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The Cenci: A Tragedy in Five Acts: An Authoritative Text Based on the 1819 Edition Paperback – January 31, 2008

ISBN-13: 978-1934555149 ISBN-10: 1934555142 Edition: 1st Valancourt Books Ed

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 204 pages
  • Publisher: Valancourt Books; 1st Valancourt Books Ed edition (January 31, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1934555142
  • ISBN-13: 978-1934555149
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.4 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,526,124 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


Verse tragedy in five acts by Percy Bysshe Shelley, published in London in 1819 and first staged privately by the Shelley Society in 1886. Modeled after Shakespearean tragedy, it is noted for its powerful characters, evocative language, and moral ambiguities. It is based on an incident in Renaissance Rome. The story centers on Count Francesco Cenci, who is notorious for his depravity. He gives a party at which, to the horror of his guests, he gleefully announces the deaths of two of his sons. Another victim of his cruelty is his daughter Beatrice, whom he has raped. Beatrice enlists the help of Orsino, a priest and Roman nobleman whom she had once hoped to marry. With the approval of the Cenci family, Orsino plots the murder of the count. When the other conspirators are found out, Orsino evades capture; the rest are tried and executed. -- The Merriam-Webster Encylopedia of Literature --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By mp on July 27, 2000
Format: Paperback
Percy Shelley's tragedy "The Cenci" is a lyrical and intense gothic melodrama set in late 1500's Italy. The play centers around the lives of the noble house of Cenci, which is daily terrorized by Francesco Cenci, head of the household. Francesco is molded in the style of other gothic villains, such as Radcliffe's Montoni and Walpole's Manfred, yet he manages to stand apart from them.
Cenci is, in both word and deed, more insistently evil than either of the aforementioned figures. Cenci's purpose, unlike the other two, is not to increase his wealth, or secure his lineage, but instead to bring both to ruin. From the beginning of the play, Cenci seeks to eliminate his entire family. He firmly believes that his curses are heard and enacted simply because he is the authority figure in his home.
Beatrice, Cenci's daughter, and her step-mother, Lucretia live in a state of constant apprehension and fear of Cenci. Beatrice is the tragic heroine of Shelley's play, whose beauty, apparent intelligence, and strong will prepare her only to be fully aware of the injustices of her father, common law, and religious law, and her inability to enlist the mercy of any of them to aid her family.
As Beatrice, her family, and friends, attempt to wrangle out of Cenci's designs, they find themselves drawn into a whirlpool of desperate acts. The gender issues and politics of the play indicate the helplessness of women, be they strong (Beatrice) or weak (Lucretia), and point out a total disdain for autocratic and aristocratic rule, be it familial or otherwise.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By F. Orion Pozo on November 18, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Shelley's The Cenci is just one of many tellings of a true story that captures the imagination and the heart of almost everybody who hears of it. The story has been retold in many novels, even in opera.

It is the tale of the lovely and innocent Beatrice Cenci, who in late 16th century Rome was molested by a corrupt and powerful father, Count Francesco Cenci. Her father was so well-connected that there was no one, not even the Pope, to whom she could turn for protection. So, with the help of her mother and her brother, she seeks the ultimate revenge and pays the price.

Shelley's poetic drama is considered one of the best works of his short life. His treatment is more Shakespearean than poetic, but without the immortal bard's light comic touches. The Cenci is true tragedy through and through with a poetic touch that will capture the soul of the reader. I found myself reading passages aloud to myself to both hear the dramatic content and to better understand the meaning of dialogs broken into lines of poetry. This is not an easy book to read, both for its subject and its writing style, yet the reward is well worth the effort. Some of Shelley's greatest lines are in this work. Here is a brief segment from the 5th Act of Beatrice's words in contemplating her fate:

Oh, trample out that thought! Worse than Despair,

Worse than the bitterness of death, is hope;

It is the only ill which can find place

Upon the giddy, sharp and narrow hour

Tottering beneath us. Plead with the swift frost

That it should spare the eldest flower of spring;

Plead with awakening earthquake, o'er whose couch

Even now a city stands, strong, fair, and free;

Now stench and blackness yawn, like death.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Carl Savich on May 17, 2009
Format: Paperback
The Cenci is a tragic five-act play written and published in 1819 by Percy Bysshe Shelley. The work was one of Shelley's most critically acclaimed works and was his only work that was published in a second edition during his lifetime. The play was Shelley's most accessible work and the one for which he planned and anticipated not only critical acceptance, but popular acclaim as well. The controversial themes of parricide and incest prevented the play from achieving popular success during his lifetime.

Shelley explained in the preface that the purpose of the play lies in "teaching the human heart": "The highest moral purpose aimed at in the highest species of the drama, is the teaching the human heart, through its sympathies and antipathies, the knowledge of itself." Tragedy results due to flaws in human nature or to events or circumstances that we cannot control. Each person, however, has freedom of will or a choice. Our own decisions determine whether tragedy is the outcome. Beatrice Cenci, the victim of an incestuous rape, chose to retaliate. Shelley wrote that peace and love were the appropriate responses to injustice and crime: "Undoubtedly, no person can be truly dishonoured by the act of another; and the fit return to make to the most enormous injuries is kindness and forbearance, and a resolution to convert the injurer from his dark passions by peace and love. Revenge, retaliation, atonement, are pernicious mistakes." It was by making these pernicious mistakes that Beatrice Cenci revealed her human flaws that ultimately culminated in tragedy.

The tragedy, based on a historical event, is set in Rome in 1599. Beatrice Cenci is raped by her father, Francesco Cenci, although Shelley never used that term and the nature of the crime is left ambiguous.
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