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by Pierre Corneille


Translated by Sharon Nordley (1990) and adapted by Larry A. Brown



Polyeucte, a Christian martyr
Nearque, a fellow believer
Pauline, Polyeucte’s wife
Felix, her father and Roman governor of Armenia
Severe, her former love
Stratonice, confidant of Pauline
Fabian, confidant of Severe
Albin, assistant to Felix
Cleon, soldier

 Setting: the Roman province of Armenia (in modern-day Turkey)
under the rule of Emperor Decius in the 3rd century


Act One, Scene One

NEARQUE: I don’t believe it! You let a woman’s dreams give you pause? Such trivial matters trouble your noble soul. Your heart, proven so often in battle, is now frightened by mere fantasy.

POLYEUCTE: I know that it’s only a dream, nothing but a mist which vanishes in the morning. I shouldn’t pay it any attention, I admit. But you do not know what a woman is! You don’t know the power she has over my soul. After being so long under her spell, we’ve been married only a few weeks, and the fires of love have just been lit. Pauline is senseless with grief, fearing to see this death she’s dreamed up for me. She begs that I not leave the house today. I dismiss her fear, but I must yield to her tears. Is time so pressing, Nearque? Must I be insensitive to the sighs of a beloved? Let us spare her anxiety by a slight delay in what we’ve planned.

NEARQUE: But are you sure that you will have enough days or enough courage? God holds your very soul in His hand, but does He promise that you will have the strength for your plans tomorrow? He is all righteous, but His grace does not always fall with the same success. After a time, slow progress may be lost. Grace leaves its arrow deep in the heart, but our hearts, grown hard, dismiss it and push it aside. Your desire to be baptized has already weakened. Due to a few fearful sighs, its flame flickers and may die out.

POLYEUCTE: You don’t know me well, Nearque. The same zeal burns in me as before. These tears that I view with a husband’s eye leave me in heart as much a Christian as you. But concerning holy baptism, which washes away our sins, even though I prefer it to the greatness of an empire, I believe it can be put off for another day to appease a loving wife.

NEARQUE: And so the enemy of mankind deludes you. What he can’t take by force, he gets by trickery. When he can’t break our good intentions, he tempts us to delay them. He will disrupt your plans with obstacle after obstacle, today by tears, tomorrow by something else. This frightening dream is only the first of his illusions. He attacks constantly and never lets up. You give him hope by putting off your pledge until tomorrow. Fight him: let Pauline cry. God doesn’t want a heart dominated by the world, one that looks back and, doubting its decision, listens to another voice when He calls.

POLYEUCTE: Must a person love no one else when he gives himself to God?

NEARQUE: We can love everyone; in fact, He commands it. But truly, this Lord of lords desires the first love and the first honor. One must not search after anything but Him, neglecting for His sake wife and wealth and rank, risking all for His glory, even shedding our blood. Oh Polyeucte, how far you are from this perfect zeal that I wish for you! Today when Christians are hated and persecuted cruelly, how will you be able to overcome such trials if you can’t resist a few tears?

POLYEUCTE: Your words do not disturb me, Nearque. Pity is a quality of a noble heart, and is not a sign of weakness. On men like myself, a woman’s glance is very strong. Such men may not fear death, but we fear to hurt another. If I must face the most cruel penalties, God will give me the strength in making me a true Christian.

NEARQUE: Make haste then to become one.

POLYEUCTE: Yes, I run there. I burn to bear the glorious mark. But Pauline is distressed and cannot let me go as long as this dream troubles her.

NEARQUE: Your return will be more delightful to her. The joy of seeing you safe from all harm will seem sweeter to her the more she has wept for such a dear husband. Let us go, they wait for us.

POLYEUCTE: Calm her fears then that imprison her soul. Look, she’s coming.


POLYEUCTE: I cannot.

NEARQUE: You must. Flee an enemy who knows your weakness, who injures with a glance, and whose fatal blow gives you pleasure as it kills.


Act One, Scene Two

POLYEUCTE: Let us flee since we must. Farewell, Pauline. I will return in an hour at most.

PAULINE:   What is so pressing that you must leave? Honor? Life?

POLYEUCTE: It is much more.

PAULINE:   What, then, is this mystery?

POLYEUCTE: You will know one day. I leave you reluctantly, but I must.

PAULINE:   Do you love me?

POLYEUCTE: I love you, with heaven as my witness, a hundred times more than myself, and yet . . .

PAULINE:   Yet my anguish cannot move you! You have secrets I may not know! Some proof of love! For the sake of our marriage, give into my sighs this one day.

POLYEUCTE: A dream causes you fear.

PAULINE:   Its forebodings are vain, I know; but I love you, and I’m afraid.

POLYEUCTE: Fear no evil from one hour of absence. Farewell; your tears hold too much power over me. I already feel my heart ready to turn, and I may resist only by fleeing. [Polyeucte and Nearque exit]


Act One, Scene Three

PAULINE:   So, ignore my tears! Run toward the death that the gods have shown me! Follow that so-called friend of yours, that deadly instrument of fate who may deliver you into the hands of assassins. You see what times we live in, Stratonice. There’s our power over the spirits of men, there’s what we are left, and there’s the meaningless result of the love we offer and the vows we make. While they are only lovers, we are sovereign, and until the conquest they treat us like queens; but after the wedding they become the kings.

STRATONICE: Polyeucte still loves you, madam. If he doesn’t confide in you completely now, he must have good reason. Husbands need not give us an account of their every step. Man and wife share one heart, but different natures. Just because you fear something, he doesn’t need to tremble. Armenians and Romans treat these matters differently. For us, a dream is a trivial thing, but for you, a Roman, it seems like an omen of death.

PAULINE:   Whatever little credit you give it, I believe that your fear would equal mine if you had experienced such horrors, or even heard them repeated.

STRATONICE:  One’s problems are often relieved in the telling.

PAULINE:   First, I must tell you more so that you may better understand my sad situation. You must learn of my weakness and of my other loves. A woman of honor can admit without shame these feelings that reason has overcome. How may virtue shine unless the heart has been tested in battle? — In Rome where I was born, a soldier captured my heart. His name was Severe … ah, even his name pries a sigh from my heart.

STRATONICE:  Is he the one who gave his own life in battle to save your emperor Decius? The one whose sacrifice stole victory from the Persians? As I recall, his body was never found among the many fallen, but Decius built an empty tomb in his honor.

PAULINE:   Alas! It was he. Never has Rome produced a greater heart, nor seen a more honorable man. I loved him, Stratonice; he deserved it well. But all his merit could not make up for a lack of riches. No matter his virtue, his poverty was too strong an obstacle for my father to approve our marriage. So despite my love for Severe, I waited for the husband my father would choose.

My reason never admitted to my heart’s treason. Severe possessed my heart, my desires, my thoughts. I didn’t hide from him how much I was hurt. We cried together over our misfortune. But despite our tears, my father and my duty were unyielding. In the end I left Rome and this perfect lover to follow my father in his government post here. Severe in despair enlisted in the army to seek the great glory of a noble death.

