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The Dance To Death - Act 2 Post by :eheyoka Category :Plays Author :Emma Lazarus Date :May 2012 Read :3302

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The Dance To Death - Act 2

ACT II

At Eisenach.

SCENE I.

(A Room in the LANDGRAVE'S Palace.
FREDERICK THE GRAVE and HENRY SCHNETZEN.)


LANDGRAVE.
Who tells thee of my son's love for the Jewess?


SCHNETZEN.
Who tells me? Ask the Judengasse walls,
The garrulous stones publish Prince William's visits
To his fair mistress.


LANDGRAVE.
Mistress? Ah, such sins
The Provost of St. George's will remit
For half a pound of coppers.


SCHNETZEN.
Think it not!
No light amour this, leaving shield unflecked;
He wooes the Jewish damsel as a knight
The lady of his heart.


LANDGRAVE.
Impossible!

SCHNETZEN.
Things more impossible have chanced. Remember
Count Gleichen, doubly wived, who pined in Egypt,
There wed the Pasha's daughter Malachsala,
Nor blushed to bring his heathen paramour
Home to his noble wife Angelica,
Countess of Orlamund. Yea, and the Pope
Sanctioned the filthy sin.


LANDGRAVE.
Himself shall say it.
Ho, Gunther!

(Enter a Lackey.)

Bid the Prince of Meissen here.

(Exit Lackey. The LANDGRAVE paces the stage in agitation.)

(Enter PRINCE WILLIAM.)


PRINCE WILLIAM.
Father, you called me?


LANDGRAVE.
Ay, when were you last
In Nordhausen?


PRINCE WILLIAM.
This morning I rode hence.


LANDGRAVE.
Were you at Susskind's house?


PRINCE WILLIAM.
I was, my liege.


LANDGRAVE.
I hear you entertain unseemly love
For the Jew's daughter.


PRINCE WILLIAM.
Who has told thee this?


SCHNETZEN.
This I have told him.


PRINCE WILLIAM.
Father, believe him not.
I swear by heaven 't is no unseemly love
Leads me to Susskind's house.


LANDGRAVE.
With what high title
Please you to qualify it?


PRINCE WILLIAM.
True, I love
Liebhaid von Orb, but 't is the honest passion
Wherewith a knight leads home his equal wife.


LANDGRAVE.
Great God! and thou wilt brag thy shame! Thou speakest
Of wife and Jewess in one breath! Wilt make
Thy princely name a stench in German nostrils?


PRINCE WILLIAM.
Hold, father, hold! You know her--yes, a Jewess
In her domestic piety, her soul
Large, simple, splendid like a star, her heart
Suffused with Syrian sunshine--but no more--
The aspect of a Princess of Thuringia,
Swan-necked, gold-haired, Madonna-eyed. I love her!
If you will quench this passion, take my life!

(He falls at his father's feet.
FREDERICK, in a paroxysm of rage,
seizes his sword.)


SCHNETZEN.
He is your son!


LANDGRAVE.
Oh that he ne'er were born!
Hola! Halberdiers! Yeomen of the Guard!

(Enter Guardsmen.)

Bear off this prisoner! Let him sigh out
His blasphemous folly in the castle tower,
Until his hair be snow, his fingers claws.

(They seize and bear away PRINCE WILLIAM.)

Well, what's your counsel?


SCHNETZEN.
Briefly this, my lord.
The Jews of Nordhausen have brewed the Prince
A love-elixir--let them perish all!

(Tumult without. Singing of Hymns and Ringing of Church-bells. The LANDGRAVE and SCHNETZEN go to the window.)


SONG* (without).

The cruel pestilence arrives,
Cuts off a myriad human lives.
See the Flagellants' naked skin!
They scourge themselves for grievous sin.
Trembles the earth beneath God's breath,
The Jews shall all be burned to death.

(*A rhyme of the times. See Graetz's "History of the Jews," page 374, vol. vii.)


LANDGRAVE.
Look, foreign pilgrims! What an endless file!
Naked waist-upward. Blood is trickling down
Their lacerated flesh. What do they carry?


SCHNETZEN.
Their scourges--iron-pointed, leathern thongs,
Mark how they lash themselves--the strict Flagellants.
The Brothers of the Cross--hark to their cries!


VOICE FROM BELOW.
Atone, ye mighty! God is wroth! Expel
The enemies of heaven--raze their homes!

(Confused cries from below, which gradually die away in the distance.)

Woe to God's enemies! Death to the Jews!
They poison all our wells--they bring the plague.
Kill them who killed our Lord! Their homes shall be
A wilderness--drown them in their own blood!

(The LANDGRAVE and SCHNETZEN withdraw from the window.)


