« AnteriorContinuar »
TO LEIGH HUNT, ESQ.
I INscRIBE with your name, from a distant country,
All happiness attend you!
PERcy B. SHELLEy. Rome, May 29, 1819.
A MANTschirt was communicated to me during my travels in Italy which was copied from the archives of the Cenci Palace at Rome, and contains a detailed account of the horrors which ended in the extinction of one of the noblest and richest families of that city, during the Pontificate of Clement VIII., in the year 1599. The story is, that an old man having spent his life in debauchery and wickedness, conceived at length an implacable hatred towards his children; which showed itself towards one daughter under the form of an incestuous passion, aggravated by every circumstance of cruelty and violence. This daughter,
after long and vain attempts to escape from what she
considered a perpetual contamination both of body
existed in tradition, as matters of popular belief and interest, before Shakspeare and Sophocles made them familiar to the sympathy of all succeeding generations of mankind, This story of the Cenci is indeed eminently fearful and monstrous: any thing like a dry exhibition of it on the stage would be insupportable. The person who would treat such a subject, must increase the ideal, and diminish the actual horror of the events, so that the pleasure which arises from the poetry which exists in these tempestuous sufferings and crimes, may mitigate the pain of the contemplation of the moral deformity from which they spring. There must also be nothing attempted to make the ethibition subservient to what is vulgarly termed a moral purpose. The highest moral purpose aimed at In the highest species of the drama, is the teaching the human heart, through its sympathies and antipathies, the knowledge of itself; in proportion to the possession of which knowledge, every human being is wise, just, sincere, tolerant, and kind. If dogmas can do more, it is well; but a drama is no fit place for the enforcement of them. Undoubtedly, no person can be truly dishonored by the act of another; and the fit return to make to the most enor. mous injuries is kindness and forbearance, and a resolution to convert the injurer from his dark pasions by peace and love. Revenge, retaliation, alonement, are pernicious mistakes. If Beatrice had thought in this manner, she would have been wiser and better; but she would never have been a tragic chamcier: the few whom such an exhibition would have interested, could never have been sufficiently Interested for a dramatic purpose, from the want of finding sympathy in their interest among the mass who surround them. It is in the restless and anatomising casuistry with which men seek the justification of Beatrice, yet feel that she has done what needs justification; it is in the superstitious horror with which they contemplate alike her wrongs and their Fevenge, that the dramatic character of what she did and suffered consists. I have endeavored as nearly as possible to repre*ent the characters as they probably were, and have *ught to avoid the error of making them actuated by my own conceptions of right or wrong, false or true: thus under a thin veil converting names and actions of the sixteenth century into cold impersonons of my own mind. They are represented as Catholics, and as Catholics deeply tinged with religion. To a Protestant apprehension there will *Poear something unnatural in the earnest and perPetual sentiment of the relations between God and man which pervade the tragedy of the Cenci. It will especially be startled at the combination of an "doubting persuasion of the truth of the popular *gion, with a cool and determined perseverance in orious guilt. But religion in Italy is not, as in *"estant countries, a cloak to be worn on particular *Y*; or a passport which those who do not wish to be failed at carry with them to exhibit; or a gloomy *ion for penetrating the impenetrable mysteries of our being, which terrifies its possessor at the of the abyss to the brink of which it has onducted him. Religion coexists, as it were, in the mind of an Italian Catholic with a faith in that of which all men have the most certain knowledge. "is interwoven with the whole fabric of life. It is *loration, faith, submission, penitence, blind admira*; not a rule for moral conduct. It has no neces.
sary connexion with any one virtue. The most atrocious villain may be rigidly devout, and, without any shock to established faith, confess himself to be so. Religion pervades intensely the whole frame of society, and is, according to the temper of the mind which it inhabits, a passion, a persuasion, an excuse; a refuge; never a check. Cenci himself built a chapel in the court of his Palace, and dedicated it to St. Thomas the Apostle, and established masses for the peace of his soul. Thus in the first scene of the fourth act, Lucretia's design in exposing herself to the consequences of an expostulation with Cenci after having administered the opiate, was to induce him by a feigned tale to confess himself before death; this being esteemed by Catholics as essential to salvation; and she only relinquishes her purpose when she perceives that her perseverance would expose Beatrice to new outrages. I have avoided with great care in writing this play the introduction of what is commonly called mere poetry, and I imagine there will scarcely be sound a detached simile or a single isolated description, unless Beatrice's description of the chasm appointed for her father's murder should be judged to be of that nature.” In a dramatic composition, the imagery and the passion should interpenetrate one another, the former being reserved simply for the full development and illustration of the latter. Imagination is as the immortal God which should assume flesh for the redemption of mortal passion. It is thus that the most remote and the most familiar inagery may alike be fit for dramatic purposes when employed in the illustration of strong feeling, which raises what is low, and levels to the apprehension that which is lofty, casting over all the shadow of its own greatness. In other respects I have written more carelessly; that is, without an over-fastidious and learned choice of words. In this respect I entirely agree with those modern critics who assert, that in order to move men to true sympathy we must use the familiar language of men; and that our great ancestors the ancient English pocts are the writers, a study of whom might incite us to do that for our own age which they have done for theirs. But it must be the real language of men in general, and not that of any particular class to whose society the writer happens to belong. So much for what I have attempted: I need not be assured that success is a very different matter; particularly for one whose attention has but newly been awakened to the study of dramatic literature. I endenvored whilst at Rome to observe such monuments of this story as might be accessible to a stranger. The portrait of Beatrice at the Colonna Palace is most admirable as a work of art : it was taken by Guido, during her confinement in prison. But it is most interesting as a just representation of one of the loveliest specimens of the workmanship of Nature. There is a fixed and pale composure upon the features: she scems sad and stricken down in spirit, yet the despair thus expressed is lightened by the patience of gentleness. Her head is bound with folds of white drapery, from which the yellow strings of her golden hair escape, and fall about her
* An idea in this speech was suggested by a most sublime passage in “El Purgatorio de San Patricio” of Calleron: the only plagiarism which I have intentionally
committed in the whole piece.
