Francesca da Rimini

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This article is about the person. For the classical works, see Francesca da Rimini (disambiguation).
Paolo and Francesca da Rimini
(Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1867)
Gustave Doré, from his illustrations to the Divine Comedy (1857): Dante faints at the pitifulness of Francesca da Rimini's plight, while the hurricane of souls that she and her lover are trapped in surround the scene.
The death of Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta by Alexandre Cabanel (1870).

Francesca da Rimini or Francesca da Polenta (1255–ca. 1285) was the daughter of Guido da Polenta, lord of Ravenna. She was a historical contemporary of Dante Alighieri, who portrayed her as a character in the Divine Comedy.

Life and death[edit]

Daughter of Guido I da Polenta of Ravenna, Francesca was wedded in or around 1275 to the brave, yet crippled Giovanni Malatesta (also called Gianciotto; "Giovanni the Lame"), son of Malatesta da Verucchio, lord of Rimini.[1] The marriage was a political one; Guido had been at war with the Malatesta family, and the marriage of his daughter to Giovanni was a way to solidify the peace that had been negotiated between the Malatesta and the Polenta families. While in Rimini, she fell in love with Giovanni’s younger (and still hale) brother, Paolo. Though Paolo too was married, they managed to carry on an affair for some ten years, until Giovanni ultimately surprised them in Francesca’s bedroom sometime between 1283 and 1286, killing them both.[2][3]

In the years following Dante's portrayal of Francesca, legends about Francesca began to crop up. Chief among them was one put forth by poet Giovanni Boccaccio in his commentary on The Divine Comedy, Esposizioni sopra la Comedia di Dante; he stated that Francesca had been tricked into marrying Giovanni through the use of Paolo as a proxy. Guido, fearing that Francesca would never agree to marry the crippled Giovanni, had supposedly sent for the much more handsome Paolo in Giovanni's stead. It wasn't until the morning after the wedding that Francesca discovered the deception. This version of events, however, is very likely a fabrication. It would have been nearly impossible for Francesca not to know who both Giovanni and Paolo were, and to whom Paolo was already married, given the dealings the brothers had had with Ravenna and Francesca's family. It is also important to note that Boccaccio was born in 1313, some 27 years after Francesca’s death. And while many Dante commentators after Boccaccio echoed his version of events, none before him mentioned anything similar.[4]

In Inferno[edit]

In the first volume of The Divine Comedy, Dante and Virgil meet Francesca and her lover Paolo in the second circle of hell, reserved for the lustful. Here, the couple is trapped in an eternal whirlwind, doomed to be forever swept through the air just as they allowed themselves to be swept away by their passions. Dante calls out to the lovers, who are compelled to briefly pause before him, and he speaks with Francesca. She obliquely states a few of the details of her life and her death, and Dante, apparently familiar with her story, correctly identifies her by name. He asks her what led to her and Paolo’s damnation, and Francesca’s story strikes such a chord within Dante that he faints out of pity.

Related works[edit]

In the 19th century the story of Paolo and Francesca inspired numerous theatrical, operatic and symphonic adaptations:

Poetry[edit]

Theatre and opera[edit]

Music[edit]

Art[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Alighieri, Dante (2003). The Divine Comedy. New York: New American Library. p. 52.  Translation and commentary by John Ciardi.
  2. ^ Alighieri, Dante (2000). The Inferno. New York: Anchor Books. pp. 106–107.  Translation and commentary by Robert and Jean Hollander.
  3. ^ Barolini, Teodolinda (January 2000). "Dante and Francesca da Rimini: Realpolitik, Romance, Gender". Speculum 75 (1): 3. doi:10.2307/2887423. 
  4. ^ Barolini, Teodolinda (January 2000). "Dante and Francesca da Rimini: Realpolitik, Romance, Gender". Speculum 75 (1): 16. doi:10.2307/2887423. 
  5. ^ Produced by Sir George Alexander at the St. James' Theatre beginning 6 March 1902. Mason, p. 237. See William Calin, "Dante on the Edwardian Stage: Stephen Phillips's Paolo and Francesca." In: Medievalism in the Modern World. Essays in Honour of Leslie J. Workman, ed. Richard Utz and Tom Shippey (Turnhout: Brepols, 1998), pp. 255-61.

References[edit]

  • Mason, A. E. W. (1935). Sir George Alexander & The St. James' Theatre. Reissued 1969, New York: Benjamin Blom.
  • Hollander, Robert and Jean (2000). The Inferno. Anchor Books. ISBN 0-385-49698-2. 
  • Singleton, Charles S. (1970). The Divine Comedy, Inferno/Commentary. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-01895-2. 

External links[edit]