ARIADNE IN MANTUA

A ROMANCE IN FIVE ACTS

BY

VERNON LEE

Portland, Maine
THOMAS B. MOSHER
MDCCCCXII

TO
ETHEL SMYTH
THANKING, AND BEGGING, HER FOR MUSIC

 


Ariadne in Mantua, A Romance in Five Acts, by Vernon Lee. Oxford: B.H. Blackwell 50 and 51 Broad Street. London: Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Company. A.D. MCMIII. Octavo. Pp. x: 11-66.

Like almost everything else written by Vernon Lee there is to be found that insistent little touch which is her sign-manual when dealing with Italy or its makers of forgotten melodies. In other words, the music of her rhythmic prose is summed up in one poignant vocable—Forlorn.

As for her vanished world of dear dead women and their lovers who are dust, we may indeed for a brief hour enter that enchanted atmosphere. Then a vapour arises as out of long lost lagoons, and, be it Venice or Mantua, we come to feel "how deep an abyss separates us—and how many faint and nameless ghosts crowd round the few enduring things bequeathed to us by the past."

T.B.M.


PREFACE

"Alles Vergängliche ist nur ein Gleichniss"

It is in order to give others the pleasure of reading or re-reading a small masterpiece, that I mention the likelihood of the catastrophe of my Ariadne having been suggested by the late Mr. Shorthouse's Little Schoolmaster Mark; but I must ask forgiveness of my dear old friend, Madame Emile Duclaux (Mary Robinson), for unwarranted use of one of the songs of her Italian Garden.

Readers of my own little volume Genius Loci may meanwhile recognise that I have been guilty of plagiarism towards myself also.[1]

For a couple of years after writing those pages, the image of the Palace of Mantua and the lakes it steeps in, haunted my fancy with that peculiar insistency, as of the half-lapsed recollection of a name or date, which tells us that we know (if we could only remember!) what happened in a place. I let the matter rest. But, looking into my mind one day, I found that a certain song of the early seventeenth century—(not Monteverde's Lamento d'Arianna but an air, Amarilli, by Caccini, printed alongside in Parisotti's collection)—had entered that Palace of Mantua, and was, in some manner not easy to define, the musical shape of what must have happened there. And that, translated back into human personages, was the story I have set forth in the following little Drama.

So much for the origin of Ariadne in Mantua, supposing any friend to be curious about it. What seems more interesting is my feeling, which grew upon me as I worked over and over the piece and its French translation, that these personages had an importance greater than that of their life and adventures, a meaning, if I may say so, a little sub specie aeternitatis. For, besides the real figures, there appeared to me vague shadows cast by them, as it were, on the vast spaces of life, and magnified far beyond those little puppets that I twitched. And I seem to feel here the struggle, eternal, necessary, between mere impulse, unreasoning and violent, but absolutely true to its aim; and all the moderating, the weighing and restraining influences of civilisation, with their idealism, their vacillation, but their final triumph over the mere forces of nature. These well-born people of Mantua, privileged beings wanting little because they have much, and able therefore to spend themselves in quite harmonious effort, must necessarily get the better of the poor gutter-born creature without whom, after all, one of them would have been dead and the others would have had no opening in life. Poor Diego acts magnanimously, being cornered; but he (or she) has not the delicacy, the dignity to melt into thin air with a mere lyric Metastasian "Piangendo partè", and leave them to their untroubled conscience. He must needs assert himself, violently wrench at their heart-strings, give them a final stab, hand them over to endless remorse; briefly, commit that public and theatrical deed of suicide, splashing the murderous waters into the eyes of well-behaved wedding guests.

Certainly neither the Duke, nor the Duchess Dowager, nor Hippolyta would have done this. But, on the other hand, they could calmly, coldly, kindly accept the self-sacrifice culminating in that suicide: well-bred people, faithful to their standards and forcing others, however unwilling, into their own conformity. Of course without them the world would be a den of thieves, a wilderness of wolves; for they are,—if I may call them by their less personal names,—Tradition, Discipline, Civilisation.

On the other hand, but for such as Diego the world would come to an end within twenty years: mere sense of duty and fitness not being sufficient for the killing and cooking of victuals, let alone the begetting and suckling of children. The descendants of Ferdinand and Hippolyta, unless they intermarried with some bastard of Diego's family, would dwindle, die out; who knows, perhaps supplement the impulses they lacked by silly newfangled evil.

These are the contending forces of history and life: Impulse and Discipline, creating and keeping; love such as Diego's, blind, selfish, magnanimous; and detachment, noble, a little bloodless and cruel, like that of the Duke of Mantua.

And it seems to me that the conflicts which I set forth on my improbable little stage, are but the trifling realities shadowing those great abstractions which we seek all through the history of man, and everywhere in man's own heart.

VERNON LEE.

Maiano, near Florence,

June, 1903.

 See Appendix where the article referred to is given entire.

ARIADNE IN MANTUA

VIOLA.    ....I'll serve this Duke:
....for I can sing
And speak to him in many sorts of music.
TWELFTH NIGHT, 1, 2.


DRAMATIS PERSONAE

FERDINAND, Duke of Mantua.
THE CARDINAL, his Uncle.
THE DUCHESS DOWAGER.
HIPPOLYTA, Princess of Mirandola.
MAGDALEN, known as DIEGO.
THE MARCHIONESS OF GUASTALLA.
THE BISHOP OF CREMONA.
THE DOGE'S WIFE.
THE VENETIAN AMBASSADOR.
THE DUKE OF FERRARA'S POET.
THE VICEROY OF NAPLES' JESTER.
A TENOR as BACCHUS.
The CARDINAL'S CHAPLAIN.
THE DUCHESS'S GENTLEWOMAN.
THE PRINCESS'S TUTOR.
Singers as Maenads and Satyrs; Courtiers,
Pages, Wedding Guests and Musicians.


The action takes place in the Palace of Mantua through a period of a year, during the reign of Prospero I, of Milan, and shortly before the Venetian expedition to Cyprus under Othello.


ACT I

The CARDINAL'S Study in the Palace at Mantua. The CARDINAL is seated at a table covered with Persian embroidery, rose-colour picked out with blue, on which lies open a volume of Machiavelli's works, and in it a manuscript of Catullus; alongside thereof are a bell and a magnifying-glass. Under his feet a red cushion with long tassels, and an oriental carpet of pale lavender and crimson. The CARDINAL is dressed in scarlet, a crimson fur-lined cape upon his shoulders. He is old, but beautiful and majestic, his face furrowed like the marble bust of Seneca among the books opposite.

Through the open Renaissance window, with candelabra and birds carved on the copings, one sees the lake, pale blue, faintly rippled, with a rose-coloured brick bridge and bridge-tower at its narrowest point. DIEGO (in reality MAGDALEN) has just been admitted into the CARDINAL'S presence, and after kissing his ring, has remained standing, awaiting his pleasure.

DIEGO is fantastically habited as a youth in russet and violet tunic reaching below the knees in Moorish fashion, as we see it in the frescoes of Pinturicchio; with silver buttons down the seams, and plaited linen at the throat and in the unbuttoned purfles of the sleeves. His hair, dark but red where it catches the light, is cut over the forehead and touches his shoulders. He is not very tall in his boy's clothes, and very sparely built. He is pale, almost sallow; the face, dogged, sullen, rather expressive than beautiful, save for the perfection of the brows and of the flower-like singer's mouth. He stands ceremoniously before the CARDINAL, one hand on his dagger, nervously, while the other holds a large travelling hat, looped up, with a long drooping plume.

The CARDINAL raises his eyes, slightly bows his head, closes the manuscript and the volume, and puts both aside deliberately. He is, meanwhile, examining the appearance of DIEGO.

CARDINAL

We are glad to see you at Mantua, Signor Diego. And from what our worthy Venetian friend informs us in the letter which he gave you for our hands, we shall without a doubt be wholly satisfied with your singing, which is said to be both sweet and learned. Prythee, Brother Matthias (turning to his Chaplain), bid them bring hither my virginal,—that with the Judgment of Paris painted on the lid by Giulio Romano; its tone is admirably suited to the human voice. And, Brother Matthias, hasten to the Duke's own theorb player, and bid him come straightways. Nay, go thyself, good Brother Matthias, and seek till thou hast found him. We are impatient to judge of this good youth's skill.

The Chaplain bows and retires. DIEGO (in reality MAGDALEN) remains alone in the CARDINAL'S presence. The CARDINAL remains for a second turning over a letter, and then reads through the magnifying-glass out loud.

CARDINAL

Ah, here is the sentence: "Diego, a Spaniard of Moorish descent, and a most expert singer and player on the virginal, whom I commend to your Eminence's favour as entirely fitted for such services as your revered letter makes mention of——" Good, good.

The CARDINAL folds the letter and beckons Diego to approach, then speaks in a manner suddenly altered to abruptness, but with no enquiry in his tone.

Signor Diego, you are a woman——

DIEGO starts, flushes and exclaims huskily, "My Lord——." But the CARDINAL makes a deprecatory movement and continues his sentence.

and, as my honoured Venetian correspondent assures me, a courtesan of some experience and of more than usual tact. I trust this favourable judgment may be justified. The situation is delicate; and the work for which you have been selected is dangerous as well as difficult. Have you been given any knowledge of this case?