neck. The moulding of her face is exquisitely delicate; the eyebrows are distinct and arched: the lips have that permanent meaning of imagination and sensibility which suffering has not repressed, and which it seems as if death scarcely could extinguish. Her forehead is large and clear; her eyes, which we are told were remarkable for their vivacity, are swollen with weeping, and lustreless, but beautifully tender and serene. In the whole mien, there is a simplicity and dignity which, united with her exquisite loveliness and deep sorrow, are inexpressibly pathetic. Beatrice Cenci appears to have been one of those rare persons in whom energy and gentleness dwell together without destroying one another: her nature was simple and profound. The crimes and miseries in which she was an actor and a sufferer are as the mask and the mantle in which circumstances clothed her for her impersonation on the scene of the world.
The Cenci Palace is of great extent, and though in part modernized, there yet remains a vast and gloomy pile of feudal architecture in the same state as during the dreadful scenes which are the subject of this tragedy. The Palace is situated in an obscure corner of Rome, near the quarter of the Jews, and from the upper windows you see the immense ruins of Mount Palatine half hidden under their profuse overgrowth of trees. There is a court in one part of the palace (perhaps that in which Cenci built the Chapel to St. Thomas), supported by granite columns and adorned with antique friezes of fine workmanship, and built up, according to the ancient Italian fashion, with balcony over balcony of open work. One of the gates of the palace formed of immense stones, and leading through a passage, dark and lofty and opening into gloomy subterranean chambers, struck me particularly.
Of the Castle of Petrella, I could obtain no further information than that which is to be found in the manuscript.
Tucretia, Wife of Cenci, and step-mother of his
The Scese lies principally in Rome, but changes during the fourth Act to Petronella, a castle among the Apulian Appenines.
Time During the Pontificate of Clement VIII.
Your desperate and remorseless manhood; now
Do I behold you in dishonor'd age
CEN.ci. For which Aldobrandino owes you now My fief beyond the Pincian–Cardinal, One thing, I pray you, recollect henceforth, And so we shall converse with less restraint. A man you knew spoke of my wife and daughter— He was accustom'd to frequent my house; So the next day his wife and daughter came And ask'd if I had seen him; and I smiled : I think they never saw him any more.
Camillo. Thou execrable man, beware —
CENCI. Of thee! Nay, this is idle:—We should know each other. As to my character for what men call crime, Seeing I please my senses as I list, And vindicate that right with force or guile, It is a public matter, and I care not If I discuss it with you. I may speak Alike to you and my own conscious heart— For you give out that you have half reform'd me, Therefore strong vanity will keep you silent If fear should not; both will, I do not doubt. All men delight in sensual luxury, All men enjoy revenge; and most exult Over the tortures they can never feel— Flattering their secret peace with others' pain. But I delight in nothing else. I love The sight of agony, and the sense of joy, When this shall be another's, and that mine. And I have no remorse and little fear, Which are, I think, the checks of other men. This mood has grown upon me, until now Any design my captious fancy makes The picture of its wish, and it forms none But such as men like you would start to know, Is as my natural food and rest debarr'd Until it be accomplish'd. e r canni Llo. Art thou not Most miserable?
