Life Is A Dream by Pedro Calderon de la Barca

Etext prepared by Dagny, Emma Dudding, and John Bickers, LIFE IS A DREAM by PEDRO CALDERON DE LA BARCA Translated by Edward Fitzgerald INTRODUCTORY NOTE Pedro Calderon de la Barca was born in Madrid, January 17, 1600, of good family. He was educated at the Jesuit College in Madrid and at the
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Etext prepared by Dagny, Emma Dudding,
and John Bickers,



Translated by
Edward Fitzgerald


Pedro Calderon de la Barca was born in Madrid, January 17, 1600, of good family. He was educated at the Jesuit College in Madrid and at the University of Salamanca; and a doubtful tradition says that he began to write plays at the age of thirteen. His literary activity was interrupted for ten years, 1625-1635, by military service in Italy and the Low Countries, and again for a year or more in Catalonia. In 1637 he became a Knight of the Order of Santiago, and in 1651 he entered the priesthood, rising to the dignity of Superior of the Brotherhood of San Pedro in Madrid. He held various offices in the court of Philip IV, who rewarded his services with pensions, and had his plays produced with great splendor. He died May 5, 1681.

At the time when Calderon began to compose for the stage, the Spanish drama was at its height. Lope de Vega, the most prolific and, with Calderon, the greatest, of Spanish dramatists, was still alive; and by his applause gave encouragement to the beginner whose fame was to rival his own. The national type of drama which Lope had established was maintained in its essential characteristics by Calderon, and he produced abundant specimens of all its varieties. Of regular plays he has left a hundred and twenty; of “Autos Sacramentales,” the peculiar Spanish allegorical development of the medieval mystery, we have seventy-three; besides a considerable number of farces.

The dominant motives in Calderon’s dramas are characteristically national: fervid loyalty to Church and King, and a sense of honor heightened almost to the point of the fantastic. Though his plays are laid in a great variety of scenes and ages, the sentiment and the characters remain essentially Spanish; and this intensely local quality has probably lessened the vogue of Calderon in other countries. In the construction and conduct of his plots he showed great skill, yet the ingenuity expended in the management of the story did not restrain the fiery emotion and opulent imagination which mark his finest speeches and give them a lyric quality which some critics regard as his greatest distinction.

Of all Calderon’s works, “Life is a Dream” may be regarded as the most universal in its theme. It seeks to teach a lesson that may be learned from the philosophers and religious thinkers of many ages–that the world of our senses is a mere shadow, and that the only reality is to be found in the invisible and eternal. The story which forms its basis is Oriental in origin, and in the form of the legend of “Barlaam and Josaphat” was familiar in all the literatures of the Middle Ages. Combined with this in the plot is the tale of Abou Hassan from the “Arabian Nights,” the main situations in which are turned to farcical purposes in the Induction to the Shakespearean “Taming of the Shrew.” But with Calderon the theme is lifted altogether out of the atmosphere of comedy, and is worked up with poetic sentiment and a touch of mysticism into a symbolic drama of profound and universal philosophical significance.



Basilio King of Poland.
Segismund his Son.
Astolfo his Nephew.
Estrella his Niece.
Clotaldo a General in Basilio’s Service. Rosaura a Muscovite Lady.
Fife her Attendant.

Chamberlain, Lords in Waiting, Officers, Soldiers, etc., in Basilio’s Service.

The Scene of the first and third Acts lies on the Polish frontier: of the second Act, in Warsaw.

As this version of Calderon’s drama is not for acting, a higher and wider mountain-scene than practicable may be imagined for Rosaura’s descent in the first Act and the soldiers’ ascent in the last. The bad watch kept by the sentinels who guarded their state-prisoner, together with much else (not all!) that defies sober sense in this wild drama, I must leave Calderon to answer for; whose audience were not critical of detail and probability, so long as a good story, with strong, rapid, and picturesque action and situation, was set before them.


SCENE I–A pass of rocks, over which a storm is rolling away, and the sun setting: in the foreground, half-way down, a fortress.

(Enter first from the topmost rock Rosaura, as from horseback, in man’s attire; and, after her, Fife.)

There, four-footed Fury, blast
Engender’d brute, without the wit
Of brute, or mouth to match the bit Of man–art satisfied at last?
Who, when thunder roll’d aloof,
Tow’rd the spheres of fire your ears Pricking, and the granite kicking
Into lightning with your hoof,
Among the tempest-shatter’d crags
Shattering your luckless rider
Back into the tempest pass’d?
There then lie to starve and die,
Or find another Phaeton
Mad-mettled as yourself; for I,
Wearied, worried, and for-done,
Alone will down the mountain try,
That knits his brows against the sun.

FIFE (as to his mule).
There, thou mis-begotten thing,
Long-ear’d lightning, tail’d tornado, Griffin-hoof-in hurricano,
(I might swear till I were almost
Hoarse with roaring Asonante)
Who forsooth because our betters
Would begin to kick and fling
You forthwith your noble mind
Must prove, and kick me off behind, Tow’rd the very centre whither
Gravity was most inclined.
There where you have made your bed
In it lie; for, wet or dry,
Let what will for me betide you,
Burning, blowing, freezing, hailing; Famine waste you: devil ride you:
Tempest baste you black and blue:
(To Rosaura.)
There! I think in downright railing I can hold my own with you.

Ah, my good Fife, whose merry loyal pipe, Come weal, come woe, is never out of tune What, you in the same plight too?

Ay; And madam–sir–hereby desire,
When you your own adventures sing
Another time in lofty rhyme,
You don’t forget the trusty squire
Who went with you Don-quixoting.

Well, my good fellow–to leave Pegasus Who scarce can serve us than our horses worse– They say no one should rob another of
The single satisfaction he has left Of singing his own sorrows; one so great, So says some great philosopher, that trouble Were worth encount’ring only for the sake Of weeping over–what perhaps you know
Some poet calls the ‘luxury of woe.’

Had I the poet or philosopher
In the place of her that kick’d me off to ride, I’d test his theory upon his hide.
But no bones broken, madam–sir, I mean?–

A scratch here that a handkerchief will heal– And you?–

A scratch in /quiddity/, or kind:
But not in ‘/quo/’–my wounds are all behind. But, as you say, to stop this strain,
Which, somehow, once one’s in the vein, Comes clattering after–there again!–
What are we twain–deuce take’t!–we two, I mean, to do–drench’d through and through– Oh, I shall choke of rhymes, which I believe Are all that we shall have to live on here.

