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The Cenci: A Tragedy in Five Acts: An Authoritative Text Based on the 1819 Edition 1st Valancourt Books Ed Edition
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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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›