Otho the Great: A Tragedy in Five Acts

Otho The Great – Act I

OTHO THE GREAT, Emperor of Germany.
LUDOLPH, his Son.
CONRAD, Duke of Franconia.
ALBERT, a Knight, favoured by Otho.
SIGIFRED, an Officer, friend of Ludolph.
THEODORE, an Officer
GONFRED, an Officer
ETHELBERT. an Abbot.
GERSA, Prince of Hungary.
An Hungarian Captain.
Nobles, Knights, Attendants, and Soldiers.
ERMINIA, Niece of Otho.
AURANTHE, Conrad’s Sister.
Ladies and Attendants.

SCENE. The Castle of Friedburg, its vicinity, and the Hungarian Camp.
TIME. One Day.


An Apartment in the Castle. Enter CONRAD.
Conrad. So, I am safe emerged from these broils!
Amid the wreck of thousands I am whole;
For every crime I have a laurel-wreath,
For every lie a lordship. Nor yet has
My ship of fortune furl’d her silken sails,
Let her glide on! This danger’d neck is saved,
By dexterous policy, from the rebel’s axe;
And of my ducal palace not one stone
Is bruised by the Hungarian petards.
Toil hard, ye slaves, and from the miser-earth
Bring forth once more my bullion, treasured deep,
With ah my jewell’d salvers, silver and gold,
And precious goblets that make rich the wine.
But why do I stand babbling to myself?
Where is Auranthe? I have news for her
Auranthe. Conrad! what tidings? Good, if I may guess
From your alert eyes and high-lifted brows.
What tidings of the battle? Albert? Ludolph? Otho?
Conrad. You guess aright. And, sister, slurring o’er
Our by-gone quarrels, I confess my heart
Is beating with a child’s anxiety,
To make our golden fortune known to you.
Auranthe. So serious?
Conrad. Yes, so serious, that before
I utter even the shadow of a hint
Concerning what will make that sin-worn cheek
Blush joyous blood through every lineament,
You must make here a solemn vow to me.
Auranthe. I prythee, Conrad, do not overact
The hypocrite what vow would you impose?
Conrad. Trust me for once, that you may be assured
‘Tis not confiding to a broken reed,
A poor Court-bankrupt, outwitted and lost,
Revolve these facts in your acutest mood,
In such a mood as now you listen to me:
A few days since, I was an open rebel
Against the Emperor, had suborn’d his son,
Drawn off his nobles to revolt, and shown
Contented fools causes for discontent
Fresh hatch’d in my ambition’s eagle nest
So thrived I as a rebel, and behold
Now I am Otho’s favourite, his dear friend,
His right hand, his brave Conrad.
Auranthe. I confess
You have intrigued with these unsteady times
To admiration; but to be a favourite
Conrad. I saw my moment. The Hungarians,
Collected silently in holes and corners,
Appeared, a sudden host, in the open day.
I should have perish’d in our empire’s wreck,
But, calling interest loyalty, swore faith
To most believing Otho; and so helped
His blood-stained ensigns to the victory
In yesterday’s hard fight, that it has turn’d
The edge of his sharp wrath to eager kindness.
Auranthe. So far yourself. But what is this to me
More than that I am glad? I gratulate you.
Conrad. Yes, sister, but it does regard you greatly,
Nearly, momentously, aye, painfully!
Make me this vow
Auranthe. Concerning whom or what?
Conrad. Albert!
Auranthe. I would inquire somewhat of him:
You had a letter from me touching him?
No treason ‘gainst his head in deed or word!
Surely you spar’d him at my earnest prayer?
Give me the letter it should not exist!
Conrad. At one pernicious charge of the enemy,
I, for a moment-whiles, was prisoner ta’en
And rifled, stuff! the horses’ hoofs have minc’d it!
Auranthe. He is alive?
Conrad. He is! but here make oath
To alienate him from your scheming brain,
Divorce him from your solitary thoughts,
And cloud him in such utter banishment,
That when his person meets again your eye,
Your vision shall quite lose its memory,
And wander past him as through vacancy.
