the Annotated Popular Edition of



by Thomas Dekker
and Philip Massinger

First Published 1622


Featuring complete and easy-to-read annotations.


Annotations and notes © Copyright Peter Lukacs and ElizabethanDrama.org, 2019.
This annotated play may be freely copied and distributed.




Dioclesian, Emperor of Rome.

     Artemia, daughter to Dioclesian.

The Virgin Martyr was a popular play, no doubt in part

Maximinus, Emperor of Rome.

thanks to its bipolar tonality; on the one hand, the play

includes, in its story of an early Christian martyr, some of

Sapritius, Governor of Caesarea.

the most beautiful and exquisite verse in the entire canon;

     Antoninus, son to Sapritius.

on the other hand, the prose dialogues between the two

     Sempronius, captain of Sapritius' guards.

base servants, Hircius and Spungius, are among the most

Macrinus, friend to Antoninus.

vulgar of the era. Dekker is considered responsible for

The Virgin Martyr's rudest sections, while the play's most

Theophilus, a zealous persecutor of the Christians.

affecting scenes are Massinger's.

     Calista, daughter to Theophilus.

     Christeta, daughter to Theophilus.


Harpax, an evil spirit, following Theophilus in the

     shape of a Secretary.

The text of the play is taken from Arthur Symon's edition

          Julianus, servant of Theophilus.

of the plays of Philip Massinger, cited in the footnotes

          Geta, servant of Theophilus.

below at #4, but with some of the 1622 quarto's original

spellings and word choices restored.

Dorothea, the Virgin-Martyr.

     Angelo, a good spirit, serving Dorothea in the habit


          of a Page.

     Hircius, a whoremaster, servant of Dorothea.

     Mention of Gifford and Symons in the annotations

     Spungius, a drunkard, servant of Dorothea.

refers to the notes provided by these editors in their

respective editions of our play, each cited fully below.

King of Pontus.

     The most commonly cited sources are listed in the

King of Epire.

footnotes immediately below. The complete list of footnotes

King of Macedon.

appears at the end of this play.

     The footnotes in the annotations correspond as follows:

Priest of Jupiter.

     1. Oxford English Dictionary (OED) online.

British slave.

     2. Crystal, David and Ben. Shakespeare's Words. London,

New York: Penguin, 2002.

Officers and Executioners.

     3. Gifford, William, ed. The Plays of William Massinger.

New York: H.B. Mahn, 1860.

SCENE: Caesarea in Palestine.

     4. Symons, Arthur, ed. Philip Massinger, Volume II.

London: Vizetelly & Co., 1889.

     12. Humphries, Rolfe, trans. Ovid. Metamorphoses.

Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1983.


Historical Background to The Virgin Martyr.

     The first two centuries A.D. had been witness to the great Roman Peace, or Pax Romana, a long period of growth, success and consolidation of the Roman Empire. The third century, however, introduced five decades (A.D. 235-284) of civil wars and upheavals. Some measure of stability finally returned to the empire in the form of Diocletian (A.D. 245-313), emperor 284-305. Diocletian, a formidable soldier of humble background, was acclaimed emperor by his troops in A.D. 284 at the death of the current emperor Numerianus.

     With the empire overwhelmed by invasions of barbarians and uprisings from seemingly all corners, Diocletian erected an unprecedented tetrarchy to rule the empire; he selected Maximian to be co-Augustus (the senior title) with him first in A.D. 286, and later appointed two "junior" rulers, Constantius Chlorus and Galerius Maximianus, titled "Caesars", in 292. Each of the four were responsible for ruling different parts of the empire, Diocletian claiming the wealthy eastern portion for himself, ruling from Nicomedia, located in what now is north-western Turkey.

     Diocletian has come down in history most famous for what the Catholic Encyclopedia called the "most terrible of all of the ten persecutions of the early Church".6 Interestingly, the church flourished during the early part of his reign, but under the influence of Galerius, Diocletian began in A.D. 303 a general suppression of the newish religion. The Catholic Encyclopedia is worth quoting here:

     "An edict was issued 'to tear down the churches to the foundations and to destroy the Sacred Scriptures by fire'...Three further edicts (303-304) marked successive stages in the severity of the persecution: the first ordering that the bishops, presbyters, and deacons should be imprisoned; the second that they should be tortured and compelled by every means to sacrifice; the third including the laity as well as the clergy. The atrocious cruelty with which these edicts were enforced, and the vast numbers of those who suffered for the Faith are attested by Eusebius and the Acts of the Martyrs. We read even of the massacre of the whole population of a town because they declared themselves Christians."6

     Diocletian continued his string of unique actions by actually retiring from the tetrarchy in 305, living out his remaining years in peace at his newly-built palace in what is now Split, Croatia, spending his time, we have been told, growing cabbages.

     Outside St. Mark's Cathedral in Venice stands a porphyry statue of medium height, portraying the four tetrarchs in a show of unity.


