Venice Preserved

by Thomas Otway

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Jaffeir, formerly the servant of Priuli, a senator of Venice, secretly woos and marries Belvidera, Priuli’s daughter. For three years the couple live comfortably and blissfully, despite the father’s antagonism; then Jaffeir loses his fortune. When he goes to ask Priuli for aid, in the name of Belvidera, the old senator refuses to help in any way, and he swears that his ungrateful daughter and her equally ungrateful husband will have to make their way as best they can. Jaffeir, after reminding Priuli that it is he who saved Belvidera from a shipwreck after which she fell in love with him, leaves the senator’s home in a most unhappy frame of mind.

Soon afterward Jaffeir meets Pierre, a friend who gave long and faithful, though unrewarded, service to Venice. Pierre, sympathizing with Jaffeir, offers him the means of getting revenge on Priuli and striking, as he put it, a blow for liberty against the bad government of the senate. Jaffeir agrees to meet Pierre that night and to become a member of the band of conspirators. When he arrives home, Jaffeir is also comforted by Belvidera, who claims that she is rich as long as she has his love, no matter how little fortune they possess.

Meanwhile Pierre goes to visit Aquilina, a courtesan whom he loves. He is extremely incensed with the woman because she gave herself for money to old Antonio, a senator. Antonio’s theft of his mistress makes Pierre more eager than ever for revenge. He makes Aquilina, who loves him, swear to extract all the information she can from Antonio and pass it on to the conspirators, who are meeting that night in Aquilina’s house.

When midnight comes, Jaffeir is sadly bewailing his fate on the Rialto. There Pierre meets him and conducts him to the conspirators’ meeting place. Because the plotters are unwilling to take Jaffeir into their number, he brings Belvidera and offers her as hostage for his honesty. The leader of the plotters, Renault, and the Spanish ambassador, who also have a hand in the plot to ruin the government, accept her as hostage. She is to be killed if Jaffeir fails them in any way.

The next day Jaffeir’s hopes for revenge and his confidence in his fellow conspirators are shaken when he learns that Renault offered violence to Belvidera and was driven off only by her screams. Belvidera swears that she will bear anything, if only she knows why she was offered as a hostage. Jaffeir, seeing her predicament, and thinking it only fair that she know the truth, reveals the plot to assassinate the senate and take over the city. Because the mass assassination will include her father, Belvidera, greatly shocked, tries to convince her husband that terrible wrongs will be committed against innocent people in the mass slaughter that is planned.

In the evening, the conspirators meet to complete plans for the uprising, which is to take place that same night. At the meeting Jaffeir is seized with revulsion for the plot and the conspirators; he slips away from the meeting and goes to Belvidera. The two start toward the chamber where the senate council is meeting. On the way they are taken prisoners by the ducal guard and escorted to the council. To the senators and the duke Jaffeir admits his part in the plot and prevails on their fear to gain a general amnesty for his friends in exchange for information preventing the overthrow of the government. Within a matter of minutes, the other conspirators are brought in as prisoners. They, including Pierre, are furious with Jaffeir...

(This entire section contains 1008 words.)

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for revealing the plot. Pierre, refusing to listen to Jaffeir, much less to forgive him, slaps Jaffeir’s face.

The senators, although they gave their word that the conspirators would be permitted to live, break their promise and sentence the prisoners, including Pierre, to death on the wheel. Jaffeir’s rage knows no bounds when he learns of that perfidy. He offers to stab Belvidera, who is pledged as hostage for his faithfulness to the plot. When his love prevents his actually killing her, he persuades her to go to her father and seek his aid in rescuing the conspirators, lest her own life be forfeit for their deaths. Priuli, overcome at last by his love for his daughter, agrees to help Belvidera. His promise, however, is made too late.

When Jaffeir arrives at the scene of execution, he learns that all of the conspirators except Pierre have already been killed by the public executioner. Pierre had been saved until last because his request to speak to Jaffeir was granted. On the scaffold Pierre apologizes for slapping Jaffeir’s face and asks him a boon. Jaffeir readily assents and Pierre whispers to him. He asks that Jaffeir save him from an ignominious death by stabbing him instead. Jaffeir immediately complies and then turns his dagger into his own breast. He dies within seconds of his friend.

Aquilina, hoping to save Pierre’s life, went to seek the aid of Antonio. When the senator refused to help her, she stabbed him and left him to die. In the meantime Belvidera, overcome by her fears, becomes distraught in her father’s house. In spite of Priuli’s efforts and those of his servants, she becomes steadily worse. She quickly goes mad, even before she knows of her husband’s death by his own hand; he tells her when she sees him last that they will never meet again. Before the messenger arrives to tell of Jaffeir’s death, her husband’s ghost appears before her. Shortly after the messenger comes and leaves, the ghosts of Jaffeir and Pierre appear briefly. Following their appearance she goes into a frenzy and dies. Her father, sick of the bloodshed, plotting, and violent death, begs his attendants to take him away to a lonely place where the sun never shines, so that he might mourn in solitude and darkness the loss of his daughter and her unhappy fate.