As a reader and a critic, it is undeniable that ambiguity of character is the most stimulating and exhausting aspect of the play Lorenzaccio written by Alfred de Musset and the film Lorenzaccio as interpreted by Franco Zeffirelli. Given that the main character, Lorenzo, is based on the real Lorenzino de’ Medici, it is no wonder that the image of him as an implicit Jekyll & Hyde is even more penetrating and lingering: a real enigma makes for an interesting read. Due to the history, Lorenzo’s intentions and the ending of the play are no secret — therefore, I will divulge as little as possible about the plot and contents, so some mystery may remain.
Imagine a fan fiction about the Queen — fret not, for the curious, I have already written one. Writer Musset and screenwriter Zeffirelli take a historical figure, and hyperbolise him into a progressively evolving gender-neutral flamboyant closet gay — who does not love that?
On one hand, the picturesque Lorenzo is described as the feminine archetype of Florence’s debauchery, on another hand, he is sly and conniving (not unlike a contestant on RuPaul’s drag race — we were all thinking it). A living antithesis, Lorenzo is a child, but he is also Brutus, he is a woman and a man, he is innocent, and he is guilty. Even his flamboyant gesticulations mock his surreptitious diabolical plan to assassinate the Duke – he is a man (kind of) with a plan.
In Act III, scene 3, “Am I a Satan?” is the question that introduces his doleful tirade where he has a Hamlet-like self-deprecating dilemma. In this touching scene, he purposefully splits himself by offering an external perspective of his own experience as an anti-hero with a somewhat carnal hamartia. Cousin of Alessandro the Duke, he laments his situation; shall I kill a member of my family who I also frequently imagine nude? I totally think so. Despite the win-win situation of being related and attracted to each other – Lorenzo decides that the decrepitude that Florence has become, now engulfed in its own iniquity, is a bit paramount to his own incestuous Game of Thrones love affair.
Zeffirelli’s interpretation of the play acts as complimentary, underlining the ambiguity even more so by severing Lorenzo’s personality between the characters; he is a traitor to everyone, but he is loyal to the Duke, the person he assassinates — which makes sense the less you think about it. Additionally, Zeffirelli plays around more with Lorenzo’s already questionable sexuality. He is seen kissing various women, but is also described as frail and feminine. He also engages in kissing with men, notably Tebaldeo the artist, and even the Duke (an act that was only ever made explicit in the reader’s murky mind…).
The Duke often calls him “Lorenzina” or “Lorenzetta”, which are feminine diminutives in Italian. Most importantly, he calls him “mignon” (Act IV, scène 11). Most commonly known as meaning “cute” in French, or preceded by “filet” on restaurant menus, “mignon” in a XV century context is the term designating the ruler’s favourites (wink, nudge). When Henri III comes into power in 1551, it begins to take a sexual connotation, although the first to associate it with homosexuality were the Calvinists. The play is of course set in 1535, but was published in 1834 – and considering the numerous anachronisms made by Musset, it would not be implausible to claim that “mignon” should be understood as “homosexual” — not very subtle, Alfredo.
In the first Act it is claimed that Lorenzo previously decapitated eight statues in Rome, yet he can barely hold a sword in the play, which could quite possibly be intentional restraint. To hold a phallic symbol with agility would tarnish his credibility. His intentions might be deciphered in his walk, which is slow and crooked. Zeffirelli has his actor walk in a protracted, calculated manner, with the demeanour of a man who has something to hide. His violence is also covert and insinuated; however, in Zeffirelli’s adaptation, Lorenzo kisses the Duke after killing him, sending the reader back into perpetual and profound perplexity.
Lorenzo is no doubt an amalgamation of an anti-hero and a romantic hero who is representative of a lost generation in an era that seems ill fitting. Just as the author, Lorenzo has le mal du siècle. It is not hard to link Lorenzo to Brutus by his murder and treason, and to Hamlet by his rhetorical questions, making it a very relatable play. Practically gender neutral Lorenzo, debauched, sweet, but deadly, is every reader’s romantic anti-hero fantasy, and Zeffirelli takes that to the next level. I highly recommend reading Lorenzaccio whilst watching Zeffirelli’s interpretation with subtitles, as this offers a unique multi-dimensional experience of a play that was never intended to be acted out.