Verse > Anthologies > The World’s Best Poetry > Vol. IX. Tragedy: Humor
Bliss Carman, et al., eds.  The World’s Best Poetry.
Volume IX. Tragedy: Humor.  1904.
Poems of Tragedy: V. Italy
The Trial of Beatrice
Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822)
From “The Cenci,” Act V. Sc. 2.
  A Hall of Justice. CAMILLO, JUDGES, etc., are discovered seated; MARZIO is led in.

  FIRST JUDGE.—Accused, do you persist in your denial?
I ask you, are you innocent, or guilty?
I demand who were the participators
In your offence? Speak truth and the whole truth.
  MARZIO.—My God! I did not kill him; I know nothing;        5
Olimpio sold the robe to me from which
You would infer my guilt.
  SECOND JUDGE.—Away with him!
  FIRST JUDGE.—Dare you, with lips yet white from the rack’s kiss
Speak false? Is it so soft a questioner,        10
That you would bandy lovers’ talk with it
Till it wind out your life and soul? Away!
  MARZIO.—Spare me! O, spare! I will confess.
  FIRST JUDGE.—Then speak.
  MARZIO.—I strangled him in his sleep.        15
  FIRST JUDGE.—Who urged you to it?
  MARZIO.—-His own son, Giacomo, and the young prelate
Orsino sent me to Petrella; there
The ladies Beatrice and Lucretia
Tempted me with a thousand crowns, and I        20
And my companion forthwith murdered him.
Now let me die.
  FIRST JUDGE.—This sounds as bad as truth. Guards, there,
Lead forth the prisoner!
                    Look upon this man;
When did you see him last?        25
  BEATRICE.—We never saw him.
  MARZIO.—You know me too well, Lady Beatrice.
  BEATRICE.—I know thee! How? where? when?
  MARZIO.—You know ’t was I
Whom you did urge with menaces and bribes        30
To kill your father. When the thing was done
You clothed me in a robe of woven gold
And bade me thrive: how I have thriven, you see.
You, my Lord Giacomo, Lady Lucretia,
You know that what I speak is true.
(BEATRICE advances towards him; he covers his face, and shrinks back.)
                            O, dart
The terrible resentment of those eyes
On the dead earth! Turn them away from me!
They wound: ’t was torture forced the truth. My Lords,
Having said this let me be led to death.
  BEATRICE.—Poor wretch, I pity thee: yet stay awhile.        40
  CAMILLO.—Guards, lead him not away.
  BEATRICE.—Cardinal Camillo,
You have a good repute for gentleness
And wisdom: can it be that you sit here
To countenance a wicked farce like this?        45
When some obscure and trembling slave is dragged
From sufferings which might shake the sternest heart
And bade to answer, not as he believes,
But as those may suspect or do desire
Whose questions thence suggest their own reply:        50
And that in peril of such hideous torments
As merciful God spares even the damned. Speak now
The thing you surely know, which is that you,
If your fine frame were stretched upon that wheel,
And you were told: “Confess that you did poison        55
Your little nephew; that fair blue-eyed child
Who was the lodestar of your life:”—and tho’
All see, since his most swift and piteous death,
That day and night, and heaven and earth, and time
And all the things hoped for or done therein        60
Are changed to you, thro’ your exceeding grief,
Yet you would say, “I confess anything:”
And beg from your tormentors, like that slave,
The refuge of dishonorable death.
I pray thee, Cardinal, that thou assert        65
My innocence.
  CAMILLO  (much moved).—What shall we think, my Lords?
Shame on these tears! I thought the heart was frozen
Which is their fountain. I would pledge my soul
That she is guiltless.        70
  JUDGE.—Yet she must be tortured.
  CAMILLO.—I would as soon have tortured mine own nephew
(If he now lived he would be just her age;
His hair, too, was her color, and his eyes
Like hers in shape, but blue and not so deep)        75
As that most perfect image of God’s love
That ever came sorrowing upon the earth.
She is as pure as speechless infancy!
  JUDGE.—Well, be her purity on your head, my Lord,
If you forbid the rack. His Holiness        80
Enjoined us to pursue this monstrous crime
By the severest forms of law; nay even
To stretch a point against the criminals.
The prisoners stand accused of parricide
Upon such evidence as justifies        85
  BEATRICE.—What evidence? This man’s?
  JUDGE.—Even so.
  BEATRICE  (to MARZIO).—Come near. And who art thou thus chosen forth
Out of the multitude of living men        90
To kill the innocent?
  MARZIO.—I am Marzio,
Thy father’s vassal.
  BEATRICE.—Fix thine eyes on mine;
Answer to what I ask.        95
(Turning to the JUDGES.)
I prithee mark
His countenance: unlike bold calumny
Which sometimes dares not speak the thing it looks,
He dares not look the thing he speaks, but bends
His gaze on the blind earth.        100
  (To MARZIO.)  What! wilt thou say
That I did murder my own father?
