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ACT V, SCENE i
After looking for an opportunity [cp. Act II.vi], Surena falls into a dispute with Henry and is killed by him. Andronicus intervenes and condemns Henry to death.
SURENA, HENRY, ANDRONICUS
SUR. Addressing Henry. You conceited man, have you not yet laid aside the harsh pride of your inflated arrogance? Everyone, as this moment demands, is flocking to Andronicus, is praising him openly, and is acclaiming him as their Caesar with joyful voice. You alone are denying him this service which is his due. You alone keep silence amid the echos of applause. This is the same as begrudging our new Caesar his latest honor and his newly-acquired glory. Your arrogance shows you to be a traitor to your country and to Augustus.
HEN. No conceit bubbles in this breast; no deceit lurks here. My worries and concerns have not yet steered my eager feet to show homage to our new king. What kind of arrogance can this be charged with? Or what trace of conceit? I certainly do not deny Andronicus whatever is due him, but I am right to be somewhat hesitant, even though I know well that the serene radiance of Augustus’ countenance will open to me and that I will have free access to his friendship and his heart. For he well knows that I exerted much effort for his glory, and that I had a hand in that destiny which he now enjoys. But my hesitant nature now keeps me from the court and suggests that I move slowly to gain Andronicus’ praise.
SUR. Surely a modest demeanor and a sincere face well conceal the swollen arrogance of that hidden ambition which your swashbuckling words express.
HEN. But I am telling you the truth.
SUR. Someone else should tell us! Whoever boasts of his own deeds deserves less praise from anyone else. Even if no one else praises him, that man who boasts his own deeds is condemned by those very boasts.
HEN. I’m not bragging about imaginary deeds. What I did is well-known, and an honest court will attest to my loyalty.
SUR. A loyalty which shows it is intent on its own profit.
HEN. Whoever is retailing this is a liar. My goal has always been the welfare of my country.
SUR. What are these deeds you brag about?
HEN. Your tongue’s freedom of insult is kindling righteous anger in me.
SUR. The truth usually arouses anger.
HEN. If the situation should demand, this hand of mine will prove that these are lies.
SUR. Your feet, more likely.
HEN. Feel free to try. Draw your sword and like a proper soldier give proof that your hand is quicker than your blathering Mars. [They fight; Henry is victorious. The first man offended gives the second blow. Die now, and learn in Hell to abuse the deeds of honorable men! Andronicus enters.
AND. What madness put this weapon in your hand? What madness drove your wicked sword to a duel, in this sacred place, inside the royal palace, with this rash effrontery? Is this how you act rashly to show your allegiance to Caesar? Is this how your sacrilegious hand removes from life my faithful friend? As I look on, your Caesar and your lord?
HEN. He himself provoked me to lay hand on my sword.
AND. Criminal, be silent! Your thoughtlessness will bring the same punishment as the crime you perpetrated. Throw this evil person in the gloom of prison. Let him blot out such a wicked deed with his own blood.
HEN. My emperor, hear my defense, as the laws of justice demand.
AND. Justice demands that the defendant be dragged away in chains.
HEN. Not without a hearing.
AND. When the crime is so clear, what benefit is it to hear the defendant?
HEN. The case is not yet so clear.
AND. To his attendants. Do what I order.
HEN. My emperor, I did you no harm at all.
AND. That man who draws his sword against my friend certainly does harm me.
HEN. He was the first to harm me with insults. He called me a traitor.
AND. That’s not an insult, since the facts confirm it. Your offense grows even worse from the very fact you use to show yourself innocent.
HEN. If my case does not plead for my life well enough, then let my blood and your pity plead for it.
AND. Whoever is not afraid of contaminating his blood with such an atrocious crime does not deserve any pardon for that crime. Pity is damaging, when it gives impunity to rash acts which do not deserve it.
HEN. For a brief moment cool the heat in your mind, and give some respite to your wrath. Who is this man whom you declare guilty in your first fury? He is that man to whom your fortune has a great debt. I was the first to pave your way to your royal status. I put the diadem on your head. Now you repay my good will with an unjustified death? What is this but the wicked ingratitude?
AND. What was done with your help paid off your debt. Now the crime of lèse majesté demands revenge. Take this man, who deserves even worse, to his base death.
