Amphitryon by Moliere - HTML preview
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Who goes there? Eh? My fear grows with every step. Gentlemen, I am a friend to all the world. Ah! What unparalleled boldness, to be out at this hour! My master is crowned with fame, but what a villainous trick he plays me here! What? If he had any love for his neighbour, would he have sent me out in such a black night? Could he not just as well have waited until it was day before sending me to announce his return and the details of his victory? To what servitude are thy days subjected, Sosie! Our lot is far more hard with the great than with the mean. They insist that everything in nature should be compelled to sacrifice itself for them. Night and day, hail, wind, peril, heat, cold, as soon as they speak we must fly. Twenty years of assiduous service do not gain us any consideration from them. The least little whim draws down upon us their anger.
Notwithstanding this, our infatuated hearts cling to the empty honour of remaining near them, contented with the false idea, which every one holds, that we are happy. In vain reason bids us retire; in vain our spite sometimes consents to this; to be near them is too powerful an influence on our zeal, and the least favour of a caressing glance immediately re-engages us. But at last, I see our house through the darkness, and my fear vanishes.
I must prepare some thought-out speech for my mission. I must give Alcmene warlike description of the fierce combat which put our enemies to flight. But how the deuce can I do this since I was not there? Never mind; let us talk of cut and thrust, as though I were an eyewitness. How many people describe battles from which they remained far away! In order to act my part without discredit, I will rehearse it a little.
This is the chamber into which I am ushered as the messenger: this lantern is Alcmene, to whom I have to speak. (He sets his lantern on the ground and salutes it.) 'Madam, Amphitryon, my master and your husband, ... (Good! that is a fine beginning!) whose mind is ever full of your charms, has chosen me from amongst all to bring tidings of the success of his arms, and of his desire to be near you.' 'Ah! Really, my poor Sosie, I am delighted to see you back again.' 'Madam, you do me too much honour: my lot is an enviable one.' (Well answered!)
'How is Amphitryon?' 'Madam, as a man of courage should be, when glory leads him.' (Very good! A capital idea!) 'When will my heart be charmed and satisfied by his return?' 'As soon as possible, assuredly, Madam, but his heart desires a speedier return.' (Ah!) 'In what state has the war left him? What says he? What does he? Ease my anxiety.' He says less than he does, Madam, and makes his enemies tremble.' (Plague! where do I get all these fine speeches?) 'What are the rebels doing? Tell me, what is their condition?' 'They could not resist our efforts, Madam; we cut them to pieces, put their chief, Pterelas, to death, took Telebos by assault; and now the port rings with our prowess.' 'Ah! What a success! Ye Gods! Who could ever have imagined it? Tell me, Sosie, how it happened.' 'I will, gladly, Madam; and, without boasting, I can tell you, with the greatest accuracy, the details of this victory. Imagine, therefore, Madam, that Telebos is on this side. (He marks the places on his hand, or on the ground.) It is a city really almost as large as Thebes. The river is, say, there. Here, our people encamped; and that space was occupied by our enemies. On a height, somewhere about here, was their infantry; and, lower down, on the right side, was their cavalry. After having addressed prayers to the Gods, and issued all the orders, the signal was given. The enemy, thinking to turn our flank, divided their horse soldiers into three platoons; but we soon chilled their warmth, and you shall see how. Here is our vanguard ready to begin work; there, were the archers of our king, Creon; and here, the main army (some one makes a slight noise), which was just going to . . . Stay; the main body is afraid'; I think I hear some noise.
MERC . (Under the form of Sosie.) Under this mask which resembles him, I will drive away the babbler from here. His unfortunate arrival may disturb the pleasures our lovers are tasting together.
SOS. My heart revives a little; perhaps it was nothing. Lest anything untoward should happen, however, I will go in to finish the conversation.
MERC. I shall prevent your doing that unless you are stronger than Mercury.
