1)- The Francesca da Rimini project, which from today is beginning to take shape like the flower in the button-hole of our website, is dedicated to one of the female personages who have mainly inspired artists, poets and playwrights throughout the world.

The heart of the project is made up of a considerable number of Francesca da Rimini’s “voices”: as many of them as there are languages and dialects into which the verses in which she speaks in the fifth canto of Hell have been translated.  Naturally, there will also be the Italian voice of Francesca, the one which Dante has given us in the original verses.  Those who visit the website will therefore not only be able to read the text  of what the various “voices” of Francesca are saying, but also listen to the readings in question recorded in as many languages.

For now the available recorded readings are a limited number.  There is still much work to be done.  Those who wish to take an active part in the project, by lending their own voice for a reading still to be added, may find out how to do so by clicking on the announcement “We are looking for voices for Francesca in every language”.

The project also aims to be a contribution sui generis to the cultural struggle against violence towards women: [1] not only for those who are simply killed outright but also for those women who undergo other oppression such as – just so – being deceived into marrying an ugly and evil Malatesta by getting her to see a good looking and decent one.  Francesca is the classic example of this type considering that she had been induced to marry by proxy Gianciotto Malatesta, ugly and lopsided, by making her believe that she was marrying Paolo Malatesta, Gianciotto’s younger brother, who was instead a big, handsome lad.  How was that able to happen?  Simple: by letting the poor girl believe that Paolo was present at the ceremony as her betrothed while instead he was there only as the representative “by proxy” of his elder brother.

Paolo probably had allowed himself to be part of the plot merely because younger brothers, in the great families of the day, counted for nothing and just had to obey.  However, the fact is that for Francesca and Paolo, in the circumstances, the act of falling in love with each other and bringing down upon themselves all the consequences of the matter was nothing less than a sacred right.  And this is not just our opinion but seems, reading between the lines, to have also been Dante’s view when one considers the enormous sympathy and tenderness that the poet exhibits with regard to the pair of lovers when he meets them in the fifth canto of Hell.

Thus the story of Francesca da Rimini, which ends with her murder at the hand of her evil husband Gianciotto, is presented as an example of a manual of violence against women.  So that then, taking stock of the situation, with the handsome Paolo also killed, well, we can say that it was a case of a classic incident going the full distance.

It must be said that Dante, despite his severe approach to the Roman Catholic Church and all its faults, was still a profoundly religious man, so he could not avoid including the two unfortunate youngsters amongst the damned according to Catholic morality.  But it is significant that he included them in the circle of the lascivious high up there in hell near to Limbo where sinners undergo a relatively mild punishment: that of being continuously buffeted by the gale of hell which is nothing more than a particularly fierce wind.  All the more so in that those two, exceptionally, were allowed to be buffeted by the gale while standing in a permanent embrace:  a punishment which indeed few would disdain.

2)- This Introduction to the Francesca Project starts at the historic event of the two lovers and then pauses at some of the most well known artistic interpretations of this event, ranging between Dante’s verses from the fifth canto of Hell to the tragedy Francesca da Rimini by Gabriele d’Annunzio and to the music masterpieces of the same title by Pëtr Il’ič Čajkovskij, Sergej Vasil’evič Rachmaninov and Riccardo Zandonai.

As for the historical event of the love affair and the death of Paolo and Francesca, contemporary chronicles are very miserly.  Clearly the two powerful families involved in the shameful act – the Polenta family from Ravenna and the Malatesta family from Rimini – managed to arrange that news of these happenings was very restricted.  And if today we know a bit more with regard to what Dante tells us in his verses, this is due to a more detailed reconstruction done by Giovanni Boccaccio around 1370 in his commentary on the Divine Comedy [2] in which he explains the background to the marriage of convenience carried out by proxy and of the evil deception which ruined Lady Francesca.

Francesca da Polenta (that was the girl’s real name) was the daughter of Guido il Vecchio da Polenta, the lord of Cervia and Ravenna who wanted very much to sanction and reinforce an alliance which he had forged with the seigniory of the Malatesta family of Rimini.  This is why he so strongly desired to marry his daughter off to Giovanni Malatesta, known as Gianciotto (i.e. Giovanni the lame), the first born son of Malatesta da Verucchio, the patriarch of that family.  The old Guido realised full well that the said Gianciotto, ugly and coarse as he was, would have terrified the beautiful Francesca, but in his mind reasons of State trumped all else.  And so, ugly or no, it was necessary to find a way to get Francesca to marry  him.

