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It's locked, from the outside!

The Wolf-Hunt 21

Oh! This, now!


He's shut us in, under lock and ke}'! He!



Why? Wliat did he say? I couldn't hear very
well from in there.


He said so many things! And with such a look in
his eves! Mv God!

[At first he tries to act the intrepid hero: he pulls
up his trousers, crosses his arms and bluMers.]
Hush! I'm here! Don't be afraid!

[Then, all at once, whether it is his true nature
that has asserted itself, or ichether the woman s
pacing to and fro like a beast caught in a
trap has affected his nerves, he begins to dash
madly about, on tiptoe, pallid, his eyes rolling,
again trying the door and the iron grating of
the window to the right.]

It's impossible to get out of here. What are we to
do now?

I don't know! I don't know! I'm so afraid!

22 The Wolf-Hunt


[Running over to heVj seizing her by the wrist
and shaking her.]

Afraid? Afraid ot whom? Tell me!


Of him! Of my husband! I never saw him in such
a mood!

Speak! Explain yourself, for the love of God!

[Dropping into the chair, more dead than alive.]
Oh, my legs are giving way! I can't stand!


[Furious, forcing her to her feet]
And now this! Don't play stupid, I say!

Mariano! My Mariano!


[Shaking her brutally.]

Speak! Explain yourself! Simpleton!


[Sinking against the table, and burying her
head in her hands.]

The Wolf-Hunt ' 23

My husband knows everything! He came hereon
purpose to surprise us.


No. It can't be. Nobody saw me, in the dark.


[With flaming eyes.]

I read it in his face. It's absolutely certain. He

was searching everywhere, with his gun in his hand!


But he didn't find me. And he left without having
seen me.

Then why did he lock me in?


[Again becoming uneasy.]
Yes, why? [Trying to revive his courage, repeats.]
But then, why did he leave?


He said they were waiting for him. That they're
hunting the wolf tonight.


Wolf-hunting? That's excellent. Then where do
I come in?


One moment he said one thing, the next moment
he said another. He spoke with such evil foreboding.
And then he locked us in!

24 The Wolf-Hunt


[Looking about anxiously, as if seeking an
avenue of escape.]
The devil! That's so!


He's shut us in like a wolf in a trap. Then when
he gets back . . .


When he gets back? When does he get back?

I don't know. He wouldn't tell me.

You never know anything, you!

When he gets back, he'll give us a merry dance!



[Tearing her hair.]
We've got death hanging over our heads, you
and I!


Don't harp on that, I tell you!


[Embracing him, weeping.]
Mariano! My Mariano! I've only you in the
world! .

The Wolf-Hunt 25

Yes, but let me go now!


You'll defend me! You've said so many times that
you'd do anything for your Mariangela!

I haven't even a pen-knife with me.


[Her face in her apron, crying.]
Do you see what I've done for you?


You've got me into a fine fix, that's what you've

I? I?


Who else, then? Enough. Let's lose no time in
prattle. Better let us find a way out of this. Perhaps
they really are out wolf-hunting. If that's the case,
then we have time until tomorrow.


I hope to God it's so! May the sainted souls avail

Bellama. .

[Likewise somewhat encouraged.]

Don't be afraid, I told you! I'm here!

26 The Wolf-Hunt


But he'll come with the Musarras! They're on
the wolf-hunt, too.


Eh? Who was that you said? Eh?

Yes, the Musarras, father and son.

[Bellaina, without further heed, makes a mad
dash for escape. All at once, as if struck by
an idea, he places a chair upon the bed and
prepare.^ to clamber up.


Up there. ... If I can only reach it! If I can
only get to the roof! I'll smash in the tiles, as trae
as God! Here, hold this chair for me, will you?

And how about me?


[Standing on the bed, greatly excited.]
Your husband can make you swallow that tale
about the wolf, for you're a goose!


And how about me? . . . when my husband sees
that you've escaped through the roof?

The Wolf-Hunt 27


[Making desperate efforts to reach the roof.]

He's got together with the Musarras because
they've got a grudge against me, too!


[In exasperation.]

I know all about it! Because of Neli Musarra's
wife. . . . You wretch, you!



Much I care about Musarra's wife now! . . . And
a fine moment this is to make a jealous scene!


[Now likewise highly excited.]
All you think of is your own skin!



Of my own skin! Yes I do, my fine lady! You've
landed me in a trap!


