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JUSTINIAN       .      .     Emperor of the East and West
THEODORA      .      .     His Empress
ZUHAIR .       .      .     An Arab Boy
ANTONIA       .      .     Wife of Belisarius, attending on Theodora
PHOCAS .       .      .     Keeper of the Prisons

SCENE—A private apartment of the royal palace, Byzantium.

It is surrounded by golden columns, from which purple curtains are hung,
    drawn back so as to discover the walls of the apartment that are inlaid
    with mosaics of formal blossoming shrubs on a golden ground. To the
    right , there is a door leading to the Empress’s bedchamber; to the left, a
    little private door. The narrow aisle, running between the walls and
    columns, is continued in front of a row of windows at the back: they
    command a view of Byzantium and the Straits. Oriental Arabesques
    cover the ceiling; the floor is paved with green marble. In front, at the
    extreme right, a bronze statue of Ariadne Sleeping is placed opposite a
    bronze Saint Chrysostom, with gilded mouth, that stands on the left.
    A little table of silver and pearl in the middle of the room supports an
    incense-burner; near it stretches a throne-like couch, resting on peacocks,
    iv r ought in precious stones. A cradle, covered with a pall, has been
    placed toward the farther end of the room, close to another table on
    which are flowers and leaves.

ANTONIA [as she binds a wreath] The child is dead,
    Justinian’s sickly daughter it is well.
    The mother never kissed it, though sometimes
    She would steal in, and ask me with sharp looks
    If it were grown: it should have been a boy!
    But she is timorous and pitiful
    Beside it; and I fear to let her see
    How small it looks and pinched, now it is dead.
    The charge was irksome to me; but a mistress
    Like Theodora must not be denied.

1. The real name of this woman was Antonina.


                                    [Enter THEODORA]

THEODORA Is the child still asleep?

ANTONIA [moving between Theodora and the cradle] You must not look.

THEODORA Why are the doors ajar?
    Why is the room so chill? Why have you put
    The food away? And you are binding flowers!
    Give me the violet wreath. [She goes towards the cradle with wreath,
    stops, turns back, and tosses it to Antonia].
    No; take it, girl,
I cannot look on death.

ANTONIA                                     Be comforted.
    It was a babe almost to put away,
    Ill-shapen and a girl; the emperor scarcely
    Had cared to own such issue.

THEODORA                                     It was mine!
    The little sighing breath, and the soft head
    Against my breast. You think the courtesan
    Still lives on in the mother?

ANTONIA                                     No, the pride
    Of a great empress: you had quickly hidden
    My feeble nursling within convent walls.
    I would not be a girl, born of your blood,
    Denied your freedom there is such a force
    Of nature in you. It died quietly,
    Without a struggle.

THEODORA                                     Is there no more hope,
    Antonia, is there no more hope for me?
    The midwife said you put your hand across
    Her mouth; but, oh, I heard it as a curse
    She said I should not bear a child to live.
    If that be so

ANTONIA                                     But once, there is a rumour
    That once you bore a son.

THEODORA                                     A living son;
    Ay, ay, a living son. And what is this?
    A masque, an effigy, an alien,
    That gives no answer to the quivering
    Wild cries and ecstasies within my flesh,
    That disenchants me.


ANTONIA                                     You will soon forget.

THEODORA Those grips, those wanton fondlings?

ANTONIA In a while,
    When you are more yourself.

THEODORA                                     Yes, but the fever
    So clings about me.

ANTONIA     When the milk is gone
    You will grow tranquil. You have evil dreams;
    Last night you woke me, talking in your sleep.

THEODORA Talking!—Of what?

ANTONIA                                     That night before the games. . . .
    You raved and bit the sheets.

THEODORA                                     Oh, I remember!
    I must indeed be sick, so to be haunted
    By those tremendous days of revelry
    In the arena.

ANTONIA     Come, those days were good
    As any days in youth. Why be ashamed
    To speak of them? We had so many lovers,
    We did not stay to choose.
                                    Sweet Cyprian, now,
    When I beheld you, fragrant from the bath,
    On the low bed you love, shaded by plumes
    Of jewelled peacocks, with pearl-braided linen,
    And that dull mantle sewn with golden bees,
    I picture to myself how I have seen you,
    After some signal triumph at the games,
    Wiping the sweat from forehead and from lips,
    To give and take fresh kisses. Mother Ida,
    Those were the days that smacked of very life;
    We may not hope to mend them.

THEODORA                                     I have never
    Dreamed of that past till just two months ago,
    After my babys birth. I hear the cries
    Of ribaldry, the stillness, the applause,
    The leaps of laughter. You must hear these dreams;
    I cannot keep them to myself. . . . Zuhair!—

ANTONIA You speak of him?

THEODORA                                     Yes, in the dream.


ANTONIA                                     The wretch
    Who turned you out of doors?

THEODORA     Oh, how I hate him!
    Hate, hate! I have been hating all my life
    The lovers——

ANTONIA     Who rejected you?

