David Bruce: John Ford’s LOVE’S SACRIFICE: A Retelling — Act 5, Scene 1

— 5.1 —

Bianca and Fernando were in the Duchess’ bedchamberin the palace.Dressed in her sleeping attire, Bianca leaned on a cushion at a table, holding Fernando by the hand.

Unseen, Fiormonda entered a balcony and spied on them.

Fiormonda said to herself, “Now fly, Revenge, and wound the lower earth, so that I, as if I were embedded in a sphere above, may thwart like a malignant planet the race of love despised, and triumph over the graves of those who scorn the humble captivity of my heart!”

“Why shouldn’t thou be mine?” Bianca said to Fernando. “Why should the laws — the hard-as-iron laws of the marriage ceremony — bar mutual embraces? What’s a vow? A vow! Can there be sin in unity?

“If I could as well dispense with conscience as renounce the highest of my titles — the poor title of Duchess — I would rather exchange my life with any waiting-woman in the land,if doing that would purchase one night’s rest with thee, Fernando, than be Duke Caraffa’s spouse for a thousand years.”

Often, women of the lower classes had more freedom than women of the upper classes. A woman of the lower classes could choose to love a man of the lower classes. A woman marrying into the upper classes had many fewer men from whom to choose. At the highest levels, a woman — or man — might have to marry someone for political reasons.

“Treason to wedlock!” Fiormonda said to herself. “This would make you sweat.”

In halting language at first, Fernando said, “Lady of all … as before … what I am … to survive you … or I will see you first either widowed or buried.”

Fernando was determined not to have Bianca commit adultery, and so they would have to wait for her marriage to the Duke to end. That marriage would end with either her death or the Duke’s death. If she were to be widowed, then of course they could and would wed.

Fernando continued, “But if you die first and are buried, then by all the comfort I can wish to taste and by your fair eyes, I swear that the sepulcher that holds your coffin shall encoffin me alive. If you should die first, I vow to be buried alive in your coffin. I sign it with this seal.”

He kissed her.

In this society, oaths were sealed by kissing the book: the Bible.

“Ignoble strumpet!” Fiormonda said to herself.

“You shall not swear,” Bianca said. “Take away that oath again, or thus I will enforce it.”

She kissed him.

“Use that force, and make me a perjured vow-breaker,” Fernando said, “for while your lips are made the book that must be sworn on, it is a sport to swear an oath with a kiss, and it is glory to forswear an oath with a kiss.”

“Here’s fast and loose!” Fiormonda said quietly.

The idiom “to play fast and loose” means to live carelessly and immorally. The idiom comes from a game in which a conman and a sucker would make a bet and the conman would cheat the sucker.

She added quietly, “I bet a ducat now the game’s started!”

A ducat is a gold coin. Fiormonda was willing to bet gold that the Duke would be cheated on.

While Bianca and Fernando were kissing, the Duke and Roderico D’Avolos, with their swords drawn, appeared at the door, followed by Petruchio, Nibrassa, and a few guards. Bianca and Fernando, who were paying close attention to each other, did not see or hear them.

Colona, who was loyal to Bianca, shouted from outside the room, “Help, help! Madam, you are betrayed, madam. Help, help!”

She was far away, and Bianca and Fernando did not hear her cries.

Roderico D’Avolos said quietly to the Duke, “Is there confidence in belief, now, sir? Do you believe your own eyes? Do you see? Do you see, sir? Can you behold it without lightning to cast light on this scene? Can you behold it without your anger flaring up like lightning?”

Colona shouted, louder, “Help, madam, help!”

“What is that noise?” Fernando said. “I heard someone cry out.”

The Duke stepped forward and said, “Ha, did you? Do you know who I am?”

“Yes,” Fernando said. “Thou are Pavia’s Duke, dressed like an executioner.”

He was referring to the Duke’s drawn sword.

He continued, “Look! I am unarmed, yet I do not fear thee, although the coward fear of what I could have done has made thee steal the advantage of this time. Because you feared what I would do to you if I were armed, you picked a time when you knew I would be unarmed.

“Yet, Duke, I dare thee to do thy worst, for murder sits upon thy cheeks. Go to it, man! Murder me!”

“I am too angry in my rage to scourge thee unprovided,” the Duke replied.

He meant that Fernando’s words at his — the Duke’s — being a coward who came to him with a drawn sword when Fernando was unprovided with a sword made him so angry that he would not kill Fernando while Fernando was unarmed.

The word “unprovided” also meant “without making provisions for one’s immortal soul.” Even traitors were given an opportunity to repent and confess their sins before suffering capital punishment. Not giving the guilty person a chance to repent was a sin.

And so the Duke’s words may also have meant this: I am so angry that if I were to punish you now I would do things that would endanger your — and my — immortal soul. Such things would include killing you without giving you a chance to repent.

