Sforza. Act 1 Scenes 10-11

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Sforza makes peace with Venice. While his enemies secretly gather he travels to Milan to arrange his marriage to Bianca who has ideas of her own.

SCENE - 10

(Venice. Enter PICC and SFORZA from opposite ends of the stage.)

PICC:- Count Francesco! By many we be counted not friends, but I have always found you, and hold you still, to be a man of honour. It has been an honour and a privilege to have crossed swords with the second greatest general in all of Italy.
SFORZA:- General though we have fought against each other these many years and to some we may have appeared bitter enemies, I have never held you so. You are a man of honour and great virtue, your word inviolate. As a soldier you are without peer, the truest heir of the great Braccio. All condottiere salute you.
They draw swords and salute each other.
PICC:- I ended the contract with Milan as soon as I heard Visconti had sold me out; a man can only take so much. Oh, I don’t blame you, in fact I admire you. Any man who can plunder the Papal States and still receive a papal blessing is worthy of admiration. You played it well.
SFORZA:- How did you find out?
PICC:- Persicco. You would not recognise him these days; he is practically the Duke’s shadow. I did not believe the orders at first. No doubt in time I will mend my fences with the Duke. I congratulate you on your forthcoming wedding.
SFORZA:- I hope I am deemed worthy of such a noble woman.
PICC:- I hear she is counting down the days. You may get the daughter, but I don’t envy you the father-in-law. A word of warning, The Duke cares for no one but himself; he killed one wife, won’t even talk to the Savoy bitch, and he keeps your precious Bianca at arms length. Mark this he’ll use you then spit you out.
SFORZA:- And what of the future?
PICC:- Time to introduce the younger generation to potential employers.
Speaking of employers, until the next time.
Exit PICC.
VENICE:- Some might question the wisdom of your presence here today Count Francesco. Wisdom or is it arrogance?
SFORZA:- My lord, your words freeze scarce they leave your lips.
VENICE:- How else should we greet Count Francesco?
SFORZA:- With affection, though it has been a stranger to your Captain General for some time.
VENICE:- Affection is for friends, are you our friend Count Francesco?
SFORZA:- It pains me to see that you are so wary of me.
VENICE:- With right, your reputation for flexibility precedes you.
SFORZA:- My lord the gossip of the ignorant is always at a discount.
VENICE:- There seldom seems a live witness that would contradict you.
SFORZA:- Should I be blamed for the judgment of the Almighty?
VENICE:- Do you think we do not know of your dealings with the Duke?
SFORZA:- I have kept you informed of everything.
VENICE:- Just like Carmagnola and he failed us. When he had the enemy at his mercy he withheld the blow that would have delivered us from the Duke. And now you stand before us Count Francesco, the foremost general of his day outwitted and brought to terms by a man so obviously inferior to your great talent. Could it be that like Carmagnola, you are also more intent in treating with the Duke, furthering your own position at the expense of the safety of the people of Venice?
SFORZA:- It pains me that you think so little of me. I am a friend to the people of Venice and I have never wavered in that friendship. You have flattered me with your estimation of my abilities. I am but a man and as a man I hold that the keeping of my word is at the core of who I am. For it both defines and limits me. I gave my word to the Duke of Milan that I would not fight against him or his interests north of the Po. Despite much deceit and provocation I held to the truth of that vow. Knowing this, you still asked for my help. And knowing how ill it would stand with the Duke if my word to you should contradict my vow to him, I came to your aid in your hour of need. Without hesitation and in the full knowledge that I might never see the woman whom I have loved all these years ever again, I crossed my Rubicon. My lord, I have defeated your enemies and all that was lost has been restored to you. The people of Venice now enjoy peace and security. All that I have asked for in return is that the Duke be made to finally honour his promise that Bianca Visconti becomes my wife.
VENICE:- In truth there is little the Senate can object to and so all that remains is for you to claim your future bride. Venice wishes you well.
