Shakespeare in 19th-century Italy : Ernesto Rossi’s Romeo and Juliet.

Par Lisanna Calvi
Publication en ligne le 29 novembre 2014


The success of William Shakespeare on the Italian stage is less than two hundred years old. We can trace it back to the nineteenth century when great actors, such as Adelaide Ristori, Tommaso Salvini and Ernesto Rossi brought the Bard’s plays to the attention of the public and made roles such as Hamlet, Lady Macbeth and Othello their pièces de résistance. Rossi, in particular, made his début as Romeo at the Teatro Re in Milan in 1864 and played the part until later in his career. The analysis of Rossi’s script – now at the Gabinetto Vieusseux in Florence – proves particularly interesting. Not only did Rossi restore the Shakespearean finale that has Romeo die before Juliet’s awakening in the tomb, excising Neoclassic pathetic additions, but also added a few original changes of his own which on the one hand amended Carlo Rusconi’s Italian translation, bringing the playtext closer to the original, and on the other hand privileged the dramatization of love as the founding element of the play’s conceptual framework. The cuts and variations Rossi introduced owe much to contemporary concerns with censure and moral opportunity, but are also heavily indebted to Samuel T. Coleridge’s interpretation of Romeo and Juliet as the staging of ideal love. Yet Rossi also imbued his own version of the play in the Italian cultural, artistic and literary atmosphere by referring to both Francesco De Sanctis' readings of Shakespeare and Antonio Canova’s artistry. Thus Romeo and Juliet become the incarnation of an ideal, an ever-blooming adolescent eroticism which attains the eternal through an everlasting anticipation of a yet-to-be-performed delight.

Le succès de William Shakespeare sur la scène italienne date de moins de deux cents ans. Les origines de ce succès remontent au dix-neuvième siècle, alors que de grands comédiens comme Adelaide Ristori, Yommaso Salvini et Ernesto Rossi faisaient découvrir les pièces du Barde au public italien et construisaient leur renommée autour des rôles d'Hamlet, de Lady Macbeth ou encore d'Othello. Rossi, en particulier, a fait ses débuts dans le rôle de Roméo au théâtre Re de Milan en 1864, et a continué à jouer ce rôle jusqu'à la fin de sa carrière. L'analyse du texte de Rossi, à présent déposé au Gabinetto Viusseux de Florence, s'avère particulièrement éclairante. Rossi a non seulement restitué la fin tragique de Shakespeare en faisant mourir Roméo avant le réveil de Juliette dans le caveau familial, évacuant ainsi le pathos des ajouts néoclassiques, mais il a également apporté quelques changement originaux, qui d'une part reprennent les traductions italiennes de Carlo Rusconi, rapprochant le texte du modèle shakespearien, et d'autre part privilégient la représentation de l'amour comme élément fondateur du cadre conceptuel de la pièce. Les coupes et modifications introduites par Rossi doivent beaucoup au contexte de censure et de moralisme de l'époque, mais portent aussi la marque de l'interprétation de Samuel Coleridge, qui voit en Romeo et Juliette la mise-en-scène de l'amour idéal. Mais Rossi livre aussi une pièce imprégnée de l'atmosphère culturelle, artistique et littéraire de l'Italie de son temps, grâce à des références aux lectures de Shakespeare de Franceso de Sanctis, ainsi qu'à l'art d'Antonio Canova. Ainsi, Romeo et Juliette deviennent l'incarnation d'un idéal, d'un érotisme adolescent en perpétuelle éclosion qui touche à l'éternel à travers l'attente suspendue d'une extase toujours à venir.

Texte intégral

1« Among all the Shakespearean characters I have studied, the one which cost me the least time and effort, maybe because I felt it akin to my own imaginative leanings, has been the young hero of the Veronese novella1». This comment, which obviously refers to the character of Romeo, is taken from Ernesto Rossi’s three-volume memoirs, which the Italian actor published between 1887 and 1889 to celebrate a life on the stage.

2Born in Leghorn in 1827, former pupil of Gustavo Modena, whose company he had joined in 1846, Rossi was one of the first interpreters of Shakespeare in nineteenth-century Italy. Famous for his rendering of Hamlet and Othello, which earned him notoriety both at home and abroad2, Rossi significantly contributed to the circulation and success of Shakespeare in Italian theatres and culture in a time when the Bard’s works, and even his name, were not so popular in Italy.

3As regards Romeo and Juliet, Rossi made his début as Romeo at the Teatro Re in Milan in 1869, and kept playing the role until later in life. His interpretation of the young Montague was praised even by Konstantin Stanislavski, who saw him during a tour in Russia and was greatly impressed by what he defined as Rossi’s « craftsmanship » :

He was astounding in his unusual plasticity and rhythm . . . When Rossi played, we were certain he would persuade us with his acting, for his art was truthful. And truth is always persuasive. . . . In lyric passages, in love scenes, in poetic descriptions, Rossi was inimitable3.

