Sforza. Act 1 Scenes 4-6

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

Sforza fails to live up to his billing and is imprisoned by the Duke. Later released, Sforza proves too successful for the Duke's liking. To prevent Sforza turning against Milan the Duke promises
him Bianca in marriage. A promise he has no intention of keeping.

Submitted: January 11, 2018

A A A | A A A

Submitted: January 11, 2018




(The prison of Mortara. SFORZA is eating a meal with wine at a table. Enter PICC who sits down opposite.)

SFORZA:- You must forgive me, I seldom have guests these days. (Offers wine.) How are affairs in Milan?

PICC:- The city is full of unhappy women. Some want you dead and some want you alive, which from what I have been hearing may not be the blessing it seems. (tastes wine) The Duke is unhappy with you. Something about abusing his Lordship's hospitality.

SFORZA:- That sounds serious.

PICC:- I feel a death coming on.

SFORZA:- People have tried often enough. Yet I am still here.

PICC:- Not for long. The Duke is here and evens you will be dead by dusk.

SFORZA:- Put me down for ten florins. I am good for it.

PICC:- My friend your fault is that you love yourself too much.

SFORZA:- He that loves not himself loves not others. I suppose I could offer you money?

PICC:- You can’t buy me!

SFORZA:- A condottiere who cannot be bought, you'll give the rest of us a bad name.

PICC:- Bad name or not, I am the master here.

SFORZA:- You are master of nothing. You answer to Visconti.

PICC:- You can’t goad me Sforza. You have fallen. Even in Rome they heard it. You’ll be lucky to survive to be a beggar in the wilderness, which is more your natural habitat.


VISCONTI:-Why is it so cold?

SFORZA:- It is cold because it is not warm.

VISCONTI:- Ever practical Count Francesco.

SFORZA:- Why philosophise upon the weather?

VISCONTI:- To read the omens?

SFORZA:- Why bother, who’d be a puppet?

VISCONTI:- You should be more concerned, my daughter has cast your horoscope.

SFORZA:- How is the fair Bianca?

VISCONTI:- Sharpening knives in the kitchen the last time I saw her.  

SFORZA:- I can say, in every respect, your daughter is truly worthy of you.

VISCONTI:- I have never doubted it. (Turns to PICC.) Leave us.

SFORZA waves him goodbye.

Do you like your new surroundings?

SFORZA:- It reminds me of the happy times I spent with father in prison.  Occasionally, Fortune smiles upon a family and both parent and child live long enough to realise not only, that it is not some perverse of nature that they are related to each other, but also that wisdom and common sense did not entirely skip a generation. And he did teach me an important lesson.

VISCONTI:- Which was?

SFORZA:- To beware the ingratitude of princes and the jealousy of my fellow man, for in the end both may prove fatal. If only I had followed it. But I do like the wine.
SFORZA offers a wine cup.

VISCONTI(takes wine) You blame me for this? In all things you failed to live up to your billing. You and Carmagnola danced around the countryside while Brescia burned. What did you expect?

SFORZA:- I held the best soldier of the age with what little you gave me.

VISCONTI:- You say this is my fault? I do not have the time or the inclination to concern myself with the intrigues and petty jealousies of so called professional men.

SFORZA:- I cannot work miracles.

VISCONTI:- You are still angry with me?
SFORZA:- I was to begin with. I had imagined that I lived in a world where virtue would prevail over vice. Once I realised it was not so, I became content.

VISCONTI:- (sips wine) You were surprised so easily and yet escaped without harm.

SFORZA:- I imagine the court was made merry at my expense.

VISCONTI:- It passed the time.

SFORZA:- What can I say; I raged at the mountains and was saved from folly by a duchess.

VISCONTI:- So I have discovered. You made quite an impression. She bombards me with letters pleading for your release.

SFORZA:- She is a woman of honour. The pope once forgave me for fighting for the other side.

VISCONTI:- True, I could let you out, suppose we could toss a coin, heads you die, tails. (Indicates door.)

SFORZA:- I would prefer better odds. Besides, if you were going to let me out you would not have come yourself.

VISCONTI:- True, but then why did I come?

