Dramatic Texts >> Levon Shant >> The Emperor

THE EMPEROR by Levon Shant, translated by Anne T. Vardanian
 

Characters

 
NICEPHORUS PHOCAS, Byzantine Commander-in-Chief who became Emperor in 963 AD
PRIEST, Phocas’ Priest at the Byzantine Army Camp
ISAAC PHOCAS, Phocas’ cousin
OHAN GOURGEN, Friend and kinsman of Phocas
EMPRESS THEOPHANO, Widowed empress who married Nicephorus Phocas when he ascended the throne
VASIL LECAPEN, Grand Chamberlain and most influential member of the Constantinople palace.
GRANDE LOGOTHETE, Controlled the treasury of the Empire
PATRICIAN ALAMBAS, A high-ranking court official
SENATOR PONTIS, An elderly man who was formerly a General
HOLY MAN, Emperor Nicephorus’ personal Holy Father and Sage, a very elderly man
DUCHESS, A member of Theophano’s court
PRINCESS IRINA, A member of Theophano’s court
HUNCHBACK, An old gypsy hag.  Theophano’s jester and confidante
GAZYA, A young lady, member of Theophano’s court
PATRICIAN LADY ABAMBAS, Patrician Abambas’ wife
COUNTESS ARGIRA, Friend and confidante of Theophano
ARCHONT TORNIK, A landed magnate and friend of Prince Antok
ARCHONT DUCAS, A landed magnate and a friend of Prince Antok
PRINCE ANTOK, An elderly respected Prince of Hashdenk (an Armenian province)
CAPTAIN VAHRAM, Friend of Prince Antok.  An officer at Agulberd.
HANNAH, Prince Antok’s young daughter
ELDERLY GENTLEMAN, At the Constantinople Palace.  A Follower of Emperor Nicephorus.
YOUNG GENTLEMAN, In attendance at Constantinople Palace
EUNUCH, Friend of Vasil Lecepan, at the palace.   
TOROS, Young officer at Agulberd and friend of Hannah.
OFFICERS AT FORT AGULBERD, Older Officer, Second Officer, Another Officer
COURT SCRIBE, At Constantinople Palace.
MASTER OF CEREMONIES, At Constantinople Palace.
PROMINENT COURTIER, At Constantinople Palace.
OFFICERS, GUARDS, COURT ATTENDANTS, SOLDIERS, and a COURT HERALD.
 
* This cast list was prepared by the translator and did not appear in the Armenian original.
 

Prologue

 
(The Byzantine Military Post, Army Camp Headquarters.  It is the interior of the Commander in Chief’s tent. At stage right there is a low wide couch.  In the center, there is a low table with two chairs.  The entrance to the tent is upstage center.  At stage left, there is a passage leading to the sleeping quarters in the adjoining tent.  All curtains on the entrances are drawn and the tent is dimly lit.
 
The Commander in Chief, NICEPHORUS PHOCAS, is seated on the edge of the couch, looking down.  He slowly raises his head and then stands up.  He is a short, fat man with a very dark complexion, in his early 50s.  He has long, thick  black hair, a short sparse beard, and small darting eyes.  The time is approximately 963 AD.)
 

NICEPHORUS
(Thoughtfully.)  Emperor . . . (Firmly.)  Emperor!  Why not?  But . . . (Again thoughtful and still.)
 
(A PRIEST enters from the stage left entrance (sleeping quarters) holding a Bible and a cross, draped with a veil.)
 
PRIEST
Greetings and Blessings to the great Commander!
 
NICEPHORUS
Oh, are you through with your evening prayers?
 
PRIEST
I’ve come directly from our Lord’s holy altar.  May the Savior’s cross protect you!
 
(NICHEPHORUS kneels with humility and kisses the holy artifacts.)
 
PRIEST
I went to your sleeping quarters as usual, but it seems that you have not slept tonight.  Your eyes have a strange glow . . . Were you praying?
 
NICEPHORUS
I had to speak with God.  I had to search deep inside of me.  Oh, it’s a very dark place, this soul of ours!  It’s where . . . insatiable desires creep around, where lurid thoughts spring about, where our instincts are kindled embers, where passions are crouched . . . like a tiger waiting to leap upon its prey!
 
