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Shakespeare's Reception in 18th Century Italy

The Case of Hamlet

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Gaby Petrone Fresco

The history of Shakespeare's reception in 18th century Italy is scanty and fragmentary. The present study attempts to join the scattered fragments of the mosaic together and to interpret the resulting picture in the light of current theories of comparative literature. Hamlet has been chosen as an exemplary case in Shakespearian production because it is associated with the very first milestones in Shakespeare's introduction into the Italian literary system. Hamlet also exemplifies on the one hand Italy's cultural indebtedness to France in the field of Shakespearian translation (the first Italian staging of a Shakespearian play was a Hamlet translated from Ducis' adaptation), and, on the other, the need for Northern European literary works to undergo profound changes before they could be assimilated in Italy. The process of Shakespeares's reception in 18th century Italy was made even more tortuous by a missed opportunity, again concerning Hamlet. The first complete Italian translation of the play by Alessandro Verri has never to this day been staged or published; its impact on the development of Italian literature was only indirect through its influence on Verri's own creative works, which finally contributed to the birth of the Italian Romantic movement.