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But see you now this eye? it weeps with rage;
And yet, forgive me !
Such is the heroine of the piece-such is the passion which she feels--a passion for the chosen of her heart-for her husband whom she marries when a noble—but whom she loved, whom she selected, whom she would have followed, when a bandit. With such a heroine, and with such a passion, we can sympathise.
But I will preface what I shall have to say of M. V. Hugo, and the observations I shall subsequently venture to submit on the present state of the French Drama, by translating certain parts of one of the most popular and recent pieces that this author has brought upon the stage.
LUCRÈCE Borgia is in only three acts. It begins at Venice. You are at Venice—it is Venice's gay time, and you see her carnival, her masked revels—and there-on the terrace of the Barbarigo palace, are some young nobles—and at the bottom of this terrace flows the canal de la Zueca, on which, through the darknesss visible' of a Venetian night, you see pass the gondola, and the masquerade, and the musicians.
Twenty years have gone by since the death of Jean Borgia.
young nobles speak of that awful assassination, and of the body plunged into the Tiber, and perceived by a boatman, involuntary witness of the crime--and Comte de Belverana, supposed to be a Spanish seigneur, joins in the conversation, and seems indeed, to the surprise of the Venetians, better acquainted than any of them with the history of Italy. One young cavalier alone is inattentive, and even sleeps, while the rest pass their conjectures on the fate of the boy, son of Lucrèce Borgia, by Jean Borgia, who had perished in the manner described-victim, as it was said, of the wrath and jealousy of his brother and his rival, Cæsar.
At last the Comte de Belverana is left alone upon the stage with the young man who is still sleeping, and whose indifference to the conversation that had been going on has already been accounted for by his companions, on the ground that, ignorant alike of his father and mother, he could not feel an interest in those family stories which then agitated Italy, and had more or less affected every one of themselves.
A masked lady enters and addresses the Spaniard by the name of Gubetta. He reminds her of his disguise, and warns her also to be cautious.
“If they don't know me,” says the lady, “caution is of little consequence—if they do, it is they who have cause to fear.” It is easy to see that Gubetta, or Comte de Belverana, is an Italian bravo in the service of this dame, who now says that, for the future, she means to be all virtue and clemency, and that her only desire is to obtain the affections of the young man who is sleeping. Gubetta shrugs up his shoulders at what he seems to consider a very startling change of disposition, and thinks it better, under these circumstances, to leave his mistress and the sleeper together. Lucrèce, for the lady is no other, takes off her mask, and kisses the forehead of the youth; but in doing so she has been seen by two strangers, who had been watching herone her husband, the other a gentleman attached to his service, and of the same honourable profession as Gubetta. Gennaro (this is the name of the personage hitherto so quiescent) now awakes. He tells Lucrèce that he is a soldier of fortune, an orphan ignorant of his parents, and that he only lives to discover his mother, and to make himself worthy of her.
The Duke of Ferrara.
“I mean my sword to be pure and holy as that of an emperor. I've been offered any thing to enter the service of that infamous Lucrèce. I refused.”
“Gennaro! Gennaro!" says the lady, "you should pity the wicked; you know not their hearts."
It is at this moment that the young nobles with whose conversation the play commenced come again on the scene.
ACT J. SCENE V.
The same. Maffio Orsini, Jeppo Liveretto, Ascanio Petrucci, Oloferno vi
tellozzo, Don Apostolo Gazella, Nobles, Ladies, pages carrying torches. Maffio (a torch in his hand). Gennaro, dost thou wish to know the woman to whom thou art talking love?
Dona Lucrèce (aside, under her mask). Just Heaven!
Gennaro. You are my friends—but I swear before God, that whoever touches the mask of this lady is a bold fellow !- The mask of a woman is as sacred as the face of a man.
Maffio. But first the woman must be a woman, Gennaro; not that we wish to insult this lady-we only wish to tell her our names. (Making a step towards Dona Lucrèce.) Madam, I am Maffio Orsini, brother to the Duke of Gravina, whom your bravos strangled during the night while he was sleeping
Jeppo. Madam, I am Jeppo Liveretto, nephew of Liveretto Vitelli, poniarded by your orders in the cellars of the Vatican.
Ascanio. Madam, I am Ascanio Petrucci, cousin of Pandolfo Petrucci, Lord of Sienna, whom you had assassinated in order to rob him more easily of his town.
Oloferno. Madam, my name is Oloferno Vitellozzo, nephew of Jago d'Appiani, whom you had poisoned at a fête, after having treacherously despoiled him of his good and lordly citadel of Piombino.
Don Apostolo. Madam, you had Don Francisco Gazella put to death upon the scaffold. Don Francisco Gazella was maternal uncle to Don Alphonso of Aragon, your third husband, killed by your order on the stairs of St. Peter's. I am Don Apostolo Gazella, cousin of the one and son of the other.
