Thebes. The palace.
(Palamon; Arcite; Valerius)
The cousins Arcite and Palamon decide to leave Thebes, disgusted at their uncle Creon’s evil ways. Before they can go, however, Valerius comes to call them to Creon’s side. The King is in a rage because he has received Theseus’s challenge. Despite their loathing of the King, the two cousins decide to stay and fight Creon, for Thebes’s sake rather than for his. (133 lines)
Enter Palamon and Arcite.
Dear Palamon, dearer in love than blood,
And our prime cousin, yet unhard’ned in
The crimes of nature—let us leave the city
Thebes, and the temptings in’t, before we further
Sully our gloss of youth:
And here to keep in abstinence we shame
As in incontinence; for not to swim
I’ th’ aid o’ th’ current were almost to sink,
At least to frustrate striving, and to follow
The common stream, ’twould bring us to an eddy
Where we should turn or drown; if labor through,
Our gain but life and weakness.
Is cried up with example. What strange ruins,
Since first we went to school, may we perceive
Walking in Thebes! Scars and bare weeds
The gain o’ th’ martialist, who did propound
To his bold ends honor and golden ingots,
Which though he won, he had not; and now flurted
By peace, for whom he fought, who then shall offer
To Mars’s so scorn’d altar? I do bleed
When such I meet, and wish great Juno would
Resume her ancient fit of jealousy
To get the soldier work, that peace might purge
For her repletion, and retain anew
Her charitable heart, now hard, and harsher
Than strife or war could be.
Are you not out?
Meet you no ruin but the soldier in
The cranks and turns of Thebes? You did begin
As if you met decays of many kinds.
Perceive you none that do arouse your pity
But th’ unconsider’d soldier?
Yes, I pity
Decays where e’er I find them, but such most
That sweating in an honorable toil
Are paid with ice to cool ’em.
’Tis not this
I did begin to speak of. This is virtue
Of no respect in Thebes. I spake of Thebes,
How dangerous, if we will keep our honors,
It is for our residing; where every evil
Hath a good color; where ev’ry seeming good’s
A certain evil; where not to be ev’n jump
As they are, here were to be strangers, and
Such things to be, mere monsters.
’Tis in our power
(Unless we fear that apes can tutor’s) to
Be masters of our manners. What need I
Affect another’s gait, which is not catching
Where there is faith? Or to be fond upon
Another’s way of speech, when by mine own
I may be reasonably conceiv’d; sav’d too,
Speaking it truly? Why am I bound
By any generous bond to follow him
Follows his tailor, haply so long until
The follow’d make pursuit? Or let me know
Why mine own barber is unblest, with him
My poor chin too, for ’tis not scissor’d just
To such a favorite’s glass? What canon is there
That does command my rapier from my hip,
To dangle’t in my hand, or to go tiptoe
Before the street be foul? Either I am
The forehorse in the team, or I am none
That draw i’ th’ sequent trace. These poor slight sores
Need not a plantin; that which rips my bosom
Almost to th’ heart’s—
Our uncle Creon.
A most unbounded tyrant, whose successes
Makes heaven unfear’d, and villainy assured
Beyond its power there’s nothing; almost puts
Faith in a fever, and deifies alone
Voluble chance; who only attributes
The faculties of other instruments
To his own nerves and act; commands men service,
And what they win in’t, boot and glory; one
That fears not to do harm; good, dares not. Let
The blood of mine that’s sib to him be suck’d
From me with leeches! Let them break and fall
Off me with that corruption!
Let’s leave his court, that we may nothing share
Of his loud infamy; for our milk
Will relish of the pasture, and we must
Be vile, or disobedient—not his kinsmen
In blood unless in quality.
I think the echoes of his shames have deaf’d
The ears of heav’nly justice. Widows’ cries
Descend again into their throats, and have not
Due audience of the gods.
The King calls for you; yet be leaden-footed
Till his great rage be off him. Phoebus, when
He broke his whipstock and exclaim’d against
The horses of the sun, but whisper’d, to
The loudness of his fury.
Small winds shake him.
But what’s the matter?
Theseus (who where he threats appalls) hath sent
Deadly defiance to him, and pronounces
Ruin to Thebes; who is at hand to seal
The promise of his wrath.
Let him approach.
But that we fear the gods in him, he brings not
A jot of terror to us. Yet what man
Thirds his own worth (the case is each of ours),
When that his action’s dregg’d with mind assur’d
’Tis bad he goes about.
Leave that unreason’d.
Our services stand now for Thebes, not Creon.
Yet to be neutral to him were dishonor;
Rebellious to oppose; therefore we must
With him stand to the mercy of our fate,
Who hath bounded our last minute.
So we must.
Is’t said this war’s afoot? Or it shall be,
On fail of some condition?
’Tis in motion,
The intelligence of state came in the instant
With the defier.
Let’s to the King, who were he
A quarter carrier of that honor which
His enemy come in, the blood we venture
Should be as for our health, which were not spent,
Rather laid out for purchase. But alas,
Our hands advanc’d before our hearts, what will
The fall o’ th’ stroke do damage?
Let th’ event,
That never-erring arbitrator, tell us
When we know all ourselves, and let us follow
The becking of our chance.