HEN. O tyrant, so savage, cruel, barbarous, hateful to the holy stars! I see now that I am guilty of a capital crime, that I deserve a thousand penalties, deserve to perish by a thousand deaths, just because I devoted myself to your glory, so that you might sit as king on your lofty throne. I confess that this is my real crime. So rage on, you Fates. Let me be a lowly object of scorn. Let this be the reward for my services, that I perish infamously. You servile mob, clear the path to my doom. That day will soon come when the stars will be touched with pity and will show this ingrate with a blast of vengeance that my loyalty was true.
ACT V, SCENE ii
In order to forestall the imminent danger to Alexius’ person, John and the envoy of Aquitania decide to rescue him from Andronicus’ cruelty.
JOHN Your countenance speaks of grief. The hidden wound in your heart is visible. Engraved on your forehead is the statement: “Caesar is in danger from vile plots.”
ENV. I admit that Augustus’ welfare, which is close to falling from its lofty perch, is bringing dark clouds of grief to my face. Even amid these great troubles, he could find some relief for the state and some real security for his person, if he were willing to remove himself from here in honorable flight, as I have urged.
JOHN Does he not yet see the cloud hanging over his head, the tempest threatening his nation, and death coming to the people?
ENV. I showed him all the dangers, I entreated, I urged flight, I offered myself as a comrade in this flight, I explained the national emergency which forbids Caesar to expose himself to such danger. I had no success.
JOHN Your honest advice could urge him to flee. Why does he remain here in opposition to your advice?
ENV. His answer was that it is a monstrous evil to suspect his uncle of such a wicked act that even barbarians would not commit.
JOHN O you mad Caesar! What danger faces you! There is a remedy for this trouble here at hand, but he unwisely avoids taking it when it is offered. He is like the sick man tortured by thirst: he chooses his own harm. Now how will we face this trouble? Shall I desert my unhappy Caesar in this tempest? My loyalty and holy feeling for my own kin forbids this.
ENV. Every remedy for such troubles has been exhausted, since he refuses to follow good advice.
JOHN In order that his patient not surrender to death, the expert physician takes all precautions with a crazed invalid sick with delirium. If he refuses to follow helpful advice, the physician lays forceful hands on the delirious patient.
ENV. It is wicked to lay hands on Caesar Augustus.
JOHN We may use force on the king, indeed we must, when that force rescues his person and promotes the public welfare. I will tell you what my spirit suggests. Station a ship in the harbor fitted with sails and ready to set to sea at our command. If Fate’s wrath roars in and attacks Alexius with its remorseless spear, we will snatch him up, rush him out of the whirlwind, and put him in a safe place far from this city, far from the tyrant’s viciousness, until this evil tempest of crushing wrath subsides, and we have definite signs of hope that promise him the right to rule again.
ENV. I like this. But this business demands hurried preparation. Whatever is dragged out means a delay which comes near to death.
JOHN So your first job will be, under guise of your departure, to select a suitable ship and to choose a Tiphys for the ship. With cautious steps I will enter the court to discover the plans, actions, and interests of our new Caesar. The moment demands this.
ACT V, SCENE iii
Andronicus accuses Xene of treason. He declares her guilty, passes sentence of death, and compels Alexius to agree to it.
ANDRONICUS, ALEXIUS, GEORGE, STEPHEN, ISAAC, OTHER NOBLES
AND. If the kindly Fates summon anyone to rule the world and place him on the throne, they do not exempt him from suffering tempests in his spirit. Whoever was previously unhappy will see his miseries doubled because of this very purple. He will force hateful Fate's dire menace to bring harm to himself through these attractive torments. That hour which allowed me to sit on this lofty throne and robe myself with the purple was also the hour which added the cares and worries which accompany this honor. It also stole my peace of mind, that radiance of a golden spirit. If I was not unhappy before, I have learned to be so. Fear and ambition are the twin poles of a lofty destiny. A king’s fortune always revolves around these two. However eminent he is, he pays an unpleasant, heavy tribute to his position by his suffering. But — and this exceeds all bounds — a king’s position compels him to stain his august hands with the blood of his own kin, and to condemn to death those whom the laws of Nature command him to love, if they violate the laws of the public welfare. The title “king” is useless and is a mere shadow if the king shrinks from summoning the guilty to the punishment which the laws of Themis demand, even if the offenders are born of a noble lineage and trace their descent from the same veins of blood.
