Strange Adventures in Man's Clothes

May 05, 2020

Pedro Calderón de la Barca

Pedro Calderón de la Barca (1600–1681). Life Is a Dream.
Vol. 26, pp. 7-21 of The Harvard Classics

Disguised as a man, a Russian noblewoman exploring the moun­tains of Poland came upon a secret prison. Fate linked the lives of this woman and the unknown prisoner.
(Calderon, after a life of adventure, died May 5, 1681.)

Act I
Scene I

A pass of rocks, over which a storm is rolling away, and the sun setting: in the foreground, half-way down, a fortress.
Enter first from the topmost rock ROSAURA, as from horseback, in man’s attire; and, after her, FIFE 1

THERE, four-footed Fury, blast-engender’d brute, without the wit
Of brute, or mouth to match the bit
Of man—art satisfied at last?
Who, when thunder roll’d aloof,
Tow’rd the spheres of fire your ears
Pricking, and the granite kicking
Into lightning with your hoof,
Among the tempest-shatter’d crags
Shattering your luckless rider
Back into the tempest pass’d?
There then lie to starve and die,
Or find another Phaeton
Mad-mettled as yourself; for I,
Wearied, worried, and for-done,
Alone will down the mountain try,
That knits his brows against the sun.

  FIFE  (as to his mule). There, thou mis-begotten thing,
Long-ear’d lightning, tail’d tornado,
Griffin-hoof-in hurricano,—
(I might swear till I were almost
Hoarse with roaring Asonante)
Who forsooth because our betters
Would begin to kick and fling—
You forthwith your noble mind
Must prove, and kick me off behind,
Tow’rd the very centre whither
Gravity was most inclined.
There where you have made your bed
In it lie; for, wet or dry,
Let what will for me betide you,
Burning, blowing, freezing, hailing;
Famine waste you: devil ride you:
Tempest baste you black and blue:—
  (To ROSAURA.) There! I think in downright railing
I can hold my own with you.

  ROS.  Ah, my good Fife, whose merry loyal pipe,
Come weal, come woe, is never out of tune—
What, you in the same plight too?

  FIFE.        Ay;
And madam—sir—hereby desire,
When you your own adventures sing
Another time in lofty rhyme,
You don’t forget the trusty squire
Who went with you Don-quixoting.

  ROS.  Well, my good fellow—to leave Pegasus
Who scarce can serve us than our horses worse—
They say no one should rob another of
The single satisfaction he has left
Of singing his own sorrows; one so great,
So says some great philosopher, that trouble
Were worth encount’ring only for the sake
Of weeping over—what perhaps you know
Some poet calls the ‘luxury of woe.’

  FIFE.  Had I the poet or philosopher
In the place of her that kick’d me off to ride,
I’d test his theory upon his hide.
But no bones broken, madam—sir, I mean?—

  ROS.  A scratch here that a handkerchief will heal—
And you?—

  FIFE.        A scratch in quiddity, or kind:
But not in ‘quo’—my wounds are all behind.
But, as you say, to stop this strain,
Which, somehow, once one’s in the vein,
Comes clattering after—there again!—
What are we twain—deuce take’t!—we two,
I mean, to do—drench’d through and through—
Oh, I shall choke of rhymes, which I believe
Are all that we shall have to live on here.

  ROS.  What, is our victual gone too?—

  FIFE.        Ay, that brute
Has carried all we had away with her,
Clothing, and cate, and all.

  ROS.        And now the sun,
Our only friend and guide, about to sink
Under the stage of earth.

  FIFE.        And enter Night,
With Capa y Espada—and—pray heaven!—
With but her lanthorn also.

  ROS.        Ah, I doubt
To-night, if any, with a dark one—or
Almost burnt out after a month’s consumption.
Well! well or ill, on horseback or afoot,
This is the gate that lets me into Poland;
And, sorry welcome as she gives a guest
Who writes his own arrival on her rocks
In his own blood—
Yet better on her stony threshold die,
Than live on unrevenged in Muscovy.

