Life is a Dream – Act I


By Pedro Calderon De La Barca

Translated by Edward Fitzgerald


Basilio           King of Poland.
Segismund         his Son.
Astolfo           his Nephew.
Estrella          his Niece.
Clotaldo          a General in Basilio’s Service.
Rosaura           a Muscovite Lady.
Fife              her Attendant.

Chamberlain, Lords in Waiting, Officers,
Soldiers, etc., in Basilio’s Service.



A pass of rocks, over which a storm is rolling away, and the sun setting: in the foreground, half-way down, a fortress.

(Enter first from the topmost rock Rosaura, as from horseback, in man’s attire; and, after her, Fife.)


There, four-footed Fury, blast
Engender’d brute, without the wit
Of brute, or mouth to match the bit
Of man—art satisfied at last?
Who, when thunder roll’d aloof,
Tow’rd the spheres of fire your ears
Pricking, and the granite kicking
Into lightning with your hoof,
Among the tempest-shatter’d crags
Shattering your luckless rider
Back into the tempest pass’d?
There then lie to starve and die,
Or find another Phaeton
Mad-mettled as yourself; for I,
Wearied, worried, and for-done,
Alone will down the mountain try,
That knits his brows against the sun.

FIFE (as to his mule).
There, thou mis-begotten thing,
Long-ear’d lightning, tail’d tornado,
Griffin-hoof-in hurricano,
(I might swear till I were almost
Hoarse with roaring Asonante)
Who forsooth because our betters
Would begin to kick and fling
You forthwith your noble mind
Must prove, and kick me off behind,
Tow’rd the very centre whither
Gravity was most inclined.
There where you have made your bed
In it lie; for, wet or dry,
Let what will for me betide you,
Burning, blowing, freezing, hailing;
Famine waste you: devil ride you:
Tempest baste you black and blue:
(To Rosaura.)
There! I think in downright railing
I can hold my own with you.

Ah, my good Fife, whose merry loyal pipe,
Come weal, come woe, is never out of tune
What, you in the same plight too?

Ay; And madam—sir—hereby desire,
When you your own adventures sing
Another time in lofty rhyme,
You don’t forget the trusty squire
Who went with you Don-quixoting.

Well, my good fellow—to leave Pegasus
Who scarce can serve us than our horses worse—
They say no one should rob another of
The single satisfaction he has left
Of singing his own sorrows; one so great,
So says some great philosopher, that trouble
Were worth encount’ring only for the sake
Of weeping over—what perhaps you know
Some poet calls the ‘luxury of woe.’

Had I the poet or philosopher
In the place of her that kick’d me off to ride,
I’d test his theory upon his hide.
But no bones broken, madam—sir, I mean?—

A scratch here that a handkerchief will heal—
And you?—

A scratch in quiddity, or kind:
But not in ‘quo‘—my wounds are all behind.
But, as you say, to stop this strain,
Which, somehow, once one’s in the vein,
Comes clattering after—there again!—
What are we twain—deuce take’t!—we two,
I mean, to do—drench’d through and through—
Oh, I shall choke of rhymes, which I believe
Are all that we shall have to live on here.

What, is our victual gone too?—

Ay, that brute
Has carried all we had away with her,
Clothing, and cate, and all.

And now the sun,
Our only friend and guide, about to sink
Under the stage of earth.

And enter Night,
With Capa y Espada—and—pray heaven!
With but her lanthorn also.

Ah, I doubt
To-night, if any, with a dark one—or
Almost burnt out after a month’s consumption.
Well! well or ill, on horseback or afoot,
This is the gate that lets me into Poland;
And, sorry welcome as she gives a guest
Who writes his own arrival on her rocks
In his own blood—
Yet better on her stony threshold die,
Than live on unrevenged in Muscovy.

Oh, what a soul some women have—I mean
Some men—

Oh, Fife, Fife, as you love me, Fife,
Make yourself perfect in that little part,
Or all will go to ruin!

Oh, I will,
Please God we find some one to try it on.
But, truly, would not any one believe
Some fairy had exchanged us as we lay
Two tiny foster-children in one cradle?

