Manchester, 14th-18th July 2004


Kathryn Lowerre (Michigan State University, USA)

English Heroism, English Opera: John Milton, John Dennis, and John Eccles

At the turn of the eighteenth century, English operas, or "dramatick operas," differed from continental all-sung operas: featuring actors in the principal roles, who spoke their dialogue, alternating with elaborate musical interludes performed by a separate cast of singers and musicians. In his critical essays, Dennis argues that the English have a particularly strong need for dramatic entertainments––as long as they are of the proper kind. On the stage, Music, Dennis tells us, must always be made subservient to Reason.

In the prologue to his dramatick opera, Rinaldo and Armida, John Dennis details the revisions he has made in bringing Tasso's story to the London stage. The “errors” in the Italian representation of the irresolute hero, and the “soft bewitchments” of the French Armide (Quinault & Lully, 1686) have been corrected and “English’d” by a strong infusion of Miltonic language and the presence of Milton’s muse, Urania.

Dennis's Rinaldo and Armida is the work of an author deeply concerned with English national identity, and the prologue and his dedication to the Duke of Ormond clearly target his intended aristocratic audience. In his work, Dennis rehearses familiar tropes linking "Englishness" and masculinity––it is the “unequal” and “doting” continental Rinaldo who requires the heaviest reworking. In the separately-printed description of the musical interludes in his work, Dennis praises Eccles’s compositions for assisting him to unite the powerful charms of music with the elevating mode of tragedy, and to model an explicitly English heroism.

Last updated on 09 May 2004