Exit SFORZA right, Enter PICC left.
PICC:- Has he gone?
VENICE:- He has, summon the others.
Holiness, Majesty. And you?
PERSICCO:- I represent the Duke. Piccinino represents the Bracceschi.
POPE:- What to do? When he marries Bianca Visconti he will be the heir to the Duke, friend to Florence and Venice and Captain General of all the armies.
ALFONSO:- Sforza may be powerful but he has not the breeding, lacking the qualities that marketh the true prince, what passes for his character will not be content with his position. He will seek to expand his domain, it is inevitable.
VENICE:- Ancona or the Papal states?
POPE:- Wherever it starts it will not end there. We are all affected.
ALFONSO:- The lords of the land will not swear allegiance nor will any prince regard him as an equal.
PERSICCO:- As for the condottiere they regard him as the man to beat. If he falls, the man who brings him down is a made man.
VENICE:- And the Bracceschi?
PICC:- We are sworn to crush Sforza. Begging you Holiness's pardon.
POPE:- You are assured of it.
VENICE:- The attitude of the Duke?
PERSICCO:- The daughter to be unharmed, as for Sforza, the Duke is indifferent.
VENICE:- His allies.
PICC:- Only the Medici and Sforza's son-in-law, Malatesta.
ALFONSO:- Malatesta is without honour and inconsistent, a creature of every base passion and utterly wanting in faith and humility. That alliance will not last.
VENICE:- Then we will gain another ally. What do you propose?
ALFONSO:- After the wedding the Duke will encourage Sforza and his bride to return to Ancona. I will send one army to grind down Florence, the other I will lead to Ancona, there Piccinino will join me with his army and we will crush him once and for all.
Lights Down.

(Chamber of Visconti. Table and chair to side SFORZA, BIANCA, VISCONTI in the middle of an argument.)

SFORZA:- For some people marrying is a relatively simple act between two vaguely interested parties who can at least tolerate the other person long enough to answer ‘yes’ to the priest. I have a peace treaty, a fundamental term of which, requires the execution of a formal marriage contract, and still there are problems?
VISCONTI:- My dear Francesco you should not concern yourself with idle gossip.
SFORZA:- We have a a contract, signed some nine years ago.
VISCONTI:- These things take time and you know what lawyers are like.
SFORZA:- The contract you tried to dissolve.
VISCONTI:- There was a misunderstanding.
SFORZA:- Twice.
VISCONTI:- Let us not dwell upon the past. The list of your successes grows ever longer -
BIANCA:- Are you with Florence or Venice these days one can hardly keep up?
SFORZA:- One has a responsibility to manage ones career.
VISCONTI:- You are a man who permits himself no limits; it is what I liked about you right from the start. My son, God grants opportunities to the wise. I propose we negotiate upon the matter at hand.
SFORZA:- You finally agree to the marriage but only in return for my services?
VISCONTI:- It seems a fair bargain. After all you two have been engaged for years.
SFORZA:- Venice would not be happy. I am their Captain General
VISCONTI:- Venice would have to learn to live with it.
SFORZA:- The Senate would probably have different ideas. I am unsure, after all look what happened to Carmagnola?
BIANCA:- Tell me, how much loyalty to Milan can a mercenary truly have?
SFORZA:- To each man his life is precious having greater value than all the gold in the world. It falls to each man to choose on what ground he will yield his life. I have chosen this ground and my loyalty is the blood of my dead.
VISCONTI:- My children how well you argue and you are not even married yet.
SFORZA:- I am still unsure.
VISCONTI:- We could set a date, how about October in Milan?
SFORZA:- October of this year? I think the lady would prefer Cremona, after all it would be hers as part of her dowry?
VISCONTI:- (visibly upset) You want Cremona! As a dowry?
SFORZA:- Yes. I will leave you to discuss it.
BIANCA:- Father!!!
VISCONTI:- I suppose I should be proud that you give such economy and eloquence to your disapproval. Who says education is wasted upon a woman?
