Vol. 2 Studies and Appreciations by Wm. Sharp

SOME DRAMAS
OF GABRIELE D'ANNUNZIO

(1900)

When we consider the dramatic work of Gabriele D'Annunzio we find that three long plays have been published, La Città Morta, La Gioconda, and La Gloria; that two shorter plays, Sogno d'un Tramonto d'Autunno and Sogno d'un Mattino di Primavera, have been issued as booklets; and that the author is now at work on his trilogy, L'Alessandreide.

Of the published dramas only the first is well known here, though since Eleonora Duse's magnificent acting of La Gioconda in London that play also is familiar to many who understand Italian. Even in France, where D'Annunzio's work is followed with much interest and close attention, La Gloria is all but unknown: in Italy itself it has fascinated the few, not the many. One reason, obvious reason, for this is, that of the plays La Città Morta alone has been translated into French and into English.

To understand the complex genius and Graeco-Latin temperament of Gabriele D'Annunzio, one unacquainted with his writings could perhaps in no way gain so swift an insight as to read these two short plays, the Sogno d'un Tramonto d'Autunno and Sogno d'un Mattino di Primavera. The one, violent, fevered, intoxicated with colour, convulsed with the very hysteria of passion, is wrought, as it were, in blood-red clay; the other, hushed, delicate, beautiful, exquisite in its very morbidity, intensely rather than overwhelmingly tragic, is wrought in ivory and emerald: the one is a resplendent nightmare, the other a tragic but beautiful dream. In both the same genius reveals itself, in each the extraordinarily marked dual temperament is found at the extreme. If there is no one scene in D'Annunzio's plays so beautiful as that in La Gioconda, where la Sirenetta, a mysterious child born of the wind, sun, and sea, unwittingly tortures Silvia Settala in her bitter grief and mutilated beauty, and where, when the lovely sea-girl says she would offer the poor, desolate, mutilated, woman her own hands were they not so brown and rough, Silvia answers:

Sono felici le tue mani: toccano le foglie, i fiori, l'arena, l'acqua, le pietri, i fanciulli, gli animali, tutte le cose innocenti.

(" Ah, these happy hands of yours-they can touch the leaves and flowers, the earth and water and stones, little children, all innocent creatures.")

--if, as I think, there is no scene so poignantly beautiful as this, neither is there, I think, any succession of scenes or any one play so beautiful as the Dream of a Spring Morning. Again, there is nowhere in D'Annunzio's dramas or romances so extreme a presentment of the sensuously hysterical side of his nature--the side that in that wonderful book, II Trionfo della Morte, permitted him to sink to the grossest banalities, to a dithyrambic satyriasis, where the power and beauty of the withheld while revealed are set aside for the poor audacity of the explicit--nowhere so extreme a presentment in this kind, though without any suggestion of Zolaesque "realism," as in the Dream of an Autumn Sunset.

I am not certain as to the order in which D'Annunzio's plays were written, but in publication the Dream of a Spring Morning comes first. Certainly it was written not later than early in 1897. Then La Città Morta came, 1898; and thereafter were published the Dream of an Autumn Sunset, early in 1899; La Gioconda, 1899 ; and La Gloria in 1900. The actual date of composition of the remarkable play La Gloria is February-March of 1899, written "ai cipressi di Mamalus."

Although so unique a literary temperament, so individual a master in style, D'Annunzio has been influenced formatively by at least one modern writer, Maurice Maeterlinck. It is seen not only in the occasional Maeterlinckian convention of phrase and repetitive effect, but even in construction. Generally this likeness is mere similarity, but sometimes is recognisable, as where in the opening scene of the fourth act of Gioconda la Sirenetta comes shyly upon Silvia :

LA SIRENETTA. Miriconosci ? ... Miriconosci, signora bella?
SILVIA. Ti riconosco, ti riconosco.
LA SIRENETTA. Ma riconosci ?

One marked instance of constructional influence is in La Gloria, where the second act opens with a scene which, distinct in detail as it is, is yet so much at one in kind that one cannot but believe it to be, if not inspired, at least influenced by L'Intérieur. The scene represents a room hung with crimson brocade, with two doors, each with a heavy portiére, one withdrawn. The room is filled with friends, partisans, old adherents of Cesare Bronte, who lies at death's door in the inner room, "the solemn anticipation of immense catastrophe" going from one to one of this expectant group of watchers.