SFORZA:- You have no one who can stop Carmagnola, besides you are curious. You have heard that I have received offers from Venice and Florence. You would be amazed what a man in prison can arrange.

VISCONTI:- And that you turned them down. Is it true?

SFORZA:- It is rumoured to be true. I hear Piccinino will become the new Captain General?

VISCONTI:- That rumour has travelled fast. But I think not. He has done nothing to earn it.

SFORZA:- He will not be happy.

VISCONTI:- Am I to be concerned with the feeling of servants? I confess I have always thought the less of you for your trade and your birth. You are the son of an illegitimate peasant, a nobody, yet they love you. What do they call you, ‘The common father of the men of arms.'

SFORZA:- I wouldn’t know you've had me out of circulation for some time.

VISCONTI:- Yet the legend still grows. If only you were noble.

SFORZA:- Stuff nobility and roast it upon a spit I would rather be alive than have some marble plaque say ‘here lies honour.’

VISCONTI:- The people may love you, but it's a good family that counts. The city may propose, but I dispose. I am the state, a physicality upon the earth. Through me Milan lives and breathes. I am entrusted by God with the common good of the people. You expect me to ever hand it over to the likes of you?

SFORZA:- If you are to be ruled should you not demand a superior performance? Otherwise, we would have everyone trying.

VISCONTI:- You are up to your neck in trouble.

SFORZA:- It is then that I am at my best, and I am harder to kill than people think.

VISCONTI:- You are a clever man and clever men are always dangerous.

SFORZA:- Is that why I am to die, surely a disincentive for the young to seek an education? And if I am dead who will then protect you from your enemies?  

VISCONTI:- You think I have need of you? I have hired your uncle Micheletto Attendolo.

SFORZA:- At least it keeps it in the family I suppose. And Bianca?

VISCONTI:- When she is old enough, to the d’Este.

SFORZA:- Does she know?

VISCONTI:- Does it matter? We seem to have nothing more to discuss.

Enter FIA.

FIA:- Am I too late?

SFORZA:- You time your entrances to perfection. I can recommend the wine.

VISCONTI:- What is he to you?

FIA:- A few moments of pleasure.

SFORZA:- ‘A few moments,' I remember it being more?

FIA:- I didn’t want to hurt your feelings.

SFORZA:- If I asked for Ferrara’s help would I get it?

FIA:- Alas, what could you offer us?

VISCONTI:- The day does not go well for you.

SFORZA:- The sun has not yet set.

PICC Enters and shakes head.

He has tried to subvert my captains and found that they are still loyal to me.

FIA:- You’re very good or you've been getting a lot of money from somewhere?

SFORZA:- Either way, we seem to have something to talk about now.

PICC:- He’s condemned to death!

FIA:- A misunderstanding surely?

VISCONTI:- Very well, redeem yourself, take your army to Lucca and destroy Carmagnola once and for all.

Lights Down


(Sforza's camp. SFORZA is cleaning his sword.)
(Enter ALESS)

SFORZA:- How does he seem?

ALESS:- Like a man who desperately wants the love of his Prince but knows he will never have it.

SFORZA:- That's what happens when you get too attached to your employer.

ALESS:- Venice has witnessed her army crushed and the greatest condottiere of the age humbled, all at your hand, his alleged inferior. They will not be happy.

SFORZA:- I fear they will give him every distinction and when he is completely within their power, they will cut off his head.

Enter CAR, Exit ALESS.

CAR:- Young Sforza, you are every inch the general I imagined you to be. I have been following your career for years, beating Braccio indeed, most impressive. And now you have had the better of me here at Lucca,

SFORZA:- I am but a student when compared to you. My father always called you the most able general of the age.

CAR:- He said that?

SFORZA:- He did. Talent always acknowledges itself; it is only the mediocre who belittle.

CAR:- I met your father once, a good man. Straight as they come. You look a lot like him. (Rubs knee)  Too many years spent in the field.

SFORZA:- Father used the brown oil he said it helped. I will ask that they get you some.  

CAR:- I would be grateful. Visconti is certain to choose you as his Captain General.

SFORZA:- I could never replace you general. I am, but one of many.

