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Selected Poems of Isabella Andreini.

Isabella Andreini. Selected Poems of Isabella Andreini.

Ed. Anne MacNeil. Trans. James Wyatt Cook. Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2005. xii + 214 pp. index. tbls. $34.95. ISBN: 0-8108-5442-2.

In this book, Anne MacNeil and James Wyatt Cook offer the first bilingual edition (Italian and English) of selected poems by the late Renaissance Paduan actress, poet, and academy literata, Isabella Andreini. This anthology is a collection of 100 poems from the nearly 500 composed by Andreini. MacNeil, author of Music and Women of the Commedia dell'Arte in the Late Sixteenth Century (2003), presents a broad cross-section of Andreini's lyric poetry. The Selected Poems are elegantly translated in blank verse and annotated by James Wyatt Cook, himself translator of Petrarch's Rerum vulgarium Fragmenta (Petrarch's Songbook, 1996).

The Selected Poems edition includes an editor's and translator's forewords, an introduction, and three chapters. In chapter 1 MacNeil offers a well-researched and informative introduction to Andreini, a leading actress of the Renaissance stage, who was in residence at the French royal court for a few years. As an actress, Andreini was accustomed to extemporizing her poems, so her verses "have a strong rhetorical cast and a direct simplicity of subject" (2). MacNeil also shows Andreini's connection to and recognition in the world of literary academies such as the Accademia degli Intenti of Pavia, of which she became a member with the name of l'Accesa, and the musical academies Olimpica of Vicenza and Filarmonica of Verona.

Chapter 2 contains selections from Rime d'Isabella Andreini Padovana, comica gelosa (1601). Of the total 359 poems of the first edition, this book offers seventy-three poems representing a variety of genres, meters, and themes, mostly love lyrics and dedicatory verses. In chapter 3 we find a selection of twenty-seven lyrics from the third, posthumous edition of Andreini's verses, Rime d'Isabella Andreini comica gelosa, & academica intenta detta l'Accesa. Parte seconda (1605). The third edition was published together with the first edition and Andreini's pastoral play, Mirtilla, as a commemorative volume after her premature death in childbirth in 1604. The posthumous edition also includes many verses in Andreini's honor composed by famous literati of her time. Both of her collections of lyric poetry are dedicated to Cinzio Aldobrandini, Cardinal of San Giorgio and nephew of Pope Clement VIII. Her verses became quite popular both in Italy and France, and appealed to wider audiences than the limited circles of academicians.

As MacNeil explains in the introduction, the poems selected for her edition are those set to music, as well as those that appeared in more popular anthologies than the traditional ones edited by members of the various late Renaissance Italian literary academies. MacNeil's approach aims at giving "an indication of those of Andreini's poems that transcended the scholarly sphere and gained popularity among a broad audience" (12). All the poems anthologized here carry only the numbering of the original editions. Though this offers bibliographical faithfulness to the original, it creates some confusion in the sequence of the poems in the anthology. For easier consultation, the editor and translator could have provided information about the sequencing and numbering of the poems in the original editions, and numbered the poems in the anthology consecutively.

Selections from Andreini's first edition offer a remarkable variety of meter, ranging from the more traditional sonnet, madrigal, and canzone, to the sestina and the scherzo. As MacNeil notes, the scherzo, an original poetic form which Gabriello Chiabrera adapted from the Franco-Italian tradition of the canzonetta, was adopted by Andreini herself to celebrate Chiabrera, one of her poetic models, along with Torquato Tasso, whose death is honored in one anthologized sonnet. Highlights in this chapter are the poems composed for playwright Laura Guidiccioni Lucchesini, all penned to honor her death. These verses attest to "the close bond shared by these two women, which is otherwise undocumented" (6).

Chapter 3 contains verses from the posthumous edition, some of the correspondence to and from famous literati such as G. B. Marino, Ingegneri, and Rinuccini, as well as poems dedicated to French nobles such as Maria de' Medici, the Queen of France, the Prince of Conde, and Caterina of Bourbon.

Andreini's Selected Poems, with MacNeil's fine and exhaustive introduction, and with Cook's elegant verse translation and endnotes, offers to English-speaking readers an invaluable first glance at the vast poetic activity of the talented com-media dell'arte actress, academician, and poet of the late Italian Renaissance. This book should be of interest to readers in women's writings, and to scholars in early modern literature and culture. Despite the broad sample of Andreini's verses included in the Selected Poems, the majority of her corpus still remains unavailable in English. One wishes that the author and translator might consider a larger project to fill the gap on the 400 lyric verses still unknown to modern readers.


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Author:Bettella, Patrizia
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 22, 2006
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