Spare me! My brain swims round … I cannot speak …
It was that horrid torture forced the truth.        105
Take me away! Let her not look on me!
I am a guilty miserable wretch;
I have said all I know; now, let me die!
  BEATRICE.—My Lords, if by my nature I had been
So stern, as to have planned the crime alleged,        110
Which your suspicions dictate to this slave,
And the rack makes him utter, do you think
I should have left this two-edged instrument
Of my misdeed; this man, this bloody knife
With my own name engraven on the heft,        115
Lying unsheathed amid a world of foes,
For my own death? That with such horrible need
For deepest silence, I should have neglected
So trivial a precaution, as the making
His tomb the keeper of a secret written        120
On a thief’s memory? What is his poor life?
What are a thousand lives? A parricide
Had trampled them like dust; and, see, he lives!
  (Turning to MARZIO.)  And thou …
  MARZIO.—Oh, spare me! Speak to me no more!        125
That stern yet piteous look, those solemn tones,
Wound worse than torture.
  (To the JUDGES.)  I have told it all;
For pity’s sake lead me away to death.
  CAMILLO.—Guards, lead him nearer the Lady Beatrice;        130
He shrinks from her regard like autumn’s leaf
From the keen breath of the serenest north.
  BEATRICE.—O thou who tremblest on the giddy verge
Of life and death, pause ere thou answerest me;
So mayst thou answer God with less dismay:        135
What evil have we done thee? I, alas!
Have lived but on this earth a few sad years
And so my lot was ordered, that a father
First turned the moments of awakening life
To drops, each poisoning youth’s sweet hope; and then        140
Stabbed with one blow my everlasting soul;
And my untainted fame; and even that peace
Which sleeps within the core of the heart’s heart;
But the wound was not mortal; so my hate
Became the only worship I could lift        145
To our great Father, who in pity and love,
Armed thee, as thou dost say, to cut him off;
And thus his wrong becomes my accusation;
And art thou the accuser? If thou hopest
Mercy in heaven, show justice upon earth:        150
Worse than a bloody hand is a hard heart.
If thou hast done murders, made thy life’s path
Over the trampled laws of God and man,
Rush not before thy Judge, and say: “My maker,
I have done this and more; for there was one        155
Who was most pure and innocent on earth;
And because she endured what never any
Guilty or innocent endured before:
Because her wrongs could not be told, not thought;
Because thy hand at length did rescue her;        160
I with my words killed her and all her kin.”
Think, I adjure you, what it is to slay
The reverence living in the minds of men
Towards our ancient house, and stainless fame!
Think what it is to strangle infant pity,        165
Cradled in the belief of guileless looks,
Till it become a crime to suffer. Think
What ’t is to blot with infamy and blood
All that which shows like innocence, and is,
Hear me, great God! I swear, most innocent,        170
So that the world lose all discrimination
Between the sly, fierce, wild regard of guilt,
And that which now compels thee to reply
To what I ask: Am I, or am I not
A parricide?        175
  MARZIO.—Thou art not!
  JUDGE.—What is this?
  MARZIO.—I here declare those whom I did accuse
Are innocent. ’T is I alone am guilty.
  JUDGE.—Drag him away to torments; let them be        180
Subtle and long drawn out, to tear the folds
Of the heart’s inmost cell. Unbind him not
Till he confess.
  MARZIO.—Torture me as ye will:
A keener pain has wrung a higher truth        185
From my last breath. She is most innocent!
Bloodhounds, not men, glut yourselves well with me;
I will not give you that fine piece of nature
To rend and ruin.
(Exit MARZIO, guarded.)
  CAMILLO.—What say ye now, my Lords?
  JUDGE.—Let tortures strain the truth till it be white
As snow thrice sifted by the frozen wind.
  CAMILLO.—Yet stained with blood.
  JUDGE  (to BEATRICE).—Know you this paper, Lady?
  BEATRICE.—Entrap me not with questions. Who stands here        195
As my accuser? Ha! wilt thou be he,
Who art my judge? Accuser, witness, judge,
What, all in one? Here is Orsino’s name;
Where is Orsino? Let his eye meet mine.
What means this scrawl? Alas! ye know not what,        200
And therefore on the chance that it may be
Some evil, will ye kill us?
(Enter an Officer.)
  OFFICER.—Marzio’s dead.
  JUDGE.—What did he say?
Officer.—Nothing. As soon as we        205
Had bound him on the wheel, he smiled on us,
As one who baffles a deep adversary;
And holding his breath, died.
  JUDGE.—There remains nothing
But to apply the question to those prisoners,        210
Who yet remain stubborn.
  CAMILLO.—I overrule
Further proceedings, and in the behalf
Of these most innocent and noble persons
Will use my interest with the Holy Father.        215
  JUDGE.—Let the Pope’s pleasure then be done. Meanwhile
Conduct these culprits each to separate cells;
And be the engines ready: for this night
If the Pope’s resolution be as grave,
Pious, and just as once, I ’ll wring the truth        220
Out of those nerves and sinews, groan by groan.

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