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Albert Camus (1913 - 1960)
Caligula - Act One
Art does not tolerate reason
Albert Camus

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- Act one
- Act two
- Act three
- Act four

the myth of sysyphus
Back Again To Myself
The Blood of Freedom
- Neither victims nor executioners
- The Night of Truth

Act One

A number of senators are gathered in the imperial palace. Nervous. They’ve obviously been there for a while. Typical politicians -- they are self-interested and speak in cliches.

OCTAVIUS Still nothing.

THE OLD SENATOR Nothing last night, nothing this morning.

LUCIUS Nothing for three days.

THE OLD SENATOR Messages go out, messages come in. And always the same answer -- "Nothing."

LUCIUS We've combed the whole countryside. There's nothing more to be done.

OCTAVIUS Except wait. There's no point rushing to meet trouble halfway. Perhaps he'll return as abruptly as he left.

THE OLD SENATOR I saw him leave the palace. He had a strange look about him. OCTAVIUS So did I. In fact, I asked him if anything was wrong.

LUCIUS Did he answer?

OCTAVIUS One word -- "Nothing."

A short silence. Helicon (a liberated slave) enters. He is eating.

CASSIUS (nervously) It's all very disturbing.

OCTAVIUS Come on now! Someone his age always takes it hard.

THE OLD SENATOR True, but everything works out in the long run. For one girl dead, there’s a dozen living ones. The woods are full of trees and the trees are full of birds.

HELICON Where did you get the idea that love has anything to do with it?

OCTAVIUS What else could it be?

HELICON Indigestion, perhaps. Or pure disgust at having to see you lot every day. If you could change your looks from time to time, he might find it easier to put up with all of you. But the menu never changes -- always the same old choice between sour rhubarb and stewed prunes.

OLD SENATOR I prefer to think it all started with love.

HELICON Because that’s a sickness which spares no one, whether he be intelligent or an idiot.

OCTAVIUS Fortunately grief doesn’t last forever. Are you capable of suffering for more than a year?

LUCIUS Not me.

OCTAVIUS No one could.

CASSIUS Life would he intolerable.

OCTAVIUS I lost my wife last year and at first I was in quite a state. Even now I feel a pang of grief at times. Still, life must go on.

THE OLD SENATOR Time heals all wounds. Nature has a way of arranging things. (a senator wheezes)

HELICON (Patting him on the back) Sometimes wonder if Nature is always so perfect.

Cherea (younger than the other senators, but a respected intellectual) enters.

CHEREA Well. . . ?


HELICON (sarcastically) Be calm Cherea, be calm. Let’s keep up appearances. We, after all, are the Roman Empire.


HELICON Worrying won't mend matters - and it's lunchtime.

CHEREA Everything was going too smoothly. This emperor was just too perfect.

LUCIUS He was just what we wanted: conscientious and inexperienced enough to take our advice.

OCTAVIUS He may go right on being the emperor we’ve known. He loved Drusilla but she was his sister after all. Sleeping with her was one thing. Still, to put all Rome in a turmoil because the girl has died is going too far. Let’s hope his condition is only temporary.

CHEREA I don't like the look of it. His running away looks bad to me.

THE OLD SENATOR Yes, where there's smoke there’s fire.

OCTAVIUS The interests of the State should prevent him from letting incest take on tragic proportions. These things happen, but quietly.

HELICON Incest always makes a little noise. The bed squeaks. Still, you can’t be sure that Drusilla is the cause of all this trouble.

Scipio (younger than Caligula, one of his proteges) enters. Cherea goes toward him.

SCIPIO Still nothing. Some peasants think they saw him last night not far from Rome, but there was heavy rain. (Scipio follows Cherea back to the senators)

CHEREA Has it really been three days, Scipio?

SCIPIO Yes . . . I was there, following along with him. He went up to Drusilla's body. Stroked it with two fingers, and seemed lost in thought for a long while. Then he turned around and calmly walked out. Since then everyone’s been searching for him.

CHEREA He was too fond of bad poetry.

LUCIUS That’s typical ...

CHEREA Of his age, perhaps, but not of his rank. An emperor with artistic and intellectual inclinations is a contradiction in terms.

LUCIUS We've had one or two, of course. But there’s misfits in every family. The others had the sense to remain good bureaucrats.

