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Page 11 of 16


Scene 2 (cont'd)

Would that I Might likewise homewards sail to Ostia
And anchor safe beneath its harbour wall,
Welcomed by friends, acclaimed by senators,
Home from the tangled politics of this colony.

(Noises off, which have been growing while Pilate was speaking)
Ho there! What rioting is this?
Longinus, Spurius, soldiers, on guard!

(Barca rushes in followed closely by Jews etc.)
They made such speed I could not come before.
King Herod gladly took the prisoner I
n token of your mutual good will.
When questioned many times and much accused
No answer would he make, but held his peace.
By such behaviour puzzled and annoyed
The king and court not finding cause for punishment
Jestingly clad him in a fool’s white robe
And paid mock homage to his silent royalty.
Their humour thus amused, they send him back
To be disposed according to your will.
Crucify him! He’s no king!
This man at your request I have examined
On charges of sedition. Mark it well
Both Herod and myself are of one mind
That he is in no wise guilty –
The man must die? The cross! He’s our enemy!
Why pour upon one head your burning wrath
Alleging charges common to all those
Who lie in gaol? Barrabas was accused
Of lawlessness, sedition, murder, rape.
Scant notice did his sentence win from you.
Respected custom warrants at the Pasch
That I release the prisoner of your choice.
The clemency of our prerogative
Commends that I should liberate
This man.
(exhorting the crowd) No, no! Not him. Choose Barrabas
Barrabas, Barrabas! Not this man but Barrabas!
You want a murderer, a rapist, to go free?
To crown your wish and double our indulgence
Barrabas and this man will both be freed.
We do not want this man.
Crucify him! We want Barrabas!
(Exasperated) What evil has he done?
Away with him! Crucify him!
Your wishes sway the temperance of the court
And bend us to severity. To purge the crimes
Which you allege, against the tide of evidence,
I shall have Jesus punished. Soldiers, take this man;
Let him endure such pain as will assuage
The rabid bloodthirst of this people. And now withdraw.

( EXEUNT Jews – reluctantly)
Perhaps ‘twere better give this people rein
Than drive them to a fury with the curb.
‘Tis suicide to foster would-be kings.
Tiberius and Sejanus would expunge
All Jewish names from the Roman civil roll,
Yet Pilate tolerates Semitic kings!
When Rome shall hear that in the provinces
A self-styled Jewish king has found defence
And patronage from you, what will men say?
No, no! I stand by Rome in all I do.
Such words sound true but deeds have greater force
To win the senate’s praise. Your words are empty sounds
Pale shadows in the background of your deeds.
If but the hallmark of untarnished justice
Did stamp this deed, if but our present compromise
Cast off its counterfeit of equity,
If – and if again – if consequent on if –
If I could do it unrepentantly –
‘Tis said that swift repentance overtook
The friend of Jesus who betrayed him.
What cause had he to rue the deed?
Who knows?
Foul darkness still lay brooding over earth,
The priests, their black deed done, in council sat
When in rushed Judas, frantic, terrified;
Despair burned in his eyes and shook his frame.
He blurted out some words of self-reproach.
The priests sat unconcerned; they bade him keep
His conscience and its scruples to himself.
He flung the coins across the floor; stamped out.
His corpse was found at sunrise in a field
Hanging haltered from an olive tree.
That fellow, self-convicted of his wrong
Was loth to bear the torture of remorse,
And nobly did redeem his perjury.
By such an omen warned I will release
The prisoner.
Does Judas’ ghost play Pilate’s monitor?
Must judgment wait on omens, dreams and wraiths?
Go, Barca, bid the soldiers stay the scourging.
These self-opinioned Rabbis must be taught
To feel what strength abides in our decrees.
The man has done no wrong; bring him hither.

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