     All scenes involving Hircius and Spungius are attributed to Dekker (II.i, II.iii, III.iii, IV.ii); Dekker is generally also given credit for the short scenes II.ii and iii, and V.i.
     Massinger is unanimously assigned most of the rest of the play, specifically, Act I, then III.i. and ii, IV.iii, and V.ii.
     Act IV.i is a little dicier to analyze. Gifford assigned it to Massinger, but there is much stylistic evidence to suggest Dekker had at least a significant hand in this scene. Two key pieces of evidence point to Dekker's authorship of IV.i: these are discussed in the notes appearing at the end of our play.

Settings, Scene Breaks and Stage Directions.

     The original quartos do not provide settings for the play; all this edition's indicated settings are adopted from Gifford.
     The original quarto of The Virgin Martyr was divided into five Acts, but the Acts were not divided into Scenes; we have adopted the scene breaks employed by all the previous editors.
     Finally, as is our normal practice, some stage directions have been added, and some modified, for purposes of clarity. Most of these minor changes are adopted from Gifford.




The Governor's Palace.

The Scene: the action of the play takes place in Caesarea, a city on the coast of what is now Israel; Caesarea was the capital of the Roman province of Judea.5

The Time of the Play: the persecution of Christians under Dioclesian began in A.D. 303; since Dioclesian resigned his emperorship in 305, the play must take between those years.

Enter Theophilus and Harpax.

Entering Characters: Theophilus is the Roman officer in charge of persecuting Christians; Harpax is an evil spirit in human disguise, working as Theophilus' secretary.


Theo.  Come to Caesarea to-night!

1: The play opens with Theophilus learning from Harpax


that the Roman Emperor Dioclesian himself is coming to visit Caesarea. This is a classic Massinger-style opening, in which we join a conversation already in progress.

Harp.                                             Most true, sir.


Theo.  The emperor in person!


Harp.                                       Do I live?


Theo.  'Tis wondrous strange! The marches of great

9: marches = movements, usually applied to an army.
     princes = sovereigns.


Like to the motions of prodigious meteors,

= ominous or evil-omened, a typical attribute of comets
     (called meteors).

Are step by step observed; and loud-tongued Fame

= Fame is "rumour" personified; because everyone pays


The harbinger to prepare their entertainment:

     close attention to the emperor's doings, Fame will let
     people everywhere know where he is going (hence Fame
     is a harbinger), which, in this case, would give the
     governor time to prepare for the emperor's visit.

And, were it possible so great an army,


Though covered with the night, could be so near,

= shrouded with, ie. hidden by.

The governor cannot be so unfriended

15-18: The governor...purpose = Theophilus can't believe that the emperor, accompanied by an entire army, could be so close to the city without somebody sending the news ahead to the governor, whom he expects would have spies (secret means) in the army or train of the emperor to do so.


Among the many that attend his person,

But, by some secret means, he should have notice


Of Caesar's purpose; − in this then excuse me,

18: Caesar = actually, Dioclesian's title was "Augustus", which he shared with his co-emperor, Maximian; Caesar was a junior title, given to two other men who also helped run the empire. Caesar is used throughout the play to refer to Dioclesian. See the Introductory Note to the play for details on Dioclesian's power-sharing.
     purpose = the reason for Dioclesian's dropping by so unexpectedly.

If I appear incredulous.

19: Harpax has used his supernatural abilities to learn of, and


then warn Theophilus of, the emperor's impending visit. Though Theophilus has become used to his Secretary's miraculous ability to sniff out Christians in the land, this news is still too incredible to be believed.

Harp.                         At your pleasure.


Theo.  Yet, when I call to mind you never failed me


In things more difficult, but have discovered

Deeds that were done thousand leagues distant from me,

= a league was about three miles.


When neither woods, nor caves, nor secret vaults,

No, nor the Power they serve, could keep these Christians

= ie. the Christian God.


Or from my reach or punishment, but thy magic

= either.

Still laid them open; I begin again


To be as confident as heretofore,

It is not possible thy powerful art

= ie. Harpax's supernatural abilities.


Should meet a check, or fail.


Enter the Priest of Jupiter, bearing the image of

= king of the gods.  = bust.1

Jupiter, and followed by Calista and Christeta.

Entering characters: Calista and Christeta are Theo-
     philus' daughters.


Harp.                                 Look on the Vestals,

= Theophilus' daughters are priestesses, dedicated to
     serving Jupiter.


The holy pledges that the gods have given you,

Your chaste, fair daughters. Were't not to upbraid

39-41: Were't not…I could say = "except that it would make it seem like I am criticizing you, who have been grateful for my services, I might mention…" Notice that Harpax tells Theophilus anyway that which he says he shouldn't tell him.


A service to a master not unthankful,

I could say these, in spite of your prevention,

41-49: Harpax reminds Theophilus how his daughters had converted to Christianity, but thanks to a combination of begging and the threat of torture from Theophilus, they reverted to the ancient religion. Harpax was responsible for discovering, and reporting to Theophilus, the girls' original conversion.
     The earliest editions of our play printed this in line 41, but the emendation by earlier editors to these is a satisfactory one, providing a subject for had yielded up themselves in line 44 below.


Seduced by an imagined faith, not reason,

42-43: reason…nature = the instinctive side of man, nature, is frequently opposed in the era's literature to reason, the rational side of man, which should control his innate and often self-destructive nature.

