Fiction > Harvard Classics > Percy Bysshe Shelley > The Cenci
Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822).  The Cenci.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
Act I
Scene II
A Garden in the Cenci Palace.
Enter BEATRICE and ORSINO, as in conversation
  Beatrice.  Pervert not truth,
Orsino. You remember where we held
That conversation;—nay, we see the spot        5
Even from this cypress;—two long years are past
Since, on an April midnight, underneath
The moonlight ruins of mount Palatine,
I did confess to you my secret mind.
  Orsino.  You said you loved me then.        10
  Beatrice.  You are a Priest,
Speak to me not of love.
  Orsino.  I may obtain
The dispensation of the Pope to marry.
Because I am a Priest do you believe        15
Your image, as the hunter some struck deer,
Follows me not whether I wake or sleep?
  Beatrice.  As I have said, speak to me not of love:
Had you a dispensation I have not;
Nor will I leave this home of misery        20
Whilst my poor Bernard, and that gentle lady
To whom I owe life, and these virtuous thoughts,
Must suffer what I still have strength to share.
Alas, Orsino! All the love that once
I felt for you, is turned to bitter pain.        25
Ours was a youthful contract, which you first
Broke, by assuming vows no Pope will loose.
And thus I love you still, but holily,
Even as a sister or a spirit might;
And so I swear a cold fidelity.        30
And it is well perhaps we shall not marry.
You have a sly, equivocating vein
That suits me not.—Ah, wretched that I am!
Where shall I turn? Even now you look on me
As you were not my friend, and as if you        35
Discovered that I thought so, with false smiles
Making my true suspicion seem your wrong.
Ah no! forgive me; sorrow makes me seem
Sterner than else my nature might have been;
I have a weight of melancholy thoughts,        40
And they forbode,—but what can they forbode
Worse than I now endure?
  Orsino.                All will be well.
Is the petition yet prepared? You know
My zeal for all you wish, sweet Beatrice;        45
Doubt not but I will use my utmost skill
So that the Pope attend to your complaint.
  Beatrice.  Your zeal for all I wish;—Ah me, you are cold!
Your utmost skill … speak but one word … (aside) Alas!
Weak and deserted creature that I am,        50
Here I stand bickering with my only friend!  [To ORSINO.
This night my father gives a sumptuous feast,
Orsino; he has heard some happy news
From Salamanca, from my brothers there,
And with this outward show of love he mocks        55
His inward hate. ’Tis bold hypocrisy,
For he would gladlier celebrate their deaths,
Which I have heard him pray for on his knees:
Great God! that such a father should be mine!
But there is mighty preparation made,        60
And all our kin, the Cenci, will be there,
And all the chief nobility of Rome.
And he has bidden me and my pale Mother
Attire ourselves in festival array.
Poor lady! She expects some happy change        65
In his dark spirit from this act; I none.
At supper I will give you the petition:
Till when—farewell.
  Orsino.  Farewell. (Exit BEATRICE.) I know the Pope
Will ne’er absolve me from my priestly vow        70
But by absolving me from the revenue
Of many a wealthy see; and, Beatrice,
I think to win thee at an easier rate.
Nor shall he read her eloquent petition:
He might bestow her on some poor relation        75
Of his sixth cousin, as he did her sister,
And I should be debarred from all access.
Then as to what she suffers from her father,
In all this there is much exaggeration:—
Old men are testy and will have their way;        80
A man my stab his enemy, or his vassal,
And live a free life as to wine and women,
And with a peevish temper may return
To a dull home, and rate his wife and children;
Daughters and wives call this foul tyranny.        85
I shall be well content if on my conscience
There rest no heavier sin than what they suffer
From the devices of my love—A net
From which she shall escape not. Yet I fear
Her subtle mind, her awe-inspiring gaze,        90
Whose beams anatomise me nerve by nerve
And lay me bare, and make me blush to see
My hidden thoughts.—Ah, no! A friendless girl
Who clings to me, as to her only hope:—
I were a fool, not less than if a panther        95
Were panic-stricken by the antelope’s eye,
If she escape me.  [Exit.


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