Francesca’s mother, with the good sense typical of mothers, will have tried to intercede on her poor daughter’s behalf to dissuade her husband: “But Guido, have you seen what a distinguished treasure of a young man is Paolo?… Educated, and… extremely polite!… while that other one… I don’t know.. he seems to me to be somewhat unclean… Listen, how would it be if we made her marry Paolo?  Would it make any difference to the alliance?”  But Guido was immovable.

And Boccaccio gives us the reason why: “Gianciotto was a man of big ideas and it was hoped that he would become the lord of the city after the death of his father; for this reason, however foul and lopsided his person may have been, Master Guido wanted him as his son-in-law rather than any of his brothers.”

And then there was the intervention of the classic lousy friend of the family.  We know well that many powerful families have a rotten friend who knows how to give valuable but cruel and perverse advice.  Clearly, the Polenta family had just such a one.

Once again, in this case, Giovanni Boccaccio tells us about it, saying that there was “one of the friends of Master Guido” (whom however he does not name) who suggested the  sinister subterfuge: “If she [Francesca] sees Gianciotto before the conclusion of the marriage ceremony, neither you nor anyone else will ever make her want him as a husband”.  And then immediately follows the evil advice: “Do not have Gianciotto come to marry her but have one of the brothers come as the proxy to marry her in Gianciotto’s name”.

Then Boccaccio relates that Francesca, on seeing Paolo and believing that she was marrying him, fell in love with him.

And he recounts further “that on the day after the wedding she saw Gianciotto get up from her side; following which, seeing how she had been deceived, she was furious and did not abandon her love for Paolo”.

And finally Boccaccio tells of the double homicide carried out by Gianciotto, adding that “then the two lovers were buried in the same tomb the following morning, accompanied by many tears”.

This bloody epilogue, according to the most recent historical studies, can be dated around the year 1284, right after Paolo Malatesta’s return to Rimini from Florence, where he was sent as Capitano del Popolo by Pope Martin IV and where Dante might have had a chance to meet him.

3)- The story of Francesca and Paolo, brought back to life in this way by Dante’s sublime poetry and Boccaccio’s perspicacious commentary, has inspired innumerable artists across the following centuries.

In this Introduction to the Francesca Project we shall linger in particular over the tragedy in five acts, Francesca da Rimini, by Gabriele D’Annunzio (1863-1938) which, apart from being a great work of poetry, tells the entire story of the couple and so lends itself to being read in conjunction with Dante’s verses. [3]  In a certain way D’Annunzio, having Boccaccio’s Commentary to hand, has turned into poetry the preceding events which Dante left in shadow and which come before the reading of the Galeotto book and the famous kiss. [4]

Gabriele D’Annunzio’s Francesca da Rimini was dedicated by the poet to the “divine” Eleonora Duse and was staged for the first time on 9 December 1901 at the Teatro Costanzi (the current Teatro dell’Opera) in Rome, with the great actress as the protagonist.

Reading this Introduction, in which some of the most important excerpts from D’Annunzio’s tragedy are reproduced, [5] it will be possible to listen to some music which is meant to make up a sort of a sound track.  There are excerpts from a tone poem of Pëtr Il’ič Čajkovskij (1840-1893) and from two operas, respectively of  Sergej Vasil’evič Rachmaninov (1873-1943) and Riccardo Zandonai (1883- 1944). All these musical masterpieces have the same title Francesca da Rimini.

Tchaikovsky’s tone poem in E minor was composed in 1876 and performed for the first time in Moscow on 25 February 1877 under the direction of Nikolai Rubinstein.

Rachmaminov’s opera, in a prologue, two tableaux and an epilogue, was composed in 1905 and performed for the first time on 24 January 1906 at the Bolshoi theatre of Moscow, under the direction of Rachmaninov himself.  Among the persons we find also Dante and Virgil, besides Francesca, Paolo and Gianciotto (here named Lanciotto).

