Time: The year of the Great Plague, A. D. 1348.
Published by permission of and special arrangement with Harry Kemp. Applications for the right of performing Boccaccio's Untold Tale must be made to Mr. Harry Kemp, in care of Brentano's, New York.
BOCCACCIO'S UNTOLD TALE
By Harry Kemp
[Scene: A lower room in Florio's house. It is wide and simply furnished.
In the center, at back, is a large doorway, hung with great black arras. In the right-hand extreme corner is a small altar to the Virgin.
In wall, at back, high up on left, a small window.
A smaller doorway, hung with arras of black, is on the left, well toward the front. This doorway gives on the study of the poet.
At rise of curtain the stage is lit with the uncertain light of tapers.
Lizzia, the old servant, is discovered kneeling at the altar.
Soon she rises, crossing herself devoutly.
Demurringly and with deprecating shakes of the head, she begins hanging wreaths about the walls of the room.
After the hanging of each wreath she crosses herself, and, with agitated piety verging on superstition, she bends the knee briefly before altar.
Now the wreaths are all in place.... Through the small window the grayness that comes before dawn begins to glimmer in.
One by one Lizzia snuffs out the tapers.
For a moment everything is left in the gray half-darkness.
But now Lizzia draws aside the large black arras in the back. There is revealed a magnificent panoramic view of medieval Florence, flushing gradually from pearl-gray to soft, delicate rose, then to the full gold of accomplished sunrise.
Again the old woman kneels at the altar.
Enter, through the open doorway at back, Violante—rather tall, good-looking, quite dark.
Violante stands silent for a moment. One can see that it is in her thought to wait till Lizzia finishes her devotions ... then she becomes impatient and breaks in on them.]
Lizzia, where bides your master, Florio?
For three days he has looked upon no one.
Where keeps he, then?
Lizzia [indicating the small doorway].
Yonder, within that arras.
Summon him forth!
He will grow wroth with me—nor will he greet you.
Fears he, then, the Plague so? Is he too such
Not so, Lady, but he—
Tell him, then,
But he will see no one, Lady, not even you.
Not smitten by the Plague?
Nay, he has taken a vow of close seclusion.
But he knows not I am here—the Lady Violante! [A pause.]
Lizzia [somewhat resentfully]
I am a servant,
Strange that he should so change in ten days' space.
[With passionate abandonment]
Old woman, go this instant—summon him!
Lizzia [stung to retaliation]
Lady, he would not look upon your face
What new freak of his is this?
I will go to him!
Lizzia [again barring way]
I could tell you many things,
Spare me!... you insolent, presumptuous old woman,
Very well, Lady, if you must know—
Olivia!... who is Olivia?
She is a girl who came from Padua
And flattering him so—he loved her!
Nay, she was beautiful, my noble lady,—
What has all this to do with me?
[Relapsing into forgetful eagerness.]
Tell me, where, then, is his Olivia now?
The Plague! He gave her to a doctor's care,
And now he shuts himself away for grief
The learned doctor swears if she survives
Not die, in sooth!
Half-crazed with love, he dreams she will return....
[The sounds of a funeral procession heard approaching.... The procession passes the large doorway, going by, along the street, without. The people bear candles.... They pass slowly by the open door ... bodies being carried in shrouds.]
We bore the son ... and now we bear the father....
And I or you, mayhap, will be the next.
These wreaths, they seem a mockery of Heaven.
Violante [half to herself]
She will not come!...
Is there nothing will cure his madness?
Even if she die they are to bring her hither....
Hither? And all corrupt? Then Death will strike you both!
Lady, I am so old I'd rather sleep
Violante [with great bitterness]
Fie, this our Florio—he has loved before,
What you have said were true ten days ago—
Violante [laughing harshly]
It is her beauty he loved; not she
It were as well you tore these garlands down:
[Sounds of approach of another funeral procession.]
Pray draw the arras, Lizzia, and close out
[Lizzia draws the large arras.... From now on, till the very last, just before climax, sound and murmur of processions are continually heard.]
I think she will not come—
Lizzia [barring way again]
He took his oath
Let me go to him—here are my jewels!
Florio [calling from within]
Who is it speaks without? Whose voice is this
The Lady Violante Ugolini!