4Rossi was indeed the first to introduce the Shakespearean version of Romeo and Juliet on the Italian stage. Until then, theatres had welcomed different plays on the unfortunate lovers of Verona, among which a late eighteenth-century adaptation of a French drama by Louis Sébastien Mercier, Les tombeaux de Vérone, and especially Cesare della Valle’s Giulietta e Romeo (1826), successfully performed until the 1860s also by Rossi’s famous colleagues Adelaide Ristori and Tommaso Salvini4.

5But which kind of Romeo did Rossi bring on stage, and which Shakespeare ? In 1855, during one of his journeys in Britain, Rossi had met Charles Kean, the actor-manager known for his revivals of Shakespearean plays, who had given him some autographed papers by David Garrick5. The famous eighteenth-century Drury Lane actor and manager had notoriously varied the play's finale. Drawing from Neoclassical adaptations of the play, especially from Thomas Otway’s6, Garrick had Juliet wake up before Romeo’s death, and added a lachrymose exchange between the two lovers in the tomb. In fact, Rossi apparently adopted both Garrick’s and Shakespeare’s versions throughout his career, as testified by the extant scripts held by the Gabinetto Vieusseux in Florence, which record both versions, proving their co-existence in Rossi’s repertoire.

6Although later in his career Rossi would venture into acting in English, in 1864 he of course mounted an Italian version of Romeo and Juliet. The first Italian translations of Shakespeare’s plays were done via French editions until the beginning of the nineteenth century, when Italian authors started looking at the English original. The most popular versions were the ones made by Giulio Carcano7 and Carlo Rusconi8 on which Rossi himself alternatively relied. In particular, it is on Rusconi’s prose rendering of Romeo and Juliet that he elaborated the script now contained in the Florentine Ms. ER.1.64, which presents the Shakespearean ending and to which I will refer throughout my essay.

7Concerning Rusconi’s work Rossi remarked :

I liked Rusconi’s translation, even though some passages did not appear faithful to me : it is a beautiful rendition, because it is clear, but it did not turn out concise nor correct, maybe because the happy translator did not mean it for the playhouse. . . . I wanted to try to be consistent and faithful to the text, saying nothing more and nothing less than what the author had in mind. I wonder if I succeeded9.

8Rossi would later try his hand at translating a whole play (Julius Caesar in 1888), but his Romeo and Juliet’s script lets us think that he occasionally amended the text by varying the syntactic and lexical choices that could have sounded intricate or bombastic on the stage and even corrected a few inaccuracies. An example taken from II.2 will suffice :


Romeo. I have night’s cloak to hide me from their eyes,
And but thou love me, let them find me here.
My life were better ended by their hate,
Than death prorogued, wanting of thy love10.


Romeo. Avvolgerommi nel mio mantello, per sottrarmi a’ loro
sguardi ; ma se tu non puoi amarmi, mi sarà grato che qui mi
ritrovino. Ben più dolce mi sarebbe il terminare la vita sotto i
loro colpi, che il protrarla diserta d’ogni consolazione11.


Romeo. Ebbi fin qui il manto della notte per celarmi ai loro sguardi ;
ma se tu non puoi amarmi mi sarà grato che qui mi trovino.
Mi sarebbe più dolce terminare la vita sotto i loro colpi
che prolungarla priva del tuo amore12.

9Rossi shortens and rectifies Rusconi’s translation, restores the Shakespearean metaphor of the night as a cloak Romeo hides into and the reference to « love » in the last line, which Rusconi had substituted with the generic « consolazione » (consolation). Also, even if he maintains the periphrastic expression « sotto i loro colpi » (« under their blows »), instead of the rhetorically more efficacious « by their hate », he simplifies the sentence, rendering it more fluent and possibly better suited to stage diction.

10As regards the architecture of the plot, Rossi preserves the main turns of the action, together with the Shakespearean ending, but he sensibly abridges and readjusts the storyline by condensing it into a generally slenderer dramatic construction, which hastens the drama towards its eventual catastrophe. Female characters, except for Juliet and the Nurse, are excised, and so are Benvolio, Sampson, Gregory and the other servants of both households, with the exception of Peter, who also plays Balthasar’s part. Lady Capulet’s cues are given to Juliet’s father and more prominence is allowed to Mercutio, who partially takes over Benvolio’s role. It is he who first enters the stage and quarrels with Tybalt, thus anticipating their later fight and also escorts Romeo to the Capulets' ball, masked as a pilgrim. Accordingly, the arrangement of the scenes is also edited. Mercutio’s Queen Mab speech is pronounced right after Romeo has seen Juliet for the first time, and Act 1 closes on Paris and Juliet dancing together. Again, III.2 (the Nurse breaking the news of Tybalt’s death and Romeo’s banishment to Juliet) and III.5 (Capulet announcing Juliet’s marriage to Paris) are merged into one long sequence. Also, Juliet does not bump into Paris at the Friar’s cell (IV.1 in Shakespeare), because Laurence meets her directly at her house, even in her own room. Romeo’s encounter with the Friar and the Nurse in III.3 is likewise excised, which could make the audience wonder how and when the Friar could have devised the plot he later expounds to Juliet. The overall impression is one of a slenderer structure and swifter rhythm that makes the drama run faster towards its conclusion.

