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ACT IV, SCENE i
EARTH, WATER, AIR, FIRE; CHORUS, HOPE, FRANCE.
EARTH I, mankind’s Mother Earth,who have brought forth the harvests and the gifts of corn from the fertile furrow, now prevent my accustomed veins from pouring forth good things, on Jove’s command, nor, though being the Mother of All, do I open my bowels for gold, nor jasper, nor the customary rich honors of gemstones.
WATER With my delights I used to feed the hard inhabitants of earth, but now I strive to deny them the gifts which I unstintingly and kindly gave, because the worship of the Gods lies neglected, and the insolent forms of tyrannical wickedness prevail.
AIR I, who used to pour forth the living breath of life on the earth, and used to nourish seeds throughout all things with my penetrating breath, and was accustomed to free dry harvests from their chains by storms of falling rain, I shall withhold my pleasing scents, and in exchange for the crimes which the haughty race of men have done to me by their wickedness, I shall reclaim my lost scourges. I shall grow thick with damp heat, and stir up burning sickness, unleashing the sonorous thunderbolts of pestilential Africa.
FIRE And it becomes me, who come closest to the seat of the gods, to vindicate the heavenly beings with a whirlwind of devouring flame, The kindly heat which used to warm limbs numbed with cold shall deny the gift of its kindliness, withholding beams and seeds of life, or it shall blaze in swift flame, announcing to the world a conflagration that will burn with racing fire. Neither the wonders of fiery Etna, nor the flames of Hestia or the threefold Chimaera or Theon with its conflagration burn more, nor the scorching flames pouring forth from the blazing sun
EARTH I, prodigal with my gifts, alone am the mother who gave birth to mankind. Ungrateful men, I remove them from life, always maintaining them in the strangest destinies of horrible death. I do not employ treacherous bad faith in paying interest on my loans, I am not stingy with my fragrances or eye-pleasing colors. And in exchange for such good merits I am tossed in the waves or mangled in straits, or I am compelled to open my veins for miners or disgorge my sacred bowels for my wealthy children, giving them gemstones and the delights of jewels. From their blood and bones I shall secretly wreak punishment for their treachery, and curb these wretches’ wild hearts with heavy poverty.
WATER And I, who foster the parched earth with my liquor, the proud gifts of a celestial mind, I swear an equal ruination for its self-serving wickedness since it has committed unspeakable deeds, with its inhabitants’ minds carefree. I shall allow them to enjoy the gift of nourishing intelligence, but I shall forbid Thetis, joined in her marriage-bed, to bless with grain these men who undeservedly enjoy my goods, nor will I water their crops with my rains. I shall not pour forth my dews with my wonted favor, nor shall I give the wave-cutting ship an easy voyage; there shall be no lack of sandbanks nor of Charybdis’ tempest, with the north wind, fighting against the cruel southerly and savage westerly, and the wanton easterly will drive and sink them in the backwards-flowing waves.
AIR Whoever, thanks to me, enjoy the sunlight or the gift of life, the lovable breezes, and the produce of the fertile soil, when Jove, having sent heat, cherishes me in his heaven, they will experience the change from the brighter light that Phoebus grants, when night’s darkness falls and they feel their lives overwhelmed by countless troubles, and perceive their lives being shattered by the dangers of a mighty foe or by dreadful famine, so that they will long for the kingdom of Dis, thinking it more welcoming, and deem the shadows of Hades an improvement on the rays of Phoebus’s bright shining light, comparing it to thirst among the waters, and hunger amidst a banquet. This is what those who cheat me of the good things granted by Jove deserve, so that they, thanks to whom I lack the living heat of the celestial bodies, are in their turn deprived of my gifts, and oppressed by the evils they had contrived for themselves.
FIRE Called forth from heaven, I used to contain a spirit joined by warmth to the body, and by the light of a wise mind I used to direct the counsels of the heart, as when kings gave laws to their subjects or when they laid their yoke upon the spirits of their unruly people: But the ferocity of Man’s raging mind put an end to my glory and drove me out again from my earthly homes. Hence those men who have conceived a disdain for the heavenly gifts offered them are governed by fury’s impulse and dark mist and, just as beasts caught in treacherous nets, so they stray about, terrified by the wiles and threats of their enemies. Let this be the ending for stubborn France, by whom virtue, heaven-sent to be its companion, is disdained.
