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Using a comparative, feminist approach informed by English and Italian literary and theatre studies, this book investigates connections between Shakespearean comedy and the Italian novella tradition. Shakespeare’s comedies adapted the styles of wit, character types, motifs, plots, and other narrative elements of the novella tradition for the Elizabethan and Jacobean stage, and they investigated social norms and roles through a conversation carried out in narrative and drama.
Arguing that Shakespeare’s comedies register the playwright’s reading of the novella tradition within the collaborative playmaking context of the early modern theatre, this book demonstrates how the comic vision of these plays increasingly valued women’s authority and consent in the comic conclusion. The representation of female characters in novella collections is complex and paradoxical, as the stories portray women not only in the roles of witty plotters and storytellers but also through a multifaceted poetics of enclosed spaces – including trunks, chests, caskets, graves, cups, and beds. The relatively open-ended rhetorical situation of early modern English theatre and the dialogic form and narrative material available in the novella tradition combine to help create the complex female characters in Shakespeare’s plays and a new form of English comedy.