Commentary notes can be accessed by clicking on a blue square. The Latin text can be accessed by clicking on a green square.


Envoys from Sicily complain to the emperor about the disastrous state of the island and his ministers’ oppression of the people there. They ask for help, which the emperor promises.


spacerENV. 1 Unconquered Caesar, the world prostrates itself humbly at your feet. May the Fates with their golden spindle grant you endless days of glory. May your loyal Mars reap laurels with the sword. Beautiful Sicily, once the mother of demigods, famed in both peace and war, the fruitful mother of an heroic race, a jewel of the realm with a loyalty devoted to your scepter and readiness to shed blood for your glory, now through us bows her head low before you. Scarcely able to remember her former glories, she laments the sad state in which she unhappily labors. She wishes that the golden days of her previous history may be restored to her, but she cannot expect that to happen, since Harpies with their savage claws have lacerated the happy state of the nation. In her ruined condition you, kind Caesar, are the only hope left for your faithful people. Heaven has joined us to your empire; love and loyalty have willingly tied your subjects to you. As lord of your people, wield with equal force the sword and the scales of Themis. Be pleased to hear what our tongues shrink to utter. Your children — for thus you used to call your Sicilians — bear with humiliation the yoke of slavery on their necks because of the corruption of your officials. Why should I mention the plunder taken from the people, the houses and great wealth seized from their owners? The noble temples of the gods lie ruined in heaps of stones; the gods have fled and their incense wafts over brute beasts; in vain does the poor, wretched priest, lacking money, beg for a sacrifice to offer to the gods, for these tyrants possess whatever object precious in holiness or in worldly value had been deposited in the temples. Our entire nobility groans under taxes which they cannot pay. Justice has fled into exile, and a tyranny prevails which demands unbearable tribute or else drains with armed fist the hidden blood from their veins. The laws of religion are trampled under foot and sacred rites of the gods are trodden on. True religion lies waste, and whatever stood firmly under the law now has fallen, crushed under the lust of a brutal government. Give us aid, great Caesar; show a father’s love for your people. If you do not cure such evils quickly, you will find your island empty of inhabitants. Every man will be crushed by so many troubles, will flee this cavern of crime, and under compulsion will transfer his home elsewhere. What then will be the appearance of the state?
spacer ENV. 2 My Caesar, in the end you see what pleasure your contrary starstake in harming your people. You are the only man whose will can direct a good or bad outcome: either to set upright the overturned state and bring a happy destiny, or to take no action and simply watch the harm done to your oppressed island. Therefore look with benevolent eyes on the your people's miseries, which turn the very air that they breathe into plaintive wails. O great Caesar, display a father’s love and a Caesar’s strong hand. Crush whatever plague is roaming free in your realm. Will you allow your ancestral scepter to be torn from the hand of Augustus? The stars have commanded you to reign over worldly realms. You ought to reign with an unblemished scepter and not allow tyranny to take a step towards the throne.
spacer AL. I keep firmly in my mind and heart what your loyalty, the cruel harm to the realm, the force of my love, and my duty as Caesar, demand. You will not wait long until these threatening fiery clouds scatter and allow the serene face of the returning Cynthius to be seen again. Now that I hold you in my embrace, I pledge to you the love of a father and a constant affection, which no day, no night will prove to be weak. Depart then, and give solace to their troubled hearts, and promise them definite signs of my love. Even if their hope for better days had vanished, now let it rise again when they see my positive concern for their well-being. Peace will raise your dejected minds as high as the harsh blasts of the storm had brought them low. The Titan arises even more welcome after the gloom of night; in the same way well-being will return even more welcome after you have suffered such harm.
spacerLEG. 1 Augustus' words have summoned our blasted spirits back into our limbs. May Jupiter in heaven bring your prayers and ours to a successful end.



