The Italian Tragedy in the Renaissance: Cultural Realities and Theatrical Innovations

The Italian Tragedy in the Renaissance: Cultural Realities and Theatrical Innovations

The Italian Tragedy in the Renaissance: Cultural Realities and Theatrical Innovations

The Italian Tragedy in the Renaissance: Cultural Realities and Theatrical Innovations

Synopsis

This book is about the Renaissance revitalization of classical drama. Using a cultural and a theatrical approach, it shows how Italian playwrights made ancient tragedy relevant to their audiences. The book challenges the traditional critical approach to the Italian Renaissance tragedy as a mere literary work, and calls attention to the complementary function of the theatrical text, which is "reconstructed" from the stage directions embedded in the discourse of the characters.

Excerpt

MY PRIMARY AIM FOR WRITING THIS BOOK IS TO ANSWER, AT LEAST IN part, Marco Ariani's call for the reevaluation of Italian Renaissance tragedy, which, he notes, has been left in one of the several “zone morte” [dead areas] of Italian literature. I take up this challenge by focusing the discussion on the Renaissance revival of ancient tragedy. As Lodovico Dolce claims in the epilogue to his Ifigenia, tragedy came from Athens to cinquecento Florence, after a reluctant sojourn in classical Rome. It was through the efforts of Italian Renaissance playwrights wishing to revive ancient theater that tragedy, or the noble genre, as it was called, reached the theaters of Europe, thus making its way into modern Western culture. The Italian experience paved the way for great tragedians like Racine and Shakespeare, the standards of comparison for all scholarly discourse on Renaissance drama. This influence notwithstanding, theater scholarship, interested mostly in the great accomplishments of English and French tragedy, has practically neglected Italian tragedy other than to acknowledge the usefulness of its experiments. The limited critical attention it does receive has focused largely on the playwrights' attempts to imitate ancient texts and on the extent to which they observed Aristotelian precepts.

Though important studies on the poetics of the Italian dramatic stage, few as they are, have contributed to a better understanding of its strengths and limitations, we still lack a clear perspective on the literary and theatrical innovations that truly characterize Italian Renaissance tragedy. More specifically, we lack a broad perspective on the function of cinquecento theater as a reflection of the times and as a forum for debating cultural issues, such as the political nature of kingship and the question of women. We know little about its dramatic and dramaturgical innovations, especially the evolving concept of dramatic space and its use. This vacuum is in part due to the monumental challenge to define a theater that, having slowly emerged from centuries of darkness, had to be assimilated and adapted to the changing aesthetic and cultural exigencies of modern audiences. Adding to the difficulty is the wide range and diversity of cultural . . .

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