Alfieri

Alfieri

[ahl-fye-ree]
Alfieri, Vittorio, Conte, 1749-1803, Italian tragic poet. A Piedmontese, born to wealth and social position, he spent his youth in dissipation and adventure. From 1767 to 1772 he traveled over much of Europe but returned to Italy fired by a sense of the greatness of his own country. He saw himself as a prophet called to revive the national spirit of Italy and chose tragic drama as his means. The first of his plays, Cleopatra, written in a vigorous, harsh, and individual style, was staged in Turin in 1775. From 1776 to 1786 he wrote 19 tragedies, among them Philip the Second, Saul, Antigone, Agamemnon, Orestes, Sophonisba, and Maria Stuart—all in the tradition of French classical tragedy. He also wrote comedies; a bitter satire against France, the Misogallo; and a revealing autobiography (1804, tr. by W. D. Howells, 1877). Alfieri's most productive period coincided with the beginning of his love for the countess of Albany, wife of Charles Edward Stuart, the Young Pretender. The rest of his life was spent with her; they may have married secretly after her husband's death. Alfieri's complete works, which figured in the rise of Italian nationalism, were posthumously edited and published (1805-15) by the countess. His tragedies were translated into English in 1815 and 1876. Della tirannia appeared as Of Tyranny (1961).

See biography by G. Megaro (1930, repr. 1971).

(born Jan. 16, 1749, Asti, Piedmont—died Oct. 8, 1803, Florence) Italian tragic poet and playwright. Through his lyrics and dramas he helped revive the national spirit of Italy. After a period of travel in which he experienced English political liberty and read the works of Montesquieu and other French writers, he left the military and began writing. His tragedies almost always present the struggle between a champion of liberty and a tyrant. Of the 19 tragedies that he approved for publication in an edition of 1787–89, the best are Filippo, Antigone, Oreste, Mirra, and his masterpiece, Saul, often considered the most powerful drama in the Italian theatre. His autobiography (1804) is his chief prose work.

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Saul is a theatrical tragedy in five acts, written by Vittorio Alfieri in 1782, in which the eponymous protagonist simultaneously embodies the tragic heroism of both tyrant and victim. This play marks the high point of Italian tragedy and pre-romantic poetry.

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