CAR:- Still I wonder if you have made a good career move. I have heard that he has singled you out. Even offered his daughter to you instead of the d'Este, but then there is a difference between offering and delivering. Let me give you a piece of advice. Do not trust Visconti. Though you may have times when you are able to resolve your differences. Fear and suspicion are innate to the Visconti character. In the meantime, beware of the rest of the pack. They do not understand you and what we do not understand we try to destroy. They will seek every opportunity to bring you down, being better is not enough. You must be so far ahead that there is no possibility of any challenge. In the end the only way to win is to outlive your enemies.

SFORZA:- I thank you for the advice.

Enter ALESS.
ALESS:- There is an ambassador from Florence to see you.

SFORZA:- What does he want? It's been a long day and I'm tired
ALESS:- She won’t say.

SFORZA:- Send her in. Well General, it appears our time together has come to an end.

CAR:- My I ask, will I die of my wounds like dear old Braccio?

SFORZA:- No General, you will be escorted to Venetian territory and set free.

CAR:- Then I wish you well young Sforza.

Exit CAR and ALESS, Enter FIA.

SFORZA:- You are in a hurry?

FIA:- We need to talk. There are various interested parties -.

SFORZA:- We've had this conversation before.

FIA:- That was before Visconti unleashed you and you ended up terrorising half the country. Florence would like Lucca back.

SFORZA:- It was not hers to begin with.

FIA:- She doesn’t see it that way.

SFORZA:- She is destined to be disappointed.

FIA:- You intend to keep it for yourself? Cosimo will be disappointed. Some might question whether such an act would be prudent.

SFORZA:- To take the city in my own name would be a discourtesy to the Duke and men of honour do not do such things, unless they have to.  

FIA:- Of course you don’t believe you will earn the favour of Visconti by this act?

SFORZA:- No. Is there anything else?

FIA:- Florence was also wondering how the son could make war on the republic that did honour the father. After all, it is on record that a pension was awarded to him.

SFORZA:- A bribe?

FIA:- Of course not. There are, however, certain arrears in the pension, some fifty thousand florins.

SFORZA:- That’s a lot of florins.

FIA:- There’s a lot arrears and you know what the Florentines are like about their book keeping.

SFORZA:- Yes to the money and what else?

FIA:- Else? What a suspicious man you are turning into.

SFORZA:- It is the company I keep.

FIA:- A contract, now you've taken Lucca everyone assumes you will go free-lance.

SFORZA:- No. I cannot compromise my position with Milan.

FIA:- You think you have a position with Milan? You should have heard some of the names the Duke used to call you. Do you really think Visconti cares anything about you?

SFORZA:- I think the Duke cares a great deal about what I do.

FIA:- That is not the same thing.

SFORZA:- Anything else?

FIA:- Florence would like three months peace. Consider this a down payment. (Kisses him) Is it agreed?

SFORZA:- It is, I will not take up arms against Florence for three months.

FIA:- There is another matter. Cosimo would like another meeting.

SFORZA:- Why now?

FIA:- The Duke has decided to allow Piccinino to conduct operations upon his own account. And if you believe that you will believe anything. At some point Florence will oppose him and be defeated.  She will then appeal to Venice for help who will agree at some ruinous price and war will start.

SFORZA:- And why is this any of my concern?

FIA:- Both sides will appeal to you. You know the Duke has been trying to tempt Carmagnola back into his service?

SFORZA:- It is the obvious move on the part of the Duke.

FIA:- Venice is desperate to retain the services of Carmagnola. It is foolish to release him. Even in defeat they are heaping honours upon him.  I have it on good authority that they have even passed a secret resolution promising him the Dukedom of Milan if he should capture the city.

SFORZA:- Releasing him is the honourable thing to do. As for the Duke I think I will getting a message fairly soon.

Enter ALESS with message.

ALESS:- There's a message from Milan. The Duke asks:-  (reading) 'that his most beloved son do visit and explain his recent conduct.'  

SFORZA:- And what does my agent say?

FIA:- It's a trap. They will be whispering in his ear that you are the new Carmagnola.

SFORZA:- I will not run from them. We will return to Milan. Send a message to the Duke that his most humble and obedient son will come before him alone and on foot. And in the meantime triple our payments to his court astrologer.

