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A Florentine Tragedy - A Fragment

Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde 1854 ( Dublin) – 1900 (Hotel d'Alsace, Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Paris)



CHARACTERS:

  GUIDO BARDI, A Florentine prince
  SIMONE, a merchant
  BIANNA, his wife

  The action takes place at Florence in the early sixteenth century.

  [The door opens, they separate guiltily, and the husband enters.]

  SIMONE. My good wife, you come slowly; were it not better
  To run to meet your lord? Here, take my cloak.
  Take this pack first. 'Tis heavy. I have sold nothing:
  Save a furred robe unto the Cardinal's son,
  Who hopes to wear it when his father dies,
  And hopes that will be soon.

  But who is this?
  Why you have here some friend. Some kinsman doubtless,
  Newly returned from foreign lands and fallen
  Upon a house without a host to greet him?
  I crave your pardon, kinsman. For a house
  Lacking a host is but an empty thing
  And void of honour; a cup without its wine,
  A scabbard without steel to keep it straight,
  A flowerless garden widowed of the sun.
  Again I crave your pardon, my sweet cousin.

  BIANCA. This is no kinsman and no cousin neither.

  SIMONE. No kinsman, and no cousin! You amaze me.
  Who is it then who with such courtly grace
  Deigns to accept our hospitalities?

  GUIDO. My name is Guido Bardi.

  SIMONE. What! The son
  Of that great Lord of Florence whose dim towers
  Like shadows silvered by the wandering moon
  I see from out my casement every night!
  Sir Guido Bardi, you are welcome here,
  Twice welcome. For I trust my honest wife,
  Most honest if uncomely to the eye,
  Hath not with foolish chatterings wearied you,
  As is the wont of women.

  GUIDO. Your gracious lady,
  Whose beauty is a lamp that pales the stars
  And robs Diana's quiver of her beams
  Has welcomed me with such sweet courtesies
  That if it be her pleasure, and your own,
  I will come often to your simple house.
  And when your business bids you walk abroad
  I will sit here and charm her loneliness
  Lest she might sorrow for you overmuch.
  What say you, good Simone?

  SIMONE. My noble Lord,
  You bring me such high honour that my tongue
  Like a slave's tongue is tied, and cannot say
  The word it would. Yet not to give you thanks
  Were to be too unmannerly. So, I thank you,
  From my heart's core.

  It is such things as these
  That knit a state together, when a Prince
  So nobly born and of such fair address,
  Forgetting unjust Fortune's differences,
  Comes to an honest burgher's honest home
  As a most honest friend.

  And yet, my Lord,
  I fear I am too bold. Some other night
  We trust that you will come here as a friend;
  To-night you come to buy my merchandise.
  Is it not so? Silks, velvets, what you will,
  I doubt not but I have some dainty wares
  Will woo your fancy. True, the hour is late,
  But we poor merchants toil both night and day
  To make our scanty gains. The tolls are high,
  And every city levies its own toll,
  And prentices are unskilful, and wives even
  Lack sense and cunning, though Bianca here
  Has brought me a rich customer to-night.
  Is it not so, Bianca? But I waste time.
  Where is my pack? Where is my pack, I say?
  Open it, my good wife. Unloose the cords.
  Kneel down upon the floor. You are better so.
  Nay not that one, the other. Despatch, despatch!
  Buyers will grow impatient oftentimes.
  We dare not keep them waiting. Ay! 'tis that,
  Give it to me; with care. It is most costly.
  Touch it with care. And now, my noble Lord -
  Nay, pardon, I have here a Lucca damask,
  The very web of silver and the roses
  So cunningly wrought that they lack perfume merely
  To cheat the wanton sense. Touch it, my Lord.
  Is it not soft as water, strong as steel?
  And then the roses! Are they not finely woven?
  I think the hillsides that best love the rose,
  At Bellosguardo or at Fiesole,
  Throw no such blossoms on the lap of spring,
  Or if they do their blossoms droop and die.
  Such is the fate of all the dainty things
  That dance in wind and water. Nature herself
  Makes war on her own loveliness and slays
  Her children like Medea. Nay but, my Lord,
  Look closer still. Why in this damask here
  It is summer always, and no winter's tooth
  Will ever blight these blossoms. For every ell
  I paid a piece of gold. Red gold, and good,
  The fruit of careful thrift.

