Eleonora Duse as Juliet and Cleopatra

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From her debut as Juliet in 1872 onwards, the career of Eleonora Duse(1858–1924) is marked by an evolving, changeable approach to her Shakespeareanroles. In different ways and under diverse circumstances, eachof her Shakespearean parts represented something of a turning-pointin her cursus. Scholars have argued that life and art, emotional instinctand theatrical performance, coalesced seamlessly throughout her Shakespeareanrepertoire, and in particular in her interpretation of Cleopatra(Puppa 2009). Yet while this theory that she acted out her own personallife, and that her characters’ feelings coincided with her own, is an attractiveone, it is also reductive. New evidence——the discovery of herpersonal library, housed in Cambridge and now known as the MurrayEdwards Duse Collection (MEDC)—and an appreciation of the declamatorytheatrical code of la drammatica (Sica 2013) reveal Duse’s intenselyerudite work in preparing for these Shakespearean roles. The MEDCoffers the clearest record that, first, her literary education began—orbecame active—around 1886; secondly, that it assumed an ideologicalcharacter in the early 1890s; and, finally, that the development of herthinking informed her acting. So pronounced was her artistic and literaryprowess that she was considered one of the foremost Italian aesthetesof her time, and the reconstruction of the MEDC has helped to reshapeour understanding of her intellectual profile, shedding fresh light on theart of her acting (Sica 2012). The two principal subjects of analysis tobe discussed in this chapter are, first, Duse’s early mannerist medievalism,which can be traced to her performance of Juliet, and secondly hervariegated, contradictory interpretation of Cleopatra, a cornerstone ofher repertoire that led to her being immortalized as “absorbingly interesting”(Symons 1903: 55–56) and an “exquisitely sympathetic actress”(Shaw 1952: 38).
Lingua originaleEnglish
Titolo della pubblicazione ospiteShakespeare, Italy, and Transnational Exchange. Early Modern to the Present.
Numero di pagine15
Stato di pubblicazionePublished - 2017

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