Racine

Berenice: Act II

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2018 All Rights Reserved

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Contents


Act II Scene I (Titus, Paulinus, their followers)

Titus Has no one seen the King of Commagene;

does he not know I await him?

Paulinus I saw the queen:

the prince had visited her in her chamber,

but he had left not long before I came there.

Titus Enough. What was she about, Queen Berenice?

Paulinus Sir, at that moment, sensible of your kindness,

the queen was praying for your every happiness.

She has left, Sire.

Titus A princess far too amiable!

Alas!

Paulinus Why, on her account, are you so troubled?

Almost the whole Orient will lie in her compass.

You pity her?

Titus Paulinus, let all the others leave us.


Act II Scene II (Titus, Paulinus)

Titus Rome, as yet still uncertain of my strategy,

is waiting to learn of this queen’s destiny,

Paulinus: the secrets of her heart, and mine,

are the subject of conversation, at this time.

The hour approaches when I must testify.

What do the people say of the queen and I?

Say: what hear you?

Paulinus On every side, I merely

hear talk of your virtues, and her beauty.

Titus What do they say of all my sighing for her?

What is hoped of a love so true and tender?

Paulinus You may do as you please: love, or desist;

the court will always be party to your wish.

Titus I too have seen that court, in its sincerity,

endlessly eager to appease supremacy,

approve of Nero’s crimes in all their horror;

I’ve seen them swear their oaths in anger.

I’ll not take the idolatrous for judges, ever,

Paulinus: I now propose a nobler theatre;

and, without giving ear to those flatterers,

I’ll sound their hearts by what yours utters.

You are sworn to me. Both respect and fear,

stem the passage of complaint to my ear;

to hear more clearly, Paulinus, and to see,

you must lend your ears, your eyes, to me;

I’ll set that price on my private friendship:

I’d have you the courtiers’ hearts interpret,

so that, from out the flatterers, your sincerity

might always bring me fact, in all its verity.

Speak then. What has Berenice now to fear?

Will Rome will be kind to her, or prove severe?

Can it be thought that, raised to Caesar’s throne,

Rome will not make so fair a queen its own?

Paulinus Certain, my lord, be it reason or caprice,

Rome does not wish for her as empress.

They say she is charming, that such beauty

is born to demand of you all sovereignty.

They even declare she has a Roman heart:

a thousand virtues, yet plays a queen’s part.

Rome, since a certain law was executed,

will not allow Rome’s blood to be diluted;

will never accept the illegitimate offspring

of a marriage made contrary to its ruling.

Besides, you know, in banishing its kings,

Rome has attached to all such royal things,

once noble, sacred, its deep opprobrium;

and though, to the Caesars, loyal to a man,

that hatred, my lord, a relic of their pride,

with their freedom in their hearts abides.

Julius, the first to subdue Rome militarily,

outside the law, infringing on her liberty,

was on fire for Cleopatra, yet never wed,

leaving her sighing, in the East, instead.

Mark Antony, who loved her to idolatry,

forgetful of his glory, and of his country,

never dared to name her as his bride.

Rome went to seek him there, at her side,

and did not lay aside armed vengefulness

till it had destroyed a lover and a mistress.

Since then, Nero, before him Caligula,

monsters whose names I regret to utter,

who scarcely deserved a human form,

trampling underfoot the laws of Rome,

fearing that sole law, never, in its name,

set light to so reviled a marriage flame.

You demand that I speak the truth here.

You saw the freedman Pallas’ brother,

Felix, in the East: the fires still wane,

husband, lord, of two queens in name;

and if I must obey you to the very end,

to Berenice their shared blood extends.

Think you, without loss of all respect,

to introduce a queen to Caesar’s bed,

while the Orient admits a branded slave

free of our fetters, to its queens’ enclave?

Such is the Romans’ view of your love,

and it may be, before night dims above,

the Senate, voicing all the empire’s plea,

will repeat these words you hear from me;

that both Rome and Senate bow the knee,

demand a choice worthy of you, and she.

Your reply then, lord, you may announce.

Titus Alas! What a love they ask me to renounce.

Paulinus It is an ardent love, one must confess it so.

Titus A thousand times more ardent than you know,

Paulinus. It has been my necessary pleasure

to see her every day, to love her at leisure.

More; I will keep no secret from your eyes;

I have thanked the gods, for her, a hundred times;

for choosing my father in the depths of Idumea;

granting command of the army, the East, there;

rousing our forces then, through all our lands,

bringing a blood-stained Rome peace at his hands.

I have even desired to take my father’s place,

I, Paulinus, who, if a less harsh fate, of its grace,

had seen fit to prolong his life, would, at this,

have sacrificed my life a hundred times for his.

All that (how badly a lover knows his desire!)

in the hope of thus raising Berenice higher,

to win for a single day her love and loyalty,

witness the universe at her feet, beside me.

