AN APARTMENT IN THE CASTLE OF PETRELLA.
CENCI: She comes not; yet I left her even now Vanquished and faint. She knows the penalty Of her delay: yet what if threats are vain? Am I not now within Petrella's moat? Or fear I still the eyes and ears of Rome? Might I not drag her by the golden hair? Stamp on her? keep her sleepless till her brain Be overworn? Tame her with chains and famine? Less would suffice. Yet so to leave undone What I most seek! No, 'tis her stubborn will Which by its own consent shall stoop as low As that which drags it down. [ENTER LUCRETIA.] Thou loathed wretch! Hide thee from my abhorrence: fly, begone! Yet stay! Bid Beatrice come hither.
LUCRETIA: Oh, Husband! I pray, for thine own wretched sake Heed what thou dost. A man who walks like thee Through crimes, and through the danger of his crimes, Each hour may stumble o'er a sudden grave. And thou art old; thy hairs are hoary gray; As thou wouldst save thyself from death and hell, Pity thy daughter; give her to some friend In marriage: so that she may tempt thee not To hatred, or worse thoughts, if worse there be.
CENCI: What! like her sister who has found a home To mock my hate from with prosperity? Strange ruin shall destroy both her and thee And all that yet remain. My death may be Rapid, her destiny outspeeds it. Go, Bid her come hither, and before my mood Be changed, lest I should drag her by the hair.
LUCRETIA: She sent me to thee, husband. At thy presence She fell, as thou dost know, into a trance; And in that trance she heard a voice which said, 'Cenci must die! Let him confess himself! Even now the accusing Angel waits to hear If God, to punish his enormous crimes, Harden his dying heart!'
CENCI: Why—such things are... No doubt divine revealings may be made. 'Tis plain I have been favoured from above, For when I cursed my sons they died.—Ay...so... As to the right or wrong, that's talk...repentance... Repentance is an easy moment's work And more depends on God than me. Well...well... I must give up the greater point, which was To poison and corrupt her soul. [A PAUSE, LUCRETIA APPROACHES ANXIOUSLY, AND THEN SHRINKS BACK AS HE SPEAKS.] One, two; Ay...Rocco and Cristofano my curse Strangled: and Giacomo, I think, will find Life a worse Hell than that beyond the grave: Beatrice shall, if there be skill in hate, Die in despair, blaspheming: to Bernardo, He is so innocent, I will bequeath The memory of these deeds, and make his youth The sepulchre of hope, where evil thoughts Shall grow like weeds on a neglected tomb. When all is done, out in the wide Campagna, I will pile up my silver and my gold; My costly robes, paintings, and tapestries; My parchments and all records of my wealth, And make a bonfire in my joy, and leave Of my possessions nothing but my name; Which shall be an inheritance to strip Its wearer bare as infamy. That done, My soul, which is a scourge, will I resign Into the hands of him who wielded it; Be it for its own punishment or theirs, He will not ask it of me till the lash Be broken in its last and deepest wound; Until its hate be all inflicted. Yet, Lest death outspeed my purpose, let me make Short work and sure...
LUCRETIA [STOPS HIM]: Oh, stay! It was a feint: She had no vision, and she heard no voice. I said it but to awe thee.
CENCI: That is well. Vile palterer with the sacred truth of God, Be thy soul choked with that blaspheming lie! For Beatrice worse terrors are in store To bend her to my will.
LUCRETIA: Oh! to what will? What cruel sufferings more than she has known Canst thou inflict?
CENCI: Andrea! Go call my daughter, And if she comes not tell her that I come. What sufferings? I will drag her, step by step, Through infamies unheard of among men: She shall stand shelterless in the broad noon Of public scorn, for acts blazoned abroad, One among which shall be...What? Canst thou guess? She shall become (for what she most abhors Shall have a fascination to entrap Her loathing will) to her own conscious self All she appears to others; and when dead, As she shall die unshrived and unforgiven, A rebel to her father and her God, Her corpse shall be abandoned to the hounds; Her name shall be the terror of the earth; Her spirit shall approach the throne of God Plague-spotted with my curses. I will make Body and soul a monstrous lump of ruin.
