Tracking Changes in Mitford’s Rienzi

ICR 2019 in Manchester,

31 July 2019 @ 3:45 - 5:15pm

Elisa Beshero-Bondar and Dorothea Lint


Mary Russell Mitford (1787-1855)

  • Trailblazer for professional women writers across genres
  • Digital Mitford project 

Drama Module

Under development:

  • Critical editions tracking changes before and after theater production
  • Printable production script
  • Web comparison views highlighting revisions

1890 Chicago playbill

 Mary Russell Mitford’s Rienzi (1828)

  • Most successful of her plays
    • 34 productions, Drury Lane Theatre Royal (London), fall 1828
    • international staging (England / US) throughout 19c
  • Two available mss from 1828
    • Examiner's copy
      • “Allowed” by George Colman (Examiner's office) 4 Oct 1828
    • Prompt Book MS rescripted for blocking and production
      • dated for first performance , 8 Oct 1828

From Cola di Rienzo to Rienzi 

  • 18th c. resources:
    • Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire 
    • Abbe de Sade‘s Life of Petrarch
    • Philosophical interest in cycles of history

Statue of Cola di Rienzo in Rome

  • 14th c. populist leader of short-lived bloodless coup against robber-barons in Rome (1347)
    • Admired by Petrarch (friend / correspondent)
  • Mitford‘s adaptation for the 1820‘s: 
    • high ideals to overthrow robber-barons,
    • restore/reunify ancient glory of Rome
    • marked fall to tyranny
    •  resonates with Napoleon, Luddite rebellions
    • 1820s fragmented Italian city-states
      • Austrian rule
      • Risorgimento resistance
      • tenuous cause of ”liberty”
  • Later adaptations: Rienzi as great leader, heroic martyr
    • Bulwer-Lytton’s novel (1835)
    • Richard Wagner's opera (1840-42)

Rienzi in the 19th Century

Textual complexities: Whose vision of Rienzi? 

  •  between Mary Mitford, William Macready, Charles Kemble
    • 1822 - 1828: Mitford pivots btw Macready and Kemble to bring out her play
    • Likely several distinct earlier drafts prior to 1828
      • Macready's drastic demands for alterations (1824)
      • Upsets on both sides (Philodramaticus letter in Blackwoods)
      • Did Macready act abroad in an earlier version of Rienzi in 1826? (Vera Watson biography)
  • Prompt Book at Houghton Library (PBMS)
    •  Remixing of the Examiner's MS  (EMS at BL) in Mitford's hand
    • Authenticating letter at front of PBMS indicating PBMS is in Macready's hand
    • Our project: document analysis of EMS vs PBMS to help determine how to work it into Digital Mitford text encoding
    • Detailed ”scrapbook” record of changes:



Rienzi: overview

  • Rienzi, scholar of lowly origins (son of a washerwoman), seeks to restore the glory of ancient Rome.
    • Reads tombstone inscriptions of a fallen empire to passersby.
    • Citizens are weak/vulnerable to robber barons who have divided Rome among them, and are above any laws
  •  Angelo Colonna (son of a noble family) secretly courts Claudia, Rienzi’s daughter
    • (Colonna => Roman column, ancient pillar of the state)
    • Ursini, Savelli, Frangipani (other nobles): lawless, same station as Colonnas.
    • Colonnas used to support Rienzi as their tutor
  • Angelo is one of Rienzi’s first eager followers in his bloodless coup
    • Angelo marries Claudia at apex of Rienzi’s power
    • Marriage and allegiance fall apart as Rienzi and nobles feud
    • Nobles uprising, execution of Angelo precipitates fall of Rienzi

Prompt book alterations

  • Incidental punctuation / capitalization changes (semicolons vs commas)
  • Significant changes in punctuation (question mark to exclamation point)
  • Stage directions adding physical movement, contact, violence
  • Changes to emotional emphasis
  • Changes in pacing of dialogue
  • Reducing Rienzi‘s speeches
  • Adding to female characters' parts (Claudia and Lady Colonna)
  • Blocking / staging cues; detailed stage directions

Introducing stage objects explicitly

Examiner's Copy Manuscript  (EMS)

Prompt Book (PBMS)

Rienzi's first entrance (Act 1)


EMS: (dialogue only about the stone)


Stage directions adding violence 

Compressing a speech / Adding action

EMS (Act 4)

PBMS: Gives Frangipani's question to Ursini as rhetorical question

EMS: (Act 5) deleted passage includes ”bold eye”, replaced by ”fidelity”.

