Commentary notes can be accessed by clicking on a blue square. The Latin text can be accessed by clicking on a green square.
n order that his sons might more securely inherit the Empire, Manuel Comnenus, Emperor of the East, exiled to the island of Enna his brother Andronicus, who was plotting to seize the crown. Manuel imprisoned Andronicus’ sons Manuel and John. When Manuel died, he left as heir to the throne Alexius Comnenus, age 15, under the guardianship of his mother Xene. She loved Sebastus, Prefect of the Court, and entrusted the Empire’s governance to him, but because he misused his power and became tyrannical, the Empire descended into disorder. The nobility vainly tried many ways to depose Sebastus. Finally they recall Andronicus from exile and entrust the Empire’s governance to him. He is now at hand and enters the city with a large army using the excuse that he is freeing the Empire from Sebastus’ tyranny, but in fact so that he may make himself Emperor. His plans succeed: he wins the love of the people, so that he is acclaimed Emperor, and he compels Alexius to take him as a co-ruler of the Empire. Having gained the throne, he commands Sebastus to be blinded and held in perpetual custody. Then with false accusations he commands Xene, and finally Alexius, to be put to death. See the lengthy narration of these events in Nicetas.
ALEXIUS the emperor.
ANDRONICUS, Alexius’ uncle
MANUEL Andronicus’ elder son
JOHN Andronicus’ younger son
HENRY Prince of Hungary
SURENA Andronicus’ highest-ranking captain
HARPAGUS a wizard
ADRASTUS captain of Caesar's armed forces
ANGELUS Alexius’ prefect
CLEARCHUS The city’ governor
ISAAC Chief of the castle
ORONTES, Henry’s friend
THE GHOST OF MANUEL
STEPHEN, Envoy from Alexius to Andronicus
ENVOY OF THE KING OF AQUITAINE
SEBASTUS, GEORGE, A SQUIRE
DANCE OF GHOSTS
ACT I, SCENE i
Andronicus disembarks at Constantinople, but before entering the city, he decides to investigate the situation, and in the meantime to visit the tomb of his brother Manuel.
ANDRONICUS, SURENA HIS COMMANDER. HARPAGUS THE WIZARD. THE ARMY
ANDR. Freed from prison, I have at last shaken off the decay of the paralyzing cell. The Fates are finally moving as I wish! When Fortune appears with her forelock of fate, one must avoid all sloth and hesitation. Fortune, who approaches slowly on leaden feet, flees in an instant unless held in tight bonds. Seize opportunity when it appears, and thus you can boast that Fortune freely rotates her wheel at your command.
SUR. After the unhappy time of long exile we arrive at last at the lovely embrace of our long-desired shore. Our weary soldiers are asking for some time of rest. You, however, our shining example of a leader, our prince famed in war and peace, march within the city’s walls and dissipate your grief with pleasures and delights.
HARP. My prince, turn your steps to the place where your glory, your descent, and the honor which is embodied in your person summon you. It is completely shameful for one born of royal blood, the uncle of our great Caesar, to dwell in the dreadful cells of a black dungeon and to live out his days in rural gloom. It’s enough to have endured this up to now at the hand of your tyrant brother. But now Fortune gazes at you with a kindly smile on her face. Now the Empire is clearly alluring you with come-hither looks. Now the city is opening its gates to you. Now your nephew is embracing your return with loving arms. Now the scepter, here at your feet, sees that the tempests of old have passed and the sea is calm with the lovely quiet of universal peace.
ANDR. I approve your advice, but before I make my way into the city, I will briefly rest anonymously by the still waters in the shade of this nearby grove.
HARP. While you postpone your entrance with this overly-cautious hesitation, you are adding a second exile to your first.
ANDR. I would give evidence of an unthinking mind if I tried to enter the city before investigating the situation there. Does the city approve my coming back to the court? What is my nephew’s attitude? With what honor is the city preparing to receive me? Will I be cherished with the Empire’s love? Who will be my friends?
SUR. Well, may it be as your feelings dictate to you. As for me, any delay is excessive and I think that each day is an age, until I see Andronicus held in the loving clasp of his nation's arms.
