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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 833

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The period of official mourning for the Emperor Vespasian ends. His son Titus is to succeed to the throne, and the rumor is that he will marry Bérénice, the queen of Palestine, with whom he was long in love. Antiochus, the war companion of Titus and a close friend, is also Bérénice’s faithful friend. Although he was in love with her for five years, she never responded to his feeling.

Antiochus, who hopes that Titus will not marry Bérénice, goes to see her for the last time before he leaves Rome. He gives orders to his confidant Arsace to prepare everything for his departure. Arsace is surprised that Antiochus is preparing to leave when Titus is rising to great honor and will, in all probability, want his friend close by.

Bérénice, confident that the rumor of her marriage with Titus is true, is expecting a confirmation at any moment. When Antiochus appears to bid her farewell, she cruelly reproaches him for declaring his love at that time. She declares that she enjoyed his friendship and is depending on him to stay as a witness to her happiness.

Titus, aware that his love for Bérénice is a cause of concern to the Roman Empire, asks Paulin, a faithful confidant, his opinion of the emperor’s suit. Paulin says frankly that the court will approve anything Titus might do, but that the Roman people will never be willing to have Bérénice as their empress. Although Titus realizes this fact only too well, he tries desperately to cling to his hope that somehow he can make her his wife without arousing public indignation and protest. Meanwhile, he sends for Antiochus and asks him to take Bérénice back to her own country.

When Bérénice arrives, full of love and joy and believing that she will soon marry Titus, the emperor, unable to tell her the truth, blames his father’s death for the restrictions imposed upon him. She misunderstands him, however, and with all her passion reaffirms her love, saying that he can never miss his father as she will miss him if he does not love her. Overwhelmed, Titus finds it impossible to tell her that he cannot make her his empress.

Left alone with Phénice, Bérénice shows some concern over Titus’s actions and speech. Then, remembering that Titus is to see Antiochus, she imagines that he is jealous of Antiochus and therefore really in love with her, and that soon everything will be all right.

When Antiochus arrives, Titus asks him to talk to Bérénice in his place, as a friend, and to assure her that Titus is sacrificing their love only out of the demands of duty. Left alone with Arsace, Antiochus does not know whether to rejoice for himself or grieve for his friend. Although his heart is filled with renewed hope, he does not want to be the one to tell Bérénice of Titus’s decision. In spite of his reluctance Bérénice persuades him to reveal what Titus told him. On hearing his story she refuses to believe him and says that she will see Titus herself. In a painful interview she declares that she will kill herself. Paulin has a difficult time keeping Titus from following her when she leaves. Antiochus, alarmed, comes to beg Titus to save her life.

Titus meets with the representatives of the senate. Meanwhile, he asks Antiochus to reassure Bérénice of his love. Arsace comes looking for Antiochus with the news that Bérénice, about to leave Rome, wrote a letter to Titus. Antiochus announces that he is going to commit suicide and leaves. Bérénice, coming out of her apartment, meets Titus and tells him she is leaving immediately. When Titus declares that he loves her now more than ever, she pleads with him to show mercy and love her less when he orders her to leave. He finds the letter, which announces her decision to die since she cannot stay with him. Saying that he cannot let her go, he calls for Antiochus. When Bérénice collapses, Titus, in despair, assures her that he loves her to such a degree that he is willing to give up the empire for her sake, even though he knows that she will be ashamed of him if he would do so. If she will not promise to stay alive, he declares, he will kill himself. When Antiochus arrives, Titus tells him to be a witness to how weak love makes his friend. Antiochus replies that he always loved Bérénice and that he was preparing to commit suicide when Titus called him back.

Moved by so much grief on all sides, Bérénice accepts Titus’s decision. Leaving, she asks Antiochus to pattern his decision on theirs. The three go their different ways.

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