ONE. Well, has the death-agony begun?
ANOTHER. Is there no hope?
ANOTHER. Will he live till dawn?
SEVERAL (at once). We want to see him ... we want to see him!
ONE. Silence ! ... Don't raise your voices.
ANOTHER. No one may go in....
ANOTHER. He will see no one.
ANOTHER. He will see no one whomsoever... not even the doctors.
ANOTHER. He has sent away the doctors....

In the mass of D'Annunzio's dramatic work, however, these are, as I have said, but occasional echoes. Echoes do not detract from the individuality of an original writer: on the contrary, they afford an added interest, showing as they do where one original mind has been influenced by another original mind, and where what has been tried with effect by one is tried newly with new effect by another.

The Dream of a Morning in Spring (Sogno d'un Mattino di Primavera) is a long one-act play in five scenes. The story is an episode likely found in, or suggested by, mediaeval Italian chronicles. The action of the drama is subsequent to the tragic ending of the love of Giuliano and Isabella, as tragic and sudden as that which came upon Paolo and Francesca ; but more terrible, because of the appalling disclosure of blind human helplessness in sleep. We learn, not all at once, that the two beautiful sisters, the Duchess Isabella and Beatrice, lived at Poggio-Gherardi; that Isabella came to love Giuliano, a handsome young lord of Fontelucente (a principality or seigneury as vague as l'Armiranda, "the old Tuscan town") and that Beatrice secretly loves his brother Virginio; that il Duca learned the truth, and one night returned to Poggio-Gherardi, or came suddenly upon Giuliano and Isabella as they lay asleep in her bed-chamber, and silently thrust his long poniard through Giuliano's heart ; that Isabella awoke, perhaps in time to see the sinister face behind her lover's fallen head, and certainly in time to be "inundated" in his life-blood, and lay silent and motionless all night, holding her dead lover to her breast, till, at dawn, her women found her death-white, muttering, in still and awful madness. Thereafter, we infer, Isabella has been sent to the ducal retreat at l'Armiranda, to be tended by Teodata and a physician. The drama-motive is the unfolding of her madness in exquisite and unforgettably beautiful fantasy; in. the effort of the physician to cure, or at least to alleviate, her mental suffering; in the sudden and perturbing appearance of the dead man's brother, Virginio ; in the half-uncertain, half-suggested love of Virginio and Beatrice, or at least of hers for him; in the all but successful hearing through a wonderful identification of Isabella with "the green life" of the forest, and in the sudden, and final relapse. From first to last there is a terror lest a spot of red be seen. No scarlet or ruddy flower or blossom is allowed in the garden or wood; nothing that can suggest blood--the blood of Giuliano. The reader trembles when a thorn pricks Isabella's white arm, and a red bead of blood catches her startled, remembering eyes ; instinctively starts, perhaps, when a scarlet ladybird alights on her white robe, moving like a trickling drop. Through scenes of poignant pathos and beauty the play moves till the fantastic, unreal, but strangely fascinating figure of Virginio comes upon the stage. This creature of the woods--for he is this, more than human--is akin to Goethe's Euphorion, to the Faun in Transformation, to the figure kneeling by Procris in Piero da Cosimo's familiar picture, to D'Annunzio's own "Sirenetta" in La Gioconda. In Virginio and in La Sirenetta I do think that while D'Annunzio may consciously be the symbolist, unconsciously or consciously he is following the same instinct of the Renaissance artists (with whom he has so much in common) as made them--say Giovanni Bazzi, or Piero da Cosimo, both so typical--introduce into their pictures pagan or mythological figures, fauns, satyrs, and the like, sometimes with a definite significance, sometimes because of their strange beauty only, their obsession of more than half pagan minds. Nevertheless, la Sirenetta may be intended as a symbol of innocent and beautiful young life, and Virginio as a symbol of remote youth--not as commonly understood, not as the youth of men now, but as the primitive youth of man, whose mother is Nature. Perhaps it will be easier for the reader to understand something of the vague, yet significant charm of Virginio if I add that he suggests kinship with the central figure in Pater's Apollo in Picardy, or that in Denys l'Auxerrois.