Zandonai’s opera in four acts, based on the libretto made up from a summary of D’Annunzio’s tragedy, was staged for the first time at the Teatro Regio di Torino on 19 February 1914, with the soprano Linda Cannetti as the protagonist, under the direction of Ettore Panizza.

4)- The first act of Gabriele D’Annunzio’s tragedy takes place in the Polenta family’s palazzo in Ravenna where Francesca da Polenta lives.  Francesca’s female attendants are encountered in the first pages amusing themselves with the jester, a young man who tours the patrician homes in Romagna in order to eke out a living by offering his services to the various gentlemen.

At a certain point we meet Ostasio, Francesca’s extremely unpleasant elder brother, accompanied by the notary, Ser Toldo: the two of them have treacherously organized the proxy wedding which will duplicitously force Francesca to become the wife of the ugly, evil Gianciotto, the first born son of the Malatesta family of Rimini, a wedding plotted by the Polenta and Malatesta families, Guelphs all of them, in order to strengthen their alliance in their related feuds with their respective Ghibelline enemies (the Traversari family,  enemies of Polenta, and the Parcitadi family, enemies of Malatesta).

As soon as he appears amongst Francesca’s ladies, Ostasio abuses the jester, afraid that he may know about and so reveal to the ladies the deceit which has been woven to ensnare the unfortunate young woman, so that it could come to Francesca’s ears – or to those of her sister, Samaritana – that the handsome Paolo Malatesta whom Francesca will see and will have to believe is her fiancé, is in reality already married to a certain lady called Orabile and is appearing in the ceremony merely as the representative of the true husband, his elder brother Gianciotto.

After this, Ostasio and Ser Toldo privately discuss their perverse and cruel plan which actually intends Francesca to  become aware of the deceit on the morning after the wedding when she finds herself in the ghastly Gianciotto’s bed instead of handsome Paolo’s:

OSTASIO.
[…] As for this rascal
That gossipped with the women of Francesca,
If he had been a jester
Of the Malatesti
By now the women had heard all the news
There is to tell of Paolo,
And all the cunning plan had been vain,
Ser Toldo, that you counselled
Out of your manifold wisdom.

SER TOLDO.
As for him,
He was so poor and threadbare,
How could I take him for a follower
Of such a lordly knight as Paolo,
He being so bountiful
With gentry such as these?
But you are well-advised in bitting him.
These creatures of the Court
May be by way of being soothsayers,
And often steal the trade
Of the astrologers.

OSTASIO.
True. And this slave
Of Cyprus, that my sister loves so dearly,
I have my doubts of her; she too, I think,
Is something of a soothsayer; I know
That she interprets dreams. The other day
I saw my sister full of heavy thoughts,
And almost sorrowful,
As if some evil dream had come to her;
And only yesterday
I heard her heave such a long, heavy sigh
As if she had a trouble in her heart,
And I heard Samaritana,
Say to her “What is it, sister? Why do you weep?”

SER TOLDO.
Messer Ostasio, it is the month of May.

OSTASIO.
In truth there is no peace for us until
This marriage is well over. And I fear,
Ser Toldo, lest some scandal come of it.

SER TOLDO.
Yet you know well, what sort
Of woman is your sister, and how high
Of heart and mind. If she see this Gianciotto,
So lamed and bent, and with those eyes of his,
As of an angry devil,
Before the marriage-contract
Be signed and sealed, why, neither will your father
Nor you, nor any, of a certainty
Bring her to take
The man for husband, not although you set
Your dagger,at her throat, or haled her through
Ravenna by the hair.

OSTASIO.
I know it well, Ser Toldo, for my father
Gave her for foster-mother
A sword of his of a miraculous edge,
That he had tempered in Cesena blood
When he was Podestà.

SER TOLDO.
Well then, I say,
If this be so, and you desire the match,
There is no other way to compass it.
And seeing that Paolo Malatesta, comes
As procurator of Gianciotto here,
And with full powers
For the betrothal of Madonna Francesca,
I say you should proceed
Instantly to the marriage,
If you would sleep in peace, Messer Ostasio.
Paolo is a fair and pleasant youth,
And makes a brave decoy,
Undoubtedly; yet it is far too easy
To learn that he is married to Orabile.
And you, did you not beat this jester but
For fear of idle talk?