SOS . This night seems to me unusually long. By the time I have been on the way, either my master has taken evening for morning, or lovely Phoebus slumbers too long in bed through having taken too much wine.
MERC . With what irreverence this lubber speaks of the Gods! My arm shall soon chastise this insolence; I shall have a fine game with him, stealing his name as well as his likeness.
SOS . Ah! upon my word, I was right: I am done for, miserable creature that I am! I see a man before our house whose mien bodes me no good. I will sing a little to show some semblance of assurance.
(He sings; and, when Mercury speaks, his voice weakens, little by little.)
MERC. What rascal is this, who takes the unwarrantable licence of singing and deafening me like this? Does he wish me to curry his coat for him?
SOS . Assuredly that fellow does not like music.
MERC. For more than a week, I have not found any one whose bones I could break; my arm will lose its strength in this idleness. I must look out for some one's back to get my wind again.
SOS . What the deuce of a fellow is this? My heart thrills with clutching fear. But why should I tremble thus? Perhaps the rogue is as much afraid as I am, and talks in this way to hide his fear from me under a feigned audacity. Yes, yes, I will not allow him to think me a goose. If I am not bold, I will try to appear so. Let me seek courage by reason; he is alone, even as I am; I am strong, I have a good master, and there is our house.
MERC. Who goes there?
MERC. Who, I?
SOS. I. Courage, Sosie!
MERC. Tell me, what is your condition?
SOS. To be a man, and to speak.
MERC. Are you a master, or a servant?
SOS. As fancy takes me.
MERC. Where are you going?
SOS. Where I intend to go.
MERC. Ah! This annoys me.
SOS. I am ravished to hear it.
MERC . By hook or by crook, I must definitely know all about you, you wretch; what you do, whence you come before the day breaks, where you are going, and who you may be.
SOS. I do good and ill by turns; I come from there; I go there; I belong to my master.
MERC. You show wit, and I see you think to play the man of importance for my edification. I feel inclined to make your acquaintance by slapping your face.
MERC. Yours; and there you get it, sharp. (Mercury gives him a slap.)
SOS. Ah! Ah! This is a fine game!
MERC. No; it is only a laughing matter, a reply to your quips.
SOS. Good heavens! Friend, how you swing out your arm without any one saying anything to you.
MERC. These are my lightest clouts, little ordinary smacks.
SOS. If I were as hasty as you, we should have a fine ado.
MERC. All this is nothing as yet: it is merely to fill up time; we shall soon see something else; but let us continue our conversation.
SOS. I give up the game. (He turns to go away.)
MERC. Where are you going?
SOS. What does it matter to you?
MERC. I want to know where you are going.
SOS. I am going to open that door. Why do you detain me?
MERC. If you dare to go near it, I shall rain down a storm of blows on you.
SOS. What? You wish to hinder me from entering our own house by threats?
MERC. What do you say, your house?
SOS. Yes, our house.
MERC. O, the scoundrel! You speak of that house?
SOS. Certainly. Is not Amphitryon the master of it?
MERC. Well! What does that prove?
SOS. I am his valet.
MERC. His valet?
MERC. Valet of Amphitryon?
SOS. Of Amphitryon himself.
MERC. Your name is?
MERC. Eh? What?
MERC. Listen: do you realise that my fist can knock you spinning?
SOS. Why? What fury has seized you now?
MERC. Tell me, who made you so rash as to take the name of Sosie?
SOS. I do not take it; I have always borne it.
MERC. O what a monstrous lie! What confounded impudence! You dare to maintain that Sosie is your name?
SOS. Certainly; I maintain it, for the good reason that the Gods have so ordered it by their supreme power. It is not in my power to say no, and to be any one else than myself.
(Mercury beats him.)
MERC. A thousand stripes ought to be the reward of such audacity.
SOS. Justice, citizens! Help! I beseech you.
MERC. So, you gallows-bird, you yell out?
SOS. You beat me down with a thousand blows, and yet do not wish me to cry out?
