Authors: Vittorio Alfieri

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Italian playwright

Author Works

Drama:

Antonio e Cleopatra, pr. 1775 (Antony and Cleopatra, 1876)

Polinice, wr. 1775-1781, pb. 1784 (Polynices, 1815)

Filippo, wr. 1775-1781, pb. 1784 (Phillip, 1815)

Antigone, wr. 1777, pr. 1782 (English translation, 1815)

Agamennone, wr. 1778, pb. 1784 (Agamemnon, 1815)

Virginia, wr. 1778, pr., pb. 1784 (English translation, 1815)

Don Garzia, wr. 1779, pb. 1788 (English translation, 1815)

La congiura dei Pazzi, wr. 1779, pb. 1788 (The Conspiracy of the Pazzi, 1815)

Maria Stuarda, wr. 1780, pb. 1788 (Mary Stuart, 1815)

Oreste, pr. 1781 (Orestes, 1815)

Saul, wr. 1782, pb. 1788 (English translation, 1815)

Tragedie, pb. 1783-1789 (The Tragedies of Vittorio Alfieri, 1815)

Rosmunda, pb. 1784 (English translation, 1815)

Ottavia, pb. 1784 (Octavia, 1815)

Timoleone, pr. 1784 (Timoleon, 1815)

Merope, pb. 1784 (English translation, 1815)

Agide, pb. 1788 (Agis, 1815)

Sofonisba, pb. 1788 (Sophonisba, 1815)

Bruto primo, pb. 1788 (The First Brutus, 1815)

Bruto secondo, pb. 1788 (The Second Brutus, 1815)

Mirra, pb. 1789, (Myrrha, 1815)

Abele,wr. 1790, pb. 1804 (Abel, 1815)

Alceste seconda, wr. 1798, pb. 1804 (Alcestis II, 1876)

L’uno, pb. 1804

I pochi, pb. 1804

I troppi, pb. 1804

L’antidoto, pb. 1804

La finestra, pb. 1804

Il divorzio, pb. 1804

The Tragedies of Vittorio Alfieri, Complete, Including His Posthumous Works, pb. 1876 (two volumes)

Poetry:

L’America libera, 1784 (Alfieri’s Ode to America’s Independence, 1976)

Parigi sbastigliata, 1789

Rime, 1789, 1804 (two parts)

Il misogallo, 1799

Nonfiction:

Panegirico di Plinio e Trajano, 1787

Della tirannide, 1789 (Of Tyranny, 1961)

Del principe e delle lettere, 1789 (The Prince and Letters, 1972)

Vita di Vittorio Alfieri, 1804 (Memoirs, 1810)

Miscellaneous:

Opere postume di Vittorio Alfieri, 1804

Opere di Vittorio Alfieri da Asti, 1951

Biography

Vittorio Alfieri (ahl-FYAY-ree) is considered by many to be the greatest tragic dramatist in the history of Italian literature. Born into a wealthy and aristocratic family, he was educated at the Royal Academy in Turin and graduated in 1766. Thereupon he began a period of restless travel. Between 1767 and 1772 Alfieri saw much of Europe, read widely, and had two passionate and rather scandalous love affairs. Although he later looked back upon this period as one of irresponsible dissipation, his travels introduced him to theater throughout Europe and gave him an opportunity to observe the political realities of the Enlightenment. The experiences of these years contributed to his later development as a dramatist. Also during this period, Alfieri became a devoted reader of Plutarch, whose accounts of Greek and Roman heroes profoundly influenced his own tragedies.{$I[AN]9810002020}{$I[A]Alfieri, Vittorio}{$I[geo]ITALY;Alfieri, Vittorio}{$I[tim]1749;Alfieri, Vittorio}

Vittorio Alfieri

(Library of Congress)

In 1775 Alfieri’s first play, Antony and Cleopatra, was performed in Turin with moderate success. Alfieri saw the work’s faults and dedicated himself to the task of producing genuinely great drama in Italian. Having grown up speaking French in his aristocratic family, he quickly realized that it would be necessary for him to master Tuscan, the classic literary language of Italy. He began reading seriously in Italian poetry and, in 1776 and 1777, journeyed to Tuscany. Between 1775 and 1777 he conceived a series of tragedies that included Polynices, Phillip, and Virginia.

In 1777, in Florence, Alfieri met Luisa Stolberg, the countess of Albany and wife of Charles Edward Stuart, the pretender to the English throne and an aging and dissolute man. Alfieri fell deeply in love with the countess, recognizing her as the grand passion of his life; he remained devoted to her from this time forward.

