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And then there are the hendecasyllables.

PalioFEI have this friend who got her degree and now works in another town and, while there, got herself embroiled with the local Palio. Now, you see, in Italy a palio is a kind of historical-themed competition among the neighbourhoods of a town. They have jousts, archery contests, horse races, flag-throwing, period dancing and so on, usually in beautiful costumes. Old Italian towns being what they are, the rivalry can be quite fierce…Ariosto

My friend’s Palio is a Renaissance-themed affair with a sound claim at being the oldest of its kind in Italy, and their games include elaborate presentations of each neighbourhood: miniature plays with lavish costuming, props and music. When my friend proposed that I should write something for them, I thought “Oh, what fun!” and said yes. This was months and months ago, and all very hazy at the moment. Later I received a specific request, several pages detailing the argument (poet Ludovico Ariosto, this year, and his chivalric romance of Orlando Furioso), complete with historical notes and a few verse letters to include in the thing. And a stern warning: ten minutes’ time, including ingress and egress of the Court.

FuriosoNow, how much does a Renaissance court take to ingress and egress? In doubt, I decided to err on the side of caution, and wrote a tiny thing of five or six minutes – and on one thing I had been right: it was great fun. I won’t pretend I’m any sort of poet, but to put the subject into rhyming Ariostesque hendecasyllables was a very pretty game. I mean, these are reenactors (though I suspect they’d kill me if they heard me call them so): they don’t expect the poetry to be especially fine, only to sound period, and to say period things – and this I can do.

There are the poet and his mistress exchanging letters, there are a few characters from the poem… Plus, they will add a “mock cavalry charge” and Alessandra’s ladies will be seen practicing conversation, embroidery and dancing in her bower…

Just how they intend to fit it all (plus the ingress and egress) in ten minutes is beyond me – but it seems I’m about to find out. Because I’ve done my part well, they’re going to lend me one of those gorgeous costumes so I can play a Court lady. Therefore, I must attend rehearsals. Today, for instance. In an hour I’m off to see a rehearsal, talk with the players, see about the lights while I’m there, and choose my costume. And, I guess, get an idea of whether my lines will have a chance to be heard among all the ado – but one thing is sure: it will be so very picturesque!