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Full text of "Nero: A Drama"

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I 



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J 



NERO 



BY 

STEPHEN PHILLIPS 



NefD gotit 
THE MACMILLAN COMPANY 

LONDON : MACMILLAN & CX>., Ltd. 

1906 

AU rights reserved 



COFYRIGHT, 1906, 

By the MACMILLAN COMPANY. 



Set up and electxotyped. Published Marchi Z906. 



NottBOoti 9ttflS 

J. 8. Cnahing & Co. — Berwick & Smltb Od. 

Korwopd, Mma., UJ3.A. 



V 



CHARACTERS 







Nero • 
Brttannicus 
Otho • 
Seneca. . 

BURRUS . 
TiGELUNUS 

Anicetus 
A Seaman. 

Parthian Chief. 
British Chief. 

XkNOPHON 

Slave to Nero. 
Agripfina 

OCTAVIA 
POPPAEA 
ACTE • 
LOCUSTA 

Myrrha 
Handmaidens, Spies, 



Emperor of Rome, 
Nero's Half-Brother. 
A Young Nobie, 

' Ministers of State. 



• A Physician, 

. Nero's Mother. 

Sister to Brttannicus. 
. Wife to Otho, afterwards to Nero. 
. A Captive Princess. 

A Poisoner. 
. Maid to Poppaea. 

ETC. ^-— — '- 



Five years elapse between Acts I and II; two years 
between Acts III t&diy. 



a 




ACT I 



NERO 



ACT I 

Scene. — The scene is in the Great Hall in the 
Palace of the Caesars. At the back are steps 
leading to a pkUform lOith balustrade opening 
on the air, and ' "beyond^, a vi&u) "of the 
city. 

[On the right of the stage -is acedamcottch on 
which Claudius is uneasily sleeping. 
On the right is a door cornmunicating with 
the inner apartments. On: th/e left a door 
communicating with the outer halls. 



NERO ACT 

[Xenophon is Standing by the couch of 
Claudius. Agrippina is sitting with 
face turned to an Astrologer, who stands 
at the top of the steps watching the 
stars. 

[LocusTA is crouching beside a piUar, right. 
A meteor strikes across the sky. The 
ASTROLOGER, pointing upwards, comes 
doivn the steps slowly. 

Astrologer. These meteors flame the 
dazzling doom of kings. 

[Agrippina rises apprehensively. 
Xenophon. Caesar is dead ! 
Agrippina. The drug hath foimd his heart. 
[To LocusTA, who steals forward. 



I NERO 5 

Locusta, take your price and steal away ! 

Sound on the trumpet. Gro! your part is done. 

\ExU Locusta. 

\Tfumpel is sounded. 

That gives the sign to the Praetorians 

Upon the instant of the Emperor's death. 

[Answering Trumpets are heard. 

Hark! trumpets answering through all the 

city. 

XenophoUy you and I are in this death 

Eternally boiind. This husband have I slain 

To lift imto th e windy chair of the world 

* 
Nero, my son. Your silence I will buy 

With endless riches : but a hint divulged 

Xenophon. O Agrippina, Empress, fear 

not me ! 




6 NERO ACT 

Agbippina, Meantime his child, his heir, 
Britannicus, 
Must not be seen lest he be clamoured for. 
So till the: sad Chaldean give the sign 
Of that so yearned f6r> favourable, hour, 
Wheiji with good omens may my. son suc- 
ceed, 
The sudden death of Claudius must be hid I ^ 
Then on the instant Nero be proclaimed • 
And Rome4wa;ke on zxi accomplished deed. . 
- Xenophon. Thesn surniYlon. Claudius* musi- 
cians in 
To play imto the dead as though he breathed, 
. Agrippii^a. Call; than ! A lulling music 
let than bring. . . . [E:jrf^ .Xenophon. 

\S}ie turns to Astrologer. 



I : JilERO 7 

O thou who readest all the scroll of the sky, 
Stands it so sure Nero iny son shall reign ? 

Astrologer. Nero shall reign. 

Agrippina. What lurks behind these 
words? 
There is a 'but' still hovering in the stars. 

Astrologer. Nero shall reign. 

Agrippina. The half! I'll know the rest. 

Astrologer. Peer not for peril ! 

Agrippina. Peril ! His or mine ? 

Astrologer. Thine then. 

Agrippina. I will know all, however dark. 
Finish what did so splendidly begin. 

Astrologer. Nero shall rdgn, but he shall 
kill his mother. 

Agrippina. Elill me, but reign 1 




NERO 



EtUer Sembca 

SsMSCiL The trumpet sununcmed me. 

And I am.here* 

AoBiPPiif >L Seneca I Speak it low I 
Caeiar is dead I Nero shall climb the throne. 

SsNECiL I will not ask the manner of his 
death. 
In studious ease I have protested much 
Against the violent taking of a life. 
But lost in action I perceive at last 
That they who stand so high can falter not, 
But live beyond the reaches of our blame ; 
That public good excuses private guile. 

AORIPPINA. You, Xenophon and Burrus, 
stand with me. 



^w^w< 



NERO 



Enter Bxtbobjjs, right. He salutes the corse 

of Claudius 

BusEUS. Obedient to the trumpet-call I 

come. 
Agsippina. Say, Burrus, quickly say, how 
stands our cause 
With the Praetorians who unmake and make 
Emperors ? 
BuRRUS. The Praetorians are staunch, 
And they are marching now upon the Palace. 
Agmppina. Will they have Nero? 
BuRRus, Yes, and double pay. 

There is a murmuring minority 
Who toss about the name Britannicus. 
These may be feared ; let Nero scatter gold 



lo NERO ACT 

There where dissension rises — it will cease. 
Their signal when they shall surround the 

palace. 
The gleam of my unsheathfed sword to the dawn. 
Agsifpina. Stand there until I have from 

him the sign. 
Then let thy sword gleam upward to the dawn. 

[Turning and pointing to body of Claudius. 
That is my work ! Also, I must betroth 
Nero imto the young Octavia, 
[^' And with the dead man's daughter mate my 

son. 
This marriage sets him firmer on the throne, 
And foils the party of Britannicus. 
[To BuRRUS.] You for the army answerable 

stand. 



I 

I 



I NERO II 

\To Seneca.] And, Seneca, I have entrusted 

Nero's mind 
To you, to point an eaglet to the sun. 
Nero? What does he? 

Seneca. Nero knows not yet 

That Claudius is dead. Rome hath not slept, 
But to the torch-lit circus all have run . ^ 

To see him victor in a chariot race, 
Whence he is now returning. A night race 
By burning torches is his newest whim. 
Agrippina. a torch-lit race ! And yet why 

not? My child 
Should climb all virgin to the throne of the 

earth, 
Not conscious of spilt blood: and I meantime 
Will sway the deep heart of the mighty world. ^ 



/•'■ 



12 NERO ACT 

The peril is Britannicus : for Nero, 

Careless of empire, strings but verse to verse. 

How shall this dove attain the eagle cry? 

Seneca. Be not so sure of Nero's harmless- V 
ness. 

Agsippina. What do you mean? 

Seneca. By me he has been taught, 

And I have watched him. True, the harp, the 

song. 
The theatre, delight this dreamer: true. 
He lives but in imaginations : yet 
Suppose this aesthete made omnipotent. 
Feeling there is no bar he cannot break. 
Knowing there is no bound he cannot pass; 
Might he not then despise the written page, 
A petty music, and a puny scene? 



I NERO 13 

Conceive a spectacle not witnessed yet, 
When he, an artist in omnipotence. 
Uses for colour this red blood of ours, 
Composes music out of dreadful cries. 
His orchestra our human agonies. 
His rhythms lamentations of the ruined. 
His poet's fire not circumscribed by words, 
But now translated into burning cities. 
His scenes the lives of men, their deaths a 

drama. 
His dream the desolation of mankind, 
And all this pulsing world his theatre. 

\Steps heard wiihouL 
The dead man's children startled from their 

sleep! 
Britannicus, Octavia, wondering. 



14 NERO ACT 

Agrippina. Till the auspicious hour he is 
not dead. 



OcTAViA and Britannicus enter 

OcTAViA. We could not sleep: father is 
very sick. 
We fancied every moment that he called 
us. 
Britannicus. And then these meteors full 

of coming woe 

OcTAViA. So brilliant and so silent 1 O, I 

fear them. 
Britannicus. Is father yet awake? We 
want to ask him — 
[They approach the couch. Agrippina 
interposes. 



I NERO 15 

Agrippina. Do not disturb your father for 

this night. 
OcTAViA. We will not speak, nor make the 
smallest sound 
To wake hun. We must kiss him ere we sleep. 
Agrippina. Children, he is in need of some 
long rest. 
Go back to bed : your father sleepeth sound. 
Britannicus. I will go in to him, I will — 
and you 
Are not our mothen By what privilege 
Do you thus interpose yourself between 
A father and his children ? 

Agrippina. Would you then 

Trouble him, when to sleep is all he asks ? 
OcTAViA. Only a moment 1 But to see him 1 



i6 NERO ACT 

Agrippina . No ! 

Come softly back to bedl no — no — this 

wayl 
Britannicus, with the first peer of light 
You shall behold your father; but not now. 
So the physician, Xenophon, enjoined me. 
Now take Octavia's hand — so, both of you. 

[OcTAViA holds her face to be kissed. 
To-night I think I will not kiss you, child. 
Good-night, good-night. 

[ExU OcTAviA and Britannicus. 
Senuca. How often have I taught 

And written, ' Children shall not be beguiled 
Even for good ends.* And yet, the single 

Ue 
Must, for the general good, be spoken ; yet 



NERO 17 

[Musicians meanwhile have erUered, and 

are playing dreamy music. Agrippina 

turns to AsTKOLOGERy holding out her 

arms. 

Agsiffina. How long till Rome shall greet 

herEinperor? 

Astrologer. Behold the heavens! The 

moment I 

[Exit Astrologer. 

Agrippina. Give the sign ! 

[Sounds of acclamation and cries of 

* Nero J BuRRUS draws his sword* 

BuRRUS. See the Praetorians I 

Seneca. Nero returns. 



i8 NERO ACT 



EfUer a Herald gorgeously dressedj hear- 
ing a silver wreath. 

Messenger. From Nero unto Agrippina 
greeting 1 
He comes a victor from the chariot race. 
{Sounds 0} aulamation grow louder, the 
crowd of Nero's friends and satellites 
pours in: last comes Nero dressed as 
a charioteer. 
Agrippina. [Touching Claudius* body.] 
That music be a dirge : Caesar is dead. 

[Nero pauses wondering. 
Claudius is dead. Reign thou. Ave Caesar 1 
[BuRRUs leads Nero to back of platform, 
and addresses the soldiers at back. 



[ NERO 19 

BuRRUS. Caesar is dead ! Behold Caesar ! 
\A great shotd 0} 'NeroP 'Caesar!' 
Meanwhile Agrippina and Seneca are 
listening close together. Discordant cries 
are heard of ' BritanNicus I' A slave 
or attendant on Nero scatters gold in the 
direction 0} these discordant cries, which 
gradually subside, and are lost in one 
long shout 0} 'Nero, Imperator.* Nero 
. motions for silence. 
Nero. [Turning to Court.] Behold this 
forest of uprisen spears, 
Symbol of might 1 But I upon that might 
Would not rely* You hail me Emperor — 
Then hail me as an Emperor of peace* 
First, I declare divinest clemency* 



20 NERO ACT 

No deaths have I to avenge, no wrath to 

bribe, 
No desperate followers clamouring for spoil ; 
Pardon from me may beautifully fall. 
Next, I bestow full liberty of speech; 
I will not sway a dumb indignant earth — 
Emperor over the imuttered curse. 
Were I myself the mark, I will not flinch. 
Yet citizens, if freedom of the tongue 
I grant, I'd wish less freedom of the feast. 
Then all informers who lie life away 
I'll heavily chastise ; let no man think 
With hinted scandal to employ mine ear. 
Last, over all my earth be perfect trust, 
That every tribe and people, dusk or pale, 
Legions extreme and farthest provinces. 



I NERO 21 

May know that this my hand which striketh 

down 
The oppressor and the t)rrant from his seat 
Shall raise the afflicted and exalt the meek. 
And if this burden grow too vast at times, 
Then, mother, teach thy son to bear the load. 

\Exit Court. 
Agrippina. [Rushing to embrace him. He 
is vested with the purple and laurel wreath. 
The body of Claudius is borne off. Exit 
BuRRUS. Nero comes doTvn. ] Nero, thou 
art my son ! 
Nero. To rule the world. 

How heavy is the sceptre of the earth ! 
Agrippina. [Coming down.] Nero, upon 
this arm behold I clasp 



22 NERO ACT 

This amulet One dawn two murderers 
Despatched to kill thee, stealing to thy .bed 
Were frightened by a snake which from be- 
neath 
Thy pillow glided. From that serpent's skin 
. I made this charm. Wear it, and thou shalt 
prosper; 

But lose it, look thou for calamities. 

•■ 

Seneca. [Prepares to go also.] You will 

need sleep, sir, for to-morrow's task. 
Nero. [In terror.] I am not pale? Not 

heavy-eyed ? 
Seneca. No ! No ! 

Nero. An artist, whatsoever mood he rouse 
In others, should himself be ever still. 
Where is a mirror? 



♦ ? 



k 



1 NERO 23 

Seneca. . Sir, one graver word. 

To-morrow when you first shall sit in judg- 

• ment, 
And set your name unto the scroll of death — 
Nero. [Gazing at himself in mirror.] Ahl 
Must I sign death-warrants? Th^ I 
wish 
This hand h?ui never learned to write. 
Seneca. Dear pupil! 

Agreppina. Your pupil now the awful 
purple wears. 
You tremble but to grasp the pen 1 But they 
Who dyed it thus, feared not to grip the brand. 
Nero. [Again looking in mirror.] It is an 
act to me unbeautiful. 
To scatter joy, not sadness, was I bom. 