The rest you know. When I arrived here in your country, I met Polyeucte and was pleasing to him. Since he was from a noble family, my father was delighted, knowing that by this alliance he would gain esteem and power. He approved of the marriage; and I, seeing myself destined for his bed, gave by duty to my new husband all that the other had by love. If you doubt this, judge my love for Polyeucte by the fear I suffer today.

STRATONICE: Yes, it’s obvious you love him. But what dream has alarmed you so?

PAULINE:   Last night I saw Severe, sword in hand, anger blazing in his eyes. He didn’t look like a poor spirit from the grave, but triumphant, like Caesar victorious. Naturally, seeing him startled me, but more so by his words: “Give to whom you will the favors that are due me, ingrate! When this day is done, weep over the husband you preferred to me.” Then an ungodly assembly of Christians, as if to fulfill this fatal promise, threw Polyeucte at the feet of his opponent. I called my father immediately to help him—alas! this part leaves me completely without hope—I saw my father, knife in hand, enter with his arm raised to pierce my husband’s heart. Then my great grief burned away these images. I awoke, trembling.

STRATONICE: Very sad, it’s true; but your soul must resist these imagined terrors. Can you fear a dead man? Can you fear a father who loves your husband and whose good reason gave you to him?

PAULINE:   Polyeucte told me as much and laughed at my dream; but I fear the plots and spells of the Christians. My father has shed much of their blood, and they may seek vengeance.

STRATONICE: Their sect is foolish, impious, and sacrilegious, using magic in their sacrifice; but their foolishness only goes so far as smashing altars. They only attack the gods, not mortals. Whatever torture we use on them, they suffer without a sound and die with joy; and ever since they have been treated as enemies of the state, they can’t even be charged with one murder.

PAULINE:   Hush, my father comes.


Act One, Scene Four

FELIX:  My daughter, how your dream has plunged me into strange fears! How I dread the fate that approaches.

PAULINE:   Why, what has upset you so?

FELIX:  Severe is not dead.

PAULINE:   What? How is that possible? But if he lives, what evil does that hold for us?

FELIX:  He is the favorite of Emperor Decius.

PAULINE:   That’s only right after Severe saved his life. Honor was his due. Often fate brings misfortune to noble hearts, but sometimes it does them justice.

FELIX:  He is coming.

PAULINE:   He’s coming here!

FELIX:  You will see him.

PAULINE:   This is too much—how can you know this?

FELIX:  Albin met him in the countryside. A crowd of servants accompanies him, clearly showing his rank and influence. But Albin, tell us again what his people told you.

ALBIN: You know what happened that glorious day, how his loss became so fortunate for us. The emperor Decius, freed by his hand, rallied his already discouraged troops, even though Severe himself was overcome by their numbers. You know the honors that were bestowed on his spirit when they could not find him among the dead.

The king of Persia had removed his body. A witness to his great deeds and noble courage, this ruler wanted to see Severe. They put him in the monarch’s tent where he began to show signs of life. That noble monarch was thrilled, and despite his recent defeat, he honored the valor of the man that caused it. He took care of Severe with a secret cure, and his health was restored in a month. The king offered Severe treasures and rewards, making a hundred efforts to win him over, but to no avail. Respecting his noble refusal, the king sent an exchange proposal to Decius.

At once the emperor, overwhelmed with joy, offered the Persian his brother and a hundred chiefs of his choice. And so the brave Severe returned to the Roman camp receiving the due of his high virtue. The emperor, showing an infinite love after this great success, sent him to Armenia. He comes to bring news and to worship the gods with sacrifice.

FELIX:  O gods! He comes without doubt, my daughter, to marry you. Offering a sacrifice isn’t important to him. It’s a false pretense created by love.

PAULINE:   That may be. He loved me dearly.

FELIX:  How will he react when he finds you already married? Now that he has the blessing and power of Decius behind him — he will destroy us, Pauline!

PAULINE:   I can’t believe that; he is too noble.

FELIX:  He will destroy us! How I regret that I did not respect him for his virtue alone when he asked for your hand. Ah, Pauline, you obeyed me too well. Your duty to me betrayed your heart’s true feelings. If only you had disobeyed me then, it would have saved me from this horrible state! Our only hope is in the absolute power you had over him. Use the love that holds him in my favor, and cure this illness which I first caused.

PAULINE:   Ah, me! How can I expose myself to eyes that pierce my heart? My father, I am a woman, and I know my weakness. I already feel my heart go to him, and undoubtedly, despite my marriage vows, I will breathe some sigh unworthy of us both. I refuse to see him.

FELIX:  Calm yourself.

PAULINE:   He is still worthy of my love. With the power that he has over me, I cannot guarantee myself of my virtue. I will not see him.

FELIX:  You must see him, my daughter, or you will betray your father and family.

PAULINE:   I must obey since you command it. But see the perils you expose me to.

FELIX:  I trust your virtue.

PAULINE:   It will certainly conquer; that isn’t what troubles me. I fear this hard fight and these powerful temptations that already cause my senses to revolt. But since I must fight to overcome my love, allow me time to prepare to see him.

FELIX:  I will go meet him beyond the city walls. Recall your shaken strength, and remember that you hold our fate in your hands.

PAULINE:   Yes, I must conquer my feelings again to become the victim to your commands.   [they exit]


Act Two, Scene One

SEVERE: While Felix prepares for the sacrifice, may I seize this moment to see Pauline and give to her beautiful eyes the worship that others offer to the gods? I haven’t hidden that she is what brings me here. I come to sacrifice, but it is to her beauties that I surrender all my desires.

FABIAN:  You will see her, my lord.

SEVERE: Ah, what perfect joy! This dear beauty consents to see me. But do I still have some power over her soul? What remains of love are still there? What pain, what joy does my arrival cause her? May I hope for everything from this happy meeting? For I would sooner die than take advantage of Decius’ orders, that I have to marry her. They are for Felix, not for conquering Pauline. My heart was never rebellious to her wishes; if my ill luck has made her change her mind, I will control myself and claim nothing.

FABIAN:  You will see her, that’s all I can say.

SEVERE: Why do you hesitate? Doesn’t she love me anymore?

FABIAN:  Do you trust me, lord? Don’t see her ever again! Bring the honor of your affection to a more worthy place. You will find plenty of other noble women in Rome. Each one of them would hold your love as a blessing.

SEVERE: How can you suggest that Pauline is somehow unworthy of my love? She has behaved better; I must imitate her. I prize my achievements and honors only if they make me worthy of her. I’ll see her, Fabian; your words are a nuisance to me.

FABIAN:  No, again I implore you—don’t see her again.

SEVERE: Ah, enough! Explain yourself. Did she seem cool when you delivered my request?

FABIAN:  I am afraid to tell you; she is . . .


