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This satirical drama from one of the only playwrights regarded as a contemporary equal of Shakespeare may have originally been performed in the early 1600s, but it feels remarkably fresh centuries later. Beginning with a prologue which devolves into a slapstick comedy that presages postmodern irony, the play recounts a solemn religious observance that is much more than it appears to be.
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SCENE I. -- A GROVE AND FOUNTAIN.
ENTER CUPID, AND MERCURY WITH HIS CADUCEUS, ON DIFFERENT SIDES.
CUP. Who goes there?
MER. 'Tis I, blind archer.
CUP. Who, Mercury?
MER. Stay Cupid.
CUP. Not in your company, Hermes, except your hands were riveted at your back.
MER. Why so, my little rover?
CUP. Because I know you have not a finger, but is as long as my quiver, cousin Mercury, when you please to extend it.
MER. Whence derive you this speech, boy?
CUP. O! 'tis your best polity to be ignorant. You did never steal Mars his sword out of the sheath, you! nor Neptune's trident! nor Apollo's bow! no, not you! Alas, your palms, Jupiter knows, they are as tender as the foot of a foundered nag, or a lady's face new mercuried, they'll touch nothing.
MER. Go to, infant, you'll be daring still.
CUP. Daring! O Janus! what a word is there? why, my light feather-heel'd coz, what are you any more than my uncle Jove's pander? a lacquey that runs on errands for him, and can whisper a light message to a loose wench with some round volubility? wait mannerly at a table with a trencher, warble upon a crowd a little, and fill out nectar when Ganymede's away? one that sweeps the god's drinking-room every morning, and sets the cushions in order again, which they threw one at another's head over night; can brush the carpets, call the stools again to their places, play the crier of the court with an audible voice, and take state of a president upon you at wrestlings, pleadings, negociations, etc. Here's the catalogue of your employments, now! O, no, I err; you have the marshalling of all the ghosts too that pass the Stygian ferry, and I suspect you for a share with the old sculler there, if the truth were known; but let that scape. One other peculiar virtue you possess, in lifting, or leiger-du-main, which few of the house of heaven have else besides, I must confess. But, methinks, that should not make you put that extreme distance 'twixt yourself and others, that we should be said to "over-dare" in speaking to your nimble deity. So Hercules might challenge priority of us both, because he can throw the bar farther, or lift more join'd stools at the arm's end, than we. If this might carry it, then we, who have made the whole body of divinity tremble at the twang of our bow, and enforc'd Saturnius himself to lay by his curled front, thunder, and three-fork'd fires, and put on a masking suit, too light for a reveller of eighteen to be seen in --
MER. How now! my dancing braggart in decimo sexto! charm your skipping tongue, or I'll --
CUP. What! use the virtue of your snaky tip staff there upon us?
MER. No, boy, but the smart vigour of my palm about your ears. You have forgot since I took your heels up into air, on the very hour I was born, in sight of all the bench of deities, when the silver roof of the Olympian palace rung again with applause of the fact.
CUP. O no, I remember it freshly, and by a particular instance; for my mother Venus, at the same time, but stoop'd to embrace you, and, to speak by metaphor, you borrow'd a girdle of her's, as you did Jove's sceptre while he was laughing; and would have done his thunder too, but that 'twas too hot for your itching fingers.
MER. 'Tis well, sir.
CUP. I heard, you but look'd in at Vulcan's forge the other day, and entreated a pair of his new tongs along with you for company: 'tis joy on you, i' faith, that you will keep your hook'd talons in practice with any thing. 'Slight, now you are on earth, we shall have you filch spoons and candlesticks rather than fail: pray Jove the perfum'd courtiers keep their casting-bottles, pick-tooths, and shittle-cocks from you, or our more ordinary gallants their tobacco-boxes; for I am strangely jealous of your nails.
MER. Never trust me, Cupid, but you are turn'd a most acute gallant of late! the edge of my wit is clean taken off with the fine and subtile stroke of your thin-ground tongue; you fight with too poignant a phrase, for me to deal with.
CUP. O Hermes, your craft cannot make me confident. I know my own steel to be almost spent, and therefore entreat my peace with you, in time: you are too cunning for me to encounter at length, and I think it my safest ward to close.
MER. Well, for once, I'll suffer you to win upon me, wag; but use not these strains too often, they'll stretch my patience. Whither might you march, now?
