The Whore of Babylon – Act One, Scene one

Return to Prologue

EMPRESS OF BABYLON, her canopy supported by four Cardinals: two Persons in Pontifical robes on either hand, the one bearing a sword, the other the keys; before her Three Kings crowned, behind her Friars, &c.

 EMPRESS
That we, in pomp, in peace, in god-like splendour,
With adoration of all dazzled eyes,
Should breath thus long, and grow so full of days,
Be fruitful as the vine, in sons and daughters,
All emperors, kings and queens, that, like to cedars
Uprising from the breast of Lebanus,
Or olives nurs’d up by Jerusalem,
Heightened our glories, whilst we held up them;
That this vast globe terrestrial should be cantled,
And almost three parts ours, and that the nations,
Who suspiration draw out of this air,
With unusual aves, shouts and cries,
Should us acknowledge to be head supreme
To this great body, for a world of years.
Yet now, when we had made our crown complete,
And clos’d it strongly with a triple arch,
And had enrich’d it with those precious jewels
Few princes ever see, white hairs, even now
Our greatness hangs in balance, and the stamp
Of our true sovereignty clipp’d and abas’d.

FIRST KING
By whom, dread Empress?

EMPRESS
Ask these holy fathers,
Ask those our outcase sons; a throne usurped,
Our chair is counted, all our titles stol’n.

SECOND KING
What blasphemy dare speak so?

EMPRESS
All our robes,
Your vestments, reverend, yet pontifical,
This sword, these keys, that open kingdoms’ hearts
To let in sweet obedience; all but borrowed.

THIRD KING
What soul above the earth—

EMPRESS
Our royal signet,
With which, we, in a mother’s holy love,
Have sign’d so many pardons, is now counterfeit.
From our mouth flow rivers of blasphemy
And lies; our Babylonian synagogues
Are counted stews, where fornications
And all uncleanness sodomitical,
Whose leprosy touch’d us never, are now daily acted.
Our image, which, like Roman Cæsar’s, stamp’d
In gold, through the whole earth did currant pass,
Is now blanch’d copper, or but guilded brass.

THIRD KING
Can yonder roof, that’s nail’d so fast with stars,
Cover a head so impious, and not crack?
That sulphur boiling o’er celestial fires
May drop in whizzing flakes, with scalding vengeance,
On such a horrid sin!

FIRST KING
No moral bosom
Is so unsanctified.

SECOND KING
Who is’t, bright Empress,
That feeds so ulcerous and so rank a spleen?

EMPRESS
A woman.

OMNES
Woman!  Who?

EMPRESS
The Fairy Queen.
Five summers have scarce drawn their glimmering nights
Through the moon’s silver bow, since the crown’d heads
Of that adored beast, on which we ride,
Were struck and wounded, but so heal’d again,
The very scars were hid.  But now, a mortal,
An unrecoverable blow is taken
And it must bleed to death.

THIRD KING
Heaven cannot suffer it.

EMPRESS
Heaven suffers it, and sees it, and gives aim,
Whilst even our empire’s heart is cleft in sunder.
That strumpet, that enchantress, who in robes
White as is innocence, and with an eye
Able to tempt stern murder to her bed,
Calls herself Truth, has stolen fair Truth’s attire,
Her crown, her sweet songs, counterfeits her voice,
And by prestigious tricks insorcery,
Ha’s rais’d a base imposter like Truth’s father.
This subtle courtesan sets up again
Whom we but late banish’d to live in caves,
In rocks and desert mountains.

SECOND KING
Fear her not;
She’s but a shadow.

EMPRESS
Oh, ‘tis a cunning spider,
And in her nets so wraps the Fairy Queen,
That she sucks even her breast.  Sh’as writ a book
Which she calls holy spells.

THIRD KING
We’ll break those spells.

EMPRESS
The poles of heaven must first in sunder break,
For from the Fairy shores this witch hath driven
All such as are like these our soothsayers,
And call’d false seers home, that of things past,
Sing wonders and devine of things to come.
Through whose bewitching tongues run golden chains
To which ten thousand ears so fast are bound
As spirits are by spells.  That all the tones
Of harmony that Babylon can sound
Are charms to adders, and no more regarded
Than are by him that’s deaf, the sick man’s groans.
She, they, Titania, and her Fairy lords,
Yea, even her vassal elves, in public scorn
Defame me, call me Whore of Babylon.

