“Ogni finzione che mostri l’uomo in riposo morale è difforme dal vero”
(“Any fiction that represents man in peace of mind is a distortion of reality”).
These words from Manzoni’s notes on the literary genre of tragedy opened the theatrical adaptation of Storia della Colonna Infame (History of the Infamous Column) by Silvio Castiglioni and Giovanni Guerrieri that the students of 2H and 3G went to see at the Teatro San Giorgio on 11 March.
The original work is the appendix of I Promessi Sposi (The Betrothed) and is set in seventeenth-century Milan. It tells the true story of two men, Guglielmo Piazza and Gian Giacomo Mora, who were wrongly accused of spreading the plague, put on trial and sentenced to death. At this time people didn’t understand how the plague spread from person to person, and Manzoni explores how unfairly society, when faced with such a catastrophe, looks for someone to blame in order to put an end to the suffering and deaths. The superstitious idea had arisen among the people that the plague was passed on by malicious individuals called ‘untori’ who spread an infected oil on buildings, streets and items such as clothes. It was for this presumed crime that the two men were condemned. Afterwards a column was erected on the site of the house of one of the condemned men, and it is this column that gives its name to the title of Manzoni’s work. At first the column represented the infamy of the supposed crime, but later, when the true cause of the plague was understood, it came to represent the infamy of injustice and was destroyed in 1778.
The play was set in a dusty study in Milan. There were two performers, a man playing the role of a Professor reading extracts from Storia della Colonna Infame, and an unidentified woman who may have been his assistant, who listened while she did her knitting, prompting the Professor when he forgot his words and joining in the recitation. In the middle of the performance the Professor got up from his armchair and started building a column made of glass bottles, evoking the column of the title. The fact that it was made of glass symbolized fragility, perhaps the fragility of false accusation.
At the end of the performance the actors invited the audience to ask questions about what they had seen. This led to an interesting discussion about the reasons for the tormented way the Professor had read. He could not find peace of mind. He shared the same sense of unease and threat that Manzoni had felt when faced with innocent men wrongly accused by society. Perhaps he was so anxious to tell the story in order to prevent history from repeating itself. This is a message that encourages us to consider how even today we are inclined to blame people too quickly when we feel threatened by difficult situations.
di George Lotti 2^H