What, is our victual gone too?–

Ay, that brute
Has carried all we had away with her, Clothing, and cate, and all.

And now the sun,
Our only friend and guide, about to sink Under the stage of earth.

And enter Night,
With Capa y Espada–and–pray heaven! With but her lanthorn also.

Ah, I doubt
To-night, if any, with a dark one–or Almost burnt out after a month’s consumption. Well! well or ill, on horseback or afoot, This is the gate that lets me into Poland; And, sorry welcome as she gives a guest
Who writes his own arrival on her rocks In his own blood–
Yet better on her stony threshold die, Than live on unrevenged in Muscovy.

Oh, what a soul some women have–I mean Some men–

Oh, Fife, Fife, as you love me, Fife, Make yourself perfect in that little part, Or all will go to ruin!

Oh, I will,
Please God we find some one to try it on. But, truly, would not any one believe
Some fairy had exchanged us as we lay Two tiny foster-children in one cradle?

Well, be that as it may, Fife, it reminds me Of what perhaps I should have thought before, But better late than never–You know I love you, As you, I know, love me, and loyally
Have follow’d me thus far in my wild venture. Well! now then–having seen me safe thus far Safe if not wholly sound–over the rocks Into the country where my business lies
Why should not you return the way we came, The storm all clear’d away, and, leaving me (Who now shall want you, though not thank you, less, Now that our horses gone) this side the ridge, Find your way back to dear old home again; While I–Come, come!–
What, weeping my poor fellow?

Leave you here
Alone–my Lady–Lord! I mean my Lord– In a strange country–among savages–
Oh, now I know–you would be rid of me For fear my stumbling speech–

Oh, no, no, no!–
I want you with me for a thousand sakes To which that is as nothing–I myself
More apt to let the secret out myself Without your help at all–Come, come, cheer up! And if you sing again, ‘Come weal, come woe,’ Let it be that; for we will never part
Until you give the signal.

‘Tis a bargain.

Now to begin, then. ‘Follow, follow me, ‘You fairy elves that be.’

Ay, and go on–
Something of ‘following darkness like a dream,’ For that we’re after.

No, after the sun;
Trying to catch hold of his glittering skirts That hang upon the mountain as he goes.

Ah, he’s himself past catching–as you spoke He heard what you were saying, and–just so– Like some scared water-bird,
As we say in my country, /dove/ below.

Well, we must follow him as best we may. Poland is no great country, and, as rich In men and means, will but few acres spare To lie beneath her barrier mountains bare. We cannot, I believe, be very far
From mankind or their dwellings.

Send it so!
And well provided for man, woman, and beast. No, not for beast. Ah, but my heart begins To yearn for her–

Keep close, and keep your feet
From serving you as hers did.

As for beasts,
If in default of other entertainment, We should provide them with ourselves to eat– Bears, lions, wolves–

Oh, never fear.

Or else,
Default of other beasts, beastlier men, Cannibals, Anthropophagi, bare Poles
Who never knew a tailor but by taste.

Look, look! Unless my fancy misconceive With twilight–down among the rocks there, Fife– Some human dwelling, surely–
Or think you but a rock torn from the rocks In some convulsion like to-day’s, and perch’d Quaintly among them in mock-masonry?

Most likely that, I doubt.

No, no–for look!
A square of darkness opening in it–

Oh, I don’t half like such openings!–

Like the loom
Of night from which she spins her outer gloom–

Lord, Madam, pray forbear this tragic vein In such a time and place–

And now again
Within that square of darkness, look! a light That feels its way with hesitating pulse, As we do, through the darkness that it drives To blacken into deeper night beyond.

In which could we follow that light’s example, As might some English Bardolph with his nose, We might defy the sunset–Hark, a chain!

And now a lamp, a lamp! And now the hand That carries it.

Oh, Lord! that dreadful chain!

And now the bearer of the lamp; indeed As strange as any in Arabian tale,
So giant-like, and terrible, and grand, Spite of the skin he’s wrapt in.

Why, ’tis his own:
Oh, ’tis some wild man of the woods; I’ve heard They build and carry torches–

Never Ape
Bore such a brow before the heavens as that– Chain’d as you say too!–

Oh, that dreadful chain!

And now he sets the lamp down by his side, And with one hand clench’d in his tangled hair And with a sigh as if his heart would break–

(During this Segismund has entered from the fortress, with a torch.)

Once more the storm has roar’d itself away, Splitting the crags of God as it retires; But sparing still what it should only blast, This guilty piece of human handiwork,
And all that are within it. Oh, how oft, How oft, within or here abroad, have I
Waited, and in the whisper of my heart Pray’d for the slanting hand of heaven to strike The blow myself I dared not, out of fear Of that Hereafter, worse, they say, than here, Plunged headlong in, but, till dismissal waited, To wipe at last all sorrow from men’s eyes, And make this heavy dispensation clear.
Thus have I borne till now, and still endure, Crouching in sullen impotence day by day, Till some such out-burst of the elements Like this rouses the sleeping fire within; And standing thus upon the threshold of
Another night about to close the door Upon one wretched day to open it
On one yet wretcheder because one more;– Once more, you savage heavens, I ask of you– I, looking up to those relentless eyes
That, now the greater lamp is gone below, Begin to muster in the listening skies;
In all the shining circuits you have gone About this theatre of human woe,
What greater sorrow have you gazed upon Than down this narrow chink you witness still; And which, did you yourselves not fore-devise, You registered for others to fulfil!

This is some Laureate at a birthday ode; No wonder we went rhyming.

Hush! And now
See, starting to his feet, he strides about Far as his tether’d steps–

And if the chain
You help’d to rivet round me did contract Since guiltless infancy from guilt in act; Of what in aspiration or in thought
Guilty, but in resentment of the wrong That wreaks revenge on wrong I never wrought By excommunication from the free
Inheritance that all created life,
Beside myself, is born to–from the wings That range your own immeasurable blue,
Down to the poor, mute, scale-imprison’d things, That yet are free to wander, glide, and pass About that under-sapphire, whereinto
Yourselves transfusing you yourselves englass!

What mystery is this?

