English Literature

Porzia by Cale Young Rice

Porzia by Cale Young Rice


RIZZIO DI ROSSI A young Leader of the Literati at Naples, suspected of heresy

OSIO His Brother


ALOYSIUS Her Uncle, a Physician

BIANCA Her Cousin, a Florentine, once betrothed to Osio

GIORDANO BRUNO A young Dominican, also heretical

MONSIGNOR QUERIO An Officer of the Inquisition


MARINA A Sicilian serving Porzia

MATTEO Serving Rizzio, later Osio

Dancers from Capri, Musicians, Guards of the Inquisition, etc.

TIME—About 1570


Scene: A portion of the house, terrace and garden of Rizzio on his wedding day at Naples. It is so situated as to command a view of the city, the blue Bay with Capri set like a topaz in it, the Vesuvian coast, and the Mountain itself—rising like a calm though unappeasable monitor against the land’s too sensual enchantment.

The house, a white corner of which is visible along the right, has large doors toward the back giving upon the terrace. A vine-clad terrace wall, several feet above the level of the terrace, but much above that of the street without, runs across the rear to a cypress-set gate in the centre, and on into the lustrous Spring foliage of ilex, myrtle and orange.

A pedestaled image of the Virgin against the house, a statue of Pan before a bower opposite, and several stone seats forward, are decked with orange blossoms that glow in the light of late afternoon.

Music, reveling, and laughter are heard, muffled, within. Then amid a louder burst of them Osio strides angrily forth. He is followed in argumentative elation by Rizzio—clothed in Greek raiment, a book in his hand—and by Bruno.

Osio (as they come down).

Proof from the teeth of aliens and fools

And infidels that follow their own reason?

I want no proof! your books should burn in Hell!

Rizzio (gaily).

Because they glorify the stars in heaven?


I say they are heresy!


And I say truth!

[Uplifts volume.

That were your ears not stopped with sophistries

And Jesuitry you would adjudge divine!

[Tosses it down.


Ai, Signor Osio, there’s no denying!

[Porzia appears anxiously at the door.

We need but look,

To learn that stars are worlds

Swung out upon infinitudes of space.

And as for earth—

Tho Christ shed blood upon it—

‘Tis but a pilgrim flame among them all.

[Porzia leaves door.

Osio (turning upon him).

And you, a monk, will say so to the Church

And to the Holy Office?

Bruno (in humorous alarm).

God forbid!


And you, Rizzio, who on your wedding-day,

Mid rites of Venus

And revels to Apollo,

Wear pagan robes—and prink others in them—


Ho, others! meaning Porzia?


I say—

[Mirth within.

Rizzio (laughing at him).

What, what, my merry raging brother, more?

That Pan is not your god, whom I but now

Besought for inward beauty and truth of soul?

No, no, he is not, by Vesuvius!


I say—


That Plato and the ancients are

A plague which only the Pope can purge from earth?

[Again laughing.

Ai! to the flames with them, and with all fairness!


I say that you—


Hey, yea! that I who fall

Not on my knees to mitred villainy—

Or cringe to crosiered craft—

And yet whose life is lit for truth and freedom—

Am viler far than you

Who take your pleasure and pay it with confession?

Who think the Devil with faith would be no Devil?

[Porzia again appears with Bianca.

You hear it, Bruno?


I say there is one thing

You shall not do!


So-ho! my lordly brother,

My breaker of betrothals—if not creeds—

And that is what?


I will protect her from it!




Porzia! from the passion of your lies!


Rizzio (stung, staring).

By … all the saints

and fiends and incubi

That ever infested night and nunneries!

What frenzy now is biting at your brain!

[Before him.

Is she your wife, so to concern your care?

[They face, pale.

Porzia (who sees, and with Bianca comes quickly, winningly down).

Heresy! heresy! truth and heresy!

Are there no other words in all the world

To pour as wine

Upon a wedding-day!—

Are these your ways, my newly wedded lord,

To leave me, an hour’s bride, away from home—

From my dear uncle’s home—

With but a friend or two for comforting—

And bandy words of other stars than those

You swear to see when gazing in my eyes!

Rizzio (responsively).

My Porzia!


No, no! I’ll not forgive you!

For is it not ill boding to our bridals

You quarrel over the heavens—and not me!

[As he laughs.