FABIAN:  Married.

SEVERE: Ah, Fabian! This is a great shock and hits me harder and harder as it sinks in.

FABIAN:  Lord, what has become of your courage?

SEVERE: The noblest heart is overwhelmed by such sorrows. I am no longer myself when I hear these words—Pauline is married!

FABIAN:  Yes, for fifteen days now. Polyeucte, a lord of the nobles of Armenia, tastes infinite sweetness in his marriage.

SEVERE: At least I can’t blame her for making a bad choice. Polyeucte is renowned and from a royal bloodline. Small consolation for an incurable woe! Pauline, will I see another hold you? O gods who sent me back today despite myself, O fate who gave hope to my love, take back the favor you lent me, and give me the death you stole. Let’s see her all the same and say a final goodbye. May my heart take the memory of her face to the grave; may my last breath do her homage.

FABIAN:  Lord, consider . . .

SEVERE: All is considered. What harm can a despairing heart fear? Hasn’t she consented?

FABIAN:  Yes, lord, but . . .

SEVERE: It doesn’t matter.

FABIAN:  This loving grief will only become stronger.

SEVERE: This isn’t an injury I wish to heal.

FABIAN:  Without a doubt you will lose yourself in her presence. A lover who loses all has no more restraint. He follows his passion in such a meeting and breathes nothing but insults and curses.

SEVERE: You think too little of me, Fabian. As violent as it is, even my despair loves her. What can I accuse her of when she promised me nothing? She is not false, she is not frivolous. Her duty, her father, and my misfortune betrayed me. I have lost her. Let me see her then, and die.

FABIAN:  I will assure her that you have conquered your feelings. Like me, she feared how you would respond.

SEVERE: Fabian, I see her coming.

FABIAN:  Lord, remember . . .

SEVERE: Alas! She loves another, who is her husband.


Act Two, Scene Two

PAULINE:   Yes, Severe, I love him and do not make excuses. Though all others may deceive you, Pauline has a noble heart and speaks openly. The rumors of your death didn’t cause your loss. If the gods had left my marriage up to me, I would have given myself to your virtues alone. But my duty imposed other laws on me. Even if I had hated my father’s choice, I would have sighed, but I would have obeyed. My reason, reigning over my passion, would have condemned my sighs and crushed my hate.

SEVERE: How fortunate you are that a few sighs easily cure all your sorrows! And so, constant queen of your desires, you can transform the strongest passion into indifference. Your firmness easily turns your favor to scorn. O, that a little of your will would ease the pains of this battered heart! A sigh, a tear of  regret would have soon healed me of my loss. My reason could then have conquered love, and my passion, following your example, could find its happiness in the arms of another. O, too worthy love who has charmed me too much, is this how you love? Did you ever love me?

PAULINE:   I have made it all too evident, Severe. If in my soul I could extinguish the remains of my love, gods, how I would avoid such awful torture! My reason subdues my emotions, it’s true; but whatever authority it has taken, it does not reign, it tyrannizes. And though the surface may appear perfectly calm, there’s nothing but turmoil and revolt within.

I know what kind of spell draws me to you. Your merit is great, even greater now than when it first ignited my love. But the same duty that put me under another man here still resists your advances. It tears my soul apart, but does not shake my will. You once praised this same virtue even though it kept us apart. Respect my strength of character which triumphs over both you and my heart. A woman of less honor would not be worthy of the love of great Severe.

SEVERE: Ah, lady, excuse my blind despair. I dishonor you by criticizing your strongest virtues. I pray you forgive me, but at the same time, hide from my eyes these rare qualities which only make me love you the more.

PAULINE:   Alas! My will remains strong, but it cannot quench the fire of love. These tears bear witness to it. But if you respect this virtuous duty, leave me its glory and see me no more. Spare me the flames I regretfully put out.

SEVERE: Must I deprive myself of the one joy left to me?

PAULINE:   Save yourself from a meeting fatal to us both.

SEVERE: This is the repayment of my love! The fruit of my labors!

PAULINE:   It is the only cure for our troubles.

SEVERE: I prefer to die; cherish my memory.

PAULINE:   I prefer to be healed. My honor would be stained.

SEVERE:  Well then, my grief must submit out of respect of that honor. Adieu! I will seek in some battle the immortality that a noble death brings, if only enough life in me remains after receiving this mortal wound which fate has dealt.

PAULINE:   I will avoid the temple sacrifice. Seeing you again has caused me too much pain. I will offer secret prayers for you.

SEVERE: May the just gods who consent to my ruin fill with happiness and many days the life of Pauline and Polyeucte!

PAULINE:   May Severe find, after so much sorrow, a reward worthy of his valor!

SEVERE: He found it in you.

PAULINE:   I submitted to a father’s will.

SEVERE: O duty that brings me loss and despair! Farewell too virtuous and too charming object of my love!

PAULINE:   Farewell, too sorrowful and too perfect lover. [Severe exits]


Act Two, Scene Three

STRATONICE: I pity you both, but at least your spirit is free from alarm. You see now that your dream was meaningless. Severe doesn’t come armed for vengeance.

PAULINE:   If you pity me, at least let me breathe between sorrows! At the height of my pain you renew my fear.

STRATONICE: What? You’re still afraid? Severe is noble.

PAULINE:   The image of Polyeucte’s death still troubles me.

STRATONICE:  You heard the prayer Severe offered for you both.

PAULINE:  Yes, I believe him, but as long as he remains here, I dread what might happen. No matter how noble he is, he is powerful, he loves me, and came to marry me.


Act Two, Scene Four

POLYEUCTE:  Dry your tears, Pauline. Despite these false dreams sent by your gods, I have returned to you alive and well.

PAULINE:   The day is still long. What worries me is that half the dream already comes true. I thought Severe was dead, and I have seen him here.

POLYEUCTE: I know, but it does not concern me. I am in Melitene, and whatever Severe may be, your father commands here, and they respect me here. I don’t think that one may reasonably fear treason from a heart like his. They told me he was visiting you, and I came to give him the honor he deserves.

PAULINE:   He just left me very sad and confused, but I won from him the promise that he will see me no more.

POLYEUCTE: What? You already suspect me of jealousy?

PAULINE:   I would be doing all three of us too great an insult. I protect myself from his disturbing presence. The firmest virtue avoids pitfalls. He who puts himself in harm’s way wants to find his doom. To speak to you openly, ever since he won my love, his presence has always had the power to charm me. Lest I shame myself by being overcome, it is better to suffer in resisting. Although virtue triumphs over these fires, the victory is painful and the battle shameful.

POLYEUCTE: O virtue too perfect and duty too sincere, how many tears you must have cost Severe! How happy you make me! The more I see my faults and the more I watch you, the more I admire you . . .


Act Two, Scene Five

CLEON:   Lord, Felix summons you to the temple. The victim is chosen and people are on their knees. The sacrifice only awaits you.

POLYEUCTE: Go, we will follow you. Are you coming, my lady?

