John Keats (31 October 1795 – 23 February 1821 / London, England)
Otho The Great - Act II
An Ante-chamber in the Castle.
Enter LUDOLPH and SIGIFRED.
Ludolph. No more advices, no more cautioning:
I leave it all to fate to any thing!
I cannot square my conduct to time, place,
Or circumstances; to me 'tis all a mist!
Sigifred. I say no more.
Ludolph. It seems I am to wait
Here in the ante-room; that may be a trifle.
You see now how I dance attendance here,
Without that tyrant temper, you so blame,
Snapping the rein. You have medicin'd me
With good advices; and I here remain,
In this most honourable ante-room,
Your patient scholar.
Sigifred. Do not wrong me, Prince.
By Heavens, I'd rather kiss Duke Conrad's slipper,
When in the morning he doth yawn with pride,
Than see you humbled but a half-degree!
Truth is, the Emperor would fain dismiss
The nobles ere he sees you.
Enter GONFRED from the Council-room.
Ludolph. Well, sir! What?
Gonfred. Great honour to the Prince! The Emperor,
Hearing that his brave son had re-appeared,
Instant dismiss 'd the Council from his sight,
As Jove fans off the clouds. Even now they pass.
Enter the Nobles from the Council-room. They cross the stage,
bowing unth respect to LUDOLPH, he frowning on them.
CONRAD follows. Exeunt Nobles.
Ludolph. Not the discoloured poisons of a fen,
Which he who breathes feels warning of his death,
Could taste so nauseous to the bodily sense,
As these prodigious sycophants disgust
The soul's fine palate.
Conrad. Princely Ludolph, hail!
Welcome, thou younger sceptre to the realm!
Strength to thy virgin crownet's golden buds,
That they, against the winter of thy sire,
May burst, and swell, and flourish round thy brows,
Maturing to a weighty diadem!
Yet be that hour far off; and may he live,
Who waits for thee, as the chapp'd earth for rain.
Set my life's star! I have lived long enough,
Since under my glad roof, propitiously,
Father and son each other re-possess.
Ludolph. Fine wording, Duke! but words could never yet
Forestall the fates; have you not learnt that yet?
Let me look well: your features are the same;
Your gait the same; your hair of the same shade;
As one I knew some passed weeks ago,
Who sung far different notes into mine ears.
I have mine own particular comments on 't;
You have your own, perhaps.
Conrad. My gracious Prince,
All men may err. In truth I was deceived
In your great father's nature, as you were.
Had I known that of him I have since known,
And what you soon will learn, I would have turned
My sword to my own throat, rather than held
Its threatening edge against a good King's quiet:
Or with one word fever'd you, gentle Prince,
Who seem'd to me, as rugged times then went,
Indeed too much oppress'd. May I be bold
To tell the Emperor you will haste to him?
Ludolph. Your Dukedom's privilege will grant so much.
He's very close to Otho, a tight leech!
Your hand I go. Ha! here the thunder comes
Sullen against the wind! If in two angry brows
My safety lies, then Sigifred, I'm safe.
Enter OTHO and CONRAD.
Otho. Will you make Titan play the lackey-page &
To chattering pigmies? I would have you know
That such neglect of our high Majesty
Annuls all feel of kindred. What is son,
Or friend, or brother, or all ties of blood,
When the whole kingdom, centred in ourself,
Is rudely slighted ? Who am I to wait ?
By Peter's chair! I have upon my tongue
A word to fright the proudest spirit here!
Death! and slow tortures to the hardy fool,
Who dares take such large charter from our smiles!
Conrad, we would be private. Sigifred!
Off! And none pass this way on pain of death!
[Exeunt CONRAD and SIGIFRED,
Ludolph. This was but half expected, my good sire,
Yet I am griev'd at it, to the full height,
As though my hopes of favour had been whole.
Otho. How you indulge yourself! What can you hope for?
Ludolph. Nothing, my liege ; I have to hope for nothing.
I come to greet you as a loving son,
And then depart, if I may be so free,
Seeing that blood of yours in my warm veins
Has not yet mitigated into milk.
Otho. What would you, sir?
Ludolph. A lenient banishment;
So please you let me unmolested pass
This Conrad's gates, to the wide air again.
I want no more. A rebel wants no more.
Otho. And shall I let a rebel loose again
To muster kites and eagles 'gainst my head?
No, obstinate boy, you shall be kept cag'd up,
Serv'd with harsh food, with scum for Sunday-drink.
Otho. And chains too heavy for your life:
I'll choose a gaoler, whose swart monstrous face
Shall be a hell to look upon, and she
Otho. Shall be your fair Auranthe.
Ludolph. Amaze! Amaze!
Otho. To-day you marry her.
Ludolph. This is a sharp jest!
Otho. No. None at all. When have I said a lie?
Ludolph. If I sleep not, I am a waking wretch.
Otho. Not a word more. Let me embrace my child.
Ludolph. I dare not. 'Twould pollute so good a father!
heavy crime! that your son's blinded eyes
Could not see all his parent's love aright,
As now I see it. Be not kind to me
Punish me not with favour.
