Internet Shakespeare Editions

Shakespeare Studies in Italy

Michele Marrapodi (University of Palermo, Italy)

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1. Historical background

"Shakespeare e la critica italiana" is the title of a cogent article by Agostino Lombardo on Shakespeare criticism in Italy which, significantly, appeared in the year of the quatercentenary celebrations.[1] As no other thorough contribution to the field has been published since then, I begin with his documented account, taking it as a temporal line of demarcation for a reassessment of the subject matter.

Lombardo's essay provides a historical survey of Italian appreciation of Shakespeare--from the first adaptations and translations in the eighteenth century to the critical views and defences of the early and late Romantics, estimators, and interpreters--leading up to the aesthetics of Benedetto Croce and the fine scholarship of Mario Praz, the first modern critic of authentically international rank that Italy has produced in English studies.[2] Although more concerned with seventeenth century studies than with Shakespeare, Praz has long been the reference point for all Italian anglistica, and most subsequent scholars came from the orbit of his influence. To limit this considerable offspring to the most distinguished names, I mention only Gabriele Baldini, Benvenuto Cellini, Carlo Izzo, Salvatore Rosati, Alfredo Orbetello, Augusto Guidi, Aurelio Zanco, Vittorio Gabrieli, Elio Chinol, and Nemi D'Agostino. Even now, two of Praz's former students--Agostino Lombardo and Giorgio Melchiori--are the leading Shakespearean critics and the most representative exponents of Italian scholarship abroad.

As I have written elsewhere, Agostino Lombardo, who holds the only chair of Shakespeare criticism in Italy, is highly influential throughout this country as an inspiring critic and scholar; he is particularly acclaimed as a fine translator of Shakespeare and other dramatists for stage productions.[3] His kind of historicism shares some characteristics of the existentialist and cultural materialist approaches because of a marked tendency to emphasize the ideological links with our century, establishing an implied parallel between Shakespeare's contemporary political situation and the moral and political crisis of modern society. Lombardo's method helps define an "ideology of crisis" that reverberates throughout the canon. Among his analytic studies on almost every aspect of Shakespeare's production, his book on Macbeth best exemplifies his thematic-historical approach, rigorously based on the text, from which he derives an impressive amount of evidence for a coherent political interpretation, blending the dramatist's universal issues with the uncertainties and concerns of our age.[4]

Giorgio Melchiori, the most eclectic Shakespearean, has produced seminal contributions to the field of textual studies and interpretative commentary on Shakespeare and his contemporaries. He has written on a wide range of early modern authors, employing diverse methodologies and critical viewpoints in relation to the aims and targets of his research. Among the critical perspectives adopted, Melchiori deals with structuralism and semiotics, historical and neo-Marxist approaches, and formalist and textual analyses. He has also undertaken a successful, experimental harmonizing of a variety of critical methods to reach a pluralist interpretation.[5] He is internationally known as a textual scholar and editor of Renaissance plays, as well as of a bilingual, nine-volume edition with translations by diverse scholars, of Shakespeare's complete plays.

2. Trends in recent criticism

Alongside Lombardo's and Melchiori's distinguished presence in the current critical debate, three major schools of criticism characterize the Italian scene, although it is not always possible to discern a clear-cut separation or to isolate them from other theoretical trends. This is because literary criticism in Italy has emerged from largely idealistic and post-Crocean roots, transformed and updated by the influence of European cultural materialism and neo-Marxism, on the one hand, and the Prague structuralist school and American formalism on the other. Of these approaches, the structuralist-semiotic school is surely one of the most influential. It is characterized by a marked tendency toward theoretical discourse, most notably on methodology and critical practice, and has as its founders Marcello Pagnini and Alessandro Serpieri, and among its leading members Paola Pugliatti and Keir Elam, as well as other dedicated scholars of different cultural formation, such as Angela Locatelli, Claudia Corti, Romana Rutelli, and Roberta Mullini.