PAULINE:   Severe will be there. I will keep my word and see him no more. Farewell. Remember his power and his great influence.

POLYEUCTE: Enough; all his credit brings me no fear. I know that he is noble; we will combat each other only in civility. [Pauline exits]


Act Two, Scene Six

NEARQUE: Where do you think you’re going?

POLYEUCTE: To the temple where I have been called.

NEARQUE: What! You join in the prayers of pagans? Have you already forgotten that you are a Christian?

POLYEUCTE: You who converted me, do you remember it well?

NEARQUE: I abhor false gods.

POLYEUCTE: And I detest them.

NEARQUE: I hold their worship to be unholy.

POLYEUCTE: And I hold it to be fatal.

NEARQUE: Then flee their altars.

POLYEUCTE: I want to overturn them and knock them down or die trying. Let’s go, my dear Nearque, let’s go before the eyes of men, braving the idolatrous and showing ourselves for who we are. It is the expectation of heaven; we must fulfill it. I thank the God you have made known to me for this opportunity He so quickly created, where already in His goodness, ready to crown me, He pleases to test the faith He has just given me.

NEARQUE:  Show some restraint; the zeal of your new faith makes you bold.

POLYEUCTE: One cannot have too much for the God one reveres.

NEARQUE:  You will only find death.

POLYEUCTE: For Him I seek it.

NEARQUE: And if your heart should be shaken?

POLYEUCTE: He will be my support.

NEARQUE: He does not command us to rush to death.

POLYEUCTE: The more voluntary, the more noble.

NEARQUE: Suffering will come when it will. We need not seek it out.

POLYEUCTE: One suffers weakly who does not dare to offer oneself.

NEARQUE: But death is certain in the temple.

POLYEUCTE: The reward of martyrs is prepared in heaven.

NEARQUE: It must be won by a holy life.

POLYEUCTE: My sins, if I should live, might deprive me of it. Why give to chance what is assured by death? When it opens heaven, can it seem so hard? At this moment I am completely Christian, Nearque. The faith I have received aspires to fulfillment. He who flees believes but weakly and has a dead faith.

NEARQUE: Take care of your life; it is important to God. Live to protect the Christians here.

POLYEUCTE: The example of my death will strengthen them more.

NEARQUE: You want to die, then?

POLYEUCTE: Do you so enjoy living?

NEARQUE: I cannot hide my difficulty in following you. I fear falling under the horror of the tortures.

POLYEUCTE: He who walks with assurance has no fear of falling. God will give in need His infinite strength. He who fears he might deny Him has done so already in his heart. He believes he may do so and doubts his faith.

NEARQUE: He who fears nothing presumes too much of himself.

POLYEUCTE: I expect all of His grace and nothing of my weakness. But as far as you urged me, must I now urge you? Where does this chill come from?

NEARQUE: Even Christ feared death.

POLYEUCTE: He offered Himself, nevertheless. Follow His holy act; let us raise up altars to Him on piles of idols. We must, as you said, for Him neglect wife, goods and rank, risk all for His glory and spill all our blood. Alas! What’s happened to that perfect love that you wished for me and that I wish for you? If it still remains in you, are you not jealous that so recent a Christian as I show more of it than you?

NEARQUE: You have just come from baptism, and that which drives you is His grace that is not yet weak from sin. All seems possible in its raging fire. But this same grace is diminished in me, and worn by thousands of ceaseless sins. But God has given your example to strengthen me! Let’s go, dear Polyeucte, let’s go before the eyes of men, braving the idolatrous and showing ourselves for who we are.

POLYEUCTE: At this blessed zeal that heaven sends you, I recognize Nearque again, and weep for joy. Let us lose no more time. The sacrifice is ready; let us go there to uphold the true God. Let us shine light on their fatal blindness. Let us break these gods of stone and metal. Abandon our days to this holy zeal. Let God triumph; may He depose the rest!

NEARQUE: Let us make His glory flash in the eyes of all and answer with zeal all that He may ask of us. [they exit]


Act Three, Scene One

PAULINE:  How these doubts and fears trouble my heart! I long for peace but dare not hope. In my imagination I see my possible bliss but also my ruin. Severe constantly blurs my vision. I hope in his virtue, but I fear his jealousy. And I dare not think that Polyeucte with an indifferent eye may view his rival . Their meeting could easily end up in a fight. Whatever high reason may rule their hearts, one sees in the hands of the other that which he believes is his due; the other sees a desperate man who cannot attempt too much.

But how I misjudge them both! As if the virtue of these honored rivals could not free them from these common faults! Their souls, masters of them both, are too noble for such base actions. But alas! They will see each other, and that is enough. My little hope flickers weakly and gives way to dread. Gods! May my fears prove to be unfounded!


Act Three, Scene Two

PAULINE:  What news, Stratonice? How did this sacrifice end? Did these noble rivals see each other at the temple?

STRATONICE: Ah, Pauline!

PAULINE:   Have my prayers been deceived? I see a bad omen on your face. Did they fight?

STRATONICE: Polyeucte, Nearque, the Christians . . .

PAULINE:   Speak now—the Christians . . .


PAULINE:   Your hesitation frightens me.

STRATONICE: You will never have a more just cause.

PAULINE:   Have they killed him?

STRATONICE: That would be a small thing. All your dream is true; Polyeucte is no more.

PAULINE:   He’s dead!

STRATONICE: No, he lives, but worthless tears! That great heart is no longer worthy of life or Pauline. No longer is he the husband so charming in your eyes. He is the common enemy of the state and of the gods, evil, infamous, a rebel, a traitor, a scoundrel, a coward, a parricide, an atrocious plague to all good people, a sacrilegious pagan—in short, a Christian.

PAULINE:   That word would have sufficed without this barrage of insults.

STRATONICE: Are these false names for Christians?

PAULINE:   It is as you say, if he embraces their faith; but you speak to me of my husband.

STRATONICE: Think only of the God he worships.

PAULINE:   I love him by duty; this duty still remains.

STRATONICE: He now gives you a reason to hate him. He who betrays all our gods could also betray you.

PAULINE:   I would still love him even if he betrayed me; and if such a love astounds you, learn that my duty in no way depends on his. He may fail, if he wants; I must do mine. Christian though he may be, I love him while I hate his error. But how did my father respond?

STRATONICE:  Clearly this act has angered him, but he still has some love for Polyeucte, and does not relish carrying out justice on him. He has chosen to torture false Nearque alone.

PAULINE:   What? Nearque is in this?

STRATONICE: Nearque seduced him. This is the unworthy fruit of their old friendship. This traitor brought him to baptism. That is the great, mysterious secret that your curious love could not extract from him.

PAULINE:   You blamed me then for being too troublesome.

STRATONICE: I did not foresee such misfortune.

PAULINE:   Before abandoning my soul to grief, I must try the power of my tears. I hope that, as wife or as daughter, they may conquer a husband or pierce a father. If they lack power over both, I can only despair. However, tell me what they did at the temple.