CHORUS Violent Mars once washed away by war the doomed kingdom of Troy, and he punished the authors of crimes and the impiously daring violation of the heavenly gods’ temples. He stirs up the Furies from Hell or threatens misfortunes at the hands of foreign kingdoms, or he arms citizens incensed with mutual hatred. The green Aemathian fields were soaked, dyed with the blood of Rome’s citizens, and the Tyrian brothers (o the horror!) perished in mutual slaughter. The soldiers of Marathon are known to him, and the troops who fled from Pylos to the warm baths of Asia, and the arrogant cohorts of the Roman lord defeated in a fight at Carrhae. Already the signs of impending sudden destruction are abroad, the waves of the raging sea storm, and the ocean swells with the wind. From the skies rain threatens the crops with disaster, threatening to give us Pyrrha’s centuries afresh. The sky flashes with lightning, towers are pulled down, the ancient monuments of kings are leveled, and frequent lightning bolts strike the mountains. Nor do the shrines dedicated to the cult of heaven lack portents, a wild storm roams the fanes as if the gods detested their homes, once known for piety. May the gods prevent unexpected Fate sfrom portending the imminent end of the world’s mistress France, with whom let the whole death-doomed world take a fall.
FRANCE, HOPE, CHORUS
FRANCE Whoever you are that lifts your exalted head to the heavens, proud in your haughtiness, and you who are mighty, rejoicing in your splendid fortune, and trusting in the good things obtained by wars, behold me and learn the lessons of the fickle goddess, who drags you, unwitting and inadequately supported, from your secure seat down into sudden ruin that she may set you on slippery ground. Whatever the outstretched Tigris sees strove to bless me as its mistress with a mutual gift, and whatever the dry land contains, or the islands which the wandering sea in the bosom of its ebbing and flowing waters, and whatever lies beneath the poles of heaven, all these things were subject to me. My sister-land of mighty Germany only tolerated receiving commands from me, being unfamiliar with the Roman general’s laws, when that barbarous nation had overflowed from its national boundaries and exchanged its rule for a yoke, compelled by my hand. But even if that rebuff of an external enemy was a trifling matter, Rome, that mistress of nations and capital of the world, saw me given to her as her mother, and saw that whoever bore arms against my royal standards was shattered, since the trusty power of the strength wherewith I then was thriving made me an object of fear to menacing peoples. And yet the beauty of my face made me lovable to those grim folk by its brilliance, and my sweet utterances softened the heart of men who spoke barbarous language. The kings and commanders of noble blood I contain added their praises to my due honor, and when I strapped on my gleaming sword and when, outfitted with a dense of throng of the soldierly my native soil has engendered, I commanded that my standards be advanced against our foemen, the sedition of some wild nation would collapse, surviving only in name. Those who, ignorant of laws, had passed their time in plundering, abandoned their rough ways and yielded to the civilization of law. And he who had craved to defile his hand with blood and breathed murder out his unspeakable mouth, strove against the ancient manners of Marseilles. Though accustomed to violating Good Faith, he now brings offerings to that venerable goddess.
But now wretched, my limbs broken, I am entirely overwhelmed by horror. My eloquent tongue does not perform its office, nor does my hand defend my diseased body. I cannot direct my steps with the same uninterrupted course wherewith in my splendor I was wont to go before purple-clad kings. My intake of the vital air now refuses life to my weak frame, nor can my broken feet support the weight of my bulk as it crashes to ruin.
CHOR. You who held up your blessed head among the nations, proud one, are now limping in heaven’s sight.
FRANCE Now, unhappy me, I am oppressed with every harsh misfortune and, hemmed in on the banks of the Stygian lake, I quake with fear.
CHOR. So I will prognosticate for our enemies. For now you must bear adversity with the same heart as once you gladly bore the happy times of favourable fate.
FRANCE When adversities are weighing down prosperity by an unhappy turn of fate, it is unbearable.
CHOR. Not for those whose mind is greater than the evils of misfortune, men for whom Virtue has created a place in heaven, near to the gods.
FRANCE These are the bitter things which my Fates have handed me, and yet they do not permit me either to succumb to weeping sorrow, or escape from these billows of evils.
CHORUS The evils of your harsh fate are not great enough to destroy completely your ancient glory.
FRANCE Since my members at variance with my members are destroying me, and since I am overcome with hatred of myself, what other solace can remain but that the day should come that brings the instruments of my death and which, as my last day, will at the same time be the end of my misfortune and of my good?