With his critical ability to delve into textual construction, shown by his famous essay on the interpretation of Sonnet 20 and his book comparing King Lear and A Midsummer's Night Dream, Pagnini may rightly be considered as having introduced post-structuralism to Italy.[6] Serpieri's semiotic approach has attracted a group of scholars, mainly from the universities of Florence, Pisa, and Bologna, who have published collective works on Shakespeare's dramaturgy and its sources. These scholars have successfully wedded semiotics to theatrical practice, conducting pioneering research on the segmentation of the theatrical text and producing a massive four-volume study on Shakespeare's transcodification of his narrative sources.[7] Among other semioticians, Paola Pugliatti is widely known for the application of her theoretical premises to the rhetorical-ideological structures of King Lear and the history plays, while Keir Elam's various books and essays on the semiotics and intertextuality of the dramatic text have been acclaimed throughout Italy and abroad.[8]

Historical Marxism has produced in Italy a second important trend of Shakespeare studies which in varying degrees initially revolved around the works of Franco Moretti, Paola Colaiacomo, and Marcello Cappuzzo, the last of whom has put into practice the Marxist aesthetics of the internationally known critic Galvano della Volpe in a stimulating book on Macbeth. [9] More closely bound to neo-Marxist ideology, Moretti's numerous essays of Shakespearean interest have been extensively translated into English, whereas Colaiacomo's largely thematic approach has mainly focused on a variety of dramatic and literary texts ranging from Shakespeare's Hamlet to the theater of Samuel Beckett.[10] Other scholars have produced outstanding contributions to Elizabethan studies consonant with the cultural-sociological field: Rosa Maria Colombo's Le utopie e la storia draws attention to wider ideological implications that can be read in the symbolical opposition between Iago's and Othello's utopian worlds.[11] Laura Di Michele's articulated work on Shakespeare's histories successfully combines politics and ideology with theatricality, while Rossella Ciocca's volume on the same group of plays deals with more ritualistic-anthropological features.[12] Other productive investigation are the thematic-psychoanalytic analyses of Silvano Sabbadini and Vito Amoruso. As already pointed out, however, the critic's adherence to one school or another is not easily determined; nor does it appear clearly monistic and one-sided. Although the primary critical influence may sound immediately familiar, individual application has often shifted from its origin, developing into myriad perspectives.

Many have passed from a largely historical-sociological approach to closer attention to formal structures. This third group of scholars has focused on the rhetorical and ideological uses of language. Grouping the most prestigious names in relation to common areas of interest, I cite Vanna Gentili's valuable investigation into the role of madness in Elizabethan and Jacobean drama, to which we may add Roberta Mullini's own considerations of the (meta-)linguistic function of Shakespeare's fools.[13] Other stimulating critical inquiries emerge from the ideological political concerns of Giulio Marra, Paola Bottalla, Loretta Innocenti, Anna Anzi and Hilary Gatti; from the largely historiographical practice and cultural analyses of Sergio Rossi, Alessandra Marzola, Franco Marenco and his collaborators; from the deeply intercultural and linguistic methodology of Mario Domenichelli and Viola Papetti and the wider interdisciplinary proposals of Masolino D'Amico and Gilberto Sacerdoti. A particularly important contribution to Italian critical theory and practice has been (and still is) provided by the school of wide-ranging cultural studies founded in Naples some thirty years ago by Fernando Ferrara. In the specific Shakespearean field outstanding results have been achieved by Ferrara himself, by the already mentioned Laura Di Michele and Rossella Ciocca, and by the relatively younger scholars who have contributed to the journal Anglistica, edited for many years by Ferrara with Lidia Curti and Laura Di Michele, a journal to which the present writer's interests in the general construction of the dramatic text, its rhetoric, and intertextual legacies are certainly indebted. Performance theory and dramatic criticism are represented in the numerous collections of essays on Shakespeare's individual plays, edited by Mariangela Tempera, and in the new series "The Renaissance Revisited", edited by Tempera and Patricia Kennan. Tempera's tireless activity has led to the creation of a Shakespeare Centre in Ferrara, the cataloguing of an ample video collection and to the introduction of Shakespeare in schools.

Though condensed, this survey of certain Italian critiques of Shakespeare and some of his contemporaries reflects a wide range of approaches, demonstrating the main features of the Italian contribution to Shakespeare studies. I turn again to the results of this kind of achievement in the context of the international scene. Here, I must emphasize that I can speak only of general tendencies, since we may find more than a single focus contributing to a clearer overall interpretation or to the posing and solving of a particular issue or query. Bearing this peculiarity in mind, I would say that most Italian scholarship is creatively theoretical and propositional, on the one hand, and largely thematic and ideological, on the other, moving generally from the enunciation of a proposed methodology to the critical confrontation with the chosen text. Some exponents of the semiotic-structuralist field have profited from the teaching of Umberto Eco and Cesare Segre in the application of their theoretical premises, and have produced rewarding structural investigations into the world of Shakespearean drama. Other scholars have been especially effective in the treatment of specific issues or aspects or themes, and have given detailed accounts of the linguistic and rhetorical strategies, suggesting an ideological design in Shakespeare's dramatic construction either in line with or in dissent from past and recent positions expressed in the international debate.