PBMS: cut passage pinned to page, indicated in quotation marks

PBMS: “fidelity” struck out and replaced with “bold eye”; metamark indicating cut passage

Act 4 Overview

  • Wedding feast: Angelo Colonna marries Claudia Rienzi
    • Masquers to perform / Power play
      • Who controls the masquers? (Rienzi or the nobles?)
      • Nobles plot to kill Rienzi here
      • Rienzi is alerted in advance
      • Asks what penalty for treason? Nobles answer, “Death”.
      • Arrests nobles for treason, issues penalty of death
      • Then releases them; forces them to Lateran Church
  • Lateran Church scene: not staged but discussed by nobles afterwards
    • Nobles forced to swear allegiance to Rienzi as Tribune of Rome
  • Angelo confronts Rienzi, begins to shift allegiance
  • Claudia seeks to understand what‘s happening to her father and her marriage

Act 4: Most heavily altered act in the play!

Assembling a prompt book: “Cut and paste” pinned extensions

Pinned pieces

  • Usually old material, suggestions for cuts?
  • Sometimes new material

EMS: passage marked for deletion, metamark pointing to an alternate version

PBMS: much compressed version of deleted passage (preserved parts of EMS highlighted)

PBMS: cut passage (pinned on facing page)

“Did ye think the people could spare their Tribune?”

EMS: alternate passage marked to replace the previous slide's deleted speech by Rienzi

(not represented in PBMS)

“I soar / Too high above ye.”

EMS: long cut speech, backstory on Rienzi, remains cut in PBMS

PBMS: altered word, and stage direction

EMS: Deleted lines for Rienzi

PBMS: Compressed beyond the deletions in EMS

PBMS: Cut passage pinned to page

Expanding the Women's Parts: Acts 4 and 5

EMS: Claudia asks about Angelo‘s delay

PBMS: Added question from Claudia:

“and wherefore went ye / To the Lateran dear father?”

Compression of Rienzi's answer?

EMS: “Claudia Colonna! . . .Rouse thee! Help me curse / Him who hath slain thy husband!”: (gets cut and moved to later in PBMS)

PBMS: heavily revised, concentrates on the axe blow to Angelo

PBMS: optional extension 1, pinned to page

PBMS: optional extension 1?   Axe blow ”butcher stroke”

PBMS: optional extension 2? next page:  ”writhe not thus my Claudia”

EMS: “Think‘st thou I came here to crush / Yon feeble worm?”: Short speech by Lady Colonna

PBMS: extended passages marked for insertion

PBMS at this point, multiple pinned passages

PBMS: Adding new speeches for Lady Colonna

First speech by Lady C is in EMS

The rest, with extensive cursing, is new.


”Live till Rome /

Hurl thee from thy proud seat, live but to prove / The extasy of scorn...”


PBMS: abbreviated ending, with optional expansion?

End of the play: Is Claudia going to live?

PBMS: Expanded version pinned to page

PBMS: added blocking. On immediately facing page on left: marked for inclusion: ”A Crimson Chair”

EMS (Act 4 Scene 1)

Stage Blocking

PBMS: “Disposition of the Characters at the fall of the Curtain”

Tracking Changes in Mary Russell Mitford's Rienzi

By Elisa Beshero-Bondar

Tracking Changes in Mary Russell Mitford's Rienzi

a slide presentation on Mary Russell Mitford's Rienzi as it was altered for performance for Drury Lane theater in London in 1828.

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