In the name of their king, envoys from Aquitania offer Alexius a treaty of perpetual peace as well as the king’s daughter in marriage. Alexius welcomes this offer and answers that he will make public his response through his own envoys to the King of Aquitania.


spacerHER. Caesar, an envoy sent from Aquitania seeks a hearing.
spacerAL. What trouble is rumbling now? Bring him in.
spacerENV. 1 Divine Caesar, the world bows before your beloved head and the revered radiance of your imperial brow. Both hemispheres of the globe tremble at your nod and rejoice to obey your commands. Before your countenance we bring the best wishes of the King of Aquitania. He prays for you a blessed career of glory and a never-ending series of triumphs. In order to express his loyalty and sincerity, he asks you for a binding treaty of perpetual peace, one which forgetfulness cannot obliterate nor the mischief of harsh destiny dissolve. If you are pleased with the prayers which I have delivered from my king, he seeks from you only this in return, that you show a Caesar’s trust, and pledge the same kind of peace treaty with him.
spacerAL. I respect the treaty of friendship with your king, and I value highly the truly royal honor which he is showing my empire, honor which no passage of time can wrap in forgetfulness.  Overpowered by your king’s favor, my wish for him will be whatever he wishes.
spacer ENV. 2 That was the first part of our king’s prayer. May it please you to grant the second. He has only one daughter of his blood, a maiden worthy of her father. Heaven has laden her with all the graces: Dawn has tinted her lips with rubies; spring roses frolic on her cheeks; the celestial rainbow rests on her eyebrows; the gleam of twin suns shines from her eyes; majesty sits on her brow. Her carriage, movements, and majestic pace reveal her inner spirit and show her to be a bride worthy of the gods. Because he is seeking to graft an equal onto his race, one whom he may see on his throne in the future, he hopes that she may be joined to you in holy nuptials.
spacer AL. Your king honors me too much. I am held fast with equal faith and love. Titan’s orb will traverse the heavens without light before this honor leaves my heart. But these weighty matters of state, on which the favorable situation of the empire depends, require examination on a careful scale. The lofty nature of the King of Aquitania will not consider me at fault if I require some time for deliberation. In the meantime, take back to your king the loyal friendship of our heart, our ties of real love, and universal peace. A sure token of his trust is his daughter, offered to us in the bonds of matrimony. In a formal embassy I will give a definite response concerning the intentions of my mind, the warmth of my love, and the opinions of my noblemen.
spacerENV. 1 Full of hope we revere the radiance of your divine face, as we go on our return journey to our native shores.
spacerAL. May the heavens, free of clouds, and the sea, with its calm waves, present their blessings to you.



Isaac, Chief of the Castle, brings Alexius a letter from John, Andronicus’ imprisoed younger son. In it he reveals Manuel’s conspiracy against the king’s person.


spacerISA. Pardon me, Caesar, if I interrupt your business. Sacred loyalty compels me.
spacerAL. What storm is threatening?
spacerISA. This matter demands private hearing.
spacerAL. . Let our throne be free of bystanders.
spacerISA. Augustus, scarcely had Dawn tinted the gates of heaven a rosy color and made a path for Cynthius when two visitors blue came close to the prison in whose darkness John lies captive. I shuddered and an icy feeling crept through my bones. But quickly a suspicion scratched at my mind that some trickery lurked here. So in silence, but armed, I noted their movements, appearance, and signs in their eyes, to see if they betrayed any indications of trickery. Nor were my suspicions in vain: If any way had presented itself, they would have deceived me, broken open the gates, and raced into the prison. However, since I appeared to be watchfully guarding every area, their first tricky plan collapsed, and they merely asked to speak to the imprisoned John. I opened the gates and permitted their entry. I pretended disinterest, but eventually listened to their words with attentive ear. The effort of both was to urge the prisoner to flee, but he refused. They dragged the young man aside and lowering their voices to a whisper they murmured something in his ear. They then said farewell and left. Later, after they had departed, John sat silently for a time, then inscribed a few lines on this page. He soon summoned me and handing me this document with trembling hand, he said: “Isaac, if you are concerned about Caesar’s life, then deliver this page and be sure that he reads it.” So I hurried out of there. I am telling you what happened, and I place into your hands this letter.
spacer AL. Reads the letter “Great Caesar, this dark ink is displaying a bright feeling of love for you. I love and revere my Caesar, even if the proper reward for my love has not come to me. You can learn about my love, Caesar, from this information. Pay attention to the safety of Augustus' person. Plots are being hatched against you. Your dear friend Manuel is planning every crime. Beware that you not become the prey in this hunt which you, Caesar, are making ready. There he is cleverly organizing everything so that he may throw his master into chains or destroy him with the sword. Forestall this impending doom, lest it happen and bring you sorrow. Make Fate your servant now, while you can and should, lest it place a yoke on you later. If you want a stable kingdom, crush treason. Your faithful John wishes to see treason trampled underfoot.”
O what a barbarous soul lurking in a savage breast! Against my person? Against me is he cooking up schemes for a cruel death? That man whose life and death I hold in my hand? Is this Manuel? My mind shudders, is reluctant to believe it. That ingrate Manuel attacks with the sword an innocent Caesar? Suspicion, where are you driving my mind so hurriedly? We must make time for careful deliberation. The man who believes something too fast is easily ensnared in deception. What if under this guise a clever Sinon is seeking an easy path to our destruction? He would wish to keep our friend Manuel far from our side. This is treason’s primary device, to make suspect the loyalty of loyal subjects, so that treason can safely spread throughout the court.
spacerISA. My prince, your thoughts are too mild. Manuel is not a man of solid loyalty or of gentle heart, as you now think. He has a harsh character, a bold habit of mind, and is quick to act, but he has trained himself to feign a different character and nature in his face and words. My Caesar, look to the safety of your person. What this document says about the treachery that Manuel is planning is either true or false. If it is false, the efforts spent on your person’s security will do no harm. But if they are true, take care! It is too late to weep over carelessness, when trouble is already at the boil.
spacer AL. Thanks to your advice, I am changing my mind. So go and take this to John, who is groaning in prison. If he has told the truth, and if events show that his concern for my person was real, he will be freed from his foul cell and released from his chains. As is appropriate for his well-tested loyalty, he will have a noble share of my empire as a reward for his proven trustworthiness.