  FIFE.  Oh, what a soul some women have—I mean
Some men—

  ROS.        Oh, Fife, Fife, as you love me, Fife,
Make yourself perfect in that little part,
Or all will go to ruin!

  FIFE.        Oh, I will,
Please God we find some one to try it on.
But, truly, would not any one believe
Some fairy had exchanged us as we lay
Two tiny foster-children in one cradle?

  ROS.  Well, be that as it may, Fife, it reminds me
Of what perhaps I should have thought before,
But better late than never—You know I love you,
As you, I know, love me, and loyally
Have follow’d me thus far in my wild venture.
Well! now then—having seen me safe thus far—
Safe if not wholly sound—over the rocks
Into the country where my business lies—
Why should not you return the way we came,
The storm all clear’d away, and, leaving me
(Who now shall want you, though not thank you, less,
Now that our horses gone) this side the ridge,
Find your way back to dear old home again;
While I—Come, come!—
What, weeping my poor fellow?—

  FIFE.        Leave you here
Alone—my Lady—Lord! I mean my Lord—
In a strange country—among savages—
Oh, now I know—you would be rid of me
For fear my stumbling speech—

  ROS.        Oh, no, no, no!—
I want you with me for a thousand sakes
To which that is as nothing—I myself
More apt to let the secret out myself
Without your help at all—Come, come, cheer up!
And if you sing again, ‘Come weal, come woe,’
Let it be that; for we will never part
Until you give the signal.

  FIFE.        ’Tis a bargain.

  ROS.  Now to begin, then. ‘Follow, follow me,
‘You fairy elves that be.’

  FIFE.        Ay, and go on—
Something of ‘following darkness like a dream,’
For that we’re after.

  ROS.        No, after the sun;
Trying to catch hold of his glittering skirts
That hang upon the mountain as he goes.

  FIFE.  Ah, he’s himself past catching—as you spoke
He heard what you were saying, and—just so—
Like some scared water-bird,
As we say in my country, dove below.

  ROS.  Well, we must follow him as best we may
Poland is no great country, and, as rich
In men and means, will but few acres spare
To lie beneath her barrier mountains bare.
We cannot, I believe, be very far
From mankind or their dwellings.

  FIFE.        Send it so!
And well provided for man, woman, and beast.
No, not for beast. Ah, but my heart begins
To yearn for her—

  ROS.        Keep close, and keep your feet
From serving you as hers did.

  FIFE.        As for beasts,
If in default of other entertainment,
We should provide them with ourselves to eat—
Bears, lions, wolves—

  ROS.        Oh, never fear.

  FIFE.        Or else
Default of other beasts, beastlier men,
Cannibals, Anthropophagi, bare Poles
Who never knew a tailor but by taste.

  ROS.  Look, look! Unless my fancy misconceive
With twilight—down among the rocks there, Fife—
Some human dwelling, surely—
Or think you but a rock torn from the rocks
In some convulsion like to-day’s, and perch’d
Quaintly among them in mock-masonry?

  FIFE.  Most likely that, I doubt.

  ROS.        No, no—for look!
A square of darkness opening in it—

  FIFE.        Oh,
I don’t half like such openings!—

  ROS.        Like the loom
Of night from which she spins her outer gloom—

  FIFE.  Lord, Madam, pray forbear this tragic vein
In such a time and place—

  ROS.        And now again
Within that square of darkness, look! a light
That feels its way with hesitating pulse,
As we do, through the darkness that it drives
To blacken into deeper night beyond.

  FIFE.  In which could we follow that light’s example,
As might some English Bardolph with his nose,
We might defy the sunset—Hark, a chain!

  ROS.  And now a lamp, a lamp! And now the hand
That carries it.

  FIFE.        Oh, Lord! that dreadful chain!

  ROS.  And now the bearer of the lamp; indeed
As strange as any in Arabian tale,
So giant-like, and terrible, and grand,
Spite of the skin he’s wrapt in.