Why, the man’s mad:
That’s all the mystery. That’s why he’s chain’d– And why–

Nor Nature’s guiltless life alone– But that which lives on blood and rapine; nay, Charter’d with larger liberty to slay
Their guiltless kind, the tyrants of the air Soar zenith-upward with their screaming prey, Making pure heaven drop blood upon the stage Of under earth, where lion, wolf, and bear, And they that on their treacherous velvet wear Figure and constellation like your own,
With their still living slaughter bound away Over the barriers of the mountain cage,
Against which one, blood-guiltless, and endued With aspiration and with aptitude
Transcending other creatures, day by day Beats himself mad with unavailing rage!

Why, that must be the meaning of my mule’s Rebellion–


But then if murder be
The law by which not only conscience-blind Creatures, but man too prospers with his kind; Who leaving all his guilty fellows free, Under your fatal auspice and divine
Compulsion, leagued in some mysterious ban Against one innocent and helpless man,
Abuse their liberty to murder mine: And sworn to silence, like their masters mute In heaven, and like them twirling through the mask Of darkness, answering to all I ask,
Point up to them whose work they execute!

Ev’n as I thought, some poor unhappy wretch, By man wrong’d, wretched, unrevenged, as I! Nay, so much worse than I, as by those chains Clipt of the means of self-revenge on those Who lay on him what they deserve. And I, Who taunted Heaven a little while ago
With pouring all its wrath upon my head– Alas! like him who caught the cast-off husk Of what another bragg’d of feeding on,
Here’s one that from the refuse of my sorrows Could gather all the banquet he desires! Poor soul, poor soul!

Speak lower–he will hear you.

And if he should, what then? Why, if he would, He could not harm me–Nay, and if he could, Methinks I’d venture something of a life I care so little for–

Who’s that? Clotaldo? Who are you, I say, That, venturing in these forbidden rocks, Have lighted on my miserable life,
And your own death?

You would not hurt me, surely?

Not I; but those that, iron as the chain In which they slay me with a lingering death, Will slay you with a sudden–Who are you?

A stranger from across the mountain there, Who, having lost his way in this strange land And coming night, drew hither to what seem’d A human dwelling hidden in these rocks,
And where the voice of human sorrow soon Told him it was so.

Ay? But nearer–nearer–
That by this smoky supplement of day But for a moment I may see who speaks
So pitifully sweet.

Take care! take care!

Alas, poor man, that I, myself so helpless, Could better help you than by barren pity, And my poor presence–

Oh, might that be all!
But that–a few poor moments–and, alas! The very bliss of having, and the dread
Of losing, under such a penalty
As every moment’s having runs more near, Stifles the very utterance and resource
They cry for quickest; till from sheer despair Of holding thee, methinks myself would tear To pieces–

There, his word’s enough for it.

Oh, think, if you who move about at will, And live in sweet communion with your kind, After an hour lost in these lonely rocks Hunger and thirst after some human voice To drink, and human face to feed upon;
What must one do where all is mute, or harsh, And ev’n the naked face of cruelty
Were better than the mask it works beneath?– Across the mountain then! Across the mountain! What if the next world which they tell one of Be only next across the mountain then,
Though I must never see it till I die, And you one of its angels?

Alas; alas!
No angel! And the face you think so fair, ‘Tis but the dismal frame-work of these rocks That makes it seem so; and the world I come from– Alas, alas, too many faces there
Are but fair vizors to black hearts below, Or only serve to bring the wearer woe!
But to yourself–If haply the redress That I am here upon may help to yours.
I heard you tax the heavens with ordering, And men for executing, what, alas!
I now behold. But why, and who they are Who do, and you who suffer–

SEG. (pointing upwards).
Ask of them,
Whom, as to-night, I have so often ask’d, And ask’d in vain.

But surely, surely–

The trumpet of the watch to shut us in. Oh, should they find you!–Quick! Behind the rocks! To-morrow–if to-morrow–

ROS. (flinging her sword toward him). Take my sword!

(Rosaura and Fife hide in the rocks; Enter Clotaldo)

These stormy days you like to see the last of Are but ill opiates, Segismund, I think, For night to follow: and to-night you seem More than your wont disorder’d. What! A sword? Within there!

(Enter Soldiers with black vizors and torches)

Here’s a pleasant masquerade!

Whosever watch this was
Will have to pay head-reckoning. Meanwhile, This weapon had a wearer. Bring him here, Alive or dead.

Clotaldo! good Clotaldo!–

CLO. (to Soldiers who enclose Segismund; others searching the rocks). You know your duty.

SOLDIERS (bringing in Rosaura and Fife). Here are two of them,
Whoever more to follow–

Who are you,
That in defiance of known proclamation Are found, at night-fall too, about this place?

Oh, my Lord, she–I mean he–

Silence, Fife,
And let me speak for both.–Two foreign men, To whom your country and its proclamations Are equally unknown; and had we known,
Ourselves not masters of our lawless beasts That, terrified by the storm among your rocks, Flung us upon them to our cost.

My mule–

Foreigners? Of what country?


And whither bound?

Hither–if this be Poland;
But with no ill design on her, and therefore Taking it ill that we should thus be stopt Upon her threshold so uncivilly.

Whither in Poland?

To the capital.

And on what errand?

Set me on the road,
And you shall be the nearer to my answer.

CLO. (aside).
So resolute and ready to reply,
And yet so young–and–
Your business was not surely with the man We found you with?

He was the first we saw,–
And strangers and benighted, as we were, As you too would have done in a like case, Accosted him at once.

Ay, but this sword?

I flung it toward him.

Well, and why?

And why? But to revenge himself on those who thus Injuriously misuse him.

‘Tis well such resolution wants a beard And, I suppose, is never to attain one.
Well, I must take you both, you and your sword, Prisoners.

FIFE. (offering a cudgel).
Pray take mine, and welcome, sir;
I’m sure I gave it to that mule of mine To mighty little purpose.

Mine you have;
And may it win us some more kindliness Than we have met with yet.

CLO (examining the sword).
More mystery!
How came you by this weapon?

From my father.

And do you know whence he?

Oh, very well:
From one of this same Polish realm of yours, Who promised a return, should come the chance, Of courtesies that he received himself
In Muscovy, and left this pledge of it– Not likely yet, it seems, to be redeem’d.