An undramatic drama: a morbid motive, morbidly worked out--that, doubtless, is what some readers will think of the Sogno d'un Mattino di Primavera. But the play moves; scene unfolds naturally out of scene; there is no disenchantment by ill timed lapse or break. As in all D'Annunzio's, as in all Italian, drama, there is too much and too lengthy monologue. The desert-reminiscences in La Gioconda, for example, would hardly be tolerated on the English stage. But in beauty there is, perhaps, nothing else in its kind that that can be compared with this play; I find no words adequate. Is there any living dramatist who could depict Isabella and her oneness with the "green life" of the woods as D'Annunzio has done? Even in a fragment, and that a translation, something of this is evident :

 

ISABELLA. Yes--yes--the horse neighs behind them, while they wander on.--Look, look, doctor; are not Isabella and the fruit-tree one and the same ? [She moves swiftly to the sunlit orangetree, and buries her head among its green foliage. Looking towards the old man, and holding with each hand the pliant ends of two branches, she crosses and winds them about her neck and shoulders, remaining thus, mixed with the foliage as though part of it, her face half covered by the green leaves. Her long sleeves are fallen back on her shoulders, and leave her white arms bare.]

THE DOCTOR. Yes, one and the same thing.
ISABELLA. I see green--as if the pupils of my eyes were two transparent leaves. The little nerves of the leaves are luminous against the sunlight . . . Oh, a little leaf lapping! How luminous it is--and soft as wax-as though it would melt in my breath. How tender it is! How sweet it is! . . . Make me a green robe, of tender green, so that the little new leaves will have no fear of me when I move among them. . . . I am not Isabella: I am no more Isabella: the green things have taken me to themselves : I am one of them, I am one of them, one and the same thing.

In her lovely helplessness Isabella recalls Mélisande and Selysette. There is, too, in D'Annunzio's play, as in Pelléas et Mélisande, a significant ignoring or a blindness to the culpability of the beautiful forlorn transgressor. Mélisande is as a little child baffled by winds of unknown and obscure forces; Isabella has no thought, nor has her sister or Teodata, or the old Doctor, that she was taken in her sin, the sweet, puzzled sin of youth. To all she is simply beautiful and unfortunate; no other sentiment is ever dreamed of than pity for her, regret for the slain youth of the lover, a wordless resentment against the sinister slayer, whose action yet seems to all too natural, too inevitable, to arraign.

When the play ends (and D'Annunzio uses repetitive "decoration" as Maeterlinck does, to enhance impression--e.g., the reiterated "Profound silence, interrupted only by the cries of swallows, the tumultuous hum of bees, a rising and falling breath of wind") a final cloud has come upon the mind of Isabella. The last we see of her is as she stands slowly letting fall soft blossoms over her hair, cheeks, lips, hands, remembering nothing now; stooping to the fallen garland which had meant so much, lifting it, looking at it idly, and with a faint child-like smile murmuring bewilderedly, "Per una ghirlandetta."

The Dream of a Spring Morning is not like any play by Maeterlinck, yet, but for the wandering fire of his genius, I do not think it would have been written. It is, in Italian literature, what Pelléas et Mélisande is in literature written in French. Nothing so piteous, so beautiful, so delicate, so poignantly unforgettable, exists in modern Italian.

There can be no question, however, of how little of Maeterlinck and of how much of D'Annunzio is in the Dream of an Autumn Sunset. Here are no reserve, no delicacy, no nuance, no vague or deep symbolism, but fierce colour, crude emotions, barbaric cries and instincts, a "Venetian splendour" become a debauch, an atmosphere intorerably surcharged with passion that is a rather savage hysteria, an inchoate panorama of distorted images, a wild péle-méle of gorgeous barges, torch-lit gondolas, flitting figures; nude courtesans, lawless passions, cunning magicians, and, through all, the insane dementia of the woman Gradeniga, la Dogaressa.