ANDR. Now while my loyal retainers investigate the people’s feelings and the nobility’s intentions, you busy the soldiers with martial exercises, lest they grow slothful in their leisure. Nothing corrupts their strength and manliness more than learning to be idle.
SUR. Ready at your command we will exercise their courage. Soldiers! Show us signs of your might!
ANDR. Enough. The lofty force of their spirits, their noble courage, the rapid power of their hands, and their quick rush into battle has refreshed my eyes. Giving an appropriate reward for their enthusiasm is now my concern. Withdraw now to your camp. Surena, choose excellent leaders who will act as my bodyguard while my love summons me to my brother’s tomb.
ACT I, SCENE ii
Sebastus urges Alexius to act harshly against the chief nobles and to cut off their heads. Alexius decides to engage in a hunt to alleviate his cares
SEB. Great emperor, at whose sacred feet the love and affection of the entire nation lies prostrate! Now, while Janus has closed the doors of his temple and while the olive branch of peace twines around your brow, give all your attention to matters of state, so that the nation, which our Lord’s benevolent will and command has placed under your scepter, might enjoy the peace which has come.
AL. Only one concern presses on me: to labor with every effort to be worthy of the Lord’s hand, and to keep free of tempests that which heaven has granted to me. I now see no storm arising which could blot out the sun of my court.
SEB. My Emperor, you are the sun of your court.
AL. And a sun ever benevolent to all, as I should be.
SEB. To the contrary. Ever harsh, as you should rather be.
AL. Harshness makes one hated.
SEB. Mercy elicits anger.
AL. But loved by one’s people.
SEB. Even when it breathes love and kindness with his smiling light, the Sun is drawing up vapors from the depths, and with them he sometimes darkens the golden glow of his orb and covers his face with thick clouds.
AL. But in turn he scatters the clouds’ raging tempests and drives them headlong away in a shower of rain as if they were new Typhons.
SEB. But not without pain; for the sun either mingles blasts of flying thunderbolts with the rain or freezes the vapors into damaging hailstones. If the sun cannot not damage the heavens, he pours out his wrath on the earth.
AL. Even though the tempest which could produce some minor fear in the emperor is far off, nevertheless I will order the regiments of our soldiers to be doubled throughout the marketplaces, on the city walls, at the gates, and at my court.
SEB. That’s not enough.
AL. What else?
SEB. The tall poppies should be cut down; strong men’s heads should be cut off with steadfast hands. The base plebs must be controlled by fear. Nobles must be removed from your court with some kind excuse. No powerful man should be tolerated. Fear must force everyone to prostrate their proud heads at your feet.
AL. Must we then lay aside the fear of holy Themis, our devotion to the laws, concern for justice and the gods?
SEB. For monarchs, his own mind is the Lord, his will is the law.
AL. If it is just.
SEB. No one will censure what a king must do.
AL. If no one judges kings, God will call kings into court.
SEB. The Celestials are entirely immersed in the joys of Olympus, and alone of all creatures have no cares.
AL. A man’s heart within calls him guilty of his crimes and pursues him with the savage lash of vengeance.
SEB. “The good of the state” makes legitimate whatever kings desire.
AL. That’s enough, Sebastus. I will adjust my fortune to accord with my wishes. Now my concern calls me elsewhere. I must spend this day in the hunt, so that my mind is not crushed and wearied by the annoyances and pressures of rule.
SEB. Your Sebastus will deliver whatever you wish. You servants, go, bring the dogs who must lay low the wild beasts. We are pleased to traverse the whole realm of Diana and to fill every corner with slaughter.
ACT I, SCENE iii
Alexius is unhappy that he is forced to keep captive his cousin Manuel, and influenced by the advice of Adrastus and Angelus, he commands Manuel to be freed from prison and taken along on the hunt.
ALEXIUS, ANGELUS, ADRASTUS
ANG. What cloud do I see overspreading the glory of your royal face and hiding the lovely orbs of your eyes?
ADR. What shade has attacked the peace in your imperial heart and stolen the grace from your countenance?
AL. My friends, your affection lightens the pain in my heart.
