Messer Nicia: (Muttering to himself) I’ve always done things your way; this I want you to do my way! If I could have known I wasn’t going to have any children, I would have done better to marry some peasant girl. (p.20-21)
This quote occurs after Callimaco talks with Messer Nicia about a supposed potion to help Messer Nicia’s wife Lucrezia get pregnant. Messer Nicia is instructed to go to his home and return with a urine sample from his wife. As he leaves his house, he mutters to himself about his childless condition and his frustration with his wife.
As soon as I read this passage, I found it significant because it introduces the audience to a new side of Messer Nicia. Until this moment, all we know is that Lucrezia is happily married and that the couple is desperate for children. Callimaco mentions on page 9 earlier how “[Lucrezia] has a husband who is very rich and lets himself be governed by her in all things”, but it isn’t until now that we understand his reluctance. Since this entire play brings into play many different questions of morality, Messer Nicia’s disapproval of his wife is used as a tool to convince the audience that Callimaco’s scheme is all the more just. If Messer Nicia doesn’t care about his wife and would gladly take on someone else who could give him children, then what is the harm in stealing Lucrezia away? I personally thought this development was a clever way to create moral ambiguity.
Although we can easily understand the purpose of Messer Nicia revealing his true ambivalence toward his wife as a tool of creating moral ambiguity, how much does it change your mind about Callimaco’s scheme, if at all? To what extent should emotion, particularly love or lust, play a role in deciding what is just? Is the passionate Callimaco in his right, especially since Messer Nicia’s comment is an aside to the audience? What about the fact that Messer Nicia is in a legally binding marriage contract with Lucrezia?