24 NERO ACT 

Agreppina. It is an act to you most neces- 
sary, 
If you would sit secure where I have set you. 
Now the light things of boyhood, toys of youth. 
Unworthy that stem seat, you must discard. 
Acte, the playmate of those careless hours. 
Henceforth must be forgotten: you shall wed 
A royal consort — young Octavia, 
The child of Claudius, of the imperial line. 

Seneca. My peaceful counsel you will not 
forget. 

Nero. [Turning to Seneca, affectionaiely.] 
Old friend, I am not like to wade in blood. 
Thee at my side 1 I think upon the dooms 
Of Julius, Caius, and Tiberius, 
All Emperors — all miserably slain. 



I NERO 25 

Seneca, This dawn art thou the master of 
the world; 
Then tremble at the task to thee assigned. 
Meekly receive the purple and the wreath, 
And on thy knees accept omnipotence. 
Good-night| dear pupil! May my teaching 

lead 
Thy solemn opportunity aright I 

\Ex%i Seneca. 
Nero. You powers sustain me to endure >/" 
this weight I 
Mother, I shall go mad ! 

Agrippina. Not while this hand 

Is on thy brow, and this voice in thine ear. ^ 
Nero. To rule the world! 
Agrippina. We two wiU rule the world. ^ 



w. 



26 NERO ACT 

Nero. We two? 

Agrippina. When you have need of me, 

then call me. 
Nero. I ever shall. I need you at this 
moment 
More eveii than when my toothless gums did 

fumble 
About thy breast in darkness of the night, 
Agrippina. My dear, dear sonl And 
Nero, well I know 
That you could never hurt or injure me. 
But you will not forget whp set you here — 
You will not, tell me? 
Nero. Never, mother, never ! 

Agrippina. Mothers for children have 
dared much, and more 



I NERO 27 

Have suffered ; but what mother hath so scarred 
Her soul for the dear fruit of her body as I ? 
Thy birth-pang was the least of all the throes 
That I for thee have suffered — a brief pain, 
A little, little pain we share with creatures; 
But what was this to torments of the mind, 
The dark, imperial meditations. 
Musing with eyes half-closed in moonless night ; 
The crimes — yes, crimes, the blood that has 

been spilt — 
Why, I have made a way for thee through 

ghosts. 
Nero, you'll not forget? 
Nero, Ah ! Never, never ! 

Agrippina. My son, this very night it was 

foretold 



28 NERO ACT 

'Nero shall reign, but he shall kill his mother.' 
Tell me the stars have lied. 
Nero. \Smiling.\ The stars have lied. 



EfUer BuRRUS 

BuRRUS. The pass- word, sir, to-night? 
Nero. The best of mothers. 

Agrippina. Kliss me; we both of us must 
sleep awhile. 

\EooU Agrippina. Nero goes up^ gazing 
out on the city as the dawn conies on 
greyly. 
Nero. O all the earth to-night into these 
hands 
Committed 1 I bow down beneath the load, 
Empurpled in a lone omnipotence. 



1 NERO 29 

My softest whisper thunders in the sky, 
And in my frown the temples sway and reel, 
And the utmost isles are anguished. I but 

raise 
An eyelid, and a continent shall cower ; 
My finger makes the city a solitude. 
The murmurmg metropolis a silence, 
And kingdoms pine in my dispeopling nod. 
I can dispearl the sea, a province wear 
Upon my little finger; all the winds 
Are busy blowing odours in mine eyes. 
And I am wrapt in glory by the sun. 
And I am lit by splendours of the moon, 
And diadem'd by glittering midnight. 
O wine of the world, the odour and gold of it 1 
There is no thirst which I may not assuage; 



30 NERO ACT 

There is no hunger which I may not sate ; 

Naught is forbidden me under heaven ! 

\With a cry,] I shall go mad! I shall go 
mad! 

[AcTE steals in noiselessly, and waits till 
he turns, then comes down to him. 

My Acte ! 
AcTE. [Shrinking.] O, I seem so far from 
you, 

And so beneath you now; your care hence- 
forth 

The world and nothing less. Long have you 
been 

Nero to me, but Caesar must be now. 

High throned, the nations crawling at your feet. 

And yet be sure that if on some far day 



I NERO 31 

The throne should pass from you; if you 

should stand 
Lonely at last'; your friends aU fallen away 
From you ; the laurel upon other brows 
Set ; were you dyed in blood deep as the robe 
That folds you ; were you dead in rags reposing, 
Yet would I find you, cover up your face, 
Taking the last kiss from your lips, and I 
Would gently bury you within the earth. 
Nero. Ah 1 
AcTE. And though none came nigh you, 

being dead, 
Who were in life so thronged about and pressed, 
One hand at least would duly pluck you flowers. 
One hand at least would strew them on your 

grave. 



32 NERO ACT 

Sleep now, and I will charm these eyes to 
close. 

\She takes a harp^ and as she plays Nero 
drops off to sleep. She, seeing him so, 
softly kisses him and noiselessly disap- 
pears. Meanwhile Nero turns un- 
easily in his sleep, and a procession of 
dead Emperors passes — Julius, cover- 
ing his face, but withdrawing his cloak 
to gaze a while on Nero; Tiberius; 
Caius wounded; Claudius holding a 
cup. Nero rushes forward, uttering 
a cry. Acte again re-enters at the 
sound. 

Nero, what ails you? Nero, how the drops 

Stand on your brow ! 



I NERO 33 

Nero. There, there, I seemed to see 

As in procession the dead Emperors: 
Julius, Tiberius, Caius, Claudius, 
All bloody, and all pacing that same path. 
AcTE. [Trying to lead him on the opposite 
way.] There is another path, will you but 
take it. 

[Nero is led by her a little way, then hesi- 
tateSf still gazing after the procession of 
Emperors. Gradually he looses Acte's 
hand, and she leaves him, gazing. 



ACT II 

Scene. — The same, but signs of excessive luocury 
and pro fusion. Rich car pets, gilded pillars , etc. 
As the scene opens, strange oriental music is 
heard, with singing. Girls enter slowly and 
place wreaths round the various statues of 
Nero, who is depicted now as Apollo singing, 
now as a charioteer. 

[AcTE is reclining on a couch. The time is 
broad noon. A faint eocotic odour pervades 
the palace. 

1ST Matoen. O Lydia, I am drowsing, and 

my hands 

Can scarcely wreathe the Emperor as Apollo. 

37 



38 NERO ACT 

2ND Maiden. Ah, crown this carefully 1 
To-day he sings 
In public; as Apollo will return 
So crowned, so garbed. 

1ST Maiden. How is that wreath dis- 
posed? 

2ND Maiden. Excellent! 

3RD Maiden. O please tell me how to droop 
These scarlet flowers. 

2ND Maiden. About the lyre then, thus. 

4TH Maiden. This bust now of the 
Emperor as a boy? 

1ST Maiden. O, covered with white flowers 
and birds of spring. 

5TH Maiden. This charioteer: with green 
I have dressed that. 



II NERO 39 

3RD Maiden. Yes, for the Emperor's col- 
our is the green. 
1ST Maiden. Now all the busts are 

wreathed. 
2ND Maiden. WH^aore to do? 

1ST Maiden. All is arranfed. How heavy 

are my eyes. 
3RD Maiden. And this low music on my 

spirit hangs. 
4TH Maiden. And the faint odour steals 

upon my hair. 
1ST Maiden. [Moving up and leaning out.] 

See, all the city is a solitude. 
2ND Maiden. All Rome is gathered in the 

theatre 
To hear the Emperor sing. 



% 



# 




40 NERO ACT 

5TH Maiden. O, I should sleep 

On such a noon, in such a throng. 

1ST Maiden. That sleep 

Would have no wj^pping, if your eyes but 

closed 
While Caesar 

4TH Maiden. To-night there is a feast. 
Have you remembered ? 

3RD Maiden. Yes, the dancing girls 

From Egypt are arrived. 

1ST Maiden. We are to strew 

Down from the ceiling flowers upon the 
guests. 

\They recline in various aUUudes about the 
seats and pillars. 



U NERO 41 

Enter Seneca and Burrus 
BuRRUS. Ah, Seneca, five years since Nero 
climbed 
The throne : and in this very chamber, now 
So changed, this odour — pah! This was 

the place, 
Grim, bare, for military virtues apt. 
Seneca. And he how changed 1 The boy 
who dreamed so high 
Of mightiest empire and unmeasured peace, 
All I had taught him lost; by flattery sapped. 
Jewelled and clothed as from the Orient, 
He sings and struts with dancers and buf- 
foons. 
AcTE. [Siariing up.] And you, when have 
you two dissuaded him? 



42 NERO ACT 

Or when forbidden ? Do you teach him shun 
Languor or luxury? You lure him thither. 
Seneca. 'Tis true that we have not dissuaded 
! him, 

I 

But out of high deliberate policy 
Have suffered him to tread the path of folly 
Rather than mischief. We have ruled the world 
With wisdom these five years while he has 

played. 
AcTE. What of Poppaea, Otho*s wife. 

Have you 
Restrained that madness? Rather have you 

not 
Screened it and fed it? 

Seneca. With the same design ; 

Better that he should vent his madness thus 



II NERO 43 

In pastime to the State not perilous, 
Amuse himself with her rather than Rome. 
AcTE. A woman without pity, beautiful. 
She makes the earth we tread on false, the 

heaven 
A merest mist, a vapour. Yet her face 
Is as the face of a child uplifted, pure ; 
But plead with lightning rather than those 

eyes. 
Or earthquake rather than that gentle bosom 
Rising and falling near thy heart. Her voice 
Comes running on the ear as a rivulet ; 
Yet if you hearken, you shall hear behind 
The breaking of a sea whose waves are souls 
That break upon a human-cr3dng beach. 
Ever she smileth, yet hath never smiled. 



44 NERO ACT 

And in her lovely laughter is no joy. 
Yet hath none fairer strayed into the world 
Or wandered in more witchery through the air 
Since she who drew the dreaming keels of 

Greece 
After her over the Ionian foam. 
BuRRUS. Better an Emperor fooled than 

Rome undone I 
AcTE. Though all unite to drive him to his 
doom, 
Yet I will not forsake him till he die. 

\EocU ACTE. 

[Meanwhile there is an uneasy movement 

among the Girls, as at the approach of 

something sinister. Tigelunus enters, 

gasping. 



n NERO 45 

TiGELLiNUS. [Looking after Acte.] She is 

a Christian ! 
BuRRUS. Tigellinus I 

TiGELLINUS. I 

Come from the theatre. For three hours have 

sat 
In the first bench, and feared to wink or cough. 
The Emperor sang, and had for audience 
The flower of Rome. In torment did we sit. 
Nobles and consuls, captains, senators, 
Bursting to laugh and aching but to smile. 
Higher and higher rose the Emperor's voice. 
But no man ventured to relax his lips. 
And all around were those who peered or crept, 
Inspecting each man's face, noting his look. 
To sigh was treason and to laugh was death, 



46 NERO ACT 

And yet none dared be absent : how were you 
Excused ? 

BuRRus. I pleaded the old wound. 

Seneca. And I 

Reception of the Parthian and the Briton. 

TlGELUNUS. I 

Say not so much against his moody freaks, 
But to be called from bed to hear him sing — 
O, I must have my sleep at night — well, well — 
To graver things. Still the conspiracy 
Of Agrippina swells: she aims to make 
Her son a toy, a puppet, while she pulls 
Unseen the secret strings of poUcy. 
Seneca. Is't not enough to bear upon her 
back 
Stripped continents ? To clasp about her throat 



II NERO 47 

A civilisation in a sapphire, or 

That kingdoms gleam and glow upon her 

brow. 
Now doth she overstar us like the night 
In splendour. Now she rises on our eyes 
Dawning in gold ; or like the blaze of noon 
Taketh our breath on a sudden ; or she glides 
Silent, from head to foot a glimmering pearl. 
But this is woman's business: 'tis not so 
To listen screened to the ambassadors, 
To ride abroad with Nero charioted, 
Or wear her head upon the public coins. 
TiGELiiNUS. And she intends this very day 
to hear 
The Briton, seated by the Emperor* s side. 
Otho has joined her too. 



48 NERO ACT 

Seneca. But from what cause? 

TiGELUNUS. He is married. 

BuKRUS. Ah, Poppaeal 

TiGELLiNUS. Jealousy 

Hath driven him into Agrippina's snare. 
Fury at Nero's madness for his wife. 
Now what if we could raise Poppaea up 
As Agrippina's chief antagonist: 
We match the mistress 'gainst the mother — pit 
Passion 'gainst gratitude — a sudden lure 
'Gainst old ascendency, the noon of beauty 
Against the evening of authority, 
The luring whisper 'gainst the pleading voice, 
The hand that beckons 'gainst the arm that 

sways. 
And set a woman to defeat a woman. 



U NERO 49 

To Nero I have whispered that she dotes 
Upon his poems, on his rhythm hangs 
And cannot sleep for beauty of his verse. 
Seneca. This day must Nero leave his 
mother's lap, 
And stand up as an Emperor, and alone. 

[Trumpet. 
BuRRUS. Hark ! Caesar is returning. 
[Sounds heard of Nero approaching amid 
cries of *0 thou Apollo T * Orpheus come 
again I ' Then enter Nero with a group 
of satellites, Tigellinus, Otho, and pro- 
fessional applauders and spies. His dress 
is of extreme oriental richness, and profuse 
in jewels: his hair elaborately curled. He 
carries an emerald eye-glass, and appears 

E 



50 NERO ACT 

]aifU from the exertion of singings from 

which contest he has just come. 

Nero. This languor is the penalty the gods 

Exact from those whom they have gifted high. 

