Fiction > Harvard Classics > Percy Bysshe Shelley > The Cenci
Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822).  The Cenci.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
Act IV
Scene I
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?        5
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?        10
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.
                Thou loathèd wretch!
Hide thee from my abhorrence; fly, begone!
Yet stay! Bid Beatrice come hither.
  Lucretia.                Oh,
Husband! I pray for thine own wretched sake        20
Heed what thou dost. A man who walks like thee
Thro’ crimes, and thro’ 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,        25
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?        30
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.        35
  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        40
If God, to punish his enormous crimes,
Harden his dying heart!”
  Cenci.  Why—such thing are…
No doubt divine revealings may be made.
’Tis plain I have been favoured from above,        45
For when I cursed my sons they died.—Ay … so…
As to the right of 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        50
To poison and corrupt her soul.  [A pause; LUCRETIA approaches anxiously, and then shrinks bask 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,        55
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.        60
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        65
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;        70
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        75
Short work and sure …  [Going.
  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.        80
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?        85
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,        90
Thro’ 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        95
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,        100
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.        105
  Andrea. The Lady Beatrice…
  Cenci.                Speak, pale slave! What
Said she?
  Andrea. My lord, ’twas what she looked; she said:        110
“Go tell my father that I see the gulf
Of Hell between us two, which he may pass,
I will not.”  [Exit ANDREA.
  Cenci.              Go thou quick, Lucretia,
Tell her to come; yet let her understand        115
Her coming is consent: and say, moreover
That if she come not I will curse her.  [Exit LUCRETIA.
With what but with a father’s curse doth God
Panic-strike armèd victory, and make pale        120
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        125
Did imprecate quick ruin, and it came.
Well; what? Speak, wretch!
  Lucretia.  She said, “I cannot come;
Go tell my father that I see a torrent        130
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;        135
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;        140
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!        145
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        150
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!        155
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!        160
  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        165
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        170
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.        175
So he may hunt her through he 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,        180
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;        185
My heart is beating with an expectation
Of horrid joy.
                What? Speak!
  Lucretia.                She bids thee curse;        190
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!        195
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.        200
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 belie thee with an hour of rest,        205
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        210
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.  [Exit.


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