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Extracts from
Now We Are Pope: Frederick Rolfe in Venice

Now We Are Pope, a 45 minute one-man play by Martin Foreman, depicts the last hour in the life of Frederick Rolfe ("Baron Corvo": London 1860 - Venice 1913).

Rolfe was a complex, cantankerous and contradictory character, who destroyed friendships with the same intensity he sought to make them. Strongly attracted to handsome young men, he swore celibacy for most of his adult life. Usually impoverished, he refused all charity while living off loans that were seldom repaid. A convert to Catholicism, his greatest ambition was to be a priest, but inability to get on with fellow students, unwillingness to conform and growing debts led to him twice being expelled from seminary.

Although most of his writing has been forgotten, Rolfe's most famous work, Hadrian The Seventh, about a man denied the priesthood who is suddenly elected Pope, has never been out of print.

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Now We Are Pope by Martin Foreman

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The monologue and extracts on this page may be used without charge for auditions and teaching only. They may not be used in any public performance, whether paid or unpaid, in any medium, without the written approval of the author.

If used in auditions or teaching, the author would appreciate being informed here.

To apply for performance rights for part or all of the play, contact the author here.
opening scene introduces the audience to Rolfe

The stage is dark. Faint cheering can be heard. As the cheering grows louder a spot comes up on ROLFE, asleep in his clothes on his bed, clutching a bolster. The cheering gives way to a booming voice in a foreign accent:

Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum: habemus Papam! Vi annuncio una grande gioia: abbiamo il Papa! I announce to you with great joy: we have a Pope! We have the Lord Frederick of the Ravens, Who has imposed upon Himself the name of Hadrian the Seventh!

The cheering returns even louder.

ROLFE moves in his sleep, a beatific smile on his face
Bless you, my children, bless you!

The cheering fades as a young man's voice is heard.

Sior? Sior! Sono qua, Sior. Cosa voeo?

ROLFE (asleep)
Niente, Zildo, niente.

In his sleep ROLFE begins to make love to the bolster.

Nalta volta, Sior? Makes affectionate noises. Si, Sior! Si Sior!

The cheering flares up again

ROLFE, still asleep, freezes.
Zildo! Zildo! Stop! Not here, not now! Not now We are Pope!

He sits up suddenly and stares blankly at the audience.

(in a monotone) Lord Cardinals. We thank you for your service and We invite those of you who are able and willing to attend Us, now, when we go to take possession of Our episcopal See.

ROLFE falls back on the bed. As he slowly wakes, full lights come on, revealing a shabby attic room with, in addition to the bed, a worktable covered in papers, books, tobacco tin, cigarette papers, spectacles, dead matches, old bread and other paraphernalia. A chair beside the table. On the walls a mirror, crucifix and a picture of a youthful St Sebastian. Finally conscious, ROLFE sees the bolster and pushes it aside.

ROLFE (looking round the room)
Zildo, dov' stai? Where are you, Zildo? That boy! Never here when I want him. (calls at the only door, which is closed) Zildo! My breakfast. Breakfast! Colazione!

No-one comes. He stands up slowly. His clothes are worn, dishevelled and half open.

(to himself, as if aware Zildo will not come) Breakfast, Zildo, breakfast.

(As he moves sleepily away from the bed, his foot kicks a half-hidden chamber-pot. He picks it up and examines its contents.) No rat today? I'm being abandoned like a sinking ship.

pp 27 - 29 regrets and ambition

I should have been a painter. But thanks to that damned Beauclerk, I lost all my apparatus and was reduced to a state of penury. I turned to writing --a loathsome occupation-- because literature was the only outlet which Catholicks left me. And oh, I have so much to say. It would make me rich if it were not for the publishers and agents and lawyers and layabouts who have all conspired to deprive me of my dues.

What books I have written, Zildo! Stories of young Italians as innocent and wise as you. The history of the Borgias, the greatest family that Italy ever knew. Tales of centuries past. Poetry. What has it brought me, Zildo? Nothing. All my efforts have made others rich, not me. From one book alone - the commercial future of Rhodesia - I should have made two thousand sterling but I lost it all and more to the military moron who published my work under his name. With that money I could have lived like a Doge on the Grand Canal instead of huddled in my boat on winter nights or shivering in this miserable room in a crumbling palace where the wind blows night and day.

(His attention has drifted to the crucifix.) No matter. I would have given it all up for the Church. The happiest day of my life was when I received into the Faith. It should have been when I became a priest. But my vocation, given by God, was denied to me by jealous Pharisees who could not accept that a man of my abilities should be granted the privileges that they enjoyed. Monsignor James Campbell. The Reverend William Rooney. Bishop Hugh MacDonald of Aberdeen and many, many more were deaf to God's command. God's command, not mine. A roll of infamy that will echo down the ages.

What good I could have done the Church! Make me not just a priest, not even a Cardinal. Make me Pope and I would cleanse the church of the hypocrites and toads and money-lenders. As Pope I would restore the Faith to the lands where it was forgotten. Bring order out of the Chaos that threatens all Europe. Instead of which, I was forced into spiritual exile. I have always found the Faith comfortable but the Faithful intolerable, almost every Catholick a sedulous ape, a treacherous snob, a slanderer, an oppressor or a liar.

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