ACT I
Scene II
 

MERCURY, SOSIE

MERCURY
(Under the form of Sosie.) Under this mask which resembles him, I will drive away the babbler from here. His unfortunate arrival may disturb the pleasures our lovers are tasting together.

SOSIE
My heart revives a little; perhaps it was nothing. Lest anything untoward should happen, however, I will go in to finish the conversation.

MERCURY
I shall prevent your doing that unless you are stronger than Mercury.

SOSIE
This night seems to me unusually long. By the time I have been on the way, either my master has taken evening for morning, or lovely Phoebus slumbers too long in bed through having taken too much wine.

MERCURY
With what irreverence this lubber speaks of the Gods! My arm shall soon chastise this insolence; I shall have a fine game with him, stealing his name as well as his likeness.

SOSIE
Ah! upon my word, I was right: I am done for, miserable creature that I am! I see a man before our house whose mien bodes me no good. I will sing a little to show some semblance of assurance.

(He sings; and, when Mercury speaks, his voice weakens, little by little.)

MERCURY
What rascal is this, who takes the unwarrantable licence of singing and deafening me like this? Does he wish me to curry his coat for him?

SOSIE
Assuredly that fellow does not like music.

MERCURY
For more than a week, I have not found any one whose bones I could break; my arm will lose its strength in this idleness. I must look out for some one's back to get my wind again.

SOSIE
What the deuce of a fellow is this? My heart thrills with clutching fear. But why should I tremble thus? Perhaps the rogue is as much afraid as I am, and talks in this way to hide his fear from me under a feigned audacity. Yes, yes, I will not allow him to think me a goose. If I am not bold, I will try to appear so. Let me seek courage by reason; he is alone, even as I am; I am strong, I have a good master, and there is our house.

MERCURY
Who goes there?

SOSIE
I.

MERCURY
Who, I?

SOSIE
I. Courage, Sosie!

MERCURY
Tell me, what is your condition?

SOSIE
To be a man, and to speak.

MERCURY
Are you a master, or a servant?

SOSIE
As fancy takes me.

MERCURY
Where are you going?

SOSIE
Where I intend to go.

MERCURY
Ah! This annoys me.

SOSIE
I am ravished to hear it.

MERCURY
By hook or by crook, I must definitely know all about you, you wretch; what you do, whence you come before the day breaks, where you are going, and who you may be.

SOSIE
I do good and ill by turns; I come from there; I go there; I belong to my master.

MERCURY
You show wit, and I see you think to play the man of importance for my edification. I feel inclined to make your acquaintance by slapping your face.

SOSIE
Mine?

MERCURY
Yours; and there you get it, sharp. (Mercury gives him a slap.)

SOSIE
Ah! Ah! This is a fine game!

MERCURY
No; it is only a laughing matter, a reply to your quips.

SOSIE
Good heavens! Friend, how you swing out your arm without any one saying anything to you.

MERCURY
These are my lightest clouts, little ordinary smacks.

SOSIE
If I were as hasty as you, we should have a fine ado.

MERCURY
All this is nothing as yet: it is merely to fill up time; we shall soon see something else; but let us continue our conversation.

SOSIE
I give up the game. (He turns to go away.)

MERCURY
Where are you going?

SOSIE
What does it matter to you?

MERCURY
I want to know where you are going.

SOSIE
I am going to open that door. Why do you detain me?

MERCURY
If you dare to go near it, I shall rain down a storm of blows on you.

SOSIE
What? You wish to hinder me from entering our own house by threats?

MERCURY
What do you say, your house?

SOSIE
Yes, our house.

MERCURY
O, the scoundrel! You speak of that house?

SOSIE
Certainly. Is not Amphitryon the master of it?

MERCURY
Well! What does that prove?

SOSIE
I am his valet.

MERCURY
You?

SOSIE
I.

MERCURY
His valet?

SOSIE
Unquestionably.

MERCURY
Valet of Amphitryon?

SOSIE
Of Amphitryon himself.

MERCURY
Your name is?

SOSIE
Sosie.

MERCURY
Eh? What?

SOSIE
Sosie.

MERCURY
Listen: do you realise that my fist can knock you spinning?

SOSIE
Why? What fury has seized you now?

MERCURY
Tell me, who made you so rash as to take the name of Sosie?

SOSIE
I do not take it; I have always borne it.

MERCURY
O what a monstrous lie! What confounded impudence! You dare to maintain that Sosie is your name?

SOSIE
Certainly; I maintain it, for the good reason that the Gods have so ordered it by their supreme power. It is not in my power to say no, and to be any one else than myself.

(Mercury beats him.) MERCURY. A thousand stripes ought to be the reward of such audacity.

SOSIE
Justice, citizens! Help! I beseech you.

MERCURY
So, you gallows-bird, you yell out?

SOSIE
You beat me down with a thousand blows, and yet do not wish me to cry out?

MERCURY
It is thus that my arm . . .

SOSIE
The action is unworthy. You gloat over the advantage which my want of courage gives you over me; that is not fair treatment. It is mere bullying to wish to profit by the poltroonery of those whom one makes to feel the weight of one's arm. To thrash a man who does not retaliate is not the act of a generous soul; and to show courage against men who have none merits condemnation.

MERCURY
Well! Are you still Sosie? What say you?

SOSIE
Your blows have not made any metamorphosis in me; all the change there is is that in the matter I am Sosie thrashed.

MERCURY
Still? A hundred fresh blows for this fresh impudence.

SOSIE
Have mercy, a truce to your blows.

MERCURY
Then a truce to your insolence.