Lights Down


(Audience chamber. BIANCA and FIA are looking out of a window. PICC enters.)

PICC:- My lady.

BIANCA:- You are here because?

PICC:- Your father would remind you that you are to be married and asks you to show due deference to your intended.

BIANCA:- I am promised, there’s a difference.

FIA:- It is still an evil bargain.

BIANCA:- True, but as I seem to be unable to rely upon the men of the house, it would seem I have no choice but to prostitute myself before worldly ambition. Tell my father I know my station in life. You may go.

Exit PICC.

FIA:- You don’t like him very much?  Is it wise to provoke your father’s Captain General?

BIANCA:- That position is still not decided. In the meantime he will do as he is told. He is afraid of my father. Everyone is afraid of father.

FIA:- Except Sforza.

BIANCA:- Except Sforza. He is here for a reason. He knows father will never honour his promises, he has a stratagem. Find out what it is. (begins to write) Like all things a conspiracy begins in the imagination, a thought, a feeling, a whisper in the night. Fortune sealed with a kiss. Give this to Sforza. (Hands over letter.) His hand, and no other.

FIA:- If he should question the provenance?

BIANCA:- How does a woman convince a man? It should not prove too onerous a duty; it is not as if it would be the first time.

FIA:- I think you will give Sforza a run for his money.

BIANCA:- It is of no account. When did a lover last gaze into a woman’s eyes and ask for an opinion on the ethics of Aristotle? Your payment?

FIA:- In Ferrara there is a rumour.

BIANCA:- Another rumour?

FIA:- It is one of the things that Ferrara is famous for; the rumour, about a certain Lord Torcello. We would like to know what happened to him?

BIANCA:- To your agent? Father had him marbled in a vault somewhere.

FIA:- Pity.

BIANCA:- They say the very earth wept at his passing.

FIA:- Someone was well paid.

BIANCA:- Father always knows how to get good service for his money.

Enter VISCONTI reading an astrology chart.

VISCONTI:- He says the stars are in conjunction but I do not see it.

BIANCA:- You are talking to yourself again father.

VISCONTIIt is a family affliction. One of our minor ones I am pleased to say.  Well what are you two fine young ladies doing?

BIANCA:- Plotting. Who we love, who we hate, as I keep telling you father, it’s either that or the needlework.

VISCONTI:- Dear Fiammetta how fares Ferrara?

FIA:- It pales before the magnificence of Milan my lord.

VISCONTI:- Ferrara trains its daughters well. My love to your uncle.
Exit FIA.
Nice girl.

BIANCA:- I expect we will have to dispense with her services sooner rather than later.

VISCONTI:- I couldn't put it better myself.  Have you written your letter to Sforza yet?


VISCONTI:- And the contents are as we agreed?

BIANCA:- Of course father. So, father, do the stars favour us today?

VISCONTI:- Barofaldi says they do and as the Court Astrologer he should know.

BIANCA:- Father why do your place your faith in such things?

VISCONTI:- My child, when you look to the heavens seek not God, but true knowledge of the stars, for they will allow you to discern patterns in the affairs of men. After all, when a prince's life hangs by a thread who can blame him for the search?

BIANCA:- Someone could manipulate your interest to their own advantage.

VISCONTI:- You have someone in mind?

BIANCA:- I merely offer it as an observation.

VISCONTI:- No one would dare.

BIANCA:- So. (Pauses.)  Piccinino was here.

VISCONTI:- I hope you were nice to him.

BIANCA:- As always father.

VISCONTI:- Well, he probably deserved whatever you did to him. But remember my daughter we need him, he is loyal and he wins battles.

BIANCA:- Sforza is better and he wins more. And you still intend me to marry him?

VISCONTI:- As God did not see fit to bless me with sons, only you my dear daughter, it would seem neither of us has a choice.  Besides you have only been promised.

BIANCA:- Before God.

VISCONTI:- The pope will absolve me. After all, he is a family friend. Stop scowling at me daughter. It mystifies me where you get such a look?

BIANCA:- Have you looked to your mirror lately?

VISCONTI:- You will honour your intended?

BIANCA:- My heart is all a flutter for his arrival. Sforza must know you won’t keep your promises. Even now he might change his mind.

