Secret Sharers in Italian Comedy

From Machiavelli to Goldoni

Secret Sharers in Italian Comedy

Book Pages: 232 Illustrations: Published: May 1996

Author: Jackson I. Cope

Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism, Theater and Performance

Modern vernacular comedy took shape in early sixteenth-century Italy with the many plays adapted from and modeled on Plautine New Comedy. As Jackson I. Cope demonstrates in this study, some Italian dramatists reacted to the widespread success of this genre with a counterparadigm, a comedy that exploits secrecy as form. In both historically and critically engaging fashion, Cope identifies and examines this major development in Italian theater.
Though outwardly similar to New Comedy with its characteristically harmonious closure, this essentially anti-Plautine form employs a secret—known by the audience but unequally shared among the players—to introduce a radical discrepancy between simultaneous stories unfolding in a single action doubly understood. The result is a plot that is misleading at the surface, contingent and unfinished at its end. The audience, in a position of enforced collusion with regard to the secret, becomes a formal ingredient in the production. The play, more cynical than carnivalesque, opens onto vistas of disruption and deception rather than closing on a note of renewed social harmony.
Cope’s close and original readings of both classic and lesser-known plays by Machiavelli, Ruzante, Cecchi, Grazzini, Fagiuoli, Maggi, and others follow this peculiarly Italian, anti-Plautine paradigm through variations across three centuries to its masterful and complex culmination in Carlo Goldoni’s villeggiatura trilogy. Establishing a new comedic canon that demands a revision of Italian dramatic history and the history of European dramatic theory, Secret Sharers in Italian Comedy makes an important contribution to Italian studies and will also attract readers among theater scholars in English, comparative literature, and drama.


“[A] stimulating, insightful study. . . .” — Forum for Modern Language Studies

“[O]riginal and seductive. . . .” — Louise George Clubb, Modern Philology

“Cope has defined a counter-generic genre that sharpens and refines our understanding of the distinctive Italian contribution to the history of theater. His analysis is shrewd, and his careful close readings of a large number of plays make this fascinating theater of complicity available to readers with little or no Italian. Beyond that, he provokes endless reflection on theater itself as a metaphor of the knowable, and of the ways in which that metaphor was transformed between the early humanistic revivals of Plautus and Terence, and the rise of Gozzi.” — Walter Stephens, Dartmouth College


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Jackson I. Cope is Leo S. Bing Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Southern California. He is the author of many books, including The Theater and the Dream and Dramaturgy of the Daemonic.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

Il Padano to Il Veneto 17

Siena: Piccolomini's Dialogo and the Rozzi Rusticali 49

Florence 75

Il Manco male: Maggi's Meneghino in Milan 117

Goldoni 139

Afterword on Secrecy and Literary Genres 185

Notes 191

Index 217
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Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-1760-9
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