Well, be that as it may, Fife, it reminds me
Of what perhaps I should have thought before,
But better late than never—You know I love you,
As you, I know, love me, and loyally
Have follow’d me thus far in my wild venture.
Well! now then—having seen me safe thus far
Safe if not wholly sound—over the rocks
Into the country where my business lies
Why should not you return the way we came,
The storm all clear’d away, and, leaving me
(Who now shall want you, though not thank you, less,
Now that our horses gone) this side the ridge,
Find your way back to dear old home again;
While I—Come, come!—
What, weeping my poor fellow?

Leave you here
Alone—my Lady—Lord! I mean my Lord—
In a strange country—among savages—
Oh, now I know—you would be rid of me
For fear my stumbling speech—

Oh, no, no, no!—
I want you with me for a thousand sakes
To which that is as nothing—I myself
More apt to let the secret out myself
Without your help at all—Come, come, cheer up!
And if you sing again, ‘Come weal, come woe,’
Let it be that; for we will never part
Until you give the signal.

‘Tis a bargain.

Now to begin, then. ‘Follow, follow me,
‘You fairy elves that be.’

Ay, and go on—
Something of ‘following darkness like a dream,’
For that we’re after.

No, after the sun;
Trying to catch hold of his glittering skirts
That hang upon the mountain as he goes.

Ah, he’s himself past catching—as you spoke
He heard what you were saying, and—just so—
Like some scared water-bird,
As we say in my country, dove below.

Well, we must follow him as best we may.
Poland is no great country, and, as rich
In men and means, will but few acres spare
To lie beneath her barrier mountains bare.
We cannot, I believe, be very far
From mankind or their dwellings.

Send it so!
And well provided for man, woman, and beast.
No, not for beast. Ah, but my heart begins
To yearn for her—

Keep close, and keep your feet
From serving you as hers did.

As for beasts,
If in default of other entertainment,
We should provide them with ourselves to eat—
Bears, lions, wolves—

Oh, never fear.

Or else,
Default of other beasts, beastlier men,
Cannibals, Anthropophagi, bare Poles
Who never knew a tailor but by taste.

Look, look! Unless my fancy misconceive
With twilight—down among the rocks there, Fife—
Some human dwelling, surely—
Or think you but a rock torn from the rocks
In some convulsion like to-day’s, and perch’d
Quaintly among them in mock-masonry?

Most likely that, I doubt.

No, no—for look!
A square of darkness opening in it—

Oh, I don’t half like such openings!—

Like the loom
Of night from which she spins her outer gloom—

Lord, Madam, pray forbear this tragic vein
In such a time and place—

And now again
Within that square of darkness, look! a light
That feels its way with hesitating pulse,
As we do, through the darkness that it drives
To blacken into deeper night beyond.

In which could we follow that light’s example,
As might some English Bardolph with his nose,
We might defy the sunset—Hark, a chain!

And now a lamp, a lamp! And now the hand
That carries it.

Oh, Lord! that dreadful chain!

And now the bearer of the lamp; indeed
As strange as any in Arabian tale,
So giant-like, and terrible, and grand,
Spite of the skin he’s wrapt in.

Why, ’tis his own:
Oh, ’tis some wild man of the woods; I’ve heard
They build and carry torches—

Never Ape
Bore such a brow before the heavens as that—
Chain’d as you say too!—

Oh, that dreadful chain!

And now he sets the lamp down by his side,
And with one hand clench’d in his tangled hair
And with a sigh as if his heart would break—

(During this Segismund has entered from the fortress, with a

Once more the storm has roar’d itself away,
Splitting the crags of God as it retires;
But sparing still what it should only blast,
This guilty piece of human handiwork,
And all that are within it. Oh, how oft,
How oft, within or here abroad, have I
Waited, and in the whisper of my heart
Pray’d for the slanting hand of heaven to strike
The blow myself I dared not, out of fear
Of that Hereafter, worse, they say, than here,
Plunged headlong in, but, till dismissal waited,
To wipe at last all sorrow from men’s eyes,
And make this heavy dispensation clear.
Thus have I borne till now, and still endure,
Crouching in sullen impotence day by day,
Till some such out-burst of the elements
Like this rouses the sleeping fire within;
And standing thus upon the threshold of
Another night about to close the door
Upon one wretched day to open it
On one yet wretcheder because one more;—
Once more, you savage heavens, I ask of you—
I, looking up to those relentless eyes
That, now the greater lamp is gone below,
Begin to muster in the listening skies;
In all the shining circuits you have gone
About this theatre of human woe,
What greater sorrow have you gazed upon
Than down this narrow chink you witness still;
And which, did you yourselves not fore-devise,
You registered for others to fulfil!

