The Tragedy Of Messalina, The Roman Empress


Nathaniel Richards














To the Right Honourable and Truly Noble Minded, John Cary, Viscount Rochford



My Lord,


Your right noble willing mind, though serious occasions could not permit you, to see this tragedy acted, emboldens me, through the confidence I have in your sweet disposition to present it unto you, the Heir and honour of your great and noble family; Emperatricis libido, periculosissima est[1], witness Valeria Messalina, her lust and rule over doting majesty. This testified by Rome’s Historians, (Tacitus, Suetonius, Pliny, Plutarch and Juvenal) the world, unless among the crooked conditions of the envious may, being honestly opinionated, perceive, that the sole aim of my discovery herein, no otherwise tends then to separate souls from the discovered evil, the suppression of vice, and exaltation of virtue, flight from sin for fear of judgement; which seriously considered in a noble nature. The glorious strumpet, sparkling in beauty and destruction, can never have power to tempt: This play upon the stage, passed the general applause as well of honourable personages as others; and my hope is, the perusal will prove no less pleasing to your honour. Two passages are past, the stage and the press; nothing is absent now but the gentle approbation of your Lordship’s clemency to confirm the endeavour of him that truly is



  Your Lordship’s true honourer,

  Nathaniel Richards




To his worthy friend Mr Nathaniel Richards, upon his well written Tragedy of Messalina

                             By Stephen Bradwell


When I beheld this Roman tragedy,

Where the mad sin of lust in majesty

And power I saw attired, triumphantly

Guiding the helm of doting sovereignty

To her own compass, I was pleased with it.

Cause things immodest, modestly were writ,

Not in prodigious language that would start

Into the cheeks the suff’rings of the heart,

And fright a blush into a fever; though

Of late, shame of this age, some have writ so.

Had yours been such, never should pen of mine,

Poor though my muse, have lent you half a line.

But now again, recalling what you writ,

How well adorned with words, and wrought with wit,

I’ll justify the language and the plot,

Can neither cast aspersion on your clean fancy; but Apollo’s[2] bays

Grows green upon your brow to crown your praise.

Then for this tragedy, securely rest,

’Tis current coin, and will endure the test.




To my true friend Mr Nathaniel Richards, in due praise of his Tragedy of Messalina

                             By Robert Davenport


Friend, y’ave so well limn’d3 Messalina’s lust

T’were pity that the piece should kiss the dust

Of dark oblivion; you have, I confess,

Applied a due preservative, the press.

Y’are now sailed forth o’th narrow sea, the stage,

Into the world’s wide ocean, where the rage

Of criticism, its utmost will extend

To buffet your new bark[4]; but fear not friend,

She’s so well built, so ballac’t[5], so well manned

With plot, with form and language, that she’ll stand

The storm, and having ploughed the sea’s passion

Will anchor safe i’th road of approbation,

Where judgement’s equal hand shall moor her fast,

And hang a laurel garland on her mast.




To his friend, Mr Nathaniel Richards, upon his Tragedy of Messalina

                             By John Robinson


If it be good to write the truth of ill

And virtue’s excellence, ’tis in thy skill,

Respected friend, thy nimble scenes discover

Rome’s lust-burnt Empress and her virtuous mother

So truly to the life, judgement may see,

Praising this piece, I do not flatter thee.

Men here may read heaven’s art to chastise lust,

Rich virtue in a play, so clear, no rust,

Bred by the critics’ conquering breath

Can e’re deface it. Messalina’s death

Adds life unto the stage, where though she die

Defamed, true justice crowns this tragedy.




To my friend the author, Mr Nathaniel Richards, on his Tragedy of Messalina

                             By Thomas Jordan


For this thy play, dear friend, I must confess,

Thy plot’s contrived with such mysteriousness

As if fate turned the scene; thy language can

Express thee a divine and moral man,

The music of thy numbers might entice

Time’s glorious strumpet from her lust-strung vice.

This is to show my judgement, who will say,

That finds my approbation of this play,

I want needful knowledge? It shall be

Sufficient praise for me; I can praise thee.

‘Tis judgement to know judgement, and I find

Most of our playhouse wits are of my mind.

Men call them censurers, a stock of brothers

Thought wise by praising and dispraising others;

Bid them write plays themselves, and then you’ll foil ‘em,

They’ll say they can’t find time, yes time to spoil ‘em.

Thou art above their aims, who dislikes this

Must be a goose, or serpent: let him hiss.


To his worthy friend, Mr Nathaniel Richards, upon his Tragedy of Messalina

                             By Thomas Rawlins


Behold a poet whose laborious quill

Dictates his maker’s praise, above the skill

Of times’ earth-minding idols muddy strain,

Base as the things they imitate; thy vein,

Approved friend, strikes dead the impious time’s

Adored vices and high-raised crimes

Which pulls swift vengeance down; thy laboured lines

Curbs vice, crowns virtue, gold from dross refines.

All gazing eyes may see thy anchorite muse

Delights in a conversion, not abuse;

Rome’s mighty whore by thee adorns the stage,

For to convert not to corrupt this age.

And they that – Messalina – thus penned sees,

Must praise the author’s candor, thrifty bees

Suck honey out of weeds; her actions may

Have miracles for issue, if y’obey

Your jogging consciences that whispering say

Be ruled by this, instructing tragic play.

Applaud this happy wit, whose veins can stir

Religious thoughts, though in a theatre.




Dramatis Personae


Messalina, Empress of Rome                                                               (John Barret)


Claudius, Emperor of Rome                                                                 (Will Cartwright Sen.)


Silius, chief favourite of Messalina                                                         (Christopher Goad)


Lepida, mother to Messalina                                                                 (Thomas Jordan)


Syllana, wife to Silius                                                                           (Mathias Morris)


Saufellus, chief of counsel to Silius & Messalina                                    (John Robinson)


Valens, of the same faction & favourites           


Proculus, of the same faction & favourites       


Menester, an actor & favourite compelled by Messalina                        (Sam Tomson)


Montanus, a knight in Rome’s defence, virtuously inclined                     (Richard Johnson)


Mela, brother of Seneca                                                                       (William Hall)


Virgilianus, senator of Messalina’s faction


Calphurnianus, senator of Messalina’s faction


Sulpitius, of the same faction


Narcissus, minion to Claudius of his faction


Pallas, minion to Claudius of his faction


Calistus, minion to Claudius of his faction


Evodius, a soldier


Vibidia, matron of the vestals                                       


Calphurnia, a courtesan


Hem and Stitch, two panders


Three murdered Roman dames


Veneria the Bawd


Manutius and Folio, servants to Lepida


Three spirits


Two anti-masques of spirits and bacchanals



The Prologue





To write a tragedy is no such ease

As some may think, ‘mongst whom there’s a disease

Still of dislike, censoring what here is writ

With ignorance, only to be thought a wit.

Plays are like several meats, their strange effects

So different prove; some carelessly neglect

What others long for, that which surfeits thee,

Another says ‘tis good, gives life to me.

What’s to be done? The way to please you all

Requires an art, past magic natural.

Our best endeavours still with comic fare

Have strived to please; now all our cost and care

Soars on the wings of laboured industry,

To feast your senses with the tragedy

Of Roman Messalina; the play is new,

And by Rome’s famed historians confirm’d true.

We hope you’ll not distaste it, nor us blame,

Where spots of life are acted to sin’s shame.

Tell me, I pray, can there be no content?

To see high towering sin’s just punishment

And virtue’s praise, insatiate lust to die,

And chaste dames starred unto eternity,

Will not this please? If any answer no,

I let that soul and all the world to know,

Your love’s the mark we aim at, all our might

Shoots at your love, labours to hit that white.










The Tragedy of Messalina, Empress of Rome


As it hath been acted with general applause divers times,

by the Company of his Majesty’s Revels




Scene i


[Enter Silius, reading a book]



Sola virtus vera nobilitas [6] :                                                                             

Virtue is only true nobility,

So speaks our times’ best tutor, Seneca,

And ’tis divinely spoken, like himself.

True philosopher, for what is’t to man                                                               5

For to be born noble, and yet detain                                                                             

The ignoble mind of vice, licentious will?

Such no way are allied to nobleness.

Times hell-bred, base, ignoble noble blood

Runs through his veins, that’s only great, not good.                                                     10

Far better live a private life with thee,                                                               

Thou sweet companion to well-minded man.

Here’s no seducing pomp, no clouds of vice,

Nor fogs of vanity obscures man’s sight

From the direct to ways directly ill.                                                                                15

This seal confirm the sequel of my life,                                                              

To imitate the good that thou presents.


[Kisses the book]


[Enter Valens and Proculus]



Still plodding at your book? Shall we ne’ er find

You otherwise? Pox of this sad mutt’ring

To yourself, hang’t up, ’tis a disease to                                                              20

Sweet alacrity, of all true jovial

Minds to be abhorred, come.

[Reaches to take the book]



Prithee, desist.



How scurvily this shows, how ill in you,

That should be framed just of the time’s fashion.                                                            25





That’s learning, and valour, or should be so

At least, and not in outside’s fond delight,

Whereon times’ puff-paste[7] costly coxcomb[8], all

His great little wit, and wealth, thinks best bestowed

To please his Mistress’ eye, when all man’s mind                                                           30

Should bend his course to follow virtue’s steps.



Out upon’t, drink me and whore, those are

The virtues best, and best accepted ’mong

Gallants of this age.



They are gallant sots[9],                                                                          

Silly and senseless. What’s all the delight                                                                       35

That seems so pleasing to the itchy whorer?

But like the itch, scratched raw, ’tis still the sorer,

’Twill smart to purpose, make you to find out

An obscure grave, cold as the snowy Alps.                                                                  

There, in a hollow circle of the night,                                                                              40

Lust breeds more cause of terror than delight.



Fie, Caius, fie, turn’d satire ’gainst your friends.



Alas, you are blind, my friends, and I am sorry.



Pish! Wer’t not for sparkling beauty, precious woman,                                     

Woman I say, that fair and winning creature,                                                                  45

Whose ne’er to be resisted delicate touch

Divides us into all the sweets of sense;

Wer’t not for her, glorious sweet faced woman,

Man makes no use of his creation.                                                                                

What says our Roman phrase,                                                                                       50

Si non laetaris vivens laetabere nanquam?[10]

Leave, then, this puling study and be ruled.

Hang up philosophy, that scene of sorrow.

Come, go with me to beauty’s fair abode.                                                                    

There, if you’ll make true trial of your strength,                                                  55

Let it be there employed; do but withstand

The catching beauties there, in spite[11] of all

Their powerful charms and incantations,

Come freely off, untainted with the act.                                                             

For ever I’ll abjure to be seduced                                                                                 60

By the world’s quaint enticements, betake me

Wholly to philosophy, and practise

The same in life.



So shall Proculus.                                                                                                        



O were I sure that sworn you’d keep, and not                                                   65

Infringe your vows, though noble wisdom bids

To shun the glorious strumpet’s lecherous[12] snares,

You soon should find me sudden, dare to stand

The baits of whorish fortitude unmoved.                                                                       



Talk not, but do’t.                                                                                                         70



Therein consists the test of complete man[13].



Then on this book take oath.                 [Holds out the book]

Swear that by all the good therein contained,

And all that’s good, the virtues of true man                                                                   

At my return from adult’rate sin                                                                         75

To live true friends to virtue ever after,

You shall prevail.


Valens and Proculus

We swear.



So deeply swear                                                                                  

That may Jove’s  thunder strike when we forsake

Our vows .



‘Tis well, lead on, and if I ever prove                                                                             80

False to Syllana, punish me, great Jove[14].


[Exit Silius, Valens and Proculus]






Scene ii


[Enter Veneria the Bawd, Calphurnia, and the two panders, Hem and Stitch] [15]



Hey ho, what Hem, Hem, Hems, what Hem I say?                                                       



Here, mistress!



Stitch, oh Stitch!



In your side, Madam.



No Stitch, o’erthwart[16] my heart, O I shall die!                                                  5

The bottle, the bottle, the bottle, knave, the bottle!


[She drinks]



Do, do drink and be fatter still with’t,

Why so, my brave bundle of guts and garbage[17]?



Aye, you may well say drink, well may I drink

All sorrow from my heart, for I thank you                                                                      10

Ten thousand sesterces, [18] this day is lost

To our victorious Empress Messalina.

Witness the number five and twenty[19],

All in the circuit of a day and night,

And yet she’s ready for a new delight.                                                               15



She may, for who but she dares do the like.

For a poor subject, half the number serves,

On greatest Queens most servants still attends.




Hadst not provocations to enable thee, confection of cantharides[20],

diasatyrion eryngoes[21], snails, oysters, alligant, and could not these                                 20

make thee hold out with five and twenty?  ‘Twas but a forenoon’s

work, a forenoon’s work, you paltry puling[22].[23]



Aye, in your young days.



In my young days! I tell thee, small flounder,

Old as I am and fat, I durst yet wager                                                                            25

To lay twice the number of such shrimps as thee,

That they should ne’er rise more.



Yes, with a pox.

I have not the Court art to kill my lovers

Nor draw them on with witchcraft, Circean charms24.                                        30

Nor is it lust, but want makes me a trader,

And those I clip with, I must like at least.

Let Rome’s brave Empress do her liking.



Aye, she’s a brave Roman dame indeed.



And those mad-dames[25] are the best doers, Stitch.                                                        35



Calphurnia loathes variety of men,

Time’s big-bone animals so apt to please.

The Empress whets not my appetite.

Besides, you know I’m not for durance,

Wanting the daily visits of best doctors                                                              40

To make me broths of dissolved pearl and amber[26],

Which well considered will not quit the cost;

She won the wager, I am glad I lost.



‘Glad I have lost!’

Let me come to her - I’ll claw you, Minx! glad  [strikes her]                            45

I have lost, and which goes nearest my heart.

To rail, and none to rail against her but tall,

Proper and goodly able men, calling

Them big-boned animals, O blasphemy!

Why, phisgig[27], must I keep thee rich in clothes,                                                 50

To want that ever pleasing sweet

Honey and sugar candy delight, which the

Bravest high-spirited glistering ladies,

Such as make punies[28] of their petty Lords,

Account their heaven their only happiness,                                                                     55

Never but discontented when they are

Out of action; and you are defective now,

Fallen out, forsooth, with the felicity

You should take in man. O most absurd,

Not to be suffered, uttered, nor induced.                                                                       60

It is intolerable, it is, it is, it is,

Thou muddy minded piece of mischief, it is.



Hem, Mistress, here comes our fellow Pander,

The Lord Saufellus.



All of a house, but not all fellows, Stitch,                                                                        65

And yet we hope to be Sir Panders; nay, since

Great ones be of that profession, and thrive so by it,

It cannot choose but be a brave profession.



Oh, ‘tis a good,

A goodly brave profession, ‘tis the best,                                                                        70

Best stream to fish in, be ne’er so impious,

Gold styles the royal villain virtuous.29


[Enter Saufellus]



Here, here my most precious procurers,

Down, and adore our royal Empress,

And me the messenger of these glad tidings.                                                                  75

Proud is her highness of the wager won,

Yet scorning the advantage of the loss

Trebly returns your own, with a reward,

And sign of her high favour ever after.



I hope her mightiness received content,                                                              80

And will make bold with my poor house hereafter.



Yes, with your house a little bold her yet.

Silius comes hither, straight brought by his friends

Valens and Proculus; your best wills work

To make him serve her pleasure.                                                                                   85



Pleasure her,

What? Silius, a private gentleman of Rome,

And be so gross as not to pleasure her!

Which of you gallants would not pleasure an

Empress, that a man should be so very a sot                                                                 

As not do, oh ‘twere abominable!                                                                                 90



But he’s a man of precise abstinence,

And hardly will be drawn by any woman.



Hoy day, not drawn by woman said you!

If he come here, he shall be hanged and drawn,                                                

And dry drawn too, not drawn by a woman!                                                                 95

God’s nigs[30], that’s fine I’faith.



See, here they come prepared, I must withdraw

For a more apt employment; show your skills;

Women through lust and Hell will work their wills.                                                         100


[Exeunt Saufellus]


[Enter Silius, Valens and Proculus]



Come, Sir, we’ll enter you.



Most certain

Into the devil’s vaulting school, where lust

In triumph rides or’e shame and innocence,

Am I not in Hell?                                                                                                         



O silly Silius.

Cannot a sweet-shaped gallant like myself                                                                     105

Enter the house where Venus’ vestals live,

But it must needs be Hell, ha, ha, ha!



Welcome, princely spirits;                                                                                            

Sweet faces, rich clothes, and exquisite bodies

Make you forever my most curious clients,                                                                    110

Pruriently pleasing to the blood of beauty.

Hem and Stitch, some stools and cushions, quick!



What, have you brought me to your sempster’s[31] house?                                              



These are no idle persons.



Is this your lusty kindred, sweet pleasure,                                                                      115

Which angles souls to hell, as men hook fish?

Aye, this is she, the bane of all devotion,

She whose enticements turns weak men aside                                                   

From the right way of virtue, throwing them down

Into the gulf of all confusion,                                                                                          120

From whence methinks those dreadful souls I hear,

Now at this instant cursing of your sex.

Your sin-affected trimmings to entice,                                                               

Which implicates the wretched mind of man,

Crying with horror ’gainst your impudence.                                                                    125

O woman, woman, thy bewitching motion,

Fools wisdom, reason, and blinds all devotion.



What, is the man detracted from his wits too[32]?                                                



Out, thou devourer up of maidenheads.



Hoy day, I a devourer of maidenheads?                                                                        130

That with joy be it spoken, I have not had

A maidenhead these fifty years!



Prithee, be not thus bitter unto them;                                                                              135

Poor necessary evils, they pleasure us.



Out on your beastly, your most senseless pleasures,

That makes you reasonless, esteeming best

Those things delight you most.



O, I could stand                                                                                               

My lifetime here to hear this Silius rail.                                                               140



Note but the end of all your lustful pleasures:

All breed diseases, griefs, reproaches foul,

Consumption of the body, and the soul,

Engender sorrows and sottishness,                                                                               

Forgets all prudence, grows most insolent,                                                                     145

Breeds th’ epilepsy, that falling evil,

Begets murder, makes a man a devil,

O’erthrows whole families, confounds the just,

Foisteth in children illegitimate,                                                                         

Corrupts all human sweet society.                                                                                 150

The various paths of lust are all uneven,

Her pleasures’ dreadful plagues the scourge of heaven.


[Enter Messalina and Saufellus, attending with a cup]



Our sovereign good is pleasure, unto which

None can attain but valiant men and wise.                                                                     



Oh!                                                                                                                              155

                                                            [Falls to his knees]



Silius, thou shalt not fall unless I fall,

Nor rise without me; we love thee Caius.

