Read ACT I: SCENE II of Representative Plays by American Dramatists: 1856-1911: Francesca da Rimini, free online book, by George Henry Boker, on

The Same. A Hall in the Castle. Enter MALATESTA and LANCIOTTO.

MALATESTA. Guido, ay, Guido of Ravenna, son
Down on his knees, as full of abject prayers
For peace and mercy as a penitent.

LANCIOTTO. His old trick, father. While his wearied arm
Is raised in seeming prayer, it only rests.
Anon, he’ll deal you such a staggering blow,
With its recovered strength, as shall convert
You, and not him, into a penitent.

MALATESTA. No, no; your last bout levelled him. He reeled
Into Ravenna, from the battle-field,
Like a stripped drunkard, and there headlong fell
A mass of squalid misery, a thing
To draw the jeering urchins. I have this
From faithful spies. There’s not a hope remains
To break the shock of his great overthrow.
I pity Guido.

LANCIOTTO. ’Sdeath! go comfort him!
I pity those who fought, and bled, and died,
Before the armies of this Ghibelin.
I pity those who halted home with wounds
Dealt by his hand. I pity widowed eyes
That he set running; maiden hearts that turn,
Sick with despair, from ranks thinned down by him;
Mothers that shriek, as the last stragglers fling
Their feverish bodies by the fountain-side,
Dumb with mere thirst, and faintly point to him,
Answering the dame’s quick questions. I have seen
Unburied bones, and skulls that seemed to ask,
From their blank eye-holes, vengeance at my hand
Shine in the moonlight on old battle-fields;
And even these the happy dead, my lord
I pity more than Guido of Ravenna!

MALATESTA. What would you have?

LANCIOTTO. I’d see Ravenna burn,
Flame into heaven, and scorch the flying clouds;
I’d choke her streets with ruined palaces;
I’d hear her women scream with fear and grief,
As I have heard the maids of Rimini.
All this I’d sprinkle with old Guido’s blood,
And bless the baptism.

MALATESTA. You are cruel.

But these things ache within my fretting brain.
The sight I first beheld was from the arms
Of my wild nurse, her husband hacked to death
By the fierce edges of these Ghibelins.
One cut across the neck I see it now,
Ay, and have mimicked it a thousand times,
Just as I saw it, on our enemies.
Why, that cut seemed as if it meant to bleed
On till the judgment. My distracted nurse
Stooped down, and paddled in the running gore
With her poor fingers; then a prophetess,
Pale with the inspiration of the god,
She towered aloft, and with her dripping hand
Three times she signed me with the holy cross.
Tis all as plain as noon-day. Thus she spake,
“May this spot stand till Guido’s dearest blood
Be mingled with thy own!” The soldiers say,
In the close battle, when my wrath is up,
The dead man’s blood flames on my vengeful brow
Like a red planet; and when war is o’er,
It shrinks into my brain, defiling all
My better nature with its slaughterous lusts.
Howe’er it be, it shaped my earliest thought,
And it will shape my last.

MALATESTA. You moody churl!
You dismal knot of superstitious dreams!
Do you not blush to empty such a head
Before a sober man? Why, son, the world
Has not given o’er its laughing humour yet,
That you should try it with such vagaries. Poh!
I’ll get a wife to teach you common sense.

LANCIOTTO. A wife for me! [Laughing.

MALATESTA. Ay, sir, a wife for you.
You shall be married, to insure your wits.

LANCIOTTO. ’Tis not your wont to mock me.

MALATESTA. How now, son!
I am not given to jesting. I have chosen
The fairest wife in Italy for you.
You won her bravely, as a soldier should:
And when you’d woo her, stretch your gauntlet out,
And crush her fingers in its steely grip.
If you will plead, I ween, she dare not say
No, by your leave. Should she refuse, howe’er,
With that same iron hand you shall go knock
Upon Ravenna’s gates, till all the town
Ring with your courtship. I have made her hand
The price and pledge of Guido’s future peace.

LANCIOTTO. All this is done!

MALATESTA. Done, out of hand; and now
I wait a formal answer, nothing more.
Guido dare not decline. No, by the saints,
He’d send Ravenna’s virgins here in droves,
To buy a ten days’ truce.

LANCIOTTO. Sir, let me say,
You stretch paternal privilege too far,
To pledge my hand without my own consent.
Am I a portion of your household stuff,
That you should trade me off to Guido thus?
Who is the lady I am bartered for?

MALATESTA. Francesca, Guido’s daughter. Never frown;
It shall be so!

LANCIOTTO. By heaven, it shall not be!
My blood shall never mingle with his race.

MALATESTA. According to your nurse’s prophecy,
Fate orders it.


MALATESTA. Now, then, I have struck
The chord that answers to your gloomy thoughts.
Bah! on your sibyl and her prophecy!
Put Guido’s blood aside, and yet, I say,
Marry you shall.

LANCIOTTO. ’Tis most distasteful, sir.

MALATESTA. Lanciotto, look ye! You brave gentlemen,
So fond of knocking out poor people’s brains,
In time must come to have your own knocked out:
What, then, if you bequeath us no new hands,
To carry on your business, and our house
Die out for lack of princes?