3. Shakespeare's Italy

I could not complete this survey of Shakespeare studies in Italy without mentioning, even in passing, a relevant critical field which has acquired a renewed interest in recent years. The pervasive influence of Italian culture, literature and traditions on the English Renaissance has offered a valuable opportunity to study the intertextual dynamics that contributed to the construction of Elizabethan and Jacobean theatrical canon, via a complex series of cultural and historical processes that fostered the migration of European thought from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. In the specific area of theatrical discourse, the dramaturgy of the early modern period distinguishes itself by the systematic appropriation of complex Italian iconology, exploited at the same time as the origin of poetry and art and as the site of intrigue, vice and moral and political corruption. In the reconstruction of the literary movements and ideological motivations of this cultural transition, international specialist criticism has centred in the past on the historicist school of English studies in Italy that was noted for many decades by the work of Mario Praz. The critical contribution of this great scholar remains an essential point of reference in the field of literary and cultural relations between Italy and England in the Renaissance. However, recent developments of American new historicism and British cultural materialism, along with the new perspectives opened up by the current debate on intertextuality and the construction of the dramatic text, have demanded a total reconsideration of the entire subject in the light of the latest theoretical and critical trends. Once again, Italy has played a pivotal role in this particular field. Profiting from the historicist school of the past but also, in many ways, overcoming the limits of its positivistic assumptions, a group of Sicilian scholars have directed an international research project which studied the ideological exploitation of Italian localities in early modern English drama by pointing to its structural function in the plays.[14] This has involved the possibility of exploring dramaturgical space in order to identify diverse ideological procedures of representation of the fictional world of drama. The playwright's strategy conceives of or transforms the locality he inherits from his sources into a structural element of the text, affecting the dramatic texture of the play at a multiplicity of levels -- the thematic, the rhetorical, the ideological, the linguistic-stylistic, as well as using it as a means of individual characterisation and audience response orientation. Hence, the use of stage topography, especially in Italian settings, is not seen as 'neutral', but semantically over-determined: it acts on the play-world represented, signalled by means of deft verbal scenography and coherent metaphoric imagery, determining the local climate, and colouring the dramatic interactions which take place within its boundaries.

The influence exerted by Italian iconology and culture at large is also reconsidered anew in other scholarly collections. Shakespeare Yearbook, co-edited by Michele Marrapodi, devoted a special number to the issue, taking into account the interrelated topics of appropriation, reception, and translation, representations and misrepresentations, while two more collections of essays on cultural exchange, intertextuality and the transitions of cultures between Italy and England in the early modern period, edited by the same scholar, may also be mentioned.[15]

4. Textual and translation studies

In recent years, Italian textual criticism has produced several new detailed editions of Shakespeare's plays and those of his fellow dramatists. Giorgio Melchiori's editorial activity on the works of Shakespeare and Renaissance drama in general is well established in the international forum. Accurate editions of selected Elizabethan and Jacobean plays have been published by Mario Praz, Grazia Caliumi, Anna Busi, Mary Corsani, and many others. Giorgio Melchiori, Alessandro Serpieri, and Elio Chinol have provided editions of Shakespeare's sonnets, while a number of scholarly editions of individual plays have been done by Elio Chinol, Nemi D'Agostino, Agostino Lombardo, Sergio Perosa, and Alessandro Serpieri, among others. The most complete and updated bilingual edition of Shakespeare's plays, with translations by different scholars, is that by Giorgio Melchiori which also provides new critical editions of the apocryphal plays Edward III and Sir Thomas More (9 Vols., Milan: Mondadori, 1976-91). Finally, Alessandro Serpieri has edited, and translated into Italian, the Q1 and Q2-F texts of Hamlet, advancing a new textual theory in the compositional genetics of this crucial tragedy, with the serious hypothesis of Q1 as a generative and autonomous text (2 Vols., Venice: Marsilio, 1997).

Translating Shakespeare has become a significant challenge for every committed scholar, director or interpreter. The art of Shakespearean translation has shifted from the romantic idea of reproducing the Bard's poetry, through a philologically correct but awkward version, to a closer attention to the demands of the theatre and the accessibility of everyday language. This renewed concern with the issues of acting and performance has reduced the gap between the academic community and the practical world of the theatre.

Shakespeare studies in Italy are playing today a leading role in many areas of expertise of Shakespearean interest, acquiring international notice for their engaging new perspectives, intellectual strength and sophistication.