[Tugging at his leg.]
And you're deserting me . . . leaving me all
alone . . . with death staring me in the face!


[Kicking her away.]
Let go of me, curse you!

28 The Wolf-Hunt


[Exasperated, kicking the chair from under


Curse you! A curse on you forever, for you've

ruined me!


[Furious, brandishing the chair over her head.]

I'll finish you! As true as God, I'll finish you before
your husband does!


Would that I'd been stricken before you ever came
into my Ufe! Would that some malignant fever had
consumed me!


It would have been far better!


It's all your fault! You've ruined me, just as you
ruined Musarra's wife, you scoundrel!


So now you're throwing Musarra's wife up to me,
are you? You didn't talk like that when you were
chasing after me and begging me to leave her, did
you? I guess not!


I, chasing after you? You miserable wretch!


You shameless Har! You'd stand by the door and
smile at me! You, with a husband that was too

The Wolf-Hunt 29

good for you, swapping him for the first man that
passed by!


[As she hears the turn of the key in the outside
door, she begins to scream.]

Help! Help!

Bell AM A.

[Seizing her by the throat.]
Shut up, damn you! Ill strangle you!


[Struggling, biting his hands.]

Help! Help!


[Hearing the door open he rushes, cursing, into
the room at the rear.]

A curse on you! Damn you!


[To her husband, as he appears on the threshold ^
on guard, his gun in position to fire.]

Help! There's a man here! . . . Inside there!
. . . While I was undressing!


[Calling to the Musarras outside.]

Musarra! Friend Neli! Here's the fellow you're
looking for!




The short life of Morselli was as checkered as it
could be made by a youthful thirst for adventure, a
goading poverty and an underlying spiritual unrest.
Born at Pesaro, he was early taken by his parents
to Modena, and soon thence to Florence. Here he
finished the courses given at the elementary schools
and advanced to the university, where for two years
he devoted himself to the study of medicine and
letters. He took no degree, but his intercourse with
such minds as Papini and Prezzolini helped to
sharpen his wits, and later, when he needed a
httle friendly notice, Papini beat the drimi for him
with those short, staccato thumps for which he
is noted — or was noted, before the astounding
conversion that is signalized in his recent book,
"Storia di Cristo.'' To Papini, indeed, Morselli
owes not a httle for his crossing of the Itahan border
and for exaltation as a writer of modern tragedy that
hfts him clearly above both d'Annunzio and Sem

According to the evidence available, MorselH's
life at Florence was a strange admixture of ardent
study and wild debauch. In his twentieth year, in
company of his friend, Valerio Ratti, he suddenly
launched upon a sea voyage, and before he returned


32 Ercole Luigi Morselli

to Florence he had wandered from Capetown to
Buenos Aires, to Cornwall, to London, to Paris,
earning his living now by his pen, now by the most
cheeky impostm'e. At Buenos Aires he had even
enhsted to fight against Saravia's army of Blancos in
the war with Uruguay, but it does not appear that
any blood was shed and Saravia's death soon brought
about peace. Once back in Italy — ''the most peni-
tent and happy of prodigal sons" — MorselU founded
a large commercial and industrial review called
Mercurio, which ran for no less than five years
and died of — honesty. In order to marry he was
compelled to borrow 150 lire to proceed with the
ceremony; this was but the beginning of straits that
often brought him to the pangs of hunger. His mind
reverted to writing, at which in the early days he had
managed to turn a penny, and the result was that
peculiar Httle book called ''Favole per i re d'oggi"
(Fables for the Kings of Today). The encouraging
reception it was accorded resulted in the composition
of the one-act play ''Acqua sul fuoco," which is
included in this collection. The affecting Httle piece,
however, made very Httle impression at the time,
and MorselH returned to Pesaro in the dreary con-
viction that he had not been cut out for a dramatist.
His next refuge was poetry, and he set about the
writing of ''Orione," his first tragedy, which is
poetic not in the narrow sense of rhymes and meters,
but in the ampler one of outlook, atmosphere and
impHcation. Originally produced in 1910, it made
the tour of Milan, Trieste, Modena and Florence.

