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Life is a Dream

by Pedro Calderon


Adapted by Larry A. Brown

Based on a translation by Denis MacCarthy (1879)



Basilio, King of Poland
Segismundo, son of Basilio
Clotaldo, old tutor of Segismundo
Rosaura, daughter of Clotaldo
Clarin, her clownish servant
Astolfo, Duke of Muscovy and nephew of Basilio
Estrella, princess and niece of Basilio
Soldiers, musicians, ladies, servants



Scene 1: a prison tower in the mountains of Poland

Rosaura, dressed as a man, and Clarin, her servant, appear outside

ROSAURA: Well, Clarin, it seems we’ve lost our horse. Like the winged hippogriff of legend, he’s brought us to this high mountain top and abandoned us, too close to the sun-god’s fiery chariot. Let’s find a path leading down from these rocky cliffs.  Ah, Poland, is this the harsh way you welcome an unfortunate stranger, one who’s barely alive?

CLARIN:  Don’t forget me in your complaining! There’s suffering enough for two of us.

ROSAURA: I left you out, Clarin, knowing how you love to grumble on your own. Complaining is bittersweet, the philosopher said. For its pleasure, a person might seek out trouble.

CLARIN:  Whoever said that was a drunken old fool. I’d like to give him something to complain about! My lady, what are we to do, on foot, alone, lost in the darkness?

ROSAURA: Look there! If my eyes do not deceive me in this fading light, I think I see a building.

CLARIN:  I see it too, unless hope creates phantoms in my brain.

ROSAURA: A small fortress hiding between the rocks.

CLARIN:  Perhaps we will find hospitality inside.

ROSAURA: The entrance looks like a cave; from this dark womb it seems the night is born.

CLARIN:  By heaven! What’s that sound?

ROSAURA: I’m frozen with fear.

CLARIN:  Are those chains rattling? Some slave’s ghost with our luck!

SEGISMUNDO: [within] O miserable man that I am!

ROSAURA: What a mournful wail! Let’s flee from this haunted tower.

CLARIN:  I scarce have strength to stand, much less to run away!

ROSAURA: Look! Is that flickering light a candle in the shadows? Yes, by its feeble beams I can make out a gloomy dungeon, a tomb for the living. A man lies there, dressed in animal skins. What a pathetic sight. What is that he’s saying?

Light in the tower reveals Segismundo in chains

SEGISMUNDO: What have I ever done to deserve such suffering? O heaven, what crime have I committed against you? Must I be punished simply for being born? Other men are born as well, but they do not live in such misery. Birds are born, robed in nature’s splendid colors. Are they not free to fly? Beasts are born, spotted or striped, filled with ferocity. Are they not free to roam and hunt their prey? Fish are born, tiny boats which sail through sparkling streams. Are they not free to swim to the sea? Thinking of this, my anger erupts like a volcano! Why am I denied that sweet gift of liberty which God bestows on all other creatures?

ROSAURA: What a sad tale!

SEGISMUNDO: Who’s there? Clotaldo, is it you?

CLARIN:  [to Rosaura] Tell him yes – but remember, I was never here.

ROSAURA: No, it’s only a lost soul who has overheard your just complaint.

SEGISMUNDO: Then you’ll die for observing my weakness. With these strong arms I will tear you limb from limb!

CLARIN:  I am deaf, sir, and did not hear a word!

ROSAURA: If within that beastly form a human heart beats, be merciful and let us go.

SEGISMUNDO: Strange, how your voice has moved me; your appearance stays my hand. Who are you? I know so little of the outside world. From birth I have lived in this prison, if you can call it living. Only one man speaks to me, has pity on me. From him I’ve learned something about the earth, sea, and sky. But of all these things, you alone have awakened in me a sense of wonder. At each glance I am more amazed, and the more I look, the more I wish to see. In my heart I feel that life without seeing you again would be worse than death.

ROSAURA: I am amazed as well. I don’t know what to say. A higher will must have guided me here to find consolation in seeing another soul more miserable than I. There’s an old story about a man so poor that, feeding on bitter herbs one day, he cried out, “Is there anyone more wretched than I?” For an answer he turned to observe another man picking up the leaves he had thrown away. I was feeling sorry for myself until I met someone who makes my troubles seem joyful in comparison. If you wish to hear my sad story, to take your mind off your own, I’ll tell you. My name is …

CLOTALDO:  [within] Guards! Do you sleep on your watch? Two people have entered the prison!

ROSAURA: What trouble now?

SEGISMUNDO: It is Clotaldo, my jailer.

CLOTALDO:  [within] Hurry, quick! Before they can defend themselves, seize them or kill them!

CLARIN:  O guards, since you have a choice, I would prefer the first option!

Enter Clotaldo and soldiers

CLOTALDO:  You have entered this forbidden place against the king’s decree. None may look on the freak of nature hidden among these rocks. Surrender your weapons and your lives, or else see the flash of this pistol and feel its sting.

SEGISMUNDO: Before you can harm them, O tyrant master, I will forfeit my life. I will tear myself to pieces rather than see them harmed.

CLOTALDO:  Why do you boast, Segismundo, of such horrible deeds? You know that since birth you were destined to die. Guards, place him in that cell and bolt fast the door.

SEGISMUNDO: O heaven, you are wise to deny me my freedom! My fury against you would be titanic. I would pile up mountains of marble to shatter even the crystal sphere of the sun!

CLOTALDO: Perhaps you suffer your present ills in order to prevent such outrageous behavior.

Soldiers lead Segismundo away

CLOTALDO: Guard, disarm these two, and blindfold them so that they cannot see where they are going.

CLARIN:  A masquerade!

ROSAURA: Sir, I see you are noble. Here is my sword; I yield it only to you. It may not fall into the hands of one of lesser rank.

CLARIN:  Mine I will give to the lowliest of your troop. [to soldier] Here, you take it!

ROSAURA:  If I must die, lord, please guard this sword well. It is a legacy from my father, whom I never knew.

CLOTALDO:   [aside, as he recognizes the sword] Just heaven! What does this mean? – Tell me, why have you come to Poland?

ROSAURA: I seek to avenge a wrong against my honor.

CLOTALDO:  [aside] Still darker grow my doubts. – Speak, who gave you this?

ROSAURA: A woman.

CLOTALDO:  And her name?

ROSAURA: That I cannot reveal.

CLOTALDO:   What is the sword’s significance?

ROSAURA: The woman said, “Make your way to Poland and somehow manage to show this sword to the nobles of that land. One of them will show favor to you and protect you.” She did not give me his name.

CLOTALDO:  [aside] Heaven help me! Is this really happening? This is the sword I left with my lovely Violante with the promise to protect the one who returned it to me one day. That man I would recognize and love as my son. What am I to do? He surrenders it to me, hoping for safety, but now must instead lose his life, according to the king’s decree. What an unfortunate twist of fate! This must be my son; this sword proves it. O heaven, what is to be done? To drag him now before the king would mean his death, but to hide him from my master – that I cannot do and betray my duty.

No, it’s not possible! He cannot be my son! But if, as he claims, his honor was offended – being such a fragile thing that the slightest touch may break it – what else would a nobleman do but to face any risk, even death, to defend it? Yes, he is my son; he demonstrates his noble blood. Thus I must go to the king and tell him who he is, whatever may happen. Perhaps the king will acknowledge that I have done my duty, and spare him. Should he live, I will assist him in his revenge. But if the king should order his execution, then he will die without knowing I’m his father.

