Some historical characters seem so very, very perfect for fictional treatments, don’t they? Whether they have lived enormously interesting lives, full of drama and colour, or we know tantalizingly little about them – just enough to make us want to fill the gaps – they practically beg to be written.
And usually they are, with a vengeance. I mean, how many novels, stories, plays and whatnots do we have about, say, colourful Kit Marlowe, and relatively mysterious Will Shakespeare? And then there are other characters who seem to have it all – so much so that one has to wonder why, oh, why there is so little fiction about them.
Take for instance Manfred Hohenstaufen, King of Sicily, and son to Emperor Frederick II. I mean: an Imperial prince of questionable birth, a de facto king before he is quite eighteen, a good ruler, a poet, a warrior, a well-intentioned usurper, open-minded and magnanimous, strikingly handsome, and complete with a tragic end… isn’t he absolutely perfect? He lacks nothing – and yet… As far as I know, there is next to nothing about him, fiction-wise. Leaving aside Dante’s portrayal in the Divine Comedy, I’ve found a couple of Romantic German plays, three opera librettos, one ugly Italian 19th century novel, and one even uglier contemporary children’s (?) novel. And that seems to be it – and I don’t know but… why isn’t there more?
Another underfictionalised character is, if you ask me, Caravaggio. Again, he has everything: tortured genius, ground-breaking art, a Temper, duels, lies, disputed commissions, chases, a charge of murder, the Knights of Malta, a mysterious death… And there is something – definitely more than about Manfred, and among other things a graphic novel and a play – but still not nearly enough for such a novel-like life. All else apart, I find it interesting that there seem to be more mysteries centred around Caravaggio’s works than novels about his life…
So yes – I really wonder: why isn’t there more about Manfred, about Caravaggio…?
And what about you, o Readers? Who are your favourite underfictionalised historical characters?