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Existentialism
Albert Camus (1913 - 1960)
Caligula - Act 3
Art does not tolerate reason
Albert Camus

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

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


Act Three

A room in the imperial palace. Before the lights come up, music and noise can be heard, and when they come up we see a small stage on the stage. On it are Caesonia and Helicon. Seated with their backs to the audience are the senators and young Scipio. Helicon and Caesonia run the show like a combination of fairground, Nazi rally, evangelical meeting and pagan ceremony.

HELICON Step up! Step up! One and all! Step up! Once more a god walks the earth in the human form of our emperor known as Caligula. Rise up, you mortals of common clay and witness a holy miracle with your own eyes. Through a favor reserved for the blessed reign of Caligula, divine secrets will be revealed to all. (Cymbals.)

CAESONIA Come, gentlemen. Come and adore him -- and don't forget your charitable donations. Today heaven and its mysteries are on show, at a price to suit every bank account. (cymbals)

HELICON See Olympus naked! The whole intimate truth. Revelations in high places! (Cymbals.)

CAESONIA Worship him! Throw your money to him. Quick, quick, gentlemen. The show is about to begin. (Cymbals.)

HELICON A sensational reincarnation of truth. An epoch-making production with breathtaking effects (light effects) and music to lift the soul. (music) See fate with your own eyes (over the music) -- a triumph of the will!

Caesonia and Helicon pose. Costumed religious worshippers appear and dance to the music -- around Caesonia and Helicon, and occasionally abusing the worshipping patricians. The music stops suddenly and two dancers draw aside a curtain to reveal Caligula. He is beaming through a female mask, blonde curls and golden breast cones.

CALIGULA (amiably) I'm Venus today.

CAESONIA Now for the adoration. Bow down. (All but Scipio bend their heads.) And repeat after me the litany of Venus-Caligula.

"Our Lady of pain and pleasure

THE SENATORS "Our Lady of pains and pleasures

CAESONIA "Born of the waves, bitter and bright with seafoam

THE SENATORS "Born of the waves, bitter and bright with seafoam

CAESONIA "Oh Queen, whose gifts are laughter and regrets

THE SENATORS "Oh Queen, whose gifts are laughter and regrets

CAESONIA "Teach us the indifference that revives love

THE SENATORS "Teach us the indifference that revives love

CAESONIA "Make known to us the truth about this world -- which is that it has none

THE SENATORS "Make known to us the truth about this world -- which is that it has none

CAESONIA "And grant us strength to live up to that unparalled truth

THE SENATORS "And grant us strength to live up to that unparalled truth

CAESONIA Pause!

THE SENATORS Pause!

CAESONIA (after a short silence Caesonia begins again but she goes faster as if in a trance, and the senators can’t keep up -- they are only able to repeat the last phrases) "Shower us with thy gifts, bestow on us thine impartial cruelty. Rain upon our heads thy harvests of flowers and murders

THE SENATORS "... thy harvests of flowers and murders

CAESONIA "Receive unto thee thy straying children. Receive them in the bleak sanctuary of your heartless love. Share with us thy misguided bliss, thy futile sorrows and your raptures that lead nowhere

THE SENATORS ". . . your raptures that lead nowhere

CAESONIA (raising her voice, but slowing down) "O goddess, so empty yet so passionate, inhuman yet so earthly, make us drunk with the wine of thine equivalence, and satisfy us forever in thy Hard! (cymbals) Black! (drum) Heart! (drum and cymbals. Caesonia accents the last with a bump and grind)

CALIGULA (He rings tiny finger cymbals. In a Gregorian-like chant) Granted, my children, your prayers will be fulfilled. (He rings the cymbals again and several dancers supervised by Helicon hold out collection pots. One by one the SENATORS make obeisance, deposit their money and line up on the right. The last, in his flurry, forgets to make an offering. Caligula bounds to his feet.) Hey! Come here, my darling. Worship's very well, but charity is better. Thank you. That’s it. If the gods had no other income than the love you mortals give them, they'd be as poor as poor Caligula. Now, gentlemen, you may go, and spread abroad the glad tidings of the miracle you've been allowed to witness. You have really seen Venus with your fleshly eyes, and Venus herself has spoken to you. Go, most favored gentlemen. (The SENATORS begin to move away.) As you leave, make sure you exit to your left. Outside the door to your right I have posted guards to assassinate you.

