Athens. Before a temple.
(Hymen; Boy; Nymphs; Theseus; Hippolyta; Pirithous; Emilia; Artesius; Attendants; Three Queens)
Theseus’s spectacular wedding procession is interrupted when three Queens in mourning throw themselves at his feet and those of his bride Hippolyta and her sister Emilia. They tell him of how their husbands were killed by the evil Creon, duke of Thebes, who will not allow them even to bury their lords. They beg Theseus to help them revenge their loss. Theseus recognizes them from happier times, but is uncertain about going to war against Creon. They plead to Hippolyta and Emilia to add their voices to their plea. Theseus wishes to proceed with the wedding ceremony, but the Queens continue to beg, and he finally agrees to fight on their behalf. The Queens tell him that it would be a good time to attack, for Creon will not expect it and is resting on his laurels. Theseus orders Artesius to arrange the campaign, while he goes on to get married. The Queens urge him to go himself, fearful that in the joy of getting married he will forget about them. Hippolyta joins with them in this, kneeling to Theseus and urging him to put the marriage off; Emilia too joins in. Theseus caves; he sends Pirithous with Hippolyta to marry her by proxy while he prepares for the war. The Queens offer their thanks. (267 lines)
Enter Hymen with a torch burning; a Boy, in a white robe, before, singing and strewing flow’rs; after Hymen, a Nymph, encompass’d in her tresses, bearing a wheaten garland; then Theseus, between two other Nymphs with wheaten chaplets an their heads; then Hippolyta, the bride, led by Pirithous, and another holding a garland over her head (her tresses likewise hanging; after her, Emilia, holding up her train; Artesius and Attendants.
Music. The Song by the Boy.
Roses, their sharp spines being gone,
Not royal in their smells alone,
But in their hue;
Maiden pinks, of odor faint,
Daisies smell-less, yet most quaint,
And sweet thyme true;
Primrose, first-born child of Ver,
Merry spring-time’s harbinger,
With her bells dim;
Oxlips in their cradles growing,
Marigolds on death-beds blowing,
All dear Nature’s children sweet,
Lie ’fore bride and bridegroom’s feet.
Blessing their sense;
Not an angel of the air,
Bird melodious, or bird fair,
Is absent hence.
The crow, the sland’rous cuckoo, nor
The boding raven, nor chough hoar,
Nor chatt’ring pie,
May on our bridehouse perch or sing,
Or with them any discord bring,
But from it fly.
Enter three Queens, in black, with veils stain’d, with imperial crowns.
The first Queen falls down at the foot of Theseus; the second falls down at the foot of Hippolyta; the third before Emilia.
For pity’s sake and true gentility’s,
Hear and respect me.
For your mother’s sake,
And as you wish your womb may thrive with fair ones,
Hear and respect me.
Now for the love of him whom Jove hath mark’d
The honor of your bed, and for the sake
Of clear virginity, be advocate
For us and our distresses! This good deed
Shall raze you out o’ th’ book of trespasses
All you are set down there.
Sad lady, rise.
No knees to me.
What woman I may stead that is distress’d
Does bind me to her.
What’s your request? Deliver you for all.
We are three queens, whose sovereigns fell before
The wrath of cruel Creon; who endured
The beaks of ravens, talents of the kites,
And pecks of crows in the foul fields of Thebes.
He will not suffer us to bum their bones,
To urn their ashes, nor to take th’ offense
Of mortal loathsomeness from the blest eye
Of holy Phoebus, but infects the winds
With stench of our slain lords. O, pity, Duke,
Thou purger of the earth, draw thy fear’d sword
That does good turns to th’ world; give us the bones
Of our dead kings, that we may chapel them;
And of thy boundless goodness take some note
That for our crowned heads we have no roof,
Save this which is the lion’s, and the bear’s,
And vault to every thing!
Pray you kneel not;
I was transported with your speech, and suffer’d
Your knees to wrong themselves. I have heard the fortunes
Of your dead lords, which gives me such lamenting
As wakes my vengeance and revenge for ’em.
King Capaneus was your lord. The day
That he should marry you, at such a season
As now it is with me, I met your groom
By Mars’s altar. You were that time fair;
Not Juno’s mantle fairer than your tresses,
Nor in more bounty spread her. Your wheaten wreath
Was then nor thresh’d nor blasted; Fortune at you
Dimpled her cheek with smiles. Hercules our kinsman
(Then weaker than your eyes) laid by his club;
He tumbled down upon his Nemean hide,
And swore his sinews thaw’d. O grief and time,
Fearful consumers, you will all devour!
O, I hope some god,
Some god hath put his mercy in your manhood,
Whereto he’ll infuse pow’r, and press you forth
O, no knees, none, widow!
Unto the helmeted Bellona use them,
And pray for me your soldier.
Troubled I am.
Most dreaded Amazonian, that hast slain
The scythe-tusk’d boar; that with thy arm, as strong
As it is white, wast near to make the male
To thy sex captive, but that this thy lord,
Born to uphold creation in that honor
First Nature styl’d it in, shrunk thee into
The bound thou wast o’erflowing, at once subduing
Thy force and thy affection; soldieress
That equally canst poise sternness with pity,
Whom now I know hast much more power on him
Than ever he had on thee, who ow’st his strength,
And his love too, who is a servant for
The tenor of thy speech; dear glass of ladies,
Bid him that we, whom flaming war doth scorch,
Under the shadow of his sword may cool us;
Require him he advance it o’er our heads;
Speak’t in a woman’s key—like such a woman
As any of us three; weep ere you fail;
Lend us a knee;
But touch the ground for us no longer time
Than a dove’s motion when the head’s pluck’d off;
Tell him, if he i’ th’ blood-siz’d field lay swoll’n,
Showing the sun his teeth, grinning at the moon,
What you would do.
