Vittorio Alfieri Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

ph_0111207667-Alfieri.jpg Vittorio Alfieri Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Vittorio Alfieri’s love of liberty and hate of tyranny resulted in several poetic works. In L’America libera (1784; Alfieri’s Ode to America’s Independence, 1976), the poet exalts the Americans who rebelled against English tyranny. He wrote the first four odes in 1781 and added one more in 1783. The first describes the reasons for the American War of Independence, the second enumerates the participants, the third speaks about the Marquis de Lafayette, the fourth praises George Washington, and the fifth is dedicated to the peace of 1783 and ends with a pessimistic note: What is there to rejoice about? asks the author—only force reigns. Alfieri also glorified the fall of the Bastille in the ode Parigi sbastigliata (1789; Paris without the Bastille).

Alfieri expressed the same sentiments about freedom in his political prose, but more coherently and systematically. The treatise Della tirannide (1789; Of Tyranny, 1961), written in 1777, condemns even the most reformed monarchs as wanting only obedient subjects: From the highest nobleman to the poorest peasant, all must follow orders; the king’s subjects are mere victims. Alfieri concludes that it is better not to marry, in order not to create new victims. Del principe e delle lettere (1789; The Prince and Letters, 1972) expounds the same theme with equal passion. It deals with the relationship between a prince and men of letters. A...

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(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

The Italy of Vittorio Alfieri’s time was made up of several independent states and kingdoms. Alfieri was reared in Piedmont, a cultural environment strongly affected by French traditions, and French, rather than Italian, was the language of the nobility. By the second half of the eighteenth century, Piedmont’s territorial expansion had come to a halt, and Charles Emanuel III of Savoy dedicated himself entirely to the administration of internal affairs with an austere sense of morality that was also imposed on all his subjects. Alfieri’s personal, aristocratic, and independent concept of liberty made him rebel against all kinds of control with a typical proto-Romantic spirit. Incapable of accepting the political realities of his day, Alfieri passionately advocated the overthrow of tyranny with the consciousness of a libertarian, but he never proposed a practical alternative. Imbued with the progressive ideals of European Enlightenment, he was a true cosmopolitan in the tradition of the eighteenth century, yet from the day he decided to become a writer, he spent all his time searching for his Italian roots and trying to shed his Piedmontese ways, repressing his cosmopolitanism in the process. The result was that he created a national spirit that was to influence the following generations of the Italian Risorgimento.

Alfieri is classified as pre-Romantic, only because his tragedies are classical in form, strictly adherent to the rules on the unity of time, place, and action—even if their context is Romantic, something that was unknown to his contemporaries. His tragedies, written with the intent of giving Italy dramas comparable to those of other European nations, seemed too austere to his contemporaries, but in the twentieth century, because of their concentration on a few characters, they strike audiences as being modern. Alfieri achieved what he set out to do: He became the greatest Italian tragic writer. His prose, especially in his autobiography, is of a masterly quality, and his influence, as both a poet and a prose writer, on style and content is evident in Ugo Foscolo and Ugo Foscolo, the two great Italian Romantics.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Betti, Franco. Vittorio Alfieri. Boston: Twayne, 1984. A basic biography of Alfieri that covers his life and works. Bibliography and index.

Bondanella, Peter, and Julia Bondanella, eds. Dictionary of Italian Literature. Rev. ed. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1970. Alfieri is represented among four hundred entries of concise biographies covering all genres and academies in Italian literature from the twelfth century to the present.

Costa-Zalessow, Natalia. “Alfieri’s Antigone: A Review of Previous Interpretations and a New Proposal.” Italian Quarterly 23 (1982): 91-99. A study of interpretations of the Antigone story, with particular emphasis on Alfieri’s treatment.

Lees, Barrie. “Birth of Vittorio Alfieri: January 16th, 1749.” History Today 49, no. 1 (January, 1999): 53. This short essay on Alfieri examines his life, in particular his affairs, as well as his motivation for writing drama.

McAnally, Sir Henry. The Life of Vittorio Alfieri Written by Himself. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1953. A good translation of Alfieri’s Vita di Vittorio Alfieri (Memoirs).

Mazzaro, Jerome. “Alfieri’s Saul as Enlightenment Tragedy.” Comparative Drama 33, no. 1 (Spring, 1999): 125-139. In this examination of Saul, Mazzaro points out that Alfieri observes the unities of plot, time, and action made prominent by dramatist Jean Racine.

Megaro, Gaudens. Vittorio Alfieri: Forerunner of Italian Nationalism. 1930. Reprint. New York: Octagon Books, 1975. This study of Alfieri focuses on his political thoughts and actions, while shedding light on his literary output. Bibliography and index.

Miller, Charles. Alfieri: A Biography. Williamsport, Pa.: Bayard Press, 1936. Excellent biographical study.

Tusiani, Joseph. From Marino to Marinetti: An Anthology of Forty Italian Poets. New York: Baroque Press, 1974. Provides a selection of Alfieri’s poetry in English.

Wilkins, Ernest H. A History of Italian Literature. Revised by Thomas G. Bergin. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1974. Contains important discussions of Alfieri.