THEODORA                                     Not those;
    All who enjoyed my favours, hating them,
    Wishing them ill. But do you say Zuhair,
    That Eastern youth I met in Africa,
    Abandoned me? He drove me from his house
    In a mad pang of jealousy. My child
    Remained with him. You say, a living son:
    But, doubtless, he has perished—how my breasts
     Ache with the milk!—for they would let him starve
    When I was driven forth.
                                    The dream begins:
    I was half-dead with hunger, and the night
    Was drawing on; it was a desert place,
    Lonely as Egypt in its solitudes,
    When suddenly there came a cry; I heard—
    I lying there in Africa—my name
    Borne on in triumph by a shouting crowd.
    Oh, it was breath of life to me! I woke
    So chill and lonely. . . . And my babe is dead!
    Give me the violet crown.
                                    The eyes were dark—
    Do you remember?

ANTONIA                                     Theodora, fair,
    Fair as your own.

THEODORA                                     Then I have quite forgotten. . . .
    A little thing of yesterday, a rose
    How sweet!

ANTONIA Oh, fie! you will forget its sweetness;
    The past is nothing.

THEODORA                                     While the summer lasts:
    Oh, nothing, nothing! How I loved the child!
    [Looking up with a strange illumination on her face]
    My daughter! Ay, the perfect Theodora,


    Born in the purple: there had been romance
    To me in everything she did or said,
    Saw or enjoyed. You see this little cap
    Studded with jewels, so I had it stitched,
    Pearl crushing pearl, to take revenge on fate
    For all the misery thrust on my pride
    When first I found my body beautiful,
    My raiment poor and vile. Antonia, once—
    How children suffer!—I was in such rags
    I crept to a lone garden, where great boughs
    Of yellow roses glittered on a wall,
    And stript myself, and wreathed them in such garlands
    Round waist, and neck, and shoulders, that my breasts
    Took the light shadows of the leaves. The perfume,
    The splendour!

ANTONIA                                     But it was not poverty
    Caused you the pain; I rather think a power
    Wrought in you, craving for expansion, such
    A power as gives a man by miracle
    Grip over hostile kingdoms. I remember
    The day I saw you first, an orphan child,
    Sent with your sister Comito to beg
    For bread in the arena. Both the factions—
    At least, the hated faction of the Greens
    Broke into laughter at the little maids.
    Comito wept, and hid her face; but you
    Said you would entertain the crowd, and after,
    Ask. for their coins. You cleared a little space,
    Then, saying when your father kept the beasts
    That you had learnt their antics, set to gambol
    Like the young lions, gave the languid sprawl
    Of dozing tigers, and the jackal’s laugh;
    Or grew into a serpent, one of those
    With eyes so dead they draw you close to them
    To see if they be very death indeed.
    And then . . .

THEODORA Yes, then the Blues broke in acclaim,
    Poured coin on me; I called to Comito
    To pick it up, but I pressed to their midst


    And asked for kisses. Oh, to be caressed
    By very strangers, to be found so sweet
    Just in myself! I never had an art
    To sing or dance; but this pure mimicry,
    This daring to become ridiculous,
    Putting the charms that other women guard
    So jealously to any monstrous use—
    Oh, it worked spells with men!

ANTONIA                                     You need applause,
    The breath of many lovers. Would you listen
    To me, you would not pine to be a mother,
    Diverting interest to a younger race;
    You would again grow beautiful that way
    You cannot master when you give no love,
    Delicious as the ripening fruit to those
    For whom it ripens: drag your worshippers
    From those deep prison-cells to which you fling them,
    For just a glance with speech in it, a breath
    Too hot upon your hand. You must recall them,
    To feed your beauty, or Justinians eyes
    Will mark these wrinkles. I, too, have a husband
    I honour to the full; yet, in his absence—

THEODORA I know how you deceive him. But Justinian—
    Simply to say his name brings back the dream
    For which I live, the dream that he possesses
    Of a pure consort brought him from the gods,
    Herself a deity.

                                    Was he befooled?
    I swear he was not. From the hour he sought
    My love, and laid that awful hand on me
    God lays upon the sinner that he dooms
    To suffer his redemption, I have sinned
    No carnal sin.

                                    And now I fall away,
    And now I feel a riot in my blood,
    Questions that will not be put by, and murmurs
    That breed and breed. It is this motherhood
    Baulked in me. Oh, I fear! A great temptation,


    That I was free to plunge into and live,
    Cut from me in an instant.

                                    [Enter JUSTINIAN]

JUSTINIAN                                     Theodora!

THEODORA [standing between him and the cradle]
    Hush, do not look beyond, the babe is dead.

JUSTINIAN [formally blessing the child]
My child, my daughter. [To THEODORA] Dearest!

THEODORA                                     No; you seem
    Dead like the child; you cannot comfort me.
    I have grown jealous, lonely; a new passion
    Has crept into my nature.

JUSTINIAN                                     All the city
    Will mourn with us.

THEODORA     Pshaw! If Byzantium mourn
    In any wise—what should a city care
    Save for its own prosperity!—but if
    It can conceive of anything beyond,
    It mourns that you, wedding a courtesan,
    Ay, so you treat me, I am that to you,
    If you imagine me incapable
    Of plumbing my own misery; it mourns
    That I, your empress, who by day and night,
    Brood on your hopes, conceive your policy,
    Maiming your enemies, and binding fast
    The nations of your rule, am now the means
    Of drawing your great empire to its close.

JUSTINIAN You do these things, you are the deity
    Bringing these things to pass: our laws will live,
    Men will obey them.

