Hamlet in Italy (1700-1945)
The Romantic movement which spread all over Europe by the end of the 18th century continued the process of canonization of Shakespeare started by David Garrick with the Stratford Jubilee in 1769. The more the Romantic ideas became part of the single national culture, the more Shakespeare was present in those countries. Romanticism did not start at the same time in all Europe, and this affected the popularity of Shakespeare in Italy, where Romanticism overcame classicism only in the second decade of the 19th century. Alessandro Manzoni, the greatest Italian Romantic writer whose own works were influenced by Shakespeare, ranked Shakespeare with Virgil. In his “Letter to M. Chauvet on the Unity of Time and Place in Tragedy” (1820) Manzoni defends Shakespeare’s Othello which he compares to Voltaire’s Zaïre, finding Shakespeare’s characterization of Othello more realistic (how could Othello, wonders Manzoni, in only twenty-four hours—as required by classical norms—listen to Iago, get jealous, eavesdrop on Desdemona, plan to kill her, and murder her?). Twenty-four hours is hardly enough time to make human events believable.
Even though the Romantic poets considered Shakespeare the “sacred genius,” to use Garrick’s words, Shakespeare’s works were not popular on the Italian stage until the first half of nineteenth century. Bardolatry did not affect Italian culture of the last decade of 18th century, as it had in France and Germany. This is partly due to the long controversy between classicism and modernity, which engaged Italian writers for years, and partly it is due to the late diffusion of Romanticism, which starts in Italy at least twenty years after Wordsworth and Coleridge published The Lyrical Ballads (1798). Shakespeare was seen as a good dramatist, with good ideas, but, alas, without rules. This flaw concerned the first Italian translators of Shakespeare very much, whereas it intrigued the great Italian actors of the second half of the century.
The Eighteenth Century Translations
The first published translation of Hamlet, and of any Shakespeare, in Italy was that of the famous “To be” soliloquy in 3.1 by Paolo Rolli, in 1739. Paolo Rolli was a poet who lived in London from 1715 to 1744. Rolli wrote libretti for opera, taught Italian, and translated, among others, Milton into Italian. The translation of the soliloquy was published at the end of Delle Ode d’Anacreonte Teio, translated from Greek by Rolli, printed in London in 1739 [Note: Rolli’s work appears on the hamletworks.org website]. In the preface to the text, he argues that his translation is a response to Voltaire: “Monsieur de Voltaire in una delle sue lettere sovra la Nazione Britannica, ragionando del Famoso Tragico Shakespear, per darne qualche Saggio, tradusse il Soliloquio della tragedia d’Hamleto Prencipe di Danimarca. Questa litteral Traduzzione mostrerà quant’egli deviò da’ Sentimenti e dallo Stile di quell’originalmente sublime Poeta” (1739, p. 96) [“Monsieur de Voltaire in one of his letters on the British Nation, speaking of the famous tragedian Shakespeare, in order to test a sample, translated the soliloquy of the tragedy Hamlet Prince of Denmark. This literal translation will show that he departed from the feelings and the style of that original sublime poet]. Rolli’s translation is very accurate, showing a good understanding of the original text. His translation is comparable to the best translations published in the following century. If we compare Rolli’s translation with a modern one, like that of Alessandro Serpieri (1977), staged by Gabriele Lavia for a decade in the 1980s, we can see that the two translations have a similar approach to the first line. Rolli, like Serpieri, emphasizes the Shakespeare’s word question, translated Questione, and not “problema,” (“problem”) as most of the translators, even modern ones, do: “Essere o no, la gran Questione è questa: Qual nella mente è forte più? Soffrire Colpi e Saette d’oltraggiosa Sorte; O prender l’Armi contra un mar d’Affanni, E dar loro, in opporsi, a un tratto il fine?” (1739, p. 97) [“To be or not to be, this is the great question: Which one is the strongest in the mind? To suffer the slings and arrows of an outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles And by opposing all of a sudden end them”]. In Renaissance English question is connected to the Latin word quaestio, that is Hamlet is asking himself a philosophical question more than stating a problem he has to solve. We could not know, of course, how Rolli would have translated the whole play, but thanks to him, Shakespeare and Hamlet, even though few lines only, could be read for the first time in Italian.
Another translation worth noting is Alessandro Verri’s made after a stay in England in 1769. “Verri started his translation of Hamlet on 8 January 1769 and, after many interruptions, completed it at the beginning of March 1777” (Petrone Fresco 1993, p. 115). The translation is extant in three Ms at the Verri Archive in Milan (Verri 1769). MsA is Verri’s first attempt at translating the play, MsB is the final version, that “shows a massive intervention which has transformed the text considerably” (Petrone Fresco 1993, p. 115). MsC is a copy of MsB. Unfortunately Verri’s Hamlet never reached a stage audience, nor a reading public, remaining mere closet drama, with no direct impact on contemporary Italian literature. As Petrone Fresco argues, had Verri’s translation been published, “it would have been the first really serious attempt in any European literature at a complete rendering of Hamlet, since it antedates Le Tourner’s translation of the play (which was published as late as 1779) and was preceded only by the less complete German translation by Wieland (1766).” (1993, p. 114).