VISCONTI:- I have offered him safe conduct.

BIANCA:- Father. The last time you did that you threw him in prison.

VISCONTI:- Well, he came to no harm and I did let him out.

BIANCA:- Eventually.

VISCONTI:- The pope has guaranteed his personal safety.

BIANCA:- I am sure he rests easy at the thought, the pope being a family friend and all. He will ask what’s in it for him?

VISCONTI:- Is not marriage to my daughter honour enough? Perhaps not. I will tell him I intend to make him my successor. That is what he really wants to hear.

BIANCA:- Duke? That is something worth playing the game for.  He won’t believe you, but he won’t be able to resist. Very good father.

VISCONTI:- I am glad you approve daughter.


SFORZA:- Most noble and revered father, you now prevail against those who would oppose your will. Venice is humbled and the man who betrayed your generosity and goodwill answers now to a higher authority for his sins. Let the world know that the Almighty has judged the justice of your cause and found it true. And to those base cowards who say that I conquer for my own vanity and not for the greater glory of Milan, I answer thus:-  In this very room, you yourself gave me the emblem of the Dukes of Milan to carry as my standard. That is the emblem before which your enemies fled. That is the emblem that now flies over the strong places of Lucca. Before Almighty God and those here present, I swear that all has been done, has been done for Milan. I am, and will always remain, your most devoted and obedient servant.

VISCONTIMy son, you have given an example of the truth of a proverb that has now become trite. It is said that one person may be so often told by everybody that he has no nose, that he will distrust himself, and put his hand to feel,  as if in doubt whether he really had one or not. Thus, though we have never really doubted your fidelity, courtesy, and the sincerity of your intentions, we merely put you on trial that we might be able to reply to the insinuations of your enemies. We have acted in this manner, that others might be as well acquainted with your innocency and virtues as we are.


VISCONTI:- You are well Count Francesco?

SFORZA:- Some slight tiredness my lord.

VISCONTI:- We had heard you had injured your shoulder on the way here?

BIANCA:- There were rumours are of an assassin?

SFORZA:- He was a Frenchman, named Legarde, hired by someone out of Paris.  Alessandro hunted him down and was all for hanging on the spot, but I gave him a hundred florins.

BIANCA:- He still lives?  

VISCONTI:- (looks to BIANCA) For the moment anyway. Daughter, some wine for the Count.

SFORZA:- The dress suits you.

BIANCA:- I am sure I will look better in black.

VISCONTI:- I am pleased that you are getting on so well.

SFORZA:- Henceforth, the fair Bianca will ever be in my thoughts.

VISCONTI:- As you will be in hers, I am sure. And speaking of thoughts, you are ever in mine.

SFORZA:- That pleases me my lord.

VISCONTII feel in a way that you and I are kindred spirits. The death of our fathers has forced both of us to make our way alone in the world. And like a father I am concerned for your future.

SFORZA:- I exist to serve.

VISCONTI:- Venice will want you to replace Carmagnola. If they haven’t offered then they soon will. In the meantime perhaps I could make you an offer?

SFORZA:- I am always open to a good offer.

VISCONTI:- General of my armies and my most loyal friend.

SFORZA:- You have a vacancy, amongst your friends?

VISCONTI:- Not yet, but I am sure something could be arranged.

SFORZA:- Piccinino will not like it.

VISCONTI:- Of course not. It is shocking the way he is going to be treated.

SFORZA:- There might be consequences.

VISCONTI:- I don't expect you will lose any sleep over it. And a hundred thousand florins a year.

SFORZA:- My lord have you really brought me all this way to offer me a few coins?

VISCONTI:- It is a lot of money and you do have a lot of mouths to feed.

BIANCA:- And growing every nine months I hear.

SFORZA:- (ignoring BIANCA) Venice will offer more. A lot more.

VISCONTI:- It is true that Venice can always offer more, but do you really want to spend your life bowing and scraping to a bunch of merchants?

SFORZA:- What do you propose?

VISCONTI:- A new banner bearing the Visconti and Sforza coats of arms, for you to carry into battle. Bianca has volunteered to do the stitching herself.

