THE RING AND THE BOOK: screenplay adaptation of the Robert Browning poem
Creating from the Unconscious Companion Edition

by Joseph Janeti

The Ring and the Book presents a true story based on 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. 

This screenplay adaptation of Robert Browning’s poetic version of the tale is 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 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?

This Mead-Hill “Companion Edition” of the screenplay, does a kind of double service for the reader: without being its main end, the screenplay serves as a kind of Volume 2 to Mead-Hill’s Creating From the Unconscious. That book, a memoir of the development of a creativity paradigm, reported on techniques which sought to develop ways to tap the unconscious in the composition of creative work, via dreams, active imagination, guided imagery, progressive relaxation, self-hypnosis, and other activities. In the process of working out the book’s resulting exercises, the screenplay served as a kind of ‘stalking horse’ – a way to test, on a creative project, the concepts being developed in the book.

Moreover, for readers unfamiliar with ‘the language of film,’ this “Companion Edition” provides useful guidance in reading a screenplay, in that it presents a glossary of typical film writing terms used in the screenplay. As such, it may serve as a useful introduction to writing in that medium.