The first “Hamlet” to be performed on an Italian stage was a travesty, Amleto tragedia di M. Ducis ad imitazione della inglese di Shakespeare (Hamlet, tragedy by M. Ducis after the English one by Shakespeare [see Ducis on Hamletworks]) translated by Francesco Gritti, staged in Venice in 1774. The play had a run of nine nights at San Giovanni Crisostomo Theater. As Marvin Carlson writes, “the cast was reduced to eight, several of them confidantes, the unities were rigidly followed , and Ophelia was made the daughter of Claudius, so that the plot could hinge upon the Corneillian dilemma of Hamlet being forced to choose between his love and his duty” (1985, p. 15). Gritti’s translation was published in in 1774 and reprinted in 1796 in a collection of plays. In the 1774 preface to the play, Gritti emphasized the unsuitability of the original because “L'Amleto di Shakespear è per l'Inghilterra ciò, per esempio, che il Convitato di Pietra è tuttavia per l'Italia; una, cioè, delle più mostruose e non di meno una delle più frequentate Rappresentazioni teatrali” (Teatro Moderno Applaudito 1796, p. V) [“Shakespeare's Hamlet is still for England what, for instance, the Convitato di Pietra (the old mask comedy from which Lorenzo da Ponte took the libretto for Mozart's Don Giovanni) is for Italy, that is to say, one of the most monstrous, yet one of the most popular of stage plays”] The editors of the 1796 edition pointed out the “abominations” removed by Ducis: “Da quanto abbiamo detto finora, rilevasi che il merito del signor di Ducis per aver migliorato d’assai l’originale di Shakespear, gli scema in gran parte bensì, ma non gli toglie affatto la colpa di avere scelto un argomento ch’ei dovea tutto lasciare al teatro inglese, poiché, essendo questo appoggiato sopra un fatto ch’è interamente fuori natura, ad onta de’ varj pregi che lo abbelliscono, e che abbagliano il volgo, anziché dilettare e istruire, scuote e ributta ogni sensato spettatore, o leggitore” (Teatro Moderno Applaudito 1796, p. 75) [“it is clear that the merit of Signor Ducis in greatly improving Shakespeare's original palliates in some degree, but not altogether, his mistake in choosing a subject which he should have left entirely to the English stage, since it turns on a fact quite outside nature. In spite of some good qualities which distinguish it, it dazzles the vulgar instead of pleasing and instructing them and disgusts every reasonable spectator or reader”]. The play was revived in Bologna in summer 1795 with Francesco Menichelli in the role of Hamlet. Teatro Moderno Applaudito (1796) reports that Menichelli “esprimendo con tragica energia il sopraeminente carattere del protagonista, seppe ricordare il gran Molè a tutti quelli che udito l’avevano a Parigi” (1796, p. 71) [“playing the oustanding character of the protagonist with such tragic Energy, he reminded all who saw him in Paris of the great Molè ”].
In 1793 the promising young Tuscan actor Antonio Morrocchesi staged Hamlet for three nights in Florence at Teatro di Borgognissanti. The text was probably an adaptation from Duci’s version of the play.
The nineteenth century translations
It is only with the nineteenth century that Shakespeare’s plays started to be systematically translated from English. Michele Leoni, after having translated Julius Caesar in verse in 1811, is the first to embark upon the enterprise of translating all the canon. His translation, in verse, of Hamlet, published in 1814, included Schlegel’s introduction. Leoni thought that the mixture of verse and prose was too unfamiliar to the Italian ear. His work had a fundamental role in promoting a Shakespeare not mediated by French translations. Notwithstanding his classical concept, he respected Shakespeare as a poet of nature in spite of his lack of respect for the rules of classicism. “Le varie mende (alcune propriamente lievi) di Shakespeare sono perdonate solo in vista della vastità del suo genio e della intima conoscenza dell’uman core” (Leoni 1819, p. XIV) [“The various faults (some in fact small) of Shakespeare can be forgiven only if we consider the enormity of his genius and his intimate knowledge of the human heart of tragedy”]. Among “Shakespeare’s faults,” Leoni tried to amend the mixed style. He was not able to recognize in this mixture of poetry and prose an essential feature of Shakespeare’s method; on the contrary he attempted to make the plays as homogenous as possible, reflecting in this way his own neo-classicism.
