THE RING AND THE BOOK: screenplay adaptation of the Robert Browning poem
Professional Edition

by Joseph Janeti

With The Ring and the Book, Mead-Hill presents a screenplay version of a true story having to do with a series of events that took place in Italy between 1693 and 1698. It is a tale of greed, intrigue, deceit, malice, lust, jealousy, love, envy, betrayal, adultery, anger, lies, theft, revenge, and multiple murders.

The screenplay is an adaptation of Robert Browning’s poetic version of the tale, itself based on a collection of aged legal documents, some printed, some hand-written, saved from extinction in June 1860, when Browning was vacationing in Rome. As he walked one late afternoon through the Piazza San Lorenzo, Browning came to an outdoor bookstall where he found a bundle of yellowing sheets of paper tied together with a simple piece of string. In an adventurous mood, Browning paid a few cents for the stack, without knowing what its pages contained.

On the surface, “the old yellow book” seemed nothing more than a collection of weathered documents. But as he wound his way homeward, Browning peeled back the crumpled vellum covers and found the odd package to contain hundreds of pages in Latin and Italian, full of passionate words and court arguments having to do with a complex multiple murder trial.

Browning’s eventual poem would tell the romance/murder story again and again, twelve separate times – from the points of view of each of the story’s principal players, and from the perspectives of various “outside” observers as well. It asks an important philosophical, sociological, psychological question: What is “truth” (“real”) – and how do we come to know it?

In the meanwhile, readers and filmmakers are presented with a movie script of far reaching scope, widely cinematic, and containing in its unwinding many of the best and worst elements of human nature.