T wo men enter a grand and empty room, one marvelling at its splendour, one wary and preoccupied. The former is a soldier and a servant to the other, a foreign king who is also a great military hero. He comments on his attendant's marvelment, completes a long verse line, then speaks another, which rhymes with it. Already two things, one dynamic, the other cumulative, have been initiated: on the one hand the metronome of rhyme has begun to tick and the rhyming couplets that follow will enact over the coming 90 minutes a movement as inexorable as time itself; on the other, a unit, of form and sense, has been set down, one on which each of the characters in the play will in turn place further blocks, the rising stairs of an invisible monument.
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Translated by A. This work may be freely reproduced, stored, and transmitted, electronically or otherwise, for any non-commercial purpose. Berenice Phenice is not come?
How slow these moments. Berenice Well, dear Phenice, have you seen the emperor? Berenice No, leave them, Phenice, lest he appear. Phenice Why burden him with these unjust reproaches? Paulinus You gods! How I dread this encounter! Titus Do not kill, Madame, a prince in distress. Berenice Oh, cruel! Is it now you wound my heart? Titus And I alone could my own self destroy. Berenice Well reign, cruel emperor!
Bow down to glory:. Titus Madame, there will not be many such, I see. Berenice Ah, Sire, if that is true, why then this sighing? Titus Do as you wish Madame, ah, do not leave. Berenice Well, sir, well, and what might happen then? Titus At nothing! Oh, the injustice of the thing! Berenice For an unjust law, you can change tomorrow,.
Berenice You are the emperor, Sire, and yet you weep! Titus Yes Madame, it is true, I weep, I sigh,. Berenice No, I think all seems easy to barbarity;. Paulinus With what intent, my lord, did she go? Titus Paulinus, I am lost. I can act no further. Paulinus Do not disturb the course of your action:. Antiochus What have you done, my lord?
Fair Berenice. Rutilius My lord, the tribunes, senate, consulate,. Titus I hear, you gods: all fears you would allay. Paulinus Come, Sire, let us attend them, and be seen,. Paulinus What? Would you, Sire, with this indignity,. Titus Enough, Paulinus, we will hear them. About News Contact. How slow these moments seem, compared with swift emotions!
I shiver, roam, languish, demoralised; my strength abandons me, at rest I die. Phenice is not come? That she delays, troubles my heart with tidings of dismay!
Phenice will have no reply to give me, Titus, ungrateful Titus, denies my plea; He flees; he steals away from my just anger. What said he? Will he come? I saw those eyes shed tears he would retain. Berenice Does he come to me? Phenice Doubt not, he will again. But will you appear in such wild disarray? Recover yourself, Madame; be calm, I pray. Let me restore those veils all out of place, and those stray hairs, that conceal your face. Let me repair those traces of your tears.
What do these vain things matter? If him my truth, my tears, the sighs I utter, and, as my tears show, my evident pain and near approach to death, cannot regain, tell me what such superfluous acts are for, and all this feeble splendour he ignores? I hear faint sounds, the emperor approaches. Come, flee the others; let us now return; alone, await this meeting for which you yearn.
All leave me. Berenice awaits. What insanity drives you? Are you determined, your farewells ready, your heart prepared for heights of cruelty?
For, in this combat, it is not pure courage you require, but rather to act the savage! Can I sustain that gaze, whose gentle art knows how to find the paths to my heart?
I adore her. And why wound it, obeying my own order? Has Rome not still to speak of its desire? Are cries around the palace mounting higher? Is the State dangling above some precipice and I to save it, by such a sacrifice as this? All are mute, I alone am swift to rehearse these ills I own the power to reverse.
Who knows, given so virtuous a woman: might Rome not accept her as a Roman? Rome by its choice might justify mine. Yet, no, its choice is not ours to define. Let Rome weigh its law in the balance against her love, tears, and perseverance: Rome will support us…Oh, open those eyes! What air do you breathe? Are you not apprised of a hatred of kings imbibed at the breast, unmoved by love, or fear, or all the rest? Rome judged your queen by exiling its kings.
Have you not heard from birth that very thing? Did you not hear, as well, the voice of glory announcing your duty to you, in the army? How often must Rome voice her desire? Make love, renounce the empire! Go hide yourself among some distant race; yield to hearts more worthy of your place.
For eight days I have reigned, and to this hour I have done all for love, yet what for honour? What tale of that precious time can I give? Where are the happy days I hoped to live? Whose tears have I dried? What eyes express within their orbs the fruits of my kindness? Does the world find its destiny now changed? Can I know the length of life for me ordained? Of all those days, so long anticipated, how many have I not simply wasted! No more delay, do as honour now requires, break the sole link….
In vain all your counsels hold me here, I must see him. Ah, Sire, you appear! Is it true that Titus abandons me? That we must part, you rule our destiny! We must not give way here to tenderness. Cruel enough the pain that stirs, devours, without your tears to rob me of my powers. Rather recall that heart that, so frequently, found me attentive to the voice of duty. Now the time has come. Let love be silent. With the eye of glory, reason, rest content, to view my duty in all its harsh severity.
Alan Hollinghurst: translating Racine
All the entertainment of the town are the two new plays, both of them called Berenice, one written by Monsieur Racine, the other by Corneille, of which that of Racine seems to take much, and the ladies melt away at it and proclaim them hardhearted who do not cry, so much they are concerned for the unfortunate Berenice. The two great tragic playwrights of the age, Pierre Corneille , at 64 the grand old man of letters, and Jean Racine , still at 30 the relatively new kid on the block, staged plays devoted to the same subject matter: the sad tale of the newly crowned emperor of Rome, Titus, and his love for the Palestinian Princess Berenice. That viewpoint has persisted to this day. For a start, it is his only mature tragedy in which no deaths occur. I mentioned earlier the simplicity of the Racinian play; that is something he deliberately chose to achieve. These are the three unities of time, place and action that are so often dutifully trotted out in essays by students of 17th-century literature. As he explains in his preface to the play, far from showing a lack of invention, this adherence to a single space, time and plot allows the spectator to be absorbed in the moment and to fully believe in what is happening onstage, without the need to transport oneself across time and space or to be distracted by other tales.
Berenice was not played often between the 17th and the 20th centuries. Suetonius wrote a single sentence on the affair: " Titus reginam Berenicen, cui etiam nuptias pollicitus ferebatur, statim ab Urbe dimisit invitus invitam. However, Titus has been listening to public opinion about the prospects of his marriage with a foreign queen, and the Romans find this match undesirable. However, Titus confirms that he will not marry her.