Auranthe. I’ll not be perjured.
Conrad. No, nor great, nor mighty;
You would not wear a crown, or rule a kingdom.
To you it is indifferent.
Auranthe. What means this?
Conrad. You’ll not be perjured! Go to Albert then,
That camp-mushroom dishonour of our house.
Go, page his dusty heels upon a march,
Furbish his jingling baldric while he sleeps,
And share his mouldy ration in a siege.
Yet stay, perhaps a charm may call you back,
And make the widening circlets of your eyes
Sparkle with healthy fevers. The Emperor
Hath given consent that you should marry Ludolph!
Auranthe. Can it be, brother? For a golden crown
With a queen’s awful lips I doubly thank you!
This is to wake in Paradise ! Farewell
Thou clod of yesterday ’twas not myself!
Not till this moment did I ever feel
My spirit’s faculties! I’ll flatter you
For this, and be you ever proud of it;
Thou, Jove-like, struck’dst thy forehead,
And from the teeming marrow of thy brain
I spring complete Minerva! But the prince
His highness Ludolph where is he?
Conrad. I know not:
When, lackeying my counsel at a beck,
The rebel lords, on bended knees, received
The Emperor’s pardon, Ludolph kept aloof,
Sole, in a stiff, fool-hardy, sulky pride;
Yet, for all this, I never saw a father
In such a sickly longing for his son.
We shall soon see him, for the Emperor
He will be here this morning.
Auranthe. That I heard
Among the midnight rumours from the camp.
Conrad. You give up Albert to me?
Auranthe. Harm him not!
E’en for his highness Ludolph’s sceptry hand,
I would not Albert suffer any wrong.
Conrad. Have I not laboured, plotted ?
Auranthe. See you spare him:
Nor be pathetic, my kind benefactor,
On all the many bounties of your hand,
‘Twas for yourself you laboured not for me!
Do you not count, when I am queen, to take
Advantage of your chance discoveries
Of my poor secrets, and so hold a rod
Over my life?
Conrad. Let not this slave this villain
Be cause of feud between us. See! he comes!
Look, woman, look, your Albert is quite safe!
In haste it seems. Now shall I be in the way,
And wish’d with silent curses in my grave,
Or side by side with ‘whelmed mariners.
Albert. Fair on your graces fall this early morrow!
So it is like to do, without my prayers,
For your right noble names, like favourite tunes,
Have fallen full frequent from our Emperor’s lips,
High commented with smiles.
Auranthe. Noble Albert!
Conrad (aside). Noble!
Auranthe. Such salutation argues a glad heart
In our prosperity. We thank you, sir.
Albert. Lady! O, would to Heaven your poor servant
Could do you better service than mere words!
But I have other greeting than mine own,
From no less man than Otho, who has sent
This ring as pledge of dearest amity;
‘Tis chosen I hear from Hymen’s jewel’ry,
And you will prize it, lady, I doubt not,
Beyond all pleasures past, and all to come.
To you great duke
Conrad. To me! What of me, ha?
Albert. What pleas’d your grace to say?
Conrad. Your message, sir!
Albert. You mean not this to me?
Conrad. Sister, this way;
For there shall be no ”’gentle Alberts” now, [Aside.
No “sweet Auranthes!”
Albert (solus). The duke is out of temper; if he knows
More than a brother of a sister ought,
I should not quarrel with his peevishness.
Auranthe Heaven preserve her always fair!
Is in the heady, proud, ambitious vein;
I bicker not with her, bid her farewell!
She has taken flight from me, then let her soar,
He is a fool who stands at pining gaze!
But for poor Ludolph, he is food for sorrow:
No levelling bluster of my licens’d thoughts,
No military swagger of my mind,
Can smother from myself the wrong I’ve done him,
Without design, indeed, yet it is so,
And opiate for the conscience have I none! [Exit.