DIEGO has by this time recovered his composure, and answers with respectful reserve.

DIEGO

I asked no questions, your Eminence. But the Senator Gratiano vouchsafed to tell me that my work at Mantua would be to soothe and cheer with music your noble nephew Duke Ferdinand, who, as is rumoured, has been a prey to a certain languor and moodiness ever since his return from many years' captivity among the Infidels. Moreover (such were the Senator Gratiano's words), that if the Fates proved favourable to my music, I might gain access to His Highness's confidence, and thus enable your Eminence to understand and compass his strange malady.

CARDINAL

Even so. You speak discreetly, Diego; and your manner gives hope of more good sense than is usual in your sex and in your trade. But this matter is of more difficulty than such as you can realise. Your being a woman will be of use should our scheme prove practicable. In the outset it may wreck us beyond recovery. For all his gloomy apathy, my nephew is quick to suspicion, and extremely subtle. He will delight in flouting us, should the thought cross his brain that we are practising some coarse and foolish stratagem. And it so happens, that his strange moodiness is marked by abhorrence of all womankind. For months he has refused the visits of his virtuous mother. And the mere name of his young cousin and affianced bride, Princess Hippolyta, has thrown him into paroxysms of anger. Yet Duke Ferdinand possesses all his faculties. He is aware of being the last of our house, and must know full well that, should he die without an heir, this noble dukedom will become the battlefield of rapacious alien claimants. He denies none of this, but nevertheless looks on marriage with unseemly horror.

DIEGO

Is it so?——And——is there any reason His Highness's melancholy should take this shape? I crave your Eminence's pardon if there is any indiscretion in this question; but I feel it may be well that I should know some more upon this point. Has Duke Ferdinand suffered some wrong at the hands of women? Or is it the case of some passion, hopeless, unfitting to his rank, perhaps?

CARDINAL

Your imagination, good Madam Magdalen, runs too easily along the tracks familiar to your sex; and such inquisitiveness smacks too much of the courtesan. And beware, my lad, of touching on such subjects with the Duke: women and love, and so forth. For I fear, that while endeavouring to elicit the Duke's secret, thy eyes, thy altered voice, might betray thy own.

DIEGO

Betray me? My secret? What do you mean, my Lord? I fail to grasp your meaning.

CARDINAL

Have you so soon forgotten that the Duke must not suspect your being a woman? For if a woman may gradually melt his torpor, and bring him under the control of reason and duty, this can only come about by her growing familiar and necessary to him without alarming his moody virtue.

DIEGO

I crave your Eminence's indulgence for that one question, which I repeat because, as a musician, it may affect my treatment of His Highness. Has the Duke ever loved?

CARDINAL

Too little or too much,—which of the two it will be for you to find out. My nephew was ever, since his boyhood, a pious and joyless youth; and such are apt to love once, and, as the poets say, to die for love. Be this as it may, keep to your part of singer; and even if you suspect that he suspects you, let him not see your suspicion, and still less justify his own. Be merely a singer: a sexless creature, having seen passion but never felt it; yet capable, by the miracle of art, of rousing and soothing it in others. Go warily, and mark my words: there is, I notice, even in your speaking voice, a certain quality such as folk say melts hearts; a trifle hoarseness, a something of a break, which mars it as mere sound, but gives it more power than that of sound. Employ that quality when the fit moment comes; but most times restrain it. You have understood?

DIEGO

I think I have, my Lord.

CARDINAL

Then only one word more. Women, and women such as you, are often ill advised and foolishly ambitious. Let not success, should you have any in this enterprise, endanger it and you. Your safety lies in being my tool. My spies are everywhere; but I require none; I seem to know the folly which poor mortals think and feel. And see! this palace is surrounded on three sides by lakes; a rare and beautiful circumstance, which has done good service on occasion. Even close to this pavilion these blue waters are less shallow than they seem.

DIEGO

I had noted it. Such an enterprise as mine requires courage, my Lord; and your palace, built into the lake, as life,—saving all thought of heresy,—is built out into death, your palace may give courage as well as prudence.

CARDINAL

Your words, Diego, are irrelevant, but do not displease me.

DIEGO bows. The Chaplain enters with Pages carrying a harpsichord, which they place upon the table; also two Musicians with theorb and viol.

Brother Matthias, thou hast been a skilful organist, and hast often delighted me with thy fugues and canons.—Sit to the instrument, and play a prelude, while this good youth collects his memory and his voice preparatory to displaying his skill.

The chaplain, not unlike the monk in Titian's "Concert" begins to play, DIEGO standing by him at the harpsichord. While the cunningly interlaced themes, with wide, unclosed cadences, tinkle metallically from the instrument, the CARDINAL watches, very deliberately, the face of DIEGO, seeking to penetrate through its sullen sedateness. But DIEGO remains with his eyes fixed on the view framed by the window: the pale blue lake, of the colour of periwinkle, under a sky barely bluer than itself, and the lines on the horizon—piled up clouds or perhaps Alps. Only, as the Chaplain is about to finish his prelude, the face of DIEGO undergoes a change: a sudden fervour and tenderness transfigure the features; while the eyes, from very dark turn to the colour of carnelian. This illumination dies out as quickly as it came, and DIEGO becomes very self-contained and very listless as before.

DIEGO

Will it please your Eminence that I should sing the Lament of Ariadne on Naxos?


ACT II

A few months later. Another part of the Ducal Palace of Mantua. The DUCHESS'S closet: a small irregular chamber; the vaulted ceiling painted with Giottesque patterns in blue and russet, much blackened, and among which there is visible only a coronation of the Virgin, white and vision-like. Shelves with a few books and phials and jars of medicine; a small movable organ in a corner; and, in front of the ogival window, a praying-chair and large crucifix. The crucifix is black against the landscape, against the grey and misty waters of the lake; and framed by the nearly leafless branches of a willow growing below.

The DUCHESS DOWAGER is tall and straight, but almost bodiless in her black nun-like dress. Her face is so white, its lips and eyebrows so colourless, and eyes so pale a blue, that one might at first think it insignificant, and only gradually notice the strength and beauty of the features. The DUCHESS has laid aside her sewing on the entrance of DIEGO, in reality MAGDALEN; and, forgetful of all state, been on the point of rising to meet him. But DIEGO has ceremoniously let himself down on one knee, expecting to kiss her hand.

DUCHESS

Nay, Signor Diego, do not kneel. Such forms have long since left my life, nor are they, as it seems to me, very fitting between God's creatures. Let me grasp your hand, and look into the face of him whom Heaven has chosen to work a miracle. You have cured my son!

DIEGO

It is indeed a miracle of Heaven, most gracious Madam; and one in which, alas, my poor self has been as nothing. For sounds, subtly linked, take wondrous powers from the soul of him who frames their patterns; and we, who sing, are merely as the string or keys he presses, or as the reed through which he blows. The virtue is not ours, though coming out of us.

DIEGO has made this speech as if learned by rote, with listless courtesy. The DUCHESS has at first been frozen by his manner, but at the end she answers very simply.

DUCHESS

You speak too learnedly, good Signor Diego, and your words pass my poor understanding. The virtue in any of us is but God's finger-touch or breath; but those He chooses as His instruments are, methinks, angels or saints; and whatsoever you be, I look upon you with loving awe. You smile? You are a courtier, while I, although I have not left this palace for twenty years, have long forgotten the words and ways of courts. I am but a simpleton: a foolish old woman who has unlearned all ceremony through many years of many sorts of sorrow; and now, dear youth, unlearned it more than ever from sheer joy at what it has pleased God to do through you. For, thanks to you, I have seen my son again, my dear, wise, tender son again. I would fain thank you. If I had worldly goods which you have not in plenty, or honours to give, they should be yours. You shall have my prayers. For even you, so favoured of Heaven, will some day want them.

DIEGO

Give them me now, most gracious Madam. I have no faith in prayers; but I need them.

DUCHESS

Great joy has made me heartless as well as foolish. I have hurt you, somehow. Forgive me, Signor Diego.

DIEGO

As you said, I am a courtier, Madam, and I know it is enough if we can serve our princes. We have no business with troubles of our own; but having them, we keep them to ourselves. His Highness awaits me at this hour for the usual song which happily unclouds his spirit. Has your Grace any message for him?

DUCHESS

Stay. My son will wait a little while. I require you, Diego, for I have hurt you. Your words are terrible, but just. We princes are brought up—but many of us, alas, are princes in this matter!—to think that when we say "I thank you" we have done our duty; though our very satisfaction, our joy, may merely bring out by comparison the emptiness of heart, the secret soreness, of those we thank. We are not allowed to see the burdens of others, and merely load them with our own.

DIEGO

Is this not wisdom? Princes should not see those burdens which they cannot, which they must not, try to carry. And after all, princes or slaves, can others ever help us, save with their purse, with advice, with a concrete favour, or, say, with a song? Our troubles smart because they are our troubles; our burdens weigh because on our shoulders; they are part of us, and cannot be shifted. But God doubtless loves such kind thoughts as you have, even if, with your Grace's indulgence, they are useless.

DUCHESS

If it were so, God would be no better than an earthly prince. But believe me, Diego, if He prefer what you call kindness—bare sense of brotherhood in suffering—'tis for its usefulness. We cannot carry each other's burden for a minute; true, and rightly so; but we can give each other added strength to bear it.

