Arbery: Drama and Fiction, Old and New

Now We Are Pope: Frederick Rolfe in Venice

July 3, 2020

Now We Are Pope; Frederick Rolfe in Venice by Martin Foreman

26 October 1913  

Alone in his room in a palazzo in Venice on the last day of his life, writer Frederick Rolfe ("Baron Corvo") reflects on the past, his thoughts spiritual and carnal, his memories caustic and unforgiving. A devout Catholic, although hostile to those of that faith, he never forgets that he, like the hero of his most famous novel, Hadrian VII, should have been made Pope.  

Now We Are Pope draws on Rolfe's writings - both his fiction, which often depicted real people lightly disguised, and his letters, which included malicious gossip and explicit descriptions of sexual encounters. All the characters mentioned in the play were real, except Septimus Scaptia, who appears in an unfinished novel, and Jeremiah Sant, who plays a key role in Hadrian VII's life. Ermenegildo Vianello ("Zildo") was a young gondolier whom Rolfe met soon after he arrived in Venice.

The play was first presented in London and Edinburgh in 2014 with Christopher Annus as Rolfe. The playscript is available from Arbery Books

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