For this reason, I curse the day when an evil destiny raised me high and commanded my reluctant hand to grasp the scepter. For this reason, a more bitter grief is forcing itself into my vitals. I swear by Cynthius’ f lashing torch that I would prefer to lay aside my position as Caesar’s partner and to be called the partner of grim death. Nevertheless, one’s destiny must be borne, even if it is barbarous, and what I would like to conceal, I am forced to reveal. The Augusta (Permit me, o grief!), the Augusta, Caesar’s mother, falls under the sway of sacred Themis, since she is guilty of betraying the realm. Before his death, Henry was careless and betrayed all of Xene’s crimes and gave positive proof. He said that Xene would demand my death. German and Hungarian allies are unfurling their banners for her, and their fury is rapidly approaching and bringing ruin on our nation. That person, who worked for my death, should shed her blood and fall. Loyal princes, what do you say to this? As he died, Henry proved Xene to be guilty.
STEPH. She is guilty of open rebellion. Thus says sacred Themis.
AND. What does the senate say to this.?
STEPH. The entire senate in one voice condemns that defendant whom injury to the sovereign has made guilty.
AND. Therefore, as Astraea’s sacred law commands, hand me ink and paper. With fearful hand I write the decree for her death. [He writes, then shows it to Alexius.] The righteous laws of equity guide my hand. Caesar, append your noble signature. The present case requires this, fairness demands it, the nation’s welfare requires it, and vengeance for crime commands it.
AL. I see something monstrous, a perversion unworthy of my feelings. A son should sign the warrant for his mother’s death? That’s the same as endorsing a sentence of death for myself. I am not a wild beast nor a Getan nourished with bestial milk. Mother, what emotions would touch your heart if you saw me, your wicked offspring, agreeing to your execution? Would this not serve to redouble the miseries in my royal heart? In His kindness may the Lord keep this crime far from me. I will not set my august hand to this document. Inside my breast is enough blood, and I will readily spill it for my mother and with my mother. O mother, if you could only see how many torments rend my breast, how many tears for you fill my bosom, you would bewail my fate and yours. I should condemn my innocent mother as guilty? I should command death for the one who gave me life? Shall I, a bloodthirsty son, draw blood from that bosom on whose milk I was fed as an infant? O stars, forbid that any day should look on my being so wicked and so criminal. No law of justice will compel me to do such a wicked deed. Long live my beloved mother! May Fate hurl her flaming torches of frenzy against me before my mind contrives such a wicked crime.
AND. Listen to me, noble senators. At your feet I am placing my royal crown and I unburden my hand of the scepter and give it back. I return to you the honor which you were pleased to confer on me. If you decide to look on the Augusta’s great wickedness and leave it unpunished, you will not have me as Caesar. If the crime of rebellion can be pardoned, who will not feel free to be wicked? Whoever permits any crime to once go unpunished is sowing fertile seed for the next crime. To ignore and leave unpunished those crimes which great men perpetrate is a harmful type of pardon, and Andronicus cannot endure this any longer. I now lay aside the radiance on my head and the scepter. I resume my own career, unconcerned with public affairs and living for myself alone.
EVERYONE Let the Augusta perish! Long live Andronicus for many years!
AND. If this traitor’s evil deed goes unpunished, how does an extended life benefit me? Only to the extent that I will bewail this nation as crushed under every kind of evil. Augustus, how great is my grief over your love! If you can moderate this feeling, Caesar, then you will be able to enjoy the peace which you long for. The power of a harsh necessity forces this on you. If you wish to continue ruling, you should protect the laws of holy Themis. The case for your safety turns on this point.
AL. Oh how very harsh is the power of necessity! [Signs the warrant.] Take this document signed with Augustus’ name.
ACT V, SCENE iv
Alexius is unhappy that he endorsed the death sentence for Xene. He then makes ready to commit suicide, but he is stopped by Angelus and John.
ALEXIUS, JOHN, ANGELUS They remain onstage.