This is some Laureate at a birthday ode;
No wonder we went rhyming.

Hush! And now
See, starting to his feet, he strides about
Far as his tether’d steps—

And if the chain
You help’d to rivet round me did contract
Since guiltless infancy from guilt in act;
Of what in aspiration or in thought
Guilty, but in resentment of the wrong
That wreaks revenge on wrong I never wrought
By excommunication from the free
Inheritance that all created life,
Beside myself, is born to—from the wings
That range your own immeasurable blue,
Down to the poor, mute, scale-imprison’d things,
That yet are free to wander, glide, and pass
About that under-sapphire, whereinto
Yourselves transfusing you yourselves englass!

What mystery is this?

Why, the man’s mad:
That’s all the mystery. That’s why he’s chain’d—
And why—

Nor Nature’s guiltless life alone—
But that which lives on blood and rapine; nay,
Charter’d with larger liberty to slay
Their guiltless kind, the tyrants of the air
Soar zenith-upward with their screaming prey,
Making pure heaven drop blood upon the stage
Of under earth, where lion, wolf, and bear,
And they that on their treacherous velvet wear
Figure and constellation like your own,
With their still living slaughter bound away
Over the barriers of the mountain cage,
Against which one, blood-guiltless, and endued
With aspiration and with aptitude
Transcending other creatures, day by day
Beats himself mad with unavailing rage!

Why, that must be the meaning of my mule’s


But then if murder be
The law by which not only conscience-blind
Creatures, but man too prospers with his kind;
Who leaving all his guilty fellows free,
Under your fatal auspice and divine
Compulsion, leagued in some mysterious ban
Against one innocent and helpless man,
Abuse their liberty to murder mine:
And sworn to silence, like their masters mute
In heaven, and like them twirling through the mask
Of darkness, answering to all I ask,
Point up to them whose work they execute!

Ev’n as I thought, some poor unhappy wretch,
By man wrong’d, wretched, unrevenged, as I!
Nay, so much worse than I, as by those chains
Clipt of the means of self-revenge on those
Who lay on him what they deserve. And I,
Who taunted Heaven a little while ago
With pouring all its wrath upon my head—
Alas! like him who caught the cast-off husk
Of what another bragg’d of feeding on,
Here’s one that from the refuse of my sorrows
Could gather all the banquet he desires!
Poor soul, poor soul!

Speak lower—he will hear you.

And if he should, what then? Why, if he would,
He could not harm me—Nay, and if he could,
Methinks I’d venture something of a life
I care so little for—

Who’s that? Clotaldo? Who are you, I say,
That, venturing in these forbidden rocks,
Have lighted on my miserable life,
And your own death?

You would not hurt me, surely?

Not I; but those that, iron as the chain
In which they slay me with a lingering death,
Will slay you with a sudden—Who are you?

A stranger from across the mountain there,
Who, having lost his way in this strange land
And coming night, drew hither to what seem’d
A human dwelling hidden in these rocks,
And where the voice of human sorrow soon
Told him it was so.

Ay? But nearer—nearer—
That by this smoky supplement of day
But for a moment I may see who speaks
So pitifully sweet.

Take care! take care!

Alas, poor man, that I, myself so helpless,
Could better help you than by barren pity,
And my poor presence—

Oh, might that be all!
But that—a few poor moments—and, alas!
The very bliss of having, and the dread
Of losing, under such a penalty
As every moment’s having runs more near,
Stifles the very utterance and resource
They cry for quickest; till from sheer despair
Of holding thee, methinks myself would tear
To pieces—

There, his word’s enough for it.

Oh, think, if you who move about at will,
And live in sweet communion with your kind,
After an hour lost in these lonely rocks
Hunger and thirst after some human voice
To drink, and human face to feed upon;
What must one do where all is mute, or harsh,
And ev’n the naked face of cruelty
Were better than the mask it works beneath?—
Across the mountain then! Across the mountain!
What if the next world which they tell one of
Be only next across the mountain then,
Though I must never see it till I die,
And you one of its angels?