(Which is the strength of nature), quite forsaking


The gentile gods, had yielded up themselves

= ie. the gods of the Romans; gentile = pagan.

To this new-found religion. This I crossed,

= thwarted.


Discovered their intents, taught you to use,

With gentle words and mild persuasiöns,

= Harpax's euphemism for torture or the threat of torture.


The power and the authority of a father,

Set off with cruël threats; and so reclaimed 'em:

= them.


And, whereas they with torments should have died,

− [Aside] (Hell's furies to me, had they undergone it!) −

51: in this aside, Harpax, as a representative of hell, expresses his secret relief that the girls did not choose to submit to torture for their beliefs long enough to die as martyrs - this would have been a black mark against him!


They are now votaries in great Jupiter's temple,

= ie. they have vowed to serve the god.

And, by his priest instructed, grown familiar


With all the mysteries, nay, the most abstruse ones,

Belonging to his deity.


Theo.                           Twas a benefit,


For which I ever owe you. − Hail, Jove's flamen!

= Theophilus greets the priest (flamen) serving Jupiter;

Have these my daughters reconciled themselves,

     Jove is an alternative name for the king of the gods;


Abandoning forever the Christian way,

     note that dashes are used to indicate when a speaker

To your opinion?

     is switching addressees.


Priest.               And are constant in it.


They teach their teachers with their depth of judgment,

And are with arguments able to convert


The enemies to our gods, and answer all

They can object against us.

= their enemies, ie. Christians.


Theo.                                  My dear daughters!


Calis.  We dare dispute against this new-sprung sect,

= recently come into existence; since the play would have


In private or in public.

     taken place sometime between A.D. 303 and 305,

     Christianity could not really be said to be new-sprung,
     though certainly it was in its infancy compared to the
     Roman religion.


Harp.                        My best lady,

Perséver in it.

= in the era's drama, persever (persevere) was normally
     stressed on the second syllable.


Chris.          And what we maintain,

77: "and the position we defend".


We will seal with our bloods.

= attest or ratify.1


Harp.                                   Brave resolution!

I e'en grow fat to see my labours prosper.

= a metaphor for a successful individual, who would have
     access to enough food to grow fat.


Theo.  I young again. − To your devotions.

83: ie. "and I grow young again; - go back, then, to your



Harp.                                                      Do −


My prayers be present with you.


[Exeunt Priest, Calista and Christeta.]


Theo.                                         O my Harpax!

Thou engine of my wishes, thou that steel'st

91-93: Theophilus implies that he might find it difficult to


My bloody resolutions, thou that arm'st

     torture Christians as he does, were it not for Harpax's

My eyes 'gainst womanish tears and soft compassion;

     emotional support.
         engine = means or instrument.2


Instructing me, without a sigh, to look on

= ie. a sigh of compassion or weakness.  = ie. how to.

Babes torn by violence from their mothers’ breasts


To feed the fire, and with them make one flame;

Old men, as beasts, in beasts' skins torn by dogs;

= like.  = as reported in Foxe's Book of Martyrs (1563),
     under the emperor Nero, Christians might be sewn into
     the skins of wild beasts, then torn to death by ravenous


Virgins and matrons tire the executioners;

98: ie. "there are so many unmarried and married women

Yet I, unsatisfied, think their torments easy −

     (virgins and matrons, respectively) to torture and
     execute that it exhausts their punishers."


Harp.  And in that, just, not cruël.

101: ie. Theophilus' actions are just, not cruel.


Theo.                                           Were all sceptres


That grace the hands of kings made into one,

And offered me, all crowns laid at my feet,


I would contemn them all, − thus spit at them;

= scorn.

So I to all posterities might be called

= so long as.  = those who succeed them; posterity was
     frequently used like this in the plural.


The strongest champion of the Pagan gods,

And rooter-out of Christians.

= one who eradicates something; this interesting noun had


     been used at least as far back as 1560.1

Harp.                                   Oh, mine own,


Mine own dear lord! to further this great work,

I ever live thy slave.


Enter Sapritius and Sempronius.

Entering Characters: Sapritius is the governor of



     Caesarea; Sempronius is the Captain of the Guards,
     ie. the head of the soldiery in the city.

Theo.                      No more − the governor.


Sap.  Keep the ports close, and let the guards be doubled;

= "keep the gates of the city closed"; Sapritius is giving


Disarm the Christians; call it death in any

     out orders to implement harsher measures against the

To wear a sword, or in his house to have one.



Semp.  I shall be careful, sir.


Sap.                                   'Twill well become you.


Such as refuse to offer sacrifice

126-7: being a Christian did not mean one was automatically

To any of our gods, put to the torture.

destined to be tortured; the Romans generally gave their victims numerous opportunities to recant, by simply disavowing the Christian God, or taking part in a sacrifice. The Romans' primary theological worry was that the gods would not look on them propitiously if they saw that any mortal was neglecting them.
     The Roman relationship with their gods was one of quid pro quo: in return for prayers and offerings, the gods were expected to bring good fortune to their devotees.


Grub up this growing mischief by the roots;

= dig up;2 note the line's weeding metaphor.