BIANCA:- Father, you must think more upon this folly.
VISCONTI:- I have told you many times that I would make him my successor.
BIANCA:- But I never thought I would actually have to marry him!
VISCONTI:- Bianca you cannot rule in Milan. You know the arguments. You will marry Sforza, I promised.
BIANCA:- But you never keep your promises, everyone knows this.
VISCONTI:- Today I do.
BIANCA:- If I were a man you would not treat me thus.
VISCONTI:- Bianca, you are dear to me.
BIANCA:- Dear in clothes, but not affection.
VISCONTI:- Affection is always freely given though not always taken. Bianca, this ground has been well travelled and I am tired.
BIANCA:- I will be heard. Francesco Sforza - .
VISCONTI:- Child, Sforza is our noble and most loyal friend, I know, I have paid the heralds enough to proclaim it the length of the entire country. For all his faults Sforza is an honourable man. He merely wants his due.
BIANCA:- He wants the contract price. Me!
VISCONTI:- I gave my word. You will marry Sforza.
BIANCA:- Father he will destroy you.
VISCONTI:- Even as a small child you always found fault, perhaps I should show him your letters.
BIANCA:- You have them?
VISCONTI:- They were very educational. You should devise better ciphers.
BIANCA:- And employ better couriers. Nevertheless I do admire him father. I admire him for being a man. A man that is used to adversity, a man who is prepared to marshal his force and fight for his desires. He is a man who is determined to survive the misfortune that is wrought by others. Do not be deceived by his words, he weighs them for effect. He wants to rule.
VISCONTI:- My daughter, whatever else Sforza is, he is an intelligent man, he knows he could never prevail against the storm. In the end he will trade the promise for something more tangible. The Sforza will not rule in Milan. The next Duke will be an heir of your Aunt Valentina, it was in the will of your grandfather and whatever anyone thinks, the armies of France will make it so.
BIANCA:- You under-estimate him, marriage makes him legitimate. Does relief from recent adversity blind you? He and Caesar are poured from the same vat of molten ambition. As for the French, he will find a way to confound them.
VISCONTI:- We have a treaty.
BIANCA:- A treaty designed by him to entrap you. Proud thoughts and secret ambition entwined in a lover’s embrace. Has there ever been so illicit a love? Beware father that which you cast down has risen again in a more malevolent form.
VISCONTI:- You will marry him. I have spoken.
BIANCA:- And Cremona?
VISCONTI:- The loss of Cremona will be hard to bear.
BIANCA:- Father.
VISCONTI:- No your voice offends.
BIANCA:- Out of love.
VISCONTI:- I will have no more of this.
BIANCA:- Father what world do you inhabit? What stars look down upon your dreams at night? I am your daughter, here I stand. Am I not of your flesh? Am I not of your blood? Do I not weep at your losses? When you are hurt do I not feel your pain? Father, what would you make of me, some marbled statue devoid of thought and reason, some garden vanity, some traded property? Why must you hurt me so? A word, a smile, an embrace, is so little so great an expense? Why must you be a miser with your affection, where lays the key to unlock such a guarded heart? Where sleeps passion? Where hides love? To be girl, was fate ever so cruel? Two hands, two arms, a head upon a body, a body upon two legs. What manner then the deformity?
VISCONTI:- You have always had my love.
BIANCA:- At a discount. A son is loved for himself; a daughter is loved only upon the hour of the wedding. For then she is prized beyond all the jewels of the earth. Yet to be counted to be worthy of such love in our noble counting house the doting father must weigh education against virtue and balance both upon a marriage contract. To little the education and the butterfly will flutter away. Too much and a spinster for life, and that would be a poor investment indeed. Taught to be a lady, what to hear, what to see, what to feel, to move with poise and dignity, always smiling prettily upon the ramblings of the male. These and other weighty matters a daughter must learn. It is a paradox to be taught so much yet to be accounted so empty a head. Perhaps the knowledge trickles out while asleep. So soaked in wisdom can anyone own so wondrous a pillow? If I were a man, I would cast such a shadow simple folk would cry ‘where is the sun?’ If I were a man, I would live such a life it would be the wonder of the age. Of learning, of virtue, of charity, of all that is good I would devote myself. My life would be studied as an example to wayward child. If I were a man I would have a father’s love.
