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Dramaturgy of the Shakespearean Libretto

Drábek, Pavel



Christopher R. Wilson

Mervyn Cooke


From the late seventeenth century (Purcell’s The Fairy-Queen, 1692), Shakespeare’s plays have entered the realm of music theatre and opera, inspiring both composers and their librettists. Operas on Shakespearean themes have played a seminal role in the repertoire and continue to do so—just as Shakespeare’s own plays have done in the spoken theatre. This chapter analyses examples of libretti that adapt and translate Shakespeare’s plays into the operatic genre. Special attention is paid to dramatic situations, character construction, performative poetry and the role of music—the very making of musical theatre (or the melodramatic arts) that librettists and composers undertake in developing the potential and inspiration from Shakespeare. Rather than being exhaustive and extensive in mapping the wide field of Shakespearean opera, this chapter offers a detailed analysis of different types of dramaturgy and libretto, relating them to the cultural moments in which the works were created and revived, forming musical variants of the Shakespearean canon. The case studies of the libretti’s melodramatic imagination are Henry Purcell’s The Fairy-Queen (1692), Jiří Antonín Benda and Friedrich Wilhelm Gotter’s Romeo und Julie (1779), Antonio Salieri and Carlo Prospero Defranceschi’s Falstaff, o le tre burle (1799), Carl Maria von Weber and James Robinson Planché’s Oberon, or The Elf King’s Oath (1826), and Thomas Adès and Meredith Oakes’ The Tempest (2004).


Drábek, P. (2022). Dramaturgy of the Shakespearean Libretto. In C. R. Wilson, & M. Cooke (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare and Music (761-804). Oxford: Oxford University Press (OUP).

Online Publication Date Apr 1, 2022
Publication Date May 31, 2022
Deposit Date Dec 16, 2021
Publicly Available Date Apr 2, 2024
Publisher Oxford University Press (OUP)
Pages 761-804
Series Title Oxford Handbooks
Book Title The Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare and Music
Chapter Number 27
ISBN 9780190945145; 9780190498788
Keywords William Shakespeare; opera libretto; dramaturgy; adaptation; Henry Purcell; Antonio Salieri; Jiří Antonín Benda; Carl Maria von Weber; Thomas Adès
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