Lucrezia Borgia

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Lucrezia Borgia is the name of a historic figure, as well as the title of a large number of dramatic works telling or based on the history of the character.

The name also occurs as Lucrezia Borgia, Lucrèce Borgia, or Lucretia Borgia.

Lucrezia Borgia (1480–1519)[1]: the person

Lucrezia Borgia (1480–1519)[2] was a Spanish-Italian noblewoman of the House of Borgia and the daughter of Pope Alexander VI and Vannozza dei Cattanei. Born on 18 April 1480 she reigned as the Governor of Spoleto, a position usually held by cardinals, in her own right. She had several marriages that advanced the family's political position including marriages to Giovanni Sforza, Lord of Pesaro and Gradara, Count of Catignola; Alfonso of Aragon, Duke of Bisceglie and Prince of Salerno; and Alfonso I d'Este, Duke of Ferrara. Tradition has it that Alfonso of Aragon was an illegitimate son of the King of Naples and that her brother Cesare Borgia may have had him murdered after his political value waned. Lucrezia died on 24 June 1519.

Rumors about her and her family cast Lucrezia as a femme fatale, a role in which she has been portrayed in many artworks, novels and films.

(For more information, see also the Wikipedia entry on "Lucrezia Borgia" at

Stage representations of the story of Lucrezia Borgia

Numerous works have been published about Lucrezia Borgia, but below we discuss such stage texts as have been seen in South Africa.

Often the works are billed (orf at least referred to) simply by the name of the character, even though the actual (full) title may be longer. This, of course, at times makes identifying the precise text used a little difficult.

Lucrèce Borgia by Victor Hugo (1833)

A French play by Victor Hugo (1802-1885)[3], based on the various stories about of Spanish-Italian noblewoman , Hugo's play consists of 15 scenes in 3 acts. It was initially called Le Festin à Ferrare ("the feast at Ferrara") and was written in July of 1832, possibly being altered slightly before the production. The play was first performed at the Théâtre de la Porte-Saint-Martin on 2 February, 1833, with the mise en scène by Hugo himself with the leading actor, Frédérick Lemaitre, and music by Alexandre Piccinni. The text was published in Paris by Eugène Renduel, 1833.

Hugo's version of the story led to a number of other stage versions, including Donizetti's famous opera and a play by J.M. Weston - both produced in South Africa.

Lucrezia Borgia by Donizetti (1833)

Lucrezia Borgia[4] is an opera in a prologue and two acts by Gaetano Donizetti's (1797-1848)[5]. The Italian libretto was written by Felice Romani, who based it on the play by Victor Hugo.

The opera was first performed on 26 December 1833 at La Scala, Milan and had its first London production at Her Majesty's Theatre, London, on 6 June 1839.

Lucretia Borgia by J.M. Weston (1844)

The French text was adapted as a three act English drama called Lucretia Borgia ("A Drama in Three Acts : Adapted from the French of Victor Hugo ") by John M. Weston (fl. mid 19th century), an American stage manager and comedian in New Orleans, and first produced professionally in the St Charles Theatre, New Orleans in 1844 by the author himself. It then played at the Fedral Street Theatre, and various other venues in Boston from 1847 onwards, and made its Broadway appearance in 1855. The text first published in New York by Samuel French (as no CCL of French's Standard Drama, circa 1865) and in London by J. Dicks (circa 1880).

Lucrezia Borgia! At Home and All Abroad by Buckingham (1860)

Written by Leicester Silk Buckingham (1825–1867)[6], it was first performed at the Royal St James's Theatre, London, on 9 April, 1860, with music arranged by Frederick Kingsbury and George Hayward. It was a burlesque of Donizetti’s opera and targeted the high rate of income tax that was at the time so upsetting to the middle classes.

The text was published by Thomas Hailes Lacy in the same year, the work being billed as "A new and original burlesque in one act", and referred to in the text as a "Lucrezia Borgia Travestie".

Lucretia Borgia, M.D., or La Grande Doctresse by Byron (1868)

Lucretia Borgia, M.D., or La Grande Doctresse is described as "An original burlesque extravaganza. Founded on a famous opera" by Henry James Byron (1835–1884)[7]. First performed in the Theatre Royal at Holborn on 28 October, 1868, and published by Thomas Hailes Lacy in Lacy's Acting Edition of Plays. vol. 87, in 1871.

Performance history in South Africa

Performances of plays and burlesques

1865: A piece titled Lucretia Borgia was performed by the Le Roy-Duret Company in Port Elizabeth as part of a short season while they stopped there en route from Mauritius to Cape Town. They apparently opened with this play, as they would also do the following year in Cape Town. (For the text used by the company, see below.) Besides , the cast consisted of Miss José, Mattie Aldrich, W.G. Browne and E. Clifton

1866: Performed once more as Lucretia Borgia by the Le Roy-Duret Company in the Harrington Street Theatre, Cape Town, on 29 January, with A Duel in the Dark (Coyne) as afterpiece. Bosman (1980) suggests this was probably the Weston version, though the next performance (on the 15th of March) bills it as a "laughable Ethiopian farce", which seems to suggest that it was rather a burlesque version of the Donizetti opera. Given the company's normal fare of burlesque-style plays, the latter sounds the more likely, and given the date of production, they probably used Buckingham's text of Lucrezia Borgia! At Home and All Abroad. The production was apparently very well received.

1866: What appears to have been billed as "the third and fourth acts" of Lucretia Borgia were performed by the Le Roy-Duret Company in the Harrington Street Theatre, Cape Town, on 16 July, in a composite programme that also included the "balcony scene" from Romeo and Juliet, the last act of Fazio, and The Turned Head. As none of the dramatized versions discussed above actually have more than three acts, this almost assuredly refers to two scenes from the Buckingham burlesque (the text of which describes Scene Three as set in a "public square in Ferrara" and Scene Four in "a street in Ferrarra", the latter including a "Terrific Broadsword Combat!".)

1867: Performed as Lucretia Borgia by the Le Roy-Duret Company in the Harrington Street Theatre, Cape Town, on 31 January, with Mrs Green's Snug Little Business (Cheltnam) as afterpiece.

Performances of the opera

1869: Performed tin the Mutual Hall, Cape Town by the Miranda-Harper Company on 15 and 19 October, with a cast that included David Miranda, Mrs Leffler, Annette Hirst, James Leffler, and Henry Harper.


Facsimile version of the Samuel French edition of the English text by Weston, Hathi Trust Digital Library[8]

Facsimile version of Byrons' burlesque, Google E-book[9]

Transcript version of the 1860 text of Buckingham's burlesque, The Victorian Plays Project[10]

F.C.L. Bosman. 1980. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel II, 1856-1912. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: pp.201-3, 206-7, 210-211, 220, 222, 294, 298.

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