Read ACT I: SCENE III of Representative Plays by American Dramatists: 1856-1911: Francesca da Rimini, free online book, by George Henry Boker, on ReadCentral.com.

The Same. A Room in the Same. Enter LANCIOTTO, hastily.

LANCIOTTO. Why do these prodigies environ me?
In ancient Rome, the words a fool might drop,
From the confusion of his vagrant thoughts,
Were held as omens, prophecies; and men
Who made earth tremble with majestic deeds,
Trembled themselves at fortune’s lightest threat.
I like it not. My father named this match
While I boiled over with vindictive wrath
Towards Guido and Ravenna. Straight my heart
Sank down like lead; a weakness seized on me,
A dismal gloom that I could not resist;
I lacked the power to take my stand, and say
Bluntly, I will not! Am I in the toils?
Has fate so weakened me, to work its end?
There seems a fascination in it, too,
A morbid craving to pursue a thing
Whose issue may be fatal. Would that I
Were in the wars again! These mental weeds
Grow on the surface of inactive peace.
I’m haunted by myself. Thought preys on thought.
My mind seems crowded in the hideous mould
That shaped my body. What a fool am I
To bear the burden of my wretched life,
To sweat and toil under the world’s broad eye,
Climb into fame, and find myself O, what?
A most conspicuous monster! Crown my head,
Pile Caesar’s purple on me and what then?
My hump shall shorten the imperial robe,
My leg peep out beneath the scanty hem,
My broken hip shall twist the gown awry;
And pomp, instead of dignifying me,
Shall be by me made quite ridiculous.
The faintest coward would not bear all this:
Prodigious courage must be mine, to live;
To die asks nothing but weak will, and I
Feel like a craven. Let me skulk away
Ere life o’ertask me. [Offers to stab himself.

Enter PAOLO.

PAOLO. [Seizing his hand.] Brother! what is this?
Lanciotto, are you mad? Kind Heaven! look here
Straight in my eyes. Now answer, do you know
How near you were to murder? Dare you bend
Your wicked hand against a heart I love?
Were it for you to mourn your wilful death,
With such a bitterness as would be ours,
The wish would ne’er have crossed you. While we’re bound
Life into life, a chain of loving hearts,
Were it not base in you, the middle link,
To snap, and scatter all? Shame, brother, shame!
I thought you better metal.

LANCIOTTO. Spare your words.
I know the seasons of our human grief,
And can predict them without almanac.
A few sobs o’er the body, and a few
Over the coffin; then a sigh or two,
Whose windy passage dries the hanging tear;
Perchance, some wandering memories, some regrets;
Then a vast influx of consoling thoughts
Based on the trials of the sadder days
Which the dead missed; and then a smiling face
Turned on to-morrow. Such is mortal grief.
It writes its histories within a span,
And never lives to read them.

PAOLO. Lanciotto,
I heard the bells of Rimini, just now,
Exulting o’er your coming marriage-day,
While you conspired to teach them gloomier sounds.
Why are you sad?

LANCIOTTO. Paolo, I am wretched;
Sad’s a faint word. But of my marriage-bells
Heard you the knell that Pepe rang?

PAOLO. ’Twas strange:
A sullen antic of his crabbed wit.

LANCIOTTO. It was portentous. All dumb things find tongues
Against this marriage. As I passed the hall,
My armour glittered on the wall, and I
Paused by the harness, as before a friend
Whose well-known features slack our hurried gait;
Francesca’s name was fresh upon my mind,
So I half-uttered it. Instant, my sword
Leaped from its scabbard, as with sudden life,
Plunged down and pierced into the oaken floor,
Shivering with fear! Lo! while I gazed upon it
Doubting the nature of the accident
Around the point appeared a spot of blood,
Oozing upon the floor, that spread and spread
As I stood gasping by in speechless horror
Ring beyond ring, until the odious tide
Crawled to my feet, and lapped them, like the tongues
Of angry serpents! O, my God! I fled
At the first touch of the infernal stain!
Go you may see go to the hall!

PAOLO. Fie! man,
You have been ever played on in this sort
By your wild fancies. When your heart is high,
You make them playthings; but in lower moods,
They seem to sap the essence of your soul,
And drain your manhood to its poorest dregs.

LANCIOTTO. Go look, go look!

PAOLO. [Goes to the door, and returns.] There sticks the sword, indeed,
Just as your tread detached it from its sheath; Looking more like a blessed cross, I think,
Than a bad looking omen. As for blood Ha, ha!
[Laughing.]
It sets mine dancing. Pshaw! away with this!
Deck up your face with smiles. Go trim yourself
For the young bride. New velvet, gold, and gems,
Do wonders for us. Brother, come; I’ll be
Your tiring-man, for once.