Seneca. [Coming forward.] Sir, late arrived 

from Parthia and Britain — 
Nero. [Starting up.] A draught 1 
[Much hurry y zealy and confusion among 
courtiers. 
This kerchief closer round my throat 1 

[They tie a kerchief round his throat. 
Was I in voice to-day ? The prize is won, 
But I would be my own competitor 
And my own rival. Was I then in voice ? 
Chorus. O Menmon struck with morning, 
nightingale, 



II NERO 51 

Ghost-charming Orpheus, O Apollo — god I 
Satellite. O Caesar, I am one who speaks 
right out; 
If it means death, yet must I speak the 

truth. 
Thy voice was harsh. 
Nero. Was it so, friend ? 

Satellite. Harsh and xmcertain. Had it 
been another 
Who sang, it would have ravished every ear, 
But thee must I remember at thy best. 
And what in others we coxmt excellence 
In thee we count a lapse, and falling oflf. 
Nero. There's a good fellow 1 
Seneca. . Caesar 1 

Nero. But a moment ! 



$2 NERO ACT 

1ST Spy. [Stealing forward.] Licinius smiled, 

sir, at thy final note. 
Nero. Nothing ! an artist must bear ridicule. 
Were I incensed, I were ridiculous 
Myself. 
1ST Spy. Shall nothing then be done? 
Nero. Nothing ! 

2ND Spy. [Siealing forward.] Sir, Labienus, 
in thy second song 
Coughed twice. 
Another Spy. [Cringing.] Nay, Caesar, 

thrice. 
2ND Spy. What punishment ? 
Nero. None! Interruption must I learn 
to bear. 
What patience must we own who would excel ! 



II NERO 53 

Anger I never must permit myself, 
Or ruflMng littleness to this great soul- 

3RD Spy. [Creeping forward.] Sir, Titus 
Cassius yawned while thou didst sing. 

4TH Spy. Nay, Caesar, worse, he slept, and 
must he live? 

Nero. [GenUy.] Nol he must die: there 
is no hope in sleep. 
Witness, you gods, who sent me on the earth 
To be a joy to men : and witness you 
Who stand aroimd : if ever a small malice 
Hath governed me : what critic have I feared ? 
What rival ? Have I used this mighty throne 
To baulk opinion or suppress dissent? 
Have I not toiled for art, forsworn food, sleep. 
And laboured day and night to win the crown. 



54 NERO ACT 

Lying with weight of lead upon my chest? 
Ye gods, there is no rancour in this soul. 

\Thunier. 
Silence while I am speaking. He must die, 
Because he is unmindful of your gifts 
And of the golden voice on me bestowed, 
To me no credit ; and he shall not die 
Hopeless, for ere he die I'll sing to him 
This night, that he may pass away in music. 
How foolish will he peer amid the shades 
When Orpheus asks, *Hast thou heard Nero 

sing?* 
If he must answer * No ! ' I would not have him 
Arrive ridiculous amid the dead. 
Seneca. Caesar, the Parthian and the 

British chiefs. 



ir NERO 55 

Nero. I cannot, sirs, so suddenly return 
Unto life's dreary business, or descend 
Out of the real to the unreal : from that 
Which is to that which is not. Leave me still. 
From art to empire is too swift a drop. 

Otho. Now what to do ? Still drags the 
o'erlong day. 
We have driven, we have eaten, we have drunk. 
But all the brilliance is a burden still. 

Anicetus. No cloud upon the noon of this 
despair. 
O for some edge, some thrill imknown ! 

LucAN. Remorse ? 

[Nero shakes his head. 

Seneca. Jealousy then ? 

Nero. No, no — we have outlived 



$6 NERO Kct 

All passions: terror now alone is left us. 
I have within me great capacities 
For terror: fear, the last, the greatest passion ! 
Otho. Can one rely on death for something 
new? 
Some other life perhaps. 

Seneca. The gods forbid ! 

The Power that sent us here would lead us there. 
One sample is enough. 

LucAN. Death's a dull business. 

Of that one may be sure. What says the poet ? 
*When I am dead, let fire devour the world.' 
[Nero starts at these words and comes among 
them. 
J Nero. Nay, while I live! The sight 1 A 
burning world ! 



II NERO 57 

And to be dead and miss it 1 There's an end 
Of all sajtiety: such fire imagine I 
Bom in some obscure alley of the poor 
Then leaping to embrace a splendid street, 
Palaces, temples, morsels that but whet 
Her appetite r the eating of |juge forests: 
Then with redoubled fury rushing high, 
Smacking her lips over a continent, 
And licking old civilisations up! 
Then in tremendous battle fire and sea 
Joined: and the ending of the mighty sea: 
Then heaven in conflagration, stars like cin- 
ders 
Falling in tempest: then the reeling poles 
Crash : and the smouldering firmament subsides, 
And last, this universe a single flame I 



58 NERO ACT , 

[Otho, seping the steward and musician^ 
who have entered^ speaks. 
Otho. Nothing is left us but to eat and drink. 
[Takes bill of fare which the steward passes 
to him. 
Nero. The feast ! 

[Takes bill of fare from Otho. 
You understand that in the perfect feast 
To please the palate only is not art, 
But we should minister to the eye and the ear 
With colour and with music. Introduce 
The embattled oysters with a melody 
Of waves that wash a reef — whence do they 
come? 
Steward. From Britain, sir. 
Nero. Perhaps an angrier chord 



P 



11 NEKO 59 

Of island surf might be permitted then. 
From Britain? Now I see thy uses, Britain. 
Britain is justified: she gives us oysters, 
And therefore Claudius invaded her. 
Sausages upon silver gridirons? 

Steward. Yes. 

Nero. Dormice with poppies and milk 
honey? There 
A slumberous music, heavy lingering chords. 
Ah! slices of pomegranate underneath. 
Snow — purest snow of course. 

Steward. Twas not forgot. 

Nero. Then glorying peacocks: here a 
soundmg march, 
Something triumphal — even a trifle loud. 
And, ah ! the mullets ! You remembered them? 



6o NERO ACT 

Steward. O Caesar, yes. 
Nero. Let these be introduced 

By some low dirge. And let us see them die — 
Slow d)dng mullets within crystal bowls, 
Dying from colour unto colour: now 
VermiUon death-pangs fading into blue — 
A scarlet agony in azure ending. 
There we have colour ! And at last the tongues 
Of nightingales — the tongues of nightin- 
gales? 
O , silence with the tongues of nightingales. 
\He dismisses Steward. ] 
TiGELLiNUS. Sir, grant us three a moment's 
audience. 

[Nero dismisses friends and sateUiUs with 
gesture. 



II NERO 6i 

Seneca. Your mother, sir, this very day 
intends 
To hear the British chiefs in audience, 
Sitting beside you. Know then that the 

world 
Will not endure to have a woman's rule. 

BuRRUS. No, nor the army. 

TiGELLiNUS. And thy mother laughs 

In public at thy verse. 

Nero. She has no ear. 

I pity her — remember what she loses. 

TiGELLiNUS. Ah, be not laughed at, sir, be 
it not said 
Nero is tied unto his mother's robe. 
Be brilliant, cruel, lustful, what you will, 
But not a naughty child, rated and slapped. 



62 NERO ACT 

Poppaea too, she will not suffer you 
With her to indulge your fanqr. 

Seneca. Caesar, rise! 

BuRRUS. Rise — rise, and reign ! 

TiGELLiNUS. And be no more a doll 

That dances while she pulls the string be- 
hind. 
Then young Britannicus ! 

Nero. O nothing! 

TiGELLINUS. Yet 

He is winning on the people : he hath charm, 
His voice is sweet. 

[Nero starts. 
Caesar, I judge it not. 
But speak the common drift; and his re- 
cital, 



II NERO 63 

So I am told, has for accompaniment 
Gesture most eloquent. 

[Nero is more and more roused. 

His poems, too ! 
Nero. [Breaking the silence.] His poems ! 
Why, why, not a line will scan 
To the true ear; and what variety, 
I ask you all — what flow, or what re- 
source 
Is shown? A safe monotony of rhythm ! 

[He paces to and fro angrily. 
TiGELLiNUS. Caesar, I cannot speak to such 
a theme. 
Merely Rome's mouthpiece, 

Nero. And his gesture, why, 

*Tis of the Orient, and gesticulation 



64 NERO ACT 

More happily were called ; never a stillness, 
Never repose, but one wild whirl of arms. 

TiGELLiNUS. I spoke not of fulfilment, but 
of promise, 
The artist's dazzling future, 

Nero. A sweet voice ! 

Rome hath no critics! I would write a play 
Lived there a single critic fit to judge it. 
Whether a dancing gbl kick high enough— 
On this they can pronounce : this is their trade. 
With verse upon the stage they cannot cope. 
Too well they dine, too heavily, and bear 
The undigested peacock to the stalls. 

TiGELLiNUS. Should Agrippina on a sudden 

I 

change 
Her front, and clasp hands with Britannicus ? 



1 

i 



II NERO 65 

Nero. Your words awaken in me a new \^ 

thirst. 
Seneca. Sir, bear the Parthian and the 

British chiefs. 
Nero. [Going to the throne.] Summon them I 

[Exit Seneca. 
Think not, though my aim is art, 
I cannot toy with empire easily. 
The great in me does not preclude the less. 
[Re-enter Seneca with Parthian and 
British Ambassadors, followed by the 
Court. Seneca brings forward the 
Parthian Chiefs, when Agrippina 
enters magnificently dressed and begins 
to mount steps of throne. Nero with 
courteous decision brings her down. 

F 



66 NERO ACT 

Mother, this is man's business, not for thee. 
You jar the scheme of colour — mar the effect. 
Parthian. Caesar, we starve: ail Parthia 
parches: all 
Our crops sun-smitten bleach upon the plains. 
We ask thy aid. 

Nero. And ye shall have my aid 

Even to the fullest: further, I will open 
The imperial granaries for your people's 
wants. 
Parthian. Caesar, we thank thee: and if 
ever thou 
Shouldst need the Parthian aid, whatever the 

cost 
That aid thou shalt find ready at thy side. 

\ExiU 



II , NERO 67 

British Chief. Caesar, the tax that thou 
hast laid on us 
Remit, we pray thee, else we rise in arms 
And will abide thy battle, 

Nero. So ! You dream 

That Caesar being merciful is weak. 
I who can succour, I can strike; I'll 

launch 
The legions over sea, and I myself 
Will lead them, and the eagles will unloose 
Through Britain — I who sit on the world's 

throne 
Will have no threatening from Briton, Gaul, 
People or tribe inland or ocean-washed. 
The terror of this purple I maintain. 
You are dismissed. 



68 NERO ACT 

[Nero, spreading his hands, dismisses the 

Court, and comes down to his mother. 

Nero. Now, mother ! 

Agrippina. I will speak 

With you alone, not compassed by these 

men. 
[r^ Seneca and Burrus.] To me you owe the 

height where now you stand. 
Who took you, schoolmaster, from exile ? Who 
Unstewarded you, Burrus? If I have made, 
I can unmake — Now leave me with my 

son. 
[To TiGELLiNUS.] You are self-made. Gods ! 

I'd no hand in that! 
[Exeunt Seneca, Burrus, and Tigellinus.] 
Nero, have you forgot who set you there? 






II NERO 69 

Nero. Not while I hear it twenty times a 

day. 
Agrippina. You should not need that I 

remind you of it. 
Nero. A kindness harped on grows sm^ 

injury. 
Agrippina. Are you the babe that lay upon 

my breast? 
Nero. I was : but I would not lie there for 

ever. 
Agrippina. Have I not reared you, tended 

you, and loved you? 
Nero. Yes, but to be your puppet and your 

toy. 
Agrippina. Boy, never since I first looked 

on the sun 



i 



70 NERO ACT 

From man or woman had I insolence, 

Who have sistered, wived, and mothered 

Emperors. 
Nero. I speak no insolence — you weary 

me! 
Agrippina. Gods ! you have hit on a new 

thing to tell me. 
\Coming to him,] Does your heart beat ? Are 

you all ice and pose ? 
Has nothing gripped you — is there aught to 

grip 
In you, pert shadow. Have you e'er shed 

tears ? 

Nero. For legendary sorrows I can weep : 

With those of old time I have suffered much, 

And I, for dreams, am capable of tears ; 



n NERO 71 

But not for woe too near me — and too 

loud. 
Agrippina. O wall of stone 'gainst which I 

beat in vain! 
Nero, I will do much to win you back 
For your own sake: and though it hurts me 

sore, 
Your passion for Poppaea I will aid. 
When did a mother yield herself to this? 
Nero. When had a mother such a lust for y 

rule 
That she could even yield herself to this? 
Agrippina. [Clasping his knees.] Child, I 

have done with scorn, with bitter words, 
With taunt, with gibe. Now I ask only 

pity — 






\ 



V 



72 NERO ACT 

A little pity from flesh that I conceived, 

A little mercy from the body I bore, 

And touches from the baby hands I kissed. 

Nothing I ask of you, only to love me, 

And if not that, to bear with me a while. 

Who have borne much for you: no, Nero, 

child, 
I will not weary you, I yearn for you. 
Forgive me all the deeds that I have done for 

you. 
Forget the great love I have spent on you, 
Pardon the long, long, life for you endured. 

[Nero is moved and kisses her, then speaks 
with effort. 
Nero. Mother, if I have seemed to be 

forgetful. 



II NERO 73 

Or cruel even, impute it not to me 
But to the State. 

[Agrippina starts. 
'Tis thought that neither Rome, 
The provinces, nor armies, will endure 
To see a woman in such eminence. 
Therefore, it is advised that you retire 
To Antium a while, and leave Rome free. '^ 
Agrippina. [Starting up.] Leave Rome! 

Why, I would die as I did step 
Outside her gates, and glide henceforth a 

shadow. 
The blood would cease to run in my veins, my 

heart 
Stop, and my breath subside without her 

walls. 



74 NERO ACT 

All without Rome is darkness : you will not 
Despatch my shadow down to Antium ? 
Nero. We were remembering your toils, 

your age. 
Agrippina. My age! Am I old then? 