DIEGO

By what means, please your Grace?

DUCHESS

By love, Diego.

DIEGO

Love! But that was surely never a source of strength, craving your Grace's pardon?

DUCHESS

The love which I am speaking of—and it may surely bear the name, since 'tis the only sort of love that cannot turn to hatred. Love for who requires it because it is required—say love of any woman who has been a mother for any child left motherless. Nay, forgive my boldness: my gratitude gives me rights on you, Diego. You are unhappy; you are still a child; and I imagine that you have no mother.

DIEGO

I am told I had one, gracious Madam. She was, saving your Grace's presence, only a light woman, and sold for a ducat to the Infidels. I cannot say I ever missed her. Forgive me, Madam. Although a courtier, the stock I come from is extremely base. I have no understanding of the words of noble women and saints like you. My vileness thinks them hollow; and my pretty manners are only, as your Grace has unluckily had occasion to see, a very thin and bad veneer. I thank your Grace, and once more crave permission to attend the Duke.

DUCHESS

Nay. That is not true. Your soul is nowise base-born. I owe you everything, and, by some inadvertence, I have done nothing save stir up pain in you. I want—the words may seem presumptuous, yet carry a meaning which is humble—I want to be your friend; and to help you to a greater, better Friend. I will pray for you, Diego.

DIEGO

No, no. You are a pious and virtuous woman, and your pity and prayers must keep fit company.

DUCHESS

The only fitting company for pity and prayers, for love, dear lad, is the company of those who need them. Am I over bold?

The DUCHESS has risen, and shyly laid her hand on DIEGO'S shoulder. DIEGO breaks loose and covers his face, exclaiming in a dry and husky voice.

DIEGO

Oh the cruelty of loneliness, Madam! Save for two years which taught me by comparison its misery, I have lived in loneliness always in this lonely world; though never, alas, alone. Would it had always continued! But as the wayfarer from out of the snow and wind feels his limbs numb and frozen in the hearth's warmth, so, having learned that one might speak, be understood, be comforted, that one might love and be beloved,—the misery of loneliness was revealed to me. And then to be driven back into it once more, shut in to it for ever! Oh, Madam, when one can no longer claim understanding and comfort; no longer say "I suffer: help me!"—because the creature one would say it to is the very same who hurts and spurns one!

DUCHESS

How can a child like you already know such things? We women may, indeed. I was as young as you, years ago, when I too learned it. And since I learned it, let my knowledge, my poor child, help you to bear it. I know how silence galls and wearies. If silence hurts you, speak,—not for me to answer, but understand and sorrow for you. I am old and simple and unlearned; but, God willing, I shall understand.

DIEGO

If anything could help me, 'tis the sense of kindness such as yours. I thank you for your gift; but acceptance of it would be theft; for it is not meant for what I really am. And though a living lie in many things; I am still, oddly enough, honest. Therefore, I pray you, Madam, farewell.

DUCHESS

Do not believe it, Diego. Where it is needed, our poor loving kindness can never be stolen.

DIEGO

Do not tempt me, Madam! Oh God, I do not want your pity, your loving kindness! What are such things to me? And as to understanding my sorrows, no one can, save the very one who is inflicting them. Besides, you and I call different things by the same names. What you call love, to me means nothing: nonsense taught to children, priest's metaphysics. What I mean, you do not know. (A pause, DIEGO walks up and down in agitation.) But woe's me! You have awakened the power of breaking through this silence,—this silence which is starvation and deathly thirst and suffocation. And it so happens that if I speak to you all will be wrecked. (A pause.) But there remains nothing to wreck! Understand me, Madam, I care not who you are. I know that once I have spoken, you must become my enemy. But I am grateful to you; you have shown me the way to speaking; and, no matter now to whom, I now must speak.

DUCHESS

You shall speak to God, my friend, though you speak seemingly to me.

DIEGO

To God! To God! These are the icy generalities we strike upon under all pious warmth. No, gracious Madam, I will not speak to God; for God knows it already, and, knowing, looks on indifferent. I will speak to you. Not because you are kind and pitiful; for you will cease to be so. Not because you will understand; for you never will. I will speak to you because, although you are a saint, you are his mother, have kept somewhat of his eyes and mien; because it will hurt you if I speak, as I would it might hurt him. I am a woman, Madam; a harlot; and I was the Duke your son's mistress while among the Infidels.

A long silence. The DUCHESS remains seated. She barely starts, exclaiming "Ah!—" and becomes suddenly absorbed in thought. DIEGO stands looking listlessly through the window at the lake and the willow.

DIEGO

I await your Grace's orders. Will it please you that I call your maid-of-honour, or summon the gentleman outside? If it so please you, there need be no scandal. I shall give myself up to any one your Grace prefers.

The DUCHESS pays no attention to DIEGO'S last words, and remains reflecting.

DUCHESS

Then, it is he who, as you call it, spurns you? How so? For you are admitted to his close familiarity; nay, you have worked the miracle of curing him. I do not understand the situation. For, Diego,—I know not by what other name to call you—I feel your sorrow is a deep one. You are not the——woman who would despair and call God cruel for a mere lover's quarrel. You love my son; you have cured him,—cured him, do I guess rightly, through your love? But if it be so, what can my son have done to break your heart?

DIEGO

(after listening astonished at the DUCHESS'S unaltered tone of kindness)

Your Grace will understand the matter as much as I can; and I cannot. He does not recognise me, Madam.

DUCHESS

Not recognise you? What do you mean?

DIEGO

What the words signify: Not recognise.

DUCHESS

Then——he does not know——he still believes you to be——a stranger?

DIEGO

So it seems, Madam.

DUCHESS

And yet you have cured his melancholy by your presence. And in the past——tell me: had you ever sung to him?

DIEGO (weeping silently)

Daily, Madam.

DUCHESS (slowly)

They say that Ferdinand is, thanks to you, once more in full possession of his mind. It cannot be. Something still lacks; he is not fully cured.

DIEGO

Alas, he is. The Duke remembers everything, save me.

DUCHESS

There is some mystery in this. I do not understand such matters. But I know that Ferdinand could never be base towards you knowingly. And you, methinks, would never be base towards him. Diego, time will bring light into this darkness. Let us pray God together that He may make our eyes and souls able to bear it.

DIEGO

I cannot pray for light, most gracious Madam, because I fear it. Indeed I cannot pray at all, there remains nought to pray for. But, among the vain and worldly songs I have had to get by heart, there is, by chance, a kind of little hymn, a childish little verse, but a sincere one. And while you pray for me—for you promised to pray for me, Madam—I should like to sing it, with your Grace's leave.

DIEGO opens a little movable organ in a corner, and strikes a few chords, remaining standing the while. The DUCHESS kneels down before the crucifix, turning her back upon him. While she is silently praying, DIEGO, still on his feet, sings very low to a kind of lullaby tune.

Mother of God,
We are thy weary children;
Teach us, thou weeping Mother,
To cry ourselves to sleep.


ACT III

Three months later. Another part of the Palace of Mantua: the hanging gardens in the DUKE'S apartments. It is the first warm night of Spring. The lemon trees have been brought out that day, and fill the air with fragrance. Terraces and flights of steps; in the background the dark mass of the palace, with its cupolas and fortified towers; here and there a lit window picking out the dark; and from above the principal yards, the flare of torches rising into the deep blue of the sky. In the course of the scene, the moon gradually emerges from behind a group of poplars on the opposite side of the lake into which the palace is built. During the earlier part of the act, darkness. Great stillness, with, only occasionally, the plash of a fisherman's oar, or a very distant thrum of mandolines.—The DUKE and DIEGO are walking up and down the terrace.

DUKE

Thou askedst me once, dear Diego, the meaning of that labyrinth which I have had carved, a shapeless pattern enough, but well suited, methinks, to blue and gold, upon the ceiling of my new music room. And wouldst have asked, I fancy, as many have done, the hidden meaning of the device surrounding it.—I left thee in the dark, dear lad, and treated thy curiosity in a peevish manner. Thou hast long forgiven and perhaps forgotten, deeming my lack of courtesy but another ailment of thy poor sick master; another of those odd ungracious moods with which, kindest of healing creatures, thou hast had such wise and cheerful patience. I have often wished to tell thee; but I could not. 'Tis only now, in some mysterious fashion, I seem myself once more,—able to do my judgment's bidding, and to dispose, in memory and words, of my own past. My strange sickness, which thou hast cured, melting its mists away with thy beneficent music even as the sun penetrates and sucks away the fogs of dawn from our lakes—my sickness, Diego, the sufferings of my flight from Barbary; the horror, perhaps, of that shipwreck which cast me (so they say, for I remember nothing) senseless on the Illyrian coast——these things, or Heaven's judgment on but a lukewarm Crusader,—had somehow played strange havoc with my will and recollections. I could not think; or thinking, not speak; or recollecting, feel that he whom I thought of in the past was this same man, myself.

The DUKE pauses, and leaning on the parapet, watches the long reflections of the big stars in the water.

But now, and thanks to thee, Diego, I am another; I am myself.

DIEGO'S face, invisible in the darkness, has undergone dreadful convulsions. His breast heaves, and he stops for breath before answering; but when he does so, controls his voice into its usual rather artificially cadenced tone.

DIEGO

And now, dear Master, you can recollect——all?