AL. O darkling shades! O terrible troops of Furies! O whatever is hidden in the farthest reaches of dire Avernus! Come into the daylight, rend me and carry me into the Stygian swamp! How heavy is the pain of necessary cruelty to one’s own race and family! This pain is more than that felt by whatever groans, locked in Acheron’s caverns or tossed by the tempests of that swamp’s brimstone waves. O stars, do you look on my wickedness and do nothing? Are you not yet kindling the sluggish clouds into flame? Are blasts of lightning not yet falling as vengeance on my head? O sun in your terror, are you not yet driving your heavenly chariot backwards in its course, when this too, too dire evil of a Thyestean feast defiles your gazing eyes? Cruel air! Wicked air! Hateful air! Are you not ashamed to breathe on this freak of nature as I inhale and exhale? O land, when my feet step on you, are you not shaking off this load? Are you not yet gaping open so that you may grab me with yawning jaws and swallow me down?
JOHN Caesar, you are making yourself a prey to your own grief with this hasty attitude. The wings of the wind will carry off into the empty air those sorrows which you nurse in your heart. Take better counsel in your mind.
AL. Are you saying I’m not a tyrant? If heaven refuses to send on me its arrows and flaming blasts of fire, if Erebus hold back, if the triad of black Eumenides fears to break the bars of Avernus’ cavern and pour pitch down through the air to burn this freak of nature, then you beasts from the caves, you wild animals from the jungle, you fly at my breast and tear my sinews with your harsh teeth. Are you men placing some limit on natural wrath? I suppose you are ashamed to rage against a savage matricide.
ANG. The stars well know your upright nature; receive some positive relief for your grief from this fact. More to the point, look to the safety of your person, since final destruction is not far off.
AL. Even if pity fails to move the stars, Orcus, or the wild beasts of the forest so that they rise up and avenge my crime, then my hand at least will arm itself for this overdue revenge. It is right that the evil son should perish by means of that hand which the evil son employed to bring death to his mother.
JOHN Augustus Caesar, stay away from that sword. It will do you no good. Let good sense control your grief with the reins of reason. If your heart is innocent, then turn the strength of your sword against the wicked, and as the present moment demands, look to the safety of your person.
AL. Now that my mother is dead, why should I live my wicked life? I have no love for ruling, no interest in my own safety. Death is my one delight. Wherever I turn the gaze of my wicked eyes, I seem to see Xene wandering, bewailing, and sighing over her fate — or rather over the monstrous cruelty of her son. She mixes threats and words: “O cruel matricide! Now that you have slaked your thirst with your mother’s blood, the Fates will exact their revenge in your blood.”
ACT V, SCENE v
Andronicus charges that Alexius has entered into an anti-imperial pact with the Aquitanians. Alexius declares his innocence, but in vain, and he is stripped of his imperial insignia and condemned to death.
ANDRONICUS. NOBLES, AND THOSE ABOVE
AND. Friends, we are betrayed! Secret treachery has boldly burst out into the daylight. Scarcely has the Hydra been shorn of one head when it sprouts and grows another, even more dire. Alas! What unprecedented wickedness! That man whom God has ordered to govern the Empire and to protect our native soil with his avenging sword, that very man now drives his sword into the Empire’s vitals, pulls down and destroys the institutions of our beloved country. Alexius has recruited an Aquitanian army as his ally, to overpower his own realm and to offer his own uncle, whom that brute calls inhuman, as chosen prey for a foreigner’s fury. My life is well known; my deeds lie open for the realm to see. What fault does he charge me with? What crime has made me the guilty party? Princes, your anxieties will grow along with this lion cub. If in his youth he pushes ahead with the destruction of the empire and the collapse of our national institutions, what will he do in his maturity, when he controls the state and crushes your necks under his harsh heel? O Caesar, unworthy are you of the sacred symbols of rule and unprotective of the national welfare of the realm. If you did not want me to wield the scepter along with you as a partner, why did you summon me to the throne, to a royal position, even though I was seeking a more modest goal? O holy stars, support us, lest this entire imperial mechanism collapse through one man’s crime! And this collapse is coming near, since the Aquitanian has now scrutinized our hearts and will slake his fury’s thirst with our blood.