PRIEST
That is true, Commander.  You have drawn a very clear picture, but you must not speak that way.  No one in your whole army has lived with the restraints you have.  Who has lived more simply and curbed his passions more than you have?  Who has lived in prayer or been more devout than you?
 
NICEPHORUS
Father, don’t cover my wounds with a soothing balm!  Let them burn.
 
PRIEST
Is what I say untrue?  You do not eat meat four days of the week.  Since your wife died, three years ago, you have not known another woman.  Your soul has always been humble and merciful.  You have attributed your combat victories to your friends, and as a result, they all worship you.
 
NICEPHORUS
Indeed!  And I still say that it is dark!  That man’s soul is shrouded in darkness.  There it is!  If you have come to sing my praises, you have chosen an inopportune time for that.  It would be better to pray for me.
 
A GUARD
(Entering upstage center he announces:)
Isaac Phocas from the city of Caesarea!
 
NICEPHORUS
Oh, finally!  Let him in.  (Sending the PRIEST on his way.)  Very well.
 
(ISAAC PHOCAS enters.  He is a tall, healthy, grey-haired man, with a swarthy complexion.  NICEPHORUS hurries toward him and greets him with an embrace.)
 
ISAAC
I hope all is well, Nicephorus.  What’s going on?
 
NICEPHORUS
You’ll soon know what’s happening.  (Abruptly.)  First, tell me, did you see my army?
 
ISAAC
What?
 
NICEPHORUS
(Proudly.)  Didn’t you notice that endless sea of white tents out there?  Didn’t you observe the brave ranks of my countless regiments, and the bright faces of my courageous troops?  I ask you, did you see my army?
 
ISAAC
This is certainly not the first time I have seen your army.  It’s true, I seldom leave my own territory, but it is not the first time I’ve been in your camp.
 
NICEPHORUS
Really?  And I’ve been in that army for thirty years.   I created it out of nothing!  I have bred it and led it, and yet it seems to me that I am seeing it for the first time, now.
 
ISAAC
Well, that is surprising!  I have always seen it!
 
NICEPHORUS
Thirty years!  Step by step, I scratched and clawed, from the lowest ranks until I got here.  Oh, how I have fought!  I slaughtered those Arabs and hurled them to the East.  I wiped those Saracens from the land of Crete where they had nestled themselves for centuries, and drove them into the sea.  I have humbled the Crescent before the Byzantine Cross but I did not really see my army, did not really comprehend the extraordinary power that God had given me.  And do you know where it was, when I realized for the first time that I possessed this awesome power?
 
ISAAC
Where?
 
NICEPHORUS.
At Constantinople, in the Palace.  In that small room, I saw it in the depths of Joseph Bringas’ eyes.
 
ISAAC
The guardian?
 
NICEPHORUS.
Yes!  The guardian of Romanus’ little children and bully to the widow queen.  Tyrant of the court and its officials, and now our dictator and my most vicious enemy!
 
ISAAC
Yes, I heard they sent for you in Constantinople.
 
NICEPHORUS
I saw it in his eyes for the first time, when he tried to lull my senses with his words of flattery, I saw that fear he had for me and for my army.  The terror in his eyes was so fierce, I could tell he was planning my destruction.  For a moment that terror filled my soul I thought to myself that I would never walk out of that place alive.
 
ISAAC
And then?
 
NICEPHORUS
Then?  Well, here I am, standing before you, alive and healthy.  And now I am the only hope left for all thinking people, the last hope!
 
ISAAC
And it must have been those people who freed you from his clutches.
 
NICEPHORUS
Listen.  Joseph Bringas does not have a single regiment that could compare with mine.  He has no legitimate army to hurl against our white tents.  It is wide open and ready for me.  It is very difficult, Isaac, when there are no barriers and no restrictions.  When everything, understand, everything depends on you.  It’s so frightening . . .that I’m even afraid of myself!
 
ISAAC
What is on your mind, Nicephorus?
 
NICEPHORUS
That’s just why I sent for you.  You are the leader of our Phocades, the eldest in our clan, aren’t you?  And we have always understood each other.
 
