Act 5, Scene II

Scene: Rome. An Apartment in the Palace.

Enter MAXIMINIAN and AURELIA.

Aurelia
Why droops my lord, my love, my life, my Cæsar?
How ill this dulness doth comport with greatness!
Does not, with open arms, your fortune court you?
Rome know you for her master? I myself
Confess you for my husband? love and serve you?
If you contemn not these, and think them curses,
I know no blessings that ambitious flesh
Could wish to feel beyond 'em.
Maximinian.
Best Aurelia,
The parent and the nurse to all my glories,
'Tis not that, thus embracing you, I think
There is a heaven beyond it, that begets
These sad retirements; but the fear to lose
What it is hell to part with. Better to have lived
Poor and obscure, and never scaled the top
Of hilly empire, than to die with fear
To be thrown headlong down, almost as soon
As we have reach'd it!
Aurelia.
These are panic terrors
You fashion to yourself. Is not my brother
(Your equal and co-partner in the empire)
Vow'd and confirm'd your friend? the soldier constant?
Hath not your uncle Dioclesian taken
His last farewell o' th' world? What then can shake you?
Maximinian.
The thought I may be shaken, and assurance
That what we do possess is not our own,
But has depending on another's favour:
For nothing's more uncertain, my Aurelia,
Than power that stands not on his proper basis,
But borrows his foundation. I'll make plain
My cause of doubts and fears; for what should I
Conceal from you, that are to be familiar
With my most private thoughts? Is not the empire
My uncle's gift? and may he not resume it
Upon the least distaste? Does not Charinus
Cross me in my designs? and what is majesty
When 'tis divided? Does not the insolent soldier
Call my command his donative? and what can take
More from our honour? No, my wise Aurelia,
If I to you am more than all the world,
As sure you are to me; as we desire
To be secure, we must be absolute,
And know no equal; when your brother borrows
The little splendour that he has from us,
And we are served for fear, not at entreaty,
We may live safe; but till then, we but walk
With heavy burthens on a sea of glass,
And our own weight will sink us.
Aurelia.
Your mother brought you
Into the world an emperor; you persuade
But what I would have counselled. Nearness of blood,
Respect of piety, and thankfulness,
And all the holy dreams of virtuous fools,
Must vanish into nothing, when Ambition
(The maker of great minds, and nurse of honour)
Puts in for empire. On then, and forget
Your simple uncle; think he was the master
(In being once an emperor) of a jewel,
Whose worth and use he knew not. For Charinus,
(No more my brother) if he be a stop
To what you purpose, he to me's a stranger,
And so to be removed.
Maximinian.
Thou more than woman!
Thou masculine greatness, to whose soaring spirit
To touch the stars seems but an easy flight,
Oh, how I glory in thee! Those great women
Antiquity is proud of, thou but named,
Shall be no more remembered. But perséver,
And thou shalt shine among those lesser lights,
To all posterity, like another Phoebe,
And so adored as she is.

Enter CHARINUS, NIGER, and Guard.

Aurelia.
Here's Charinus,
His brow furrow'd with anger.
Maximinian.
Let him storm!
And you shalt hear me thunder.
Charinus
He dispose of
My provinces at his pleasure? and confer
Those honours, that are only mine to give,
Upon his creatures?
Niger.  
Mighty sir, ascribe it
To his assurance of your love and favour,
And not to pride or malice.
Charinus
No, good Niger,
Courtesy shall not fool me; he shall know
I lent a hand to raise him, and defend him.
While he continues good; but the same strength,
If pride make him usurp upon my right,
Shall strike him to the centre.—You art well met, sir.
Maximinian.
As you make the encounter. Sir, I hear
That you repine, and hold yourself much grieved,
In that, without your good leave, I bestow'd
The Gallian proconsulship upon
A follower of mine.
Charinus.
'Tis true; and wonder
You durst attempt it.
Maximinian.
Durst, Charinus?
Charinus.
Durst;
Again I speak it. Think you me so tame,
So leaden and unactive, to sit down
With such dishonour? But, recall your grant,
And speedily; or, by the Roman gods,
Thou tripp'st thine own heels up, and hast no part
In Rome, or in the empire.
Maximinian.
Thou hast none,
But by permission. Alas, poor Charinus,
Thou shadow of an emperor, I scorn thee,
Thee, and thy foolish threats! The gods appoint him
The absolute disposer of the earth,
That has the sharpest sword: I am sure, Charinus,
Thou wear'st one without edge. When cruel Aper
Had kill'd Numerianus, thy brother,
(An act that would have made a trembling coward
More daring than Alcides) thy base fear
Made thee wink at it; then rose up my uncle,
For the honour of the empire, and of Rome,
Against the traitor, and, among his guards,
Punish'd the treason. This bold daring act
Got him the soldiers' suffrages to be Cæsar.
And howsoever his too-gentle nature
Allow'd thee the name only, as his gift,
I challenge the succession.
Charinus.
Thou art cozen'd.
When the receiver of a courtesy
Cannot sustain the weight it carries with it,
'Tis but a trial, not a present act.
Thou hast in a few days of thy short reign,
In overweening pride, riot, and lusts,
Shamed noble Dioclesian, and his gift
Nor doubt I, when it shall arrive unto
His certain knowledge, how the empire groans
Under thy tyranny, but he will forsake
His private life, and once again resume
His laid-by majesty; or, at least, make choice
Of such an Atlas as may bear this burden,
Too heavy for thy shoulders.—To effect this,
Lend your assistance, gentlemen; and then doubt not
But that this mushroom, sprung up in a night,
Shall as soon wither.—And for you, Aurelia,
If you esteem your honour more than tribute
Paid to your loathsome appetite, as a fury
Fly from his loose embraces. So, farewell!
Ere long you shall hear more.
[Exeunt.
Aurelia.
Are you struck dumb,
That you make no reply?
Maximinian.
Sweet, I will do,
And after talk: I will prevent their plots,
And turn them on their own accursed heads.
My uncle? good! I must not know the names
Of piety or pity. Steel my heart,
Desire of empire, and instruct me, that
The prince that over others would bear sway,
Checks at no let that stops him in his way!
[Exeunt.