THEODORA                                     Is it possible
    That can content you? And you do not think
    How soon when we are dead—

JUSTINIAN [enfolding her]     Think of the future?
    And you are here, the future!

THEODORA                                     Emperors wed,
    To found great empires.

JUSTINIAN                                     And I wedded you
    Not even to be great, though I had ruled,


    Save for the joy you bring me and the force,
    With faltering ambition; wedded you,
    To found a rapture in my life, a glory,
    To travel with the sun. You speak of children,
    Of gifts—

THEODORA I do. How righteously your mother
    Opposed our marriage, and foretold this doom
    Of sickly offspring, or the barren curse.
    My majesty is gone.

JUSTINIAN                                     Your majesty
    Is in my worship, in our constant love.
    Theodora, let us speak of those first days
    We met each other, not as virgin souls,
    As weary, cynical.

THEODORA                                     You speak of them?
    I will not let you speak. My youth is buried
    Entire, as in an instant, by a shock
    Of earthquake a whole city in the gulf.
    I have no past. Justinian, it becomes

    [looking wildly at the cradle, and then out towards the sea]

    Almost necessity I should look out,
    On to the future.

JUSTINIAN                                     Talk to me of love,
    Our love; while that endures there is no time
    Save for the terror that to-day should end.

THEODORA Oh, that name!

JUSTINIAN                                     We met in God:
    The day is precious to me as to saint
    The day of his conversion. From a troop
    Of libertines, who boasted of your love,
    I heard praise of your beauty, and I came
    Coldly to take my pleasure.

                                    When I saw you
    I wept, and bowed my head.

THEODORA     How tremulous
    The air grew! There was passing of a wind
    That moved like fire between us, and I cried


    Go from me! As you passed, my soul rose up
    Strong as a fiend to follow you.

JUSTINIAN                                     That look!

THEODORA My women found me senseless on the floor;
    And when at last the light flowed back on me,
    I watched it resting on the vulgar walls,
    The vulgar statues, on the tapestries,
    With all their jaded colour, on my flesh
    Oh, you are pitiless! I turned and fled
    From my polluted house.

JUSTINIAN                                     To find that cell,
    A holy hermits cell, half ruinous . . .

THEODORA Where I took refuge.

JUSTINIAN                                     Where my life began.

THEODORA It was without the city. I could see
    The ring of sombre verdure, the deep curve
    Of palaces and temples: when the lights
    Flashed out, the torch processions, ay, even then,
    I looked on to the sea, and in my heart
    I said, except he find me, there I find
    The grave and fathomless oblivion.
    Oh, I had quickly died—

JUSTINIAN                                     As I, beloved,
    If my mad quest had failed.

THEODORA                                     These weary hours
    Of fasting, diligence, and solitude!
    I bought great bales of wool, I learnt to spin:
    At eventide, when my appointed task
    Was done, I looked forth on the glittering domes
    And tried to pray.

                                    As Danae in her tower
    I prayed, I was shut up.—Deliverer!

JUSTINIAN That hermits cell! Love, we will build a church
    Above the sacred spot where I was guided
    By Him who guides the stars, where solemnly
    I took you for my wife, planting in you
    My hope, my honour, drawing from your love
    The peace man draws when he is told of God
    He is become His servant.


THEODORA Give me more,
                                    More of this miracle!

JUSTINIAN                                     One joy remained
    In store for me—to make you fellow-ruler
    With me of half the world. As one who builds
    A temple of rich stones, and in the magic
    Of strange new lights and perfumes pours his prayer,
    I, through the purple and the diadem
    It is my glory to invest you with,
    Find in my faith fresh splendour, further scope
    For adoration.

THEODORA [lying back] You have given me pleasure:
    Dressed delicately, sleeping the long sleeps
    I love, in sunny leisure by the sea
    Idling my hours away—

JUSTINIAN                                     But vigilant
    Each instant for my welfare.

THEODORA                                     What! no more
    Than that scant praise, no more than vigilant?
    And I have cleansed my love each day as gold
    Is cleansed. Oh, you are dull!

JUSTINIAN                                     To apprehend
    All you have suffered?

THEODORA                                     All that you enjoy.
    Mine is a converts strength: most converts fall
    Into strange lapses; I have never lapsed.

THEODORA                                     Antonia, take
    The child and bury it. . . . There! How your wish
    Is my most living will.

                                    [Attendants are summoned , and carry out the
                                    body of the child followed by Antonia]

JUSTINIAN [looking at Theodora with an expression of intense pride]
                                    You cannot fail.
    I am as sure of you as in campaign
    Of Belisarius; but this victory
    Won in my sight—

THEODORA                                     Beloved!


JUSTINIAN                                     Emboldens me
    To pray that you at once should leave these chambers
    Haunted by death. At noon there is a council;
    But it is still fresh morning. . . . Come with me,
    Come with me to our rooms, and let us work
    At the great laws together.

THEODORA                                     I will come.

[She looks round the room; her eyes rest on the child’ s jewelled cap]

    Lift me, I am not strong. Oh, what a toy
    To take such hold of me ! It is not that. . . .
    I need the air—a voyage. How the sails
    Flitter along! There is a little one
    Just on the verge far off. You cannot see. . . .

JUSTINIAN Theodora, it is well the child is dead.

