I wrote this for the writing: fiction portion of a historical arts and sciences competition some years ago. I wasn’t sure at the time what that actually meant. How do you write fiction for a historical arts and sciences competition? As it turned out, most people decided it meant writing poetry about the past. Because I’m more than a little insane, I took a different approach.
My goal was to produce a piece of fiction in the style of a piece of Renaissance drama. Because I was only allowed to enter ten pages of writing, that’s all I did. But those ten pages, I think, are pretty damn good. The judges must have thought so too, because the piece won and I received an on-the-spot proposition of marriage (which I believe is a universally acknowledged unit of measuring artistic success.)
For your entertainment I present to you the grand culmination of all my years at college studying Renaissance drama:
The Tragedie of Esilio
The Duke of Milan
The Duchess, his wife
Favola, a Milanese nobleman, rival to Amaro and advisor to the Duke
Amaro, a prominent Milanese nobleman
Anna, his wife
Cantanto, their eldest son
Ironia, their eldest daughter
Esilio, their second son
Fidelia, their younger daughter and attendant to the Duchess
Two servants of Amaro’s household
Attivo, a young Milanese nobleman, friend to Esilio
Affetto, a nobleman of Florence
Giulia, his wife
Pietà, their daughter
various sundry servants, courtiers, townspeople, etc
Milan, the Italian countryside, and Florence
Act First * Scene First
[A fencing salle in Milan]
Enter Attivo and Esilio, with rapiers.
Esilio. Good Attivo, by this light you are much
improv’d. Let us try our hands again. I
deem the pupil is set to o’ermaster
Attivo. Oh, I think not that, my friend.
Esil. Lay on, then, and we will see what we may.
They spar. After a closely contested bout, Esilio scores a touch.
Esil. Well play’d, in truth. In good time, you will have
the best of me.
Att. Your praise does me too much
honor. The name ‘Esilio’ is spoke
throughout all Milan with respect and dread.
Esil. I thank you, but I say in plain truth: You
will be my match one day. These many years
have I given you instruction, and now
I say you are as fit to lead this school
as any master here in fair Milan.
No words, dear friend. No words.
I pray God we
ne’er find ourselves lock’d corps à corps upon
the field of honor, for He never made
a youth more fit to wield a blade than fair
Come; you must join me. This night
my family hosts revels to be had
at our estate.
Att. Go on, I will follow
All is not well.
Though the summons
seem all benign, yet my heart misgives me.
I know not what to do or how to be.
Esilio has been a loyal friend
these many years. Fair in speech, beyond all
reproach in countenance and care of me.
Often have I thought myself by Fortune
too much bless’d in such a friend.
now is out of joint.
Esilio’s lord father, Amaro,
and lord of all his estate, has some game
on foot which gives me pause.
Ever has he
spoke against our Duke in private, in the
fastness of his own abode. But a change
in him I see of late, and not just I
The Duke, I know, fears some treason,
and asks me constant what I have to tell.
I know not how to answer his entreat.
Shall I forget my oath to lord and state,
that I may preserve Esilio’s life?
Or shall I betray friendship’s loyalty,
t’ensure my safety with the jealous Duke?
The one certainly will cost me my head,
the other only my immortal soul.
And yet Lord Amaro’s treason burns me.
Tonight I fear some darksome villany,
some coil that I would fain disown.
I witness aught that can be told, the Duke
will have it of me though I will or no.
Like a sotted swain he haunts all my hours,
jealous of those I give t’Esilio.
With trinkets and fair words he seeks to woo
me to his side, and will not hear my ‘no’.
These revels at Amaro’s, which I for
friendship must attend perforce, may be no
more than a conspirator’s front, and give
the Duke ample fire to roast Amaro.
And so I go into a kind of Hell
and what I’ll learn pray ne’er be forc’d to tell. Exeunt.
* Scene Second *
[A room in the Duke’s palace]
Enter the Duke with servants, and Favola. The Duke sits upon his throne and is waited upon.
Duke. Good Favola, bid these rustics away.
I have a thing to say to you alone.
Favola. All leave us now. His Grace is well supplied.
Exit all but the Duke and Favola.
