(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

At the court of Roberto, king of Sicily, at Palermo, where the arrival of an ambassador from the duke of Urbin is momentarily expected, the conversation of those waiting has turned to discussion of the sinister influence of Fulgentio, the king’s unworthy favorite, and of the soldierly qualities of Bertoldo, the king’s illegitimate half brother. Upon the arrival of the ambassador, the political situation is explained: The duke of Urbin, in love with the duchess of Siena but rejected by her, has attacked her territories. On the verge of defeat at the hands of the Sienese, he is appealing to Sicily for aid on the basis of a treaty of mutual assistance. King Roberto, however, maintains that the treaty has been rendered void by the aggressive action of the duke and that Sicily is not obligated to come to the rescue. This pacifistic attitude is abhorrent to the king’s half brother, Bertoldo, who in a fiery speech accuses the king of cowardice, claims that Sicily’s honor demands intervention, and urges the nobles to follow him to the relief of the duke. The king, angered by the speech, replies that any might volunteer who wishes, but that they will then cease to be his subjects and can expect no protection from him if fortune goes against them.

On that same day, at the house of Camiola, the maid is being plagued by the suit of one Sylli, a man of almost unbelievable conceit. He, however, leaves upon the arrival of Bertoldo, who has come to say farewell and to declare his own love. In spite of Camiola’s evident love for Bertoldo, she rejects his suit because, as a Knight of Malta, he is vowed to celibacy, nor can she be moved by his suggestion that a dispensation can be obtained. He leaves for the war with the determination to have honor as his only mistress.

The next day King Roberto learns of Bertoldo’s departure with his volunteers and is displeased at the news. Fulgentio, however, is delighted, for with Bertoldo gone he can pursue his own wooing of Camiola. On his arrival at her house he behaves in an overbearing manner toward all present, particularly her other suitors, Sylli and Adorni. Sylli faints, but Adorni is prepared to fight until restrained by Camiola. In a series of frank and witty speeches, Camiola tells Fulgentio exactly what she thinks of him and outlines his despicable character. He leaves, vowing to avenge himself by ruining her reputation by spreading scandal about her.

Meanwhile, in the territories of Siena, the forces of the duke of Urbin are still faring badly. Bertoldo and his Sicilian volunteers have arrived, but they cannot change the fortunes of war. In the ensuing battle they are captured. When...

(The entire section is 1088 words.)