And know, when we are merciful to them,


We to ourselves are cruël.


Semp.                             You pour oil

132-3: ie. "you are instructing me to do that which I am

On fire that burns already at the height:

     already fired up about doing."


I know the emperor's edict, and my charge,

And they shall find no favour.


Theo.                                     My good lord,


This care is timely for the entertainment

Of our great master, who this night in person

= ie. the emperor.


Comes here to thank you.


Sap.                                 Who! the emperor?


Harp.  To clear your doubts, he does return in triumph,

144-5: Dioclesian is returning with his army from a

Kings lackeyíng by his triumphant chariot;

     successful campaign against some rebelling provinces,
     during which he has captured three of the kings who
     were allied against him.
         lackeying = running alongside the emperor's chariot,
     like the servants of wealthy nobles known as "footmen";
     the humiliating nature of the punishment is obvious.3


And in this glorious victory, my lord,

You have an ample share: for know, your son,


The ne'er-enough-commended Antoninus,

So well hath fleshed his maiden sword, and dyed

= the expression flesh one's sword described a man's
     having fought his first battle, but the addition of the
     word maiden suggests a further image of one losing
     one's virginity.


His snowy plumes so deep in enemies' blood,

= plumes might be worn in a soldier's helmet; the snowy
     colour of the feathers is implicitly contrasted with the
     scarlet colour of the blood of his slain enemies, which
     has dyed his plume.

That, besides public grace beyond his hopes,


There are rewards propounded.


Sap.                                          I would know

154-5: Sapritius seems to be telling Harpax he would have

No mean in thine, could this be true.

no reason to complain of his rewards, should his report of Antoninus' success in the wars be true. Since no one from the army has actually appeared to report what has happened, Sapritius does not expect Harpax to know what he is talking about.
     mean = complaint.1
     thine = ie. "your rewards".


Harp.                                                My head

157-8: "cut off my head if what I say is not the truth."


Answer the forfeit.


Sap.                       Of his victory

There was some rumour; but it was assured,


The army passed a full day's journey higher,

Into the country.


Harp.                    It was so determined;

165: "this is indeed what they had decided to do."


But, for the further honour of your son,

166-9: on the return of the triumphant army, Dioclesian is

And to observe the government of the city,

     making a point to visit Caesarea to see how it is being


And with what rigour, or remiss indulgence,

     governed, with particular attention to how rigorously

The Christians are pursued, he makes his stay here:

     the governor is pursuing the Christians.


[Trumpets afar off.]


For proof, his trumpets speak his near arrival.

= announce.


Sap.  Haste, good Sempronius, draw up our guards,


And with all ceremonious pomp receive

The conquering army. Let our garrison speak


Their welcome in loud shouts, the city show

Her state and wealth.


Semp.                            I'm gone.


[Exit Sempronius.]


Sap.                                            O, I am ravished

= overwhelmed with joy.2


With this great honour! cherish, good Theophilus,

This knowing scholar. Send [for] your fair daughters;

= this learned person,2 ie. Harpax.  = added by Gifford.


I will present them to the emperor,

And in their sweet conversion, as a mirror,

189-190: Sapritius will describe to the emperor how the


Express your zeal and duty.

     agreeable return of Theophilus' daughters to the pagan

     religion is a reflection of their father's dedication to his


Theo.                                  Fetch them, good Harpax.


[Exit Harpax.]


Enter Sempronius, at the head of the guard,

soldiers leading three kings bound;


Antoninus and Macrinus bearing the Emperor's 

Entering characters: Antoninus is the son of Sapritius
     the governor; Macrinus is his best friend.

eagles; Dioclesian with a gilt laurel on his head,

= the eagle was the famous Roman military symbol of a
     sculptured eagle on top of a pole.1


 leading in Artemia: Sapritius kisses

Entering character: Artemia is the emperor Dioclesian's

the Emperor's hand, then embraces his Son;



 Harpax brings in Calista and Christeta.

 Loud shouts.


Diocl.   So: at all parts I find Caesarea


Completely governed; the licentious soldier

206: Completely governed = thoroughly well-governed.

Confined in modest limits, and the people

         206-211: the licentious…world = Dioclesian is


Taught to obey, and, not compelled with rigour:

     pleased to find law and order throughout the city, and

The ancient Roman discipline revived,

     credits the governor's success on the revival of the


Which raised Rome to her greatness, and proclaimed her

     long-lost Roman discipline.

The glorious mistress of the conquered world;


But, above all, the service of the gods

= to.

