Egmont is discovered sleeping on a couch. A rustling of keys is heard; the door opens; servants enter with torches; Ferdinand and Silva follow, accompanied by soldiers. Egmont starts from his sleep.
Egmont. Who are ye that thus rudely banish slumber from my eyes? What mean these vague and insolent glances? Why this fearful procession? With what dream of horror come ye to delude my half awakened soul?
Silva. The duke sends us to announce your sentence.
Egmont. Do ye also bring the headsman who is to execute it?
Silva. Listen, and you will know the doom that awaits you.
Egmont. It is in keeping with the rest of your infamous proceedings. Hatched in night and in night achieved, so would this audacious act of injustice shroud itself from observation!—Step boldly forth, thou who dost bear the sword concealed beneath thy mantle; here is my head, the freest ever severed by tyranny from the trunk.
Silva. You err! The righteous judges who have condemned you will not conceal their sentence from the light of day.
Egmont. Then does their audacity exceed all imagination and belief. Silva (takes the sentence from an attendant, unfolds it, and reads). “In the King’s name, and invested by his Majesty with authority to judge all his subjects of whatever rank, not excepting the knights of the Golden Fleece, we declare—–”
Egmont. Can the king transfer that authority?
Silva. “We declare, after a strict and legal investigation, thee, Henry, Count Egmont, Prince of Gaure, guilty of high treason, and pronounce thy sentence:—That at early dawn thou be led from this prison to the market-place, and that there, in sight of the people, and as a warning to all traitors, thou with the sword be brought from life to death. Given at Brussels.” (Date and year so indistinctly read as to be imperfectly heard by the audience.) “Ferdinand, Duke of Alva, President of the Tribunal of Twelve.” Thou knowest now thy doom. Brief time remains for thee to prepare for the impending stroke, to arrange thy affairs, and to take leave of thy friends.
[Exit Silva with followers. Ferdinand remains with two torch-bearers. The stage is dimly lighted.
Egmont (stands for a time as if buried in thought, and allows Silva to retire without looking round. He imagines himself alone, and, on raising his eyes, beholds Alva’s son).
Thou tarriest here? Wouldst thou by thy presence augment my amazement, my horror? Wouldst thou carry to thy father the welcome tidings that in unmanly fashion I despair? Go. Tell him that he deceives neither the world nor me. At first it will be whispered cautiously behind his back, then spoken more and more loudly, and when at some future day the ambitious man descends from his proud eminence, a thousand voices will proclaim—that ’twas