Quick Review : Lorenzaccio

Alfred de Musset (1810-1857)

Meet Alfred de Musset, French romantic author, and responsible for the following opening lines in the 1833 play Lorenzaccio:

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You can feel that you will be reading something dynamic. You can’t really say that de Musset alone was responsible for that – John Strand’s work of both translation and adaptation (in 2006) carries a heavy responsibility in the modernization of this dramatic story. The original translation, by Dr Edmund Burke Thompson, smells a bit of dust :

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I will keep talking about Strand’s adaptation because, even though it rises a more modern vocabulary, it respects the intent of the author. And frankly, the intent was already witty. When these words appear,

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and are followed a few lines later by :

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You know the fun will be endless.

 

So, who is this cross-dressing pimp they call Lorenzo ?

 

Everything begins when George Sand, shows her lover Alfred de Musset her manuscript, called Une conspiration en 1537. Said manuscript was inspired by an anecdote told in Benedetto Varchi’s Storia fiorentina. Intrigue, murder, passion, Musset gets very excited, grabs tons of paper and his best quill, and writes what is considered today to be his masterpiece.

As is often the case with great story, this one is rooted in reality : Lorenzino de Medici really existed. The -accio at the end of his name is a pejorative suffix in Italian, which he was said to have gained through his habit of decapitating statues. This charming character was the cousin of the Duke of Florence, Alessandro de Medici. Together, the two young men were involved in many a scandal.

Until ultimately Lorenzino assassinated Alessandro.

During Musset’s telling of the story, Lorenzino gets closer to his cousin, a handsome, rich, pompous prick who wants nothing but to deflower all the virgins of Florence, and then have some sexy times with their mothers. Lorenzo offers to convince his aunt, a renowned beauty but a virtuous woman, to sleep with Alessandro. Of course, this is a ruse on our Lorenzino’s part.

There’s a beautiful moment where our anti-hero pretends to swoon upon seeing the blade of a sword :

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The sword is the manliness and through his calculated acts, Lorenzaccio appears weak, effeminate and with low morals. He is the portrait to the Duke’s Dorian Gray, getting spat on publicly to allow His Highness to remain glorious and untouched.

Alessandro de Medici

And what a handsome man was Alessandro, if his official portrait is to be believed !

Yet, when he is unguarded, alone, Lorenzaccio has some of the best monologues of French theatre. I can’t find the Strand version for free, so this is my own translation:

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What a pool of mud must be the human species who rushes in the streets as well as in the taverns with their lips hungry with debauchery, when I, who wanted to wear only a mask similar to their faces, and who went to the bad places with the unwavering resolve to stay pure in my dirty clothes, I can not find myself, or wash my hands, even with blood!

Here, Lorenzino talks about how he’s going to kill Alessandro.

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What had this man done to me ? When I lay my hand, here, and I think, – who will hear me say tomorrow : I have killed him, without answering : Why have you killed him ? This is strange. He was harmful to other people, but he was beneficial to me, at least in his own way.

Musset explores duty, treason and guilt in a terribly humane way. Was Lorenzino right? Did he kill for the right reasons ? Can one ever have a good reason for killing ?

If you want to know why Lorenzino killed Alessandro, read Lorenzaccio, by Alfred de Musset, translated and adapted by John Strand. Recommended with a glass of wine and some electro-swing.

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