A Book of Answers XIV: Rosalind And Don Giovanni


ROSALIND: … the poor world is almost six thousand years old, and in all this time there was not any man died in his own person (videlicet) in a love-cause. … men have died and worms have eaten them, but not for love.

Almost any Renaissance serenade would have done. The gentlemen were not distinguished for the originality of their appeals, and here is Mozart’s Don Giovanni with his tongue in his cheek and his heart on his sleeve up to the same old tricks two hundred years later. The ladies did not believe a word of it, but of course they liked it, and sometimes the music was charming too, especially if it was by Mozart. Although I have chosen Da Ponte’s burlesque words as my exemplar, the lady’s reply is actually a variation on a ballata by Angelo Poliziano:

I conosco el gran disio
Che ti strugge, amante, il core …

in which the lady, replying to the usual reproaches of heartless cruelty—she even laughs at his musical misery—tells him that she too is flesh and blood and that he should not despair.

It is odd that in all Renaissance literature no one, in the interminable chorus of dying lovers, ever thought to make the obvious point my imaginary beauty makes here. Perhaps, as sensible girls, they knew it was useless.

Don Giovanni (Or Any Renaissance Serenader) To His “cruel Fair”

Deh, vieni alla finestra, o mio tesoro!
Deh, vieni a consolar il pianto mio:
Se neghi a me di dar qualche ristoro,
Davanti agli occhi tuoi morir vogl’io.

Tu ch’ai la bocca dolce più che il miele,
Tu che il zucchero porti in mezzo al cuore,
Non esser, gioia mia, con me crudele:
Làsciati almen veder, mio bell’ amore!

Don Giovanni, Aria no. 17, Canzonetta,
Archi ed uno mandolino

Ah, come to the window, O my treasure! Ah,
come to console me in my grief! If you refuse
to give me some remedy, I want to die before
your eyes.

You who have a mouth sweeter than honey, you
who carry sugar right in your heart, do not
be cruel to me, my delight: Let yourself
be seen, my fair beloved.

Any Renaissance Beauty In Reply

Lovers at my window pleading
Stoke their fires with tender fuel:
“She for whom our hearts are bleeding
Is as fair as she is cruel”.
All the nightingales for chorus
Fill the night with soft reply:
“Lady, hear how they implore us;
Help them, lady, or they die!”

This, I own, is gratifying
But by one or two o’clock
It becomes, and no denying,
Sheer romantic poppycock.
Heavenly nonsense, true! but sleeping
I admit is also nice;
So before the dawn comes peeping
I shall give them some advice.

“Gentlemen, I do not doubt it,
But I die as well as you.
Since you know so much about it,
Tell me, please, what I should do?
Love in my breast too is burning;
I am neither cruel nor proud;
Yet to favour one means spurning
All this well-deserving crowd.

“If I give my heart to any
Could I bear to view at dawn,
Mixed with mandolins so many
Charming corpses on my lawn?
That is not a consummation
You would wish, nor yet do I.
But statistics show that passion
Rarely prompts young men to die.

“Most of them in fact recover
At the touch of morning dew
And the broken-hearted lover
Eats a hearty breakfast too.
But for girls whose looks are fading,
No one even cares to weep.
So, a truce to serenading:
Let me get my beauty sleep!”

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