Ercole Luigi Morselli 33

The author, who was encountering plenty of oppo-
sition among his fellow-craftsmen, was accused of
classicism, and perhaps to refute the charge, wrote
the modern play "La Prigione" (The Prison), which
Tina di Lorenzo acted in Milan, Turin, Florence and
even South America. Close upon ''The Prisons-
followed the other one-act. play here included, *'Ii
Domatore Gastone,'^ which ran for ten nights in

Soon we discover Morselh in the ''movies'' as an
actor, and he readily advances to the position of a
director. The war, however, cuts short his cinemato-
graphic ventures. His great tragedy "Glauco" is
now beginning to take shape; he reads the first
draught to the composer Franchetti, who is so
struck with it that immediately he acquires the
rights to set it to music. A period of illness inter-
venes, and it is not until he is out of the sanatorium
that Morselli writes the final draught in twenty
days, at Blevio. He leaves the sole copy in the
compartment of a railroad car and it is recovered
only after a campaign of telephone calls and tele-
grams. From one manager to another it travels,
until at last it is produced through the enterprise of
Virgilio Talli and acted in triumph by Annibale
Betrone, proving to be the greatest success since
Benelli's "La cena delle beffe'' (The Supper of
Jests). The furore created by "Glauco" led to the
republication of Morselli 's other labors; he had
already been working upon two tragedies, "Dafne e
Cloe" and "Belfagor"; now he considered a new

34 Ercole Luigi Morselli

modern play in three acts, to be named ^'L'lncon-
tro. " In 1919 he was awarded the government prize
of 6000 lire for ''Glauco," and his futm-e seemed
assured. Declining health, however, led to his early
death from tuberculosis of the lungs.

Morselli's fiction comprises the 'Tavole per i re
d'oggi," "Stone da ridere . . . e da piangere"
(Tales for laughter . . . and tears), and ''II trio
Stefania. " The fables are filled with cynicism, irony,
recognition of himian vanity, bantering mockery.
Beneath the sneers is a spirit of tolerance, and a with-
drawal that enables the author to consider his fellow-
men as if he w^ere a god endowed with a sense of
humor and of human frailties. The tales for laughter
and for tears are not divided into those meant for
pleasure and those written to agitate the emotions.
The title, I imagine, signifies that each tale contains
both elements in a very human blend, even as does
life itself. As the writer declares in that strange tale
"Italien, Liebe, Blut! — a German novel left half-
completed through my good offices," in which
Boccaccesque moments alternate ■v\dth Heinesque
moods,*' . . . I was made that way : I would laugh
and laugh, yet at bottom I took everything seriously,
even as now, when I no longer laugh."

The man is fundamentally ironic and symbolic in
his outlook upon fife. This does not have to be read
into his fines; it is there, in body and in spirit. No
doubt plays fike his two tragedies lend themselves to
the sort of symbol-reading that made the perusal of
Ibsen's critics so hilariously interesting when the

Ercole Luigi Morselli 35

great Norwegian dawned upon us some fifteen years
ago. Perhaps tliis sort of literary palm-reading will
never go out of fashion. But when one reads MorseUi
for exactly what the text says, without thinking of
the man's career and \\dthout attempting to read
meanings between the fines and into the phrases, one
reafizes that one is in the presence of an ironic
spirit, a cynical soul gifted with symbofical insinua-
tion. The Italian's humor is the kind that vibrates
with overtones of a mockery that does not spare
himself; his beauty is not the mere sound of words
and the music of phrase; it is instinct with connota-
tions of man's smallness in the eyes of nature and of

I need not indicate the symbofic elements in the
one-act plays, which are here for the reader to enjoy.
Even the modern play "Lsi Prigione" is symbofic
from the very title, which signifies the mental torture
of sustaining a family-fie, of ''putting on a front."
It is written som.ewhat in the vein of Giacosa, but
tinted throughout with the author's characteristic
methods. As to "Orione" and ''Glauco," the first,
WTitten about ten years earfier than the second, is not
so good because of its diffuseness and because it
carries less poetic conviction. The symbofism is less
effective, and while the action is excellent in scenes
it is neither so cumulative nor so cfimatic as in the
later play. Orione, the god, is less impressive than
Glauco, the seeker, and Merope is less colorful than
Glauco's sweetheart, Scilla. In ''Glauco, " Morselfi's
diction, purged of merely rhetorical ornament and

