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The Rise of the Diva on the Sixteenth-Century Commedia dell'Arte Stage

The Rise of the Diva on the Sixteenth-Century Commedia dell'Arte Stage

Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 232
  • Book Info
    The Rise of the Diva on the Sixteenth-Century Commedia dell'Arte Stage
    Book Description:

    The Rise of the Divaon the Sixteenth-Century Commedia dell'Arte Stageexamines the emergence of the professional actress from the 1560s onwards in Italy. Tracing the historical progress of actresses from their earliest appearances as sideshow attractions to revered divas, Rosalind Kerr explores the ways in which actresses commodified their sexual and cultural appeal.

    Newly translated archival material, iconographic evidence, literary texts, and theatrical scripts provide a rich repertoire through which Kerr demonstrates how actresses skillfully improvised roles such as the maidservant, the prima donna, and the transvestite heroine. Following the careers of early stars such as Flaminia of Rome, Vincenza Armani, Vittoria Piissimi, and Isabella Andreini, Kerr shows how their fame arose from the combination of dazzling technical mastery and eloquent powers of persuasion. Seamlessly integrating the Italian and English scholarly literature on the subject,The Rise of the Divais an insightful analysis of one of the modern world's first celebrity cultures.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-1948-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-12)

    This book explores the multifaceted significance of the emergence of the professional actress from the 1560s onwards in Italy.¹ It is intended to deepen English-speaking scholars’ understanding of the impact this phenomenal change had on the development of early modern Western theatre. Although Shakespearean scholars have developed a large body of work dealing with the stage representation of erotic desire and its relationship to the formation of sexual identities in early modern culture, their work is generally restricted to an all-male theatre, since women were not permitted on the professional English stage until the 1660s.² Thinking about what it meant...

  6. Chapter One The Early Female Performer as Marketplace Fetish
    (pp. 13-35)

    The phenomenal arrival of female performers on the sixteenth-century commedia dell’arte stage in the 1560s, one hundred years earlier than they were admitted on the English professional stage, is best understood as happening along a continuum that is briefly outlined in this chapter. Records indicate that the commedia dell’arte came into existence as a result of the social and economic upheavals that led to the creation of a marketplace economy at odds with the outmoded church system of charitable relief. We first encounter actors appearing alongside charlatans and mountebanks as they travelled through the northern Italian cities to sell their...

  7. Chapter Two Pornographic Bawds, Courtesans, and Maidservants
    (pp. 36-66)

    The commedia dell’arte provides an early modern theatrical example of the fetishizing of the female body as a scopic commodity. This marketing device, usually regarded as occurring as a result of the mass production of consumer goods in the late-nineteenth century, is present here in nascent form as part of the creation of commercial theatre.¹ By about the 1630s, actresses had become such standardized items that the predominantly male audiences would boycott performances without them.² According to Ottonelli, even “ugly” actresses appeared to be beautiful on the stage because of the makeup and the roles they were playing.³ In the...

  8. Chapter Three Iconic Prima Donnas
    (pp. 67-81)

    If theservarole spectacularized the female body as a sexual object, theprimaandseconda donnaperformers offered a more complex mediation on female sexual identities by selling their images rather than themselves. This chapter examines connections between the first great actresses and their courtesan roots, explaining where they acquired the exceptional skills they needed to improvise dramatic characters. Since the class of actresses who took theprima donnaroles demonstrated the kind of aristocratic education and artistic refinement necessary to play the idealized court lady, it has been argued that they probably were drawn from the new class...

  9. Chapter Four Transvestite Heroines
    (pp. 82-101)

    In addition to contesting class and status divisions within female sexual identities, when commedia dell’arte actresses took over the transvestite page roles they also questioned the very process of gendering that hierarchized male and female sexual differences. These roles, developed in the all-male erudite theatre, feature the exploits of renegade female characters who adopt male costumes and personae in order to usurp male prerogatives. Dressing up in the sumptuous clothing of the male courtier, and impersonating the ideal traits and accomplishments of this new social elite, the actresses were positioned to tease the spectator with their sexual ambiguity and phallic...

  10. Chapter Five Isabella Andreini: The Making of a Diva
    (pp. 102-146)

    The records relating to Isabella Andreini depict her as an actress and musician of astounding range and skill who became theprima donnaof the Gelosi at a very early age and continued to perform with them, often co-directing the company with her husband Francesco.¹ In addition to her acting, she won recognition in court and academic circles as a scholar, poet, playwright, and author of note.² Through these circles she acquired a wide base of dedicated followers whose praises amounted to cult worship. All of this evidence qualifies her as having what Roach calls “the multifaceted genius of It”...

  11. Chapter Six Conclusion
    (pp. 147-152)

    In 1625, when Giovan Battista Andreini proclaimed inLa ferzathat the most marvellous feature of the commedia dell’arte was the miraculous presence of the actresses, they had been established members of the companies for over sixty years.¹ As I traced their status on the stage from their earliest appearances on the mountebank stages to their achieving the status of revered divas, my goal has been to look at the ways in which actresses’ stage performances commented on the formation of early modern female sexual identities. As noted above, these identities were shaped on the commedia dell’arte stage in response...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 153-186)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 187-206)
  14. Index
    (pp. 207-216)