OCTAVIUS Things ran efficiently.

THE OLD SENATOR Shoemaker stick to your trade.

SCIPIO What can we do, Cherea?

CHEREA Nothing.

LUCIUS We can only wait. If he doesn't come back we’ll find someone else. There’s no lack of leadership in this room.

(Helicon looks at Lucius and smirks – maybe a discreet gesture)

CHEREA Suppose he comes back with the wrong attitude?

OCTAVIUS He's still a boy; we'll make him listen to reason.

OCTAVIUS (laughing) And if not, I once wrote a treatise on the coup d’etat.

CHEREA Perhaps I'll look that up. But I'd much prefer to be left to my own books.

SCIPIO I beg your pardon ... (Goes out.)

CHEREA We must have offended him.

THE OLD SENATOR Young people always stick up for each other.

HELICON Scipio is much too easily offended -- (Scipio returns abruptly)

SCIPIO Caligula has just been seen in the gardens

All leave the room. The stage is empty for a moment. Then Caligula enters stealthily. His legs are caked with mud, his clothes dirty; his hair is wet, his look distraught. He brings his hand to his mouth several times. Then he approaches a mirror, stopping abruptly when he catches sight of his reflected self. After muttering some unintelligible words, he sits, letting his arms hang limp between his knees. Helicon enters. On seeing Caligula, he stops and contemplates him in silence. Caligula turns and sees him. A short silence.

HELICON (across the stage) Good morning, Caius.

CALIGULA (in quite an ordinary tone) Good morning, Helicon. (a short silence)

HELICON You seem tired.

CALIGULA I've walked a lot.

HELICON Yes, you were away for quite a while. (another short silence)

CALIGULA It was hard to find.

HELICON What was?

CALIGULA What I wanted.

HELICON And what did you want?

CALIGULA (in the same matter-of-fact tone) The moon.


CALIGULA I wanted the moon.

HELICON I see . . . (Another silence. Helicon approaches Caligula.) What for?

CALIGULA Well . . . it's one of the things I haven't got.

HELICON Right. And now everything is taken care of?

CALIGULA No. I couldn't get it.

HELICON Too bad.

CALIGULA Yes, that's why I'm tired. (Pauses. Then) You probably think I'm insane …

HELICON You know I never think. I’m much too intelligent for that.

CALIGULA ... But I'm not insane. In fact I've never been so lucid. It’s just that I suddenly felt a desire for the impossible. (Pauses.) Things as they are don’t strike me as satisfactory.

HELICON That’s a widespread opinion.

CALIGULA I suppose it is. But I didn't know it before. Now I know. (Still in the same matter-of-fact tone.) The world as it is is unbearable. That's why I need the moon, or happiness, or immortality, or something that may sound insane, but would help correct this world.

HELICON That sounds fine. But no one could ever act on it.

CALIGULA (rising to his feet, but still with perfect calmness) You know nothing about it. It's because no one dares to be logical and carry it through to its conclusion that nothing is ever achieved. (He studies Helicon's face.) I can see what you're thinking. What a fuss over the death of a woman! No, that's not it. I do recall that a few days ago a woman I loved died. But love is a side issue. Her death is no more than the symbol of a truth that makes the moon necessary to me. A childishly simple and obvious truth, a little stupid even, but hard to discover and harder to bear.

HELICON And what is this truth you've discovered, Caius?

CALIGULA (his eyes averted, in a toneless voice) People die. And they are not happy.

HELICON (after a short pause) That's a truth we manage to live with Caligula. It doesn't prevent most Romans from enjoying their lunch.

CALIGULA (suddenly throws Helicon down violently) That's because everyone around me is living a lie, and I want people to live with the truth. Remember, Helicon, I have the means of forcing them to live with the truth. They are deprived of knowledge and need a teacher who knows what he's talking about.

HELICON Don't take offense, Caius ... but shouldn’t you have some rest. Everything else can wait.

CALIGULA (Sitting down. His voice is gentle again.) I can't rest, Helicon.

HELICON Why not?

CALIGULA If I sleep, who will give me the moon?

HELICON (after a short silence) That's true.

CALIGULA (hearing voices he rises again with an effort) Don't say a word Helicon and forget you've seen me.

HELICON I understand.