This play is shorter than the Spring Morning ; is not subdivided into scenes, and the dramatic action centres on "la Gradeniga," the Dogaressa. The woman Pentella, the women spies Lucrezia, Caterina, Ordella, Nerissa, and the Slavonian sorceress, are mere stage puppets. The story may or may not be historical or have an historical basis ; it is Annunzio's here, and no other's. The drama unfolds itself "at the domain of a patrician of Venice, on the bank of the Brenta, bequeathed by one of the doges to his Most Serene widow, now living here in exile." It opens as "the autumnal day is ending in beauty at once rich and sad." D'Annunzio describes the setting of his scene with an opulence of detail which pertains to the romancist rather than to the dramatist; it is all very wonderful, very picturesque, very decadent; from the vivid purple and saffron colours in the sky, to "the marvellous aerial stairway crowned with a loggia whence one can see the garden, the Brenta, and the distant country"; from an equally wonderful "atrium" to iron railings "like those which surround the tombs of the Scaliger at Verona" (as the marble circular stairway is like that of " the Venetian palace called 'del Bovolo' in the Court of the Contrarini"); from pilasters on which are fixed the great golden fans erected at the prows of galleys, to the garden itself, vast, pathwayed, showing now a mass of discoloured leaves, ruinous flowers, overripe fruit, "a garden leaning towards the waters of the Brenta with the abandon of a voluptuous and languid creature, lying by a mirror wherein she contemplates the last splendour of her decaying beauty!" Vast, moveless clouds, shining in amber and pale gold, are suspended in the north, some resting seemingly on the domed summits of the pines, some pierced by the shafts of sombre cypresses.

From the first moment the Dogaressa is repellent. She is infatuated with a lover far younger than herself, who, weary of her, is about to yield an open triumph to a dreaded rival, a beautiful courtesan of Venice.

It is needless to follow this play in detail. It is an hysterical screech throughout, alleviated by a few lovely images, pictorial "asides," passages of malign beauty. A sorceress arrives; the Dogaressa's women come back with maddening reports of what they have seen, of Panthea white and beautiful upon the Bucentatur, of her lover laughing at her feet, of the great festal procession of the barges and galleys; of the extraordinary love-chase of the nude Panthea by her baffled lover, in face of the multitude in the galleys. Then as night falls, and the incantations of the sorceress arise, a sudden conflagration startles all, and a tumult breaks out. Fierce strife has begun among rival factions at the waterfestival, and, before long, the Bucentaur is suddenly in flames. The women in the garden hurry to and fro with torches, and two of them suddenly run forward, crying the wild tidings:

BARBARA. Panthea is in the flames!
ORDELLA. Panthea is in the flames!
[The DOGARESSA bounds impetuously to her feet, and casts the mutilated waxen image from her and lets it fall, unheeded now, to the ground.]
BARBARA [hurrying breathlessly] Panthea burns! The Bucentaur is on fire! Swords flash everywhere!
ORDELLA [half suffocated with anguish of fear]. The Bucentaur is on fire, and the flames enwrap the courtesan and every one! . . . It sails up the Brenta . . . it is close to us now!
BARBARA. A battle, Serenissima, a battle is being fought--all are mad with fury--every barge is attacked--blood runs--it is a carnage . . . . They come nearer--here they come. Hark! Hark!

[The tumult grows, coming nearer and nearer: at the bottom of the garden the blood-red reflection of the burning Bucentaur flames through the, dusk. Mad with grief and terror, the DOGARESSA throws herself towards the spiral stairway of the tower. The SORCERESS lifts the fallen, pin-pierced waxen image, and deposits it at the feet of the bronze Venus.]

PENTELLA [from the summit of the spiral marble staircase]. The fire! The fire! It is beneath me! It is the Bucentaur--with Panthea burned--covered with burning bodies. The battle rages still--swords flash--a myriad swords--fire and blood!

[The DOGARESSA, unable to move, leans helplessly on the balustrade, mute, mad with grief and terror, while the garden is now aflame with the burning Bucentaur and echoing with the savage cries of the combatants : "Panthea!---Panthea!---Panthea!"]