THEODORA You think it would have brought me back to nature?
    Doubtless! To look out on the future now,
    Is looking on a sea that has no sail.

JUSTINIAN The future is not sudden, nor of chance,
    Nor like those gusty waters that are crossed
    As tempests may determine. You and I
    Shall rule on as they cannot rule who put
    Their hope in offspring; rule on as the gods
    Who never derogate. We can ourselves
    Write on the brows of time, Earths wisest sons
    Interpreting our wisdom.

THEODORA                                     So I dream,
    So I have always dreamed. But you must keep me
    Close to your side.

                                    [Re-enter Antonia]

ANTONIA Madam, there is a youth—
    No, a mere boy, almost a child, so slight
    Across the shoulders—who has forced his way
    Far on into the palace and persists
    That he must see you.

THEODORA                                     What! a boy, a child,

ANTONIA Yes; I caught him by the head,
    And put my arms right round him; for the guards

    Had bruised, had even pricked him with their spears.
    His cheek was bleeding.

THEODORA                                     And that frightened you—
    You cannot look on blood.

ANTONIA                                     He did not hear
    Their angry shouts, but from between my hands
    Stared up intently in my face, then smiled.
    No, you are not the Empress; you must promise
    To give me sight of her.

JUSTINIAN                                     The lad is crazed.
    Have him removed.

ANTONIA [appealing to Theodora] But yet to quiet him—
    And I have promised.

JUSTINIAN     You had other charge—
    With spices to prepare for burial—

THEODORA Enough! Antonia, I will see the lad.
                                    [Exit Antonia
    What need of all this violence? I have quelled
    The angriest street tumult as I passed
    By just an instant drawing back my veil.
    Leave us, Justinian; you are grown impatient.
    Those laws! I will be with you in an hour.
    We left off at a knotty point concerning
    The marriage-contract. There must be more freedom
    For women, as I urged. You will return
    And lock me in your study?

JUSTINIAN                                     In an hour.

THEODORA I almost wish I had gone back with him
    To the dear common life where, with our books
    And thoughts and love yes, with our very whims
    And spites and jealousies, we were so happy.
    There is no occupation in the world
    That is not ours. What wars we fight! In those
    I am the general. He is architect
    Of St. Sophia from the base to dome.
    And in theology—the heresies
    I make alluring. But the laws, the laws!
    Those mornings that I cannot wake my soul
    When he arouses his, what narrow edicts

    Are made, what cautious limitations set!
    And then my inroad and the burst of light. . .
    I will not be a fool and let mere nature
    Hold me in slavery.

                                    [Antonia returns with the boy]

THEODORA You kiss my feet;
    You force your way to me. You have some courage!
    [Eyeing him more closely]
    Or are you clinging to me for protection?
    I cannot give protection. If your crime
    Offend the state, or if you have intruded
    Into my palace to fulfil some vow
    And boast that you have touched an Empress robe,
    You shall live long—I will not take your life—
    Beneath those chambers where my prisons stretch.
    Now, answer me! [ToANTONIA] He does not even listen—
    Not hear me—he is mad.

ANTONIA                                     It is your beauty
    Holds him in awe: be patient.

THEODORA [trying not to meet the boy’s eyes]
                                    He is mad.
    Young children sometimes utter prophecies,
    And sometimes they are sent with words of doom
    Their innocence makes awful. Take him off!
    I am too weak to bear this. [To the boy] What! you shed
    Free tears, you let them trickle down your cheek,
    Taking no shame to hide them ? Are you wronged?
    I can be gentle. If you are an orphan—

ANTONIA He sobs!

THEODORA                                     Believe me, half those tears are false;
    The shame hurts and the hunger. Have him fed.

ANTONIA Speak, child!

ZUHAIR I cannot.

THEODORA [as if in the past] But some eyes were kind
    That day I begged; and some one praised my hair—
    Rich silky hair like his. [Stooping over the child and taking his chin]
    You are an orphan?

Come, now your story?


ZUHAIR                                     I have none.

THEODORA                                     Then why?—
    [Suddenly softening] Child, you are welcome!

ZUHAIR Ah, at last I hear
    The golden voice! Far off in Araby
    I heard its praise. I was a lonely lad,
    Ill-used, neglected; when I joined in talk
    With other boys, I found they were ambitious
    To dive for pearls, to see the pyramids,
    To conquer Italy. I only thought
    Of seeing you. What mystery of rose
    Flushes across your cheek!

THEODORA                                     You do not mark
    My gems, my palace.

ZUHAIR                                     For I did not hear,
    O Empress, of Byzantium; I heard
    Of a sweet woman with a silver laugh,
    Like Venus laughter.

THEODORA                                     Who should speak of this?

ZUHAIR A stranger who had seen you at the games
    Long years ago. It seemed so wonderful
    That he had heard your laughter. A free girl,
    He said, you stood and simply shook your sides
    With laughter and the whole world echoed it:
    But afterward, when each man had returned
    Into his house, the music came again
    And rippled down his memory. No flute—
    And yet it was not that so much—

O Empress!

THEODORA What is it? Let me look at you ? You come,
    You say, on some great errand.