ADR. It’s a king's duty to bear heavy burdens. But, Lord, show us what is oppressing you. Even if we may not offer you a cure for your troubles, we may at least weep with you, or shed our heart’s blood.
AL. It’s right for me to weep when my position compels me to be what I have never been, that is, cruel, fierce, barbarous, harsh, and savage. O Manuel, you target of a painful fate! I grieve over your situation! At my order you are wasting your blooming youth in the gloom of a foul dungeon, unhappy, hopeless, naked, and unknown, a prisoner of that Caesar who would choose rather to make himself a victim of the sword because of his love for you. But I must endure this. I am forced to see you enclosed in prison, fettered and weighed down with iron chains. What thoughts torment your breast — and rightly so? I hear your plaints; you revile my harshness; you make me guilty of overthrowing law and justice, the cause of your death in the black dungeon of a dark prison. But if you could see what pain fills my inner being, pity would lighten your pain and (perhaps) you would sympathize with me and say: “What an unhappy Fate has come upon you, Alexius. It’s true that your torments are greater than mine. I am bound by the chains of a hostile destiny; the fetters of love hold you even tighter. I have chains on my ankles, but your inmost heart is fettered.”
ANG. Lord, stop covering the golden serenity of your heart and the light of your face with this black cloud of grief. This trouble is trifling, one which you can repair, if you wish.
ADR. To be unable to control his own emotions, to be conquered by minor miseries is a great reproach to an unconquered Caesar.
ANG. The royal power collapses when the royal will permits itself to be controlled by another’s wishes.
ADR. What good is the scepter’s glory if its wishes are constrained? Do you think it right that Caesar is denied what the benevolent stars freely grant to the plebs? One who cannot accomplish what he wishes at least may wish for what he can accomplish. You are able to wish for whatever your heart desires. Order that your power be freed from these unjust chains. Then you will bring joy to the kingdom, daylight to the court, and peace to yourself all at the same time.
AL. I am defeated; I approve your plans. Adrastus, order the prisoner to be freed from his bonds and brought from the shadows into the pure light of day. To his attendants And you, bring him into my presence, into my embrace in the nearby glades where I have declared war on the wild beasts.
ADR. I hasten to carry out your orders. I give Augustus joy.
ACT I, SCENE iv
Alexius is urged not to put up with Sebastus, since he is excessively insolent and does Imperial business too freely. How should this be carried out? He is urged to accept the advice and the power of his uncle Andronicus, who is approaching.
ALEXIUS, GEORGE, ORONTES who is plotting with Andronicus
GEOR. Ruler of the World, only the name Augustus is now left for you, since that man, who was born of a peasant, who learned to make laws for his cattle, has now taken from you the right of ruling the people and has claimed for himself the august glory signified by this very name. Caesar gave to you the crown, the scepter, the purple, and the symbols of reign which come to you by inheritance. Do you now lie in sloth and slumber? Do you idly watch your own downfall?
ORON. Pardon me if I am forced by my zeal to disclose a scheme discreditable to you, unworthy of your name, at variance with the royal power, base, and quite damaging to the title of Caesar. O what a happy day it will be if (like a new Ulysses) I rescue from his lowly position the great-hearted Achilles.
GEOR. Recover what you owe to your high position, to the glories of your name, to your character which yearns for honor, to the anxieties of your people, and to your safety.
ORON. How long will you sit in idleness and suffer the honor of your name to be trampled down? Who has such a spirit so debased? Who can calmly see the scepter wielded by a peasant’s hand? To see the royal diadem resting on a plebeian head? To see a cowherd radiant in royal purple and occupying the imperial throne? To see him oppressing the weeping people, ruining the kingdom, and placing a tyrant’s yoke on Caesar? Rekindle the former fires of your nature and become yourself again. You should control this monster. Let Sebastus perish!
AL. I like your advice, but it is difficult to crush the serpent or to slice off the flaming head of the Hydra.
GEOR. The hand of one who has Hercules’ heart in its bosom will readily show you how.
ORON. Will you therefore be ruled by fear and put a slavish neck under the yoke? Will base, shameful slavery crush that man whom God and nature has made to rule? To what final outcome will this situation lead? Clearly, it is that a sword will be plunged into the imperial vitals, and its fatal blow will drain all your blood. The tyrant is hatching this bloody scheme. O may the stars prove Orontes to be a false prophet! But that moment when you see the tiger rushing to accursed extremes will show that my statement was true, unless you forestall this evil with some remedy.