CLO (aside).
Oh, wondrous chance–or wondrous Providence! The sword that I myself in Muscovy,
When these white hairs were black, for keepsake left Of obligation for a like return
To him who saved me wounded as I lay Fighting against his country; took me home; Tended me like a brother till recover’d, Perchance to fight against him once again And now my sword put back into my hand
By his–if not his son–still, as so seeming, By me, as first devoir of gratitude,
To seem believing, till the wearer’s self See fit to drop the ill-dissembling mask. (Aloud.)
Well, a strange turn of fortune has arrested The sharp and sudden penalty that else
Had visited your rashness or mischance: In part, your tender youth too–pardon me, And touch not where your sword is not to answer– Commends you to my care; not your life only, Else by this misadventure forfeited;
But ev’n your errand, which, by happy chance, Chimes with the very business I am on,
And calls me to the very point you aim at.

The capital?

Ay, the capital; and ev’n
That capital of capitals, the Court: Where you may plead, and, I may promise, win Pardon for this, you say unwilling, trespass, And prosecute what else you have at heart, With me to help you forward all I can;
Provided all in loyalty to those
To whom by natural allegiance
I first am bound to.

As you make, I take
Your offer: with like promise on my side Of loyalty to you and those you serve,
Under like reservation for regards
Nearer and dearer still.

Enough, enough;
Your hand; a bargain on both sides. Meanwhile, Here shall you rest to-night. The break of day Shall see us both together on the way.

Thus then what I for misadventure blamed, Directly draws me where my wishes aim’d.


The Palace at Warsaw

Enter on one side Astolfo, Duke of Muscovy, with his train: and, on the other, the Princess Estrella, with hers.

My royal cousin, if so near in blood, Till this auspicious meeting scarcely known, Till all that beauty promised in the bud Is now to its consummate blossom blown,
Well met at last; and may–

Enough, my Lord,
Of compliment devised for you by some Court tailor, and, believe me, still too short To cover the designful heart below.

Nay, but indeed, fair cousin–

Ay, let Deed
Measure your words, indeed your flowers of speech Ill with your iron equipage atone;
Irony indeed, and wordy compliment.

Indeed, indeed, you wrong me, royal cousin, And fair as royal, misinterpreting
What, even for the end you think I aim at, If false to you, were fatal to myself.

Why, what else means the glittering steel, my Lord, That bristles in the rear of these fine words? What can it mean, but, failing to cajole, To fight or force me from my just pretension?

Nay, might I not ask ev’n the same of you, The nodding helmets of whose men-at-arms Out-crest the plumage of your lady court?

But to defend what yours would force from me.

Might not I, lady, say the same of mine? But not to come to battle, ev’n of words, With a fair lady, and my kinswoman;
And as averse to stand before your face, Defenceless, and condemn’d in your disgrace, Till the good king be here to clear it all– Will you vouchsafe to hear me?

As you will.

You know that, when about to leave this world, Our royal grandsire, King Alfonso, left
Three children; one a son, Basilio, Who wears–long may he wear! the crown of Poland; And daughters twain: of whom the elder was Your mother, Clorilena, now some while
Exalted to a more than mortal throne; And Recisunda, mine, the younger sister, Who, married to the Prince of Muscovy,
Gave me the light which may she live to see Herself for many, many years to come.
Meanwhile, good King Basilio, as you know, Deep in abstruser studies than this world, And busier with the stars than lady’s eyes, Has never by a second marriage yet
Replaced, as Poland ask’d of him, the heir An early marriage brought and took away; His young queen dying with the son she bore him; And in such alienation grown so old
As leaves no other hope of heir to Poland Than his two sisters’ children; you, fair cousin, And me; for whom the Commons of the realm Divide themselves into two several factions; Whether for you, the elder sister’s child; Or me, born of the younger, but, they say, My natural prerogative of man
Outweighing your priority of birth. Which discord growing loud and dangerous, Our uncle, King Basilio, doubly sage
In prophesying and providing for
The future, as to deal with it when come, Bids us here meet to-day in solemn council Our several pretensions to compose.
And, but the martial out-burst that proclaims His coming, makes all further parley vain, Unless my bosom, by which only wise
I prophesy, now wrongly prophesies, By such a happy compact as I dare
But glance at till the Royal Sage declare.

(Trumpets, etc. Enter King Basilio with his Council.)

The King! God save the King!

