Fiction > Harvard Classics > Percy Bysshe Shelley > The Cenci
Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822).  The Cenci.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
Act I
Scene III
A Magnificent Hall in the Cenci Palace. A Banquet.
  Cenci.  Welcome, my friends and kinsmen; welcome ye,
Princes and Cardinals, pillars of the church,
Whose presence honours our festivity.        5
I have too long lived like an anchorite,
And in my absence from your merry meetings
An evil word is gone abroad of me;
But I do hope that you, my noble friends,
When you have shared the entertainment here,        10
And heard the pious cause for which ’tis given,
And we have pledged a health or two together,
Will think me flesh and blood as well as you;
Sinful indeed, for Adam made all so,
But tender-hearted, meek and pitiful.        15
  First Guest.  In truth, My Lord, you seem too light of heart,
Too sprightly and companionable a man,
To act the deeds that rumour pins on you.
(To his companion.) I never saw such blithe and open cheer
In any eye!        20
  Second Guest.  Some most desired event,
In which we all demand a common joy,
Has brought us hither; let us hear it, Count.
  Cenci.  It is indeed a most desired event.
If, when a parent from a parent’s heart        25
Lifts from this earth to the great father of all
A prayer, both when he lays him down to sleep,
And when he rises up from dreaming it;
One supplication, one desire, one hope,
That he would grant a wish for his two sons,        30
Even all that he demands in their regard—
And suddenly beyond his dearest hope,
It is accomplished, he should then rejoice,
And call his friends and kinsmen to a feast,
And task their love to grace his merriment,        35
Then honour me thus far—for I am he.
  Beatrice  (to Lucretia). Great God! How horrible! Some dreadful ill
Must have befallen my brothers.
  Lucretia.                Fear not, Child,
He speaks too frankly.        40
  Beatrice.                Ah! My blood runs cold.
I fear that wicked laughter round his eye,
Which wrinkles up the skin even to the hair.
  Cenci.  Here are the letters brought from Salamanca;
Beatrice, read them to your mother. God!        45
I thank thee! In one night didst thou perform,
By ways inscrutable, the thing I sought.
My disobedient and rebellious sons
Are dead!—Why, dead!—What means this change of cheer?
You hear me not, I tell you they are dead;        50
And they will need no food or raiment more:
The tapers that did light them the dark way
Are their last cost. The Pope, I think, will not
Expect I should maintain them in their coffins.
Rejoice with me—my heart is wondrous glad.  [LUCRETIA sinks, half-fainting; BEATRICE supports her.        55
  Beatrice.  It is not true!—Dear lady, pray look up.
Had it been true, there is a God in Heaven,
He would not live to boast of such a boon.
Unnatural man, thou knowest that it is false.
  Cenci.  Ay, as the word of God; whom here I call        60
To witness that I speak the sober truth;—
And whose most favouring Providence was shown
Even in the manner of their deaths. For Rocco
Was kneeling at the mass, with sixteen others,
When the church fell and crushed him to a mummy,        65
The rest escaped unhurt. Cristofano
Was stabbed in error by a jealous man,
Whilst she he loved was sleeping with his rival;
All in the self-same hour of the same night;
Which shows that Heaven has special care of me.        70
I beg those friends who love me, that they mark
The day a feast upon their calendars.
It was the twenty-seventh of December:
Ay, read the letters if you doubt my oath.  [The Assembly appears confused; several of the guests rise.
  First Guest.  Oh, horrible! I will depart—        75
  Second Guest.                And I.—
  Third Guest.                No, stay!
I do believe it is some jest; tho’ faith!
’Tis mocking us somewhat too solemnly.
I think his son has married the Infanta,        80
Or found a mine of gold in El Dorado;
’Tis but to season some such news; stay, stay!
I see ’tis only raillery by his smile.
  Cenci  (filling a bowl of wine, and lifting it up). Oh, thou
bright wine whose purple splendour leaps        85
And bubbles gaily in this golden bowl
Under the lamp-light, as my spirits do,
To hear the death of my accursèd sons!
Could I believe thou wert their mingled blood,
Then would I taste thee like a sacrament,        90
And pledge with thee the mighty Devil in Hell,
Who, if a father’s curses, as men say,
Climb with swift wings after their children’s souls,
And drag them from the very throne of Heaven,
Now triumphs in my triumph!—But thou art        95
Superfluous; I have drunken deep of joy,
And I will taste no other wine to-night.
Here, Andrea! Bear the bowl around.