The SENATORS file out hastily, in some disorder. The slaves and musicians leave the stage. Scipio picks up one of the collection pots and angrily tosses it to Helicon

HELICON (pointing a threatening finger at Scipio) Scipio, you're still the little anarchist!

SCIPIO (to Caligula, who is moving from up centre) Playing at blasphemy, now, Caius.

CALIGULA Blasphemy? What could that possibly mean?

SCIPIO After bloodying the earth you start spitting on heaven.

HELICON There’s a touch of bombast in this youngster. (He sits leisurely.)

CAESONIA (Calming. Sitting) Careful, Scipio. People are dying in Rome for much less.

SCIPIO Somebody should tell him the truth.

CAESONIA Well, Caligula. Here’s the one thing missing in your Empire -- a bold young moralist. (Get's more comfortable)

CALIGULA (Stops and giving Scipio a curious glance) Do you really believe in any god, Scipio?

SCIPIO No.

CALIGULA Then why be so eager to sniff out blasphemy?

SCIPIO I can deny something without smearing it or depriving others of the right to believe in it.

CALIGULA (Close to him) Very tolerant my dear Scipio, how happy I am for you -- and even a touch envious. Such modesty is the one emotion I may never feel.

SCIPIO You're jealous of the gods not me.

CALIGULA (Removes mask and breast cones and takes a slouching stand next to Caesonia) With your permission, I'd like that to be the great secret of my reign. For someone who loves power there is something irritating about the rivalry of the gods, and that's why I've done away with them. I've proved to these imaginary gods that, without previous training, a mere human, if he applies himself, can practice their ridiculous profession.

SCIPIO That’s what I meant by blasphemy, Caius.

CALIGULA No, no Scipio, it's clarity. We can become the equal of a god by becoming as cruel as he is.

SCIPIO By playing the tyrant.

CALIGULA And what exactly is a tyrant?

SCIPIO A blind soul. (sits)

CALIGULA I'm not sure. A real tyrant is a person who sacrifices an institution or a whole nation to ambition or some ideal. I have no ideals, and there's no honors or powers left for me to drool over. (Scipio sits and Caligula comes over and sits next to him) Do you know how many wars I've refused to embark on? (bending over his feet and scrutinizing his toes)

SCIPIO No.

CALIGULA Three. And do you know why I refused?

SCIPIO Because the reputation of Rome means nothing to you.

CALIGULA No. Because I respect human life.

SCIPIO More jokes Caius.

CALIGULA Or at least I respect it more than I respect military ideals. But it's also true that I don't respect it more than I respect my own life, and if I find killing easy, it's because dying isn't hard for me. No, the more I think about it, the surer I feel that I'm not a tyrant.

SCIPIO (with a shrug) What does it matter, since it costs Rome as much as if you were one?

CALIGULA (with a hint of petulance) If you knew how to count you'd realize that the smallest war undertaken by a reasonable tyrant would cost a thousand times more than all my eccentricities do.

SCIPIO A war has some sense behind it and to be understandable makes up for a lot.

CALIGULA Fate can never be understood. That’s why I’ve become fate. Taken on the stupid and incomprehensible face of divinity. That’s what those Senators were adoring a moment ago.

SCIPIO Blasphemy, vanity -- call it what you want Caius.

CALIGULA (Rising and crossing toward Caesonia) It's art, Scipio! You people make the mistake of not taking the drama seriously enough. If you did, you’d know that any one can play lead in the divine comedy and become a god. ( He does a mock dance. Caesonia and Helicon applaud. He embraces Caesonia, both laughing.) He just needs to harden his heart.

SCIPIO (Gets up and claps sarcastically) You have done that successfully, Caius, but god-like qualities are contagious. Some day a legion of human gods just as ruthless as you will rise up and bathe your momentary divinity in blood.

CAESONIA So much for your idealism, Scipio!