Dona Lucrèce. O God !
Maffio. And now that we have told you our names, do you wish that we should tell you yours?
Dona Lucrèce. No-no, my lords—not before him !
Maffio (taking off her mask). Take off your mask, madam, so that one may see whether you can blush.
Don Apostolo. That woman, Gennaro, to whom you were whispering love, is a murderess and an adultress.
Jeppo. Incestuous in every degree-incestuous with her two brothers, one of whom slew the other for her love.
Dona Lucrèce. Pity!
Oloferno. A monster, who would be incestuous with her children, if children she had; but Heaven refuses issue to such creatures.
Dona Lucrèce. Enough! enough!
Listen not, my Gennaro!
Maffio (stretching out his arm). It is—Lucrèce Borgia !
(She falls, having fainted at his feet.)
Soon after this, Maffio, Jeppo, Ascanio, Oloferno, Don Apostolo, are sent by Venice on a special embassy to Ferrara, where Lucrèce Borgia holds her court, and Gennaro accompanies them, being the sworn brother in arms of Maffio D'Orsini.
The passions in action are—the affection of Lucrèce for Gennaro—the jealous indignation of the Duke of Ferrara against Gennaro, whom he supposes, from what he saw at the mask of Venice, to be a lover--and the vengeance of Lucrèce, who has determined to punish the young Venetian nobles who had insulted her.
Gennaro lays himself open to the Duke's plans by the historical outrage of erasing the B from the front of the ducal palace, which left orgia' engraved upon that part which Lucrèce inhabited.
The first act ends with a meeting between the two emissaries of the Duke and the Duchess, the one seeking, as he supposes, a lover for Lucrèce, the other a victim for the Duke. In the difficulty of reconciling the two missions, the bravos decide, by tossing up, whether Gennaro shall be adored or murdered. The Duke's bravo gains.
The second act contains a most spirited scene between Lucrèce Borgia and her husband. Lucrèce, having first passionately demanded vengeance on the person who had outraged her palace, as passionately demands the offender's pardon, on discovering the insult to have been offered her by the young Gennaro. The Duke, however, more and more confirmed in his jealousy, persits in his determination that death shall be inflicted on the culprit, and only allows his wife to choose whether her supposed paramour shall be stabbed or poisoned : on Lucrèce preferring the latter, the famous Borgia poison is administered to Gennaro, who, however, believes himself pardoned—and the Duke then, quitting the room, tells his wife that he gives her her lover's last quarter of an hour.
Lucrèce, on finding herself alone with Gennaro, offers him an antidote for the poison that he has taken--and there is a fine moment where he doubts whether the Duke de Ferrara has really poisoned him, or whether it is Lucrèce herself who wishes to do so. Finally, however, he swallows the antidote, and is warned by Lucrèce to quit Ferrara without delay.
But I pass by the second act, which, however, is fully worthy of the reader's attention, in order to arrive at the third act, which closes the play, opening with the insult given to Dona Lucrèce, at the masked ball in Venice, by the vengeance she takes for that insult at a supper at Ferrara. The five young Venetian noblemen have been invited by Lucrèce's order to an entertainment at the Negroni Palace, and Gennaro, whom she supposes distant from Ferrara, accompanies them thither.
Oloferno (his glass in his hand). What wine like that of Xerès ?-Xerès of Frontera is a city of Paradise ?
Maffio (his glass in his hand). The wine that we drink, Jeppo, is better than any of your stories.
Ascanio. Jeppo has the misfortune to be a great teller of tales when he has drunk a little.
Don Apostolo. The other day it was at Venice, at his serene highness's the Doge Barbarigo’s : to-day it is at Ferrara, at the divine Princess Negroni's.
Jeppo. The other day it was a mournful tale ; to-day it's a merry one.
Maffio. A merry tale, Jeppo !-How happened it that Don Siliceo, a fine cavalier not more than thirty, after having gambled away his patrimony, married that rich Marquesa Calpurnia, who has counted forty-eight springs, to say the least of it? By the body of Bacchus, do you call that a gay story?
Gubetta. It's sad and trite-a man ruined, who marries a woman in ruins; one sees it every day.
(He turns to the table. Some get up and come to the front of the scene
during the continuance of the orgie.) The Princess Negroni (to Maffio, pointing to Gennaro). You seem, D'Orsini, to have but a melancholy friend there.
Maffio. He is always so, madam. You must pardon me for having brought Irim without an invitation; he is my brother in arms—he saved my life in an assault at Rimini; I received a thrust intended for him in the attack of the bridge of Vicenza : we never quit one another. A gipsy predicted we should die the same day,