The Court-yard of the Castle.
Martial Music. Enter, from the outer gate, OTHO, Nobles, Knights, and
Attendants. The Soldiers halt at the gate, with Banners in sight.
Otho. Where is my noble herald?
Enter CONRAD, from the Castle, attended by two Knights and
Servants. ALBERT following.
Well, hast told
Auranthe our intent imperial?
Lest our rent banners, too o’ the sudden shown,
Should fright her silken casements, and dismay
Her household to our lack of entertainment.
A victory!
Conrad. God save illustrious Otho!
Otho. Aye, Conrad, it will pluck out all grey hairs;
It is the best physician for the spleen;
The courtliest inviter to a feast;
The subtlest excuser of small faults;
And a nice judge in the age and smack of wine.
Enter, from the Castle, AURANTHE, followed by Pages holding
up her robes, and a tram of Women. She kneels.
Hail my sweet hostess! I do thank the stars,
Or my good soldiers, or their ladies’ eyes,
That, after such a merry battle fought,
I can, all safe in body and in soul,
Kiss your fair hand and lady fortune’s too.
My ring! now, on my life, it doth rejoice
These lips to feel ‘t on this soft ivory!
Keep it, my brightest daughter; it may prove
The little prologue to a line of kings.
I strove against thee and my hot-blood son,
Dull blockhead that I was to be so blind,
But now my sight is clear; forgive me, lady.
Auranthe. My lord, I was a vassal to your frown,
And now your favour makes me but more humble;
In wintry winds the simple snow is safe,
But fadeth at the greeting of the sun:
Unto thine anger I might well have spoken,
Taking on me a woman’s privilege,
But this so sudden kindness makes me dumb.
Otho. What need of this? Enough, if you will be
A potent tutoress to my wayward boy,
And teach him, what it seems his nurse could not
To say, for once, I thank you. Sigifred!
Albert. He has not yet return’d, my gracious liege.
Otho. What then! No tidings of my friendly Arab?
Conrad. None, mighty Otho.
[To one of his Knights, who goes out.
Send forth instantly
An hundred horsemen from my honoured gates,
To scour the plains and search the cottages.
Cry a reward, to him who shall first bring
News of that vanished Arabian,
A full-heap’d helmet of the purest gold.
Otho. More thanks, good Conrad; for, except my son’s,
There is no face I rather would behold
Than that same quick-eyed pagan’s. By the saints,
This coming night of banquets must not light
Her dazzling torches; nor the music breathe
Smooth, without clashing cymbal, tones of peace
And in-door melodies; nor the ruddy wine
Ebb spouting to the lees; if I pledge not
In my first cup, that Arab!
Albert. Mighty Monarch,
I wonder not this stranger’s victor-deeds
So, hang upon your spirit. Twice in the fight
It was my chance to meet his olive brow,
Triumphant in the enemy’s shatter ‘d rhomb;
And, to say truth, in any Christian arm
I never saw such prowess.
Otho. Did you ever?
O, ’tis a noble boy! tut! what do I say?
I mean a triple Saladin, whose eyes,
When in the glorious scuffle they met mine,
Seem’d to say “Sleep, old man, in safety sleep;
I am the victory!”
Conrad. Pity he’s not here.
Otho. And my son too, pity he is not here.
Lady Auranthe, I would not make you blush,
But can you give a guess where Ludolph is?
Know you not of him?
Auranthe. Indeed, my liege, no secret
Otho. Nay, nay, without more words, dost know of him?
Auranthe. I would I were so over-fortunate,
Both for his sake and mine, and to make glad
A father’s ears with tidings of his son.
Otho. I see ’tis like to be a tedious day.
Were Theodore and Gonfred and the rest
Sent forth with my commands?
Albert. Aye, my lord.
Otho. And no news! No news! ‘Faith! ’tis very strange
He thus avoids us. Lady, is’t not strange?
Will he be truant to you too? It is a shame.