ANDREA: The Lady Beatrice...
CENCI: Speak, pale slave! What Said she?
ANDREA: My Lord, 'twas what she looked; she said: 'Go tell my father that I see the gulf Of Hell between us two, which he may pass, I will not.'
CENCI: Go thou quick, Lucretia, Tell her to come; yet let her understand Her coming is consent: and say, moreover, That if she come not I will curse her. [EXIT LUCRETIA.] Ha! With what but with a father's curse doth God Panic-strike armed victory, and make pale Cities in their prosperity? The world's Father Must grant a parent's prayer against his child, Be he who asks even what men call me. Will not the deaths of her rebellious brothers Awe her before I speak? For I on them Did imprecate quick ruin, and it came. [ENTER LUCRETIA.] Well; what? Speak, wretch!
LUCRETIA: She said, 'I cannot come; Go tell my father that I see a torrent Of his own blood raging between us.'
CENCI [KNEELING]: God, Hear me! If this most specious mass of flesh, Which Thou hast made my daughter; this my blood, This particle of my divided being; Or rather, this my bane and my disease, Whose sight infects and poisons me; this devil Which sprung from me as from a hell, was meant To aught good use; if her bright loveliness Was kindled to illumine this dark world; If nursed by Thy selectest dew of love Such virtues blossom in her as should make The peace of life, I pray Thee for my sake, As Thou the common God and Father art Of her, and me, and all; reverse that doom! Earth, in the name of God, let her food be Poison, until she be encrusted round With leprous stains! Heaven, rain upon her head The blistering drops of the Maremma's dew, Till she be speckled like a toad; parch up Those love-enkindled lips, warp those fine limbs To loathed lameness! All-beholding sun, Strike in thine envy those life-darting eyes With thine own blinding beams!
LUCRETIA: Peace! Peace! For thine own sake unsay those dreadful words. When high God grants He punishes such prayers.
CENCI [LEAPING UP, AND THROWING HIS RIGHT HAND TOWARDS HEAVEN]: He does his will, I mine! This in addition, That if she have a child...
LUCRETIA: Horrible thought!
CENCI: That if she ever have a child; and thou, Quick Nature! I adjure thee by thy God, That thou be fruitful in her, and increase And multiply, fulfilling his command, And my deep imprecation! May it be A hideous likeness of herself, that as From a distorting mirror, she may see Her image mixed with what she most abhors, Smiling upon her from her nursing breast. And that the child may from its infancy Grow, day by day, more wicked and deformed, Turning her mother's love to misery: And that both she and it may live until It shall repay her care and pain with hate, Or what may else be more unnatural. So he may hunt her through the clamorous scoffs Of the loud world to a dishonoured grave. Shall I revoke this curse? Go, bid her come, Before my words are chronicled in Heaven. [EXIT LUCRETIA.] I do not feel as if I were a man, But like a fiend appointed to chastise The offences of some unremembered world. My blood is running up and down my veins; A fearful pleasure makes it prick and tingle: I feel a giddy sickness of strange awe; My heart is beating with an expectation Of horrid joy. [ENTER LUCRETIA.] What? Speak!
LUCRETIA: She bids thee curse; And if thy curses, as they cannot do, Could kill her soul...
CENCI: She would not come. 'Tis well, I can do both; first take what I demand, And then extort concession. To thy chamber! Fly ere I spurn thee; and beware this night That thou cross not my footsteps. It were safer To come between the tiger and his prey. [EXIT LUCRETIA.] It must be late; mine eyes grow weary dim With unaccustomed heaviness of sleep. Conscience! Oh, thou most insolent of lies! They say that sleep, that healing dew of Heaven, Steeps not in balm the foldings of the brain Which thinks thee an impostor. I will go First to belie thee with an hour of rest, Which will be deep and calm, I feel: and then... O, multitudinous Hell, the fiends will shake Thine arches with the laughter of their joy! There shall be lamentation heard in Heaven As o'er an angel fallen; and upon Earth All good shall droop and sicken, and ill things Shall with a spirit of unnatural life, Stir and be quickened...even as I am now.