SCHNETZEN.
Do not the people ask the same as I?
Is not the people's voice the voice of God?


LANDGRAVE.
I will consider.


SCHNETZEN.
Not too long, my liege.
The moment favors. Later 't were hard to show
Due cause to his Imperial Majesty,
For slaughtering the vassals of the Crown.
Two mighty friends are theirs. His holiness
Clement the Sixth and Kaiser Karl.


LANDGRAVE.
'T were rash
Contending with such odds.


SCHNETZEN.
Courage, my lord.
These battle singly against death and fate.
Your allies are the sense and heart o' the world.
Priests warring for their Christ, nobles for gold,
And peoples for the very breath of life
Spoiled by the poison-mixers. Kaiser Karl
Lifts his lone voice unheard, athwart the roar
Of such a flood; the papal bull is whirled
An unconsidered rag amidst the eddies.


LANDGRAVE.
What credence lend you to the general rumor
Of the river poison?


SCHNETZEN.
Such as mine eyes avouch.
I have seen, yea touched the leathern wallet found
On the body of one from whom the truth was wrenched
By salutary torture. He confessed,
Though but a famulus of the master-wizard,
The horrible old Moses of Mayence,
He had flung such pouches in the Rhine, the Elbe,
The Oder, Danube--in a hundred brooks,
Until the wholesome air reeked pestilence;
'T was an ell long, filled with a dry, fine dust
Of rusty black and red, deftly compounded
Of powdered flesh of basilisks, spiders, frogs,
And lizards, baked with sacramental dough
In Christian blood.


LANDGRAVE.
Such goblin-tales may curdle
The veins of priest-rid women, fools, and children.
They are not for the ears of sober men.


SCHNETZEN.
Pardon me, Sire. I am a simple soldier.
My God, my conscience, and my suzerain,
These are my guides--blindfold I follow them.
If your keen royal wit pierce the gross web
Of common superstition--be not wroth
At your poor vassal's loyal ignorance.
Remember, too, Susskind retains your bonds.
The old fox will not press you; he would bleed
Against the native instinct of the Jew,
Rather his last gold doit and so possess
Your ease of mind, nag, chafe, and toy with it;
Abide his natural death, and other Jews
Less devilish-cunning, franklier Hebrew-viced,
Will claim redemption of your pledge.


LANDGRAVE.
How know you
That Susskind holds my bonds?


SCHNETZEN.
You think the Jews
Keep such things secret? Not a Jew but knows
Your debt exact--the sum and date of interest,
And that you visit Susskind, not for love,
But for his shekels.


LANDGRAVE.
Well, the Jews shall die.
This is the will of God. Whom shall I send
To bear my message to the council?


SCHNETZEN.
I
Am ever at your 'hest. To-morrow morn
Sees me in Nordhausen.


LANDGRAVE.
Come two hours hence.
I will deliver you the letter signed.
Make ready for your ride.


SCHNETZEN
(kisses FREDERICK'S hand).

Farewell, my master.

(Aside.)

Ah, vengeance cometh late, Susskind von Orb,
But yet it comes! My wife was burned through thee,
Thou and thy children are consumed by me!

(Exit.)

 

SCENE II.

(A Room in the Wartburg Monastery. PRINCESS MATHILDIS and PRIOR PEPPERCORN.)


PRIOR.
Be comforted, my daughter. Your lord's wisdom
Goes hand in hand with his known piety
Thus dealing with your son. To love a Jewess
Is flat contempt of Heaven--to ask in marriage,
Sheer spiritual suicide. Let be;
Justice must take its course.


PRINCESS.
Justice is murdered;
Oh slander not her corpse. For my son's fault,
A thousand innocents are doomed. Is that
God's justice?


PRIOR.
Yea, our liege is but his servant.
Did not He purge with fiery hail those twain
Blotches of festering sin, Gomorrah, Sodom?
The Jews are never innocent,--when Christ
Agonized on the Cross, they cried--"His blood
Be on our children's heads and ours!" I mark
A dangerous growing evil of these days,
Pity, misnamed--say, criminal indulgence
Of reprobates brow-branded by the Lord.
Shall we excel the Christ in charity?
Because his law is love, we tutor him
In mercy and reward his murderers?
Justice is blind and virtue is austere.
If the true passion brimmed our yearning hearts
The vision of the agony would loom
Fixed vividly between the day and us:--
Nailed on the gaunt black Cross the divine form,
Wax-white and dripping blood from ankles, wrists,
The sacred ichor that redeems the world,
And crowded in strange shadow of eclipse,
Reviling Jews, wagging their heads accursed,
Sputtering blasphemy--who then would shrink
From holy vengeance? who would offer less
Heroic wrath and filial zeal to God
Than to a murdered father?