And so this orgy of blood, fire, and horror comes to an end. We have the dramatist's "direction" at the last that the livid and despairing face of the Dogaressa is lit as with "a bloody reverberation" of what is happening," and expresses all the grandeur and all the beauty of the tragic scene." Alas, we cannot but think of her as a horrible and degraded madwoman; of the other personages as pantomimic maniacs; and of the whole play as--to repeat words just written--an orgy of blood, fire, and horror--an orgy of lust, superstition, and the putrescent splendour of an insane vision.

In these two short plays, then, as I have already said, we have Gabriele D'Annunzio at two extremes. His maturer work is neither so poignantly beautiful as the story of the Duchess Isabella, nor so luridly sensuous and offensive as that of the Dogaressa Gradeniga, but partakes of the dominant quality of each. There is evidence of a morbid, occasionally almost an insane imagination, in La Cittá Morta and La Gioconda, which reminds us of the author of Il Sogno d'un Tramonto d'Autunno but in La Gioconda there are passages and one or two scenes, and many pages and scene after scene in The Dead City, of a beauty so incomparable that we know no other could have written them but the author of Il Sogno d'un Mattino di Primavera.

La Gioconda is the only play by Gabriele D'Annunzio which has been performed in this country. But for the spell of the name of Eleanora Duse, but for her genius, it could hardly have won the startled attention of an English audience. The drama of art is the very last kind of dramatic art to appeal to the general public here. French wit and buffoonery, German domesticity and farce, these can be and are commonly welcome; but the play which turns upon a complex problem of art has little chance of tolerance except from a few. It is easy to say, as most critics said and many visitors appear to have said, that Lucio Settala the sculptor is simply a libertine, with (some add) the special licence of the artistic temperament. There is no such licence; and, with too many people "the artistic temperament" is simply a euphemism for selfish weakness. On the other hand, the shape,. and colour, the growth, the idiosyncrasy, the need of the creative nature (a rare and peculiar thing, not for a moment to be confused with "the artistic temperament," which, as an American humorist says, is as common and disagreeable as measles), is generally neither understood nor sympathised with. La Gioconda, which phrase by phrase, page by page, moves in a procession of delicate words and lovely images, has, in Italy, been hailed by the best judges as one of the most beautiful and remarkable plays of the modern Italian drama. "Cosa bella mortal passa, e non d'art "; and La Gioconda will be remembered when its detractors, who pronounced it morbidly full of horrors and mutilation, have long been silent.

I had meant to devote much space to La Città Morta, as the most beautiful of D'Annunzio's plays, but there is not now the same need for this since the recent publication of The Dead City, an admirable translation by Mr. Arthur Symons. There is nothing of Gabriele D'Annunzio's which has been more discussed than this remarkable play ; it is at once the most perfect of his writings and that which has given the greatest cause of offence. To some it is one of the most essentially dramatic plays of our time; to others it is merely an unpleasant attempt along a line ventured upon by few modern dramatists since Shelley wrote The Cenci. It may be said at once that if one miss the central idea in The Dead City the play must seem little less than revolting; for we have here an instance of the overwhelming power of a supremely dramatic idea to transform what is ordinarily beyond the scope of art into what is convincingly a subject for art. If one can admit the spiritual or psychological power of evil of an abstract idea, then there is no difficulty in understanding the tragic circumstance upon which this drama turns.

In The Revolt of Islam, in Ford's well-known play, in one or two other dramas and romances, the illicit love of brother and sister has been the central motive. Perhaps the most potent reason for the common refusal to accept even these first-named writings as works of true art is not their subject so much as the lack of any sufficiently strong and convincingly fundamental idea to justify that choice in subject. This, at least, cannot be urged against The Dead City. The group of four people--it must be admitted, all "predisposed," as Nordau would say--fulfil the drama of their strange, passionate, in a sense demented lives near and among the ruins of Mycenæ, where "Leonardo" is searching for the ages-long interred bodies of the Atridæ and Cassandra. That ancient terrible crime, whose tragic story in Greek drama is still the most appalling in art, throws its sinister light on all. As in the Antigone of Sophocles, so too in La Città Morta we feel that "Fate works her own dread work," that "there is no saviour from appointed woe," and that from overhead, from around, from beneath, intolerable destiny "fulfils itself in terror and beauty--a beauty almost more unendurable than the sombre terror itself. No one of the four characters of the play knows what dreadful ill is being engendered in the crime-impregnated soil of the tombs of the Atridæ. All are caught in that evil, as strayed birds in a net.

