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Adapting the Tale of Tales aka the Pentamerone by Giambattista Basile

by Aug 11, 2015Pentamerone (Tale of Tales), Playwriting, The Green Bird, The Love of Three Oranges, Works in Progress2 comments

The follow up to my adaptation to The Green Bird was already well underway when I finished that project and, while I’ve referred to it generally a few times before, it’s time to really introduce you to my next adaptation. 

Pentamerone photo

This is totally one of the stories I’m planning on doing.

In college, when I was working on my adaptation of The Love of Three Oranges, I went to read the original fairy tale on which it was based, which was in the collection of Italian tales known as the Pentamerone by Giambattista Basile (commonly called the Tale of Tales in English) and thought of as one of the first fairy tale collections, possibly even the one the Brothers Grimm based theirs off of. (It’s got the earliest known versions of Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, Cinderella, Puss and Boots, Rapunzel, Hansel and Gretel, etc.) But despite what Wikipedia will tell you, Three Oranges isn’t based on a single tale but several (which is a blog post for another time), one of which is the frame story for the entire collection much like in 1001 Arabian Nights. Once I realized this, I only read the most obvious inspiration, The Three Citrons, but didn’t have the time then to commit to reading the full collection of fifty stories so I left it at that. I put it on my To Do list. This was 2002.

In June 2011, I started reading through the tales in earnest. It was very slow going until my daughter was born and I started to suffer from ludicrous post-natal insomnia and starting reading the tales each night in the hopes they’d let me get some freaking sleep. It didn’t help me with sleep, I get too into weird old fairy tales for my brain to find them boring, but an idea was born from this, one I outlined for you in May of 2013.

I was going to adapt several of the tales from the collection into a full length play made up of one act adaptations in the same commedia-lite style as TLOTO and then write an original fairy tale as the final and frame story that would tie it all back into Three Oranges. I was so excited about this idea, I adapted one of the stories into a play right then to prove the concept and was really excited to write the rest. A fire under me at last, I finally made it through the whole collection. Or so I thought…

What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was reading a really bad translation, one that was censored and incomplete. I could probably have just gone ahead with my adaptation after only reading that but that’s not how I work so, once I realized, I had to put everything on hold, back up, do some research and read all 50 tales all freaking over again. Anything worth doing is worth doing right, isn’t it? *whimpers*

Shout out to Nancy L. Canepa whose translation, linked above, of these tales is amazing! I wish I’d started with her instead of coming around to her fantastic version last.

As this process took forever, in the meantime, I decided to read Carlo Gozzi’s The Green Bird. I still didn’t want to adapt it then but I wanted to leave the possibility open for the future and since this Pentamerone project I had in mind would technically happen chronologically after Green Bird, I wanted to at least make sure I left that plot intact if I ever changed my mind.

I read one translation of that play. Then another. And then something clicked in my brain and for the first time since I first toyed with the idea of adapting the play in 2002, I actually had an idea of how I could do it my way. I put Pentamerone on hold, mostly because it would be much easier to write what was basically part three of this story after I finished part two, and adapted The Green Bird.

All the while I was adapting that show, I was still doing the background work on the Pentamerone and I realized all my notes fell into three main categorizes:

  • Stories I wanted to adapt into plays
  • Stories I loved but it would be near impossible to adapt into plays because of staging issues
  • Random bits of tales I liked, even though I hated the rest of the story

I finally finished my research and re-reading a few weeks ago and came to a few realizations.

Firstly, I had so many tales I wanted to adapt into plays that I didn’t really need to write an original story, I already had more than enough material to go ahead with what I already had.

Secondly, as a big budget film adaptation of the Tale of Tales is coming out this year, I started to realize that a stage play adaptation of the Pentamerone might be enough of a draw on its own that maybe I didn’t need to tie it back to Three Oranges at all.

Thirdly, I realized that I would love to take all the little random bits of stories I like and mash them together into their own crazy mash-up story, as that’s pretty much just was Carlo Gozzi did with Oranges, and that I had way too many ideas for this for it to be a little one act. This could be a whole other full length play on it’s own. Could it maybe also be the story I was going to tie back into Oranges? Should I save my Oranges idea for this play instead? Can I tie this into that play I wanted to write about pirates I never even told you guys about?

