Article Title

Sforza Oddi and the Commedia Grave: Setting the Stage for Shakespeare


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

Shakespeare is popularly regarded as the central figure in Elizabethan and Jacobean theatrical practice, but it is difficult, if not impossible, to establish an authorial line of descent for him within the English tradition. While his plays to some extent echo the pioneering work of such playwrights as Marlowe, Kyd, and Lyly, his comedies in particular have a richness in their plotting and characterization which none of his predecessors or contemporaries can match. The mixture of noble and humble casts, powerful female roles, psychological complexity, disguise, sexual ambiguity, tragic potential, pastoral sojourn, self-sacrifice, and providential dénouement which wholly or partially typifies Shakespearean comedy-and which is particularly evident in the later works-seems to identify Shakespeare as something of a sudden mutation within the body of English comic drama. A generation previously, however, the same rich mixture had come into being in Italy as the writers of commedia grave (serious comedy) and pastorale struggled to evolve a dramatic formula more compatible with the moral and political climate of the Counter-Reformation than the neo-classical bawdiness typical of the Humanist Renaissance. I have previously indicated something of Shakespeare's debt to pastorate and specifically linked A Midsummer Night's Dream to Guarini's Il pastor fido.1 In the present article I shall present the conventions and concerns of the commedia grave as demonstrated in the work of an author who, although now largely forgotten, was not only immensely popular in his day but also a key figure in the promulgation of the controriformista dramatic code: Sforza Oddi.2

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