Here is at once the strength and weakness of La Cittá Morta. It has a motive of supreme tragedy, it has the soul of a tragic and terrible idea. But, also, it has that fatal weakness in the treatment of "inevitable fate" which distinguishes the modern dramatist. This is a weakness we never find in Æschylus or Sophocles, whose men and woman do not relinquish all at the mere shadow of a passing fatality, but are, in the end, overcome by an inscrutable and irresistible Destiny, struggled against to the last for all its inscrutable resistlessness. We cannot but feel that the four persons in The Dead City, as so many of the persons in D'Annunzio's dramas and romances, are what they are, not because this is what they must be, but because this is what they have made themselves, or allow themselves to remain, or imagine themselves.

I need not here go into the details of the working out of the terrible tragedy of La Cittá Morta. Now that we have an English version so admirable as that of Arthur Symons, The Dead City is attainable by any one who cares to read it. It has so much beauty that one can read and re-read with an instant pleasure; but even this continual beauty is sometimes at the verge of sanity, as (when not over it) are the four persons who enact "this bitter theme." In its extraordinary subtlety, much of the play is purely literary, not dramatic, to make a present distinction. Even in "the other world" of romance men and women do not talk thus :

ALESSANDRO. I have met you in dreams as now I meet you in life. You belong to me as if you were my creation, formed of my hands, inspired by my breath. Your face is beautiful in me as a thought in me is beautiful. When your eyelids quiver it seems to me that they quiver like my blood, and that the shadow of your eyelashes touches the root of my heart.

* * * * *

BIANCA MARIA. You exalt with your breath the humblest of creatures. I have been only a good sister.

ALESSANDRO. . . . Wherever there was a trace of the great myths or a fragment of the imaginings of beauty with which the chosen race transfigures the force of the world, she passed with her reviving grace, passing lightly over the distance of centuries as if she followed the song of the nightingale across a country strewn with ruins.

The Dead City stands alone among recent dramatic literature for beauty of phrase and workmanship. On every page, almost, one may hold festival. But to say this is one thing: to say that it is also a great drama is another. For one, I consider it to be of the most memorable and significant dramas I have read, the most memorable perhaps, the most significant; but that, it may be, is because with some of us the power of the idea is greater than the power of all but the supreme expression of an idea. One obvious objection to La Cittá Morta is its extreme, its omnipresent, morbidity. Everybody is morbid; the play is the last word of the decadent exalted in the pride of a decadence already moribund.

In La Gloria, as already hinted, we have at once the least known and the most ambitious of D'Annunzio's plays; longer than La Gioconda, longer perhaps than La Cittá Morta even, it is much more involved than either--is, indeed, of so complex a nature that the foreign reader at least may well be uncertain as to his accurate interpretation of the author's meaning. Is La Comnéna, that mysterious woman whose malign genius and influence dominate this drama, more than a heroic figure, an Empress-Elect? Is she indeed more than "La Gloria"? The motto of the book, it is true, seems at once to suggest and to limit the interpretation, La Gloria mi somiglia. But it is possible-and on a first reading the present writer thus interpreted Elena Comnéna that she stands for Rome itself: not the Rome of any one age or of all the ages, neither pagan nor Christian, nor mediæval nor modern Rome, but the very spirit of Rome itself, proud with an insane pride, and terrible and relentless in that pride, that insane obsession. Certainly this inter pretation is at least permissible; nor, if accepted, does it clash with that apparently indicated by the motto quoted above, "I am as Glory herself."