SOSIE
Anything that pleases you; I will keep silence. The dispute between us is too unequal.

MERCURY
Are you still Sosie? Say, villain!

SOSIE
Alas! I am what you wish; dispose of my lot exactly as you please: your arm 'has made you the master of it.

MERCURY
I think you said your name was Sosie?

SOSIE
True, until now I thought the matter was clear; but your rod has made me see that I was mistaken in this affair.

MERCURY
I am Sosie: all Thebes avows it. Amphitryon has never had other than me.

SOSIE
You, Sosie?

MERCURY
Yes, Sosie; and if any one trifles with me, he must take care of himself.

SOSIE
Heavens! Must I thus renounce myself, and see my name stolen by an impostor. How lucky I am a poltroon! Or, by the death . . .!

MERCURY
What are you mumbling between your teeth?

SOSIE
Nothing. But, in the name of the Gods, give me leave to speak one moment with you.

MERCURY
Speak.

SOSIE
But promise me, I beseech you, that there shall not be any more strokes. Let us sign a truce.

MERCURY
Let that pass; go on, I grant you this point.

SOSIE
Tell me, who put this fancy into your head? What benefit will it be to you to take my name? In short, were you a demon, could you hinder me from being myself, from being Sosie?

MERCURY
What is this, you dare . . .

SOSIE
Ah! Gently: there is a truce to blows.

MERCURY
What! Gallows-bird, impostor, scoundrel ...

SOSIE
As for abuse, give me as much as you please; it makes but a slight wound and does not bother me.

MERCURY
You say you are Sosie?

SOSIE
Yes. Some ridiculous tale . . .

MERCURY
So, I shall break our truce, and take back my word.

SOSIE
I can't help it. I cannot annihilate myself for you, and endure so improbable a tale. Is it in your power to be what I am? Can I cease to be myself? Did any one ever hear of such a thing? And can you give the lie to a hundred clear indications? Do I dream? Do I sleep? Is my mind troubled by powerful transports? Do I not feel I am awake? Am I not in my right senses? Has not my master, Amphitryon, commanded me to come here to Alcmene his wife? Am I not, in commending his passion to her, to give her an account of his deeds against our enemies? Have I not just come from the harbour? Do I not hold a lantern in my hand? Have I not found you in front of our house? Did I not speak to you in a perfectly friendly manner? Do you not make use of my poltroonery to hinder me from entering our house? Have you not vented your rage upon my back? Have you not showered blows on me? Ah! All this is but too true: would to Heaven it were less real! Cease therefore to jeer at a wretch's lot, and leave me to acquit myself where my duty calls me.

MERCURY
Stop, or the shortest step brings down upon your back clattering evidence of my just anger. All you have just said is mine, except the blows. It is I, whom Amphitryon sent to Alcmene; who has just arrived from the Persian port; I, who have come to announce the valour of his arm, which has gained us a glorious victory, and slain the chief of our enemies. In short, I am undoubtedly Sosie, son of Dave, an honest shepherd; brother of Arpage, who died in a foreign land; husband of Cleanthis the prude, whose temper drives me wild; I, who received a thousand cuts from a whip at Thebes, without ever saying anything about it; and who was once publicly branded on the back for being too worthy a man.

SOSIE
He is right. If he were not Sosie, he could not know all he says; all this is so astounding that even I begin to believe him a little. In fact, now I look at him, I see he has my figure, looks, and manners. I wilt ask him some question, in order to clear up this mystery. What did Amphitryon obtain as his share of all the plunder taken from our enemies?

MERCURY
Five fine large diamonds, beautifully set in a cluster, which their chief wore as a rare piece of handicraft.

SOSIE
For whom does he intend so rich a present?

MERCURY
For his wife; he intends her to wear it.

SOSIE
Where have you put it, until you meet her?

MERCURY
In a casket sealed with the arms of my master.

SOSIE
He does not tell a single lie at any turn: I begin to doubt myself in earnest. He has already cowed me into believing him to be Sosie; and he might even reason me into thinking him so. Yet, when I touch myself, and recollect, it seems to me I am myself. Where can I find some light that will clearly make my way plain? What I have done alone, and what no one has seen, cannot be known to any one else: that, at least, belongs to me. I will astonish him by this question: it will confound him, and we shall see. When they were at close quarters, what were you doing in our tents, whither you ran to hide yourself away?

MERCURY
Off a ham

SOSIE
That is it!

MERCURY
Which I unearthed, I soon cut two succulent slices: they suited me nicely. I added to them a wine which was usually kept dark, and, gloated over the sight of it before I tasted it. So I took heart for our fighters.

SOSIE
This unparalleled proof ends matters well in his favour; and, unless he were in the bottle, there is nothing to be said. From the proofs you show me, I cannot deny that you are Sosie: I admit it. But, if you are he, tell me whom you wish me to be; for I must be someone.

MERCURY
When I shall no longer be Sosie, you may be he, I consent to that; but I promise you it shall be the death of you if you take up such a fancy while I am he.

SOSIE
All this confusion turns me inside out, for reason is against what I see. But I must end this by some means; and the shortest way for me is to go in there.

MERCURY
Oh! You gallows-bird, you want to taste the stick.

SOSIE
What is the matter? Great Gods! He makes the blows ring again; my back will ache for a month. I will leave this devil of a fellow, and return to the harbour. O just Heavens, what a fine ambassador I have been!

MERCURY
At last, I have made him fly; this treatment has paid him out for many of his deeds. But here is Jupiter, gallantly escorting his lover Alcmene.