By G. Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), a prominent playwright, was born of an impoverished middle-class family in Dublin where he attended a college. In 1876 he started working as a journalist in London. He became a socialist in 1882 and in 1884 joined the Fabian Society, an organization of petty bourgeois intellectuals. In 1879 G. B. Shaw took up writing plays, in which he criticized the vices of bourgeois society.
Bernard Shaw is famous for his brilliant dialogues, full of witty paradoxes and often bitterly satirical.
In his play "The Man of Destiny" 1 (1895) he depicts Napoleon as a practical business-like man who makes his career at the cost of human lives.
Bernard Shaw was a friend of the Soviet Union which he visited in 1931.
A little inn in North Italy. Napoleon has just put under arrest the lieutenant who arrived without the letters and dispatches he had been sent for, saying that an unknown youth had tricked him out of them.
The Lady's voice (outside, as before): Giuseppe!
Lieutenant (petrified): What was that?
Giuseppe: Only a lady upstairs, lieutenant, calling me.
Lieutenant: Lady! It's his voice, I tell you.
The Strange Lady steps in. She is tall and extraordinarily graceful with a delicately intelligent face: character in the chin: all keen, refined, and original. She is very feminine, but by no means weak.
Lieutenant: So I’ve got you, my lad. So youve disguised yourself, have you? (In a voice of thunder, seizing her wrist.) Take off that skirt.
Lady (affrighted, but highly indignant at his having dared to touch her): Gentleman: I appeal to you (To Napoleon.) You, sir, are an officer: a general. You will protect me, will you not?
Lieutenant: Never you mind him, General. Leave me to deal with him.
Napoleon: With him! With whom, sir? Why do you treat this lady in such a fashion?
Lieutenant: Lady! He's a man! the man I shewed 2 my confidence in. (Raising his sword.) Here, you-
Lady (running behind Napoleon and in her agitation clasping to her breast the arm which he extends before her as a fortification): Oh, thank you, General. Keep him away.
Napoleon: Nonsense, sir. This is certainly a lady and you are under arrest. Put down your sword, sir, instantly. I order you to leave the room.
Giuseppe (discreetly): Come, lieutenant. (He opens the door and follows the lieutenant.)
Lady: How can I thank you, General, for your protection?
Napoleon (turning on her suddenly): My despatches: come! (He puts out his hand for them.)
Lady: General! (She wwoluntarily puts her hands on her fichu 3 as if to protect something there.)
Napoleon: You tricked that blockhead out of them. You disguised yourself as a man. I want my despatches. They are there in the bosom of your dress under your hands.
Lady (quickly removing her hands): Oh, how unkindly you are speaking to me! (She takes her handkerchief from her fichu.) You frighten me. (She touches her eyes as if to wipe away a tear.)
Napoleon: I see you dont know me, madam, or you would save yourself the trouble of pretending to cry.
Lady (producing an effect of smiling through her tears): Yes, I do know you. You are the famous General Buonaparte.4
Napoleon (angrily): The papers, if you please.
Lady: But I assure you-(He snatches the handkerchief rudely.) General! (Indignantly.)
Napoleon (taking the other handkerchief from his breast): You lent one of your handkerchiefs to my lieutenant when you robbed him. (He looks at the two handkerchiefs.) They match one another. (He smells them.) The same scent. (He flings them down on the table.) I am waiting for my despatches. I shall take them, if necessary, with as little ceremony as I took the handkerchief.
Lady (in dignified reproof): General: do you threaten women?
Napoleon (bluntly): Yes. (Holding out 'his hand.) Yes: I am waiting for them.
Lady: General: I only want to keep one little private letter. Only one. Let me have it.
Napoleon (cold and stern): Is that a reasonable demand, madam?
Lady (relaxed by his not refusing pointblank): No, but that is why you must grant it. Are your own demands reasonable? thousands of lives for the sake of your victories, your ambitions, your destiny! And what I ask is such a little thing. And I am only a weak woman, and you a brave man. What is the secret of your power? Only that you believe in yourself. You can.fight and conquer for yourself and for nobody else. You are not afraid of your own destiny. You teach us what we all might be if we had the will and courage: and that (suddenly sinking on knees before him) is why we all begin to worship you. (She kisses his hands.)