DUKE

Recollect, sweet friend, and tell thee. For it is seemly that I should break through this churlish silence with thee. Thou didst cure the weltering distress of my poor darkened mind; I would have thee, now, know somewhat of the past of thy grateful patient. The maze, Diego, carved and gilded on that ceiling is but a symbol of my former life; and the device which, being interpreted, means "I seek straight ways," the expression of my wish and duty.

DIEGO

You loathed the maze, my Lord?

DUKE

Not so. I loved it then. And I still love it now. But I have issued from it—issued to recognise that the maze was good. Though it is good I left it. When I entered it, I was a raw youth, although in years a man; full of easy theory, and thinking all practice simple; unconscious of passion; ready to govern the world with a few learned notions; moreover never having known either happiness or grief, never loved and wondered at a creature different from myself; acquainted, not with the straight roads which I now seek, but only with the rectangular walls of schoolrooms. The maze, and all the maze implied, made me a man.

DIEGO

(who has listened with conflicting feelings, and now unable to conceal his joy)

A man, dear Master; and the gentlest, most just of men. Then, that maze——But idle stories, interpreting all spiritual meaning as prosy fact, would have it, that this symbol was a reality. The legend of your captivity, my Lord, has turned the pattern on that ceiling into a real labyrinth, some cunningly built fortress or prison, where the Infidels kept you, and whose clue——you found, and with the clue, freedom, after five weary years.

DUKE

Whose clue, dear Diego, was given into my hands,—the clue meaning freedom, but also eternal parting—by the most faithful, intrepid, magnanimous, the most loving——and the most beloved of women!

The DUKE has raised his arms from the parapet, and drawn himself erect, folding them on his breast, and seeking for DIEGO'S face in the darkness. But DIEGO, unseen by the DUKE, has clutched the parapet and sunk on to a bench.

DUKE

(walking up and down, slowly and meditatively, after a pause)

The poets have fabled many things concerning virtuous women. The Roman Arria, who stabbed herself to make honourable suicide easier for her husband; Antigone, who buried her brother at the risk of death; and the Thracian Alkestis, who descended into the kingdom of Death in place of Admetus. But none, to my mind, comes up to her. For fancy is but thin and simple, a web of few bright threads; whereas reality is closely knitted out of the numberless fibres of life, of pain and joy. For note it, Diego—those antique women whom we read of were daughters of kings, or of Romans more than kings; bred of a race of heroes, and trained, while still playing with dolls, to pride themselves on austere duty, and look upon the wounds and maimings of their soul as their brothers and husbands looked upon the mutilations of battle. Whereas here; here was a creature infinitely humble; a waif, a poor spurned toy of brutal mankind's pleasure; accustomed only to bear contumely, or to snatch, unthinking, what scanty happiness lay along her difficult and despised path,—a wild creature, who had never heard such words as duty or virtue; and yet whose acts first taught me what they truly meant.

DIEGO

(who has recovered himself, and is now leaning in his turn on the parapet)

Ah——a light woman, bought and sold many times over, my Lord; but who loved, at last.

DUKE

That is the shallow and contemptuous way in which men think, Diego,—and boys like thee pretend to; those to whom life is but a chess-board, a neatly painted surface alternate black and white, most suitable for skilful games, with a soul clean lost or gained at the end! I thought like that. But I grew to understand life as a solid world: rock, fertile earth, veins of pure metal, mere mud, all strangely mixed and overlaid; and eternal fire at the core! I learned it, knowing Magdalen.

DIEGO

Her name was Magdalen?

DUKE

So she bade me call her.

DIEGO

And the name explained the trade?

DUKE (after a pause)

I cannot understand thee Diego,—cannot understand thy lack of understanding——Well yes! Her trade. All in this universe is trade, trade of prince, pope, philosopher or harlot; and once the badge put on, the licence signed—the badge a crown or a hot iron's brand, as the case may be,—why then we ply it according to prescription, and that's all! Yes, Diego,—since thou obligest me to say it in its harshness, I do so, and I glory for her in every contemptuous word I use!—The woman I speak of was but a poor Venetian courtesan; some drab's child, sold to the Infidels as to the Christians; and my cruel pirate master's—shall we say?—mistress. There! For the first time, Diego, thou dost not understand me; or is it——that I misjudged thee, thinking thee, dear boy——(breaks off hurriedly).

DIEGO (very slowly)

Thinking me what, my Lord?

DUKE (lightly, but with effort)

Less of a little Sir Paragon of Virtue than a dear child, who is only a child, must be.

DIEGO

It is better, perhaps, that your Highness should be certain of my limitations——But I crave your Highness's pardon. I had meant to say that being a waif myself, pure gutter-bred, I have known, though young, more Magdalens than you, my Lord. They are, in a way, my sisters; and had I been a woman, I should, likely enough, have been one myself.

DUKE

You mean, Diego?

DIEGO

I mean, that knowing them well, I also know that women such as your Highness has described, occasionally learn to love most truly. Nay, let me finish, my Lord; I was not going to repeat a mere sentimental commonplace. Briefly then, that such women, being expert in love, sometimes understand, quicker than virtuous dames brought up to heroism, when love for them is cloyed. They can walk out of a man's house or life with due alacrity, being trained to such flittings. Or, recognising the first signs of weariness before 'tis known to him who feels it, they can open the door for the other—hand him the clue of the labyrinth with a fine theatric gesture!—But I crave your Highness's pardon for enlarging on this theme.

DUKE

Thou speakest Diego, as if thou hadst a mind to wound thy Master. Is this, my friend, the reward of my confiding in thee, even if tardily?

DIEGO

I stand rebuked, my Lord. But, in my own defence——how shall I say it?——Your Highness has a manner to-night which disconcerts me by its novelty; a saying things and then unsaying them; suggesting and then, somehow, treading down the suggestion like a spark of your lightning. Lovers, I have been told, use such a manner to revive their flagging feeling by playing on the other one's. Even in so plain and solid a thing as friendship, such ways—I say it subject to your Highness's displeasure—are dangerous. But in love, I have known cases where, carried to certain lengths, such ways of speaking undermined a woman's faith and led her to desperate things. Women, despite their strength, which often surprises us, are brittle creatures. Did you never, perhaps, make trial of this——Magdalen, with——

DUKE

With what? Good God, Diego, 'tis I who ask thy pardon; and thou sheddest a dreadful light upon the past. But it is not possible. I am not such a cur that, after all she did, after all she was,—my life saved by her audacity a hundred times, made rich and lovely by her love, her wit, her power,—that I could ever have whimpered for my freedom, or made her suspect I wanted it more than I wanted her? Is it possible, Diego?

DIEGO (slowly)

Why more than you wanted her? She may have thought the two compatible.

DUKE

Never. First, because my escape could not be compassed save by her staying behind; and then because—-she knew, in fact, what thing I was, or must become, once set at liberty.

DIEGO (after a pause)

I see. You mean, my Lord, that you being Duke of Mantua, while she——If she knew that; knew it not merely as a fact, but as one knows the full savour of grief,—well, she was indeed the paragon you think; one might indeed say, bating one point, a virtuous woman.

DUKE

Thou hast understood, dear Diego, and I thank thee for it.

DIEGO

But I fear, my Lord, she did not know these things. Such as she, as yourself remarked, are not trained to conceive of duty, even in others. Passion moves them; and they believe in passion. You loved her; good. Why then, at Mantua as in Barbary. No, my dear Master, believe me; she had seen your love was turning stale, and set you free, rather than taste its staleness. Passion, like duty, has its pride; and even we waifs, as gypsies, have our point of honour.

DUKE

Stale! My love grown stale! You make me laugh, boy, instead of angering. Stale! You never knew her. She was not like a song—even your sweetest song—which, heard too often, cloys, its phrases dropping to senseless notes. She was like music,—the whole art: new modes, new melodies, new rhythms, with every day and hour, passionate or sad, or gay, or very quiet; more wondrous notes than in thy voice; and more strangely sweet, even when they grated, than the tone of those newfangled fiddles, which wound the ear and pour balm in, they make now at Cremona.

DIEGO

You loved her then, sincerely?

DUKE

Methinks it may be Diego now, tormenting his Master with needless questions. Loved her, boy! I love her.

A long pause. Diego has covered his face, with a gesture as if about to speak. But the moon has suddenly risen from behind the poplars, and put scales of silver light upon the ripples of the lake, and a pale luminous mist around the palace. As the light invades the terrace, a sort of chill has come upon both speakers; they walk up and down further from one another.

DIEGO

A marvellous story, dear Master. And I thank you from my heart for having told it me. I always loved you, and I thought I knew you. I know you better still, now. You are—a most magnanimous prince.

DUKE

Alas, dear lad, I am but a poor prisoner of my duties; a poorer prisoner, and a sadder far, than there in Barbary——O Diego, how I have longed for her! How deeply I still long, sometimes! But I open my eyes, force myself to stare reality in the face, whenever her image comes behind closed lids, driving her from me——And to end my confession. At the beginning, Diego, there seemed in thy voice and manner something of her; I saw her sometimes in thee, as children see the elves they fear and hope for in stains on walls and flickers on the path. And all thy wondrous power, thy miraculous cure—nay, forgive what seems ingratitude—was due, Diego, to my sick fancy making me see glances of her in thy eyes and hear her voice in thine. Not music but love, love's delusion, was what worked my cure.

