The erotics of witchcraft and the politics of desire in Renaissance Florence

Date of Completion

January 1997


Literature, Romance|History, European|Theater




This dissertation examines the complex intersections of sexuality and power in sixteenth century Florence. The research analyzes institutions as arbiters of culture and authorities of orthodoxy, and argues that literary texts offer critical insights into an understanding of witchcraft, sexuality, and structures of power.^ Part I presents an extended analysis of comic representations of witches; my emphasis is on the erotic possibilities and subversive potential of the rhetoric of witchcraft. While I focus on two plays by Antonfrancesco Grazzini--La Spiritata and La Strega--I also consider texts and cultural productions of a non-literary nature: inquisitorial handbooks and trials; medical treatises; legal codes; marriage manuals; and historiography of the family. In Part II, I broaden the perspective, studying carnival songs, comedies, and novellas which deal with homoerotic sexuality and "sodomy," in chapter 4, while in chapter 5, I concentrate on superstition as an instrument of oppression in the life of the subjugated. I situate the literary material in the context of the Florentine ducal state, and I argue that anti-Medicean writers explored and celebrated erotic and homoerotic relations in order to question and expose the absolutist strategies of Cosimo de' Medici's Florence.^ This study engages with many theoretical debates, favoring a historicist, feminist project that takes seriously both the context of the author and the status of the literary text as distinct from other forms of cultural production. The Erotics of Witchcraft and the Politics of Desire in Renaissance Florence is intended to be a contribution to the scholarship of the history of sexuality and an intervention in the ongoing debates about the persecution of witches and sodomites in the past. ^