The Romantic movement led in Italy, as all over Europe, to Shakespeare’s triumph. In 1839, new versions of Hamlet
were published in prose: Hamlet
by Ignazio Valletta, Hamlet
by Carlo Rusconi, whose translations of all the canon became the standard Shakespeare in Italian until the 1860s when a new translation was published. Rusconi chose prose instead of verse because he thought prose would maintain the author’s idea and his various nuances:
Mi attenni, e di essa sempre mi valsi, nobilitandola o lasciandola umile, qualora il metro e il tema me l’imponevano, persuaso che in una traduzione (soprattutto da due lingue sì disparate come quali sono l’Inglese e l’Italiana) tutto è fatto allorché si giunge a rendere con tutti i suoi elementi l’idea di un autore; e che il volersi adoprare a tradurre, per così dire anche le bellezze di suono e di stile è opera nonché ardua, impossibile. (Rusconi 1838, p. 2)
[I kept the prose, either ennobling the tone or leaving it simple, just as was dictated by meter and theme, being convinced that in a translation (especially when two such different languages as Italian and English are concerned) the main aim should be that of rendering the author’s idea and its various nuances. Trying to translate the same sonority and style as the original is a difficult if not impossible task.]
If verse translations tend to omit something here and add something else there in order to fit the sense to the “meter,” Rusconi’s prose translations also smoothes down, paraphrases, and adapts the text. Rusconi, like most of contemporary translators, generally omitted puns, justifying his choice with a footnote. At the beginning of the “mouse-trap scene,” Hamlet sits near Ophelia and speaks to her. The exchange is full of bawdy language and sexual puns. Rusconi in his first translation of Hamlet
follows, more or less, the previous translations, with two important new choices: the first is the use of “grembo” for “lap,” the second a footnote which translates literally what in the text is bowdlerized: “to lie between maid’s legs, di giacere fra le .... Delle fanciulle” (“to lie between...of maids”). – omitting the words “legs,” “gambe” (Rusconi 1838, p. 301):
Am. Signora, potrò io riposarmi nel vostro grembo? (assidendosi ai piedi d’Ofelia)
Of. No, signore.
Am. Intendo col capo?
Of. Sia, Signore.
Am. Credeste che intendessi di farlo villanamente?
Of. Nulla credo, Signore.
Am. È un bel pensiero quello di coricarsi ai piedi di una fanciulla.
Of. Che volete dire, Signore?
[Ham. Madam, Can I rest on your lap? (He sits at Ophelia’s feet) Oph. No, my lord Ham. With my head, I mean. Oph. Very well then, my lord. Ham. Did you think I wanted to do it boorishly? Oph. I believe nothing, my lord. Ham. a nice thought to lie down at a maiden’s feet. Oph. What do you mean, my Lord? Ham. Nothing.]
In 1843 Giulio Carcano published Selected Theatre of Shakespeare: Lear, Hamlet, Julius Caesar, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Richard III, Othello, The Tempest, The Merchant of Venice, Henry VIII. His translations of Shakespeare, in verse even when in English is in prose, are probably the best of the 19th century. They fulfilled the expectations of the Italian audience, which wanted Shakespeare to be more regular (Duranti 1979, p. 96). Carcano was aware of the differences between written drama and acted drama. His verses did flow enough to avoid the declamatory stiffness of neoclassical drama. It was probably for this reason that both Ernesto Rossi and Tommaso Salvini used his translations as starting point for their own adaptations.
Hamlet on Stage in the Nineteenth century
The first Italian actor to perform Shakespeare’s Hamlet
was Alemanno Morelli in 1850. Morelli used Rusconi’s prose translation and, for the scene with the actors in the second act, Giulio Carcano’s verse translation, with a clear reference in the last scene to Ducis’s
version; [Jeffery, a link here to our Ducis text]
Both have a happy ending. There are a few other echoes of Ducis’s version: Morelli: “AM. Si vada... ma prima di tutto sian rese grazie al Cielo, che mi sottrasse da sì tremendo periglio. Oh Padre mio sei vendicato!” [“HAM. Let’s go... but first of all I have to thank heaven, which saved me from this tremendous danger. Oh, Father, you are avenged!”]; Ducis: “Ciel, que jamais en vain l’innocence n’implore, Tu venges donc mon père!” (Ducis 1873, p. 55, see hamletworks.org)
[“Heavens, that the innocence implores in vain, So you avenge my father!”]
In Morelli’s version Hamlet is the only one to survive because the Ghost wants him to survive:
AM. Ed io, orfano sulla terra, dovrò respirare quest’aere pregno di sangue dei miei? [...] Padre, per un’anima ne avesti quattro. Qual punizione m’attende?
SPET. Tu vivrai.
