This Week’s Prompt: 74. Italian revenge—killing self in cell with enemy—under castle.
The Resulting Story: The Wound
Revenge is a common motive in folktales and modern media, and covering the entire breadth of it here would be quite impossible. Even the specificity of “Italian” revenge would make cover the wide range of hauntings, heroes, and deceptions undertaken for revenge over a slight difficult to summarize in one article. However, I have found a few cases of revenge in Italian folklore that are of interest, and luckily that involve castles. I have yet to find a version of this specific prompt, so kudos to Mr. Lovecraft in that regard—if you know of a story such as this, where suicide is used to get revenge on an enemy by framing him for the murder, please let me know!
That does seem to be the plan at work here. Our protagonist, in a fashion reminiscent of Poe’s own Italian revenge tale, has opted to go to extremes to make his enemy suffer. He thus lures his enemy beneath the castle, and commits suicide alone with the enemy. Done properly, this frames the enemy for murder, condemning and ruining his life. In fact, more elaborate plans might frame the enemy for even more crimes, damning his entire line.
The stories that might have most inspired this tale are of course Poe’s Cask of Amontillado, Castle Orlanto, and perhaps the Count of Mote Christo. Reaching a bit more, the story that this reminded me most of was Count Ugolino—an Italian noble who features prominently in Dante’s Inferno. Ugolino was a Count of Pisa, who in life was accused of treason for the cities disorders, and served for several years as the most powerful man in Pisa during the war with Genoa. Ugolino rejected peace terms, which would have brought back many persons in political opposition. Later in life, Pisa was hit with fiancial troubles and bread riots—during one of which Ugolino killed the nephew of the Archbishop. The Archbishop rallied the populace, and tried to burn the town hall Ugolino was having his meeting in. After Ugolino’s illegitimate child committed suicide, Ugolino and his sons were sealed in the tower. The Archbishop had the keys thrown into a river.
The rest of the story picks up form Dante, that the three were starving. And in a moment of tragedy and horror, the sons asked their father to eat them after their deaths, to preserve himself.
Father our pain’, they said,
‘Will lessen if you eat us you are the one
Who clothed us with this wretched flesh: we plead
For you to be the one who strips it away’.
This resulted in the count dying of grief shortly after, descending to Hell and the ice as a betrayer of kin. The story recalls to me, both in it’s art and arc, some of the more monstrous stories of ogres and titans. At least Ugolino in hell is allowed to gnaw on the treacherous bishops skull in the frozen wasteland.
Stories of revenge from Rome are more elaborate. Amadea’s story begins with her happy marriage to a rich husband—the only issue being the opposition of her brother and father. Amadea, as a proper woman, brutally killed her brother, chopped his limbs off, and threw them at her father. While the display certainly prevented her father from stopping her, it made her husband uneasy. The newlyweds leaved peacefully for a time, happily even. They had two young children even. But as the children grew, their father remembered the crime, and ran off.
When Amadea learned of this, she also learned that her husband had taken on a suitor. While her husband refused to let her meet her rival—after all, Amadea had brutally murdered once, she might again—he did allow her to send a set of pearls to the woman. Amadea had woven a poison into these, however, with her witchcraft. While these were on the way to her rival, she asked her husband to see their children for one hour. This her husband granted. That was a mistake. Amadea hugged her children and then, telling them that her love of them was too great, stabbed them before her husband’s eyes. In the next instant, she stabbed herself, and her husband died of grief on the spot.
Another story, from Castle Poppi, tells of Matlida. Matlida was married, but not fond of her husband—it was a political marriage, and little love was between them. So she would send for handsome young men from the villages nearby, for comfort or for repairs. When evening came, she would take one of these young men to her chambers—and in the morning, to hid her adultery, she would drop them into a pit of glass and razor blades. When her crimes were discovered, a mob sealed Matilda in one of the castle walls, were she starved. She haunts the place to this day.
The Shakespearean story of Othello draws from Italian works on revenge as well—although like the Poe story, the motives of Iago are not overtly stated. The vengeance here is more long term, and certainly more through then the others, collapsing Othello’s reputation and entire life around him. Its scale is comparable to Amadea’s vengance in that regard. Based in scorn love and so thorough as to destroy the victim and criminal.
Comparable further is the bloody and brutal Titus Andronicus. That story begins with the sacrifice of the sons of a German queen Tamora, in vengeance for the death of his sons in the war. Tamora eventually becomes empress, and she and her sons execute a cruel vengeance of rape and murder upon most of Titus’s family. Titus in turn invites the Emperor and Tamora to dinner…and arranges their death, having served them the remains of Tamora’s surviving son. Poison and blood ensue, resulting in the most deadly play Shakespeare wrote.
These tales of vengeance all maintain a motive of passion, often a betrayal of affections and close bonds—Poe’s friendship, Amadea and Othello’s love, and Ugolino’s betrayal of familial bonds. This reminds me of the story from the Balkans about the internment of a bride (here), that the betrayal of deep trust is the most painful and arguably resonant. Matlida’s murders are a strange, reverse Bluebeard—the internment is the main connection I see to the notion of the prompt.Our plot needs then at least two characters in any detail.
Another element I notice, in both Othello and Poe, is that the revenge is rather one sided. In the case of a rival lured to their doom, this seems more valid then Amadea’s. The victim being unaware of the approaching doom makes this more believable to me—unless we go with the notion that our mastermind has offered peace talks on false pretenses. That might be enough to bring them, but I don’t know if it would work to bring them alone.
No, alone and with no other witnesses seems to require something more.So, we will need to set up the feud—one sided as it might be—early in the story, and two characters that are at odds. It might work better to have asides—flash backs, or just the private thoughts of the murderer—building to that scene of suicide. I’ll have to re-read some of those earlier stories to see how they employ brevity. All in all I think we have a good short Gothic horror story from this.
Busk, R. H. Roman Legends: A Collection of Fables and Folk-Lore from Rome. Estes and Lauriat, 1877.
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