So zealously observed, that, good Sapritius,


In words to thank you for your care and duty,

214-8: a common sentiment in the era's drama: the emperor

Were much unworthy Dioclesian's honour,

     will demonstrate his gratitude with tangible rewards -


Or his magnificence to his loyal servants −

     words of thanks alone would be unbefitting and ungra-

But I shall find a time with noble titles



To recompense your merits.

         magnificence (line 216) = generosity.4


Sap.                                   Mightiest Caesar,

220-225: Mightiest Caesar…war = Sapritius compares

Whose power upon this globe of earth is equal

     Dioclesian's victory over the rebellious kings to the


To Jove's in heaven; whose victorious triumphs

     victory of the Olympian gods (Jupiter and his generation)

On proud rebellious kings that stir against it,

     over the race of Giants who challenged their supremacy


Are perfect figures of his immortal trophies

     for control of the universe.8

Won in the Giants' war; whose conquering sword,

         Are perfect figures of = are exactly like.2


Guided by his strong arm, as deadly kills

As did his thunder! all that I have done,

= "as Jupiter smotes individuals with his lightning-bolt" (his
     weapon of choice).
         Note how in lines 224-7, Massinger uses his repeated-
     ly, and potentially confusingly, to indicate first Jupiter
     (224), then Dioclesian (226), and finally Jupiter again


Or, if my strength were centupled, could do,

= increased a hundredfold.

Comes short of what my loyalty must challenge.

= demand as a right.


But, if in any thing I have deserved

Great Caesar's smile, 'tis in my humble care


Still to preserve the honour of those gods,

That make him what he is: my zeal to them

= zeal usually refers to a sense of religious devotion.


I ever have expressed in my fell hate

= savage.2

Against the Christian sect that, with one blow,


(Ascribing all things to an unknown Power,)

= ie. the Christian God.

Would strike down all their temples, and allows them

= the subject of the clause is Theophilus' zeal, which
     would destroy all the Christians' temples.


Nor sacrifice nor altars.

= Theophilus mistakenly believes that Christians sacrifice;
     the Christian belief that they consume the flesh and
     blood of Christ during Communion led to accusations of
     cannibalism in the religion's early years.


Diocl.                           Thou, in this,

= note that Diocletian properly addresses his subjects

Walk'st hand in hand with me: my will and power

     with thee, while the other characters address the
     emperor with you, both usages indicating the parties'
     acknowledgment of the emperor's superior social status.


Shall not alone confirm, but honour all

That are in this most forward.

= eager, energetic.


Sap.                                       Sacred Caesar,


If your imperial majesty stand pleased

To shower your favours upon such as are


The boldest champions of our religion,

Look on this reverend man,


[Points to Theophilus.]


                                           to whom the power


Of searching out and punishing such delinquents

Was by your choice committed: and, for proof,


He hath deserved the grace imposed upon him,

And with a fair and even hand proceeded,


Partial to none, not to himself, or those

= ie. showing any improper favouritism.

Of equal nearness to himself, behold


This pair of virgins.


Diocl.                      What are these?

= who.


Sap.                                                 His daughters.


Artem.  Now by your sacred fortune, they are fair ones,

266-8: Artemia compliments Theophilus' daughters by

Exceeding fair ones: would 'twere in my power

     hypothetically offering to bring them into her service -


To make them mine!

     it was always an honour to work directly for royalty.


Theo.                       They are the gods', great lady.

= ie. "they are presently dedicated to serving Jupiter".

They were most happy in your service else:

= would be.


On these, when they fell from their father's faith,

I used a judge's power, entreaties failing


(They being seduced) to win them to adore

The holy Powers we worship; I put on


The scarlet robe of bold authority,

And, as they had been strangers to my blood,

= as if.  = ie. "not related to me".


Presented them, in the most horrid form,

278-286: wow! It appears that Theophilus, in playing the
     role of a disinterested public official, actually tortured
     his own daughters upon their apostasy.

All kinds of tortures; part of which they suffered

279-280: part of…constancy = to some degree, Calista


With Roman constancy.

     and Christeta suffered their torture with the famous

     Roman endurance and fortitude.


Artem.                           And could you endure,

Being a father, to behold their limbs


Extended on the rack?

284: the rack was indeed familiar to the Romans: in Book

15 of his history of Rome, the ancient historian Tacitus writes that the Emperor Nero used the rack to attempt to coerce a confession from one Epicharis, a woman who had been accused of taking part in a conspiracy against him.9
     The Encyclopedia Britannica (1911) reports that the rack was first used in England in 1447, having been introduced by the constable of the Tower, John Holland, the 4th Duke of Exeter, after which the rack was popularly referred to as "the Duke of Exeter's daughter". In 1628 - just a few years after our play's debut - the rack was declared illegal in England.5


Theo.                          I did; but must

Confess there was a strange contention in me,


Between the impartial office of a judge,

And pity of a father; to help justice


Religiön stepped in, under which odds

Compassion fell: − yet still I was a father;


For e'en then, when the flinty hangman's whips

= harsh.2  = torturer's.

Were worn with stripes spent on their tender limbs,

= worn-out.  = ie. the marks of whipping.


I kneeled, and wept, and begged them, though they would

Be cruël to themselves, they would take pity

= "that they should".


On my grey hairs: now note a sudden change,

Which I with joy remember; those, whom torture,


Nor fear of death could terrify, were o'ercome

By seeing of my sufferings; and so won,


Returning to the faith that they were born in,

I gave them to the gods: and be assured,


I that used justice with a rigorous hand,

Upon such beauteous virgins, and mine own,

= ie. "on my own flesh and blood no less".


Will use no favour, where the cause commands me,

To any other; but, as rocks, be deaf

= ie. like rocks; the expression "stone-deaf" first appeared


To all entreaties.

     around the time of our play, in 1610.