  GUIDO. Honest Simone,
  Enough, I pray you. I am well content;
  To-morrow I will send my servant to you,
  Who will pay twice your price.

  SIMONE. My generous Prince!
  I kiss your hands. And now I do remember
  Another treasure hidden in my house
  Which you must see. It is a robe of state:
  Woven by a Venetian: the stuff, cut-velvet:
  The pattern, pomegranates: each separate seed
  Wrought of a pearl: the collar all of pearls,
  As thick as moths in summer streets at night,
  And whiter than the moons that madmen see
  Through prison bars at morning. A male ruby
  Burns like a lighted coal within the clasp
  The Holy Father has not such a stone,
  Nor could the Indies show a brother to it.
  The brooch itself is of most curious art,
  Cellini never made a fairer thing
  To please the great Lorenzo. You must wear it.
  There is none worthier in our city here,
  And it will suit you well. Upon one side
  A slim and horned satyr leaps in gold
  To catch some nymph of silver. Upon the other
  Stands Silence with a crystal in her hand,
  No bigger than the smallest ear of corn,
  That wavers at the passing of a bird,
  And yet so cunningly wrought that one would say,
  It breathed, or held its breath.

  Worthy Bianca,
  Would not this noble and most costly robe
  Suit young Lord Guido well?

  Nay, but entreat him;
  He will refuse you nothing, though the price
  Be as a prince's ransom. And your profit
  Shall not be less than mine.

  BIANCA. Am I your prentice?
  Why should I chaffer for your velvet robe?

  GUIDO. Nay, fair Bianca, I will buy the robe,
  And all things that the honest merchant has
  I will buy also. Princes must be ransomed,
  And fortunate are all high lords who fall
  Into the white hands of so fair a foe.

  SIMONE. I stand rebuked. But you will buy my wares?
  Will you not buy them? Fifty thousand crowns
  Would scarce repay me. But you, my Lord, shall have them
  For forty thousand. Is that price too high?
  Name your own price. I have a curious fancy
  To see you in this wonder of the loom
  Amidst the noble ladies of the court,
  A flower among flowers.

  They say, my lord,
  These highborn dames do so affect your Grace
  That where you go they throng like flies around you,
  Each seeking for your favour.

  I have heard also
  Of husbands that wear horns, and wear them bravely,
  A fashion most fantastical.

  GUIDO. Simone,
  Your reckless tongue needs curbing; and besides,
  You do forget this gracious lady here
  Whose delicate ears are surely not attuned
  To such coarse music.

  SIMONE. True: I had forgotten,
  Nor will offend again. Yet, my sweet Lord,
  You'll buy the robe of state. Will you not buy it?
  But forty thousand crowns - 'tis but a trifle,
  To one who is Giovanni Bardi's heir.

  GUIDO. Settle this thing to-morrow with my steward,
  Antonio Costa. He will come to you.
  And you shall have a hundred thousand crowns
  If that will serve your purpose.

  SIMONE. A hundred thousand!
  Said you a hundred thousand? Oh! be sure
  That will for all time and in everything
  Make me your debtor. Ay! from this time forth
  My house, with everything my house contains
  Is yours, and only yours.

  A hundred thousand!
  My brain is dazed. I shall be richer far
  Than all the other merchants. I will buy
  Vineyards and lands and gardens. Every loom
  From Milan down to Sicily shall be mine,
  And mine the pearls that the Arabian seas
  Store in their silent caverns.

  Generous Prince,
  This night shall prove the herald of my love,
  Which is so great that whatsoe'er you ask
  It will not be denied you.

  GUIDO. What if I asked
  For white Bianca here?

  SIMONE. You jest, my Lord;
  She is not worthy of so great a Prince.
  She is but made to keep the house and spin.
  Is it not so, good wife? It is so. Look!
  Your distaff waits for you. Sit down and spin.
  Women should not be idle in their homes,
  For idle fingers make a thoughtless heart.
  Sit down, I say.

  BIANCA. What shall I spin?