Alas; alas!
No angel! And the face you think so fair,
‘Tis but the dismal frame-work of these rocks
That makes it seem so; and the world I come from—
Alas, alas, too many faces there
Are but fair vizors to black hearts below,
Or only serve to bring the wearer woe!
But to yourself—If haply the redress
That I am here upon may help to yours.
I heard you tax the heavens with ordering,
And men for executing, what, alas!
I now behold. But why, and who they are
Who do, and you who suffer—

SEG. (pointing upwards).
Ask of them,
Whom, as to-night, I have so often ask’d,
And ask’d in vain.

But surely, surely—

The trumpet of the watch to shut us in.
Oh, should they find you!—Quick! Behind the rocks!
To-morrow—if to-morrow—

ROS. (flinging her sword toward him).
Take my sword!

(Rosaura and Fife hide in the rocks; Enter Clotaldo)

These stormy days you like to see the last of
Are but ill opiates, Segismund, I think,
For night to follow: and to-night you seem
More than your wont disorder’d. What! A sword?
Within there!

(Enter Soldiers with black vizors and torches)

Here’s a pleasant masquerade!

Whosever watch this was
Will have to pay head-reckoning. Meanwhile,
This weapon had a wearer. Bring him here,
Alive or dead.

Clotaldo! good Clotaldo!—

CLO. (to Soldiers who enclose Segismund; others
searching the rocks).
You know your duty.

SOLDIERS (bringing in Rosaura and Fife).
Here are two of them,
Whoever more to follow—

Who are you,
That in defiance of known proclamation
Are found, at night-fall too, about this place?

Oh, my Lord, she—I mean he—

Silence, Fife,
And let me speak for both.—Two foreign men,
To whom your country and its proclamations
Are equally unknown; and had we known,
Ourselves not masters of our lawless beasts
That, terrified by the storm among your rocks,
Flung us upon them to our cost.

My mule—

Foreigners? Of what country?


And whither bound?

Hither—if this be Poland;
But with no ill design on her, and therefore
Taking it ill that we should thus be stopt
Upon her threshold so uncivilly.

Whither in Poland?

To the capital.

And on what errand?

Set me on the road,
And you shall be the nearer to my answer.

CLO. (aside).
So resolute and ready to reply,
And yet so young—and—
Your business was not surely with the man
We found you with?

He was the first we saw,—
And strangers and benighted, as we were,
As you too would have done in a like case,
Accosted him at once.

Ay, but this sword?

I flung it toward him.

Well, and why?

And why? But to revenge himself on those who thus
Injuriously misuse him.

‘Tis well such resolution wants a beard
And, I suppose, is never to attain one.
Well, I must take you both, you and your sword,

FIFE. (offering a cudgel).
Pray take mine, and welcome, sir;
I’m sure I gave it to that mule of mine
To mighty little purpose.

Mine you have;
And may it win us some more kindliness
Than we have met with yet.

CLO (examining the sword).
More mystery!
How came you by this weapon?

From my father.

And do you know whence he?

Oh, very well:
From one of this same Polish realm of yours,
Who promised a return, should come the chance,
Of courtesies that he received himself
In Muscovy, and left this pledge of it—
Not likely yet, it seems, to be redeem’d.

CLO (aside).
Oh, wondrous chance—or wondrous Providence!
The sword that I myself in Muscovy,
When these white hairs were black, for keepsake left
Of obligation for a like return
To him who saved me wounded as I lay
Fighting against his country; took me home;
Tended me like a brother till recover’d,
Perchance to fight against him once again
And now my sword put back into my hand
By his—if not his son—still, as so seeming,
By me, as first devoir of gratitude,
To seem believing, till the wearer’s self
See fit to drop the ill-dissembling mask.
Well, a strange turn of fortune has arrested
The sharp and sudden penalty that else
Had visited your rashness or mischance:
In part, your tender youth too—pardon me,
And touch not where your sword is not to answer—
Commends you to my care; not your life only,
Else by this misadventure forfeited;
But ev’n your errand, which, by happy chance,
Chimes with the very business I am on,
And calls me to the very point you aim at.

The capital?

Ay, the capital; and ev’n
That capital of capitals, the Court:
Where you may plead, and, I may promise, win
Pardon for this, you say unwilling, trespass,
And prosecute what else you have at heart,
With me to help you forward all I can;
Provided all in loyalty to those
To whom by natural allegiance
I first am bound to.