[to Rosaura] Come with me, and do not fear that you are alone in your misfortunes. In such matters of life or death, I cannot tell which of us bears the heavier burden.


Scene 2: a hall in the royal palace

Enter Astolfo and soldiers on one side, Estrella and ladies on the other

ASTOLFO:  Estrella, you starry-eyed beauty, drums and trumpets welcome you to the palace. Songbirds and bubbling fountains combine their music to praise you, and as queen you rule over my heart.

ESTRELLA:   Your flattering words, sir, are betrayed by your threatening display of arms. The honeyed phrases I hear do not match the harsh actions that I see. Why are your soldiers gathered here?

ASTOLFO:  You judge me wrongly, fair Estrella. Hear me out. When our grandfather died, he left the kingdom of Poland to our uncle Basilio and his two sisters, our mothers (may they rest in peace). King Basilio now shows signs of age; more inclined to studies of the mind than to women, he remains without an heir. Both of us make claim to his throne. You allege that, being the child of the older sister, you have the greater right, while I maintain that as a man I am more fit to rule. We have left the matter to our uncle to settle, and have come here today for his answer. For this reason I have traveled with my armies from Muscovy to Poland, not to wage war on you but in hopes that you might declare a war of love on me. In this way we might share the throne, you as queen of Poland but also as queen of my heart.

ESTRELLA:  Gallant words, Astolfo. Well, I must confess that I desire to rule but only by your side. But the sincerity of your words is challenged by that picture pendant which hangs around your neck.

ASTOLFO: I will gladly explain … but not now, for the sounding trumpet tells us that the king is near.

Enter Basilio with attendants

BASILIO: Beloved niece and nephew, come to my arms. Be assured that since you lovingly assent to my direction, I shall leave neither of you discontent or give one more than the other. Now although I am old, indulge me by listening attentively to what I have to say. Reserve your amazement until the wondrous tale is told.

You know that throughout the world my studies have given me the title of  “learned one.” Of all the sciences my mind is most drawn to predictions of the future. That azure field of stars above is the book in which heaven has written upon diamond-dotted paper all the destinies of men, whether good or evil. Would that destiny had chosen to end my life long ago! I warn you; too much knowledge may lead to destruction.

My wife bore me a son, but on that fateful day the heavens outdid themselves in ominous signs. The sun turned red and fought with the moon, provoking the blackest eclipse since the death of Christ our Lord. Even before his birth, his mother dreamt that from her womb would spring a monster, stained with her blood. In fulfillment of the omens, Segismundo came into the world, giving an early indication of his nature, for in childbirth his mother died.

In my books I saw foretold that Segismundo would be the most cruel of princes. This kingdom would be broken and divided, and become a school for treason and vice. Swept on by his terrifying crimes, he would trample me underfoot; I saw myself lying on the ground before him, my white beard a carpet for him to step on. O, how it shames me to speak of this!

Who could ignore such threats of disaster? Believing the fate which my far-seeing science witnessed, I resolved to enchain the newborn monster, to discover if wisdom could outwit the stars. It was publicly proclaimed that the ill-omened infant was stillborn. A tower was built upon the mountain. Segismundo still lives, imprisoned there. For this reason the law has forbidden anyone to enter there. Only Clotaldo has contact with him, teaching him science and the Christian faith. He alone has known of his existence.

We must consider three things. First, out of love for my country I wanted to save you from the oppression of a tyrant king. Second, to deny my only son the rights that every human and divine law has given him is not Christian charity. No rule of decency allows me to prevent another’s becoming a villain by being one myself. Third, perhaps I erred in believing too quickly a fate so dimly seen. For though his nature may incline him towards evil, he may perhaps o’ercome it. The most determined destiny can bend the will but not force it.

So, having considered these factors, I have devised a remedy. Tomorrow, I will place Segismundo on my throne. From there he will govern you in my stead, and you will swear to him your allegiance. Thus I shall achieve three things in answer to those I have mentioned. First, if he is wise, generous and kind, refuting the predictions made of him, he shall remain as your rightful king. Second, if he proves himself haughty, defiant and cruel, giving free rein to his vices, then I will have fulfilled my obligation to him, and when he is returned to his prison cell, it will not be out of cruelty but just punishment. Third, if my son acts in this manner as predicted, then I will give the kingdom to worthier princes, namely my sisters’ children, who after holy matrimony will share the crown and scepter as one. This is what your king commands.

ASTOLFO: If it falls on me to answer, I speak for everyone – let Segismundo appear. He is your son; that is all-sufficient.

ALL:  Give to us our natural prince. We shall proclaim him king this instant!

BASILIO: My subjects, from my heart I thank you for this deference to my wishes. Go, conduct yourselves to your lodgings. Tomorrow you shall see him here.

Exit Astolfo, Estrella, and attendants; enter Clotaldo, Rosaura, and Clarin

CLOTALDO:    May I speak to you, sire?

BASILIO: Clotaldo, you are always welcome with me.

CLOTALDO:  My service to you is a privilege, but today sad fate prevents my usual pleasure in your presence.

BASILIO: What has happened?

CLOTALDO:  A misfortune, sire, that afflicts my heart. This handsome youth here inadvertently entered the tower and discovered the prince inside. He is . . .

BASILIO: Clotaldo, be not troubled at this act, which if committed at another time would have angered me. Now that I have revealed the truth, this man’s discovery of the secret no longer matters. See me presently, for I must speak of this business. As for these men, I grant their pardon.

Basilio exits

CLOTALDO:  May the king live forever! [aside] Heaven has sent a happier fate. But I’ll not reveal myself to him yet – Strangers, good news, you are free.

ROSAURA: My lord, I kiss your feet a thousand times.

CLARIN: If you don’t mind, I’ll just miss them. (What’s one letter between friends?)

ROSAURA: You have given me life, my lord, and I shall be your slave.

CLOTALDO:  A life without honor is not life. You have yet to avenge the wrong done you, I believe.

ROSAURA: That is true. But once avenged and my honor unstained and pure, my life will then seem a worthy gift from you.

CLOTALDO:  Take back this sword. I know that it will be sufficient, once bathed in your enemy’s blood, to avenge you, for my sword – that is, which I kept for you – will know how to retrieve your honor.

ROSAURA: In your name once more I wear it, and on it my vengeance swear, even though the villain who afflicts me were more powerful.

CLOTALDO:    Is he so?

ROSAURA: Yes, so powerful that I hesitate to name him, lest your pity turn against me.

CLOTALDO:  By naming him, you would only kindle it more.

ROSAURA: To show that I trust you completely, know that my enemy is none other than Prince Astolfo, Duke of Muscovy.

CLOTALDO:  [aside] It is worse than I thought. – If you were born in Muscovy, then he who is your natural lord surely could not have dishonored you. Return to your country and abandon the quest that brought you here.

ROSAURA: Even though he is my prince, I say he has dishonored me.

CLOTALDO:  But a prince cannot insult a subject, even if he strikes the man in the face. [aside] O God! Is it possible that . . . ?

ROSAURA: The injury to me was greater still.

