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Cecchi and the Reconciliation of Theatrical Traditions Douglas Radcliff-Umstead Giovati Maria Cecchi (1518-1587) proved to be the most prolific playwright of sixteenth-century Italy. A notary by pro­ fession, this Florentine author completed twenty-one full-length erudite comedies, numerous secular farces, religious dramas, and intermezzi. The public to whom Cecchi addressed his dramatic works consisted of the professional and semi-profes­ sional Florentine classes of lawyers, notaries, merchants, clerics and nuns who all looked to the theatre as a source of entertain­ ment and instruction. In the development of his personal artistry Cecchi fused various learned and popular literary traditions to produce a body of dramatic works which reflect all the facets of Cinquecento comic theatre: emulation of the ancient Roman comedies of Plautus and Terence, the influence of the Italian novellistic tradition with its themes of love as a natural right and fortune as the arbiter of human destiny, the sacra rappresenta­ zione with its stress on satirizing the vicious tendencies of every­ day life, and the Tuscan dialectal farce with its puns and salacious play of words. Performance of Cecchi’s plays by companies of amateur actors would highlight the festivities of carnival seasons, contribute to the gaiety of state weddings by members of the reigning Medici family, and relieve the monoto­ ny of life in convents. Through his comic works Giovan Maria Cecchi intended to present his society with a mirror portrait of its daily existence, pointing out the ridiculous excesses and the follies of the morally blind while offering hope of a happy out­ come to those who recognize their own foolishness. Cecchi lived during the period of Florentine history which could be designated as the Medici restoration under the rule of Cosimo I and his wife Eleonora of Toledo. Content to remain an 156 Douglas Radcliff-Umstead 157 observer rather than a participant in the political and military events which secured for Tuscany the status of an independent grand duchy under Spanish imperial protection, Cecchi shared that “unity of the Florentine cultural and intellectual com­ munity” which held together artists and scholars of all classes with the encouragement of the grand duke.l The author’s plays are generally divided into four categories: commedie osservate (comedies on the classical model), commedie morali, commedie spirituali, and farces. It will be the object of this essay to exam­ ine four plays from Cecchi’s long creative career: a comedy that closely follows a Plautine source; a play inspired by the amor­ ous intrigues of the Decameron; a moral comedy derived from a biblical parable; and a farce that combines folk traditions with novellistic themes. Crossing a time period from Cecchi’s earliest to his final dramatic compositions, these four plays illustrate the artistry with which the Florentine writer succeeded in reconciling the major literary antecedents of sixteenth-century Italian the­ atrical practice. I Cecchi’s play La Stiava belongs to the opening phase of his writing for the theatre. Composed toward 1546,2 La Stiava appeared in the first printed edition of Cecchi’s dramas by the Venetian publisher Giolito de’ Ferrari in 1550 along with the plays La Dote, La Moglie, Gl’Incantesimi, I Dissimili, and YAssiuolo. Originally written in prose, all of these early dramas except for 1 Dissimili and YAssiuolo were later recast in hendecasyllable verses and published in 1585 at Venice by the Giunti press. Cecchi was following the example of Ludovico Ariosto, who had also refashioned his first two dramas La Cassaria and I Suppositi from an original prose draft to a version in hendecasyllables in an identical attempt to create a language for the stage which would combine artistic decorum with an everyday naturalness. But in writing La Stiava the author bore in mind not so much the example of earlier Cinquecento theatre but that of ancient Roman comedy since he derived the play’s plot from Plautus’ Mercator. Throughout his writings, usually in the pro­ logues to his dramas, Cecchi acknowledged that he enjoyed an especially warm rapport with Plautus, his “buon compagno” and “amico tanto caro” as asserted in the opening lines of the play II Martello of 1561. One can therefore speak of “friendly bor...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 156-175
Launched on MUSE
2018-07-11
Open Access
No
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