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Boris Godunov: a drama in verse

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(FEBRUARY 20th, A.D. 1598)


VOROTINSKY. To keep the city's peace, that is the taskEntrusted to us twain, but you forsoothHave little need to watch; Moscow is empty;The people to the Monastery have flockedAfter the patriarch. What thinkest thou?How will this trouble end?

SHUISKY. How will it end?That is not hard to tell. A little moreThe multitude will groan and wail, BorisPucker awhile his forehead, like a toperEyeing a glass of wine, and in the endWill humbly of his graciousness consentTo take the crown; and then—and then will rule usJust as before.

VOROTINSKY. A month has flown alreadySince, cloistered with his sister, he forsookThe world's affairs. None hitherto hath shakenHis purpose, not the patriarch, not the boyarsHis counselors; their tears, their prayers he heeds not;Deaf is he to the wail of Moscow, deafTo the Great Council's voice; vainly they urgedThe sorrowful nun-queen to consecrateBoris to sovereignty; firm was his sister,Inexorable as he; methinks BorisInspired her with this spirit. What if our rulerBe sick in very deed of cares of stateAnd hath no strength to mount the throne? WhatSay'st thou?

SHUISKY. I say that in that case the blood in vainFlowed of the young tsarevich, that DimitryMight just as well be living.

VOROTINSKY. Fearful crime!Is it beyond all doubt Boris contrivedThe young boy's murder?

SHUISKY. Who besides? Who elseBribed Chepchugov in vain? Who sent in secretThe brothers Bityagovsky with Kachalov?Myself was sent to Uglich, there to probeThis matter on the spot; fresh traces thereI found; the whole town bore witness to the crime;With one accord the burghers all affirmed it;And with a single word, when I returned,I could have proved the secret villain's guilt.

VOROTINSKY. Why didst thou then not crush him?

SHUISKY. At the time,I do confess, his unexpected calmness,His shamelessness, dismayed me. HonestlyHe looked me in the eyes; he questioned meClosely, and I repeated to his faceThe foolish tale himself had whispered to me.

VOROTINSKY. An ugly business, prince.

SHUISKY. What could I do?Declare all to Feodor? But the tsarSaw all things with the eyes of Godunov.Heard all things with the ears of Godunov;Grant even that I might have fully proved it,Boris would have denied it there and then,And I should have been haled away to prison,And in good time—like mine own uncle—strangledWithin the silence of some deaf-walled dungeon.I boast not when I say that, given occasion,No penalty affrights me. I am no coward,But also am no fool, and do not chooseOf my free will to walk into a halter.

VOROTINSKY. Monstrous misdeed! Listen; I warrant youRemorse already gnaws the murderer;Be sure the blood of that same innocent childWill hinder him from mounting to the throne.

SHUISKY. That will not baulk him; Boris is not so timid!What honour for ourselves, ay, for all Russia!A slave of yesterday, a Tartar, sonBy marriage of Maliuta, of a hangman,Himself in soul a hangman, he to wearThe crown and robe of Monomakh!—