  FIFE.        Why, ’tis his own:
Oh, ’tis some wild man of the woods; I’ve heard
They build and carry torches—

  ROS.        Never Ape
Bore such a brow before the heavens as that—
Chain’d as you say too!—

  FIFE.  Oh, that dreadful chain!

  ROS.        And now he sets the lamp down by his side,
And with one hand clench’d in his tangled hair
And with a sigh as if his heart would break—  [During this SEGISMUND has entered from the fortress, with a torch.

  SEGISMUND.  Once more the storm has roar’d itself away,
Splitting the crags of God as it retires;
But sparing still what it should only blast,
This guilty piece of human handiwork,
And all that are within it. Oh, how oft,
How oft, within or here abroad, have I
Waited, and in the whisper of my heart
Pray’d for the slanting hand of heaven to strike
The blow myself I dared not, out of fear
Of that Hereafter, worse, they say, than here,
Plunged headlong in, but, till dismissal waited,
To wipe at last all sorrow from men’s eyes,
And make this heavy dispensation clear.
Thus have I borne till now, and still endure,
Crouching in sullen impotence day by day,
Till some such out-burst of the elements
Like this rouses the sleeping fire within;
And standing thus upon the threshold of
Another night about to close the door
Upon one wretched day to open it
On one yet wretcheder because one more;—
Once more, you savage heavens, I ask of you—
I, looking up to those relentless eyes
That, now the greater lamp is gone below,
Begin to muster in the listening skies;
In all the shining circuits you have gone
About this theatre of human woe,
What greater sorrow have you gazed upon
Than down this narrow chink you witness still;
And which, did you yourselves not fore-devise,
You registered for others to fulfil!

  FIFE.  This is some Laureate at a birthday ode;
No wonder we went rhyming.

  ROS.        Hush! And now
See, starting to his feet, he strides about
Far as his tether’d steps—

  SEG.        And if the chain
You help’d to rivet round me did contract
Since guiltless infancy from guilt in act;
Of what in aspiration or in thought
Guilty, but in resentment of the wrong
That wreaks revenge on wrong I never wrought
By excommunication from the free
Inheritance that all created life,
Beside myself, is born to—from the wings
That range your own immeasurable blue,
Down to the poor, mute, scale-imprison’d things,
That yet are free to wander, glide, and pass
About that under-sapphire, whereinto
Yourselves transfusing you yourselves englass!

  ROS.  What mystery is this?

  FIFE.        Why, the man’s mad:
That’s all the mystery. That’s why he’s chain’d—
And why—

  SEG.    Nor Nature’s guiltless life alone—
But that which lives on blood and rapine; nay,
Charter’d with larger liberty to slay
Their guiltless kind, the tyrants of the air
Soar zenith-upward with their screaming prey,
Making pure heaven drop blood upon the stage
Of under earth, where lion, wolf, and bear,
And they that on their treacherous velvet wear
Figure and constellation like your own, 2
With their still living slaughter bound away
Over the barriers of the mountain cage,
Against which one, blood-guiltless, and endued
With aspiration and with aptitude
Transcending other creatures, day by day
Beats himself mad with unavailing rage!

  FIFE.  Why, that must be the meaning of my mule’s

  ROS.        Hush!

  SEG.        But then if murder be
The law by which not only conscience-blind
Creatures, but man too prospers with his kind;
Who leaving all his guilty fellows free,
Under your fatal auspice and divine
Compulsion, leagued in some mysterious ban
Against one innocent and helpless man,
Abuse their liberty to murder mine:
And sworn to silence, like their masters mute
In heaven, and like them twirling through the mask
Of darkness, answering to all I ask,
Point up to them whose work they execute!

  ROS.  Ev’n as I thought, some poor unhappy wretch,
By man wrong’d, wretched, unrevenged, as I!
Nay, so much worse than I, as by those chains
Clipt of the means of self-revenge on those
Who lay on him what they deserve. And I,
Who taunted Heaven a little while ago
With pouring all its wrath upon my head—
Alas! like him who caught the cast-off husk
Of what another bragg’d of feeding on,
Here’s one that from the refuse of my sorrows
Could gather all the banquet he desires!
Poor soul, poor soul!