MERC. It is thus that my arm . . .
SOS . The action is unworthy. You gloat over the advantage which my want of courage gives you over me; that is not fair treatment. It is mere bullying to wish to profit by the poltroonery of those whom one makes to feel the weight of one's arm. To thrash a man who does not retaliate is not the act of a generous soul; and to show courage against men who have none merits condemnation.
MERC . Well! Are you still Sosie? What say you?
SOS. Your blows have not made any metamorphosis in me; all the change there is is that in the matter I am Sosie thrashed.
MERC. Still? A hundred fresh blows for this fresh impudence.
SOS. Have mercy, a truce to your blows.
MERC. Then a truce to your insolence.
SOS. Anything that pleases you; I will keep silence. The dispute between us is too unequal.
MERC. Are you still Sosie? Say, villain!
SOS. Alas! I am what you wish; dispose of my lot exactly as you please: your arm 'has made you the master of it.
MERC. I think you said your name was Sosie?
SOS. True, until now I thought the matter was clear; but your rod has made me see that I was mistaken in this affair.
MERC. I am Sosie: all Thebes avows it. Amphitryon has never had other than me.
SOS. You, Sosie?
MERC. Yes, Sosie; and if any one trifles with me, he must take care of himself.
SOS. Heavens! Must I thus renounce myself, and see my name stolen by an impostor. How lucky I am a poltroon! Or, by the death . . .!
MERC. What are you mumbling between your teeth?
SOS. Nothing. But, in the name of the Gods, give me leave to speak one moment with you.
SOS. But promise me, I beseech you, that there shall not be any more strokes. Let us sign a truce.
MERC. Let that pass; go on, I grant you this point.
SOS . Tell me, who put this fancy into your head? What benefit will it be to you to take my name? In short, were you a demon, could you hinder me from being myself, from being Sosie?
MERC. What is this, you dare . . .
SOS. Ah! Gently: there is a truce to blows.
MERC. What! Gallows-bird, impostor, scoundrel ...
SOS. As for abuse, give me as much as you please; it makes but a slight wound and does not bother me.
MERC. You say you are Sosie?
SOS. Yes. Some ridiculous tale . . .
MERC. So, I shall break our truce, and take back my word.
SOS. I can't help it. I cannot annihilate myself for you, and endure so improbable a tale. Is it in your power to be what I am? Can I cease to be myself? Did any one ever hear of such a thing? And can you give the lie to a hundred clear indications? Do I dream? Do I sleep? Is my mind troubled by powerful transports? Do I not feel I am awake? Am I not in my right senses? Has not my master, Amphitryon, commanded me to come here to Alcmene his wife? Am I not, in commending his passion to her, to give her an account of his deeds against our enemies? Have I not just come from the harbour? Do I not hold a lantern in my hand? Have I not found you in front of our house? Did I not speak to you in a perfectly friendly manner? Do you not make use of my poltroonery to hinder me from entering our house? Have you not vented your rage upon my back? Have you not showered blows on me? Ah! All this is but too true: would to Heaven it were less real! Cease therefore to jeer at a wretch's lot, and leave me to acquit myself where my duty calls me.
MERC . Stop, or the shortest step brings down upon your back clattering evidence of my just anger. All you have just said is mine, except the blows. It is I, whom Amphitryon sent to Alcmene; who has just arrived from the Persian port; I, who have come to announce the valour of his arm, which has gained us a glorious victory, and slain the chief of our enemies. In short, I am undoubtedly Sosie, son of Dave, an honest shepherd; brother of Arpage, who died in a foreign land; husband of Cleanthis the prude, whose temper drives me wild; I, who received a thousand cuts from a whip at Thebes, without ever saying anything about it; and who was once publicly branded on the back for being too worthy a man.