AL. O senate and princes, I will say a few words to you, not so that I may disprove any accusation which I feel I am guilty of — indeed, I know that I am spotless and that the recesses of my mind are free of any stain — but so that my country not be unaware of my deeds and thus make judgments which are at odds with the facts. We do not deny at all what is true. The Aquitanian pledged his complete loyalty to me. Now, what crime lurks in this? It is not unjust to make agreements with one who keeps faith. Indeed, the welfare of the realm requires that kings keep their neighbors friendly by treaty connections with them. He also offered his daughter to me as a connection via a marriage treaty. I pledged nothing in return; no statement of mine expressed consent. In fact I interjected that the senate’s opinion must be heard. Now if you can call this “unprecedented wickedness,” then tell me what man could ever deserve any praise? Or what man's deeds could be called sensible? However, I admit that I am guilty, not because I returned trust for trust with the Aquitanian, or because I damaged any of your laws, or because I acted injuriously against the nation’s welfare, but because I have been heaping injuries on my own head. I have offered my trust too readily to a tyrant who has been so often guilty of crimes, treacherous towards his country, a perjurer against heaven, a scorner of the rights of his own blood, of honor, and of religious men. He is totally lacking in gratitude, he is fierce, savage, merciless, barbarous, a man raised among tigers for evil purposes.
AND. Shameless boy, stop dishonoring with your tongue that Caesar whom you now find to be the avenger of your crimes. Place at my feet your crown, that glory of a revered head, as well as the scepter and the purple robe. Start learning to endure the laws for private citizens, you who never knew how to give royal laws in a reasonable way.
AL. He addresses the Senate. Is this your way of dealing with a revered person? If there is anyone here who is loyal to his Caesar, let him take his weapon in hand and avenge such a crime. Will no one show his loyalty to Alexius in his moment of danger? O cruel Fate! Treacherous, ungrateful, wicked!
AND. You complain against the contrary course of your destiny in vain. You should complain of your treason, which has exposed itself in the daylight of its own accord.
AL. O barbarian, accursed on earth and in heaven! I am grievi g, but for my own act, that I believed you to be loyal to the nation and to me.
AND. By your own statement you have proven what the entire court thinks and what decent citizens say about me, namely that I am completely trustworthy and intent on the nation’s greater good. The princes have therefore commanded me to ascend the throne, and that you should be dragged to the fearsome axe. The case which makes you guilty is this: your pledge of loyalty to a foreign prince, and the promise of a marriage with the Aquitanian king’s daughter as a pact sealed by marriage. These charges are clearer than bright daylight. So die. This is what all good men, the laws of nature, and your own guilt command. [Andronicus addresses the Warder.] This is the task which is incumbent on your loyalty: Before Phoebus submerges his wheels in the Ocean, lop off this disgraced head in a well-deserved death.
ACT V, SCENE vi
While Alexius’ death is being arranged, John arrives, and now proven loyal, offers to die either for Alexius or with him.
ALEXIUS, THE WARDER. JOHN
AL. Submit to your fate, Alexius. The kindly stars have moved as you wished. Now it is not just possible to die, but necessary. Dear mother, your unjust son is now following you. I would continue living, if I had not sacrificed you to death. Still, I will gain this advantage from dying, that my eyes will be prevented from seeing this cavern of tyrants, this cave of dragons, this lake of hissing serpents. It is less burdensome to face a premature death than to drag out my dying amid deadly anxiety about my impending doom. I am dying, but spotlessly, as I call the stars to witness. God, the inexorable Judge, will follow up my demise. I already picture to myself God’s avenging hand threatening my infamous uncle, and hurling His three-pronged flaming thunderbolts at that perverse person. I am dying, but neither terror nor anxiety about death is troubling my mind. A spotless way of life knows no fear. But you whose sword drains the blood from my breast will not long live with this crime unavenged. The life of kings is the plaything of the Fates. I am dying, but I die willingly. What more do you ask? The soul that hides in this bosom does not know how to tremble with fear before the blade. Let the grim hour of death bring on that moment when I am ordered to lay aside these earthly trappings. I will spread my arms wide as death comes and will happily undergo my fate. Perhaps Fortune will slake her greedy thirst for blood with my demise, and will spare my people in her exhaustion. But if you decide to act more savagely in my punishment, look, I am ready for more, whatever your fury can do against me. Why stretch out the delay? A nod is enough for one willing to die. Command it.
JOHN Augustus, halt your step. Where are you hurrying so unhappily? Caesar, accept this final embrace, the sign of my love for you. You viewed me as harmful and untrustworthy, when I was giving advice about your affairs. But now you belatedly see how my love would have benefitted you. The madness of the present hour would have passed by if you had not refused to trust my words.