CALICULA (looking back, as he moves toward the door) And, could you help me from now on.

HELICON I've no reason not to do so, Caius. But I know very few things, and few things interest me. In what way can I help you?

CALIGULA In achieving the impossible.

Caligula goes out. Scipio and Caesonia (Caligula’s beautiful courtesan) enter.

SCIPIO Have you seen him, Helicon?


CAESONIA Tell me, Helicon. Are you sure he didn't confide anything to you before he went away?

HELICON I don’t share his secrets. I'm merely his public. But, if you'll excuse me, I'm late for lunch. (Exit Helicon.)

CAESONIA (sits wearily) One of the guards saw him go by. But all Rome sees Caligula everywhere, while Caligula sees nothing but his own idea.

SCIPIO What idea?

CAESONIA How can I tell, Scipio?

SCIPIO Drusilla?

CAESONIA Perhaps. He did love her. And it's a cruel thing to see someone die today when you held her in your arms only yesterday.

SCIPIO (timidly) And you . . . ?

CAESONIA Oh, I'm the trusted mistress. That's my role.

SCIPIO Caesonia, we have to help him.

CAESONIA You love him too?

SCIPIO I don't know what it is. He encourages me with words that would sound ridiculous coming out of anyone else's mouth. "Life isn't easy, Scipio, but art or the love one inspires in others is all the consolation we need." He once told me that making others suffer was the only human crime. Ironic, isn't it? An emperor trying to be a just man.

CAESONIA (rising) He's just a child. (She goes to the mirror and scans herself.) My body is the only god I've ever known, and now I pray to this god of mine that Caius may be brought back to me.

Caligula enters. On seeing Caesonia and Scipio he hesitates, and takes a backward step. At the same moment several men enter from the opposite side of the room: senators and the Intendant of the palace. They stop short when they see Caligula. Caesonia turns. She and Scipio hurry toward Caligula, who checks them with a gesture.

INTENDANT (in a rather quavering voice) We . . . we've been looking for

you, Caesar, everywhere.

CALIGULA (in a changed, harsh tone) So I see.

INTENDANT We . . . I mean

CALIGULA (roughly) What do you want?

INTENDANT We were worried, Caesar.

CALIGULA (going toward him) Why were you worried?

INTENDANT Well . . er . . . (He has an inspiration.) Well, it's the Treasury Board -- as you know, there are points that must be settled in connection with the new budget.

CALIGULA (bursting into laughter) Ah, yes. The Treasury. That's right. The Treasury's of prime importance.


CALIGULA (still laughing, to Caesonia) Don't you agree, my dear?

CAESONIA No, Caligula. The budget is just a means to an end.

CALIGULA That just shows your ignorance! Of course, I do believe in equality! (To the bewildered intendant) Surely your attacks of arthritis are no less significant than the grandeur of Rome. (Not letting anyone get in a word edgeways) Still, I'm extremely interested in fiscal integrity ... . Yes, that's something I can apply my mind to right away. And, to begin with . . . Now listen well, Intendant.

INTENDANT We are listening, sir.

The senators come forward.

CALIGULA You're our loyal subjects, are you not?

INTENDANT (in a reproachful tone) Oh, Caesar.

CALIGULA Well, I’ve just devised a strategic plan. We're going to reform our whole economic system. In two moves. Drastic and abrupt. I’ll have to explain ... in private. (All patricians but the intendant leave. Caligula collects himself and then assumes a statesman-like pose with his arm around Caesonia’s waist. Then, full of efficient energy) First phase: Every senator. Everyone in the Empire who has any capital, small or large it's all the same thing, is ordered to disinherit his children and make a new will leaving his money to the State.


CALIGULA I'm not finished! Second phase: As the need arises, we shall announce the death of those individuals, following the order of a list drawn up arbitrarily. On occasion we may modify that order. Again, arbitrarily. (an insight) By lottery perhaps. And the Treasury shall inherit their money.

CAESONIA (freeing herself) What's come over you?