ZUHAIR                                     Pity me;
    I have no lying words. Give me some comfort,
    Some strength, as if I were your very son.
    I have no mother: I have stood and watched
    How mothers kiss their sons, stood by the tent
    And sobbed and turned away.

THEODORA                                     I have no son;
    But if I had—now tell me all the rest.

    Yes, you may put your arms quite round my neck
    And sit beside me.

ZUHAIR                                     When my father died,
    He drew me to him and he said such things
    Down in my ear, I could not understand;
    If he were raving—

                                    You unloose your clasp!
    Oh then, I dare not speak.

THEODORA [rising]                                     Why should I care
    What any madman says ? You are my son;
    We do not need a slave in evidence:
    This silky hair, and all this mystery
    Of rose that flushes, fades across the cheek!
    You are my son. Is this the news you bring
    Touching the Emperors honour?

ZUHAIR                                     I am yours,
    Your child, O mother!

[Re-enter Justinian]

THEODORA                                     And I give you up.
     [She violently flings ZUHAIR from her and addresses JUSTINIAN]
    I have unbosomed him, an innocent
    Conspirator who comes to claim our throne
    Because I am his mother. It is true;
    I am his mother.

ZUHAIR                                     But it is not true
    That I am come to ask for anything
    That is not mine of right. You loved the Empress
    Before she was the Empress; so I love her,
    So I would fight for her, so die to serve her;
    My life is in her hands.

JUSTINIAN                                     It is well said.
    The Empress shall determine if your life
    Is for her honour and our empires peace.
    Theodora, you are judge of this.

THEODORA                                     How judge?
    I do not judge, I cannot. You, like God,
    Can put my past away.


JUSTINIAN                                     Surrounding you
    With its most live temptations.

THEODORA                                     You are cruel.
    How white you stand, like marble. Take your victim;
    I will not flinch.

JUSTINIAN             My victim. Had you been
    As other women, had you felt the instincts
    And honour of my wife, you had not suffered
    My eyes upon the bastard.

THEODORA [defiantly, as she takes the boy by the hand and scrutinises
                                    He inherits
    My beauty, I am proud of him—those brows,
    Wide as the rim of ocean on the verge . . .
    My brows! And, oh, those eyes of mine, before
    The world had darkened them! You lose your senses
    In jealousy; but, if you had true sight,
    You would behold in him the very prince
    The kingdom craves for, fashioned line by line.

JUSTINIAN His fate is in your hands.

THEODORA                                     You will not sentence:
    That were too great an honour. Then you leave
    The harlot to determine if this piece
    Of lovely flesh and blood shall drink the air
    And ripen in the sun.

                                    You hurt the boy,
    You bring the quick blood to his cheeks; he winces.
    He cannot suffer shame about his life,
    He is too like his mother.

JUSTINIAN                                     Shame! She speaks
    Of shame as unendurable!

THEODORA [dragging ZUHAIR to JUSTINIAN’s feet]
                                    Remove him!
    I give him up. Justinian, on my knees
    I pray you send him to some distant province,
    Train him a soldier, test the make of him,
    Let the young Arab perish, if he must,
    Unknown, on some far field where there are kingdoms
    Still in revolt.


ZUHAIR [flushing] To fight, to earn my death
    On the wide plains a free man!

JUSTINIAN [to Theodora]                                     Excellent!
    Acutely reasoned. From my sombre wars
    I should return to find Byzantium
    Ablaze in celebration of some slight
    Advantage won on Transylvanian hills
    Over the Gepidae; or, worse, be met
    By Theodora abject in petition
    I should adopt her son.

THEODORA                                     You injure me.

JUSTINIAN Then learn the simple truth: one absent look,
    One glance of roving interest in your eyes,
    If once I should surprise it, were enough . . .

THEODORA Yes; I have failed to act my part but once,
    Once in my life. I cannot be forgiven:
    I know the custom—hoot me from the stage,
    Heap shame upon me!

JUSTINIAN                                     Still you speak of shame,
    You who have brought me in estate more low
    Than if I had been drawn on through the streets
    Of my own city by a jeering crowd.

THEODORA Oh, if you wake my hatred, I am back
In the arena! I have seen such things,
As once—a tigress with one paw across
Her last, unravished cub. Ah, there indeed
Was majesty! [Throwing her arms round ZUHAIR]

                                    And I can mimic fools,
Who threaten and do nothing. I could make
Byzantium laugh by just presenting you
Judicial and so lofty. [To ZUHAIR]

                                    Trust to me.
            [As she continues, JUSTINIAN stands rigid with clenched hands,
                        then turns his back on her and walks through the corridor
                        with a beckoning gesture. In a few moments he returns
                        with his guards]

THEODORA I hate to see you standing there and making
    No motion for your life. You do not know
    You have a power—the Emperor standing there

    With his fixed eyes and sullen, vacant face,
    Cannot conceive. Oh, you were safe with me,
    If you would try your arts. Ask for your life,
    I prompt you—ask!

ZUHAIR [in a low voice] I do not wish to live:
    If I might choose the manner of my death—

THEODORA A boon! Why, so!—Gods, anything! [He whispers in
    her ear]

                                    My child!
    [Her manner suddenly loses its elasticity , and she says mechanically]
    Remove him, guards; let him be kept in prison,
    The deepest prison, where the jailer feels
    About to find his captive, gropes and gropes
    And murders in a blindness.