AL. I do recognize, even if belatedly, the trustworthiness of your upright mind, which has certainly been proven. But those better times when I might give you love in return have passed. However I can do what no one can stop me from doing: I can honor your affection and cherish what I used to reject.
JOHN No passage of time has blotted out that love for you which I once could feel, and none of this baleful fate’s fury will blot it out. Led by love, I rushed here, and (if fate permits) I will redeem the safety of your person by shedding my own blood.
AL. O splendid depths of your mind! Where is the fiery heat of your love pushing you? Watch out that your pity doesn’t push you into danger. When I had power, I did not want to follow your advice. Now, when I would like to, the Fates prevent me from following it. As for what remains, yield to the course of the Fates and endure your troubles with a peaceful heart, the same kind of heart with which you see me enduring my own disasters. But if I was ungrateful for your dear affection, pardon your grieving friend for this crime and continue to love him, since misjudgment took away all the radiance of my reason.
JOHN Augustus, this hardly turns aside a lover’s heart.
AL. Avoid the word “Augustus.” I was Augustus, but the stars now command me to lay aside this disguise. This name belongs to your father, and (if a favoring heaven is telling me the truth) you too will bear the lovely name of Augustus. May the fates be ever just and long preserve you. May the radiance of rule pass to your children.
JOHN May the kindly favor of the celestials turn this aside. If the inner feelings of my heart speak truth and are not leading me astray, you still have some hope of life. If this hope turns out to be vain, then two lives will perish in one execution.
AL. That blind affection which is making sport with your mind deserves pardon. The thread of my hopes for life or position — if any could survive—has been broken. Fortune’s rotating wheel will raise you up. Enjoy the kind favors of that better destiny which heaven is preparing for you. It is the quality of a noble mind to try in every way to rescue himself from fate’s yoke, while it still threatens him from afar. But when it begins to press its weight on his neck, then he should stand with the steadfastness of a lofty spirit and look on good or bad fortune with an equal gaze.
WARDER Cut short your speech. Augustus’s commands summon me.
AL. I must go to my death.
JOHN No fortune will tear me from your side. Either the same axe will give death to both, or one refuge will receive both equally on the peaceful shores of life.
ACT V, SCENE vii
Alexius’ death is deplored. There is a conspiracy against Andronicus’ hated cruelty.
ANGELUS, STEPHEN, THE ENVOY OF AQUITANIA
ANG. His death was decreed. Alexius has trodden the final stage of his life. What greater example of cruelty has ever come into the light of day? Andronicus, the uncle, condemned his own blood, his own nephew. What pity can be expected from that wild beast who spares no blood, either his own or an innocent’s?
STEPH. Is this disaster disarranging my mind? Is it a dream? Is it only phantoms who sport with my eyes? Is it a true picture of the facts that floods my vision? I don’t know. Astonishment stuns my mind, but anger is ejecting this astonishment from my heart, and serious rage is filling all my vitals.
EN. You are feeling righteous rage against a wickedness that no tiger would dare nor lion attempt. The rage which will inflame my king will not be sluggish, and a few days will show him raising the standards of vengeance.
ANG. His standards will bring us as much joy as this unhappy disaster has brought grief. I call as witness the Thunderer’s hand, which is so slow to hurl the thunderbolt, and this day, which looks on this crime with its clear light! Slumber will not close my weary eyes before I rip the life from that regicide’s barbarous, wicked heart and send his blood as a sacrifice to Acheron.
STEPH. Let that barbarian blood be drained from his veins, let him be torn limb from limb, let his sinews be rent and the dogs devour the scattered parts of his corpse. The laws of civilization demand an uncivilized penalty for this tyrant.
EN. Let the Governor of righteous minds nod his approval your plans. The hour will not be far off when my king prepares his revenge. His soldiers, in packed ranks and laden with victorious laurels, are shaping their hands and sharpening their swords to avenge your slain king. Where the plains are broad, these soldiers will raise a fearsome crop for a fierce Mars, and this dreadful lion will then learn how to fear.
ANG. Look, here he comes himself. Let us turn our steps away. No one safely meets a furious tiger.
ACT V, FINAL SCENE
Andronicus exults over the successful outcome of his hopes. He learns from the warder of the deaths of Alexius and of his son John, who had offered himself to the executioner in place of Alexius. Andronicus curses his own cruelty.
