Little scholarly attention has been devoted to the dramaturgy of Handel's operas, which seems secondary to musical and circumstantial matters of venue and performers. This article argues that important things can be learned by attempting to categorize, analyze, and assess the librettos in strictly dramaturgical terms. We need to ask whether there is coherence or development, and what Handel wanted in the librettos he set. Handel's operas have generally been categorized by date and/or venue. Winton Dean categorized them by “dominant temper,” characterized as “heroic or dynastic,” “magic operas,” and “antiheroic.” By implication, Handel approached each opera on a case‐by‐case basis, not much concerned with generic form. Ellen T. Harris critiqued Dean and offered a dialectical model, dividing the operas into “pastoral” and “heroic” groups. But if we ask “What is the ‘source of action’ within each plot?,” we find four largely distinct groups: (1) villain or villainess; (2) intrigue complexities; (3) situational donné; and (4) character display. After nearly fifteen years of plot structures driven by villains, Handel began to experiment with quite different plot designs (though he did not change librettists). Handel's operas comprise, structurally, a series of mostly static scenes in which intense feelings (ambition, lust, hope, fear, doubt, pain, remorse, etc.) are expressed. The happy‐ending convention in opera seria renders plot resolution secondary. Handel's operas are essentially situational rather than plot driven. They use dramatic situations over and over (e.g., supplication, deliverance, abduction, remorse, enmity of kinsmen, self‐sacrifice). Handel is far more concerned with intense expression of emotion than with telling a story. In all four types of Handelian opera, quasi‐ideal heroes or heroines are featured. In (1) they are threatened by the machinations of a villain; in (2) they find themselves entangled in intrigue; in (3) they are caught in the toils of fate or circumstances; and in (4) the aim is mostly just display of heroic character. Handel's bent was for situation and emotion rather than narrative and resolution. Great and stageable as the best of Handel's operas are, the English oratorio offered him a genre ultimately more congenial to his talents and inclinations.

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