(From an unfinished play.)
SCENE: The Gardens of Agrippina in the Vatican.
Otho. A word, Poppaea!
Pop. I will speak with you
If you will speak for kindness; but your brows
Are sick and stormy: why do you frown on me?
I will not speak unless it is for love.
Otho. Nothing but love, Poppaea; nothing less.
Pop. Then sit by me and take my hand, and tell me
Why you are sick and stormy and unkind
For nothing less than love.
Otho. If I should sit
So near you as to touch you; (she comes near him) no,
I will not touch you, and this once I will
Speak to the end.
Pop. (sitting down) Why, stand then, and so far,
And come no nearer, and by all the gods
Speak, and if you would have it be the end,
You are the master here, not I.
I fear the end is over. Yet, if once,
As I thought once, you loved me, if you keep
So much remembrance as to have not forgot
How, when, how much, I loved you, tell me now
What you would have me do.
Pop. You love me still?
Pop. And no less than when you coveted,
My husband’s wife, and still no less than when
You heated Caesar, praising me?
Otho. No Less?
No more, Poppaea?
Pop. There was a time once,
You loved me lightly; there was a time once
You taught me to love lightly; and a time
Before that time, if you had loved me then
I had not loved you lightly, Otho. Now
I have learned your lesson, and I ask of you
No more than what you taught me.
And a blind fool, and deadly to myself,
I have undone my life; it is I who ask
What you have taught me; for I cannot live
Without that constant poison of your love
That you have drugged me with, and withered me
Into a craving fever. There is a death
More cruel in your arms than in the grave,
More exquisite than many tortures, more
An ecstasy than agony, more quick
With vital pangs than life is. If I must,
Bid me begone, and let go and die.
Pop. There is no man I would not rather know
Alive to love me. What have I done to you,
Otho, that you should cry against me thus?
Otho. I will ask Nero: you I will not ask.
Pop. Otho, I hold your hand with both my hands,
Look in my face, and read there if I lie;
But I will love you, Otho, if you will.
Otho. I hold your hands, I look into your eyes,
There is no truth in them; they laugh with pride
And to be mistress of the souls of men.
Pop. I will not let you go unless you swear,
That you believe me; tell me, it is true,
Nothing but the truth, and do you really love
Nothing but me?
Otho. There is not in the world
Anything kind or cruel, anything
Worth the remembering, else: but you are false,
False for a crown, and you are Cressida
False for the sake of flaseness.
Pop. On my life,
I love you, and will not let you go.
The crown makes not the Cæsar; have I not found
More than a kingdom here? Take this poor kiss,
And this, and this, for tribute.
Otho and Poppaea
Otho. Either the Gods
Have sent some madness on me, or I live
For the first time in my life.
Nero enters quietly and comes up to Otho and Poppaea.
Nero. My most dear friend,
Once, being with this woman who stands here,
(Do you remember?) you, with her good leave,
Shut to the door upon me: I knocked then,
Hearing your voices merry with the trick,
And no man opened, and | went away.
I ask now of this woman, and not now
As Cæsar, but your rival, Otho, still,
I bid her choose between us. Let her speak,
And you, my Otho, listen.
Otho. If the truth
Live in your soul, speak now, Poppaea, now
The last time in the world.
Nero. (smiling) Poppaea?
Pop. (throwing herself into his
Poppaea speak? Nero knows all her heart.
Nero. Is this enough, Otho?
Otho. Is it enough;
Otho knows all her heart.
Symons, Arthur. “Otho and Poppaea.” The Venture: an Annual of Art and Literature, vol. 2, 1905, pp. 27-29. Venture Digital Edition, edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2019-2022. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Toronto Metropolitan University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2022, https://1890s.ca/vv2-symons-poppaea