Fiction > Harvard Classics > Percy Bysshe Shelley > The Cenci
Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822).  The Cenci.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
Act V
Scene III
The Cell of a Prison.
BEATRICE is discovered asleep on a couch. Enter BERNARDO
  Bernardo.  How gently slumber rests upon her face,
Like the last thoughts of some day sweetly spent
Closing in night and dreams, and so prolonged.        5
After such torments as she bore last night,
How light and soft her breathing comes. Ay, me!
Methinks that I shall never sleep again.
But I must shake the heavenly dew of rest
From this sweet folded flower, thus … wake! awake!        10
What, sister, canst thou sleep?
  Beatrice  (awaking).                I was just dreaming
That we were all in Paradise. Thou knowest
This cell seems like a kind of Paradise
After our father’s presence.        15
  Bernardo.                Dear, dear sister,
Would that thy dream were not a dream! O God!
How shall I tell?
  Beatrice.                What wouldst thou tell, sweet brother?
  Bernardo.  Look not so calm and happy, or even whilst        20
I stand considering what I have to say
My heart will break.
  Beatrice.                See now, thou mak’st me weep:
How very friendless thou wouldst be, dear child,
If I were dead. Say what thou hast to say.        25
  Bernardo.  They have confessed; they could endure no more
The tortures…
  Beatrice.                Ha! What was there to confess?
They must have told some weak and wicked lie
To flatter their tormentors. Have they said        30
That they were guilty? O white innocence,
That thou shouldst wear the mask of guilt to hide
Thine awful and serenest countenance
From those who know thee not!
Enter JUDGE with LUCRETIA and GIACOMO, guarded
                Ignoble hearts!
For some brief spasms of pain, which are at least
As mortal as the limbs through which they pass,
Are centuries of high splendour laid in dust?
And that eternal honour which should live        40
Sunlike, above the reek of mortal fame,
Changed to a mockery and a bye-word? What!
Will you give up these bodies to be dragged
At horses’ heels, so that our hair should sweep
The footsteps of the vain and senseless crowd,        45
Who, that they may make our calamity
Their worship and their spectacle, will leave
The churches and the theatres as void
As their own hearts? Shall the light multitude
Fling at their choice, curses or faded pity,        50
Sad funeral flowers to deck a living corpse,
Upon us as we pass to pass away,
And leave … what memory of our having been?
Infamy, blood, terror, despair? O thou,
Who wert a mother to the parentless,        55
Kill not thy child! Let not her wrongs kill thee!
Brother, lie down with me upon the rack,
And let us each be silent as a corpse;
It soon will be as soft as any grave.
’Tis but the falsehood it can wring from fear        60
Makes the rack cruel.
  Giacomo.                They will tear the truth
Even from thee at last, those cruel pains:
For pity’s sake say thou art guilty now.
  Lucretia.  Oh, speak the truth! Let us all quickly die;        65
And after death, God is our judge, not they;
He will have mercy on us.
  Bernardo.                If indeed
It can be true, say so, dear sister mine;
And then the Pope will surely pardon you,        70
And all be well.
  Judge.                Confess, or I will warp.
Your limbs with such keen tortures…
  Beatrice.                Tortures! Turn
The rack henceforth into a spinning wheel!        75
Torture your dog, that he may tell when last
He lapped the blood his master shed … not me!
My pangs are of the mind, and of the heart,
And of the soul; ay, of the inmost soul,
Which weeps within tears as of burning gall        80
To see, in this ill world where none are true,
My kindred false to their deserted selves.
And with considering all the wretched life
Which I have lived, and its now wretched end,
And the small justice shown by Heaven and Earth        85
To me or mine; and what a tyrant thou art,
And what slaves these; and what a world we make,
The oppressor and the oppressed … such pangs compel
My answer. What is it thou wouldst with me?
  Judge.  Art thou not guilty of thy father’s death?        90
  Beatrice.  Or wilt thou rather tax high judging God
That he permitted such an act as that
Which I have suffered, and which he beheld;
Made it unutterable, and took from it
All refuge, all revenge, all consequence,        95
But that which thou hast called my father’s death?
Which is or is not what men call a crime,
Which either I have done, or have not done;
Say what ye will. I shall deny no more.
If ye desire it thus, thus let it be,        100
And so an end of all. Now do your will;
No other pains shall force another word.
  Judge.  She is convicted, but has not confessed.
Be it enough. Until their final sentence
Let none have converse with them. You, young Lord,        105
Linger not here!
  Beatrice.                Oh, tear him not away!
  Judge.  Guards, do your duty.
  Bernardo  (embracing BEATRICE).
                Oh! would ye divide        110
Body from soul?
  Officer.                That is the headsman’s business.  [Exeunt all but LUCRETIA, BEATRICE, and GIACOMO.
  Giacomo.  Have I confessed? It is all over now?
No hope! No refuge! O weak, wicked tongue
Which hast destroyed me, would that thou hadst been        115
Cut out and thrown to dogs first! To have killed
My father first, and then betrayed my sister;
Ay, thee! the one thing innocent and pure
In this black guilty world, to that which I
So well deserve! My wife! my little ones!        120
Destitute, helpless, and I … Father! God!
Canst thou forgive even the unforgiving,
When their full hearts break thus, thus!…  [Covers his face and weeps.
  Lucretia.                O my child!
To what a dreadful end are we all come!        125
Why did I yield? Why did I not sustain
Those torments? Oh, that I were all dissolved
Into these fast and unavailing tears,
Which flow and feel not!
  Beatrice.                What ’twas weak to do,        130
’Tis weaker to lament, once being done;
Take cheer! The God who knew my wrong, and made
Our speedy act the angel of his wrath,
Seems, and but seems, to have abandoned us.
Let us not think that we shall die for this.        135
Brother, sit near me; give me your firm hand,
You had a manly heart. Bear up! Bear up!
O dearest Lady, put your gentle head
Upon my lap, and try to sleep awhile:
Your eyes look pale, hollow and overworn,        140
With heaviness of watching and slow grief.
Come, I will sing you some low, sleepy tune,
Not cheerful, nor yet sad; some dull old thing,
Some outworn and unused monotony,
Such as our country gossips sing and spin,        145
Till they almost forget they live: lie down!
So, that will do. Have I forgot the words?
Faith! They are sadder than I thought they were.
False friend, wilt thou smile or weep        150
When my life is laid asleep?
Little cares for a smile or a tear,
The clay-cold corpse upon the bier!
      Farewell! Heigho!
      What is this whispers low?        155
There is a snake in thy smile, my dear;
And bitter poison within thy tear.
  Sweet sleep, were death like to thee,
Or if thou couldst mortal be,
I would close these eyes of pain;        160
When to wake? Never again.
      O World! Farewell!
      Listen to the passing bell!
It says, thou and I must part,
With a light and a heavy heart.  [The scene closes.        165


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