Princess Ida


   

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Dialogue following No. 13


Enter the Princess, reading. She does not see them.

Florian. But who comes here? The Princess, as I live!
What shall we do?
Hilarion. (aside) Why, we must brave it out!
  (aloud) Madam, accept our humblest reverence.

They bow, then suddenly recollecting themselves, curtsey.

Princess. (surprised) We greet you, ladies. What would you with us?
Hilarion. (aside) What shall I say? (aloud) We are three students, ma'am, Three well-born maids of liberal estate,
Who wish to join this University.

Hilarion and Florian curtsey again. Cyril bows extravagantly, then, being recalled to himself by Florian , curtseys.

Princess. If, as you say, you wish to join our ranks,
And will subscribe to all our rules, 'tis well.
Florian. To all your rules we cheerfully subscribe.
Princess. You say you're noblewomen. Well, you'll find
No sham degrees for noblewomen here.
You'll find no sizars here, or servitors,
Or other cruel distinctions, meant to draw
A line 'twixt rich and poor; you'll find no tufts
To mark nobility, except such tufts
As indicate nobility of brain.
As for your fellow-students, mark me well:
There are a hundred maids within these walls,
All good, all learned, and all beautiful:
They are prepared to love you: will you swear
To give the fullness of your love to them?
Hilarion. Upon our words and honours, Ma'am, we will!
Princess.

But we go further: Will you undertake
That you will never marry any man?

Florian. Indeed we never will!
Princess.   Consider well,
  You must prefer our maids to all mankind!
Hilarion. To all mankind we much prefer your maids!
Cyril. We should be dolts indeed, if we did not,
Seeing how fair –
Hilarion. (aside to Cyril) Take care – that's rather strong!
Princess. But have you left no lovers at your home
Who may pursue you here?
Hilarion.   No, madam, none.
  We're homely ladies, as no doubt you see,
And we have never fished for lover's love.
We smile at girls who deck themselves with gems,
False hair and meretricious ornament,
To chain the fleeting fancy of a man,
But do not imitate them. What we have
Of hair, is all our own. Our colour, too,
Unladylike, but not unwomanly,
Is Nature's handiwork, and man has learnt
To reckon Nature an impertinence.
Princess. Well, beauty counts for naught within these walls;
If all you say is true, you'll pass with us
A happy, happy time!
Cyril.   If, as you say,
  A hundred lovely maidens wait within,
To welcome us with smiles and open arms,
I think there's very little doubt we shall!

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