OMNES
Oh, unheard of profanation!

EMPRESS
Give out I am common, that for lust and hire
I prostitute this body; that to kings
I quaff full bowls of strong enchanting wines
To make them dote on me.

OMNES
Let’s hear no more.

EMPRESS
And that all potentates that tread on earth,
With our abominations should be drunk
And be by us undone.

OMNES
We’ll hear no more.

THIRD KING
You have thrust furies whips into our hands.

FIRST KING
Say but the word, and we’ll turn home your wrongs,
In torn and bloody colours.

SECOND KING
All her bowers
Shall like burnt offerings purge away in fire
Her land’s pollution.

OMNES
Let’s to arms.

EMPRESS
Stay, hear me.
Her kingdom wears a girdle wrought of waves,
Set thick with precious stones that are so charm’d
No rocks are of more force; her Faries hearts
Lie in enchanted towers, impregnable,
No engine scales them.  [To the KINGS.] Therefore, go you three;
Draw all your faces sweetly; let your brows
Be sleek’d; your cheeks in dimples, give out smiles;
Your voices string with silver; woo like lovers;
Swear your have hills of pearl; show her the world,
And say she shall have all, so she will kneel
And do us reverence.  But if she grow nice,
Dissemble, flatter, stoop to lick the dust
She goes upon, and, like to serpents, creep
Upon your bellies in humility,
And beg she would but with us join a league
To wed her land to ours.  Our blessing, go.

THIRD KING
When mines are to be blown up, men dig low.

ALL THREE
And so will we.

EMPRESS
Prosper.  Till the sun set,
The beams that from us shoot seem counterfeit.

 [Exeunt.  Manent the FOUR CARDINALS and certain Priests.

FIRST CARDINAL
This physic cures not me.

SECOND CARDINAL
Nor me.

THIRD CARDINAL
Nor us.

FIRST CARDINAL
It is not strong of poison to fetch up
That’s back’d within.  My gall is overflown;
My blood grown rank and fowl.  An inflammation
Of rage and madness so burns up my liver
That even my heart-strings crack, as in a furnace,
And all my nerves into my eyeballs shrink
To shoot those bullets and my brains at once
Against her soul that has half damn’d us; falls
Fetch’d high and near to heaven light on no ground,
But in hell’s bottom take their first rebound.

SECOND CARDINAL
Such are our falls.  We once had mountain-growth
With pines and cedars.

THIRD CARDINAL
Now with none of both.

FIRST CARDINAL
I could be glad to lose the divine office
Of my creation to be turn’d into
A dog, so I might lick up but her blood
That thrusts us from our vineyards.

OTHER THREE
So could all.

FOURTH CARDINAL
Revenge were milk to us.

SECOND CARDINAL
Manna.

FIRST CARDINAL
And it shall.
But how?  We will not, as the head supreme
Over all nations counselleth, lick the dust
The Fairy treads on, nor, like serpants, creep
Upon our bellies in humility.
This were, with fencers, basely to give ground
When the first boat may speed; or to sound parley
Whilst they with get swords to cut our throats.
No, we’ll at one blow strike the heart through.

OTHER THREE
How?

SECOND CARDINAL
By poniards.

FIRST CARDINAL
No.

THIRD CARDINAL
Poison.

FIRST CARDINAL
No.

FOURTH CARDINAL
Treason.

FIRST CARDINAL
Neither.

SECOND CARDINAL
How, Reverend Como, then?

FIRST CARDINAL
Thus.  Let’s consult.  [To Priests.] Nay, you shall hear.
You know that all the springs in fairy land
Ran once to one head; from that head to us.
The mountain and the valley paid us fruit;
The field her corn; the country felt no heat
But from our fires.  Plenty still spread our boards
And charity took away.  We stepp’d not forth
But with a god-like adoration,
All knees bowed low unto us.  Why was this?
Why were our gardens Eden?  Why our bowers
Built like to those in Paradise?  I shall tell you:
It was because the Law most mystical
Was not made common, therefore was not vile.
It was because in the great prophet’s fanes
And hallowed temples we were choristers.
I was because, wife pilots, we from rocks
And gulfs infernal safely set on shore
Men’s souls at yonder haven; or, being shipwrack’d,
Strong lines forth case we, suffering none to sink
To that abyss which some hold bottomless.
But now our very graves
Cannot save dead men’s bones from shame and bruises.
The monumental marble urns of bodies,
Laid to rest long ago, unreverently
Are turned to troughs of water now for jades.
Vast charnel houses where out father’s heads
Slept on the cold hard pillows of the earth
Are emptied now and chang’d to drinking rooms
Or vaults for baser office.