ANTONIA [throwing herself before JUSTINIAN]
                                    Never, never!
    Rather despatch him quickly. Oh, my lord!
    My mistress is still weak, delirious,
    Full of repining that her babe is dead.

THEODORA What babe? His babe? I had forgotten it—

JUSTINIAN [pointing to the guard, and addressing THEODORA]
    They wait for your command.

THEODORA [taking the boy by the shoulders and advancing towards the
    guards]                                     Remove him, guards!
    But, if a hair of his be harmed—
    [Passing her hand over the boy’s body, and speaking to him in a
    low, excited voice]

                                    You mean—
    You dare this?

ZUHAIR                                     Oh, be great!

THEODORA                                     With my own hands?
    They tingle—what, to handle you myself!
    [The boy is borne off: she looks after him, a covetous frenzy in her
    O Mother Ida! I am shaken through
    As by the clash of cymbals!

    Ay, so to mutilate myself. [Suddenly, in a loud voice, to ANTONIA]

                                    Oh, see

    That he is safe; he is my only hope,
    The apple of my eye.                                     [Exit Antonia

JUSTINIAN [rising]                                     So you have chosen.

                                    Oh, kill me, kill me, make an end!
    I can do nothing.

JUSTINIAN                                     Then we are divorced.

THEODORA Impossible! Divorced? That shall not be,
    That were annihilation. You may kill
    And bear me as a thorn about your heart,
    Long as you live; I have no fear of death:
    But if you dis-espouse me, have you thought
    How I must perish? There will be grey hell
    About me everywhere. And you—divorced!

JUSTINIAN I shall go forth to solitary rule.

THEODORA Forgetting me?

JUSTINIAN                                     No: for my shame is branded—
    Cursing the day we met, razing the churches
    You built, the convents for the prostitutes
    You thought to cleanse; destroying in my empire
    And home each record of you.

THEODORA [wringing her hands] But what more
    Could I have done?

JUSTINIAN                                     Is there no more to do?

THEODORA Kill me—I fail you.

JUSTINIAN                                     No, you do not fail,
    You bring my life to failure I break up.
    I cannot kill you. It has been mirage,
    This dream of mine. I thought you were a gift
    As veritable and as fresh from God
    As Eve herself.

THEODORA [crouching close to Justinian] You thought—say everything
    Before we are divorced: to punish me,
    Say all.

JUSTINIAN I will. I thought you were a woman
    So tempered, so acute she wove the visions
    For unborn eyes to see; a woman swift
    As an archangel to dissever truth
    From heresy, miraculously guided

    In her intelligence, and of a beauty
    Thrilling the air as a doves holy wings—
     A woman chosen to present to men,
    Mysteriously, an image of the Church
    Christ waits to greet in Paradise.
            [THEODORA rises, holding his hand, and absorbed by his words]
                                    All this
    I dared to think.

THEODORA [retaining his hands and kissing them]
                                    Would you but give me time—
    Justinian, I am weak, you leave me free?
    If you believed that I could do this thing,
    It would be so much easier.                                    [Bowing her head on Ins arm]

                                    God, divorced!
    [Looking up] Promise, you never will abandon me;
    Never, if I should fail.

JUSTINIAN                                     I cannot pardon;
    There is such justice in me.

THEODORA                                     That is well;
    For now I do not doubt that I shall live
    Through all this day and on through many years,
    Live, by your side, your Empress. [To Attendants] Bid them bring
    The boy back to my presence. [To JUSTINIAN] Do not touch me:
    Tis I myself; you cannot give me help—

JUSTINIAN No help; I shall not even pray for you,
    As if I feared you would not do this thing
    You will not fail, you cannot.
    How great I am in you!

THEODORA                                     Lay me some weapon
    For use, beside the throne.
            [Re-enter ANTONIA with ZUHAIR]
                                    What! they have bound him!
    Trust me, you shall not see his face again!
    But leave us.

JUSTINIAN As I leave you with the crowds
    Of courtiers who adore you: you are free
    And in your freedom the security
    You will not fail, you cannot; my worst foe

    Dare not assail my honour.

                                    [JUSTINIAN lays his sword by the throne and goes out]

THEODORA[turning toward Zuhair, and beckoning him to approach]
                                    O my boy,
    How your eyes follow me! Is this the welcome
    After so long a journey? Do the chains
    Gall these young wrists? How soft you are to touch,
    How sweet! Do you rebel?

ZUHAIR                                     Strike off these bonds,
    I will not let you fawn upon a slave.

THEODORA No: as a lioness her netted cubs,
    I fondle you and you are helpless. There! [Loosing his chains]
    Now you can give me free caresses, cling
    Close, close. You thought I should have azure eyes?
    And mine, you see, are grey. I cannot move you:
    What shall I do with you in all the world?
    Why, I might banish you. Arabia
    The sun itself basks there. Will you return?

ZUHAIR Arabia!

THEODORA Does it seem a thousand years
    Back in your life? You sigh so wearily;
    So much has happened since the morning sun.
    Zuhair So much must happen.

THEODORA                                     I have lost a child,
    And my wide realms are left without an heir

Yet I were a fool to banish you;
    For, if I let you go, this blood of mine
    Would never filter through the arid plains
    And lose itself. The kingdoms would grow dark
    One day about my borders with the pressure
    Of alien tribes and a usurpers sword.