AND. Bind the blossoming wreath of laurel around Augustus’ handsome head. At last, at last my vengeance is done. That serpent who was emperor has been crushed by my courage, and his greedy thirst for slaughter has been quenched. He has given to Andronicus the reins of this huge empire and the radiance of the scepter. My hopes and prayers could not have imagined a higher level of glory. Enjoy, Andronicus, enjoy that good fortune which came on its own accord into your grasp with a flood of abundance and poured all its wealth into your hands. Now, spirit, we are supreme! My merits acquired the name Augustus for me, and now Fortune is bound at my feet and is worshipping Caesar. My concern now is that she stay seated there, fixed in place, and that for the future she forget her own nature, ignore any treacherous impulse to flee, and learn to be a slave — that Fortune who long ruled as a harsh mistress.
WARDER O great Emperor, prostrate at your sacred feet I bring you a massive crime which makes me tremble, worthy of not just one death, but of a thousand. I am guilty — although a mistake can lessen my guilt — and my rash impulse was blameworthy. If you wish, Augustus, take your sword in your hand, slash me, and plunge me into fiery Avernus.
AND. Aside. What kind of contrary wave is Fortune now sending? What tempest is now on its way to meet me? To the warder, Has this boy escaped my furious hands by some secret scheme or violence? Has he slipped away from death and is now making a mockery of his fate?
WARDER. He certainly did try, but he found no escape. Fate stood in his way. He succumbed where the harbor opens to the sea. The waves gave a watery tomb to this guilty corpse.
AND. You are telling me of things I did not command. Who ordered that he be executed at the harbor? Or that his limbs should be sunk in a watery tomb? I ordered that the offender die in the royal tower.
WARDER Hold on for a moment while I tell you the rest. I had shut the offender in the tower so that he could not slip away anywhere. I had given him some time during which the force of his initial grief might abate. He was heard to express his grief in moans for a short time, then he suddenly was silent and stood there astounded like a marble statue. So then the executioner entered to carry out your orders with the sword. Turning his gaze, he saw a young man standing at the wall, and he cut off his head with drawn blade and struck him dead to the floor. I myself entered the cell to view the corpse swimming in its own gore. But alas! What grief!
AND. Curb your lamentations and tell me the entire thing in order.
WARDER I saw — but again grief refuses to let my tongue do its job, even as it wants to speak — I saw not Alexius, but your son John swimming in his own blood.
AND. O Fate! What a doom you are preparing for me now! An accident caused this mistake? Or was it on purpose?
WARDER An accident and a trick of circumstance. When the offender Alexius was walking to his cell, John was there and spotted his beloved Alexius being dragged to the cells. He asked either that Alexius be discharged from this sentence or that he himself meet his final day in the same execution. I refused his request, but he followed us to the tower. I did not stop him, wishing to make some allowance for their long-standing love and to give them some relief in their grief for one other. In the interval, they exchanged clothes so that the offender might have a path open for his escape. The trick worked as they hoped. When the executioner thought he was striking the offender, he struck John.
AND. O the two-fold pain of my affliction! His father’s consolation has perished, and Alexius goes on living for my downfall!
WARDER. Augustus, where is your grief carrying you away? Your nephew perished as well. As he continued to flee, I hastened after the fugitive, and I caught him where the harbor meets the sea. As he was preparing to embark on the Aquitanian king’s ship, I lopped off his head with my sword and dropped his headless corpse into the ocean waves. At that, the people were upset and shouted against me. They took stones in their hands and pursued me. But I escaped and in this asylum, prostrate at your feet, I declare myself culpable. If you acknowledge my guilt, then pierce my breast with this blade or lop my head in revenge.
AND. Depart, o twining laurels! Let the gloomy cypress bind my head. What benefit is there to be worshipped with royal honors if the sinister Fates always stand in the way of my hopes? O, too, too quickly did I believe that this sinister destiny lay supine at my feet. O son, refuge for his father, the sole hope of a great lineage, the foundation of my line, o son, you have fallen! Thus holy Themis has decreed: The mistakes of a wicked father are punished by another mistake. I am leaving to recover my son’s remains from the cell. To the audience. Worship with me on bended knee the sacred stars, and carve this deeply into the recesses of your heart: The penalty for earlier crime is crime repeated.