‘Behold the monster Polypheme’: Handel's incorporation of the monstrous

This paper will present a fairly close reading of Handel's first dramatic work in English, his masque Acis and Galatea, (with its libretto by Gay/Pope/Hughes), focusing especially on the announcement by the Chorus, and subsequent entrance, of the Cyclops Polyphemus.  The musical and dramatic elements surrounding the Cyclops's entrance will be contextualised in order to draw out certain pivotal cultural themes relating to monstrousness and excess, and explore their representation and assimilation.  In order to do this, this investigation will consider Handel's masque as a stage in the morphology of the carnivalesque from its early-modern role to its more contradistinctive position within the Enlightenment. To assist this investigation into the dynamics of monstrousness, we move to another, related work to see these themes within a visual medium, the engraver Joseph Goupy's satire of Handel entitled ‘THE true Representation and Caracter etc.’  Having considered Handel's own relation to monstrousness, this paper then returns to Acis and Galatea and examines in detail the musical and dramatic strategies of assimilation employed by Handel and his librettists.

Lawrence Woof
Symposium Title: 
Gods, Men and Monsters – 2001
Author affiliation: 
Leverhulme Research Fellow, Department of English, Lancaster University, UK