MEROPE, the title of an Italian tragedy in blank verse by the Marquis Francisco Scip ione Maffei (1675-1755), first performed at Modena in 1713. Appearing just after the dreary period of 17th century stagnation in Italian letters, it obtained a European reputa tion. More than 60 editions were published and it was widely translated. It attained in Italy an unprecedented success on the stage and is important also for its influence upon the devel opment of the Italian theatre, whose standard Maffei raised perceptibly.
The subject of the play is taken from Greek mythology as related by Apollodoro (II, 8-5) and Pausanias (IV, 3-6). Merope is the queen of Messena whose husband, Cresfonte, and two children have been murdered by her brother in-law, Polifonte, who then usurps the royal power and attempts to force the queen to marry him. On this tragic story Euripides wrote his which is not extant. Maffei was the first modern dramatist to handle the material and reveal its superb possibilities. He dispenses with the love element so prev alent at that time in the French theatre and proves that without it a play can retain the in terest of the spectator. His idea is that such a
play shall depict but a single passion, in this case a mother's love for her son. The scene (III, 4) in which Merope, believing that she has in her grasp her son's slayer, discovers in him her own son, the transition from anger and vengeance to surprise and then to the motherly loye, is profoundly impressive. The denoue ment, the death of the tyrant (V, 6), at the foot of the altar, is equally effective. Notable as are the tragedies of Voltaire and of Alfieri dealing with the same subject with the power characteristic of each of these master minds, nevertheless in intensity of plot interest and in dramatic treatment, Maffei's (Merope) remains unsurpassed. Consult 'Opuscoli e lettere di Maffei) (Milan 1844), for the text and inter esting material. A school edition, edited by A. C. Clapin was published in London in 1890. The text, with variations and introduction, ap peared later in No. 108 of the 'Bibliotheca Romanies.'