Fighting Eve: Women on the Stage in Early Modern Italy

Nicla Riverso


The Catholic revival in the sixteenth century coincides with the opening of the commedia dell’arte stage to women, leading to progress for female performers. However, the presence of women in the commedia dell’arte immediately shows contradictions and disagreements with the teaching of the Catholic Church. At this time, women were depicted as an emblem of Catholic morality: they were supposed to be devoted mothers and wives and their life was confined within the domestic household. In my paper, I analyze how difficult it was for women to prevail against religious and cultural prejudices and gain respect and recognition as actresses. My aim is to point out how the presence of women on the stage brought about a revolution for women’s role in Western culture offering a freedom of expression against traditional moral patterns and giving female performers a chance to demonstrate cleverness and professionalism.

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