From Rome to Eternity: Catholicism and the Arts in Italy, ca. 1550-1650

By Pamela M. Jones; Thomas Worcester | Go to book overview
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Michael A. Zampelli

Despite the renown of his parents, actors Isabella and Francesco Andreini, Giovan Battista Andreini (1576–1654) has for too long remained in the shadowed wings of early modern theater history. Though he has found a place in reviews of Italian drama and literature, only recently have scholars recalled him from the virtual exile effected by nineteenth century intellectual prejudices against the 'decadent' Seicento. Within the last thirty or so years, Italian theater scholars have explored more fully the material history of the commedia italiana.1 These efforts have succeeded not only in releasing the early Italian theater from the romantic mythologies it had accrued as the 'commedia dell'arte,' but also in redirecting our attention to the professional nature of this theatrical activity and the quality of its interaction with the wider culture.2 As a result, figures like Giovan

1 The most important of these are Lodovico Zorzi, Cesare Molinari, Roberto
Tessari, Ferdinando Taviani, Ferruccio Marotti, Luciano Mariti, Laura Falavolti,
Siro Ferrone, Claudia Burattelli, Mirella Schino, Silvia Carandini. The most valu-
able resource in English that takes account of the very significant developments in
Italian scholarship on the commedia dell'arte remains Kenneth and Laura Richards,
The Commedia dell'arte: A Documentary History (1990). The authors provide a helpful
select bibliography that includes major primary sources as well as important sec-
ondary works in Italian, English and other languages.

2 A clarification of terms will prove helpful at this juncture. 'Commedia dell'arte' is
an eighteenth-century term that came to distinguish the masked improvised com-
edy from more 'literary' comic forms (à la Goldoni). Though difficult to translate,
commedia dell'arte suggests both a theater of skillful 'craft' and professional perfor-
mance. The term has subsequently been laden with theatrical associations that do
not apply to the commedia of the earlier centuries (e.g., exclusively improvised, pre-
dominantly slapstick, etc.). During the seventeenth century, however, professional
acting companies would have been referred to by any number of descriptive titles:
'commedia degli zanni,' 'commedia italiana,' 'commedia all'improvviso,' 'commedia al soggetto,'
'commedia mercenaria.' These terms highlight the most distinguishing features of this
theatrical phenomenon: its methods of characterization, its geographical origins, its
modes of production, its professionalism. I will use these latter terms to refer to the
work of Andreini and his colleagues in hopes of keeping the focus squarely on the
seventeenth century theatrical environment and limiting the misunderstandings that
may be occasioned by the more common 'commedia dell'arte.' See Richards (1990,
6–10) for a discussion of these interpretive issues.


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