CLOTALDO:  Tell me then, for I begin to suspect.

ROSAURA: This costume does not reveal my true character. Once you understand that I am not what I seem, then you may decide whether Astolfo’s marriage to this princess should dishonor me. I have said too much. [she exits]

CLOTALDO:  Listen! Wait! What a labyrinth we are lost in, without a thread of reason to find the way out. This touches my honor as well. How can we succeed, I a subject, she – a woman! Heaven, reveal some way to go, if one exists.



Scene 1: a hall in the royal palace

Enter Basilio and Clotaldo

CLOTALDO:    Sire, everything has been done as you ordered.

BASILIO: Tell me how things proceeded.

CLOTALDO:  With the sleeping potion mixed as you directed, I went to Segismundo’s cell and spoke awhile of the sciences of nature. Then to raise his spirit to the high design you planned here, I taught him of the proud eagle soaring through the heavens like a comet. I marveled at its bold challenge to the skies, saying, “You are the monarch of the birds, and it is right that you surpass them.” He needed nothing more to prompt him, for on this matter of royalty he talks at length. His princely blood naturally incites him to attempt great things. He said, “So even among the birds, there is one who rules. If I were free, I would never bow to anyone!”

I took the opportunity to offer the drugged drink. Hardly had he swallowed the potion than a deep sleep overtook him. Your servants brought him here where all things fitting the high majesty of his person have been provided. In the bed of your state chamber they have placed him, where they wait to serve him as they would yourself. Now if my obedient service merits a small favor, I ask that you tell me for what purpose have you brought him to the palace?

BASILIO: Good Clotaldo, your curiosity is well justified. As you know, my son lives under the curse of a threatening planet which has predicted the worst calamities for him. I wish to test if the heavens could possibly be wrong about his evil disposition. Against the evidence of so many signs, he may prove more mild and self-controlled, showing that man alone controls his own destiny. This is what I wish to discover; once his true identity is revealed to him, if he acts in noble fashion, then he will be king. But if his manners show him tyrannous and cruel, he shall be returned to his chains.

But you may ask, for what purpose did we bring him here asleep? If today he learns that he is my son, and some hours afterward finds himself once more restored to his misery and his shackles, certainly his despair would turn into madness. Could such a one, knowing his proper identity, be consoled? If this happens, you will convince him that all he saw today was a dream. For in this world Clotaldo, all who live but dream they act here.

CLOTALDO:  Something tells me all may not go as planned, but the die is now cast. I see that he is awake and approaches us.

BASILIO: It is best that I retire, but you should be near him, so long his master, to relieve the uncertainties of his clouded mind.

CLOTALDO:  Then you grant me leave to tell him all?

BASILIO: Yes, for I hope that warned of the possible consequences, he may conquer his worst passions.

Exit Basilio, enter Clarin

CLARIN:  [aside] Four strong drinks for the guard are all it cost me to come here. At that price I’ll not miss any of the performance, which beats standing in line for a ticket.

CLOTALDO:  Any news, friend Clarin?

CLARIN:  Yes, my lady has taken your advice and has resumed her proper dress.

CLOTALDO:  This is best, lest possible scandal arise.

CLARIN:  Calling herself Astrea and your niece, she now lives here in the palace among Estrella’s ladies in waiting.

CLOTALDO:     I am happy to help her reestablish her honor.

CLARIN:  She hopes soon you may act on her behalf.

CLOTALDO:    May events conclude happily.

CLARIN:  Yes, my lady is treated quite royally and feasts like a queen, but her humble companion is famished with hunger. No one remembers me, or that my name “Clarion” means trumpet. Servants and trumpets are very bad about keeping quiet, you know. If this trumpet should sound off to those in the court, the secret would be out, if you understand me.

CLOTALDO:    I do, and will see that you get satisfaction.

CLARIN:  See, sir, the prince is coming.

Enter Segismundo and servants

SEGISMUNDO: Heaven help me! What’s this I see? I scarcely believe my eyes. Am I really in such a gorgeous palace, wearing fine silk and gold, surrounded by servants who indulge my every whim? This cannot be a dream, for I am fully awake. Am I not Segismundo? But why worry with these questions? Enjoy these present pleasures, fantasy or not, while they last.

SERVANT: How melancholy he seems. Who wouldn’t be in such a confusing state?

CLARIN:  I wouldn’t mind trading places.

SERVANT: May they sing again, sire?

SEGISMUNDO: No, no more music.

SERVANT: Since you are so ill at ease, I wanted to lighten your spirits.

SEGISMUNDO: I said no. Music will not calm my troubled thoughts. What I long to hear are the trumpets and drums of war.

CLOTALDO:    Prince, let me of all the land be the first to kiss your hand.

SEGISMUNDO: [aside] This is my jailer. How can he exchange harshness for respect? What has happened to me?

CLOTALDO:    You must have unnumbered questions which I will attempt to answer. Segismundo, you are this land’s rightful prince and heir to the throne. Your imprisonment was due to fearful predictions made by the heavens that this country would suffer a thousand tragedies if you ever wore the crown. But trusting that you with free will may prevail over the stars and rule your own destiny, you have been brought to this place while under a drugged sleep. Soon, the king your father will come to see you and explain matters further.

SEGISMUNDO: You vile traitor, why do I need more information? Knowing who I truly am, I’ll demonstrate my power to those whose treason has held from the king’s son his true identity!

CLOTALDO:    O fateful destiny!

SEGISMUNDO: You have betrayed all just laws and done cruel injury to me. For this offense this same law condemns you to die today by my hands!

SERVANT: But sire . . .

SEGISMUNDO: Let no one interfere in this matter, I warn you. Anyone who does I will toss out the nearest window.

SERVANT: Run, Clotaldo!

CLOTALDO:  Woe to you, Segismundo. This pride of yours is vanity, for your power will last no longer than a dream. [exit]

SERVANT: Sire, he did but obey his king.

SEGISMUNDO: Leave me be! Unjust commands should not be obeyed. Besides, I am his prince and deserved his loyalty as well.

SERVANT: Who was he to judge what is right or wrong?

SEGISMUNDO: You must love life little to keep on challenging me.

CLARIN:  You should listen to the prince, slave.

SERVANT: Who gave you permission to speak?

CLARIN:  No one. I took it.

SEGISMUNDO: Who are you? Speak up.

CLARIN:  A meddling fellow, in fact, the master of my trade.

SEGISMUNDO: Ha, ha! You alone in this new realm amuse me.

CLARIN:  A pleaser of princes, that’s me.

Enter Astolfo

ASTOLFO: A thousand blessings on this day, dear prince, that sees you restored to our sight. You appear as Poland’s sun, brightening the entire horizon with your radiance. May you ever wear the crown.

SEGISMUNDO: God defend you. [turns away]

ASTOLFO: Because I am unknown to you, I naturally overlook this slight response. I am duke of Muscovy and your cousin, in rank and nobility your equal.

SEGISMUNDO: Was my response not courteous enough? Since I now know what a pompous ass you are, the next time I see you, I will say God defend you not!

SERVANT: [to Astolfo] Pardon him, my lord. Consider that he was raised in the mountains and has treated everyone in this rough manner.

SEGISMUNDO: His formal speeches bore me, and he continues to wear his hat in my presence.