LANCIOTTO. Array this lump
Paolo, hark! There are some human thoughts
Best left imprisoned in the aching heart,
Lest the freed malefactors should dispread
Infamous ruin with their liberty.
There’s not a man the fairest of ye all
Who is not fouler than he seems. This life
Is one unending struggle to conceal
Our baseness from our fellows. Here stands one
In vestal whiteness with a lecher’s lust;
There sits a judge, holding law’s scales in hands
That itch to take the bribe he dare not touch;
Here goes a priest with heavenward eyes, whose soul
Is Satan’s council-chamber; there a doctor,
With nature’s secrets wrinkled round a brow
Guilty with conscious ignorance; and here
A soldier rivals Hector’s bloody deeds
Out-does the devil in audacity
With craven longings fluttering in a heart
That dares do aught but fly! Thus are we all
Mere slaves and alms-men to a scornful world,
That takes us at our seeming.

PAOLO. Say ’tis true;
What do you drive at?

LANCIOTTO. At myself, full tilt.
I, like the others, am not what I seem.
Men call me gentle, courteous, brave. They lie!
I’m harsh, rude, and a coward. Had I nerve
To cast my devils out upon the earth,
I’d show this laughing planet what a hell
Of envy, malice, cruelty, and scorn,
It has forced back to canker in the heart
Of one poor cripple!

PAOLO. Ha!

LANCIOTTO. Ay, now ’tis out!
A word I never breathed to man before.
Can you, who are a miracle of grace,
Feel what it is to be a wreck like me?
Paolo, look at me. Is there a line,
In my whole bulk of wretched contraries,
That nature in a nightmare ever used
Upon her shapes till now? Find me the man,
Or beast, or tree, or rock, or nameless thing,
So out of harmony with all things else,
And I’ll go raving with bare happiness,
Ay, and I’ll marry Helena of Greece,
And swear I do her honour!

PAOLO. Lanciotto,
I, who have known you from a stripling up,
Never observed, or, if I did, ne’er weighed
Your special difference from the rest of men.
You’re not Apollo

LANCIOTTO. No!

PAOLO. Nor yet are you
A second Pluto. Could I change with you
My graces for your nobler qualities
Your strength, your courage, your renown by heaven,
We’d e’en change persons, to the finest hair.

LANCIOTTO. You should be flatterer to an emperor.

PAOLO. I am but just. Let me beseech you, brother.
To look with greater favour on yourself;
Nor suffer misty phantoms of your brain
To take the place of sound realities.
Go to Ravenna, wed your bride, and lull
Your cruel delusions in domestic peace.
Ghosts fly a fireside; ’tis their wont to stalk
Through empty houses, and through empty hearts.
I know Francesca will be proud of you.
Women admire you heroes. Rusty sages,
Pale poets, and scarred warriors, have been
Their idols ever; while we fair plump fools
Are elbowed to the wall, or only used
For vacant pastime.

LANCIOTTO. To Ravenna? no!
In Rimini they know me; at Ravenna
I’d be a new-come monster, and exposed
To curious wonder. There will be parade
Of all the usual follies of the state;
Fellows with trumpets, tinselled coats, and wands,
Would strut before me, like vain mountebanks
Before their monkeys. Then, I should be stared
Out of my modesty; and when they look,
How can I tell if ’tis the bridegroom’s face
Or hump that draws their eyes? I will not go.
To please you all, I’ll marry; but to please
The wonder-mongers of Ravenna Ha!
Paolo, now I have it. You shall go,
To bring Francesca; and you’ll speak of me,
Not as I ought to be, but as I am.
If she draw backward, give her rein; and say
That neither Guido-nor herself shall feel
The weight of my displeasure. You may say,
I pity her

PAOLO. For what?

LANCIOTTO. For wedding me.
In sooth, she’ll need it. Say

PAOLO. Nay, Lanciotto,
I’ll be a better orator in your behalf,
Without your promptings.

LANCIOTTO. She is fair, ’tis said;
And, dear Paolo, if she please your eye,
And move your heart to anything like love,
Wed her yourself. The peace would stand as firm
By such a match.

PAOLO. [Laughing.] Ha! that is right: be gay!
Ply me with jokes! I’d rather see you smile
Than see the sun shine.

LANCIOTTO. I am serious.
I’ll find another wife, less beautiful,
More on my level, and

PAOLO. An empress, brother,
Were honoured by your hand. You are by much
Too humble in your reckoning of yourself.
I can count virtues in you, to supply
Half Italy, if they were parcelled out.
Look up!

LANCIOTTO. I cannot: Heaven has bent me down.
To you, Paolo, I could look, however,
Were my hump made a mountain. Bless him, God!
Pour everlasting bounties on his head!
Make Croesus jealous of his treasury,
Achilles of his arms, Endymion
Of his fresh beauties, though the coy one lay,
Blushing beneath Diana’s earliest kiss,
On grassy Latmos; and may every good,
Beyond man’s sight, though in the ken of heaven,
Round his fair fortune to a perfect end!
O, you have dried the sorrow of my eyes;
My heart is beating with a lighter pulse;
The air is musical; the total earth
Puts on new beauty, and within the arms
Of girding ocean dreams her time away,
And visions bright to-morrows!

