Shakespeare in One Act. Looking for Ophelia in the Italian Wartime Context
Hamlet was one of the major Shakespearean plays which featured in the nineteenth-century repertoire of the Italian actors, Gustavo Modena, Ernesto Rossi, Tommaso Salvini, Adelaide Ristori – the ‘mattatori’ (as they were called) who toured with their acclaimed Italian Shakespeare all over Europe, London included (not to mention North and South America), and who, with the grand pathos of their acting, contributed to establishing Shakespeare’s ‘tragic character’. Hamlet continued to occupy a first-rate position in the Italian Shakespeare canon in the course of the first half of the twentieth century, well through the violent deconstructive aesthetics prompted by Marinetti’s futurist theatre on the one hand, and a nation-based theatrical culture ushered in by the Fascist régime on the other. However, life was not easy for the Shakespearean tragic character, and for historical dramatic forms altogether. At the beginning of that century, as part of a poetics aiming to “prostitute all classic art on the stage, performing for example all the Greek, French, and Italian tragedies, condensed and comically mixed up, in a single evening”, the futurist avant-garde came to fantasize a concise Shakespeare in one act. “Boil all of Shakespeare down to a single act”, Marinetti advised (“The Variety Theater”, 1913). But what about Ophelia in this perspective? Drawing on the wartime context of the Fascist ‘ventennio’ dominated by the male-gendered avant-garde poetics of Futurism as well as by an equally masculine ambition to construct a theatre for the masses, I speculate on the ways in which Ophelia survives as an erased or grotesque figure, before exploring the role played by a thwarted Ophelian subtext in Alba De Cespedes’s novel Dalla parte di lei (1949).
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