Valentino: a play in verse

by David Wisehart

 

ACT ONE, SCENE 1

            Palace of Urbino. June, 1502. Valentino is seated on a throne, one leg
            draped over an armrest. He flips a dagger in the air, catching it at the hilt.
            Machiavelli enters.


VALENTINO:  Welcome, my friend, if friendship is your coin.
            I know you traveled far to find my court.
            Please, stay with us awhile. At last we join
            To drink, to dine, to parley and report.
            Unless, of course, you came here to purloin
            My battle plans. If so, I’ll cut you short.
            
(Sheathes the dagger.)
            Machiavelli, tell me why you came.
            I understand diplomacy’s your game.
MACHIAVELLI:  Both you and I are allies with the French.
            Duke Valentino, we should be allied,
            Yet Tuscany is tortured with the stench
            Of thousands of your soldiers camped outside.
VALENTINO:  My men are merely visiting to quench
            Their appetites, which will not be denied.
            They say that Florence honors every guest.
MACHIAVELLI:  We guarantee their everlasting rest.
VALENTINO:  I’m sure you will discover, on reflection,
            Your territory falls within my scope.
MACHIAVELLI:  Perhaps I should correct your recollection.
            Your men are marching on an icy slope.
            Remember, we are under French protection,
            And you are still the bastard of a pope.
VALENTINO:  You should not put your faith in foreign kings.
MACHIAVELLI:  King Louis is about to clip your wings.
VALENTINO:  I heard about your visit to King Louis.
MACHIAVELLI:  I had a very pleasant stay in France.
VALENTINO:  But in the end, it does not matter who he
            Prefers to make his partner in the dance.
            He needs my father’s blessing as a buoy
            To float his new political romance.
            I have French troops —
MACHIAVELLI:                            Which you must now withdraw.
VALENTINO:  Your walls are weak. Your men are made of straw.
            I’m undefeated and you’re undefended.
MACHIAVELLI:  Instead of grinning, you should be chagrined.
            It seems you’re not the friend you once pretended.
            Your men are breaking doors and breaking wind.
            This unprovoked attack must be suspended.
            King Louis, I am sure, will have you skinned.
VALENTINO:  My friend, your poor intelligence misleads you.
MACHIAVELLI:  And yet your notoriety precedes you.
            They say you killed your sister’s husband —
VALENTINO:                                                                     That
            Man lied, and spied, and tried to do me in.
MACHIAVELLI:  Alfonso would have never killed a rat.
VALENTINO:  Alfonso had a weakness for his kin.
            He would have killed me, with no caveat.
MACHIAVELLI:  Are you sure?
VALENTINO:                                Sure as sonnet leads to sin.
            My father tried to marry her to scions.
            Instead, he fed my sister to the lions.
            Alfonso tricked her, venomed her with verse.
            He charmed her with his hot sirocco airs.
            He wooed her, won her, kissed her with a curse.
            His words were weapons, brandished in parterres.
            Subtle. Subversive. Now his tongue is terse.
            I silenced him, and settled his affairs.
            I stopped his plots and poisoned poetry.
            He composed for her — decomposed for me.
MACHIAVELLI:  They also whisper that you killed your brother,
            To trade your sacred robes for cloak and dagger,
            To step into the costume of another,
            Forsake the bended knee to march and swagger.
VALENTINO:  I’d never harm the children of my mother.
            The very proposition makes me stagger.
MACHIAVELLI:  And yet you stand here proudly in his shoes.
VALENTINO:  My brother would be here, if I could choose.
MACHIAVELLI:  It’s true that you renounced your holy orders,
            And left the cardinalate.
VALENTINO:                                So? Who cares?
            With blood I have reclaimed the papal borders.
            If I were still a cardinal, my prayers
            Could not have driven tyrants from their quarters.
MACHIAVELLI:  But aren’t your sins more cardinal than theirs?
VALENTINO:  With lies, they hope to knock me from my perch.
            In truth, I only serve the Roman Church.
MACHIAVELLI:  You have less hope of heaven than a harlot.
VALENTINO:  Your trip to France did not improve your manners.