Thou soul of music breathe, breathe and enchant           [music]

With thy delicious tones, while thus we bend.                                                    

An health: Our love, mirror of men, to thee.                   [She drinks]                            160



Fool that I am, thou hast undone thyself;

Keep in, my virtue, or this fiery trail

Flames thee to cinders.



Fill for him; is’t prepared?                                                                                            



With deepest art.



Here I pledge, and pledge freely, a hearty draught,                                                        165

As I began, up with’t. [Silius drinks] So, ’tis well, this,

This failing, pure, precise one is now silenced.

Convey him to our bed, nature’s delight,                        [Silius is carried off]              

Where when he wakes he may admire and burn,

Be mad in love to pleasure free in us.

Thanks, Valens, and Proculus: Caesar dispatched

To Ostia[33], we’ll find fit time to make you

Shine in glory; all shall find rich rewards.                                                                       


[Exit Messalina and Saufellus]



May you for ever glisten like the sun.



Silius, you are snared, and we our wager won.                                                 


[Exit Bawd and Valens]



Scene iii


[Hoboys . Enter Claudius, Messalina, Narcissus, Pallas, Calistus and Saufellus, with attendants.][34]



Swift nimble time, the season of the year

To offer sacrifice unto the gods,

Calls us with speed from Rome to Ostia,

In which our absence, sweet, dearer than my life[35],

We do implore, use all the careful means                                                                       5

That may preserve that life and happiness.

Thy love assures us, which if want of health

Should bate thee joy, Caesar were not himself.

Disaster, griefs, diseases pale and wan

Would make me marble, such is th’ affiance,                                                                 10

The strong persuasion of that love I bear

To thee, thou star on earth, my only bliss:

Bear record, heaven, bless thou this parting kiss.


[Exit Claudius, with Narcissus, Pallas, Calistus and attendants]



Farewell, my life, my love, my royal fool.

Shallow-brain fop, dull ignorance, adieu,                                                                       15

The kindest cuckold woman ever knew.

Saufellus, draw nigh;                             [Saufellus approaches]

Now is the wished-for time to crown delight,

Turn night to day and day into the night.

Prepare for stirring, masque, midnight revels,                                                     20

All rare variety to provoke desire,

Then haste and fetch those envied adamants[36]

Rome most admires for foolish chastity.

When we have grasped them here, surfeit’s[37] riot

Shall squeeze their spongy virtue into vice.                                                                     25

If they deny to come, let vengeance fall

Like to that all-devouring thunder’s flame

Which fired the world; be merciless and kill.

Rome shall take notice, our incensēd blood,

Like to Medusa’s,[38] shall to serpents turn,                                                                     30

Poisoning the air, where local chastity

Claims least pre-eminence.



Spoke like yourself, beyond thought excellent.

O, it becomes you rarely; think what you are.

All glory dross is, in comparison                                                                                    35

Of that all rare inestimable worth

You truly owe, all admired beauty past,

And that to come with full attractive force

Have fixed their lively characters in you.

Divinest fair, earth breathes not such another,                                                    40

’Twere madness longer your delights to smother.

I’m fired with joy to see your high blood free;

Continue with increase, add flame to flames.

Burn high, bright glorious wonder of thy sex;

Act what your thoughts shall prompt to; I in all                                                   45

Am only yours, at whose commanding will

I’ll death and horror wade to save or kill.


                                                            [Starts to leave]


Stay, ere you go resolve us: what is that

Stagerite’s[39] name, he that last night i’th play

Did personate the part of Troilus?[40]                                                                               50



Menester, glorious Empress, that’s his name.



Menester! How that name works on my blood,

And like a violent tide swells me with full

Desire to know the man! It must be so.

Command him to attend our will tonight.                                                                        55



Know, mighty Queen, I by your looks perceived

The graceful actor pleasing to your eyes,

And therefore already here in court, I

Have prepar’d him.



Diligent Saufellus, I’ll to my chamber;                                                                60

Admit him thither, be swift in return.     


[Exeunt Saufellus]


We long for change to feed on various fruit.

Up, Messalina, let thy mounting will,

Too long kept down, fly to thy full desire:

I’ll live in pleasure, though I burn in fire.                                                             65


[Exeunt Messalina]





Scene iv


[Enter Saufellus with a torch, Menester following]



Come, come, come, this way, fie, how I sweat!

This venery is a stirring business.

Remain you here, I’ll instantly return.


[Exit Saufellus]



My heart, that ne’er yet shrunk, begins to throb,

And my good genius whispers in mine ear                                                                      5

A fair retreat. I am fair warned, and yet

I waver doubtful.



Fortunate actor,

Now let thy best of action to the life

Court Rome’s rare Empress to the height of pleasure.                                       

Muster up all the powers of man in thee                                                             10

To a united strength, prepare a part

To ravish, pleasure, win an Empress’ heart.

Look to’t, prove active to yield full content,

Or else you die, die a most shameful death,                                                                  

So speed as you shall please.                                                                                        15


[Exit Saufellus]



That’s certain death!

I, I that in Pompey’s spacious theatre[41]

Acted the noble virtues of true man,

When the fair piercing lines so much prevailed,                                                 

I felt a sacred flame run through my brains,

And in this Orb of man’s circumference,                                                                        20

Myself at furious war within myself,

That in my life’s sweet sequel, I still strived,

Wrestled with flesh and blood to imitate                                                                       

The good I then presented; but now, a

Coward plague, or else some fiend raised from the                                                        25

Pit of fear, hath all my goodness to a

Period dropped, and I like chaff[42] blown on this

Wide world’s stage am now to act my own part,                                                          

Which must be vicious now – lust-stung, vicious,

With Rome’s majestic Empress, whose command                                                         30

Strikes dead in the refusal, dead, a word

That quakes even the most valiant he, though least

Expressed; if by escape I think myself                                                              

Secure in some remote soil, her revenge

Will with the self-same stroke there strike me dead.                                                       35

’Mong petty eminent persons now ’tis

Common; then princes cannot fail, their arms

Are long and large; compulsion bids me on.                                                                  

Whoe’er shall read my story then shall say

’Tis forced compulsion, and not rich reward,                                                                 40

No high Court favourers made Menester sin.

Enchanting earth’s temptation is in vain,

He basely, basely sins that sins for gain.                                                            

If not for gain, shall I commit for fear?

For fear to die? I must; I will not! Keep                                                             45

There my mind, and with chaste fortitude,

O, be my bar to this lascivious act,

And cleave me to the centre e’er I yield.           


[Enter Messalina]                  


Your pardon, glorious Empress,

There’s something in me works so powerful,                                                                 50

I dare not, dare not yield to your content.



How’s this? ‘Dare not’? Is that answer for us?

Why fool, poor scum of the earth, dost know                                                   

What ‘tis to stop an Empress’ lofty will?

Saufellus, within there! A guard; we’ll learn


[Enter Saufellus and Guard]                                                                                      55


You better manners. Hoist him on the rack.

To the rack with him, tear limb from limb. Dare not?

We will enforce thee, wretch.                                                                           


[Saufellus and the guard put Menester on the rack]



O dog, not do,

Up with the snowball, melt him, so, so, so.



Shall our high favours, equal to base and                                                                       60

Mercenary trulls,[43] prove common put offs?

What say you now, Sir?                                                                                               



That I am truly miserable, weak,

And vile, not being able to endure

This torment! O, let me down; my pain but                                                                    65

Not my mind yields to your bed; I do

Consent, consent!                                                                                                        



Ha, ha, do you so, Sir?

Let him down, and let him find sudden cure.

Command our doctors, feed him hot and high,

Pleasure’s a Princess’ full felicity.                                                                                  70


[Exeunt Messalina]



Man’s a weak bulrush, all his fortitude                                                              

Brittle at best. Witness these centred limbs,

Witness the rack, which tears me from the sight

Of sacred virtue, whose just anger now,

Like a donyed[44] wooer, puts me off,                                                                             75

Blushing and despairing. Heaven out of sight,                                        

Man’s out of heart; all virtues lose their light.


[Exeunt Menester]









Scene i


[Enter Lepida, in her night clothes, with a book and a lighted taper] [45]



My servants are all fast, ’tis dead of night,

And yet my restless senses want their rest.

This was not wont to be; ’tis wondrous strange.

I fear, nor is’t unlike my daughter, my

Most ambitious, irreverent daughter,                                                                              5

Dead to good counsel, now in great Caesar’s

Absence most apt for ill, takes her full flight

To the loose life of all licentiousness,

Now at this instant wrongs him, and that the

Gods, whose eyes see blackest deeds, do see and                                                        10

Abhor, and therefore caused me thus to wake

From dead resembling sleep, to pray

T’oppose her ill with good: heaven, I obey.


[A bell rings in the distance. Three Roman dames knock within.]


First Dame

Open the door, O noble Lepida,

Open the door.                                                                                                             15



What ill includes this noise?


Second Dame

Open the door. O, save us from the gripes

Of rape and ruin.

                                                            [Knocks again]



That was a woman’s voice, most certain ’twas;

I will no longer stay you.                                                                                               20

                                                            [Opens the door]


Third Dame

O, save us from the rape! Death dogs us

At the heels.


First Dame

Our parents and husbands, slain

In their beds this night, have paid life’s forfeit

For our escape.                                                                                                            25


Second Dame

For whom there is no hope

If sheltered not under your wings of safety.


Third Dame

She is your daughter that commands this ill.



Woe is me, wretch, accursed be the time

That brought her forth. O, may it ever be                                                                       30

Forever barred the rank of blessed hours.


                                                            [Bell rings nearby]


First Dame

Hark, hark, they come, that fatal bell rings their approach, turn us to air some whirlwind, ere we perish through spotted whoredom.[46]


[Enter Saufellus, Hem & Stitch, and Bawd]



O, are you here?                                                                                                          



And have we found you out, O you abominable pictures of peevish virtue, ye     35 threadbare thin cheeked chastity, ye puppets?[47]



I am amazed; if from my daughter sent,                                                             

Tell me, ye frightful villains, her demand.



Them there, whose paltry puling honesty

Merits no favour but a world of mischief,                                                                       40

They must live at Court.



There to live, and brave.                                                                                              



To shine in pearl, and gold flow in treasure.



Fed with delicious cates, to swim in pleasure is breath.



Tossed on the downy beds of dalliance.                                                                        45



Peace, hell-bred hag, stop thy unhallowed throat.



Dispatch, resolve to go or die.                                                                          



Then die,

Arm you brave Roman dames, terrestrial stars,

Armed with fair fortitude resolve to die,

That when y’are gone, I may look up and see                                                    50

Your chaste thoughts stars in the celestial spheres.                                                        

Is it not better die than live at court,

Racked, torn and tossed on proud dishonour’s wheel,

There to be whored, your excellence defiled?

Rather be free, be free, rare spirits for                                                               55

Succeeding times to wonder at; spurn, spurn                                                                

In contempt of death, at death’s base strife,

To die for virtue is a glorious life.



O, bless’d encouragement.


First Dame

All are so willing; there’s not one of us                                                               60

Would wish to live, so, fairest mind farewell.                                         

Behold, we link in love, thus armed to die,

Strike slaves, mount souls, fly to eternity.





Mischievous monsters, O what have you done?



Take this, this, and this for me, ye puppets of purity!                                          65


[Bawd stabs the two dames with her knife, then turns to run, and is shut in by Lepida]          


Would you be gone?                                                                                                    

Nay, you damned hell-hag, I’ll preserve you safe.

Manutius, Folio, wake, wake from drowsy sleep.


[Exit Lepida]



How’s this, locked in? What the great devil

Will become of me?                                                                                                      70



Lepida [shouting from within]

Murder, murder, what ho! Manutius, awake!                                                                



How she bawls! Vengeance stop your throat.


[Enter Lepida, with her two servants]



O, see where murdered chastity lies slain,

Under my tragic roof this fatal night.                                                                             



Sad, dismal accident.                                                                                                   



Here, take this Bawd,                                                                                                   75

She hath a large hand in this impious act.

Take, hang her by the heels, then let my dogs,

Compelled through hunger, tear, eat her alive.

I must to Court there prosecute the rest.


[Exit Lepida and Manutius]



Remove those bodies, I’ll take charge of this.                                                    80

O, thou insufferable bitch whore, Bawd!

Have you been actor in this bloody scene?

You shall be gnawn with dogs for’t, tottered

And piecemeal torn, you shall, you rotten

Stinking tun[48] of decayed letchery, you shall.                                                                  85

Yet I will set thee free, grease me now finely,

Finely ith’ fist; you know the art, money

Will corrupt, ’tis beggary to be honest.



Hold, there’s my purse, the better part is gold.

Perform thy promise, I’ll advance thy state,                                                                   90

At Court promote thee.



To wear brave clothes?



Rich, wondrous rich.



And I shall have a wench?



A very dainty device, a springer[49],                                                                                 95

One that shall make thy constitution curvet

And wind about thee like a skein of silk.

Tickle, tickle, tickle thee, my brave bully.



Say’st thou so, my old motion’s procurer,

Go thy ways..stay…O wonderful, what’s that                                                    100

There, betwixt thy teeth, gape.

                                                            [Gags Bawd]



Oh, oh, oh!



We must be honest here, nay you shall go

Not to be tickle, tickle, tickled, but

To be totter’d, with your heels aloft                                                                               105

To be totter, totter, totter’d my brave Bawd,

To be totter’d.


[Exit Servant, with Bawd]




Scene ii


[Enter Messalina]



Menester, Valens, Proculus, not all,

No, a world of favourites can yield

To us that free delight in dalliance which

Silius gives, he must not live at Forum;[50]

Though it be near at hand, ‘tis too far off Calphurnia.                                         5


[Enter Calphurnia]



Your highness’ pleasure?



Cause Caius Silius to be sent for straight,

And let harmonious music’s ravishing ayres[51]

Breathe our delight.



To your accomplished wish.                                                                                         

[Exit Calphurnia]



Circle me round, you Furies[52] of the night,                                                                     10

Dart all your fiery lust-strung arrows here.                     [Music]

Here, here, let Circe and the Sirens’[53] charms

Pour their enchantments. Monarch of flames,

Fill with alluring poison these mine eyes,                                                                       

That I may win[54] the misty souls of men,                                                                        15

And send them tumbling to th’Acharusian Fen[55].

’Twere an all-pleasing object unto thee,

Thou great arch-ruler[56] of the low abyss;

Like to Cadmus’[57] Semele[58], I would burn                                                                   

Rather than want this my implored desire,                                                                      20

And be consumed in thunder, smoke, and fire.

Let petty Queens’ dull appetite dread fear,

I’ll be my self sole pleasure’s Queen in all.

Ha, what’s this? Cease that music there;                                                                       

A sudden strange and drowsy heaviness                                                                        25

Enchants my tender eyes to close their lights.


[Falls asleep]



[Enter three Furies with the arrows of Pride, Lust and Murder]


First Fury

From those blue flames burning dim,

Where black souls in sulphur swim.

Dark infernal den below,                                                                                              

Lakes of horror, pain and woe-                                                                         30


Second Fury

From dread thunder smoking fire,

We come, we fly at thy desire.


Third Fury

To fire thy mind, lewdly inclined-


First Fury

To deeds unjust, murder and lust.                                                                                 


Second Fury

Dreaming see, at thee, at thee.                                                                           35


Third Fury

Furies, dart sin’s potent night-


First Fury

Sable shafts of endless night.


[The three Furies dance an Antic and depart. Messalina awakes.] [59]



Furies enough; I’m fully satisfied;

A pleurisy of lust runs through my veins.                                                            

I could grasp with any.


[Enter Silius]



Me above all.                                                                                                   40



O, the unsounded sea of my delight

In thee, my Silius! ‘Tis miraculous,

Ineffable, never to be expressed                                                                                   

By learning’s deepest art.



Glory of Queens,

Cease to enchant with words that can so charm.                                                            45



And scarf about thy neck my ivory arm,

Practise upon thy lips the energy                                                                                   

Of sweet allurements, shoot into thine eyes

Amorous glances, stirring dalliance,

Embracements, passions, such as shall beget                                                                 50

Perpetual appetite, that all the gods

May in beholding emulate our joy,                                                                                

Envelopēd with pleasure’s sweetest sweets,

Ambrosiac[60] kisses thus.

                                                            [Silius and Messalina kiss]



Delicate nectar.



Redoubled thus and thus.                                                                                             


[They kiss again, twice]



O, I’m all flame,                                                                                                55

A scorched enchanted flame, and I shall burn

To cinders with delight, debarred to quench

Fervour with fervour, violent flame with flames.



Thou art too noble a substance to embrace

Thy wife Syllana; be sudden, kill her;                                                                 60

She must not live.






Be not ignorant,

That singular alone we must enjoy

The freedom of thy body undebarred[62]                                                             

Least let[63] to pleasure; by this I charm thee.


[Silius and Messalina kiss]



O, that delicious melting kiss prevails,                                                                65

Sucks dry the sweetness of a soul distressed,

Poisons my blood and brain, and makes me apt

To do an outrage I should loathe to name.                                                                    

O, if I e’er was gracious in your sight,    [kneels]

Desist, fair beauty’s abstract, I implore,                                                             70

Spur me not[64] to murder’s horrid act

Which I shall ever rue. Let it suffice,

I’m only yours, never Syllana’s more,                                                               

Sworn a perpetual exile from her bed.


[Exit Messalina]


Vanished so soon? How wondrous strange seems this.                                      75


[Enter Messalina, with a pistol] [65]



Death and destruction satisfy my will

Or take’t in thy bosom I’m intemperate;

Briefly resolve.                                                                                                 



Hold, be not so respectless

Of him that loves you dearer than his life.

Dreadless of death I speak it, what is death?                                                                 80

A bug to scare th’ ignoble coward’s mind,

The valiant never; did the fates conspire                                                            

And terrible death, in the most horrid shape

It e’er put on, threat, despair, and ruin.

Yet it should ne’er affright the soul of Silius,                                                                   85

Th’ impatient sudden cause of discontent

In your rare worth only torments me more                                                                    

Then were I rack’t upon Ixion’s wheel[66]

To perpetuity. Be gracious, then,

To him that does repent, confess his error,                                                                     90

Seal’t with this kiss.



Did Lucius Cataline[67]                                                                                       

Spare life nor child, for Orestilla’s[68] love,

And must our high-born favours be slighted,

Put off with bare persuasives?



Oh, be pleas’d.



Let mighty Queens' majestic eminence                                                                95

In the high pitch of their ambition learn

Of us to hate co-rivals in their love,

Trampling the touch of Hymenæall[69] rites

Under their feet.