PRINCESS.
But my son
Will die with her he loves.


PRIOR.
Better to perish
In time than in eternity. No question
Pends here of individual life; our sight
Must broaden to embrace the scope sublime
Of this trans-earthly theme. The Jew survives
Sword, plague, fire, cataclysm--and must, since Christ
Cursed him to live till doomsday, still to be
A scarecrow to the nations. None the less
Are we beholden in Christ's name at whiles,
When maggot-wise Jews breed, infest, infect
Communities of Christians, to wash clean
The Church's vesture, shaking off the filth
That gathers round her skirts. A perilous germ!
Know you not, all the wells, the very air
The Jews have poisoned?--Through their arts alone
The Black Death scourges Christendom.


PRINCESS.
I know
All heinousness imputed by their foes.
Father, mistake me not: I urge no plea
To shield this hell-spawn, loathed by all who love
The lamb and kiss the Cross. I had not guessed
Such obscure creatures crawled upon my path,
Had not my son--I know not how misled--
Deigned to ennoble with his great regard,
A sparkle midst the dust motes.
SHE is sacred.
What is her tribe to me? Her kith and kin
May rot or roast--the Jews of Nordhausen
May hang, drown, perish like the Jews of France,
But she shall live--Liebhaid von Orb, the Jewess,
The Prince, my son, elects to love.


PRIOR.
Amen!
Washed in baptismal waters she shall be
Led like the clean-fleeced yeanling to the fold.
Trust me, my daughter--for through me the Church
Which is the truth, which is the life, doth speak.
Yet first 't were best essay to cure the Prince
Of this moon-fostered madness, bred, no doubt,
By baneful potions which these cunning knaves
Are skilled to mix.


PRINCESS.
Go visit him, dear father,
Where in the high tower mewed, a wing-clipped eagle,
His spirit breaks in cage. You are his master,
He is wont from childhood to hear wisdom fall
From your instructed lips. Tell him his mother
Rises not from her knees, till he is freed.


PRIOR.
Madam, I go. Our holy Church has healed
Far deadlier heart-wounds than a love-sick boy's.
Be of good cheer, the Prince shall live to bless
The father's rigor who kept pure of blot
A 'scutcheon more unsullied than the sun.


PRINCESS.
Thanks and farewell.


PRIOR.
Farewell. God send thee peace!

(Exeunt.)

 

SCENE III.

(A mean apartment in one of the Towers of the Landgrave's Palace. PRINCE WILLIAM discovered seated at the window.)


PRINCE WILLIAM.
The slow sun sets; with lingering, large embrace
He folds the enchanted hill; then like a god
Strides into heaven behind the purple peak.
Oh beautiful! In the clear, rayless air,
I see the chequered vale mapped far below,
The sky-paved streams, the velvet pasture-slopes,
The grim, gray cloister whose deep vesper bell
Blends at this height with tinkling, homebound herds!
I see--but oh, how far!--the blessed town
Where Liebhaid dwells. Oh that I were yon star
That pricks the West's unbroken foil of gold,
Bright as an eye, only to gaze on her!
How keen it sparkles o'er the Venusburg!
When brown night falls and mists begin to live,
Then will the phantom hunting-train emerge,
Hounds straining, black fire-eyeballed, breathless steeds,
Spurred by wild huntsmen, and unhallowed nymphs,
And at their head the foam-begotten witch,
Of soul-destroying beauty. Saints of heaven!
Preserve mine eyes from such unholy sight!
How all unlike the base desire which leads
Misguided men to that infernal cave,
Is the pure passion that exalts my soul
Like a religion! Yet Christ pardon me
If this be sin to thee!

(He takes his lute, and begins to sing. Enter with a lamp Steward of the Castle, followed by PRIOR PEPPERCORN. Steward lays down the lamp and exit.)

Good even, father!


PRIOR.
Benedicite!
Our bird makes merry his dull bars with song,
Yet would not penitential psalms accord
More fitly with your sin than minstrels' lays?


PRINCE WILLIAM.
I know no blot upon my life's fair record.


PRIOR.
What is it to wanton with a Christ-cursed Jewess,
Defy thy father and pollute thy name,
And fling to the ordures thine immortal soul?


PRINCE WILLIAM.
Forbear! thy cowl's a helmet, thy serge frock
Invulnerable as brass--yet I am human,
Thou, priest, art still a man.


PRIOR.
Pity him, Heaven!
To what a pass their draughts have brought the mildest,
Noblest of princes! Softly, my son; be ruled
By me, thy spiritual friend and father.
Thou hast been drugged with sense-deranging potions,
Thy blood set boiling and thy brain askew;
When these thick fumes subside, thou shalt awake
To bless the friend who gave thy madness bounds.