CUP. Faith, to recover thy good thoughts, I'll discover my whole project. The huntress and queen of these groves, Diana, in regard of some black and envious slanders hourly breathed against her, for her divine justice on Acteon, as she pretends, hath here in the vale of Gargaphie, proclaim'd a solemn revels, which (her godhead put off) she will descend to grace, with the full and royal expense of one of her clearest moons: in which time it shall be lawful for all sorts of ingenious persons to visit her palace, to court her nymphs, to exercise all variety of generous and noble pastimes; as well to intimate how far she treads such malicious imputations beneath her, as also to shew how clear her beauties are from the least wrinkle of austerity they may be charged with.
MER. But, what is all this to Cupid?
CUP. Here do I mean to put off the title of a god, and take the habit of a page, in which disguise, during the interim of these revels, I will get to follow some one of Diana's maids, where, if my bow hold, and my shafts fly but with half the willingness and aim they are directed, I doubt not but I shall really redeem the minutes I have lost, by their so long and over nice proscription of my deity from their court.
MER. Pursue it, divine Cupid, it will be rare.
CUP. But will Hermes second me?
MER. I am now to put in act an especial designment from my father Jove; but, that perform'd, I am for any fresh action that offers itself.
CUP. Well, then we part. [EXIT.]
MER. Farewell good wag. Now to my charge.--Echo, fair Echo speak, 'Tis Mercury that calls thee; sorrowful nymph, Salute me with thy repercussive voice, That I may know what cavern of the earth, Contains thy airy spirit, how, or where I may direct my speech, that thou may'st hear.
ECHO. [BELOW] Here.
MER. So nigh!
MER. Know, gentle soul, then, I am sent from Jove, Who, pitying the sad burthen of thy woes, Still growing on thee, in thy want of words To vent thy passion for Narcissus' death, Commands, that now, after three thousand years, Which have been exercised in Juno's spite, Thou take a corporal figure and ascend, Enrich'd with vocal and articulate power. Make haste, sad nymph, thrice shall my winged rod Strike the obsequious earth, to give thee way. Arise, and speak thy sorrows, Echo, rise, Here, by this fountain, where thy love did pine, Whose memory lives fresh to vulgar fame, Shrined in this yellow flower, that bears his name.
ECHO. [ASCENDS.] His name revives, and lifts me up from earth, O, which way shall I first convert myself, Or in what mood shall I essay to speak, That, in a moment, I may be deliver'd Of the prodigious grief I go withal? See, see, the mourning fount, whose springs weep yet Th' untimely fate of that too beauteous boy, That trophy of self-love, and spoil of nature, Who, now transform'd into this drooping flower, Hangs the repentant head, back from the stream, As if it wish'd, "Would I had never look'd In such a flattering mirror!" O Narcissus, Thou that wast once, and yet art, my Narcissus, Had Echo but been private with thy thoughts, She would have dropt away herself in tears, Till she had all turn'd water; that in her, As in a truer glass, thou might'st have gazed And seen thy beauties by more kind reflection, But self-love never yet could look on truth But with blear'd beams; slick flattery and she Are twin-born sisters, and so mix their eyes, As if you sever one, the other dies. Why did the gods give thee a heavenly form, And earthly thoughts to make thee proud of it? Why do I ask? 'Tis now the known disease That beauty hath, to bear too deep a sense Of her own self-conceived excellence. O, hadst thou known the worth of heaven's rich gift, Thou wouldst have turn'd it to a truer use, And not with starv'd and covetous ignorance, Pined in continual eyeing that bright gem, The glance whereof to others had been more, Than to thy famish'd mind the wide world's store: So wretched is it to be merely rich! Witness thy youth's dear sweets here spent untasted, Like a fair taper, with his own flame wasted.
MER. Echo be brief, Saturnia is abroad, And if she hear, she'll storm at Jove's high will.
CUP. I will, kind Mercury, be brief as time. Vouchsafe me, I may do him these last rites, But kiss his flower, and sing some mourning strain Over his wat'ry hearse.
MER. Thou dost obtain; I were no son to Jove, should I deny thee, Begin, and more to grace thy cunning voice, The humorous air shall mix her solemn tunes With thy sad words: strike, music from the spheres, And with your golden raptures swell our ears.
Slow, slow, fresh fount, keep time with my salt tears: Yet, slower, yet; O faintly, gentle springs: List to the heavy part the music bears, Woe weeps out her division, when she sings. Droop herbs and flowers, Fall grief and showers; Our beauties are not ours; O, I could still, Like melting snow upon some craggy hill, Drop, drop, drop, drop, Since nature's pride is now a wither'd daffodil. --
MER. Now have you done?
ECHO. Done presently, good Hermes: bide a little; Suffer my thirsty eye to gaze awhile, But e'en to taste the place, and I am vanish'd.