ESTRELLA (Kneeling.)
Oh, Royal Sir!–

ASTOLFO (Kneeling.)
God save your Majesty–

Rise both of you,
Rise to my arms, Astolfo and Estrella; As my two sisters’ children always mine, Now more than ever, since myself and Poland Solely to you for our succession look’d. And now give ear, you and your several factions, And you, the Peers and Princes of this realm, While I reveal the purport of this meeting In words whose necessary length I trust
No unsuccessful issue shall excuse. You and the world who have surnamed me “Sage” Know that I owe that title, if my due,
To my long meditation on the book
Which ever lying open overhead–
The book of heaven, I mean–so few have read; Whose golden letters on whose sapphire leaf, Distinguishing the page of day and night, And all the revolution of the year;
So with the turning volume where they lie Still changing their prophetic syllables, They register the destinies of men:
Until with eyes that, dim with years indeed, Are quicker to pursue the stars than rule them, I get the start of Time, and from his hand The wand of tardy revelation draw.
Oh, had the self-same heaven upon his page Inscribed my death ere I should read my life And, by fore-casting of my own mischance, Play not the victim but the suicide
In my own tragedy!–But you shall hear. You know how once, as kings must for their people, And only once, as wise men for themselves, I woo’d and wedded: know too that my Queen In childing died; but not, as you believe, With her, the son she died in giving life to. For, as the hour of birth was on the stroke, Her brain conceiving with her womb, she dream’d A serpent tore her entrail. And too surely (For evil omen seldom speaks in vain)
The man-child breaking from that living tomb That makes our birth the antitype of death, Man-grateful, for the life she gave him paid By killing her: and with such circumstance As suited such unnatural tragedy;
He coming into light, if light it were That darken’d at his very horoscope,
When heaven’s two champions–sun and moon I mean– Suffused in blood upon each other fell
In such a raging duel of eclipse
As hath not terrified the universe
Since that which wept in blood the death of Christ: When the dead walk’d, the waters turn’d to blood, Earth and her cities totter’d, and the world Seem’d shaken to its last paralysis.
In such a paroxysm of dissolution
That son of mine was born; by that first act Heading the monstrous catalogue of crime, I found fore-written in his horoscope;
As great a monster in man’s history As was in nature his nativity;
So savage, bloody, terrible, and impious, Who, should he live, would tear his country’s entrails, As by his birth his mother’s; with which crime Beginning, he should clench the dreadful tale By trampling on his father’s silver head. All which fore-reading, and his act of birth Fate’s warrant that I read his life aright; To save his country from his mother’s fate, I gave abroad that he had died with her
His being slew; with midnight secrecy I had him carried to a lonely tower
Hewn from the mountain-barriers of the realm, And under strict anathema of death
Guarded from men’s inquisitive approach, Save from the trusty few one needs must trust; Who while his fasten’d body they provide With salutary garb and nourishment,
Instruct his soul in what no soul may miss Of holy faith, and in such other lore
As may solace his life-imprisonment, And tame perhaps the Savage prophesied
Toward such a trial as I aim at now, And now demand your special hearing to.
What in this fearful business I have done, Judge whether lightly or maliciously,–
I, with my own and only flesh and blood, And proper lineal inheritor!
I swear, had his foretold atrocities Touch’d me alone. I had not saved myself At such a cost to him; but as a king,–
A Christian king,–I say, advisedly, Who would devote his people to a tyrant
Worse than Caligula fore-chronicled? But even this not without grave mis-giving, Lest by some chance mis-reading of the stars, Or mis-direction of what rightly read,
I wrong my son of his prerogative,
And Poland of her rightful sovereign. For, sure and certain prophets as the stars, Although they err not, he who reads them may; Or rightly reading–seeing there is One
Who governs them, as, under Him, they us, We are not sure if the rough diagram
They draw in heaven and we interpret here, Be sure of operation, if the Will
Supreme, that sometimes for some special end The course of providential nature breaks By miracle, may not of these same stars
Cancel his own first draft, or overrule What else fore-written all else overrules. As, for example, should the Will Almighty Permit the Free-will of particular man
To break the meshes of else strangling fate– Which Free-will, fearful of foretold abuse, I have myself from my own son fore-closed From ever possible self-extrication;
A terrible responsibility,
Not to the conscience to be reconciled Unless opposing almost certain evil
Against so slight contingency of good. Well–thus perplex’d, I have resolved at last To bring the thing to trial: whereunto
Here have I summon’d you, my Peers, and you Whom I more dearly look to, failing him, As witnesses to that which I propose;
And thus propose the doing it. Clotaldo, Who guards my son with old fidelity,
Shall bring him hither from his tower by night Lockt in a sleep so fast as by my art
I rivet to within a link of death,
But yet from death so far, that next day’s dawn Shall wake him up upon the royal bed,
Complete in consciousness and faculty, When with all princely pomp and retinue
My loyal Peers with due obeisance
Shall hail him Segismund, the Prince of Poland. Then if with any show of human kindness
He fling discredit, not upon the stars, But upon me, their misinterpreter,
With all apology mistaken age
Can make to youth it never meant to harm, To my son’s forehead will I shift the crown I long have wish’d upon a younger brow;
And in religious humiliation,
For what of worn-out age remains to me, Entreat my pardon both of Heaven and him For tempting destinies beyond my reach.
But if, as I misdoubt, at his first step The hoof of the predicted savage shows;
Before predicted mischief can be done, The self-same sleep that loosed him from the chain Shall re-consign him, not to loose again. Then shall I, having lost that heir direct, Look solely to my sisters’ children twain Each of a claim so equal as divides
The voice of Poland to their several sides, But, as I trust, to be entwined ere long Into one single wreath so fair and strong As shall at once all difference atone,
And cease the realm’s division with their own. Cousins and Princes, Peers and Councillors, Such is the purport of this invitation,
And such is my design. Whose furtherance If not as Sovereign, if not as Seer,
Yet one whom these white locks, if nothing else, to patient acquiescence consecrate,
I now demand and even supplicate.

Such news, and from such lips, may well suspend The tongue to loyal answer most attuned; But if to me as spokesman of my faction
Your Highness looks for answer; I reply For one and all–Let Segismund, whom now We first hear tell of as your living heir, Appear, and but in your sufficient eye
Approve himself worthy to be your son, Then we will hail him Poland’s rightful heir. What says my cousin?

Ay, with all my heart.
But if my youth and sex upbraid me not That I should dare ask of so wise a king–

Ask, ask, fair cousin! Nothing, I am sure, Not well consider’d; nay, if ’twere, yet nothing But pardonable from such lips as those.

Then, with your pardon, Sir–if Segismund, My cousin, whom I shall rejoice to hail
As Prince of Poland too, as you propose, Be to a trial coming upon which
More, as I think, than life itself depends, Why, Sir, with sleep-disorder’d senses brought To this uncertain contest with his stars?

Well ask’d indeed! As wisely be it answer’d! /Because/ it is uncertain, see you not?
For as I think I can discern between The sudden flaws of a sleep-startled man, And of the savage thing we have to dread; If but bewilder’d, dazzled, and uncouth, As might the sanest and the civilest
In circumstance so strange–nay, more than that, If moved to any out-break short of blood, All shall be well with him; and how much more, If ‘mid the magic turmoil of the change, He shall so calm a resolution show
As scarce to reel beneath so great a blow! But if with savage passion uncontroll’d
He lay about him like the brute foretold, And must as suddenly be caged again;
Then what redoubled anguish and despair, From that brief flash of blissful liberty Remitted–and for ever–to his chain!
Which so much less, if on the stage of glory Enter’d and exited through such a door
Of sleep as makes a dream of all between.

Oh kindly answer, Sir, to question that To charitable courtesy less wise
Might call for pardon rather! I shall now Gladly, what, uninstructed, loyally
I should have waited.

Your Highness doubts not me,
Nor how my heart follows my cousin’s lips, Whatever way the doubtful balance fall,
Still loyal to your bidding.

So say all.

I hoped, and did expect, of all no less– And sure no sovereign ever needed more
From all who owe him love or loyalty. For what a strait of time I stand upon,
When to this issue not alone I bring My son your Prince, but e’en myself your King: And, whichsoever way for him it turn,
Of less than little honour to myself. For if this coming trial justify
My thus withholding from my son his right, Is not the judge himself justified in
The father’s shame? And if the judge proved wrong, My son withholding from his right thus long, Shame and remorse to judge and father both: Unless remorse and shame together drown’d In having what I flung for worthless found. But come–already weary with your travel, And ill refresh’d by this strange history, Until the hours that draw the sun from heaven Unite us at the customary board,
Each to his several chamber: you to rest; I to contrive with old Clotaldo best
The method of a stranger thing than old Time has a yet among his records told.



