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Literary Criticism Italian

The Rise of the Diva on the Sixteenth-Century Commedia dell'Arte Stage

by (author) Rosalind Kerr

University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division
Initial publish date
Feb 2015
Italian, General, Gender Studies, Ancient, Classical & Medieval, Italy, General, Renaissance
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    Feb 2015
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    Mar 2015
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The Rise of the Diva on the Sixteenth-Century Commedia dell’Arte Stage examines the emergence of the professional actress from the 1560s onwards in Italy. Tracing the historical progress of actresses from their earliest appearances as sideshow attractions to revered divas, Rosalind Kerr explores the ways in which actresses commodified their sexual and cultural appeal.

Newly translated archival material, iconographic evidence, literary texts, and theatrical scripts provide a rich repertoire through which Kerr demonstrates how actresses skillfully improvised roles such as the maidservant, the prima donna, and the transvestite heroine. Following the careers of early stars such as Flaminia of Rome, Vincenza Armani, Vittoria Piissimi, and Isabella Andreini, Kerr shows how their fame arose from the combination of dazzling technical mastery and eloquent powers of persuasion. Seamlessly integrating the Italian and English scholarly literature on the subject, The Rise of the Diva is an insightful analysis of one of the modern world’s first celebrity cultures.

About the author

Rosalind Kerr is Associate Professor of Dramatic Theory in the Department of Drama at the University of Alberta. She combines her studies of the sixteenth-century Italian commedia dell'arte actresses and the impact that they had on shaping the early modern stage, with her work on contemporary Canadian experimental and queer theatre. She also has experience as a dramaturge, actor, and director.

Rosalind Kerr's profile page

Editorial Reviews

‘Kerr’s analysis of how actresses used their skill at recitation to capture the public is very fine, as is her account of their personal rivalries and those of their followers… Kerr’s study opens this area to English-speaking public and provides valuable insights.’

Renaissance and Reformation vol 38:03:2015

‘It is an excellent resource for English-speaking scholars. It opens the way for those interested in these aspects of theater history, women’s history, and commedia dell’arte in general to enrich their understanding of the multi-faceted impact of women’s performances on the early modern stage.’

Early Modern Women Journal vol 11:01:2017

‘Kerr’s work is commendable for several reasons. It is theoretically grounded in unusual ways…It reflects her deep knowledge of the then prevailing social and cultural constructs of status and gender.’

Renaissance Quarterly vol 69:04:2016

‘Kerr has made a significant contribution to our knowledge of commedia, identifying exciting themes for future examination and indicating fruitful ways of approaching them.’

Theatre Survey vol 58:01:2017

‘Timely and fascinating, this study addresses what is arguably the single most important change in western theatre since classical times: the advent of the actress on the male-dominated stage… Everyone who is interested in how women broke into professional theatre and managed to stay there should read this book.’

University of Toronto Quarterly vol 86:03:2017

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