A monologue from the play by Pedro Calderón de la Barca

  • NOTE: This monologue is reprinted from Eight Dramas of Calderon. Trans. Edward Fitzgerald. London: Macmillan & Co., 1906.
  • KING: Rise, both of you,
    Rise to my arms, Astolfo and Estrella;
    As my two sisters' children always mine,
    Now more than ever, since myself and Poland
    Solely to you for our succession look'd.
    And now give ear, you and your several factions,
    And you, the Peers and Princes of this realm,
    While I reveal the purport of this meeting
    In words whose necessary length I trust
    No unsuccessful issue shall excuse.
    You and the world who have surnamed me "Sage"
    Know that I owe that title, if my due,
    To my long meditation on the book
    Which ever lying open overhead--
    The book of heaven, I mean--so few have read;
    Whose golden letters on whose sapphire leaf,
    Distinguishing the page of day and night,
    And all the revolution of the year;
    So with the turning volume where they lie
    Still changing their prophetic syllables,
    They register the destinies of men:
    Until with eyes that, dim with years indeed,
    Are quicker to pursue the stars than rule them,
    I get the start of Time, and from his hand
    The wand of tardy revelation draw.
    Oh, had the self-same heaven upon his page
    Inscribed my death ere I should read my life
    And, by fore-casting of my own mischance,
    Play not the victim but the suicide
    In my own tragedy!--But you shall hear.
    You know how once, as kings must for their people,
    And only once, as wise men for themselves,
    I woo'd and wedded: know too that my Queen
    In childbirth died; but not, as you believe,
    With her, the son she died in giving life to.
    For, as the hour of birth was on the stroke,
    Her brain conceiving with her womb, she dream'd
    A serpent tore her entrail. And too surely
    (For evil omen seldom speaks in vain)
    The man-child breaking from that living tomb
    That makes our birth the antitype of death,
    Man-grateful, for the life she gave him paid
    By killing her: and with such circumstance
    As suited such unnatural tragedy;
    He coming into light, if light it were
    That darken'd at his very horoscope,
    When heaven's two champions--sun and moon I mean--
    Suffused in blood upon each other fell
    In such a raging duel of eclipse
    As hath not terrified the universe
    Since that which wept in blood the death of Christ:
    When the dead walk'd, the waters turn'd to blood,
    Earth and her cities totter'd, and the world
    Seem'd shaken to its last paralysis.
    In such a paroxysm of dissolution
    That son of mine was born; by that first act
    Heading the monstrous catalogue of crime,
    I found fore-written in his horoscope;
    As great a monster in man's history
    As was in nature his nativity;
    So savage, bloody, terrible, and impious,
    Who, should he live, would tear his country's entrails,
    As by his birth his mother's; with which crime
    Beginning, he should clench the dreadful tale
    By trampling on his father's silver head.
    All which fore-reading, and his act of birth
    Fate's warrant that I read his life aright;
    To save his country from his mother's fate,
    I gave abroad that he had died with her
    His being slew; with midnight secrecy
    I had him carried to a lonely tower
    Hewn from the mountain-barriers of the realm,
    And under strict anathema of death
    Guarded from men's inquisitive approach,
    Save from the trusty few one needs must trust;
    Who while his fasten'd body they provide
    With salutary garb and nourishment,
    Instruct his soul in what no soul may miss
    Of holy faith, and in such other lore
    As may solace his life-imprisonment,
    And tame perhaps the Savage prophesied
    Toward such a trial as I aim at now,
    And now demand your special hearing to.
    What in this fearful business I have done,
    Judge whether lightly or maliciously,--
    I, with my own and only flesh and blood,
    And proper lineal inheritor!
    I swear, had his foretold atrocities
    Touch'd me alone, I had not saved myself
    At such a cost to him; but as a king,--
    A Christian king,--I say, advisedly,
    Who would devote his people to a tyrant
    Worse than Caligula fore-chronicled?
    But even this not without mis-giving,
    Lest by some chance mis-reading of the stars,
    Or mis-direction of what rightly read,
    I wrong my son of his prerogative,
    And Poland of her rightful sovereign.
    For, sure and certain prophets as the stars,
    Although they err not, he who reads them may;
    Or rightly reading--seeing there is One
    Who governs them, as, under Him, they us,
    We are not sure if the rough diagram
    They draw in heaven and we interpret here,
    Be sure of operation, if the Will
    Supreme, that sometimes for some special end
    The course of providential nature breaks
    By miracle, may not of these same stars
    Cancel his own first draft, or overrule
    What else fore-written all else overrules.
    As, for example, should the Will Almighty
    Permit the Free-will of particular man
    To break the meshes of else strangling fate--
    Which Free-will, fearful of foretold abuse,
    I have myself from my own son for-closed
    From ever possible self-extrication;
    A terrible responsibility,
    Not to the conscience to be reconciled
    Unless opposing almost certain evil
    Against so slight contingency of good.
    Well--thus perplex'd, I have resolved at last
    To bring the thing nto trial: whereunto
    Here have I summon'd you, my Peers, and you
    Whom I more dearly look to, failing him,
    As witnesses to that which I propose;
    And thus propose the doing it. Clotaldo,
    Who guards my son with old fidelity,
    Shall bring him hither from his tower by night
    Locked in a sleep so fast as by my art
    I rivet to within a link of death,
    But yet from death so far, that next day's dawn
    Shall wake him up upon the royal bed,
    Complete in consciousness and faculty,
    When with all princely pomp and retinue
    My loyal Peers with due obeisance
    Shall hail him Segismund, the Prince of Poland.
    Then if with any show of human kindness
    He fling discredit, not upon the stars,
    But upon me, their misinterpreter,
    With all apology mistaken age
    Can make to youth it never meant to harm,
    To my son's forehead will I shift the crown
    I long have wish'd upon a younger brow;
    And in religious humiliation,
    For what of worn-out age remains to me,
    Entreat my pardon both of Heaven and him
    For tempting destinies beyond my reach.
    But if, as I misdoubt, at his first step
    The hoof of the predicted savage shows;
    Before predicted mischief can be done,
    The self-same sleep that loosed him from the chain
    Shall re-consign him, not to loose again.
    Then shall I, having lost that heir direct,
    Look solely to my sisters' children twain
    Each of a claim so equal as divides
    The voice of Poland to their several sides,
    But, as I trust, to be entwined ere long
    Into one single wreath so fair and strong
    As shall at once all difference atone,
    And cease the realm's division with their own.
    Cousins and Princes, Peers and Councillors,
    Such is the purport of this invitation,
    And such is my design. Whose furtherance
    If not as Sovereign, if not as Seer,
    Yet one whom these white locks, if nothing else,
    To patient acquiescence consecrate,
    I now demand and even supplicate.