The Cenci



  • A tragedy in verse by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 - 1822).Published in 1819, it was banned by the Lord Chamberlainand first performed in 1886 in Paris. In 1888 it was given a singleprivate performance in London by the Shelley Society, with Alma Murrayas Beatrice. Although Shelley provided some of the best dramatic versesince the Jacobeans, the play was never a great success, owing toits lack of dramatic action and a style and construction that provokedunflattering comparisons with Shakespeare (although Shelley said hismain influence was Calderón).

    Despite this, it has often been revived, notably by SybilThorndike in 1922 and again in 1926. The former productionwas the first at the New Theatre under the management of Thorndikeand her husband Lewis Casson. It was during one of the matinees thatGeorge Bernard Shaw, wanting to write a drama about Joanof Arc, saw Thorndike in the trial scene and told his wife, "I'llwrite the play now. I've found the woman who can play it." Ayear later she became famous in the title role of Saint Joan(1923). In the Cassons's 1926 production of The Cenci, theygave the 18-year-old Laurence Olivier the minor role of Orsino'sservant (27 words) after Olivier's father asked them to keep an eyeon his son.

    The plot is based on the true story of Beatrice Cenci's trialand execution in 1599 for the murder of her father, Count FrancescoCenci. Shelley emphasized his wickedness and the sufferings of Beatrice.