Francesco Scipione Maffei’s life was his work. As drama is concerned, he wrapped himself up in the vigorous campaign to give Italy a new tragic tradition based on the ancients. Between about 1710 and 1723, he was completely absorbed in this endeavor; then he gradually drifted away and took up other interests.
His convictions are clear both from his most famous play and from his writing on the subject of tragedy. He was convinced of the beauty of the ancient myths and history, which, in his view, have an inherent purity and universality. At the same time, he was equally convinced that the form tragedy would have to assume in the new age must be suited to the times. The classical qualities of economy of expression, tautness of plot, and rich suggestion of language must be retained, he argued. Nevertheless, slavish duplication of every practice and convention would be stultifying.
Maffei took the story of Merope from Greek mythology, a story that had been the basis for a lost play by Euripides. Merope, the widow of the deposed king of Messenia, is being wooed by the usurper, Polifonte, who fifteen years before had murdered her husband and two of her three sons and seized the throne. While he attempts to persuade her that he was justified in taking that act, a young stranger named Egisto is brought to court accused of murdering another young man. He wears a jewel that had belonged to Merope’s lost son, Cresfonte, and...
(The entire section is 472 words.)