STRATONICE: Such impiety has never been seen before. I can’t think about it without trembling. The priest had finally gotten silence and turned his face to the east, when they burst out in disrespect. At each moment of the ceremony they displayed their foolishness, loudly mocking the holy rites, treating the gods with scorn. Everyone muttered and Felix was offended, but both carried on with even more irreverence. “What?” said Polyeucte raising his voice, “do you worship gods of wood or stone?” Spare me here the retelling of the blasphemies they both spewed out even against Jupiter, adultery and incest being the least.

“Hear me,” he then said, “O people, hear me. The God of Polyeucte and Nearque, of the earth and of the sky is absolute king, sole independent being, sole master of destiny, sole eternal principle, and sovereign end. We must thank the God of the Christians for the victories He gives to our emperor Decius. He alone holds the outcome of battles in His hand. He can lift him up or He can lay him low. His goodness, power, and justice are immense. He alone punishes; He alone repays. You worship powerless gods in vain.” With these words he threw himself upon the altar without fear of Jupiter’s thunder. Gods! Has anyone ever seen anything like it? The statue of the most powerful god we saw hurled to our feet, broken, the temple profaned. The crowd panicked and ran, fearing heavenly wrath. Felix . . . but here he is to tell you the rest.


Act Three, Scene Three

FELIX:  How dare such insolence be shown! In public! In my presence! He will die for it, the traitor!

PAULINE:   Father, I beg you …

FELIX:  I speak of Nearque, not your husband. As unworthy as he may be of the name of son-in-law, my soul still holds some feeling for him. His terrible crime has not snuffed out the love that made me choose him as your husband.

PAULINE:   I expected nothing less from a father’s kindness.

FELIX:  I could have sacrificed him in my just anger. The horror of it all! You must have heard it from Stratonice.

PAULINE:   I know that Nearque faces death.

FELIX:  Polyeucte will regret his action after he sees his seducer’s punishment. Witnessing the bloody spectacle of a friend’s death will rekindle his desire to live. This insane zeal will turn cold, and we will see his troubled heart ask for forgiveness for such impiety.

PAULINE:   Can you hope that he may have a change of heart?

FELIX:  He should, at Nearque’s expense.

PAULINE:   He should, but alas! Must I hope in his weakness rather than in a father’s kindness?

FELIX:  I have already been too gracious, Pauline. I should give equal punishment for the same crime, and in making a distinction between these two offenders, I betray justice to fatherly love. I make myself a criminal for him, and I expected from you more thanks than complaints.

PAULINE:   What do I thank you for that gives me nothing? I know the spirit of a Christian. He will dwell in stubbornness to the end. Asking for his repentance is to ordain his death.

FELIX:  He holds his salvation in his hand; let him consider it.

PAULINE:   Make it without condition.

FELIX:  He can win it.

PAULINE:   Don’t abandon him to this foolish sect.

FELIX:  I abandon him to the laws which I must respect.

PAULINE:   Is this how a father supports a son?

FELIX:  May he do as much for himself as I do for him.

PAULINE:   But he is blind.

FELIX:  He wants to be. He who cherishes his error doesn’t want to see it.

PAULINE:   My father, in the name of the gods . . .

FELIX:  Do not invoke them, gods whose interests demand his death.

PAULINE:   They hear our prayers.

FELIX:  Well, then, let him pray!

PAULINE:   In the name of the emperor whose place you hold . . .

FELIX:  I have his power in hand, committed to me to use against his enemies.

PAULINE:   Is Polyeucte one?

FELIX:  All Christians are rebels.

PAULINE:   Don’t listen to these cruel maxims. In marrying Pauline he made himself your blood.

FELIX:  When a crime against the state is mixed with sacrilege, neither blood nor friendship has any privilege.

PAULINE:   What extreme harshness!

FELIX:  Less than his crime.

PAULINE:   Ah, too true an outcome of my dreadful dream! Do you see that you lose your daughter with him?

FELIX:  The gods and the emperor are more than my family.

PAULINE:   The loss of us both can’t stop you?

FELIX:  I have both the gods and Decius to fear. But don’t mourn yet. Do you think he will continue in his blindness? If he seems to run quickly to his doom, it is only the beginning zeal of a new Christian.

PAULINE:   If you still love him, abandon this hope that he will change beliefs twice in one day. You expect too much weakness in him. This isn’t a childish error that his soul embraced without thought. Polyeucte is a Christian because he wanted to be, and brought to the temple a resolved will.


Act Three, Scene Four

FELIX:  Albin, is it done?

ALBIN: Yes, lord. Nearque has paid for his crime.

FELIX:  And Polyeucte saw his life cut short?

ALBIN: He saw it, but alas, with an envious eye. Instead of recoiling, he burned to follow him, and his heart, instead of shaking, reaffirmed itself.

PAULINE:   I told you as much. Once again, my father, if my respect could ever satisfy you, if you have cherished it . . .

FELIX:  You have too much love, Pauline, for an unworthy husband.

PAULINE:   I have it by your hand. By your choice and my duty, I love him, and have extinguished the most beautiful fire of another love whose merit deserved it. As you have power over me, according to my duty and love, let me in turn have something over you! Submitting to your will has cost me enough already.

FELIX:  You demand too much. While I may have a tender heart, I show pity only at my price. Your tears are wasted on me. Prepare yourself to see this miserable Christian, and try to persuade him. Go; do not further anger a father who loves you. Work to win your husband from himself. Soon I will have him come here. Meanwhile, leave us. I wish to speak to him.

PAULINE:   Please allow . . .

FELIX:  Leave us alone, I say. You will achieve more by pressing me less. [Pauline exits]


Act Three, Scene Five

FELIX:  Albin, how did he die?

ALBIN: As a brute, as a pagan, braving the tortures, disdaining life, without regret, without a sound, in stubbornness—in short, as a Christian, with blasphemy on his lips.

FELIX:  And the other?

ALBIN: As I said, nothing touches him. Far from being defeated, his heart is higher. He had to be pulled away from the scaffold. They led him to the prison where he is now, but you are still far from breaking him.

FELIX:  How wretched am I! No one knows the evils my heart is afflicted with. Thought upon thought disturbs my soul. I feel love and hate, fear and hope. I come upon feelings you wouldn’t believe. Feelings that make me blush. I love this wretch whom I have chosen as my son-in-law; I hate the blindness that has overcome him. While wishing to save him, I have the honor of the gods to uphold. I fear their fire and the fire of Decius. It’s my life or his.

ALBIN: Decius will excuse a father’s love. Moreover, Polyeucte is of noble blood.

FELIX:  Roman law is strict about punishing Christians, the greater the example, the more dangerous.

ALBIN: If you dare not regard his rank, write to Decius that he might order it.

