Francesca da Rimini

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Francesca da Rimini[a] or Francesca da Polenta[a] (died between 1283 and 1286)[1] was a medieval noblewoman of Ravenna, who was murdered by her husband, Giovanni Malatesta, upon his discovery of her affair with his brother, Paolo Malatesta. She was a 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 or "Giovanni the Lame"), son of Malatesta da Verucchio, lord of Rimini.[2] 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 secure the peace that had been negotiated between the Malatesta and the Polenta families. While in Rimini, she fell in love with Giovanni's younger 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 some time between 1283 and 1286, killing them both.[3][4]

In Dante's Divine Comedy[edit]

Francesca appears as a character in Dante's Inferno, the first part of the Divine Comedy, where she is the first soul damned in Hell proper to be given a substantive speaking role. Francesca's testimony and condemnation is the first historical record of her, laying the foundation for her remembrance and legacy.[5] Dante's knowledge of Francesca most likely stemmed from her nephew, Guido Novello da Polenta, who served as Dante's host in Ravenna at the end of his life.[6]

In Inferno 5, Dante and Virgil meet Francesca and her lover Paolo in the second circle of hell, reserved for the lustful. The couple are buffeted by violent winds in a similar manner that they allowed themselves to be swept away by their passions. Dante approaches Francesca and Paolo. Francesca takes ownership of telling their story while Paolo weeps in the background. She first introduces herself not by name, but by the city in which she was born; Francesca's self-association with the land implies a voluntary detachment from her personhood and a self-objectification.[citation needed]

Dante's condemnation of Francesca stems from her complete refusal of agency. In her compelling speech to Dante, Francesca blames love as the agent of her sin. Francesca explaining that Paolo loved her first and describes how "Love, which is swiftly kindled in the noble heart, seized this one for the lovely person that was taken from me; and the manner still injures me."[7] She depicts herself as a passive agent who succumbed to Paolo's love for her. Francesca's description of love "seizing" her implies that she views herself as a helpless victim of her circumstance. She continues that, "Love, which pardons no one loved from loving in return, seized me for his beauty so strongly that, as you see, it still does not abandon me."[8] Here, she affirms that her reciprocation of Paolo's affection was dictated by "Love" itself, rather than a genuine love that came from within. Again, she portrays herself as a passive victim, refusing to recognize her own agency. Finally, Francesca explains that "Love led us on to one death."[9] Francesca does not accept responsibility for the origins nor the consequences of her affair.

It is also important to underscore that Francesca and Paolo's adultery was enabled by literature. Francesca and Paolo's relationship began innocently while reading a tale about Lancelot du Lac. Francesca tells Dante that she "was kissed by so great a lover, he, who will never be separated from me, kissed my mouth, all trembling. Galeotto was the book and he who wrote it: that day we read there no further."[10] Again, Francesca refers to herself as a passive object and assigns agency to literature that she reads. Ironically, if Paolo and Francesca would have finished reading, they would have learned that Guinivere and Lancelot's adultery eventually destroys King Arthur's kingdom.

Dante's literary portrayal of Francesca allows her to become a relevant example for moral agency. Dante portrays Francesca compassionately and assigns her a commanding and persuasive voice. Francesca is "never actively interrupted by any authoritative male voice, be it the pilgrim's, the narrator's or, importantly, her lover's, who is silently present at the scene of the testimony."[11] Additionally, Francesca's persuasive power derives from her language, which echoes that of love poetry, especially from Dante's early poems. In this way, Francesca becomes a reflection of Dante himself. At the end of Francesca's testimony, Dante faints and "fell as a dead body falls."[12] The pilgrim's symbolic death parallels Francesca's submission to her desires. Francesca becomes an "avatar of a persona that had been Dante's own."[13] Learning from Francesca's faults allows the pilgrim to rectify his own relationship with literature. Though Dante condemns Francesca, his compassionate literary portrayal gives her a dignity and a historical significance that she was deprived of in real life. In other words, her historical legacy transcends her literary condemnation.

