(A man and wife, commoners. The man strikes the wife.)
Man. Puttana! Dose of mercury! Bewormed sin-apple!
Wife. Ohimè! Help! Help!
(Enter citizens with cockades and daggers.)
Citizens. Pull them apart!
Man. Stand off, Romans! I’ll dash this carcass to her bones. Thou Vestal!
Wife. I, a Vestal? A fine day that should be.
Man. From off thy shoulders do I tear the cloak, and hurl thy carcass naked in the sun. Whore’s bed! In each folding of thy body is fornication.
1st Citizen. What’s the matter?
Man. Where is the girl? No, girl she is not—maiden!—that neither. The woman, the wife?—no, nor that—only one name may I call her! It chokes me, I have no breath for it.
2nd Citizen. Good, it should smell of brandy.
Man. Cover thy bald pate, old Virginius. The raven Shame sits upon it, and gouges thine eyes! Romans, a knife! (He falls.)
Wife. He’s a good man, sirs, but he can’t keep up with his brandy. It gets him in the legs.
Man. Thou art the vampire tongue that laps my warm heart’s blood!
Wife. Leave him be, ’tis come time for his bawling.
1. Cit. What’s happened here?
Wife. Sirs, I was sitting on this rock as you see it, in the sun to warm myself, for we have no wood, sirs—
2. Cit. Not even your husband’s nose?
Wife. And my daughter was gone to the corner, for she’s a good girl and keeps up her parents.
Man. She owns it!
Wife. Judas! Would ye have a pair of breeches to pull up, except that the young men pull down theirs? Shalt thirst, brandy-cask, if the fountain dries up? We work with every other part, why not this; thy mother employed it to bring thee into the world, for all it pained her; shall the girl not furnish her own mother? Thou criest for pain? Dunce!
Man. Lucretia! A knife, Romans, give me a knife! O Appius Claudius!
1. Cit. Ay, a knife, but not for the poor tart. What has she done? ’Tis her hunger goes begging. A knife for them who buy the flesh of our women! Woe to them who whore with the daughters of the people! Ye have wind in your bellies and they have fat stomachs, ye have holes in your coats and they have warm furs, ye have welts on your fists and they have velvet hands. Ergo ye work and they do nothing, ergo they stole what ye had by inheritance, ergo ye would have a pair of coppers from your birthright and must beg and whore for it, ergo they are villains and their heads forfeit.
3. Cit. They have no blood in their veins save what they sucked out from ours. They said, the aristocrats are wolves, and we hung the aristocrats from the lampposts. They said, the king’s veto devours your bread, and we struck down the king. They said, the Girondists starve you, and we sent the Girondists to the guillotine. And each time they stripped the clothes from the dead, and we went naked as before. ’Tis time their fat thickened our soup. Death to anyone with no hole in his coat!
1. Cit. Death to anyone who reads and writes!
2. Cit. Death to anyone who flees!
Citizens. Death, death!
(Enter a student, who is seized.)
1. Cit. He has a handkerchief! An aristocrat! To the lamppost!
2. Cit. There are no monsieurs here! To the lamppost!
3. Cit. We show more mercy than thou. ’Tis but a curl of hemp to kiss thy throat, and that but a moment. Our life is death by toil, our sentence sixty years to hang and quiver, but we will cut ourselves loose. To the lamppost!
Student (gathering courage). You will see no brighter for it.
1. Cit (laughing). Bravo! Let him go!
(Exit student. Enter Robespierre, women and sans-culottes accompanying.)
Robespierre. What’s the matter, citizens?
3. Cit. What do you think? August and September’s drops of blood have put no red in our cheeks. The guillotine is too slow. We want a thunderclap.
1. Cit. Our children cry for bread, they shall have aristocrats’ flesh. Death!
Citizens. Death! Death!
Robespierre. In the name of the law!
1. Cit. What is the law?
Robespierre. The will of the people.
1. Cit. We are the people and we want no law, ergo there is no law, ergo death!
1. Woman. Silence, let Aristides speak! Silence for the Incorruptible!
2. Woman. Hear the Messiah, come to choose and to judge. He will strike the wicked with the blade of his sword. His eyes are the eyes of election, his hands the hands of judgment.
Robespierre. Poor virtuous people! Your duties ye discharge,
Your enemies ye offer. Ye are great.
In thunder and in lightning do ye storm.
But strike not your own body in your wrath,
O people, murder not yourselves. Ye rise
Or fall by your own force; this your foes know.
Your legislators watch with tireless eyes
And would guide your inevitable hands.
Come to the Jacobins. ‘Midst brothers’ arms
Shall ye hold blood tribunal on your foes.
(Exit citizens after Robespierre.)
Man. Woe! I am undone. (He tries to stand.)
Wife. Here! (She helps him.)
Man. My Baucis. Thou heap’st coals upon my head.
Wife. Stand up!
Man. Dost turn away? Ah, canst forgive me, Portia? ’Twas my madness struck you, not my hand. O, Hamlet does it not, Hamlet denies it; his madness is poor Hamlet’s enemy. Where is Susanna, where is our daughter?
Wife. There, at the corner.
Man. Best of wives, let us go to her.