Look on this face, 
Where am I scarred, who have steered the bark 

of State 
As it plunged, as it rose over the waves of 

change? 
I was renewed with salt of such a sea. 
Empires and Emperors I have outlived; 
A thousand loves and lusts have left no line; 
Tremendous fortunes have not touched my hair. 
Murder hath left my cheek as the cheek of a 

babe. 



n NERO 75 

\Ai this moment Burrus, Seneca, and 
TiGELLiNUS returfty hearing the scene; 
and as Agrippina continues her impre- 
cationSy the Court return and stand in 
groups listening. 
Agrippina. My age! Who then accuses 
me of age? 
Was this a flash from budding Seneca, 
Or the boy Bumis' inspiration? Say? 
Do I owe it to the shrivelled or the maimed? 
Seneca. Empress, it is determined you retire. 
And you will better your own dignity 
And his assert, if you will make this going 
To seem a free inclining from yourself. 
Agrippina. Bookman, shall I learn policy 
from you? 



76 NERO ACT 

Be patient with me. Nero, you I ask, 
Not schoolmasters or stewards I promoted. 
Is it your will I go to Antium? 
Speak, speak. Be not the mouthpiece of these 

men: 
Domitius ! 
Nero. Mother, 'tis my will you go. 
Agrippina. Then, sir, discharge me not 
from your employ 
Without some written commendation 
That I can tire the hair or pare the nails, 
That those who were my friends may take me 
in! 
Nero. Lady ! 

Agrippina. O, lady now ? Mother, no 

more! 



II NERO 77 

Nero. [Pacing fiercely to and fro.] Beware 
the son you bore : look lest I turn ! 
Chafe not too far the master of this world. 
Agrippina. See the new tiger in the dancer's 
eye: 
'Ware of him, keepers — then, you bid me go ? 

[A pause. 
Then I will go. But think not, though I 

My spirit shall not pace the palace still. 
I am too boimd by guilt unto these walls. 
Still shall you hear a step in dead of night ; 
In stillness the long rustle of my robe. 
So long as stand these walls I cannot leave them. 
Yet will I go: behold you, that stand by, 
A mother by her own son thrust away, 



78 NERO ACT 

Cast out — ha, ha! — m my old age, mfirm, 
To totter and mumble in oblivion ! 
Nero. ]To Seneca and Burrus.] A little 
violent that — did you not think so? 
And yet the gesture excellent and strong ! 
Agrippina. Romans, behold this son: the 
man of men; 
This harp-player, this actor, this buflFoon — 
Nero. Peace I 

Agrippina. — sitting where great Jul- 

ius but aspired 
To sit, and died in the aspiring: see, 
This mime — my son is he ? And did I then 
Have one mad moment with a street musi- 
cian? 
Seneca. Have you no shame? 



a NERO 79 

Agrippina. This son 

now sends me forth, 
Yet it was I, his mother, set him there. 

\M.urmur. 
And, ah ! if it were known at what a price. 
Witness, you shades of the Silani ! 
Seneca. Peace ! 

Agrippina. And witness Messalina on vain 
knees! 

\MurmuT, 
And witness Claudius with the envenomed cup. 

Nero. Silence, or 

Agrippina. Not the seas shall stop me 
now, 
Raging on all the shores of all the world. 
Witness if easily my son did reign, 



8o NERO ACT 

I am bloody from head to foot for sake of him, 

And for my cub am I incarnadined. 

-— , 

\MuTmuf. 
I'll go, but if I fall, Rome too shall fall : 
I'll shake this empire till it reel and crash 
On that ungrateful head; and if I fall, 
The builded world shall tumble down in thim- 
der. 

\Mufmur. 
Ah! 

[Seeing Britannicus.] To my arms, boy! 
[Snatches him to her side.] Tremble now and 

shake ! 
Here is the true heir to the imperial throne. 
Deposed by me, but now by me restored. 

[Uproar. 



II NERO 8i 

I'll to the Praetorians! 

\Clam(mr. 
To the camp! 
And there upon the one side they shall see 
Britannicus the child of Claudius, 
And me the daughter of Germanicus; 
And on the other side a harp-player, 
A withered pedant, and a maimfed sergeant, 
Disputing for the diadem of the earth. 
Come, Caesar, away to the Praetorians ! 

\Eooit Agrippina leading Britannicus, 

foUawed by Court in great excitement, 

all but BuRRUS and Seneca, Tigelu- 

Nus and Nero — a blank pause. 

Seneca. How what to do? 

TiGELLiNUS. Already can I hear 



S2 NERO ACT 

The roar of tbe Praetorians and tbeir maicfa. 
This time to ciown another. Burrus^ you 
Command th fTHr 

BusEtJS. They would tear me into pieces. 
As hoimds a master entering in on them 
Unrecognised, if Agrippina cmce 
Halloed to them the name ' Germanicus.' 

TiGELLiNUS. Surely Britamiicus must be 
our aim: 
He gone, what threat, what coimter-move hath 

she? 
Removing him, we take the sting from her; 
Then let her buzz at will. 

BuRRUS. But he is gone. 

Seneca. Even as an eagle snatches up a babe, 
So Agrippina caught him up and flew. 



n NERO 83 

TiGELLiNUS. For once my wits are lost. 
Seneca. Still, what to do? 

[Nero has been silting with his back to 
them^ suddenly rises. 
Nero. Leave this to me! 
TiGELLiNUS. O Caesar! 

Nero. [To Anicetus.] Go thou fast 

And intercept my mother on her way, 
And say thou thus: 'Nero thy son repents 
His former ire and cancels the decree 
For Antiiun ; and prays thou may*st return 
To supper, as a sign of amity, 
And bring with thee the prince Britannicus.' 

[Anicetus is going, but Nero stops him. 
And as you go, send in to me Locusta. 

[Eodt Anicetus. 



84 NERO ACT 

I have conceived — not fully — but conceived 
The death-scene of the boy Britannicus. 
Leave this to me. 

TiGELLiNUS. O Caesar! 

Nero. It shall be 

Performed to-night at supper: get you seats; 
It shall be something new and wonderful, 
Done after wine, and imder falling roses; 
And there shall be suspense in it, and thrill: 
It shall be very sudden, very silent, 
And terrible in silence — I the while, 
Creator and arranger of the scene, 
Reclining with a jewel in my eye; 
And Agrippina shall be close to me, 
Aware, yet motionless : Octavia, 
Though but a child, yet. too discreet for tears. 



II NERO 85 

This you may deem as yet a little crude, 
But other details I will add ere supper. 

[Seneca withdraws in horror^ as do the 
others J slowly. 
Seneca, Here's what I feared ! 
TiGELUNUS. His eyes now ! Yet how calm ! 
So steals the panther, stirring not a leaf ! 
{Exeunt slowly Seneca, Tigeixinus, and 
BuRRUS. Nero walks to and froy con- 
structing the scene in pantomime to him- 
self . LocusTA enters downy right. 
Nero. You are Locusta, and your trade is 
poison. 

{She makes obeisance, 
[Uneasily.] Is poison but a trade with you, or 
art? 



86 NERO ACT 

Surdy to day is the supreme of arts; 

And with no ugly wound or hideous blow. 

But beautifully to extinguish life« 

Have you some rare drug that kills suddenly? 

As I have planned it, I can have no pause — 

Death must be siKiden — silent. And my 

guests 
Must not be wearied with a pang prolonged, 
And there must be no cry. That imderstand. 

[LocusTA, graveUing at his feei. 

LocusTA. O Caesar, such a drug is known 
to me, — 
But I will not reveal it. 

Nero. Die then. 

LocusTA. Die ? 

O, I love life, but this I'll not reveal. 



n NERO 87 

Nero. Ah, you must live — you are an 

artist too. 
LocusTA. I have a poison that is slipped in 
wine — 
Not nauseous to the taste. 

Nero. An artist still I 

Let me have that, and suddenly. And listen — 
The cup presented to Britannicus 
Must be too hot : so that he calls for snow 
To cool it. In that snow the poison lurks. 

\Eixit LocusTA. 
[Anicetus hastily returns. 

Anicetus. O Caesar, the Augusta had not 

t 

: left 

The palace; and now, o'erjoyous at thy 

words, 

i 



SS NERO ACT 

She will be present at the supper-board, 
Bringing with her the prince Britannicus. 
\Sefvants etUer with various dishes and 
arrange the tables and couches for the 
guests^ and supper begins. 
[They all recline amid a low hum of con- 
versation. Dreamy music is heard, 
which might be a continucUion of the 
music played before. Nero reclines at 
the head of the central table between 
Agrippina and Octavia. Poppaea is 
a prominent figure. Britannicus, with 
other youths, lies at a side table. Seneca, 
BuRRUS, and Tigellinus present with 
other members of the Court. At a sign 
from Nero dancing girls enter and per- 



II NERO 89 

\orm a strange^ wild measure^ after 
which the hum of conversation is re- 
sumed. Again, at a sign from Nero, 
odours are spurted over the guests amid 
cries of delight. 
[At a sign from Nero, flowers descend 
from the ceiling. At first lilies, then 
of deeper and deeper colour. At last 
a tempest of roses which gradually 
slackens. 
Nero. Britannicus, I voice a general wish. 
Sweet is it, early and thus easily 
To have garnered fame: the crown is for the 

few, 
And these are tasked to reach it ere they 
die. 



90 NERO ACT 

Oftener the laurel on grey hairs is laid, 
Or on the combfed tresses of the dead. 

[Britannicus goes to the top of the stairs 
to recitey and at a sign from Nero wine 
is handed to him. 
Britannicus. This is too hot: some snow 
to cool it : so — 

[Cold snow is put in and he drinks. He 
then recites. 
Beside the melancholy surge I roam — 
A sad exile, a stranger, sick for home: 
A prince I was in my far native land 
Who wander to and fro this alien sand : 
Riches I had, and steeds, a gUmmering crown; 
Never had known a harshness or a frown. 
Now must I Ump and beg from door to door, 



11 NERO 91 

Wet with the storm, or in the sun footsore : 
I, by a brother's cunning dispossessed, 
Crave for these languid limbs a place of rest. 
Pity me, robbed of all ! 

\lle gives a cry and falls headlong. His 
limbs quiver a moment and then are still. 
Meanwhile the shoTver of roses has 
slackened. There is a dead silence^ and 
in the silence slowly all the guests turn 
and look at Nero, who risesy with the 
emerald in his eye. 
Nero. Lift up the prince and bear him to 
his room. 
I do entreat that none of you will stir 
Or rise perturbed: my brother, since his 
birth, 



92 NERO ACT II 

Was ever thus : the fit will pass from him. 
Refill the cups : proceed we with the feast ! 
[There is an aUempt to renew the feasting^ 
but soon a scene of uproar and confusion 
arises, and the guests leave the taUes in 
alarm. 
[Agsippina alone remains unmoved, and 
then, as the guests have departed in dis' 
order, she confronts Nero alone. 
Agrlppisa. Thou hast done this. 
Nero. Mother, I am thy son ! 



ACT m 



nT?^,^ 



1- 



SCENE I 

\ 

^ Scene. — Nero's private chamber. Enter 

^ Nero hastily and perturbed, followed by 

Seneca, Burrus, and Tigellinus, his 

privy-councillors, 

Burrus. Caesar, still glides the dead Bri- 

tannicus 

About the palace, and his memory 

Your mother, Agrippina, uses: makes 

Out of his ghost a faction for herself. 

She grows a pubUc peril ; much you owe 

To her, but more to Rome ; from Antium 

She rages disappointed to and fro. 

95 



96 NERO ACT III 

Me for your army you hold answerable, 
But can no longer if you suffer her 
To lure the legions from their loyalty. 
Her creatures whisper to your sentinels, 
Corrupt your officers, inflame your guards. 
A sullen silence on the camp has fallen, 
A word, and it will roar in mutiny. 
TiGELLiNUS. Everywhere steal her agents 
and her spies. 
Gliding through temples, baths, and theatres; 
Possess all angles, comers, noonday halts. 
And darknesses; they flit with casual poison 
Softly ; the city secretly is filled 
With murmurs, lifted eyebrows, and with sighs. 
The mischiefs in the very blood of Rome 
Unless the sore that feeds it is cut out. 



sc. I NERO 97 

Nero. Why, I myself have visited the 
fleet 
With Anicetus : sullen droop the sails 
Or flap in mutiny against the mast. 
.Burdened with barnacles the untarred keels, 
Drowse on the tide with parching decks un- 

swabbed, 
And anchors rusting on inglorious ooze. 
All indolent the vast armada tilts, 
A leafless resurrection of dead trees. 
The sailors in a dream do go about 
Or at the fo'c'sle ominously meet. 
Should any foe upon the sea-line loom 
They'll Ught with ease upon an idle prey. 
And yet I felt the grandeur of stagnation 
And the magnificence of idleness. 

H 



9S NERO ACT in 

BusRUS. She hath seduced the breast-plates 

and the sails. 
Nero. [Distracted.] Here I pronounce her 

exile. 
TiGELLiNUS. * Whither then ? 

Anicetus. To Britain send her. There for 
Claudius 
I fought; a melancholy isle, alone, 
Sundered from all the world; and banned by 

God 
With separating, cold, reUgious wave, 
And haunted with the ghost of a dead sun 
Rising as from a grave, or all in blood 
Returning wounded heavily through mist. 
Her rotting peoples amid forests cower, 
Or mad for colour paint their bodies blue. 



sc. I NERO 99 

There in eternal drippings of the leaf 
Or that dead summer of the living fly, 
And by the eternal sadness of the surf, 
Ambition cannot Uve, hope cannot breathe. 
Even the fieriest spirit there will rust 
Or gutter hke a candle in the rain. 
To Britain send her. 

TiGELLiNUS. Never isle remote 

On the sad water, never desert sand 
In trembling flame, nor rock-built prison-house 
Shall tame her: there's the danger, that she 

lives. 
While she hath life, it is no matter where, 
While she hath breath, no other dares to 

breathe. 
Not Caesar, even ! 