Diocl.                 Thou deserv'st thy place;

= ie. his office of chief persecutor.

Still hold it, and with honour. Things thus ordered


Touching the gods, 'tis lawful to descend

To human cares, and exercise that power


Heaven has conferred upon me; − which that you,

= Dioclesian now turns to address the captive kings.

Rebels and traitors to the power of Rome,


Should not with all extremities undergo,

= ie. "have to undergo".

What can you urge to qualify your crimes,

= mitigate, ie. excuse.


Or mitigate my anger?


K. of Epire.                  We are now

318ff: "K." stands for King.
         Epire, or Epeiros, was a district on the western shore
     of Greece, today located in southern Albania.27

Slaves to thy power, that yesterday were kings,


And had command o'er others; we confess

Our grandsires paid your tribute, yet left us,

= ie. a nation might be left to govern itself so long as it paid


As their forefathers had, desire of freedom.

     a tax to Rome to signify its submission.

And, if you Romans hold it glorious honour


Not only to defend what is your own,

But to enlarge your empire, (though our fortune


Denies that happiness,) who can accuse

The famished mouth, if it attempt to feed?


Or such whose fetters eat into their freedoms,

= chains.

If they desire to shake them off?


K. of Pontus.                             We stand

= Pontus was a district in Asia Minor on the southern
     shore of the Black Sea.27


The last examples, to prove how uncertain

= latest.

All human happiness is; and are prepared


To endure the worst.


K. of Macedon.         That spoke, which now is highest

336: Macedon = the land north of Thessaly in Greece.

In Fortune's wheel, must, when she turns it next,

         336-8: a common reference to personified Fortune,


Decline as low as we are. This considered,

     who in spinning her wheel arbitrarily raises the circum-
     stances of some while lowering those of others; spoke
     refers to the spoke of Fortune's wheel.

Taught the Ægyptian Hercules, Sesostris,

339-341: the ancient Greek historian Herodotus wrote about


That had his chariot drawn by captive kings,

a great conquering king of Egypt named Sesostris (though

To free them from that slavery; − but to hope

there were several kings of that name in the times long predating the Romans). Herodotus wrote that Sesostris celebrated those cities that showed great valour in resisting him by erecting inscribed pillars in those cities, which told the honourable tale of their defense against him.10


Such mercy from a Roman were mere madness:

= would be absolute.

We are familiar with what cruëlty


Rome, since her infant greatness, ever used

= ie. since Rome first became great.  = treated.

Such as she triumphed over; age nor sex


Exempted from her tyranny; sceptered princes

= kings, monarchs.

Kept in her common dungeons, and their children,


In scorn trained up in base mechanic arts,

= the lowest forms of manual labour.

For public bondmen. In the catalogue

= slaves owned by the state.


Of those unfortunate men, we expect to have

Our names remembered.


Diocl.                            In all growing empires,


Even cruëlty is useful; some must suffer,

= even is generally pronounced, for purposes of meter, as

And be set up examples to strike terror

     a one-syllable word: e'en.


In others, though far off: but, when a state

Is raised to her perfection, and her bases

= ie. foundation.1


Too firm to shrink or yield, we may use mercy,

And do't with safety: but to whom? not cowards,


Or such whose baseness shames the conqueror,

And robs him of his victory, as weak Perseus

361-2: weak Perseus…Aemilius = Perses was the last king


Did great Æmilius. Know, therefore, kings

of an independent Macedon, ruling from 179 B.C. until his defeat to Rome in 168 B.C., when he was captured at the Battle of Pydna by the Roman consul L. Aemilius Paulus. Dioclesian is thinking about how Paulus treated Perses with great leniency after Perses had degraded himself with a shameful display of supplication; later Paulus, ever magnanimous, even procured Perses' release after he had been brought to Rome and thrown in prison.11

Of Epire, Pontus, and of Macedon,


That I with courtesy can use my prisoners,

= treat.

As well as make them mine by force, provided


That they are noble enemies: such I found you,

Before I made you mine: and, since you were so,


You have not lost the courages of princes,

= kings.

Although the fortune. Had you borne yourselves

= "though you have lost the fortune of kings."


Dejectedly, and base, no slavery

Had been too easy for you: but such is


The power of noble valour, that we love it

Even in our enemies, and, taken with it,


Desire to make them friends, as I will you.


K. of Epire.  Mock us not, Caesar.


Diocl.                                         By the gods, I do not.

Unloose their bonds; − I now as friends embrace you.


Give them their crowns again.


K. of Pontus.                        We are twice o'ercome;

By courage, and by courtesy.


K. of Macedon.                     But this latter


Shall teach us to live ever faithful vassals

To Dioclesian, and the power of Rome.


K. of Epire.  All kingdoms fall before her!


K. of Pontus.                                          And all kings


Contend to honour Caesar!


Diocl.                                  I believe

Your tongues are the true trumpets of your hearts,


And in it I most happy. Queen of fate,

Imperious Fortune! mix some light disaster

397-9: Imperious…relish = a nice bit of psychological


With my so many joys, to season them,

     insight from our author: Dioclesian recognizes that
     good fortune is easier to appreciate when it is set off
     by some unhappiness.