My beauty, he says, this husband I have taken,

Is life—and yet ere ’tis an hour his

Forgets to live on it!—and Osio,

The brother of him,—

E’en Osio there—

Rizzio (gay again).

Who swears he will protect you!

[Osio starts.




Against the heresy of robes

Of pagan fashion—and against your husband!

[Constraint. Porzia sees Bianca flush.


I do not understand—unless you jest,

As oft—too oft you do!

Or mean perchance Bianca … unto whom

He was betrothed

And whom he would, this breath,

Be wooing again, were I, not words, your bride!

[Then winningly again, as Marina enters.

But see, here is Marina! the dance awaits!

[Music is heard.

Let us go in and give ourselves to Joy,

For Misery is quick enough to take us,

If first we do not wed us to her rival!

Is it not so?

Rizzio (with passion).

Or sun has never shone!

So in! the tarantelle! (as Tasso enters) And then a song

From Messer Tasso, who would be divine,

[Greets him.

Did he love Venus as he fears the Church,

Apollo as he shuns the Inquisition!

In!—Osio, will you come?


I will not.



Dance with your own mad humors and delusions

Here to Vesuvius and to the sea,—

Or to Bianca plead your pardon!

(To the rest) Come!

[Seizes blossoms blithely.

For in this world there’s but one heresy,

Denial of the divinity of Joy!

[Throws sprays over Porzia, takes her hand and they go singing. All follow, but Osio and Bianca.

Osio (when their steps have died; in cold rage).

You shall hear more of this, my pretty brother!

Prater of pagan doubts!

Whom—but that God may use it—I would curse

For the resemblance that our mother gave us!

For, by the living blood of San Gennaro,

In yon Duomo, the scoffing siren song

Of heresy that swells in you shall cease,

Tho it shall take the sweat of the rack to hush it!

You shall hear more!…

Bianca (who has stood long indignant).

And others shall hear more!

[Her voice breaking as she turns on him.

Others who fix upon me this affront

Of broken and humiliate betrothals!

[As he attempts to speak.

Yes! you have made of me a thing of shame

Here in the eyes

Of those who’re alien to me!

That you have loved me not—or love me less

Than once you did, too well I came to know—

I—with the blood in me of the Medici!—

And now it is open prate!… But do you think

The women of my city want resentment,

Or less than these sun-lusting ones of Naples

Know how to cool their wrath?


I think you mad—

In a mad maze—

And yield it no concern;

Nor shall—(meaningly) until a thing you know is done.

As to betrothals, give your memory breath:

Ours was agreed to end as either willed.

[Goes from her to gate and looks expectantly out.

Bianca (as he returns).

And you, weary of it, have utterly

Chosen to end it?



Have I so affirmed?

Bianca (springing up).

I will not have evasions, Osio!

Shiftings and turnings

Radiant of hopes

That torture expectation till it breaks.

[Again sitting.

And yet—perchance it is as well they come

Now … while there yet is time for more withdrawals.

Osio (starting).



For—I fear all trust in you is folly;

And that the heresy of Rizzio

Which I agreed with you to take unto

Monsignor Querio—

Osio (clenching).

Shall not be taken?

[She rises.

Not! but you leave the brunt to me alone?


You purpose more, I think, than to restrain him.


And you more than abjuring! You would gaze

Upon his godless schisms, …

Upon the naked luring of his lies!


No! Tho the beauty of them—


Beauty! beauty!

[Striking the Pan near him.

That wind of infidelity from Hell

He blows out of his lips do you call beauty!

No!—and he with his poets and philosophers,

His Platos

And star-mad Copernicas,

And that Dominican, Giordano Bruno,

For whom the stake to flames will yet be lit,

Shall learn you are too late in your relenting!

Bianca (stricken).

Too … late!


His heresies shall reap their due.

Bianca (death-pale).

Which means—that you

already have revealed them!

Have sent unto Monsignor Querio


Rizzio’s wedding-day!—

For that

It was you sought out Matteo, who, pledged

Unto Marina,

As were you to me,

Has broke his troth?…

And now, now you await him?—O was not

Your promise to me that a week should pend

Ere any step?


I will not lose my soul,

[Turns away.

And dallying is the feebleness of fools.


And will lies save it—tho they be for Heaven!—

To one who nigh has lost her soul for you?

[When he does not answer, more penetratively.

We have been friends, Osio, long been friends,

And, woman that I am, I would ’twere more,

But in this I suspect—


Enough! we prate!