MER. Forego thy use and liberty of tongue, And thou mayst dwell on earth, and sport thee there;
ECHO. Here young Acteon fell, pursued, and torn By Cynthia's wrath, more eager than his hounds; And here -- ah me, the place is fatal! -- see The weeping Niobe, translated hither From Phrygian mountains; and by Phoebe rear'd, As the proud trophy of her sharp revenge.
MER. Nay but hear --
ECHO. But here, O here, the fountain of self-love, In which Latona, and her careless nymphs, Regardless of my sorrows, bathe themselves In hourly pleasures.
MER. Stint thy babbling tongue! Fond Echo, thou profan'st the grace is done thee. So idle worldlings merely made of voice, Censure the powers above them. Come away, Jove calls thee hence; and his will brooks no stay.
ECHO. O, stay: I have but one poor thought to clothe In airy garments, and then, faith, I go. Henceforth, thou treacherous and murdering spring, Be ever call'd the FOUNTAIN OF SELF-LOVE: And with thy water let this curse remain, As an inseparate plague, that who but taste A drop thereof, may, with the instant touch, Grow dotingly enamour'd on themselves. Now, Hermes, I have finish'd.
MER. Then thy speech Must here forsake thee, Echo, and thy voice, As it was wont, rebound but the last words. Farewell.
ECHO. [RETIRING.] Well.
MER. Now, Cupid, I am for you, and your mirth, To make me light before I leave the earth.
ENTER AMORPHUS, HASTILY.
AMO. Dear spark of beauty, make not so fast away:
MER. Stay, let me observe this portent yet.
AMO. I am neither your Minotaur, nor your Centaur, nor your satyr, nor your hyaena, nor your babion, but your mere traveller, believe me.
ECHO. Leave me.
MER. I guess'd it should be some travelling motion pursued Echo so.
AMO. Know you from whom you fly? or whence?
ECHO. Hence. [EXIT.]
AMO. This is somewhat above strange: A nymph of her feature and lineament, to be so preposterously rude! well, I will but cool myself at yon spring, and follow her.
MER. Nay, then, I am familiar with the issue: I will leave you too. [EXIT.]
AMOR. I am a rhinoceros, if I had thought a creature of her symmetry would have dared so improportionable and abrupt a digression. -- Liberal and divine fount, suffer my profane hand to take of thy bounties. [TAKES UP SOME OF THE WATER.] By the purity of my taste, here is most ambrosiac water; I will sup of it again. By thy favour, sweet fount. See, the water, a more running, subtile, and humorous nymph than she permits me to touch, and handle her. What should I infer? if my behaviours had been of a cheap or customary garb; my accent or phrase vulgar; my garments trite; my countenance illiterate, or unpractised in the encounter of a beautiful and brave attired piece; then I might, with some change of colour, have suspected my faculties: But, knowing myself an essence so sublimated and refined by travel; of so studied and well exercised a gesture; so alone in fashion, able to render the face of any statesman living; and to speak the mere extraction of language, one that hath now made the sixth return upon venture; and was your first that ever enrich'd his country with the true laws of the duello; whose optics have drunk the spirit of beauty in some eight score and eighteen prince's courts, where I have resided, and been there fortunate in the amours of three hundred and forty and five ladies, all nobly, if not princely descended; whose names I have in catalogue: To conclude, in all so happy, as even admiration herself doth seem to fasten her kisses upon me: -- certes, I do neither see, nor feel, nor taste, nor savour the least steam or fume of a reason, that should invite this foolish, fastidious nymph, so peevishly to abandon me. Well, let the memory of her fleet into air; my thoughts and I am for this other element, water.
ENTER CRITES AND ASOTUS.
CRI. What, the well dieted Amorphus become a water-drinker! I see he means not to write verses then.
ASO. No, Crites! why?
CRI. Because -- Nulla placere diu, nec vivere carmina possunt, Quae scribuntur aquae potoribus.
AMO. What say you to your Helicon?
CRI. O, the Muses' well! that's ever excepted.
AMO. Sir, your Muses have no such water, I assure you; your nectar, or the juice of your nepenthe, is nothing to it; 'tis above your metheglin, believe it.
ASO. Metheglin; what's that, sir? may I be so audacious to demand?
AMO. A kind of Greek wine I have met with, sir, in my travels; it is the same that Demosthenes usually drunk, in the composure of all his exquisite and mellifluous orations.
CRI. That's to be argued, Amorphus, if we may credit Lucian, who, in his "Encomio Demosthenis," affirms, he never drunk but water in any of his compositions.