Enter MALATESTA and PEPE.

MALATESTA. Mount, to horse!

PEPE. [Aside.] Good Lord! he’s smiling! What’s the matter now?
Has anybody broken a leg or back?
Has a more monstrous monster come to life?
Is hell burst open? heaven burnt up? What, what
Can make yon eyesore grin? I say, my lord,
What cow has calved?

PAOLO. Your mother, by the bleat.

PEPE. Right fairly answered for a gentleman!
When did you take my trade up?

PAOLO. When your wit
Went begging, sirrah.

PEPE. Well again! My lord,
I think he’ll do.

MALATESTA. For what?

PEPE. To take my place.
Once fools were rare, and then my office sped;
But now the world is overrun with them:
One gets one’s fool in one’s own family,
Without much searching.

MALATESTA. Pepe, gently now.
Lanciotto, you are waited for. The train
Has passed the gate, and halted there for you.

LANCIOTTO. I go not to Ravenna.

MALATESTA. Hey! why not?

PAOLO. For weighty reasons, father. Will you trust
Your greatest captain, hope of all the Guelfs,
With crafty Guido? Should the Ghibelins
Break faith, and shut Lanciotto in their walls
Sure the temptation would be great enough
What would you do?

MALATESTA. I’d eat Ravenna up!

PEPE. Lord! what an appetite!

PAOLO. But Lanciotto
Would be a precious hostage.

MALATESTA. True; you’re wise;
Guido’s a fox. Well, have it your own way.
What is your plan?

PAOLO. I go there in his place.

MALATESTA. Good! I will send a letter with the news.

LANCIOTTO. I thank you, brother. [Apart to PAOLO.

PEPE. Ha! ha! ha! O! O! [Laughing.

MALATESTA. Pepe, what now?

PEPE. O! lord, O! ho! ho! ho! [Laughing.

PAOLO. Well, giggler?

PEPE. Hear my fable, uncle.

MALATESTA. Ay.

PEPE. Once on a time, Vulcan sent Mercury
To fetch dame Venus from a romp in heaven.
Well, they were long in coming, as he thought;
And so the god of spits and gridirons
Railed like himself the devil. But now mark
Here comes the moral. In a little while,
Vulcan grew proud, because he saw plain signs
That he should be a father; and so he
Strutted through hell, and pushed the devils by,
Like a magnifico of Venice. Ere long,
His heir was born; but then ho! ho! the brat
Had wings upon his heels, and thievish ways,
And a vile squint, like errant Mercury’s,
Which honest Vulcan could not understand;
Can you?

PAOLO. ’Sdeath! fool, I’ll have you in the stocks.
Father, your fool exceeds his privilege.

PEPE. [Apart to PAOLO.] Keep your own bounds, Paolo. In the stocks
I’d tell more fables than you’d wish to hear.
And so ride forth. But, cousin, don’t forget
To take Lanciotto’s picture to the bride.
Ask her to choose between it and yourself.
I’ll count the moments, while she hesitates,
And not grow gray at it.

PAOLO. Peace, varlet, peace!

PEPE. [Apart to him.] Ah, now I have it. There’s an elephant
Upon the scutcheon; show her that, and say
Here’s Lanciotto in our heraldry!

PAOLO. Here’s for your counsel!
[Strikes PEPE, who runs behind MALATESTA.

MALATESTA. Son, son, have a care!
We who keep pets must bear their pecks sometimes.
Poor knave! Ha! ha! thou’rt growing villainous!
[Laughs and pats PEPE.

PEPE. Another blow! another life for that! [Aside.

PAOLO. Farewell, Lanciotto. You are dull again.

LANCIOTTO. Nature will rule.

MALATESTA. Come, come!

LANCIOTTO. God speed you, brother! I am too sad; my smiles all turn to sighs.

PAOLO. More cause to haste me on my happy work.
[Exit with MALATESTA.

PEPE. I’m going, cousin.

LANCIOTTO. Go.

PEPE. Pray, ask me where.

LANCIOTTO. Where, then?

PEPE. To have my jewel carried home:
And, as I’m wise, the carrier shall be
A thief, a thief, by Jove! The fashion’s new.
[Exit.

LANCIOTTO. In truth, I am too gloomy and irrational.
Paolo must be right. I always had
These moody hours and dark presentiments,
Without mischances following after them.
The camp is my abode. A neighing steed,
A fiery onset, and a stubborn fight,
Rouse my dull blood, and tire my body down
To quiet slumbers when the day is o’er,
And night above me spreads her spangled tent,
Lit by the dying cresset of the moon.
Ay, that is it; I’m homesick for the camp.
[Exit.