So, while this Pentamerone adaptation is still in full swing, I’m left without a real clear idea of where I’m going with the frame story. I know exactly how I want to do the stories themselves and have been writing them one by one but whether the frame story is a call back to Oranges in some way, something else entirely or happening in the modern day…? I just have no idea yet.

In the meantime, I kept thinking what a shame it was that some of the stories I loved were so impossible to stage and then a third idea was born. See, throughout this project, whenever I’d finish a story I particularly liked or hated, I would go downstairs and recap it to my husband with lots of colloquialisms and salty language. And one night, while he was laughing at my latest retelling, he was like, “This should be the play! Just you, recapping these stupid stories!”  At the time I was like, ha, yes, very funny but then that idea started to form into a real idea one I’m not even sure I can describe but may well become another play on it’s own.

So, while it took me about four years to get all the way through the Pentamerone, it’s going to result in at least one full length play and who knows how many one acts so I believe it was time well spent. I also don’t think I would have figured out how to adapt The Green Bird if I hadn’t forced myself into obscure fairy tale bootcamp for the last few years.

To avoid confusion (too late, I know), I’m going to refer to this Pentamerone project on the site with Pentamerone as the project nickname just to keep it simple. I’d been previously using the tag Fourth Orange to talk about this project but since I’m leaning towards that being something else entirely, I think I’ll save that tag for the story I have earmarked in my head as definitely happening in the Oranges universe. I’ll continue shaping the individual fairy tales in the coming weeks and hopefully I’ll have more of a sense of the whole once all those pieces are done. I’m also planning to make the individual one acts available as they’re finished while I figure out the shape of the whole so stay tuned for that.

I’m really excited about this project. I keep sneaking work on it when I’m supposed to be doing other things which is sort of a problem as I’ve got a huge looming deadline over my head for another book that I really ought to be prioritizing right now. Stupid muse.

Photo by Provenance Online Project


  1. Craig Tavani

    You write of “the story … earmarked … as definitely happening in the Oranges universe.” This makes me wonder if there might be a Pentamerone universe. You seem, given your reaction to your husband’s comment about your “recapping these stupid stories,” to be leaning toward a storyteller’s narrative tying it all together. It may be asking too much, but wouldn’t it be interesting to be able to have universal commonality to all the stories? Then you can write sequels (and prequels and conquels) for Giambattista’s stories to your hearts content!

    • Hillary DePiano

      I’m way ahead of ya there! 😉 I wrote this post a while ago and things are much more fully formed now. There is absolutely a universe in my head but it’s sort of Basile as through the looking glass of my brain. Though the final project I mention is actually not a part of that world and is a contemporary thing that I’m still not quite sure what to do with…

      Either way, I have to 1) finish my tweaks to Green Bird 2) do the one-act version of Green Bird 3) revise a novel and then I can do the final touches on the first of these Pentamerone plays!



  1. Exactly which fairy tale is Carlo Gozzi's The Green Bird based on? - Hillary DePiano - […] you know, I’m adapting an old collection of obscure Italian fairy tales called the Pentamerone into seve…. Well, as…
  2. Prepare yourselves for a barrage of new one acts as I chop up my Tale of Tales full length play - Hillary DePiano - […] been 13 freaking years since I decided to read the Tale of Tales. Almost three years since I actually…
  3. February 2016: In which I was mostly sick all month but also wrote some stuff - Hillary DePiano - […] to finish later when I have time for more research because it’s yet another part of my big Tale…

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About the Author

Hillary DePiano is a playwright, fiction and non-fiction writer who loves writing of all kinds except for writing bios like this.

The original “fairy tale on crack”!

Forget all your dusty misconceptions about the traditions of commedia dell’arte as Hillary DePiano's The Love of Three Oranges, based on a scenario by Carlo Gozzi, provides a wild, raucous slapstick comedy that is completely retooled and revised for today’s audiences.

Now available as both a full length and one act play.

Books and Plays by Hillary DePiano


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