As you make, I take
Your offer: with like promise on my side
Of loyalty to you and those you serve,
Under like reservation for regards
Nearer and dearer still.

Enough, enough;
Your hand; a bargain on both sides. Meanwhile,
Here shall you rest to-night. The break of day
Shall see us both together on the way.

Thus then what I for misadventure blamed,
Directly draws me where my wishes aim’d.



The Palace at Warsaw

Enter on one side Astolfo, Duke of Muscovy, with his train: and, on the other, the Princess Estrella, with hers.


My royal cousin, if so near in blood,
Till this auspicious meeting scarcely known,
Till all that beauty promised in the bud
Is now to its consummate blossom blown,
Well met at last; and may—

Enough, my Lord,
Of compliment devised for you by some
Court tailor, and, believe me, still too short
To cover the designful heart below.

Nay, but indeed, fair cousin—

Ay, let Deed
Measure your words, indeed your flowers of speech
Ill with your iron equipage atone;
Irony indeed, and wordy compliment.

Indeed, indeed, you wrong me, royal cousin,
And fair as royal, misinterpreting
What, even for the end you think I aim at,
If false to you, were fatal to myself.

Why, what else means the glittering steel, my Lord,
That bristles in the rear of these fine words?
What can it mean, but, failing to cajole,
To fight or force me from my just pretension?

Nay, might I not ask ev’n the same of you,
The nodding helmets of whose men-at-arms
Out-crest the plumage of your lady court?

But to defend what yours would force from me.

Might not I, lady, say the same of mine?
But not to come to battle, ev’n of words,
With a fair lady, and my kinswoman;
And as averse to stand before your face,
Defenceless, and condemn’d in your disgrace,
Till the good king be here to clear it all—
Will you vouchsafe to hear me?

As you will.

You know that, when about to leave this world,
Our royal grandsire, King Alfonso, left
Three children; one a son, Basilio,
Who wears—long may he wear! the crown of Poland;
And daughters twain: of whom the elder was
Your mother, Clorilena, now some while
Exalted to a more than mortal throne;
And Recisunda, mine, the younger sister,
Who, married to the Prince of Muscovy,
Gave me the light which may she live to see
Herself for many, many years to come.
Meanwhile, good King Basilio, as you know,
Deep in abstruser studies than this world,
And busier with the stars than lady’s eyes,
Has never by a second marriage yet
Replaced, as Poland ask’d of him, the heir
An early marriage brought and took away;
His young queen dying with the son she bore him;
And in such alienation grown so old
As leaves no other hope of heir to Poland
Than his two sisters’ children; you, fair cousin,
And me; for whom the Commons of the realm
Divide themselves into two several factions;
Whether for you, the elder sister’s child;
Or me, born of the younger, but, they say,
My natural prerogative of man
Outweighing your priority of birth.
Which discord growing loud and dangerous,
Our uncle, King Basilio, doubly sage
In prophesying and providing for
The future, as to deal with it when come,
Bids us here meet to-day in solemn council
Our several pretensions to compose.
And, but the martial out-burst that proclaims
His coming, makes all further parley vain,
Unless my bosom, by which only wise
I prophesy, now wrongly prophesies,
By such a happy compact as I dare
But glance at till the Royal Sage declare.

(Trumpets, etc. Enter King Basilio with his Council.)

The King! God save the King!