CALIGULA (imperturbably Of course the order of the executions is not of the slightest importance. (precisely) Or, rather, all these executions have an equal importance; from which it follows that none has any importance. Indeed, if you think about it, it is no more immoral to rob citizens directly, than to slip indirect taxes into the prices of the commodities they cannot do without. Governing amounts to robbing, as everyone knows. But there are different ways of going about it. As for me, I shall rob openly. That will be a change from you penny pinching politicians. (harshly to the Intendant, who has been trying to speak) This new economic policy will be proclaimed immediately and you are to ensure it's carried out. The wills are to be signed by residents in the capital this evening; within a month at the latest by persons in the provinces. Now, you don’t have time to waste.

INTENDANT Caesar, you don’t seem to realize . . .

CALIGULA Listen carefully, idiot. If a balanced budget has paramount importance, human life has none. That is self-evident. You of all people should admit the logic of my plan. Since money is the only thing that counts, you must cease to set any value on your life. I have resolved to be logical, and inasmuch as I have the power, you will see what logic will cost you! I shall eliminate contradictions and contradictors. If necessary, I'll begin with you.

INTENDANT Caesar, my good will can be relied on, that I swear.

CALIGULA And I can guarantee mine too. Just see how ready I am to adopt your point of view, and consider the Treasury as an object of capital importance. You should be grateful to me for playing your game and with your own cards. (He pauses, before continuing in a flat, unemotional tone.) In any case, there is a touch of genius -- or should I say, common-sense -- in the simplicity of my plan, which clinches the matter. I give you three seconds in which to make yourself invisible. One...


CALIGULA Two ... (the Indendant hurries out.)

CAESONIA Is this really you, Caligula? Was that supposed to be some kind of a joke?

CALIGULA Not exactly, Caesonia. Let's say it was a seminar in public administration.

SCIPIO But this isn’t possible Caligula.

CALIGULA That's the point!

SCIPIO What do you mean?

CALIGULA I mean, I’m concerned with the impossible, or rather with making possible the impossible.

SCIPIO That’s nothing more than the pastime of a lunatic.

CALIGULA No, Scipio. It’s the vocation of an emperor. (He lets himself sit down, wearily) I've finally understood the uses of power. It gives the impossible a chance. From now on my freedom will not be limited by convention.

CAESONIA (sadly) I doubt if this discovery of yours will make us any happier.

CALIGULA Perhaps not. But it might make us more profound. (Cherea enters.)

CHEREA I've just heard of your return. I trust your health is all it should be. CALIGULA My health thanks you. (A pause. Then, abruptly) Now, go away Cherea. I don't want to see you.

CHEREA I'm bewildered Caius.

CALIGULA Don't be. I don't like intellectuals. They talk in order not to hear themselves. If they listened to themselves, they would know that they are nothing and then they couldn't talk. Therefore, I'm dismissing you. I hate liars.

CHEREA If we lie, it's often without knowing it. I plead not guilty.

CALIGULA Lying is always guilty. And your kind of deception is unforgiveable. It gives people a pumped-up sense of importance.

CHEREA Since this world is the only one we have, why not plead its cause?

CALIGULA No plea is necessary. The verdict's given: humanity has no special place in this world and whoever realizes that wins his freedom. (rising) You are not free. I alone am free. Rejoice, for you finally have an emperor to teach you freedom. Go away, Cherea, and you, too, Scipio. Go and spread the good news to all Romans.

They go out. Caligula has turned away, hiding his eyes.

CAESONIA You're crying. But what's really changed in your life? You may have loved Drusilla, but you loved others, myself included, at the same time. Surely that wasn't enough to set you roaming the countryside for three days and nights and bring you back with this . . . this cruel look on your face?

CALIGULA (turning round to her) Why drag Drusilla into this? Can’t you imagine a person shedding for anything other than love?

CAESONIA I'm sorry, Caius. I was only trying to understand.

CALIGULA Men cry because the world's all wrong. (She starts to embrace him.) No, Caesonia. (She draws back.) But stay beside me.

CAESONIA Whatever you want. (Sits down.) I'm no baby. I know that life's sometimes a sad business. But why deliberately set out to make it worse?

CALIGULA You can't understand. But that doesn’t matter. Perhaps I'll find a way out. Only I feel the stirrings of nameless creatures within me, forcing their way up into the light - and I'm helpless against them. (He moves closer to her, but doesn’t see her) I knew people felt anguish, but I didn't know what the word meant. Like everyone else I imagined it was the soul that suffered. But it's my body that's in pain. Everywhere. In my chest, in my legs and arms. Even my skin is raw, my head is buzzing, I feel like vomiting. But worst of all is this grotesque taste in my mouth. Not blood, nor death, nor fever, but a mixture of all three. All I have to do is to stir my tongue for everything to become black and for human beings to revolt me.