  SIMONE. Oh! spin
  Some robe which, dyed in purple, sorrow might wear
  For her own comforting: or some long-fringed cloth
  In which a new-born and unwelcome babe
  Might wail unheeded; or a dainty sheet
  Which, delicately perfumed with sweet herbs,
  Might serve to wrap a dead man. Spin what you will;
  I care not, I.

  BIANCA. The brittle thread is broken,
  The dull wheel wearies of its ceaseless round,
  The duller distaff sickens of its load;
  I will not spin to-night.

  SIMONE. It matters not.
  To-morrow you shall spin, and every day
  Shall find you at your distaff. So Lucretia
  Was found by Tarquin. So, perchance, Lucretia
  Waited for Tarquin. Who knows? I have heard
  Strange things about men's wives. And now, my lord,
  What news abroad? I heard to-day at Pisa
  That certain of the English merchants there
  Would sell their woollens at a lower rate
  Than the just laws allow, and have entreated
  The Signory to hear them.

  Is this well?
  Should merchant be to merchant as a wolf?
  And should the stranger living in our land
  Seek by enforced privilege or craft
  To rob us of our profits?

  GUIDO. What should I do
  With merchants or their profits? Shall I go
  And wrangle with the Signory on your count?
  And wear the gown in which you buy from fools,
  Or sell to sillier bidders? Honest Simone,
  Wool-selling or wool-gathering is for you.
  My wits have other quarries.

  BIANCA. Noble Lord,
  I pray you pardon my good husband here,
  His soul stands ever in the market-place,
  And his heart beats but at the price of wool.
  Yet he is honest in his common way.
  [To Simone]
  And you, have you no shame? A gracious Prince
  Comes to our house, and you must weary him
  With most misplaced assurance. Ask his pardon.

  SIMONE. I ask it humbly. We will talk to-night
  Of other things. I hear the Holy Father
  Has sent a letter to the King of France
  Bidding him cross that shield of snow, the Alps,
  And make a peace in Italy, which will be
  Worse than a war of brothers, and more bloody
  Than civil rapine or intestine feuds.

  GUIDO. Oh! we are weary of that King of France,
  Who never comes, but ever talks of coming.
  What are these things to me? There are other things
  Closer, and of more import, good Simone.

  BIANCA [To Simone]. I think you tire our most gracious guest.
  What is the King of France to us? As much
  As are your English merchants with their wool.

  * * * * *

  SIMONE. Is it so then? Is all this mighty world
  Narrowed into the confines of this room
  With but three souls for poor inhabitants?
  Ay! there are times when the great universe,
  Like cloth in some unskilful dyer's vat,
  Shrivels into a handbreadth, and perchance
  That time is now! Well! let that time be now.
  Let this mean room be as that mighty stage
  Whereon kings die, and our ignoble lives
  Become the stakes God plays for.

  I do not know
  Why I speak thus. My ride has wearied me.
  And my horse stumbled thrice, which is an omen
  That bodes not good to any.

  Alas! my lord,
  How poor a bargain is this life of man,
  And in how mean a market are we sold!
  When we are born our mothers weep, but when
  We die there is none weeps for us. No, not one.
  [Passes to back of stage.]

  BIANCA. How like a common chapman does he speak!
  I hate him, soul and body. Cowardice
  Has set her pale seal on his brow. His hands
  Whiter than poplar leaves in windy springs,
  Shake with some palsy; and his stammering mouth
  Blurts out a foolish froth of empty words
  Like water from a conduit.

  GUIDO. Sweet Bianca,
  He is not worthy of your thought or mine.
  The man is but a very honest knave
  Full of fine phrases for life's merchandise,
  Selling most dear what he must hold most cheap,
  A windy brawler in a world of words.
  I never met so eloquent a fool.

  BIANCA. Oh, would that Death might take him where he stands!