The attractive force                                                                                          

Of those amazing eyes, those glorious lights                                                                   100

Fixed in the firmament of your sweet face,

Shall make me undergo the worst of ill,

Though with the forefeiture of life I hazard

A death more terrible then Alcides’[70] was.                                                                    



I love thee now, like to a burning glass                                                               105

Th’ast fired afresh th’affection of my mind

More violent than ever; be gone, be gone,

Hasten Syllana’s death, then come to Court.

There the Emperor Diadem[71] of Rome,                                                             

Dreadless of Caesar, shall impale thy front.                                                                    110

Like Jove and Juno in a nuptial knot,

We’ll knit the bands of Hymen and outshine

The glorious tapers of the golden sun,

Whirl through the stately streets of spacious Rome                                                        

Like glistening Phaethon72 in an orient chair,                                                                   115

That with the bare report, swift fame shall strike

Amazement through the world’s monarchical state.

All-gazing eyes, fixed on our rich attire,

Languish in dreams, our stately state admire.                                                     




Ravished in thought, panting, amazed I stand                                                     120

At your harmonious speech emphatical.

Ambitious blood, like to the banks of Nile73

Overflows this orb of man’s circumference,

And points my actions thus their way to ill,                                                                    

Aspiring arms’ Lavolto[74] when they kill.                                                             125


[Exit Silius, presenting his naked dagger]



Gods[75], the influence of whose power stares,

Mounts thy imperial lot to set aloft

On the high orb of our affection,

Like the bright rising oriental sun,                                                                                  

When it salutes Aurora[76]; ’bove the choice                                                                    130

Of five and twenty Jove-like Ganymedes[77],

Who charmed, and wrapped in wanton dalliance,

Love[78] fired with admiration; O pleasing,

More pleasing sweet to my insate desire,                                                                      

Than was to Sinon[79] Ilion’s[80] lofty fire.[81]                                                                        135

Shall Messalina in her flourishing youth,

Like dull and tame nobility, live cooped,

Confined and mewed up singular to one?

No, Caesar, no’ twere fool’s philosophy,                                                                     

And I abjure’t; there is no music in’t.                                                                             140

Those of our sex the minds of sots contain

And are of no brave spirits that deny

Pleasure, the heaven of my idolatry.


[Enter Saufellus and Lepida]



Plagues yet unfelt light on thee, mischievous       slave, villain, dog, murderer,

rot as thou livest. [82]                                                                                                       145



Mother, the cause of your distemperature?



Murder in thee, in thee thou wicked imp,

And that thy substitute by the ordain’d

‘Gainst the most noble minds of chastity,                                                                      

Whose innocent blood like th’ Atlantic sea                                                                    150

Looks red with murder, and cries out to heaven

For justice and revenge. O, hadst thou first

Then been the author of so foul a fact

Made thy own passage, happy woman I.                                                                      



Beldame, give o’er, or I’ll disclaim all smoothness,                                                         155

There’s nothing done that’s wished undone by us.



Is’t even so? Then too too ill, farewell;

Truth’s story shall relate to after times

My love to thee, hate to thy desperate crimes.                                                  



Pish, to your chamber, dotard[83], be advised.                                                                 160




Go, and a mischief damn you, and all your pitiful sex.



We do commend thy care,

Joy ‘ith performance of our strict command,

Which shall from henceforth style thee favourite                                                

To us, that will command thy fortune’s rise.                                                                   165



And all those fortunes, favours, life and all,

Shall like an Atlas[84] undergo the weight

Of your imperious will, be it to th’ death

Of parents, massacre of all my kin,                                                                               

To exceed the devil, act any sin.                                                                                    170



For which we thus enseam thee.


                                                            [Kisses Silius]



O Dulce[85],

Divinest goddess whom my soul adores,

Multiply that sweet touch of rare delight,

And from the garden of Hesperides[86]                                                                           

Those delicate delicious ruby lips                                                                                   175

Make me immortal[87]; quench, quench the burning heat

Which like th’ immoderate thirst of Tantalus[88],

Scorching the meadows of my solid flesh,

Dries up the rivers of my crimson blood,                                                                       

And as the gaping tongue-tied earth for rain                                                                   180

Opens her grief, so in my looks behold:

View my distress, make me to live or die.



Grasp me, Saufellus, let’s have a sprightly dance,

Swift footing apts[89] my blood for dalliance.                                                                   



Music, rich music there; O that my skill                                                              185

Could transcend mortal.



Tush, we’ll accept thy will.


                                                [Dance a Coranto] [90]


[Enter Lepida]



What devil sends her back?



Pish, mind her not.                                                                                                       


Nature constrains me back; what though dismayed,

Shall I desist? O, then she’s lost for ever!                                                                      190

No, I will bend with fairest fair demean.

To save her soul I’ll make my foot my head;

Mothers were monsters else not truly bred.                                                                  

Give my speech once more freedom.



You’ll force us through unmannerly exclaims                                                      195

To rest the strictness of our dread command.



I come not bent with wrath, but to implore

On bended knees, with penitential tears,                                                                       

T’appease the gods for thy full sea of sin.

Such is a mother’s love, and such is mine.                                                                      200

Prove thou my like, thy soul shall never fall

Into those damned sins it nourisheth,

Which like a ponderous argosy[91] full fraught,                                                                

Cuffed[92] on the mountain top of some big wave

In the descent, falls on the fearful rock                                                               205

And splits in pieces irrecoverable.

So fatal death upon the wings of night

Whirls the black soul in her triumphant car                                                                    

To the Tartarian vales; where crowned in flames,

Tumbling descend to dreadful Orcus’[93] cell,                                                                   210

That merciless pit of bottomless despair,

To fry in those blue[94] flames of fear forever,

In never ending endless pain forever.                                                                            

If mother’s tears were e’er of force to move,

Let these of mine take place, strive to repent,                                                                215

Think what a horrid thing it is to see

There is fear above us, fear still beneath us,

Fear round about, and yet no fear within us.                                                                 



I do begin to melt.



Heaven’s blessing on thee.                                                                                            220



And hell’s cure on thee! ’Tis high time to speak.

O, be yourself divinest fair on earth;

This idle superstitious lecturing                                                                          

Proceeds of malice; what, to make you child

And slave to her desires?                                                                                              225



O impious devil!



No more! Live and be thankful.


[Exit Messalina and Saufellus]



Ha, how’s that?                                                                                   

Live and be thankful! Am I then contemn’d[95],

Is all my labour in a moment lost?

Live and be thankful? Sure I do but dream.                                                                   230

It cannot be nature against itself

Should so rebel. O fool, fool that I am,                                                             

With vain hope thus to play the flatterer.

Mors aerumnarum quies, mors omnibus finis [96] .

Dissolve the glassy pearls of mine eyes,                                                             235

That Niobe-like[97] I may consume in tears,

And nevermore behold daylight again.                                                              

Pish, all this is but talk, and talk I must,

Fly from me soul and turn my earth to dust.

Must I then live to see my daughter’s shame?                                                    240

Crack, crack poor heart, stern death let fly thy dart,

Send my sad soul to the Elysium[98] shades,                                                        

That there it might drink Lethe[99], and forget

It ever lived in this mortality.

Parcae[100], dispatch! When, when I say? No, no!                                                           245


[Falls, distracted]


Then I will act Medea’s[101] murd’ring part

Upon my stain of blood, that gods and men                                                                  

May sit and laugh, and plaudit my revenge.

Ye dismal sisters of the fatal night,

Rise, rise and dance hell’s roundelays[102] for joy,                                                            250

Rhamnusia[103] finds employment for you all.

Follow, follow, follow, follow, follow.                                                               

Note with your grim aspects the courts of kings,

See how the politic statesman for his ends

Sits hammering mischief, and how toad-like swells                                                         255

Bombast with treason’s riches; see, there’s lust,

Brave madam, lust, temptation’s painted whore,                                                           

Divinely worshipped by the bastard brood

Of knaves and fools.

Ye dread and ireful Furies, if’t not true,                                                             260

Why then employ your burning whips of steel,

Lash with eternal lashes, there, there, there,                                                                  

Excellent Furies how you do excel,

So, so, so, so, tis holiday104 in hell.


[Exit Lepida]







Scene iii



[Enter Syllana, drawn out upon a bed, asleep. Enter Silius with a lighted torch][105]



O, what a fiery combat feels my soul;

The genius, good and bad, that waits[106] on man

Shakes nature’s frame, trembles this microcosm.

There virtue pleads for sleeping innocence,

For love, true love, chaste thoughts, and virtuous acts,                                       5

Which entertained within a constant breast

Makes man triumphant, crowned, immortal, blessed.

But O, the ponderous plummets of black vice

Suppress those pure imaginations,

Which break like lightning only for a flash,                                                                     10

Wanting the true material to impel

And to continue this false clock of life

From its exorbitant course; such like are

Majestic title, and the Empress,

That unpeered excellence, bewitching dalliance,                                                 15

Soul of temptation sweet, so charms all sense.

Virtue I loathe, like politic states whose good

Depends on ill, work their attempts in blood.



O my affrighted soul! Art thou there, sweet?

Then I am safe; ’twas but a dream, I see,                                                                      20

A waking walking in my sleep, wherein

Methought I saw near to a riverside

Two lovely turtles[107] sit, like morn in May,

Adorned with all the glories of the Spring.

Their loves to either seemed to sympathise,                                                                   25

And with such sober chastity connects,

That their two hearts, as true loves ever should,

Like fire and heat inseparate alike,

Showed like the splendour of a heart that lived

In sacred flames, in unextinguished flames                                                                      30

Of chaste desires, free from the tainted spot

Of petulant dalliance, till temptation’s snare

Appeared Parthenope-like[108], that with her charms

Worked so effectual on the turtle male,

He, like Troy’s firebrand[109], falsely that forsook                                                 35

Unpitied Oenone[110], not alone content,

Alone for forlorn, t’abjure his lovely mate,

But back return’d his black intents to further,

And to the height of lust he added murder.

The very thought seemed daggers to my breast,                                                 40

That with the fear I waked.



To sleep thy last!


                                                            [Holds out his dagger to her] 



Light of my life, how’s that?



Briefly this:

I’ll be your dream’s expositor. Thou must die,                                                  

Die by this hand, this fatal instrument,                                                                45

Nor must I seem to yield a slave to pity.



Sure, sure I dream, dream still, if not tell, O

Tell me my better self, whose killing words

Wounds crueller than death, what cause, what offence,                                     

What ill desert in me, that wronged you never,                                                   50

The gods me witness bear?[111]



‘Tis for no fault sustained on thy behalf,

No, ‘tis the Empress’s doom.



She; nay then.



‘Tis she, that model of creation,

Must through thy death participate alone                                                                        55

All that is man in me, and to that end

With sweetest concord of discording parts,

Outsings the sirens, fires this mansion                                                                

With haut ambition, Rome’s imperial crown;

And therefore I must kill, or else forgo                                                               60

All those bright shining glories, which what fool

Would be so nice.



Is there then no hope,                                                                                                  

No comfort, no remorse? Must I depart

Where I shall never see thy face again,                                                              65

Never behold those joys, which Hymen’s rites

Were wont to crown with true love’s flames?

Is there no remedy?                                                                                                     

Farewell, vain world, my life is such a toy,

I will not wish to live, t’abate thee joy.                                                               70

Yet e’er I go, grant this one courtesy:

‘Tis the last kindness you shall ever give,

Place ’gainst my heart thy deadly pointed steel.[112]                                                         

So, now farewell, death is for me most meet,

Strike sure and home, I do forgive thee, sweet.                                                  75



Bravely resolved, and I’ll perform thy will

As bravely thus,


[Moves to stab her, then flings the dagger away]


Not to be Emperor of the spacious earth!                                                                     

Live, live, Syllana, free.



Is’t possible?

‘Twixt fear and hope struck, through with deep amaze                                       80

I waver doubtful.



Cease admiration

And be sure of this, though I must confess                                                                    

I hither came armed with a full intent

To take thy life, yet Silius ne’er shall add

To his libidinous life a murder’s name.                                                               85

Of ills, ‘tis ever best, the worst to shame,

By murders murderers’ souls are oft undone.                                        

I wish I were far better than I am.

But since without my most assured ruin

It cannot be, being so far[113] engaged                                                                             90

Into the Empress’s favour, I must on,

Make use of some device cloaked with deceit,                                                 

That far beyond persuasion may enforce

Thy death’s belief. 



Kill, O kill me rather.

Be not far crueller to thy self than death                                                             95

To put to hazard on so slight a ground                                                              

Thy life for mine, I know the Empress

That if least notice of my life she hear,

Not ireful Nemesis[114] in swift revenge

Could be more speedy.



Pish, I will so work,                                                                                          100

You shall not need to fear, therefore as I

At court with my continuance must make way

To clear suspect, use you the matter so

Among your noble family whereby

Argos-ey’d envy descry [115] me not; I                                                                             105

Shall securely live dreadless of danger.  



Though you had struck my body full of wounds

And I survive, my fierce revenge should be

Good against ill, how to preserve your life.



Th’art the true emblem of a perfect wife,                                                                       110

For whose rare virtue from my soul I wish

All husbands were the same, in that right way

A perfect husband truly ought to be,

Which since in me, ordained by powerful fate

Never to be avoided backward runs,                                                                            115

Let my recursion from thy mind expel

That serpent foe to life; sad grief’s extreme

As grossly vain in being remediless, and

Therefore shun it; patient conjuence[116]

Is the calm of trouble, best cure ‘gainst cure,                                                                 120

Gives greatness best content in mean estate.

Who do I then, like godless villains, tell

The way’t heaven, yet lead the path to hell.

Minds that will mount into superior state,

Climb mischief’s ladder, virtuous actions hate.                                                   125

Yet is’t not so with Silius; I do love

Those virtues in another, though I want

The like performance, nor shall my high aim

Raised on advancement’s top do me more good

Than th’ enjoying free from the act of blood.                                                                  130

But I protract delay, there’s danger in’t;

Never was man so infinitely

Bewitched, charmed, and enchanted as is Caius

Silius, to leave a constant wife, farewell.

We must part.                                                                                                               135



Must, must, O wretched word of mischevious command, must

we part?[117]



We must, nay prithee weep not, sweet.



Blessings like drops of rain shower on thy soul,

O, that I might part dying in thine arms.                                                              140









Tears want their remedy; there is no striving ’gainst our destiny.[118]


[Exit Syllana and Silius, in separate directions]











Scene i


[Enter Annaus Mela]



My brother gone to exile[119], and I here,

So near the Empress’s Court, the Court of shame,

Where mischiefs hourly breed; how strange seems this,

I have a will to follow, yet I want

My will’s performance; not that I am sick,                                                                     5

Wanting, or limbs, or liberty, which begets

More strange imaginations, yet all I can

Comes short to guess th’ inscrutable meaning

That thus detains me here, in vain, in vain;

The more I strive, my senses I confound;                                                                       10

Then give it o’er, salute thy mother earth.


[Lies down]


And rest, rest while thy poor distracted mind

Upon the wings of thought takes flight, and fly,

Fly to the island of Corsica[120] there;

Learn the soul’s comfort, sweet philosophy.                                                                  15

What infinite good ’tis to contemplate heaven,

For to that end the life of man is given.


[Enter Montanus, in disguise]



Prove prosperous my design upon this,

Brother to the banished Seneca;

Are you caught, Sir?                                                                                                     20

                                                            [Snatches Mela’s sword from behind him]



Ha, villain, what art thou?



A murderer and villain, O Sir,

’Tis the best thriving trade and best employed

’Gainst such malevolent satirists as you;

You that are all for virtue, a mere word,                                                                        25

When indeed there’s no such thing; say there be,

None truly loves it but dies beggarly.




Slave, rather dispatch me then torment my soul

With thy envenomed scoffs ‘gainst that that is

Most rare, most excellent.                                                                                             30



A little more,

And then I’ll speed you; excellent ladies

Cannot disable with a charming spell,

A trick of wit, a humour that they have.

Husbands they not affect, making free way

For Atlas’ backs to leap their lovely laps;                                                                      35

But your satirical censure straight must pass,

Th’ one’s pride’s scabbed-hammed rascals[121], and the other's

Mischief’s venereal trulls; these are fine terms.

Pray, who made you a censurer of manners?



O, slave.                                                                                                                       40



T’upbraid such eminent persons,

What madness durst the like, deserv’st not death;

Yes, yet your life is safe, pass but your vow

T’embrace a beauty I shall bring you to,

More delicate than was the Spartan Queen[122],                                                               45

One that shall pay large tribute night by night,

Give thee thy weight in gold for each delight.



Not I; I yield my body, mercenary slave,

To lust and lucre? No, though mines of gold

She could give oft’ner than those whorish looks                                                 50

Women take pride in, to bewitch men’s souls;

First parched to cinders ’gainst the burning zone,

Be buried quick, all torments possible,

Stretched on the tenters of invention

I gladly would most willingly endure,                                                                  55

E’er thy soul-killing proffers enters here.






Pish, for my death, there’s too much man in me

To fear so slight a scratch; let it come,

I will not budge a foot; strike fair and home,                                                                  60

’Tis better die than live to live unjust,

Slave to th’ unsounded sea of woman’s lust.



Are you so confident? Have at you, Sir?


[Moves to run at him and flings down the weapon]


Your love, your love, ’tis only that I seek.

I am no villain, though I seemed in show                                                                        65

But one that fearful in these dangerous times;

For to retain a friend, led on by hope

Of our fair life, whom envy in your foes

Reports no less of, caused me through disguise

To put to trial your unvalued worth,                                                                               70

Which beyond man I find of such pure mould;

Sun-like, your virtues outshine purest gold.



Believe me, Sir, there’s no such thing in me

Worthy your least encomium[123].



But there is                                                                                                      

A miracle, which but in me in part,                                                                                 75

Through friendship’s dear respect incorporate;

And you shall bind me everlastingly

To bless the hour we met.



As I am slow

To friendships and confidence, as ’tis requisite                                      

For every one, and yet once entered in                                                              80

Affect stability, judge you the same;

A man that truly sensitive well knows

Virtue to be but merely adjective,

Wanting that sovereign sweetness which directs                                    

The mind to honest actions, and therefore,                                                                     85

As friendship joins with virtue, truly is

The lover of love each true friend’s property.

By that true blessing, sundry will’s connection,

Our hearts as hands unite, dilate affection,                                                        

That th’enlarge length, orbicular may spread                                                                  90

And ne’er find end.



So am I yours.




You mine.



Unparalleled’s that love where friends combine.                                    