[HAM. I, orphan on the earth, I will have to breathe this air full of my parents’ blood? [...] Father to get one soul you had four. Which will be my punishment?
GHOST: You will live.] (Sestito 1979, p. 90)
The original ending was to be performed in 1851, when Morelli staged his third version of Hamlet. Morelli’s Hamlet is mainly focused around the revenge theme. The Danish Prince after the first encounter with the Ghost is utterly convinced to avenge his father’s murder and has no need to be encouraged to do it. To emphasize his interpretation, Morelli cut Hecuba's speech, Hamlet’s monologue at the end of Act Two (TLN 1589-1645), Fortinbras, and all the Ghost lines from his first appearance to the closet scene (Sestito 1979, pp. 185-95). Morelli’s acting style was natural and anti-rhetorical, and his Hamlet was highly appreciated by the theater critic Yorick: “Amleto è una creazione di Morelli, né io ho bisogno di dirvi quanto difficile creazione ella debba essere stata” (Gatti 1968, p. 56) [“Hamlet is Morelli’s creation, and there is no need to say how difficult this creation must have been”]. In 1885, Yorick, comparing different interpretations of Hamlet, praised Morelli’s: “Amleto rivestiva con lui tutta la maestà della sventura, e nei momenti del delirio e dell’allucinazione rivelava con lo sguardo, col gesto, col tono della voce l’interna lotta tra la paura di scoprire il vero e il disgusto di vedersi circondato dal falso” (Yorick 1885, p. 517) [“Morelli’s Hamlet had all the majesty of misfortune. In his frenzy and hallucinations, with his look, gesture, and voice, he revealed his inner struggle between the fear of discovering the truth and the revulsion of being surrounded with falsehood”].
On June 4, 1856 a new Hamlet started to tread the boards: Ernesto Rossi, one of the greatest international 19th century actors. Rossi performed the Prince of Denmark for almost forty years, until the age of sixty-eight. It was not unusual for 18th- and 19th-century actors to play Hamlet into old age. His interpretation of Hamlet changes and develops during the years. At the beginning, he heavily cut the original text, eliminating those passages he thought too difficult for an Italian audience, for example the gravedigger scene, which Rossi included only in 1866 after his Paris tour (Rossi 1887, pp. 292-3) upon reading Théophile Gautier’s review on Le Moniteur
(May, 1866). Théophile Gautier (1866) praised Rossi’s Hamlet
, arguing that the Italian actor “possède à fond son art: son intonation est juste, son geste vrai sans trivialité, élégant sans emphase” [“has perfect management of his art: his intonation is right, his gestures are real, with no coarse expression; it is elegant without grandiloquence”] (Le Moniteur
, May 1866). In his autobiography, Rossi allows that the French writer was correct about the gravedigger scene: “Il critico aveva ragione. La scena non era completa: era stata omessa la scena fra i due becchini: [...] mi corressi, e mi studiai di trasfondere la convinzione dell’uomo che parla con una testa di morto riassumendo le tristezze della vita. Noi italiani ci siamo poco abituati” [“The critic was right. The scene was not complete: the churchyard scene had been omitted. I corrected myself, and I tried to give the idea of a man speaking to a skull who summarizes the sadness of life. We Italians are not used to it”] (Rossi 1887, pp. 292-3). In his Dramatic Studies
he writes that the churchyard scene was obscure to him, “mi pareva una cosa forzata, ricercata, non naturale” [“it seemed to me something forced, far-fetched, and unnatural”] (Rossi1885, p. 328). But, when in Paris the curtain went up for the fifth act, and he heard the gravedigger singing and rolling out the skulls, a shudder ran through his whole body and he felt a chilly tear in his eye:
Ecco, ci sono: l’enigma è sciolto; il dubbio è chiarito; siamo in natura e non nell’artifizio. Amleto è stanco, come sono io, il Cimitero è la sua casa, il meritato ricovero, la pace, il silenzio, l’oblio. Prima Ofelia, poi Amleto; disgiunti in vita, congiunti in morte. Rappresentai il quinto atto quale allora sapeva e poteva, convinto, tutto compenetrato nello spirito dell’autore e del personaggio. Da quella sera la scena del Cimitero fu sempre uno dei miei più bei trionfi artistici. (Rossi 1885, pp. 329)
[Now I understand; the riddle is solved; my doubts have vanished; this is nature not artifice. Hamlet is tired, as I am. The churchyard is his home, the well-deserved resting-place, peace, silence, oblivion. First Ophelia, then Hamlet; separated in life, united in death. I played the fifth act as I then knew how, and could, with conviction, my mind altogether absorbed by the author and character. From that evening the churchyard scene was always one of my greatest artistic triumphs.]