Why miserable?— No.—I am what your theologians call Harden'd;—which they must be in impudence, So to revile a man's peculiar taste. True, I was happier than I am, while yet Manhood remain'd to act the thing I thought; While lust was sweeter than revenge ; and now Invention palls:–Ay, we must all grow old— But that there yet remains a deed to act Whose horror might make sharp an appetite Duller than mine—I'd do, I know not what. When I was young I thought of nothing else But pleasure; and I fed on honey sweets: Men, by St. Thomas! cannot live like bees, And I grew tired:—yet, till I kill'd a foe, And heard his groans, and heard his children's groans, Knew I not what delight was else on earth, Which now delights me little. I the rather Look on such pangs as terror ill conceals,
The dry fix'd eye-ball; the pale quivering lip,
Hell's most abandon'd fiend
andrara. My lord, a gentleman from Salamanca Would speak with you. cenci. Bid him attend me in the grand saloon. [Exit ANDREA. CAMILL0. Farewell; and I will pray Almighty God that thy false, impious words Tempt not his spirit to abandon thee. [Erit CAMillo. crxci. The third of my possessions! I must use Close husbandry, or gold, the old man's sword, Falls from my wither'd hand. But yesterday There came an order from the Pope to make Fourfold provision for my cursed sons; Whom I have sent from Rome to Salamanca, Hoping some accident might cut them off; And meaning, if I could, to starve them there. I pray thee, God, send some quick death upon them' Bernardo and my wife could not be worse If dead and damn'd :-then, as to Beatrice— [Looking around him suspiciously. I think they cannot hear me at that door: What if they should And yet I need not speak Though the heart triumphs with itself in words. O, thou most silent air, that shall not hear What now I think! Thou pavement, which I tread Towards her chamber—let your echoes talk Of my imperious step scorning surprise, But not of my intent!—Andrea!
Bid Beatrice attend me in her chamber
SCENE II. A garden of the Cenci Palace. Enter BEATRice and ORsiNo, as in conversation.
be ATRICE. Pervert not truth, Orsino. You remember where we held That conversation;–nay, we see the spot Even from this cypress:–two long years are past Since, on an April midnight, underneath The moonlight ruins of Mount Palatine,
I did confess to you my secret mind.
Orsino. You said you loved me then.
beatrice. You are a Priest: Speak to me not of love.
orsino. I may obtain The dispensation of the Pope to marry. Because I am a Priest, do you believe Your image, as the hunter some struck deer, Follows me not whether I wake or sleep?
beatrice. As I have said, speak to me not of love; Had you a dispensation, I have not; Nor will I leave this home of misery Whilst my poor Bernard, and that gentle lady To whom I owe life, and these virtuous thoughts, Must suffer what I still have strength to share. Alas, Orsino! All the love that once I felt for you, is turn'd to bitter pain. Ours was a youthful contract, which you first Broke, by assuming vows no Pope will loose. And yet I love you still, but holily, Even as a sister or a spirit might; And so I swear a cold fidelity. And it is well perhaps we shall not marry. You have a sly, equivocating vein That suits me not.—Ah, wretched that I am! Where shall I turn ? Even now you look on me As you were not my friend, and as if you Discover'd that I thought so, with false smiles Making my true suspicion seem your wrong. Ah! No, forgive me; sorrow makes me seem Sterner than else my nature might have been; I have a weight of melancholy thoughts, And they forbode,-but what can they sorbode Worse than I now endure ?
Orsino. All will be well. Is the petition yet prepared You know My zeal for all you wish, sweet Beatrice; Doubt not but I will use my utmost skill So that the Pope attend to your complaint.
BEATRICE. Your zeal for all I wish;-Ah me, you are cold! Your utmost skill—speak but one word— (Aside). Alas! Weak and deserted creature that I am, Here I stand bickering with my only friend! (To ORsiNo). This night my father gives a sumptuous feast, Orsino; he has heard some happy news From Salamanca, from my brothers there, And with this outward show of love he mocks His inward hate. "Tis bold hypocrisy, For he would gladlier celebrate their deaths, Which I have heard him pray for on his knees: Great God! that such a father should be mine! But there is mighty preparation made, And all our kin, the Cenci, will be there, And all the chief nobility of Rome. And he has bidden me and my pale mother Attire ourselves in festival array. Poor lady! She expects some happy change In his dark spirit from this act; I none,
At supper I will give you the petition.
Will ne'er absolve me from my priestly vow
SCENE ill. A magnificent Hall in the Cenci Palace.
A Banquet. Enter CENCI, Lucretia, BEATRico. ORsiNo, CAMILLo, Nobles.
CENCI. Welcome, my friends and kinsmen; welcome ye, Princes and Cardinals, pillars of the church, Whose presence honors our festivity. I have too long lived like an Anchorite, And in my absence from your merry meetings An evil word is gone abroad of me; But I do hope that you, my noble friends, When you have shared the entertainment here, And heard the pious cause for which 'tis given, And we have pledged a health or two together, Will think me flesh and blood as well as you; Sinful indeed, for Adam made all so, But tender-hearted, meek, and pitiful.
First Guest. In truth, my lord, you seem too light of heart, Too sprightly and companionable a man, To act the deeds that rumor pins on you. [To his companion I never saw such blithe and open cheer In any eye! SECOND GUEST. Some most desired event, In which we all demand a common joy, Has brought us hither; let us hear it, Count.