“Take him away from here!” the Duke ordered. “Away with him!”

Some guards seized Fernando.

“Get your hands off me!” Fernando shouted.

“You must go, sir,” Roderico D’Avolos said.

“Duke, do not shame thy manhood to lay hands on that most innocent lady: Bianca,” Fernando said.

“Yet again he speaks!” the Duke said, and then he ordered, “Confine him to his chamber.”

Roderico D’Avolos and the guards exited with Fernando in their custody.

The Duke ordered, “All of you, leave us. None stay, not one. Shut the doors.”

Petruchio and Nibrassaexited and closed the doors behind them.

“Now show thyself my brother, brave Caraffa,” Fiormonda said quietly to herself. She remained on the balcony, unseen.

For the Duke to prove to her that he was her brother, he would have to severely punish — even kill — Bianca.

“Woman, stand before me,” the Duke said.

Bianca stood in front of him.

“Wretched whore,” the Duke said, “what can thou hope for?”

“Death,” Bianca said. “I wish no less than death. You told me you had dreamt, and, gentle Duke, unless you are mistaken, you’ve now awakened.”

“Strumpet, I am now awake,” the Duke said, “and in my hand I hold up the edge of my sword that must uncut thy twist of life.”

The twist of life is the thread of life that is spun, measured, and cut by the three Fates. When the thread of life is cut, the person whose thread it is dies.

In this society, “un-” was sometimes an intensifying adjectival prefix. (Think of “in-” and “inflammable.”) Now this use of the prefix “un-” is obsolete. “Uncut” meant “definitely cut” — if the prefix “un-” were used in this sense.

But perhaps the Duke was threatening to not kill Bianca and instead to let her live out her life in grief. Bianca had told him that she welcomed death. In that case, “uncut” meant “not cut.”

The Duke asked her, “Don’t thou shake?”

He meant “shake out of fear.”

“Shake for what?” Bianca replied. “To see a weak, faint, trembling arm advance a leaden blade?”

“Leaden” meant “heavy.” Bianca was insulting the Duke by saying that the sword was too heavy for him to use effectively. A leaden blade was also not a good blade; good swords were made of steel.

“Alas, good man!” she continued. “Put up your sword, sheathe it; thine eyes are much likelier to weep than thine arms are to strike. Please tell me what you would like to do now?”

“What!” the Duke said. “Shameless harlot, I would rip up the cradle of thy cursed womb in which the mixture — the semen created by your and his mixing — of that traitor’s lust swells like a tumor for the birth of a bastard.

“Yet come, and if thou think thou can deserve one mite of mercy, before the boundless spleen of justly consuming wrath floods and drowns my reason, then tell me, bad woman, tell me what could move thy heart to crave the variety of youth.”

The Duke was an older man, older than Fernando.

“I’ll tell you,” Bianca said, “if you must have your question answered: I held Fernando to be much the more complete and better-looking man.”

“Shameless, intolerable whore!” the Duke said.

“What is bothering you?” Bianca said. “Can you imagine, sir, that the title of ‘Duke’ could make a crooked leg, a scrambling way of walking, a merely tolerable face, a withered hand, apale and bloodless lip, or such an untrimmed beard as yours, fit for a lady’s pleasure?”

Bianca had mentioned the Duke’s “crooked leg.” Earlier, Fernando had compared Bianca to Venus, goddess of beauty. Venus’ husband was Vulcan, who had a crooked leg. Venus had an affair with Mars, god of war, and when Vulcan learned that he had been cuckolded, he trapped the adulterers while they were in bed.

Bianca answered her own question: “No.”

She then said, “I wonder that you could think it were possible, when I had but once looked on your Fernando, that I could ever love you again. Fat chance!

“Now, by my life, I thought that long ago you had known it and had been glad you had a friend that your wife did think so well of.”

“Oh, my stars!” the Duke said. “Here’s impudence above all history. Why, thou detested reprobate in virtue, do thou dare, without a blush, before my eyes to speak such immodest language?”

“Dare! Yes, indeed — you see that I dare. I know what you want to say now. You would like to tell me how exceedingly much I am beholden to you, who deigned to raise me from a simple gentlewoman’s place to the honor of your bed. It is true that you did that. But why did you do that? It was only because you thought I had a spark of beauty more than you had seen.

“To answer your question, my reasoning is the same as yours: The self-same desire that led you on to marry me led me to love your friend. Oh, he’s a gallant man! If my eyes have ever yet beheld a miracle composed of flesh and blood, Fernando has my vote. I must confess, my lord, that for a prince you are handsome enough, and … and no more. But to compare yourself with him! Trust me, you are too much in fault.

“Shall I give you some information? Listen to what I say in your ear: You should thank Heaven that he — Fernando — was so slow as not to wrong your sheets, for as I live the ‘fault’ was his, not mine.”