11Rossi’s variations also consist of occasional fresh textual additions. In Act 1 Capulet welcomes his guests by addressing the ‘two pilgrims’ Romeo and Mercutio :

[Enter Romeo and Mercutio dressed as pilgrims and wearing a mask ; Tybald enters wearing another costume]
Capulet. Pilgrims, be welcome. Are you coming from the Holy Land ?
Mercutio. We have religiously visited the whole Palestine.
Capulet. And what did you bring back from there ?
Mercutio. A vessel of water from the River Jordan to baptise our first child.
Capulet. You’ll need to get married first.
Mercutio. Is that truly necessary ?
. Ah, ah, good pilgrims, this is our custom in the West and if you stay here a while you’ll know it.
Mercutio. We’ll do, provided that you often give such splendid balls.
(Act 1, ff. 11-1213).

12Juliet’s calling Romeo « good pilgrim » (I.5.96), which gives way to the metaphor of love as idolatry and of kissing as worshipping relics, is transformed by having Romeo disguised as a pilgrim. In fact, the ‘idolatry exchange’ – and the kissing – is excised as it could sound offensive to a Catholic audience and a reference to baptism is introduced in its stead. Similarly, if on the one hand, Mercutio’s allusion to some moral looseness stands as a feeble echo of his original licentiousness, largely amended in Rossi’s version, on the other hand it triggers the dramatic irony of Capulet’s answer, which suggests the idea of marriage, an event that will soon bring dire consequences.

13The same purpose seems to inform the closure of act 1, in which Juliet ironically asks Paris (not the Nurse) who the young man she has just met is :

Juliet. Paris, who is that pilgrim ?
Paris. Didn’t you recognise him ?
Juliet. No, indeed.
Paris. Well, he took off his mask.
Juliet. Well then, who is he ?
. Romeo, one of the Montagues ; the only son of the bitterest enemy of your house.
Juliet. [aside] Ah, my love was born from hatred’s womb ! Woe me !
Paris. Juliet, would you rather we open the dance ?
Juliet. Be it so, as my father commands it.
Paris. Nor would I desire more.
(Act 1, ff. 15-1614).

14Of course Paris does not realise Romeo is already his rival in Juliet’s heart and her answer (« Be it so, as my father commands it ») anticipates Capulet’s ominous imposition. This is in fact just a pale reflection of the foreboding signs that crowd the Shakespearean text and inform it at a linguistic and also symbolic level. In Shakespeare, even before the action begins the chorus ascribes the fortunes of the protagonists to Fortune and enters their names, as « star-crossed lovers », into a scheme of fatal adversity. Rossi erases the chorus’s anticipatory tale and reshuffles the tesserae of the Shakespearean mosaic in a new script. Fate loses its centrality and is substituted by love, or better, by the effort of preserving an ideal of love that has inhabited the protagonists’ dreams since long before they actually meet ; it is an ideal that has eventually found its realisation as soon as they see each other for the first time.

15This operation corresponds to a generalised tendency, in the nineteenth century, to simplify the Shakespearean texts not only by regularising their at times too complex dramaturgical structure, their symbolic import, and linguistic density but also by attuning their plots to the audience’s gusto, especially keen on the pathetically sublime and stylistically verbose storylines of melodrama15. This was especially true for Romeo and Juliet whose operatic versions had transformed it into a sort of pièce larmoyante and especially based their success on the long and distressing farewell scene between the two lovers in the tomb16. Yet, the cuts and variations Rossi introduced in his own script partially go into a different direction and problematically respond to an aesthetic appreciation of the play which reminds one of the critical judgement of the famous nineteenth-century Italian writer and literary critic Francesco De Sanctis.