Conrad. Will ‘t please your highness enter, and accept
The unworthy welcome of your servant’s house?
Leaving your cares to one whose diligence
May in few hours make pleasures of them all.
Otho. Not so tedious, Conrad. No, no, no,
I must see Ludolph or the What’s that shout!
Voices without. Huzza! huzza! Long live the Emperor!
Other Voices. Fall back! Away there!
Otho. Say, what noise is that?
[ALBERT advancing from the bark of the Stage, whither he had
hastened on hearing the cheers of the soldiery.
Albert. It is young Gersa, the Hungarian prince,
Pick’d like a red stag from the fallow herd
Of prisoners. Poor prince, forlorn he steps,
Slow, and demure, and proud in his despair.
If I may judge by his so tragic bearing,
His eye not downcast, and his folded arm,
He doth this moment wish himself asleep
Among his fallen captains on yon plains.
Enter GERSA, in chains, and guarded,
Otho. Well said, Sir Albert.
Gersa. Not a word of greeting.
No welcome to a princely visitor,
Most mighty Otho? Will not my great host
Vouchsafe a syllable, before he bids
His gentlemen conduct me with all care
To some securest lodgings? cold perhaps!
Otho. What mood is this? Hath fortune touch’d thy brain?
Gersa. kings and princes of this fev’rous world,
What abject things, what mockeries must ye be,
What nerveless minions of safe palaces!
When here, a monarch, whose proud foot is used
To fallen princes’ necks, as to his stirrup,
Must needs exclaim that I am mad forsooth,
Because I cannot flatter with bent knees
My conqueror!
Otho. Gersa, I think you wrong me:
I think I have a better fame abroad.
Gersa. I prythee mock me not with gentle speech,
But, as a favour, bid me from thy presence;
Let me no longer be the wondering food
Of all these eyes; prythee command me hence!
Otho. Do not mistake me, Gersa. That you may not,
Come, fair Auranthe, try if your soft hands
Can manage those hard rivets to set free
So brave a prince and soldier.
Auranthe (sets him free). Welcome task!
Gersa. I am wound up in deep astonishment!
Thank you, fair lady. Otho! emperor!
You rob me of myself; my dignity
Is now your infant; I am a weak child.
Otho. Give me your hand, and let this kindly grasp
Live in our memories.
Gersa. In mine it will.
I blush to think of my unchasten’d tongue;
But I was haunted by the monstrous ghost
Of all our slain battalions. Sire, reflect,
And pardon you will grant, that, at this hour,
The bruised remnants of our stricken camp
Are huddling undistinguish’d my dear friends,
With common thousands, into shallow graves.
Otho. Enough, most noble Gersa. You are free
To cheer the brave remainder of your host
By your own healing presence, and that too,
Not as their leader merely, but their king;
For, as I hear, the wily enemy,
Who eas’d the crownet from your infant brows,
Bloody Taraxa, is among the dead.
Gersa. Then I retire, so generous Otho please,
Bearing with me a weight of benefits
Too heavy to be borne.
Otho. It is not so;
Still understand me, King of Hungary,
Nor judge my open purposes awry.
Though I did hold you high in my esteem
For your self’s sake, I do not personate
The stage-play emperor to entrap applause,
To set the silly sort o’ the world agape,
And make the politic smile; no, I have heard
How in the Council you condemn ‘d this war,
Urging the perfidy of broken faith,
For that I am your friend.
Gersa. If ever, sire,
You are mine enemy, I dare here swear
‘Twill not be Gersa’s fault. Otho, farewell!
Otho. Will you return, Prince, to our banqueting?
Gersa. As to my father’s board I will return.
Otho. Conrad, with all due ceremony, give
The prince a regal escort to his camp;
Albert, go thou and bear him company.
Gersa, farewell!
Gersa. All happiness attend you!
Otho. Return with what good speed you may; for soon
We must consult upon our terms of peace.
[Exeunt GERSA and ALBERT with others.