FELIX:  Severe would destroy me if I did so. His hatred and his power are my greatest fears. He is a man in love whom I have spurned, I who put to death his love of Pauline, but refuse to execute his rival. I suspect that this event rekindles some hope in his heart. He wishes to see Polyeucte die so that he may win back a love he lost. Would he withhold his anger if I spare Polyeucte and thwart his desires a second time?

Shall I tell you of an unworthy thought, base and cowardly? I snuff it out, it rekindles; it entices and chagrins me. Polyeucte is the support of my family here; but if by his crime Severe would marry my daughter, I would thereby acquire a much stronger support that would put me up a hundred times higher than I am now. My heart despite itself takes a wicked joy in it; but let heaven sooner strike me in your sight than let me consent to thoughts so base!

ALBIN: Your heart is too kind. But are you set on punishing this offense?

FELIX:  I am going to the prison to make my best effort to conquer that spirit by the fear of death; and then we will see what Pauline may do.

ALBIN: What will you finally do if he continues to be stubborn?

FELIX:  Do not press me so. In such a dreadful case I have yet to decide; I know not what to choose.

ALBIN: I must warn you that the town already rises up in his favor. His prison is not well secured. I left a battalion surrounding it, but I fear that it may be forced.

FELIX:  He must be taken from there then, and be brought here. If he persists in his Christianity, we will dispose of him without anyone’s knowledge. [they exit]


Act Four, Scene One

POLYEUCTE: Guard, what do you want of me?

CLEON:  Pauline asks for you.

POLYEUCTE: O struggle that I fear above all! Felix, in prison I triumphed over you. I laughed at your threats and looked on you without fear. Now you take up your greatest weapon for your revenge; I feared your butchers much less than her tears. Lord, who sees the perils that I run, redouble your help in my pressing need, and you, Nearque, still rising from victory, lend your hand from heaven to your friend to conquer such a strong enemy.

Would someone go to find Severe? If I could tell him an important secret, he would live happier and I would die content.

CLEON:   If you command me, I will run there in earnest.

POLYEUCTE: If I am unable, Severe will repay you. Go, lose no time, and return promptly.

CLEON:   I will return within the moment, lord.


Act Four, Scene Two

POLYEUCTE: [anticipating Pauline’s arrival] Beguiling beauty, what do you want from me? Shameful attachment of the flesh, why do you not leave me when I have left you? Away, earth’s pleasures which war with me. You sparkle like glass but are just as fragile. So then, do not hope that I will long after you.

Unmerciful Decius, see the fearful end of your reign! A little more yet, and your time will come. God will not abandon his people any longer. Let Felix sacrifice me to your anger. Let my rival take my place as his son-in-law. I consent, or rather I long for my end.

World, you no longer hold anything for me. I view Pauline only as an obstacle to my good. Holy blessings of heaven, fill my heart. The soul possessed by your sacred charms cannot conceive of anything else that may move it. You promise much and give more. The happy death which I await serves merely as the doorway to eternal bliss.

O fire divine that nothing can extinguish, give me strength to see Pauline without fear. No longer may her charms enchant me. May heaven’s light blind my eyes to her loveliness.


Act Four, Scene Three

POLYEUCTE: Madame, what are your plans for me? Is it to fight against me or with me? This noble effort of your perfect love, does it come to my aid or to my destruction? Does hate or love bring you here, as my enemy or as my dear wife?

PAULINE:   You have no enemy but yourself. You alone fulfill all that I dreamed. Do not wish yourself lost, and you will be saved. Consider the blood from which you have come, your noble acts, your rare qualities; cherished by all the people, esteemed by the prince, son-in-law of the province’s governor, not to mention bearing the name of my husband.

POLYEUCTE: I consider much more. I know my advantages, but in the end, death tears them from us all. What I desire is more noble and more beautiful. The grandeur of this life will perish; I want an immortal one without measure and without end. Is my poor sad life, which I one day must lose anyway, too high a price to pay for everlasting joy?

PAULINE:   These are the ridiculous dreams of Christians; this is how far their lies have charmed you. But is this blood for you to dispose of? You only have life as an inheritance. You owe it to the prince, to the people, to the state.

POLYEUCTE: For them I would willingly lose it in battle. I know the glory in that. I owe my life to the people, to the prince, to the crown, but I owe much more to the God who gives it to me. If it is a glorious fate for a man to die for his prince, how much more to die for his God.

PAULINE:   What God?

POLYEUCTE: Softly, Pauline. He hears your words, and He is not a God like your empty gods, unfeeling and deaf, impotent, made of wood, marble or gold as you wish. He is the Christian’s God, my God, and your God; heaven and earth know no other.

PAULINE:   Worship Him in spirit, and testify to nothing.

POLYEUCTE: So that I would be both idolater and Christian!

PAULINE:   Pretend for but a moment; let Severe leave, and give my father’s kindness a chance to act.

POLYEUCTE: I cherish God’s kindness much more. He lifted me from the evils I would have run, and leaves me no room to turn back. By His grace He guided me to faith, to baptism, and now to death. If you could only understand the insignificance of life, and the pleasures that follow! But what use is it to speak of these hidden treasures to souls that God has not yet touched?

PAULINE:   Tormentor! Ungrateful soul! Is this your brilliant love? Do you have even the smallest affection for me? I didn’t speak to you of the deplorable state in which your death will leave your wife. I thought that love would have spoken to you enough. But this love, so strong and so well deserved that you promised me and I gave you, can it not pluck from you a tear or a sigh? You leave me, ingrate, and you do it with joy! Your heart, unmoved by my sorrow, imagines a bliss without me! Is this the disgust that marriage vows bring? Once given to you, I am now hideous!


PAULINE:   How difficult was that alas! Yet, if it began a welcome repentance, I would find it sweet! But take heart! He is moved; I see tears flowing.

POLYEUCTE: Yes, I cry, and would to God that by shedding them this hard heart could finally be pierced! The deplorable state I leave you in richly deserves these tears, and if one can feel some pain in heaven, I will continue to cry for your troubles. But if God should accept my prayer, if He will respect a husband’s love, He will shed the light of day on your blindness. Lord, I must save her by your grace. She has too many virtues not to be a Christian. It pleased you to make her with too much merit for her not to know and to love you.

PAULINE:   What are you saying, wretch? What do you dare to hope?

POLYEUCTE: That which with all my blood I would like to purchase.

PAULINE:   But rather . . .

POLYEUCTE: You fight in vain. God touches hearts when least expected. This blissful moment has not yet come; it will come, but I do not know the time.

PAULINE:   Leave this fantasy and love me.

POLYEUCTE: I love you; much less than my God, but much more than myself.

PAULINE:   In the name of this love, do not abandon me.

POLYEUCTE: In the name of this love, condescend to follow in my steps.

PAULINE:   It’s not enough to leave me; you also want to lead me astray?

POLYEUCTE: It’s not enough to go to heaven; I want to guide you there.

PAULINE:   What imagination!

POLYEUCTE: What heavenly truth!