SECOND CARDINAL
What’s therefore to be done?

FIRST CARDINAL
This must be done,
This should be done:  they hunted us like wolves,
Our of the Fairy forests, whipp’d us away,
As vagabonds, mock’d us, and said our fall
Could not be dangerous because we bore
Our gods upon our backs; now must we whip them
But wiselier.

OTHER THREE
How?

FIRST CARDINAL
Thus:  those that fill our rooms
Hold beacons in their eyes, blazing with fire
Of a hot-seeming zeal, to watch our entrance
And to arm all against us.  These we much quench.
They are counted wells of knowledge; poison these wells.
They are the kingdom’s music, they the organs
Unto whose sound her anthems now are sung;
Set them but out of tune, all’s out of square,
Pull down the church and none can it repair
But he that builds it.  This is the faggot band
That binds all fast.  Undo’t, unto the land.

ALL PRIESTS
Most certain.

FIRST CARDINAL
[To Priests.] You therefore, the best consort of the soul,
Shepherds, whose flocks are men, lambs, angels, you
That hold the roof of yon star chamber up
From dropping down to grind the world to dust,
You shall to Fairy Land.

ALL PRIESTS
A joyful voyage!

FIRST CARDINAL
Those that sing there the holy hymns, as yet
Have not their voices clear. The stream of ceremony
Is scarcely settled; trouble it more.  Bait hooks
To take some, some to choke.  Cast out your net
At first for all the fry.  Let us spread sails
To draw unto our shores the Fairy whales.
That Truth, whose standard-bearer Babylon,
And all we are, is not clean driven from thence
Whither we send you.  There she lives, but lives
A widow; steps not forth, dares not be seen
During her month of mourning.  Here we write you
How, and with whom to find her.  What she bids
That do; your hire’s above.

ALL PRIESTS
We know it well.

FIRST CARDINAL
And when you see those Fairy fishermen
Row in your streams, when they grow cold in working,
And weary of their own waters, that the sails,
Which stiffly bear them up, flag and hang low,
And that, like reeds, playing with a pair of winds,
They promise facile pliance, then, then shake
The trees by the root, ‘twill make the branches blow,
And drop their mellowed fruits, even at your feet.
Gather them, they are our own; then is the hour
To wean those sons of black apostasy
From her, their stepdame, and to make them take
A blessing from our reverend mother’s hands.
Be happy.  Go.

ALL PRIESTS
We shall remember you
In all our kneelings.

FIRST CARDINAL
Stay.  Ere you shift air,
Sprinkle yourselves all o’er with sacred drops,
Take periapts, pentacles and potent charms
To conjure down fowl fiends that will be razed
To vex you, tempt you, and betray your blood
About your necks hang hallowed amulets
That may conserve you from the plagues of error
Which will strike at you.

ALL PRIESTS
We obey, most holy fathers.

FIRST CARDINAL
And hear you,
If climbing up to this haught enterprise
The foot slip, and i’th’fall with death you meet—

ALL PRIESTS
O, glorious ladder!

FIRST CARDINAL
A saint’s winding sheet.
Farewell.  Mount all the engines of your wit;
When darts are sent from all parts, some must hit.   [Exeunt Priests.
There is a fellow to whom, because he dare
Not to be a slave to greatness, nor is molded
Of court dough, flattering, but, should it thunder,
To his father, doing ill, would speak ill, our Empress
Hath given this name, plain dealing.  This plain dealing
Have I shipp’d hence, and is long since arrived
Upon the Fairy strand; from him I expect
Intelligence of all occurrences;
He for his namesake shall perhaps be welcome
Into that harlot’s company, whom the Fairies
Think honest, and swear deeply, she is Truth.
That strumpet by enticement he’ll bring over.

SECOND CARDINAL
It came to me in letters, two days since,
That this plain dealing serves the Fairy Queen,
And will no more be seen in Babylon.

FIRST CARDINAL
How no more seen in Babylon, ‘tis but one lost.
If Babylon subscribe to our wisdom,
She shall lodge double dealing in his room.                                              [Exeunt.

Proceed to the next scene

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