The Tyrant by Rafael Sabatini

The Tyrant

An Episode in the Career of Cesare Borgia, a Play in Four Acts


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subjects: Plays, Playscripts

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Adapted from Sabatini’s long story, The Lust of Conquest, which appeared in the collection The Justice of the Duke. Like Sabatini’s other work on Cesare Borgia this is a defense of the man who would serve as Macchiavelli’s model for The Prince. The Tyrant is very evidently the work of a writer more familiar with the printed page than the stage. The play is filled with very elaborate descriptions of costumes, characters and scenes.

The gist of the play is that Cesare Borgia is threatening to capture the Castle of Solignola. Panthasilea Speranzoni, the daughter of the overlord, hatches a plot. Her idea is to seduce Borgia, then have him captured. They will then force Borgia to relinquish his lust of conquest of Solignola. The play is characteristically Sabatini in that there are plenty of turns and twists to the plot, and Borgia, being insightful and clever, is the just the kind of character Sabatini loved to write about. This is not a swashbuckling play but a drama of deviousness.

I’m not going to suggest that The Tyrant ranks with the greatest of Shakespeare’s plays. Nonetheless, there are some genuinely moving passages in this swiftly entertaining drama. And it is fascinating to watch Sabatini’s mind at work as he revised drastically the story to the play, creating an entirely different ending for each. (source: Jesse F. Knight)

141 pages, with a reading time of ~4.5 hours (35,385 words), and first published in 1925. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, .

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A Hall in the Castle of Solignola.

A spacious chamber on the first floor of the castle, severe in tone. Its grey stone walls show bare here and there between the strips of sombre-hued tapestries with which in the main they are hung; the ceiling is crudely frescoed. The main entrance—double-doors of square design, massive of timber, fortified by metal—are in the back flat, a little to the right of the middle. They open directly on to an external stair-head with a shallow parapet, whence steps descend, left, to the ground level below. The farther buildings of the wide court-yard are seen on the backcloth when this door is open.

The loggia is in the same flat, to the left. Its ceiling is carried on seven slender pillars (two at each side and three at the back) delicately carved and painted. These rise from a parapet rather higher than that of the stair-head, and the outlook thence is upon distant hills. Against this parapet a bench is set, rather like a window-seat, equipped with loose leather cushions.

There is a door low down in the right flat, and opposite to this a great cowled fireplace, decorated by armorial bearings in relief and coloured. The floor is of stone, grey and unrelieved. It may be strewn with rushes. Below this a heavy table is set squarely across, rather low and a little to the left of midstage. Five stools are placed about this table, three above, two below, and an armchair at each end. A carved and gilded throne-like chair stands R.C. against the wall at back, between doors and loggia, on a small dais. There is an armchair with cushioned seat against flat R.

AT RISE OF CURTAIN the armchair by the hearth is occupied by COUNT GUIDO DEGLI SPERANZONI, a vigorous man of fifty, with grizzled hair and a shaven, aquiline face, strong and crafty. He is well dressed, without fripperies, his exterior, like his bearing, marking him for a soldier rather than a man of courts. He sits brooding, chin in palm.

On the bench in the loggia sits =Panthasilea degli Speranzoni=, a beautiful woman of twenty-three, regal of mien and carriage, dressed simply, yet with a certain richness betokening her rank; thus there are jewels in her girdle and in the gold network that confines her hair.

On a cushion at her feet sits GIULIA. Younger than Panthasilea, she is by contrast almost child-like. She fills the office of companion and lady-in-waiting to Count Guido’s daughter.

It is the afternoon of a day in early Spring.

PANTHASILEA is singing, accompanying herself upon an archlute, and the first stanza of her song may be heard before the curtain actually rises:

Life is an anguish grown, a source of tears, For Love lies stark and cold on his last bed, A round of broken days and empty years When hope is dead.

There is no joy in song, nor solace yet In all the tears demanding to be shed; Vainly we sigh our longings, vainly fret When hope is dead.

Thus in Life’s fetters still a pris’ner held, Eating of hopelessness the bitter bread, Waiting …

[Her utterance becomes choked by tears. It breaks off on a sob. GUIDO starts up in solicitude, whilst GIULIA, rising to her knees, puts her arm about PANTHASILEA.

GIULIA: Monna Lea! Monna Lea!

GUIDO: Panthasilea, my child! (He goes quickly up to her.) Why will you make songs to afflict you?

[PANTHASILEA rises, and relinquishes the lute to GIULIA. She controls herself.

PANTHASILEA: Have patience, Father. Forgive me. You know my loss….

GUIDO (in fond impatience): But these melancholy songs….

PANTHASILEA: The tongue will touch where the tooth aches.

[He sets an arm affectionately about her shoulders, and together they come slowly down.

PANTHASILEA (to GIULIA): Go, leave me, child. I will call you if I need you. (To GUIDO.) It is solacing to weep sometimes. Mostly I think my heart is dead—dead, and buried in Pesaro with my poor murdered Pietro.

[GIULIA goes half-reluctantly out by the door down R.

GUIDO: Surely there’s more solace in the thought that by now he will be avenged—avenged with all those other victims of evil Borgia ambition.

PANTHASILEA: If I could be sure that Cesare Borgia has paid….

GUIDO: Be sure he has—paid terribly. The snare at Sinigaglia was shrewdly laid. By now he’s fast in the jaws of it.

[She sinks into the chair lately occupied by Guido. He remains standing over her.

PANTHASILEA: Snares have been set for him before, and always has it been the fowler who’s been taken.

GUIDO: Not this time! Not this time. Never were there such fowlers as these—his own captains, leagued with the Orsini, against him. Three days ago he went to Sinigaglia … to make his peace with them; and the place an armed camp. O, they’ll have made his peace for him.

PANTHASILEA (fervently): I hope they have.

GUIDO: Be sure of it. Cesare Borgia, Duke of Valentinois will have been in hell these three days.