PAULINE:   What strange blindness!

POLYEUCTE: Eternal light!

PAULINE:   You prefer death to my love!

POLYEUCTE: You prefer the world to divine blessing.

PAULINE:   Go, heartless man, and die; you never loved me.

POLYEUCTE: Live happily in the world, and leave me in peace.

PAULINE:   Yes, I’m going to leave you; trouble yourself no more. I go . . .


Act Four, Scene Four

PAULINE:   But what brings you to this place, Severe? Could one believe that so noble a heart could come here to condemn this miserable man?

POLYEUCTE: You treat this honorable man poorly, Pauline. I asked him to come. Severe, I have possessed a treasure of which I was not worthy. I leave her to you, the rarest virtue of womanhood. You are worthy of her, and she is worthy of you. If I separated you before, my death will reunite you. Live happily together. This is the blessing Polyeucte desires for you. Guards, come; it is finished. [he exits]


Act Four, Scene Five

SEVERE: Amazing! I can’t believe it. A man who loved and was loved by you — how could he not love you — and yet, he leaves you without regret, surrendering this precious gift to his rival! Either Christians are mad, or their hoped-for joys must be so infinite that they would sacrifice anything, even one more valuable than the empire itself. I could never worship anything more than the sparkle of your eyes. They rule over me, they are my gods, they are . . .

PAULINE:   Stop there; I fear hearing too much! This rekindling of our former passion may force something unworthy on us both. Severe, know my mind completely. My Polyeucte nears his last hour; he has only moments to live. You are still the cause, even though innocently. If you hoped to gain from his loss, know that there is no horror of hell that I would not endure before soiling my honor. How could I marry a man who was in some way the cause of my first husband’s death? If you believe me to be so foolish, the love I had for you will turn to hate.

You are noble; be so to the end. My father is in a position to give you anything. He fears you and believes he is sacrificing Polyeucte to you. Save this wretch; serve as his protector. I know that I ask much, but the nobler the task, the greater the glory. To save a rival is a virtue you alone possess. My honor, the dearest thing I possess, lies in your hands. Remember that you are Severe. Adieu. Decide what you want to do. If you aren’t the person I thought you were, I would rather not know, so that I may still esteem you in my heart. [she exits]


Act Four, Scene Six

SEVERE: What is this, Fabian? Must heaven strike down my happiness the moment it appears? Fate, always set on harming me, cuts down my hope as soon as it is born. A woman in distress gives me lessons in honor! Pauline, your unhappy, beautiful soul is too noble, almost inhuman. Because of your sorrow, must I not only lose you but hand you back to a rival who has already abandoned you?

FABIAN:  Leave this ungrateful family to its fate. What prize can you hope for from such a cruel task?

SEVERE: The glory of showing to this fine soul that Severe equals her and is worthy of her, that she is my due, and that heaven is unjust by refusing me.

FABIAN:  You risk much, lord; think well. You undertake to save a Christian! Decius has always hated this impious sect. Polyeucte’s crime may prove deadly to you as well.

SEVERE: That may be good advice for some common soul. Even if he holds my life and my fortune in his hands, I am still Severe. All the emperor’s great power can do nothing against my honor. Whether fate shows itself kind or not, I will die content, perishing gloriously.

I’ll tell you even more, but in confidence. The Christian sect is not what we think. I do not understand why we hate them so, and I think Decius unjust on this point. Rome permits all manner of other religions to flourish. In all places we allow with impunity all kinds of gods, except for their God. All the monsters of Egypt have their temples in Rome. Why single out the Christians?

They have only one God, absolute master of all, whose will alone rules. If I dare say between us what I think, we have too many gods to be true deities. The Christian customs are innocent. They pray for us who persecute them, and after all the time we have fought them, have you seen them revolt? They lie down like lambs to the slaughter. I pity them too much not to defend them. Go, find Felix. Let’s begin with his son-in-law; and let us satisfy in one action Pauline, my honor, and my compassion. [they exit]


Act Five, Scene One

FELIX:  Albin, do you see Severe’s trick? Do you see his hatred, and my misery?

ALBIN: I have seen nothing in him but a noble rival, and I see nothing in you but a harsh father.

FELIX:  Appearances are deceiving. In his heart he hates me and scorns Pauline. Seeing her rejected by his rival, he now considers her unworthy of his love. Pretending to be noble, Severe speaks for Polyeucte, and threatens to ruin me if I do not pardon this Christian. His craftiness is too crude to miss. I recognize a scheming politician and know their subtle ways. I see what he would whisper to the emperor. He wants me to spare Polyeucte, but then would accuse me of a crime. I would then be his victim. Any other person might be fool enough to fall into his trap, but I’m not so gullible. An experienced politician knows when he’s being played. I have seen so much of it that I could give him lessons.

ALBIN: How you torture yourself by this distrust!

FELIX:  Once a man has a reason to hate us, we must presume that he searches to betray us. All his friendship must be suspect. If Polyeucte does not abandon his sect in the end, whatever his protector has in mind, I will follow the emperor’s orders.

ALBIN: Be merciful, lord!  Have mercy on Pauline!

FELIX: The emperor’s mercy would not follow mine; far from pulling him from his dangerous path, my beneficence would only ruin us both.

ALBIN: But Severe promises . . .

FELIX: If Severe sparks Decius’ fury by favoring the Christians, even he will perish with us. All the same, I want to try again one other way. Bring Polyeucte at once. If he refuses this last appeal, he will surely die. The people are already rising up in support of him, and I don’t know how long I can maintain control of the situation. It must end before things turn for the worse.

ALBIN:  Now you are suspicious of the whole city. You think everyone is out to get you. If you execute him, you will simply enrage the people more.

FELIX: They will grumble in vain after his death. If they dare to revolt, I’ll not bear insubordination twice. I will have done my duty, whatever may come.


Act Five, Scene Two

FELIX: Do you have such a strong hatred for life, miserable Polyeucte? Does the law of the Christians order you to abandon your family?

POLYEUCTE: I do not hate life at all, and I enjoyed the use of it. But without slavery’s bonds, I’m  ready to give it back to God who lent it to me. I wish you could understand my reason, and follow my path to glory.

FELIX: Give me time, at least, to learn of it. To make me a Christian, live and become my guide. If you do not, you will have to answer to God for my soul.

POLYEUCTE: Do not joke about it, Felix. He will be your judge. You will find no refuge before Him. Kings and shepherds are equal there. He will avenge their blood and their cares on you.

FELIX: I will shed no more of it. Whatever comes, I will allow them to practice the Christian faith. I will be their protector.

POLYEUCTE: No, continue to persecute us, and be the instrument of our blessings. The true Christian finds his reward through suffering. God repays each cruel blow with heavenly treasures. But these are hard secrets for you to understand. God reveals them only to his chosen ones.

FELIX: I speak honestly and want to be a Christian.

POLYEUCTE: What, then, prevents you?