CALIGULA (peremptorily) Never mind Caesonia. You are absolutely right, Scipio. I find it hard to picture the event you speak of. But sometimes I dream of it -- all those faces coming at me, convulsed with fear and hatred. And I welcome them. For I see in them the only god I have ever adored -- rebellious humanity. (Irritably) Now leave me. Philosophy’s a waste of time. (Scipio rises and exits) I still have my toenails to paint. (Caesonia puts paint pots and brushes next to him and then Caligula brushes her off -- she exits) Helicon!

HELICON Yes?

CALIGULA Are you getting on with your work?

HELICON What work?

CALIGULA The moon.

HELICON I'm making progress. It takes time and patience. But I'd like to have a word with you.

CALIGULA I might have patience, but I haven’t much time. So you’ll have to hurry.

HELICON I said I'd do my best. But, first, I have something to tell you.

CALIGULA (as if he has not heard) Mind you, I've had her already

HELICON Whom?

CALIGULA The moon.

HELICON Yes .... yes, of course. But do you know there's a plot on your life?

CALIGULA I really had her, too. Only two or three times, to be sure. But, oh, I did have her.

HELICON I've been trying to tell you about it, only --

CALIGULA It was last summer. With all my gaping at her and caressing her on the columns in the garden she had eventually caught on.

HELICON Forget the trivialities, Caius. You have to hear this

CALIGULA (applying red polish to his toenails) This polish is no good at all. But, to come back to the moon -- it was a cloudless August night. (Helicon looks sulkily away, and keeps silence.) In the beginning she was coy. I was already in bed. Then she began to rise, brighter and brighter, quicker and quicker. The higher she rose, the lighter she became till finally she was a milky white pool amidst the multitudinous rustling of stars. She stepped over the threshold and, slowly but surely, glided to my bed, slipped in and bathed me in her smiles and dazzle. Then she came in the warm night air -- gentle, weightless and naked. -- No, this new polish is a failure ... So you see, Helicon, I can say, without boasting, that I've had her.

HELICON Now will you listen?

CALIGULA (ceasing to fiddle with his toes, and gazing at him fixedly) All I

want, Helicon, is the moon. I know in advance what will kill me. I haven't yet tasted everything that can keep me alive. That's why I want the moon. And don’t come back before you’ve captured her for me.

HELICON (gets up) Alright. . . . I'm going to tell you anyway. There's a plot. Cherea is the leader. This letter came into my hands. It will tell you the essentials. I’m leaving it here. (He places the letter on one of the seats and moves away.)

CALIGULA Where are you off to, Helicon?

HELICON (just before he exits) To get the moon for you.

There is an uneasy cough from the rear. Caligula swings round and sees the Old SENATOR.

THE OLD SENATOR (timidly) May I, Caius ... .

CALIGULA Come in! Come in! (Standing up and with mock eagerness.) So, my pet, you've returned to have another look at Venus.

THE OLD SENATOR Well . . . no. It's not quite that. It’s . . . You know I'm very, very devoted to you -- and my one desire is to end my days in peace.

CALIGULA Come to the point! Come to the point!

THE OLD SENATOR Ssh! (realizing that he's telling Caligula to be quiet) Oh, sorry, Caius! I only wanted ... . Well, it's . . . it's like this. (hurriedly) It's terribly serious, that's what I meant to say.

CALIGULA No, it isn't serious.

THE OLD SENATOR What isn't, Caius?

CALIGULA But what are we talking about, darling?

THE OLD SENATOR (glancing nervously round the room) I mean --

(Wriggles, shuffles, then bursts out with it.) There's a conspiracy.

CALIGULA (Sits and resumes toe-nail painting) You see. Just as I said, it isn't serious.

THE OLD SENATOR (Sits next to Caligula) Caius, they intend to kill you.

CALIGULA (approaching him and grasping his shoulders) Do you know why I can't believe you?

THE OLD SENATOR (raising an arm, as if to take an oath) May God bear witness, Caius ...

CALIGULA Don't swear. I particularly ask you not to swear. (Gently but firmly pressing him back. Sees his nails and starts to paint them) Listen, instead. If what you were saying were true, I should have to come to the conclusion that you are breaking confidence with your colleagues in Caligula’s advisory committee, shouldn’t I?

