The Pope’s Daughter

Written by Dario Fo
Review by Kristen Hannum

Lucrezia Borgia was Pope Alexander VI’s daughter. One of the most famous women in history, she was the beautiful victim of her corrupt, murderous family, made into a villainess by history in much the same way a raped woman may be stoned in some parts of the world. Lucrezia (1480-1519) was wife to three men, all arranged marriages meant to further her father’s ambitions. Barely into her teens, she married Giovanni Sforza. When that marriage was no longer advantageous to Alexander, Sforza barely made it out with his life (Lucrezia saved him, according to Fo). In 1498, she married Alfonso of Aragon. Her brother, Cesare, was implicated in Aragon’s murder in 1500. Alfonso d’Este, Duke of Ferrara, was her third husband.

The 2013 Showtime series, The Borgias, and Sarah Dunant’s 2013 novel Blood and Beauty: The Borgias brought Lucrezia to life. In The Pope’s Daughter, playwright and actor Dario Fo rather brings her to counterpoint. In this clever farce, readers follow Lucrezia through a series of scenes, as though on a stage, with the narrator’s arch voice always present. Each set has a title, for instance: “And at this point we’ll have to come up with a new skit. As long as it’s not clownish.” Machiavelli is liberally quoted, and the pages are also peppered with the 88-year-old Fo’s own excellent paintings of the characters. Lucrezia is sympathetically drawn; other characters, if not sympathetic, are understandable and rounded.

Despite its odd, theatrical dialog, the author’s brilliance inspires awe and appreciation for his jests. Should you read it, you too will be reading a Nobel Prize-winner’s stylish, political debut novel and getting the jokes. That, however, is a far distance from being immersed in story. The Pope’s Daughter is an amusing read – just know what you’re getting into.