Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet was first performed on the Italian stage in the late 1860s when actor Ernesto Rossi successfully adapted the play and debuted as Romeo at the Teatro Re in Milan in 1869. Despite its belated appearance, this drama may be taken as a fit example of the growing interest in the Bard’s works which, since the beginning of the nineteenth century, animated the Italian national cultural panorama. Indeed, starting from 1818, many playwrights, among whom Luigi Scevola, Giuseppe Morosini, Angelica Palli, and especially Cesare Della Valle, whose Giulietta e Romeo (1826) held the stage for several decades and was “ousted” only by Rossi’s Shakespeare, produced original plays centred on the Veronese subject. These dramatic renderings were often related or compared to the Shakespearean tragedy by contemporary critics. They, however, they introduced a different conceptualization of the Veronese plot that would also influence Ernesto Rossi’s later Shakespearean staging. In fact, these early nineteenth-century lovers offer no problematic meditation on the nature of their individuality, nor do they fight for the assertion of their own choices in front of adverse fate and families. They are transported into a whirl of sudden passion and precipitous events which they accept and to which they passively succumb. This raises interesting questions on the theatrical and cultural reception of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in nineteenth-century Italy.
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