OSTASIO.
Yes, you are right,
Ser Toldo; we must put an end to this.
My father is returning from Valdoppio
This very night; we will have all prepared
And ready for to-morrow,

SER TOLDO.
Very good,
Messer Ostasio.

OSTASIO.
Yet… What will come of it?

SER TOLDO.
If you do all, as all this should be done,
With secrecy and prudence, Madonna Francesca
Will find out nothing till at Rimino,
She wakes, the morning after
Her wedding day, and sees
Beside her… rise Gianciotto.

The proxy wedding takes place but is not described or shown and the first act ends with Paolo and Francesca who meet fleetingly without speaking, separated by a grille, where Francesca picks a red rose from a flower bed next to her and gives it to Paolo.

5)- The second act takes place in the Malatesta palazzo in Rimini where Francesca has been living, sad and resigned, for some months with her husband, Gianciotto, who has been forced onto her.  In particular, the scene takes place outside the palazzo where a battle is being fought between the Malatesta family, which is defending its palazzo, and their enemies, the Parcitadi family, which has launched an attack.

At a certain point during the course of the battle, Francesca appears on the glacis where Paolo also appears not long after.  A dialogue unfolds between them entirely driven by continuous allusive metaphors: Francesco chides Paolo very discreetly and charmingly for having allowed himself to be drawn into the web of deceit, Paolo replies that he was unaware of the machinations which were going on and appears sincerely tormented by the fact that he was involved, but the first exchange of lines, inevitably influenced by Francesca’s justifiable show of resentment, then gradually resolves itself into a long endured, reciprocal declaration of love, more explicitly by him, less explicitly by her.  However, the dialogue concludes with Francesca’s willingness to pardon Paolo “with all love”.

FRANCESCA.
Have you come from Cesena?

PAOLO.
I came to-day.

FRANCESCA.
You stayed
A long while there.

PAOLO.
It took us forty days
With Guido di Monforte in the field
To take Cesena, and the castle.

FRANCESCA.
Ah!
You have toiled, I think, too much.
You are a little thinner and a little
Paler, it seems to me.

PAOLO.
There is an Autumn fever
Among the thickets on the Savio.

FRANCESCA.
No,
But you are sick? You tremble. And Orabile,
Has she no medicine for you?

PAOLO.
This fever
Feeds on itself; I ask no medicine,
I seek no herb to heal my sickness, sister.

FRANCESCA.
I had a healing herb
When I was in my father’s house, the house
Of my good father, God protect him, God
Protect him!  I had a herb, a healing herb,
There in the garden where you came one day
Clothed in a garment hat is called, I think,
Fraud, in the gentle world;
But you set foot on it, and saw it not,
And it has never come up any more,
However light your foot may be, my lord
And kinsman. It was dead.

PAOLO.
I saw it not,
I knew not where I was,
Nor who had led my feet into that way,
I did not speak, I did not hear a word,
I had no bounds to cross,
No barriers to break down,
I only saw a rose
That offered Itself up to me more living
Than the lips of a fresh wound […].

FRANCESCA.
I also saw
With my own eyes the dawn,
The dawn that brings with it the morning star,
The nurse of the young heavens,
That had but newly waked to give its milk
When the last dream of sleep
Came to my pillow; and I also saw,
With my own eyes I saw,
With horror and with shame,
About me as it were an impure stream
Of water flung suddenly outraging
A palpitating face
Lifted to drink the light.
This did I see with my own eyes; and this
I shall see always till the night has fallen,
The night that has no dawn,
Brother.

PAOLO.
The shame and horror be on me !
The light that came again
Found me awake.
Peace had forever fled
Out of the soul of Paolo Malatesta;
It has not come again, it will not come
Ever again;
Peace and the soul of Paolo Malatesta
Are enemies from now in life or death.
And all things were as enemies to me
From the hour that you set foot
Upon the threshold, and without escape,
And I turned back and followed with the guide.
Violent deeds
Were the one medicine for my disease,
Violent deeds and killing […].

FRANCESCA.
God shall forgive you this,
God shall forgive you all the blood you shed,
And all the rest,
But not the tears I did not weep, but not
The eyes that were still dry when the dawn came.
I cannot weep now, brother!  Another draught
You gave me at the ford
Of the beautiful river, do you remember it?
With your false heart,
Filled full with madness and with treachery,
That was the last, that was the last that quenched
My thirst; and now no water
Can quench my thirst, not any more, my lord […].