Rossi’s Hamlet is the typical Romantic hero, a hero who incarnates all the anxieties of the nineteenth century. In his dramatic studies Rossi gives his own interpretation of the Prince of Denmark:
Amleto è probo, colto e generoso; vani pensieri non capiscono nella sua mente; passioni volgari non trovano alimento nel suo cuore; gli studi di filosofia, compiuti all’Università di Vittemberga, troppo hanno preoccupato il suo spirito; di ogni cosa cerca la ragione e, ambizioso del suo sapere, vuol giudicare uomini e passioni, studia e analizza sé medesimo, e s’irrita e si sdegna quando trova la sua natura dissimile dall’altrui. (Rossi 1885, p.294)
[Hamlet is honest, learned, and generous. There is no space in his mind for frivolous thoughts; his heart does not nourish vulgar passions. His studies in philosophy at Wittenberg have affected too much his spirit: everything must have a reason. He, proud of his learning, wants to judge men and passions; he studies and analyzes himself, he gets annoyed and indignant when he finds his nature different from that of others.]
Rossi’s Hamlet lives in his own world, he is a thinker haunted by his own thoughts. The theater critic Yorick argued that “Rossi rivela tutto intiero o sgomento ineffabile di quell’anima sfiduciata. [...] La sua voce lenta, solenne, affannosa, sepolcrale, par che risponda piuttosto al suo proprio pensiero che alle domande di chi lo avvicina; quegli occhi smarriti e vagabondi cercano da per tutto lo spettro. [...] L’Amleto
di Rossi vive veramente in una sfera ultrasensibilie ed estraumana” (Yorick 1885, pp. 517-8) [“Rossi reveals entirely the unspeakable dismay of that disheartened soul.” “His slow, solemn, troubled, and sepulchral voice seems answering to his own thought rather than to the questions of those approaching him. His wandering and bewildered eyes look for the ghost everywhere. [...] Rossi’s Hamlet
really lives in a ultrasensitive and non-human dimension”]. Rossi depicted a very emotional Hamlet, increasingly excited after the appearance of the ghost. Hamlet’s mind is in a state of a frenzy, that is, out of his control. His frenzy is one of the aspects argued by the critics, who emphasized that Rossi depicted a mad Hamlet (Forlani 1874, p. 19). The German critics, who saw Rossi as Hamlet during his tours in the late fifties, rejected a mad Hamlet (Bellavia 2000). Even in Britain, where his Romeo and Juliet
, his King Lear
, and his Othello
were highly praised, the critics did not understand his interpretation of the Prince of Denmark and rejected his Hamlet:
The madness of this Hamlet is depicted by violent language, violent gestures, violent action – in short, by all the extravagant temper of the hot Southern blood, and against this we do most openly protest. That the actor presenting us with an accurate picture of an Italian maddened by various and conflicting emotions, grief, horror, love, and anger, we can well believe; but Hamlet was not an Italian. He had nothing in him of the Italian temperament; he was a Dane, and a Prince. (Rossi, letter in The Times, 1876, p. 8)
Rossi was very upset that his interpretation was misunderstood: “The character of Hamlet is said to be exhibited by me in the light of an extravagant madman, my view being that he cannot be taxed with insanity at all in the common acceptance of the word.” (Rossi, letter in The Times,
1876, p.8). Rossi argued that Claudius, after having seen the supposed evidences of Hamlet’s madness refuses to consider him insane. As regards the ethnical question, Rossi argues that there is no evidence extrinsic or internal to prove it:
I have ever regarded Hamlet as a type of humanity at large, when under certain conditions of temperament, natural or acquired, there is a conflict between the reflective and intellectual powers and then active principle; between the impulse to act and the perfect concurrences of thought and resolve to produce action. Such a temperament [...] is not more a product of Scandinavia than of Italy, and may be expressed as regards detail of gesture, facial expression, vocal accent in any way congenial to the artist’s natural mode of conveying emotion. [...] The point is to seize the character of the man Hamlet and express it as the artist, whatever his own temperament may be, would express the emotions incident to such a character were they his own. This is my general view of Hamlet. (Rossi, letter in The Times,1876, p.8)
Rossi’s general view of Shakespeare has often been considered amateurish. But if we consider how poor was the knowledge of Shakespeare in Italy at that time, Rossi’s Dramatic Studies throw a new light on the history of Shakespeare’s reception in Italy, and in particular on the reception of Hamlet. Angelo de Gubernatis in his introduction to Rossi’s Dramatic Studies, emphasizes Rossi’s strong contribution to the establishment of English theater on the Italian stage: he was the first “ad ostinarsi a far rimanere sopra le nostre scene il teatro britanno, di vincere gli ostacoli molti che rendevano difficile la rappresentazione” (1885, p. 15 [“to persevere steadily to establish the British theater on our stage, to overcome the many obstacles which made difficult its representation”]. Rossi had some insights about Hamlet, which are valid even today. To Rossi the end of 3.3. is a key passage. He complains that some actors cut it and argues that “Amleto non può, né deve uccidere lo zio Claudio in quel momento. Se lo facesse, Il concetto filosofico del drama sarebbe stato tradito” (Rossi 1885, p. 320) [“Hamlet cannot, and must not, kill his uncle at that moment. If he does it, the philosophical notion of the play would be betrayed”].