[Enter Valens, Proculus and Menester]  


Here comes the top, top gallants of the time.                                                                 



The fools of the time! How are we bound to heaven?

Exempt the bondage of these palace rats,                                                                      95

These, whose delights are last provocatives.



Let us withdraw, and seem to mind them not.                                       



Was man e’er blest with that excess of joy                                                                   

Equal to ours, to us that feel no want

Of high Court favours, life’s licentiousness?                                                                   100

Kings have their cares, and in their highest state

Want those free pleasures crowns us fortunate.                                     



O happy state.                                                                                                             


Mela    [aside]

Glorious slave.



Thrice happy,

I’d not change earth for Jove’s felicity.



Nor I, who would? What inconsiderate he,                                                                    105

For such a mistress as the Empress,                                                                             

Would be so dull as not make use of art,

Forcing the body’s jovial able might

To yield her expectation full delight?



Libidinous goat!  [aside]                                                                                              110



I’d do’t, though, Phaeton-like,                                                                         

The hot receipt should fire this fabric.



When I commemorate her excellence,

How lavish lovely dalliance free proceeds

From that rarity of perfection! O,                                                                                  115

How I’m ravished, ravished in thought as well                                                   

As with the act, which breeds no wonder though

High Jove transhap’t him to Amphityron[124]

To taste the pleasure of Alcmena’s[125] bed.

Needs must such prodigal sweets mad thoughts of                                                         120

Men, when power to attract the gods.                                                                          



Impious lechers! [aside]



Silence, mark the event. [aside]



I that know none more worthy than myself

Of true regard and worth, would be resolved.                                                    125

What’s he, that bears the valiant mind of man,                                                  

Dares for his mighty sovereign mistress more

Then Vettius Valens?



That dare I, I dare.

Fond that thou art to question such a toy,

Were thy power equal to thy daring pride,                                                                     130

Proculus dares do more.                                                                                              



Nor thou, nor he,                                                                                             

Not Valens, nor Proculus; though you both,

Both durst as much as he durst cuckold Jove,

Menester would transcend you.



That our bloods decide.                                                                                                135


                                    [All draw, exposed to a triple sight round] [126]



A spirit of valour.                                                                                                         



Let it come.


[Enter Messalina and Saufellus, above]



What killing objects this presents our eyes,

Our favourites turned fighters must not be.

Descend, Saufellus, know the cause: we’ll follow.                                                          140



Stand all do firm, this seal express my rage.                                                                  



Mine this.



This mine.


[They wound each other]


[Enter Saufellus]



Hold, hold, you’re wounded all;

As you’ll incur our Empress’s deep displeasure,

Hold, and resolve why thus you have exposed                                                  

Your lives to danger.


[Enter Messalina]



Whence proceeds this fray?                                                                              145



From that concerns the credits of best men,

Which of us three in our affections prized

Your excellence most.                                                                                                  



And was that the cause?

We do embrace and preciously account                                                                        150

The vigour of your loves, so you no more,

So full of spite, let prosecute your hate

With the like hardy daring; ’twill not please.                                                                  

We should esteem your jars ridiculous,

Issuing from brainless wit discerned in others,                                                    155

And as ’tis common to our eminent sex,

Triumph in state, and glory in your falls.

Yet th’ operation of your loves so works,                                                                     

That it screws[127] ours to judge the contrary.

Dry up your wounds with care, then come to Court;                                                      160

Love shall entrance your souls, prepare for sport.


[Exit Messalina and Saufellus]




I’ll study art in love for recompense.



My love shall mount.                                                                                                    



Mine yield profuse expense.


[Exit Valens, Proculus and Menester]



Here was a storm of mischief soon blown o’er.



’Twas to prepare them for a wicked life;                                                                       165

But since these ’complices are gone that are

Not worth least memory, behold this book;                   [Holds out book]                   

Sit, my dear friend, and I will read to thee

Of that high majesty, puissant[128] Ens[129],

From whom we have our being, life and soul,                                                    170

Which should dull flinty, inconsiderate man,

When with black deeds ’ith mighty bog of sin,                                                  

Beast-like he wallows, considers right,

Thinks on his present state, whence came and must;

Then on that terrible thunderer that sees                                                             175

His actions kick at heaven, he then no more

Would dare t’offend his maker, but with tears                                                   

Lament his soul’s pollution, which doth give

Matter, by which men’s souls immortal live.

But, through an unfrequented heaviness,                                                                        180

I am prevented.


Montanus                    [Takes book]

Repose a while, I’ll read.                                                                                             


[Enter Messalina and Saufellus, above]



Make us celestial happy with thy news,

Art thou sure ’tis he?



’Tis, ’tis Montanus,

Sure as I live, I took full view of him                                                                              185

Before and after the fight, then withdrawn

Within yon grave of oaks.



My heart’s on fire                                                                                            

To clip him. Fly swift as thought, Saufellus,

Conduct him to our paradise of joy[130].

If he escape, desire him then confound us.                                                                     190

We only viewed him once, but then the time

Crossed our desires; blessed opportunity                                                                     

That makes our happiness a very heaven.

We’ll build an altar, and erect a shrine

That shall eternise thee for this; wer’t my brother                                                           195

Resembled him we so entirely love,

We’d force him ravish pleasure, if not kill;                                                                    

Be a Semiramis[131] to sate our will.


[Exit Messalina]


[Enter Saufellus]   



Hail to Montanus!



Sir, the like to you.



‘Tis the Empress’s pleasure you attend her will.                                                 200



Know you the cause?



Delay not with demands, th’ are frivolous.

Will you along?



Your favour, Sir, a while;

I’ll but awake my friend; so-ho, sleepy still,

Pray heaven this heaviness imports no harm.                                                                  205


[Exeunt Montanus and Saufellus]



How’s this, my friend departed, and I alone?

I know not what to think; ’tis very strange

He thus unwaked would leave me; sure he strived,

Yet I so fast, that he no doubt was loath

To break my rest; ’tis so, and some chief cause                                                 210

Which I might well dispense with him drew hence.

I’ll to my father’s house, there certain find

Or hear of him.


[Exeunt Mela]






Scene ii


[Hoboys. A banquet. Montanus is ushered in state by Saufellus and others, who place him and depart. Hoboys cease. Solemn music plays during Montanus’ speech.]



O, potent lust, thou that hast power to make

The valiant and the wise coward and fool,

I’m not so dull, but that I know thee now.

Now, comprehend why music breathes delight,

And why this banquet, which both presents themselves                                      5

To be my slaves? ’Tis to make me a slave

To lust, that deadly potion of the soul,

Whose poison quaffed kills body and the soul.

That’s the main aim of these harmonious strains,

These stirring meats, which unto me appear                                                                   10

Like those blue[132] flames the damned taste in hell.


[Enter Messalina by degreees, gazing at him] [133]


Celestial angels, guard me; now she comes,

And I so ill prepared, I know not what!

A sudden earthquake trembles nature’s frame,

Which, like a falling pine tree, to and fro,                                                                       15

Uncertain where to fall, it tottering stands.

She’s most bewitching sweet; I fear, I fear,

She will more come; now I begin to burn,

To scorch, like to the coals of Etna[134]. Strike

Me, eternal winter, with thy frosts; quench,                                                                    20

Quench this hot combustion in my blood,

And if I needs must fall, O sacred powers,

Benumb my senses so that I may taste

No sweetness in the act, yield no delight.



Thus long with admiration we have stood                                                                       25

To gaze on thy perfections, precious shape.

Why dost thou shake? Why stare? As rapt in wonder,

Why dumb? Or think’st thy happiness a dream?

This kiss confirm thee ours; entrance thy soul

To stir love-panting appetite while thus                                                              30

We clip thee in our arms, embrace thee thus.







That’s love’s alarum; to bed, to bed,

To Venus’ field, there combat for love’s treasure;

Swim in excess of joy, there ravish pleasure.                                                                  35


[Exit Messalina and Montanus]


[Enter Mela]



To thee, fair fortune, in divinest sense,

To whom all excellence inclusive is,

To that high power, I invocate, implore;

If pleased, direct where I may find my friend,

Full when I fitly may assimilate                                                                           40

The restless acquiescence of my mind

To the perpetual motion of a wheel,

That by the force of water restless turns,

The vigour of the torrent left unstopped.

So, the strange absence of my noble friend                                                                    45

Suffers th’ insulting torrent of sad grief,

Tyrannic-like upon the wheel of sense

To rack my restless rest, which I must bear.

’Tis vain to strive ’gainst sorrow’s streams to swim;

Man hath no power on grief, grief power on him.                                                           50

What’s he declines his visage to the ground?

Is’t not my friend? ‘Tis he, happily met.


[Enter Montanus, dejected in countenance]



Hell-cat, no more, no more of thy embrace!

Find’st thou my body enemy to lust,

And yet again attempts me?                                                                                          55



How’s this?



Keep off, insatiate Empress, I’ll no more!

Poison on monsters, the blood of Nessus[135]

Dam up thy curtain, gulf-like appetite!

May Furies fright thy whorish fortitude,                                                              60

Dancing Lavoltos in the very act,

And damn you.



Save him, divine assistance,

For he’s lost. Mistake not, I’m thy friend.



’Tis so, and I am happily mistook.

Thy pardon, worthy friend, it was my fear                                                                      65

Of further ill made me forget myself.

Distracted sense, as well it might; O, there’s

A strange deed past.



I fully comprehend,

By that distemper lately in your blood;

’Twas music’s sweetest concord to my soul,                                                                 70

To hear with what a cold performance

Th’ act was wrested from you; happy prevention!

How, like a doubtful battle, it hath made

The victory more joyful, which had else,

Had you replenished those soul-killing sweets,                                                   75

No means for safety then, but fall you must,

A prey to slaughter, or a slave to lust;

But since with heaven’s prevention you are free,

Fly Rome, the impious maladies she breeds,

Experience tells, are hooks to catch at souls.                                                                 80

Therefore, to be avoided, there’s no trust

To trust to stay, where such infection reigns.

Who is at all times one, in that right way

Man ought to be, being circumvolv’d ’mong those

That by the plummets of licentious will                                                               85

Measure their virtues? ’Tis impossible!

The scholar, he in whom there doth consist

Honest conditions, and within whose heart

There’s many virtues make their residence,

Though with night-watchings at his study site,                                                     90

Wasting his vital spirits, not unlike

His burning taper, to illuminate

Others the way that leads to the direct,

From superficial to essential joy;

Even he ill company corrupts, directs                                                                             95

To the indirect, so that some one vice

Robs him of all his virtue. The soldier,

That magnanimous resolution,

He that leaves nothing unattempted,

May tend to the honour of his country;                                                              100

Ill company poisons with self conceit,

Cankers[136] with envy; till on the rack of

Haut ambition stretched, like stubble set

On fire he prove a flame;

And therefore, to prevent us, ’gainst all ill, ’gainst                                                           105

Wisdom, commands our absence, truly knows:

Man at the best, his power to do is little,

His state obnoxious, at the best most brittle.



Your counsel points my actions their true way

To immortality, forewarns to fly                                                                         110

The dire event of future tragedy

Which, as the flame, the fire of force must follow

By the Empress’s bloody project; that monster

In nature, in this the Emperor’s absence,

Mounts on the highest spire of infamy,                                                               115

Resolves to join in hymenal bands

With Caius, which Silius, quaint villainy,

To put in speedy practice, he last night

Arrived at court.



There let their impudence,

For glassy glories of monarchical state,                                                              120

Engender sin with sin, flatter their hopes;

While our souls fixed on contemplation

Make for the isle of Corce.[137] Come, my dear

Friend, there on the Tyrhen[138] shore we’ll practise

Man’s sole perfection: to be heavenly wise.                                                                   125


[Exit Mela and Montanus]







Scene i


[Enter Messalina, Silius, Virgilianus, Calphurnianus, Valens, Proculus, Menester and Saufellus, with attendants]



Your excellence that too, too gloriously

Resembles your rare sex, succeeding times

Shall, to the end of time, gaze and admire,

Wonder at your high prudence, which to the

Combination of our nuptials hath charmed                                                                     5

Dull Caesar to a free consent; behold,               [Holds up the marriage papers]

There, you whose loves do ever bind me yours

May view my fortunes, like a valley, rise

Above those hills that will admit no clouds;

There’s a full grant wherein you may discern                                                      10

My glories in this admirable lemme.



‘Tis a fit bound unto your boundless glory.



Not Ninus[139]

Was e’er more dull, more easily entrapped,

Than Rome’s ridiculous Emperor Claudius.                                                                   15



Ridiculous indeed, here ’tis confirmed.



Read it, Virgilianus.


Virgilianus   [reads]

‘The marriage of our Empress with Caius

Silius we fairly like, and to that end,                              

For approbation of our copious grant                                                                            20

With our imperial signet willingly

Have sealed this assurance, granting a dower

Out of our treasury to be exhaust;

And of our royal pleasure to be given

With her, our only happiness on earth,                                                               25

By whose persuasions we are confident

The said nuptials, to be but colourably,

Only of purpose t’avert the danger

Of certain prodigies, aimed at our loss

Of life and empire.’                                                                                                       30



This credulity in Caesar was by

Her Highness excellently managed.



Sure Jove’s high love to his loved Ganymede

Descends in triumph on the noble Silius.



Else, how should the means to his high aim,                                                                   35

Free from the plots of blood, thus fairly greet

Without least flaw in safety?



True, true, nor

Can it enter in my thoughts to think,

What obstacle should bar his excellence                                                                       

From writing ‘Emperor’.



None, not the least let                                                                                       40

The people that are the nerves of empire,

All for the virtues of your noble sire,

Dearly affect you; boldly rely on’t,                                                                                

At publication of this copious grant

They’ll add all majesty to your high fame.                                                                      45



Their love to you, and fear of prodigies

Pretended for to dim dull Caesar’s glory,

Will work constraint.



Refresh to memory                                                                                          

The acts of blood that reigned in Sulla’s days[140].



Busy their brains, and put them still in mind                                                                    50

That the black thoughts of Catiline[141] survive,

For this prodigious age to perpetrate.



Besides the auspices, ’mong whom this grant                                                    

Was signed, they by the entrails of their beasts

Firmly affirm, past contradiction,                                                                                   55

Your reign to be most safe and popular.



Which, with the rest, are piercing motives, that

Of necessity as food and raiment                                                                                  

To the body’s health, will force the people

Constant; they in their love and fear must make                                                  60

Your more than royal spirit most endeared;

That state best rules, rules to be loved and feared.



Noble Romans, dear countrymen and friends,                                                   

These solid certainties you here pronounce

In my behalf, which argues your firm friendship,                                                 65

The vengeful gods must in their justice grant.

Make me the minister of fate, dig up

The dignities of Caesar’s race, and in                                                                           

The stead, plant monumental ruin; make

The name ‘wretched’ draw dishonoured breath.                                                            70

All the dire torments Furies can invent

Were all too little for my father’s loss;

That memorable lad, he that hath stood                                                            

The fiery fervour of so many fights,

Came bravely off, and saved this Empire,                                                                      75

Gave unto Caesar Rome and servile senate,

Gave all their strength and being, and for all

Grown too, too great examples for the times,                                                                

Plots were devised in recompence to kill;

And that their Machiavellian darkness, he                                                                      80

No sooner scented, but in open senate,

Scorning Tiberius[142] and death’s base censure,

Exposed his life a sacrifice to valour;                                                                            

And for that fact, upon the blood and name

That caused so brave and famous an example                                                    85

For all free spirits, I’ll be revenged after

No common sort.



Brave Silius, go on and

Prosper, and command me ever and all.                                                                       



The thanks ’mong princes of ignoble brain

That shines like rotten wood[143], serves petty use;                                                           90

The mind of Silius much, much more than scorns.

The grave Virgilianus[144] digs during the

Life of Silius shall ne’er speak but with the                                                                    

Voice of Consul; he, Calphurnianus,

Vettius Valens, Proculus, Menester,                                                                              95

And Saufellus Trogus, to all renown

Command and wealth of provinces shall flow,

T’express the gratitude of Silius; and                                                                            

Though last named, yet your bright excellence, the

Which for gratitude ever remembered                                                                100

Best in esteem and first; not unlike to

That rare gem reserved last to view for

Worth and glory; to you, all the delight                                                             

This world of man affords I freely give.



Thy temper melts me, my magnanimous mate.                                                    105


[Exit Messalina, Valens, Virgilianus, Calphurnianus, Proculus, Menester and attendants]



The rites of Hymen with next morrow’s sun

Shall apt my blood unto the perfect height

Of pleasure, love and eminence; lead on.                                                                      

Pompey nor Caesar could endure a mate,

Nor Silius, Claudius, in superior state.                                                               110


[Exeunt Silius]








Scene ii


[Enter Narcissus, Pallas and Calistus]



Emperor of empty brains, z’heart! I could curse

His soul to th’ depth of Barathrum![145] O---



Who but Claudius, unworthy of Empire,

Drunk with the dregs of overlight belief

Would be so grossly gulled?[146]                                                                                     



Scared with the bugs                                                                                         5

Of babies.



A whore’s invention, a drab

Of state, a cloth of silver slut, the tricks

Of a tempting tissue trull; to push his

Horns upon the pikes of ruin, where he

Should rot, rot, wer’t not to serve our own ends,                                                           10

Maintain that habit of perfection sure,

Which till this sudden unexpected change

Like paste has worked him to what mould we pleased.



And must do still, or certainly perish.



’Tis the prime policy, the heart of state,                                                             15

Which if with vigilance we not pursue,

We lose, and in that loss lost for ever.

Silius grows popular, and the people

As ‘tis their nature, ever covet change.

They are as easy to be filled with errors                                                             20

As for a lust-strung strumpet to take up

To her dishonour; therefore, as sailors,

That have for guide the south and north, sometimes

To traverse and cross their way, and yet

Not lose their guide, so in the deep affairs                                                                      25

Of such high consequence of state, as now

The time concerts, we must for guide detain

The knowledge how to pierce the ends of those

We most malign.



Thereby indeed man rarely

Rests deceived, which for to put in speedy                                                                    30

Practice, and stop the marriage, you and I,

My Lord, under the veil of friendship, will

To Rome; persuade the Emperor Caesar is

Himself, perceives that all her plots to his

Destruction tends, the loss of Empire and                                                                      35

Th’abuse of his bed dissuaded her from the

Love of Silius, which, in the refusal,

Blood and fire must quench.



This put home

With low submission, making her believe                                                                       40

By cringes, creepings, and a Sinon’s face,

That all our care is only for her good,

May work persuasion.



But not in her.