MACHIAVELLI:  And do you think your wedding vows to Charlotte
            Can keep the Frenchmen marching to your banners?
VALENTINO:  Take care, or I’ll have Florence wearing scarlet.
            Go tell that to your plotting city planners.
MACHIAVELLI:  Our city is already seeing red.
VALENTINO:  It’s time to put this argument to bed.
            We had a deal —
MACHIAVELLI:                  No.
VALENTINO:                              Florence stipulated
            That she would pay a fee for my support.
MACHIAVELLI:  That treaty is outrageous — and outdated.
            You’re trying to extend what you extort.
VALENTINO:  I’ll have your city excommunicated.
MACHIAVELLI:  You left the church.
VALENTINO:                                          But God is in my court.
            Do not forget, my father is the pope.
MACHIAVELLI:  But when he dies, they’ll swing you from a rope.
VALENTINO:  There are two roads that you and I may walk.
            The path of fire, with nothing in its wake
            But broken promises and empty talk —
            I’ve half a mind to let you twist and bake
            Upon the gibbet like a weathercock.
MACHIAVELLI:  But what will burn, when everything’s at stake?
VALENTINO:  Is this the road the Florentines desire —
            To meet the Lord beneath my cannon fire?
MACHIAVELLI:  The other road?
VALENTINO:                                    Is quieter.
MACHIAVELLI:                                                   And hence
            More devious and treacherous?
VALENTINO:                                               Perhaps.
            Your tribute drains your coffers for defense
            Till home and state and industry collapse,
            Till Florence is bereft of affluence
            And travelers erase her from their maps.
            Ambassador, my noble Florentine,
            It falls to us to find the ground between.
            I would have rather met you face to face
            In Florence. Yes, I love her like a daughter,
            A child no father ever could replace.
            Has she forgotten everything I taught her?
            If only she would welcome my embrace
            I’d hold her dear and save her from the slaughter.
            When she obeys, I love her and I thank her,
            But when she strays, she forces me to spank her.
            You’ll pay my wage, or I will wage my war.
            Vitelli seems to think I should attack
            And crack some skulls to even up the score.
            I have the men. It’s money that I lack —
            Thirty-six thousand ducats, which you swore.
            You back my watch, and I will watch your back.
            A fair request. No friend would dare refuse.
            You’ll play the game my way, or you will lose.
            We had a deal, and now you’ve dealt me out,
            But I intend to make our treaty stand.
            Did you forget what friendship is about?
            Our mutual self-interest, hand in hand.
            You doubt my cause? You have no cause to doubt.
            I will pursue the policy we planned.
            I offered you my friendship, for a price.
            I asked you once. I will not ask you twice.
MACHIAVELLI:  You must withdraw your men from Tuscany,
            And tell Vitelli never to return.
            His animals are spreading anarchy!
VALENTINO:  I fail to see how this is my concern.
            If Florence falls, then what is that to me?
            Protection is a blessing you must earn.
            You have four days to answer. Yes or no?
            If you are not my friend, then you’re my foe.
            
(Machiavelli addresses the audience:)
MACHIAVELLI:  To the distinguished Piero Soderini:
            The duke and I have talked of many things.
            His words are sharp. His mind? A Hippocrene,
            A font of wit, from which his genius springs.
            He uses people in a fantoccini —
            Now Italy is dancing to his strings.
            His talent? To conceive, conspire, convince.
            He is the very model of a prince.
            He makes the greatest challenges seem small.
            He never suffers from fatigue or fear.
            He moves so quickly, others seem to crawl.
            He loves disguises, likes to disappear.
            He has the finest soldiers in his thrall.
            He smiles, and yet his threat is all too clear —
            To introduce the living to the dead.
            We must be very cautious where we tread.
            
(Blackout.)


Valentino: a play in verse © 2007 by David Wisehart.  All Rights Reserved.