DIEGO

Do you speak truly, Master? Was it so? And now?

DUKE

Now, dear lad, I am cured—completely; I know bushes from ghosts; and I know thee, dearest friend, to be Diego.

DIEGO

When these imaginations still held you, my Lord, did it ever happen that you wondered: what if the bush had been a ghost; if Diego had turned into—what was she called?——

DUKE

Magdalen. My fancy never went so far, good Diego. There was a grain of reason left. But if it had——Well, I should have taken Magdalen's hand, and said, "Welcome, dear sister. This is a world of spells; let us repeat some. Become henceforth my brother; be the Duke of Mantua's best and truest friend; turn into Diego, Magdalen."

The DUKE presses DIEGO'S arm, and, letting it go, walks away into the moonlight with an enigmatic air. A long pause.

Hark, they are singing within; the idle pages making songs to their ladies' eyebrows. Shall we go and listen?

(They walk in the direction of the palace.)

And (with a little hesitation) that makes me say, Diego, before we close this past of mine, and bury it for ever in our silence, that there is a little Moorish song, plaintive and quaint, she used to sing, which some day I will write down, and thou shalt sing it to me—on my deathbed.

DIEGO

Why not before? Speaking of songs, that mandolin, though out of tune, and vilely played, has got hold of a ditty I like well enough. Hark, the words are Tuscan, well known in the mountains. (Sings.)

I'd like to die, but die a little death only,
I'd like to die, but look down from the window;
I'd like to die, but stand upon the doorstep;
I'd like to die, but follow the procession;
I'd like to die, but see who smiles and weepeth;
I'd like to die, but die a little death only.

(While DIEGO sings very loud, the mandolin inside the palace thrums faster and faster. As he ends, with a long defiant leap into a high note, a burst of applause from the palace.)

DIEGO (clapping his hands)

Well sung, Diego!


ACT IV

A few weeks later. The new music room in the Palace of Mantua. Windows on both sides admitting a view of the lake, so that the hall looks like a galley surrounded by water. Outside, morning: the lake, the sky, and the lines of poplars on the banks, are all made of various textures of luminous blue. From the gardens below, bay trees raise their flowering branches against the windows. In every window an antique statue: the Mantuan Muse, the Mantuan Apollo, etc. In the walls between the windows are framed panels representing allegorical triumphs: those nearest the spectator are the triumphs of Chastity and of Fortitude. At the end of the room, steps and a balustrade, with a harpsichord and double basses on a dais. The roof of the room is blue and gold; a deep blue ground, constellated with a gold labyrinth in relief. Round the cornice, blue and gold also, the inscription: "RECTAS PETO," and the name Ferdinandus Mantuae Dux.

The PRINCESS HIPPOLYTA of Mirandola, cousin to the DUKE; and DIEGO. HIPPOLYTA is very young, but with the strength and grace, and the candour, rather of a beautiful boy than of a woman. She is dazzlingly fair; and her hair, arranged in waves like an antique amazon's, is stiff and lustrous, as if made of threads of gold. The brows are wide and straight, like a man's; the glance fearless, but virginal and almost childlike. HIPPOLYTA is dressed in black and gold, particoloured, like Mantegna's Duchess. An old man, in scholar's gown, the Princess's Greek Tutor, has just introduced DIEGO and retired.

DIEGO

The Duke your cousin's greeting and service, illustrious damsel. His Highness bids me ask how you are rested after your journey hither.

PRINCESS

Tell my cousin, good Signor Diego, that I am touched at his concern for me. And tell him, such is the virtuous air of his abode, that a whole night's rest sufficed to right me from the fatigue of two hours' journey in a litter; for I am new to that exercise, being accustomed to follow my poor father's hounds and falcons only on horseback. You shall thank the Duke my cousin for his civility. (PRINCESS laughs.)

DIEGO

(bowing, and keeping his eyes on the PRINCESS as he speaks)

His Highness wished to make his fair cousin smile. He has told me often how your illustrious father, the late Lord of Mirandola, brought his only daughter up in such a wise as scarcely to lack a son, with manly disciplines of mind and body; and that he named you fittingly after Hippolyta, who was Queen of the Amazons, virgins unlike their vain and weakly sex.

PRINCESS

She was; and wife of Theseus. But it seems that the poets care but little for the like of her; they tell us nothing of her, compared with her poor predecessor, Cretan Ariadne, she who had given Theseus the clue of the labyrinth. Methinks that maze must have been mazier than this blue and gold one overhead. What say you, Signor Diego?

DIEGO (who has started slightly)

Ariadne? Was she the predecessor of Hippolyta? I did not know it. I am but a poor scholar, Madam; knowing the names and stories of gods and heroes only from songs and masques. The Duke should have selected some fitter messenger to hold converse with his fair learned cousin.

PRINCESS (gravely)

Speak not like that, Signor Diego. You may not be a scholar, as you say; but surely you are a philosopher. Nay, conceive my meaning: the fame of your virtuous equanimity has spread further than from this city to my small dominions. Your precocious wisdom—for you seem younger than I, and youths do not delight in being very wise—your moderation in the use of sudden greatness, your magnanimous treatment of enemies and detractors; and the manner in which, disdainful of all personal advantage, you have surrounded the Duke my cousin with wisest counsellors and men expert in office—such are the results men seek from the study of philosophy.

DIEGO

(at first astonished, then amused, a little sadly)

You are mistaken, noble maiden. 'Tis not philosophy to refrain from things that do not tempt one. Riches or power are useless to me. As for the rest, you are mistaken also. The Duke is wise and valiant, and chooses therefore wise and valiant counsellors.

PRINCESS (impetuously)

You are eloquent, Signor Diego, even as you are wise! But your words do not deceive me. Ambition lurks in every one; and power intoxicates all save those who have schooled themselves to use it as a means to virtue.

DIEGO

The thought had never struck me; but men have told me what you tell me now.

PRINCESS

Even Antiquity, which surpasses us so vastly in all manner of wisdom and heroism, can boast of very few like you. The noblest souls have grown tyrannical and rapacious and foolhardy in sudden elevation. Remember Alcibiades, the beloved pupil of the wisest of all mortals. Signor Diego, you may have read but little; but you have meditated to much profit, and must have wrestled like some great athlete with all that baser self which the divine Plato has told us how to master.

DIEGO (shaking his head)

Alas, Madam, your words make me ashamed, and yet they make me smile, being so far of the mark! I have wrestled with nothing; followed only my soul's blind impulses.

PRINCESS (gravely)

It must be, then, dear Signor Diego, as the Pythagoreans held: the discipline of music is virtuous for the soul. There is a power in numbered and measured sound very akin to wisdom; mysterious and excellent; as indeed the Ancients fabled in the tales of Orpheus and Amphion, musicians and great sages and legislators of states. I have long desired your conversation, admirable Diego.

DIEGO (with secret contempt)

Noble maiden, such words exceed my poor unscholarly appreciation. The antique worthies whom you name are for me merely figures in tapestries and frescoes, quaint greybeards in laurel wreaths and helmets; and I can scarcely tell whether the Ladies Fortitude and Rhetoric with whom they hold converse, are real daughters of kings, or mere Arts and Virtues. But the Duke, a learned and judicious prince, will set due store by his youthful cousin's learning. As for me, simpleton and ignoramus that I am, all I see is that Princess Hippolyta is very beautiful and very young.

PRINCESS

(sighing a little, but with great simplicity)

I know it. I am young, and perhaps crude; although I study hard to learn the rules of wisdom. You, Diego, seem to know them without study.

DIEGO

I know somewhat of the world and of men, gracious Princess, but that can scarce be called knowing wisdom. Say rather knowing blindness, envy, cruelty, endless nameless folly in others and oneself. But why should you seek to be wise? you who are fair, young, a princess, and betrothed from your cradle to a great prince? Be beautiful, be young, be what you are, a woman.

DIEGO has said this last word with emphasis, but the PRINCESS has not noticed the sarcasm in his voice.

PRINCESS (shaking her head)

That is not my lot. I was destined, as you said, to be the wife of a great prince; and my dear father trained me to fill that office.

DIEGO

Well, and to be beautiful, young, radiant; to be a woman; is not that the office of a wife?

PRINCESS

I have not much experience. But my father told me, and I have gathered from books, that in the wives of princes, such gifts are often thrown away; that other women, supplying them, seem to supply them better. Look at my cousin's mother. I can remember her still beautiful, young, and most tenderly loving. Yet the Duke, my uncle, disdained her, and all she got was loneliness and heartbreak. An honourable woman, a princess, cannot compete with those who study to please and to please only. She must either submit to being ousted from her husband's love, or soar above it into other regions.

DIEGO (interested)

Other regions?

PRINCESS

Higher ones. She must be fit to be her husband's help, and to nurse his sons to valour and wisdom.

DIEGO

I see. The Prince must know that besides all the knights that he summons to battle, and all the wise men whom he hears in council, there is another knight, in rather lighter armour and quicker tired, another counsellor, less experienced and of less steady temper, ready for use. Is this great gain?

PRINCESS

It is strange that being a man, you should conceive of women from——

DIEGO

From a man's standpoint?