ISAAC
Yes, only if you do not speak in such riddles!  Remember, a man who tills the soil often has thick hands and a thick head!
 
NICEPHORUS
Good.  Now, I’ll tell you something very clearly and simply.
 
ISAAC
All right, tell me.
 
NICEPHORUS
Just a little while ago, our priest was here commending me for not being with a woman for three years.
 
ISAAC
That’s nothing to be commended!
 
NICEPHORUS
I don’t know!  The truth is that I have wanted a woman, a beautiful woman, the most beautiful woman in the Byzantine Kingdom.
 
ISAAC
What are you saying?  Tell us who she is so that we can start the wedding preparations Who is she?  Do I know her?
 
NICEPHORUS
I tell you, an extraordinary woman, a very high-ranking woman!
 
ISAAC
Oh, my God!
 
NICEPHORUS
The highest ranking woman in all the Byzantine state.
 
ISAAC
Theophano?
 
NICEPHORUS
Yes.
 
ISAAC
She is the Empress, Nicephorus.  Don’t provoke her anger!
 
NICEPHORUS
But she is the one who sent for me!
 
ISAAC
From all that you have said, I can gather only this much . . . that you have decided to become . . . (He stops and looks around him.)
 
NICEPHORUS
Are you frightened?
 
ISAAC
I mean . . . How can I say this?  It’s so sudden!  It seems to me that it’s a pretty daring step to take.  I’m afraid you will be chasing shadows and we will lose everything we have.  Our position, our influence and our lands.  We will lose our estates, we will be stripped of everything and topple to the ground.  Oh no!  You want to leap too high and you’re going to break your neck doing it!
 
NICEPHORUS
High?  Yes!  That’s the very word my sage used in his prophesy, many years ago, when I was just a lieutenant. 
 
ISAAC
Your sage?  Oh yes, your priest.  What was the name of his monastery?  It’s on the tip of my tongue!  Is he still alive?
 
NICEPHORUS
(Enthused.)  Yes, Isaac, he’s alive!  “You are going to reach those heights upon whose paths only God’s chosen can tread.”  This is what his lips uttered!
 
ISAAC
You’ve stepped upon those heights a long time ago.  You are the absolute ruler of this huge army, the rightful lord of all anatolia and the Commander-in-Chief of the entire Eastern sector.
 
NICEPHORUS
(Thoughtfully.)  That’s what I thought until now, but now I feel as if that holy man’s prophesy is still far in the future, far away . . . I still must reach it . . . But . . .
 
(A Guard enters from upstage center.)
 
GUARD
General Ohan Gourgen.
 
(Without waiting for a reply, OHAN GOURGEN goes past the guard and enters.  He is in his early forties, of slight stature, well porportioned and energetic.  His hair and beard are of a reddish tone, and he has attractive features.  His speech, movements and general demeanor are simple yet noble.)
 
GOURGEN
(Cheerfully to ISAAC.)  Oh, when did you arrive.  Did you sneak in with your wizard’s cap, invisible to all?  And how did you bring yourself to leave your estates and your shady forest?  Welcome, you’re just in time.  Now, let’s all three sit down to a family council.  After all, I’m family, though somewhat in a roundabout way.  As they say, you don’t look into a relative’s navel, you look into his heart.
 
ISAAC
Oh, you and your navel . . . and your heart!  What does all that mean?  You’re always teasing, always joking about something!  When will you kow what it means to mature?
 
GOURGEN
When the time comes, I’ll go to your shady forests to find out.  Now, you try to make this man come to his senses.
 
ISAAC
Look here, Ohan, what is your opinion?
 
GOURGEN
For the last two weeks I’ve let my own affairs go and I’m chasing after everyone, young and old.  I’ve gone through sweat and blood so that I can open their eyes, and you’re asking me what my opinion is?
 
ISAAC
And what about the army?  How do they feel about this?
 
GOURGEN
Forget it, Brother, that’s nonsense!  Who could possibly be opposed to his progress and rise?  Who could possibly let this opportunity slip from his fingers?  Now they are all suppporting it.  Try to get this man going if you can.  He’s wearing me out with his excuses, saying, “It’s too soon.”  “Let’s wait awhile.”  Then he says, “Let’s think it over,” or he talks about “rights” and “responsibilities,” and who knows what else.
 