  SIMONE [turning round]. Who spake of Death? Let no one speak of Death.
  What should Death do in such a merry house,
  With but a wife, a husband, and a friend
  To give it greeting? Let Death go to houses
  Where there are vile, adulterous things, chaste wives
  Who growing weary of their noble lords
  Draw back the curtains of their marriage beds,
  And in polluted and dishonoured sheets
  Feed some unlawful lust. Ay! 'tis so
  Strange, and yet so. YOU do not know the world.
  YOU are too single and too honourable.
  I know it well. And would it were not so,
  But wisdom comes with winters. My hair grows grey,
  And youth has left my body. Enough of that.
  To-night is ripe for pleasure, and indeed,
  I would be merry as beseems a host
  Who finds a gracious and unlooked-for guest
  Waiting to greet him. [Takes up a lute.]
  But what is this, my lord?
  Why, you have brought a lute to play to us.
  Oh! play, sweet Prince. And, if I am too bold,
  Pardon, but play.

  GUIDO. I will not play to-night.
  Some other night, Simone.

  [To Bianca] You and I
  Together, with no listeners but the stars,
  Or the more jealous moon.

  SIMONE. Nay, but my lord!
  Nay, but I do beseech you. For I have heard
  That by the simple fingering of a string,
  Or delicate breath breathed along hollowed reeds,
  Or blown into cold mouths of cunning bronze,
  Those who are curious in this art can draw
  Poor souls from prison-houses. I have heard also
  How such strange magic lurks within these shells
  That at their bidding casements open wide
  And Innocence puts vine-leaves in her hair,
  And wantons like a maenad. Let that pass.
  Your lute I know is chaste. And therefore play:
  Ravish my ears with some sweet melody;
  My soul is in a prison-house, and needs
  Music to cure its madness. Good Bianca,
  Entreat our guest to play.

  BIANCA. Be not afraid,
  Our well-loved guest will choose his place and moment:
  That moment is not now. You weary him
  With your uncouth insistence.

  GUIDO. Honest Simone,
  Some other night. To-night I am content
  With the low music of Bianca's voice,
  Who, when she speaks, charms the too amorous air,
  And makes the reeling earth stand still, or fix
  His cycle round her beauty.

  SIMONE. You flatter her.
  She has her virtues as most women have,
  But beauty in a gem she may not wear.
  It is better so, perchance.

  Well, my dear lord,
  If you will not draw melodies from your lute
  To charm my moody and o'er-troubled soul
  You'll drink with me at least?

  [Motioning Guido to his own place.]

  Your place is laid.
  Fetch me a stool, Bianca. Close the shutters.
  Set the great bar across. I would not have
  The curious world with its small prying eyes
  To peer upon our pleasure.

  Now, my lord,
  Give us a toast from a full brimming cup.
  [Starts back.]
  What is this stain upon the cloth? It looks
  As purple as a wound upon Christ's side.
  Wine merely is it? I have heard it said
  When wine is spilt blood is spilt also,
  But that's a foolish tale.

  My lord, I trust
  My grape is to your liking? The wine of Naples
  Is fiery like its mountains. Our Tuscan vineyards
  Yield a more wholesome juice.

  GUIDO. I like it well,
  Honest Simone; and, with your good leave,
  Will toast the fair Bianca when her lips
  Have like red rose-leaves floated on this cup
  And left its vintage sweeter. Taste, Bianca.

  [BIANCA drinks.]

  Oh, all the honey of Hyblean bees,
  Matched with this draught were bitter!
  Good Simone,
  You do not share the feast.

  SIMONE. It is strange, my lord,
  I cannot eat or drink with you, to-night.
  Some humour, or some fever in my blood,
  At other seasons temperate, or some thought
  That like an adder creeps from point to point,
  That like a madman crawls from cell to cell,
  Poisons my palate and makes appetite
  A loathing, not a longing.
  [Goes aside.]

  GUIDO. Sweet Bianca,
  This common chapman wearies me with words.
  I must go hence. To-morrow I will come.
  Tell me the hour.

  BIANCA. Come with the youngest dawn!
  Until I see you all my life is vain.

  GUIDO. Ah! loose the falling midnight of your hair,
  And in those stars, your eyes, let me behold
  Mine image, as in mirrors. Dear Bianca,
  Though it be but a shadow, keep me there,
  Nor gaze at anything that does not show
  Some symbol of my semblance. I am jealous
  Of what your vision feasts on.

  BIANCA. Oh! be sure
  Your image will be with me always. Dear
  Love can translate the very meanest thing
  Into a sign of sweet remembrances.
  But come before the lark with its shrill song
  Has waked a world of dreamers. I will stand
  Upon the balcony.