  A Guest (rising).                Thou wretch!
Will none among this noble company        100
Check the abandoned villain?
  Camillo.                For God’s sake
Let me dismiss the guests! You are insane,
Some ill will come of this.
  Second Guest.                Seize, silence him!        105
  First Guest.  I will!
  Third Guest.        And I!
  Cenci (addressing those who rise with a threatening gesture).                Who moves? Who speaks? (turning to the Company)
                ’tis nothing,
Enjoy yourselves.—Beware! For my revenge        110
Is as the sealed commission of a king
That kills, and none dare name the murderer.  [The Banquet is broken up; several of the Guests are departing.
  Beatrice.  I do entreat you, go not, noble guests;
What, although tyranny and impious hate
Stand sheltered by a father’s hoary hair,        115
What, if ’tis he who clothed us in these limbs
Who tortures them, and triumphs? What, if we,
The desolate and the dead, were his own flesh,
His children and his wife, whom he is bound
To love and shelter? Shall we therefore find        120
No refuge in this merciless wide world?
O think what deep wrongs must have blotted out
First love, then reverence in a child’s prone mind,
Till it thus vanquish shame and fear! O think!
I have borne much, and kissed the sacred hand        125
Which crushed us to the earth, and thought its stroke
Was perhaps some paternal chastisement!
Have excused much, doubted; and when no doubt
Remained, have sought by patience, love, and tears
To soften him, and when this could not be        130
I have knelt down through the long sleepless nights
And lifted up to God, the father of all,
Passionate prayers: and when these were not heard
I have still borne,—until I meet you here,
Princes and kinsmen, at this hideous feast        135
Given at my brothers’ deaths. Two yet remain,
His wife remains and I, whom if ye save not,
Ye may soon share such merriment again
As fathers make over their children’s graves.
O Prince Colonna, thou art our near kinsman,        140
Cardinal, thou art the Pope’s chamberlain,
Camillo, thou art chief justiciary,
Take us away!
  Cenci.  (He has been conversing with CAMILLO during the first part of BEATRICE’S speech; he hears the conclusion, and now advances.)              I hope my good friends here
Will think of their own daughters—or perhaps        145
Of their own throats—before they lend an ear
To this wild girl.
  Beatrice  (not noticing the words of Cenci).                Dare no one look on me?
None answer? Can one tyrant overbear
The sense of many best and wisest men?        150
Or is it that I sue not in some form
Of scrupulous law, that ye deny my suit?
O God! That I were buried with my brothers!
And that the flowers of this departed spring
Were fading on my grave! And that my father        155
Were celebrating now one feast for all!
  Camillo.  A bitter wish for one so young and gentle;
Can we do nothing?
  Colonna.                Nothing that I see.
Count Cenci were a dangerous enemy:        160
Yet I would second any one.
  A Cardinal.                And I.
  Cenci.  Retire to your chamber, insolent girl!
  Beatrice.  Retire thou impious man! Ay, hide thyself
Where never eye can look upon thee more!        165
Wouldst thou have honour and obedience
Who art a torturer? Father, never dream
Though thou must overbear this company,
But ill must come of ill.—Frown not on me!
Haste, hide thyself, lest with avenging looks        170
My brothers’ ghosts should hunt thee from thy seat!
Cover thy face from every living eye,
And start if thou but hear a human step.
Seek out some dark and silent corner, there
Bow thy white head before offended God,        175
And we will kneel around, and fervently
Pray that he pity both ourselves, and thee.
  Cenci.  My friends, I do lament this insane girl
Has spoilt the mirth of our festivity.
Good night, farewell; I will not make you longer        180
Spectators of our dull domestic quarrels.
Another time.—  [Exeunt all but CENCI and BEATRICE.
                My brain is swimming round;
Give me a bowl of wine!  [To BEATRICE.
                Thou painted viper!        185
Beast that thou art! Fair and yet terrible!
I know a charm shall make thee meek and tame,
Now get thee from my sight!  [Exit BEATRICE.
                Here, Andrea,
Fill up this goblet with Greek wine. I said        190
I would not drink this evening; but I must;
For, strange to say, I feel my spirits fail
With thinking what I have decreed to do.—  [Drinking the wine.
Be thou the resolution of quick youth
Within my veins, and manhood’s purpose stern,        195
And age’s firm, cold, subtle villainy;
As if thou wert indeed my children’s blood
Which I did thirst to drink! The charm works well;
It must be done; it shall be done, I swear!  [Exit.


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