[Rankling, uneasily.

I say enough.


And I say all too little,


Until I tell you now plain to your face,

And to your heart

Plunging toward this passion,

That not alone a hate of heresy

Is haunting you to it, but that the lips

And eyes and brows and soul of—


Will you cease!


I tell you that you love her—Porzia!

And veer but to the vision of her face!

Osio (who after strangling silence finds words).

If you say that, Bianca, ever again

Or if, by all the demons that Avernus

Pours out upon the black Phlegraean fields,

You hint it or suggest it to her, till—


Till you achieve her! and have wrapped the rites

Of the Church round your achieving?

Till you have severed her from Rizzio—

Have swept her from perdition—

Into your swathing arms! I say you shall not!

Me you have set aside, but there an end!

[Starts toward door.


Stop! whither do you go?


To call them! call!

And to betray your treachery—and mine!


Rizzio! Porzia! Rizzio!



[Seizing her wrists.

Will you become a dagger, and not know,

Stiletto that you are, what thing you stab!


The infatuation festering within you!

Till, deaf with the desire of it and dream,

You cannot tell their voice from Deity’s.

[Calls again.

Rizzio! Porzia! Tasso!

[The music ceases.

Rizzio (within; startled).

It was Bianca!

[Hastening to door with the rest crowding closely after.

How? what? you called? what moves you?—Osio?

[Looks around.

Was some one here? what is it? speak!… Bianca?

What burns you?


You shall hear! It must be told.

Yes, yes!… (Struggling to say it) …

And with no leavening delay of words.

We … I … You must be gone from here at once;

At once—for there is peril.


Pah-ho! peril?

Now, Scylla and the Sibyl and Charybdis!

What megrim have you had?


None—for doubting;

Or any, it matters not, if you will go,

And quickly, trusting reason—as you boast to;

For I have heard—


Have heard what and from whom?

[Again looks around.


There was one here who said Monsignor Querio

Knows of your excommunicant delight

In books that are forbid—

And … of your heresies!

Porzia (in quick dismay).

The Inquisition!

You mean—he may be sought by it and seized,

Held in the trammels of it for a truth

That …! Do you mean, Bianca, Osio,

That now, at any hour—?… Oh, he must go!

[Hears noise at gate.

And quickly! In, Rizzio, in, for they—!

[The gate opens and Matteo entering stops amazed and alarmed.

Rizzio (with laughing relief).

Now, now, do you not see your apprehension!

Is Matteo the Inquisition! Is

He then the prison that has come to seize me?

Fie, fie, Bianca, with your fears that mar

Again the bridal beauty of this hour,

And crowd with quiverings the bliss of it!

No more of them!—(to dancers) Hither! and wind your maze!

Again take up the dance!


No, Rizzio, no!

For now delight would die under our feet,

And we but trample on it! No! Dismiss them

Back now to Capri!…

More than the woman fear within me warns it.

For you have been o’er bold—not vainly, nay,

For truth, I know, must dare—but there may be

More in this than you think.


And ere it rises

I cravenly must quench the altar-fires

That I attend—and our half-wedded joys?

No! no! More revels!

Till we shall utterly uncloud our bliss

And leave remembrance not a stain upon it!

A song, Tasso, a song!

The taunting one that swept us into laughter!

How runs it? did it not begin with Naples?

(Recalls it.)

Naples sins and Torre pays,

(Torre del Greco!)

Who fears the earthquake all her days!

(Torre del Greco!)



Who sits beneath Vesuvius

And shrives the castaways of us!

Naples sins and Torre pays,

(Torre del Greco!)

On, on with it! Come Porzia!—On, on.

Tasso (who has stood shrinking).

Ah, Signor, no; I fear; I cannot; pray

Your pardon. I must go.




I would not

Offend the Church—who is the Bride of Christ.

Rizzio (unaffected).

Then off with you, unworthy follower

Of Virgil,

And of fire-veined Ariosto,—

Of singers who have flung their hearts to courage,

As yet we shall fling ours! (Tasso goes.) For even Bianca

And Osio

Must rue now their alarm,

And help us back from it to revelry.

[As he turns to them, then to all.

What, none of you? no heart of joy about me?

Porzia (striving for abandon).

Yes, Rizzio!… tho

I would have you fly;

For bodingly I breathe the breath of evil!

[With forced lightness.

A dance, then!

Again weave its delight!

