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Du spectaculaire a l'intime: Un Siecle de commedia erudita en Italie et en France (debut du XVIe siecle-milieu du XVIIe siecle).

Patrizia de Capitani. Du spectaculaire a l'intime: Un Siecle de commedia erudita en Italie et en France (debut du XVIe siecle-milieu du XVIIe siecle).

Paris: Honore Champion Editeur, 2005. x + 454 pp. index. bibl. [euro]86. ISBN: 2-7453-1138-7.

This book aims to examine some formal and thematic aspects of the commedia erudita (learned comedy, an Italian theatrical genre inspired by Plautus's and Terence's dramatic experiences) with the purpose to enlighten its acceptance in France between 1540 and 1640.

The author based her work exclusively on French translations and adaptations of Italian theatrical works, keeping in consideration the three main literary currents considered as fundamental by the critics: romance, intrigue, and serious comedy. Learned comedy's influence was equally felt in Spain, the British Isles, and Germany. In Italy, the learned comedy spread over an entire century (early and late sixteenth century), starting with Ariosto's experience in 1508, and continuing with Della Porta, while in France the Italian regular comedy appeared thirty years later. It made its debut in 1543 with Gl'ingannati (translated by Charles Estienne), and continued to 1646-47 with the last adaptations of Italian regular comedies by Rotrou and D'Auville.

The scholar's work is divided into four big chapters. The first chapter ("Pour une approche comparative du theatre comique italien et francais du XVIe siecle et de la premiere moitie du XVIIe siecle") focuses attention on the extraliterary factors that contributed to a different evolution of regular theater in France and in Italy. The Italian emphasis is placed on the more visual and spectacular aspects of the theater, while the French accent is placed on a theater of ideas and passions which anticipated the "tragical" blooming of French production in the following years (Corneille, Racine, etc.).

The second chapter ("La comedie romanesque et ses avatars: La tradition siennoise et la France 1532-1647") deals with Gl'ingannati, a comedy masterwork of the Sienese tradition, where a balance is reached between the specifically comic romance action elements and the elements of sentimental and psychological nature. The French translators Charles Estienne, Pierre de Larivey, and Antonio Le Metel d'Ouville attempted an integration of the Sienese model with the social and cultural reality of their country and their time. Through the Sienese comedy, the themes and the characters from Boccaccio's short stories and the stories of his later imitators made way into the French regular theater. The motif of the Sienese drama tradition, which had most characterized regular French theater from the sixteenth to the seventeenth centuries, remained that of the masque. The path leading to the comedy of costumes and characters of the seventeenth century in France was already well marked, and the contribution of Sienese comedy certainly took an important role in this process.

Chapter 3 ("La comedie d'intrigue: D e l'Arioste et ses interpretes francais aux premieres comedies traduites par Larivey") essentially lingers on the comedy of intrigue, whose model is Ariosto in his Suppositi and Negromante, the only ones of five pieces created by the poet which were the object of translation and adaptation in the French language in the sixteenth century. The first performance of Suppositi occurred in 1508 in Ferrara, and in 1594 in Paris appeared Jean Godard's Desquisez, which was the last French imitation of Suppositi before the end of the sixteenth century. Between the two dates above is placed the theatrical experience of Pierre de Larivey, who in 1574 published--translated into French--six comedies of several Italian authors, little-known but also included in the spirit of the comedy of intrigue.

The fourth chapter ("La comedie serieuse et sentimentale: Larivey et Rotrou face aux experiences italiennes de la seconde moitie du XVIe siecle--vers 1560-1646") takes into examination a period of forty years, from 1611, the date of three comedies by Larivey, to the 1646 first edition of La soer by Rotrou. Beginning with the second half of the sixteenth century, the commedia erudita underwent considerable modifications, changes which were not uniform, but which allow us to notice, since the 1560s, a common element constituted by a new freedom both with regard to the form as to the content. In other words, when the critics observe that, under the influence of the Counter-Reformation, the comedy shifts toward a serious and moralizing drama, it doesn't mean the exclusion of laughter and of the liberties which had been taken about the morals of the times. Larivey was a religious man, for whom the theater was essentially a mere distraction. He composed his own translations for a group of refined scholars of Italian culture and theater. For these reasons Larivey chose little-known texts such as Razzi's Gostanza and Pasqualigo's Il fedele.

Rotrou was totally different from Larivey: he wrote for the Parisian's scene, Hotel de Bourgogne, headquarters of French dramatic art, and he chose to imitate the works of Italian authors who had achieved some success. Such was the case of Delia Porta's La sorella and I due fratelli rivali. Larivey opened in France the vein of serious comedy, while Rotrou introduced tragic comedy (or pastoral comedy).

The relationship between Italian Renaissance commedia erudita and the French theater of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries has been the object of many studies by Stiefel, Hauvette, Sanese, Chasles, and Toldo, just to mention a few names. Patrizia de Capitani's more modern approach lingers on the intercultural relationship of the two theatrical forms, studying the works in their own imitative process. Unlike the critics, the scholar was able to demonstrate in her works that the comedies of the second half of the sixteenth century, characterized as they are by romance and pathetic elements, do not show the disappearance of the model, but its own dynamism and its capability to adapt to the variations in mentality and taste. French playwrights showed their necessity to overcome their own models in order to integrate them into a new culture.


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Author:Bregoli-Russo, Mauda
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2006
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