The Vichian Resurrection of Commedia dell’Arte: Michelet, Sand, and De Sanctis

Rocco Rubini


This essay seeks to reconnect two intellectual events of major import in nineteenth-century France: Jules Michelet’s “rediscovery” of Giambattista Vico as a viable source for a critical review of modernity’s task and the scholarly, artistic, and moral accreditation of commedia dell’arte, something inaugurated by George and Maurice Sand in their landmark Masques at bouffons (1860). Together, I contend, these scholarly events mark turning points in the romantic revision of the Renaissance, Baroque, and Enlightenment legacies. In the first section of this essay, I examine Michelet’s Vichian obsession, itself so often studied in isolation, to account for its hybridization with a specific brand of Italian Vichianism imported to France by Italian Risorgimento expatriates. As I explore in the second part of the essay, this connection informs the Sands’ recuperation of commedia dell’arte, another important part of Italy’s early modern legacy, as itself a Vichian event mediated by Michelet’s historiography. In conclusion, this rapprochement will allow us to elucidate a larger reciprocation between French and Italian thinkers at the same time that Italians were reckoning with the legacy of the Risorgimento, as we see through the eyes of one of its major proponents, Francesco De Sanctis, who in his influential History of Italian literature (1870–1) reappropriated Vico to argue that the rebirth of Italy may depend on the obliteration of both its Renaissance and comic traditions.

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