AL. George, what are you urging me to do?
GEOR. Strike down this head that has been elevated.
AL. Who will show me a way to strike it down?
GEOR. Let the ferocious mob be stirred up against the tyrant, who does not deserve to live. If that is not enough, let your hand be armed to strike with the sword, and let your blade, with holy violence, plunge into his wicked body.
AL. Sebastus’ power is too great.
ORON. My lord, you are too afraid of your servant. Andronicus is at hand and will supply the armed hand. His arrival will promote the welfare of the state, in that he may crush the arrogance of this fierce tiger with his armed band of soldiers.
AL. If my uncle supports my side with military assistance, there is no place for fear.
ACT I, SCENE v
Released from prison, Manuel gives free rein to the rage which he had felt against Alexius while a prisoner. Ismenus and Orontes urge him to ally with Henry to seize Alexius while on the hunt and to assist his father Andronicus, who is close at hand. He likes this advice.
ISMENUS, ORONTES, MANUEL
MAN. O Alexius, you have at last released the lion from his cell in the accursed tower, and his sharpened claws will rend your vitals and his teeth will gnaw your inmost bones. No pity, no fear will lessen his rage. This hand will today give proof of what great vengeance a noble nature can exact, when that nature has long groaned under wicked abuse. Barbarian! Wretch! Unworthy of your own crown, unworthy of the royal trappings! You have taught my ferocious right hand to savagely spill a kinsman’s blood. Did you prove that my guilty hand had perpetrated any offense? What crime did I foully commit against your power, that led you to bind my neck, my hands, and my feet in iron chains, in iron bonds in the deep dungeon of the prison, in the deepest cell. Now if my crime is to be a kinsman close in blood, then I cease to be a relative. I repudiate our closeness in blood. Now you cease to be a relative as well, for today my blade will remove you from the group of living men. What secret plan (even if suited to my dearest hopes) moved you to free me from my chains? I suppose so that vengeance by my hands might come upon you. My swollen heart has given birth to a thousand torments by the sword, but he must perish with only one doom. Let it be one equal to his deserts, monstrous, cruel, and barbarous. I have been invited to a lovely battle with beasts. I am going, and I intend to cut down that brute in the same kind of hunt and make him a victim of my wrath, that foul spirit of wickedness.
ISM. Control your anger with a tighter rein. It is bad to rush with hasty steps, only to harm yourself.
MAN. Noble blood fears no precipice! I will gladly fall, if my enemy is cut down and falls with me.
ORON. You more strength to do what you dare.
MAN. Anticipating vengeance will give strength to my hand.
ISM. Rashness and bravado bring grief in their train.
ORON. Who will be at your side?
MAN. My talent, my power, and the strength of my lofty spirit.
ISM. O, lofty scion of a noble race! O, courage worthy of your heritage! Look, here is Ismenus’ hand, sworn to support your interests and ready to act. But you should control the raging storms in your spirit. Fury acts more violently and more safely while your mind is calm.
MAN. It is useless to attempt to withstand the raging waters while they are in flood.
ORON. But if they are controlled, then they spread and cover the fields with a greater force.
ISM. My Prince, give way to the flood for a short time. Your vengeance will be more violent when it matures.
MAN. What will hold it back?
ISM. Please give ear to Ismenus and be silent. Henry will take part in the hunt surrounded by his soldiers. He will surround the dense woods with his martial band and will drive Caesar, all unawares, into your net.
MAN. Sebastus will block our efforts.
ISM. Chains have already been prepared for him. My gold has bribed his bodyguard, and my intrigues still lie secret. He will wear his bonds along with his chained son and with Xene.
MAN. But what should be the decision about them, after they are imprisoned?
ISM. Your father will decide that. Not far from here he has assembled forces ready for war.
MAN. My father is near and brings troops ready for war? Farewell, my friends. I am hurrying to my father’s embrace.
