Count Lodovico has been banished from Rome. As he laments his bad fortune, his friends Antonelli and Gasparo remind him that he only has himself to blame for this tragic turn: Lodovico has been extravagant, drunk, and even violent. Worst of all, he has committed several horrifying murders in Rome.
Right away, the play shows that even those with fancy titles or high social standings—like the prominent Count Lodovico—can commit horrific crimes. Unlike most of the characters in the piece, however, Lodovico has an honest, loyal, support system in Antonelli and Gasparo.
Lodovico wonders why the court chose banishment instead of execution as his punishment, and Gasparo reflects that “this gentle penance may both end your crimes, and in the example better these bad times.” At the same time, Lodovico resents that he is being punished while the Duke of Brachiano, widely known to be pursuing a married woman named Vittoria, faces no such charges.
Gasparo emphasizes that people learn by “example”: because the court has punished Lodovico gently, perhaps other leaders will follow suit and treat their criminals with similar kindness. But while he appreciates the relative laxness of his punishment, Lodovico resents the court’s inconsistency: Brachiano gets away with the crimes Lodovico is exiled for because he is wealthier and more powerful.
Antonelli and Gasparo urge Lodovico to use his time in exile to become a better person. Lodovico agrees, and his friends promise that they will work to end his banishment.
If Lodovico becomes a better person in exile, his friends suggest, it will be because he has time to reflect and look inward, not because of torture or other extreme forms of punishment.