Poor lady, say no more:
I had as lief trace this good action with you
As that whereto I am going, and never yet
Went I so willing way. My lord is taken
Heart-deep with your distress. Let him consider.
I’ll speak anon.
O, my petition was
Kneel to Emilia.
Set down in ice, which by hot grief uncandied
Melts into drops; so sorrow wanting form
Is press’d with deeper matter.
Pray stand up,
Your grief is written in your cheek.
You cannot read it there. There, through my tears,
Like wrinkled pebbles in a glassy stream,
You may behold ’em. Lady, lady, alack!
He that will all the treasure know o’ th’ earth
Must know the centre too; he that will fish
For my least minnow, let him lead his line
To catch one at my heart. O, pardon me,
Extremity, that sharpens sundry wits,
Makes me a fool.
Pray you say nothing, pray you.
Who cannot feel nor see the rain, being in’t,
Knows neither wet nor dry. If that you were
The ground-piece of some painter, I would buy you
T’ instruct me ’gainst a capital grief indeed—
Such heart-pierc’d demonstration! But alas,
Being a natural sister of our sex,
Your sorrow beats so ardently upon me
That it shall make a counter-reflect ’gainst
My brother’s heart, and warm it to some pity,
Though it were made of stone. Pray have good comfort.
Forward to th’ temple. Leave not out a jot
O’ th’ sacred ceremony.
O, this celebration
Will long last and be more costly than
Your suppliants’ war! Remember that your fame
Knolls in the ear o’ th’ world; what you do quickly
Is not done rashly; your first thought is more
Than others’ labored meditance; your premeditating
More than their actions. But, O Jove, your actions,
Soon as they move, as asprays do the fish,
Subdue before they touch. Think, dear Duke, think
What beds our slain kings have!
What griefs our beds
That our dear lords have none!
None fit for th’ dead:
Those that with cords, knives, drams, precipitance,
Weary of this world’s light, have to themselves
Been death’s most horrid agents, humane grace
Affords them dust and shadow.
But our lords
Lie blist’ring ’fore the visitating sun,
And were good kings when living.
It is true; and I will give you comfort
To give your dead lords graves; the which to do
Must make some work with Creon.
And that work presents itself to th’ doing:
Now ’twill take form, the heats are gone tomorrow.
Then, bootless toil must recompense itself
With its own sweat; now he’s secure,
Not dreams we stand before your puissance
Wrinching our holy begging in our eyes
To make petition clear.
Now you may take him
Drunk with his victory.
And his army full
Of bread and sloth.
Artesius, that best knowest
How to draw out, fit to this enterprise,
The prim’st for this proceeding, and the number
To carry such a business, forth and levy
Our worthiest instruments, whilst we dispatch
This grand act of our life, this daring deed
Of fate in wedlock.
Dowagers, take hands,
Let us be widows to our woes; delay
Commends us to a famishing hope.
We come unseasonably; but when could grief
Cull forth, as unpang’d judgment can, fitt’st time
For best solicitation?
Why, good ladies,
This is a service, whereto I am going,
Greater than any war; it more imports me
Than all the actions that I have foregone,
Or futurely can cope.
The more proclaiming
Our suit shall be neglected. When her arms,
Able to lock Jove from a synod, shall
By warranting moonlight corslet thee—O, when
Her twinning cherries shall their sweetness fall
Upon thy tasteful lips, what wilt thou think
Of rotten kings or blubber’d queens? What care
For what thou feel’st not? What thou feel’st being able
To make Mars spurn his drum. O, if thou couch
But one night with her, every hour in’t will
Take hostage of thee for a hundred, and
Thou shalt remember nothing more than what
That banquet bids thee to!
Though much unlike
You should be so transported, as much sorry
I should be such a suitor; yet I think
Did I not by th’ abstaining of my joy,
Which breeds a deeper longing, cure their surfeit
That craves a present med’cine, I should pluck
All ladies’ scandal on me. Therefore, sir,
As I shall here make trial of my pray’rs,
Either presuming them to have some force,
Or sentencing for aye their vigor dumb,
Prorogue this business we are going about, and hang
Your shield afore your heart, about that neck
Which is my fee, and which I freely lend
To do these poor queens service.
O, help now!
Our cause cries for your knee.
If you grant not
My sister her petition, in that force,
With that celerity and nature, which
She makes it in, from henceforth I’ll not dare
To ask you any thing, nor be so hardy
Ever to take a husband.
Pray stand up.
I am entreating of myself to do
That which you kneel to have me. Pirithous,
Lead on the bride; get you and pray the gods
For success and return; omit not any thing
In the pretended celebration. Queens,
Follow your soldier.
As before, hence you,
And at the banks of Aulis meet us with
The forces you can raise, where we shall find
The moi’ty of a number for a business
Since that our theme is haste,
I stamp this kiss upon thy currant lip.
Sweet, keep it as my token. Set you forward,
For I will see you gone.
Exeunt slowly towards the temple.
Farewell, my beauteous sister. Pirithous,
Keep the feast full, bate not an hour on’t.
I’ll follow you at heels; the feast’s solemnity
Shall want till your return.
Cousin, I charge you
Budge not from Athens. We shall be returning
Ere you can end this feast, of which I pray you
Make no abatement. Once more, farewell all.
Thus dost thou still make good
The tongue o’ th’ world.
And earn’st a deity
Equal with Mars.
If not above him, for
Thou being but mortal makest affections bend
To godlike honors; they themselves, some say,
Groan under such a mast’ry.
As we are men
Thus should we do, being sensually subdu’d
We lose our human title. Good cheer, ladies.
Now turn we towards your comforts.