And thus a marble column do I build
To prop my empire’s dome. Conrad, in thee
I have another stedfast one, to uphold
The portals of my state; and, for my own
Pre-eminence and safety, I will strive
To keep thy strength upon its pedestal.
For, without thee, this day I might have been
A show-monster about the streets of Prague,
In chains, as just now stood that noble prince:
And then to me no mercy had been shown,
For when the conquered lion is once dungeon’d,
Who lets him forth again? or dares to give
An old lion sugar-cates of mild reprieve?
Not to thine ear alone I make confession,
But to all here, as, by experience,
I know how the great basement of all power
Is frankness, and a true tongue to the world;
And how intriguing secrecy is proof
Of fear and weakness, and a hollow state.
Conrad, I owe thee much.
Conrad. To kiss that hand,
My emperor, is ample recompense,
For a mere act of duty.
Otho. Thou art wrong;
For what can any man on earth do more?
We will make trial of your house’s welcome,
My bright Auranthe!
Conrad. How is Friedburg honoured!
Enter ETHELBERT and six Monks.
Ethelbert. The benison of heaven on your head,
Imperial Otho!
Otho. Who stays me? Speak! Quick!
Ethelbert. Pause but one moment, mighty conqueror
Upon the threshold of this house of joy.
Otho. Pray, do not prose, good Ethelbert, but speak
What is your purpose.
Ethelbert. The restoration of some captive maids,
Devoted to Heaven’s pious ministries,
Who, being driven from their religious cells,
And kept in thraldom by our enemy,
When late this province was a lawless spoil,
Still weep amid the wild Hungarian camp,
Though hemm’d around by thy victorious arms.
Otho. Demand the holy sisterhood in our name
From Gersa’s tents. Farewell, old Ethelbert.
Ethelbert. The saints will bless you for this pious care.
Otho. Daughter, your hand; Ludolph’s would fit it best.
Conrad. Ho ! let the music sound !
[Music. ETHELBERT raises his hands, as in benediction of OTHO.
Exeunt severally. The scene closes on them.


The Country, with the Castle in the distance.
Ludolph. You have my secret; let it not be breath ‘d.
Sigifred. Still give me leave to wonder that the Prince
Ludolph and the swift Arab are the same ;
Still to rejoice that ’twas a German arm
Death doing in a turban’d masquerade.
Ludolph. The Emperor must not know it, Sigifred.
Sigifred. I prythee, why? What happier hour of time
Could thy pleas’d star point down upon from heaven
With silver index, bidding thee make peace?
Ludolph. Still it must not be known, good Sigifred;
The star may point oblique.
Sigifred. If Otho knew
His son to be that unknown Mussulman
After whose spurring heels he sent me forth,
With one of his well-pleas’d Olympian oaths,
The charters of man’s greatness, at this hour
He would be watching round the castle walls,
And, like an anxious warder, strain his sight
For the first glimpse of such a son return ‘d
Ludolph, that blast of the Hungarians,
That Saracenic meteor of the fight,
That silent fury, whose fell Scymitar
Kept danger all aloof from Otho’s head,
And left him space for wonder.
Ludolph. Say no more.
Not as a swordsman would I pardon claim,
But as a son. The bronz’d centurion,
Long toil’d in foreign wars, and whose high deeds
Are shaded in a forest of tall spears,
Known only to his troop, hath greater plea
Of favour with my sire than I can have.
Sigifred. My lord, forgive me that I cannot see
How this proud temper with clear reason squares.
What made you then, with such an anxious love,
Hover around that life, whose bitter days
You vext with bad revolt? Was ‘t opium,
Or the mad-fumed wine? Nay, do not frown,
I rather would grieve with you than upbraid.
Ludolph. I do believe you. No, ’twas not to make
A father his son’s debtor, or to heal
His deep heart-sickness for a rebel child.
Twas done in memory of my boyish days,
Poor cancel for his kindness to my youth,
For all his calming of my childish griefs,
And all his smiles upon my merriment.