SOS . He is right. If he were not Sosie, he could not know all he says; all this is so astounding that even I begin to believe him a little. In fact, now I look at him, I see he has my figure, looks, and manners. I wilt ask him some question, in order to clear up this mystery. What did Amphitryon obtain as his share of all the plunder taken from our enemies?
MERC. Five fine large diamonds, beautifully set in a cluster, which their chief wore as a rare piece of handicraft.
SOS. For whom does he intend so rich a present?
MERC. For his wife; he intends her to wear it.
SOS. Where have you put it, until you meet her?
MERC. In a casket sealed with the arms of my master.
SOS . He does not tell a single lie at any turn: I begin to doubt myself in earnest. He has already cowed me into believing him to be Sosie; and he might even reason me into thinking him so. Yet, when I touch myself, and recollect, it seems to me I am myself. Where can I find some light that will clearly make my way plain? What I have done alone, and what no one has seen, cannot be known to any one else: that, at least, belongs to me. I will astonish him by this question: it will confound him, and we shall see. When they were at close quarters, what were you doing in our tents, whither you ran to hide yourself away?
MERC. Off a ham
SOS. That is it!
MERC . Which I unearthed, I soon cut two succulent slices: they suited me nicely. I added to them a wine which was usually kept dark, and, gloated over the sight of it before I tasted it. So I took heart for our fighters.
SOS . This unparalleled proof ends matters well in his favour; and, unless he were in the bottle, there is nothing to be said. From the proofs you show me, I cannot deny that you are Sosie: I admit it. But, if you are he, tell me whom you wish me to be; for I must be someone.
MERC. When I shall no longer be Sosie, you may be he, I consent to that; but I promise you it shall be the death of you if you take up such a fancy while I am he.
SOS. All this confusion turns me inside out, for reason is against what I see. But I must end this by some means; and the shortest way for me is to go in there.
MERC. Oh! You gallows-bird, you want to taste the stick.
SOS . What is the matter? Great Gods! He makes the blows ring again; my back will ache for a month. I will leave this devil of a fellow, and return to the harbour. O just Heavens, what a fine ambassador I have been!
MERC. At last, I have made him fly; this treatment has paid him out for many of his deeds. But here is Jupiter, gallantly escorting his lover Alcmene.
JUPITER, ALCMENE, CLEANTHIS, MERCURY
JUP . My dear Alcmene, forbid the torch-bearers to come near. They give me delight in enabling me to see you; but they might betray my being here, and this were best unrevealed. Restrained by all the heavy cares with which the glory of our arms held me bound, my heart has stolen from the duties of my post the moments it has just given to your charms. This theft, which I have consecrated to your beauty, might be blamed by the public voice; and the only witness I want, is she who can thank me for it.
ALC . I take great interest, Amphitryon, in the glory which your illustrious exploits have cast upon you; the fame of your victory moves my heart to its depths. But when I see that this disastrous honour keeps my lover away from me, such is my heart's feeling that I cannot forbear to think ill of it, and to regret the high order which makes you general of the Thebans. It is sweet after a victory to see the glory to which one's lover has been raised; but, from among the perils attached to this glory, a deadly blow, alas! may soon fall. With how many fears is one's heart wounded at the report of the least skirmish! In the horror of such a thought, is there anything that can console for the threatened stroke? And with whatever laurels the victor may be crowned, whatever share one may have in that supreme honour, is it worth what it costs a tender heart, which trembles every moment for its lover?
JUP . I do not see anything in you but what inflames my passion; everything shows me a deeply enamoured heart; and, I confess, it is a great delight to find so much love in a beloved object. But, if I may dare say so, one scruple in the tender sentiments which you show me causes me anxiety; and, in order to enjoy you the more, dear Alcmene, my heart would rather see love only, and not duty, in the favours which I receive from you; may they arise solely from affection, and have respect to my person only; let not my condition as your husband be the reason for them.
ALC. Yet it is in that name that the ardour which burns me holds the right to show itself: I do not understand this new scruple which troubles your heart.
