A Distorting Mirror? How Sixteenth-Century Italian Regular (Five-Act) Comedy Reflected Its Society

Paul Philo

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This is an investigation into a specific genre of Italian theatre - erudite comedy of the first half of the sixteenth century. The investigation has been undertaken through the close study of the texts of five plays: La Calandra by Bernardo Dovizi da Bibbiena, Il Negromante by Ludovico Ariosto, Il Marescalco by Pietro Aretino, Gli Straccioni by Annibal Caro, and L’Assiuolo by Giovanni Maria Cecchi. These cover a chronological spread, from the first play performed in 1513 to the last play written in 1549; and a geographical spread, both in terms of the origins of the playwrights and in the settings of the plays.
The broad focus is on how this type of comedy provides an insight into how the society in which it was written and staged viewed typical members of bourgeois urban life, such as tutors, lawyers, well-to-do young males and servants, and incomers such as itinerant sorcerers and pedlars. (One of the plays, Il Marescalco, by virtue of its setting in a princely court, has a broader cast of characters, which includes an aristocrat.)
The principal set of analyses concerns the interplay of characters as to how they gain ascendency over, or are dominated, by others through four discrete dimensions: authority, morality, intelligence and culture. In Chapters Two to Five inclusive these aspects are examined separately, whilst Chapter Six considers them together, either operating complementarily or in opposition. In addition, there is an evaluation of each play and certain characters within each play as to their degree of artifice or verisimilitude.
The final chapter, Chapter Seven, draws together the various conclusions adduced in the previous chapters and places the thesis’s findings into the broader perspective of Italian political and cultural life of those times.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Everson, Jane, Supervisor
Award date1 Jun 2014
Publication statusUnpublished - 2014

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