THE OLD SENATOR (flustered) That is, Caius, considering the deep affection I have for you --

CALIGULA (dabs gently a little paint on SENATOR's nose) And I'd hate to come to that conclusion. After all, I loathe cowardly traitors so much that I could never resist having one put to death. But I know the man you are, my valued friend. And certainly you neither wish to play the traitor nor to die.

THE OLD SENATOR Certainly not, Caius. Most certainly not. (Almost weeping, he bows his bald head to to look at his painted nails)

CALIGULA (Hold the SENATOR's bald head at arms length and measuring it with a judicious eye) So you see I was right in refusing to believe you. You’re not a coward are you? (Paints a comic face on his bald head).

THE OLD SENATOR Oh, no!

CALIGULA (Still painting) Nor a traitor?

THE OLD SENATOR I need hardly tell you that, Caius.

CALIGULA And consequently there is no plot, is there? This was just a practical joke of yours?

THE OLD SENATOR (feebly, his face distorted with terror) A joke, merely a joke.

CALIGULA (Pushing SENATOR's face down to continue painting) Obviously, no one wants to kill me.

THE OLD SENATOR No one, of course not, not one.

CALIGULA (Takes SENATOR by the arm and assists him ) Then I'll ask you to leave, sweetheart. A man with honor is such an endangered species nowadays that I cannot bear the sight of one too long. I want to be alone to luxuriate in this unique experience. (For some moments he gazes, without moving, at the letter. He picks it up and reads it. Then, again, draws a deep breath. Then calls offstage to a guard.)

CALIGULA Bring Cherea to me. (Then) Make sure you treat him with all due respect. (Caligula crosses stage and stands wearily as a shaft of moonlight envelops him. He turns and poses as if he were surveying himself in a mirror. He addresses his imaginary reflection.) You were the fool who decided to be logical! Now you’ll have to find out how far it can go. (Ironically) If you were brought the moon, everything would be different, wouldn’t it? What is impossible would become possible, and in a flash -- a great transfiguration. One night, perhaps Helicon will catch her sleeping in a lake, and carry her here, trapped in a glistening net, all slimy with weeds and water, like a pale bloated fish drawn from the deep. Why not, Caligula? (He casts a glance round the room.) Fewer and fewer people round me. (Addressing the mirror, in a hoarse voice.) Too many dead, too many dead. Even if the moon were mine, I couldn’t retrace my way. Even if those dead men were stirring again under the sun's caress, the murders would not stay underground. (Turns in pain from the mirror, then faces it again) You must stick to the logic, Caligula – go to the bitter end! (He comes back down and concealing the letter in his cloak, sits. The shaft of moonlight has disappeared. Cherea enters.)

CHEREA You sent for me, Caius?

CALIGULA (Caligula is staring absently at the place where the moonlight was.) Yes, Cherea.

A short silence.

CHEREA Have you anything particular to tell me?

CALIGULA No, Cherea.

Another silence.

CHEREA (with a hint of petulance) Are you sure my presence is necessary?

CALIGULA Absolutely sure, Cherea. (Another silence. Then, as if suddenly

recollecting himself) But excuse me, I'm absent-minded and receiving you badly. Sit down and talk with me, like two friends. I need some intelligent conversation. (Cherea sits down. For the first time since the play began, Caligula gives the impression of being his natural self.) Do you think, Cherea, that it's possible for two men of much the same temperament at least once in their lives to talk to each other with complete frankness -- as if they stood naked and facing each other, washed free of the prejudices of private interests, and of the lies by which they live?

CHEREA Possible, yes, Caius. But I don't think you'd be capable of it.

CALIGULA You're right. I simply wanted to know if you agreed with me. So let's put our masks back on then and fall back on our lies. Let’s talk like soldiers going into combat -- covered up to the eyes, padding on all the vital parts. Tell me, Cherea, why don't you like me?

CHEREA Because there's nothing likable about you, Caius. Because such feelings aren’t subject to command. Also, I see a family resemblance in you. And I can’t like one of my own faces that I am trying to cover up in me.