ESTRELLA (Kneeling.)
Oh, Royal Sir!—

ASTOLFO (Kneeling.)
God save your Majesty—

Rise both of you,
Rise to my arms, Astolfo and Estrella;
As my two sisters’ children always mine,
Now more than ever, since myself and Poland
Solely to you for our succession look’d.
And now give ear, you and your several factions,
And you, the Peers and Princes of this realm,
While I reveal the purport of this meeting
In words whose necessary length I trust
No unsuccessful issue shall excuse.
You and the world who have surnamed me “Sage”
Know that I owe that title, if my due,
To my long meditation on the book
Which ever lying open overhead—
The book of heaven, I mean—so few have read;
Whose golden letters on whose sapphire leaf,
Distinguishing the page of day and night,
And all the revolution of the year;
So with the turning volume where they lie
Still changing their prophetic syllables,
They register the destinies of men:
Until with eyes that, dim with years indeed,
Are quicker to pursue the stars than rule them,
I get the start of Time, and from his hand
The wand of tardy revelation draw.
Oh, had the self-same heaven upon his page
Inscribed my death ere I should read my life
And, by fore-casting of my own mischance,
Play not the victim but the suicide
In my own tragedy!—But you shall hear.
You know how once, as kings must for their people,
And only once, as wise men for themselves,
I woo’d and wedded: know too that my Queen
In childing died; but not, as you believe,
With her, the son she died in giving life to.
For, as the hour of birth was on the stroke,
Her brain conceiving with her womb, she dream’d
A serpent tore her entrail. And too surely
(For evil omen seldom speaks in vain)
The man-child breaking from that living tomb
That makes our birth the antitype of death,
Man-grateful, for the life she gave him paid
By killing her: and with such circumstance
As suited such unnatural tragedy;
He coming into light, if light it were
That darken’d at his very horoscope,
When heaven’s two champions—sun and moon I mean—
Suffused in blood upon each other fell
In such a raging duel of eclipse
As hath not terrified the universe
Since that which wept in blood the death of Christ:
When the dead walk’d, the waters turn’d to blood,
Earth and her cities totter’d, and the world
Seem’d shaken to its last paralysis.
In such a paroxysm of dissolution
That son of mine was born; by that first act
Heading the monstrous catalogue of crime,
I found fore-written in his horoscope;
As great a monster in man’s history
As was in nature his nativity;
So savage, bloody, terrible, and impious,
Who, should he live, would tear his country’s entrails,
As by his birth his mother’s; with which crime
Beginning, he should clench the dreadful tale
By trampling on his father’s silver head.
All which fore-reading, and his act of birth
Fate’s warrant that I read his life aright;
To save his country from his mother’s fate,
I gave abroad that he had died with her
His being slew; with midnight secrecy
I had him carried to a lonely tower
Hewn from the mountain-barriers of the realm,
And under strict anathema of death
Guarded from men’s inquisitive approach,
Save from the trusty few one needs must trust;
Who while his fasten’d body they provide
With salutary garb and nourishment,
Instruct his soul in what no soul may miss
Of holy faith, and in such other lore
As may solace his life-imprisonment,
And tame perhaps the Savage prophesied
Toward such a trial as I aim at now,
And now demand your special hearing to.
What in this fearful business I have done,
Judge whether lightly or maliciously,—
I, with my own and only flesh and blood,
And proper lineal inheritor!
I swear, had his foretold atrocities
Touch’d me alone. I had not saved myself
At such a cost to him; but as a king,—
A Christian king,—I say, advisedly,
Who would devote his people to a tyrant
Worse than Caligula fore-chronicled?
But even this not without grave mis-giving,
Lest by some chance mis-reading of the stars,
Or mis-direction of what rightly read,
I wrong my son of his prerogative,
And Poland of her rightful sovereign.
For, sure and certain prophets as the stars,
Although they err not, he who reads them may;
Or rightly reading—seeing there is One
Who governs them, as, under Him, they us,
We are not sure if the rough diagram
They draw in heaven and we interpret here,
Be sure of operation, if the Will
Supreme, that sometimes for some special end
The course of providential nature breaks
By miracle, may not of these same stars
Cancel his own first draft, or overrule
What else fore-written all else overrules.
As, for example, should the Will Almighty
Permit the Free-will of particular man
To break the meshes of else strangling fate—
Which Free-will, fearful of foretold abuse,
I have myself from my own son fore-closed
From ever possible self-extrication;
A terrible responsibility,
Not to the conscience to be reconciled
Unless opposing almost certain evil
Against so slight contingency of good.
Well—thus perplex’d, I have resolved at last
To bring the thing to trial: whereunto
Here have I summon’d you, my Peers, and you
Whom I more dearly look to, failing him,
As witnesses to that which I propose;
And thus propose the doing it. Clotaldo,
Who guards my son with old fidelity,
Shall bring him hither from his tower by night
Lockt in a sleep so fast as by my art
I rivet to within a link of death,
But yet from death so far, that next day’s dawn
Shall wake him up upon the royal bed,
Complete in consciousness and faculty,
When with all princely pomp and retinue
My loyal Peers with due obeisance
Shall hail him Segismund, the Prince of Poland.
Then if with any show of human kindness
He fling discredit, not upon the stars,
But upon me, their misinterpreter,
With all apology mistaken age
Can make to youth it never meant to harm,
To my son’s forehead will I shift the crown
I long have wish’d upon a younger brow;
And in religious humiliation,
For what of worn-out age remains to me,
Entreat my pardon both of Heaven and him
For tempting destinies beyond my reach.
But if, as I misdoubt, at his first step
The hoof of the predicted savage shows;
Before predicted mischief can be done,
The self-same sleep that loosed him from the chain
Shall re-consign him, not to loose again.
Then shall I, having lost that heir direct,
Look solely to my sisters’ children twain
Each of a claim so equal as divides
The voice of Poland to their several sides,
But, as I trust, to be entwined ere long
Into one single wreath so fair and strong
As shall at once all difference atone,
And cease the realm’s division with their own.
Cousins and Princes, Peers and Councillors,
Such is the purport of this invitation,
And such is my design. Whose furtherance
If not as Sovereign, if not as Seer,
Yet one whom these white locks, if nothing else,
to patient acquiescence consecrate,
I now demand and even supplicate.