SCENE I–A Throne-room in the Palace. Music within.

(Enter King and Clotaldo, meeting a Lord in waiting)

You, for a moment beckon’d from your office, Tell me thus far how goes it. In due time The potion left him?

At the very hour
To which your Highness temper’d it. Yet not So wholly but some lingering mist still hung About his dawning senses–which to clear, We fill’d and handed him a morning drink With sleep’s specific antidote suffused; And while with princely raiment we invested What nature surely modell’d for a Prince– All but the sword–as you directed–


If not too loudly, yet emphatically Still with the title of a Prince address’d him.

How bore he that?

With all the rest, my liege,
I will not say so like one in a dream As one himself misdoubting that he dream’d.

So far so well, Clotaldo, either way, And best of all if tow’rd the worse I dread. But yet no violence?

At most, impatience;
Wearied perhaps with importunities
We yet were bound to offer.

Oh, Clotaldo!
Though thus far well, yet would myself had drunk The potion he revives from! such suspense Crowds all the pulses of life’s residue
Into the present moment; and, I think, Whichever way the trembling scale may turn, Will leave the crown of Poland for some one To wait no longer than the setting sun!

Courage, my liege! The curtain is undrawn, And each must play his part out manfully, Leaving the rest to heaven.

Whose written words
If I should misinterpret or transgress! But as you say–
(To the Lord, who exit.)
You, back to him at once;
Clotaldo, you, when he is somewhat used To the new world of which they call him Prince, Where place and face, and all, is strange to him, With your known features and familiar garb Shall then, as chorus to the scene, accost him, And by such earnest of that old and too
Familiar world, assure him of the new. Last in the strange procession, I myself Will by one full and last development
Complete the plot for that catastrophe That he must put to all; God grant it be The crown of Poland on his brows!–Hark! hark!– Was that his voice within!–Now louder–Oh, Clotaldo, what! so soon begun to roar!– Again! above the music– But betide
What may, until the moment, we must hide.

(Exeunt King and Clotaldo.)

SEGISMUND (within).
Forbear! I stifle with your perfume! Cease Your crazy salutations! peace, I say
Begone, or let me go, ere I go mad
With all this babble, mummery, and glare, For I am growing dangerous–Air! room! air!– (He rushes in. Music ceases.)
Oh but to save the reeling brain from wreck With its bewilder’d senses!
(He covers his eyes for a while.)
What! E’en now
That Babel left behind me, but my eyes Pursued by the same glamour, that–unless Alike bewitch’d too–the confederate sense Vouches for palpable: bright-shining floors That ring hard answer back to the stamp’d heel, And shoot up airy columns marble-cold,
That, as they climb, break into golden leaf And capital, till they embrace aloft
In clustering flower and fruitage over walls Hung with such purple curtain as the West Fringes with such a gold; or over-laid
With sanguine-glowing semblances of men, Each in his all but living action busied, Or from the wall they look from, with fix’d eyes Pursuing me; and one most strange of all That, as I pass’d the crystal on the wall, Look’d from it–left it–and as I return, Returns, and looks me face to face again– Unless some false reflection of my brain, The outward semblance of myself–Myself? How know that tawdry shadow for myself,
But that it moves as I move; lifts his hand With mine; each motion echoing so close
The immediate suggestion of the will In which myself I recognize–Myself!–
What, this fantastic Segismund the same Who last night, as for all his nights before, Lay down to sleep in wolf-skin on the ground In a black turret which the wolf howl’d round, And woke again upon a golden bed,
Round which as clouds about a rising sun, In scarce less glittering caparison,
Gather’d gay shapes that, underneath a breeze Of music, handed him upon their knees
The wine of heaven in a cup of gold, And still in soft melodious under-song
Hailing me Prince of Poland!–‘Segismund,’ They said, ‘Our Prince! The Prince of Poland!’ and Again, ‘Oh, welcome, welcome, to his own, ‘Our own Prince Segismund–‘
Oh, but a blast–
One blast of the rough mountain air! one look At the grim features–
(He goes to the window.)
What they disvizor’d also! shatter’d chaos Cast into stately shape and masonry,
Between whose channel’d and perspective sides Compact with rooted towers, and flourishing To heaven with gilded pinnacle and spire, Flows the live current ever to and fro
With open aspect and free step!–Clotaldo! Clotaldo!–calling as one scarce dares call For him who suddenly might break the spell One fears to walk without him–Why, that I, With unencumber’d step as any there,
Go stumbling through my glory–feeling for That iron leading-string–ay, for myself– For that fast-anchor’d self of yesterday, Of yesterday, and all my life before,
Ere drifted clean from self-identity Upon the fluctuation of to-day’s
Mad whirling circumstance!–And, fool, why not? If reason, sense, and self-identity
Obliterated from a worn-out brain,
Art thou not maddest striving to be sane, And catching at that Self of yesterday
That, like a leper’s rags, best flung away! Or if not mad, then dreaming–dreaming?–well– Dreaming then–Or, if self to self be true, Not mock’d by that, but as poor souls have been By those who wrong’d them, to give wrong new relish? Or have those stars indeed they told me of As masters of my wretched life of old,
Into some happier constellation roll’d, And brought my better fortune out on earth Clear as themselves in heaven!–Prince Segismund They call’d me–and at will I shook them off– Will they return again at my command
Again to call me so?–Within there! You! Segismund calls–Prince Segismund–

(He has seated himself on the throne. Enter Chamberlain, with lords in waiting.)

I rejoice
That unadvised of any but the voice Of royal instinct in the blood, your Highness Has ta’en the chair that you were born to fill.

The chair?

The royal throne of Poland, Sir,
Which may your Royal Highness keep as long As he that now rules from it shall have ruled When heaven has call’d him to itself.

When he?–

Your royal father, King Basilio, Sir.

My royal father–King Basilio.
You see I answer but as Echo does,
Not knowing what she listens or repeats. This is my throne–this is my palace–Oh, But this out of the window?–

Warsaw, Sir,
Your capital–

And all the moving people?