PRINCESS

Nay; methinks a woman's. For I observe that women, when they wish to help men, think first of all of some transparent masquerade, donning men's clothes, at all events in metaphor, in order to be near their lovers when not wanted.

DIEGO (hastily)

Donning men's clothes? A masquerade? I fail to follow your meaning, gracious maiden.

PRINCESS (simply)

So I have learned at least from our poets. Angelica, and Bradamante and Fiordispina, scouring the country after their lovers, who were busy enough without them. I prefer Penelope, staying at home to save the lands and goods of Ulysses, and bringing up his son to rescue and avenge him.

DIEGO (reassured and indifferent)

Did Ulysses love Penelope any better for it, Madam? better than poor besotted Menelaus, after all his injuries, loved Helen back in Sparta?

PRINCESS

That is not the question. A woman born to be a prince's wife and prince's mother, does her work not for the sake of something greater than love, whether much or little.

DIEGO

For what then?

PRINCESS

Does a well-bred horse or excellent falcon do its duty to please its master? No; but because such is its nature. Similarly, methinks, a woman bred to be a princess works with her husband, for her husband, not for any reward, but because he and she are of the same breed, and obey the same instincts.

DIEGO

Ah!—--Then happiness, love,—all that a woman craves for?

PRINCESS

Are accidents. Are they not so in the life of a prince? Love he may snatch; and she, being in woman's fashion not allowed to snatch, may receive as a gift, or not. But received or snatched, it is not either's business; not their nature's true fulfilment.

DIEGO

You think so, Lady?

PRINCESS

I am bound to think so. I was born to it and taught it. You know the Duke, my cousin,—well, I am his bride, not being born his sister.

DIEGO

And you are satisfied? O beautiful Princess, you are of illustrious lineage and mind, and learned. Your father brought you up on Plutarch instead of Amadis; you know many things; but there is one, methinks, no one can know the nature of it until he has it.

PRINCESS

What is that, pray?

DIEGO

A heart. Because you have not got one yet, you make your plans without it,—a negligible item in your life.

Princess

I am not a child.

DIEGO

But not yet a woman.

PRINCESS (meditatively)

You think, then——

DIEGO

I do not think; I know. And you will know, some day. And then——

PRINCESS

Then I shall suffer. Why, we must all suffer. Say that, having a heart, a heart for husband or child, means certain grief,—well, does not riding, walking down your stairs, mean the chance of broken bones? Does not living mean old age, disease, possible blindness or paralysis, and quite inevitable aches? If, as you say, I must needs grow a heart, and if a heart must needs give agony, why, I shall live through heartbreak as through pain in any other limb.

DIEGO

Yes,—were your heart a limb like all the rest,—but 'tis the very centre and fountain of all life.

PRINCESS

You think so? 'Tis, methinks, pushing analogy too far, and metaphor. This necessary organ, diffusing life throughout us, and, as physicians say, removing with its vigorous floods all that has ceased to live, replacing it with new and living tissue,—this great literal heart cannot be the seat of only one small passion.

DIEGO

Yet I have known more women than one die of that small passion's frustrating.

PRINCESS

But you have known also, I reckon, many a man in whom life, what he had to live for, was stronger than all love. They say the Duke my cousin's melancholy sickness was due to love which he had outlived.

DIEGO

They say so, Madam.

PRINCESS (thoughtfully)

I think it possible, from what I know of him. He was much with my father when a lad; and I, a child, would listen to their converse, not understanding its items, but seeming to understand the general drift. My father often said my cousin was romantic, favoured overmuch his tender mother, and would suffer greatly, learning to live for valour and for wisdom.

DIEGO

Think you he has, Madam?

PRINCESS

If 'tis true that occasion has already come.

DIEGO

And—if that occasion came, for the first time or for the second, perhaps, after your marriage? What would you do, Madam?

PRINCESS

I cannot tell as yet. Help him, I trust, when help could come, by the sympathy of a soul's strength and serenity. Stand aside, most likely, waiting to be wanted. Or else——

DIEGO

Or else, illustrious maiden?

PRINCESS

Or else——I know not——perhaps, growing a heart, get some use from it.

DIEGO

Your Highness surely does not mean use it to love with?

PRINCESS

Why not? It might be one way of help. And if I saw him struggling with grief, seeking to live the life and think the thought fit for his station; why, methinks I could love him. He seems lovable. Only love could have taught fidelity like yours.

DIEGO

You forget, gracious Princess, that you attributed great power of virtue to a habit of conduct, which is like the nature of high-bred horses, needing no spur. But in truth you are right. I am no high-bred creature. Quite the contrary. Like curs, I love; love, and only love. For curs are known to love their masters.

PRINCESS

Speak not thus, virtuous Diego. I have indeed talked in magnanimous fashion, and believed, sincerely, that I felt high resolves. But you have acted, lived, and done magnanimously. What you have been and are to the Duke is better schooling for me than all the Lives of Plutarch.

DIEGO.

You could not learn from me, Lady.

PRINCESS

But I would try, Diego.

DIEGO

Be not grasping, Madam. The generous coursers whom your father taught you to break and harness have their set of virtues. Those of curs are different. Do not grudge them those. Your noble horses kick them enough, without even seeing their presence. But I feel I am beyond my depth, not being philosophical by nature or schooling. And I had forgotten to give you part of his Highnesses message. Knowing your love of music, and the attention you have given it, the Duke imagined it might divert you, till he was at leisure to pay you homage, to make trial of my poor powers. Will it please you to order the other musicians, Madam?

PRINCESS

Nay, good Diego, humour me in this. I have studied music, and would fain make trial of accompanying your voice. Have you notes by you?

DIEGO

Here are some, Madam, left for the use of his Highness's band this evening. Here is the pastoral of Phyllis by Ludovic of the Lute; a hymn in four parts to the Virgin by Orlandus Lassus; a madrigal by the Pope's Master, Signor Pierluigi of Praeneste. Ah! Here is a dramatic scene between Medea and Creusa, rivals in love, by the Florentine Octavio. Have you knowledge of it, Madam?

PRINCESS

I have sung it with my master for exercise. But, good Diego, find a song for yourself.

DIEGO

You shall humour me, now, gracious Lady. Think I am your master. I desire to hear your voice. And who knows? In this small matter I may really teach you something.

The PRINCESS sits to the harpsichord, DIEGO standing beside her on the dais. They sing, the PRINCESS taking the treble, DIEGO the contralto part. The PRINCESS enters first—with a full-toned voice clear and high, singing very carefully. DIEGO follows, singing in a whisper. His voice is a little husky, and here and there broken, but ineffably delicious and penetrating, and, as he sings, becomes, without quitting the whisper, dominating and disquieting. The PRINCESS plays a wrong chord, and breaks off suddenly.

DIEGO

(having finished a cadence, rudely)

What is it, Madam?

PRINCESS

I know not. I have lost my place——I——I feel bewildered. When your voice rose up against mine, Diego, I lost my head. And—I do not know how to express it—when our voices met in that held dissonance, it seemed as if you hurt me——horribly.

DIEGO

(smiling, with hypocritical apology)

Forgive me, Madam. I sang too loud, perhaps. We theatre singers are apt to strain things. I trust some day to hear you sing alone. You have a lovely voice: more like a boy's than like a maiden's still.

PRINCESS

And yours——'tis strange that at your age we should reverse the parts,—yours, though deeper than mine, is like a woman's.

DIEGO (laughing)

I have grown a heart, Madam; 'tis an organ grows quicker where the breed is mixed and lowly, no nobler limbs retarding its development by theirs.

PRINCESS

Speak not thus, excellent Diego. Why cause me pain by disrespectful treatment of a person—your own admirable self—whom I respect? You have experience, Diego, and shall teach me many things, for I desire learning.

The PRINCESS takes his hand in both hers, very kindly and simply. DIEGO, disengaging his, bows very ceremoniously.

DIEGO

Shall I teach you to sing as I do, gracious Madam?

PRINCESS (after a moment)

I think not, Diego.


ACT V

Two months later. The wedding day of the DUKE. Another part of the Palace of Mantua. A long terrace still to be seen, with roof supported by columns. It looks on one side on to the jousting ground, a green meadow surrounded by clipped hedges and set all round with mulberry trees. On the other side it overlooks the lake, against which, as a fact, it acts as dyke. The Court of Mantua and Envoys of foreign Princes, together with many Prelates, are assembled on the terrace, surrounding the seats of the DUKE, the young DUCHESS HIPPOLYTA, the DUCHESS DOWAGER and the CARDINAL. Facing this gallery, and separated from it by a line of sedge and willows, and a few yards of pure green water, starred with white lilies, is a stage in the shape of a Grecian temple, apparently rising out of the lake. Its pediment and columns are slung with garlands of bay and cypress. In the gable, the DUKE'S device of a labyrinth in gold on a blue ground and the motto: "RECTAS PETO." On the stage, but this side of the curtain, which is down, are a number of Musicians with violins, viols, theorbs, a hautboy, a flute, a bassoon, viola d'amore and bass viols, grouped round two men with double basses and a man at a harpsichord, in dress like the musicians in Veronese's paintings. They are preluding gently, playing elaborately fugued variations on a dance tune in three-eighth time, rendered singularly plaintive by the absence of perfect closes.

CARDINAL

(to VENETIAN AMBASSADOR)

What say you to our Diego's masque, my Lord? Does not his skill as a composer vie almost with his sublety as a singer?

