1st Edition

Shakespeare’s Shrews Italian Traditions of Paradoxes and the Woman’s Debate

By Beatrice Righetti Copyright 2024
    356 Pages 1 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Shakespeare’s Shrews: Italian Traditions of Paradoxes and the Woman’s Debate investigates the echoes of two early modern discourses—paradoxical writing and the woman’s question or querelle des femmes—in the representation of the “Shakespearean shrew” in The Taming of the Shrew, Much Ado About Nothing, and Othello.

    This comparative cross-cultural study explores the English reception of these traditions through the circulation, translation, and adaptation of Italian works such as Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, Baldassare Castiglione’s Il libro del cortegiano, and Ercole and Torquato Tasso’s Dell’ammogliarsi. The enticing interplay of these two traditions is further complicated by their presence in the writing of early modern male and female authors. The focus on Shakespeare’s appropriation of these traditions highlights two key findings: the thematic fragmentation of the woman’s question and the evolving role of paradoxes, from figures of speech to “figures of thought”, according to the gender of the speaker.



    Foreword by Rocco Coronato




    Introduction. “There’s a double tongue; there’s two tongues”


    Chapter 1 – “A wonderfull thing to hear”: paradoxes and the woman’s question as early modern literary traditions


    1.1 – Paradoxical argumentation and its fortune in early modern England and Italy

    The classical tradition of paradoxical rhetoric

    Universities, Inns of Court, and Italian humanists

    The early modern paradox: the mock encomium as an epistemological tool

    Between Italy, France and England: the case of Ortensio Lando’s Paradossi

    A paradoxical development: the mock encomium and the argumentum contra opinionem omnium


    1.2 – The woman’s question and its paradoxical portrayal of the female sex

    Literary antecedents and foundational texts of the woman’s question

    The woman’s question in early modern Italy: Moderata Fonte and Lucrezia Marinella

    The woman’s question in early modern England: the Swetnam controversy


    1.3 – The paradox of the talkative woman in early modern Italy and England

    Italian talkativeness: from the Roman slave to the masks of the commedia dell’arte

    English talkativeness: folktale shrews and Shakespeare’s Kate

    The Italian cortigiana and the English shrew: a comparison



    Chapter 2 – The role of Italian mediators in the English debate on women and paradoxical literary tradition


    2.1 – Of women and agency in Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso and Harington’s translation

    Female infidelity and homosocial relations in Canto IV and Canto XXVIII

    Translating misogyny: omissions, additions, and alterations


    2.2 – Witty women at the court of Baldassare Castiglione’s Il libro del cortegiano

    An Italian turned English: Thomas Hoby’s The Book of the Courtier

    A necessary presence: the ordering role of women in Castiglione’s Il Cortegiano and Thomas Hoby’s The Courtier


    2.3 – Ercole and Torquato Tasso’s Dell’ammogliarsi, Robert Tofte’s translation, and the “Bishops’ Ban”

    “Fained battles, fought in iest”: paradoxical misogyny in Tofte’s translation

    Misogynistic anecdotes and the Queen’s praise in Torquato’s defense



    Chapter 3 – “So sweet was ne’er so fatal”: the woman’s question and paradoxes in Shakespeare’s shrews


    3.1 – The Taming of the Shrew: a shrew-taming narrative in paradoxical terms

    The pamphlet literature and the competing representations of the shrew

    Petruchio’s pars destruens: coercion and resistance through paradoxes

    Petruchio’s pars construens: the case of Kate’s new identity

     “My tongue will tell the anger of my heart”


    3.2 – Something new, something old: the use of paradoxes and the woman’s question in Much Ado About Nothing

    Idealised partners in Shakespeare’s Messina

    “Thou thinkest I am in sport”: love talks and logical paradoxes

    The church scene and the shift in the use of paradoxes

    “Guarded with fragments”


    3.3 – “My lord is not my lord”: paradoxes as figures of the soul in Othello

    The stage misogynist and the effects of slander

    “It is their husbands’ faults”: Emilia’s defence of women

    Iago’s poison: paradoxes as cyphers of tragedy and power imbalances

    “A word or two before you go”


    Conclusion – Figures of thought and thematical dispersion

    Opposite developments: the relationship between the woman’s question and paradoxes

    The variable of gender in the form and function of paradoxes

    The shrew’s éndoxa, women writers, and the resolution of the paradox





    Beatrice Righetti is a Post-Doctoral Researcher in Renaissance English Literature at the University of Verona and a member of the “Shakespeare’s Narrative Sources: Italian Novellas and their European Dissemination” and “Classical and Early Modern Paradoxes” projects. She has published on Renaissance women writers and Shakespearean plays, examining the use of paradoxes, gender-based violence, and Anglo-Italian relations in Routledge edited volumes, NJES, and Linguae&.