Angelo de Gubernatis reports the audience response to one of the first performances of the play: “Ernesto Rossi mi trasportava misteriosamente in pieno medioevo danese. Amleto era vivo, straziato da un dolore profondo nelle prime scene, poi padrone di un’ironia che il teatro classico non mi aveva ancora rivelato in un grado così potente, elegantissimo, eloquente, e nell’infinito delirio, stupendamente minaccioso” (De Gubernatis 1885, p. 11). [“Ernesto Rossi brought me mysteriously to the Danish middle ages. Hamlet was alive, grief-stricken in the first scenes, then master of such an irony that classic theater had not yet revealed to me in such a powerful way; elegant and seductive in every gesture, passionate, eloquent, and, in his never-ending frenzy, stupendously threatening”]. Even the hero of the two worlds, Giuseppe Garibaldi, who saw Rossi in 1866 in Genoa, was impressed by his Hamlet: “Questo Amleto mi ha scosso tutto: non hi fibra che non mi oscilli; ma quello non è un mito, è un uomo!” (Rossi 1887, p. 232) [“This Hamlet has moved me profoundly. Every nerve in my body is quivering. He is no myth, he is a man!”].
Rossi performed the play with great success all his life. Luigi Rasi, who saw him performing Hamlet when he was an old man, reports how Rossi was “un colosso! Shakespeare mi apparve in tutta la sua grandezza: Amleto con Ernesto Rossi era un poema vasto, smisurato, quale non aveva mai visto, né vidi poi” (Rasi 1897, p. 430) [“a colossus! Shakespeare appeared to me in all his greatness. Rossi’s Hamlet was a vast, measureless poem, such as I had never seen, and never saw again”].
Rossi’s exercised an increasingly powerful hold on Italian audiences. His Hamlet had become the touchstone, the starting point for his fellow actors.
Tommaso Salvini performed Hamlet
for the first time in 1856 at San Moisé Theatre in Venice. Even though his Hamlet
was not praised by the critic as was his Othello
, which made him famous all over the world, the tragedy of the Prince of Denmark was extensively performed by Salvini. Salvini used Giulio Carcano’s translation, heavily cutting and adjusting the text: “Così Amleto
viene rappresentato senza la prima scena sulla piattaforma e la prima apparizione dello spettro, senza le scene tra Polonio e Laerte, senza alcuni brani dei discorsi dello spettro, senza la importantissima conversazione coi comici o il monologo di Ofelia ‘O what a noble mind is here o’er-thrown’, senza uno dei becchini” (Gatti 1968, p. 136) [“So Hamlet
is performed without the first scene on the ramparts and the first appearance of the ghost, the scenes with Polonius and Laertes, some of the Ghost’s speeches, the important speech to the actors, Ophelia’s monologue ‘O what a noble mind is here o’er-thrown’, , without one of the gravediggers”] The ghost misses conveying most of his meanings; he just plays the role of the Fate of classic tragedy. Hamlet himself is no more that complex character depicted by Shakespeare; he is turned into a passionate southern character. The Italian audience did not immediately perceive these radical changes to the tragedy, but once Salvini performed his Hamlet
in England the response was extremely negative:
In the Italian version of the play much of the original that is deemed of the highest value is omitted, and in some quarters, no doubt, the complaint may be made that due reverence has not been shown to the greatest of the poets. [...] The interview with the players is cut out, and with it, consequently, much of the soliloquy at the end of the second act, which loses nearly all its force. The advice to the players suffers the same fate, to say nothing of minor eradications. That other personages should be sacrificed to Hamlet is natural enough; but why should Hamlet to a certain extent sacrifice himself? [...] In all Signor Salvini’s delineations there is a single point at which he, as it were, takes possession of his audience and holds them fast to the end. In Hamlet this point occurs after the termination of the play scene, when the Prince, having confirmed his suspicions, falls passionately on the neck of Horatio. This is followed by a tumult of applause. (The Times, 4 June 1875, p. 7)
Both cuttings and adjustments were mainly due to Salvini’s opinion as to the sort of Hamlet that ought to be presented on the stage. Salvini’s Hamlet is passionate but always lucid, he never becomes mad. In Rossi’s closet scene, Hamlet’s behavior with his mother is violent: he tears Gertrude’s locket from her neck, dashing it to the floor, and dancing upon it in a maniacal triumph. Salvini, on the contrary, does not show his grief, hiding it behind an ironical attitude. Salvini in his studies on Shakespeare explains what kind of character is Hamlet: he is always doubtful of everything and everybody. “With him,” Salvini writes, “it is the thought that produces doubt, and the idea of Shakespeare as represented in Hamlet seems to be the prevalence of thought over the action. Hamlet, indeed, is an idea more than a real character: an actual Hamlet has never existed, and probably could not exist” (Salvini 1884, pp. 16-17).