There is no trust to such uncertainty,                                                                             

T’were deadly Stibium[147] to our vital blood,                                                                  45

Like that dire poison that’s resistative

’Gainst the minds of men. They are fit to be fooled,

Slighted, add scorned, whose dull ignorance

Knows not that women, in their height of ill,                                                                  

Who bars them their delight, delight to kill.                                                                     50

What will Valeria Messalina, the

Empress then? Think you she will be slow,

Whose hot alarums in the very act,

Within the circuit of a day and night,                                                                 

Endured the test of five and twenty, came                                                                      55

Off unwearied, a deed to quake the hearts

Of virtuous dames; think you she will be barred,

Dissuaded from the love of Silius? No!

We cannot, therefore, knowing that credit and                                                  

Authority is far more safely for                                                                          60

To be maintained with circumspect than with

Rash counsel, cannot, I say, be too, too

Wary, lest by any notice taken

She take lest knowledge of our discontent,                                                                   

Whose rugged thoughts unseen, must be smoothed o’er,                                                65

And with a pleasing veil, appear in show

To like, and give full approbation

Of the opprobrious marriage, so to

Secure us from suspect and peril,                                                                                 

Undoubted death.                                                                                                         70



I fully apprehend,

That so Rome’s siren in the height of pride,

Silius and all the factious complices

Through wicked wedlock’s jollity made drunk,

Drunk with the dregs of blind security.                                                              

Then, by my pioneering[148] policies aloft,                                                                        75

Of which my brain detains the theoric,

Shall-apt a time for vengeance unwithstood,

The thirst of their ambition quench in blood.

Till then, sleep on, sleep on, ye fools of fate;                                                     

Plots best encounter plots, free from suspect:                                                                 80

Fly like the bolts of Jove, firm in effect.


[Exit Narcissus, Pallas and Calistus]





Scene iii


[Cornets. [149] Enter Messalina and Silius, crowned, and attended in state by the auspices and their faction, passing over the stage [150] to the temple. Lepida with her hair dishevelled, wringing her hands, meets them. They go off, and she speaks.]




Blessed be that sacred power which restored

My senses lost, and in that perfect being

Gives me the noble patience for to see,

And suffers not mine eyeballs to drop out

At sight of this, my daughter’s impudence.                                                                     5

Shame that attends this wicked nuptial rites!


[Enter Valens, Proculus, Menester and Saufellus]


Now in the name of goodness, what means this

Whispering? What new mischief lies hatching

In yonder bloody villain’s busy brain?

In the discovery, counterfeit sleep,                                                                                 10

And madness be my mask.



At the Bacchanalian[151] feast which now

Draws nigh, then a rich stirring masque will best

Express itself in greatest glory; the

Tunes for song, I’ll take that charge on me.                                                                    15



For changes in each dance, my brain shall work.



What says Menester, he that has borne the

Prize, leapt madam Venus in her height of pride

For graceful action and sweet posie?



Now, does he claw like a decayed tradesman,[152]                                                           20

When to maintain the wagging of his chaps

His wife’s venereal firk-in must to sale?



Why? Did you ne’er hear of a fellow, that,

By the scratching of his nimble pate[153],

Worked your best pleasing project for a mask,                                                  25

Was well rewarded for’t, when such as you

For pains in song and dances laughed to scorn

Poor simple sots, their payment was the horn?



O, nimble satirical vein.



That’s slow enough, and dull at this time.                                                                       30



What think you of a wooden Cupid brought in, in

An antic amble, making it wag like

The apish head of a French fiddler, when he

Firkes with his fingers?[154]                                                                                              35



’Twill never take

Unless you bring in the dapper dancer:

With his lata tat a teero tat a tant

Ta ra rat a ta too rant tat a ta teero tat a too,

Flinging away his legs, and screwing his face                                                      40

Into the fury of a thousand fools!

Who’s this? Mad-madam Lepida, asleep.



‘Tis well, else she’d rail faster than any

City puppet.



That’s a horrid hearing.



O a hell, none like it, let Scorpio’s itch[155]                                                                       45

Reign in her middle sphere; fie, how she’ll

Play the devil with cuckold simplicity,

Her husband for want of performance; it

Passeth all admiration, and that with

No little wonder; yet demand the act,                                                                            50

And then you shall have my nice o’er curious dame,

Upon the tiptoes of her apish pride,

Protest, with ‘O no, I will not wrong my

Husband for earth’s treasure’, stand upon her

Honesty, then smile, change in a moment,                                                                      55

And then wantonize, mop, mew, bite lip and

Wriggle with the bum[156] to put a man in mind;

Then touch, she’ll gripe, and clip with a kiss,

Melt into all the forms of venery

Thought can devise, and there’s her honesty!                                                                 60



O, petulant pureness of defiled pitch!

But you forget what actors are prepared

In readiness for practice ‘gainst the masque.



The vestal virgins from the temple haled;

They shall supply that want, ’tis so decreed                                                                   65

By th’ Empress’ strict command.



O, horrible!                              [Aside]



All from the age of ten to twenty-five

Must suffer rape, and shall, stood hell in fight.



Spoke like thy self, my metropolitan                                                                              70

Cutthroat of chastity.




‘Twill be excellent,

Rare; I fat with laughter at the rich conceit!

We’ll play at tennis with their maidenheads,

Fifty at a breakfast shall not give me                                                                             




I say, virtue’s a cypher in                                                                                  75

The hearts of great ones, and stands for nothing.

What says your most approved judgements? Your

Single sole conceits I am sure will stand

For bawdy comedies, and ribald jests.                                                 

Insinuate thou, and so wax knavish wise;                                                                       80

Thou a stamped villain, learn to temporise.

Pilot thou, and set friends hourly at debate;

Cling to the surer side, the weaker hate.

Turn bawd at midnight, pander[157] to a whore,                                                               

While lust in ’ith act, ye knaves, look to the door.                                                          85

Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!


[Exeunt Lepida]



Laughs thou, mad maud?

Go with a burning mischief, z’heart, I could cut

Her throat, but something in her looks there is                                                   

That shakes me, what again?                                                                                         90


[Enter Lepida]



Be thou

One that knows how to mix with perilous act

The deadly poison with the amorous dart?

Drunk with conceit, that greatness bears the sway,                                                        

Safely to act what villain it may.                                                                         95

God’s golden, I’ll come again; anon.[158]


[Exeunt Lepida]



But we’ll prevent you; come Lords, to Court:

She shall be silenced or her tongue cut out.


[Exit Saufellus, Valens, Proculus and Menester]



Gone! O happy, blessed, blest prevention,                                                                   

That to mine ears unlocked the horrid sound,                                                                 100

The black intention of so foul a rape.

A hundred vestal virgins to be whored!

First let the world dissolve and dissipate                                                                       

To its first chaos. O, thou all-seeing power,

Prostrate[159] on bended knees, I here implore,                                                                105

Beg at thy mighty hands, t’ inspire my soul;

Make me the substitute and holy means,

The sweet prevention of so horrid a                                                                              

Fact. O heaven, ‘tis granted, thanks majesty

Divine; work on my mind, thought happily                                                                     110

Thought upon: a spacious vault I have, which

Here adjoins unto the vestals’ temple.

Thither, this night, by a back secret way                                                                       

I’ll draw the holy maids; none will suspect

Because all deem me mad; there by this hand                                                    115

Succour, relief and safety shall attend

Your noble souls. Chaste maids, live long and blessed,

Free from the bondage of black mischief’s hands                                                          

To virtuous actions, heaven propitious[160] stands.


[Exeunt Lepida]








Scene i


[Enter Claudius, Narcissus, Pallas and Calistus]



Are we not Caesar?

Is not Rome’s Empire servile unto us?

You mad me with your news.



Mad a dog, a

Cat, a rat, y’are too tame, want spirit

To be mad; I am mad, mad to the depth                                                                        5

Of madness! O, I could tear my hair to

See you thus, thus senseless of your wrongs, but

Do, do, be the grand cuckold of this universe:

Let Caius Silius reign Rome’s Emperor!



Loved of the people!                                                                                                    10



Honoured of the senate!



Hurried in triumph through the streets of Rome!



In Caesar’s chariot, glistering like the sun!



While Caesar, unlike Caesar, calmly suffers.



Out of his Empire, finely to be worked,                                                             15

Finely, betwixt the two hot palms of lust.



Abused, forsooth, for fear of prodigies.



That, that, O infinite shame in stately

Majesty, to make yourself a never

Dying scoff, for ages yet unknown                                                                                 20

To point at you, for the most famous cuckold.



The renowned cuckold!



The high and mighty cuckold!



Cuckold by five and twenty, all in the

Short space of a day and night[161]; O, insatiate                                                                25

Bawdy villain.



Damnation seize her,

I will hear no more! Misery of miseries,

Impatience cramps my vital veins that swell

With fiery boiling rage. O, I am a lump                                                              30

Of true vexation, tortured with torments

Worse than those in hell, in hell, very hell!

This body sure is not substantial, no;

I am all air, pierced through and through with storms,

Incessant storms, that strike a terror to                                                              35

My panting soul. Misery of marriage,

Horned and abused by every vassal[162] groom!

Vessels of baseness, they shall buy it dear:

The high sea of their daring pride must down,

All topsy-turvy to confusion turn;                                                                                   40

I will uncharm and never more be fooled,

Slave to those wonder-darting eyes that strike

Amazement through the world, those

Bewitching lamps her eyes, fed with the oil of whorish

Fortitude, that like the Centaur’s blood[163]                                                                      45

Rivets the poison of hell-furies’ rage

Into my blood and brain. Those false, false eyes

Shall never more entice, because that I

Will never see them more: they shall put out

Their glory for a grave; there forgot,                                                                              50

Scorned and contemned of Caesar, lie and rot.



Now are you Caesar!



What you ought, you are.



The high and mighty Roman Emperor!



But am I so indeed, for I’m amazed                                                                               55

At my dull follies past. Is’t not too late

To call back error’s darkness? O, tell me,

Narcissus, is not Silius Emperor?

Ursurps he not that name past reach to quell?



Confer on me that absolute command,                                                               60

Which Geta, Captain of your guard, now holds

Over your soldiers here at Ostia,

And e’er the next sun set his circular course,

The daring pride of all the faction,

Caesar shall sit in senate, and their doom.                                                                      65



Sweetest revenge! Honoured Narcissus, draw

Out their soldiers at thy free dispose.

Here’s thy command: Geta we do mistrust,


[Hands Narcissus a ring]


Thee only trust; accelerate revenge,

That I may ebb the high-swollen tide of wrongs,                                                            70

Which beyond limits tears my restless brain,

Knits and then tears with infinite unrests.

If there be hell, the devil and damnation,

’Tis man’s delight in woman, insatiate

Woman, that will do with the devil. O,                                                               75

Rolled up in wrinkles of fool patience!

We hear they have a masque; but, rather than

Any of the lustful rout make their escape,

Fire me the palace, burn ‘em in that masque;

It will be brave to see ’em dance in fire,                                                             80

Skip letch’rous antics in a boiling flame,

That thus with raging passion, boiling, flames

My most distracted brain; tortures no less

Than if on Caucasus[164] we were exposed,

A never-dying prey to the eagle’s beak.                                                                        85

Such is the misery of marriage, where

The besotted husband most affects, there

To be most abused. Cuckold, Cuckold, Cuckold, O!


[Exeunt Claudius]



After, Calistus, t’appease his fury.


[Exeunt Calistus]


My Lord, I’ll post to Rome; the people groan                                                    90

Beneath the Empress’s weight, ’tis mischievous;

The bloody massacre of those Roman dames,

Murdered for hate to lust, affords plenty

Of friends to force the city gates open

To our free entrance.



In sign whereof                                                                                     95

From the high top, the temple of god Mars,

Let a bright burning torch i’th dead of night

Waft our approach.



Like Sinon’s unto Troy; talk trifles time.



Farewell, my noble Lord.                                                                                              100


[Exeunt Pallas]



Till next we meet, farewell; it is decreed

I’th height of pride, murder and lust must bleed.


[Exeunt Narcissus]






Scene ii


[Enter Lepida and Vibidia, meeting each other]



Now, good Vibidia, thou virtuous matron

Of Rome’s vestal maids; say, are they all safe?

Can they endure the vault, that wretched shift

This wretched age enforces?



Best, best lady,

Thou angel mother of a fiend-like child;                                                             5

All earthly similes are too, too base

To express thy admirable virtues.

By you Rome’s vestal virgins all are safe,

Only by you preserved and kept from rape,

From being hurried in sad silence unto                                                               10

The gate Colline[165], there in a deep pit

To be put into, there buried alive.

From that dire death that was at first ordained

For unchaste vestals, by thee chaste vestals

Live all preserved. To them, their darksome vault                                                          15

Is far more glorious than the courts of Kings,

For which upon my knees in blessed time,

Wonder of women, let me kiss thy feet.




What means Vibidia?



To reverence your steps,                                                                                  

The earth, the very ground whereon you tread:                                                  20

For that’s made holy by your sacred steps.



Not unto me, Vibidia, but to heaven.

To that let’s kneel, to that omnipotence

Which made this earth, let’s both with holy zeal                                                


[Both kneel]


Salute thy mother earth in ardent love,                                                               25


[Kisses the earth]


To heaven’s great master.

[Voices from within, shouting ‘follow, follow, follow’]



Now the good gods preserve us!



Fly to the vault, I fear we are betrayed!


[Exit Lepida and Vibidia ]


[Enter Saufellus, Hem and Stitch, with lights]



Search, search about;                                                                                                  

My genius whispered in mine ears last night                                                                   30

The vestals lodged within this mad maud’s house.

She dies for’t, while the chaste puppets we will

Drag to court, there ravish and there kill:

‘Twill prove an excellent closing to the Masque.                                                           



How if we find them not, my Lord?                                                                               35



Find or find not, for that I’m sure th’are here,

We’ll flame the house and flame it into air.



The ground shakes, I sink!


[Thunder and lightening. The earth gapes and swallows the three murderers by degrees] [166]


Zounds![167] Hem’s hem’d to the earth,                                                                          

I cannot stir!                                                                                                                 40



Nor I! I sink, Stitch sinks!

Had we our names for this? A vengeance of

All false Stitches, they have stitched me! O horror!



How’s this?



Hell and confusion!                                                                                                       45



Devils and furies!


                                                            [Hem and Stitch both sink]



Horror of darkness, what dread sight is this?

What black red-raw-eyed witch hath charmed this ground?

Sink’st thou, my limbs’ supporter, must I yield?

Dost thou then faint, proud flesh? Mount, mount my blood,                                            50

And, like Enceladus[168], out dare thy fate!

O, that my wish were suited to my will,

Now would I cuckold all the world, leave not

A man unhorned, a maid unraped, beget

A brood of centaurs to supply, and work                                                                      55

The world’s confusion! Ha, more horror yet!


[Thunder. Enter an Angel, and three murdered dames, threatening revenge]


Why, silly dames, I confess your murders,

But to repent the fact, know that my heart

Is like the Corsick rock[169], more hard, far more

Impassable than Chymera mount.[170] What’s                                                                  60

That in white there, what so e’er it be? The

Majesty it bears trembles my sinews[171]!

O, how it shakes me! Came Furies clad in

Flames, not all hell’s tortures[172], th’ affrights and horrors

Equals the thousand part the pains I feel                                                                        65

Through sight of that, that flaming crystal; sink

Me, O…earth! Pindus[173] and Ossa[174], cover

Me with snow, hide me, Cimmerian[175] darkness.

Let me not see it, my eyesight fails.

Ingeniosi sumus ad falendum no smet ipsos![176]                                                          70

Farewell, Rome’s Empress.


[Shot with a thunderbolt]


To all ambitious vermin,

Punks, pimps and panders, whores and bawds, farewell.

Confound the world, the worst of death is hell.




[Enter Sulpitius, with guards]



Make way there, for shame, clear the stairs;                                                                  75

You of the guard, force all intruders back.


First Guard

Back, back, back there, keep back.


Second Guard

For shame, make haste, way for my Lords the Senate.



Burn beards and faces, burn ‘em in the face

That offer to press in.                                                                                                    80


[Cornets sound a flourish. Enter Senate, who are placed by Sulpitus. Cornets cease. Enter the Antimasque, consisting of eight Bacchinalians, adorned  with vine leaves, shaped in the middle with Tune Vessels, each bearing a cup in their hands, who during the first strain of music played four times over, enter two at a time. At the tune’s end, they  stand, draw wine and carouse, then all dance. The antimasque goes off, and solemn music plays. Enter Messalina and Silius, gloriously crowned in an arch of glittering cloud aloft, courting each other.] [177]



Abstract of rare perfection, my Juno,[178]

Glorious Empress, all admiration.



Excellent Silius, all perfection.



Amazing rarity, beauty’s treasure.



Nature’s wonder, my delight, my pleasure.                                                                    85



Let me suck nectar, kiss, kiss, O kiss me!



Soul to my lips, embrace, hug, hug me!



Leap, heart!



Mount, blood!



Thus relish all my bliss.                                                                                     


Again, the pressure of that melting kiss.



Descend, my Venus[179], all composed of love.                                                                90



Locked in thy arms, my Mars[180].



Down, down we come,

Like glistering Phoebus[181] mounted in his car,                                                               

When in the height of celestial signs

He sails along the circuit of the sky.                                                                               95


[While they descend, Valens, Proculus and Menester, with three courtesans in the habit of Queens with coronets of state, meet them beneath, during their silent congratulation. Narcissus enters aloft with a torch, and speaks.]



Black is the night, a canopy of clouds

Hides the bright silver spangles of the sky.

All is secure; revenge proportion keeps                                                            

To my full wish; no thought of blood and death

Writes on the index of black deeds at Court                                                                  100

The least suspect; mad lust and wine, revels

And pleasures muffle their understanding.

O lust, lust, lust, wer’t thou not what thou art,                                                   

A thick black cloud only composed of ill,

For to tempt judgement, had’st thou the relish                                                    105

Of sweet good, as thou art badly bitter,

Thee above all the gods I would adore.

Thee, thee adore, that, unresisted, thus                                                             

Snares the besotted faction to their fall.

Load them with Lethe still, while thus I waft                                                                   110

Revenge from Ostia; like the sad flames

Of Ilion , burn, burn, bright torch, let thy fair view

Tune to the dance of death the amorous                                                                       

Measures of full vengeance; blaze, prodigy:

When the bad bleed, give me that tragedy.                                                                     115


[Exeunt Narcissus, leaving the torch burning]



Music, distill new sweetness, vary thy

Nectar notes, while loves’ bright eyes court lips to

The height of dalliance; each sacrifice a kiss,                                                                  120

To all th’ enchantments of love's luscious bliss.



