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  • Roger Savage


An important issue in dramatic, and hence operatic, criticism from the late 16th to the late 18th centuries. Severe classicistic and rationalistic critics, beginning with Castelvetro (Poetica d’Aristotele, 1576), felt that they had the revered Aristotle’s authority for preaching two ‘unities’, of plot and of time-scale, for drama. A proper play, they held, must contain just one coherent action, to which everything manifestly contributes; and this action must work itself through in a single fictive day. Various factors, such as the shortness of the distances characters could be expected to travel in one day, and the existence on several 16th-century Italian court stages of permanent or semi-permanent Vitruvian sets representing a single street in perspective, made it attractive to add a third prerequisite: that the action of the play should be set throughout in one place. From all this emerged the Rule of the Three Unities – action, time, place – which, if followed with skill, was thought by many to be capable of ensuring a verisimilitude both classical and natural....

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