In the last part of the century Hamlet became a “must” for Italian actors, who still had Rossi’s Hamlet as a touchstone. Giovanni Emanuel performed his first Hamlet when he was 28, in 1875. Emanuel rejected Rossi’s Romantic interpretation of the character. Emanuel saw Hamlet’s thirst for justice as the result of a clear mind, where there is no space for either madness or frenzy (Petrini 2002, p. 39). Hamlet is not mad; he pretends to be mad. He always thinks for himself. Between 1887 and 1890, Emanuel reworked his Hamlet for his tour in South America. In 1875 production, Hamlet was a contradictory and many-sided character, in this production the Prince of Denmark is seen as the emblem of cowardice: “Amleto è un uomo di carne e di sangue: egli deve punier un grande misfatto. Ne ha i mezzi, ne ha l’opportunità, e non lo fa: è un vile. Che cosa c’è di elevato nei pensieri di Amleto? Nulla. Le sue meditazioni, le sue elucubrazioni, I suoi problemi sono la cosa più volgare del mondo” (Barabino 1984, p. 54) [“Hamlet is a man of flesh and blood. He must punish a terrible crime. He can do it, he has the opportunity to do it, but he does not do it: he is a coward. What is noble in Hamlet’s thoughts? Nothing. His meditations, his lucubration, his problems are the most vulgar thing in the world”].
Other Hamlets on Nineteenth-century Italian stages were Enrico Cappelli (1870), Luigi Monti (1875) and Ermete Novelli (1893), whose performance of Hamlet, unlike his Shylock, was never successful.
Hamlet on stage in the Twentieth Century: from the beginning to the Second World War
In the first part of the Twentieth-century, Hamlet was performed by all the most important actors of the time. Ermete Zacconi staged his first Hamlet in the previous century (1887), and continued to perform the play until 1933. He never considered his Shakespearean productions important for the development of his art of acting to the extent that in his autobiography published in 1946 he never mentions them. Ferruccio Garavaglia staged the play, with great success in 1909. He was perfectly at ease in the part of Hamlet, in his interpretation “egli trasfondeva un po’ di quella trasognata eccitazione che era in lui ogni volta che affrontava sul palcoscenico una delle parti in cui la sua anima sensibilissima potesse vibrare: era insomma una interpretazione personale ma chiarificatrice” (Brunelli 1959, p. L) [“he gave a little bit of that dreamy excitation that was in him every time he was performing a character that made his most sensitive soul vibrate: all in all, it was a personal interpretation but clarifying”].
Ruggero Ruggeri, one of the leading Italian actors of the first decades of the 20th century, was Hamlet in 1915 and in 1926. In his first production, Ruggeri was very much affected by Henry Irving’s Victorian interpretation (Bragaglia 1968, p. 61). Renato Simoni pointed out that Ruggeri’s performance “si accosta, senza imitarle, alle grandi interpretazioni romantiche del passato” (1915) [“it resembles, but without imitation, the great romantic interpretation of the past”]. Antonio Gramsci, who reviewed the 1915 production, pointed out that Ruggeri’s interpretation of Hamlet was too much focused on the main character’s tragedy: “Nelle opere del tragico inglese non c’è solo il protagonista, e la tragedia non è solo la tragedia di questo. La caratteristica del capolavoro consiste nella saturazione di poesia di ogni parola, di ogni atto, di ogni persona del dramma; niente c’è di inutile, niente da trascurare, ogni anche piccolo accenno concorre alla catastrofe ed è indispensabile per giustificarla. Rendete solo tragico Amleto e lasciate nella penombra gli altri, e la tragedia corre il rischio di diventare un dramma da arena, una beccheria capricciosa e casuale” (1954, p. 231) [“In the works of the English tragedian, the protagonist is not alone, and the tragedy is not only his tragedy. The characteristic of the masterpiece is poetry which permeates every word, every act, every character. Nothing is useless, nothing can be overlooked. Every little detail contributes to the catastrophe and it is essential to justify it. If you make tragic only Hamlet and leave all the others in the background, the tragedy is likely to become an arena drama, an accidental and unpredictable slaughter”]. His 1926 production was preferred by the critics. Renato Simoni found that his interpretation “passa dalla verità alla finzione, dal dramma intellettuale al dramma passionale, con una rara spontaneità” (1926) [“shifts from truth to fiction, from intellectual drama to passionate drama, in such a rare natural way”]. In the same year, Ruggeri performed the tragedy in London. His interpretation of Hamlet was considered by the Daily Chronicle critic unforgettable and the best of that time (Bragaglia 1968, p. 60). The critic of The Times appreciated how Ruggeri opened the play (“how quiet is Ruggeri’s Hamlet in his opening. We rejoice in that quietness, believing it to be an anticipatory restraint,” The Times 20 April 1926, p. 14), and how he concentrated upon Hamlet’s “vigour of intellect,” but he criticized his interpretation of the tragedy: “We were given the features and the mind of Hamlet, and were given them again and again with astonishing flashes of insight into intellectual motive, but the man remained cold, with a strange, perfected coldness as if the heavens that made him had never breathed awe into him, as if he came to his father’s ghost only for the sacks of information that might assist him in his determined quest.” (The Times 20 April 1926, p. 14).