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[1] A. Lombardo, "Shakespeare e la critica italiana," Sipario 218 (Giugno, 1964): 2-13, 65. [Back]

[2] Among the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century critics, see particularly Vittorio Alfieri, Ippolito Pindemonte, Vincenzo Monti, Ugo Foscolo, Nicolò Tommaseo, Alessandro Manzoni, Giuseppe Mazzini, Arrigo Boito, and Francesco De Sanctis. Croce's aesthetics affected the historical approach of early twentieth century scholarship, especially with his influential Ariosto, Shakespeare, Corneille (1920). [Back]

[3] See M. Marrapodi, "Elizabethan Studies in Italy in 1993 and 1994," Cahiers Elisab├ęthains 48 (October, 1995): 53-74, and "Galvano della Volpe's Marxist Aesthetics and the Interpretation of Macbeth," Nuovi Annali della Facoltà di Magistero dell'Università di Messina 8-10 (1990-92): 451-70. [Back]

[4] A. Lombardo, Lettura del "Macbeth" (Vicenza: Neri Pozza, 1969). [Back]

[5] G. Melchiori, L'uomo e il potere (Turin: Einaudi, 1973); translated as Shakespeare's Dramatic Meditations: An Experiment in Criticism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975). See also, in this regard, M. Marrapodi, "A New Approach to Shakespeare's Sonnets: A Note on Pluralist Criticism," The Blue Guitar 3-4 (1977-78): 195-202. [Back]

[6] M. Pagnini, "Lettura critica (e metacritica) del sonetto 20 di Shakespeare," Strumenti critici 3 (February, 1969): 1-18, reprinted in Critica della funzionalità (Turin: Einaudi, 1970); Shakespeare e il paradigma della specularità (Pisa: Pacini Editore, 1976). [Back]

[7] Serpieri et al. eds., Come comunica il teatro: dal testo alla scena (Milan: Il Formichiere, 1978); and Nel laboratorio di Shakespeare: dalle fonti ai drammi, 4 Vols. (Parma: Pratiche Editrice, 1988). [Back]

[8] See, respectively, Paola Pugliatti, I segni latenti: Scrittura come virtualità scenica in "King Lear" (Messina-Florence: D'Anna, 1976), Shakespeare storico (Rome: Bulzoni, 1993), Shakespeare the Historian (London: Macmillan, 1996); Keir Elam, The Semiotics of Theatre and Drama (London: Methuen, 1980), Shakespeare's Universe of Discourse: Language-Games in the Comedies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984. [Back]

[9] M. Cappuzzo, Da Duncan a Malcolm: la tragedia di Macbeth (Messina: Peloritana Editrice, 1972). [Back]

[10] F. Moretti, Signs Taken for Wonders: Essays in the Sociology of Literary Forms (London: Verso, 1983); P. Colaiacomo, La prova: saggi da Shakespeare a Beckett (Rome: Editori Riuniti, 1993). [Back]

[11] R. M. Colombo, Le utopie e la storia: saggio sull'"Othello" di Shakespeare (Bari: Adriatica Editrice, 1976). [Back]

[12] L. Di Michele, La scena dei potenti. Teatro, Politica, Spettacolo nell'età di W. Shakespeare (Naples: Istituto Universitario Orientale, 1988); R. Ciocca, Il cerchio d'oro: i Re sacri nel teatro shakespeariano (Rome: Officina Edizioni, 1987). [Back]

[13] V. Gentili, La recita della follia. Funzioni dell'insania nel teatro di Shakespeare (Turin: Einaudi, 1978); R. Mullini, Corruttore di parole: il fool nel teatro di Shakespeare (Bologna: CLUEB, 1983) and, by the same, Il fool nel teatro di Shakespeare (Rome: Bulzoni Editore, 1997). [Back]

[14] M. Marrapodi, A.J. Hoenselaars, M. Cappuzzo, L. Falzon Santucci, eds., Shakespeare's Italy: Functions of Italian Locations in Renaissance Drama (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1993; revised paperback edition, 1997). [Back]

[15] Shakespeare Yearbook, Vol. 10: "Shakespeare and Italy" (1999); M. Marrapodi, ed., The Italian World of English Renaissance Drama: Cultural Exchange and Intertextuality (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1998); M. Marrapodi, ed., Shakespeare and Intertextuality: The Transition of Cultures between Italy and England in the Early Modern Period (Rome: Bulzoni, 2000). [Back]

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