PAOLO.
Your rebuke, Francesca,
Is cruel over-much, sweet over-much,
And my heart melts within me, and my sad soul
Is shed before the strangeness of your voice.
My soul is shed before you,
All that is in me have I cast away,
And I will no more stoop to pick it up.
How would you have me die?

FRANCESCA.
Like to the galley-slave
Rowing in the galley that is called Despair,
So would I have you die; and there and then
The memory of that draught
You gave me at the ford
Of the beautiful river,
Before we had come to the water of treachery
And to the walls of fraud, should burn in you
And should consume you […].

PAOLO.
This is the hour, if you will see me die,
If you will lift my head out of the dust
With your two hands. What other could I have?
I will not die the death of the galley-slave.
[…]

FRANCESCA.
I have seen the sea,
The eternal sea,
The witness of the Lord,
And on the sea a sail
That the Lord set to be a sign of saving.
Paolo, brother in God,
I make a vow
If the Lord of mercy
Have you in keeping! […]
Brother in God, the stain of fraud you have
Upon your soul,
Let it be pardoned to you with all love,
And let the judgment of God
Make proof of you […].
[…].

The second act concludes at the end of the battle with the victory of Polenta over Parcitadi.  Gianciotto also arrives on the glacis and celebrates with wine.  Francesca pours a drink for Gianciotto and also for Paolo with these words of good wishes:

FRANCESCA.
Drink, my lord and kinsman,
Out of the cup in which your brother drank.
God give you both good fortune,
Each as the other, and alike to me!
[…]

6)- The third act takes place in one of the sumptuously furnished rooms of the Malatesta palazzo in Rimini, and begins with Francesca and her accompanying ladies who are together reading the courtly romance of Lancelot and Genevieve, the wife of King Arthur, and of their adulterous love favoured by the dignitary of the court, Galehaut (Galeotto).  In particular, Francesca and her companions are reading the page of the romance which recounts the conversation between Genevieve and Galeotto, when the latter intercedes to prompt the lady to encourage the profoundly enamoured but timid Lancelot who does not dare to declare his love.

Francesca reads:

FRANCESCA.
“Thereat Galeotto comes to her and says:
‘Lady, have pity on him, for God’s sake,
And do for me as I would do for you,
If you should ask it of me.’  ‘What is this
That I should pity?’  ‘Lady, you well know
How much he loves you, and has done for you,
More than knight ever did for any lady.’
‘In truth he has done more for me than I
Can ever do for him again, and he
Could ask of me nothing I would not do;
But he asks nothing of me, and he has
So deep a sadness, that I marvel at it.’
And Galeotto says:  ‘Lady, have pity.’
That will I have,’ says she, ‘and even such
As you would have me; but he asks of me
Nothing”

Francesca reads, surrounded by her ladies who listen raptly and make spirited remarks with naughty jokes about passages in the story:

GARSENDA.
Madonna,
How ever could a knight, and Launcelot,
Have been so shamefaced?

ALDA.
All the while the queen,
The poor queen, only longing she might give
Her lover what he would not ask of her!

BIANCOFIORE.
She should have said to him: ” Most worthy knight,
Your sadness will avail you not a mite.”

ALTICHIARA.
Guenevere did but jest with him, and chose
To wait her time; but nothing in the world
Was in her mind more than a speedy bed.

In the meantime other persons come onto the scene, amongst whom are the jester and the musicians to liven up the company as well as a Florentine merchant who says that he has come to Rimini on that very day in Paolo Malatesta’s train, from whom Francesca buys some fabrics as a gift for her ladies.  Until, at a certain point, a maid quietly tells Francesca that Paolo is on his way to her.  Francesca gets rid of everyone around her with an excuse and shortly afterwards Paolo appears, having just arrived from Florence.

A love scene ensues which becomes ever more passionate:

FRANCESCA.
Welcome, my lord and kinsman.

PAOLO.
I have come,
Hearing a sound of music, to bring greetings,
My greetings of return.