CHORUS Joining cares to base complaints is the mark of a weak spirit, not of somebody deserving the offices whereby, ennobled by a mighty crown, you have now been governing.
FRANCE It would be the mark of a spirit of stone were I to be unmoved at being despoiled of such ample goods.
CHORUS To abandon hope for better things is the mark of a man ignorant of the rules according to which his fortune has grown. At the beginning, it creates one’s destruction together with its first seeding, when it grants the proud fasces and ivory chair to those whom it wishes, and then soon snatches away the same thing, when with a generous hand it bestows wealth and takes away its employment, when it oppresses the body with a grave malady, or sends the fierce enemy in our borders, who boldly snatches the little darlings away from their mothers and with their brains spatters the stones on the ground, who savagely puts our elite youth to the sword, puts our matrons up for sale, compelling free women to stand on the auction block, and allows us no shred of happiness or power save the empty titles of our kings. For you in your terror to dread these things, you whom the supernals of heaven joined by an enduring pact, and so made you inferior to the gods alone in glory in that they have given you the ability to tolerate the dangerous mishaps of a treacherous fortune, so that you uniquely feel the strength of fate’s misfortunes, something that neither the lord of the Orontes, unfaithful to the gods, could do, nor the inhabitant of purple-clad Mesopotamia, nor the Persian descendant of Arsacus, nor the stout Macedonian, that terror of all the world!
FRANCE Did they make me more blessed than the tyrants of the nations, who were only destroyed by the force of an external foe? Rather, the fury of my own people and the offspring born within my borders oppresses me, their mother, whom they ought to cherish. Let me mourn my calamity, and let me in my wretchedness wash with tears my deadly wounds. Whither now, divided within myself, shall I now betake me? What region will accept me, laid so low by affliction? Who will be a haven for me, driven hither and thither at all times by the hostile waves of the goddess who is against me? Would that the earth would yawn and a great chasm would swallow me! That would free me from my misery. Or if Jupiter’s right hand, armed with a thunderbolt, would thrust me down to the shadows where black Dis reigns, I should perceive my mourning have an end, or mayhap I would feel the savage Furies rage more gently. Why in the midst of day am I deprived of light, and cannot see heaven glow refulgent? Why do the gloomy stars refuse to shine? Why am I so entangled in the shadows of calamity? Why does suffering wrap me in black night’s darkness, and why do the opposing Elements add so many fresh harms to my injuries? O you who alone can bring present solace amid so much calamity, Death, sweeter than life, hurl your dart with your inflexible right arm, and cut off this bitter, painful vital breath! [Enter Hope.]
HOPE I am moved to mercy by her complaints, her mourning fills with the crystal air with tears and sighs, 1nd I wish to set right her destructive grief with soothing words. (To France.) Why do you assault the afflicted air with bitter howling? Noble lady, such complaints are unworthy of one endowed with a spirit as great as yours.
FRANCE Those whom I have nurtured have spread hidden nets against my safety, and wilfully impose their counsels on my undeserving person. The very elements deny me life, not permitting it to to die in its wretchedness, but keeping it intact to suffer its weight of evils.
HOPE Tell me plainly what dangers cast you down, if you seek solace for your miseries.
FRANCE Heaven-sent Virtue, bestowed on this realm, was my partner in caring for it while the day shone sweet from the heavens, and the seasons of the turning year were ushered in by the golden stars. As long as Virtue remained here, they whom I nurtured paid homage unto me, and those hordes of barbaric nations that now oppress me dreaded my armies. Now that Virtue had left my kingdom, Pleasure presented herself as my companion, who when she cast the first seeds of my misfortunes, suddenly changed my joy to prolonged afflictions and drowned it in these evils which so harm me. Law, crushed by wars, keeps silence, nor does Astraea inhabit these lands but, seated again in her original seat in heaven, she despises mortal men, changeable as the wind, and takes her angry revenge for the contempt they show her. With Mars sent down from heaven, clad in armor, and all the Elements threatening a quick end for all things, no home is safe for my farmers. His meadows and fertile fields abandoned, the needy ploughman begs in foreign climes, not reaping the soil he sowed. The glory of praise does nor remain intact for my girls, nor does this age of the world keep a sense of modesty above reproach for my boys. Law’s protective authority is not undamaged, and does not keep minors free of injury. Apparitions of foul crimes darken the sky with their shadows. In sum, imagine in your mind, if you can, any evils which spare me, and do not oppress me with their vexations.