            [Perceiving the passion in ZUHAIR’S face]
What, part with you! put you away! Your name—
I mean the name before you were a prince;
You shall be re-baptized.

ZUHAIR                                     Then you must choose
    My name, you are my mother; and to-day
    My life begins. I have not lived before.


THEODORA Can you feel that?
                                    Antonia, take the boy,
    Give him rich clothing and that broidered cap
    Starry with sapphires.

ANTONIA                                     That I begged of you
    In vain.

THEODORA Well, he may wear it.
                                    [Exeunt ZUHAIR with ANTONIA
                                    Why, he has
    My very soul—can take new dignities
    As easily as I. He must not come
    In his young royalties to dazzle me,
    Or I shall hail him THEODORUS—give him
    To one of our great generals to train
    Into a soldier.
    [Going to a secret door and calling] Phocas!
            [He enters stealthily]
                                    Are the prisons
    Quite empty?

PHOCAS Madam, there are still a few
    Sick prisoners it would be more merciful
    To execute at once.

THEODORA There is the sea!
    I know that secret passage to the cliff
    And the blue hollow at the end. Despatch
    Those prisoners: light the passage— I may have
    Myself some business there.

PHOCAS                                     If you would trust me
    With those offenders, they should find their graves
    Within their cells. The stain across the water
Sometimes betrays.

THEODORA             Go forth and murder them.
    I would I had your task. One as another,
    What are these captives to you? Do you ever
    Pause at their cries and tremble?

PHOCAS [with a deep inclination] I obey.

THEODORA [pacing the room distractedly]
    With my own hands! He craved it as a boon;
    I will not falter. I will take him down

    Through the dark rocky fissure to the sea
    And bid him leap! But if his corse should rise?
    Oh, it were best——

                                    Phocas, for all I said,
    Do nothing suddenly. Remain at hand.
    This evening, after I have left my rooms
    Search them. When all you have to do is done,
    Alter the tapestries, let lamps be lit.                                     [Exit PHOCAS
    With my own hand! This deed must be my own;
    I have been left sole mistress of myself
    Since I have been myself.

                                    [Re -enter Antonia]

ANTONIA The boy is lovely,
    Drest in the colours that you love and wearing
    Simply for ornament that broidered cap.
    His one thought is to please you. While I sorted
    His suit of raiment, he was full of talk—
    Oh, your Zuhair, he is the sweetest lad
    Was ever born!

THEODORA Zuhair, is that his name?

ANTONIA The youth you loved
    And prayed to, doting.

THEODORA How I hate Zuhair!
    I will not see the boy; how dare he breathe
    A word to any one but me!

ANTONIA                                     I asked
    His name and kissed him.

THEODORA                                     I have done that too,
    And kissed him after for so sweet a name.

ANTONIA Do not be jealous.

THEODORA                                     He shall die to-night.

ANTONIA He shall not. Theodora, are you mad?

THEODORA Since you have spurred me on!

ANTONIA Come now, what need
    Is there to murder him? I have a son,
    A son my husband has no mind to slay,
    Though he is not his father.

THEODORA                                     Do not speak
    Of those old shameful days.


ANTONIA                                     Why, they are here
    In living evidence.

THEODORA The sea will wash
    All clean to-night: you have condemned the boy.
    You think I have such weakness! Do not come
    About me any more.

            [Exit ANTONIA, as if some new thought had struck her:
                        THEODORA opens the secret door

                                    Phocas, I said
    Not till to-night; be vigilant and still.
    Is the Mage in the palace?

VOICE OF PHOCAS                                     On the spot.

[THEODORA follows PHOCAS an instant, then returns]

THEODORA—This Mage, who always has predicted woe
    And peril to the Emperor, if his kingdom
    Should ever find an heir.

            [Re-enter ANTONIA with ZUHAIR]

ANTONIA Madam, the prince
    Prays to attend you.

ZUHAIR                                     Empress!
[He kneels, she holds him up in her arms, going over every point of
his dress as she speaks to him]

THEODORA                                     Have you heard
    I keep my courtiers in dark ante-rooms,
    Patient for days, before I summon them
    Into my presence?

ZUHAIR                                     But I enter it.
    Oh, I have been with you so often, seen you
    On your great days of state, or when the factions
    Were hostile to you. I have heard report
    Of your great courage—

THEODORA                                     Has that passed to you?
D    o you inherit that?

ZUHAIR                                     How you had rather
    Die than survive your honour; how you find
    The throne a glorious sepulchre for kings.
    Yes, I inherit all your qualities,
    But chief your courage.


THEODORA                                     What! you do not mean—
    It is not possible! So mere a boy. . . .

                                    [Re-enter PHOCAS with MAGE]

ZUHAIR Mother, your son!
    {Glancing toward MAGE.] Is there no privacy?
    I would enjoy a little time with you.
    Let us dismiss these mutes.

THEODORA                                     Take all your will.

ZUHAIR [to MAGE] Leave us!

MAGE                                     But I am summoned by the Empress.

ZUHAIR And I, the Empress’ son, dismiss you—go!

MAGE The Empress’ son then that calamity,
    Foretold by mystic science, that the throne
    Should be imperilled by a bastard . . .

