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About Play-Acting
by [?]

Another strong effect: Death, in person, walks about the stage in every act. So far as I could make out, he was supposably not visible to any excepting two persons–the one he came for and Appelles. He used various costumes: but there was always more black about them than any other tint; and so they were always sombre. Also they were always deeply impressive and, indeed, awe-inspiring. The face was not subjected to changes, but remained the same first and last–a ghastly white. To me he was always welcome, he seemed so real–the actual Death, not a play-acting artificiality. He was of a solemn and stately carriage; and he had a deep voice, and used it with a noble dignity. Wherever there was a turmoil of merry-making or fighting or feasting or chaffing or quarreling, or a gilded pageant, or other manifestation of our trivial and fleeting life, into it drifted that black figure with the corpse- face, and looked its fateful look and passed on; leaving its victim shuddering and smitten. And always its coming made the fussy human pack seem infinitely pitiful and shabby, and hardly worth the attention of either saving or damning.

In the beginning of the first act the young girl Zoe appears by some great rocks in the desert, and sits down exhausted, to rest. Presently arrive a pauper couple stricken with age and infirmities; and they begin to mumble and pray to the Spirit of Life, who is said to inhabit that spot. The Spirit of Life appears; also Death–uninvited. They are (supposably) invisible. Death, tall, black-robed, corpse-faced, stands motionless and waits. The aged couple pray to the Spirit of Life for a means to prop up their existence and continue it. Their prayer fails. The Spirit of Life prophesies Zoe’s martyrdom; it will take place before night. Soon Appelles arrives, young and vigorous and full of enthusiasm: he has led a host against the Persians and won the battle; he is the pet of fortune, rich, honoured, believed, ‘Master of Palmyra’. He has heard that whoever stretches himself out on one of those rocks there and asks for a deathless life can have his wish. He laughs at the tradition, but wants to make the trial anyway. The invisible Spirit of Life warns him! ‘Life without end can be regret without end.’ But he persists: let him keep his youth, his strength, and his mental faculties unimpaired, and he will take all the risks. He has his desire.

From this time forth, act after act, the troubles and sorrows and misfortunes and humiliations of life beat upon him without pity or respite; but he will not give up, he will not confess his mistake. Whenever he meets Death he still furiously defies him–but Death patiently waits. He, the healer of sorrows, is man’s best friend: the recognition of this will come. As the years drag on, and on, and on, the friends of the Master’s youth grow old; and one by one they totter to the grave: he goes on with his proud fight, and will not yield. At length he is wholly alone in the world; all his friends are dead; last of all, his darling of darlings, his son, the lad Nymphas, who dies in his arms. His pride is broken now; and he would welcome Death, if Death would come, if Death would hear his prayers and give him peace. The closing act is fine and pathetic. Appelles meets Zenobia, the helper of all who suffer, and tells her his story, which moves her pity. By common report she is endowed with more than earthly powers; and since he cannot have the boon of death, he appeals to her to drown his memory in forgetfulness of his griefs–forgetfulness ‘which is death’s equivalent’. She says (roughly translated), in an exaltation of compassion: