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Literary Criticism Renaissance

The Italian Novella and Shakespeare's Comic Heroines

by (author) Melissa Walter

University of Toronto Press
Initial publish date
Aug 2019
Renaissance, Gender Studies, General
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Aug 2019
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    Aug 2019
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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.

About the author

Melissa Emerson Walter is an associate professor in the Department of English at University of the Fraser Valley.

Melissa Walter's profile page

Editorial Reviews

"This thoroughly researched book is both a critical assessment of the connection between the Italian novella and Shakespeare’s comedy and an analysis of Shakespeare’s creation of the female comic character."

<em>Renaissance and Reformation</em>

"Theoretically engaged and full of insightful readings, this book makes a vital contribution to scholarship […] in the study of Shakespeare and early modern drama in general."

<em>Early Modern Women</em>

"Melissa Walter’s The Italian Novella and Shakespeare’s Comic Heroines is useful reading for scholars and students interested in the relationship between Shakespeare’s comedies and the Italian novella tradition. The book is well structured and informed."

<em>Journal of British Studies</em>

"Walter deftly analyzes the divestment of women’s power that curtails women’s speech and agency, and foregrounds key moments of resistance wherein women’s voices are heard."

<em>Annali d’italianistica</em>

"Walter’s book is an impressive achievement."

<em>Times Literary Supplement</em>