Exit BIANCA. VISCONTI paces up and down. Enter SFORZA.
VISCONTI I suppose you heard?
SFORZA:- I heard that a daughter expressed her love for her father.
VISCONTI:- Children, you feed them, clothe them, labour the best part of a lifetime so that they can hold up their heads with the best of society, and if you are very lucky, they will repay you with the occasional courtesy of remembering that you are somehow related to them.
SFORZA:- I imagine Bianca in full flood can be a trying experience for any man.
VISCONTI Well, what bride is not nervous before the wedding? You will be well suited. You are resolved to have Cremona from me?
VISCONTI:- You ask a great deal.
SFORZA:- You ask me to take Bianca.
VISCONTI:- Am I such a villain? Why do they hate me so? All that I do is try to remain Duke of Milan. All that has been taken was my father’s to begin with. All that I have ever sought to do is to provide security for Bianca. Why do they censure me for this? Are they so superior? Venice, would rule the world if they could turn a profit upon the enterprise, Naples has raised hate to an art form, Florence, for all its learning, is a victim in search of a tragedy. And the only revelation about the papacy is the depth of its depravity. And they dare to criticise me!
SFORZA:- They do, because they can. It is the way of the world.
VISCONTI:- And you believe God wills it so?
SFORZA:- Does what I believe make a difference?
VISCONTI:- God does not speak to you?
SFORZA:- Do bushes burn when I pass?
VISCONTI:- Such is blasphemy.
SFORZA:- If God takes offence he knows where to find me.
VISCONTI:- My son, I think you say these things for the effect. Beneath the cynicism, I believe, there is a man who in different times would have become a priest. As for my dear daughter?
SFORZA:- All men know that women practice these scenes, over the years they hone them to perfection and spend the rest of the time planning the wedding.
VISCONTI:- You seem very sure of yourself. Very well Cremona is yours, if she will have you. I will send her to you.
Exit VISCONTI, SFORZA composes himself, Enter BIANCA with mirror and makeup who sits at table.
BIANCA:- Come closer little prince. I’ll not bite. I’d not risk being poisoned. Why do you stand so?
SFORZA:- I glance not, else I be turned to stone. The Medusa paints her face. She colours the mask with daubs and smears and behold Venus is reborn. I marvel at the artist.
BIANCA:- So my pretend lover seeks a wife, well then my apprentice prince, ply you wooing trade and let the forms be observed.
SFORZA:- I shall assume the guise of a minstrel and sing honeyed words to the dragon.
BIANCA:- There is an irritating buzzing about my hair. Fly away little insect of the air.
SFORZA:- My lady, neither in night nor day do I know peace. For all my thoughts turn your way. Bless’d angel of purest heart, answer your lover’s prayers. Be mine, mine own true love.
BIANCA:- Wake from thy dream little man. I’ll not be yours, not in this life. I’d rather take the veil.
SFORZA:- I would trade my soul with the devil to be the crucifix about thy beating breast.
BIANCA:- Dread lord, let the devil play upon the beat, for you’d get no fun and I’d still be a nun.
SFORZA:- Oh vision of beauty, pleasure floods out upon the stare.
BIANCA:- Cup your passions and place your foot on yonder stair. Your time is nearly done.
SFORZA:- I cannot for my heart races faster in thy presence.
BIANCA:- Go play with yourself little prince. There is no entry to the garden.
SFORZA:- Hard hearted maiden of the game I shall persuade you to be my mate.
BIANCA:- Beware O dread lord thy design is not mated.
SFORZA:- My lady, you will be mine.
