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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1128

Previously recognized as a brilliant young scholar, Giovanni confesses to his tutor, Friar Bonaventura, that his love for his own sister, Annabella, is without limit. The friar warns Giovanni of eternal damnation if he does not forget this sinful lust and exhorts his young pupil to pray. Grimaldi, a Roman...

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Previously recognized as a brilliant young scholar, Giovanni confesses to his tutor, Friar Bonaventura, that his love for his own sister, Annabella, is without limit. The friar warns Giovanni of eternal damnation if he does not forget this sinful lust and exhorts his young pupil to pray. Grimaldi, a Roman gentleman, in Parma to court Annabella, fights with Vasques, the servant of Soranzo, a nobleman. Grimaldi, enraged, proclaims that he will be revenged on Soranzo for Vasques’s assault. Putana, Annabella’s tutor, tells the girl that she is fortunate to have Grimaldi and Soranzo wooing her; personally, the old nurse prefers Soranzo, a virile and wealthy man of twenty-three. Annabella does not care to hear of the virtues of any suitor, but she has no patience for Bergetto, a tiresome twit.

Giovanni tries prayers and fasting, but nothing alleviates his misery. It is not his lust, he feels, that leads him on, but his fate. He confesses to Annabella his love for her, and she admits that she also loves him. Their father, Florio, worries about his studious son’s health and has more hope for descendants from his daughter’s marriage; the father says he wants her to marry for love rather than wealth. Florio is receptive, however, when Donado promises large amounts of money if Florio will let Donado’s simple-minded nephew, Bergetto, pay court to Annabella. Giovanni and Annabella yield to their desires and become intimate; then they worry about being separated if she is forced to marry.

Hippolita, Soranzo’s former mistress, believing she was recently widowed, reminds Soranzo that he promised to marry her when her husband died. In frustration and anger at being rejected, Hippolita promises to revenge herself upon Soranzo. Vasques promises to assist Hippolita in gaining her revenge. A supposed doctor, recently come to Parma, is really Hippolita’s husband, Richardetto. He comes in disguise to spy on his wife. While Richardetto is suspicious of Annabella’s indifference to all men, he tells Grimaldi that Soranzo stands between him (Grimaldi) and Annabella’s heart; together they plot to kill Soranzo. Thus, Richardetto will have his own revenge on the man who cuckolds him.

Giovanni confesses his relationship with his sister to the friar. The friar is greatly shocked and warns Giovanni of damnation. Giovanni tries by sophistical reasoning to prove that the love he and his sister bear for each other is not wrong. The friar replies that the only thing they can do to save themselves is to have Annabella marry. Bergetto sends a letter and a jewel to Annabella, but she tells Donado that she will never marry his nephew. Donado makes her a gift of the jewel his nephew sent to her, but Bergetto stubbornly decides that he will continue to woo Annabella. When Giovanni sees his sister wearing the ring originally sent by Bergetto, he is tormented with jealousy.

Florio prefers Soranzo to Annabella’s other suitors, but Annabella tells Soranzo that he should give up his thought of marrying her. She attempts to console him by promising that if she has to accept any of her suitors, he would be the one to win her favor. Annabella discovers that she is pregnant, and Putana confides the news to her brother. Meanwhile, Florio decides that his daughter has to marry Soranzo and asks the friar to help win her over. Annabella confesses her intimacy with her brother to the friar, and he eloquently warns her of Hell and tells her that the only way to preserve her honor is to marry Soranzo. At last, she yields to his insistence.

At the same time, the plot between Grimaldi and Richardetto to kill Soranzo develops. Grimaldi, mistaking Bergetto for Soranzo, stabs him with a rapier that was coated with poison by the fake doctor. Vasques tells Hippolita that her former lover, his master, is now betrothed to Annabella and that the marriage will take place in two days. Hippolita renews her pledge to have revenge on the man she feels betrayed her. Soon, it is revealed that it is Grimaldi who killed Bergetto. He gives himself up to the cardinal, who grants him protection, in the name of the pope. Grimaldi explains that he intended to kill Soranzo, not the foolish Bergetto. Donado and Florio lament the absence of justice on Earth; none comes, even from churchmen.

After the marriage of Annabella to Soranzo, there is a lavish banquet, but the miserable Giovanni cannot hide his despair. Hippolita appears in a masque, but believing that she will not keep her side of the bargain they made, Vasques gives her the poisoned cup intended for his master; unknowingly, she drinks it. Realizing that she is poisoned by Vasques, Hippolita dies cursing Soranzo and his new bride. Soranzo learns that Annabella is pregnant by another man; she admits that she chose him not for love but to protect her honor. She refuses to tell him the name of her lover. In his rage, he draws his sword but is prevented from killing his young wife by the intervention of Vasques. Nevertheless, Soranzo contemplates revenge upon this woman he so recently loved. Putana unwittingly tells Vasques that Giovanni is the man who made Annabella pregnant. She then is gagged and kidnapped—and blinded—before she can warn Annabella. Vasques tells his master, Soranzo, the full truth.

Annabella, imprisoned in her room, gives the friar a letter for her brother warning him to repent and not to believe Soranzo. Meanwhile, Soranzo and Vasques plot to have revenge upon both Annabella and Giovanni. The friar gives Annabella’s letter, written in her own blood, to Giovanni. Soon after, Vasques invites Giovanni to a birthday feast that Soranzo is holding: The feast is merely a ploy to bring Soranzo’s revenge to fruition. Giovanni accepts the invitation; he feels that it does not matter what he does because his fate will find him.

Soranzo pays bandits to assist him in his plot. Giovanni, Florio, the cardinal, and other citizens of Parma come to the feast. Giovanni, sent by Soranzo to fetch her, talks passionately and despairingly with Annabella in her bed chamber. Giovanni stabs Annabella as they kiss. Giovanni enters the banquet room with Annabella’s heart on his dagger. At first, the assembly is too stunned to take him seriously. Wildly, he confesses to everyone of his sin with his sister. Vasques goes to Annabella’s room and returns to confirm that she is, indeed, murdered. Florio falls dead at the news.

Giovanni stabs Soranzo. Vasques and Giovanni fight, and the bandits rush in and fight Giovanni. Soranzo, realizing that he is mortally stabbed, dies telling Vasques not to let Giovanni survive him. Giovanni soon bleeds to death, however, bidding death welcome.

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