J J ^ ■> •> 



loo NERO ACT III 

Nero. This breath to her I owe. 

TiGELLiNUS. [Cautiously and slowly watch- 
ing Nero, as do the others.] Caesar, there 
is a region of exile 
Whence none hath yet returned — your par- 
don, sir — 
Nero. [Starts and turns away,] No, no, 
no ! I remember very clear 
How gently she would wake me long ago. 
BuRRUS. Then be thy mother's son still and 
surrender 
This toy of Rome to her : she bought it you : 
Now, wearied, give it back! 

Nero. Ah, patience, sir ! 

I cannot in one moment gird myself 
To murder all these kisses, and she hath 






sc. I NERO loi 

A vastness in this narrow world so rare, 
A sweep majestical about the earth — 
True, that she hath no ear for verse 

TiGELLiNUS. For thine. 

Nero. Yet passion, fury, and ambition, these 
Are primal things in our elaborate age. 
Ill can we spare them. 

BuRRUS. Now, 'tis you or she. 

Nero. A little time in which to fix my 
mind. 
I go to Baiae; for I am not housed 
Here as I should be : all the palace seems 
To me a hovel; scarcely can I breathe. 
I should be roofed with gold, and walled with 

gold, 
Should tread on gold ; and if I cast mine eyes 



102 NERO ACT UI 

Over the city, they should view a scene 
Of spacious avenues and breathing trees, 
And buildings plunged in odorous foliage. 
This is a petty city: I have thought 
It might be well to raze it to the ground 
And build another and an ampler Rome, 
More worthy site for this imperial soul. 
I'll go to Baiae, there to dream this dream. 

TiGELLiNUS. Might I propose you go not all 
alone? 
At times the answering flash from other 

eyes 
Can aid the mightiest; and a woman's 
thought 

Nero. Yes — Yes — Poppaea ! 

BuRRUS. Otho will be jealous. 






sc. I NERO 103 

TiGELLiNUS. And is already dangerous ; he 
has joined 
The Agrippina faction, 

Nero, He must be 

Promoted then to — Lusitania. 
TiGELLiNUS, Thule were safer — still. 
Nero. Here I appoint him 

Sole governor of Lusitania. 
To Baiae now — Poppaea — a new Rome! 

\Exit Nero. 
TiGELLiNUS. He hesitates — but I will see 
Poppaea : 
She can find means we cannot, and we thus 
Can use her beauty for our policy. 

[Eripw^n/ TiGELLiNUS, Burrus, Seneca, arid 
Anicetus. 



SCENE n 

SczmL — The tiring chamber ofTovPAEA — 
signs of luxury f implements of a Roman lady's 
toUel of the period. Vobfkzk reclining^ with 
a single maid. 

VankEK. Myrrha, more gold upon these 

builded curls. 

How often, child? 

Mykrha. Mistress, forgive me. 

[A slave has entered. 

POPPAEA. Well ? 

Slave. Mistress, the Emperor's minister, 

Tigellinus. 

[POPPAEA signs Myrrha to go. 
104 



sc. n NERO 105 

Enter Tigellinus 
TiGELLiNUS. Lady, I am loth to interrupt 
this toil, 
But come on a secret errand. 
POPPAEA. Well, what is it ? 

Tigellinus. Long have I watched you, and 
to me it seemed 
You had some mighty wish within your 

soul 
As yet unspoken? Ah, I know it well. 
You would climb high, even to the very 
height? 
PopPAEA. \Ris%ng,'\ I would, 
Tigellinus. You would 

be — mistress of the world? 

POPPAEA. Ah ! 



io6 NERO ACT III 

TiGELLiNUS. And shall be: we aim at the 
same goal. 
You from ambition, I from poliqr. 

PoppAEA. Speak clearer. 

TiGELLiNUS. 'Tis our wish to free young 
Nero 
From Agrippina's dangerous dominance — 
To free him of her quite. Now she too stands 
In your own path. Your loveliness may 

work 
Upon him: and we with policy the while — 
Will you make cause with us? 

PoppAEA. I understand. 

You need this beauty as an added bait 
To lure when policy can drive him not. 
What do I gain at last? 



sc n NERO 107 

TiGELLiNUS. The throne itself. 

Octavia is a shadow : cannot stand 
Between you and the world: but Agrippina, 
Never will suffer you while she has breath. 

PoppAEA. I will not tempt him to a mother's 
murder. 

TiGELLiNUS. Nor do we ask it : only that 
you draw 
His wandering fancy from her with a sweet 
Interposition of this loveliness, 
Free him of her, then bind him to yourself. 

PoppAEA. I will attempt it. I will fly at it. 
I go to him to Baiae this same day. 

TiGELLiNUS. Remember all the earth is in 
thy reach. 

\ExU TiGELLiNUS.] 



io8 NERO ACT III 



POPPAEA daps her hands — enter various maids 

PoPPAEA. Lorilla, see, this henna is o'erdone. 

LoRiLLA. O pardon, mistress. 

PoppAEA. And you, Lalage, 

My lips more brilliant. 

Lalage. Yet 

PoppAEA. Remember, child, 

That I walk ever veiled : what in the sun 
Glares, being veiled a finer richness takes 
And more provokes : how many struggling flies 
This veil, the web of mine, hath struggling held 
Which else were freed! 

[Gazing at her face in mirror. 
Ah ! this left eyebrow — who ? 
Who painted this? 



sc n NERO 109 

Maid. [Trefnbling.] I, madam. 

POPPAEA. You are yoimg: 

Else I would have you stripped and lashed till 

blood 
Flew from you. 

Maid. Mercy ! 

PoppAEA. Call old Lydia. 

Lydia, this eyebrow — the old touch. 

Lydia My hands 

Tremble, but I'll essay. 

PopPAEA. [Gazing in mirror. 1 So — that is well. 
Children, when there shall come, and come 

there must. 
The smallest marring wrinkle on this face. 
And come there must — our bodies fall like 
flowers, 



no NERO ACTUi 

This face shall feel the ruin of the rose — 
When time, howe'er light, shall touch this 

cheeky 
Then quick farewell ! Listen, I will not live 
Less lovely, nor this cruel beauty lose, 
And I perforce grow kind : I'll not survive 
The deep delicious poison of a smile 
Nor mortal music of the sighing bosom 
That slowly overcomes the fainting brain. 
It shall not dawdle downward to the grave ; 
I'll pass upon the instant of perfection. 
No woman shall behold Poppaea fade : 
And now to Baiae ! 

Myrrha. Thence the Emperor 

Hath sent three messengers already. 

Poppaea. Ah I 



sc. II NERO III 

Blue Baiae, warm beside a sparkling sea 
Where I will win young Nero — and the world ! 



Enter Otho hastily 

Otho. The Emperor hath sent three mes- 
sengers 
Demanding you for Baiae: yet am I 
Not asked : what means this lonely summons, 
wife? 
POPPAEA. Can you not trust me? 
Otho. When I gaze on you, 

Yes — when your voice is murmuring at my 

ear, 
Yes — but at times when I am pressed by 

crowds 
Or yearn alone beside the breaking wave 



1X0 NERO ACT III 

This face shall feel the ruin of the rose — 
When time, however light, shall touch this 

cheek, 
Then quick farewell ! Listen, I will not live 
Less lovely, nor this cruel beauty lose. 
And I perforce grow kind : I'll not survive 
The deep delicious poison of a smile 
Nor mortal music of the sighing bosom 
That slowly overcomes the fainting brain. 
It shall not dawdle downward to the grave ; 
I'll pass upon the instant of perfection. 
No woman shall behold Poppaea fade : 
And now to Baiae ! 

Myrrha. Thence the Emperor 

Hath sent three messengers already. 

Poppaea. Ah ! 



sc n IfERO tii 

Blue Baiae, wann beside a sparkling sea 
Where I will win young Nero — and the world ! 

Enief Otho hastily 
Otho. The Emperor hath sent three mes- 
sengers 
Demanding you for Baiae : yet am I 
Not asked: what means this lonely summons, 
wife? 
POPPAEA. Can you not trust me? 
Otho. When I gaze on you, 

Yes — when your voice is murmuring at my 

ear, 
Yes — but at times when I am ] -^ ^" 

king 



114 NERO Acrm 

Otho. Stand up ! You knew this ? 

POPPAEA. Dear, I never could 

Otho. [Taking her by the arm.] You go to 
Baiae into Caesar's arms. 
I am — promoted — to the ends of the 
earth, j 

Anywhere, an)rwhere, so I be not there 
To interrupt. 

[He throws her from him — snatches his 
dagger. 
PoppAEA. Kill me then if you will. 
Here — here ! I will not flinch, so I die true. 
You'll not suspect my corpse. 

Otho. It has been planned. 

Thought out, and timed — for in his deepest 
plot 



sc. II NERO 115 

Our Nero has an eye for drama still. 
He hath imagined that which now we act. 
PoppAEA. Kill me — I love you ! Ere you 

strike, one kiss. 
Otho. Ah ! [Recoiling.] 
PoppAEA. But one kiss — a kiss of olden 

days, 
When we two were most happy : Caesar was 

not, 
And you had laughed at him ! A harp-player, 
But not my man, my Otho ! Think you I 
Who have had these arm's about me, and these 

lips 
Bum up my own, could languish for a mime? 
I am a child — I have done wrong — forgive 

it — 



ii6 NERO ACT III 

I sighed for thy advancement — speak to me ! 
Now slap my hands or send me to my bed, 
I am a baby in these deep aflFairs. 

Otho. Go not to Baiae then: depart with 
me 
To Lusitania; words I'll count no more, 
But deeds — to Lusitania, come with me. 

PoppAEA. Is it wise to disobey — is it wise, 
I ask? 
Set me aside, be mindful of yourself. 

Otho. So you'll not come? 

PoppAEA. For you alone I linger, 

I'll tarry but a little while behind you. 
And when I come, I'll greet you full of riches. 

Otho. I dread to leave you in your love- 
liness. 



9C. u NERO 117 

POPPAEA. Then I'll not go with you. 

Otho. You will not — Why? 

PoppAEA. Because you will not trust me. 
Show to me 
That you can trust me, Otho; and what joy, 
What, satisfaction can you have to drag 
Your wife behind you, from dull jealousy 
Because you do not dare leave her behind 
For fear — I'll not be such a wife. 

Otho. Poppaea, 

No more I'll ask you to depart with me, 
I'll go alone : but this remember still — 
Gay have I been, a spendthrift and an idler, 
A brilliant fly that buzzed about the bloom. 
But I had that in me deep down, and still. 
Of which you, you alone, possess the key, 



Ii8 NERO Acrm 

A sullen nobleness to you disclosed 

E'en then with shame: and by no other 
guessed. 

This you well know : betray not that at least ; 

For even the lightest woman here is scared, 

And dreads to dabble deeper in the soul. 

We have no children. 
PoppAEA. [Coming to him and putting up 
her face.] Am I not child enough 

Who should be woman? You shall kiss these 
lips 

Once ere you go — so close they are to you. 
Otho. The gods laugh out at me — but I 

must kiss you. 
PoppAEA. Can I not help your prepara- 
tion? 



^ 



sc II NERO 119 

Otho. No. 

I shall not go with pomp ; but as a soldier. 

PoppAEA. I think you are still angry? 

Otho, No I Farewell, 

I have brief time, 

PoppAEA, Ah I take me with you, then. 

Otho, What I You will come ? 

PoppAEA. I wish — I wish 'twere wise. 

My love shall bear your litter all the way. 

\ExU Otho hastily. 



Re-enter Maid 

Maid. Has he gone, lady? Had I such a 
man 
I could not let him part thus, not for 
Caesar. 



lao NERO ACT iii 

POPPAEA. For Caesar! No: but Caesar 
means the world ! 
For Baiae ! The new gold-dust ! 
Maid. Here, I have it. 

PoppAEA. Bear it yourself — entrust it to no 
other. 

\ExeufU, 



SCENE III 

Nero's Private Chamber in the viUa at Baiacy 
looking directly upon the hay. Lefty doors 
leading into the apartments. The water laps 
close up to the marble quay or terrace on which 
the action takes place. Right are seen prows 
of galleys at their moorings. Beyond is the 
curving shore of the hay^ crowded with 
villas and temples. The scene is of extreme 
southern richness and serenity. Time 
toon. 

'^Nero is pacing restlessly to and fro. Enter a 
servant. 

121 



122 NERO ACT III 

Nero. The lady Poppaea! Is she yet 

arrived ? 
Servant. Sir, an hour since. 
Nero. [Impatiently.] Then why is she not 
here? [Exit Servant. 

An hour since : yet she lingers while I ache 
With passion. She comes not, still she delays. 
To fly to her ? No, 'twere unworthy of me — 
And yet, and yet — Ah ! I must go to her. 



Enter slaves bearing Poppaea on litter 

Poppaea. [Standing aloof and veiled.] 
Caesar, by thee thrice sunmioned, I am 
here. 
What is your will? 

Nero. To have you at my side. 



sc. ni NERO 123 

PoppAEA. Caesar, I am thy subject, and 
obeyed 
Unwillingly, 

Nero. Unwillingly? 

PoppAEA. I come 

In loyalty: what service can I render? 
K none, then suffer me now to depart. 
I tremble to be seen with thee alone; 
No whisper yet has touched me. 

Nero. So you come, 

But out of loyalty. 

PoppAEA. As fits thy subject. 

Nero. No, I am thine! 

PoppAEA. Caesar, I will not hear, 

I must not if I would — that you know well. 

Nero. You come in cold obedience? 



124 NERO ACT ui 

POPPAEA. I have said so. 

Yet 

Nero. [Eagerly.] Well — well 



PopPAEA. Nero — nay, Caesar — my 

lord. 
Nero. Nero, I'd have you say. 
PoppAEA. That slipped from me — 

Is't treason? I know nothing of the laws. 
Nero. You come because thrice simi- 

moned ? 
Poppaea. In my mind __ 

There lurked another reason for my com- 
ing. 
Nero. What then? 

