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Case 10 - Italian Women Playwrights

In Renaissance Italy, unlike England, women performed as actresses in the theater, and beginning in the later sixteenth century, they also wrote and published plays. Earlier Italian drama had been the purview of male writers, since the language was realistic and frequently bawdy. But as more refined romantic comedy became popular, the dramatic genre opened to women writers. Valeria Miani’s play, for example, is an early love story set in a refined pastoral setting. The later seventeenth-century dramas by Veronica Maleguzzi Valerii and Giulia Rangoni Ariberti continue the emphasis on virtue. More unusual was Margherita Costa’s earthy commedia del’arte drama, Li Buffoni.

Valeria Miani Negri. Amorosa Speranza: Favola Pastorale. Venice, 1604

Giulia Rangone Ariberti. La Virtu Trionfante: Opera Regale. Milan, 1690?

Veronica Maleguzzi. L’innocente riconosciuta. Opera. Bologna, 1660

Margherita Costa. Li Buffoni: Comedia Ridicola. Florence, 1641

Valeria Miani’s play, Amorous Hope, tells the story of a nymph, Venelia, who is abandoned by her husband and pursued by two shepherds. In the dedication to Marietta Uberti Descalzi, a gentlewoman from Miani’s hometown of Padua, the publisher writes that “some men will never give a fair reading to a book published by a woman.” However, pastoral drama, based on the writings of Tasso and Guarini, became a popular genre for female dramatists because sex could be dealt with under the mythical cover of nymphs and shepherds.


Another Italian playwright, Giulia Rangoni, wrote Virtue Triumphant, a three-act “royal opera” or masque dedicated to the Empress Eleonora Gonzaga, a great patron of the arts, to whom Rangoni was lady-in-waiting. The cast of characters from Crete, Cyprus, and Tunis reads like a Shakespearean romance, while the dramatic dialogue is interspersed at beginning, middle, and end with singing. Around 1675, Rangoni and her husband, the marchese Giovan Battista Ariberti, built a small theater in Cremona for private performances.


Also writing on virtue, the Contessa Malaguzzi was the well-educated daughter of a historic family in Reggio Emilia. She famously defended a Latin dissertation, but unable to find a paid court position based on her learning, she entered the Convent of the Visitation in Modena. In the foreword to Innocence Revealed, Malaguzzi explains that the play is based on a French story about Genevieve of Brabant. The virtuous tale is set in the Italian middle ages and, like Romeo and Juliet, deals with two feuding families. The play is dedicated to Laura Martinozzi, duchess of Modena.


Like many playwrights of the day, Roman-born Margherita Costa was also a singer and actress, and she spent time at the Medici court in Florence and at the French royal court. She wrote poetry, as well as a number of plays. Costa wrote her comedy Li Buffoni for the 1641 Carnival in Florence, dedicating it to her fellow actor, Bernadino Ricci. The illustration shows the stage set and actors during the performance.


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