Representations of Falstaff: Shakespeare to Salieri

Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Art and Music Histories


Frank Macomber


William Shakespeare, Antonio Salieri, Carlo Prospero Defranceschi, Falstaff, Shakespeare, William, Salieri, Antonio, Italy, Defranceschi, Carlo Prospero

Subject Categories

English Language and Literature | Music


The focus of this dissertation is a late, little-known opera of Antonio Salieri-- Falstaff ; ossia, Le tre burle --and its literary source, The Merry Wives of Windsor by William Shakespeare. The study commences by viewing the character of Sir John Falstaff as he was created by Shakespeare in the two parts of Henry IV and in The Merry Wives of Windsor . A subsequent chapter surveys the analyses and literary criticism of which this character has been the subject during the past nearly three hundred years. The dissertation then investigates Salieri's opera within its milieu and attempts to discern similarities and differences of it in comparison to other works of the same genre. As well as a brief biographical sketch of the composer's life, this chapter contains a history of early performances of this opera, including some of Salieri's opinions regarding various individual numbers within the work, and a cursory glance at other early operatic settings of The Merry Wives . The following chapter analyzes the libretto of Carlo Prospero Defranceschi and compares each scene with its parallel action in the original literary source. Discussion focuses on the chronology of the libretto in comparison to the play as well as particular scenes which were expanded, excised or created anew for the operatic version. The most significant portion of the dissertation treats the characters of the opera individually. Each is viewed within the parameters of text, dialogue, dramaturgical role, and musical characterization. An attempt is made to discern similarities and differences between these characters and their models in Shakespeare's comedy. The conclusion views comic opera in the late eighteenth century and compares this particular work to the ideals of that genre. Examination is made of the composer's professional background and acquaintances in addition to his previous operatic successes. Finally, drawing on the investigation of the previous chapters, an attempt is made to discern the source of his methodology and his rationale for composing this opera in what appears to be a most atypical manner.


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