SERVANT: But he is a grandee and as such maintains this privilege among royalty.

SEGISMUNDO: I maintain that I am grander still.

SERVANT: Nevertheless, he deserves more respect than the rest of us here.

SEGISMUNDO: And still you meddle in my affairs?

Enter Estrella

ESTRELLA:  Welcome, your highness, to your rightful place. Despite all the predictions, may your reign be splendid and bright.

SEGISMUNDO: Tell me, who is this paragon of loveliness, this goddess whom heaven has most blessed?

CLARIN:  It is your “star-named” cousin, Estrella.

SEGISMUNDO: They should have named you Solaria. If such a star shines forth after the dawn, what is left for the sun to do? Allow me to kiss your snowy hand.

ESTRELLA:  Please, sire, restrain yourself.

ASTOLFO: [aside] If he falls in love with her, I am lost!

SERVANT: I must intercede. Excuse me, sire, but you see, Astolfo . . .

SEGISMUNDO: Have I not warned you about interfering?

SERVANT: I speak for your own good.

SEGISMUNDO: You make me furious! The only good is what fulfills my desire!

SERVANT: My lord, I heard you yourself say that injustice should be challenged.

SEGISMUNDO: You also heard my threat to throw you from the balcony.

SERVANT: A servant of the king cannot be treated in this fashion.

SEGISMUNDO: O no? Let us try it, at least!

Segismundo picks him up and carries him offstage

ASTOLFO: Can I believe my eyes?

ESTRELLA:   O stop him! Go after him!

SEGISMUNDO: [returning] From the window into the sea he has fallen. Thus, he was wrong; I can do it.

ASTOLFO: You should learn to control your violent behavior. There is a difference between a man and a beast, as great as that between palace and mountain.

SEGISMUNDO: While you give advice, take some in return. Speak in this manner to me again, and you will not have a head under your hat.

Exit Astolfo and Estrella; enter Basilio

BASILIO: What’s all this?

SEGISMUNDO: A trifle. A man who was bothering me now swims in the sea.

CLARIN:  Know, my prince, that this is the king.

BASILIO: Ere the first day’s sun has set, has your arrival cost a life?

SEGISMUNDO: He told me it could not be done, and I won the bet.

BASILIO: Prince, my grief indeed is great. Having warned you of your evil horoscope, I hoped that you might overcome the stars and fate, and yet I see that your first act of free will was to slaughter an innocent man. How can I as a loving father embrace you now, knowing that those arms have killed already?

SEGISMUNDO: I can do without your “loving” embrace as I have for years. A father so unfeeling and severe, who could treat me like an animal locked in a cage – why should I care if you stay away now?

BASILIO: Would to God that I had not sired you!

SEGISMUNDO: If you had not given me life, then I would have no cause for complaint, but once given, you had no right to take it away.

BASILIO: This is the gratitude I receive for raising you from a prisoner to a prince?

SEGISMUNDO: Why should I be grateful, old man? What have you given that was not rightfully mine? You are my father and the king, thus all this grandeur is my natural inheritance. If anything, you should compensate me for the freedom, life, and honor of which I was deprived.

BASILIO: Insolent barbarian, you’ve confirmed the prophecy of heaven. Be warned, you may think that you know who and where you are, but perhaps it may be that all this is but a dream. [exit]

SEGISMUNDO: All this a dream? Impossible! You cannot so easily erase the knowledge that I was born the heir to this crown. Before, I was enchained in ignorance, but now I know who I am.

Enter Rosaura in female attire

ROSAURA: [aside] I have come to wait upon lady Estrella, yet I tremble lest I meet with Astolfo. Clotaldo insists that my identity remain a secret. I trust his advice and my honor to him.

CLARIN:  Of all the things you have seen today, Prince, what has delighted you the most, may I ask?

SEGISMUNDO: Nothing has truly amazed me, because for I was born to enjoy all of this royal splendor. But if one thing astounds me, it is the beauty of woman. I read once that God spent all his creative efforts in making man as he would a little world. And yet I now believe He surpassed Himself in making woman a little heaven, for she far exceeds man as the heavens do the earth – especially so in the case of this lovely creature here.

ROSAURA: [aside] The prince is here; I must leave.

SEGISMUNDO: Please, lady, stay. Do not cause my day to end by allowing your radiance to set before dusk. But can I believe my eyes? I have seen this face before.

ROSAURA: [aside] Could it be? Surely this is the proud creature I found in chains.

SEGISMUNDO: Ah, I have discovered my very life. Woman, who are you? My heart tells me that we have met before.

ROSAURA: Perhaps you saw me as a member of Estrella’s retinue.

SEGISMUNDO: Say rather you are the sun; Estrella is a dim star compared to your radiance. In the fragrant land of flowers the rose reigns as queen, being the loveliest. In the deep mines precious gems choose for its brilliance the diamond as their supreme ruler. In the realm of space the morning star takes precedence, and all the planets pay homage to the sun, encircling its throne. How, then, should it be that in a universe where the most beautiful prevail, you must serve and bow before a lesser beauty, when your own charms exceed those even of sun, star, diamond, and rose?

Enter Clotaldo

CLOTALDO:  [aside] As his old master, I’m responsible for his behavior. But what’s this?

ROSAURA: You flatter me, sire, but I  leave silence as my reply. When one knows not what to say, ’tis better not to speak.

SEGISMUNDO: You must not leave me – stay! Would you have me remain here in the darkness, without your light?

ROSAURA: I beg permission, your highness, to withdraw.

SEGISMUNDO: Your attempt to leave indicates you would take what I have not given.

ROSAURA: Indeed, I must take it if you do not give it.

SEGISMUNDO: You move me from courtesy to rage! Resistance to my will acts like poison in my veins. Beware, for I am inclined to attempt the impossible today. Earlier I threw a man from that window who said it could not be done. Just to prove that I can, I may choose to throw your honor away as well.

CLOTALDO:  [aside] He only grows more obstinate. For a second time my honor is imperiled.

ROSAURA: Not in vain, I see, was this unhappy land warned of your tyranny. What else could one expect from a man in name only, more like the savage beasts with which he was raised?

SEGISMUNDO: I began with polite conversation, attempting to win your love.  But if I truly am a beast, then by God I shall live up to your description! You there! Leave us, and see to it that no one disturbs us.

ROSAURA: I am lost! O sire, consider . . .

SEGISMUNDO: I am a tyrant, a monster, remember? Chains do not hold me back now.

CLOTALDO:  What agony! I must stop him, though it cost my life. My lord, hear me!

SEGISMUNDO: For a second time you have dared to cross me, old man.

CLOTALDO:    Sire, you must restrain your passions if you wish to reign as king. You need not be cruel to show you are master here – remember, all this may be a dream.

SEGISMUNDO: You provoke me with these feeble deceptions. Let’s see if I kill you, will it still be a dream? [draws his sword, Clotaldo grabs his arm]

CLOTALDO:    Heaven defend me!

SEGISMUNDO: Let go, old fool, or else I’ll strangle you with my bare hands.

ROSAURA: O heaven! Help, quick! [she runs for help]

Enter Astolfo

ASTOLFO: What does this mean, noble cousin? Should you stain your valiant blade with his old blood? Return it shining to its sheath.

SEGISMUNDO: Only after it has tasted blood.