Despite all my love, Paulinus, all that endears,

despite a thousand vows supported by my tears,

now that to crown her lies within my power,

and I love her more than ever, at this hour,

when the happy marriage of our two destinies

might repay five years of vows with victory,

O Heavens! Paulinus, how can I tell her?

Paulinus What, my lord?

Titus That I abandon her forever.

My heart cannot bring itself to surrender.

If I have made you speak so I might hear,

I wished your zeal might serve in private

to confound a love impervious to regret.

Berenice has long outweighed victory;

if I must now choose the side of glory,

in quenching such love, know I will pay,

my heart will bleed for longer than a day.

I loved, I sighed, in so profound a peace

some other seemed in my imperial place.

Master of my destiny, free in my sighs,

I myself kept sole track of passion’s ties.

But scarce had my father risen to the skies,

scarce had my hand sadly closed his eyes,

than I was disabused of my loving error:

I felt the burden placed on my shoulders;

far from belonging to my love, I knew

I must soon renounce my very self, rue

that the god’s choice, proving contrary,

now grants the world my days of liberty.

Rome today will witness my decision.

Shameful to me, ominous for the one

I love, if my first action were to tread

law underfoot, seek happiness instead!

Resolved to enact this bitter sacrifice,

I wished to tell the unhappy Berenice,

But how? For eight days, many an hour

I wished to open this discourse of ours;

at the first word my stammering tongue

froze in my mouth, many a moment long.

I hoped at least my anxiety, my sadness,

might express to her our mutual distress;

but, unsuspecting, sensitive to my fears,

she but offered her hand to stem my tears,

foreseeing no more from what she heard

than the end of a love she has so deserved.

Only this morning I regained my fortitude.

I must see her, go break the sorrowful news.

I wait for Antiochus; to commend again

to him this precious gift I cannot retain.

I wish him to accompany her to the East.

Tomorrow her stay in Rome must cease.

Soon she will hear it from these lips of mine,

I go now to speak to her, for one last time.

Paulinus I expected no less from that love of glory,

everywhere associating you with victory.

Judea defeated, and its ruined towers

eternal monuments to that noble ardour,

were token enough for me that your intent

was not to destroy your own achievement,

that the heroic conqueror of many nations

sooner or later would restrain his passion.

Titus Beneath its fine titles how cruel glory proves!

How readily my sad eyes would seek her love,

if it were simply necessary to confront death!

Why, of that ardour shown with every breath

Berenice, long ago in my heart, stirred the flame.

It’s not unknown to you that the noise of fame

has not always accompanied me as is thought.

My youth, raised as I was within Nero’s court,

was by bad example misled, Paulinus; leisure

allowed me to follow the easy path of pleasure.

Berenice pleased me. What will hearts not suffer

to please the one they love, and thereby conquer?

I prodigal of my blood, all yielded in their fear,

I returned triumphant. But my blood and tears

proved insufficient as yet to win her promises:

I took upon me a thousand wretches’ happiness;

to every place my kindness seemed to extend,

happy, and happier than you can comprehend,

if I might appear to her eyes, she now satisfied,

charged with a thousand hearts won to my side!

I owe all to her, Paulinus. Cruel recompense!

All that I owe her is achieved at her expense.

Her reward for all that courage and that glory,

is that I tell her: ‘Depart, no longer see me.’

Paulinus What, my lord! With all the gifts you shower

on her, that to the Euphrates extend her power,

all those honours that so astound the multitude,

do you fear she’ll condemn you for ingratitude?

Berenice wins command of a hundred nations.

Titus For so great a grief such is small compensation!

I know Berenice, and such is not her design,

her heart has never asked for more than mine.

I loved her, I pleased her. And since that day

(fatal, alas, or fortunate, both should I say?)

having no object but love, in loving, in short,

a stranger in Rome, unknown to all the court,

she spends her time, no more ambitiously

than in seeing me for an hour, or awaiting me.

Again, if it sometimes seems I have neglected

to appear at some moment when I am expected,

I soon see her drenched once more with tears.

To dry them, my hand is occupied for years.

All that love binds us with most powerfully,

her sweet reproaches, joy reborn ceaselessly,

an artless desire to please, fear ever renewed,

all glory, beauty, virtue, I find in her attitude.

I have seen her every day, for five whole years,

and think it the first time, each time she appears.

No more thought, Paulinus; the more I reflect,

the more I may waver in my intended object.

What news, O heavens, this that I must deliver!

A blow indeed! Let us go, and think no further.

I know my duty; it is for me, now, to obey,

and not reflect on whether I’ll survive the day.

(Enter Rutilius)


Act II Scene III (Titus, Paulinus, Rutilius)

Rutilius Berenice, my lord, requests an audience.

Titus Oh! Paulinus!

Paulinus Already you change your stance?

Let this but remind you of your noble projects.

Now is the moment.