  GUIDO. And by a ladder
  Wrought out of scarlet silk and sewn with pearls
  Will come to meet me. White foot after foot,
  Like snow upon a rose-tree.

  BIANCA. As you will.
  You know that I am yours for love or Death.

  GUIDO. Simone, I must go to mine own house.

  SIMONE. So soon? Why should you? The great Duomo's bell
  Has not yet tolled its midnight, and the watchmen
  Who with their hollow horns mock the pale moon,
  Lie drowsy in their towers. Stay awhile.
  I fear we may not see you here again,
  And that fear saddens my too simple heart.

  GUIDO. Be not afraid, Simone. I will stand
  Most constant in my friendship, But to-night
  I go to mine own home, and that at once.
  To-morrow, sweet Bianca.

  SIMONE. Well, well, so be it.
  I would have wished for fuller converse with you,
  My new friend, my honourable guest,
  But that it seems may not be.

  And besides
  I do not doubt your father waits for you,
  Wearying for voice or footstep. You, I think,
  Are his one child? He has no other child.
  You are the gracious pillar of his house,
  The flower of a garden full of weeds.
  Your father's nephews do not love him well
  So run folks' tongues in Florence. I meant but that.
  Men say they envy your inheritance
  And look upon your vineyards with fierce eyes
  As Ahab looked on Naboth's goodly field.
  But that is but the chatter of a town
  Where women talk too much.

  Good-night, my lord.
  Fetch a pine torch, Bianca. The old staircase
  Is full of pitfalls, and the churlish moon
  Grows, like a miser, niggard of her beams,
  And hides her face behind a muslin mask
  As harlots do when they go forth to snare
  Some wretched soul in sin. Now, I will get
  Your cloak and sword. Nay, pardon, my good Lord,
  It is but meet that I
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Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde

Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde (16 October 1854 – 30 November 1900) was an Irish poet and playwright. After writing in different forms throughout the 1880s, the early 1890s saw him become one of the most popular playwrights in London. He is best remembered for his epigrams and plays, his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, and the circumstances of his criminal conviction for gross indecency for consensual homosexual acts, imprisonment, and early death at age 46. Wilde's parents were Anglo-Irish intellectuals in Dublin. A young Wilde learned to speak fluent French and German. At university, Wilde read Greats; he demonstrated himself to be an exceptional classicist, first at Trinity College Dublin, then at Oxford. He became associated with the emerging philosophy of aestheticism, led by two of his tutors, Walter Pater and John Ruskin. After university, Wilde moved to London into fashionable cultural and social circles. As a spokesman for aestheticism, he tried his hand at various literary activities: he published a book of poems, lectured in the United States and Canada on the new "English Renaissance in Art" and interior decoration, and then returned to London where he worked prolifically as a journalist. Known for his biting wit, flamboyant dress and glittering conversational skill, Wilde became one of the best-known personalities of his day. At the turn of the 1890s, he refined his ideas about the supremacy of art in a series of dialogues and essays, and incorporated themes of decadence, duplicity, and beauty into what would be his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890). The opportunity to construct aesthetic details precisely, and combine them with larger social themes, drew Wilde to write drama. He wrote Salome (1891) in French while in Paris but it was refused a licence for England due to an absolute prohibition on the portrayal of Biblical subjects on the English stage. Unperturbed, Wilde produced four society comedies in the early 1890s, which made him one of the most successful playwrights of late-Victorian London. At the height of his fame and success, while The Importance of Being Earnest (1895) was still being performed in London, Wilde prosecuted the Marquess of Queensberry for criminal libel. The Marquess was the father of Wilde's lover, Lord Alfred Douglas. The libel trial unearthed evidence that caused Wilde to drop his charges and led to his own arrest and trial for gross indecency with men. After two more trials he was convicted and sentenced to two years' hard labour, the maximum penalty, and was jailed from 1895 to 1897. During his last year in prison, he wrote De Profundis (published posthumously in 1905), a long letter which discusses his spiritual journey through his trials, forming a dark counterpoint to his earlier philosophy of pleasure. On his release, he left immediately for France, never to return to Ireland or Britain. There he wrote his last work, The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898), a long poem commemorating the harsh rhythms of prison life.  more…

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