I really hope I've put this in the right Casanova section.
Disclaimer: I claim no rights to the BBC production of Casanova, which stars Peter O'Toole and David Tennant.
I suppose, strictly speaking, this isn't fanfiction – it was a creative piece I wrote during my last year of school for the study of "Revenge Tragedy". But it was inspired by (and owes A LOT) to the BBC production of "Casanova", where the Revenge theme runsthroughout. It borrows the setting and a couple of character traits. And that ugly bald guy in the first episode. There are also many references to our set text, "The Revenger's Tragedy" by Tourneur.
Look at Venice at midnight. What do you see? Arching bridges, sparling pavements, yawning alleyways and waters lazily lapping away compose the frame for elegant lords and ladies, decked out in silk and lace. A playground of the gods.
But look closer. See the decay of the buildings, the crumbling statues and the insidious dark stains which should be mould. Venice is slowly sinking into the sea. And most of all – look at the back streets. At night they aren't lit by parties, they're lit by the fires of the homeless. That is where I was born – among the animals, the hay and the stench. It is where I will never return.
I used to hate my name – Vittoria – because it seemed to be mocking me. As a child, life constantly seemed to defeat me. It made me an orphan and forced me to pick pockets to survive. It made me easy prey to three men; one who ravaged my poor little girlish body and two who looked on and did nothing but laugh. The scars I bear from that wound cut deep into my memory, and are what gave me the iron will to continue on, to live up to my name and triumph over the old, bald Duke and his two brothers.
Venice is on the surface a man's world, so I had to devise a disguise for my femininity. I took the place of one of Venice's castrati, naming myself "Bellino", hoping to infiltrate the realms of the rich in this way. It wasn't hard; Venetians only know how to look at your hair and your clothes.
Singing for the court, aged nineteen. From my elevated stage it wasn't difficult to see the Duke, whose sickening swagger never left him. Serial seducer and chronic adulterer, nothing was capable of being repulsive enough to repel him. Greasily he approached, like a grotesque china doll, his head as smooth as an egg, his eyebrows painted on and his face as white as ash.
"Go on," he leaned rather too close, so I could smell his atrocious bad breath. "Admit it, you're a girl," he whispered.
My heart jumped into my throat, but I took a deep breath and coldly stuttered, "I'll – I'll take that as a…compliment on my voice, thankyou sir…" I then turned and went backstage. But he followed, and once we were behind the curtains he pinned me to the wall and put his hand on me.
"You have the breast of a girl!" The nightmare made a nauseating return.
"It's the curse of a castrato," I protested. "And what you're looking for is blasphemy!" Now older and stronger, this time I managed to wrench myself free and run off into the night, away from his irreverent shouting and swearing.
I retreated to my haven – under the bridge, where the patterns projected themselves onto the walls by moonlight. It was invaded only once – by a girl, perhaps a little older, dressed in scarlet. Dripping rubies from her ears, as well as a woody, earthy scent.
I stood up in a combination of shock and fear. "Miss…"
She held out her hand. "Henriette." So she had the dress of a duchess but not the airs. "I heard – I saw – you and the Duke – are you all right?"
"I'm fine, really, why are you worried?"
"The Duke stops at nothing. I know because I'm the result of one of his sins."
My jaw dropped at such openness, not native to Venice.
"You can trust me – the both of us have to pretend to the rest of the city, but not to each other."
"I need your help – I'm planning to avenge my mother's honour…"
"Hold on, you're a girl, shouldn't you be leaving that to the job of, say, your father? An uncle? A brother?"
"Women can do everything men can – you must know – and I think we're even better than them."
"You're a girl, aren't you?"
"What prize would you like?"
"I don't want a prize – I need your help. If we work together we can remove the Duke from Venice."
"And while we're at it," I considered, "Those monstrous brothers of his shouldn't be allowed to live either."
"Yes – and that intolerable sour-faced duchess!"
"And their offspring – the idiots, asses, pigs, cows, chickens…"
Henriette and I dabbled in witchcraft. Poison is the favourite of witches because it purges the victim from the inside out and works invisibly. I lured the Duke backstage on the pretence I had changed my mind. He offered me a new proposition; I offered him wine and watched him collapse.
"Witchcraft!" he heaved, dragging himself like a beast across the floor towards me as the poison began to paralyse his limbs. I took over and dragged him outside. Just before Henriette swept over to give me a hand, he gasped out, "All right! You're a boy – no girl would be strong enough…"
"You're a shameless villain," I sneered. "And also, now you know how it feels." We kept dragging him towards the nearest canal. Henriette and I pushed his body close to the water's edge.
"Feels to what?"
"Be helpless. Did you ever think of those girls (I assumed there must be many more besides myself) whose innocence you broke? Had you no mercy? Or did you ever think of all those mothers who had to live in disgrace because of you? Or the children – whose crime was being born? You never thought, did you, because you're too damn thick…"
"…And you!" the Duke addressed Henriette.