Titus Well, let us see her. Let her come, state her object.


Act II Scene IV (Berenice, Titus, Paulinus, Phenice)

Berenice Be not offended if my zealous indiscretion

interrupts the privacy of your conversation.

While all your court, round me assembled,

resounds to such gifts as make me tremble,

is it just, my lord, that I alone should remain

without word, or show of feeling, once again?  

But, my lord (for I know this sincere friend

is party to the mysteries our hearts defend),

your mourning’s done; nothing delays you,

you’re alone at last, and yet I do not see you!

I hear that you offer me fresh diadems,

yet from your own lips I hear naught of them.

Alas, more of peace my lord, and less of glory.

Can you not tell the Senate your heart’s story?

Ah! Titus (for love is freed from the constraint

of every title, that to fear and awe appertain)

What does your love concern itself with, so?

Is it only fresh nations that you dare bestow?

Since when have you believed I seek glory?

A sigh, a glance, a word bestowed on me,

forms all the ambition of a heart like mine.

See me more often, keep these gifts so fine.

Are all your moments devoted to the empire?

That heart, after eight days, speaks no desire?

Let a word from you raise my feeble spirit!

Or had you spoken of me before my visit,

my name involved in your private discourse,

Sire? Was I at least present in your thought?

Titus Doubt it not, Madame, let the gods be witness

Berenice is before my eyes at every instant.

Neither time nor absence, I swear once more,

can rob you of this heart that can but adore.

Berenice Ah! Your vows to me speak of eternal flame,

and yet so coldly you declare the same?

Why attest to the power of the gods above,

do you need words to conquer my mistrust?

My heart does not seek you, only to deny;

I would believe yours, with a single sigh.

Titus Madame!

Berenice Yes, my lord? Without an answer,

you turn your eyes away, and seem to shudder! 

Do you offer me no more than a hidden glance?

Is your father’s death your care, at this instant?

Can nothing dispel this sorrow that devours?

Titus If but the gods had prolonged my father’s hours,

how happy I should be!

Berenice My lord, such regret

is the true witness to your piety. And yet,

your tears have honoured him sufficiently,

you owe Rome your concern, your glory.

In my own interest, I dare speak my mind.

Berenice has consoled you at other times;

and you have heard my words with pleasure.

Over what ills, of my anxiety the measure,

have I, for a word, not shed tears for you!

You mourn a father! Alas, a grief, it is true!

And I (at the memory I tremble, once more)

they would have torn me from all that I adore;

I, whom you ever see in trouble and torment

when you leave me, even for a single moment;

I who would die the day they would keep me

from you…

Titus Madame, what is this you tell me?

To what hour do you refer? Oh, for pity, desist!

It is too much, to show the ungrateful kindness.

Berenice Ungrateful, my lord! How could you be so?

It may be that my kindness wearies you though?

Titus No, Madame. I must address you, and never

has my heart been scorched by such fever.

But…

Berenice Go on.

Titus Alas!

Berenice Speak.

Titus Rome…the empire…

Berenice Well?

Titus Paulinus, I cannot speak; we must retire.


Act II Scene V (Berenice, Phenice)

Berenice What! To leave so soon, and yet say nothing?

Alas, dear Phenice, what a mournful meeting!

What does he desire, what means this silence?

Phenice Like you, the more I think on it the less its sense.

Does anything offer itself to your memory

that may have set him against you recently?

Think, consider!

Berenice Alas, in this, believe me,

the more I review the past, in its entirety,

from the hour I met him, to this mournful hour,

the more I might be accused of excess ardour.

But you heard us. There is no need for silence.

Have I done anything to cause offence?

Think. Have I returned his gifts, do you believe,

too forcefully, or criticised his show of grief…

Is it that he dreads Rome’s hatred yet unseen,

and fears, perhaps, to wed a reigning queen?

If that were true…no, a hundred times and more

he has upheld my love against their harsh law;

oh, if he might but explain this discourtesy:

I can no longer breathe, such my anxiety.

I, could I live, Phenice, and believe that he

rejects me, or that I offended carelessly?

Let us reflect now. For, when I consider,

I think I perceive the origin of this matter,

Phenice; he has discovered all that passed,

Antiochus’ love for me troubles him, alas.

He awaits, they say, the king of Commagene.

Look no deeper for what provoked this scene.

Surely that sadness that so alarmed me,

is but a slight suspicion, banished easily.

Yet I’ll not boast of so trivial a victory,

Titus. If, without tarnishing your glory,

the gods might send a rival far greater,

to tempt my loyalty, empires on offer,

sceptres uncounted, all to buy my love,

and you had nothing but your soul to give;

then, dear Titus, your victory realised,

you would see how your heart is prized.

Come, Phenice. A word puts him at ease.

Be reassured, my heart, I still can please.

It is too soon to count myself unhappy;

If Titus is jealous, then Titus loves me.

End of Act II