ISM. Go; meet your father. In the meantime we will try to gain entrance to the prison where you brother groans in chains. If a favorable fortune prospers our plans, either we will dig him out of his miserable cell and let him enjoy the light of the sun, or he will learn of our efforts.
MAN. The work must be done in haste.
ACT I, SCENE vi
Sebastus, Stephen, and Clearchus think it wrong that Manuel has been freed from prison and decide to attack him while on the hunt. They enlist Henry as an associate of this plot.
SEBASTUS, STEPHEN, CLEARCHUS
SEB. What a sad report has come to my ears! It has buried the sun and made my day gloomy. Rash Alexius! Augustus, how unaware of your doom! Stephen, to what ruin is the kingdom coming? Clearchus, what dangers is Fortune preparing for us? At Caesar’s orders, Manuel has laid aside his chains and returned to the open air. Should I consider this policy to be safe enough for us?
STEPH. It is hardly right to assign a failing grade to the deeds of great men, but still, I cannot justify letting this fierce young man go free from his well-deserved chains. Alexius should have kept vivid in his mind how much rage and hatred this bold young man felt towards his rule, how dire were his threats, how great was his thirst for revenge and his lust for blood.
SEB. This is the same as giving your enemy the weapon, with which he will cut out the vital seat of life's hidden spirit from your breast. Manuel has frequently proven how fierce his spirit is, how prone to rage his nature is. Threats have not broken his sinews nor have kind words softened his ears. He will drag the empire into war.
CL. I seem to see a wild lion rampaging through heaps of corpses and piles of the dead; he is laying the people low like blasts of fire; he is rending innocent men with his claws and tearing them with his teeth; on all sides there is massacre, death, doom, as well as the sacking of all our cities and the collapse of the empire. The Orient, weeping and drained of blood, with her face covered in tears, begs for peace; the holy stars beg for peace. They condemn to Avernus the hour when that ferocious beast was freed from his dungeon cell and brought into the clear light of day.
SEB. Our deliberations aim at one goal: we must find the means to bring this matter to the desired end, to find security and avoid impending disaster. Whoever forestalls the onrush of malign fate brings his destiny into a favorable path.
STEPH. A small spark is quenched by one tiny drop of water, but when the fire takes on strength, it gains power from the water poured on it.
SEB. There is an easy remedy for a fresh wound, but when the raging evil has reached the citadel of the heart and has seized the stronghold of one's hidden life, the power of the knife is useless and the application of burning heat is futile.
CL. Let’s cut short any hesitation. Let our swords amputate this new-born hydra’s head before it sprouts a second head and harm the empire. One man’s blood will pay the just penalty for everyone’s fear.
SEB. Let this be done. Now my task in this upcoming hunt is to secretly prepare snares in which this beast’s heedless foot will be trapped and be overwhelmed with these pre-positioned swords. In the meantime, we should reveal this course of event to Henry, but to no one else, lest Caesar detect any signs of our plot. Henry’s loyalty has been frequently tested and gives me sure hopes.
CL. If we put this off, delay will be the only danger.
SEB. So let us cut out any hesitation.
STEPH. Make haste; heaven will favor our attempt.
ACT I, SCENE vii
A field where the tomb of Manuel and his statue are placed.Andronicus reviles Manuel’s ashes. Manuel’s ghost emerges from the tomb and predicts that Andronicus will suffer disgrace and death in Constantinople. Frightened, he decides to leave Constantinople, but his spirits are revived by Harpagus.