ASTOLFO: This man takes refuge at my feet. I now stand as his protector.

SEGISMUNDO: Protect yourself, then. I already owe you for an earlier offense.

ASTOLFO: In self-defense, I draw my sword against royalty. [they fight]

Enter Basilio and Estrella

BASILIO: Swords flashing here? What caused this outrage in my court? Speak!

ASTOLFO: Nothing now, sire, since you have arrived. [they put up their swords]

SEGISMUNDO: Very much, sire, even though you have arrived. I intend to kill this old man.

BASILIO: Do you have no respect for his grey hairs?

CLOTALDO:    They count for little, sire, being mine.

SEGISMUNDO: Why should I respect his, father, when one day I will trample on your own! I have yet to repay you for my unjust treatment these many miserable years. [exit]

BASILIO: Before that happens you will sleep again. Clotaldo, prepare the potion and see to it.

Exit Basilio, Clotaldo, and Clarin

ASTOLFO:  How rarely does fate deceive when it threatens misfortune; it’s questionable when good is promised, but when evil, all too certain! What a good astrologer a man would be if his art predicted only ill; then he would always be accurate. Observe, Estrella, the lives of Segismundo and me. In his case murders, miseries, and excesses  were foreseen and all have been fulfilled. But for me, in the presence of radiance so rare, I am reminded that heaven’s promised blessings have not come true. Well, both true and false, since they have held out hopes of your favor without granting them.

ESTRELLA:   I have no doubt that these fine speeches are sincere, although I suspect they should be addressed to that other lady whose portrait you wore in that pendant yesterday. Give her your compliments. Words of love sound false which have previously been offered to another.

Enter Rosaura, unseen

ROSAURA: [aside] Well, thank heaven, my miseries have now attained their lowest level, for after seeing them together, nothing worse can be expected.

ASTOLFO: To satisfy you, I’ll remove that portrait from my pendant so that your perfect beauty may reign there instead. I’ll go and get it. [aside] Pardon this offense, lovely Rosaura, but when they are apart, all lovers are untrue. [exits without seeing Rosaura]

ROSAURA: [aside] I couldn’t hear a word they said, fearing I might be discovered, but their presence together disturbs me. [comes forward]

ESTRELLA:   Astrea!

ROSAURA: My lady?

ESTRELLA:   Nothing could have pleased me better than your timely arrival. I must share something with you in confidence.

ROSAURA: You honor me in serving you.

ESTRELLA:   Only briefly have I known you, Astrea, but already you have won my complete trust. I dare confide in you something I have scarcely acknowledged myself.

ROSAURA: I am your servant, madam.

ESTRELLA:   To be brief, my royal cousin Astolfo soon expects to marry me. I was troubled the first day we met to see suspended from his neck a lady’s portrait. Just now I gently chided him about it, and being so courteous, he has gone to fetch it. I feel quite embarrassed about receiving it from him. You stay here and request that he give it to you. I say no more; you are beautiful and clever and must also know what it means to love. [exit]

ROSAURA: If only I did not know! O help me, kind heaven, for who could be so calm and so wise as to know how to act in such a dilemma? Everything I have attempted has been but one misery more, each one rising phoenix-like from the ashes of the former. Once a philosopher called misfortunes cowardly, for it seems that they never come alone. As long as miseries accompany me, I shall never be deserted. I suppose they will follow me to my grave.

Ah, what shall I do in my predicament? If I reveal who I am, Clotaldo may be angry with me, and I owe him my life. He councils me to wait the satisfaction of my honor in silence. But if Astolfo discovers me, how can I pretend? No matter what my tongue may say, my heart will expose the lie.

Enter Astolfo

ASTOLFO: Here, my lady, is the portrait – good God!

ROSAURA: Your highness trembles; what has startled you so?

ASTOLFO: Seeing you here, Rosaura.

ROSAURA: Your highness has mistaken me for some other lady. My name is Astrea.

ASTOLFO: You don’t deceive me. My eyes may see Astrea, but my heart loves you as Rosaura.

ROSAURA: I do not know what your highness speaks of, but only that my lady Estrella told me to wait for you to bring back a portrait for her.

ASTOLFO: Your lie badly, Rosaura. Tell your heart to play the same melody as your sweet voice, for your false words sound out of tune with your true feelings.

ROSAURA: I wait only, as I said, for the portrait.

ASTOLFO: Since you insist on playing this game to the end, I’ll go along. Astrea, tell the princess that I so esteem her request that I shall not send a mere copy. I prefer to send the original. You may easily present it to her, since you are yourself that person.

ROSAURA: I beg you, sir, give me the portrait.

ASTOLFO: If I do not surrender it, how will you get it?

ROSAURA: If I must, like this, you ungrateful man! [grabbing at the portrait]

ASTOLFO: It is hopeless. [holding it out of reach]

ROSAURA: It must never fall into another woman’s hands!

ASTOLFO: You are a fury!

ROSAURA: You are a deceiver!

ASTOLFO: O enough, my Rosaura.

ROSAURA: Yours? That’s a lie, you false deserter!

Enter Estrella, witnessing their struggle

ESTRELLA:   Prince! Astrea! What is this?

ROSAURA: My lady, I will explain. You commanded me to wait here for the prince, and get from him a locket. Remaining here alone, I was reminded of my own portrait which I carry in my sleeve. I took it out, just to pass the time with this trinket, and I accidentally dropped it. Astolfo then entered and picked it up. Being reluctant to surrender this other picture, he said that he would keep them both. Angry and impatient at his jest, I tried to snatch mine back, to no avail. The portrait in his hand is mine; you can tell by the resemblance.

ESTRELLA:   Astolfo, give me the picture.

ASTOLFO: But madame … [gives it to her]

ESTRELLA:   The colors do you justice, my dear.

ROSAURA: Does it resemble me?

ESTRELLA:   Resemble? It is you.

ROSAURA: Now ask him for the other.

ESTRELLA:   Take this, and leave us for now.

ROSAURA: [aside] Anyway, I have what is mine. Now let come what may. [exit]

ESTRELLA:   Astolfo, give me the other one now. For although I don’t intend to speak to you again, I cannot bear to leave it in your possession.

ASTOLFO:  Although I wish to obey you, most beautiful princess, I cannot give it to you just now.

ESTRELLA:   You are a contemptible suitor! Now I never want to see it or you again! [exit]

ASTOLFO: Hear me! Wait! O heaven! What have you done, Rosaura? Why have you come to Poland for our mutual ruin? [exit]


Scene 2: the prison tower

Segismundo in chains, with Clotaldo, Clarin, and guards

CLOTALDO:  Now leave him here. Today his pride will end where it began.

CLARIN:  You’re better off asleep, Segismundo. All the splendor was but a shadow, a bright, brief flame that died.

CLOTALDO:  A man with such wisdom should have ample time alone to ponder his thoughts. Guards, take him to the adjoining cell.

CLARIN:  What? But why me?

CLOTALDO:  Because it is better to lock up a “clarion” where he can’t sound off about what he knows.

CLARIN:  Then I will be a mute trumpet and not blow, I promise!

Guards take him away; enter Basilio disguised

BASILIO: Hark, Clotaldo!

CLOTALDO:  My lord! Here, in such a disguise, your majesty?