Otho. Are you sure,
Ludolph, you have no saving plea in store?
Ludolph. My father, none!
Otho. Then you astonish me.
Ludolph. No, I have no plea. Disobedience,
Rebellion, obstinacy, blasphemy,
Are all my counsellors. If they can make
My crooked deeds show good and plausible,
Then grant me loving pardon, but not else,
Good Gods! not else, in any way, my liege!
Otho. You are a most perplexing, noble boy.
Ludolph. You not less a perplexing noble father.
Otho. Well, you shall have free passport through the gates.
Ludolph. Farewell! and by these tears believe,
And still remember, I repent in pain
All my misdeeds!
Otho. Ludolph, I will! I will!
But, Ludolph, ere you go, I would enquire
If you, in all your wandering, ever met
A certain Arab haunting in these parts.
Ludolph. No, my good lord, I cannot say I did.
Otho. Make not your father blind before his time;
Nor let these arms paternal hunger more
For an embrace, to dull the appetite
Of my great love for thee, my supreme child!
Come close, and let me breathe into thine ear.
knew you through disguise. You are the Arab!
You can't deny it. [Embracing him.
Ludolph. Happiest of days!
Otho. We'll make it so.
Ludolph. 'Stead of one fatted calf
Ten hecatombs shall bellow out their last,
Smote 'twixt the horns by the death-stunning mace
Of Mars, and all the soldiery shall feast
Nobly as Nimrod's masons, when the towers
Of Nineveh new kiss'd the parted clouds!
Otho. Large as a God speak out, where all is thine.
Ludolph. Aye, father, but the fire in my sad breast
Is quench 'd with inward tears! I must rejoice
For you, whose wings so shadow over me
In tender victory, but for myself
I still must mourn. The fair Auranthe mine!
Too great a boon! I prythee let me ask I
What more than I know of could so have changed
Your purpose touching her?
Otho. At a word, this:
In no deed did you give me more offense
Than your rejection of Erminia.
To my appalling, I saw too good proof
Of your keen-eyed suspicion, she is naught!
Ludolph. You are convinced?
Otho. Aye, spite of her sweet looks.
O, that my brother's daughter should so fall!
Her fame has pass'd into the grosser lips
Of soldiers in their cups.
Lndolph. 'Tis very sad.
Otho. No more of her. Auranthe Ludolph, come!
This marriage be the bond of endless peace! [Exeunt.
SCENE II. The Entrance of GERSA'S Tent in the Hungarian Camp.
Erminia. Where! where! where shall I find a messenger?
A trusty soul? A good man in the camp?
Shall I go myself? Monstrous wickedness!
O cursed Conrad devilish Auranthe!
Here is proof palpable as the bright sun!
O for a voice to reach the Emperor's ears!
[Shouts in the Camp.
Enter an HUNGARIAN CAPTAIN.
Captain. Fair prisoner, hear you those joyous shouts?
The king aye, now our king, but still your slave,
Young Gersa, from a short captivity
Has just return'd. He bids me say, bright Dame,
That even the homage of his ranged chiefs
Cures not his keen impatience to behold
Such beauty once again. What ails you, lady?
Erminia. Say, is not that a German, yonder? There!
Captain. Methinks by his stout bearing he should be
Yes 'tis one Albert; a brave German knight,
And much in the emperor's favour.
Erminia. I would fain
Enquire of friends and kinsfolk; how they fared
In these rough times. Brave soldier, as you pass
To royal Gersa with my humble thanks,
Will you send yonder knight to me?
Captain. I will. [Exit.
Ermina. Yes, he was ever known to be a man
Frank, open, generous; Albert I may trust.
proof! proof! proof! Albert's an honest man;
Not Ethelbert the monk, if he were here,
Would I hold more trustworthy. Now!
Albert. Good Gods!
Lady Erminia! are you prisoner
In this beleaguer 'd camp? Or are you here
Of your own will? You pleas'd to send for me.
By Venus, 'tis a pity I knew not
Your plight before, and, by her Son, I swear
To do you every service you can ask.
What would the fairest?
Erminia. Albert, will you swear?
Albert. I have. Well?
Erminia. Albert, you have fame to lose.
If men, in court and camp, lie not outright,
You should be, from a thousand, chosen forth
To do an honest deed. Shall I confide?
Albert. Aye, anything to me, fair creature. Do;
Dictate my task. Sweet woman,
Erminia. Truce with that.
You understand me not; and, in your speech,
see how far the slander is abroad.
Without proof could you think me innocent?
Albert. Lady, I should rejoice to know you so.
Erminia. If you have any pity for a maid,
Suffering a daily death from evil tongues;
Any compassion for that Emperor's niece,
Who, for your bright sword and clear honesty,
Lifted you from the crowd of common men
Into the lap of honour; save me, knight!
Albert. How? Make it clear; if it be possible,
I, by the banner of Saint Maurice, swear
To right you.
Erminia. Possible! Easy. O my heart!
