- Phyllis of Scyros
Nicolas J. Perella's skillful translation and his critical remarks on the work, the pastoral genre, and the Baroque era may succeed as a first step in securing a larger English readership for Bonarelli's Filli di Sciro (1607). The two predecessors of the play, Tasso's Aminta (1573) and Guarini's Il pastor fido (1589–1602), have always been seen as the best of the Italian pastoral dramas written in that epoch, with Filli di Sciro considered a distant third. The play fits into the core of Italian works which sparked the rise in interest in the pastoral genre, starting in 1509 with Jacopo Sannazzaro's blend of prose and eclogues in Arcadia. Translations of Filli di Sciro in France and England show that, to a more modest degree than the plays of Tasso and Guarini, it had some impact outside of Italy in the seventeenth century.
Like many works in the age of concettismo, Phyllis of Scyros has what can be either the charm or the curse, depending on how you look at it, of an elaborately complex, melodramatic plot. In addition, Bonarelli's penchant for the [End Page 147] word-play of oxymoron, bombast, and other such characteristic rhetorical figures can weigh somewhat heavily, although Perella maintains in the introduction and notes that his use of such figures is mostly ironic and parodistic. The greatest merit of the play lies in what Perella calls its grace and sweetness (xxiii). The play resembles its two better-known antecedents, but it is not set in the Arcadia of the Golden Age, as the latter are. Its setting is the island of Scyros, a location that is historical, though not devoid of its own connections with legend and myth. And it does not utilize the device of a chorus. A plausible general characterization of the play can be found in Perella's suggested reason why there is no chorus: perhaps Bonarelli wished to avoid an evocation of classical tragedy which might have necessitated "a weightier and graver overall tone" (xvii). This might have clashed with the author's "generally lyric yet often rampant parodic mode" (xvii).
Any attempt at a brief summary of the plot is bound to falter, since the convolutions are too numerous. One basic plot line, though, is central. It involves the title character, Phyllis, and the young man she loves, Tirsi. The two were betrothed while hardly out of childhood and were very much in love. They were later cruelly separated and were given new names and identities: Clori for Phyllis and Niso for Tirsi. Now young adults, they meet once again without knowing who the other is. Clori then learns that Niso is actually Tirsi, but she is crushed to find that he is at the moment pledging his love to another girl, Celia, believing that Phyllis is dead. If the relationship between Phyllis and Tirsi suffers the blows and twists of fortune, the relationship between Tirsi and his new love Celia is even more beleaguered by ironic reversals, in particular the fact, unknown to them, that they are long-lost brother and sister. While Celia is torn by her "doppio amore," the close friendship between the shepherds Tirsi and Aminta is threatened by Tirsi's love for Celia who is loved by Aminta also. Aminta embodies a theme of the play, namely self-sacrifice, as he nobly chooses to stay out of Tirsi's way.
The play highlights the two young women as each goes through her particular torments of love. Perella sees Clori (Phyllis) as the most sympathetic character, having human depth not seen in the others, who for the most part are caricatural. He says that she has an "elegiac nature" and remarks correctly that a speech of hers (5.2/238) in which there is a play on the words life and death as both opposite and synonymous "is mournfully and nobly said, and not at all subverted by its mild dose of word-play which, on the contrary, is in this case perfectly...