ISAAC
You look at things too lightly.  That’s not good, Ohan.  Life is a serious matter.  First you must weigh everything.
 
GOURGEN
We have weighed the pros and cons a thousand times already.  And I repeat to you that we must act immediately if we want to succeed.  And if you keep wavering, we will miss that opportune moment, and we will all end up sitting on the dunce’s stool.
 
NICEPHORUS
I know what I am doing.  Let me be!
 
GOURGEN
(Angry.)  Good, sit tight, and again weigh each grain of wheat, one by one.  (He takes a folded letter from his breast pocket and throws it on the table.)  And please take this also and weigh it with the rest!
 
NICEPHORUS
What is that?
 
GOURGEN
A letter!
 
NICEPHORUS
Who wrote it?
 
GOURGEN
Who?  His name is Joseph Bringas.
 
ISAAC
The guardian?
 
NICEPHORUS
Bringas?  He wrote to you?
 
GOURGEN
Yes, to me.
 
NICEPHORUS
When did you receive this?
 
GOURGEN
You know I was not in camp yesterday.
 
NICEPHORUS
Oh, you had an appointment?
 
GOURGEN
And a very mysterious one . . . with the bearer of this letter.
 
NICEPHORUS
And what does he say?
 
GOURGEN
Who?
 
NICEPHORUS
Joseph Bringas.
 
GOURGEN
Words of wisdom.
 
NICEPHORUS
I’m asking you . . . what does he say?
 
GOURGEN
What could he say?  He praises my military prowess, the famed achievements of the Armenian battalions, the esteem I possess in the capital and my fine reputation among the elite.  Here, read it . . . Read it and see for yourself.  It is written with wisdom and sensitivity!
 
NICEPHORUS
And then?
 
GOURGEN
And then, he favors me with the right to overthrow you at my convenience . . . And then to proclaim myself the Commander of the entire Eastern sector.  “Lovely Constantinople,” “God’s Protected City.”  “The head of my armies.”  And in exchange for my partisan services, the guardian Joseph Bringas promises me no more and no less than the Byzantine throne, as Emperor!  And as an added bonus, the widow of the deceased Emperor Romanus!
 
NICEPHORUS
Theophano?
 
GOURGEN
At your service!  As you can see, the people of Constantinople do not pick at straws, like us.  They realize that time is short.  How do you know that similar offers have not been made to others?
 
NICEPHORUS
And you?
 
GOURGEN
I . . . what?
   
NICEPHORUS
Have you given your asnwer?
 
GOURGEN
I said that Joseph Bringas is a cherished friend and it would make me extremely happy to recline with my legs crossed on the Emperor’s throne, and it would make me even happier to sleep in Romanus’ bed.  I told them that they would hear from me in two weeks when my troops head toward Constantinople.  Now, the only obstacle in this pretty scheme is you, so here I am to consult with you on how to plan your elimination.
 
ISAAC
All right, Gourgen, be serious so we can understand you!
 
GOURGEN
Here . . . It’s just as I said.  You either believe me or you don’t!  Who was it?  Just the other day someone said that Joseph Bringas is a new man.  However, his chosen weapon is certainly old!  “Divide and conquer.”  And what a splendid cock fight!  You and I, face to face!  They certainly have good taste!
 
NICEPHORUS
(Picking up the letter.)  This letter is valuable as legitimate proof.  I’m very thankful to you for this letter.  I’m even more thankful for your loyalty.  I will never forget your honesty, for the rest of my life.  Thank you.
 
GOURGEN
(Slightly disappointed.)  What is this amazing man talking about ?  I didn’t bring this letter to receive your silly thanks.  I brought it so that you will finally understand . . . that there is not time to waste!
 
NICEPHORUS
Fine . . . Fine . . . We will see!  Now allow me to retire to my quarters.  (Exits.)
 
GOURGEN
Oh, now he’s going to sit on that letter for another year!
 
ISAAC
You are a restless man, Ohan.  You Armenians are always a restless people!
 
