ARIADNE IN MANTUA
A ROMANCE IN FIVE ACTS
THOMAS B. MOSHER
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
"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
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,
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.
Maiano, near Florence,
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.
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
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
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.
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——"
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
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.
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
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
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?
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
Betray me? My secret? What do you mean, my Lord? I fail to
grasp your meaning.
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.
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?
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?
I think I have, my Lord.
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.
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.
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.
Will it please your Eminence that I should sing the Lament of
Ariadne on Naxos?
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.
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!
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.
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.
Give them me now, most gracious Madam. I have no faith in
prayers; but I need them.
Great joy has made me heartless as well as foolish. I have
hurt you, somehow. Forgive me, Signor 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
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.
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.
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.
By what means, please your Grace?
By love, Diego.
Love! But that was surely never a source of strength, craving
your Grace's pardon?
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.
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.
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.
No, no. You are a pious and virtuous woman, and your pity and
prayers must keep fit company.
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.
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
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.
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.
Do not believe it, Diego. Where it is needed, our poor loving
kindness can never be stolen.
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.
You shall speak to God, my friend, though you speak seemingly
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
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.
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
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?
(after listening astonished at the DUCHESS'S unaltered tone
Your Grace will understand the matter as much as I can; and I
cannot. He does not recognise me, Madam.
Not recognise you? What do you mean?
What the words signify: Not recognise.
Then——he does not know——he still believes you to be——a
So it seems, Madam.
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)
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.
Alas, he is. The Duke remembers everything, save me.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And now, dear Master, you can recollect——all?
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.
You loathed the maze, my Lord?
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.
(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.
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.
(walking up and down, slowly and meditatively, after a
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.
(who has recovered himself, and is now leaning in his turn on
Ah——a light woman, bought and sold many times over, my Lord;
but who loved, at last.
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.
Her name was Magdalen?
So she bade me call her.
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
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.
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.
You mean, 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.
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?
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
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?
Why more than you wanted her? She may have thought the two
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
Thou hast understood, dear Diego, and I thank thee for it.
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.
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.
You loved her then, sincerely?
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
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
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.
Do you speak truly, Master? Was it so? And now?
Now, dear lad, I am cured—completely; I know bushes from
ghosts; and I know thee, dearest friend, to be 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?——
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.
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
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
DIEGO (clapping his hands)
Well sung, Diego!
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.
The Duke your cousin's greeting and service, illustrious
damsel. His Highness bids me ask how you are rested after your
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.)
(bowing, and keeping his eyes on the PRINCESS as he
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
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.
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.
(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
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.
The thought had never struck me; but men have told me what you
tell me now.
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
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.
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,
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.
(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.
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
Well, and to be beautiful, young, radiant; to be a woman; is
not that the office of a wife?
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.
Higher ones. She must be fit to be her husband's help, and to
nurse his sons to valour and wisdom.
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?
It is strange that being a man, you should conceive of women
From a man's standpoint?
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.
Donning men's clothes? A masquerade? I fail to follow your
meaning, gracious maiden.
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?
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.
For what then?
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.
Ah!—--Then happiness, love,—all that a woman craves for?
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
You think so, Lady?
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.
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.
What is that, pray?
A heart. Because you have not got one yet, you make your plans
without it,—a negligible item in your life.
I am not a child.
But not yet a woman.
You think, then——
I do not think; I know. And you will know, some day. And
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.
Yes,—were your heart a limb like all the rest,—but 'tis the
very centre and fountain of all life.
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.
Yet I have known more women than one die of that small
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.
They say so, Madam.
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.
Think you he has, Madam?
If 'tis true that occasion has already come.
And—if that occasion came, for the first time or for the
second, perhaps, after your marriage? What would you do,
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——
Or else, illustrious maiden?
Or else——I know not——perhaps, growing a heart, get some
use from it.
Your Highness surely does not mean use it to love with?
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
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
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.
You could not learn from me, Lady.
But I would try, 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?
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?
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?
I have sung it with my master for exercise. But, good Diego,
find a song for yourself.
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.
(having finished a cadence, rudely)
What is it, Madam?
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.
(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.
And yours——'tis strange that at your age we should reverse
the parts,—yours, though deeper than mine, is like a
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.
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.
Shall I teach you to sing as I do, gracious Madam?
PRINCESS (after a moment)
I think not, Diego.
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
(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?
(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
He has. Indeed, I sometimes think he pushes the pathetic
quality too far. I am all for the Olympic serenity of the wise
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?
(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
I really never could have recognised Signor Diego in his
disguise. He looks for all the world exactly like a woman.
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.
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.
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.
(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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
(to the YOUNG DUCHESS, whispering)
Madam, methinks his Highness is unwell. Turn round, I pray
YOUNG DUCHESS (without turning).
He feels the play's charm. Hush.
DUCHESS DOWAGER (whispering)
Come Ferdinand, you are faint. Come with me.
Nay, mother. It will pass. Only a certain oppression at the
heart, I was once subject to. Let us be still.
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.
(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.
Dear friend! Diego! Diego! Our Orpheus, come forth!
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.
Still, a mere singer, a page——when his betters call——. But
see! the Duke has left our midst.
He has gone to bring back Diego in triumph, doubtless.
And, I note, his venerable mother has also left us. I doubt
whether this play has not offended her strict widow's
But where is Diego, meanwhile?
The Chorus and orchestra continue the dirge for ARIADNE. A
GENTLEMAN-IN-WAITING elbows through the crowd to the
Most Eminent, a word——
The Duke has had a return of his malady?
No, most Eminent. But Diego is nowhere to be found. And they
have brought up behind the stage the body of a woman in
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.
(with a cry, clutching the POET'S arm)
(stooping over the body, which he has laid upon the stage,
and speaking very low)
(The curtain is hastily closed.)
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
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
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
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