(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

Twenty-four lovely maidens were in love with two gondoliers of Venice. In order to be fair, the two young gondoliers, Marco and Giuseppe Palmieri, had themselves blindfolded and then each caught a girl. The lucky ones were Gianetta and Tessa, and the two couples went off to be married.

A short time later the Duke of Plaza-Toro, a Grandee of Spain, arrived with his duchess and his daughter Casilda. They were accompanied by the duke’s attendant, Luiz. The duke had come to Venice penniless, to pay his respects to the Grand Inquisitor and to learn the whereabouts of Casilda’s husband. For much to that young lady’s surprise, her father told her now that she had been married when a baby to the son of the King of Barataria. The king had become a bigoted Wesleyan Methodist and the Grand Inquisitor, to punish the turncoat king, had spirited his baby son away to Venice. Now the king was dead, killed in an uprising of his people, and the son, Casilda’s husband, was entitled to the throne.

Casilda heard the news with mixed emotions. She would like to be queen but, unknown to the duke and duchess, she and the attendant Luiz were lovers. Luiz knew something of the story which had so surprised Casilda, for his mother, Inez, had been the baby prince’s nurse. But Luiz could not persuade Casilda to renounce the marriage; the prospect of being a queen was stronger than love. But when the Grand Inquisitor received the duke and his wife and daughter, he had confusing news. He had given the baby to a worthy gondolier, to be reared with that man’s own son. The gondolier had died from drink and gout, and the children, also gondoliers, could not be told one from another. However, the nurse to whom the young prince had been entrusted still lived. She would be sent for in the hope that she could identify the rightful king. Should she have difficulty making a decision, she would be tortured until she chose the right one.

The Grand Inquisitor thought the problem was almost solved. Coming upon Marco and Giuseppe and their new brides, he announced that one of them was the King of Barataria. Since he was not sure of the rightful king, a matter which could not be determined before the nurse arrived and settled the point, they must both go to Barataria and rule as one.


(The entire section is 936 words.)