And give them sweeter relish: I'm girt round

= surrounded.1


With true felicity; faithful subjects here,

= bliss.2

Here bold commanders, here with new-made friends;

= ie. the now-released kings.


But, what's the crown of all, in thee, Artemia,

My only child, whose love to me and duty


Strive to exceed each other!


Artem.                                   I make payment

But of a debt, which I stand bound to tender


As a daughter and a subject.


Diocl.                                     Which requires yet

A retributiön from me, Artemia,

= recompense.1


Tied by a father's care, how to bestow

A jewèl, of all things to me most precious:


Nor will I therefore longer keep thee from

The chief joys of creation, marriage rites;


Which that thou mayst with greater pleasures taste of,

Thou shalt not like with mine eyes, but thine own

417: a nice figure of speech by the emperor: rather than 
     Dioclesian choose Artemia's husband, as is his right
     to do, she may select her own.


Among these kings, forgetting they were captives;

418-9: Artemia may choose a husband from any of the men

Or these, remembering not they are my subjects,

     present, king or noble.


Make choice of any: By Jove's dreadful thunder,

My will shall rank with thine.

421: "what you want is what I want."


Artem.                                   It is a bounty


The daughters of great princes seldom meet with;

For they, to make up breaches in the state,

425-7: For they…affect not = Artemia recognizes Diocle-


Or for some other public ends, are forced

     sian's exceptional gift; normally the daughters of kings

To match where they affect not. May my life

     are forced to marry husbands who have been selected for


Deserve this favour!

     political reasons, such as to cement alliances with foreign

         match (line 427) = marry.
         affect = love.


Diocl.                       Speak; I long to know

The man thou wilt make happy.


Artem.                                      If that titles,

= "if it was the case that".


Or the adorèd name of Queen could take me,

= the sense is, "was important to me".

Here would I fix mine eyes, and look no further;

= ie. on one of the kings.


But these are baits to take a mean-born lady,

= ie. a woman of low rank, who would grab the opportunity
     to marry a king like it was bait and raise her own status.

Not her that boldly may call Caesar father;

437: "and not the daughter of the emperor, who is not con-
     cerned with raising her own rank by marrying a king."


In that I can bring honour unto any,

438: instead, it is Artemia who brings status to her husband,
     no matter who or what rank he is.

But from no king that lives receives addition:

= the editors generally emend receives to receive.  = a title. 


To raise desert and virtue by my fortune,

440-1: "to marry a virtuous man who deserves such good

Though in a low estate, were greater glory

     fortune would be a more glorious thing to do".


Than to mix greatness with a prince that owes

= owns.

No worth but that name only.


Diocl.                                     I commend thee,


'Tis like myself.


Artem.               If, then, of men beneath me,

My choice is to be made, where shall I seek,


But among those that best deserve from you?

= ie. her father Dioclesian.

That have served you most faithfully; that in dangers


Have stood next to you; that have interposed

Their breasts as shields of proof, to dull the swords


Aimed at your bosom; that have spent their blood

To crown your brows with laurel?


Mac.                                               Cytherea,

= Macrinus prays to Venus to cause the princess to


Great Queen of Love, be now propitious to me!

     choose him for a husband; Cytherea was one of Venus'
     alternative names, which was derived from the Greek
     island Cythera, from off whose shores she was said to
     have been born.11


Harp.  [to Sapritius.]

Now mark what I foretold.

461: in this aside, Harpax reminds the governor of another


     of his predictions.

Anton.  [Aside]                  Her eye's on me.


Fair Venus' son, draw forth a leaden dart,

464-5: Cupid, the cherubic god of love, shot golden arrows

And, that she may hate me, transfix her with it;

     at those he wished to fall deeply in love, but arrows of
     lead at those whom he would cause to feel hatred for


Or, if thou needs wilt use a golden one,

Shoot it in the behalf of any other:


Thou know'st I am thy votary elsewhere.

= devotee; Antoninus is in love with someone else.


Artem.  [Advances to Antoninus.]

470-1: oh no! Artemia has selected Antoninus to be her



472: an uncomfortable silence likely follows Artemia's
     selection; Theophilus and Sapritius react to Antoninus'
     embarrassment and delay in responding.

Theo.  How he blushes!


Sap.                            Welcome, fool, thy fortune.

= an imperative: the governor, muttering to himself perhaps,
     pleads for his son to embrace his good luck.


Stand like a block when such an angel courts thee!

476: Stand = "look at you standing there".

         angel = the Romans frequently (and improbably) slip
     into using Christian imagery.


Artem.  I am no object to divert your eye

From the beholding.


Anton.                        Rather a bright sun,

481-6: Antoninus awkwardly tries to excuse his unexpected


Too glorious for him to gaze upon,

     reaction, or lack thereof.

That took not first flight from the eagle’s aerie.

= nest.


As I look on the temples, or the gods,

And with that reverence, lady, I behold you,


And shall do ever.