GOURGN
And you Phocades are always complicating things and creating difficulties! (Pointing to the bedroom.)  Well, what is this?  First he wants to and then he doesn’t.  He takes a little step forward, then a little step backward.  At least, he’s changed now . . . We have preached at him so long.  Now I finally know what he wants to do.  Before, he was even afraid of wanting it!
 
ISAAC
(Convinced.)  You see, my friend!  Little by little, I know that he values your advice.  You also have a strong voice in our army.  But, just be a little careful.  Let’s plot along for a month or two and see what shape these events take.
 
GOURGEN
Two months?  (He laughs.)  I tell you that within two weeks we must be under the walls of the capital.  Do you understand?  Within two weeks!  Our friends have already arranged everything there.  Everybody’s morale is high!  While their disillusionment has reached its peak, all their hopes are on us.  We must take advantage of this ferment now!  Do you think it’s easy to arouse the enthusiasm of the army eery time! 
 
ISAAC
You mean it’s reached that point?
 
GOURGEN
We must move, we must!  Right now, today . . . today!
 
ISAAC
Excuse me, but Nicephorus is not one to move today nor tomorrow.  Thank God for that!
 
GOURGEN
Really?  Is that what you think?  Now watch me!  You’ll see how I’ll move him.  I’ll give him such a mighty push that he’ll roll all the way to Constantinople!
 
ISAAC
You?  And just how will you do that?
 
GOURGEN
Well, if you leave it to him, he will never move!  Not just today or tomorrow, not even until Christ’s Second Coming!  (Curtly.)  You wait here.  (Exits upstage center.)
 
(OHAN GOURGEN re-enters with about twenty high-ranking officers.  Some greet ISAAC with friendly familiarity and others with great respect.)
 
FIRST GENERAL
Isn’t he here?
 
ANOTHER
He must be inside.
 
THIRD GENERAL
Haven’t you seen him?  Haven’t you spoken to im?
 
GOURGEN
I spoke to him.
 
THIRD GENERAL
What was the outcome?
 
GOURGEN
The outcome?  There, he went inside.  (Suddenly.)  Listen to me.  There’s no other way.  We’ve tried everything.  We must carry out our decision.  Do you agree?
 
ANOTHER
I think that the matter is settled.
 
ANOTHER
You are the one who said, “Whether he is willing or not.”
 
VOICES
Yes, yes, that’s right!
 
ANOTHER
And quickly!
 
GOURGEN
Is everything ready out there.
 
THIRD GENERAL
Everything.  They’re waiting for the signal.
 
GOURGEN
General Pontis, you are the oldest in our group.  Call the Commander out.
 
ISAAC
What is this?  It must be a plot!  Nicephorus!  Nicephorus!
 
GOURGEN
(Pointing to the door, sarcastically.)  Oh, you want to call the Commander out? If you please . . .!
 
NICEPHORUS
(Rushing out of his sleeping quarters, a short dagger hanging at his side.)  What’s all this noise?  What’s going on here?  Why have you all gathered in my tent?
 
GENERAL PONTIS
Commander, your generals wish to speak to you.
 
ISAAC
Don’t listen to them, Nicephorus.
 
NICEPHORUS
Don’t you interfere!  What’s all this excitement about?  What’s wrong!
 
TALL MAN
Let Gourgen speak.
 
VOICES
Gourgen, Gourgen.
 
(NICEPHORUS, surprised, turns and looks at OHAN GOURGEN quizzically.)
 
GOURGEN
Open those curtains!  (Points to the entrance.)
 
NICEPHORUS
Why?
 
(They draw apart the curtains at the upstage center entrance to the tent.  The outside landscape depicts a sea of tents.  Close to the tents, there are rows of troops.  There is a deep silence.)
 
NICEPHORUS
What is this all about, Ohan!
 
GOURGEN
Look Commander!  Look at your generals.  Look, and you’ll know how they feel!  They are fed up!  Hereafter, not a single one of us can tolerate this vile subjugation to a treacherous Chamberlain.
 
NICEPHORUS
General Gourgen.  I must remind you that your words are completely out of order!
 
ISAAC
And contrary to all decency!
 
NICEPHORUS
Say no more about it!  I forbid you!
 