ANDRONICUS, HARPAGUS, SURENA, ARMY COMMANDERS (NON-SPEAKING PARTS)
ANDR. Behold this sad place of bitter death, my brother’s tomb. The emotion of long-standing grief comes into my mind. Leave me, my bold commanders, and rest under the spreading branches of the leafy trees while I review my heart’s pain and revisit my grief by myself. I will perform my sacred duties to the bones of my dear brother. All retire. At last, brother, you lie here, you villain! You met the final end to which your mistakes led you. It is wrong that his remains lie under this marble, once his wicked spirit was snatched into the shadows of the Styx. His body should have been given to the dogs to eat, or his ashes should have been scattered to the breezes as a sick joke. This tomb wrongly covers your ghost. May the marble which you made into a tomb (what a disgrace!) collapse into an ugly heap. I would like it to be nothing but dust, which the falling rain might turn into disgusting mud or the raging blasts might scatter to the winds, just so that no memory of you ever survive. Now you beast buried under this great pile, you lion, you leopard, you bear, you tiger in human form (at least to me), now in the depths of Avernus, where the three monstrous Furies try you with brimstone, fire, and the lash, now if you can, perceive the feelings of your brother as he takes his revenge. I have triumphed; I have survived you. I delight in trampling your remains with my vengeful foot. That hatred with which you wickedly pursued your brother lies dead under this marble, and now there is room for my hatred against you, you tyrant. Even if death has rescued you from my wrath, your blood still survives, and my hand will thunder against him with savage fury, and will exact righteous punishments from him for my sufferings in exile and in the black dungeon. As long as even a sprout of your race still lives, this hand will never rest until I send him dead into fiery Avernus. Barbarian! Evil, wicked man! Do you make no response? Arise villain, if you can, from your tomb. Arise and revive your fury against your brother! The statue stands upright.
STATUE Behold, o tyrant not yet satisfied with my death! Do you dare to excite the ashes of the resting dead with your mad attacks? You plague on the world, you now see face to face that Caesar whom you summoned, your brother, whom you persecuted while still alive, and whom you still assault although he’s dead in his tomb. Quench the thirst of your wicked madness. The time is not far off when this wild exaltation of your arrogant spirit will fail, and your joy in this imagined rule will collapse under heaven’s vengeance. Even if God is slow to wield his avenging thunderbolt, His hand nevertheless hurls it more violently. Behold these images of your destiny. The ghost unrolls a tapestry on which are portrayed the columns located in the forum at Constantinople. If your ambition and your wrath has not yet blinded your heart, see what penalties for your crimes God has slowly prepared as punishment. The day is near at hand when He will summon you to the punishment he has prepared. Now go, while my slumber restores me to my original peace. The statue returns to its former position.
ANDR. Friends, here to me! What vision has troubled my eyes? What shade has struck my trembling heart with fear? What Fate has been turning my destiny backwards? My brother! The menacing ghost of my brother has been thundering with angry blasts against the boldness of Andronicus! O rushing winds, carry me far from here!
SUR. What fear has fallen on your heroic spirit?
ANDR. Alas! Fortune’s wheel has rotated, and my vengeful brother has turned Andronicus’ fate into reverse. Why do I cherish any longer vain hopes for rule? Andronicus, lay aside the hope which bloomed in your breast. Lay aside any love for that long-desired crown. You must live as a private citizen from now on. O heaven’s envious rage! O cruel firmament!
HARP. Who has a hand so bold as to be able to drive your destiny in reverse? Shake these vain fears off your heroic breast. Come back to yourself, my prince!
ANDR. My brother is menacing my head with the ultimate thunderbolt.
SUR. Ghosts make sport with meaningless fears.
ANDR. Well, this sport is very serious to me.
SUR. A man believes most easily what he fears the worst. Believe what a calm mind tells you with no blinding fog.
ANDR. While fully awake I saw what rends my bosom with bloody slashes.
HARP. And even fully awake, you are mistaken. Specifically, you do not notice the yoke of wicked slavery that Sebastus is placing on your sons; you do not see what kind of downfall is crushing the realm; you do not see with what joy Sebastus watches you mourn, with what arrogance he is seeking your doom, with what haughty steps he is pressing on your person — that man whose status at birth directed him to be subject to you.
ANDR. My heart is freed from fear and my mind regains its calm. I see clearly what treachery this hellish shade is plotting. Nasty brother! Ill-omened bird sent from the Stygian lake! Now that you are dead, do you believe you can accomplish with Stygian ghosts that crime which you violently perpetrated against your brother while you were alive? My fear is gone and my previous rage and lust for vengeance has returned to my heart. Nothing will escape the rage of this my hand. I will rush through these city walls which are standing in my way and will be borne to the throne over heaps of the dead, even in heaven’s despite. If a contrary Fortune meets me in a frontal attack, I will break the very wheel of Fortune as she is fighting me.
Go to Act II