Giambattista Giraldi Cinthio is best known today for his critical theory on drama and epic and for his short-story collection Hecatommithi (1565), though in his time he was an important and influential playwright and theatrical producer as well. His Discorso intorno dei romanzi, delle commedie e delle tragedie e di altre maniere di poesia (1554) contains a treatise on epic and chivalric poetry, Discorso intorno al comporre dei romanzi (On Romances, 1968), and two treatises on theater, one on comedy and tragedy, Discorso intorno al comporre delle commedie e delle tragedie, and another on satyr plays, Discorso sopra il comporre le satire atte alla scena. He was probably the author of the anonymous Giuditio sopra la tragedia di Canace et Macario (1550), which attacked Sperone Speroni’s tragedy Canace (1542). He experimented in many other literary genres, writing Italian and Latin verse, an epic poem, and a manual of courtly deportment.
Giambattista Giraldi Cinthio was an inventive, though not a great dramatist who made a unique and often determining mark on sixteenth century tragic theater, pastoral drama, and literary theory. His major dramatic success, the tragedy Orbecche, which had at least eleven editions in the sixteenth century, became the model for the tragic theater that followed. Giraldi Cinthio did not approve of pastoral drama, and with his Egle he sought to recover the ancient Greek satyr play for the contemporary stage. Although Egle had no direct following, certain of its features reappeared in the later masterpieces of pastoral drama, and despite its author’s intentions, it seems to have been an important precedent for the development of the genre. Finally, Giraldi Cinthio was one of the first to write a commentary on Aristotle’s De poetica (c. 334-323 b.c.e.; Poetics, 1705) and, among Italian critics, the first to question some of its central precepts, though he did so by claiming to be in agreement with them. His critical writing on theater and epic proved to be even more influential than his theater, both in Italy and throughout Europe.
The appearance of Giraldi Cinthio’s first tragedy, Orbecche, was an important moment in the history of the tragic genre in Italy, which is largely the history of the reception of Aristotle’s Poetics, and it was a decisive one for the fortunes of Seneca in the Renaissance. Senecan tragedy had long been the model of Italian tragic theater, but Giraldi Cinthio accommodated it where necessary to Aristotle’s views, adapted it for the stage, and popularized many of its specific features.
Orbecche in general follows Roman models rather than the Greek ones proposed by Giangiorgio Trissino, Giovanni Rucellai, and Alessandro de’ Pazzi. While taking from the Greek certain elements such as the dialoguing chorus and the messenger who recounts offstage events, Giraldi Cinthio used the Roman five-act division rather than an episodic organization of the plot, a separate Terentian prologue as well as a Senecan prologue in the first act, Senecan themes and especially horrors. His particular composite imitation was guided by an interest in the pleasure and the moral improvement of his audience as well as by his desire to please fellow literati with an ingenious act of imitation.
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Di Maria, Salvatore. The Italian Tragedy in the Renaissance: Cultural Realities and Theatrical Innovations. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 2002. Di Maria examines the development of drama, particularly tragedy, in Italy. Includes bibliography and index.
Horne, P. R. The Tragedies of Giambattista Giraldi Cinthio. London: Oxford University Press, 1962. Horne examines the tragic drama of Giraldi Cinthio. Includes bibliography.
Morrison, Mary. The Tragedies of G. B. Giraldi Cinthio: The Transformation of Narrative Source into Stage Play. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1997. This scholarly study focuses on how Giraldi Cinthio adapted narratives and made them dramas for the stage.