In the nineteen-thirties, Alessandro Moissi, who had been a successful actor for many years in Germany, performed Hamlet during his Italian stay. His performance of Hamlet (1934) “con semplicità di mezzi, modernamente spoglia di ogni retorica, rendeva veramente il tormento, l’amara accorata tristezza del tragico principe danese” (Brunelli 1950, p. LII) [“with simple equipment, without any kind of rhetoric, it really conveyed the torment, the bitter heartbreaking sadness of the Danish prince”]. Moissi depicts Hamlet as the modern man, isolated from the “fosca barbarie del suo tempo” (Simoni 1934) [“bleak brutality of his time”]. Moissi’s Hamlet, as Leonardo Bragaglia argues, had to be a touchstone for future productions: “il nuovo Amleto di Moissi, sottile, introverso, filosofo, penetrante, intellettuale, freudiano fu, in un certo senso, il modello di tutti gli Amleti di poi.” (1973, p. 78) [Moissi’s new Hamlet, subtle, introvert, philosopher, insightful, intellectual, Freudian, was, in a way, a model for all the following Hamlets”].
Memo Benassi, who started his career performing in Eleonora Duse’s theater company, performed Hamlet in the 1937 production directed by Anton Giulio Bragaglia. The director, interviewed by La Gazzetta del Popolo, argued that his Hamlet “è semplicemente sfrondato da tutto ciò che risulta eccessivo alla sensibilità moderna. Lo stesso linguaggio reso corrispondente alle espressioni d’oggi, possiede il succo vitale del testo antico, estrae la poesia essenziale dal capolavoro” (Bartalotta 1986, p. 56) [is simply pruned of everything modern sensitivity feels excessive. The language itself, made as near as possible to the modern one, has the vital gist of the old text, extracting the essential poetry from the masterpiece”]. Hamlet, in Bragaglia’s production, with Renaissance setting and customes, is “leggero e profondo, ironico e amaro, tagliente e pur tenero, scettico e pure affascinato, antiromantico e pure umano” (Bartalotta 1986, p. 56) [“light and profound, ironical and bitter, sharp but tender, sceptical but fascinated, anti-romantic but human”]. Aiming at a contemporary vision of the character, Bragaglia rejected Goethe’s interpretation of Hamlet. Benassi tried a more realistic approach to the character, mainly in the delivery of the “to be or not to be” monologue.
Renzo Ricci first produced the play in 1936 and once again in 1946. The 1946 production was highly influenced by the 1938 Old Vic production directed by Tyrone Guthrie with Alec Guinness in the leading role. The production toured Italy in 1939, and most of the critics, and of the audience, were struck by a Hamlet in modern dress. Renato Simoni, reviewing the 8 February 1939 performance at Teatro Manzoni in Milan, wrote that Hamlet was not a one-man tragedy, but a more complex kind of tragedy (Simoni 1939). Simoni appreciated Guthrie’s production, arguing that what is important is not having a Hamlet in modern dress or not, but to stage it “con altrettanta arte e altrettanta passione, con altrettanta ispirata intelligenza nel testo e con eguale fedeltà ad esso” (Simoni 1939) [“with both art and passion, with an inspired understanding of the text and the same faithfulness to it”]. Bruno Brunelli, reviewing Ricci’s performance, argued that he “dà al personaggio una coloritura romantica, che ben si adatta al suo temperamento appassionato, mai dimentico che il teatro è anche estetica” (Brunelli 1950, p. LII) [“gives the character a Romantic shade, which suits perfectly his passionate temper, never forgetting that theater is also aesthetics”].
To be continued . . . .
All the translations from Italian are mine.
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