16In his Studii Drammatici, Rossi defined the characters of Romeo and Juliet as « Italian in their poetic ardour » and identified this Italian spirit with the « purity of spring air » that pervades the protagonists’ youth, innocence and « inexperience17 ». On the stage he appropriates the Shakespearean drama by reducing it to its most evident and maybe predictable element : love, which, he says, « stands as the true foundation and the solid basis of the tragedy itself18». And it is juvenile love, still blessed by the innocence of childhood, a view which is actually attuned to the one De Sanctis illustrated in his Neapolitan lectures on Shakespeare back in 1847. According to him, Romeo and Juliet is the tragedy of youthful love :

[With Romeo and Juliet] we are still immersed in the most beautiful and poetic phase of life. The two young people are still absorbed by the images and pastimes of childhood, they do not know what sorrow is yet ; they are cast into a world they do not understand . . . and become the victims of their own dreams. This is the wonderful idea that Shakespeare wonderfully developed19.

17With special regard to Romeo – one of his favourite roles throughout his career – Rossi especially seems to follow De Sanctis’s reading, and elaborates it by making Juliet the living image of a long-cherished ideal young Montague has lulled in his dreams :

Juliet is the authentic, whole image of his [Romeo’s] ideal. When he sees her, he gathers sweet sighing of content and ineffable joy from his young and ardent heart, which had encompassed those feelings for so long20.

18But Rossi’s interpretation of the Shakespearean play is, in the end, more complex than a mere celebration of youthful and dream-like love. Romeo, in Rossi’s words, struggled to « correct an imperfection, a deficiency by fretfully looking for an ideal image . . . that could fill the immense void he perceived within himself21». This finds its deictic correspondent in the script when, as soon as he sees Juliet, he exclaims : « Heavens, here she is ; I was not deceived thinking I would have met her here22» (Act 1, f. 12, my emphasis). Juliet, or better, the idea of her, has inhabited Romeo’s conscience and dreams for a long time, as he readily tells Mercutio : « It seems to me that her beauty informed my dreams last night too23» (Act 1, f. 12). This avowal is glossed by Mercutio’s queen Mab speech that Rossi inserts at this point, significantly interrupting it a moment before the allusion to the deflowering of virgins24, which Mab also presides over. This kind of editing is undoubtedly dictated by the rules of decorum and Mercutio’s spiciness, his trademark in Shakespeare, is generally softened or erased to better suit both the prudish sensibility of a nineteenth-century public and the moral concerns of censorship.

19This particular variation, though, also hints at Rossi’s Romantic interpretation of the relationship between Romeo and Juliet as the substantiation of a transcendent image, not immediately dependent on the satisfaction of sensuous urges. In his study on the play Rossi also remarks how the protagonists’, and especially Romeo’s actions are guided by what he calls an « act of will » (« un atto di volontà ») which pertains, he says, to the sphere of imagination :

. . . imagination moves freely, reverberating different images : among them it chooses and cherishes one, lingers on it, treasures it ; the senses are subdued by the repetition of purely intellectual acts and the spirit is satisfied with the image, without recurring to a manifestation of physical reality. Yet, how ever the spirit finds its content in it, the human being that is made of spirit and matter feels incomplete : the two fight against each other, but the choice is always voluntary25.

20In fact, the expression « act of will » is borrowed from Samuel T. Coleridge26 as is the idea of love as a desire to amend one’s imperfection. In his lectures on Shakespeare Coleridge had written that : « Love is a desire of the whole being to be united to some thing, or some being, felt necessary to its completeness, by the most perfect means that nature permits, and reason dictates27». According to him, Romeo’s love for Rosaline is a proof of his perceiving himself as ‘incomplete’, a state he is able to cure only when he first meets Juliet and his love is finally reciprocated. The idea he has « formed in his own mind28» finds its fulfilment in a woman who is the perfect « mixture of the real and of the ideal29» ; and this, as Anthony Harding justly foregrounded, makes her « not only the recipient of sexual homage, but also the symbol of the highest joy that exists, union with the Divine30».

21The love of Romeo and Juliet feeds on a spiritual dimension in which, as we have seen, Juliet becomes the manifestation of Romeo’s cherished ideal. This sort of « superior realisation » does not exclude the material perspective of physical attraction, and yet that is only a part, if necessary, of a process of ceaseless spiritual upgrading. This pursuit of an ideal becomes the guiding line of Rossi’s script and motivates most of its cuts and adjustments.

22One of the most significant deviations from the Shakespearean text is indeed the repositioning of the aubade – originally placed in III.5 – within the balcony scene in Act 2. The lovers’ valediction contains a brief reference to the nightingale and the lark, but its meaning is completely altered as it does not mark a painful and eternal goodbye, as is in Shakespeare, but only a temporary separation before the wedding. Rossi has Romeo arrive at Juliet’s house as if attracted by a « heavenly force » (« una forza celeste », Act 2, f. 16) which seems to respond to the Coleridgean idea of mutual human love as an image of divine affection. However, at this point, Rossi introduces an unexpected turn in the script : after their night-time meeting in the garden, Romeo and Juliet never meet again but in the tomb, when Juliet wakes only to discover a dead Romeo lying at her side. As Julia Kristeva wrote, Romeo and Juliet « mettent moins de temps à s’aimer qu’à se préparer à mourir31» ; in Rossi, this time is even shorter. Their encounter at the Friar’s cell is excised and the audience is only obliquely made aware that a secret marriage has been celebrated32. Moreover, Juliet’s « Gallop apace » monologue in III.2 is heavily revised and abridged ; all references to the « winning match » the young virgin is eager to play (and lose) are cancelled and eventually, once the Nurse tells her about Tybald’s death, the girl begs her to send for Friar Laurence and not for her husband to whom she sends her farewell, instead :