Your subjects and your vassals like ourselves.

Ay, ay–my subjects–in my capital– Warsaw–and I am Prince of it–You see
It needs much iteration to strike sense Into the human echo.

Left awhile
In the quick brain, the word will quickly to Full meaning blow.

You think so?

And meanwhile
Lest our obsequiousness, which means no worse Than customary honour to the Prince
We most rejoice to welcome, trouble you, Should we retire again? or stand apart?
Or would your Highness have the music play Again, which meditation, as they say,
So often loves to float upon?

The music?
No–yes–perhaps the trumpet–
Yet if that
Brought back the troop!

The trumpet! There again
How trumpet-like spoke out the blood of Poland!

Before the morning is far up, your Highness Will have the trumpet marshalling your soldiers Under the Palace windows.

Ah, my soldiers–
My soldiers–not black-vizor’d?–


No matter.
But–one thing–for a moment–in your ear– Do you know one Clotaldo?

Oh, my Lord,
He and myself together, I may say,
Although in different vocations,
Have silver’d in your royal father’s service; And, as I trust, with both of us a few
White hairs to fall in yours.

Well said, well said!
Basilio, my father–well–Clotaldo
Is he my kinsman too?

Oh, my good Lord,
A General simply in your Highness’ service, Than whom your Highness has no trustier.

Ay, so you said before, I think. And you With that white wand of yours–
Why, now I think on’t, I have read of such A silver-hair’d magician with a wand,
Who in a moment, with a wave of it, Turn’d rags to jewels, clowns to emperors, By some benigner magic than the stars
Spirited poor good people out of hand From all their woes; in some enchanted sleep Carried them off on cloud or dragon-back Over the mountains, over the wide Deep,
And set them down to wake in Fairyland.

Oh, my good Lord, you laugh at me–and I Right glad to make you laugh at such a price: You know me no enchanter: if I were,
I and my wand as much as your Highness’, As now your chamberlain–

My chamberlain?–
And these that follow you?–

On you, my Lord,
Your Highness’ lords in waiting.

Lords in waiting.
Well, I have now learn’d to repeat, I think, If only but by rote–This is my palace,
And this my throne–which unadvised–And that Out of the window there my Capital;
And all the people moving up and down My subjects and my vassals like yourselves, My chamberlain–and lords in waiting–and Clotaldo–and Clotaldo?–
You are an aged, and seem a reverend man– You do not–though his fellow-officer–
You do not mean to mock me?

Oh, my Lord!

Well then–If no magician, as you say, Yet setting me a riddle, that my brain,
With all its senses whirling, cannot solve, Yourself or one of these with you must answer– How I–that only last night fell asleep
Not knowing that the very soil of earth I lay down–chain’d–to sleep upon was Poland– Awake to find myself the Lord of it,
With Lords, and Generals, and Chamberlains, And ev’n my very Gaoler, for my vassals!

Enter suddenly Clotaldo

Stand all aside
That I may put into his hand the clue To lead him out of this amazement. Sir,
Vouchsafe your Highness from my bended knee Receive my homage first.

Clotaldo! What,
At last–his old self–undisguised where all Is masquerade–to end it!–You kneeling too! What! have the stars you told me long ago Laid that old work upon you, added this, That, having chain’d your prisoner so long, You loose his body now to slay his wits, Dragging him–how I know not–whither scarce I understand–dressing him up in all
This frippery, with your dumb familiars Disvizor’d, and their lips unlock’d to lie, Calling him Prince and King, and, madman-like, Setting a crown of straw upon his head?

Would but your Highness, as indeed I now Must call you–and upon his bended knee
Never bent Subject more devotedly– However all about you, and perhaps
You to yourself incomprehensiblest, But rest in the assurance of your own
Sane waking senses, by these witnesses Attested, till the story of it all,
Of which I bring a chapter, be reveal’d, Assured of all you see and hear as neither Madness nor mockery–

What then?

All it seems:
This palace with its royal garniture; This capital of which it is the eye,
With all its temples, marts, and arsenals; This realm of which this city is the head, With all its cities, villages, and tilth, Its armies, fleets, and commerce; all your own; And all the living souls that make them up, From those who now, and those who shall, salute you, Down to the poorest peasant of the realm, Your subjects–Who, though now their mighty voice Sleeps in the general body unapprized,
Wait but a word from those about you now To hail you Prince of Poland, Segismund.

All this is so?

As sure as anything
Is, or can be.

You swear it on the faith
You taught me–elsewhere?–

CLO (kissing the hilt of his sword).
Swear it upon this Symbol,
and champion of the holy faith
I wear it to defend.

SEG (to himself).
My eyes have not deceived me, nor my ears, With this transfiguration, nor the strain Of royal welcome that arose and blew,
Breathed from no lying lips, along with it. For here Clotaldo comes, his own old self, Who, if not Lie and phantom with the rest– (Aloud)
Well, then, all this is thus.
For have not these fine people told me so, And you, Clotaldo, sworn it? And the Why And Wherefore are to follow by and bye!
And yet–and yet–why wait for that which you Who take your oath on it can answer–and Indeed it presses hard upon my brain–
What I was asking of these gentlemen When you came in upon us; how it is
That I–the Segismund you know so long No longer than the sun that rose to-day
Rose–and from what you know–
Rose to be Prince of Poland?

So to be
Acknowledged and entreated, Sir.

So be
Acknowledged and entreated–
Well–But if now by all, by some at least So known–if not entreated–heretofore– Though not by you–For, now I think again, Of what should be your attestation worth, You that of all my questionable subjects Who knowing what, yet left me where I was, You least of all, Clotaldo, till the dawn Of this first day that told it to myself?

Oh, let your Highness draw the line across Fore-written sorrow, and in this new dawn Bury that long sad night.

Not ev’n the Dead,
Call’d to the resurrection of the blest, Shall so directly drop all memory
Of woes and wrongs foregone!

But not resent–
Purged by the trial of that sorrow past For full fruition of their present bliss.

But leaving with the Judge what, till this earth Be cancell’d in the burning heavens, He leaves His earthly delegates to execute,
Of retribution in reward to them
And woe to those who wrong’d them–Not as you, Not you, Clotaldo, knowing not–And yet
Ev’n to the guiltiest wretch in all the realm, Of any treason guilty short of that,
Stern usage–but assuredly not knowing, Not knowing ’twas your sovereign lord, Clotaldo, You used so sternly.

