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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

The Rivals

By Jean Racine (1639–1699)

From ‘Bajazet’: Translation of Robert Bruce Boswell

Scene: The private apartments of Bajazet at Byzantium.Present: Roxana, Bajazet, Atalide, Zara.

ROXANA—Come, Bajazet, ’tis time to show yourself,

That all the court may recognize its master:

All that these walls contain, many in number,

Gathered by my command, await my wishes.

My slaves (the rest will follow where they lead)

Are the first subjects that my love allots you.

[To Atalide]—This sudden change from wrath to milder mood

May well surprise you, madam. For, but now,

Determined to take vengeance on a traitor,

I swore he should not see another day;

Yet almost ere he spoke my heart relented:

’Twas love imposed that oath, and love revokes it.

Reading deep passion in his wild distraction,

His pardon I pronounced, and trust his promise.

Bajazet—Yes, I have promised, and my word is pledged

Ne’er to forget all that to you I owe:

Have I not sworn that constant care and kindness

Shall duly pay my debt of gratitude?

If on these terms your favor I may claim,

I go to wait the harvest of your bounty.[Exit.]

Roxana—Heavens! What amazement strikes me at this moment!

Is it a dream? and have mine eyes deceived me?

What mean these frigid words, this sombre greeting,

Which seems to cancel all that passed between us?

What hope does he imagine mine, for which

I banished my resentment, and restored him

To favor? He, methought, swore that his heart

Would own me mistress to his dying day.

Does he repent already of the peace

That we had signed? Was I just now deluded?

But was he not conversing with you, madam?

What did he say?
Atalide—To me? He loves you always.

Roxana—His life at least depends on my belief

That it is so. But tell me, pray, when joy

Should triumph, how can you explain the gloom

That settled on his features as he left me?

Atalide—Madam, I saw no cloud upon his brow.

Oft has he told me of your gracious kindness,

And he just now was full of it; at parting

He seemed to me the same as when he entered.

But be that as it may, need it surprise you

That on the eve of such important issues

He should be troubled, and some signs escape him

Of anxious thoughts that on his mind intrude?

Roxana—Such plausible excuses do you credit

For skill that pleads on his behalf more fairly

Than he could do himself.
Atalide—What other cause—

Roxana—Enough! I read your motive, madam, better

Than you suppose. Leave me, for I would be

Alone a little while. I too am troubled,

And anxious cares are mine as well as his,

To which I owe a moment’s thought in secret….

Roxana—How must I construe all that I have seen?

Are they in league together to deceive me?

Wherefore this change, those words, that quick departure?

Did I not catch a glance that passed between them?

Were they not both struck with embarrassment?

Ah! why has Heaven doomed me to this affront?

Is this the fruit of all my blind affection?

So many painful days and sleepless nights,

Plots and intrigues, treason too deep for pardon!

And shall they all turn to a rival’s profit?

But yet, too ready to torment myself,

I may too closely scan a passing cloud.

And take for passion what is mere caprice.

Surely he would have carried to the end

His wiles; and in full prospect of success,

He could have feigned at least a moment longer.

Love, uncontrolled by reason, quakes at shadows:

Let me take courage. Why should Atalide

Be dreaded as my rival? What has he

To thank her for? To which of us to-day

Owes he the sceptre?
But too well I know

Love is a tyrant; and if other charms

Attract, what matter crowns, or life itself?

Can benefits outweigh the heart’s attachment?

I need but search mine own. Did gratitude

Constrain me to his brother, when this wretch

Bewitched me? Ah! if other tie were absent,

Would the idea of marriage so alarm him?

He gladly wosuld have seconded my wishes,

And not have braved destruction by refusal.

Just cause—
But some one comes to speak with me.

What can she want?

Enter Fatima
Fatima—Forgive me this intrusion:

But there is come a courier from the army;

And though the seaward gate was shut, the guards,

On bended knees, without delay unlocked it

To orders from the Sultan, to yourself

Addressed,—and strange to say, ’tis Orcan brings them.

Fatima—Yes, he; of all the Sultan’s slaves

The one most trusted for his faithful service,

Blackest of those whom Afric’s sun has scorched.

Madam, he asks impatiently for you:

I thought it best to give you timely notice,

And lest you should be taken by surprise,

I have detained him in your own apartments.

Roxana—What new disaster comes to overwhelm me?

What can his bidding be? What my reply?

Doubtless the Sultan, in his mind perturbed,

Has Bajazet condemned a second time.

Without my sanction none will dare to take

His life; for all obey me here. But ought I

To shield him? Bajazet or Amurath—

Which claims allegiance? One have I betrayed;

The other may be false to me. Time presses;

I must resolve this fatal doubt, nor let

The precious moments pass. Love, when most cautious,

Cannot conceal its secret inclination.

I will watch Bajazet and Atalide:

Then crown the lover, or destroy the traitor.