36 Ercole Luigi Morselli

free of self-conscious grandiloquence, attains a
memorable simplicity that parallels the admirably-
luminous simplicity of the action. The symbolism,
too, is such that it adds to the humanness of the
characters rather than converts them into the terms
of a dramatic equation. Some Italian critics have
objected to the symbolic interpretation of these
two plays in particular. Yet surely, even considering
the tragedies in the strictest manner that so exacting
a philosopher as Benedetto Croce would require, one
is justified in extracting the symbols that the author
has unmistakably put into them. And so considered,
"Orione" portrays man's helpless position in the face
of nature's laws, even as ''Glauco" suggests man's
tardy recognition that glory is less than love.
"Qualunque vita e abietta si e fatta al solo scopo di
vivere! . . . e qualunque vita e santa se un fine
I'illumina! . . ." exclaims Jacopo in "La Prigione."
"Any life is abject if it be concerned only with living,
and any life is holy if a purpose illumine it." We
have Morselli's own word for it that he aimed to
create a little beauty through his writings, and his
interpretation of the word ''purpose" by no means
signifies an art marred by the obtrusion of moral

MorselU's position in the contemporary letters of
his country is a considerable one, and already secure.
The triumphant reception of 'Glauco" by a national
audience trained in the best traditions of the poetic
drama led more than one critic to behold in the
young playwright the precursor of a new, peculiarly

Ercole Luigi Morselli 37

modern, poetic tragedy. Amidst the ruck of fantas-
tic productions that infested the * 'grotesque" theatre,
with its plays labelled "visions," ''confessions,"
''parables" — anything, indeed, but drama or
comedy — Morselli developed an idiom and an atmos-
phere all his own. His early death was a serious
blow to the Italian stage, for with D'Annunzio's
heroics and Benelli's recent reversion to prose and
apostolic mysticism, Italy needs more than ever the
unpretentious beauty, the pure line and the har-
monious colors that Morselli would have added to
its store.



a shepherd


his wife


their daughter


their son


a sailor


a young charcoal burner

Dente Di Legno, an old charcoal burner


Scene: The interior of a shepherd^ s hut in the
Tuscan Apennines. To the left, a fireplace in which
logs are burning, and before it, a very rough table upon
which stands an oil lamp. At the rear, left, is the sink
with a grated window above it. In the middle back-
ground, the door; to the right, close to the back wall, a
pallet stretched upon the floor; above this hangs a black
coat, and near by a tiny table on which is placed a little
basket of unfinished willow work. The wall to the right
is a rustic, wooden partition, with a doorway. The
ceiling is formed by the rafters of a roof that inclines
toward the door at the back.

At the rise of the curtain the neighboring mountain
tops may be seen through the open door, glowing in the
sunset. Gigi is fast asleep, stretched out upon the
pallet; Riga is paring some boiled, steaming potatoes,
and blowing upon her fingers with the noise of a


[As Bistone comes in.]

Here he is again!


No use talking! That goat doesn't look well to
me at all.


40 Water Upon Fire



What do you imagine ails it now? Every little
while . . .


Here are you butting in . . . you know every-
thing ! If you'd only hurry along with those potatoes!
I know a thing or two about animals, don't I?
When I tell you that she'll not be alive by tomorrow

. . . don't make any mistake . . . it's as true as
if Christ himself had spoken it! No use talking!


Blasphemy! May Christ pardon you! A fine
head you imagine you've got! Who can ever know
what you've got inside of it?


Now then! Those potatoes . . . they're for this
evening! No use talking.


There he goes with his "no use talking" ! Shut
up, won't you, and you'll talk less nonsense! Better
wait till Oliva comes back, and show her the goat.
Now she really understands a thing or two.
And she has a way of curing those creatures
. . . Not like you, who kill them if you lay a finger
upon their bodies!


Now what was I saying? Chatterbox! Suppose
you keep quiet for a monent! I was just about to say

Water Upon Fire 41

that I wanted my supper right away, so that when
Oliva comes back with the sheep, I can send Gigi to
lock them ip for the night and take her along with
me to have a look at the goat.




Doesn't that suit you, either?


And Oliva go without her supper, the poor darling?
She's had nothing since her shce of cheese this
morning! When you come back from watching the
sheep there's no reason in you. You want to eat at
once! . . . And God help us if the supper's not


Eh! . . . eh! . . . And now tell me that I'm not
fond of the girl! . . .

No, I didn't mean that . . . but . . .


''But'^what? . . . ''But" what? . . . When one
of the creatures is dying, it seems to me a body can
eat a half hour later. Isn't that so? . , j

[The tinkling of a hell is heard more and more
clearly — such a bell as the coalmen are
wont to hang from the neck of the first donkey

. in their little black caravan.

42 Water Upon Fire


[Looking in through the doorway.]
HowdMo, folks!


