Words and Music in Henry Purcell's First Semi-Opera, Dioclesian an Approach to Early Music Through Early Theatre

Author: Muller, Julia
Although both the complete libretto (1690) and the full score (1691) of Henry Purcell's first semi-opera The Prophetess: or, The History of Dioclesian have been preserved, the work has never been fully discussed. In this study its relationship to the play of the same name by John Fletcher and Philip Massinger (1622?) and in particular the "Alterations and Additions After the Manner of an OPERA" by Thomas Betterton, actor-manager of the Dorsert Garden Theatre, come under scrutiny. With a line-by-line comparison of the opera with the only two published versions of the play extant, which are in the Beaumont and Fletcher First Folio (1647) and Second Folio (1679). Double numbering ensures easy reference to both Notes and Folios. The alterations are shown to be classifiable under such headings as late seventeenth-century theatre conventions, political expediency, providing scope for music and dance, and unification. The high degree of unification found in the text and particularly in the music, which is dealt with separately, shows that earlier criticism of this semi-opera as lacking coherence is unfounded.


". . . show[s] the value of crossing areas of specialisation, in this case, literature, theatre, and music. The book represents careful, analytical, and critical scholarship combining the disciplines required to produce a theatrical experience and provides us with a more or less total picture of a major English work. [Muller] has given scholars of English literature, of baroque theatre, and those devoted to Henry Purcell much to think about and directions to pursue." - Robert L. Tusler