  FIFE.        Speak lower—he will hear you.

  ROS.  And if he should, what then? Why, if he would,
He could not harm me—Nay, and if he could,
Methinks I’d venture something of a life
I care so little for—

  SEG.  Who’s that? Clotaldo? Who are you, I say,
That, venturing in these forbidden rocks,
Have lighted on my miserable life,
And your own death?

  ROS.        You would not hurt me, surely?

  SEG.  Not I; but those that, iron as the chain
In which they slay me with a lingering death,
Will slay you with a sudden—Who are you?

  ROS.  A stranger from across the mountain there,
Who, having lost his way in this strange land
And coming night, drew hither to what seem’d
A human dwelling hidden in these rocks,
And where the voice of human sorrow soon
Told him it was so.

  SEG.        Ay? But nearer—nearer—
That by this smoky supplement of day
But for a moment I may see who speaks
So pitifully sweet.

  FIFE.        Take care! take care!

  ROS.  Alas, poor man, that I, myself so helpless,
Could better help you than by barren pity,
And my poor presence—

  SEG.        Oh, might that be all!
But that—a few poor moments—and, alas!
The very bliss of having, and the dread
Of losing, under such a penalty
As every moment’s having runs more near,
Stifles the very utterance and resource
They cry for quickest; till from sheer despair
Of holding thee, methinks myself would tear
To pieces—

  FIFE.        There, his word’s enough for it.

  SEG.  Oh, think, if you who move about at will,
And live in sweet communion with your kind,
After an hour lost in these lonely rocks
Hunger and thirst after some human voice
To drink, and human face to feed upon;
What must one do where all is mute, or harsh,
And ev’n the naked face of cruelty
Were better than the mask it works beneath?—
Across the mountain then! Across the mountain!
What if the next world which they tell one of
Be only next across the mountain then,
Though I must never see it till I die,
And you one of its angels?

  ROS.        Alas; alas!
No angel! And the face you think so fair,
’Tis but the dismal frame-work of these rocks
That makes it seem so; and the world I come from—
Alas, alas, too many faces there
Are but fair vizors to black hearts below,
Or only serve to bring the wearer woe!
But to yourself—If haply the redress
That I am here upon may help to yours.
I heard you tax the heavens with ordering,
And men for executing, what, alas!
I now behold. But why, and who they are
Who do, and you who suffer—

  SEG.  (pointing upwards).    Ask of them,
Whom, as to-night, I have so often ask’d,
And ask’d in vain.

  ROS.        But surely, surely—

  SEG.        Hark!
The trumpet of the watch to shut us in.
Oh, should they find you!—Quick! Behind the rocks!
To-morrow—if to-morrow—

  ROS.  (flinging her sword toward him). Take my sword!

ROSAURA and FIFE hide in the rocks; Enter CLOTALDO

These stormy days you like to see the last of
Are but ill opiates, Segismund, I think,
For night to follow: and to-night you seem
More than your wont disorder’d. What! A sword!
Within there!

Enter SOLDIERS with black vizors and torches

  FIFE.        Here’s a pleasant masquerade!

  CLO.  Whosever watch this was
Will have to pay head-reckoning. Meanwhile,
This weapon had a wearer. Bring him here,
Alive or dead.

  SEG.  Clotaldo! good Clotaldo!—

  CLO.  (to Soldiers who enclose Segismund; others searching the rocks).  You know your duty.

  SOLDIERS  (bringing in Rosaura and Fife). Here are two of them,
Whoever more to follow—

  CLO.        Who are you,
That in defiance of know proclamation
Are found, at night-fall too, about this place?

  FIFE.  Oh, my Lord, she—I mean he—

  ROS.        Silence, Fife,
And let me speak for both.—Two foreign men,
To whom your country and its proclamations
Are equally unknown; and had we known,
Ourselves not masters of our lawless beasts
That, terrified by the storm among your rocks,
Flung us upon them to our cost.

  FIFE.        My mule—

  CLO.  Foreigners? Of what country?

  ROS.        Muscovy.