She spat on him. "Yes, the bastard. Bet you'd never have thought I could do it. Oh and by the way, she's a girl too." She kicked the corpse of the Duke into the canal. "Oh I'm sorry – I promise, I'll let you do the honours next time…we still have a fair way to go!"
We had just as much fun poisoning the duke's brothers, although by that stage we'd decided the waters of Venice were foul enough. Theirs was a slow-acting venom, one that would take several weeks to infuse into their veins and nerves, eventually stopping their hearts. It always brought a smile to our faces to watch them going about their day-to-day business without a thought for what was going on inside them. Henriette busied herself with cooking up a contagious brew that would give the impression that a kind of plague snatched the brood.
So then there was just one thing – the duke's wife – and it was my turn in the grand plan of our revenge. I knew she had grown tired of her husband and wasn't particularly mortified to be widowed, although she hadn't yet come close to living up to the duke's reputation. It's ironic; Venice is one of those cities famous for its lovers, and yet marriage here is frequently for anything but love.
I felt like a bolder parody of Romeo, climbing her garden walls, and then over onto her balcony, and finally into her room. The duchess flew to me, threw her arms around me and was just about to plant a kiss on me before I dug my dagger deep into her back.
She sank to her knees as if in prayer and began confessing. "I'm really not sorry that old bastard went and disposed of himself. In fact I've been having an affair with his manservant for half a year. I'm not sorry that my son died; he was an idiot and a pain and he hated me. Is this what you want to hear? Are you some instrument of God?"
"I'm not a saint," I snapped. "I've given up my place among the angels in favour of a higher calling. I never liked singing that much anyway. Just do me a favour and die."
"But why?" I'll have to admit I was somewhat surprised by her reply.
I threw my wig on the ground and shook my real hair, long and curly, out in a dark cloud around my face. "I'm a girl! Can you believe it? Hah! My name is Vittoria!"
"No you aren't," the duchess weakly replied, the blood pooling around her, having stained her white nightgown. "You may not be a man, but you're not a woman either. You're a wolf – you go out hunting for sport – for blood to drink like we drink wine. And I don't know what you're going to do next, but what I do know is that you're going to end up ravaged yourself, fighting like animals…"
"What would you know of being ravaged," I snarled, and plunged the knife into her heart.
"Aren't you tired of this yet?" I knelt by the water, washing my face, hands and sleeves of blood, talking to Henriette, who was behind me under the bridge. "I haven't slept in weeks," I admitted.
"Sleep is for the week," she tossed her hair, showing off what I couldn't do in public. "If you want power, then you have to make sacrifices."
"What's left for us now?" I searched her eyes for an answer.
"Rule Venezia," she rolled her r's, her eyes blazing.
"We're women, we can't do that," I laughed.d
"Can we?" she challenged. "The throne is clear for my fiancée now."
"Who's he?" I choked.
"You'll find out at the next ball where you'll be singing; I'll make a point to introduce you to him."
"You never told me, traitor," I shrank away. "What else have you been hiding? Three charming illegitimate children?"
"Oh you're jealous now, I knew you would be," she began to circle me. "Now you see you've just been my pawn in all the game and you don't like it, do you? No – you'll never fulfil your ambitions in the court because you're a girl disguised as a boy. But I, being myself, can work my feminine magic through those men who have the illusion of power but are so very easily ruled…"
I kept walking around too; I never let myself turn away from her face, which was now as white and cold as alabaster. "I thought we were allies…I just thought…maybe even friends, I'd never had a friend before and…" the tears sprang to my eyes. Life had dealt me another unfair blow.
"No," she took a step backwards. "I've got an enemy now," she drew out a gun which she had been hiding beneath the voluminous folds of her dress. "I know what you're capable of – you're more dangerous than any of my male friends – and I can't risk you…"
Henriette is the reason I had to leave Venice. I could no longer live with the sight of the reddish, blackening stain on the bricks under the bridge where I used to play.
I don't know how long Revenge Tragedy will continue to be offered for the Extension 1 English in the HSC, but I hope it stays. It was by far my favourite English module (my least favourite was the Area of Study aka Journeys) and this concept, which I used for many different creative questions, got me consistent 24s and 25s. I thought those of you still doing it might appreciate something to bounce ideas off.
When I found this the other day, clearing out my computer, I got all nostalgic and wanted to preserve it so I could find it again and relive the feeling when I first wrote this all down – it really poured out of me in the space of a day after watching the delicious David Tennant – and my teacher didn't see it until I used it in my Trials, and she was pleasantly surprised, since I'd essentially been a lazy bum when it came to creatives (I kept handing her long-winded Revenge essays, not short stories)Oh, the memories.
P.S. I never could quite figure out who the old bald guy was – the one with the heart on the back of his head? So I took the liberty of making him a Duke for the sake of intertextuality. There's also a Love Actually reference in here if you can find it ;)