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Five Comedies from the Italian Renaissance

At the turn of the sixteenth century, Italian playwrights rediscovered and recast an old art form—the ancient Latin comedy—to create witty, ribald, and intricately plotted plays that delighted Renaissance audiences with their clever reversals of gender and class roles. Five Comedies from the Italian Renaissance brings together the best of these works in lively new translations by Laura Giannetti and Guido Ruggiero, who also place the comedies in their cultural and social context. Presenting a fresh perspective on the Italian Renaissance, these deft translations allow modern readers to experience the original artistry and carnivalesque humor of these delightfully profane and irreverent literary classics.

The five plays: The Comedy of Calandro by Bernardo Dovizi de Bibbiena; The Mandrake Root by Niccolò Machiavelli; The Master of the Horse by Pietro Aretino; The Deceived by the Academy of the Intronati of Siena; and A Venetian Comedy by anonymous

About the Authors

Laura Giannetti, formerly a professor of Italian literature and history at the Instituto Magistrale "Duca degli Abruzzi" in Treviso, teaches Italian language and literature at the University of Miami. Guido Ruggiero is chair of the department of history at the University of Miami. His books include The Boundaries of Eros: Sex Crime, and Sexuality in Renaissance Venice and Binding Passions: Tales of Magic, Marriage, and Power at the End of the Renaissance.


"The translations of these bold and sometimes bawdy Italian imitations of raucous Latin comedy are readable and playable."

- Bibliotheque d'Humanisme et Renaissance


"The five plays chosen for this volume represent some of the finest, and most influential, works from the first wave of the classicizing revival of comic theater in 16th-century Italy, which would then make itself felt throughout Europe: in the England of Shakespeare and the Spain of Lope. They stand among the extraordinary accomplishments of the 'High Italian Renaissance,' comparable to the art of Michelangelo and Raphael, the political and historical thought of Machiavelli and Guicciardini, the courtly dialogue of Castiglione, the romance-epic of Ariosto, and so on. The combined skills of Giannetti and Ruggiero, a talented literary scholar and a leading cultural historian, have blended perfectly in producing lucid, appealing translations that both respect the artistry of the texts—especially their wickedly carnivalesque humor—and reveal their dual function of reproducing and travestying fundamental aspects of the 'social world' of early modern Italy. Readers will find the long introduction especially illuminating about the ways in which Machiavelli, Bibbiena, Aretino, and the others transform the classical models of Plautus and Terence as they superimpose upon them the political preoccupations, normative family relations, sexual practices, and gender and age roles of their own brilliant and traumatic epoch."

- Albert Russell Ascoli, Terrill Distinguished Professor of Italian Studies, University of California, Berkeley

"A welcome and needed addition to the scant collection of useful translations now available for students of Italian and the Renaissance. In particular, the new translations of Venexiana, which was rediscovered only last century and is going to become one of the most popular Renaissance plays, and Calandra, which deserves to be much better known, are the most intriguing in the collection and will reshape the way we research and teach not only Italian literature, but also the plays of the English Renaissance. Overall, this book is indispensable."

- Valeria Finucci, Duke University

"Giannetti and Ruggiero's translations balance clarity and colloquialism. The experience of reading their version of The Mandrake Root, for example, is analogous to the experience a contemporary of Machiavelli might have had in seeing the play performed. It is accurate but not pedantic, funny but not distracting, and as fast paced as it is in the original Italian."

- Dennis Looney, University of Pittsburgh

"Dramatically engaging and, even by twenty-first-century standards, variously outrageous, pornographic, and hilarious, these five Renaissance comedies are among the most readable and producible plays from any historical period. Laura Giannetti and Guido Ruggiero have translated them into the graphic colloquial English they deserve. The gender-bending, cross-dressing cast of promiscuous characters are delightfully risque, but they also raise the serious issues of honesty and trust that only comedy can explore."

- Edward Muir, Clarence L. Ver Steeg Professor in the Arts and Sciences, Northwestern University

"An intelligently prefaced book which makes available in sensible, accurate English—to scholars and students of drama and of the Renaissance, as well as to general readers—a coherent body of theatre which is culturally and intrinsically valuable."

- Ronnie Ferguson - Modern Language Review
Johns Hopkins University Press
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Machiavelli in Love

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Microhistory and the Lost Peoples of Europe

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