A "distinctly theatrical text" by the most celebrated actress of the commedia dell'arte

Andreini, Isabella (1562-1604)

Lettere Della Signora Isabella Andreini Padovana, Comica Gelosa, [et] Academica Intenta, nominata l'Accesa. Aggiuntovi di nuovo li Ragionamenti Piacevoli dell'istessa. Con due Tauole vna delle Lettere, e l'altra de' Ragionamenti, che nell'Opera si contengono. Di nuovo ristampate, & con ogni diligenza ricorrette. [With:] Fragmenti.

Venice: Presso Gio. Battista Combi, 1638


Octavo: 14.2 x 9.5 cm. Two parts in one: [24], 455, [3] pp. Collation: †8, †4, A-Z8, Aa-Ee8, Ff4. (In signature †4 the first leaf is signed “†5” and the 4th leaf has the orphaned catchword “histria”, an error of the compositor, explained by the re-setting of the type from Combi’s 1627 edition to correct omissions in his 1634 edition.)


Bound in contemporary vellum, stained red, some wear and soiling, remains of green silk ties. A nice copy with a little minor damp-staining, and some worming in three signatures, affecting one to two lines of text but not the sense.

The first edition of Isabella Andreini's collection of letters appeared in 1607, four years after the author's death, edited by her husband, Francesco. In 1617, with the assistance of Flaminio Scala, Francesco published the "Fragmenti". For a discussion of both works, see below.

"Born in Padua to Venetian parents in 1562, Isabella Andreini (née Canali) would become the most celebrated commedia dell'arte actress of her century by the time of her death in 1604. Praised by contemporaries such as Tasso, Marino, and Chiabrera and famed in France as well as Italy, Andreini was renowned both for the prima donna innamorata role she played on the stage and for the erudition she displayed in her written works. These included a pastoral play, a volume of poetry, a collection of Lettere, and a compilation of Fragmenti; the last two works published posthumously by her husband. Her verse was second only to that of Tasso in a poetic contest sponsored by Cardinal Giorgio Cinthio Aldobrandini in Rome and later described by one of her sons. She was one of few women to be admitted into a literary academy in Renaissance Italy: the Accademia degli Intenti of Pavia, which she joined with the name "Accesa." After her death at age forty-two, not only was Andreini's legacy felt in the realms of theater and literature, but a number of her madrigals and other poetic compositions were set to music (MacNeil 2003).

The Lettere:

"In 1601, Isabella signaled, in a letter to the humanist Erycius Puteanus, that she had undertaken a third literary project, a collection of letters. This work, the Lettere di Isabella Andreini padovana comica gelosa, was edited and published three years after Isabella's death by Francesco Andreini, with an apocryphal dedicatory letter composed by him under her name. Despite the title, the Lettere are, like Isabella's other works, a distinctly theatrical text. A series of dramatic monologues clearly derived from the on-stage discourse of commedia dell'arte's innamorati characters, these highly stylized compositions address all aspects of the love relationship, with heavy doses of Petrarchism and neoplatonism. Most interestingly, these fictive missives are written in both male and female voices, echoing Isabella's skill for adopting a hermaphroditic persona as she did when performing her Pazzia.

The Fragmenti:

"Francesco also collected a number of contrasti, or dialogues, that Isabella had created from her commedia dell'arte experience. These were published some years later in 1620, with the participation of Flaminio Scala, under the title Fragmenti di alcune scritture della Signora Isabella Andreini comica gelosa e academica intenta. Francesco Andreini's editing of his wife's work in both instances has been characterized as part of a larger project on the actor's part to preserve and promote not just the memory and legacy of his wife, but that of commedia dell'arte in general. (Meredith Kennedy Ray)

The second volume contains thirty-one of Andreini's "contrasti amorosi" or "contrasti scenici" (love quarrels or stage quarrels.) In the commedia dell'arte, contrasti are staged debates usually enacted by a pair of lovers (innamorati). "They probably served as extended lazzi, prepared and rehearsed sequences of action and dialogue that improvising players might use in their performances whenever they thought it appropriate."(Longman)

Andreini's contrasti explore the passions of love and hate, love and death, love and vows, marital love, tragedy, comedy, and epic poetry. For example, "in the 'Contrasto sopra le passion dell'odio, e dell'amore,' the lovers Tacito and Amasia discuss if and how love and hate may co-exist, which passion is stronger and how these passions affect them. In the 'Contrasto sopra la dignità degli amanti,' Attilio and Diotima debate which is more worthy, the lover or the beloved, and in the 'Contrasto sopra le armi e le lettere,' Alessandro and Corinna argue which path to immortal fame is more noble, the pursuit of marital victories or the pursuit of philosophical and literary endeavors."(Brown)