AMO. Lucian is absurd, he knew nothing: I will believe mine own travels before all the Lucians of Europe. He doth feed you with fittons, figments, and leasings.
CRI. Indeed, I think, next a traveller, he does prettily well.
AMO. I assure you it was wine, I have tasted it, and from the hand of an Italian antiquary, who derives it authentically from the duke of Ferrara's bottles. How name you the gentleman you are in rank there with, sir?
CRI. 'Tis Asotus, son to the late deceased Philargyrus, the citizen.
AMO. Was his father of any eminent place or means?
CRI. He was to have been praetor next year.
AMO. Ha! a pretty formal young gallant, in good sooth; pity he is not more genteelly propagated. Hark you, Crites, you may say to him what I am, if you please; though I affect not popularity, yet I would loth to stand out to any, whom you shall vouchsafe to call friend.
CRI. Sir, I fear I may do wrong to your sufficiencies in the reporting them, by forgetting or misplacing some one: yourself can best inform him of yourself sir; except you had some catalogue or list of your faculties ready drawn, which you would request me to show him for you, and him to take notice of.
AMO. This Crites is sour: [ASIDE.] -- I will think, sir.
CRI. Do so, sir. -- O heaven! that anything in the likeness of man should suffer these rack'd extremities, for the uttering of his sophisticate good parts. [ASIDE.]
ASO. Crites, I have a suit to you; but you must not deny me; pray you make this gentleman and I friends.
CRI. Friends! why, is there any difference between you?
ASO. No; I mean acquaintance, to know one another.
CRI. O, now I apprehend you; your phrase was without me before.
ASO. In good faith, he's a most excellent rare man, I warrant him.
CRI. 'Slight, they are mutually enamour'd by this time. [ASIDE.]
ASO. Will you, sweet Crites?
CRI. Yes, yes.
ASO. Nay, but when? you'll defer it now, and forget it.
CRI. Why, is it a thing of such present necessity, that it requires so violent a dispatch!
ASO. No, but would I might never stir, he's a most ravishing man! Good Crites, you shall endear me to you, in good faith; la!
CRI. Well, your longing shall be satisfied, sir.
ASO. And withal, you may tell him what my father was, and how well he left me, and that I am his heir.
CRI. Leave it to me, I'll forget none of your dear graces, I warrant you.
ASO. Nay, I know you can better marshal these affairs than I can -- O gods! I'd give all the world, if I had it, for abundance of such acquaintance.
CRI. What ridiculous circumstance might I devise now, to bestow this reciprocal brace of butterflies one upon another? [ASIDE.]
AMO. Since I trod on this side the Alps, I was not so frozen in my invention. Let me see: to accost him with some choice remnant of Spanish, or Italian! that would indifferently express my languages now: marry, then, if he shall fall out to be ignorant, it were both hard, and harsh. How else? step into some ragioni del stato, and so make my induction! that were above him too; and out of his element I fear. Feign to have seen him in Venice or Padua! or some face near his in similitude! 'tis too pointed and open. No, it must be a more quaint and collateral device, as -- stay: to frame some encomiastic speech upon this our metropolis, or the wise magistrates thereof, in which politic number, 'tis odds but his father fill'd up a room? descend into a particular admiration of their justice, for the due measuring of coals, burning of cans, and such like? as also their religion, in pulling down a superstitious cross, and advancing a Venus; or Priapus, in place of it? ha! 'twill do well. Or to talk of some hospital, whose walls record his father a benefactor? or of so many buckets bestow'd on his parish church in his lifetime, with his name at length, for want of arms, trickt upon them? any of these. Or to praise the cleanness of the street wherein he dwelt? or the provident painting of his posts, against he should have been praetor? or, leaving his parent, come to some special ornament about himself, as his rapier, or some other of his accountrements? I have it: thanks, gracious Minerva!
ASO. Would I had but once spoke to him, and then -- He comes to me!
AMO. 'Tis a most curious and neatly wrought band this same, as I have seen, sir.
ASO. O lord, sir.
AMO. You forgive the humour of mine eye, in observing it.
CRI. His eye waters after it, it seems. [ASIDE.]
ASO. O lord, sir! there needs no such apology I assure you.
CRI. I am anticipated; they'll make a solemn deed of gift of themselves, you shall see. [ASIDE.]
AMO. Your riband too does most gracefully in troth.
ASO. 'Tis the most genteel and received wear now, sir.
AMO. Believe me, sir, I speak it not to humour you -- I have not seen a young gentleman, generally, put on his clothes with more judgment.
