Sketches and Studies in Italy and Greece, Second Series eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 415 pages of information about Sketches and Studies in Italy and Greece, Second Series.

II

This story of Vittoria Accoramboni’s life and tragic ending is drawn, in its main details, from a narrative published by Henri Beyle in his ’Chroniques et Novelles.’[8] He professes to have translated it literally from a manuscript communicated to him by a nobleman of Mantua; and there are strong internal evidences of the truth of this assertion.  Such compositions are frequent in Italian libraries, nor is it rare for one of them to pass into the common market—­as Mr. Browning’s famous purchase of the tale on which he based his ’Ring and the Book’ sufficiently proves.  These pamphlets were produced, in the first instance, to gratify the curiosity of the educated public in an age which had no newspapers, and also to preserve the memory of famous trials.  How far the strict truth was represented, or whether, as in the case of Beatrice Cenci, the pathetic aspect of the tragedy was unduly dwelt on, depended, of course, upon the mental bias of the scribe, upon his opportunities of obtaining exact information, and upon the taste of the audience for whom he wrote.  Therefore, in treating such documents as historical data, we must be upon our guard.  Professor Gnoli, who has recently investigated the whole of Vittoria’s eventful story by the light of contemporary documents, informs us that several narratives exist in manuscript, all dealing more or less accurately with the details of the tragedy.  One of these was published in Italian at Brescia in 1586.  A Frenchman, De Rosset, printed the same story in its main outlines at Lyons in 1621.  Our own dramatist, John Webster, made it the subject of a tragedy, which he gave to the press in 1612.  What were his sources of information we do not know for certain.  But it is clear that he was well acquainted with the history.  He has changed some of the names and redistributed some of the chief parts.  Vittoria’s first husband, for example, becomes Camillo; her mother, named Cornelia instead of Tarquinia, is so far from abetting Peretti’s murder and countenancing her daughter’s shame, that she acts the role of a domestic Cassandra.  Flaminio and not Marcello is made the main instrument of Vittoria’s crime and elevation.  The Cardinal Montalto is called Monticelso, and his papal title is Paul IV. instead of Sixtus V. These are details of comparative indifference, in which a playwright may fairly use his liberty of art.  On the other hand, Webster shows a curious knowledge of the picturesque circumstances of the tale.  The garden in which Vittoria meets Bracciano is the villa of Magnanapoli; Zanche, the Moorish slave, combines Vittoria’s waiting-woman, Caterina, and the Greek sorceress who so mysteriously dogged Marcello’s footsteps to the death.  The suspicion of Bracciano’s murder is used to introduce a quaint episode of Italian poisoning.

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Sketches and Studies in Italy and Greece, Second Series from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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