BASILIO: Foolish curiosity has led me here to find out his condition.

CLOTALDO:  Behold him, as before, in his miserable state.

BASILIO: O unhappy prince! Cursed at your birth by ill-fated stars! Go and wake him cautiously, while the drug still robs him of his strength.

CLOTALDO:  He’s restless, sire, and talks in his sleep.

BASILIO: What does he dream? Let’s listen.

SEGISMUNDO: Righteous is the prince who punishes tyrants. Let Clotaldo die at my hands! Let my father kiss my feet!

CLOTALDO:  Even in sleep he threatens in his rage.

SEGISMUNDO: On the mighty world’s great stage, amid the admiring nations’ cheers, enter my valor and power. The slave shall reign over his father. [wakes] But, ah me! Where am I?

BASILIO: He must not see me. I’ll withdraw; you know what to do. [exits]

SEGISMUNDO: Can it be? Is the truth not what it seemed? I still lie in chains. Will this dark tower become my tomb? God! What things I have dreamed!

CLOTALDO:  O, are you finally awake?

SEGISMUNDO: Should I be?

CLOTALDO:  Unless you wish to sleep all day. Since we watched the eagle soaring in the heavens, have you not been awake?

SEGISMUNDO: No, and I may be sleeping still; my mind is so full of visions. If in dreams everything seems so real, what now seems real may be a dream.

CLOTALDO:  Tell me your dreams.

SEGISMUNDO: I awoke, and lo! I lay (cruel illusion!) in a bed dressed in silk. Then a crowd of nobles came who addressed me as their prince, presenting me gems and robes on bended knee. I thrilled with joy to hear you tell of my good fortune, for although I am imprisoned now, I was prince of Poland then.

CLOTALDO:     Surely you must have rewarded me.

SEGISMUNDO: No. I tried to kill you twice.

CLOTALDO:    But why this rage against me, your benefactor?

SEGISMUNDO: I was lord of all and would take my revenge. I felt love for one woman alone – that, I know, is true. All else ended with the dream, but that will endure.

CLOTALDO:  Since we were speaking of the eagle when you fell asleep, you dreamed of soaring ambition. But even in a dream you should respect those who have kept you well over the years. Even asleep, one should not lose his sense of what is right.

Clotaldo exits

SEGISMUNDO:  That is true; then let’s restrain this wild rage, this proud ambition, should we ever dream again. And indeed we will, for we are in a world so strange that to live is but to dream. Each man who draws breath dreams what he is until he wakes in death. The king dreams he is a king, and in this delusion orders and governs the world. All his fame and fortune is written on the wind, and one day (O mournful fate!) death will dissolve his pride into ashes. Who would desire a crown, seeing that he must from his dream awake to find only death?

The rich man dreams of his riches, and they give him greater cares. The poor man dreams of his misery. A man dreams who prospers, he dreams who fails, he dreams who would cause injury to others, and his victims dream as well. In short, all men dream whatever their birth, and yet no one understands. I dream that I am here, bound by these chains. I dreamt once that I enjoyed a higher station in life. What is life? Madness and confusion. A thing that seems, a mirage, a fiction. The greatest good’s but little; all life, it seems, is just a dream, and even dreams themselves are dreams.



Scene 1: the prison tower

CLARIN:  In this dark, damp tower I’m a prisoner for knowing too much. If ignorance was punished, what would become of me? I pity myself since no one else will, and silence does not befit a “trumpet.” If they ever canonize a new saint for keeping quiet, then St. Secretio will be my patron. I’ll never open my mouth again!

Noise of trumpets and drums; voices of soldiers off-stage

1ST SOLDIER: Here he is within the tower. Knock the door off its hinges!

CLARIN:  Good heavens! They are after me! What do they want?

2ND SOLDIER:  [entering] I’ve found him!

CLARIN:  No, you haven’t.

SOLDIERS: Great lord!

CLARIN:  Are they insane or drunk?

1ST SOLDIER: You are our prince, and we will have no other. On Poland’s throne no foreigner may sit. Let us kneel and kiss your feet.

SOLDIERS: Long live our rightful prince!

CLARIN:  Good heavens! They are serious! Is it the custom of this kingdom to pick out someone, crown him prince for a day, then return him to the tower? If so, I must play my part.

SOLDIERS: We fall at your feet. Give us your feet.

CLARIN:  You can’t have them. A crippled prince would do you no good.

2ND SOLDIER:  We have conveyed our wishes to your father. We have told him you alone shall be our prince, not the duke of Muscovy.

CLARIN:  Did you challenge the king?

1ST SOLDIER: We demonstrated our loyalty toward you.

CLARIN:  Oh, in that case, I forgive you.

1ST SOLDIER:  Command us. What is your will, sire?

CLARIN:  My will? Well, if I’m to be king, let’s see. First, I’ll free all the prisoners (including me) and throw the politicians in jail. Next, I’m starving, so food for all shall grow on trees, and cows will give beer instead of milk. Better yet, harlots will pay their customers to sleep with them. That should make everyone happy.

2ND SOLDIER:  Come, regain your lost dominion.

SOLDIERS: Long live Prince Segismundo!

CLARIN:   They must name all their new princes that.

 Segismundo appears in his cell

SEGISMUNDO: Who calls my name?

CLARIN:  I fear my reign is over.

1ST SOLDIER: Which of you is Segismundo?

SEGISMUNDO: I stand before you.

2ND SOLDIER: [to Clarin] You pretentious fool, how dare you take his name?

CLARIN:  Me, Segismundo? I deny that. It was you who “segismundized” me! I’m not the fool.

1ST SOLDIER: Great Segismundo, your noble appearance convinces us that you are he. King Basilio, fearful of heaven’s prediction, attempted to deprive you of your birthright. Once the people learned of you, they naturally did not want a foreign prince ruling over them. Scorning the predictions, they have forced open this tower to assist you in regaining the throne. Come forth, sire, for among these cliffs a numerous army has gathered. Freedom awaits you. Listen to the cries of thousands.

VOICES OFF:   Long live Prince Segismundo!

SEGISMUNDO: O heaven, would you again have me dream of greatness which may vanish in an instant? No, I will not be fate’s plaything. Depart, you phantoms that assume the sound and substance of reality! I want no make-believe magnificence or pretended pomp that will vanish in the breeze. I know you now and recognize your tricks. They may bewitch the eye of another sleeper, but not mine, for I understand that life’s a dream.

2ND SOLDIER: If you think we deceive, look to the cliffs and see the crowds that wait there, willing and eager to obey you.

SEGISMUNDO: Yet, just as clearly I once saw courtiers and servants bowing down to me, and it was only a dream.

2ND SOLDIER: Great events, my lord, are often foretold in dreams. Now is the reality of what you imagined before.

SEGISMUNDO: Perhaps you are right; perhaps it was an omen. Supposing this bright vision is true, since life is short, let us dream once again, always remembering that soon we may awaken. By this knowledge, our disappointment will be less bitter; evils anticipated lose half their sting. Knowing that all earthly power is merely borrowed and must be returned to the Giver, then let us boldly risk all.

My subjects, I thank you for your loyalty. I will deliver this land from a stranger’s yoke. To arms! We shall see if heaven was right in its predictions. Will the king soon grovel at my feet?  But if I should awake before that occurs …

SOLDIERS: Long live Segismundo, our king!