ASO. O, 'tis your pleasure to say so, sir.
AMO. No, as I am virtuous, being altogether untravell'd, it strikes me into wonder.
ASO. I do purpose to travel, sir, at spring.
AMO. I think I shall affect you, sir. This last speech of yours hath begun to make you dear to me.
ASO. O lord, sir! I would there were any thing in me, sir, that might appear worthy the least worthiness of your worth, sir. I protest, sir, I should endeavour to shew it, sir, with more than common regard sir.
CRI. O, here's rare motley, sir. [ASIDE.]
AMO. Both your desert, and your endeavours are plentiful, suspect them not: but your sweet disposition to travel, I assure you, hath made you another myself in mine eye, and struck me enamour'd on your beauties.
ASO. I would I were the fairest lady of France for your sake, sir! and yet I would travel too.
AMO. O, you should digress from yourself else: for, believe it, your travel is your only thing that rectifies, or, as the Italian says, "vi rendi pronto all' attioni," makes you fit for action.
ASO. I think it be great charge though, sir.
AMO. Charge! why 'tis nothing for a gentleman that goes private, as yourself, or so; my intelligence shall quit my charge at all time. Good faith, this hat hath possest mine eye exceedingly; 'tis so pretty and fantastic: what! is it a beaver?
ASO. Ay, sir, I'll assure you 'tis a beaver, it cost me eight crowns but this morning.
AMO. After your French account?
ASO. Yes, sir.
CRI. And so near his head! beshrew me, dangerous. [ASIDE.]
AMO. A very pretty fashion, believe me, and a most novel kind of trim: your band is conceited too!
ASO. Sir, it is all at your service.
AMO. O, pardon me.
ASO. I beseech you, sir, if you please to wear it, you shall do me a most infinite grace.
CRI. 'Slight, will he be prais'd out of his clothes?
ASO. By heaven, sir, I do not offer it you after the Italian manner; I would you should conceive so of me.
AMO. Sir, I shall fear to appear rude in denying your courtesies, especially being invited by so proper a distinction: May I pray your name, sir?
ASO. My name is Asotus, sir.
AMO. I take your love, gentle Asotus, but let me win you to receive this, in exchange. -- [THEY EXCHANGE BEAVERS.]
CRI. Heart! they'll change doublets anon. [ASIDE.]
AMO. And, from this time esteem yourself in the first rank of those few whom I profess to love. What make you in company of this scholar here? I will bring you known to gallants, as Anaides of the ordinary, Hedon the courtier, and others, whose society shall render you graced and respected: this is a trivial fellow, too mean, too cheap, too coarse for you to converse with.
ASO. 'Slid, this is not worth a crown, and mine cost me eight but this morning.
CRI. I looked when he would repent him, he has begun to be sad a good while.
AMO. Sir, shall I say to you for that hat? Be not so sad, be not so sad: It is a relic I could not so easily have departed with, but as the hieroglyphic of my affection; you shall alter it to what form you please, it will take any block; I have received it varied on record to the three thousandth time, and not so few: It hath these virtues beside: your head shall not ache under it, nor your brain leave you, without license; It will preserve your complexion to eternity; for no beam of the sun, should you wear it under zona torrida, hath power to approach it by two ells. It is proof against thunder, and enchantment; and was given me by a great man in Russia, as an especial prized present; and constantly affirm'd to be the hat that accompanied the politic Ulysses in his tedious and ten years' travels.
ASO. By Jove, I will not depart withal, whosoever would give me a million.
ENTER COS AND PROSAITES.
COS. Save you sweet bloods! does any of you want a creature, or a dependent?
CRI. Beshrew me, a fine blunt slave!
AMO. A page of good timber! it will now be my grace to entertain him first, though I cashier him again in private. -- How art thou call'd?
COS. Cos, sir, Cos.
CRI. Cos! how happily hath fortune furnish'd him with a whetstone?
AMO. I do entertain you, Cos; conceal your quality till we be private; if your parts be worthy of me, I will countenance you; if not, catechise you. -- Gentles, shall we go?
ASO. Stay, sir: I'll but entertain this other fellow, and then -- I have a great humour to taste of this water too, but I'll come again alone for that -- mark the place. -- What's your name, youth?
PROS. Prosaites, sir.
ASO. Prosaites! a very fine name; Crites, is it not?
CRI. Yes, and a very ancient one, sir, the Beggar.
ASO. Follow me, good Prosaites; let's talk.
[EXEUNT ALL BUT CRITES.]
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