[Dancers show cheer.

For to your want mine is attuned, and what

Is music to it shall o’ermaster me!

And not alone my feet shall follow, but

The Truth you fly to will I wing to attain!—

Tho stars seem to my simple sight but candles

Upon the altar of God, I’ll think them worlds,

If to your soul they seem so; and for the rest—

[A knock brings consternation, this time to all. The dancers fall to crossing themselves, some kneeling. As they do so the gate is thrown open and Querio enters; he is followed by several guards.

Querio (advancing; amid awe).

In the name of the

Vicar of God who sits at Rome,

And of the Holy Office, I arrest

The giver of these pagan rites and revels.

[Guards step to Rizzio’s side; he stands speechless.

Porzia (stunned).

Oh, … Oh!

Rizzio (hoarsely).

And at whose urgence, my lord Prelate,

[Starts forward.

I ask you at whose urgence this is done!

This deed of churchly duty!… Yes, in justice

I seek; for there has been

Some traitor and perhaps a liar.—Osio?

Bianca? (fiercely) half, half I believe ‘t was you!

[All are appalled.


No, no, Rizzio!… no!… what are you saying!


Will you requite injustice with a worse?

[To Querio, who is unmoved.

Monsignor, this in truth is hunting haste,

To search him out

Upon his wedding-day,

And bind him with the very wreaths of it!

Could you not wait an eve, a night, until

To-morrow when his nuptials would be o’er!


Who weds two brides is bigamist, Signora.

When he divorces heresy accuse me.

But now say your farewells,

And with a moment’s privacy: that can

I grant, that and no more: the rest’s with Rome.

[Retires to rear—as do all but the two.

Porzia (whom dread now begins to overwhelm).

My Rizzio! my own! I cannot bear it!

O why did you not go, delaying till

This fate has fallen

Now like a pall upon us!

I fear! I fear!…

To be so wedded, ere I am a wife,

Here in this city of dark lawless passions!


Ah, can you not recant?

Deny at once and so—





And yet to have you leave me—

Ere any nuptial night has hung our couch,

Ere I have lain beside you in the dark

And like Madonna dreamed of motherhood!

Ah, ah, I cannot!…

Rizzio (with a thought).

Then—listen to me.

[Osio starts, watching him.

I will return to you!





It may be. For with florins to the guard—

With friendly gold—

May he not be persuaded

To bring me hither to you, for an hour

At midnight—tho it be but for an hour?

[They look at each other.

Querio (suspiciously, coming down).

Enough, Signor; the hour is running late.

And there are here, may be,


Some who are avid now to be at vespers.

Porzia (embracing Rizzio).

Then go, my lord; farewell, and fear not for me,

Since I shall toil only for your release.

[He goes, with Querio and guard. Porzia quails, then lets Marina lead her into the house. All follow but Bianca, Osio, and Matteo at gate.

Bianca (as the twilight begins, to Osio).

Now that you have achieved so much, what more?

[He does not answer; she also turns into house.

Osio (whom a turmoil of passions is tearing).

What more?… God in His Heaven shall decide!…

Doubts have I had—like swine of hell within me—

But now He shall decide—

If she’s to be the mother of heretics …

Or if I, who acclaim the Creed, shall have her!




Signor—(advancing) here.


You have done well.

And from to-night I take you to my service,

With wages that shall gild you from a want,

And with the benediction of the Church.

But there is one thing more:

Follow Monsignor Querio to the prison,

Then to Signora Porzia return—

And say her husband sent you

To bid her be in the bower there at midnight.

Matteo (staring).

But Signor, will she come?


Say that she is

To speak no word—but keep to silence: go.

[With fixed face, when the latch clicks behind him.

God shall decide, …

For if she does not know

My arms from his, then, it shall be a sign

That to them and my bed … she was predestined.

[The dark grows. He turns soon to go, and the curtain falls…. But rises again at once and it is midnight; with only dim lights from the silent, sleeping city. As it does so Porzia with Marina comes out of the house. They pause and listen, Marina half-anxiously.

Porzia (drawing free).

Return and have no fear, he soon will come,

And bade me be alone there in the bower.

The night is like a spell to draw him to me.




Like a spell of living love.

[Crosses over, as one in a dream, and enters the bower. Marina goes, the gate opens, and Osio silently enters, coming down into the bower amorously. A long silence … then slowly the Curtain.


Categories: English Literature

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