THEODORA                                     Stay!
    I will not bear the insult.

ZUHAIR                                     Comes to pass.
    We will avert the danger. [Going up reverently to the MAGE]

                                    By all spells,
    All magic influence, make the coming hour
    Propitious to the sacrifice. [Exit MAGE. ZUHAIR goes straight up
        to the Empress and kisses her]

                                    We lose
    Together our ill names when I am dead.
    Be firm: ere evening you must be restored
    To the great Emperor’s love. I have no fear,
    I die, not by the executioner,
    Not secretly, for we two take together
    An open, frank farewell. We have been spoiled
    As son and mother; I am just the victim,
    And you the priest—the god.

        [Leading her towards her chamber]

                                    I have learnt little
    Of any faith; I knew that for great deeds
    One must be still and arm oneself: prepare!
        [He lifts the arras—their eyes meet. THEODORA passes out]
    How terrible it is to be alone
    In these wide palaces, I almost shriek
    Now I have let her go from me.


                                    For ever,
    For ever she is gone; and I am left
    Beside these golden columns. Araby,
    With the black tents I love, the neighing horses,
    With Gamul, my own horse. . . . What brought me here
    I am quite sure she called me in a dream
    Across the desert, for I knew her voice
    Soon as she spoke; she will not speak again,
    She is grown dumb for ever. Oh, to rush
    One instant to the shore and feel the wind!
    She is so long in coming.

                        [Re-enter Antonia]

                                    Are you there,
    My good Antonia?

ANTONIA                                     Why?

ZUHAIR                                     There is a service
    That you must do for me.

ANTONIA                                     My mistress is—

ZUHAIR Within: go to her.

ANTONIA                                     But I dare not go:
    She has forbidden me about her person.

ZUHAIR Go to her, quick! It is so terrible
    To be alone.

ANTONIA             But you are gasping.

ZUHAIR                                     Go!

ANTONIA I dare not.

ZUHAIR                         Dare not! Say I have a boon,
    That she should dress herself in all her state,
    As she comes forth to greet the Emperor,
    Her crown a ruby fire, and all her gems.
    It is my will.

ANTONIA [panic-struck] Give me another message.
    Are you a baby, longing to be dazzled
    By crowns and gems? When Theodora wears them
    They are lost sight of. She becomes a stranger,
    Soon as her hand is on her purple robes,
    The kind of stranger that one dare not question
    Lest he should be a god. You must not do it;
    You cannot face her in her strength and live.

    You think because you dared the guard, and fought
    Your way through to the palace—

ZUHAIR [steadily] I am changed.
    Go to her.

ANTONIA [with a cry] Oh, my child! [Exit

ZUHAIR                                     How I am kindled,
    And yet how weak I am; how mere a mortal
    Waiting to be consumed. I can but pray
    That there may be a moment of clear sight
    Before my blood rush in and cover all.
    [Re-enter Antonia]
    Where is she? I am dazed.

ANTONIA [hurriedly]                                     She cannot come;
    She cannot give you up; you must escape
    With me, it is her will. Phocas will swear
    He flung you from the rocks.

[She struggles with ZUHAIR; he resists]

ZUHAIR                                     She laid no charge
    Upon me to keep silence?

ANTONIA                                     Not a word!
    She is not thinking now about herself,
    Her honour.—Oh, she loves you!

ZUHAIR                                     Then you lied,
    Saying she bade me fly.

ANTONIA                                     She has not spoken
    Except now to dismiss me.

ZUHAIR                                     On what errand?
    No base one—I am glad.

ANTONIA                                     She has no weapon—
    Prince, if you would not kill her, down the stair!

ZUHAIR [going to the centre table]
    Here is a weapon. Take it to the Empress;
    Tell her, I chose.

ANTONIA                                     This is Justinian’s sword.

ZUHAIR Then this is best.
        [Re-enter THEODORA in imperial array . She stands by the columns
            rigid. ZUHAIR, turning round sharply, perceives her]
                                    Oh, stay! she is resolved.


        [[She advances . He looks up at her with one look of terrified
            worship, then presents the sword]
    Now we meet worthily.
        [THEODORA takes the sword and stabs him. ANTONIA falls down,
            and hides her face against the couch]

THEODORA                                     How fast the blood
    Keeps flowing, flowing! . . . Now the eyes are blind;
    There is a spasm.—Was it not his voice
    Cried out a moment back, Justinians sword?
                                    [Taking the sword from the wound]
    It is dyed deep.

What! do the eyes unclose,
    Does speech flow through them?
            [She bends over him; he dies; she rises]

                                    I have fixed a smile
    In the dead face. Antonia, cover him!

[THEODORA watches ANTONIA till she has entirely covered the
corpse with a rich mantle that has been lying on the couch,
then she speaks]

THEODORA                                     Summon the Emperor! [Exit ANTONIA
                                    So at last Zuhair
    The infidel has perished.
            [She stands at the right of the corpse. Re-enter JUSTINIAN. She
            presents the sword]

JUSTINIAN                                     O my strength,
    My empire’s strength—ours is an equal love.

MLA citation:

Field, Michael. “Equal Love.” The Pageant, 1896, pp. 189-224. Pageant Digital Edition, edited by Frederick King and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2019-2021. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2021.