  CLO.  And whither bound?

  ROS.        Hither—if this be Poland;
But with no ill design on her, and therefore
Taking it ill that we should thus be stop
Upon her threshold so uncivilly.

  CLO.  Whither in Poland?

  ROS.        To the capital.

  CLO.  And on what errand?

  ROS.        Set me on the road,
And you shall be the nearer to my answer.

  CLO.  (aside). So resolute and ready to reply,
And yet so young—and— (Aloud.) Well,—
Your business was not surely with the man
We found you with?

  ROS.        He was the first we saw,—
And strangers and benighted, as we were,
As you too would have done in a like case,
Accosted him at once.

  CLO.        Ay, but this sword?

  ROS.  I flung it toward him.

  CLO.        Well, and why?

  ROS.        And why?
But to revenge himself on those who thus
Injuriously misuse him.

  CLO.        So—so—so!
’Tis well such resolution wants a beard—
And, I suppose, is never to attain one.
Well, I must take you both, you and your sword,

  FIFE.  (offering a cudgel). Pray take mine, and welcome, sir;
I’m sure I gave it to that mule of mine
To mighty little purpose.

  ROS.        Mine you have;
And may it win us some more kindliness
Than we have met with yet.

  CLO.  (examining the sword). More mystery!
How came you by this weapon?

  ROS.        From my father.

  CLO.  And do you know whence he?

  ROS.        Oh, very well:
From one of this same Polish realm of yours,
Who promised a return, should come the chance,
Of courtesies that he received himself
In Muscovy, and left this pledge of it—
Not likely yet, it seems, to be redeem’d.

  CLO.  (aside). Oh, wondrous chance—or wondrous Providence!
The sword that I myself in Muscovy,
When these white hairs were black, for keepsake left
Of obligation for a like return
To him who saved me wounded as I lay
Fighting against his country; took me home;
Tended me like a brother till recover’d,
Perchance to fight against him once again—
And now my sword put back into my hand
By his—if not his son—still, as so seeming,
By me, as first devoir of gratitude,
To seem believing, till the wearer’s self
See fit to drop the ill-dissembling mask.
(Aloud.)  Well, a strange turn of fortune has arrested
The sharp and sudden penalty that else
Had visited your rashness or mischance:
In part, your tender youth too—pardon me,
And touch not where your sword is not to answer—
Commends you to my care; not your life only,
Else by this misadventure forfeited;
But ev’n your errand, which, by happy chance,
Chimes with the very business I am on,
And calls me to the very point you aim at.

  ROS.  The capital?

  CLO.        Ay, the capital; and ev’n
That capital of capitals, the Court:
Where you may plead, and, I may promise, win
Pardon for this, you say unwilling, trespass,
And prosecute what else you have at heart,
With me to help you forward all I can;
Provided all in loyalty to those
To whom by natural allegiance
I first am bound to.

  ROS.      As you make, I take
Your offer: with like promise on my side
Of loyalty to you and those you serve,
Under like reservation for regards
Nearer and dearer still.

  CLO.        Enough, enough;
Your hand; a bargain on both sides. Meanwhile,
Here shall you rest to-night. The break of day
Shall see us both together on the way.

  ROS.  Thus then what I for misadventure blamed,
Directly draws me where my wishes aim’d.  [Exeunt.

Note 1. As this version of Calderon’s drama is not for acting, a higher and wider mountain-scene than practicable may be imagined for Rosaura’s descent in the first Act and the soldiers’ ascent in the last. The bad watch kept by the sentinels who guarded their state-prisoner, together with much else (not all!) that defies sober sense in this wild drama, I must leave Calderon to answer for; whose audience were not critical of detail and probability, so long as a good story, with strong, rapid, and picturesque action and situation, was set before them. 
Note 2. ‘Some report that they’—(panthers)—‘have one marke on the shoulders resembling the moone, growing and decreasing as she doth, sometimes showing a full compasse, and otherwise hollowed and pointed with tips like the hornes.’—Philemon Holland’s Pliny, b. viii. c. 17. 

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