Shakespeare’s Narrative Sources: Italian Novellas and Their European Dissemination

Arthur Golding – Ovid’s Metamorphoses

Book IV – Pyramus and Thisbe










































































































































Within the town (of whose huge walls so monstrous high and thick

The fame is given Semyramis for making them of brick)

Dwelt hard together two young folk in houses joined so near

That under all one roof well nigh both twain conveyed were.

The name of him was Pyramus, and Thisbe called was she.

So fair a man in all the East was none alive as he,

Nor ne’re a woman, maid nor wife, in beauty like to her.

This neighbro’d bred acquaintance first, this  neighbro’d first did stir

The secret sparks, this  neighbro’d first an entrance in did show,

For love to come to that to which it afterwards did grow.

And if that right had taken place they had been man and wife,

But still their parents went about to let which (for their life)

They could not let. For both their hearts with equall flame did burn.

No man was privy to their thoughts. And for to serve their turn

Instead of talk, they used signs. The closelier they suppressed

The fire of love, the fiercer still it raged in their breast.

The wall that parted house from house had riven therein a cranny

Which shrunk at making of the wall, this fault not marked of any

Of many hundred years before (what doth not Love espy?).

These lovers first of all found out, and made a way whereby

To talk together secretly, and through the same did go

Their loving whisp’rings very light and safely to and fro.

Now as at one side Pyramus and Thisbe on the tother

Stood often drawing one of them the pleasant breath from other.

“O thou envious wall”, they said, “why letst thou lovers thus?

What matter were it if that thou permitted both of us

In arms each other to embrace? Or if thou think that this

Were overmuch, yet mightest thou at least make room to kiss.

And yet thou shalt not find us churls: we think ourselves in debt

For this same piece of courtesy, in vouching safe to let

Our sayings to our friendly ears thus freely come and go.”

Thus having where they stood in vain complained of their woe,

When night drew near, they bade adieu and each gave kisses sweet

Unto the parget on their side, the which did never meet.

Next morning with her cheerful light had driven the stars aside

And Phoebus with his burning beams the dewy grass had dried,

These lovers at their wonted place by foreappointment met,

Where after much complaint and moan they covenanted to get

Away from such as watched them, and in the evening late

To steal out of their fathers’ house and eke the city gate.

And to th’intent that in the fields they strayed not up and down

They did agree at Ninus’ tomb to meet without the town,

And tarry underneath a tree that by the same did grow

Which was a fair high mulberry with fruit as white as snow,

Hard by a cool and trickling spring. This bargain pleased them both

And so daylight (which to their thought away but slowly goeth)

Did in the ocean fall to rest, and night from thence doth rise.

As soon as darkness once was come, straight Thisbe did devise

A shift to wind her out of doors, that none that were within

Perceived her: and muffling her with clothes about her chin,

That no man might discern her face, to Ninus’ tomb she came

Unto the tree, and sat her down there underneath the same.

Love made her bold. But see the chance, there comes besmeared with blood,

About the chaps a Lioness all foaming from the Wood

From slaughter lately made of kine to staunch her bloody thirst

With water of the foresaid spring. Whom Thisbe spying first

Afar by moonlight, thereupon with fearfull steps gan fly,

And in a dark and irksome cave did hide herself thereby.

And as she fled away for haste she let her mantle fall

The which for fear she left behind not looking back at all.

Now when the cruel lioness her thirst had staunched well,

In going to the wood she found the slender weed that fell

From Thisbe, which with bloody teeth in pieces she did tear.

The night was somewhat further spent ere Pyramus came there

Who seeing in the subtle sand the print of lion’s paw,

Waxed pale for fear. But when also the bloody cloak he saw

All rent and torn, “One night”, he said, “shall lovers two confound,

Of which long life deserved she of all that live on ground.

My soul deserves of this mischance the peril for to bear.

I wretch have been the death of thee, which to this place of fear

Did cause thee in the night to come, and came not here before.

My wicked limbs and wretched guts with cruel teeth therefore

Devour ye, o ye lions all that in this rock do dwell.

But cowards use to wish for death.” The slender weed that fell

From Thisbe up he takes, and straight doth bear it to the tree

Which was appointed erst the place of meeting for to be.

And when he had bewept and kissed the garment which he knew:

“Receive thou my blood too”, quoth he, and therewithall he drew

His sword, the which among his guts he thrust, and by and by

Did draw it from the bleeding wound beginning for to die,

And cast himself upon his back; the blood did spin on high

As when a conduit pipe is cracked, the water bursting out

Doth shoot itself a great way off and pierce the air about.

The leaves that were upon the tree besprinkled with his blood

Were dyed black. The root also bestained as it stood,

A deep dark purple colour straight upon the berries cast.

Anon scarce ridded of her fear with which she was aghast,

For doubt of disappointing him comes Thisbe forth in haste,

And for her lover looks about, rejoycing for to tell

How hardly she had scap’d that night the danger that befell.

And as she knew right well the place and fashion of the tree

(As which she saw so late before), even so when she did see

The colour of the berries turned, she was uncertain whither

It were the tree at which they both agreed to meet together.

While in this doubtful stound she stood, she cast her eye aside

And there beweltered in his blood her lover she espied

Lie sprawling with his dying limbs: at which she started back,

And looked pale as any box, a shuddering through her strack,

Even like the sea which suddenly with whissing noise doth move,

When with a little blast of wind it is but touched above.

But when approaching nearer him she knew it was her love.

She beat her breast, she shrieked out, she tare her golden hair,

And taking him between her arms did wash his wounds with tears,

She meint[1] her weeping with his blood, and kissing all his face

(Which now became as cold as ice) she cried in woeful case:

“Alas, what chance my Pyramus hath parted thee and me?

Make answer, o my Pyramus: It is thy Thisb, even she

Whom thou dost love most heartily that speaketh unto thee.

Give ear and raise thy heavy head.” He hearing Thisbe’s name,

Lift up his dying eyes and, having seen her, closed the same.

But when she knew her mantle there and saw his scabbard lie

Without the sword, “Unhappy man, thy love hath made thee die:

Thy love”, she said,” hath made thee slay thy self. This hand of mine

Is strong enough to do the like. My love no less than thine

Shall give me force to work my wound. I will pursue the dead.

And wretched woman as I am, it shall of me be said

That like as of thy death I was the only cause and blame,

So am I thy companion eke and partner in the same,

For death which only could alas asunder part us twain,

Shall never so dissever us but we will meet again.

And you the parents of us both, most wretched folk alive,

Let this request that I shall make in both our names belive

Entreat you to permit that we whom chaste and steadfast love

And whom even death hath joined in one, may as it doth behove

In one grave be together laid. And thou, unhappy tree

Which shroudest now the corpse of one, and shalt anon through me

Shroud two, of this same slaughter hold the sicker signs for ay

Black be the colour of thy fruits and mourning-like alway,

Such as the murder of us twain may evermore bewray”.

This said, she took the sword yet warm with slaughter of her love

And setting it beneath her breast, did to her heart it shove.

Her prayer with the gods and with their parents took effect,

For when the fruit is throughly ripe, the berry is bespecked

With colour tending to a black. And that which after fire

Remained, rested in one tomb as Thisbe did desire.


[1] Past participle of the verb ming: “To mix or blend one thing with (†mid, †among, †Sc. into) another” (OED v., 1.1a).