MARCHIONESS OF GUASTALLA

(to the DUCHESS DOWAGER)

A most excellent masque, methinks, Madam. And of so new a kind. We have had masques in palaces and also in gardens, and some, I own it, beautiful; for our palace on the hill affords fine vistas of cypress avenues and the distant plain. But, until the Duke your son, no one has had a masque on the water, it would seem. 'Tis doubtless his invention?

DUCHESS

(with evident preoccupation)

I think not, Madam. 'Tis our foolish Diego's freak. And I confess I like it not. It makes me anxious for the players.

BISHOP OF CREMONA (to the CARDINAL)

A wondrous singer, your Signor Diego. They say the Spaniards have subtle exercises for keeping the voice thus youthful. His Holiness has several such who sing divinely under Pierluigi's guidance. But your Diego seems really but a child, yet has a mode of singing like one who knows a world of joys and sorrows.

CARDINAL

He has. Indeed, I sometimes think he pushes the pathetic quality too far. I am all for the Olympic serenity of the wise Ancients.

YOUNG DUCHESS (laughing)

My uncle would, I almost think, exile our divine Diego, as Plato did the poets, for moving us too much.

PRINCE OF MASSA (whispering)

He has moved your noble husband strangely. Or is it, gracious bride, that too much happiness overwhelms our friend?

YOUNG DUCHESS

(turning round and noticing the DUKE, a few seats off)

'Tis true. Ferdinand is very sensitive to music, and is greatly concerned for our Diego's play. Still——I wonder——.

MARCHIONESS (to the DUKE OF FERRARA'S POET, who is standing near her)

I really never could have recognised Signor Diego in his disguise. He looks for all the world exactly like a woman.

POET

A woman! Say a goddess, Madam! Upon my soul (whispering), the bride is scarce as beautiful as he, although as fair as one of the noble swans who sail on those clear waters.

JESTER

After the play we shall see admiring dames trooping behind the scenes to learn the secret of the paints which can change a scrubby boy into a beauteous nymph; a metamorphosis worth twenty of Sir Ovid's.

DOGE'S WIFE (to the DUKE)

They all tell me—but 'tis a secret naturally—that the words of this ingenious masque are from your Highness's own pen; and that you helped—such are your varied gifts—your singing-page to set them to music.

DUKE (impatiently)

It may be that your Serenity is rightly informed, or not.

KNIGHT OF MALTA (to YOUNG DUCHESS)

One recognises, at least, the mark of Duke Ferdinand's genius in the suiting of the play to the surroundings. Given these lakes, what fitter argument than Ariadne abandoned on her little island? And the labyrinth in the story is a pretty allusion to your lord's personal device and the magnificent ceiling he lately designed for our admiration.

YOUNG DUCHESS

(with her eyes fixed on the curtain, which begins to move)

Nay, 'tis all Diego's thought. Hush, they begin to play. Oh, my heart beats with curiosity to know how our dear Diego will carry his invention through, and to hear the last song which he has never let me hear him sing.

The curtain is drawn aside, displaying the stage, set with orange and myrtle trees in jars, and a big flowering oleander. There is no painted background; but instead, the lake, with distant shore, and the sky with the sun slowly descending into clouds, which light up purple and crimson, and send rosy streamers into the high blue air. On the stage a rout of Bacchanals, dressed like Mantegna's Hours, but with vine-garlands; also Satyrs quaintly dressed in goatskins, but with top-knots of ribbons, all singing a Latin ode in praise of BACCHUS and wine; while girls dressed as nymphs, with ribboned thyrsi in their hands, dance a pavana before a throne of moss overhung by ribboned garlands. On this throne are seated a TENOR as BACCHUS, dressed in russet and leopard skins, a garland of vine leaves round his waist and round his wide-brimmed hat; and DIEGO, as ARIADNE. DIEGO, no longer habited as a man, but in woman's garments, like those of Guercino's Sibyls: a floating robe and vest of orange and violet, open at the throat; with particoloured scarves hanging, and a particoloured scarf wound like a turban round the head, the locks of dark hair escaping from beneath. She is extremely beautiful.

MAGDALEN (sometime known as DIEGO, now representing ARIADNE) rises from the throne and speaks, turning to BACCHUS. Her voice is a contralto, but not deep, and with upper notes like a hautboy's. She speaks in an irregular recitative, sustained by chords on the viols and harpsichord.

ARIADNE

Tempt me not, gentle Bacchus, sunburnt god of ruddy vines and rustic revelry. The gifts you bring, the queenship of the world of wine-inspired Fancies, cannot quell my grief at Theseus' loss.

BACCHUS (tenor)

Princess, I do beseech you, give me leave to try and soothe your anguish. Daughter of Cretan Minos, stern Judge of the Departed, your rearing has been too sad for youth and beauty, and the shade of Orcus has ever lain across your path. But I am God of Gladness; I can take your soul, suspend it in Mirth's sun, even as the grapes, translucent amber or rosy, hang from the tendril in the ripening sun of the crisp autumn day. I can unwind your soul, and string it in the serene sky of evening, smiling in the deep blue like to the stars, encircled, I offer you as crown. Listen, fair Nymph: 'tis a God woos you.

ARIADNE

Alas, radiant Divinity of a time of year gentler than Spring and fruitfuller than Summer, there is no Autumn for hapless Ariadne. Only Winter's nights and frosts wrap my soul. When Theseus went, my youth went also. I pray you leave me to my poor tears and the thoughts of him.

BACCHUS

Lady, even a God, and even a lover, must respect your grief. Farewell. Comrades, along; the pine trees on the hills, the ivy-wreaths upon the rocks, await your company; and the red-stained vat, the heady-scented oak-wood, demand your presence.

The Bacchantes and Satyrs sing a Latin ode in praise of Wine, in four parts, with accompaniment of bass viols and lutes, and exeunt with BACCHUS.

YOUNG DUCHESS

(to DUKE OF FERRARA'S POET)

Now, now, Master Torquato, now we shall hear Poetry's own self sing with our Diego's voice.

DIEGO, as ARIADNE, walks slowly up and down the stage, while the viola plays a prelude in the minor. Then she speaks, recitative with chords only by strings and harpsichord.

ARIADNE

They are gone at last. Kind creatures, how their kindness fretted my weary soul I To be alone with grief is almost pleasure, since grief means thought of Theseus. Yet that thought is killing me. O Theseus, why didst thou ever come into my life? Why did not the cruel Minotaur gore and trample thee like all the others? Hapless Ariadne! The clue was in my keeping, and I reached it to him. And now his ship has long since neared his native shores, and he stands on the prow, watching for his new love. But the Past belongs to me.

A flute rises in the orchestra, with viols accompanying, pizzicati, and plays three or four bars of intricate mazy passages, very sweet and poignant, stopping on a high note, with imperfect close.

ARIADNE (continuing)

And in the past he loved me, and he loves me still. Nothing can alter that. Nay, Theseus, thou canst never never love another like me.

Arioso. The declamation becomes more melodic, though still unrhythmical, and is accompanied by a rapid and passionate tremolo of violins and viols.

And thy love for her will be but the thin ghost of the reality that lived for me. But Theseus——Do not leave me yet. Another hour, another minute. I have so much to tell thee, dearest, ere thou goest.

Accompaniment more and more agitated. A hautboy echoes ARIADNE'S last phrase with poignant reedy tone.

Thou knowest, I have not yet sung thee that little song thou lovest to hear of evenings; the little song made by the Aeolian Poetess whom Apollo loved when in her teens. And thou canst not go away till I have sung it. See! my lute. But I must tune it. All is out of tune in my poor jangled life.

Lute solo in the orchestra. A Siciliana or slow dance, very delicate and simple. ARIADNE sings.

Song

Let us forget we loved each other much;
Let us forget we ever have to part;
Let us forget that any look or touch
Once let in either to the other's heart.

Only we'll sit upon the daisied grass,
And hear the larks and see the swallows pass;
Only we live awhile, as children play,
Without to-morrow, without yesterday.

During the ritornello, between the two verses.

POET

(to the YOUNG DUCHESS, whispering)

Madam, methinks his Highness is unwell. Turn round, I pray you.

YOUNG DUCHESS (without turning).

He feels the play's charm. Hush.

DUCHESS DOWAGER (whispering)

Come Ferdinand, you are faint. Come with me.

DUKE (whispering)

Nay, mother. It will pass. Only a certain oppression at the heart, I was once subject to. Let us be still.

Song (repeats)

Only we'll live awhile, as children play,
Without to-morrow, without yesterday.

A few bars of ritornello after the song.

DUCHESS DOWAGER (whispering)

Courage, my son, I know all.

ARIADNE

(Recitative with accompaniment of violins, flute and harp)

Theseus, I've sung my song. Alas, alas for our poor songs we sing to the beloved, and vainly try to vary into newness!

A few notes of the harp well up, slow and liquid.

Now I can go to rest, and darkness lap my weary heart. Theseus, my love, good night!

Violins tremolo. The hautboy suddenly enters with a long wailing phrase. ARIADNE quickly mounts on to the back of the stage, turns round for one second, waving a kiss to an imaginary person, and then flings herself down into the lake.

A great burst of applause. Enter immediately, and during the cries and clapping, a chorus of Water-Nymphs in transparent veils and garlands of willows and lilies, which sings to a solemn counterpoint, the dirge of ARIADNE. But their singing is barely audible through the applause of the whole Court, and the shouts of "DIEGO! DIEGO! ARIADNE! ARIADNE!" The young DUCHESS rises excitedly, wiping her eyes.

YOUNG DUCHESS

Dear friend! Diego! Diego! Our Orpheus, come forth!

CROWD

Diego! Diego!

POET (to the POPE'S LEGATE)

He is a real artist, and scorns to spoil the play's impression by truckling to this foolish habit of applause.

MARCHIONESS

Still, a mere singer, a page——when his betters call——. But see! the Duke has left our midst.

CARDINAL

He has gone to bring back Diego in triumph, doubtless.

VENETIAN AMBASSADOR

And, I note, his venerable mother has also left us. I doubt whether this play has not offended her strict widow's austerity.

YOUNG DUCHESS

But where is Diego, meanwhile?

The Chorus and orchestra continue the dirge for ARIADNE. A GENTLEMAN-IN-WAITING elbows through the crowd to the CARDINAL.

GENTLEMAN (whispering)

Most Eminent, a word——

CARDINAL (whispering)

The Duke has had a return of his malady?

GENTLEMAN (whispering)

No, most Eminent. But Diego is nowhere to be found. And they have brought up behind the stage the body of a woman in Ariadne's weeds.

CARDINAL (whispering)

Ah, is that all? Discretion, pray. I knew it. But 'tis a most distressing accident. Discretion above all.

The Chorus suddenly breaks off. For on to the stage comes the DUKE. He is dripping, and bears in his arms the dead body, drowned, of DIEGO, in the garb of ARIADNE. A shout from the crowd.

YOUNG DUCHESS

(with a cry, clutching the POET'S arm)

Diego!

DUKE

(stooping over the body, which he has laid upon the stage, and speaking very low)

Magdalen!

(The curtain is hastily closed.)

THE END


APPENDIX

THE LAKES OF MANTUA

It was the Lakes, the deliciousness of water and sedge seen from the railway on a blazing June day, that made me stop at Mantua for the first time; and the thought of them that drew me back to Mantua this summer. They surround the city on three sides, being formed by the Mincio on its way from Lake Garda to the Po, shallow lakes spilt on the great Lombard Plain. They are clear, rippled, fringed with reed, islanded with water lilies, and in them wave the longest, greenest weeds. Here and there a tawny sail of a boat comes up from Venice; children are bathing under the castle towers; at a narrow point is a long covered stone bridge where the water rushes through mills and one has glimpses into cool, dark places smelling of grist.

The city itself has many traces of magnificence, although it has been stripped of pictures more than any other, furnishing out every gallery in Europe since the splendid Gonzagas forfeited the Duchy to Austria. There are a good many delicate late Renaissance houses, carried on fine columns; also some charming open terra-cotta work in windows and belfries. The Piazza Erbe has, above its fruit stalls and market of wooden pails and earthenware, and fishing-tackle and nets (reminding one of the lakes), a very picturesque clock with a seated Madonna; and in the Piazza Virgilio there are two very noble battlemented palaces with beautiful bold Ghibelline swallow-tails. All the buildings are faintly whitened by damp, and the roofs and towers are of very pale, almost faded rose colour, against the always moist blue sky.

But what goes to the brain at Mantua is the unlikely combination, the fantastic duet, of the palace and the lake. One naturally goes first into the oldest part, the red-brick castle of the older Marquises, in one of whose great square towers are Mantegna's really delightful frescoes: charming cupids, like fleecy clouds turned to babies, playing in a sky of the most marvellous blue, among garlands of green and of orange and lemon trees cut into triumphal arches, with the Marquis of Mantua and all the young swashbuckler Gonzagas underneath. The whole decoration, with its predominant blue, and enamel white and green, is delicate and cool in its magnificence, and more thoroughly enjoyable than most of Mantegna's work. But the tower windows frame in something more wonderful and delectable—one of the lakes! The pale blue water, edged with green reeds, the poplars and willows of the green plain beyond; a blue vagueness of Alps, and, connecting it all, the long castle bridge with its towers of pale geranium-coloured bricks.

One has to pass through colossal yards to get from this fortified portion to the rest of the Palace, Corte Nuova, as it is called. They have now become public squares, and the last time I saw them, it being market day, they were crowded with carts unloading baskets of silk; and everywhere the porticoes were heaped with pale yellow and greenish cocoons; the palace filled with the sickly smell of the silkworm, which seemed, by coincidence, to express its sæcular decay. For of all the decaying palaces I have ever seen in Italy this Palace of Mantua is the most utterly decayed. At first you have no other impression. But little by little, as you tramp through what seem miles of solemn emptiness, you find that more than any similar place it has gone to your brain. For these endless rooms and cabinets—some, like those of Isabella d'Este (which held the Mantegna and Perugino and Costa allegories, Triumph of Chastity and so forth, now in the Louvre), quite delicate and exquisite; or scantily modernised under Maria Theresa for a night's ball or assembly; or actually crumbling, defaced, filled with musty archives; or recently used as fodder stores and barracks—all this colossal labyrinth, oddly symbolised by the gold and blue labyrinth on one of the ceilings, is, on the whole, the most magnificent and fantastic thing left behind by the Italy of Shakespeare. The art that remains (by the way, in one dismantled hall I found the empty stucco frames of our Triumph of Julius Cæsar!) is, indeed, often clumsy and cheap—elaborate medallions and ceilings by Giulio Romano and Primaticcio; but one feels that it once appealed to an Ariosto-Tasso mythological romance which was perfectly genuine, and another sort of romance now comes with its being so forlorn.

Forlorn, forlorn! And everywhere, from the halls with mouldering zodiacs and Loves of the Gods and Dances of the Muses; and across hanging gardens choked with weeds and fallen in to a lower level, appear the blue waters of the lake, and its green distant banks, to make it all into Fairyland. There is, more particularly, a certain long, long portico, not far from Isabella d'Este's writing closet, dividing a great green field planted with mulberry trees, within the palace walls, from a fringe of silvery willows growing in the pure, lilied water. Here the Dukes and their courtiers took the air when the Alps slowly revealed themselves above the plain after sunset; and watched, no doubt, either elaborate quadrilles and joustings in the riding-school, on the one hand, or boat-races and all manner of water pageants on the other. We know it all from the books of the noble art of horsemanship: plumes and curls waving above curvetting Spanish horses; and from the rarer books of sixteenth and seventeenth century masques and early operas, where Arion appears on his colossal dolphin packed with tiorbos and violas d'amore, singing some mazy aria by Caccini or Monteverde, full of plaintive flourishes and unexpected minors. We know it all, the classical pastoral still coloured with mediæval romance, from Tasso and Guarini—nay, from Fletcher and Milton. Moreover, some chivalrous Gonzaga duke, perhaps that same Vincenzo who had the blue and gold ceiling made after the pattern of the labyrinth in which he had been kept by the Turks, not too unlike, let us hope, Orsino of Illyria, and by his side a not yet mournful Lady Olivia; and perhaps, directing the concert at the virginal, some singing page Cesario.... Fancy a water pastoral, like the Sabrina part of "Comus," watched from that portico! The nymph Manto, founder of Mantua, rising from the lake; cardboard shell or real one? Or the shepherds of Father Virgil, trying to catch hold of Proteus; but all in ruffs and ribbons, spouting verses like "Amyntas" or "The Faithful Shepherdess." And now only the song of the frogs rises up from among the sedge and willows, where the battlemented castle steeps its buttresses in the lake.

There is another side to this Shakespearean palace, not of romance but of grotesqueness verging on to horror. There are the Dwarfs' Apartments! Imagine a whole piece of the building, set aside for their dreadful living, a rabbit warren of tiny rooms, including a chapel against whose vault you knock your head, and a grand staircase quite sickeningly low to descend. Strange human or half-human kennels, one trusts never really put to use, and built as a mere brutal jest by a Duke of Mantua smarting under the sway of some saturnine little monster, like the ones who stand at the knee of Mantegna's frescoed Gonzagas.

After seeing the Castello and the Corte Nuova one naturally thinks it one's duty to go and see the little Palazzo del Te, just outside the town. Inconceivable frescoes, colossal, sprawling gods and goddesses, all chalk and brick dust, enough to make Rafael, who was responsible for them through his abominable pupils, turn for ever in his coffin. Damp-stained stuccoes and grass-grown courtyards, and no sound save the noisy cicalas sawing on the plane-trees. How utterly forsaken of gods and men is all this Gonzaga splendour! But all round, luxuriant green grass, and English-looking streams winding flush among great willows. We left the Palazzo del Te very speedily behind us, and set out toward Pietola, the birthplace of Virgil. But the magic of one of the lakes bewitched us. We sat on the wonderful green embankments, former fortifications of the Austrians, with trees steeping in the water, and a delicious, ripe, fresh smell of leaves and sun-baked flowers, and watched quantities of large fish in the green shadow of the railway bridge. In front of us, under the reddish town walls, spread an immense field of white water lilies; and farther off, across the blue rippled water, rose the towers and cupolas and bastions of the Gonzaga's palace—palest pink, unsubstantial, utterly unreal, in the trembling heat of the noontide.