Alexius orders Adrastus to bring an armed band of soldiers with him to the hunt and to station them in hiding so that they can rush forth when summoned at Caesar’s command.


spacerAL. Come to Caesar, you faithful band of attendants. May what I command be done. Let each man use his sword and his strength for this hunt which I am organizing in the forest. Adrastus, we are planning a war against a great beast, and this demands warlike men in the field. Let this be your duty: Keep your soldiers ready at my command under the shade in the forest where the beech trees rise thick and entwine their branches in a close-knit tangle. If you appreciate Caesar’s righteous fury, do not go far from our side. Our purpose needs devotion skilled in arms.
spacerADR. I consider it my share of glory that I am able to be the loyal shield for Augustus' crown.
spacerAL. Go now. Perform what I ordered.



Henry is angry with Sebastus and Alexius, especially because he has been ordered to lay hands on Manuel. He makes deep plans against both.

HENRY alone

spacerO stars, turn aside Fate’s harsh destiny which now hangs over us from heaven! Phoebus, direct our way a more kindly face! O barbarous heaven! Have you not yet satisfied your thirst for our destruction? Are you, with your bright face shining in daylight, happy to see our tears? Is there now no hope of avoiding the menace of this ill-omened destiny? O harsh stars! O treachery so hateful to the earth! Will this oppressed realm fall an unhappy victim to this ruling tyrant, a tyrant whom no illustrious deed nor ancestral inheritance had marked for the purple, nor had any service done for the realm laid a path to the royal throne? O blind Fortune, worshipped by the mob! I swear by the stars, by that Olympus so long wrathful towards us, that my hand would like to knock your head, Fortune, and your rolling wheel to the ground, that wheel which you have taught to run, to bring disasters to us, dangers to our nation, massacres of good men, and doom to the people.
But why do I blame the stars’ hateful fires? Why reproach the malice of Fortune? I find that more gentle stars are burning for me in the skies, and in their light a righteous rage will blaze in my inmost heart. This is what I should do: These serpents will lie dead under my blows. That man who tyrannizes everyone, that magnate Sebastus, will learn to lay aside his pride and bear the yoke. If my strength supports my talents, today lovely liberty will see daylight. What did that madman’s brutal rage command? That I be the agent to throw Manuel into chains so that he may be buried in prison and lead a wretched life in darkness? He is making me a traitor to my country’s security. I don’t wish to stain my hand with such ugly crimes. I am not the executioner of myself, of the national welfare, of the kingdom, of this happy situation. I must take another path to forestalling this trouble. The worst disease does not have a mild remedy. An easy hand on the part of the surgeon is savage in its kindness if the violent disease demands the knife and the flame. That’s the way I should heal this disease. Let Manuel go free and let the emperor wear chains. That’s my decision. I call the gods and goddesses as witness that I will place Alexius laden with chains at the feet of his uncle. O kindly stars, put courage into my hand. Only concern for my countrymen and the nation’s security, and my efforts for the public weal make my hand so bold.