Enter Clotaldo

CLOTALDO:  What trouble has arisen here?

SEGISMUNDO: Greetings, Clotaldo.

CLOTALDO:  Sire. [aside] I will surely feel his wrath now – at your feet I fall,  knowing that I must die.

SEGISMUNDO: Rise, I pray, from that position. You will be my guide and mentor, my true North Star. I owe you much for your careful tutelage. Come, embrace me.

CLOTALDO:  What do you say?

SEGISMUNDO: That I dream, and that I wish to do what’s right, even in my dreams.

CLOTALDO:  If you desire to do right, then you will forgive me if I do the same. I cannot assist you in your fight with my king. Better that you should kill me now.

SEGISMUNDO: Clotaldo, I envy your courage and loyalty, and will not challenge them. Go and serve your lord the king. Where the battle rages thickest, we shall meet. To arms, my friends!

CLOTALDO:  Thank you, most generous of princes.

SEGISMUNDO: Fortune, we go forth to test your prophecies. If this be real, do not let me sleep. If it’s all a dream, do not wake me. In any case I must try to do what’s right. Proper action is its own reward, either now or in the life to come.


Scene 2: a hall in the royal palace

BASILIO:  Who can tame the fury of a wild beast or halt the current of a mighty river? Each of these tasks would be easier than to stop the senseless raging of a mob. This country has become the bloody stage on which stern fortune acts out its tragedy.

ASTOLFO: My lord, let today’s coronation be postponed. If Poland resists my right of sovereignty, I should win by my valor what the people do not freely accept. Give me a horse, and I will stem this wild revolt.

BASILIO: There is no defense against fate, and miraculous foresight often makes matters worse. By attempting to avoid this preordained destiny, I only brought it about more swiftly. By locking him up, I have created the monster who will destroy the country I wanted to save!

Enter Clotaldo

CLOTALDO:  Thank God, I have reached you alive!

BASILIO: Brave Clotaldo! What word from Segismundo?

CLOTALDO:  A frenzied mob burst into the tower and has released the prince. He vows to boldly test the truth of heaven’s prophecy.

BASILIO: Get my horse! I will ride to face the pride of this ungrateful son. Where my science erred, let my sword prevail. By my own valor shall my throne be won!

Exit all but Clotaldo; enter Rosaura

ROSAURA: I know that war is calling your brave soul to join the fray, but first hear me. In all things have I followed your advice. However, despite my secrecy Astolfo has discovered my presence here, and yet he – base deceiver! – continues to offend my honor by planning to meet with Estrella in the garden tonight. I have taken the passkey and will show you where you can end my misery. Thus, you may avenge this wrong and restore my honor with one death blow.

CLOTALDO: Ever since learning of your dishonor, I have vowed to help you. After much deliberation I had determined to take Astolfo’s life myself – horrible thought! but after all, he is not my king, thus it would not be an unpardonable sin. But then Segismundo tried to kill me, and who else but Astolfo came to my defense! Now, how can I kill the man who saved my life? Caught between love for you and gratitude for him, I do not know whom to serve. I am in his debt just as you are in mine.

ROSAURA: Everyone knows it is more blessed to give than to receive. You were blessed when you gave life to me, but likewise debased when you received life from him. Thus, you owe him nothing.

CLOTALDO:  Virtue falls on him who gives, but gratitude should come from him who receives. I wish to be both virtuous and grateful. Allow me to keep my good name.

ROSAURA: When you gave me back my life, you said that life without honor is not worthy of the name; on those words I stand. Give me the life I do not yet have.

CLOTALDO:  I will be generous, Rosaura, and will deed to you all my property if you resign yourself to living in a convent. In this way we may protect your honor and prevent a crime. This kingdom has too many present troubles; I would not add another to the load. With this remedy I may remain loyal to my country, grateful to Astolfo, and generous to you.

ROSAURA: Then I will kill the duke myself.

CLOTALDO:  Can a gentle girl show such bravery?


CLOTALDO:  What drives you on?

ROSAURA: My honor.

CLOTALDO:  Try to see in Astolfo . . .

ROSAURA: A man who disgraced me!

CLOTALDO:  Soon to be your king, and Estrella’s husband.

ROSAURA: No, by heaven, I will not allow it!

CLOTALDO:  This is madness.

ROSAURA: Yes, I know.

CLOTALDO:  Then rise above it.

ROSAURA: I cannot.

CLOTALDO:  Then you will lose both life and honor.

ROSAURA: It cannot be helped. [starts to leave]

CLOTALDO:  If you are bent on your own destruction, then I will accompany you, and together we shall die. In any case, I fear the world’s gone mad.


Scene 3: the battlefield

SEGISMUNDO: I wish Rome in its golden age could witness this day. What a strange and marvelous sight I would present: a mighty general dressed in animal skins but with courage enough to conquer the skies! But soar a little lower, my spirit; do not invite your downfall. If I wake to find all this a dream, the less I have lost, the less painful it will be.

CLARIN:  Sire, upon a speedy horse a woman approaches the camp.

SEGISMUNDO: I am blinded by her beauty!

CLARIN:  Heavens! It is Rosaura!

SEGISMUNDO: Heaven has indeed restored her to me.

Enter Rosaura, in riding costume, sword and dagger

ROSAURA: Noble-hearted Segismundo, your glory has arisen from darkness and now dawns over the land of Poland. May your light shine upon this unhappy woman who seeks your aid. Three times have I been in your presence, although my true identity was unknown to you. The first time was within your prison cell where you mistook me for a man. The second time you saw me as a woman of the court; you were, of course, confused by your dream-like surroundings. Today you see me wearing female attire but carrying manly weapons of war. Please hear me out and understand my misfortunes.

My mother was a lady of the court of Muscovy, whose beauty led to her downfall. Some faithless lover won a place in her bed – I don’t know his name, but my blood tells me he must have been noble. But like Zeus, becoming a golden shower or a swan or a bull in order to seduce Danae, Leda, or Europa, this man deceived my mother. She foolishly believed his promise to marry her, then as you might expect, he abandoned her, leaving only a gift of his sword and a child, myself. This blade I now wear at my side and will unsheathe it when my story reaches its just conclusion.

I came into the world the perfect image of my mother, not in beauty but in unhappiness. In my case the traitor’s name who robbed me of my precious reputation was Astolfo – I shudder to speak his name! This faithless lover, forgetting his promises to me, came here to marry Estrella, the star which now rises where mine sets. How ironic!

I confided in the only one I knew would sympathize, my mother. A judge who has also done wrong is often more forgiving, and she was, offering comfort from her own sorrows. She urged me to follow Astolfo to Poland to persuade him to repay my honor’s debt. She gave me an ancient sword, telling me to show it to the nobles of the land, for surely one would prove himself a friend and protector. This man turned out to be Clotaldo, but now he insists that I give up my claim and my honor.

O valiant Segismundo, the moment has come for you to take back what was unjustly denied you. I wish to join your ranks and to fight in your cause. To both of us it is important to prevent this royal marriage. As a woman I plead with you to redeem my honor; as a man I will fight with you to redeem your crown. But be warned; if you should attempt to seduce me as a woman, I would with this sword defend my honor as a man.

