Università di Bologna
Università di Bari - Università di Firenze - Università di Palermo - Università di Parma


The Research Project
National Research Project co-financed by the Ministry of Education and University (PRIN 2006)
Coordinated by Keir Elam (Università di Bologna)

It is difficult to overestimate the importance of the role played by Italy in the history of British theatre. Both from the point of view of the dramatic text and from that of performance, the influence of Italian theatrical culture has often proved decisive in the formation of dramatic and performance genres and modes, as well as of the dramatis personae themselves. The research project An Italian in London: repertory of Italian authors, actors and characters on the English stage, from the early Renaissance to late Romanticism: typologies, migration, evolution aims precisely to discuss and analyze the influence of the Italian theatrical and dramatic model on British theatre and drama from the Renaissance to Romanticism. The main support of the project is an extensive database gathering together, as far as possible, all available documentary material and sources regarding Anglo-Italian theatrical relations. The field of research in question can be divided into the following headings: translations, setting, actors and characters.

The translation of Italian plays has had the function, throughout the history of British theatre, of giving new creative impulse and of inaugurating new dramatic genres such as the pastoral drama, tragicomedy, gothic drama and romantic tragedy.

Italy has always been the privileged locus of English dramatic fiction, starting from some of the earliest plays written for the Elizabethan public theatres. It maintains this topographical and topological centrality throughout the first half of seventeenth century and again in Gothic and Romantic drama.

Likewise of Italian origin are many of the dramatis personae of British theatre, including dramatic types that enjoyed an extraordinary longevity within the development of drama in English and that underwent significant transformations over the centuries. The most conspicuous and long-lived of these types is unquestionably the Machiavellian villain. The evolution of the Italian or Italianate villain effectively coincides with the development of English dramatic theatre tout court: he undergoes an early transformation in the form of historicization and politicization in Jacobean and Caroline characters that allude to Italian historical figures. The Italian villain re-emerges in the Eighteenth century as the over-the-top protagonist of English gothic drama, and his presence is again decisive in the success of the genre. The Romantic villain undergoes a metamorphosis with regard to his stereotyped origins, with the injection of a post-Revolutionary sense of guilt and remorse. The typology of dramatic roles derived from Italian theatre is, however, much vaster, and includes a wide range of character types, who in turn often undergo a transformation from simple steroptypes to problematized and psychologized characters.

Italy also 'lent’ to British theatre - thanks to the presence in Britian, from the sixteenth century onwards, of Commedia dell’arte companies or single performers - performative modes that were to prove decisive, especially in the development of comedy, including, for example, the birth of the British pantomime in the early Nineteenth century. Later in the century, instead, tragic actors such as Salvini were to prove extremely influential.
The research project will also take into account the multiplicity of intercultural and interpersonal exchanges of political and aesthetic ideas and theories regarding theatre and drama that occurred between Italian and British intellectuals and playwrights in the centuries pertinent to this research. Each local research unit, in addition to contributing to the construction of the national database, will be concerned with specific historical and critical aspects of the ‘migration’ of texts, forms, genres, characters and actors from Italy.








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