Andronicus is worried that Henry’s power (even if now friendly) may block his path to rule after Alexius’ death. He seeks a means for removing Henry. Surena offers his services in provoking a duel and killing Henry.


spacerAND. My friends, I commend the concern, affection, and loyalty which you have shown for our interests, but I still think it dangerous to reveal this operation to Henry.
spacerISM. The man’s strong heart and steady loyalty is well established.
spacerAND. Not to me.
spacerORON. For your person Henry will spill all the blood in his breast.
spacerAND. All of this may be true, but there is still a reasonable cause for worry. That bloodthirsty Manuel, my half-brother, but at the same time my enemy, had previously prepared royal glory for Henry by giving him his daughter as a marriage connection. As a result, if some sinister event or some revolution of Fate in its righteous course summons Alexius from life into his tomb, Henry would be the first to claim the right to rule.
spacerISM. A cautious heart looks carefully to the future. But I do not see very well what basis for hope has been laid for him.
spacerAND. A basis of popular support. Whoever seeks this harbor is borne this way by popular support. All this support blows into Henry’s lap.
spacerISM. He may have it all, but it is still a fickle breeze. It will suddenly fail, when it is carrying someone on wings of favor.
spacerAND. However that may be, he will gain definite help in his struggles from the Hungarians. That warlike race cherishes fire in their hearts, strength in their hands and swords, the temper of a lively spirit fills their breasts, as well as the icy courage of a victorious Mars. If that nation lends their strength to Henry, what destruction will fall onto the city? What tidal wave will sweep over the nation’s peace?
spacerISM. We have no less fire in ourselves nor less steel in our hands.
spacerAND. But the help of Western troops, Caesar will send his forces to seize the keys to the empire.
spacerORON. This may be true. Now how must we forestall this ultimate disaster?
spacerAND. Henry’s life must be dug out of his breast with the sword.
spacerISM. But we must paint such an affair in fine colors.
spacerAND. When he is least alert, then let him be furiously attacked so that he falls, struck down with a sudden blow.
spacer ORON. This can certainly be planned, but it’s not easily brought to a successful conclusion. Surrounded by his bodyguard of soldiers, he fears no one.
spacerISM. While everyone is bubbling with enthusiasm for the hunt and are scattered throughout the forest, and while they are going here and there on various paths, let him be overpowered by the sword of a faithful hand.
spacerAND. This will put the court into a huge uproar.
<SUR.> If you please, entrust the entire task to me, and today with this hand I will lay his dead, stinking corpse at your feet.
spacerAND. I would like you to tell me your means of doing this.
SUR. I will call this beast out to a single combat in the field, and at my first assault I will plunge my blade into his ribs.



From some of Alexius’ words Manuel suspects that his plot has been discovered. He separates from Henry, who attacks Alexius, but is repelled by Adrastus and his soldiers and flees.


