The unit set for Machiavelli (4m, 4w with one actor playing two roles and one actress playing two roles) has two sets of curved steps leading to an upper level. The time of the action is early in the 1500s. We hear birds singing and see Machiavelli and Siro, his servant, looking over the audience at an invisible stand of trees. Machiavelli wants Siro to cut the trees down and then feed the chickens. Siro thinks the trees are part of a sacred grove, says he is terrified of chickens, and tells Machiavelli that the shirts he gave to the washerwoman are not yet ready. He says the butcher thinks the washerwoman is a witch and warns Machiavelli not to go into her basement. The lights fade and come up on Machiavelli and Strega, an old woman, as they come down the steps hidden by shirts hanging on a clothes line that stretches from the SR stairs to the UC arch. The Strega gathers the shirts and the clothes line into a large ball as she goes down the stairs and under the arch. When she pulls the last shirt off the line we see Clizia wearing only a man’s shirt. The Strega goes back up the stairs and Clizia explains that the old woman is her grandmother with whom she came to live after Calfucci started chasing her all over his house. Learning that she loves chickens, Machiavelli offers to let her live in his cottage. She disappears through the arch and Machiavelli sits at his desk DR, writing. His wife Marietta says that he treats her as if she were invisible and threatens to cut Clizia’s throat. As they leave, Clizia and Siro enter. He compliments her on her control over the chickens and is surprised when she says that Machiavelli has never touched her. He tells her that Machiavelli was once a very important man in Florence but was thrown into prison and tortured. We hear a pounding on the door. Machiavelli tells Siro to answer it and he returns with Calfucci. Clizia says she would rather die than go back, and Machiavelli says that Calfucci has no legal claim on the girl. Calfucci explains that Lucrezia, his second wife, won’t sleep with him. Machiavelli offers to act as an intermediary and Calfucci invites him to dinner. After Calfucci leaves, Clizia says that Machiavelli is trying to get Lucrezia naked. She says Lucrezia is a demoness and warns him.
On the balcony, Machiavelli learns that Lucrezia would welcome someone climbing up her trellis at midnight. She says the lover would have to be discreet because Calfucci is dangerous. Machiavelli moves to the DL table to play chess with himself and Clizia sits with him. He tells her that his books help him see and understand the patterns of human behavior. He says he is honest about not being honest and is surprised when Clizia beats him at chess. On the balcony Lucrezia waits for Machiavelli to climb over the railing. Calfucci knocks and calls for his wife and she tells Machiavelli to climb part way down the trellis while she runs down the steps, lets in Calfucci, and says she wants to be alone. She goes back up, Calfucci knocks again, and Machiavelli, descending the trellis again, falls screaming. Calfucci says he is going to release the dogs and we hear barking and snarling as Machiavelli screams and staggers into his study, helped by Siro and Clizia. Machiavelli tells Clizia, as she pulls thorns from his butt, that he was paying a visit to Lucrezia but the rose trellis broke and he was then chased by dogs. She says he deserved it but that it is funny and he should write a play about it. When Machiavelli goes to take a bath, Clizia tells Marietta that she is her husband’s friend, but Marietta calls Machiavelli a monster of selfishness who will rip out her soul. Marietta leaves as Machiavelli returns and Clizia says she wants to learn how to read and write. She berates him for wanting to cut down the beautiful, ancient grove of trees and says he is very, very angry most of the time. He agrees, and, after he leaves, Siro tells Clizia to give Machiavelli a break because he was tortured and still has nightmares.
We hear screaming as lights come up on Machiavelli and Ligurio being tortured under the UC arch. The Torturer asks questions and turns the lever on the rack when he doesn’t like the answers. When Torturer leaves for lunch, Machiavelli and Ligurio talk about their predicament, but Torturer comes back to take Ligurio off the rack, half dragging, half carrying him off stage. Machiavelli calls on the Muse of Poetry and she appears, saying that he is a common criminal. He says she is a hallucination caused by hunger and dehydration. She slaps his face, twice, and, when Ligurio’s head is thrown in, she picks it up and works the mouth like a puppet, speaking in a high squeaky voice. She suggests that Machiavelli give up politics and start writing plays. As she leaves, Torturer returns to tell Machavelli that he is being released as part of the Medici’s general amnesty. Machiavelli walks to his study and Clizia tells him he doesn’t believe in anything and doesn’t trust anybody. He replies that trust, like faith or love, is for children. Siro comes in with his head bleeding, claiming that the Bortugno brothers, who were to help him cut down the trees, hit him in the head with a saw. Clizia cleans his wound, saying that only a heartless monster would cut down the beautiful trees. Siro says that Calfucci told him that the Medici have been driven out of Florence and the Republic has returned to power. Machiavelli starts putting books in a satchel, certain that the Republic will need him. When Clizia asks to go with him, he says she can stay and be the caretaker. He leaves, followed by a woozy Siro, then Clizia.
Marietta brings in a crate and puts books into it as Calfucci follows her around until she leaves and Machiavelli enters. Calfucci says he hopes Machiavelli will invite him and his wife to Florence, but, as Machiavelli learns from a letter brought in by Siro, they will not be returning to Florence. Machiavelli orders Siro to cut down the trees and throws Calfucci out, saying he is sorry he wasn’t able to impregnate his wife. When Machiavelli tells Marietta that the Republic doesn’t want him, she says she doesn’t want him touching her, ever. She tells Clizia that they will never leave and shows her a letter she says Machiavelli wrote. Clizia asks Machiavelli if the letter calls her an ugly whore he fucked in a basement. He apologizes and explains that he was just trying to amuse his friends. He explains why the Republic doesn’t trust him and Clizia says she is crying because he has lost the last thing he was capable of caring about. Machiavelli tells Siro not to cut down the trees and tells Clizia that he may write a play and is going to teach her to read and write. He writes and pronounces the letters of the alphabet as she sits beside him and the lights fade to darkness.