LANCIOTTO. Wed my brothers:
They’ll rear you sons, I’ll slay you enemies.
Paolo and Francesca! Note their names;
They chime together like sweet marriage-bells.
A proper match. ’Tis said she’s beautiful;
And he is the delight of Rimini,
The pride and conscious centre of all eyes,
The theme of poets, the ideal of art,
The earthly treasury of Heaven’s best gifts!
I am a soldier; from my very birth,
Heaven cut me out for terror, not for love.
I had such fancies once, but now

MALATESTA. Pshaw! son,
My faith is bound to Guido; and if you
Do not throw off your duty, and defy,
Through sickly scruples, my express commands,
You’ll yield at once. No more: I’ll have it so! [Exit.

LANCIOTTO. Curses upon my destiny! What, I
Ho! I have found my use at last What, I,
I, the great twisted monster of the wars,
The brawny cripple, the herculean dwarf,
The spur of panic, and the butt of scorn
be a bridegroom! Heaven, was I not cursed
More than enough, when thou didst fashion me
To be a type of ugliness, a thing
By whose comparison all Rimini
Holds itself beautiful? Lo! here I stand,
A gnarled, blighted trunk! There’s not a knave
So spindle-shanked, so wry-faced, so infirm,
Who looks at me, and smiles not on himself.
And I have friends to pity me great Heaven!
One has a favourite leg that he bewails,
Another sees my hip with doleful plaints,
A third is sorry o’er my huge swart arms,
A fourth aspires to mount my very hump,
And thence harangue his weeping brotherhood!
Pah! it is nauseous! Must I further bear
The sidelong shuddering glances of a wife?
The degradation of a showy love,
That over-acts, and proves the mummer’s craft
Untouched by nature? And a fair wife, too!
Francesca, whom the minstrels sing about!
Though, by my side, what woman were not fair?
Circe looked well among her swine, no doubt;
Next me, she’d pass for Venus. Ho! ho! ho! [Laughing.]
Would there were something merry in my laugh!
Now, in the battle, if a Ghibelin
Cry, “Wry-hip! hunchback!” I can trample him
Under my stallion’s hoofs; or haggle him
Into a monstrous likeness of myself:
But to be pitied, to endure a sting
Thrust in by kindness, with a sort of smile!
’Sdeath! it is miserable!

[Enter PEPE.

PEPE. My lord


PEPE. We’ll change our titles when your bride’s bells ring Ha, cousin?

LANCIOTTO. Even this poor fool has eyes,
To see the wretched plight in which I stand.
How, gossip, how?

PEPE. I, being the court-fool,
Am lord of fools by my prerogative.

LANCIOTTO. Who told you of my marriage?

PEPE. Rimini!
A frightful liar; but true for once, I fear.
The messenger from Guido has returned,
And the whole town is wailing over him.
Some pity you, and some the bride; but I,
Being more catholic, I pity both.

LANCIOTTO. Still, pity, pity! [Aside. Bells toll.] Ha! whose knell is that?

PEPE. Lord Malatesta sent me to the tower,
To have the bells rung for your marriage-news.
How, he said not; so I, as I thought fit,
Told the deaf sexton to ring out a knell.
[Bells toll.]
How do you like it?

LANCIOTTO. Varlet, have you bones,
To risk their breaking? I have half a mind
To thresh you from your motley coat!
[Seizes him.

PEPE. Pardee!
Respect my coxcomb, cousin. Hark! ha, ha!
[Bells ring a joyful peal.]
Some one has changed my music. Heaven defend!
How the bells jangle. Yonder graybeard, now,
Rings a peal vilely. He’s more used to knells,
And sounds them grandly. Only give him time,
And, I’ll be sworn, he’ll ring your knell out yet.

LANCIOTTO. Pepe, you are but half a fool.

PEPE. My lord,
I can return the compliment in full.

LANCIOTTO. So, you are ready.

PEPE. Truth is always so.

LANCIOTTO. I shook you rudely; here’s a florin.
[Offers money.

My wit is merchandise, but not my honour.

LANCIOTTO. Your honour, sirrah!

PEPE. Why not? You great lords
Have something you call lordly honour; pray,
May not a fool have foolish honour, too?
Cousin, you laid your hand upon my coat
’Twas the first sacrilege it ever knew And
you shall pay it. Mark! I promise you.

LANCIOTTO. [Laughing.] Ha, ha! you bluster well. Upon my life,
You have the tilt-yard jargon to a breath.
Pepe, if I should smite you on the cheek
Thus, gossip, thus [Strikes him.] what would you then demand?

PEPE. Your life!

LANCIOTTO. [Laughing.] Ha, ha! there is the camp-style, too,
A very cut-throat air! How this shrewd fool Makes the punctilio of honour show!
Change helmets into coxcombs, swords to baubles,
And what a figure is poor chivalry!
Thanks for your lesson, Pepe.

PEPE. Ere I’m done,
You’ll curse as heartily, you limping beast!
Ha! so we go Lord Lanciotto, look!
[Walks about, mimicking him.]
Here is a leg and camel-back, forsooth,
To match your honour and nobility!
You miscreated scarecrow, dare you shake,
Or strike in jest, a natural man like me?
You cursed lump, you chaos of a man,
To buffet one whom Heaven pronounces good!
[Bells ring.]
There go the bells rejoicing over you:
I’ll change them back to the old knell again.
You marry, faugh! Beget a race of elves;
Wed a she-crocodile, and keep within
The limits of your nature! Here we go,
Tripping along to meet our promised bride,
Like a rheumatic elephant! ha, ha! [Laughing.

[Exit, mimicking LANCIOTTO.