Reception and legacy[edit]

Giovanni Boccaccio[edit]

In the years following Dante's portrayal of Francesca, legends about Francesca began to appear. Chief among them was one put forth by poet Giovanni Boccaccio in his commentary on the Divine Comedy, Esposizioni sopra la Comedia di Dante. Boccaccio 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 that Paolo was already married, given the dealings the brothers had had with Ravenna and Francesca's family. Also, 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 had mentioned anything similar.[14]

Modern reception[edit]

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

Related works[edit]

Costume sketches for the world première of Sergei Rachmaninoff's Francesca da Rimini (Moscow 1906)

Poetry[edit]

Theatre and opera[edit]

Rachmaninoff with the creators of his Francesca da Rimini

Music[edit]

Film[edit]

Art[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Italian pronunciation: [franˈtʃeska da (r)ˈriːmini]; Italian pronunciation: [franˈtʃeska da (p)poˈlɛnta] [17][18]


References[edit]

  1. ^ Antonio Enzo Quaglio, Matilde Luberti (1970). Francesca da Rimini (in Italian). Enciclopedia Dantesca. Rome: Istituto dell'Enciclopedia Italiana. Retrieved December 2022.
  2. ^ Alighieri, Dante (2003). The Divine Comedy. New York: New American Library. p. 52. Translation and commentary by John Ciardi.
  3. ^ Alighieri, Dante (2000). The Inferno. New York: Anchor Books. pp. 106–107. Translation and commentary by Robert and Jean Hollander.
  4. ^ Barolini, Teodolinda (January 2000). "Dante and Francesca da Rimini: Realpolitik, Romance, Gender". Speculum. 75 (1): 3. doi:10.2307/2887423. JSTOR 2887423. S2CID 161686492.
  5. ^ Barolini, Teodolinda. 2000. "Dante and Francesca da Rimini: Realpolitik, romance, gender". Speculum (Cambridge, Mass.). 1-28.
  6. ^ Dante Alighieri, Robert M. Durling, Ronald L. Martinez, and Robert Turner. 1996. The divine comedy of Dante Alighieri. Volume 1, Volume 1. Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri. New York: Oxford University Press.
  7. ^ Dante Alighieri, Robert M. Durling, Ronald L. Martinez, and Robert Turner. 1996. The divine comedy of Dante Alighieri. Volume 1, Volume 1. Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri. New York: Oxford University Press.
  8. ^ Dante Alighieri, Robert M. Durling, Ronald L. Martinez, and Robert Turner. 1996. The divine comedy of Dante Alighieri. Volume 1, Volume 1. Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri. New York: Oxford University Press.
  9. ^ Dante Alighieri, Robert M. Durling, Ronald L. Martinez, and Robert Turner. 1996. The divine comedy of Dante Alighieri. Volume 1, Volume 1. Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri. New York: Oxford University Press.
  10. ^ Dante Alighieri, Robert M. Durling, Ronald L. Martinez, and Robert Turner. 1996. The divine comedy of Dante Alighieri. Volume 1, Volume 1. Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri. New York: Oxford University Press.
  11. ^ John Freccero. "The Portrait of Francesca. Inferno V." MLN 124, no. 5S (2009): 7–38. https://doi.org/10.1353/mln.0.0224.
  12. ^ Dante Alighieri, Robert M. Durling, Ronald L. Martinez, and Robert Turner. 1996. The divine comedy of Dante Alighieri. Volume 1, Volume 1. Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri. New York: Oxford University Press.
  13. ^ Barolini, Teodolinda. 2000. "Dante and Francesca da Rimini: Realpolitik, romance, gender". Speculum (Cambridge, Mass.). 1-28.
  14. ^ Barolini, Teodolinda (January 2000). "Dante and Francesca da Rimini: Realpolitik, Romance, Gender". Speculum. 75 (1): 16. doi:10.2307/2887423. JSTOR 2887423. S2CID 161686492.
  15. ^ Produced by Sir George Alexander at the St James's 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.
  16. ^ Paolo e Francesca, opera by Luigi Mancinelli, booklet (synopsis, libretto), 2004 recording Naxos Records
  17. ^ Luciano Canepari. "Francesca". DiPI Online (in Italian). Retrieved 11 January 2021.
  18. ^ Luciano Canepari. "Polenta". DiPI Online (in Italian). Retrieved 11 January 2021.

General 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.

Further reading[edit]

  • Singleton, Charles S. (1970). The Divine Comedy, Inferno/Commentary. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-01895-2.

External links[edit]