CALIGULA But why is it you hate me?

CHEREA I don't hate you. I think you're cruel, vain and selfish. But I can't hate you, because I don't think you are happy. And I can't scorn you, because I know you are no coward.

CALIGULA Then why do you want to kill me?

CHEREA I've already told you: because you are a constant menace. I need to feel secure. Like most people. They resent living in a world where the strangest thoughts can become reality in the twinkling of an eye and transfix their lives like a knife in the heart. I feel the same way. I want to know where I stand, and to stand secure.

CALIGULA Security and logic don't go together.

CHEREA Quite true. My plan of life may not be logical, but at least it's workable.

CALIGULA (intensely interested) Go on.

CHEREA There's no more to say. It's only natural that you should . . . disappear.

CALIGULA I see your point, and for most people, I grant you, it's obvious. But you? You're intelligent and a person either pays dearly for intelligence or represses it. I am paying up. But why are you both unwilling to repress it and unwilling to pay up? You know better.

CHEREA Because I'm ordinary. There are moments when I desire the death of those I love, or lust after a woman forbidden to me by friendship or family. Were logic everything, I'd kill or seduce on such occasions. But you can’t live that way.

CALIGULA So you believe in some higher ideal?

CHEREA I believe some actions are better than others.

CALIGULA And I don't believe there's any reason to choose between them.

CHEREA I understand, Caius, and, to a point, agree with you. That's why I don't hate you. Nevertheless, you stand in our way and you must disappear.

CALIGULA So why risk your life by telling me this?

CHEREA Because others will take my place, and because I don't like to lie.

A short silence.

CALIGULA Cherea.

CHEREA Yes, Caius?

CALICULA Do you think that it's possible for two men of much the same temperament at least once in their lives to open their hearts to each other?

CHEREA Isn't that what we've just been doing.

CALIGULA Yes, Cherea. But you thought I was incapable of it.

CHEREA I was wrong, Caius. I admit it, and I thank you. Now I await your sentence.

CALIGULA My sentence? Ah, I see. (Producing the letter from under his cloak.) Do you recognize this, Cherea?

CHEREA I suspected you had a copy.

CALIGULA (stifles a scream, holding the letter up to his face, moves away from Cherea. Passionately) You knew I had it! So your frankness was a piece of play acting. The two friends did not open their hearts to each other. Oh well! At least we can stop playing at sincerity, and resume living the way we were. But first I ask you to make just one more effort to swallow my insults and bad humor. Listen carefully, Cherea. This is the only piece of evidence against you.

CHEREA (moves to go) I'm leaving Caius. I'm sick and tired of all these games. CALIGULA (in the same tense, passionate voice) Just a minute. This letter is the only evidence. Right?

CHEREA Evidence? When have you needed evidence to send a man to his death.

CALIGULA That's true. But for once I want to contradict myself. It will harm no one, and it’s good to contradict oneself occasionally. It relaxes a person. And I need relaxation Cherea.

CHEREA You're too subtle for me, Caius.

CALIGULA I forgot, Cherea. You are a healthy man. You don't want to be an anything out of the ordinary man. (Bursting into laughter) You want to live and to be happy -- That's all! Nothing more!

CHEREA Let's leave it at that.

CALIGULA A little patience, if you don't mind. I have evidence and I choose to assume that I can't sentence you to death without it. That's my idea . . . and my relaxation. Well! See what becomes of evidence in the hands of an Emperor. (He holds the letter to a torch. Cherea approaches. The torch is between them. The letter begins to burn.) You see, conspirator! It burns, and as this proof disappears, a new innocence dawns on your face again. What a handsome forehead you have, Cherea! And innocence is so beautiful! Marvel at my power. Even a god cannot restore innocence without first punishing the culprit. But your emperor needs only a torch flame to expiate your crime Consider in that light, the wonderful reasoning you have just given me. Your emperor longs for his rest. That's his way of living and being happy.

Cherea stares, bewildered, at Caligula. He turns, but almost backs out, unable to take his eyes off Caligula who is still holding up an imaginary letter to the flame. Caligula follows the receding figure with his gaze, laughing and sobbing.


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

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