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The Body Politic on Stage: Women Writers and Gender in Twentieth-Century Italian Theater


My comparative study of works for the stage by three twentieth-century women writers traces a distinct feminist genealogy in Italian theater. I focus on authors whose plays have been overlooked or merit new interpretation: Amelia Pincherle Rosselli (1870–1954) at the turn of the century, Anna Banti (1895–1985) at mid-century, and Franca Rame (1929–2013) in the 1970s–1990s. I treat the works of these authors in terms of gender, revealing a vibrant tradition of female playwriting and performance in Italy that foregrounds women’s bodies, lives, and engagement with politics and culture. In exploring the intersections of feminism and theater, I show how drama is a particularly apt medium for the dissemination of feminist themes in the Italian context.

Chapter 1 focuses on Rosselli’s emancipationist theater, and is the first study to treat her entire dramatic oeuvre in English. I argue that her plays should be read in light of her political activism and commitment to progressive causes, beliefs fostered by her upbringing in a Venetian-Jewish household whose members were dedicated to egalitarian principles. Chapter 2 uses Anna Banti’s Corte Savella as a case study for the modernist feminist practice of historical revisionism—the recasting of historical women as protagonists on the modern stage in order to provide new interpretations of their lives and legacies for contemporary audiences. Chapter 3 is dedicated to the reevaluation of Franca Rame’s life-long theatrical career, showing how she developed as an author and co-author. For Rame, feminism and theater intersect through explicit monologues that harness the power of performance to condemn hypocrisy, sexism, exploitation and violence against women worldwide.

Theater has a deep cultural importance and historical legacy in Italy, but the existing canon tends to marginalize women’s voices, experiences, and histories. My dissertation thus addresses a dual critical need: to expand our understanding of the modern Italian theater canon by researching feminist plays; and to offer an in-depth and comparative study that articulates a specific female subjectivity in the theater.

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