Before the Temples of Mars, Venus, and Diana.
(Theseus; Pirithous; Hippolyta; Attendants; Palamon; Arcite; Knights; Emilia)
Theseus orders the opponents to make their sacrifices to the gods before beginning, and wishes them all well. Palamon and Arcite say farewell to one another one last time, regretful that things have come to this but refusing to back down. They embrace. Arcite and his knights worship at the altar of Mars, the god of War, and are rewarded with a clap of thunder and the sounds of war. They take this as a good sign and go to prepare for the battle. Palamon and his knights approach the altar of Venus, Goddess of Love, and are rewarded by music and a flight of doves, which they take as auspicious signs. Lastly, Emilia approaches the altar of Diana, the Virgin Goddess of the Hunt, offering her last services as a vestal and asking, since she cannot decide for herself, that whichever of the two knights loves her best win. A rose tree bearing a single rose rises for behind the altar, and the rose falls off. Emilia is uncertain of what this may portend. (179 lines)
Three altars erected—to Mars, Venus, and Diana. Flourish. Enter Theseus, Pirithous, Hippolyta, Attendants.
Now let ’em enter, and before the gods
Tender their holy prayers. Let the temples
Burn bright with sacred fires, and the altars
In hallowed clouds commend their swelling incense
To those above us. Let no due be wanting;
They have a noble work in hand will honor
The very powers that love ’em.
Flourish of cornets. Enter Palamon and Arcite and their Knights.
Sir, they enter.
You valiant and strong-hearted enemies,
You royal germane foes, that this day come
To blow that nearness out that flames between ye,
Lay by your anger for an hour, and dove-like,
Before the holy altars of your helpers,
The all-fear’d gods, bow down your stubborn bodies.
Your ire is more than mortal; so your help be;
And as the gods regard ye, fight with justice.
I’ll leave you to your prayers, and betwixt ye
I part my wishes.
Honor crown the worthiest!
Exeunt Theseus and his Train.
The glass is running now that cannot finish
Till one of us expire. Think you but thus,
That were there aught in me which strove to show
Mine enemy in this business, were’t one eye
Against another, arm oppress’d by arm,
I would destroy th’ offender, coz, I would,
Though parcel of myself. Then from this gather
How I should tender you.
I am in labor
To push your name, your ancient love, our kindred,
Out of my memory; and i’ th’ self-same place
To seat something I would confound. So hoist we
The sails that must these vessels port even where
The heavenly limiter pleases.
You speak well.
Before I turn, let me embrace thee, cousin.
This I shall never do again.
Why, let it be so; farewell, coz.
Exeunt Palamon and his Knights.
Knights, kinsmen, lovers, yea, my sacrifices,
True worshippers of Mars, whose spirit in you
Expels the seeds of fear, and th’ apprehension
Which still is farther off it, go with me
Before the god of our profession. There
Require of him the hearts of lions and
The breath of tigers, yea, the fierceness too,
Yea, the speed also—to go on, I mean,
Else wish we to be snails. You know my prize
Must be dragg’d out of blood; force and great feat
Must put my garland on, where she sticks
The queen of flowers. Our intercession then
Must be to him that makes the camp a cestron
Brimm’d with the blood of men. Give me your aid
And bend your spirits towards him.
They advance to the altar of Mars and fall on their faces; then kneel.
Thou mighty one, that with thy power hast turn’d
Green Neptune into purple; whose approach
Comets prewarn, whose havoc in vast field
Unearthed skulls proclaim, whose breath blows down
The teeming Ceres’ foison, who dost pluck
With hand armipotent from forth blue clouds
The mason’d turrets, that both mak’st and break’st
The stony girths of cities: me thy pupil,
Youngest follower of thy drum, instruct this day
With military skill, that to thy laud
I may advance my streamer, and by thee
Be styl’d the lord o’ th’ day. Give me, great Mars,
Some token of thy pleasure.
Here they fall on their faces as formerly, and there is heard clanging of armor, with a short thunder, as the burst of a battle, whereupon they all rise and bow to the altar.
O great corrector of enormous times,
Shaker of o’er-rank states, thou grand decider
Of dusty and old titles, that heal’st with blood
The earth when it is sick, and cur’st the world
O’ th’ plurisy of people! I do take
Thy signs auspiciously, and in thy name
To my design march boldly.—Let us go.
Enter Palamon and his Knights, with the former observance.
Our stars must glister with new fire, or be
Today extinct. Our argument is love,
Which if the goddess of it grant, she gives
Victory too. Then blend your spirits with mine,
You whose free nobleness do make my cause
Your personal hazard. To the goddess Venus
Commend we our proceeding, and implore
Her power unto our party.
Here they advance to the altar of Venus, and fall on their faces; then kneel, as formerly.