Although Fernando and Bianca loved each other and had kissed, they had not had sex. Bianca was willing to have sex with him, but she had not because he was so slow to agree to it — and had not yet agreed to it. She regarded that as a ‘fault’ because she was so eager to have sex with him.

“Take this, take all,” Fiormonda said quietly to herself about the Duke. “If you can suffer this, then you can suffer anything.”

“Excellent, excellent!” the Duke said sarcastically. “The pangs of death are music to this.

“Forgive me, my good genius — my guardian angel — I had thought I married a woman, but I find she is a devil, worser than the worst in hell.

“Well, well, since we are in so far, then come, say on: Speak more things. I have paid close attention to every syllable you have spoken: You say the ‘fault’ for you two not having sex was his, not yours.”

Of course, he believed that she was lying.

The Duke then said, “Why, virtuous mistress, can you imagine that you have so much ability to lie that you may persuade me that you and your secret lover did not a little traffic in my rights as your husband? Do you think that you can convince me that you and Fernando did not have sex?”

Bianca said, “Look, what I said, it is true; for, know it now — I must confess I missed no means, no time, to win him to my bosom, but so much, so holily, with such religious devotion, he obeyed the laws of friendship and out of friendship for you rejected my offers to have sex with him, so that my suit was held to be, in comparison, only a jest. Nor did I more often urge the violence of my affection, but as often he urged the sacred vows of faith between friend and friend: Yet be assured, my lord, that if ever language of cunning servile flatteries, entreaties, or what is in me could procure his love, I would not blush to speak it.”

 Bianca’s “what is in me” includes a vagina.

“One more woman such as thou are, miserable creature, would sink with the weight of guilt the whole sex of women,” the Duke said, “yet confess what witchcraft the wretch used to charm thee out of the once spotless temple of thy mind? For without witchcraft, it could never be done.”

“Phew!” Bianca said in disgust. “If you be in these tunes, sir, I’ll leave off speaking and perhaps even leave. You know the best and worst and all.”

“Nay, then thou tempt me to thy ruin,” the Duke said. “Come, black angel, fair devil, in thy prayers reckon up the full number of all thy innate, born-in-the-blood follies. There in thy prayers, weep tears of blood for the one sin that is above the rest: adultery! Adultery, Bianca! Adultery is such a sin and such a guilt that, were the sluices of thine eyes let up, tears cannot wash it off.”

Sluices are the gates of a dam; raise them and water pours out of the dam.

The Duke continued, “It is not the tide of trivial wantonness from youth to youth, but instead thy abusing of thy lawful bed, thy husband’s bed; his in whose breast thou sleep, his who did prize thee more than all the trashy wealth that hoarding worldlings make an idol of. When thou shall find the catalogue of thy recorded misdeeds, there shall be written in large letters thy bastarding the children of a prince. Now turn thine eyes to thy hovering soul, and do not hope for life; if angels were to sing a requiem by my coffin only if I would dispense with my revenge on thee, it would be all in vain: Even if not killing you would ensure eternal Paradise for me, I would not give up my revenge. Prepare to die!”

Bianca opened the front of the clothing over her chest and said, “I do, and to the point of thy sharp sword with open breast I’ll run halfway thus naked. Do not shrink away, Caraffa. This does not daunt me, but in the last act of thy revenge, this is all that I ask to be granted at my last gasp: Spare thy noble friend. Life to me without him would be a death.”

“Not this,” the Duke said. “I’ll have none of this. It is not so fitting … why should I kill her? She may live and change, or —”

He threw down his sword.

From the balcony, Fiormonda shouted, “Do thou stop? Faint coward, do thou wish to disgrace all thy glorious ancestors? Is this thy courage?”

“Ha! Do you say so, too?” the Duke replied.

He then said, “Give me thy hand, Bianca.”

“Here,” she said, giving him her hand.

“Farewell,” the Duke said. “Thus go dwell in everlasting sleep!”

He drew his dagger and stabbed her.

“Here’s blood in exchange for lust, and sacrifice in exchange for wrong,” he said.

“It is bravely done,” Bianca said sarcastically. “Thou have struck home at once. Live to repent too late. Commend my love to thy true friend, my love to him who owns it: I give my tragedy to thee; my heart to — to — Fernando.”

Bianca moaned and died.

“Sister, she’s dead,” the Duke said.

“Then, while thy rage is warm, pursue the causer of her trespass,” Fiormonda said.

“Good,” the Duke said. “I’ll waste no time while I am hot in blood.”

“Hot in blood” meant 1) feeling strong passion, 2) feeling hot because Bianca’s hot blood was on his hands, and 3) having a taste for blood. Hunting dogs were given a taste of blood to encourage them to hunt. Such dogs were said to be “in blood.”

The Duke picked up his sword and exited.

“Here’s royal vengeance!” Fiormonda said. “This suits the stateof his disgrace and my unbounded hate.”

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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