No, not a thousand foughten fields could sponge
Those days paternal from my memory,
Though now upon my head he heaps disgrace.
Sigifred. My Prince, you think too harshly
Ludolph. Can I so?
Hath he not gall’d my spirit to the quick?
And with a sullen rigour obstinate
Pour’d out a phial of wrath upon my faults?
Hunted me as the Tartar does the boar,
Driven me to the very edge o’ the world,
And almost put a price upon my head?
Sigifred. Remember how he spar’d the rebel lords.
Ludolph. Yes, yes, I know he hath a noble nature
That cannot trample on the fallen. But his
Is not the only proud heart in his realm.
He hath wrong’d me, and I have done him wrong;
He hath lov’d me, and I have shown him kindness;
We should be almost equal.
Sigifred. Yet, for all this,
I would you had appear ‘d among those lords,
And ta’en his favour.
Ludolph. Ha! till now I thought
My friend had held poor Ludolph’s honour dear.
What ! would you have me sue before his throne
And kiss the courtier’s missal, its silk steps?
Or hug the golden housings of his steed,
Amid a camp, whose steeled swarms I dar’d
But yesterday? And, at the trumpet sound,
Bow like some unknown mercenary’s flag,
And lick the soiled grass? No, no, my friend,
I would not, I, be pardon’d in the heap,
And bless indemnity with all that scum,
Those men I mean, who on my shoulders propped
Their weak rebellion, winning me with lies,
And pitying forsooth my many wrongs;
Poor self-deceived wretches, who must think
Each one himself a king in embryo,
Because some dozen vassals cry’d my lord!
Cowards, who never knew their little hearts,
Till flurried danger held the mirror up,
And then they own’d themselves without a blush,
Curling, like spaniels, round my father’s feet.
Such things deserted me and are forgiven,
While I, least guilty, am an outcast still,
And will be, for I love such fair disgrace.
Sigifred. I know the clear truth; so would Otho see,
For he is just and noble. Fain would I
Be pleader for you
Ludolph. He’ll hear none of it;
You know his temper, hot, proud, obstinate;
Endanger not yourself so uselessly.
I will encounter his thwart spleen myself,
To-day, at the Duke Conrad’s, where he keeps
His crowded state after the victory.
There will I be, a most unwelcome guest,
And parley with him, as a son should do,
Who doubly loathes a father’s tyranny;
Tell him how feeble is that tyranny;
How the relationship of father and son
Is no more valid than a silken leash
Where lions tug adverse, if love grow not
From interchanged love through many years.
Aye, and those turreted Franconian walls,
Like to a jealous casket, hold my pearl
My fair Auranthe! Yes, I will be there.
Sigifred. Be not so rash; wait till his wrath shall pass,
Until his royal spirit softly ebbs
Self-influenced ; then, in his morning dreams
He will forgive thee, and awake in grief
To have not thy good morrow.
Ludolph. Yes, to-day
I must be there, while her young pulses beat
Among the new-plum’d minions of the war.
Have you seen her of late? No? Auranthe,
Franconia’s fair sister, ’tis I mean.
She should be paler for my troublous days
And there it is my father’s iron lips
Have sworn divorcement ‘twixt me and my right.
Sigifred (aside). Auranthe! I had hop’d this whim had pass’d.
Ludolph. And, Sigifred, with all his love of justice,
When will he take that grandchild in his arms,
That, by my love I swear, shall soon be his?
This reconcilement is impossible,
For see but who are these?
Sigifred. They are messengers
From our great emperor; to you, I doubt not,
For couriers are abroad to seek you out.
Theodore. Seeing so many vigilant eyes explore
The province to invite your highness back
To your high dignities, we are too happy.
Gonfred. We have no eloquence to colour justly
The emperor’s anxious wishes.
Ludolph. Go. I follow you.
I play the prude : it is but venturing
Why should he be so earnest? Come, my friend,
Let us to Friedburg castle.

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