Poppaea. A thought that like a 

captive bird 



sc. ni NERO 125 

I have kept warm about my heart so long 
I am loth to let it fly forth to the cold. 
Nero. [Approaching her.] Tell me this 

thought. 
PoppAEA. Then, Caesar, I have long 

Brooded upon the music of thy verse. 
It doth beset me — and, O pardon me, 
If, little fool that I am, I longed to speak 
But once alone with him who made it. Now, 
What have I said? I will return forth- 
with. 
Nero. O not thy beauty moves me but thy 

mind! 
PoppAEA. I think I have some little ear for 
verse. 
There is one line 



126 NERO ACT III 

Nero. Yes — yes 

POPPAEA. Of burning Troy — 
'O city amorous red, thou flagrant rose' 

Nero. A regal verse! But the arm ex- 
tended thus 
Toward doomed Iliimi. Say on. 

PoppAEA. My eyes 

Are filled with tears. 

Nero. Remove thy veil and weep. 

PoppAEA. [Starting back.] For no man — 
save my husband — O my lord ! 
He is despatched to Lusitania. 

Nero. Know you not why? 

PoppAEA. I know not — cannot guess. 

Nero. That he might stand no more be- 
tween us two. 



sc III NERO 127 

POPPAEA. O sir, he is my husband, and 
my way 
Is with him wheresoever he go. My duty 

Nero. But your inclining? 

PoppAEA. That I will not say. 

But Lusitania is henceforth my home. 
Nero, I will speak truth : I'll not deny 
There is some strange communion of the soul 
'Twixt you and me: but I'll not yield to 

this. 
No, nor shall you compel me, Caesar: I 
Will follow Otho even to banishment. 
There are more sacred things in my regard 
Than mutual pleasure from melodious verse. 

Nero. Nothing, when soul meets soul 
without alloy. 



128 NERO ACT m 

PoFPAEA. I fear you do foiget I am a 
woman. 
Dear to us before all are household cares. 

Nero. O to the average, not to thee. 

PoppAEA. Farewell ! 

Nero. You shall not go thus. 

PoppAEA. Caesar, chain me here, 

But in neglected duty I shall pine. 

Nero. [Angrily striding to and fro.] Ah ! 

PoPPAEA. And imagine that he did not 
live — 
That I were free to indulge this panting soul — 
Still there are bars between us none can break. 

Nero. You mean my wife Octavia? 

PoppAEA. Well — and yet 

Not she, perhaps. 



sa m NERO 129 

Nero. Who then? What other bars? 

PoppAEA. Your mother Agrippina. 

Nero. Still my mother ! 

PopPAEA. She would not bear it: would 
command her son 
To leave me: a younger woman has no hope 
Against her. 

Nero. I am not her lackey. 

POPPAEA. No ? 

Ah, but her child, and bom but to obey. 
And yet though wiser, mightier, than my- 
self, 
You shall not find in her a Ustener 
So still, so answerable to your mood. 
And, I will say it, you'll not find in her 
One who has dived so deep into your soul, 

K 



130 NERO ACT ra 

Who sees — I cannot flatter — sees that great- 
ness 
Which she too long keeps under: were I you 
I would be Caesar, spite of twenty mothers, 
And seem the mighty poet that I am. 
I'U go. 

Nero. You madden me 

POPPAEA. Farewell again. 

Nero. Poppaea, go not, go not. Ail the 
east 
Bums in me, and the desert fires my blood. 
I parch, I pine for you. My body is sand 
That thirsts. I die, I perish of this thirst, 
To slake it at your lips ! You madden me. 
[He seizes her cloak and she stands re- 
vealed. 



sc. Ill NERO 131 

Goddess! What shall I give thee great 
enough ? 

I'll give thee Rome — I'll give thee this great 
world, 

And all the builded empire as a toy. 

The Mediterranean shall thy mirror be, 

Thy jewels all sparkling stars of heaven. 

The orb of the earth — throw it on thy lap 

But for a kiss — one kiss ! 
PoppAEA. But Agrippina ? 

Nero. Agrippina? 
PoppAEA. No — I'll not think of it I 

I'll have no violence for my sake com- 
mitted. 

If by some chance unlooked for she should 
die. 



132 NERO ACT III 

If in some far, far time she should succumb 

To creeping age — then 

Nero. Then? 



EfUer Messenger hurriedly 

Messenger. Sir, urgent business — 

The State demands you. 
Nero. [Furiously. ] Pah ! — the State ! 
POPPAEA. O Nero I 

Remember first the State — me afterward ! 
Nero. Empress 1 

[He leads her otU. 
[He returns and stands as in a dream while 
the Councillors enter. 
BuRRUS. How long? How long, sir? 

Agrippina 



sc. Ill NERO 133 

Is drawing to her net the dregs of Rome, 
Makes mutinous the rabble and the scimi. 

[Nero makes weary gesture. 

Seneca. And, sir, she has not scrupled to 
enroll 
The ragged, shrieking Christians, who wash not. 
The refuse of the empire, all that flows 
To this main sewer of Rome she coimts upon. 

TiGELLiNUS. [Stealing forward.] And, sir, 
if these things move you not — a letter. 

Nero. [Residing.] * I, Agrippina, daugh- 
ter of Germanicus, of Claudius widow, of 
Nero mother, hereby do declare that though 
I have sat tame under private injuries, I will ' 
not forgo my public privileges, nor consent 
to be banished from high festival or cere- 



134 NERO ACT m 

mony. I purpose thea to be present at Baiae 
at Minerva's feast, together with the Emperor, 
and will hold no second place. This is my 
ancient right and to that right I cleave. 

*The Augusta.' 

Seneca. This is her ultimate audacity. 

TiGELLiNUS. And this our utmost oppor- 
tunity. 

Nero. Sirs, seeing that the State demands 
this life, 
Seeing that I must choose 'twixt her and Rome, 
I do consent to Agrippina's death. 
The State like Nature must be pitiless, 
And I must ruthless be as Nature's Lord. 
But I'll be no Orestes, I'll not lift 
This hand against her : see you then to that 1 



sc. Ill NERO 135 

It is enough to have conceived this deed. 
The how, the when, the where, I leave to you. 

TiGELLiNUS. She is delivered now into our 
hands, 
And runs into the toils we had not set. 
Li Baiae no Praetorians are camped, 
No populace inflamfed in her cause; 
A solitary woman doth she come. 
Caesar, receive her graciously and well. 
Smile all distrust away and speak her soft. 
While we devise for her a noiseless doom. 

Anicetus. Caesar, a sudden thought hath 
come to me. 
A pleasure pinnace lies in Baiae Bay 
Built for thyself: on this let her return 
In the deep night after Minerva's feast, 



156 NERO ACT m 

Or supper givea in agn of amity. 
I will contrive a roof weighted with lead 
Over the couch whereon she will recline. 
Once in deep water at a signal givai 
The roof shall fall : and with a leak prepared 
The ship shall sink and plunge her in the waves. 
In that uncertain water what may chance? 
What may not ? To the elements this deed 
Will be imputed, to a casual gust 
Or striking Squall upon the moody deep. 
Nero. Wonderful 1 This gives beauty to 
an act 
Which else were ugly and of me unworthy. 
So mighty is she that her proper doom 
Could come but by some elemental aid. 
Her splendid trouble asketh but the sea 



sc. m NERO 137 

For sepulchre: her spirit limitless 
A* multitudinous and roaring grave. 
Here's nothing sordid, nothing vulgar. I 
Consign her to the uproar whence she came. 
Be the crime vast enough it seems not crime. 
I, as befits me, call on great allies. 
I make a compact with the elements. 
And here my agents are the very winds. 
The waves my servants, and the night my 
friend. 

BuRRUS. Suppose the night be clear, with 
a bright moon, 
A calm sea. 

Nero. On the moon I can rely. 

Last night I wrote to her a glimmering verse; 
She is white with a wan passion for my lips. 



138 NERO ACT in, sc in 

The moon will succour me. Depart from me — 
Trouble me not with human faces now. 

[Exeunt Councillors. 
[Meanwhile Pofpaea appears behind in a 
gorgeous dress with white .arms extended 
against the curtains. 



SCENE IV 

Scene. — The same — glittering starlight. 

Enter various servants bearing wine-jars and 
dishes from the inner supper-room, in pro- 
cession. Then Burrus, Seneca, Anicetus, 
and TiGELLiNUS. 

BuRRUS. Tis not man's work to witness 

this. I have fought 
Neck-deep in blood and spared not when the 

fit 
Was on me, but I cannot gaze on this. 

r 

Have you a heart, old man? 

139 



I40 NERO ACT III 

TiGELLiNUS. No, not in hours 

Like these: the brain is all. I fear, I fear 

him 
The last farewell — he will not bear it out ! 
Seneca. How to excuse my soul, yet I am 
here. 
Was this mere acting, or a true emotion? 
Anicetus. a little of both, but most, I fear 

it, true. 
TiGELLiNUS. Is all prepared and timed? 

No hazard left? 
Anicetus. Yonder the barge with lights 
and fluttering flags. 
The canopy whereunder Agrippina 
Will sit is heavily weighted : at a sign 
A bolt withdrawn will launch it on her head. 



sc. IV NERO 141 



Enter Nero 

Nero, I cannot do it: if she goes, she 
goes. 
I cannot say farewell, and kiss her lips, 
Ere I commit her body to the deep, 
TiGELLiNUS. All hangs upon the fervour of 
farewell, 
The kiss, the soft word, and the hand de- 
tained. 
All hangs on it; go back. 
Nero. Tis difficult. 

[Nero turns. Enter Agreppina. 
Come out into the cool a moment, mother. 
Agrippina. This seemeth like to old days 
come again. 



142 NERO ACT m 

Evenings of Antium with a rising moon. 

\SUrohing his hair. 
My boy, my boy, again ! Look in my eyes. 
So as a babe would you look up at me • 
After a night of tossing, half-awake, 
Blinking against the dawn, and pull my head 
Down to you, till I lost you in my hair. 
Do you remember many a night so thick 
With stars a3 this — you would not go to bed, 
But still would paddle in the warm ocean 
Spraying it with small hands into the skies. 

Nero. Yes, I remember. 

Agreppina. Or when you would sail 

In a slight skiff imder a moon like this. 
Though chidden oft and oft. 

Nero. Ah I I recall it 



sc. IV NERO 143 

Agrippina. a wilful child — the sea — ever 
the sea — 
Your mother could not hold you from the sea. 
Will you be sore if I confess a thought? 

Nero, Ah I no, mother 1 

Agrippina. So foolish it seems now. 

Awhile I doubted whether I shoidd come. 

Nero. Why, then? 

Agrippina. Now, do not laugh at 

me — I say 
You will not laugh at me? 

Nero. No 1 

Agrippina. Why — I thought 

That you perhaps would kill me if I came ! 
Truly I did 1 

Nero. I kill you i 



141 NESO ACT m 

Evenings of Antium with a rising moon. 

[Stroking his hair. 
My boy, my boy, again ! Look in my eyes. 
So as a babe would you look up at me - 
After a night of tossing, half-awake, 
Blinking against the dawn, and pull my head 
Down to you, till I lost you in my hair. 
Do you remember many a night so thick 
With stars a? this — you would not go to bed, 
But still would paddle in the warm ocean 
Spraying it with small hands into the skies. 

Need. Yes, I remember. 

Agmppina. Or when you would sail 

In a slight skiff under a moon like this, 
Though chidden oft and oft. 

Neko. Ah I I recall it 



sc. IT NERO 143 

Agrippina. a wilful child — the sea — ever 
the sea — 
Your mother could not hold you from the sea. 
Will you be sore if I confess a thought? 

Neso. Ah ! no, mother I 

Agbifpina. So foolish it seems now. 

Awhile I doubted whether I should come. 

Need. Why, then? 

Agsifpina. Now, do not laugh at 

me — I say 
You will not laugh at me? 

Nero. No I 

Agrippina. Why — I thought 

That you perhaps would kill me if I came ! 
Truly I did I 

youl 



146 NERO ACTUi 

At last after such heat. Ah, but the stars 
Are fallmg and I feel the unseen dawn. 
Son, I must go at once. Where is my maid 
To wrap me? Sweet and warm now is the 

night 
And I am glad I had prepared to go 
By water, not by land. 



ErUer Servant, hurriedly 

Servant. O Ca'esar ! 

Nero. WeU? 

Servant. Thy mother's galley by a random 
barge 
Was struck, and now is sinking fast. 

Agiuppina. Alas 1 

Now must I go by land. 



sc. IV NERO 147 

Nero, Yes, go by land. 

[TiGELLiNUS signals to Anicetus. 

Anicetus. Yonder there lies a barge with 
fluttering flags, 
A gilded pinnace, a light pleasure-boat 
Built for you with much art and well designed. 
Will you return in her? Easily she 
Can swing round to the landing-stage. 

Agrippina. Yes — yes — 

ril go in her — Why not ? 

Nero. It was foretold 



Enter Acceronia, who elaborately wraps 

Agrippina 

Agrippina. Nero, my maid a moment to 
enwrap me. 



148 NERO ACT III 

\As the wrapping is finished. 
I have slept ill of late : but I shall have 
A soft and steady breeze across the bay. 
I shall sleep sound. Now, Nero, now good-bye. 
For ever we are friends? 
Nero. Good-bye : yet stay ! 

[During this dialogue he is continually de- 
taining her. 
Have I been kind, this last hour? Say. 
Agrippina. Most kind. 

Nero. You have no need to go this moment 
— one 
More moment of thee, mother. 

Agrippina. You shall see me 

To-morrow. Will you cross the bay to me, 
Or shall I come to you? 



sc. IV NERO 149 

Nero. I'll come to you 

To-morrow! Ah! to-morrow! But to-night. 
Now let me have you once more in my arms. 

