Giambattista Della Porta Critical Essays


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Clearly influenced by Plautus, whose works Giambattista Della Porta translated and adapted, the playwright and author of the no longer extant “De arte componendi comoedias” (the art of writing comedies) deftly melded to classical motifs the many elements of regional storytelling tradition. Though his declared intention was to restore the traditional classical theater, the language and spirit of Della Porta’s characters, as well as numerous references to daily life, unmistakingly point to the writer’s personal experience within the historical framework of sixteenth century Italy.

The second half of the sixteenth century was a turning point in the development of Italian drama. This had been marked by the emergence of the commedia dell’arte , which, in turn, signaled the crisis of the “erudite” drama. Because they were timely, Della Porta’s comedies were often adapted as canovacci by the professional actors of the commedia dell’arte, though it seems unlikely that Della Porta himself wrote scenari for them. Della Porta’s comedies do not encompass revolutionary innovations in content or technique; they are rather a consummate reelaboration of the Renaissance comic theater. His range extended by classical and Boccaccean themes, distinctly anticipating the controlled hyperbole of pre-Baroque theater, Della Porta was one of the first Italian playwrights to blend romantic and pathetic elements into the comic situation, in a manner that would soon become established in the new genre of tragicomedy.

Della Porta’s comic effects are heightened by a colorful and vigorous language. The speech of his characters is devoid of complex nuances and overly sophisticated literary allusions. Indeed, Della Porta employs a language that can produce the maximum reaction from an average, not particularly learned audience: a kind of bourgeois speech to be enjoyed by anyone possessing an average education, occasionally punctuated by expressions peculiar to a character that serve to define or reinforce that character. Even when, as frequently occurs, Della Porta borrows directly from the classical tradition, he does so in such a way as to isolate the lines and situations from their original context, emphasizing them in a contemporary manner rather than through the traditional interpretative modes.

There is scant information available regarding precisely when and where Della Porta produced his theatrical works, the number of which makes him the most prolific dramatic writer of the time after Giovanni Maria Cecchi. He began writing his comedies at an early age, and his first comedy, L’Olimpia, is introduced by a virginal and shy young girl—possibly an allusion to the fact that this was Della Porta’s first dramatic work—who declares that she would have not appeared in public if the Prologue had not forced her to do so. Of the more than thirty dramatic works probably written by...

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