Discourses of play in Italian Renaissance comedy

Date of Completion

January 1998


Literature, Romance|Theater




This thesis explores the ludic dimension present in some significant Italian Renaissance comedies; its aim is to analyze the presence of play in its different textual morphologies--detecting what types of play are presented, how such play is developed and its interrelationships with "everyday life." Rather than focusing on generic definitions of "ludic theater," this thesis considers play as a central formative idea in Renaissance culture; thus, it treats play in the texts of a series of representative comedies as an hermeneutical tool for critical analysis.^ In this study play is defined as observable ludic behavior in which the amusement or the pleasure of an activity, its fulfillment and intrinsic beauty, are intentionally deployed. The first chapter examines the theoretical dimension of play--drawing on sociological, philosophical and literary studies--while also giving attention to the complexity of the word itself and its different meanings in western culture. The second chapter studies the first vernacular comedy of the Italian Renaissance: the Cassaria by Ludovico Ariosto. In this text the competitive play between servants and masters, inside a family (that in many ways evokes courtly society), shows how power relationships were configured in a hierarchical society like that of the renaissance at the heart of some of its most central institutions: such as family, court, and patronage relationships. Chapter three explores feminine play in La Calandria by Bernardo Dovizi da Bibbiena, the anonymous Venexiana and La Pellegrina by the Sienese author Girolamo Bargagli. Playful simulation of reality, erotic "agon," and hiding of true identity are the primary games analyzed which speak to a specifically feminine audience. In the fourth chapter the play of gender becomes the focus: the pleasures (and dangers) of women cross-dressing as men are the primary vehicle for studying the cultural constructs of gender in La Calandria by Bibbiena and in Gli Ingannati by the Accademici Intronati of Siena. The conclusion sums up the role of play as a critical tool for understanding renaissance comedy and the close relationships between dramatic texts and life in the Renaissance. ^