CAESONIA What you need is a good, long sleep. And stop thinking. Our thoughts run crazy when we’re exhausted. I'll lie with you. When you wake, you'll find the world's got back its flavor. Then you must use your power for loving better what there is still to love. For the possible, too, deserves to be given a chance.

CALIGULA What use is my power, Caesonia, if I can't have the sun set in the east, if I can't eliminate suffering and keep human beings from dying? If I can’t change the order of the world, it doesn’t matter whether I sleep or stay awake.

CAESONIA (sharply, impatiently) But that's insanity. It's wanting to be a god on earth, and no matter how those flabby politicians represent you to the masses that’s impossible.

CALIGULA So I'm mad to want a kingdom where the impossible rules?

CAESONIA (pressing, almost cutting him off) You can't prevent the sky from being the sky, or a fresh young face from aging, or a man's heart from growing cold.

CALIGULA (with rising excitement) I want . . . I want to drown the sky in the sea, to see the beauty in ugliness, to wring a laugh from pain.

CAESONIA (facing him with an imploring gesture) There's good and evil, high and low, justice and injustice. I can assure you that will never change.

CALIGULA (in the same tone) It's my will to change that. I shall give this age the gift of equality. And when everything is leveled out, when the impossible has come to earth and the moon is in my hands -- then, perhaps, the world will be truly transformed, then perhaps there will be no more death and men will be happy.

CAESONIA (with a cry) And what about love? You'll level that out too?

CALIGULA Living, Caesonia, is the opposite of loving! (He grips her shoulders and shakes her.) I've learned the truth about life -- and now I invite you to the most gorgeous of shows, a sight for gods to gloat on, a whole world put on trial. But for that I must have a crowd -- spectators, victims, criminals, hundreds and thousands of them. (He rushes to the gong and hammers it once) Let the accused come forward. I want my criminals, and they all are criminals. (Strikes the gong again) Bring in the condemned men. I must have my public. Judges, witnesses, accused -- all sentenced to death without a hearing. Yes, Caesonia, I'll show them something they have never seen before, the one free man in the Roman Empire. (To the clangor of the gong the palace has been gradually filling with approaching people. Caligula poses with Caesonia on the floor beneath him) And you, Caesonia, shall obey me. You must stand by me to the end. It will be marvelous, you'll see. Swear to stand by me, Caesonia.

CAESONIA I needn't swear. You know I love you.

CALIGULA You'll do everything I tell you.

CAESONIA Everything, anything Caligula -- but please, stop.

CALIGULA You will be cruel.

CAESONIA (sobbing) Cruel.

CALIGULA Cold and ruthless.

CAESONIA Ruthless.

CALIGULA And you will suffer, too.

CAESONIA Yes, yes ... no, please, . . . I'm going as mad you! (Some senators enter, followed by members of the palace staff. All look bewildered and perturbed. Caligula bangs the gong for the last time, raises his mallet, swings round and summons them in a shrill, half-crazy voice.)

CALIGULA Come here. All of you. Nearer. Nearer still. (He is quivering with impatience.) Your Emperor commands you to come nearer. (They come forward, pale with terror.) Quickly. And you, Caesonia, come beside me. (He takes her hand, leads her to the mirror, and with a sudden wild sweep of his mallet smashes the mirror. Everyone recoils. The whole set is covered with reflected images of the cracked mirror. Caligula laughs) All gone. You see, my dear? An end of memories; no more masks. Nothing, nobody left. Nobody? No, that's not true. Look, Caesonia. Come here, all of you, and look. (He plants himself in front of the mirror and takes the pose of a crazy man.)

CAESONIA (staring, horrified, at the mirror) Caligula!

 CALIGULA (His gaze steadies abruptly and then turns slowly to the crowd/audience. They are as shocked as Caesonia. When he speaks his voice has a new, proud ardor.)

CALIGULA Yes . . . Caligula.

Ce qu'on fait n'est jamais compris mais seulement loué ou blâmé. Nietzsche, Gay Science

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