ount Cenci is a cruel and brutal man whose greatest delight is to make people suffer. He sends two of his sons to Salamanca in the hope that they will starve. His daughter, Beatrice, was in love with Orsino, who enters the priesthood. She does not know where to turn for solace. Her father is worse than cruel to her, while her lover became a priest. Orsino promises to present to the pope a petition in which Beatrice begs relief from the sadistic abuses she and the rest of her family are suffering from her father. Beatrice tells Orsino of a banquet her father is giving that night in celebration of some news from Salamanca and says that she will give him the petition at that time. After they part, Orsino reveals his lust for her and resolves not to show the pope her petition, lest she be married by the pope’s order and Orsino be left without a chance of winning her outside wedlock. He resolves also not to ask for special permission to marry lest he lose his own large income from the Church.
At the banquet that night, Cenci announces the purpose of his celebration: His two sons were killed by accident in Salamanca. Since they defied his tyranny, Cenci feels that this is well-deserved punishment. At first the guests cannot believe their ears. Beatrice boldly begs that the guests protect her, her stepmother, and her remaining two brothers from further cruelties at the hands of her father. Cenci, telling them she is insane, asks the guests to leave. Then he turns on his daughter, threatens her with a new cruelty, and orders her and his wife to accompany him to his castle in the Apennines on the following Monday.