Duke. Do you know, loyal friend, what it is that
I would speak on?
Fav. By God above, the which
did grant Your Grace the rule of all Milan,
I think I do.
Duke. Flattr’er, say on.
Fav. In all
things I obey, my lord. Word has reach’d my
ear of late, and yours as well, I deem, of
Amaro and his plotting brood, enmesh’d
in treason’s web. To catch him at his game
I know Your Grace desires above all else.
This night, ‘tis known he fêtes his friends at home
with all opulence. Wisdom would it seem
in you to turn this to your advantage.
Draw the noose, if you can.
Duke. Thou speakst aright.
That I never can snare him when his hands
are red and guilt it plainly writ in him
disturbs my sleep and gives me pains. I plan
before this night has pass’d and Luna hides
her face, to break the Lord Amaro and
achieve his full disgrace. Will you assist
me in this cause?
Fav. With all my heart, my lord.
Duke. Excellent, i’faith. And to this end, I
charge you in my name bring hence Attivo,
young Esilio’s dear friend. Sure it is
if aught is known of treason plann’d tonight,
Attivo will be well inform’d. And if
he will not sing for me, I’ll cut his strings,
Fav. His Grace is awesome in his wrath!
Duke. Do as I say, brave Favola. Return
again with prey in hand or not at all.
Fav. I go, lord, with all my will to do thine. [Exit Favola.]
Duke. ‘Sblood, what cock-fools and flattr’ing sycophants
I must endure, perforce! This Favola,
this vicious cur, would bite my hand had he
his leash. And so he sings the tune belike
to satisfy me best, in hope that I
might be lulled to sleep with both eyes shut. But
I’ve caught his scent, and I know well ‘tis death
to turn my back upon a corner’d boar.
As well I cannot close my eye against
the threat of civil anarchy. For it
is truth well-known by all, that in Milan
are many lords who crave my ducal throne.
If I allow one such with all the sway
of Lord Amaro to speak openly
against my rule, I had as well give o’er
my lordship and my manhood all at once
within a single casket. No. I must
be firm, and strike ere he would land his blow.
Whate’er he plans, before almost he thinks
on it, I must by God be in the know.
Enter the Duchess with her ladies, and Fidelia.
Duchess. My lord, my dear, and master of my heart.
Surpris’d I am to see thee here, and glad.
I thought it sure to find thee out, for I
do hear this night of revels to be had.
Duke. All have heard, it seems; yet invitation
have I none from Lord Amaro.
Duch. O, dear.
This is some trifling oversight, I deem.
Fidelia. I fear I cannot speak my father’s mind.
Duke. I had hope you might try.
Fid. What means Your Grace?
Duch. Indeed, what can my husband mean? What cause
the glow’ring of thy brow? Fidelia has
no more will to injure thee than malice
in her heart. But ever has she render’d
sweet and loving service to my poor self.
Lord, why do you frown?
Duke. Seek not to protect
that which sits in plotting silence by your
very side. Amaro seeks to best me.
Does it not seem evident his daughter
hovers in our midst to hear our secret
counsels, waiting like a hungry raven
for the moment of my fall?
Duch. What rubbish
and what offal. The power of your throne
has made you mad, if you see treason in
this girl. I will defend her with my life.
Duke. Speak not in haste, lest you should prove in league
with plotters and conspirators. But peace:
I will ask whate’er I will. I am lord,
and you my wife, whom God did frame for chaste
obedience. Tempt not my wrath with words
of wanton disrespect.
Duch. Forgive me, lord.
I seek only to protect the justice
of your rule.
Duke. Out of turn speak once again,
and my justice will be swift. [To Fidelia.] Now answer
in a pleasing manner: What sedition
has your father spoke? What plan has he,
what scheming on his plate tonight?
Fid. Your Grace,
if I had the knowledge that you seek, then
I could tell thee. But by whatever Saint
you like, I swear I do not know.
Duke. You lie.
Fid. How shall I convince thee? [To the Duchess.] O, my lady,
teach me what I ought to say to please him.
Duke. If you refuse to speak, I shall be forc’d
to find another means of learning what
I seek. And you, thou minion, baggage, stale,
thou shrewd contriver thou, for thy silence
thou shalt pay a noble sum. Even to
thy life if I command it. Guards! Take this
dissembling guilty creature from my sight.
