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The Pope's Daughter by Dario Fo
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The Pope's Daughter (2014)

by Dario Fo

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Lucrezia Borgia, a Nobel Prize winning author, a Europa edition; it sounded like perfect summer reading in the record breaking heat. [The Pope's Daughter] though is not a straightforward read; not a bad thing, just unexpected.

Dario Fo won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1997, yet this is his first novel, published almost two decades later in 2014. The form of literature that engages Fo is the play. All aspects of theatre intrigue him, as he also direct, acts, writes songs, and performs comedy. All this is evident in this novel, as Borgias, Sforzas and Farneses move around in ways that often suggest a master story teller directing characters on a stage. Events happen out of sight, off stage, and the characters react by plotting further. Further reenforcing this sense of theatre is the use of pantomimes in the plot. This makes the writing sound clumsy, which it decidedly isn't, but like a play, it is episodic.

Just like in the kind of theatre that was then in vogue, at this point there is nothing left for us to do but drop the curtain and change the scene: at the Palazzo dei Diamanti, Duke Ercole was deep in discussion with his advisors.

Fo's theatrical eye for detail is everywhere:

And Cesare began the narrative, pushing his place setting aside on the table so that he would have more room to tell the story of his adventures and gesticulate while doing so...

The Nobel citation for Fo's award said, He if anyone merits the epithet of jester in the true meaning of that word. With a blend of laughter and gravity he opens our eyes to abuses and injustices in society and also the wider historical perspective in which they can be placed.

What better setting to present the uses and abuses of power than the Italian Peninsula in the Renaissance period? Here we have Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, about to be elected Pope Alexander VI, explaining to his four astonished children that he is indeed not their beloved uncle as they had thought, neither is their father their real father, for it is he, the Cardinal, who is. I am your father, your own true father, the father of you all, and not merely the spiritual father, but your actual carnal father, and I engendered you with your mother, the only real person here.

Asked why he was only revealing this now, Rodrigo gave them a fine lesson summoning up an entire philosophy:
Why, it's as simple as can be, my darlings. In a few days I will be elected to the very tip of the pyramid. A pyramid made up of thousands of men, some more powerful, and some less, and each with his arms raised helping to uphold the construction. Those who support this pyramid must do so by balancing carefully, and if they waver or wobble they are soon crushed or expelled and quickly replaced by someone better suited and more astute. The only one who is never at risk of being squeezed out of the pyramid is the one who stands at the very tip-top, that is, the pope. Only death can remove him from office. And so, neither slander nor calumny, to say nothing of unutterable truths, will be able to touch me. And the same goes for you, who are my children. As I once learned from my professor of geometry, it is a dynamic equilibrium that is the true strength of faith. There are those who say this is blasphemy, but I like it just fine the way it is!

Lucrezia herself emerges as the strong capable woman today's history credits her as. Fo doesn't discount the stories of her relationships with her father and brother, but neither does he dwell on them. He does, however, initially picture her as someone the Borgias had intended as a victim, someone to be used as a pawn in their alliances. As the tale develops and Lucrezia matures, he then skilfully shows her as a woman who has learned her lessons well, well enough to not just survive on her own, but to become a power in her own right.
  SassyLassy | Oct 14, 2016 |
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Jumping feet first into the mud

Concerning the lives, the triumphs, and the misdeeds of the Borgias, and based on the more or less thorough and accurate documentation thereof, operas and plays have been written and staged, noteworthy films have been made starring renowned actors, , as well as, most recently, two remarkably popular television series.
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