O, liquid life of live.

                                                            [All kiss]



Here’s a full bowl, a health to the height of pleasure.





Brave health again, another, and a third.



That deep carouse makes Vettius Valens see.                                                    125



See, what dost see?



In my mind’s eye, me thinks,

A moving army coming from Ostia.



O likelihood, an army from Claudius!



Senseless Cornuto, he’s too confident;                                                             

He has too great affiance in my love.                                                                             130



His cornucopia[182] skull fears prodigies.



Alas, his horns forked like an aged oak

Are grown too great, too huge to enter Rome.



O mighty horns!                                                                                                           



O monstrous majesty!                                                                                       135



Scoff of glory.



My scorn.

Come, come, let’s dance; music proceed:

Claudius, my hate, shall with the next sun bleed.                                                


                                                            [The dances ends, alarum within]


[Enter Sulpitius, his sword drawn]



Haste, haste to save yourselves! We are betrayed.                                                        140

The armēd troops of Caesar enter Rome.

Fly, or their brandished steel will qird[183] the Court

Past all escape.



Deaf, deaf me O thunder!                                                                                            

Betrayed! O black afright! Fly, Silius, fly.                                                                      140


[Exit Senate and Courtesans]



What, to outlive my fate? No, you of

The Senate fly, fly all; stand not amazed, my

Mighty mistress, endanger not yourself.

Excellent Empress, Sulpitius be your guard.                                                                  

But why, you sad co-partners in my fall,                                                                        145

Why stand you thus plunged in the panting depth 


[Exit Messalina and Sulpitius]


Of deep amaze? Collect your spirits and

Pursue your safety.



What? Fly?                                                                                                                  

And leave you here? First with this hand                                                                        150

I’ll tear my bowels out, and sacrifice

My heart’s last leave to life.



To fly from you,

O ‘twere the loathsom’st scum coward e’er lapped.                                                     



Black blots of infamy to endless fame

Would write our epitaphs, if basely fly.                                                              155

Where were the noble minds of Brutus[184] then,

Brave Cassius’and Titinnius’ [185] hate to life?



Our deaths shall be more glorious, far less ill,                                                    

Yet will we die, armed with a world of valour,

Not like those desperate fools which by their                                                                 160

Own swords fall. We are too deep in lust to

Suck such back damnation, that were horrid.

The soul, the all that is the best in man,                                                             

Tells of two opposites, life and death in death.

True sorrow for life’s death mislead in life,                                                                     165

That’s perfect valour, makes men bravely die

That lived not so, when the self violent death

Is but a bastard valour.                                                                                    


[Enter Claudius, Narcissus, Calistus and soliders with weapons drawn.]




Now, you luxurious traitor, Emperor

Silius, your highness’ gates at length are forced                                                  170

To bow. Where’s our top gallant strumpet, that

Strumpet, witch, hell-cat, most insatiate whore

That ever cleaved to the loins of lechers?                                                                      

Tell me, ye impious villains, traitorous slaves,

That I may execute my burning hate,                                                                              175

And send ye swimming in her blood to hell.



Claudius, let it suffice; she is not here.

Spit all thy venom, be it a sea of                                                                                   

Poison; let it fall, here’s none will shrink, our

Bloods are all too much enobled into                                                                             180

The eminent temper of true monarchs

To dread respectless death.



None here but scorns

To plead with humble baseness, low submission                                                           

For miserable mercy.



None here complains upon the enticements                                                                    185

Of your Empress, that were too basely vile.



We win no glory in our deaths by that;

Ourselves against ourselves give guilty,                                                             

Only beg mercy from the gods.



Of you our quick dispatch, tart life’s exchange                                                   190

For a delicious death, which if I thought

Should feed upon delay, by all that’s sacred,

Thus weaponless, we all would force                                                                

And cut our way to death through some of you.



I fret with sufferance; upon ’em, soldiers!                                                                      195


[Soldiers wound them]


O ravishing content!



Fullness of joy,

My lustful blood flows from me; man’s ne’er blest

Till freed by death, locked from the world’s unrest.                                                       





Man is to man a monster-hearted stone;

With heaven there’s mercy, but with man there’s none.                                      200





This tragic end is the most welcome part

I ever graced with action, ’tis the best.

O homo fragilis, specta voluptates abeuntes! [186]                                                       

Man is an actor, and the world’s a stage[187],

Where some do laugh, some weep, some sing, some rage.                                             205

All in their parts during the scene of breath

Act follies, scourged by the tragedian death.

My sun is set in blood; fly, soul, and catch                                                                    

At a more glorious being; farewell, breath,

Man’s never in the way to joy till death.                                                             210





Why, like a worm crawling ‘twixt life and death

Am I thus forced. I must, I will not die

So like a beast; the lofty cedar and the aged oak                                                          

Cuffed with incessant storms shall represent

The fall of Silius. What? Wil’t not do? No?                                                                    215

Shall my death then prevail above my mind?

O sad condition, misery of life;

Expense of blood faints me, and yet I stand,                                                                 

Stagger, in spite of death, life’s threads uncut.

What means this riddle? Are the fates asleep?                                                    220

So drunk at sight of this sad spectacle,

I must awake their waking; I’m abused.

Where art thou, thou invisible thief[188], lean                                                        

Rogue? I dare thee to this combat. Why, slave,

Dog, coward, dastard death? No? No? Why then,                                                        225

O kind best loving death, if valiant, if

Thou be that soul conqueror of Kings, time

Speaks thee for? Prithee, but for one bout,                                                                   

I’ll not resist, scarce able to stand, open-

Breasted, take all advantage, disjoint the                                                                       230

Chain of inauspicious stars, fettering

My over wearied flesh with life; one thrust

Put home will end me.[189]                                                                                              



Sink him, Evodius!



Thrust home and sure;

Why so, desire now follows my blood.                                                              235

Farewell, world picture of painted folly,

Frame of woe, paltry life; I gladly shake thee off.                                                          


[Enter Syllana, running]



Hold, hold, for pity, hold!



It is too late,

Too late, Syllana, my most virtuous wife.



O my dear husband! Flint-hearted Caesar,                                                                    240

Was not this husband wrought by the Circean

Charms of thy she-devil? She, she hath been                                                                

The fatal Empire of my husband’s sin,

She from my heart hath torn away this pearl

More precious than the world. O my dear love,                                                 245

I do beseech thee to bear up in death,

Shoot thy pale looks through my afflicted soul,                                                  

Whose sighs and tears and prayers knit up in groans;

Ascend yon starry grove unto the gods,

The good, good gods to pardon thee, my love.                                                  250



Like a spent taper[190], only for a flash

I do recover to embrace thee, sweet.                                                                           

Forgive me, injured excellence, constant wife.

Take from my lips, dear heart, a parting kiss,

Cold as the dead man’s skull. Nay, weep not, sweet;                                                     255

There is divinity in that weeping eye,

Prayer on thy lip, and holiness in thy heart.                                                                    

The devils cannot say I flatter thee,

Nor this abusive, scornful, dull, dark, age

Tax me to say it never, never can,                                                                                 260

Not out of all the catalogue of women,

Pick such a phoenix saint forth as thy self.                                                                     

In thee bright heaven’s majestic eminence,

Lives my supporting prop against all ill

To take me up to mercy.                                                                                              




Stay, O stay,                                                                                                    265

And take me with thee up to mercy’s seat,

For when we are there I know we shall not                                                                  

Part thus. O he is gone, the strings of life

Are cracked. I’ll not outlive thee, no; thy loss,

Most noble husband, wafts my soul the way                                                                  270

To her eternal rest. Break heart, swell grief,

And mount me to my love. I need not, I,                                                                       

The burning coals of Portia, Lucrece' [191] knife;

One kiss wilt do’t: thus ends Syllana’s life.


[Stabs herself, and dies]


[Enter Pallas with Virgilianus, Calphurnia and Sulpitius as prisoners]



Live, royal Emperor, long and happy live;                                                                      275

To add to your revenge, behold, I bring

The opprobious faction unto Silius.                                                                               



More blood unto this banquet? Welcome. What,

Virgilianus? So grave a senator,

So treach’rous? Served you as bawds to soothe the                                                      280

Minds of lechers, Calphurnianus and

Sulpitius too? Off with their heads, away                                                                      

With them; be sudden, the tune of vengeance

Now begins to stoop broached with the blood of

These vain, inconsistent fools.                                                                            285



My lord,

The core of lust still lives; time Rome was bragged                                                        

Of these dead corpses, for the most virtuous youths

It e’er brought forth, till your lewd Empress

Poison’d their bloods with her bewitching lust.                                                   290



Where is that wretch?



Prisoner, my Lord, safe in Lucullus’garden[192].



Remove these bodies; her blood’s the period

To my full revenge.


[Enter Vibidia]



Mercy, great Emp’ror, mercy for the love                                                                      295

You bear unto your hopeful royal issue,

Lovely Britannicus[193], sweet Octavia[194];                                                                       

And for that admiration of her sex,

Their mother’s mother, virtuous Lepida,

She that hath saved a hundred virgins from                                                                    300

The rack of rape, for that true piercing motive.

Mighty lord, O be in your great mercy                                                              

Pleased, to give your Empress audience.



My Empress?

She is no more my Empress; her black life,                                                                    305

Lost in lust, hath changed that name into an

Ethiop’s blackness. Yet for those infants’ sake,                                                

For Lepida, and for the love we bear

Your holy order, we will hear her speak.

Narcissus, against tomorrow let her                                                                               310

Have warning to appear in Senate.


[Exeunt Claudius]



Aye, but such warning as she shall ne’er come there.                                        

I’ll give no trust to those her whorish eyes.

She will bewitch thee, Caesar, mollify[195]

Thy flint heart; if they’re e’er peace again,                                                                      315

Off goes my head; I’ll not abide the test.

The reconcilement of a drab of state,                                                                

Tripped, ith’ height of pride when topped with pleasure,

O ’twere fine fool state policy to trust.

Raise that declining tempest to her height,                                                                      320

But I’ll be no such precedent[196]; it smacks

Too much of the great dish of fool for me,                                                                    

And if I do, may thunder strike me.


[Exeunt Narcissus]


[Enter Messalina and Lepida]



Prevented with a storm in sunshine;

Frost in the heart of all our happiness.                                                                325

O fire and ice, O between these two

Sad smarting strange extremes I madly live,                                                                  

Torturēd in mind and blood.



To this, if ruled by me you ne’er had plunged!

But that’s too late now: O, strive to repent.                                                                    330



Repent, redivell!

Tell not me, mother, of repentance:

Earth’s pleasures are too full of high content

To be forgot by such a bitter pill.

Pray, give some better solace; what return                                                                     335

Makes Rome’s grave matron, your friend, Vibidia?

Can she with all her holiness of life

Procure our pardon? Is that possible?



Only a day of hearing, that’s all, which

You must arm yourself for ’gainst tomorrow.                                                     340



O what a lightning’s this to my sad heart,

My heavy heart; will Caesar hear me speak?

Nay, then I am sure of reconcilement.

My quick-eyed sense, and Siren’s tongue shall work it,

Charming like Lethe, make him forget                                                                345

My criminal life, then my rich revenge,

Like to the plots of thund’ring Jupiter[197],                        [Horrid music]

Shall…ha, what horrid sound is this,

What dreadful sight thus quakes me?



O ’tis a guilty conscience.                                                                                              350


[Enter two spirits[198], who sing a song of despair[199] to the treble violin and lute.  Lepida sits weeping.]


First spirit

Helpless wretch, despair, despair


Second spirit

Fool to live, why draw’st thou air?


First spirit

Friends all are dread,

Friends all are dead, thou hast none.                                                      355


Second spirit

Those that seemed like chaff are blown.


First spirit

Then die, O die,

Die, O die.


Second spirit

‘Tis better die than live disgracēd,

Joys and glories all defacēd.                                                                  360


First spirit

Thy pride of eyes,

Thy pride of eyes,

Which world of hearts have fired,

Gone is their glory, now no more desired.


Second spirit

Then die, O die.                                                                                    365


First spirit

Die, O die,

Die, be free, live exempt

And scorn the base world’s base contempt.


First spirit

Come live with us, live with us,

Live with us, with spirits dwell,                                                  370

Life is a lake of woe continual hell.


[Exit Spirits]


[Enter the ghosts of the murdered Roman dames, Silius, Valens, Proculus, Menester, Saufellus, Hem, Stitch and Bawd. The ghosts surround Messalina with their torches.]



Swallow me, earth; gape, gape and swallow,

Hide me from sight of this sad spectacle.

No? Why then, do state till you burst again.

‘Tis true, I was your death’s chief actor,                                                                        375

Mischief’s chief engine, ruin all of you.

Quid faciam? Ubi fugiam, hic, and illic,

Ubinam nescio, O dira fata![200]


[Exit ghosts]


Close eyes and never open, all’s vanished now.

’Twas but the perturbation of my mind,                                                             380

So let it pass..what, again?


[Enter Narcissus and Evodius, whispering]



’Tis a guard;

I fear the Emperor in his mind is changed,

And this some sudden plot to take your life.



Within this house, my Lord.                                                                                          


[Enter Headsman with scaffold and a guard]



Let it be so,                                                                                                      385

By that time hither I will conduct th’ Emp’ror.

In th’ interim cut her off; when she is dead

Narcissus with his own saves many a head.



A headsman and a scaffold; are these for me?



For thee, thou woman all composed of lust,                                                                   390

Bloody insatiate monster of thy sex!

See here thy stage of death, be sure to die.

If thou haste, respite given thee for to pray,

And ask the gods’ forgiveness; think it

A world of favour and he sudden, lest                                                               395

Unprepared we force you to the block.



O be not wholly lost, die resolute!

If thou respect the womb that brought thee forth,

Let thy faults, ripe in act, be blown to air

Through fair repentance.                                                                                               400                                                     



How can that be?

Am not I only author of all ill?

Is it not I that have prepared the paths

To the loose life of all licentiousness,

Black murder, lust and rapes unspeakable?                                                                   405

Why do I live? I that have lived too long,

Worthy a thousand deaths! I fear not death

But O, the journey I know not whither

Torments me more than twenty thousand deaths.

But howsoe’er, it must not be denied.                                                                            410

Fall then, my earthly substance, thus low humbled,

Let my declining height submit my head

To take an everlasting leave of life.


[Messalina mounts the scaffold and submits her head to the block.  Then, suddenly, she rises, leaps down from the scaffold, snatches Evodius’s sword and wounds herself.]


Hold, our blood’s too precious; we will not die

So like a calf, nor by the hand of any                                                                             415

But our own, thus and thus! O this cold steel,

How it offends my flesh; I want full strength

To put it home. If thou be valiant, and a soldier,

Help to dispatch me: that was bravely done.

O my mad lust, whither wilt thou bear me?                                                                    420

A dim black fog raised from the Lernean fen

Obscures my sight; farewell dear, farewell mother:

Had I been ruled by you, I had been happy.

Now justly scourged for disobedience,

A caitiff most accurst, she is no other,                                                                425

That scorns the virtuous counsels of a mother.

So, farewell, light of eyes, ne’er to entice:

Horror invades my blood, I am all ice.




[Enter Claudius, Narcissus, Pallas and Calistus, with attendants]



Is she then dead?



And that desperately, by her own hands.                                                                       430



O Caesar, grant this corpse to my dispose.



‘Tis at your free dispose. Convey her hence,

And now, since we are free by fair revenge,

Never shall marriage yoke the mind of Caesar

To trust the hollow faith of woman more;                                                                       435

And if we do, may heaven by treason foul

Shorten our days; the sequel of our reign

Shall to the god of Rome suppress black vice.

Kingdoms are swallowing gulfs by careless rule.

Justice makes Kings the gods to imitate:                                                                        440

Virtue in Princes is the prop of state.








The Epilogue




Our play is done, now what your censures are,

If with, or against art’s industry, the care

Took by the author, and our pains to please,

We know not yet, ’till judgement gives us ease.

Why should we doubt? This theatre does appear

The music room[201] of concord, you being here.

Let no harsh jarring sound of discord then

Echo dislike: claps crown the tragic pen.


















[1] Emperatricis libido, periculosissima est] Latin. Translates as ‘the lust of the Empress is very dangerous’.

[2] Apollo] A god of Greek myth and son of Zeus, Apollo helped Poseidon to build Troy. He was the god of light, and is often associated with the sun, driving fiery steeds and a golden chariot across the sky.

3 limn’d] Painted in colours. See Shakespeare’s As You Like It  II. vii. 197 [Duke Senior] Most truly limn'd and living in your face

[4] bark] Of a ship, but also a term for a prostitute, as in Shakespeare’s sonnet 116: It is the star to every wandering bark

[5] so ballac’t] Meaning well-stocked, well-prepared. See Jonson’s Every Man Out of His Humour [Carlo] when his Belly is well ballac't, and his Brain rigg'd a little

[6] Sola virtus vera nobilitas] Not a direct quotation from Seneca, but echoes his ideas. For a discussion of the influence of Seneca on the play, see Sources in the introduction, or for a wider discussion of Seneca’s influence on the period, see Cunliffe, John W. (1965, 1893) The Influence of Seneca on Elizabethan Tragedy Hamden, Conneticut: Archon Books. 

[7] puff-paste] puffe (adj.) increased, extended, stuffed. Puff-paste is a particularly light pastry, containing a lot of air. See Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi (1623) IV.ii.125 [Bosola] a little cruded milk, fantastical puff-paste, and Middleton’s A Game at Chess (1627) (CH)[Black Bishop’s pawn] That's but seru'd in puff-paste: Alas, the meanest of our Cardinalls Cookes / Can dresse that dinner


[8] coxcomb] (CHMess ‘coxcombe’) fool’s head, fool, simpleton. See Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost IV.iii.82 [Berowne to himself, of Dumaine] O most profane coxcomb


[9] sots] habitual drunkards


[10] Si non laetaris vivens laetabere nanquam] Latin. Translates as ‘if you’re not happy when you’re alive, you’re never going to be happy’.  Valens is encouraging Silius to live for the moment.


[11] CHMess ‘and spight’


[12] (CHMess ‘licorish’) the word was variously spelt in the period, but always means ‘lecherous’


[13] (CHMess line split after ‘test’) I have joined the line in order to regularise the verse.



[14]  Jove] another name for Jupiter, the Roman supreme god, who was associated with the moon, childbirth, marriage and female identity. See Shakespeare’s The Rape of Lucrece 568 She conjures him by high almighty Jove  Silius’s words forsee his punishment in Act 5.


