Mar 17 2014

The Duchess of Malfi: A real-life, historical soap opera

Published by at 9:36 pm under Uncategorized

Once upon a time (1490), in a land far away (Amalfi, Italy), a young princess (only twelve years old!) married the heir apparent to the dukedom of Amalfi, Alfonso Piccolomini. Piccolomini, by then the duke, succumbed to gout in 1498, leaving behind his young widow, Giovanna d’Aragona, and an unborn son, their young daughter having died earlier that year. The young duchess assumed the duties of the regent for her infant son. In 1504, she invited Antonio Bologna, her late father’s major-domo in his exile, to come to Amalfi to serve her in the same capacity. The two quickly fell in love, and it is here that John Webster picks up their story.

Much debated portrait of Giovanna D'Aragona, attributed to the workshop of Raphael

The date of the lovers’ secret marriage has remained just that, secret, and could have taken place as late as 1506. By the birth of her second child, rumors had started to circulate, and the couple had attracted the unwelcome attention of her two brothers, the Cardinal of Aragon and the Marquis of Gerace. Antonio left his again-pregnant wife to take their two children to Ancona, and, on the pretext of a pilgrimage to Santa Maria of Loretto, the duchess followed shortly thereafter. The Cardinal of Aragon convinced first the Cardinal of Ancona and then the Signiory of Siena to expel the unhappy lovers. In 1511, the duchess and her two youngest were finally overtaken on the road to Venice and imprisoned in Amalfi, but Antonio and the older child managed to escape to Milan. The duchess, her children, and her waiting woman entered their prison in Amalfi, never to be seen again.

La Torre dello Ziro in Amalfi, where legend places the duchess at the time of her death. The locals tell of strange hauntings ever since.

Antonio was not left long a widower. In 1513, a Lombard captain named Daniele da Bozzolo and three accomplices murdered Antonio on a Milanese street. The murderers, likely hired by the Cardinal of Aragon, escaped.

— Megan Smith, dramaturg

 

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