Napoleon (embarrassed): Tut! Tut! 5 Pray rise, madam.
Lady: My Emperor!
Napoleon (overcome, raising her): Pray! pray! No, no: this is folly. Come: be calm, be calm. (Petting her.) There! there! my girl.
Lady (struggling with happy tears): Yes, I know it is an impertinence in me to tell you what you must know far better than I do. But you are not angry with me, are you?
Napoleon: Angry! No, no: not a bit. Come: you are a very clever and sensible and interesting woman. (He pats her on the cheek.) Shall we be friends?
Lady (enraptured): Your friend! You will let me be your friend!
Oh! (She offers him both her hands with a radiant smile.) You see: I shew my confidence in you.
This incautious echo of the lieutenant undoes her.
Napoleon starts; his eyes flash; he utters a yell of rage.
Lady: Whats the matter?
Napoleon: Shew your confidence in me! So that I may shew my confidence in you in return by letting you give me the slip with the despatches, eh? Dalila, Dalila,6 you have been trying your tricks on me; and I have been as gross a gull as my jackass of a lieutenant. (Menacingly.) Come: the despatches. Quick: I am not to be trifled with now.
Lady (flying round the couch): General-
Napoleon: Quick, I tell you.
Lady (at bay, confronting him and giving way to her temper 7): You dare address me in that tone.
Lady: Yes, dare. Who are you that you should presume to speak to me in that coaise Way? Oh, the vile, vulgar Corsican adventurer comes out in you very easily.
Napoleon (beside himself): You she-devil! (Savagely.) Once more, and only once, will you give me those papers or shall I tear them from you? by force!
Lady: Tear them from me: by force!
The lady without speaking, stands upright, and takes a packet of papers from her bosom. She hands them politely to Napoleon. The moment he takes them, she hurries across to the other side of the room; sits down and covers her face with her hands.
Napoleon (gloating over the papers): Aha! Thats right. (Before he opens them, he looks at her and says.) Excuse me. (He sees that she is hiding her face.) Very angry with me, eh? (He unties the packet, the seal of which is already broken, and puts it on the table to examine its contents.)
Lady (quietly, taking down her hands and shewing that she is not crying, but only thinking): No. You were right. But I am sorry for you.
Napoleon (pausing in the act of taking the uppermost paper from the packet): Sorry for me! Why?
Lady: I am going to see you lose your honor.
Napoleon: Hm! Nothing worse than that? (He takes up the paper.)
Lady: And your happiness.
Napoleon: Happiness! Happiness is the most tedious thing in the world to me. Should I be what I am if I cared for happiness. Anything else?
Lady: Except that you will cut a very foolish figure in the eyes of France.
Napoleon (quickly): What? (He throws the letter down and breaks out into a torrent of scolding.8) What do you mean? Eh? Are you at your tricks again? Do you think I dont know what these papers contain?
I'll tell you. First, my information as to Beaulieu's 9 retreat. You are one of his spies: he has discovered that he had been betrayed, and has sent you to intercept the information. As if that could save him from me, the old fool! The other papers are only my private letters from Paris, of which you know nothing.
Lady (prompt and business-like): General: let us make a fair division. Take the information your spies have sent you about the Austrian army; and give me the Paris correspondence. That will content me.
Napoleon (his breath taken away by the coolness of her proposal): A fair di - (he gasps). It seems to me, madam, that you have come to regard my letters as your own property, of which I am trying to rob you.
Lady (earnestly): No: on my honor I ask for no letter of yours: not a word that has been written by you or to you. That packet contains a stolen letter: a letter written by a woman to a man: a man not her husband: a letter that means disgrace, infamy-
Napoleon: A love letter?
Lady (bitter-sweetly): What else but a love letter could stir up so much hate?
Napoleon: Why is it sent to me? To put the husband in my power?
Lady: No, no: it can be of no use to you: I swear that it will cost you nothing to give it to me. It has been sent to you out of sheer malice: solely to injure the woman who wrote it.
Napoleon: Then why not send it to her husband instead of to me?
Lady (completely taken aback): Oh! (Sinking back into the chair.) I - I dont know. (She breaks down.)
Napoleon: Aha! I thought so: a little romance to get the papers back. Per Bacco,10 I cant help admiring'you. I wish I could lie like that. It would save me a great deal of trouble.