BIANCA:- It’s my second best occupation.

SFORZA:- Most generous.

VISCONTI:- And I will make you the lord of three-

FIA coughs.

four cities.

BIANCA:- You love of obscure detail is well known Count Francesco, the paperwork alone could keep you happy for years. You may even find time to build a church or two.

SFORZA:- A tempting offer.

VISCONTI:- You are still undecided?

BIANCA:- (hands SFORZA a cup of wine) To virtue, a chalice of my love.

SFORZA:- My lord, to you must fall the honour of the first drink. (Hands VISCONTI the cup.)

BIANCA:- Father, you know your doctors have said no wine before dinner.(Snatches the cup back and discretely pours the contents away.)

VISCONTI:- My children it pleases me that you are both so solicitous of my health.

BIANCA:- We think of nothing else father.

SFORZA:- (to BIANCA) I hope this isn’t going to become a habit, it isn’t the sort of thing one expects from a loyal wife.

BIANCA:- You deserved it.

SFORZA:- No doubt you say that about all your victims.

BIANCA:- Your arrogance is unbearable.

SFORZA:- And one day your pride will be the death of someone.

BIANCA:- Nobodies perfect.

VISCONTI:- You could almost be married.

BIANCA:- I’d sooner hack of his ring than kiss it.

VISCONTI:- It is the destiny of a girl to be married according to her father’s will.

BIANCA:- (points at FIA) I’d rather marry her!

FIA:- We are very broad minded in Ferrara, perhaps something could be arranged.

BIANCA:- He is an old man.

SFORZA:- Seasoned.

VISCONTI:- You will do as you are told Bianca.

BIANCA:- Father, it is only fitting that the man who marries your most humble and obedient daughter should be both virtuous and free of any other romantic entanglements.

VISCONTI:- Quite so daughter.

SFORZA:- (looks to FIA). Agreed.

FIA:- You said you loved me! Did that not mean anything to you?

SFORZA:- An echo. Simply a reminder of something mildly pleasant a long time ago.

BIANCA:- The blasphemy of love.

VISCONTI:- Francesco, I am a poor man, but what little I have, I value. I am the last of my line. After me, well, there is only Bianca. I have no son to succeed me. Even if I did, could he prevail against the forces of ambitious men?  When father died the condottiere played the game for their own ends and tore the Duchy apart. It was a time of chaos where no man could prosper and no woman or child was safe. I spent over ten years repairing the damage they did. I thought I had found a friend in my labours. I raised Carmagnola from nothing and gave him everything and he still betrayed me. Tell me Francesco; is it naïve of me to believe of the best of a man? Tell me, is it wrong of me to fear that the evil times of my youth will return? You are the best of men Francesco, everyone says so. No, do not be modest my son. I call you my son, for the love and affection that I have for you, is that of a father for a son.  And it is with a father’s pride that I hear of your achievements and it is with a father’s worry that I hear of your perils. What father could wish for a finer son? Your strength of arms is legend. Your word is a like a sacred trust once given never to be broken. When God wills it, I will die content in the knowledge that the safety and harmony of my estate lies secure in your hands.

SFORZA:- You will put your name to the marriage contract?

VISCONTI:- A mere formality. And for you future, perhaps I could offer you a position?

SFORZA:- Such as?

VISCONTI:- Governor of Genoa perhaps?

SFORZA:- Like Carmagnola? I think not.

VISCONTI:- To the south perhaps? The good people of Ancona have petitioned me to save them from the pope's legate, by all accounts a thoroughly vile man whose character disgraces even the Holy See. Perhaps you might like to save them?

SFORZA:- Under my own colours.

VISCONTI:- I would not have it any other way. So that there are no future misunderstandings I ask that you will confine your activities to south of the river Po.

SFORZA:- My lord.

SFORZA bows and Exit.


BIANCA:- Yes father?

VISCONTI:- Tell Piccinino to prepare an army to march south. Are any other of the Bracceschi available?

FIA:- The nephew, Fortebraccio is looking for a contract.

VISCONTI:- Send a message to him to join Piccinino. Both armies are to fight under their own colours.

BIANCA:- For or against Sforza?

VISCONTI:- Against.

Lights Down

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