Enter guards. They seize Fidelia.
Fid. [Aside.] And thus am I to be repay’d, for love,
for loyalty, and filial duty
which by nature I am right to render.
Duch. [Aside.] His jealous fancy has o’ermaster’d his
good noble reason, I am fear’d.
[Exit guards with Fidelia.]
Duke. And so,
you would take her part against your loving
lord and master? [Exit the Duke.]
Duch. Lord and master, aye, but
love of late has been as dry in thee as
sands that gust across the wide barbaric
land of Tunis.
Poor Fidelia. I
pray God this storm will pass, and that the winds
die down before they blow the poor girl ill.
* Scene Third *
[A hallway in Amaro’s house]
Enter a servant preparing for the feast.
1st Servant. [Calling.] Goats and monkeys! Will you still be lagging?
Hang thee, sleeping ruffian! The master waits
and still you tarry?
Enter another servant, carrying a large barrel of wine.
2nd Servant. I come, you fat chuff.
If you had strain’d yourself to help me, I
had been here sooner.
1st Serv. Blow, endless windbag.
An’ you were not an idle sot, drinking
in the cellar, you had been here sooner.
2nd Serv. Away with you. Had you not a younger
man to do your work, it were never done.
But cease waggling of your tongue a moment
and tell me where I must bestow this cask.
1st Serv. Much there is I could reply would better
suit my humor, but over there will do.
[The second servant places the barrel where he is directed.]
2nd Serv. And so what think you of these revels? Shall
we menials be like to find a chance
to pause a while from work and steal a dance?
1st Serv. I think you should go back downstairs, and soak
your ugly head. The cask is like to be
the only one to kiss your lips tonight.
2nd Serv. O, pish.
1st Serv. And now it comes to mind, we need
another barrel yet. Come on, to work.
2nd Serv. I go, Caligula. No need to shout.
[Exit servant two followed by servant one.]
Enter Cantanto and Ironia from another door.
Ironia. I worry, Brother, and you cannot say
I have no cause.
Cantanto. I will not make the claim.
‘Tis known throughout Milan, nay, through all of
Italy, methinks! this revel is a
front, a poorly-veiled façade. For Father
thinks himself a machiavel. I’d rather
he proclaim his cause, and draw what loyal
devotées his power would allow. These
behind-the-arras stratagems begin
to fade the wholesome colour of my soul.
Iro. I hear thy honest lamentation, and
I echo it, betide. Though I would not
renounce my love and loyalty for all
the gold in Venice, yet I would that he
could find a means more noble, fitted to
his rank, to face the Duke, who is corrupt.
Cant. But, alas! we know full well that Father
will not hear our pleas. And Esilio
supports his cause and does his will, be it
madness or no.
Iro. And Mother will not look
askance, nor offer word of discontent.
Cant. We alone are in possession of our
senses, Sister. We must see that nothing
happens here tonight can cause the Duke to
wield the rod of justice.
Iro. But you have said,
and said aright: Father will not hear us.
Cant. We must be vigilant, and also pray:
That all be well, or we be granted sway.
[Exit Cantanto and Ironia.]
Enter servant one followed by servant two, carrying another barrel of wine.
1st Serv. Quicken pace, you addlepate! The hour grows
late, the guests will soon be on us!
2nd Serv. One can
1st Serv. Guard thy tongue, miscreant bawd! [Strikes the other servant.]
2ndServ. Mercy, old white-bearded Satan!
1st Serv. Get thee
hence, there’s work yet to be done.
2nd Serv. I am gone.
Be still! Thy ceaseless mewling drives me out,
like demons fleeing from a churchyard rout.
* Scene Fourth *
[A room in the Duke’s palace]
The Duke is sitting upon his throne. Enter Favola leading Attivo in the custody of two guards.
Duke. Good Favola, my loyal servant. Hast
thou brought my guest to me so soon?
Fav. E’en so,
Your Grace. Though my friend Attivo did not
seem belike to take my invitation. [Laughs.]
