Is Fracesca a victim of circumstances of love's irresistible power, or is she damned by her own loving nature?


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Dante’s Divine Comedy

The Story of Paolo and Francesca (Canto V, Lines 88-142)


Is Fracesca a victim of circumstances of love's irresistible power, or is she damned by her own loving nature?
Directions: The following questions will appear on the Divine Comedy quiz next week.
Look first at Francesca's greeting to the pilgrim (lines 88-96). What evidence does Francesca give that she is a courteous hostess?

  1. In line 88?

  1. Lines 90-93?

  1. Lines 94-96?

  1. Does she win our affection with these social graces?

  1. Does she reveal herself as skilled in the arts of winning affection?

  1. Research “Courtly Love.” I suggest using the search engine. Write down five facts regarding Courtly Love.

  1. Why did Paolo fall in love with her?

  1. Why did she fall in love with him?

  1. Why did their love lead to death?

  1. Who is responsible for the sin that has put them in Hell? (Who does Francesca wish to the lowest circle of Hell in line 107; it is her husband, who discovered Paolo and Francesca's love affair and murdered them both.)

  1. Compare Francesca's style in the second part of her confession with the courtly love language she used at first. Can you hear an echo of the storyteller's traditional "Once upon a time . . ." in Francesca's "One day . . ." (line 127)? Note the other elements of story here: setting, plot, characterization, denouement. Yet her story is not told in the high style of courtly romance, the style, presumably, of the Lancelot story she and Paolo read. It is, instead, a kind of home-made romance, a reflection of the fictional ideal in the mundane terms of everyday life. Note the parallels in her description of this love affair's climactic moment: Lancelot, the true lover (line 134) turns into Paolo, the trembling lover (line 136); Guinevere's alluring smile (line 133) turns into Francesca's plain mouth (line 136); even the courtly go-between, Gallehaut, turns into something more mundane, a book by an anonymous author (lines 137-38). Does Francesca perceive these differences between her real-life story and the fictional ideal? Or does she see her love affair with Paolo as a tragic storybook romance? In her view, who is responsible for their "subjecting reason to desire" (line 39)?

The remaining lines of Canto 5 tell the story of Paolo and Francesca, one of the most admired episodes in the poem. What is your of Francesca. Is she a victim of circumstances as she seems to suggest? a victim of love's irresistible power? a tragic victim, damned by her own loving nature? Have students look closely at the way Dante characterizes Francesca through her double telling of her story.

  1. Write a five sentence paragraph (using complete sentences) to discuss this question.

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