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2014EbookFlorentineTragedy

Cover art for a 2014 eBook edition of A Florentine Tragedy.

A Florentine Tragedy is an unfinished historical drama in verse by the Irish playwright Oscar Wilde. The play's fragmentary script was first published in 1908, more than seven years after Wilde's death.

The action takes place in the Italian city of Florence at some unspecified point in the past. The use of archaic, quasi-Shakespearean language serves to emphasize that the setting is in an earlier century. There are three characters in the play. They are a merchant named Simone, his wife Bianca and a prince named Guido Bardi who is the only son of the ruler of Florence. The plot concerns Simone realizing that his wife is having an affair with Guido, challenging the prince to a duel and killing him. Bianca's love for her husband is rekindled by his success in the duel.

In spite of being an unfinished work, A Florentine Tragedy has inspired a number of adaptations from the world of classical music.

Plot

Simone the merchant returns home from a fruitless business trip one evening. His wife Bianca is evidently not very pleased to see him return. Simone, in turn, has little respect for his wife, considering her to be unattractive and only good for carrying out menial tasks. There is another man in the house. Simone at first assumes that the man is a relative of Bianca. She tells her husband that is not the case. The man introduces himself as Guido Bardi. Simone knows that Guido Bardi is the only son of the ruler of Florence. The merchant is delighted to have a prince in his house. He tries to flatter his noble guest. While doing so, he says that the prince is said to be popular with women and that many men have considered it an honor that their wives have been unfaithful to them by sleeping with Guido. The prince makes Simone apologize for that coarse remark.

Assuming that Guido has come to his house to buy something, Simone offers him a cloth embroidered with roses and a robe. Guido says that he will buy everything the merchant has for sale and will pay him a hundred thousand crowns for his merchandise. Simone is overjoyed because that would make him the richest merchant in Florence. He says that, in return, he will offer Guido his fullest hospitality that night and deny him nothing. Guido asks if that hospitality extends to allowing him to sleep with Bianca. Simone responds by saying that Guido must surely be joking because the unattractive Bianca is not worthy of someone such as the prince.

Simone tries to talk politics with Guido. The merchant starts to complain about English merchants who sell wool at prices lower than those at which Italian merchants are permitted to sell. The prince makes it plain that he will do nothing to remedy that situation and that he does not want to talk about it. Bianca also makes plain her displeasure at Simone's choice of topic of conversation. Simone then tries to ask about rumors of a French invasion supported by the Pope. The prince does not want to talk about that either, saying that there are more important things than the King of France inside the very room in which they find themselves. Bianca agrees with him. Unhappy at not being allowed to talk about anything beyond the confines of the room, Simone begins to move away from his wife and his guest. He grumbles that his horse stumbled three times on the journey home, which is said to be an ill omen.

When Simone moves away, Bianca begins to talk to Guido about how much she hates her husband and how she wishes he would die. Simone notices a lute that the prince brought with him. He asks the prince to play it. Guido replies that he will not play it that night but he will play it when he comes to Simone's house again. In an aside to Bianca, he says that will be when the two of them are alone together. Resigned to the fact that the prince will not play any music for him, Simone offers him some wine. The merchant sees that there is a wine stain on the table cloth. That is another ill omen because it is said that when wine is spilled, blood will be spilled also. The prince says that he will not drink any wine from his cup unless Bianca drinks from it first. Simone says that he suddenly has no desire to eat or drink anything and that he does not understand why

Guido tells Bianca that he is growing tired of her husband and wants to leave. Bianca arranges to meet secretly with Guido again soon. Guido tells Simone that he has to go home. Simone tries to persuade him to stay, saying he fears that he will not see the prince again. He soon gives up trying to persuade his guest to stay, however, and fetches Guido's cape and sword. Simone remarks that Guido's sword is a particularly fine one. The merchant says that he too has a sword. He does not use it often, although he once killed a robber who tried to steal from him on the road. Simone says that he can withstand any insult apart from somebody trying to steal from him. The merchant then says that he wonders if he or the prince really has the better sword. Guido says that there is nothing he would like better than to find out whose sword is better by having a fencing match with Simone. A fencing match is quickly arranged. Bianca urges Guido to take advantage of the opportunity to kill Simone.

The match quickly turns violent. Guido has the upper hand to begin with and soon draws first blood from Simone. The merchant, however, fights back and knocks Guido's sword out of his hand. Simone suggests that they continue to fight with their daggers. He soon overpowers Guido. The prince pleads for his life, pointing out that Simone is about to kill the only heir of the ruler of Florence. The merchant replies that it would be better if Florence were not ruled by an adulterer. Guido calls out to Bianca, begging her to say that he has not wronged Simone. Disgusted that Guido is lying when he is on the point of death, Simone kills him.

Bianca goes to Simone. She asks him why he did not tell her that he was so strong. He asks her why she did not tell him that she was so beautiful. They kiss.

Adaptations

In 1914, A Florentine Tragedy was adapted as the Italian opera Una tragedia fiorentina, with music by Carlo Ravasegna and libretto by Ettore Moschino.

The one-act opera Eine florentinische Tragödie, written by the Austrian composer Alexander von Zemlinsky with a libretto based on a translation of Wilde's unfinished play by the German writer Max Meyerfeld, was first performed at the Staatsoper Stuttgart on January 30, 1917.

Max Meyer's translation also forms the basis of the libretto of the chamber opera Bianca by the German composer Caspar René Hirschfeld that was first performed at the Salzburg Festival in 1991. Bianca includes an additional love scene between the title character and Guido Bardi in which their words are based on love poetry written by Oscar Wilde.

The opera Maddalena (Russian: Маддалена) by Sergei Profokiev is based on a play of the same name by Magda Gustavovina Lleven-Orlov that is itself based on A Florentine Tragedy. Profokiev began work on the opera in 1911. It remained unperformed at the time of his death in 1953. A studio recording of Maddalena was broadcast in the United Kingdom on BBC Radio 3 on March 25, 1979. The opera was noted staged until November 28, 1981 when it was performed at the Graz Opera in Vienna.

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