FRANCESCA.
You have come back
Speedily, sir; indeed with the first swallow.
My women even now
Were singing a new song that they have made
To welcome March. And there was also here
The merchant out of Florence, who had come
Among your following. Of him I had
Tidings of you.

PAOLO.
But I, of you, no tidings,
None, I heard nothing there,
Nothing of you at all,
From that day onward, when, one perilous night
You put a cup of wine into my hands,
And said to me, ” farewell!”
And said to me, ” God-speed!”

FRANCESCA.
I have no memory,
My lord, concerning this. I have prayed much.

PAOLO.
You have forgotten then ?

FRANCESCA.
I have prayed much.

PAOLO.
And I have suffered much.
If it be true that he who suffers conquers,
I think I must needs conquer.

FRANCESCA.
What ?

PAOLO.
My fate,
Francesca.

FRANCESCA.
Aud yet you have come back?

PAOLO.
I have come back
To live.

FRANCESCA.
Not to die now?

PAOLO.
Ah, you remember
The death I was to die,
And you that would not!  So much, at the least,
You have remembered.

FRANCESCA.
Paolo, give me peace!
It is so sweet a thing to live forgetting,
But one hour only, and be no more tossed,
Out of the tempest.
Do not call back, I pray,
The shadow of that time in this fresh light
That slakes my thirst at last
Like that long draught
That at the ford I drank,
Out of the living water.
[…]

PAOLO.
It is the voice of spring
I hear, and from your lips the music runs
Over the world, that I have seemed to hear,
Riding against the wind,
Sing in the voice of the wind,
At every turn of the way,
At every glade, and high
On the hill-tops, and on the edges of the woods,
And under them the streams,
When my desire bent back,
Burning with breath, the mane of my wild horse,
Over the saddle-bow, and the soul lived,
In the swiftness of that flight,
On swiftness,
Like a torch carried in the wind, and all
The thoughts of all my soul, save one, save one,
Were all blown backward, spent
Like sparks behind me.

FRANCESCA.
Ah, Paolo, like sparks
All your words are, and still they take no rest,
And all your soul lives still
In the strong wind and swiftness of your coming,
And drags me with it, and I am full of fear.
I pray you, I pray you now,
That you will give me peace
For this hour only,
My fair friend, my sweet friend,
That I may quiet and put to sleep in me
The old sick pain, and forget all the rest;
Only bring back into my eyes the first
Look that took hold on me out of your face,
Unknown to me […].

PAOLO.
And so garlanded
With violets I saw you yesterday
In a meadow, as I stayed […].
And all
Palpitated with you
In the high morning. And you came to me
With violets, and returning to your lips
I heard again a word that you had spoken,
Saying : I pardon you, and with much love!

FRANCESCA.
That word was spoken,
And perfect joy awaits upon the word…

At a certain point Paolo’s gaze falls on the lectern with the book about Lancelot and Genevieve, open at the page and the bookmark where Francesca had stopped reading.  This is the key moment of the affair and the time of the famous kiss by Paolo, all of a tremble, as sung by Dante in his verses.  This is how D’Annunzio tells the story in the final part of the third act:

PAOLO.
What book is this?

FRANCESCA.
The famous history
Of Lancelot of the Lake

PAOLO.
And have you read
The book all through?

FRANCESCA.
I have but
Come in my reading to this point.

PAOLO.
To where?
Here, where the mark is?
[He reads].
“……but he asks of me
Nothing……”  Will you go on?

FRANCESCA.
Look how the sea is growing white with light!

PAOLO.
Will you not read the page with me, Francesca?

FRANCESCA.
Look yonder, how a flight
Of swallows comes, and coming sets a shadow
On the white sea!

PAOLO.
Will you not read, Francesca?

FRANCESCA.
And there is one sail, and so red it seems
Like fire.

PAOLO.
[Reading].
“ ‘Assuredly, my lady’ says
Thereat Galeotto, ‘he is not so hot,
He does not ask you any single thing
For love of you, because he fears, but I
Make suit to you for him; and know that I
Had never asked it of you, but that you
Were better off for it, seeing it is
The richest treasure you shall ever compass’.
Whereat says she……”
[Paolo draws Francesca gently by the hand].
But now, will you not read
What she says ? Will you not be Guenevere?
See now how sweet they are,
Your violets
That you have cast away! Come, read a little.
[Their heads lean together over the book].