. Non piangete, troverò Romeo per consolarvi, egli è nascosto nella cella di Frate Lorenzo, gli dirò…
. Di partir subito, di non farsi sorprendere ; e dagli questo anello e con esso il mio addio… Prega poi il buon padre Lorenzo di venire da me.
(Act 3, f. 3833)


Nurse. Hie to your chamber. I’ll find Romeo
To comfort you. I wot well where he is.
Hark ye, your Romeo will be here at night.
I’ll to him ; he is hid at Laurence’ cell.
Juliet. O find him ! Give this ring to my true knight
And bid him come to take his last farewell.

23This solution hastens the course of events and could actually respond to practical timing or stage requirements. It may also have been dictated by contemporary moralistic prudery, especially concerned with overt sexual allusions. Indeed, this choice also affects the conceptual framework of the play and Romeo’s and Juliet’s eventual deaths do not seem to come as the tragic consequence of fatal misunderstandings but as the only way through which the image of the ideal love they have seen in each other can remain untainted and live for ever. It is Rossi himself who suggests this interpretation : « It never occurred to me », he writes, « that those two noble and pure beings could have willingly descended to satisfy earthly appetites34».

24In fact, not even death will have Juliet. The metaphor of death as lover that recurs in the Shakespearean text gets faded or even removed. Capulet’s words of woe over his daughter’s lifeless body (« Flower as she was, deflowered by him. | Death is my son-in-law, death is my heir. | My daughter he has wedded » ; IV.5.37-39) are deleted and his lament distantly recalls Lady Capulet’s cues, when he cries : « Woeful day ! Having one daughter and losing her thus !35». Romeo’s allusion to death as Juliet’s lover in the tomb is actually maintained but suggestively modified. Let us compare the two versions :


Romeo. Ah, dear Juliet,
Why art thou yet so fair ? Shall I believe
That unsubstantial death is amorous,
And that the lean abhorred monster keeps
Thee here in dark to be his paramour ?


Romeo. Ah, dolce Giulietta, perché sei anche
sì bella ? Crederò io che sino il fantasma della morte
sia capace d’amore e che qui ti blandisca perché
tu divenga sua sposa ?
(Act 5, ff. 58-5936)

25Rossi’s is not only shorter and less ghastly, in that it eliminates the image of death as a hideous and skeletal lover, but also undermines the idea of an adulterous relationship between Juliet and death (suggested by the word « paramour »). The phantom of death – a felicitous solution Rossi takes from Rusconi in order to maintain the masculine gender of the noun in the Italian translation – is courting Romeo’s bride but has not conquered her yet (« perché tu divenga sua sposa37», « so that you become his bride »).

26The violence of desire is ever tempered and, as we have seen, conveyed and cramped into (seemingly unfulfilled) anticipation. The conflict between passion and social identity that we find in Shakespeare’s play, branching out into multifarious dramatic and symbolic possibilities, is here reduced to a rather static depiction of love as an ideal of perfection not to be stained by the ardent grasp of its terrestrial satisfaction.

27In fact, Rossi takes this as Shakespeare’s greatness and compares it to the artistry of Antonio Canova :

Shakespeare would not even graze such a delicate and complicated question [the satisfaction of earthly appetites] ; thought can apprehend it, as a deduction coming from that ideal essence, but never express it in writing, speech, painting or sculpture. Canova proved it with his Cupid and Psyche ; one can conceive that kiss but never make it real. Reality would kill poetry38.

28Rossi greatly admired Canova’s work and was particularly fond of Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss (now at the Louvre) ; he had the chance to see it at Villa Carlotta, the residence of the dukes of Meiningen on Lake Como39, and held it to represent the authentic synthesis of love and art. The sensual nature of Cupid’s kiss is fixed in the moment that precedes it and its amorous import is crystallized before it is actually consummated. « Preliminary and contemplative40» as it is, Canova’s sculpted eroticism captures the visualization of a desire, which achieves an oxymoronic fixed yet always-progressing ethereal quality. This is the effect Rossi looked for in his Romeo and Juliet. Protected by the secret space of a moonlit garden, their passion becomes an ideal form of love, a bud waiting for the summer breeze to make it bloom, as Juliet says in II.2. And yet, having it blossom would ruin it and therefore its unripe freshness must be ever preserved so that its flawless perfection may suit the eternal.

