Fiction > Harvard Classics > Percy Bysshe Shelley > The Cenci
Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822).  The Cenci.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
Act V
Scene II
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        5
In your offence? Speak truth and the whole truth.
  Marzio.  My God! I did not kill him; I know nothing;
Olimpio sold the robe to me from which
You would infer my guilt.
  Second Judge.                Away with him!        10
  First Judge.  Dare you, with lips yet white from the rack’s kiss
Speak false? Is it so soft a questioner,
That you would bandy lover’s talk with it
Till it wind out your life and soul? Away!
  Marzio.  Spare me! O, spare! I will confess.        15
  First Judge.                Then speak.
  Marzio.  I strangled him in his sleep.
  First Judge.                Who urged you to it?
  Marzio.  His own son Giacomo, and the young prelate
Orsino sent me to Petrella; there        20
The ladies Beatrice and Lucretia
Tempted me with a thousand crowns, and I
And my companion forthwith murdered him.
Now let me die.
  First Judge.  This sounds as bad as truth. Guards, there,        25
Lead forth the prisoner!
                Look upon this man;
When did you see him last?
  Beatrice.                We never saw him.        30
  Marzio.  You know me too well, Lady Beatrice.
  Beatrice.  I know thee! How? where? when?
  Marzio.                You know ’twas I
Whom you did urge with menaces and bribes
To kill your father. When the thing was done        35
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        40
On the dead earth! Turn them away from me!
They wound: ’twas torture forced the truth. My Lords,
Having said this let me be led to death.
  Beatrice.  Poor wretch, I pity thee: yet stay awhile.
  Camillo.  Guards, lead him not away.        45
  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?
When some obscure and trembling slave is dragged        50
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:
And that in peril of such hideous torments        55
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
Your little nephew; that fair blue-eyed child        60
Who was the loadstar of your life:”—and though
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
Are changed to you, through your exceeding grief,        65
Yet you would say, “I confess anything:”
And beg from your tormentors, like that slave,
The refuge of dishonourable death.
I pray thee, Cardinal, that thou assert
My innocence.        70
  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.
  Judge.                Yet she must be tortured.        75
  Camillo.  I would as soon have tortured mine own nephew
(If he now live he would be just her age;
His hair, too, was her colour, and his eyes
Like hers in shape, but blue and not so deep)
As that most perfect image of God’s love        80
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
Enjoined us to pursue this monstrous crime        85
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
Torture.        90
  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
To kill the innocent?        95
  Marzio.                I am Marzio,
Thy father’s vassal.
  Beatrice.                Fix thine eyes on mine;
Answer to what I ask.
(Turning to the Judges.)                I prithee mark        100
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.
  (To MARZIO.)                What! wilt thou say        105
That I did murder my own father?
  Marzio.                Oh!
Spare me! My brain swims round … I cannot speak…
It was that horrid torture forced the truth.
Take me away! Let her not look on me!        110
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,
Which your suspicions dictate to this slave,        115
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,
Lying unsheathed amid a world of foes,        120
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
On a thief’s memory? What is his poor life?        125
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!        130
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,        135
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:        140
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        145
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        150
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:        155
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        160
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;        165
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,        170
Cradled in the belief of guileless looks,
Till it become a crime to suffer. Think
What ’tis to blot with infamy and blood
All that which shows like innocence, and is,
Hear me, great God! I swear, most innocent,        175
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?        180
  Marzio.              Thou art not!
  Judge.                What is this?
  Marzio.  I here declare those whom I did accuse
Are innocent. ’Tis I alone am guilty.
  Judge.  Drag him away to torments; let them be        185
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        190
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?        195
  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        200
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,        205
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?        210
  Officer.                Nothing. As soon as we
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        215
But to apply the question to those prisoners,
Who yet remain stubborn.
  Camillo.                I overrule
Further proceedings, and in the behalf
Of these most innocent and noble persons        220
Will use my interest with the Holy Father.
  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,        225
Pious, and just as once, I’ll wring the truth
Out of those nerves and sinews, groan by groan.  [Exeunt.


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