Alexandra Coller. Women, Rhetoric, and Drama in Early Modern Italy

By Riverso, Nicla | Italica, Fall 2018 | Go to article overview

Alexandra Coller. Women, Rhetoric, and Drama in Early Modern Italy


Riverso, Nicla, Italica


Alexandra Coller. Women, Rhetoric, and Drama in Early Modern Italy. London & New York: Routledge, 2017.

This study explores the ways in which rhetoric and gender were intertwined in early modern Italian drama, and how women writers placed themselves in the culture and society of their time. Alexandra Coller brings to the reader's attention many erudite plays of the 16th and the first half of the 17th centuries, which have been largely dismissed by literary criticism. Through a cultural-historical textual analysis, Coller examines male and female-authored drama compositions (comedies, tragedies, and pastorals) in order to demonstrate that both dealt with issues of daily life: arranged or clandestine marriage, inheritance rights, the tradition of dowry, friendship among women, unusual forms of love, and women's education. Moreover, she draws analogies and divergences between female and male-authored texts, and focuses on female-authored plays to show how women carved their space in a male-dominant field and the ways in which they were actively engaged in early modern literary culture.

The book is in five chapters, divided into two parts. The first part analyzes the women represented as protagonists in male-authored comedies and tragedies and includes a study on Margherita Costa's Li buffoni (comedy) and Valeria Miani's Celinda (tragedy). The second part focuses on female-authored texts, particularly on pastoral tragicomedies, a very popular genre among early modern female writers.

The first part comprises the first two chapters. In the first chapter, "Fathers, Daughters, Crossdressing, and Names: Women, Rhetoric, and Education in Commedia Erudita," Coller sketches the typical education for young and unmarried girls in the early modern period, emphasizing the relationship between fathers and daughters in the process of female education. She then analyzes the depiction of women in male-authored plays like Angelo Beolco's L'Anconitana, Alessandro Piccolomini's Alessandro, Niccolo Secchi's Gl'inganni, Girolamo Parabosco's II Marinarlo, and Luca Contile's Ceserea Gonzaga, addressing the theme of women crossdressing for different purposes.

In the second chapter, "Fashioning a Genealogy: the Rhetoric of Friendship and Female Virtue in Italian Renaissance Tragedy," Coller points out the role of friendship in Giambattista Giraldi Cinzio's Ecatommiti and examines the theme of friendship between women as a part of the plot development in Giraldi's Selene and Eufimia. Coller brings up Lodovico Dolce's Marianna as another example of a play that engages with the theme of friendship between women. Then, moving on to analyze Dolce's other tragedies, she points out that La Medea and Le troiane, though based on ancient models, deal with themes and issues that were increasingly brought to attention during this time as a part of early modern life. In La Medea, Dolce addresses the topic of marriage by suggesting that "both husband and wife should work towards that end in a union conceived as a 'partnership'" (84). …

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