SEGISMUNDO: [aside] If I am dreaming, heaven stop me from recalling, for so many things could not occur in one dream. What doubts I have! If the grandeur that I experienced was but a dream, then how can this woman be standing before me now? It must have been true, and not a dream! Are dreams and reality so alike that one must question at any moment whether what one sees and feels is true or false?

If that is so, and all pomp and power will soon evaporate like mist in the morning, then let us enjoy the present moment for what it offers. Rosaura’s here within my grasp; my heart longs for her charms. Let us seize the occasion, allowing passion to trample the rules of decency. Let us dream our sensual pleasures now without shame, before they fade suddenly into sorrows.

And yet my own words refute my arguments. If this is but a dream, who for temporary human vanities would forego celestial bliss? Do not the memories of past pleasures seem like dreams? Who has ever enjoyed great happiness and has not later thought that he might have dreamt it all? If I know pleasure to be a dazzling flame that any passing breeze can extinguish, then let us seek after what is eternal, the true fame that never sleeps, where bliss is not a dream nor the crown a fleeting glory.

Rosaura is without her honor, and a prince’s role should be to restore honor, not to take it away. By heaven! I shall avenge her before I regain my throne. Still, her beauty tempts me; I must leave her – To arms! We must do battle before the night’s shadows overtake the sun’s golden rays.

ROSAURA: Would you leave me, my lord, without speaking a word? Does my grief move you so little?

SEGISMUNDO: Ah, Rosaura, it is your honor that requires this harshness now, if I am to help you. I have not spoken so that my actions might speak for me. I must see your honor and not your beauty. [exit]

ROSAURA: Is this strange reply the only response I receive for my sorrows?

CLARIN:  [coming out from hiding] Madam, are you receiving visitors?

ROSAURA: Clarin! Where have you been?

CLARIN:  Locked in a tower, reading my fortune in the cards to see if I was “to be or not to be.” Yes, death was in the cards, but I had a lucky hand.

ROSAURA: Why so imprisoned?

CLARIN:  Because I know your secret; what’s more, I know that Clotaldo is your . . . [distant drums are heard]

ROSAURA: But what’s that?

CLARIN:  [looking off] From the surrounded palace a regiment is charging forth to attack the prince’s armies.

ROSAURA: And I not by his side? How cowardly I am! [exit]

SOME VOICES: Long live our king!

OTHERS: Long live our liberties!

CLARIN:  Long live both of you! I don’t care which side wins as long as I keep out of the way. I’ll withdraw from all this confusion and play Nero, who fiddled while others burned. Here, this is the perfect hiding spot from which to see the show. Among these rocks, old Death will never find me.

Sounds of battle; enter Basilio, Clotaldo, and Astolfo, fleeing

BASILIO:  Misfortune! Disaster! The results of my folly!

CLOTALDO:  Your vanquished forces scatter in retreat.

ASTOLFO: The traitor’s army has emerged victorious.

BASILIO:  Trust me, Astolfo. From my long experience I’ve learned that history will call the victors patriots, not traitors.

Shots offstage; Clarin falls from his hiding place wounded

CLARIN:  Heaven help me!

ASTOLFO: Who is this last victim of the battle, fallen at our feet?

CLARIN:  A most unlucky man. By running from death, I found it here. Death, I fear, knows all our secret hiding places. Therefore, go back to where the battle rages hottest, for there it is safer than in the remotest hills. One cannot escape destiny, no matter how hard you try. If God wills, you will surely die. [falls dead]

BASILIO:  How wise are the last words of this bleeding corpse, reminding us of our foolish attempts to thwart divine omnipotence. I wanted to protect my country from murder and sedition but instead opened the gates to these same ills.

CLOTALDO:  Fate knows every path we may take, that’s true. But Christian faith does not teach that there is no escape from its grasp. The wise man may be master of his destiny.

ASTOLFO:  Clotaldo speaks with the wisdom of age. I council with the boldness of youth. I see a horse who has lost its rider. Mount him and fly while I guard your escape.

BASILIO: If it is God’s will that I die, or if Death waits here in ambush, I will meet him face to face.

Enter Segismundo, Rosaura, Estrella, and soldiers

SOLDIER:  The king hides somewhere in these mountains.

SEGISMUNDO: Search every rock and bush.

CLOTALDO:  Fly, my lord!

BASILIO: For what purpose?

ASTOLFO: What will you do?

BASILIO: The only thing I can. If you look for me, young prince, behold, I am here on bended knee. Let my white hairs be your carpet. Strip from me my crown and with it all my reputation, accomplishments, and self-esteem. By doing so, you only fulfill the prophecy of heaven.

SEGISMUNDO:  People of Poland, you who have witnessed these amazing events, hear me, for it is your prince who speaks. What heaven has decreed and God has written in letters of gold upon a field of blue can never lie. A man deceives himself who seeks to penetrate the mystery. My father, to protect himself from my beastly nature, made me the wild beast he feared. In all likelihood, my noble blood should have produced in me a gentle and virtuous nature. However, this strange way of life forced on me from birth was enough to teach me my cruel behavior – what a bizarre method of prevention!

No, he who seeks to master his destiny must do so with reason and moderation. Even one who sees it coming cannot eliminate trouble before it arrives. Therefore, let this most amazing spectacle be an example to all. After all his precautions, my father who challenged the stars lies helpless at my feet. Even a king could not prevent heaven’s will. If he failed, can I, his son, without benefit of wisdom and learning, conquer fate?

Rise, my lord, and give me your hand. Now that heaven has taught you its humbling lesson, you may avenge yourself on me. I lay myself at your feet.

BASILIO: My son, this noble act revives all the love in my heart. You are the true king; you have crowned yourself with victory.

ALL:  Long live Segismundo!

SEGISMUNDO: Although my sword may lead me to future victories, my greatest triumph will always be the victory I’ve won over myself today. Now to unfinished business. Astolfo, give your hand in marriage to Rosaura, for it is a debt you owe, and I intend to see it paid.

ASTOLFO: I admit I am obligated to her, but please consider that she has no family, no noble bloodline, and it would be a blot on my name to wed a woman …

CLOTALDO:  Do not continue that thought! Rosaura is as noble as yourself. My sword will defend her name, for she is my daughter.

ASTOLFO: That being so, I’ll keep my promise to her.

SEGISMUNDO: And so that Estrella may not be left husbandless, I shall offer her my hand, if she will take it. Be my queen.

ESTRELLA:   You do me great honor, my lord.

SEGISMUNDO: As for Clotaldo who so loyally served my father, I offer him these open arms where he may find whatever he would ask.

SOLDIER:  If you reward those who did not serve you, what honors will you give to me, who began the revolt and freed you from the tower?

SEGISMUNDO:  To that tower I return you to live out your miserable life. I will not reward a traitor to the crown, no matter the result.

BASILIO: What a marvelous display of wisdom!

ASTOLFO: What a change of character!

SEGISMUNDO: What surprises you, since my teacher was a dream? Now I live in fear that I may wake and once more find myself a prisoner in my cell. That may never happen, but it’s enough to dream it might. For thus I have learned that in the end all human happiness will pass and fade like a dream, and I would use well the time that may be left to me. [to the audience] I ask forgiveness of such noble hearts and pardon for any errors in our parts.


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