Good evening, Pippo!

[Very affably.]


How's the weather?


Bad! . . . The whole Poggio Orsaia has become
sullen, and in a little while it'll be pouring! ... A
regular cloudburst! Let me have my coat, Riga!
... I guess this time we can really say good-bye to
summer! [Goi7ig out to the donkeys.] Whoa, there!

[The tinkling of the hell suddenly ceases.]


[To Pippo as he returns.]

Here's your coat ... I sewed on that missing
button. [She goes out, looks at the sky and the sur-
rounding landscape.] But where's that ninny Oliva?


[Places his switch upon the table and puts on
his coat.]


Eh! She must have gone toward la Cocca. I told
her to! That's where you find such a fine big shade;
the animals like it far better than Tre Faggi.

Water Upon Fire 43


The rascal! ... So it was you? ... I thought
so . . . way up la Cocca! ... I called her so
long! . . . Bah! As if I were calling the moon!
. , . Let me relight my pipe.

[Goes to the fireplace, tends over the fire and
lights his pipe.]


[Who, in the meantime, has shut the window.]

The wretch! [Noticing Pippo bent over the fire.]
Couldn't you have asked me? I'd have Hghted it for
you without you going and soiling that handsome


Eh! . . . [Shaking himself.] Only ashes! Good
evening, folks. [He pauses upon the threshold. The
wind blows strongly. The first drops begin to fall] To'!
Here's the rain! Good-bye, pipe! [He raps his pipe
against the jamb of the door, then slowly puts it into the
cloak pocket.] I had a chestnut stick . . .

[Goes toward the table.]
[Suddenly takes the stick from the table.]
Here it is, Pippo.


[Takes his stick. As he walks toward the door,
he notices Gigi, who, ^eyes still closed, is
turning around on the pallet. He strikes
Gigi playfully, but fairly hard, and shouts.]

44 Water Upon Fire

Hey, there! When does day start for you?

[Goes out and stops once more, while Gtgi,
closing his eyes again, stretches and mutters
unintelligihle words in reply to Pippo's
friendly greeting.]

Hit him harder! ... Are you leaving, Pippo?

• • •


Yes, I'm going away . . . Give Oliva my regards
when she returns! [Turns hack a step, without entering
the hut.] By the way! I haven't any loads for my
donkeys on Sunday! . . . I'll take you to mass : you
and Oliva! . . . Tell OUva to be sure and be at
home ... If not, I'll get angry! [He leaves, almost
running in his heavy hoots.] Regards to everybody.

Whoa, there! ...


[As the helVs tinkling grows less and less
distinct, she waves good-bye to Pippo from
the doorway. Then she shuts the door without
locking it; the water makes the door creak.
Good-by-y-y-ye! [To Gigi, impetuously.] A fine
figure of a simpleton you are! You disgust every-
body! . . . Always on that cursed filthy pallet!
. . . I'll throw it into the ditch on you some fine
day. [To Bistone.] Well, then. Cut the bread. [She
gives him the hread and the knife, and Bistone slices it.]
Oh, [to Gigi again] I'm talking to you, Gigi! Wild
cat there, get up, in the Lord's name! I can't recall

Water Upon Fire 45

how tall you are! Won't you get up even for the


[Finally stirs.]

Hm! So you, too, Hsten to what that black snout
of a Pippo says! Fetch me the potatoes, mamma
. . . and better keep an eye on Oliva so that she
doesn't come to a bad end with that firebrand!


You must have had some terrible nightmare!
May the good Lord make you see the Hght some day.
I only hope that Oliva would take a hking to Pippo!
, , . [As she speaks, she places a plate of salad and
potatoes before Bistone, who falls at once to eating.]
He's what I call a man; not one of you contemptible
shepherds! Do you see how much money he makes
with those black sacks of his? I only hope that
simpleton of an Oliva will have him! Who can
tell what she's mooning about, that girl? Some
prince, no doubt! . . . All on account of those foolish
fables I used to tell her when she was a child! She
must be dreaming about her Prince Charming with a
golden helmet, mounted upon a black steed with a
silver saddle . . . who had heard of a beautiful
shepherdess . . . more beautiful than the queen
. . . and then set about seeking her amidst these
sooty hovels . . . and when he has found her, he
carries her off and shuts her up in . . .

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Online LibraryIsaac GoldbergPlays of the Italian theatre → online text (page 2 of 8)