Hail, sovereign queen of secrets, who hast power
To call the fiercest tyrant from his rage,
And weep unto a girl; that hast the might,
Even with an eye-glance, to choke Mars’s drum
And turn th’ alarm to whispers; that canst make
A cripple flourish with his crutch, and cure him
Before Apollo; that mayst force the king
To be his subject’s vassal, and induce
Stale gravity to dance; the poll’d bachelor,
Whose youth, like wanton boys through bonfires,
Have skipp’d thy flame, at seventy thou canst catch,
And make him, to the scorn of his hoarse throat,
Abuse young lays of love. What godlike power
Hast thou not power upon? To Phoebus thou
Add’st flames, hotter than his; the heavenly fires
Did scorch his mortal son, thine him. The huntress
All moist and cold, some say, began to throw
Her bow away, and sigh. Take to thy grace
Me thy vow’d soldier, who do bear thy yoke
As ’twere a wreath of roses, yet is heavier
Than lead itself, stings more than nettles. I
Have never been foul-mouth’d against thy law,
Nev’r reveal’d secret, for I knew none—would not,
Had I kenn’d all that were. I never practiced
Upon man’s wife, nor would the libels read
Of liberal wits. I never at great feasts
Sought to betray a beauty, but have blush’d
At simp’ring sirs that did. I have been harsh
To large confessors, and have hotly ask’d them
If they had mothers; I had one, a woman,
And women ’twere they wrong’d. I knew a man
Of eighty winters—this I told them—who
A lass of fourteen brided. ’Twas thy power
To put life into dust: the aged cramp
Had screw’d his square foot round,
The gout had knit his fingers into knots,
Torturing convulsions from his globy eyes
Had almost drawn their spheres, that what was life
In him seem’d torture. This anatomy
Had by his young fair fere a boy, and I
Believ’d it was his, for she swore it was,
And who would not believe her? Brief, I am
To those that prate and have done, no companion;
To those that boast and have not, a defier;
To those that would and cannot, a rejoicer.
Yea, him I do not love that tells close offices
The foulest way, nor names concealments in
The boldest language. Such a one I am,
And vow that lover never yet made sigh
Truer than I. O then, most soft sweet goddess,
Give me the victory of this question, which
Is true love’s merit, and bless me with a sign
Of thy great pleasure.
Here music is heard; doves are seen to flutter. They fall again upon their faces, then on their knees.
O thou that from eleven to ninety reign’st
In mortal bosoms, whose chase is this world,
And we in herds thy game, I give thee thanks
For this fair token, which being laid unto
Mine innocent true heart, arms in assurance
My body to this business.—Let us rise
And bow before the goddess. Time comes on.
They bow. Exeunt.
Still music of records. Enter Emilia in white, her hair about her shoulders, and wearing a wheaten wreath; one in white holding up her train, her hair stuck with flowers; one before her carrying a silver hind, in which is convey’d incense and sweet odors, which being set upon the altar of Diana, her maids standing aloof, she sets fire to it; then they curtsy and kneel.
O sacred, shadowy, cold, and constant queen,
Abandoner of revels, mute, contemplative,
Sweet, solitary, white as chaste, and pure
As wind-fann’d snow, who to thy female knights
Allow’st no more blood than will make a blush,
Which is their order’s robe: I here, thy priest,
Am humbled ’fore thine altar. O, vouchsafe,
With that thy rare green eye—which never yet
Beheld thing maculate—look on thy virgin,
And, sacred silver mistress, lend thine ear
(Which nev’r heard scurril term, into whose port
Ne’er ent’red wanton sound) to my petition,
Season’d with holy fear. This is my last
Of vestal office; I am bride-habited,
But maiden-hearted. A husband I have ’pointed,
But do not know him. Out of two I should
Choose one, and pray for his success, but I
Am guiltless of election. Of mine eyes
Were I to lose one, they are equal precious,
I could doom neither; that which perish’d should
Go to’t unsentenc’d. Therefore, most modest queen,
He of the two pretenders that best loves me
And has the truest title in’t, let him
Take off my wheaten garland, or else grant
The file and quality I hold I may
Continue in thy band.
Here the hind vanishes under the altar, and in the place ascends a rose tree, having one rose upon it.
See what our general of ebbs and flows
Out from the bowels of her holy altar
With sacred act advances: but one rose!
If well inspir’d, this battle shall confound
Both these brave knights, and I, a virgin flow’r,
Must grow alone, unpluck’d.
Here is heard a sudden twang of instruments, and the rose falls from the tree, which vanishes under the altar.
The flow’r is fall’n, the tree descends. O mistress,
Thou here dischargest me. I shall be gather’d,
I think so, but I know not thine own will:
Unclasp thy mystery.—I hope she’s pleas’d,
Her signs were gracious.
They curtsy and exeunt.