UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Developments in eighteenth-century literary criticism on melodramma Carr, Silvana Ester


"Melodramma" dominates eighteenth-century Italian theatre. Not only did. it attract the enthusiastic support of the theatre-going public, but also the attention and curiosity of scholars and critics. Commonly believed to be an attempt by modern man to re-create ancient Greek tragedy, "melodramma" became the object of heated critical discussions concerning its origins, nature and purpose. Virtually all eighteenth-century Italian literati, to a greater or lesser extent, participated in these discussions. The present study examines the development of eighteenth-century Italian literary criticism of "melodramma". A musicological approach to the problem would clearly be out of the question in a dissertation on Italian literature. However, in an eighteenth-century context, a study of "melodramma" from a literary point of view is fully justified, since the general critical attitude of that time conceives of "melodramma" primarily as a literary form. The introduction deals with Renaissance antecedents of eighteenth-century opera criticism. Already in the late sixteenth century, "melodramma" is viewed as a form coming under the jurisdiction of critical principles applied to the dramatic genres, and the relationship between word and music in what is regarded as a union of the arts is a matter of particular concern. The Introduction ends with a study of the attitude towards the "excesses" of "baroque opera expressed "by Crescimbeni, the direct forerunner of the critics treated in the remainder of the dissertation. Using four main divisions, the dissertation attempts to establish the intellectual terms of reference of these critics within the framework of the neo-classical tradition in which they were formed. The first Chapter deals with pre-Metastasian critics (Muratori, Gravina, Martello, Marcello, Maffei, Zeno and Rolli). Metastasio's own contributions to the theory and criticism of "melodramma" are studied in Chapter II, and post-Metastasian developments (Algarotti, Calzabigi, Bettinelli) in Chapter III. Chapter IV brings the presentation to a close with an analysis of Arteaga whose work is at once a summing-up of the neo-classical tradition of literary criticism of "melodramma", and a foreshadowing of the romantic emphasis on the importance of the musical element of opera. The Conclusion seeks to provide a synthetic overview of the various facets of the development of the eighteenth-century tradition of literary criticism of opera. First of all, it is a critical tradition that reveals some of the general movements of Italian literary criticism as a whole. In Muratori and Gravina, for example, "melodramma" is viewed from the standpoint of the philological and erudite interests of Arcadia. The study of opera thus forms part of the plans for literary reform in eighteenth-century Italy. Elements of the Orsi-Bouhours polemic over the relative merits of French and Italian literature are noted, as well as the impact of the "querelle des anciens et des modernes". The fact that eighteenth-century neo-Classicism is enriched by Cartesian Rationalism and the English tradition of empirical philosophy is taken into consideration, and the gradual movements towards a romantic position are identified. Certain individual critics stand out: Martello, for his early perception of the inherently musical character of "melodramma", and Muratori, for his emphasis on the rôle of imagination in art. Metastasio emerges as an important critic in his own right, an aspect of his personality that modern scholars have not fully appreciated. Finally, the Conclusion suggests further avenues of research that may lead to a fuller comprehension of the dominant theatrical genre and social divertissement of eighteenth-century Italy.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


For non-commercial purposes only, such as research, private study and education. Additional conditions apply, see Terms of Use https://open.library.ubc.ca/terms_of_use.