GOURGEN
This is not that Ohan Gourgen who will immediately obey your command.  Your whole army is now speaking through me, and you must listen to its voice!  This is the third year that a miserable eunuch is pulling the strings of an entire kingdom in the palm of his hands.  He has hindered our every move, he has arrested all our attempts, and has sentenced our army to inaction.  The enemy is gaining strength at our borders and the court will not allow us to move.  They interfere with every bold venture, they don’t ship the needed supplies to our troops and they’ve broken our momentum!  What they want is our destruction!  (To the generals.)  Isn’t that right!

ALL
(Inside the tent.)  Yes!  Yes!  Yes!
 
GOURGEN
Your troops no longer recognize the government of that treacherous eunuch.  Your army will only accept and recognize a government for themselves, a government that understands them, that benefits them, and is chosen by them!  (To the generals.)  Isn’t that right?
 
ALL
(Inside the tent.)  Yes, yes!  Ours!  Ours!
 
GOURGEN
Do you hear that Commander?  And here am I, in the name of your generals, your officer, and all your legions to proclaim you . . .
 
NICEPHORUS
Stop! Stop!  (Darting forward angrily.)
 
GOURGEN
I proclaim before God, before the world, and before this armed throng, you as our only worthy Emperor!
 
THE CROWD
(A strong tumultuous roar.)  You!  You!!!
 
NICEPHORUS
(Covering his ears.)  No, no!  I won’t even listen to that kind of talk!
 
GOURGEN
(Pulling his sword from its sheath.)  Lower your swords before our Emperor!  Bravo!  Emperor Phocas.
 
(Inside and outside the tent, officers and soldiers pull their swords from their sheaths.)
 
ALL
Emperor Phocas!  Emperor Phocas!  Bravo Phocas!
 
(Outside a wave of cheers and exclamations spreads far and beyond the tent.  Swords and flags are waving in the air.  The sound of trumpets is heard from all sides and in the distance.  Everyone crowds about the Emperor to congratulate him, who hopelessly emits sounds of rejection.  OHAN GOURGEN takes a red shoe from the hands of a nearby officer and kneels before NICEPHORUS.  His friends hold the Emperor by his arms, someone raises his left foot and GOURGEN slips the sandal on NICEPHORUS’ foot.)
 
GOURGEN
(Leaps up triumphantly.)  There Nicephorus, I placed the royal red sandal on your foot!
 
A HELPER
A symbol of your royal rank!
 
ANOTHER
(Excited.)  May your fortunes be ever bright as your vestments, red and gold!
 
AN OLDER GENERAL
(Comes forward, very elated.)  For twenty years my sword has been beside yours, Phocas, my tent beside yours.  I have lived with you through thick and thin, and I’m very happy now, Phocas.  (Cries.) Congratulations!  (Embraces PHOCAS.)
 
THE CROWD
Congratulations!  Bravo!
 
ISAAC
(Approaches the Emperor, very moved.)  Nicephorus, you can’t be silent any longer.  They are all waiting for your words.
 
NICEPHORUS
(Slowly comes forward.  There is a deep silence.)  So be it!  May God’s will be done!  You all know that I have always been with you and for you.  And now, it is only natural that I accept this collective expression of your will and the will of God, whether I want to or not . . . regardless of how difficult this new challenge may be. You are right, I feel just as you do.  It is my responsibility to combat the internal foes of this most ancient Christian state from within, just as I have fought its external enemies outside its borders.  They are always more evil on the inside.  Since you have already proclaimed our battle, we cannot waste any time!  I will call a meeting with my generals now . . .We must begin to move our armies!  This news must not reach Constantinople before our troops arrive there! 
 
VOICES
To Constantinople!!! To Constantinople!!
 
A VOICE
Oh!  We are finally moving!
 
A YOUNG GENERAL
Upon our shield!  On our shield!  Our new Emperor . . . upon our shield!
 
ANOTHER
On to Constantinople!
 
THE CROWD
Constantinople!  Constantinople!!!
(They surround the Emperor, raise him, place him upon a shield, on the shoulders of the crowd.)
 
OUTSIDE CROWD
(Their cheers join the crowd voices, and the shouts are like waves of phrases, gradually fading away.)  To Constantinople!!! To Constantinople!!! To Constantinople!!
 
(Inside the tent, OHAN GOURGEN and his two friends have stayed behind.)
 