To-day, of all days, must I be alone....
[Florio pushes out arras from small doorway and stands before it, so that he remains unseen to Violante and Lizzia.]
Florio [to Lizzia]
Go, Lizzia, I will speak with the Lady....
Aye, master Florio!
Have you the table heaped with delicacies
I go to set the viands now, my master.
[Lizzia goes out.]
Violante, if you would speak with me,
Not look upon me?
Nor must you look on me.... I have vowed a vow!
How strange you are!...
[She starts toward him.]
Florio [hearing the rustle of her garment.]
Move one step further and I draw the arras!
Violante [halting and hesitating]
Have you forgotten the first time you saw my face
From that time it was not far to my mouth....
Remember that young nobleman who died
You sent me no message.
Every door was watched ... he might have had you slain....
You loved me, then?
And did not you love me?
I could have sworn I did.
Speak not so, Violante—I pray you go!
You love another, then?
I have loved beauty, beauty all my life!
We are not metaphors and pale abstractions,
You try me sorely!
I have come hither
It may not be.
The other one—there is another one!—
You need not.
Ah, then, there is another?
Have you no pride, my Lady Violante?
That I have not,
Then shamelessly I love
Forever? That is what you swore to me.
I have not sworn a single oath to her,
You have no pity on me?...
To pity you, Lady, would be cruel to her!...
You have slain me, Florio!
[Violante affects to go. But she stops quickly at large door in back and reënters on tiptoe. Florio withdraws to his study again, after listening for a moment.]
You have not gone, my Lady Violante?
I will not go
[As she finishes these words, the great black arras in the back is listed and a hooded and veiled woman enters. She stands regarding the two other women in silence.]
The miracle has come to pass!
Do they call you Olivia? Speak, woman!
Yea, I am she—but where is Florio?
[Violante straightens, proud and erect, as if she had been struck an invisible blow.]
He waits for you within.
So he had faith I would not die?
He had these garlands hung for your return.
Now, Lady Violante, you must go!
How? I must go?
You would not stay?
Yea, I would stay to see this love grow dark
And shrink to hate?
When you remove your veil
Cast by your veil!...
Olivia [recovering herself]
I trust I shall!
Lizzia [to Olivia]
Alas, dear God! And is it true, Olivia?
Olivia [to Lizzia]
Would he not love me still if it were true?
Lizzia [to Olivia]
I am old and wretched and full of woe.
Violante [to Olivia]
He whose one cry is beauty! How could that be?
Olivia [almost singing in speech]
Then, God be praised, I need not try him thus!
Unveil your face, then—give yourself to sight.
His must be the first eyes that look on me.
Ah, so you trust that you, with fond deceit,
Lizzia [with great emotion]
Go, Lady—I see darkness in the air,
[Lizzia lifts arras in back for Violante's exit. Violante does not move from where she stands.]
Violante [persistently, to Olivia]
Woman it is your beauty that he loved,
Strange woman, there is evil in your voice!
And yet you dare not put him to the test?
To make him first believe
I would not toy with such a splendid gift
Ah ... in sooth?
How strange you look ... yet stranger is your speech.
Before you came—whom loved he then?
I do not think he was like other men.
Like other men he took and tossed aside,
Go, lest I strike you!
Poor, fond, believing child—
By all the saints, I'll put him to the test!...
[As Violante steps closer to her]
Nay, I'll not let you look upon my face....
[Violante lifts mirror so she and Lizzia can see reflection.]
Olivia [with simplicity]
Keep your backs so!
[Unveiling briefly, then drawing veil again.]
There! Have I lied?
He always worshiped beauty.... You are fair!
Soon will you know our love has mighty wings
I'll have him forth—are you ready for the trial?
Do you persuade him of my ugliness....
My little children, you must not do this thing!
Violante [to Lizzia]
Will you be quiet, old woman!
Olivia [to Lizzia]
I would not hold him if he only loved
Violante [to Lizzia]
Go you, inform him of her return....
Now God forbid I should deceive him so!
Not even for gold?
Have you no fear of God?
[A stir is heard within.]
Hush!... I will do it, then.
[Going up to small arras over study door, she calls.]
Florio [from within, after a brief space]
Who is it calls me?
