Eleonora Duse and the Fall of the European Tradition of Acting: An Historical Overview., in Eleonora Duse and Cenere (Ashes) Centennial Essays, eds. Paul Fryer and Maria Pia Pagani

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In the Introduction to this collection of essays that marks the 100th anniversary of the making of the film Cenere, Maria Pia Pagani and Paul Fryer write: 'The practice of filming great actors in representative roles is almost as old as the moving picture industry itself. In the case of the iconic Italian actress Eleonora Duse, we have no audio evidence of her voice... Our evidence survives in a single film, Cenere (Ashes)... It offers us the best possible proof of Duse's spiritual meditation as an actress: on the screen she remembered all the "mother roles" that she had created for the theatre, and used them to crete a new performance for a new medium... Giuliano Campo places Duse's work within the historical context of Italian theatre, as the "last symbol" of the tradition of the Grande Attore'. The main subject of this chapter is the rise and fall of the system of Roles and Parts in Italy, peculiar to European theatre in the nineteenth century. In the English tradition, according to terminology that dates back to Elizabethan era, this is known as lines of business, within a stock company (Booth 1991). The theatre of the Grandi Attori was of a different kind, however belonging to the same order: divisions within the whole theatre world were hierarchical rather than genre-based. The type of performances and the general quality were the same, however the Grandi Attori were able to produce a shift from the norm, that could generate dissatisfaction with the “normal” theatre and nostalgia for the greatness of theatrical art. The fall of this organic system of production and acting brought about the end of that peculiar 'species' of actors that were the Grandi Attori, of which Duse was one of the most glorious examples.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Silence of Eleonora Duse
Place of PublicationJefferson, NC (USA)
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 1 Mar 2016



  • Eleonora Duse Nineteenth century acting

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