The Tragedy of Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa

By Shane Devine

The full play can be read in PDF format. Below is only the prologue to the play.

The First and Only Act

Scene: Palazzo San Severo, an apartment in Naples. Enter Joseph, a servant of Gesualdo.

The Lord that rules this dusty plane of mine,
I thank Your decent shine with calloused mind.
May this here progress be the lasting state
To slay all hate, and let this house be free.
The tumult Spring deploys in violent thaw
Is seen the same in youthful marriages:
At first, all cold, the boring winter sleep,
The closing hours of immaturity;
Then crawls the green in fields and boughs of trees,
Then fragrant asters burst their smells
To fill the nose of passerby, and flirt,
And swell the tensions slow of birthing year;
Before the boy has time to recognize,
Affection gallops weightless past his ears
And ivy arms entrap the lovers’ legs
And cupid has his way with youth again.
Our hearts then swell, and swells the springtime sun
‘Til all’s in verdant swarthy bloom, and light,
As pale as winter’s stainless moonlit nights,
Descends upon the lovers’ hands entwined
To give their sacrament the kindling seal.
But spring is not without its wicked qualms
Which strike their bolts upon the fairy scene
And rain the luckless buds with heavy palms
And dot the season black with thunderous marks:
Maria – bride my master Carlo chose –
Enclosed her father’s hands with tears and begged
With pleading ‘gainst his hard approval’s weight.
A question mark engulfed the wedding night
And all that’s fair was flung in dark display:
“O why must cousin be the one for me?
O why would flowers chain the infant bee,
The first that tried to gain my gaze
When all the crowds could fill my need?”
Her father sternly pinched her trembling lips
And beat her cries with gravely handled words:
“Maria! By God’s own graces purge thy thoughts.
Was all the rearing dealt by mother waste?
Has failure met attempts to make thee chaste?
Did all the virtues, carved from time by taste,
The noble fathers of our house’s name,
Vacate our blood as if by poison lead
Or dost thou have an ounce of shame within?
Your cousin Carlo is in dire need:
No father has he ever known nor loved;
His mother died when he was but a boy.
The Lord our God requests you lend your heart,
And I protection grant his troubled mind.
These works of ours are frail and meek
But God delivers treasure to the kind;
It may not be the cure for wicked crime
But in our way we serve our sweat and time.
And yet beside his troubled present state
Lies great potential through his noble chain:
We need not see astrology to guess
The greatness waiting for his soul to take.
So both prosperity and charity
Request I cling you thus into his hands
And tie the bow of gracious fate.” The tears,
Once flowing down her face without restraint
Had ceased, and glumly eyes were buried clam
Between her father’s arms enclosed around.
So wedding bells were rung in town
So freshpicked petals drifted from the sky
So springing warmth gave way to summer heat
Which drowned all pleas with honeyed thoughtless bliss:
And now we’ve hit the calming night opposed
To placid sunshine noon that wedding day
But in between these times were storms of strife
That shook the structured core of this here house.
The silly girl, the silly girl! For she,
Despite her depths and charms, still must not see,
The limits of the female kind, to be
Of all the acts and walks in life, but three:
A nun, a whore, or one rich man’s lady,
So sayeth Aretino, wise and gay.
Yet now I do believe her blaze has cooled
And lesson learned: for though she ne’er did sin,
Her threats and tantrums earned her discipline;
The bounds she tested proved too tight for play.
Our current lives are dull and sweet, my task
Remains to keep the pace identical.
My Count and master Carlo dines with her
Some simple stories trade their ways back, forth;
Depart they do, Marie to cab and friends in town
The Count to singing youths he keeps around.
They echo worldly hymns throughout the nights –
How dazed they are with generation passed,
Those clever-too-clever scholars of Rome
Who probed the ancient tomes and set their hearts
To olden times and gods of yester-year,
The ones that fled from light blinding of Christ
And pasture fields of sun-drenched crosiers stark.
But careless they are! For on lips there dwell
The pantheons of Rome and Greece, and deeds
Most Vain, the feats of heroes, wights, and greats
From worlds long past, from realms that ought to sink
Themselves again, but rise and rise yet still!
O, such a trembling nerve of scare and fright,
Of serious heights and dizzying depths
Do these young muses right portend and send
Amidst this never-aging, always raging
Peninsula, that bursts with strife ‘tween gods
Unfixed, untamable, named Italy!
May Christ bequeath this land with peace and sleep.
[Doors open. Gesualdo enters with two guards]