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Emblems of EloquenceOpera and Women's Voices in Seventeenth-Century Venice$
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Wendy Heller

Print publication date: 2004

Print ISBN-13: 9780520209336

Published to California Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520209336.001.0001

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Messalina la Meretrice

Messalina la Meretrice

Envoicing the Courtesan

(p.263) Chapter 7 Messalina la Meretrice
Emblems of Eloquence

Wendy Heller

University of California Press

This chapter deals with Roman empress, Messalina, the adulterous wife of the emperor Claudius, who in Messalina brought to the luxurious stage of the Teatro San Grisostomo an unmatched reputation for decadence and sexual excess. It specifically reviews the representation of a woman who easily straddles the differing worlds of carnival, imperial politics, and opera. Her literary-historical reputation presents intriguing elements in the context of Venice and Venetian opera. Messalina provokes the most basic sort of fear—that a woman will deprive a man of his place not only in bed but also in his public role in society. Messalina relinquishes her role in the opera, avoiding the bloody death of her historical model, and brings about an inappropriate happy ending with her husband Claudio. She serves to reinforce an essential lesson about the dangers of female sexuality.

Keywords:   Messalina, Claudio, female sexuality, carnival, imperial politics, opera

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