JUP. The love and tenderness which I have for you far exceeds a husband's; in these sweet moments, you do not realise its delicacy; You do not understand that a heart deeply in love studiously attaches itself to a hundred little trifles, and is restless over the manner of being happy. In me, fair and charming Alcmene, you see a lover and a husband; but, to speak frankly, it is the lover that appeals to me; when near you, I feel the husband restrains him. This lover, who is supremely jealous of your love, wishes your heart to abandon itself solely to him: his passion does not wish anything the husband gives him. He wishes to obtain the warmth of your love from the fountain-head, and not to owe anything to the bonds of wedlock, or to a duty which palls and makes the heart sad, for by these the sweetness of the most cherished favours is daily poisoned. This idea, in short, tosses him to and fro, and he wishes, in order to satisfy his scruples, that you would differentiate where the occasion offends him, the husband to be only for your virtue, and the lover to have the whole affection and tenderness of a heart known to be full of kindness.
ALC. In truth, Amphitryon, you must be jesting, to talk thus; I should be afraid anyone who heard you would think you were not sane.
JUP . There is more reason in this discourse, Alcmene, than you think. But a longer stay here would render me guilty, and time presses for my return to port. Adieu. The stern call of duty tears me away from you for a time; but, lovely Alcmene, I beseech you at least to think of the lover when you see the husband.
ALC. I do not separate what the Gods unite: both husband and lover are very precious to me.
CLE. O Heaven! How delightful are the caresses of an ardently cherished husband! How far my poor husband is from all this tenderness!
MERC. I must tell Night she has but to furl all her sails; the Sun may now arise from his bed and put out the stars.
CLEAN THIS, MERCURY (Mercury turns to go away)
CLE. So? Is it thus you quit me?
MERC. What would you have? Do you wish me not to do my duty, and follow in Amphitryon's footsteps?
CLE. To separate from me so rudely as this, you villain!
MERC. It is a fine subject to make a fuss about! We have still plenty of time to live together!
CLE. But to go in such a churlish manner, without saying a single kind word to cheer me!
MERC. Where the deuce shall I dig up silly compliments? Fifteen years of married life exhaust nonsense; we said all we had to say to each other a long time ago.
CLE . Look at Amphitryon, you rascal; see how his ardour burns for Alcmene; and then blush for the little passion that you show your wife.
MERC. But, gracious me! Cleanthis, they are still lovers. There comes a certain age when all this passes away; what suits them well in these early days would look ridiculous in us, old married people. It would be it fine sight to see us embracing each other, and saying sweet nothings!
CLE. Oh! You perfidious wretch, must I give up hope that a heart sighs for me?
MERC. No, I should be sorry to say that; but I have too long a beard to dare to sigh; I should make you die of laughter.
CLE. You brute, do you deserve the good fortune of having a virtuous woman for your wife?
MERC. Good Heavens! You are but too virtuous; this fine virtue is not worth anything to me. Do not be quite so honest a woman, and don't bother me so much.
CLE. What? Do you blame me for being too honest?
MERC. A woman's gentleness is what charms me most: your virtue makes a clatter that never ceases to deafen me.
CLE. You care for hearts full of false tenderness, for those women with the laudable and fine talent of knowing how to smother their husbands with caresses in order to make them oblivious of the existence of lovers.
MERC. Well! Shall I tell you what I think? An imaginary evil concerns fools only; my device should be: 'Less honour and more peace.'
CLE. Would you, without any repugnance, suffer me openly to love a gallant?
MERC . Yes, if I were no longer worried by your tongue, and if it changed your temper and your goings-on. I prefer a convenient vice, to a fatiguing virtue. Adieu, Cleanthis, my dear soul; I must follow Amphitryon. (He goes away.)
CLE Why has not my heart sufficient resolution to punish this infamous scoundrel? Ah, how it maddens me, now, that I am an honest woman!
END OF THE FIRST ACT