In 1778 Alfieri abandoned his native Piedmont forever and began a period of intense work on his tragedies. Five years later he published ten tragedies that are severe, classical, economical, and highly concentrated, and they established him as a poetic dramatist of great power and importance. The dramatic unities are strictly observed in these plays, which explore human weakness, the heroic struggle for liberty, and the destructiveness of tyranny. Alfieri’s intense devotion to liberty is also clear in his five odes celebrating the American Revolution, which appeared in 1784 under the title L’America libera (free America).

Alfieri continued to develop as a tragic poet. Among his later tragedies, Saul and Myrrha are considered perhaps his greatest. Both are searching treatments of solitary suffering. In Saul Alfieri sees his central character as a complex combination of tyrant and victim. Saul is both human and titanic as he struggles to resolve the great contradictions of his nature and situation. In Myrrha the tragic suffering is intensely internalized as the title character strives to escape the consequences of an incestuous passion so dark that she can hardly admit its nature to herself or others. Alfieri’s distinctive concentration and classic dignity are at their best in these two plays.

In 1786 Alfieri traveled with the countess of Albany to Alsace, France. Beginning in 1787 Alfieri and the countess began to live together in Paris. When the French Revolution broke out, Alfieri at first greeted it with enthusiasm, but he soon was horrified by Jacobin excesses. In 1792 he and the countess escaped with some difficulty from the violence of Paris, and he established his residence in Florence. Alfieri continued to write throughout the rest of his life, but his earlier tragic dignity and libertarianism were increasingly replaced by an angry and reactionary cynicism. This gloomy mood produced works that express anger and disillusionment with politics and Enlightenment society. He was especially bitter toward France, and this is expressed in his collection of poetry Il misogallo.

Few of Alfieri’s late works are of the first importance, but a major exception to this is his splendid Memoirs, in which he portrays his life and varied experiences with intensity, color, and warmth. Alfieri himself emerges as one of the great dramatist’s most compelling characters. In addition to his tragedies and Memoirs, Alfieri’s poems are significant. The collection Rime (poems) contains many sonnets of considerable intrinsic and autobiographical interest. Alfieri is also notable for his two treatises, Of Tyranny and The Prince of Letters, in which he thoughtfully explores the nature of tyranny, liberty, and literature in such a way as to illuminate some of the major themes in his plays.

It is, however, as a tragic dramatist that Alfieri achieved his greatest stature, and his unique achievement is the creation of dramatic literature worthy of Italy’s literary and cultural tradition. Alfieri’s last years were spent reading and translating his beloved Greek and Roman writers. After he died in 1803 the countess of Albany commissioned Antonio Canova to create Alfieri’s monument in the church of Santa Croce.

BibliographyBetti, Franco. Vittorio Alfieri. Boston: Twayne, 1984. A basic biography of Alfieri that covers his life and works. Bibliography and index.Bondanella, Peter, and Julia Bondanella, eds. Dictionary of Italian Literature. Rev. ed. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1970. Alfieri is represented among four hundred entries of concise biographies covering all genres and academies in Italian literature from the twelfth century to the present.Costa-Zalessow, Natalia. “Alfieri’s Antigone: A Review of Previous Interpretations and a New Proposal.” Italian Quarterly 23 (1982): 91-99. A study of interpretations of the Antigone story, with particular emphasis on Alfieri’s treatment.Lees, Barrie. “Birth of Vittorio Alfieri: January 16th, 1749.” History Today 49, no. 1 (January, 1999): 53. This short essay on Alfieri examines his life, in particular his affairs, as well as his motivation for writing drama.McAnally, Sir Henry. The Life of Vittorio Alfieri Written by Himself. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1953. A good translation of Alfieri’s Vita di Vittorio Alfieri (Memoirs).Mazzaro, Jerome. “Alfieri’s Saul as Enlightenment Tragedy.” Comparative Drama 33, no. 1 (Spring, 1999): 125-139. In this examination of Saul, Mazzaro points out that Alfieri observes the unities of plot, time, and action made prominent by dramatist Jean Racine.Megaro, Gaudens. Vittorio Alfieri: Forerunner of Italian Nationalism. 1930. Reprint. New York: Octagon Books, 1975. This study of Alfieri focuses on his political thoughts and actions, while shedding light on his literary output. Bibliography and index.Miller, Charles. Alfieri: A Biography. Williamsport, Pa.: Bayard Press, 1936. Excellent biographical study.Tusiani, Joseph. From Marino to Marinetti: An Anthology of Forty Italian Poets. New York: Baroque Press, 1974. Provides a selection of Alfieri’s poetry in English.Wilkins, Ernest H. A History of Italian Literature. Revised by Thomas G. Bergin. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1974. Contains important discussions of Alfieri.
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