Artem.                     And it will become you,

While thus we stand at distance; but, if love,


Love born out of the assurance of your virtues,

Teach me to stoop so low −


Anton.                              O, rather take

493-4: Antoninus suggests Artemia should seek a husband


A higher flight.

     of higher status than himself.


Artem.             Why, fear you to be raised?

Say I put off the dreadful awe that waits

497-8: Say I…majesty = "suppose I peel off the dread-
     causing awe that attends all members of a royal family".


On majesty, or with you share my beams,

= Artemia picks up on Antoninus' sun metaphor, begun
     at line 481.

Nay, make you to outshine me; change the name

499-502: change…refuse me? = Artemia is risking


Of Subject into Lord, rob you of service

     sounding like she is begging: she offers to honour

That's due from you to me; and in me make it

     Antoninus as her superior if he will marry her, rather


Duty to honour you, would you refuse me?

     than the other way around; Antoninus in turn risks

     offending the princess if he doesn't quickly take up
     her offer.


Anton.  Refuse you, madam! such a worm as I am,

Refuse what kings upon their knees would sue for!


Call it, great lady, by another name;

An humble modesty, that would not match

= marry.


A molehill with Olympus.

= the Greek mountain which serves as the home of the gods.


Artem.                             He that's famous

For honourable actions in the war,


As you are, Antoninus, a proved soldier,

Is fellow to a king.


Anton.                   If you love valour,


As 'tis a kingly virtue, seek it out,

And cherish it in a king: there it shines brightest,


And yields the bravest luster. Look on Epire,

A prince, in whom it is incorporate;

= ie. virtue.  = combined, united in one body.2


And let it not disgrace him that he was

O'ercome by Caesar; it was victory,


To stand so long against him: had you seen him,

How in one bloody scene he did discharge


The parts of a commander and a soldier,

Wise in direction, bold in execution;

= management of the battle.


You would have said, great Caesar's self excepted,

The world yields not his equal.


Artem.                                     Yet I have heard,


Encountering him alone in the head of his troop,

You took him prisoner.


K. of Epire.                  'Tis a truth, great princess;


I'll not detract from valour.


Anton.                                'Twas mere fortune;

Courage had no hand in it.


Theo.                                 Did ever man


Strive so against his own good?


Sap.                                           Spiritless villain!

542-4: Sapritius is furious that his son is messing up this

How I am tortured! By the immortal gods,

     great honour - and perhaps recognizing the disgrace this


I now could kill him.

     might bring upon him.


Diocl.                        Hold, Sapritius, hold,

On our displeasure hold!


Harp.                               Why, this would make

549-556: Harpax, in opposition to Dioclesian, encourages


A father mad, 'tis not to be endured;

     Sapritius to continue to get worked up over the em-

Your honour's tainted in't.

     barrassment Antonius is causing him.


Sap.                                   By heaven, it is;


I shall think of it.


Harp.                      'Tis not to be forgotten.


Artem.  Nay, kneel not, sir; I am no ravisher,

= ie. she will not force herself on Antoninus.

Nor so far gone in fond affection to you,

= foolish desire for.


But that I can retire, my honour safe: −

Yet say, hereafter, that thou hast neglected

561-3: Artemia, who has been humiliated, seeks to preserve


What, but seen in possession of another,

      her pride with this request to Antoninus.

Will make thee mad with envy.

         Yet say (line 561) = ie. "but at least admit".


Anton.                                      In her looks


Revenge is written.


Mac.                       As you love your life,

568-9: Macrinus likely speaks this urgent admonition to his
     friend as an aside.

Study to appease her.

= ie. do something.


Anton.                     Gracious madam, hear me.


Artem.  And be again refused?

573: Artemia's sarcasm is understandable.


Anton.                                    The tender of

= offer.


My life, my service, or, since you vouchsafe it,

= condescend to permit.

My love, my heart, my all: and pardon me,


Pardon, dread princess, that I made some scruple

= objected to or expressed a doubt about.2

To leave a valley of security,


To mount up to the hill of majesty,

On which, the nearer Jove, the nearer lightning.

581: Antoninus' recognizes that the closer one lives to 
     great power, the more one exposes oneself to greater
     punishment or harm should the relationship go sour.


What knew I, but your grace made trial of me;

582: to excuse his behavior, Antoninus suggests he
     thought the princess was only testing him in some way.

Durst I presume t' embrace, where but to touch


With an unmannered hand, was death? the fox,

= ie. inappropriate behavior.

When he saw first the forest's king, the lion,

         584-588: the fox…boldly = a reference to one of


Was almost dead with fear; the second view

     Aesop's fables; Antoninus' description is pretty much
     the whole story, with the simple lesson that fear lessens
     with familiarity.
         The lion has been called the king of beasts since at
     least the 14th century.1
         dead = the first quarto alone has drad here, a common
     alternate spelling for dread; editors unanimously emend
     this to dead, based on subsequent printings.

Only a little daunted him; the third,


He durst salute him boldly: pray you, apply this;

= dared approach or greet.  = ie. "please apply the moral of

And you shall find a little time will teach me

     this fable to me".


To look with more familiar eyes upon you,

Than duty yet allows me.


Sap.                                   Well excused.