GOURGEN
(For a brief interval he listens to the distant clamor and suddenly he begins to laugh.)  Look, just look at that!  Poor Phocas!  Look at his posture, look at his bearing!  Look at the expression on his face!
 
HIS FRIEND
So, you did it!  You did it!  And now, you just stand there and laugh!
 
ANOTHER
You worked so hard, you could have taken the throne yourself.
 
GOURGEN
Me?  Excuse me, but I’d rather not become an emperor!  It is much more fun this way.  (Laughing heartily.) Look, look at that unfortunate man!  Look how he clings to the edge of that shield!  Ha!  Ha!  Ha!
 
FRIEND
Come on, come on!  We might miss something!
 
GOURGEN
Stay!  He doesn’t need us anymore.  The river finds its outlet and so will he.  That’s that!  I was beginning to tire of this unpleasant game.  Man, as soon as we get to Constantinople we will really let loose!  Let them go the palace and play at kingdoms.  I promise you the most magnificent feasts and revels!
 
ANOTHER FRIEND
The kind of feasts that only you can arrange.
 
GOURGEN
Ah!  Byzantium’s most shapely dancers will pull at your heart-strings, and the lips of its most beautiful women will share their wine with you.
 
FRIEND
Of course!  It’s worth going to Constantinople for!
 
GOURGEN
The spoils should be divided equally among the victors!  Leave the kingdom to them!
 
ANOTHER FRIEND
And leave the wine and women to us!
 
FRIEND
We’ll go!  We’ll go!
 
OUTSIDE VOICES
To Constantinople!  Constantinople!
 
  End of Prologue
 
 

Notes on Levon Shant’s The Emperor by Anne T. Vardanian

Throughout the tenth century, the Armenians shook off the yoke of Islam, and entered the Byzantine sphere of influence. They played an important part in the affairs of the monarchy and supplied it with generals, diplomats and even emperors. Nicephorus Phocas, a general during this period, who later became Emperor, was of partial Armenian descent. (Diehl, Byzantine Empire, p. 79, and Charanais, The Byzantine Empire, p. 39).

During the period of Shant’s The Emperor, Caesarea was the main stronghold of Byzantium and then of the Selchukids north-west of the Cilician Gates. It was beseiged by Leon II, King of Cilician Armenia in 1222 A.D., but was never occupied by the Armenians (Boase, Cilician Kingdom, p. 78). Nicephorus conquered it in 951 A.D. (Ostrogorski, Byzantine State, p. 250).

In 960 A.D., Nicephorus Phocus, then considered the best general of the Byzantine Empire, conquered the island of Crete inhabited by the Arabs. The conquered island was converted to Christianity and the mastery of the eastern waters reverted to the Byzantines. (Diehl, p. 78).

Joseph Bringas was the Grand Chamberlain to Romanus II, a eunuch to whom Romanus entrusted the affairs of state, though he was very unpopular with the people. (Ostrogorski, p. 250). Romanus Lecapenus was Emperor of Byzantium 916-944 A.D. and of Armenian origin.
(Charanis, p. 35).

Theophano was a beautiful, immoral, ambitious woman who became the mistress of John Tzimiskes, who appears later in the play as Ohan Gourgen. Shant characterizes her as she is historically depicted. (Ostrogorski, p. 252, 260).

Ohan Gourgen’s historical counterpart was John Tzimiskes. He is said to have been born in the Armenian district of Khozan. His grandfather was Theophilos, an able provincial governor and military commander who distinguished himself during the reign of Romanus Lecepenus, in the wars against the Arabs. The name also alludes to Tzimeskes’ paternal grandfather’s brother whose name was Ohan Gourgen, or in Greek, John Curcuas. He was regarded as the most brilliant commander during the first half of the tenth century. Thus, Tzimiskes belonged by birth to a distinguished Armenian family which had established itself among the military aristocracy of Byzantium. (Charanis, pp. 223-4).

Nicephorus Phocas marched on Constantinople on August 14, 963 A.D., broke the resistance of Joseph Bringas in a bloody street fight, and was crowned Emperor in St. Sophia on August 16, 963. (Ostrogorski, p. 252).


 


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