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This study has stemmed from the PhD thesis I defended in 2013 – A Confluence between Musical and Literary Masterpieces: Opera Jewels Inspired from Shakespeare’s Falstaff Plays1, as well as from the doctoral essays that I presented to the committee while in the process of shaping this work. My thesis plan was longer and more intricate initially and, as happens to most doctoral candidates, I had to reduce it by eliminating several plays from its structure in order to carry out an in-depth analysis of a smaller literary and musical corpus. But the other essays have now turned into embryo chapters that will grow into larger works later on.

In its current form, the present volume is a comparative interdisciplinary analysis whose approach is from the perspective of adaptation studies, the study of mentalities, and hermeneutics. It looks at several Shakespearean plays as fruitful sources for what Jay Bolter and Richard Grusin have called remediation: new media achieve their cultural significance by paying homage to, and refashioning, earlier media. Charles Suhor has coined the term transmediation for the same migration from one medium to another.

Thus, the following chapters probe these adaptations studying the transformation of the spoken word into the sung word (with references to Eleonora Enachescu’s writings on this topic). They try to chart how various rigours of the operatic tradition have imposed numerous and various transformations of Shakespeare’s text from one medium to the other. The passage between genres triggers off a dramatic metamorphosis resulting in the alteration of the plot, the reduction of the number of characters, or the contraction of several characters into one.

Another central issue is that of translation – the replacement of the comic or tragic effects typical of the English language with a new linguistic richness specific to the language of the libretto.

The realm of music, in its turn, provides the possibility of enhancing the dramatic tension and atmosphere, as well as the ability of outlining characters and relationships through the means germane to this medium: melody, harmony, modulations, rhythm, timbre, vocal virtuosity, etc.

The comparative approach of this book entails, first of all, a literary comparison – between the literary genre of the theatre play and that of the opera libretto. This endeavour is taken further with the interdisciplinary comparison of the literary and musical means of characterisation, and each of the works discussed is also compared with other relevant titles. As this approach focuses on the cultural context in which the musical work was composed, the conventions of the opera theatre in each age, the social and political factors that may have influenced the fashioning of each opera, as well as its reception by the public, this book also offers a historicist perspective, drawing on the history of mentalities. As Linda Hutcheon remarks,

Where is as important a question to ask about adaptation (…) as when. Adapting from one culture to another is nothing new (…). Often, a change of language is involved; almost always, there is a change of place or time period. (…) Almost always, there is an accompanying shift in the political valence from the adapted text to the “transculturated” adaptation. Context conditions meaning, in short. (Hutcheon, 145)

But above all, this research is based on the attempt to discover both forgotten meanings and new, surprising meanings in the works analysed, which makes the essence of this critical approach hermeneutical, as it probes symbolical and cultural interactions. This approach is not anchored in the theories of Schleiermacher, Dilthey, Heidegger or Gadamer, but rather in those of Paul Ricoeur, whose ‘hermeneutical phenomenology’ contends that everything that is intelligible is accessible through language, and that all linguistic manifestations need interpretation. In the present volume, the hermeneutical endeavour relies on text analysis – both of the literary texts (through the investigation of tropes and symbols) and that of musical texts (discussed from the point of view of tonal structure, metre, rhythmic designs, timbre options, and others).

The common, general aim of this interdisciplinary comparative endeavour is to establish how the cultural context of each age influences adaptation, to see how Shakespeare’s theatre plays travel transnationally, transculturally, and transmedially, and to determine whether this uprooting and grafting process enriches the public’s intellectual and artistic perception of this kaleidoscopic material. The original dimension of this book is that the other analyses of Shakespeare and music are made either by philologists who are music lovers or by musicologists who are interested in literature. No such studies have been undertaken by researchers who have equal training in both fields.

This volume is a reflection of its author’s passion for both literature and music and a promise to continue this endeavour with further scrutinies of such adaptations.


1 This thesis was written in cotutelle between the University of Bucharest and the National Music University in Bucharest and coordinated by two doctoral advisors – Professors Adrian Nicolescu (UB) and Grigore Constantinescu (NMUB). The Doctoral Dissertation Oral Defence Committee was also double, chaired by de Dean of the Faculty of Foreign Language and Literatures of the University Of Bucharest – Professor Liviu Franga – and formed of the two advisors, as well as Professor Madalina Nicolaescu of the University of Bucharest, Professors Valentina SanduDediu and Mihai Cosma of the National Music University of Bucharest, and researcher Mariana Ne? of the “Iorgu Iordan – Alexandru Rosetti” Linguistics Institute of the Romanian Academy.
Alina Bottez
A Confluence between Masterpieces
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