[15] SD pander] pimp, procurer, go-between


[16] o’erthwart] over and across


[17] (CHMess ‘garbish’) garbage is the nearest modern equivalent of ‘garbish’, a word used to describe the offal of an animal, used for food; a waste product. See Ford’s The Ladies Triall (1639) (CH) [Benatzi] clod-pated lumpes of mire and garbish


[18] sesterces] an ancient Roman coin, equal to ¼ denarius


[19] Witness the number five and twenty] a reference to Messalina’s infamous competition with the  prostitute Scylla, during which she was said to have bedded 25 men. For a discussion of historical accuracy, see Characters in the introduction.


[20] Cantharides] ‘Spanish fly’, a famous aphrodisiac


[21] diasatyrion eryngoes] diasatyrion is an aphrodisiac, and eryngoes are sea holly, which were candied and flavoured with sugar and orange flower water to be sold in Britain from 1600 to the late 1860’s. They were sold particularly on the east coast, where they grew in abundance, as a magic confection reputed to have aphrodisiac powers, cure impotence, and keep husbands from straying. See Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor (CH) V.v. [Falstaff to Mistress Ford] Let the sky rain potatoes; let it thunder to the tune of 'Green Sleeves', hail kissing-comfits and snow eringoes; let there come a tempest of provocation


[22] puling] to pule is to whine and whimper


[23] I have changed Bawd’s speech here from verse to prose; it does not scan, and it would be more usual for a character of Bawd’s status to speak in prose.



24 A reference to Messalina’s supposed crimes.

[25] A play on words, for which the meaning could be either ‘mad dames’ or ‘madams’.


[26] pearl and amber] seem to be the ingredients required for an age-defying potion. In Margaret Cavendish’s Matrimonial Trouble (1662), two maids discuss the use of amber and pearl as ingredients of a ‘cordial powder’ to sell to old ladies to make them look younger: (CH) Act 5, scene 42 [1 maid] But Cordial Powders are made of Pearl, Amber, Corall, and the like. In Thomas Shadwell’s The Woman-Captain (1680) they are aphrodisiacs: Act I [Sir Humphrey Scattergood] heightning Sturgeon

to stir up my blood; provoking Oisters, and the / lusty Lobster: Crabs, Shrimps, Crafish Pottage, Muscles and Cockles, / and dissolved Pearl and Amber in my sawce


[27] phisgig] This is the only instance I can find of this particular spelling of the word. The context implies a derogatory female insult, and so should probably read ‘fisgig’ or ‘fizgig’ (n.) meaning a frivolous, giddy, restless woman or girl, for example Austin Saker’s Narbonus (1580) (CH) he might beholde a flirting fisgig singing to hir Citherne page [64], 57, sig. I. The word ‘fisgig’ is originally from the Latin f xus, fixed, which became the Spanish word ‘fisga’, meaning harpoon, and it first appears in English in 1565 as ‘fisgig’. It was used by William Dampier in 1681 in his New Voyage Round the World: They are very ingenious at throwing the Lance, Fisgig


[28] punies] suggests a weakling


29 A.R. Skemp argues that Stitch speaks in prose, and that his repetitions are printer’s insertions to obtain 10-syllable lines of verse. I disagree; as Stitch’s speeches scan as verse, I have left them as per CHMess.


[30] God’s nigs] (CHMess ‘Gogs nigs’) an oath or exclamation, a variant on the common practice of swearing by parts of God


[31] sempster] (n.) One who sews as a profession, a tailor. Seamstresses were alleged to double as prostitutes. 

[32] CHMess ‘tro’

[33] Ostia] the port of Rome



[34] SD Hoboyes] a wooden reed instrument similar to the modern oboe. Usually accompanies supernatural or sinister events, or, as in this instance, the entrance of nobility or royalty. This is the case in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra IV.iii.12, and the start of 2Henry VI. For a fuller discussion of music in the period, see Folkerth, Wes (2002) The Sound of Shakespeare (London: Routledge)


[35] I have moved ‘In’ as the last word of line 3, to the first word of line 4, in order to regularise the verse.


[36] adamants] unbreakable, hard. A reference to unflinching chastity of the vestal virgins.


[37] surfeit] to do something, usually eat, to excess; also, and here, a noun meaning excessive consumption  


[38] Medusa’s] Medusa (‘Queen’) was, in Greek myth, one of three monstrous sisters known as the Gorgons., daughters of Phorcys and Ceto, and sisters of the three Graeae. They are represented with hideous faces and glaring eyes, and their hair was entwined with writhing snakes. The sight of them could turn a man to stone. Only Medusa was mortal, and was loved by Poseidon. She was killed by Perseus. When he was flying above Libya with her severed head, drops of her blood fell to the ground and became deadly snakes, with which Libya now abounds.


[39] Stagerite] An actor. Used in Sir William D’Avenant’s The Platonick Lovers (1636) (CH) [Buonateste] But yet you never heard sir of the fam'd / Antipheron, whom once the learned Stagerite / Admir'd so for the selfe-reflection that / He wore like to his perfect Image still where hee mov'd


[40] Troilus] (CHMess ‘Troylus’) In Greek mythology, the youngest son of Priam, King of Troy, and Hecuba, though sometimes said to be the son of Apollo. The oracle said of Troilus that Troy would never be taken if he reached the age of 20, but he was killed by Achilles during the Trojan war. Troilus was the title of a lost tragedy by Sophocles. He is the lover of Cressida in Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida (c.1623) where he becomes enraged when Cressida is drawn to Diomedes, and tries unsuccessfully to kill him. The implication is that Menester, who has played Troilus, is, as the saying goes, ‘as true as Troilus’, while Messalina is ‘as cruel as Cressida’, and, significantly, as sexually unfaithful.


[41] Pompey’s spacious theatre] famous theatre in Rome built by Gnaeus Pompey. See Suetonius The Life of Claudius (21) in Lives of the Twelve Caesars: In the games which he presented at the dedication of Pompey's theatre, which had been burnt down, and was rebuilt by him, he presided upon a tribunal erected for him in the orchestra; having first paid his devotions, in the temple above, and then coming down through the tiers of seats, while all the people kept their seats in profound silence.


[42] chaff] (n.) the seed coverings and other debris separated from the seed in threshing grain. The process is described in the popular saying ‘separate the wheat from the chaff’, i.e. the good from the bad.


[43] trulls] a word for prostitutes


[44] donyed] An obsolete word, but in this context it seems to refer to a despairing wooer

[45] SD taper] a slender candle. Usually found in mourning, devotional and penitential scenes.


[46] I have changed the speech of the 1 Dame to prose

[47] I have changed Bawd’s speech to prose


[48] tun] a barrel


[49] springer] suggestive of a sexually promiscuous woman, particularly as the servant has asked for a ‘wench’.


[50] at Forum] The Roman Forum was the scene of public meetings, lawcourts, and gladiatorial combats in republican times and was lined with shops and open-air markets. Under the empire, when it primarily became a centre for religious and secular spectacles and ceremonies, it was the site of many of the city's most imposing temples and monuments.  


[51] ayres]  a genre of solo song with lute accompaniment that flourished in England in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. While it is possible, as in other instances of the play, that the word is mis-spelt and ought to read ‘airs’, Messalina’s previous words suggest that ‘ayres’ makes more sense here.


[52]  Furies] (Latin ‘Furiae’) Roman equivalent of Erinyes. In Greek myth, female divinities of retribution who were invoked by curses and aroused by unavenged crimes. Denizens of the underworld, they were fiery-eyed creatures, pictured as having fangs, birds bodies, bat’s wings and waving torches. When Aeschylus’ Eumenides was first performed, their portrayal by the chorus caused a sensation. In Aeschylus’ day they were represented as being quite numerous, but were later thought of as only three in number, and named Allecto, Tisiphone and Megaera; because of the ill omens associated with them, they were euphemistically called the Nameless Ones or the Dread Ones (Semnai), or the Kindly Ones (Eumenides).


[53] Sirens] (CHMess ‘Syrens’) (Gk.‘Seirenes’) Sea-demons of Greek mythology, half bird, half woman, whose enticing songs lured sailors to shipwreck on the rocks of her island. Best known for their encounter with Odysseus, who was able to resist them after a warning from Circe. Their name came to be applied to any dangerous, alluring woman.


[54] win] (CHMess ‘with’)


[55]  th’ Acharusian Fen] A reference to Acheron, the River of Woe in the underworld, and by extension the name often given to the Underworld itself. Traditionally black, it was crossed by souls after death.  See Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream III.ii.357 [Oberon] with drooping fog as black as Acheron


[56] arch-ruler] chief ruler


[57] Cadmus] (CHMess ‘Cadmæn’) (Gk. Kadmos) In Greek mythology, the Phoenician prince, founder of Thebes. He was the husband of Harmonia, and father of 4 daughters: Autonoë, Agave, Ino and Semele, three of whom went mad under the influence of Dionysus.


[58] Semele] The daughter of Cadmus and Harmonia, and daughter, by Zeus, of Dionysus. When Semele was pregnant, the jealous Hera visited her in disguise and incited the girl to beg her lover, Zeus, to appear to her in his full divine glory. Zeus, having promised to do anything Semele wished, reluctantly complied with her request, whereupon she was consumed by lightening. The unborn Dionysys was blasted from Semele’s womb by a thunderbolt, but Zeus, in order to conceal his son from Hera, fastened him with a golden pin to his own thigh, where Dionyssus remained until ready for birth. When Dionysus became a god, he descended to the underworld and raised his mother to heaven.


[59] SD three Furies dance an antic]  (CHMess ‘eight Furies’) I am not aware of any other instance in works of the period where there are more than 3 Furies; I suggest this could be a printer’s error: if it had been written numerically, the number 3 could have been mistaken for an 8.

     An antic was a kind of dance, of which the details are unclear. The word ‘antic’ means grotesque, fantastic, incongruous, ludicrous, and so implies an elaborate spectacle in this context.


[60] Ambrosiack kisses thus] Ambrosia is Greek for ‘immortality’, and was the food of the gods,  conferring youth and immortality on those partaking of it.  See Jonson’s Catiline (1692) (CH) [Catiline] As I would always, Love, By this Ambrosiack Kiss, and this of Nectar like sweet?


[61] How?] Meaning ‘What!’, rather than in the modern sense of ‘In what way?’  


[62] undebarred] i.e. without any obstacle


[63]  least let] smallest hindrance


[64]  spur me not] (CHMess ‘spur me on’) I changed ‘on’ to ‘not’ as this seems to make more sense in the context of Silius’s reluctance to follow Messalina’s demands, and considering the inherent virtue with which Richards presents him.


[65] SD Enter Messalina with a pistol] an obvious anachronism; for a fuller discussion of anachronism in the play, see The Roman Play in the introduction. For a discussion of anachronism in other Roman plays of the period, see Clifford, Ronan (1995) ‘Antike Roman’: Power Symbology and the Roman Play in Early Modern England, 1585-1635 Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press


[66] Ixion’s wheel] In myth, Ixion was one of the four great sinners who endured eternal punishment after death for their transgressions on earth. Ixion tried to rape Hera, and when Zeus discovered his crime he punished Ixion by crucifying him on the four spokes of an ever-turning wheel of fire, sometimes said to be covered in snakes. Sometimes the wheel was thought to revolve around the world in the sight of men, to teach them the dangers of ingratitude to benefactors, but usually it was located in Tartarus.


[67] Lucius Cataline] a discontented noble, named Lucius Sergius Catalina, anglicized to Cataline, who fomented a revolution against the Roman Republic and attempted to become supreme ruler. This attempted coup d’état against the Roman state was foiled by the senior consul, Marcus Tullius Cicero. See


[68]  Orestilla] Aurelia Orestilla, whom Catiline fell in love with. See Jonson’s Catiline (CH) [Fvlvia] Thou know'st all! But, Galla, What say you to Catilines lady, Orestilla? When Orestilla refused to marry Cataline because he had a grown son, he killed his son for her love.



[69] Hymenæall] Gk. Hymen or Hymenaios In Greek myth, the god of marriage, and son of Dionysus and Aphrodite.


[70] Alcides] another name for Heracles, the greatest of all Greek heroes, and proverbial for his mythical physical strength and miraculous achievements.  He was also comically called Ercles, and Hercules was probably derived from him. Deianira, in an attempt to win his love, sent him a robe smeared with the blood of the centaur Nessus, which she believed to be a love charm but was actually the poisonous blood of the Hydra from the arrow with which Heracles had fatally wounded Nessus. It ate at his flesh like acid, causing him such great agony that he had himself carried to the summit of Mount Oeta and placed on a funeral pyre, which Poeas lit. As it burned, a clap of thunder broke from heaven. Heracles was taken up to Olympus and made immortal among the gods. Euripidês and Seneca both wrote tragedies called Herculês Furens.               


[71] Diadem]  adorns like a crown


72 Phaethon] (CHMess ‘Phaeton’) In myth, the son of Helios, the Greek sun-god, and Clymene, and a symbol of pride. He tried to drive his chariot but was destroyed by Zeus at the command of Mother Earth after he drove it too near earth. See Shakespeare’s Richard II III.iii.178 [Richard] down I come like glistering Phaethon



73 Nile] the longest river in the world, it rises south of the equator and flows northward through north-eastern Africa, to drain into the Mediterranean Sea.


[74] Lavolto] a lively dance involving jumping. It could conceivably be that Silius’s arms go so high when he kills, it appears he were dancing the lavolto.


[75] Gods] I have changed this from ‘Go’. Alternatively, it could be ‘Go, the..’


[76] Aurora] Roman name for Eos, goddess of dawn


[77] .five and twenty Jove-like Ganymedes] (Gk. Ganymede) According to Homer, Ganymede was snatched up by the gods because of his extraordinary beauty, to be Zeus’ cupbearer on Olympus. To the Renaissance, Ganymede was a symbol of homosexual love., as in the opening scene of Marlowe’s Dido, Queen of Carthage where Jupiter dangles him on his knee. Five and twenty is also the number of men Messalina bedded in the competition with Scylla.


[78] Love] (CHMess ‘Life’)  


[79] Sinon] (CHMess ‘Synon’) In myth, the Greek who persuaded the Trojans that he was a Greek deserter so they would let him and a Trojan horse into the city of Troy, telling them it would bring them prosperity. Once inside, the Greeks emerged from the horse and massacred the Trojans, and the city was finally theirs after a 10-year war.


[80] .Ilion] (Gk. Ilion).The city of Troy, also called Illium, the ancient city of west Turkey, besieged for ten years during the Trojan wars


[81] This is a problematic section of text. In the CHMess, these lines are immediately after Silius’s exit and before Messalina’s speech beginning Shall Messalina in her flourishing youth…As they are the only two characters in the scene at this time, it must be spoken by one of them. Silius has left at this point, and the reference to insate desire indicates that it is in fact spoken by Messalina, but her next speech follows. It appears that either this section was unfinished by Richards, or a speech from Silius is missing. I have placed the lines within Messalina’s speech that follows.




[82] I have altered Lepida’s speech to prose, which would fit with her distemperature.


[83] dotard] (n.) old fool, senile idiot Much Ado About Nothing V.i.59 [Leonato to Claudio] I speak not like a dotard nor a fool

[84] Atlas] or Atlans, meaning ‘very enduring’. Titan (or Giant), a brother of Prometheus. Because of his defiance of Zeus in the Titans’ revolt against the Olympians, he was condemned to hold up the sky on his shoulders for all eternity. He did this at the far ends of the earth, near the garden of the Hesperides. See Shakespeare’s 3Henry VI V.I.36 Thou art no Atlas for so great a  weight


[85] Dulce] Latin ‘sweet’


[86] Hesperides] ‘daughters of the evening’.  In myth, 3 nymphs, daughters of Atlas, who lived in a garden of the gods in the far west, where they watched over the tree of golden apples.


[87]  Those…immortal] Compare with Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus V.i.95 [Faustus] Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss. Faustus utters these words when he meets the conjured Helen of Troy; Messalina is similarly portrayed as a divine being, who has transcended human form.


[88] Tantalus] (Gk. Tantalos) Tantalus, the son of Zeus, ruled Mount Sipylus in Lydia. He is best known for his eternal punishment in the Underworld after death. In the Odyssey he was placed in water up to his neck, and boughs laden with fruit hung near his face, but when he tried to satisfy his hunger and thirst, both water and fruit were blown out of reach by the wind.


[89] apts] prepared, ready


[90]  SD Dance a Coranto] a ‘courante’ or lively dance with tripping steps and light hops


[91] argosy] the Argo. In myth, the miraculous ship on which the Argonauts sailed to get the golden fleece, and sometimes thought of as the first ship ever built.  See Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice V.i.276 [Portia to Antonio] three of your argosies / Are richly come to harbour


[92] cuffed] battered


[93] Orcus] 1. Roman equivalent of Hades, god of the Underworld, 2. Roman Underworld and land of the dead


[94] blue] CHMess ‘blew’


[95] contemn’d] despised, contemptible, despicable


[96]   Mors aerumnarum quies, mors omnibus finis] Latin. Death is rest for all toils: death is the end for everything.  requies aerumnarum mors – ‘death is the repose for all toils’ - appears on Chaucer's tomb.


[97] Niobe-like] In myth, Niobe was the daughter of Tantalus and the wife of Amphion, King of Thebes, with whom she had many handsome sons and  beautiful daughters. When Niobe boasted that she was due more honour than Leto, who had borne only Apollo and Artemis, Leto ordered her sons to shoot down all of Niobe’s children. The weeping mother was turned into a rock on Mount Sipylos, an image of everlasting sorrow with water flowing down her face like tears. See Shakespeare’s Hamlet I.ii.149 [Hamlet] She followed my poor father’s body / Like Niobe, all tears


[98] Elzium] (Gk. Elysion) Elzium is the capital of Elysian (sometimes called the Elysian Fields) which in myth was the dwelling place of a few privileged mortals after death, through the favour of the gods.


[99] Lethe] Gk. ‘oblivion’) In myth, a river in the underworld whose waters, when drunk, caused complete forgetfulness of the past


[100] parcae] the Roman goddesses of fate, similar to the Greek Moirae (Fates), also called Tria Fata. There was originally just one, Parca, a goddess of birth, whose name is derived from parere (‘create, give birth’) but later it was associated with pars (Gk. moira, ‘part’) and thus analogous with the three Greek Moirae.


[101] Medea’s murd’ring part] (Gk. Medeia) In myth, an enchantress, like her aunt Circe. She fell in love with Jason while he was seeking the golden fleece and helped him to obtain it after making him swear to marry her. She escaped with the Greek ship the Argo, and to delay her father’s pursuit, she killed her young brother Absyrtus and dropped pieces of his body at intervals into the water. Medea was also responsible for the murders of Pellas, the Corinthian princess Creusa, and Creusa’s father, Creon, and her own children. Euripides and Seneca both wrote tragedies based on her story.