This letter's not so soil'd but you may read it;
Possible! There that letter! Read read it,
[Gives him a letter.
Albert (reading). 'To the Duke Conrad. Forget the threat you
made at parting, and I will forget to send the Emperor letters and
papers of your's I have become possessed of. His life is no trifle to
me; his death you shall find none to yourself.' (Speaks to himself
‘Tis me my life that's pleaded for! (Reads.) 'He, for his
own sake, will be dumb as the grave. Erminia has my shame fix'd
upon her, sure as a wen. We are safe.
AURANTHE.'A she-devil! A dragon! I her imp!
Fire of Hell! Auranthe lewd demon!
Where got you this? Where? When?
Erminia. I found it in the tent, among some spoils
Which, being noble, fell to Gersa's lot.
Come in, and see. [They go in and return.
Albert. Villainy! Villainy!
Conrad's sword, his corslet, and his helm,
And his letter. Caitiff, he shall feel
Erminia. I see you are thunderstruck. Haste, haste away!
Albert. O I am tortured by this villainy.
Erminia. You needs must be. Carry it swift to Otho;
Tell him, moreover, I am prisoner
Here in this camp, where all the sisterhood,
Forc'd from their quiet cells, are parcell'd out
For slaves among these Huns. Away! Away!
Albert. I am gone.
Erminia. Swift be your steed! Within this hour
The Emperor will see it.
Albert. Ere I sleep:
That I can swear. [Hurries out.
Gersa (without). Brave captains! thanks. Enough
Of loyal homage now!
Erminia. Hail, royal Hun!
Gersa. What means this, fair one? Why in such alarm?
Who was it hurried by me so distract?
It seem'd you were in deep discourse together;
Your doctrine has not been so harsh to him
As to my poor deserts. Come, come, be plain.
I am no jealous fool to kill you both,
Or, for such trifles, rob the adorned world
Of such a beauteous vestal.
Erminia. I grieve, my Lord,
To hear you condescend to ribald phrase.
Gersa. This is too much! Hearken, my lady pure!
Erminia. Silence! and hear the magic of a name
Erminia! I am she, the Emperor's niece!
Prais'd be the Heavens, I now dare own myself!
Gersa. Erminia! Indeed! I've heard of her.
Prythee, fair lady, what chance brought you here?
Erminia. Ask your own soldiers.
Gersa. And you dare own your name.
For loveliness you may and for the rest
My vein is not censorious.
Erminia. Alas! poor me!
‘Tis false indeed.
Gersa. Indeed you are too fair:
the swan, soft leaning on her fledgy breast,
When to the stream she launches, looks not back
With such a tender grace ; nor are her wings
So white as your soul is, if that but be
Twin-picture to your face. Erminia!
To-day, for the first day, I am a king,
Yet would I give my unworn crown away
To know you spotless.
Erminia. Trust me one day more,
Generously, without more certain guarantee,
Than this poor face you deign to praise so much;
After that, say and do whate'er you please.
If I have any knowledge of you, sir,
I think, nay I am sure, you will grieve much
To hear my story. O be gentle to me,
For I am sick and faint with many wrongs,
Tir'd out, and weary-worn with contumelies.
Gersa. Poor lady!
Erminia. Gentle Prince, 'tis false indeed.
Good morrow, holy father! I have had
Your prayers, though I look'd for you in vain.
Ethelbert. Blessings upon you, daughter! Sure you look
Too cheerful for these foul pernicious days.
Young man, you heard this virgin say 'twas false,
‘Tis false, I say. What! can you not employ
Your temper elsewhere, 'mong these burly tents,
But you must taunt this dove, for she hath lost
The Eagle Otho to beat off assault?
Fie! fie! But I will be her guard myself;
In the Emperor's name. I here demand of you
Herself, and all her sisterhood. She false!
Gersa. Peace! peace, old man! I cannot think she is.
Ethelbert. Whom I have known from her first infancy,
Baptized her in the bosom of the Church,
Watch'd her, as anxious husbandmen the grain,
From the first shoot till the unripe mid-May,
Then to the tender ear of her June days,
Which, lifting sweet abroad its timid green,
Is blighted by the touch of calumny;
You cannot credit such a monstrous tale.
Gersa. I cannot. Take her. Fair Erminia,
I follow you to Friedburg, is't not so?
Erminia. Aye, so we purpose.
Ethelbert. Daughter, do you so?
How's this? I marvel! Yet you look not mad.
Erminia. I have good news to tell you, Ethelbert.
Gersa. Ho! ho, there! Guards!
Your blessing, father! Sweet Erminia,
Believe me, I am well nigh sure
Erminia . Farewell!
Short time will show. [Enter Chiefs.
Yes, father Ethelbert,
I have news precious as we pass along.
Ethelbert. Dear daughter, you shall guide me.
Erminia. To no ill.
Gersa. Command an escort to the Friedburg lines.
Pray let me lead. Fair lady, forget not
Gersa, how he believ'd you innocent.
I follow you to Friedburg with all speed. [Exeunt.
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