23 Nov 2021 16:00

The Public Staging of Gender in Shakespearean Theatre Discussion with Pamela Allen Brown

Aula Magna Silvio Trentin, Ca' Dolfin e online


  • Shaul Bassi, International Center for the Humanities and Social Change
  • Rosaria Ruffini, Marie Skłodowska-Curie Global Fellow
  • Diego Mantoan, Venice Centre for Digital and Public Humanities

On the eve of the publication of Pamela Allen Brown’s The Diva's Gift to the Shakespearean Stage for Oxford University Press, the Venice Centre for Digital and Public Humantities gets back to a conference in presence at the Aula Magna of Ca’ Dolfin, on November 23, 2021, 4PM, to reflect on the influence of women on the public stage for the evolution of gender roles in European society. In her new book she traces the connections between Shakespeare's all-male stage and the first female stars in the Continent, thus providing a new transnational perspective on celebrated female roles and their relevance for the staging of gender in Early Modern Times. Indeed, by the time Shakespeare began to write plays, women had been acting professionally in Italian troupes, traveling across the Continent and acting in all genres, with some women becoming first truly international divas. Presenting her book in Venice, the author argues that the English stage took boys for women by looking at Italianate roles as an adaptive strategy formed under pressure, as rival troupes with women gained fame in courts throughout Europe and toured London. Through contacts direct and indirect, English professionals grew keenly aware of the mimetic revolution wrought by the skilled diva, who expanded the innamorata and made the type more engaging, outspoken, and autonomous.

The debate with three discussants from Ca’ Foscari –Shaul Bassi, Rosaria Ruffini, and Diego Mantoan– offers the opportunity to reflect on how the diva's prodigious theatricality and alien glamour posed a radical challenge that pushed even English playwrights to break with the past in enormously generative and provocative ways. Shakespeare and his peers gave new prominence to female characters, marked their passions as un-English, and devised plots that figured them as self-aware agents, not counters traded between men. Pamela Allen Brown’s book offers an occasion to ponder how the Shakespearean stage had a profound impact on female public representation, further stirring new perspectives on gender roles in wider society.

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