Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Comparative Literature


André Aciman

Committee Members

Marvin Carlson

Paolo Fasoli

Subject Categories

Comparative Literature | French and Francophone Literature | German Literature | Music Performance | Other Italian Language and Literature


historical fiction, seventeenth-century French literature, conspiracy narrative, eighteenth-century German theatre, nineteenth-century Italian opera, sixteenth-century Spanish history


The story of the sixteenth-century Spanish prince, Don Carlos, has inspired numerous literary and musical adaptations that, despite the artistic limitations of historically-based content, reflect an astonishing scope of creative freedom. The myth created around Don Carlos originated in European consciousness as early as 1568. Various theories recorded in political reports and in historical works insinuated that the prince had been murdered while incarcerated by orders of his father, King Philip II. Simultaneously, hatred of Spain, intensified by Philip’s violent suppression of the revolt in the Netherlands, determined exiled Flemish nobles to launch an anti-Philip propaganda. The mystery of Don Carlos’ death, supported by ambassadorial reports that insinuated foul play, became a fertile and malleable subject in this defamation campaign, fostering an immediate and extraordinary fluidity between history and fiction. This study investigates three treatments of the Don Carlos story on which this fluidity had a potent, transformational impact: César Vichard de Saint-Réal’s novel, Dom Carlos, nouvelle historique (1672), Friedrich Schiller’s play, Don Karlos, Infant von Spanien (1787), and Giuseppe Verdi’s opera, Don Carlos (1867). The study explores the innovative elements that the two authors and the composer contributed to their genres through their treatments of the Don Carlos story within the context of their previous and subsequent works, and of other texts that informed their creative process. While also considering the network of historical, political, cultural, economic, and biographical factors that impacted the creation of their treatments, the study analyzes how the particular blend of history and fiction around the personage of Don Carlos inspired transformative artistic liberties: Saint-Réal advanced the nouvelle historique genre by developing the element of conspiracy, Schiller began to transition from the Sturm und Drang literary movement towards Weimar Classicism within the revision process of his play, and Verdi introduced new dramatic elements such as musical dialogues to bring opera closer to the realism of theatre. Within each of the treatments, this analysis highlights pivotal points of narrative, semantic, dramatic, and musical transformation that served to transcend certain conventions of genre. In support of the investigation, selected scenes from the three works are examined and framed by an engagement with critical, historical, and biographical studies in the fields of seventeenth-century French literature, eighteenth-century German theatre, nineteenth-century French and Italian opera, as well as with Spanish history, politics, philosophical treatises, and artistic works. In conclusion, possible new directions engendered by this dissertation are taken into consideration, within the areas of translation, cross-medium adaptation, political narratives, and cognitive linguistics.

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