spacerMAN. An unlucky star shone its light on my efforts today and has driven away all the beasts in the forest. None have shown themselves to my eyes.
spacerHEN. I have directed my wandering steps on unclear tracks through the pathless shade of the trees, and I have surveyed the glades all around to see if even the shadow of a beast or clear signs of any tracks might turn up, but no trace or mark of a beast has appeared.
spacerMAN. Let’s take our chances with a new effort. Even though she earlier refused her help, the Three-fold Goddess will grant our labors their longed-for prey.
spacerAL. Your thoughts have the savor of a wise soul. Since she rules the forest, perhaps Diana will favor her hunters so that they don’t fall prey to horrible monsters.
spacerMAN. Aside. He speaks in riddles which have too much of a point. The silence of this shadowy, quiet glade gives witness that there are no beasts in the shade.
spacerAL. Everything is lost when loyalty has been driven from one’s heart.
spacer MAN. Aside. “Everything is lost when loyalty has been driven from one’s heart.” The secrets of our hearts have been revealed. Our plot has come into the daylight. He accuses us of disloyalty. I must withdraw my person carefully into the hidden recesses of the forest.
spacerAL. Wherever feeds wild beasts in his bosom will vainly seek them in the shadows.
spacerHEN. Look, our prayers have brought him to us; a huge boar is here breathing out his wrath.
spacerAL. . I am watching a cruel beast which is even closer. This prey belongs to me. Let me cut down this beast’s fury with my hand. Henry assaults the emperor.
spacerADR. Soldiers, to arms! To arms! The emperor summons active hands. Traitor, drop your sword, and stop violating Caesar’s sacred life with your foul deeds. O treachery! Is this your loyalty, only now sworn to Caesar? They fight. Is this the reverence which you owe to the highest authority?
spacer HEN. He meets Manuel. blue Is this the indifference of your base soul? When liberty vanishes and every man is crushed under a harsh yoke? Is this your zeal for our nation? For our altars, hearths, household gods, and the gifts of good fortune? What vile treason to the gods!
spacerMAN. Fortune looks on our plans with a countenance too grim. O the listlessness of a too, too sluggish spirit!
spacerHEN. Why do you blame the attentions of Fortune? Blame rather your lukewarm spirit. He flees.
spacerADR. Augustus, the danger to your person has vanished. Base flight has rescued your enemy. Our concern for your security in this desert waste now advises us to return to the safety of your palace home.
AL. Does an evil destiny make sport of me like this? Am I a vulgar joke to my people? Do those men whom my favor embraced, whom I supported with eagerness, whose bosoms were practically filled with a flood of honor and favors, now viciously assault my person with their barbarous swords? Does the emperor deserve this? Does the good fortune of Augustus and my worshipful radiance deserve this? O Henry, are you the maelstrom of crime, a plague on the realm, a Charybdis of evil, a poisonous bite of the three-headed dog, a rabid tiger, a wicked Megaera, the Furies of fiery Acheron? Your fury came here with no effect, but my wounded majesty will blast you with vengeance. Adrastus, follow me as I make my way.



Henry grieves that his first schemes were foiled. He plans others.

HENRY alone

spacerThe dice of hostile fate fell foul; the Fates did not keep their promise; they upset the entire course of the matter. O stars, what lying light have you cast from the heavens? Your light only pretended to give help; you made sport of me with your rays. Instead they shot sharp darts into my wounded heart and have drained the life from my bosom. You are not stars, but rather comets, enemies of my destiny, sparks from the burning Styx, flames of the Furies! A thousand men conspired to accomplish this great deed, but when the stadium of opportunity was opened, I stood alone. An evil Fate betrayed me alone, but protected my thousand co-conspirators. Am I Henry, am I the only one with an unblemished life, with zeal for my country’s welfare clear in my heart? Will I be dragged as the only defendant before Caesar’s tribunal? Will I pay for this alone? Cruel heaven! Keep going, if you can do more: Gather your clouds, break the skies with thunderbolts and spit out storms, stir up whirlwinds. I will never become faithless to my country. Unhappy man! Where may I find good advice for my situation? On one side my ancestral home demands that I escape there and promises me a hiding place. On the other side Andronicus summons me to his camp. Whom shall I obey? If I extend my stay in this area, I am certain to die without honor or the chance for revenge, guilty of a crime with a ruined reputation. Fool! Why are you harping on well-known matters? Tongue, you are betraying the secrets of my heart. Should my courage then fail at the first attempt? When the ship meets contrary winds, should the sailors not ply the oars as best they can? O base, cowardly man, forgetting your race, do you dare consider the ugly plan of fleeing? The citadel does not fall in ruins at the first blow. When a warrior’s efforts are in vain, when he is driven back once from the walls, he must make a second attempt. Even if a drop cannot break marble by falling on it once, still by falling frequently it finally hollows it out. Let the empire see that Henry’s devotion continues unblemished. He has always been willing to pass through known dangers to defend his nation’s ancient glories with bold hands. Arise, o loyal spirit and make plans worthy of your talents. Overcome Sebastus’ wicked arrogance, and crush that haughty man who treads like a tiger over the dead bodies of the innocent. Positive hopes are shining; now add your bold hands to this gleam of hope. Here are the hinges on which the quality of heroism turns. Be daring with your hands and hopeful of the outcome in your heart.

Go to Act III