[Detaining her. 
Is old Cynisca with you still? 

Agiuppina. [Going.] She is. 

Nero. Stay, stay, give her this ring: she 
nursed me. 

Agrippina. Yes. 
I see you have my amulet. 

Nero. O yes. 

Agrippina. So bright the night you'll see 
me all the way 
Across the shining water. 

Nero. [Clinging to her.] O farewell ! 

Agiuppina. [Descends to water.] Good- 



150 NERO ACT III 

night, child! I shall see you then to- 
morrow. 
Already it hath dawned. 
Nero. Mother, good-night. 

\E^ Agrippina. 
TiGELLiNUS. \To crew in barge.] Strike up 
the music there, a joyous strain ! 
And sing, you boatmen; the Augusta comes. 
[Sounds of joyful music are heard, and 
singingy as the pinnace puts off with 
measured beat of oars. 
Nero. It hath put off: she hath gone: she 
sitteth happy. 
See, the dead woman waves her hand to 

me. 
Now the bark turns the headland. 



sc. IV NERO 151 

Anicetus. But will soon 

Steal into sight, well out upon the bay. 

TiGELLiNUS. Caesar, let none deny thou art 
an actor. 

Nero. [Passionately.] Was I all actor then ? 
That which I feigned 
I felt, and when it was my cue to kiss her, 
The whole of childhood rushed into the kiss. 
When it was in my part to cling about her, 
I clung about her mad with memories. 
The water in my eyes rose from my soul. 
And flooding from the heart ran down my cheek. 
Did my voice tremble ? Then it trembled true 
With hiunan agony behind the art. 
Gods ! What a scene ! 

TiGELLiNUS. Listen 1 



t 



152 NERO ACT III 

Anicetus. She is well out, 

Glassed in the bay with all her lights and flags. 
Soon will a crash and cry come in our ears. 
Nero. [Going out.] How calm the night 

when I would have it wild! 
Aloof and bright which should have rushed to me 
Hither with aid of thxmder, screen of lightning ! 
I looked for reinforcement from the sky. 
Arise, you veiling clouds; awake, you winds, 
And stifle with your roaring human cries. 
Not a breath upon my cheek ! I gasp for air. 
[To Others.] Do you suppose the very 

elements 
Are conscious of the workings of this mind ? 
So careful not to seem to share my guilt ? 
Yet dark is the record of wind and wave, 



sc. IV NERO 153 

This ocean that creeps fawning to our feet 
Comes purring o'er a million wrecks and bones. 
If the cold moon hath sinned not, she hath been 

privy. 
She aids me not, but watches quietly. 
A placid sea, still air, and bright starlight. 

Anicetus. But Caesar, see, a gradual cloud 
hath spread 
Over the moon ; the ship's light disappears. 
She is vanished. 

Nero. She is veiled from sight. 

TiGELLiNUS. My eyes 

Can find her not ; she is enwrapped in mist. 

Seneca. A dimness and no more. 

BuRRUS. And silence. 

Nero. Hush ! 



154 NERO ACT m 

How wonderful this waiting and this pause. 
Could one convey this in the theatre? 
This deep suspense, this breathlessness ? Per- 
haps. 
The air weighs on the brain — what sound was 
that? 
TiGELLiNUS. Nothing, sir. 
Nero. In this thrill a leaf would thunder. 

\A pause. 
I never noted so exactly how 
The shadow of that cypress falls aslant 
Upon the dark bank yonder. 
BuRRUS. Would it were over ! 

Nero. Feel you no shuddering pleasure 
in this pause? 
But me this fraught expectancy allures; 



sc. IV NERO 155 

The tingling stillness, for each moment now 
The crash, a cry, may come, but it comes not. 
TiGELLiNUS. Anicetus, have you bxmgled? 
\A cry is heard far off, and a crash, then 
silence. 
Nero. It is done. 

I cannot look: peer seaward, one of you — 
What do you see? 
Seneca. Darkness, and veilM stars. 

Nero. Is there no shimmer of a floating 
robe? 
Pierce through the darkness I 
BuRRUS. Nothing visible. 

Nero. I seem to see her lying amid shells, 
And strange sea-things come round her wonder- 
ing, 



156 NERO ACT lu 

Inspecting her with cold and rheumy eyes. 
The water sways her helpless up and down. 

BuRRUS. Caesar, you have no further need 
of me? 

Nero. [Dreamily.] No, sir. 

BuRRUS. Good-night, and pleasant be thy 
dreams. 

Seneca. Or me ? 

Nero. No, no 1 

Seneca. At least bear witness, sir, 

I had no hand in this: but was compelled, 
A loth spectator, to behold thy deed ! 

Anicetus. Caesar, you'll not forget the 
service done? 

Nero. Never shall I forget thee, Anicetus. 
Leave me alone. 



sc. IV NERO 157 

[Exeunt all but Tigellinus, who creeps 
back again, 
Tigellinus. Sole master of the world I 
Caesar at last : the Emperor of the earth, 
Now thou art free — to write immortal verse, 
To give thy genius wing, to strike the stars. 
And thou hast made this tragic sacrifice. 
Slaying what is most dear, most close to thee. 
To give thy being vent and utterance. 
Apollo shall reward thee for this deed. 
Nero. Go to thy room, old man, and — 

wilt thou sleep ? 
Tigellinus. Already I am drowsing ; early 
then 
To-morrow I will come to you. 
Nero. Good-night. 



158 NERO ACT m 

TiGELUNUS. Caesar, good-night 

\ExU TlGELUNUS. 

[Thunder heard. 

Nero. Ah 1 thunder ! thou art come 

At last, too late I What catches at my heart ? 

I — I — her boy, her baby that was, even I 

Have killed her: where I sucked there have I 

struck. 
Mother ! Mother ! [He drinks. 

The anguish of it hath taken hold of me, 
And I am gripped by Nature. O, it comes 
Upon me, this too natural remorse. 
1 faint! I flinch from the raw agony I 
I cannot face this common human throe I 
Ah 1 Ah ! the crude stab of reality ! 
I am a son, and I have killed my mother I 



sc.iv NERO 159 

Why I I am now no more than him who tills 

Or reaps : and I am seized by primal pangs. 

Mother ! \ELe drinks. 

The thimder crieth motherless. 

Ah ! how this sword of lightning thrusts at me I 

O, all the artist in my soul is shattered, 

And I am hurled into humanity, 

Back to the sweat and heart-break of mankind. 

I am broken upon the jagged spurs of the earth. 

I can no more endure it. Mother! 

[He drinks again, walking distractedly to 
and jrOy not looking seaward. But as he 
at last turns, slowly out from the sea 
appears the -figure of Agrippina with 
dripping hair, who comes slowly towards 
him in silence. 



i6o NERO ACT III, sc IV 

\H.e cries dUmi and falls in a swoon. She 
comes and looks at him. 
Agrippina. Child ! 
[She stoops J removes the amulet from his 
arm, flings it into the sea, and passes out 
in silence. 



SCENE V 

Scene. — The same. Dawn breaking; Nero 
discovered lying in a swoon. 

Nero. [Slowly. 1 Dawn 1 In the night over- 
past a lightning flash I 
Ah! I remember — here my mother's ghost 
Stood — on this very ground — I feel the air 
Still cold from her — and here the lightning 

burned. 
So I awake my mother's murderer. 
That was her ghost that stole on me sea- 
marred, 
Silent — the ocean falling from her hair. 

M l6l 



x63 NERO ACT III 

Enter Tigelunus 
TiGELLiNUS. Caesar at last I Sole master 

of the world ! 
Nero. O Tigellinus, in the mid of night, 
The spirit of my whelm fed mother stole 
Hither upon me, dumb out of the deep. 
Heaven gave a flash : I saw her face and fell. 
Tigellinus. Her spirit ! Better that than 
she herself. 
Dismiss dark fancies now — this day thou art 
free. 
Nero. No, but enthralled by her for ever- 
more. 
She is my air, my ocean, and my sky. 
Tigellinus. The night has wrought this 

* 

sickly mood on you — 



sc V NERO 163 

Natural — it will pass. 

Nero. Never, O never ! 

You flatter, you console, you would assuage, 
But you are human, can forget and change. 
But yonder rocky coast remembers yet. 
That countenance changes not : that conscious 

bay 
Maintains its everlasting memory. 
This privy region saw, and it shall see 
For ever what was done. The amulet ! 
Filched from me 1 Was it then a ghost I saw ? 



EfUet Seaman hurriedly^ followed by Burrus 

Seaman. Caesar, my news must plead for 
this intrusion. 
I was aboard the ship whereon, the Augusta 



i64 NERO ACT m 

Set sail : when the roof fell, thy mother's maid 
Cried ' Save me ! I am the Emperor's mother I ' 

Straight 
Crushed under many a blow, she dropped and 

died. 
But silently thy mother Agrippina 
/ Slid from the ship into the water and swam 
Shoreward. With white and jewelled arms she 

thrust 
Out through the waves and lay upon the 

foam. 
We heard her through the ripple breathing 

deep, 
And when we heard no more, we watched her 

stiU — 
Her hair behind her blowing into gold 



sc. V NERO 165 

As she did glimmer o'er the gloomy deep ; 
And all the stars swam with her through the 

heavens, 
The hurrying moon lighted her with a torch, 
The sea was loth to lose her, and the shore 
Yearned for her; till we lost her in the 

dark, 
Save now and then some splendid leap of the 
head. 
Nero. You know not if she be alive or 

dead ? 
Seaman. Caesar, rejoice — thy mother 

lives. 
Nero. She lives ? 
Seaman. When I at last touched shore,- 1 

« 

spoke with two 





^ 



i66 NERO ACT m 

Night-wandering fishermen. These two, it 

seems, 
Had borne her in their boat across the bay 
To her own villa. 
Nero. [Falling hysterically on neck of Sea- 
man.] I am no murderer then ! 
TiGELLiNUS. Have you considered, sir, 
what now may urge 
Thy mother, Agrippina, knowing all. 
Seeing that by no chance or. acddent 
Or sudden flurry of the ocean floor : 
The ship collapsed. Safe is she, but how 

long? 
Will she not burst upon us suddenly? 
Sir, she must die to-night. 
Nero. I'll not attempt 



sc. V NERO 167 

A second time that life the sea restored ; 
She is too vast a spirit to surprise. 

Even Nature stood aloof 

My mother shall be gloriously caged, 
Imprisoned in purple and immured in gold. 

In some magnificent captivity 

-^ 

Worthy the captive let her day decline. 

\Shouts without: enter Burrus. 

BuRRUS. Caesar, great news I bring: the 
Armenian 
Lies helpless on Tigranocerta's plain 
Overwhelmed by Corbulo, and the huge host 
Dissolved. Armenia lies beneath your feet: 
Rome yearns to welcome you. 

Nero. To Rome I go 

Free-souled and guiltless of a mother's blood. 



i68 NERO ACT m 

Resume the accustomed feast, the race, the 

song, 
And I shall be received with public joy 
And clamour of congratulating Rome. 

]p[feai cheering without: exit Nero. 

[A pause, 
TiGELUNUS. Burrus, she'll strike at us 
whatever the cost : 
She'll slay the ministers if not the master. 
Burrus. We are both dead unless some 
sudden scheme — 



Enter Anicetus at back 

[Turning.] Here is another doomed as we our- 
selves. 
TiGELLiNus. Ah, Anicetus! Agrippina lives. 



sc. V NERO 169 

And she will launch her vengeance on us 

three, 
But first on you : you first set Nero on — 
You first proposed the scheme. You on the sea 
Bungled — Now on the land retrieve the error. 
To you we look. 



EfUtT POPPAEA ]r(ym behind and stands listening. 

Anicetus. My error is repaired 

Already. I first heard the Augusta lived, 
And instantly despatched a faithful troop 
To slay her at her villa o'er the bay. 
TiGELLiNUS. How shall we know if they 

have found and slain her? 
Anicetus. All this I have arranged and 
clearly planned. 



I70 NERO ACT ni 

If they shall find that she hath fled to Rome, 
Hark for one trumpet-call across the bay: 
If they have found her at the villa, then 
Hark for two trumpet-calls across the bay: 
If they have found her and have slain her, 

then 
Hark for threef trumpet-calls across the bay ! 
\A burst of music without, and sounds of 

advancing procession. 
[Enter soldiers and satellites, with attend- j 

ants bearing a litter. Lastly Nero. j 

TiGELLiNUS. Now ES a conqueror in tri- 
umphant vein 
Ride through the thundering^ ways of risen 

* 

Rome, 
Anticipating the Armenian car. 



sc V NERO 171 

Nero. [Ascending litter.] Set out for 
Rome ! And you, accusing coasts, 
Accuse no more. Guiltless I say farewell, 
And with a light heart journey toward Rome. 
Joyous I go, for Agrippina lives. 

[A great triumphal shout swells up again^ 
and to the sound of military musiCj Nero 
and the procession pass off. Meanwhile 
TiGELLiNUS is left in a listening attitude. 
PoPPAEA stands breathless at back. 
There is a pause. Then a trumpet-call^ 
is heard far off; a second; and a third. ] 

K. 

I 
f 

POPPAEA rushes to Tigellinus and [ 
clasps his hand. 



ACT IV 



SCENE I 
Scene. — A tower overlooking Rome. 

Enter Seneca, Burrus, and Physician 

Seneca. How dark the future of the Empire 
glooms ! 

Burrus. Now the Gaul mutters : the Prae- 
torians 
Sullenly snarl. 

Seneca. The Christians privily 

Conspire. 

Burrus. The legions waver and whisper 
too. 

Seneca. [To Physician.] What of the 

Emperor ? 

175 



176 NERO ACT IV 

Physician. Through Campania 

He rushes : and distracted to and fro 
Would fly now here, now there; behind each 

woe 
He sees the angered shade of Agrippina. 
Now hearing that Poppaea sinks toward 

death, 
Hither is he fast hurrying. 

