Academic journal article Bulletin of the Comediantes

Adapting History: Bandello, Lope De Vega, Lord Byron, and Donizetti

Academic journal article Bulletin of the Comediantes

Adapting History: Bandello, Lope De Vega, Lord Byron, and Donizetti

Article excerpt

It is widely recognized that in its broad outlines Lope's El castigo sin venganza (1631) mirrors a family tragedy that shook the Italian city of Ferrara early in the fifteenth century'. The tragedy centered on Niccolo III d'Este, Marquis of Ferrara, his wife, Parisina Malatesta, and his illegitimate son, Ugo. Acknowledged as a capable and pious ruler, Niccolo was also known as a habitual womanizer. Married before, but without issue, he wed Parisina when she was only fifteen, amid the general expectation that this new marriage would provide the state with a legitimate heir, and at the same time bring some order to Niccolo's life. That was not to be, however, and it is assumed that partly in reaction to her husband's infidelity', Parisina, who was famed for her beauty and accomplishments, began an affair with her stepson, who was two y'ears older and similarly celebrated. It is not certain exactly' when the liaison commenced, although the supposition is that it was in the spring of 1424. Sometime later it was discovered by a gentleman of the court, who at once informed the Marquis. Niccolo's reaction to the news of the affair, which according to the thinking of the time constituted not just adultery' but incest as well, was swift. He ordered the arrest of the guilty parties and convened a tribunal, which shortly pronounced a sentence of death. Soon afterward, on the twenty'-first of May, 1425, both Ugo and Parisina were led to the block and beheaded.1

How Lope became familiar with the story' of Niccolo III and his family has been much discussed over the y'ears. While he may have utilized other sources as well, it is now generally accepted that his primary one was a short story by the Italian novelliere Matteo Bandello. Entitled ll márchese Niccolo terzo da Este trovato il figliuolo con la matrigna in adulterio, a tutti dui in un medesimo giorno fa tagliar il capo in Ferrara, the story' appeared for the first time in the Prima Parte de le Novelle del Bandello, published in Lucca in 1554. Bandello's tale subsequently took on new life when in 1559 it appeared in a French translation by François de Belleforest in the first volume of his Histoires Tragiques, and then, in 1589, in an anonymous Spanish translation of the French work. Whether Lope was familiar with all three of these versions has not yet been conclusively determined. The present consensus seems to be that he knew both Bandello's original story and the Spanish translation of Belleforest's rendering of Bandello, but not Belleforest's French text itself.2

That both Bandello and Lope drew upon the tragedy of the House of Este to create works of literary art is not surprising, given the unquestionable interest of the story. But other later artists were also so inspired, something which seems to have been little noted in studies of El castigo. My present purpose is thus to place in juxtaposition four different works based on the events in Ferrara. The works are Bandello's novella-, Lope's play; Lord Byron's narrative poem, Parisina (1816); and the opera of the composer Gaetano Donizetti and the librettist Felice Romani, Parisina d'Este (1833). None of these appropriations, which represent three different languages, four different genres, and four historical periods, involves what Gérard Genette calls a "movement of proximization" (304), a shift in the temporal or cultural setting of the events drawn from history or a source text. The time of the story in each of the adaptations is said, or implied, to be the early fifteenth century, and its location remains Ferrara and places nearby. Likewise, although the names and titles of the characters change, the basic are of the plot is the same in all four: transgression, discovery, punishment.

On the other hand, there are significant variations in the way that the story is recounted in each, differences that relate to the development and outcome of the story, the way in which the principal characters are portrayed, and the thematic interests that emerge in the course of the telling. …

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