Att. By what right, Your Grace, does this scraping slave
dare to lay his hands on me in public?
He wields your name in vain, I trust, like a
coward putting forth his shield in battle.
Duke. Not in vain have you been summoned here to
speak with me. I did command it of him.
Att. Had Your Grace but sent for me, I would have
come full willing. What cause this lack of faith,
this base treatment of a faithful subject?
Fav. Faithful, ha!
Duke. Let us not play games with words,
concealing our true meaning when we both
full well know our true intent.
Att. I am lost,
Your Grace, and know not how to answer you.
Duke. Then I will teach you what to say. Tell me:
this coil tonight to which you have been call’d,
at Amaro’s home, summoned for your love
to his son Esilio – what means this
traitor to unfold before his loyal
friends? What plan has he – as I know he has –
to send my state into unrest? Tell me!
Att. Think you, in truth, I am a traitor’s pet?
Can you believe such treason lives in me?
Duke. I can believe it of Esilio,
and you are his student, his protégé.
Att. He teaches me to wield a blade, Your Grace:
Duke. Nothing more, you say? But who,
I pray you, does he say to wield your blade
Att. That he does not teach me. Nor am
I a puppet, to be work’d by hands unseen
or retrograde to my own will.
Your Grace, he does not say he has no word –
he only speaks in circles, seeking to
distract us with a trifling point. And thus
he begs off having to divulge whate’er
Duke. You see into the heart of things,
Att. What have I ever done,
my lord, what sign given of a lack in
love to you, Your Grace, to give you cause to
doubt me thus? To question my devotion
and my constancy? But have I not done
always proper honor to your throne, your
rule? I am your loyal subject and your
sword against your enemies, and ever
have I been.
Duke. Then speak to me, Attivo.
Tell me what I need to hear.
Att. I know no
more than you yourself. Would you have me lie,
and tell you pleasing falsehoods, as this snake
beside me does?
Fav. Your jealousy has rear’d
its green-eyed head, and does you no good turn.
Att. What cause have I to envy such a piece
of Nature’s sale-work? If I wish’d to learn
the way a coward bears himself and moves
his lips, I could study it in you.
Duke. Peace, my friends. This does not improve your lot,
Att. But nothing will, it seems. You have
already pass’d your judgment and laid down
your law. In your eyes I am a traitor.
Duke. You have yet to show me wrong, to tell me
something I can use to guard my power.
These protests of ‘I know not’ and the like
ring as false to me as brass. I will hear
no more of them.
Att. Then I cannot speak.
Still you will defy your lord?
Att. I offer
no defiance: only truth.
Duke. My anger
grows hot like fire within me. What, all mum?
Fav. My lord, allow me to display my love
Duke. Go on.
Fav. Let me take this fleering
malkin from thy sight: and there by any
means I can, get from him what Your Grace has
need to know.
Att. Torture? O brave showing, you
Duke. The choice is thine,
Attivo. Will you stay and speak to me,
or must my servant have his way with you?
Att. Let the whoreson do his worst: my answer
will not change.
Duke. I am sorry then, my boy,
but I must protect my throne.
Fav. Thanks to thee,
my lord. I swear I will not fail you.
[Exit guards with Attivo, Favola following behind.]
God’s lid! Ev’ry hand is rais’d against me,
if young Attivo who has ever been
a loyal and upstanding child, will not
answer plain and speak against the treason
gath’ring nigh on the horizon.
[Offstage, a cry is heard as the torture begins.]
I must be made a monster to protect
what is mine by right. Why am I plagu’d
[Another cry is heard, more horrible than the first.]
And if I show him any mercy
now, I would be soft and my enemies
should know of it.
[The screaming is constant now and terrible.]
Attivo! Why did you
[A final, awful cry is heard; then the screaming stops suddenly.]
Enter Favola, holding Attivo’s severed left hand.
Fav. He will serve us now, my lord.
He swears he will say all that he might know,
concerning Lord Amaro and his plans.
Come hence and hear it.
Duke. Not by choice, but by
necessity, this. I hope I can find
forgiveness after death, at Heaven’s gate,
for sure it is beyond a doubt I have
forever earn’d poor wrong’d Attivo’s hate.