It is I, Violante!
Why have you come again?
I have returned, Florio,
My soul is full of death—I pray you go!
It could not be—aye, it is passing strange!—
Olivia, ah, she lives!
Then, it is true? You love this shriveled woman?
Ugly and bent and gray—a woman
Has she come? Is she here?... Go, Violante—
She walked as one bewitched in a dream.
Has all the brightness fallen from her eyes,
She lives! How few have had the plague and lived!
Alas, woe, woe is me!
Violante [triumphantly, to Olivia]
Come forth—she's at the threshold.
Bid her wait.
[Long silence. The women wait.... Groaning within. Olivia starts forward to go to Florio.]
Violante [to Olivia]
Do you flinch now? I knew you would not dare!
[Olivia stops. Proudly she remains still.]
Violante [as arras stirs]
Now bear your part—continue the deceit.
Olivia [in a frightened voice]
I know he loves me. Yet a little while
[Another groan. Olivia starts forward again.]
Oh, I cannot!
I knew you would not dare!
[Again Olivia stops still.
Now, after a long pause, during which death processions are heard to pass, the arras over the smaller doorway is slowly put aside. Florio enters, swaying. He holds his cloak about his brow.]
Where is Olivia?
Olivia [feigning with an effort]
Florio, God pity you and me—
Oh, speak not so!
My "beauty clean and golden as the sun,"
Florio [breathing heavily]
No ... for I love you ... bide with me....
[As he still stands muffled, Olivia grows more and more frightened at what she is doing, and now, in complete surrender to terror, gives over the deceit and speaks the truth.]
Florio, my Florio—draw down your arm....
[She draws aside her veil, the other women in back of her, Florio obliquely in front. Her face is seen to be one of surpassing loveliness.
Florio, groaning, keeps his face cloaked and does not speak.]
Look, my beloved, or I shall go mad!
[Olivia tugs at his arm. He lowers it. He exposes a sightless face.]
Lizzia [breaking in on the awful pause].
Self-blinded, my poor master!
Oh, Florio, what is this that I have done!
[Olivia has dropped slowly back, stricken dumb with voiceless terror. Her throat works convulsively with a scream which now rushes forth.
Florio falls to his knees, again covering his face and bowing his head. Olivia comes and kneels, grief-stricken, beside him, putting one arm about him in support.]
There is ... no one ... that's ... uglier ... than I!
You were the glory of the world, Olivia!...
Oh, if you could but see my ugliness—
Violante [crazed anew with jealousy]
Florio, Florio—Olivia lies!
Command that woman hence;
What does this mean? My soul is sick to death!
I tell you, Florio, that she lies to you.
Tell him the truth, old woman, and beware,
Lizzia [at first frightened and irresolute, then quietly determined.]
God help me—she is surpassingly—ugly!
[Returning Violante glare for glare.]
[Breaking down, she goes to altar and drops on knees before it.]
I could curse God for this!
[Violante staggers toward the great black curtain in doorway, where she supports herself by clinging to it.]
Olivia, come back to me from the great Dark—
I am here—close to you, Florio!
What have you women done to me!
[He gropes, catches her quickly on each side of the head with both hands. He draws her down to him. He runs his fingers flickeringly over the smooth, rosy beauty of her face....
Then, with an eyeless, uplifted countenance which reveals complete understanding and an abyss of horror and madness, he slowly pushes Olivia away....
He lifts his fingers up grotesquely in the air, each distinct and widespread—painfully, as if fire spurted out of the ends of them. Olivia weeps....
Lizzia intones prayers....
Violante holds herself erect and triumphant, clinging to the great arras in back, struggling for strength to go out.
At this moment another death-procession passes.... A Miserere is chanted....
A dawn of horror breaks over Violante's face ... she shrinks inward from the passing procession, feeling the huge horror of the Pestilence.
Olivia gathers Florio's unresisting head to her bosom....
The sound of the Miserere dies off....
Into this tableau breaks Dioneo. Slowly he parts the arras.]
Dioneo [grimacing, and seeing, at first, only Lizzia at the altar.]
Bestir yourself, old woman—
[Violante falls in a faint across his feet.
Dioneo sees all. Shrinking back.]