BIANCA:- O little troubadour end this prattle, go home and reduce the size of thy bed.
SFORZA:- Slave to love that I am I cannot go. Mercy lady spare the lash.
BIANCA:- A thousand times twenty now there’s a lover’s thought.
SFORZA:- I shall labour like Hercules to make you mine.
BIANCA:- I’d rather dwell in Poseidon’s realm, a corpse to feed the fish.
SFORZA:- I’d not say no to a nibble.
BIANCA:- Tis some perverse of nature to cast a man like this if it’s a thrill you seek go sample the streets there’s plenty that are willing.
SFORZA:- If I travelled to the ends of the earth, I’d nare find a woman so thrilling.
BIANCA:- A route to make even a cartographer blush.
SFORZA:- Without your love my life has no meaning.
BIANCA:- With my love you life has too many meanings.
SFORZA:- Mark this lady; I will have you one way or the other.
BIANCA:- Do I dream? A flight of fancy with teeth. I know, like a frightened child, I’ll cower beneath the sheets.
SFORZA:- Your stubbornness is rock-like.
BIANCA:- Enough to sink your little ship of state.
SFORZA:- If such be my fate, then as some shade of the night I’ll thee haunt.
BIANCA:- O lord spare me thy tortured voice, else by some error I do harm the cat.
SFORZA:- I would envy the feline your embrace.
BIANCA:- I will think of you next time I play with the kitten.
SFORZA:- Lady, free or no, you will be mine.
BIANCA:- I will not be some male appendage, a shadow devoid of thought and reason.
SFORZA:- Lady, this without fail, I promise. I am yours as you are mine. We are one, one heart, one thought, one reason. What is mine is yours. And I give it gladly.
BIANCA:- Upon the lover’s scales, weigh your words and see me unmoved.
SFORZA:- I am oft rumoured false. Blackened and stained by the false tongues and infamies of others. It is in the ambition of little men to draw pretty lines upon the map. Praise not the trophies upon the wall or the land acquired. For it is piled high with the dust of fallen men, Ares discards. This hour is for truth. And it is true I am no catalogue of Christian virtue. I will not pretend otherwise. Mark this my love; I will not spare thee the infamy to thy name. Oft yonder lies princely ambition and in truth I will not mourn the loss. Some would have the world to prayer trading virtue for a reputation, but clean hands never secured a realm. That is why they die. You are high-born and headstrong, ever changing in mood and temper. Your tongue is sharper than any blade and wounds twice as deep, but in truth you are beautiful in both countenance and mind. Your presence makes me rich from nothing. I scale the heights of princely fortune to spend, but a moment in your company. I would make war upon the very heavens before I would give you up. Bianca, it is not a blessing to end up an old maid, a wintered wrinkled crone. Lady I know, there is no merit to shivering in an empty bed. In the days to come when all else is false, hold this thought. For my life I do love you.
BIANCA:- I will match thy plainness my prince. It was no crime to be born a woman, but by learned minds I am judged the less for it. Since knee high I have endured a daily ritual of flatterers and deceivers parading their trinkets and mumbling their sonnets in the course of true love. In a wits’ match, the fool could give them odds. True, I have blamed you for my father’s wounds. He has his faults this I know. Perhaps love is blind. But you, I see clearly. You are rough hewn, ill mannered, a thinker of dark thoughts, a doer of foul deeds. Travelling through polite society you cast slight and deception as if tossing coins to the crowds. Upon a straight path you’d wander. Yet polish thee to excess and perhaps I will behold a rare gem, a noble and virtuous knight. You are the talk of the age, what woman could resist you, in truth not I. But mark this little prince, honour flees a man who hears not a woman’s silent scream. I will revenge myself on any man who scorns me for my sex.
SFORZA:- Lady, you have my word.
BIANCA:- Then my lord I shall be the most compliant of wives.
Lights Down - End of Act I.

Submitted: January 12, 2018

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