PRINCE WILLIAM.
Madness! Yea, as the sane world goes, I am mad.
What else to help the helpless, to uplift
The low, to adore the good, the beautiful,
To live, battle, suffer, die for truth, for love!
But that is wide of the question. Let me hear
What you are charged to impart--my father's will.

PRIOR.
Heart-cleft by his dear offspring's shame, he prays
Your reason be restored, your wayward sense
Renew its due allegiance. For his son
He, the good parent, weeps--hot drops of gall,
Wrung from a spirit seldom eased by tears.
But for his honor pricked, the Landgrave takes
More just and general vengeance.


PRINCE WILLIAM.
In the name of God,
What has he done to HER?


PRIOR.
Naught, naught,--as yet.
Sweet Prince, be calm; you leap like flax to flame.
You nest within your heart a cockatrice,
Pluck it from out your bosom and breathe pure
Of the filthy egg. The Landgrave brooks no more
The abomination that infects his town.
The Jews of Nordhausen are doomed.


PRINCE WILLIAM.
Alack!
Who and how many of that harmless tribe,
Those meek and pious men, have been elected
To glut with innocent blood the oppressor's wrath?


PRIOR.
Who should go free where equal guilt is shared?
Frederick is just--they perish all at once,
Generous moreover--for in their mode of death
He grants them choice.


PRINCE WILLIAM.
My father had not lost
The human semblance when I saw him last.
Nor can he be divorced in this short space
From his shrewd wit. How shall he make provision
For the vast widowed, orphaned host this deed
Burdens the state withal?


PRIOR.
Oh excellent!
This is the crown of folly, topping all!
Forgive me, Prince, when I gain breath to point
Your comic blunder, you will laugh with me.
Patience--I'll draw my chin as long as yours.
Well, 't was my fault--one should be accurate--
Jews, said I? when I meant Jews, Jewesses,
And Jewlings! all betwixt the age
Of twenty-four hours, and of five score years.
Of either sex, of every known degree,
All the contaminating vermin purged
With one clean, searching blast of wholesome fire.


PRINCE WILLIAM.
O Christ, disgraced, insulted! Horrible man,
Remembered be your laugh in lowest hell,
Dragging you to the nether pit! Forgive me;
You are my friend--take me from here--unbolt
Those iron doors--I'll crawl upon my knees
Unto my father--I have much to tell him.
For but the freedom of one hour, sweet Prior,
I'll brim the vessels of the Church with gold.


PRIOR.
Boy! your bribes touch not, nor your curses shake
The minister of Christ. Yet I will bear
Your message to the Landgrave.


PRINCE WILLIAM.
Whet your tongue
Keen as the archangel's blade of truth--your voice
Be as God's thunder, and your heart one blaze--
Then can you speak my cause. With me, it needs
No plausive gift; the smitten head, stopped throat,
Blind eyes and silent suppliance of sorrow
Persuade beyond all eloquence. Great God!
Here while I rage and beat against my bars,
The infernal fagots may be stacked for her,
The hell-spark kindled. Go to him, dear Prior,
Speak to him gently, be not too much moved,
'Neath its rude case you had ever a soft heart,
And he is stirred by mildness more than passion.
Recall to him her round, clear, ardent eyes,
The shower of sunshine that's her hair, the sheen
Of the cream-white flesh--shall these things serve as fuel?
Tell him that when she heard once he was wounded,
And how he bled and anguished; at the tale
She wept for pity.


PRIOR.
If her love be true
She will adore her lover's God, embrace
The faith that marries you in life and death.
This promise with the Landgrave would prevail
More than all sobs and pleadings.


PRINCE WILLIAM.
Save her, save her!
If any promise, vow, or oath can serve.
Oh trusting, tranquil Susskind, who estopped
Your ears forewarned, bandaged your visioned eyes,
To woo destruction! Stay! did he not speak
Of amulet or talisman? These horrors
Have crowded out my wits. Yea, the gold casket!
What fixed serenity beamed from his brow,
Laying the precious box within my hands!

(He brings from the shelf the casket, and hands it to the Prior.)

Deliver this unto the Prince my father,
Nor lose one vital moment. What it holds,
I guess not--but my light heart whispers me
The jewel safety's locked beneath its lid.


PRIOR.
First I must foil such devil's tricks as lurk
In its gem-crusted cabinet.


PRINCE WILLIAM.
Away!
Deliverance posts on your return. I feel it.
For your much comfort thanks. Good-night.


PRIOR.
Good-night.

(Exit.)

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