The Cenci: A Tragedy in Five Acts

by Percy Bysshe Shelley

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 319

Count Francesco Cenci

Count Francesco Cenci (frahn-CHEHS-koh CHEHN-chee), a Roman nobleman who lives to make people suffer. His special target for punishment is his family. He persecutes his sons—two of whom are sent to Salamanca to die—his wife, and his daughter Beatrice, against whom he commits unmentionable crimes. Finally, he is assassinated, but even in death his baleful influence continues: His wife and daughter, though literally innocent, die for his murder.

Count Orsino

Count Orsino (ohr-SEE-noh), a nobleman turned priest who is responsible for much of the scheming that takes place in the play. He loves Beatrice but betrays her when she is tried for her father’s murder. He hires assassins to kill Cenci and abandons them when they are caught. He betrays Beatrice’s brother, Giacomo, to the Roman police. Orsino escapes punishment by disguising himself and fleeing the scene when the officials close in.


Lucretia (lew-KREH-chee-ah), Cenci’s wife and Beatrice’s stepmother. She helps the assassins by giving Cenci a sleeping potion. After languishing a long time in prison, she is executed for her part in her husband’s assassination.


Beatrice, Cenci’s daughter, the chief object of his persecution. She loves Count Orsino. She is executed along with her stepmother.


Giacomo (jee-AH-koh-moh), Cenci’s son, whose wife’s dowry the father takes. After the assassination, Orsino tricks Giacomo, and the son is caught by the police.


Bernardo, Cenci’s youngest son, who pleads at the papal court for the lives of his sister and stepmother. His petition is rejected.


Olimpio and


Marzio, assassins hired by Orsino to murder Cenci. After some hesitation, they strangle the sleeping nobleman.


Savella (sah-VEHL-lah), an official of the papal court who comes to arrest Cenci for his crimes. Finding the count dead, Savella launches the investigation that exposes the Cenci family and the assassins as participants in Cenci’s murder.

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