Fiction > Harvard Classics > Percy Bysshe Shelley > The Cenci
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Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822).  The Cenci.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
 
Act V
 
Scene I
 
 
An Apartment in ORSINO’S Palace.
 
Enter ORSINO and GIACOMO
 
  Giacomo.  Do evil deeds thus quickly come to end?
O, that the vain remorse which must chastise
Crimes done, had but as loud a voice to warn        5
As its keen sting is mortal to avenge!
O, that the hour when present had cast off
The mantle of its mystery, and shown
The ghastly form with which it now returns
When its scared game is roused, cheering the hounds        10
Of conscience to their prey! Alas! Alas!
It was a wicked thought, a piteous deed,
To kill an old and hoary-headed father.
  Orsino.  It has turned out unluckily, in truth.
  Giacomo.  To violate the sacred doors of sleep;        15
To cheat kind nature of the placid death
Which she prepares for overwearied age;
To drag from Heaven an unrepentant soul
Which might have quenched in reconciling prayers
A life of burning crimes…        20
  Orsino.                You cannot say
I urged you to the deed.
  Giacomo.                O, had I never
Found in thy smooth and ready countenance
The mirror of my darkest thoughts; hadst thou        25
Never with hints and questions made me look
Upon the monster of my thought, until
It grew familiar to desire…
  Orsino.                ’Tis thus
Men cast the blame of their unprosperous acts        30
Upon the abettors of their own resolve;
Or anything but their weak, guilty selves.
And yet, confess the truth, it is the peril
In which you stand that gives you this pale sickness
Of penitence; confess ’tis fear disguised        35
From its own shame that takes the mantle now
Of thin remorse. What if we yet were safe?
  Giacomo.  How can that be? Already Beatrice,
Lucretia and the murderer are in prison.
I doubt not officers are, whilst we speak,        40
Sent to arrest us.
  Orsino.                I have all prepared.
For instant flight. We can escape even now,
So we take fleet occasion by the hair.
  Giacomo.  Rather expire in tortures, as I may.        45
What! will you cast by self-accusing flight
Assured conviction upon Beatrice?
She, who alone in this unnatural work,
Stands like God’s angel ministered upon
By fiends; avenging such a nameless wrong        50
As turns black parricide to piety;
Whilst we for basest ends … I fear, Orsino,
While I consider all your words and looks,
Comparing them with your proposal now,
That you must be a villain. For what end        55
Could you engage in such a perilous crime,
Training me on with hints, and signs, and smiles,
Even to this gulf? Thou art no liar? No,
Thou art a lie! Traitor and murderer!
Coward and slave! But, no, defend thyself;  [Drawing.        60
Let the sword speak what the indignant tongue
Disdains to brand thee with.
  Orsino.                Put up your weapon.
Is it the desperation of your fear
Makes you thus rash and sudden with a friend,        65
Now ruined for your sake? If honest anger
Have moved you, know, that what I just proposed
Was but to try you. As for me, I think,
Thankless affection led me to this point,
From which, if my firm temper could repent,        70
I cannot now recede. Even whilst we speak
The ministers of justice wait below:
They grant me these brief moments. Now if you
Have any word of melancholy comfort
To speak to your pale wife, ’twere best to pass        75
Out at the postern, and avoid them so.
  Giacomo.  O, generous friend! How canst thou pardon me?
Would that my life could purchase thine!
  Orsino.                That wish
Now comes a day too late. Haste; fare thee well!        80
Hear’st thou not steps along the corridor?  [Exit GIACOMO.
I’m sorry for it; but the guards are waiting
At his own gate, and such was my contrivance
That I might rid me both of him and them.
I thought to act a solemn comedy        85
Upon the painted scene of this new world,
And to attain my own peculiar ends
By some such plot of mingled good and ill
As other weave; but there arose a Power
Which graspt and snapped the threads of my device        90
And turned it to a net of ruin … Ha!  [A shout is heard.
Is that my name I hear proclaimed abroad?
But I will pass, wrapt in a vile disguise;
Rags on my back, and a false innocence
Upon my face, thro’ the misdeeming crowd        95
Which judges by what seems. ’Tis easy then
For a new name and for a country new,
And a new life, fashioned on old desires,
To change the honours of abandoned Rome.
And these must be the masks of that within,        100
Which must remain unaltered … Oh, I fear
That what is past will never let me rest!
Why, when none else is conscious, but myself,
Of my misdeeds, should my own heart’s contempt
Trouble me? Have I not the power to fly        105
My own reproaches? Shall I be the slave
Of … what? A word? which those of this false world
Employ against each other, not themselves;
As men wear daggers not for self-offence.
But if I am mistaken, where shall I        110
Find the disguise to hide me from myself,
As now I skulk from every other eye?  [Exit.
 

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