29Once again according to Kristeva, Shakespeare « a sauvé le couple pur. Il a sauvegardé la candeur du mariage sous le linceul de la mort, et n’a pas voulu aller dans ce texte au bout de la nuit passionnelle qui est celle du couple durable41.» In fact, Rossi checked the action beforehand and aimed at preserving not so much the innocence of marriage but the purity of the protagonists’ first falling in love. Therefore, it is perhaps not surprising that Rossi made his Juliet a couple of years older than Shakespeare’s. Possibly dictated by moral opportunity, the choice of having a sixteen-year-old protagonist probably better suited the Canovian ideal of pubescent and chaste sensuality he wished to reproduce and that the immature physicality of a younger girl could not fully suggest.

30Rossi has Romeo and Juliet linger on the threshold of adulthood and made them speak the delicate and naïve language of juvenile passion. The social, economic, and patriarchal issues that also stand at the core of Romeo and Juliet are completely forgotten and its dramatic import is circumscribed to the tragicality of young love that become the victim of its own idealization because, as De Sanctis put it, Romeo and Juliet share « no misery : they love, desire, hope as if they were unaware of their terrible situation42». Being so pure, their love may live forever untouched by earthly cares.

31To come to a conclusion, it is unsure whether Rossi succeeded in translating « what the author [Shakespeare] had in mind », but his interpretation was apparently successful and attuned to nineteenth-century sensibility, undoubtedly initiating the Bard’s long-lasting fortune on the Italian stage. De Sanctis himself expressed his deep appreciation for Rossi’s Shakespearean work and, in a letter dated 13th August 1874, wrote : « Dear Friend, your characters touched my heart [and] aroused dear memorie43». And maybe, after one-hundred-and-forty years, they still do.


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WHITE, R.S. (ed.), Romeo and Juliet. William Shakespeare, Houndsmill, Basingstoke,  Palgrave, 2001.


1 «Fra tutti i caratteri shakespeariani, che io ho studiati, uno mi costò minor tempo e minor fatica, forse per l’affinità delle mie tendenze immaginose; quello del giovine eroe della novella Veronese», Ernesto Rossi, Quarant’anni di vita artistica, vol. 1, Firenze, L. Niccolai, 1887, p. 363. Here and elsewhere the translation from Italian is mine.

2 For Rossi’s acting tours out of Italy see Marvin Carlson, The Italian Shakespearians. Performances by Ristori, Salvini and Rossi in England and America, London and Toronto, Associated University Presses, 1985; Massimo Lenzi, L’istrione iperboreo. Le figurazioni sceniche di Adelaide Ristori ed Ernesto Rossi nel prisma della critica russa contemporanea (1860-1896), Pisa, Edizioni ETS, 1993; Sonia Bellavia, La voce del gesto. Le rappresentazioni shakespeariane di Ernesto Rossi sulla scena tedesca, Roma, Bulzoni, 2001.

3 Konstantin Stanislavski, My life in art, London, Methuen, [1924] 1980, p. 77-78.

4 See Hilary Gatti, Shakespeare nei teatri milanesi dell’Ottocento, Bari, Adriatica, 1968, p. 34. Another popular French play was Jean-François Ducis’ Roméo et Juliette, tragédie imitée de l’Anglais (1772), which was also translated into Italian and frequently staged until the early nineteenth century.


6 Thomas Otway drew on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to set up a subplot to his 1680 Roman play The History and Fall of Caius Marius. Despite the hatred between their two families who belong to the warring factions of Marius and Sulla, Lavinia and Marius Junior fall in love and secretly marry. Separated by the events of the civil wars, they eventually reunite in the tomb where they share a prolonged and pathetic farewell.

7 Giulio Carcano, novelist and politician born in Milan in 1812, dedicated much of his life to the translation of Shakespeare’s works and had them published in 12 volumes between 1875 and 1882.

8 Carlo Rusconi was an exile in England after 1849. He had produced the first complete Italian prose translation of Shakespeare as early as 1839.

9 « La traduzione del Rusconi mi piaceva, ma in qualche punto non mi parve fedele: è bella, perché è chiara, e forse non riusci [sic] adorna di un linguaggio più conciso e corretto, perché il fortunato traduttore, non la immaginava destinata al teatro. . . . io volli provarmi ad esser ligio, fedele al testo, e possibilmente non dire di più o di meno di quello che vuole l’autore. Che vi sia riuscito?  », Ernesto Rossi, Quarant’anni di vita artistica, cit., p. 244-245.

