“Yes,” resumed the younger stranger after a moment’s interval. “Two nations; between
whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other’s hab
its, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of
different planets; who are formed by a different breeding, are fed by a different food,
are ordered by different manners, and are not governed by the same laws.”
“You speak of–” said Egremont, hesitatingly
The stranger in Disraeli’s Sybil spoke of the rich and the poor in Victorian England (76), but, with the clinching phrase delayed, the passage easily lends itself to re-topicalization. David Lodge, for one, uses it to prepare the readers of his Nice Work for the chasm between the world of a feminist cultural materialist critic and the world of a narrowly read businessman (11): “You can’t explain poststructuralism to someone who hasn’t even discovered traditional humanism” (218). Forays into the contemporary critical literature on Shakespeare’s Macbeth on the one hand and on Verdi’s operatic version(s) of it on the other quickly reveal that the ‘two nations’ could also, with some qualifications, serve as a metaphor for the speechlessness between Shakespearean and Verdian criticism. Whether ‘no sympathy’ is ineluctable destiny remains to be seen, but there certainly has been little intercourse between them: ‘as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets…’
Verdi’s Otello (1887, libretto by Arrigo Boito) is occasionally mentioned within Shakespearean criticism, though even here brief summaries predominate over more detailed discussions. The two versions of Verdi’s Macbeth – hereinafter I will use the terms MI and MII to distinguish the original Florentine version (1847) from the revised Parisian version (1865, both libretti by Francesco Maria Piave ) – occupy an even more marginal place. Simon
E.g. Potter (94-97), Sanders (49-51). The somewhat more extended discussion in Hodgson is
excellent on the librettistic metamorphoses but ill-advised when it comes to the musical di
mension (it includes an elaborate tonal symbolism based on the assumption that F major and
F# minor are roughly equivalent).
The long and complicated story of the libretto’s genesis is not one that needs to be discussed
here; Daniela Folena Goldin has already very thoroughly done so (Vera fenice 230-82; cf.