[102] roundelays] typically a tune and/or a dance, in which the performers move in a circle or ring


[103] Rhamnusia] an alternative name for Nemesis, the goddess of punishment, daughter of Nyx and goddess of retribution. Nemesis personifies the resentment felt by gods or men at anyone who violates the natural order of things. Some say she was the mother of Helen of Troy.



104 holiday] CHMess ‘holy day’


[105] SD Enter..torch] a torch usually denotes an outdoor locale, but the bed indicates that the scene takes places indoors; Silius would probably carry a lighted candle, as Lepida does in 2.1.


[106] waits] (CHMess ‘weights’)


[107] turtles]  Lepida imagines herself and Silius as turtle-doves, traditionally a symbol of love. Interestingly, two turtle-doves feature in the Catholic song ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’, and represent the Old and the New Testament. The song was written to help young Catholics learn the tenets of their faith at a time when Catholics were prohibited by law from any practice of their faith.


[108] Parthenope] One of the sirens. According to legend, the sirens drowned themselves after failing to lure Odysseus. Parthenope’s body was washed ashore in the bay of Naples, which originally bore her name.


[109] Troy’s firebrand] (CHMess ‘Troy, firebrand’) A reference to Paris, who deserted Oenene for Helen


[110] Oenone] a nymph, daughter of the river-god Cebren, who married Paris while he was still a herdman on Mount Ida, near Troy. Paris sailed to Greece and eloped with Helen, setting the Trojan War in motion. He never returned to Oenone, and she hanged herself in grief after his death.

[111] CHMess has Silius speaking these lines, but it is obviously an error with the speech tags. I have altered them for Syllana to speak here.


[112] deadly pointed steel] suggests a metaphor common to Renaissance drama, with the dagger as a weapon of sexual as well as physical possession


[113] CHMess ‘fair’


[114] Nemesis] See II.ii.251


[115] descrie] (v.) reveal, disclose, make known. See Henry VI, I.ii.57 [Bastard to all, of Pucelle] What’s past and what’s to come she can descry


[116] conjuence] I can find no other use of this word in drama of the period



[117]  I have altered these lines to prose, as the lineation does not scan as verse


[118] As above



[119] My brother..exile] Messalina was responsible for Seneca’s banishment to Corsica, after she accused him of adultery with the princess of the Imperial house. Eight years later, after Messalina’s fall and the succession of Agrippina as Empress, he was recalled and made tutor to Agrippina’s son, Nero. The first years of Nero’s reign were considered a new Golden Age, for which Seneca was traditionally given the credit.


[120] Corsica] (CHMess ‘Coreyra’) Corcyra was an island off the coast of Epeirus, now Corfu. Richards seems to have confused it with Corsica, where Seneca lived during his banishment, and where Mela and Montanus flee to.


[121] scabbed-hammed rascals] presumably an insult


[122] Spartan Queen]  Helen of Sparta (better known as Helen of Troy), of whose beauty Marlowe famously wrote: Was this the face that launched a thousand ships, / And burnt the topless towers of Illium? See Doctor Faustus [Faustus] V.i.93-4


[123] encomium] a prose or poetic work in which a person, thing, or abstract idea is glorified. Originally an encomium was a Greek choral song honouring the hero of the Olympic Games, and sung at the victory celebration at the end of the Games.


[124] Amphityron] (CHMess ‘Amphitrio’) In myth, the son of Alcaeus, King of Tiryns, and Astydameia, grandson of Perseus, he married Alcmene, daughter of his uncle Electryon. When he accidently killed Electryon, he was banished to Thebes, where he was purified by King Creon, and followed by Alcmene. Alceme stipulated as a condition of their marriage that he take vengeance for the death of  her brothers. After their wedding he set out to do so, during which time Zeus appeared to Alcmene in the form of Amphityron and impregnated her. She gave birth to twin boys, Heracles and Iphicles; Heracles was the son of Zeus, Iphicles the son of Amphityron.


[125] Alcmena’s] In myth, the daughter of Electryon, and virtuous wife of Amphityron. Alcmena became mother of Heracles by Zeus, who deceptively took the form of her husband and made love to her throughout a night that he prolonged beyond its normal span. She is the principal character in Seneca’s Heracles on Oeta, and in lost plays called Alcmena by Aeschylus and Euripides.


[126] SD  All draw, exposed to a triple sight round] the three would stand in a circle, holding out their weapons


[127] scruze] squeeze, compress, crush  


[128]  puissant] (adj.) Powerful, mighty, strong.  See Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar 3.1.33 [Metellus] Most high, most mighty, and most puissant Caesar


[129] Ens] ‘Being’, meaning God.


[130] Conduct him…joy]  Compare with John Ford’s ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore II.i.39-41 [Annabella] O guardian, what a paradise of joy / Have I passed over! [Putana] Nay, what a paradise of joy have you passed under!


[131]  Semiramis] (CHMessSuniramia’] Semiramis was a mythical queen of Assyria, and the wife of Ninus. She was the daughter of the Syrian fish-goddess Derceto, and was married to Onnes. Onnes slew himself after Ninus resolved to marry Semiramis, and she then married him. After the death of Ninus Semiramis ruled alone, reputedly building Babylon and conquering Egypt and Libya before resigning the throne after forty-two years and ascending to heaven as a dove.


[132]  blue] CHMess ‘blew’


[133]  SD Enter Messalina, by degrees] slowly, or in stages, Messalina moves towards Montanus


[134] Etna] Mount Etna, a mountain over 10,000 feet high and Europe’s highest active volcano, situated near the Eastern coast of Italy. Various stories were told to explain its fiery activity: crushed everlastingly beneath it were either the Giant Enceladus or the monster Typhon, or it contained the forge of the smith-god Hephaestus, manned by the one-eyed Giants, the Cyclopes. The Sicilian nymph Aetna gave Mount Etna her name. 


[135] Nessus] (CHMess ‘Nessas’) (Gk. Nessos) In myth, one of the centaurs. Nessus was a ferryman at the River Evenus, and was killed there when he tried to rape Deianeira. He was shot by Heracles, with an unerring arrow tipped with the poisonous blood of the Hydra of Lerna. As he lay dying, he told Deianeira that the blood from his wound would act as a love charm. Years later, she smeared it on a robe and sent it to Heracles, when she thought she had lost him to Iole. Heracles died in agony, and Nessus had his revenge.


[136] cankers] (v.) decay, become corrupt, grow malignant. See Shakespeare’s The Tempest IV.i.192 [Prospero to himself, of Caliban] as with age his body uglier grows / So his mind cankers


[137] Corce] Corsica. See III.i.14


[138] Tyrhen] Tyrrhenian or Tyrrhene. Etruscan. The Tyrrhenian Sea is directly west of Italy.



[139] Ninus] In myth, the founder of the Assyrian city of Nineveh.  Husband of Semiramis (see III.i.198) See Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream III.i.91 [Quince] I’ll meet thee, Pyramus, at Ninny’s tomb/’Ninus’ tomb’, man It may, however, be a reference to Nisus, who is best known for his daughter Scylla’s treachery that led to his death. He had in his hair either a red tress or a single red hair, on which his life depended. Scylla cut it off while he slept, either because she had fallen in love with Minos, King of Crete, or because she had been bribed with a Cretan necklace of gold. Nisus was turned into a sea-eagle, and Scylla into a sea-bird, pursued forever by her vengeful father.


[140] the acts.. Sulla’s days] (CHMess ‘Scylla’) Richards does refer to Scylla, the daughter of King Nissus of Megara, earlier in the play. The other Scylla of myth was the sea-monster who was poisoned by Circe and transformed into a hideous monster with twelve feet and six heads, each with three rows of teeth. Below her waist her body was made up of monsters, like dogs who barked ceaselessly. Miserable and full of self-loathing, she became a peril to all sailors who passed her, and would bite off the heads of crew on passing ships. In the Odyssey she ate six of Odysseus’ companions. However, I would suggest that ‘Scylla’ is a mis-print here, and that this reference is actually to Lucius Cornelius Sulla (138-78 BC), the famous Roman general who, when he took control of Rome, butchered all of his political opponents. Plutarch describes the terror and awe in which Sulla was held: a young senator asked Sulla when they could expect a cessation of the murder and plundering: ‘We are not asking you to pardon those whom you have decided to kill; all we ask is that you should free from suspense those whom you have decided not to kill.’ (See Plutarch, Life of Sulla, 31)   This would fit more readily with Valens’ reference to ‘the acts of blood’. Scylla was also the name of the prostitute that Messalina competed with.


[141] Cataline] the cataline conspiracy. Ben Jonson wrote the play Catiline his Conspiracy  

[142]  Tiberius] The second Roman emperor (A. D. 14-37), the son of Tiberius Claudius Nero and Livia. By the marriage of his mother with Emperor Augustus he became the latter's stepson, and was adopted by Augustus in A. D. 4. His death was rumoured to have been hastened by Caligula, who became Emperor on his death.


[143] shines like rotten wood] Compare with Ralegh’s poem on the court The Lie: Say to the court, it glows and shines like rotten wood


[144] Virgil] Regarded by the Romans as their greatest poet, his fame rests chiefly upon the Aeneid, which tells the story of Rome's legendary founder and proclaims the Roman mission to civilize the world under divine guidance.


[145] Barathrum] the Underworld


[146] gulled] gull (v.) deceive, dupe, trick See Shakespeare’s Henry V II.ii.121 [King Henry to Scroop] that same demon that hath gulled thee thus


[147] Stibium] The technical and now obsolete name of antimony, used for medical preparations to cause nausea or produce a laxative effect, also used in ancient Rome as a cosmetic. In literature it is described as a deadly poison, as in Webster’s The White Devil (1622) (CH) [Flam] I will compound / a medicine out of their two heads, stronger then garlick, / deadlier then stibium


[148] pioneering] CHMess ‘pyoning’


[149] SD Cornets] A versatile wooden wind instrument which could be played loud or soft, usually to signal the entrance of an important figure.


[150] SD passing over the stage] Crossing the stage from one door to another


[151] the Bachanalian feast] The Bacchanals (or Bacchants, or Bacchae) is another name for the Maenads (‘Frenzied women’), female followers of Dionysus who celebrated the god’s rites in a state of ecstatic frenzy with music, song and dance. When enraged, they become incredibly strong, uprooting trees and devouring the raw flesh of animals.


[152] I have moved Now to join the line Does he..tradesman to regularise the verse.


[153] pate] (n.) head, skull. See Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors I.ii.82 [Dromio of Ephesus to Antipholus, of Syracuse] I have some marks of yours upon my pate


[154] What think..fingers]  Although this speech does not scan well, it does not appear to be prose, and so I have left it unaltered.


[155]  Scorpio’s itch] In astrology, the sun in Scorpio is associated with contagious diseases. People with Scorpio active in their charts are said to be susceptible to genital infections, as Scorpio rules the genital organs. Saufellus is wishing such a disease on Lepida.


[156] bum] CHMess ‘bumbe’


[157] pander] CHMess ‘dander’  


[158] God’s golden] Some corruption of the text seems likely here  


[159]  prostrate] to put oneself in a humble and submissive posture or state


[160]  propitious] favourably disposed


[161]  Cuckold by five and twenty] another reference to Messalina’s competition with Scylla


[162] vassal] CHMess ‘vassail’  


[163] the Centaur’s blood]  centaurs were a race of creatures who were half-man, half-horse. Nessus’s blood was poisoned and killed Heracles.


[164] Caucasus]: The great historic barrier of the Caucasus Mountains rises up across the wide isthmus separating the Black and Caspian seas in the region where Europe and Asia converge. Trending generally from northwest to southeast, the mountains consist of two ranges—the Greater Caucasus in the north and the Lesser Caucasus in the south. The region is now generally assigned to Asia. The name Caucasus is a Latinized form of Kaukasos, which the ancient Greek geographers and historians used. See The Tragedy of Nero (1624) (anon.) (CH) [Sceuinus] The Inhospitable Caucasus is milde


[165]  Colline gate] (CHMess ‘Colina’) The Colline gate was situated in Rome on the north-east side of the city, the scene of a fierce battle in 82 BC, during which Sulla finally overcame the Samnite and Lucanian army, and made himself master of Italy. I can find no other reference to this in works of the period.


[166] SD degrees] This is a spectacular instance of trap staging, medieval in its melodramatic moral intensity and advertised by the title page illustration (see Title Page Engraving in the introduction). Rising and sinking traps, assisted by counterweights, were probably available to the Salisbury Court, but a mechanical trap would vastly intensify the sensational effect of this scene. It would, however, have to be sharply managed following the first descent, to be reset in time for Saufellus to be standing on it for when he is struck by thunder. See Astington, John H. (1991) The 'Messalina' Stage and Salisbury Court Plays pp. 141-156 in Theatre Journal 43/2 London: The John Hopkins University Press


[167]  Zounds] (CHMess ‘Zownes’) A shortening and alteration of ‘God’s wounds’; an exclamation formerly used as an oath, and an expression of anger or wonder.


[168] Enceladus] One of the giants, son of Tartarus and Gaea, possible brother of Typhon. In the battle between the gods and the giants he fled from Athena, but she pursued him and flung the island of Sicily on top of him. Crushed everlastingly beneath it, he lived on, his fiery breath issuing from Mount Etna. The story is told in Virgil’s Aeneid.  See Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus IV.ii.92 Enceladus / With all his threat’ning band of Typhon’s brood


[169] corsick rock] the island of Corsica, where Seneca was banished, is famed for its dramatic rock formations


[170] Chymera Mount] a burning mountain in Lycia


[171] Sinews] (n.) In this instance, meaning nerve, as in Shakespeare’s Henry V III.i.7 [King Henry to all] Stiffen the sinews. Can also mean (i) muscle, (ii) strength, force, power, (iii) mainstay, support, main strength.


[172] CHMess ‘totturts’


[173] Pindus] (Gk. Pindos) mountain range between Thessaly and Epirus.


[174] Ossa] mountain in northern Magnesia.


[175] Cimerian] (Gk. Kimmeria) Fabulous place described in the Odyssey as a land of darkness situated on the rim of Ocean near the realm of the dead.


[176] Ingeniosi sumus ad falendum no smet ipsos] should read ad fallendum nosmet ipsos – we are ingenious at the deceiving of ourselves


[177]   SD Cornets..courting each other] As in Middleton’s Women Beware Women, the descent is part of a masque in which the characters play gods. A box-like contrivance is suspended and lowered by rope. The machine would descend to the stage, where they dismount.


[178] Juno] an ancient and important Italian goddess, wife of Jupiter, and together with Jupiter and Minerva one of the three great deities of the Capitoline Triad. Goddess of marriage and childbirth. Identified with Hera, the wife of Zeus-their marriage was the archetype of all marriages.


[179] Venus] Roman goddess of love and beauty, the consort of the Roman war-god Mars. Identified with the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite. Mother of Aeneas and hence the ancestress and protector of Rome.


[180] Mars] the Italian war-god, identified with the Greek god of war, Ares. The story of his birth is unique to Roman myth. Born to Jupiter’s wife, Juno, after she became pregnant at the touch of a magic herb, given to her by Flora, the goddess of spring. His sons, Romulus and Remus, grew up to be the founders of Rome.


[181] Phoebus]   Literally, "the radiant one". In Greek mythology, an epithet of Apollo because of his connection with the sun or as descendant of the Titaness Phoebe (his grandmother). The Romans venerated him as Phoebus Apollo.


[182] cornucopia] shaped like a horn; in this instance like the horn of a cuckold


[183] gird] (CHMess ‘quirt’) (v.)  to encircle, bind or surround


[184] Brutus] Marcus Junius Brutus. The protégé of Julius Caesar and one of the chief instigators of Caesar’s assignation in 44 B.C.


[185] Brave Cassius’ and Tytinnius’] assassins of Julius Caesar


[186] O homo fragilis, specta voluptates abeuntes!] Should probably read O homo fragilis, in which case the meaning is ‘Ofragile man, watch your pleasures going away from you’.


[187] SD Man is an actor..death] Compare with Shakespeare’s As You Like It II.vii.139 [Jaques] All the world’s a stage / And all the men and women merely players. / They have their exits and their entrances, / And one man in his time plays many parts



[188] CHMess‘threefe’


[189] Why, like a worm…will end me] Although this passage scans badly, I do think it was intended as verse; the deterioration parallels Silius’s state of mind as he faces death.     



[190] taper] (n.) a candle. See Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar II.i.35 [Lucius to Brutus] The taper burneth in your closet 



[191] Lucrece] Legendary Roman heroine, said to have lived in the late 6th century BC. When she was raped by Sextus, son of King Tarquinius, she commited suicide to prove her virtue. Tarquinius was expelled from Rome with his whole family, and the Roman monarchy came to an end. Lucrece has become a corporeal emblem of virtue, and is the subject of Shakespeare’s poem The Rape of Lucrece.


[192] Lucullus’ garden]  Tacitus says that when Messalina and Silius found out that Claudius knew about their affair and was on his way to take revenge, the couple separated, Messalina to the gardens of Lucullus, Silius to…business in the Forum. See ‘The Fall of Messalina’ pp.247 in Tacitus (1989 edition) The Annals of Imperial Rome (trans. Grant, Michael) London: Penguin Books


[193] Britannicus] son of Claudius, named in honour of Claudius’ conquest of Britain. Universally believed to have been poisoned by Nero in A.D. 55.


[194] Octavia] Daughter of Messalina. Eventually forced to marry her stepbrother Nero, when he is Emperor. The tragedy Octavia is ascribed to Seneca.


[195] mollify] mollification (n.) appeasement, placating, pacifying. See Shakespeare’s  Twelfth Night [Viola as Cesario to Olivia, of Maria] Some mollification for your giant


[196] precedent] CHMess ‘president’   


[197] Jupiter] another name for Jove, the Roman god identified with Zeus. His temple on the Capitoline Hill was the most important in Rome; there he was called ‘Optimus Maximus’, ‘the best and greatest’.


[198] SD CHMess ‘they enter dreadfully’


[199] SD who sing a song of despair]  the stage direction at the end of the song says it ‘was left out of the play in regard there was none could sing in parts’. It seems the King’s Revels company did not employ any actors who could sing this song, which would involve singing in harmony against other vocal parts.


[200]  Quid faciam? Ubi fugiam, hic, and illic, Ubinam nescio, O dira fata] Latin. Roughly translates as ‘What do we achieve by running away? Where in the world can we go? O cruel fates!’

[201] EP room] CHMess ‘Rome’