10 William Shakespeare,Romeo and Juliet, II.2.75-78.

11 William Shakespeare,Giulietta e Romeo, in Teatro Completo di Shakespeare, voltato in prosa da Carlo Rusconi, Torino, Unione Tipografico-Editrice, 1858, vol. I, p. 176.

12 William Shakespeare,Romeo e Giulietta, Ms ER.1.64, act 2, f. 18.

13 « Entrano Romeo e Mercuzio vestiti da pellegrini colla maschera al viso, poi Tebaldo con altro costume. Cap. Pellegrini, siate i ben arrivati. Giungete voi di Terra Santa? Mer. Tutta la Palestina abbiamo religiosamente visitata. Cap. E riportate? Mer. Un vasello d’acqua del Giordano per battezzare il nostro primo bambino. Cap. Converrà che vi ammogliate per ciò? Mer. È proprio necessario? Cap. Ah, ah, bei pellegrini questi sono i costumi dell’Occidente e se vi fermate qui li conoscerete. Mer. Ci fermeremo a patto che diate spesso così splendide feste ».

14 « Giul. Paride chi è quel pellegrino? Par. Non l’avete conosciuto? Giul. No, in verità. Par. E sì che si è tolto la maschera. Giul. Ma infine chi è? Par. Romeo, un Montecchio, l’unico figlio del più acerbo nemico della vostra casa. Giul. [a parte] Oh, il mio amore nacque dunque dal seno dell’odio? Oh, me sventurata! Par. Giulietta, vi piace che apriamo ora la danza. Giul. Sia perché lo esige mio padre. Par. Né io saprei desiderare di più. ».

15 See Gigi Livio, « Il teatro del grande attore e del mattatore », in Storia del teatro moderno e contemporaneo, diretta da Roberto Alonge e Guido Davico Bonino, vol. II, Torino, Giulio Einaudi Editore, 2000, p. 611-675; Roberto Alonge, Teatro e spettacolo nel secondo Ottocento, Bari, Laterza, 1997, p. 39-51; and Marisa Sestito, « La carriera di un copione », in Il teatro del personaggio. Shakespeare sulla scena italiana dell’800, a cura di Laura Caretti, Roma, Bulzoni, 1979, p. 181-209.

16 This was the case of Niccolò Antonio Zingarelli’s Giulietta e Romeo (1796, libretto by Giuseppe Maria Foppa), Nicola Vaccai’s Giulietta e Romeo (1825, libretto by Felice Romani), Vincenzo Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi (1830, libretto by Romani) and Filippo Marchetti’s Romeo e Giulietta (1865, libretto by Carlo M. Marcello). For a comprehensive survey on Shakespeare and melodrama in the nineteenth century, see Fabio Vittorini, Shakespeare e il melodramma romantico, Milano, La Nuova Italia, 2000.

17 « italiani coi loro lirici ardori », « un aere puro e primaverile », « inesperienza », Ernesto Rossi, Studii Drammatici…, p. 252, 263.

18 « forma il vero fondamento, la salda base della tragedia. » Ernesto Rossi, Studii Drammatici…, p. 261.

19 « . . . siamo ancora nell’età più bella e poetica della vita. I due giovani, che non si sono ancora distaccati dalle immagini e dai trastulli della fanciullezza, e ignorano il dolore, sono gettati in un mondo che essi non comprendono, . . . diventano vittime dei loro sogni. Ecco l’idea magnifica, magnificamente svolta, dello Shakespeare », Francesco De Sanctis, Teoria e storia della letteratura. VII. Le lezioni sulla poesia drammatica, a cura di Benedetto Croce, Bari, Laterza, 1926, vol. II, p. 215.

20 « Giulietta è la vera, intera imagine del suo ideale. Nel vederla, estrae dal suo giovine e ardente cuore, ove stava da tanto tempo racchiuso e compresso, il dolce sospiro della propria soddisfazione e dell’ineffabile contento », Ernesto Rossi, Studii Drammatici…, p. 260-261.

21 « . . . correggere questa imperfezione, questa deficenza [sic], e affannoso spingevasi alla ricerca di un’immagine ideale, . . . atta a riempire l’immenso vuoto, che sentiva in sé stesso », ibid., p. 257-258.

22 « Cielo, eccola, non m’ero ingannato pensando che l’avrei trovata qui », my emphasis.

23 « Della sua bellezza parmi sognassi anche la notte scorsa ».

24 « This is the hag, when maids lie on their backs, | That presses them and learns them first to bear, | Making them women of good carriage », I.4.94-96.

25 « . . . la fantasia spazia, riflette a sé stessa varie immagini: fra queste ne sceglie e ne predilige una, a questa si arresta e si affeziona: i sensi rimangono subordinati a questo ripetersi di atti puramente intellettuali: lo spirito si accontenta in essa, anche senza la estrinsecazione della fisica corrispondente realtà. Però per quanto lo spirito si accontenti, l’essere umano, composto di spirito e materia si sente sempre incompleto: l’uno e 1’altro lottano, ma l’atto di predilezione è sempre volontario. », Ernesto Rossi, Studii Drammatici…, p. 266.

