these love-tokens.
TAL. And greet them in our name.
BIB. I’ll do it, I’m obedient to your words.
AUR. Then get going.
BIB. You don’t have to exhort me, I’ll do my duty. If my master summons me in the meantime, tell him I’m running this errand.
TAL. Let’s go, sister.
BIB. Meanwhile, my sweetlings, don’t torture yourselves. Abandon this solitude which agonizes you.
ACT II, SCENE v
ELEN. I’m happy to break my jaw laughing. I’ve never heard of sports more sportive. It would serve that good-for-nothing well if Valerius were to send him packing, unpaid. He hasn’t cared a groat for me, and has held Curio alone in high esteem. Now let him look for another musician, now that Elenchio is out of fashion. That man’s a man of the lowest rank, illiterate and unlearned in the musical art.
PANT. But now he’s sorry that he scorned you, although you were so highly deserving, and now he begs your help and assistance. I beg you, don’t leave your patron, devoid of counsel, in the lurch and deprive him of your assistance.
ELEN. My heart is not made of adamant. I can easily forgive, as long as for the future he treats me in a friendlier way and not be unkind to a well-deserving man, lest he becomes a good man to an ill-wisher.
PANT. I’ve explained the whole business to you, just as Valerius instructed me. Now, convene a deliberative senate in your heart and devise some contrivance whereby your virtue will shine forth, and my master may take revenge on Cassander for this deed.
ELEN. Come then, Pantaleo, let’s go down into the arena of schemes. You be still a moment while I convene the counsel in my mind, and ponder what I will do.
PANT. See how I obey you.
ELEN. Arise, you wiles. It’s been a long time since you fed my belly.
PANT. See how he stands, ticking off ideas on his fingers. After his fashion, he’s cooking up some swindle. For he has confidence, firmness of will, and fraudulence. See, he’s becoming an Atlas and holding up heaven with his mind.
ELEN. Eureka, eureka, Panaleo If these schemes I now have in my heart turn out well, I’ll drive Cassander mad.
PANT. Pray let me hear.
ELEN. I’ll whisper in your ear so as not to awaken the sleeping spectators. (He whispers.)
PANT. Shrewd, clever, witty, fine, elegant. You have more twists and turns than a potter’s wheel.
ELEN. You understand how these things are going to happen. In this business I also have need of your good faith and diligence.
PANT. Command me what you will, I’ll perform it under your guidance and good auspices.
ELEN. The painter Rufinus lives on the royal plaza. He’s my friend and close companion. You must quickly betake yourself to his studio and tell him of the scheme I’ve devised. I want him to be forewarned so as to blab it to nobody.
PANT. I know the man.
ELEN. I’ve done my job, now you must do yours.
PANT. I’ll fly off, Elenchio, I’ll fly off like an ostrich. I’ll make no delay, you can be easy on that score. But does Rufinus know Lavinia?
ELEN. Nobody knows her better. In his establishment he keeps portraits of nearly all the most beautiful ladies of Venice.
PANT. I understand.
ELEN. Why are you standing there. You must make haste, Pantaleo.
PANT. Good-bye. (Exit.)
ELEN. For this contrivance we also require a clever trickster who is unfamiliar to the procurer. And now I’m thinking of a swindler, a perjurer, a liar. I’m engaged in a great, mad task. Therefore I must take care lest my scheming becomes evident. But a parasite needs to be confident and very brazen. I have no enthusiasm for being relegated to the mill, or to the stocks or manacles. For me, let it be the gallows themselves, Death by hanging doesn’t bother me. But who is it who comes a-running?
ACT II, SCENE vi
PHAN. I’ve crept about all the streets, barber-shops, wine-sellers, pharmacies, kitchens, and brothels, yet Elenchio has made his appearance nowhere at all.
ELEN. I’d like to know what this business is about. Hey, Phanio!
PHAN. Who wants to slow me down when I’m in a hurry? (Elenchio crosses over.) Whuh! Well met, for I have been looking for you. Here, take this letter and read it. Ascanius greets you and earnestly begs that you don’t take it amiss that he sent you packing so unkindly. Rather, he begs that you invent some device against that very scurvy Curio, who misled him with his deceits and cheated him.
ELEN. Really, Phanio? Let me see it.
PHAN. Now I beg you as you read this to be aware that, if there must be a dictator of the damnable parasites here at Venice, I know that none surpasses this Elenchio, he has many schemes stored up in his heart.
PHAN. For me this letter is like a horn of plenty. It contains much fodder for my belly: Bacchus, Ceres, and sumptuous dainties. From this I perceive that Ascanius and Valerius are rivals, since both of them are in love with Cassander’s Lavinia. Therefore they both are designing ill for that jealous fellow, and I am assigned this task by them both. Now I must divide myself in two, and this let this thing turn out well for me and for my belly. Phanio, from this letter I can divine what Ascanius has in mind, I mean that I should device some tricky scheme thanks to which he will have the freedom to enjoy Lavinia in Cassander’s absence.
PHAN. You hit the nail on the head.
ELEN. I forget his ingratitude. I’ll make him acknowledge my sneaky talent, and that I surpass those Parmenos by many a degree.
PHAN. How evilly he talks like a character in a tragedy!
ELEN. Now, Phanio, I’m headed for the studio of the painter Rufinus, in the royal district, with whom I have some business. When that has been transacted, I’ll put this ahead of all my other affairs and devote my attention to it. Greet Ascanius on my behalf. Tell him that he can sleep on either eye, as I’ll be industrious in carrying this out. For already a fine device is occurring to me thanks to which I can polish off Cassander by making him an exile. Just go off and attend to the culinary department, so that when I return I can indulge my nature. Exit.
Go to Act III