HOPE It is not enough to learn the evils with which you are burdened. The cause of this deceit must be disclosed. For there’s no easy balm for a concealed wound, nor a cure for hidden evils. Speak up, admit the crime whereby you made a well-disposed divinity harmful.
FRANCE Since my security seems to be dear to you, I shall freely confess the whole matter. When I had lapsed thanks to error, and been deceived by the Devil’s craft, heavy forms of crime besmirched me, nor was religion, wherein I used proudly to glory among the nations, my concern.
HOPE Even if the deities be slow to exact revenge, the heavenly ones never permit the heart of a man holding themselves in contempt to go unpunished. And, no matter how slow they are, they nevertheless lay low the wicked who are gripped by this foul blot, to the point that they remove all hope of peace from their posterity. Albeit the avenger’s hand is harsh, or imminent death’s hand seems to be brandishing baleful darts, to recognize your guilt is the first step towards life. So that the hidden root of this evil may stand revealed, explain further what moves the gods against you.
GALL. From heaven the gods have given me Virtue as the guide for my toils in all situations, and as a companion to myself, and when I followed her many a rich laurel encircled my noble brow with its leaves. But Pleasure, conjoined with Luxury as a companion, sent her back to heaven, banishing her from the earth and falsely claiming to bring me the hope for good things, more expansive rule, and noble glory. Then no further concern for my neighbor or for the laws gripped me and I declined to provide consolation for my subjects and my traditional aid for the wretched. Hence sedition aroused their rebellious minds, and then men who had trembled before the arms of France bore standards against me, standards opposed to the arms of France, at a time when sweet Pleasure abandoned me, caught in her deceiving nets, requiting short-lived joys with constant woes and lamentable downfall. Then my shaky progress all but deserted me as her footprints deceived my slipping steps, and her hand refused to reach out and steady me as I fell. Then my members destroyed each other with mutual murders, nor did any security remain for us as we quarreled out of hatred.
HOPE I am hardly surprised that, thanks to a harsh misfortune, you were oppressed by sad calamities. Whoever does not burn with love for our fostering God, and whoever is not restrained by fear of the supernals, tumbles headlong into oceans of desires. He bears a hand ready for robbery and the shedding innocent blood, and freely opens his mouth to issue unclean reproaches against the gods. He delights himself with crime and silly tales. Nor, when they rudely insult the gods with their words and trample blameless men with their deceits, do they admit their guilt. Rather, they boast of their atrocious felonies as if they were fine equity. It needs be that these things should befall the man who neglects divine worship. So you should perceive how you are oppressed by all this weight of crimes.
FRANCE Being unequal to the task, I refuse to bear such a heavy load unless the supernals’ kindly grace shines down on me from heaven. I admit that it was by my fault that I fell into the miseries which oppress my ruined self, when banished Virtue disappeared in the face of these blandishments.
HOPE Acknowledging your guilt is the first step towards regaining the gods’ grace, for they freely absolve penitents of their sins, they who are wont to break rebels and curb the proud by imposing heavy forfeits. So if you are moved by any chagrin for your misdeeds, you may hope for a release from your evils, and that the gods who have summoned you to their homes will return to you the guide whom you used to follow in performing heaven’s tasks. And, unless your spirit becomes downcast with despondency, I shall support you as you strive against evil and quickly lead back to you her whom you regret having lost. I’ll make you feel you are enjoying the aid you are accustomed to receive, freeing you from your harsh foe, and return you to yourself.
FRANCE O hope of my people, you alone are left to me, O you who do not abandon me, destitute and oppressed by the evils of malignant fate, nourish what remains of my breath. Join me in submitting to this weight which Pleasure bequeathed to me, that assemblage of brief and insubstantial joy.
HOPE Just trust me then, and learn to abhor the draughts which that deceiver gave you to drink. Go to the gods of heaven, fall suppliant at their altars here, and prayerfully ask for grace. Pour out the unfeigned tears which show your suffering cries come not from the heart of a false penitent, but that you are burdened with sorrow. Thanks to those tears, you may now return, laden with the gifts of heaven’s mercy.
FRANCE I shall go, by prayer I shall appease the gods, enraged by my sins to turn against me, if only Hope does not refuse to stand by me, now destitute of all good things, and gives me her support.
Go to Act V