26 Coleridge, whom Rossi admired and frequently quoted in his Shakespearean essays, wrote that love « however sudden, . . . is yet an act of will – and that too one of the primary & therefore unbewusst, & ineffable acts », Samuel T. Coleridge, The Notebooks of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, edited by Kathleen Coburn, London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, vol. III, 3652.

27 Samuel T. Coleridge, Essays and Lectures on Shakespeare and Other Poets and Dramatists, London, J.M. Dent, 1907, VII, p. 430-431.

28 Ibid., p. 433.

29 Ibid., VI, p. 418.

30 Anthony John Harding, Coleridge and the Idea of Love. Aspects of relationship in Coleridge’s thought and writing, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1974, p. 99.

31 Julia Kristeva, Histoires d’amour, Paris, Denoël, 1983, p. 204.

32 From Act 3 onwards, both Romeo and Juliet refer to each other as bridegroom (« mio sposo ») and bride (« mia sposa ») and in his recapitulation Friar Laurence refers to the celebration of their secret marriage (« occulto matrimonio »).

33 [« Nurse. Don’t cry, I’ll find Romeo to comfort you; he is hid at Friar Laurence’s cell, I’ll tell him… Juliet. To leave right away, lest he is found; and give him this ring and with it my farewell… then beg good Father Laurence to come to me. »]

34 « [M]ai mi cadde in pensiero, che quei due nobili e puri esseri, fossero discesi volontariamente a soddisfare reali appetiti », Ernesto Rossi, Studii Drammatici…, p. 267.

35 « Sciagurato giorno! Avere un’unica figlia e perderla così! », Ms. ER.1.64, act 4, f. 49.

36 [« Ah, sweet Juliet, why are you still so beautiful? Would I believe that even the phantom death can love and here coax you into marriage? »]. Rusconi translated it as follows: « Cara Giulietta, perché sei anche sì bella? Crederò io che il fantasma della morte sia suscettivo d’amore e che quel mostro abborrito ti trattenga fra queste tenebre perché sii sua sposa? », Giulietta e Romeo, in Teatro Completo di Shakespeare, cit., p. 221. [« Dear Juliet, why are you still so beautiful? Would I believe that the phantom of death has grown amorous and that that hideous monster keeps you in this darkness to make you his bride? »].

37 My emphasis.

38 « Shakespeare non volle toccare neppur di volo, una sì delicata e difficile quistione [la soddisfazione di reali appetiti], che il pensiero può afferrare, corollario a tale essenza ideale, giammai esprimerla a penna, parole, pennello e scalpello. Canova ne dette prova nel suo Amore e Psiche; quel bacio si può ideare, non concretare. La realtà ucciderebbe la poesia », Ernesto Rossi, Studii drammatici…, p. 267.

39 « In quella villa tutto spira arte e amore! vi dette un tale battesimo lo scalpello del Canova », Ernesto Rossi, Quarant’anni di vita artistica, cit., vol. 2, p. 185. [« In that villa everything inspires love and art! Canova’s baptized it thus. »]. The villa holds a beautiful copy of Canova’s Cupid and Psyche, which was reputed to be an original piece in the nineteenth century.

40 Mario Praz, Gusto neoclassico, Milano, Rizzoli, [1974] 2003, p. 137.

41 Julia Kristeva, Histoires d’amour, op. cit., p. 211.

42 « . . . non vi è strazio: essi amano, desiderano, sperano, come ignari della loro terribile situazione. », Francesco De Sanctis, Teoria e storia della letteratura, cit., p. 217.

43 Autografoteca Bastogi, Leghorn, Fondo Ernesto Rossi, « Corrispondenza Italiana », F. 40r.

Pour citer ce document

Par Lisanna Calvi, «Shakespeare in 19th-century Italy : Ernesto Rossi’s Romeo and Juliet.», Shakespeare en devenir [En ligne], N°8 - 2014, Shakespeare en devenir, Appropriations italiennes de Shakespeare, mis à jour le : 29/11/2014, URL :

Quelques mots à propos de :  Lisanna Calvi

Lisanna Calvi is Lecturer of English Literature at the Department of Philological, Literary and Linguistic Studies of the University of Verona. Her main research interests have focussed on Restoration and early modern drama and literary culture. She wrote a book on Restoration and early eighteenth-century tragedy (Kingship and Tragedy, 2005) and on James II’s devotional papers and Imago Regis (La corona e la Croce, 2009). She also authored articles on John Dryden (2000), Robert Browning (2002, 2 ...