FELIX: The bothersome presence . . .

POLYEUCTE: Of whom? Severe?

FELIX: I have only shown anger against you for his sake. Pretend a moment until his departure.

POLYEUCTE: Is this how you speak honestly, Felix? Bring to your pagan idols your sugary lies.

FELIX: This zealous faith serves only to seduce you, if you embrace death rather than choose to instruct me.

POLYEUCTE: To speak to you now would be out of season. It is a gift of heaven and not of reason.

FELIX: Your loss, however, will dishearten me.

POLYEUCTE: You lose one son-in-law but gain another of higher rank. My death is your advantage.

FELIX: Stop outraging me by this conversation! I’ve thought more of you than you deserve. Despite my goodness, this insolence will force me to seek vengeance for the gods you have scorned.

POLYEUCTE: What? How quickly you change the tone of your speech! Zeal for your gods returns to your heart. The Christian in you flees! By chance I’ve just forced you to speak honestly for the first time!

FELIX:  I shall never follow your false faith. I played along only to save your shameful life, but I have insulted our gods too long by my inaction. Choose to offer them incense or your blood.

POLYEUCTE: My choice cannot be in doubt. But I see Pauline. O heaven!


Act Five, Scene Three

PAULINE:   Which of you would kill me today? Are you both against me? Can neither parental affection or marital love sway you?

FELIX: Speak to your husband.

POLYEUCTE: Live with Severe.

PAULINE:   Tiger, at least kill me without insulting me!

POLYEUCTE: My love, my compassion seeks to soothe you. It sees the pain in your soul, and knows that another love is the only cure.

PAULINE:   What have I done to you, monster, to be treated so, scorning my loyalty, for conquering so powerful a love for you? See what battles I fought to give you a heart which justly belonged to its first conqueror. Ingrate, can you not make some effort to give yourself back to me? Do not drive a soul that loves you to despair.

POLYEUCTE: I tell you again, live with Severe or die with me. I do not scorn your tears or your loyalty; but love me as a fellow Christian or not at all.

PAULINE:   Ah! My father, his sin is difficult to pardon, but he is senseless; you are reasonable. Can I dare to hope in a father’s compassion? I promise you, my death will follow the death of this dear criminal. The gods will not look kindly on his punishment mixed with innocent blood. Our destinies must make us happy or miserable together. It would be cruel for you to separate that which you once joined.

FELIX: Yes, my daughter, it is true that a father is always a father. I join with you against this madness. Unhappy Polyeucte, are you without feeling? Can you see so much love without being touched by it?

POLYEUCTE: After having tried threats, love, and a false thirst for baptism, you join together to oppose the will of God! Ah, hellish trickery! Must I conquer so many times before I triumph? Make your resolve: mine is already made. I worship but one God, master of the universe, under whom heaven, earth, and hell tremble. One God who, loving us with an infinite love, sent his Son to die in dishonor for us. But I am wrong to speak to those who cannot hear. Blindly you choose to believe in gods who commit the worst of human sins: adultery, incest, theft, murder. I have profaned their temple and broken their altars. I would do it again, even before the eyes of the emperor.

FELIX: At last, my kindness yields to my just fury. Worship them or die!

POLYEUCTE: I am a Christian.

FELIX: Infidel! Worship them, I tell you, or renounce your life!

POLYEUCTE: I am a Christian.

FELIX: Are you? O heart too hard! Soldiers, follow the command I have given you.

PAULINE:   Where do you lead him to?

FELIX: To death!

POLYEUCTE: To glory! Dear Pauline, adieu; guard my memory.

PAULINE:   I will follow you everywhere, and will die if you die.

POLYEUCTE: Quit your erring way, or do not follow my steps.

FELIX: Remove him from my sight, and let him be obeyed. Since he wants to perish, I consent!


Act Five, Scene Four

FELIX:  I harm myself, Albin, but I had to. My natural kindness might have easily ruined me. Let the rage of the people now spread; let Severe thunder in fury. I did everything I could. Have you seen anything so blasphemous or detestable?

ALBIN: I fear you may live to regret this decision. You may curse this day and shed your blood by your own hand.

FELIX:  So once Brutus spilled his, but his glory, far from being weakened, grew. When our old heroes had bad blood, they would open their own side to spill it.

ALBIN: Your zeal seduces you, but whatever it may tell you, when you feel it again cool, when you see Pauline and her despair  . . .

FELIX:  You remind me that she has followed this traitor, and that this despair may cause her to act rashly. Go then, watch over her. Try to console her. Go now, what keeps you?

ALBIN: There’s no need, lord; she returns.


Act Five, Scene Five

PAULINE:  Barbarous father, complete your work! You now have a second victim worthy of your rage. Unite your son and daughter once again. You see in me his same sin or rather the same virtue. In dying, my husband shed his light on me. His blood, in which your butchers have just covered me, has opened my eyes. I see, know, and believe. You see me baptized in his blessed blood! I am a Christian now; isn’t enough said? Obey your emperor and punish me as well. If my offense is not enough, lead me to your gods which I now despise. Polyeucte toppled one idol, I will break the rest. Now do not delay. Punish my rebellion against you and your gods. By my death you will secure your fortune on earth and mine in heaven. Polyeucte calls me, and I long to join him.

Act Five, Scene Six

SEVERE: Unnatural father, ambitious slave of a fantastic fear! Polyeucte is dead! Instead of saving him, my effort on his behalf has hastened his ruin. I pleaded for him, but you would not believe me. Well, believe me now. I will see you destroyed for this. Pray to the gods you serve to save you from my wrath!

FELIX:  Hear me, lord. Let your vengeance fall, but not for mistrusting your honor. Now my offense is higher. Suddenly, I have experienced something I cannot explain, feeling an ecstasy I have never known. By a divine power I cannot understand, I turn from my folly to the zeal of my son-in-law. From heaven Polyeucte’s innocent blood must have plead to an all-powerful God for his persecutor. His love pulls the father as well as the daughter after him. I made him a martyr; his death has made me a Christian! This is how a Christian takes his revenge. Blessed cruelty whose end is so sweet! Sacrifice to your gods these two new Christians. I am one, she is one; fulfill your wrath.

PAULINE:   I rediscover my father! This blessed conversion makes my bliss complete.

FELIX:  My daughter, nothing comes but from the hand that makes it.

SEVERE: Who would not be touched by such a tender sight? Such changes don’t happen without a miracle. Without doubt, these Christians have something in them that surpasses the human and earns them recognition in heaven. For my part, I have always pitied them and will persecute them no longer. Let each one worship the God he chooses and serve Him without fear. If you are Christian, you need not fear my hate any more. Felix, keep your rank here. Serve your God well, and serve our king. You will see an end to this severity, or I will lose my influence with the emperor.

FELIX:  May heaven complete its work in you, and give you one day what you deserve. Let us bless our happy fortune and give holy burial to our martyrs, and make the name of God ring throughout the world.

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