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....
(The entire section is 833 words.)