Such news, and from such lips, may well suspend
The tongue to loyal answer most attuned;
But if to me as spokesman of my faction
Your Highness looks for answer; I reply
For one and all—Let Segismund, whom now
We first hear tell of as your living heir,
Appear, and but in your sufficient eye
Approve himself worthy to be your son,
Then we will hail him Poland’s rightful heir.
What says my cousin?

Ay, with all my heart.
But if my youth and sex upbraid me not
That I should dare ask of so wise a king—

Ask, ask, fair cousin! Nothing, I am sure,
Not well consider’d; nay, if ’twere, yet nothing
But pardonable from such lips as those.

Then, with your pardon, Sir—if Segismund,
My cousin, whom I shall rejoice to hail
As Prince of Poland too, as you propose,
Be to a trial coming upon which
More, as I think, than life itself depends,
Why, Sir, with sleep-disorder’d senses brought
To this uncertain contest with his stars?

Well ask’d indeed! As wisely be it answer’d!
Because it is uncertain, see you not?
For as I think I can discern between
The sudden flaws of a sleep-startled man,
And of the savage thing we have to dread;
If but bewilder’d, dazzled, and uncouth,
As might the sanest and the civilest
In circumstance so strange—nay, more than that,
If moved to any out-break short of blood,
All shall be well with him; and how much more,
If ‘mid the magic turmoil of the change,
He shall so calm a resolution show
As scarce to reel beneath so great a blow!
But if with savage passion uncontroll’d
He lay about him like the brute foretold,
And must as suddenly be caged again;
Then what redoubled anguish and despair,
From that brief flash of blissful liberty
Remitted—and for ever—to his chain!
Which so much less, if on the stage of glory
Enter’d and exited through such a door
Of sleep as makes a dream of all between.

Oh kindly answer, Sir, to question that
To charitable courtesy less wise
Might call for pardon rather! I shall now
Gladly, what, uninstructed, loyally
I should have waited.

Your Highness doubts not me,
Nor how my heart follows my cousin’s lips,
Whatever way the doubtful balance fall,
Still loyal to your bidding.

So say all.

I hoped, and did expect, of all no less—
And sure no sovereign ever needed more
From all who owe him love or loyalty.
For what a strait of time I stand upon,
When to this issue not alone I bring
My son your Prince, but e’en myself your King:
And, whichsoever way for him it turn,
Of less than little honour to myself.
For if this coming trial justify
My thus withholding from my son his right,
Is not the judge himself justified in
The father’s shame? And if the judge proved wrong,
My son withholding from his right thus long,
Shame and remorse to judge and father both:
Unless remorse and shame together drown’d
In having what I flung for worthless found.
But come—already weary with your travel,
And ill refresh’d by this strange history,
Until the hours that draw the sun from heaven
Unite us at the customary board,
Each to his several chamber: you to rest;
I to contrive with old Clotaldo best
The method of a stranger thing than old
Time has a yet among his records told.



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Development of Theatre 1: Classical – Neoclassical Forms Copyright © 2019 by Teresa Focarile and Monica Brown is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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