Lady (wringing her hands): Oh how I wish I really had told you some lie! You would have believed me then. The truth is the one thing nobody will believe.
Napoleon (with coarse familiarity): Capital! Capital! Come: I am a true Corsican in my love for stories. But I could tell them better than you if I set my mind to it. Next time you are asked why a letter compromising a wife should not be sent t® her husband, answer simply that the husband wouldnt read it. Do you suppose, you goose, that a man wants to be compelled by public opinion to make a scene, to fight a duel, to break up his household, to injure his career by a scandal, when he can avoid it all by taking care not to know?
Lady (revolted): Suppose that packet contained a letter about your own wife?
Napoleon (offended): You are impertinent, madam.
Lady (humbly): I beg your pardon. Caesar's wife is above suspicion.11
Napoleon: You have committed an indiscretion. I pardon you. In future, do not permit yourself to introduce real persons in your romances.
Lady: General: there really Is a woman's letter there. (Pointing to the packet.) Give it to me.
Lady: She is an old friend: we were at school together. She has written to me imploring me to prevent the letter falling into your hands.
Napoleon: Why has it been sent to me?
Lady: Because it compromises the director Barras! 12
Napoleon (frowning, evidently startled): Barras! (Haughtily.) Take care, madam. The director Barras is my attached personal friend.
Lady (nodding placidly): Yes. You became friends through your wife.
Napoleon: Again! Have I not forbidden you to speak of my wife? Barras? Barras? (Very threateningly, his face darkening.) Take care. Take care: do you hear? You may go too far.
Lady (innocently turning her face to him): Whats the matter?
Napoleon: What are you hinting at? Who is this woman?
Lady (meeting his angry searching gaze with tranquil indifference as she sits looking up at him): A vain, silly, extravagant creature, with a very able and ambitious husband who knows her through and through: knows that she had lied to him about her age, her income, her social position, about everything that silly women lie about: knows that she is incapable of fidelity to any principle or any person; and yet cannot help loving her-cannot help his man's instinct to make use of her for his own advancement with Barras.
Napoleon (in a stealthy coldly furious whisper): This is your revenge, you she-cat, for having had to give me the letters.
Lady: Nonsense! Or do you mean that you are that sort of man?
Napoleon (exasperated, clasps his hands behind him, his fingers twitching, and says, as he walks irritably away from her to the fireplace); This woman will drive me out of my senses. (To her.) Begone.13
Lady (springing up with a bright flush in her cheeks): Oh, you are too bad. Keep your letters. Read the story of your own dishonour in them; and much good may they do you. Goodbye. (She goes indignantly towards the inner door.)
1. The Man of Destiny: Napoleon regarded himself as an instrument in the hands of destiny.
2. shew, shewed: show, showed in standard English
3. fichu (Fr.) [fı′∫u:]: woman's triangular shawl of lace for shoulders and neck
4. Buonaparte: Bonaparte [′bounəpa:t]
5. Tut! Tut! [t∧t]: an exclamation of contempt, impatience or annoyance
6. Dalila [dı′laılə]: a biblical name used as a symbol of a treacherous, faithless woman
7. At bay, confronting him and giving way to her temper: "at bay" and "to give way to one's temper" are phraseological units or idioms. In
contrast to free word combinations they are characterized by partially or fully transferred meaning and a certain stability of form. The component words are mostly simple and create a vivid imagery. Their function in speech is expressive and intensifying as compared to their one-word synonyms. Note the difference in meaning between "at bay" and "in a difficulty", "to give way to one's temper" and "to become angry".
8. a torrent of scolding: the noun "torrent" emphasizes the intensity of scolding. The comparison with a torrent of water is implied and an image of something rapid and endless is created. Such transference of some quality from one object to another is called a metaphor.
9. Beaulieu Jean Pirre [′bju:lı]: Commander-in-chief of the Austrian army in Italy defeated in 1796 by Napoleon
10. Per Bacco (Lat.): I swear by god. Bacchus: in Greek and Roman mythology god of wine and revelry
11. Caesar's wife is above suspicion: the words ascribed to Julius Caesar [′dჳu:ljəs ′si:zə]
12. Barras Paul: a reactionary politician, a member of the Directory which governed France at that time
13. Begone: go away