Relevantizing Young English Teacher says that The Cenci is just as lurid as Twin Peaks, before realizing he'd have to explain what Twin Peaks was also.
Okay, even though I read that article in the New Yorker, I still have trouble keeping Shelley and Keats straight. (It would have helped if they had arranged for one of them not to die young, perhaps via a coin flip, but that's the Romantics for you -- always thinking of themselves, ultimately.) Or should I say, "had trouble," because now I know that Keats wasn't the one who wrote the play about incest, and Shelley was.
Yeah, that's right -- Shelley knows how to put the hay down where the goats can get at it. By no means is it pro-incest (it's not Byron, after all), but it is pro-over-the-top evil patriarchs, like Old Man Cenci here:
Cenci Tis an awful thingVillainy most metrical, am I right? And, if you read it with enough sympathy for the Romantical diction, it is. Here he is celebrating the fact that his sons have died:
To touch such mischief as I now conceive:
So men sit shivering on the dewy bank,
And try the chill stream with their feet; once in…
How the delighted spirit pants for joy!
Cenci (filling a bowl of wine, and lifting it up). Oh, thou bright wine whose purple splendour leapsThis is another case of "don't let the 'werts' fool you" -- this guy is a badass. And, Shelley says it's based on a true story, which is how I think such strong stuff got allowed in by the Puritans who (or so I imagine) stocked the Harvard Classics -- it's not only true, but it's about Italians as well, so it doesn't count. As Shelley explains:
And bubbles gaily in this golden bowl
Under the lamp-light, as my spirits do,
To hear the death of my accursèd sons!
Could I believe thou wert their mingled blood,
Then would I taste thee like a sacrament...
But religion in Italy is not, as in Protestant countries, a cloak to be worn on particular days... or a gloomy passion for penetrating the impenetrable mysteries of our being, which terrifies its possessor at the darkness of the abyss to the brink of which it has conducted him. Religion coexists, as it were, in the mind of an Italian Catholic, with a faith in that of which all men have the most certain knowledge. It is interwoven with the whole fabric of life. It is adoration, faith, submission, penitence, blind admiration; not a rule for moral conduct.Would Mario Puzo agree? He might well.
And other than that, how did I like the play? The HC says its "unperformable," but I think that's due to its strong subject matter; it might be unperformable today because its action/talking about action ratio is much less favorable than Shakespeare. It's still strong stuff, though.