Ay, sir; with the same
Devotion and fidelity that now
Does homage to him for my sovereign.

Fidelity that held his Prince in chains!

Fidelity more fast than had it loosed him–

Ev’n from the very dawn of consciousness Down at the bottom of the barren rocks,
Where scarce a ray of sunshine found him out, In which the poorest beggar of my realm
At least to human-full proportion grows– Me! Me–whose station was the kingdom’s top To flourish in, reaching my head to heaven, And with my branches overshadowing
The meaner growth below!

Still with the same

To me!–

Ay, sir, to you,
Through that divine allegiance upon which All Order and Authority is based;
Which to revolt against–

Were to revolt
Against the stars, belike!

And him who reads them;
And by that right, and by the sovereignty He wears as you shall wear it after him; Ay, one to whom yourself–
Yourself, ev’n more than any subject here, Are bound by yet another and more strong Allegiance–King Basilio–your Father–

Basilio–King–my father!–

Oh, my Lord,
Let me beseech you on my bended knee, For your own sake–for Poland’s–and for his, Who, looking up for counsel to the skies, Did what he did under authority
To which the kings of earth themselves are subject, And whose behest not only he that suffers, But he that executes, not comprehends,
But only He that orders it–

The King–
My father!–Either I am mad already, Or that way driving fast–or I should know That fathers do not use their children so, Or men were loosed from all allegiance
To fathers, kings, and heaven that order’d all. But, mad or not, my hour is come, and I
Will have my reckoning–Either you lie, Under the skirt of sinless majesty
Shrouding your treason; or if /that/ indeed, Guilty itself, take refuge in the stars
That cannot hear the charge, or disavow– You, whether doer or deviser, who
Come first to hand, shall pay the penalty By the same hand you owe it to–
(Seizing Clotaldo’s sword and about to strike him.)

(Enter Rosaura suddenly.)

Fie, my Lord–forbear,
What! a young hand raised against silver hair!–

(She retreats through the crowd.)

Stay! stay! What come and vanish’d as before– I scarce remember how–but–

(Voices within. Room for Astolfo, Duke of Muscovy!)

(Enter Astolfo)

Welcome, thrice welcome, the auspicious day, When from the mountain where he darkling lay, The Polish sun into the firmament
Sprung all the brighter for his late ascent, And in meridian glory–

Where is he?
Why must I ask this twice?–

The Page, my Lord?
I wonder at his boldness–

But I tell you
He came with Angel written in his face As now it is, when all was black as hell About, and none of you who now–he came, And Angel-like flung me a shining sword
To cut my way through darkness; and again Angel-like wrests it from me in behalf
Of one–whom I will spare for sparing him: But he must come and plead with that same voice That pray’d for me–in vain.

He is gone for,
And shall attend your pleasure, sir. Meanwhile, Will not your Highness, as in courtesy,
Return your royal cousin’s greeting?


Astolfo, Duke of Muscovy, my Lord,
Saluted, and with gallant compliment Welcomed you to your royal title.

SEG. (to Astolfo).
You knew of this then?

Knew of what, my Lord?

That I was Prince of Poland all the while, And you my subject?

Pardon me, my Lord,
But some few hours ago myself I learn’d Your dignity; but, knowing it, no more
Than when I knew it not, your subject.

What then?

Your Highness’ chamberlain ev’n now has told you; Astolfo, Duke of Muscovy,
Your father’s sister’s son; your cousin, sir: And who as such, and in his own right Prince, Expects from you the courtesy he shows.

His Highness is as yet unused to Court, And to the ceremonious interchange
Of compliment, especially to those
Who draw their blood from the same royal fountain.

Where is the lad? I weary of all this– Prince, cousins, chamberlains, and compliments– Where are my soldiers? Blow the trumpet, and With one sharp blast scatter these butterflies And bring the men of iron to my side,
With whom a king feels like a king indeed!

(Voices within. Within there! room for the Princess Estrella!)

(Enter Estrella with Ladies.)

Welcome, my Lord, right welcome to the throne That much too long has waited for your coming: And, in the general voice of Poland, hear A kinswoman and cousin’s no less sincere.

Ay, this is welcome-worth indeed,
And cousin cousin-worth! Oh, I have thus Over the threshold of the mountain seen, Leading a bevy of fair stars, the moon
Enter the court of heaven–My kinswoman! My cousin! But my subject?–

If you please
To count your cousin for your subject, sir, You shall not find her a disloyal.

But there are twin stars in that heavenly face, That now I know for having over-ruled
Those evil ones that darken’d all my past And brought me forth from that captivity To be the slave of her who set me free.

Indeed, my Lord, these eyes have no such power Over the past or present: but perhaps
They brighten at your welcome to supply The little that a lady’s speech commends; And in the hope that, let whichever be
The other’s subject, we may both be friends.

Your hand to that–But why does this warm hand Shoot a cold shudder through me?

In revenge
For likening me to that cold moon, perhaps.

Oh, but the lip whose music tells me so Breathes of a warmer planet, and that lip Shall remedy the treason of the hand!
(He catches to embrace her.)

Release me, sir!

And pardon me, my Lord.
This lady is a Princess absolute,
As Prince he is who just saluted you, And claims her by affiance.

Hence, old fool,
For ever thrusting that white stick of yours Between me and my pleasure!

This cause is mine.
Forbear, sir–

What, sir mouth-piece, you again?

My Lord, I waive your insult to myself In recognition of the dignity
You yet are new to, and that greater still You look in time to wear. But for this lady– Whom, if my cousin now, I hope to claim
Henceforth by yet a nearer, dearer name–

And what care I? She is my cousin too: And if you be a Prince–well, am not I
Lord of the very soil you stand upon? By that, and by that right beside of blood That like a fiery fountain hitherto
Pent in the rock leaps toward her at her touch, Mine, before all the cousins in Muscovy! You call me Prince of Poland, and yourselves My subjects–traitors therefore to this hour, Who let me perish all my youth away
Chain’d there among the mountains; till, forsooth, Terrified at your treachery foregone,
You spirit me up here, I know not how, Popinjay-like invest me like yourselves, Choke me with scent and music that I loathe, And, worse than all the music and the scent, With false, long-winded, fulsome compliment, That ‘Oh, you are my subjects!’ and in word Reiterating still obedience,