La Gloria is not only the most ambitious of D'Annunzio's plays, but is unquestionably remarkable. No doubt the author was inspired to write this play by his own comparatively recent identification with Italian Parliamentary life. Signor D'Annunzio entered Parliament with high but by no means chimerical ideals: from the first he seems to have been animated by an intense pride of and faith in his country, her past and her destinies, and, above all, by unbounded pride of and faith in Rome the eternal, the City of Cities, Mother of Nations. If there is one great Roman who more than any other was much in his mind when he was writing La Gloria, surely it was the famous tribune, Rienzi. Certainly Ruggero Flamma, in many respects, recalls that historic figure. It is difficult to discern wherein this play is actual and where symbolical. Elena Comnéna, Cesare Bronte, Ruggero Flamma--are they severally an ambitious Roman Cleopatra, a dying champion of the old order, the prophet and leader of a new dispensation: or is La Comnéna merely the embodied spirit of that malign destiny of which we speak as Glory: is Cesare Bronte the impersonation of that which is for ever dying and passing, fighting desperately to the last against ideals and aims which, wolf-like, have turned to rend and destroy: is Ruggero Flamma no other than impetuous, divinely confident, superbly audacious Youth--that Youth which, as Ibsen tells us, is for ever knocking at our doors--itself so soon to be broken, ruined, and remorselessly trampled under the unseen feet of Change ?

It would be impracticable here to attempt anything like an adequate digest of La Gloria. Unlike La Gioconda or La Cittá Morta, even its fundamental plot cannot be told succinctly: it is at once as compact and multiform as "La Folla" itself--La Folla, the, Crowd, whose sea-like tumult, wrath, subsidence, whose impetuous and blind clamour, forever recurrent, give so overwhelmingly an effective background or undertone to this drama. One hears the significant voice of La Folla--with D'Annunzio this abstraction becomes a single living creature, ominous, irresponsible, unconstrained--from first to last: the play opens with its menacing laughter and closes with its savage, unreasoning yells for the martyrdom of its dethroned idol. In this connection one looks with singular interest to the publication of that drama to which I have already alluded, La Folla, for here, it may be, D'Annunzio will give us, through the alchemy of the imagination, a new transmutation from the abstract to the actual, a new but inverted transformation of Demos.

Briefly, La Gloria illustrates the rise and fall of Ruggero Flarnma. Behind, through, and beyond his individual destiny is the more potent and mysterious destiny of Elena Comnéna, the wife of the dying Cesare Bronte--La Comnéna, that beautiful, scornful, imperious woman, citizen, and Empress the breath of whose will seems to have power to make not only the souls of men rise up and go down and pass away, but the destinies of nations also, the supreme destiny of Rome itself. The play opens with the coming of defeat to the partisans of the moribund Cesare Bronte, with the popular advent of Ruggero Flamma. All between this opening and the final scenes is concerned with the passionate effort of Flamma to reach his ends, to fulfil his ideals, with his immense triumph and inevitable disastrous collapse, with the bitter scorn, the bitter remorselessness, and the still more bitter love of Elena Comnéna, in whose fatal net Ruggero Flamma is entangled from the first, from which he never escapes, and, as one realises, never could escape. When, at the opening, the streets of Rome resound to the acclaim of those who hail Ruggero Flamma as Liberator Elect, and unharness his horses and carry him past the house of his dying opponent, Cesare Bronte; when Flamma himself harangues the surging multitude, eager to win over the still--loyal soldiery; and when, above the part infuriated, part mocking and insolent crowd the face of the fascinating and hated woman whom they call La Comnéna looks out from a window--almost from that moment one hears the gathering of distant cries of hate, the savage turning of the imperiously led upon the fallen leader, the shouts of Gettaci la sua testa! Gettaci la sua testa!--"Throw us his head! Throw his head to us!"

That Elena Comnéna stands for more than an individual woman is early made evident by a passage in the first act, where one Fulvio asks, "To how many defunct kings, emperors, and princes did old Cesare ally himself in marrying La ComnEna? and the answer of one Fieschi, "To nineteen kings, ten emperors, seventy-seven sovereign princes, ninety 'protosebasti,' one hundred and fifteen 'curopalati,' and to all the rotten plutocracy of Byzanzia." She may be Byzance, she may be Rome; but doubtless this imperial woman is one common to both and to many other dead cities and empires la Gloria mi somiglia.

This remarkable drama is so different from anything else that D'Annunzio has done that we may well believe it stands for a great change that has come to him, to his art. What that change is, what its import is, we shall doubtless see in those as yet unpublished dramatic writings which Gabriele D'Annunzio has since written, or upon which, as is known, he is now engaged.

 


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