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  • Macbeth Multiplied: Negotiating Historical and Medial Difference between Shakespeare and Verdi
  • Suddhaseel Sen (bio)
Macbeth Multiplied: Negotiating Historical and Medial Difference between Shakespeare and Verdi. By Christoph Clausen. Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 2005. 285 pp. $78.00.

In his book, Christoph Clausen critically examines Shakespeare's Macbeth and Giuseppe Verdi's seminal adaptation of that play—the first performance of the play in Italy in any form—and focuses on changes brought about in Verdi's adaptation due to different historical contexts and media. Unlike other burgeoning areas of Shakespeare studies, literature on Shakespeare and opera has not grown to any significant extent. This, Clausen rightly points out, is all the more regrettable since Shakespeare reception—the variety of cultural channels through which Shakespeare made his mark—is being increasingly studied. Moreover, although musicologists have written more about Shakespearean sources in the literature on Verdi's operas, they have [End Page 521] made very little use of Shakespeare scholarship, especially recent writings. Clausen's book, characterized by meticulous research and admirable clarity of argument, thus breaks new critical ground by bringing together in fruitful ways the latest Shakespeare scholarship on Macbeth with some of the most significant musicological work pertaining to opera in general and Verdi's Macbeth in particular.

Clausen is concerned with those "potentialities of meaning" that pertain to the play alone, those that pertain to the opera alone, and those that are shared by both (14–15). Given that the book is geared at scholars from a wide variety of disciplines—Shakespeareans, musicologists, adaptation theorists—Clausen is aware of "snipers" from multiple directions, those specialist readers in all these various disciplines for whom no amount of detail can ever be enough. Consequently, he has relegated the purely technical writing on music, as well as historical complexities to (sometimes extensive) footnotes, thus making the main body of his text accessible to a wide variety of readership.

Clausen argues that the emergent discourse of fidelity in the nineteenth century led to a broader cultural shift away from the Rossinian paradigm of the opera score as draft to be realized and modified according to performance conditions, to what he calls the Beethovenian paradigm of the score-as-fixed-and-unchanging entity. Yet, Clausen perceptively argues, both Verdi and his critics were caught between the opposing pulls of the discourse(s) of faithfulness and exigencies of (operatic) adaptation. Hence, the book's methodological approach is closer to that of adaptation theorists such as Robert Stam, Linda Hutcheon, and Julie Sanders, in that it moves away from the discourse of fidelity that has informed much of the work of musicologists (such as Winton Dean and Uwe Schweikert). Hence, as Clausen puts it,

[T]he approach taken in this book prefers interpretative pluralism over what we could call monological spiritualism. It is in this sense that my title speaks of Macbeth being multiplied. That is, I am interested in thinking of both play and opera, not as containers of an essence, but as fields of interpretative possibilities and in exploring how far their respective fields do and how far they do not overlap.


Clausen focuses on the "interpretative consequences" of the music as well as the libretto of Verdi's Macbeth, the historical contexts of both the play and opera, and insights from recent Shakespeare criticism, especially on the themes of witchcraft and politics, in order to highlight the differences [End Page 522] between Shakespeare's Macbeth and Verdi's opera. Chapter one deals with witchcraft, gender and madness with respect to Shakespeare, while chapter two deals with the same themes with respect to Verdi. Together, the two chapters compare and contrast the different discursive environments in which witchcraft is configured in the play and the opera. In chapter three, Clausen compares the play and the opera with regard to the themes of kingship and restoration, linking them to Jacobean politics, on the one hand, and the Italian Risorgimento, on the other. Although he chooses depth over comprehensiveness, and hence focuses on only on Shakespeare's Macbeth and Verdi's adaptation of that play, in the fourth and final chapter of his book, Clausen examines, in a less...


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pp. 521-523
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