Seneca. Ah, Poppaea, 

No sooner Empress made than she must 

die 

BuRRUs. See: she is carried hither. 
Seneca. Here to look 

Her last upon the glory of the earth. 
[Exeunt Seneca, Burrus, and Physician. 
[Poppaea enters^ supported by handmaids. 






sc. I NERO 177 

She takes a long look at Rome^ then is 
assisted down to couch. 
POPPAEA. Give me the glass again : beauti- 
ful yet 1 
This face can still endure the sunset glow, 
No need is there for me to sue the shadow, 
Perfect out of the glory I am going. 
Myrbha. Lady, the mood will pass : still 

you are young, 
PoppAEA. Why comes not Nero near me? 
O he loathes 
Sickness or sadness or the touch of trouble. 

Myrhha. Nay, lady; hither he is riding fast, 
In fury spurring from Campania, 
And trouble upon trouble falls on him — 
Misfortune follows him like a faithful hound. 

N 



178 NERO ACT IV 

POPPAEA. I snared him, Myrrha, once ; let 
him flutter away ! 
But to relinquish the wide earth at last, 
And flit a faint thing by a shadowy river, 
Or yearning without blood upon the bank — 
The loneliness of death ! To go to strangers — 

Into a world of whispers 

[Looking at and lifting her hair. 

And this hair 
Rolling about me like a lighted sea 
Which was my glory and the theme of the earth. 
Look! Must this go? The grave shall have 

these eyes 
Which were the bliss of .burning Emperors. 
After what time, what labour the high gods 
Builded the body of this beauty up 1 



sc. 1 NERO 179 

r 

Now at a whim they shatter it ! More light 1 
I'll catch the last of the sun. 



Enter Slave 

Slave. Mistress, below 

The lady Acte stands and asks to see you. 
POPPAEA. Come to inspect me fading: I 
fear not. 
Even a woman's eyes I need not shun. 
Bring her. \Eodt Slave. 

Now, Myrrha, watch her hungering eyes. 



EfUer Acte, ushered by Slave 

PopPAEA. [Vehemently. 1 Take Nerol I 

am dying. 
Acte. Ah, not yet I 



I&> NERO ACT IT 

POFPAEA* I am dying. But you shall not 
hold him long — 
O, do not think it. Can you queen his heart? 
Can you be stoim a moment, sun the next? 
A month, a long day under open skies. 
Would find your art exhausted, ended. 1 1 
I was a hundred women in an hour. 
And sweeter at each moment than them alL 
Why, I have struck him in the face and laughed. 

ACTE. I love him : that concerns not him, 
nor you. 
A diflferent goal I would have sought for 

him, 
A garment not of purple, but of peace. 

POPPAEA. Of peace ! Ha, ha 1 

AcTE. Vain now — I know it, vain. 



sc I NERO i8i 

But if your words are true, and death is on 

you, 
Let us two at the least be friends at last. 
PoppAEA. I bear no rancour — and yet if I 
dreamed 
That I was leaving you upon his bosom — 
But no : let there be peace between us two. 

[AcTE comes and kisses her. 
Your kiss falls kind upon my loneliness. 
But, Acte, to let go of glory thus — 
For I have drunk of empire, and what cup 
Afterward can you offer to these lips ? 
Acte. Of late there has been stealing on 
my mind 
A strange hope — a new vision. 
PoPPAEA. What is this? 



i82 NERO ACT IV 

AcTE. Do not laugh out at me: a sect 
despised — 
The Christians, tell us of an after life, 
A glory on the other side the grave. 
If there should be a kingdom not of this world, 
A spirit throne, a city of the soul ! 
PoppAEA. I want no spirit kingdom after 
death* 
The splendid sun, the purple, and the crown, 
These I have known, and I am losing them. 
AcTE. Yet if the sun, the purple, and the 
crown 
Were but the shadows of another sun, 
Splendider — a more dazzling diadem? 
PoppAEA. These can I see at least, and feel, 
and hear. 



sc. I NERO 183 

AcTE. Yes, with a mortal touch that falters 

now. 
PoppAEA. \Sohhing.'\ O Acte, to be dumb, 

and deaf, and blind 1 
Acte. Or live again with more transcendent 
sense, 
Hearing unchecked, and unimpeded sight. 
If we who walk now, then should wing the air, 
Who stammer now, then should discard the 

voice. 
Who grope now, then should see with other 

sight. 
And send new eyes about the universe. 
PoppAEA. O, this is madness! 
Acte. Is it? Is it? Well — 

Yet have I heard this ragged people speak, 



i84 NERO ACT iVy sc i 

And they have stirred me strangely: life they 

scorn, 
And yearn for death's tremendous liberty, 
But I — I cannot speak; yet I believe 
There is a new air blowing on the world. 
And a new budding underneath the earth. 

POPPAEA. Ah, ah ! the sun I The sun ! It 
goeth down. 
How cold it grows : the night comes down on me. 
I'll have no lamp : but hold my hand in thine. 

AcTE. Sister, forget the world, it passeth. 

PoppAEA. [Falling back.] Rome I 



SCENE n 

Scene. — The same. Seneca, Burrus, 
AcTE, and Physician. 

Physician. The Emperor comes from 
gazing on Poppaea. 
What woe may that dead face not work on 

him, 
After such rain of dark calamities! 

Seneca. Why hath he summoned me? 

Physician. He knows not why. 

The infatuate orgies in Campania, 
Defeat, revolt, have wrought upon his mind, 
Till it begins to reel — behind each woe 
He sees the angered shade of Aggrippina* 

i8s 



i86 NERO ACT IV 

\jE»nt€f Nero with tablets, murmuring to 
himself. He comes to the Council- 
lors, gazes at them, and retires to 
parapet. 
* Beautiful on her bed Poppaea lay ' — 
* I have begun to write her epitaph; 

[He again gazes over parapet, murmuring 
to himself. Then turning. 
Ah, blow supreme ! Ah, ultimate injury ! 
I can no longer write : my brain is barren. 
My gift, my gift, thou hast left me. Let me 

die! 
Ah ! what an artist perishes in me. 

[He again returns to parapet, gazing and 
murmuring, and throws his tablets from 
' him. 



sc. II NERO 187 

Dead Agrippina rages unappeased. 
At night I hear the trailing of a robe, 
And the slain woman pauses at my door. 
O ! she is mightier having drunk of death; 
Now hath she haled Poppaea from my arms; 
Last doth she quench the holy fire within 

me 

ErUef Messenger 

Messenger. Caesar, I bring dark news: 
Boadicea the British Queen is risen. 
And like a fire is hissing through the isle, 
Londinium and Camulodunum 
In ashes lie: the loosed barbarians 
In madness rage and ravish, murder and bum. 

BuRRUS. Caesar, despatch. 

[Brings Nero paper. 



i88 NERO ACT IV 

Nero. Ah, this is still the deed 

Of Agrippina. Listen ! Did ye not hear 
The rustle of a robe ? [Starring up. 

Ah ! thou art come ! 
I — I no order gave ! Then did the brine 
Drop from thy hair: but now blood falls from 

thee; 
There, where they struck thee, once did I sleep 

sound. 
What shall I do to appease thee ? Let me die 
Rather than see that wonder on thy face, 
And stare on me of terrible surprise. 
Thou com'st upon me ! 
AcTE. Ah ! what ails your mind ? 

Nero. She is gone ! The red drops those 
that fell from her ! 



SC 11 NERO 189 

AcTE. Lo 1 I am with thee ! 

Nero. Thou ! And who art thou ? 



EfUer in great haste an Officer, followed by 

Others 

Officer. Caesar, Rome bums I We can- 
not fight the fire 
Which blazes and consumes. How it arose 
None knows and none can tell. What shall we 
do? 
Another. It sprung in the Suburra: 
whether lit 
By accident, dropped torch, or smouldering 

brand 

Another. Or by design 



Another. Caesar, the Christians, 



\ 



f^ NERO ACT IT 

Who hate the httnuui race^ have done this 

thing ; 
They loathe thy rule and wotdd abolish thee, 
And with thee^ Rome* 

Another* They have a prophecy 

That now the world is ending, and in fire 
The globe shall shrivel, and this empire fall 
In cinders. 
Another. And the moon be turned to 

blood. 
Nero. The moon be turned to blood I But 

that is fine t 
These Christians have imaginations then I 
The moon in blood, and burning universe ! 
Why, I myself might have conceived that 

scene! 



sc. II NERO 191 



ErUer Others \r(ym the opposite side 

Officer, Caesar, what shall be done ? Still 

spreads the fire I 
A quarter of Rome in ashes lies already, 
And like a blackened corpse: and screaming 

mothers, 
Hugging their babes, dash through the fearful 

flames. 
And old men totter gasping through the blaze 
Or fall scorched to the groimd. Stifled with 

smoke 
The population from their houses reel. 
Meantime the Christians, prophesying woe 
And final doom upon a wicked world. 
Hither and thither run, and with their dark 



192 NERO ACT IV 

Forebodings madden all the minds of men. 
To thee they point! To thee, the source of 

fire, 
Who has drawn down on them celestial flame* 
Nero. Magnificent ! The aim of heavenly 

fire! 
Another. They say the world shall crumble, 
and the skies 
Fall, and their God come in the clouds of heaven 
To judge the earth ! 

Another. But we are wasting breath 

Over the Christians: what now shall be done? 

To thee, Caesar, to thee, we come: for thou 

Alone mayst with this conflagration cope. 

Nero. Listen I Did ye not hear a wailing 

then? 



sc II NERO 193 

The wiling of a woman in her grave? 
Again 1 A wailing, and I know the voice I 

Enter Others has^y 
Messengeb. Caesar, the &e'has reached 
the Palatine 1 
Rome will be ashes soon. 

Anoteek. We have fou^t fire 

With water: matched the dements in vain, 
For the fire triumphs: Caesar, what ^d tiom 

thee? 

Evier Anotheb 

Messengek. Caesar, the t^nple of Jupiter 
is aflame. 
The shrine of Vesta next will cra^ to the 

earth. '^KpS&^\ 







194 NERO ACT IV 

Another. Open the sluices of the Campus 

Martius. 
Another. Issue some sudden edict: give 

conmiand. 
Nero. No edict will I issue, or conmiand. 
Let the fire rage. 
Chorus. O Caesar! 

Nero. Let it rage I 

Another. Caesar, 'tis said this fire was lit 
by thee. 
That thou wouldst bum old Rome to build a 

new, 
A Rome more glorious issuing from the flames : 
This tale hath maddened all the conmion folk 
Who, from their smouldering homes, curse thee 
aloud. 



sen NERO 195 

Nero. This fire is not the act of mortal 
mind, 
But is the huge conception of a spirit 
Dreaming beyond the tomb a mighty thought. 
She would express herself in burning fire: 
This is the awful vengeance of the dead ; vc^ 
This is my mother Agrippina's deed. 
I wiU not baulk the fuiy of her spirit. 
No ! Let her glut her anger on the city, 
For only Rome in ashes can appease her, 
Let the fire rage and purge me of her blood ! 

\The pime pishes upward. 

Rage I 

Rage on ! 

See, see! 

How beautiful ! 



196 NERO ACT IV 

Like a rose magnificently burning ! 

\The fiame pishes up. 
Rage on! 
Thou art that which poets use. 

Or which consumes them* 
Thou art in me I 
Thou dreadful womb of mighty spirits. 

And crimson sepulchre of them 1 

[The flame flashes up. 
Blaze I Blaze I 
How it eats and eats I 

How it drinks ! 
What hunger is like unto the hunger of fire? 
What thirst is like unto the thirst of 
flame? 

[The flame flashes up. 



sc. n NERO 197 

O fury superb ! 
O incurable lust of ruin I 
O panting perdition I 
O splendid devastation I 
I, I, too, have felt it I 
To destroy — to destroy f 
To leave behind me ashes, ashes. 

]The psmt flashes up. 
Rage 1 Rage on I 
Or art thou passion, art thou desire? 
Ah ! terrible kiss I 

[The flame flashes up. 
Now hear it, hear it ! 
A hiss as from mighty serpents. 

The dry, licking, wicked tongues ! 
Wouldst thou sting the earth to death? 



198 NERO ACT IV 

What a career ! 
To clasp and devour and kill ! 
To dance over the world as a frenzied 
dancer 
With whirling skirts of world-wide flame ! 

\Tke pime flashes up. 
Blaze ! Blaze ! 
Or art thou madness visible, 
Insanity seizing the rolling heavens. 

[He points up. 
Thou, Thou, didst create the world 

In the stars innumerably smiling. 
Thou art life, thou art God, thou art 1 1 

[The flame flashes up. 
Mother ! Mother ! 
This is thy deed. 



sc. II NERO 199 

Hist ! Hist ! can you not see her 
Stealing with lighted torch? 
She makes no sound, she hath a spirit's tread. 
Hast thou sated thy vengeance yet? 
Art thou appeased? 

]The fiame flashes up. 
Be satisfied with nothing but the world, 
The world alone is fuel for thee. 
Mother ! 

[The flame flashes up. 
And 1 1 See what a fire I have given thee, 

Rome for a funeral couch I 
Had Achilles a p3rre like to this 

Or had Patroclus? 
Had they mourners such as I give to thee, 
Bereaved mothers and babes ? 









' ' . ^ . ' > 



' .' , , -^ , 



200 NERO ACT IVy sc. u 

Now let the wailing cease from thy tomb, 

Here is a mightier wail 1 
Now let the haunting trumpet be dumb! 
AcTE. Nero I 
Nero. Blaze I Rage! Blaze! 

\T}ie pime -flashes up more fervently. 
For now am I free of thy blood, 
I have appeased and atoned. 
Have atoned with cries, with crashings, and 
with flaming. 
Thy blood is no more on my head; 
I am purged, I am cleansed ; 
I have given thee flaming Rome for the bed of 
thy death ! 

O Agrippina ! 
[He falls in a swoon — Acte runs towards him. 






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