FRANCESCA.
[Reading].
“Whereat says she: . ‘This know I well, and I
Will do whatever thing you ask of me’.
And Galeotto answers her:  ‘Much thanks,
Lady! I ask you that you give to him
Your love……’ ”
[She stops.]

PAOLO.
But read on.

FRANCESCA.
No, I cannot see
The words.

PAOLO.
Read on. It says:  “Assuredly……”

FRANCESCA.
“ ‘Assuredly’, says she, ‘I promise it,
But let him be mine own and I all his,
And let there be set straight all crooked things
And evil……’ ”  Enough, Paolo.

PAOLO.
[Reading : hoarsely and tremulously.]
“ ‘Lady!’  says he,
‘much thanks, but kiss him then,
Now, and before my face, for a beginning
Of a true love……’ ”  You, you! what does she say?
Now, what does she say? Here.
[Their white faces lean over the book, until their cheeks almost touch].

FRANCESCA.
[Reading].
“Says she:  For what
Shall I be then entreated.  But I will it
More than he wills it……’ ”

PAOLO.
[Following brokenly].
“And they draw apart
And the queen looks on him and sees that he
Cannot take heart on him to do aught more.
Thereat she takes him by the chin, and slowly
Kisses him on the mouth……”
[He makes the same movement towards Francesca, and kisses her. As their mouths separate, Francesca staggers and falls back on the cushions.]
Francesca!

FRANCESCA [Faintly].
No, Paolo!
[…]

In the two acts of D’Annunzio’s tragedy which follow, the plot develops towards the tragic demise of the two lovers.  Gianciotto gets to know of the love between Francesca and Paolo, catches them unawares and kills them.

But here our Introduction may finish.

Once we have allowed ourselves to be drawn by D’Annunzio along the byways of this affair and up to the point of the famous kiss, we can turn to Dante’s verses:  we are now in the best frame of mind to appreciate fully Francesca’s words, whether in reading or listening, in all the languages in which anyone has wanted to voice her grief, and to grasp the extent of the solidarity which emerges from the fact that so many women, in every country in the world, are now ready to lend their voices to Francesca, so as to enable her to express her pain to the whole world.

For more information about Francesca da Rimini click here.


[1] Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. Istanbul, May 11, 2011. Text in English

[2] Giovanni Boccaccio, Esposizioni sopra la Comedia di Dante, a cura di Giorgio Padoan, in Tutte le opere di Giovanni Boccaccio, vol. VI, Milano, Mondadori, 1965.  An English translation was recently published by the University of Toronto (Boccaccio’s Expositions on Dante’s Comedy, translated by Michael Papio, Toronto 2009).  Boccaccio’s Expositions assemble the texts of sixty public lessons which the great writer gave between October 1373 and January 1374 at the instigation of the Florentine municipality, and following a citizens’ petition, at the church of St Stephen in Badia, Florence.  Boccaccio did not manage to get further than canto XVII of Hell owing to his poor health.

[3] Before D’Annunzio’s Francesca da Rimini, another tragedy with the same title had already been written in the Romantic period by Silvio Pellico, between 1814 and 1815, and had achieved a great success on the evening of August 18th 1815 when it was performed for the first time in Milan.  The role of the protagonist was taken by Carlotta Marchionni, a famous actress of the time.  Milan was under Austrian domination in those days and the patriotic tones frequently used by Paolo had contributed to the success of the tragedy in that period of the Risorgimento.  Pellico’s tragedy, however, in contrast with that of D’Annunzio, is distinctly at variance with Dante’s text (and Boccaccio’s complementary commentary), specifically insofar as the reconstruction of the history of the two lovers is concerned. There are four persons only: Francesca, her husband Gianciotto (called Lanciotto here), his brother-in-law Paolo and his father Guido.

[4] For a parallel study of Dante’s verse and the tragedy by D’Annunzio, see Gabriella Di Paola’s Il mal perverso e i fiori velenosi.  La poesia di Dante nella “Francesca da Rimini” di D’Annunzio.  Bulzoni, Rome, 1990.

[5] The complete text of Gabriele D’Annunzio’s tragedy is accessible online both in the original language (click here) and in the English translation of Arthur Symons, published at New York in 1902 (click here).