The Rise of the Diva on the Sixteenth-Century Commedia dell’Arte Stage: The Circulation of Endless Desire

When and Where

Thursday, January 14, 2021 4:30 pm to 5:30 pm
Online via Zoom - see event description for further information.


Rosalind Kerr (Goggio Visiting Professor)


My paper explores the emergence of the professional actress from the 1560s onwards in Italy. This phenomenal cultural event that allowed women to appear on the professional stage for the first time in western theatre history is still not common knowledge, even though it occurred more than a hundred years before England allowed women to act professionally. It will highlight key moments that mark the appearance of the first professional actresses as sexual, commodity and celebrity fetishes as they circulate the desire that kept audiences coming back for almost two hundred years. I will show how their presence on the stage allowed them to speak back from their position as sexualized objects to express subjective desires in their performances of both female and transvestite character roles. Attention will be paid to Isabella Andreini as the first international diva. Above all, I will describe the process that made a whole new class of actresses into divas who created a marketing revolution as theatre artists whose ability to offer their audiences an illusory sense of shared intimacy and availability made them irresistible to the masses.

Rosalind Kerr is professor emeritus in the Drama Department of the University of Alberta, and currently a fellow at the Centre for Renaissance and Reformation Studies and a distinguished visiting Goggio Professor in the Department of Italian Studies. She has just finished teaching a graduate course on “The Actresses and the Golden Age of the Commedia dell’Arte” to a group of enthusiastic scholars. Her publications include The Rise of the Diva (2015) and an edited translation of Flaminio Scala’s The Fake Husband (2020). She has several articles and chapters on the achievements of the early commedia actresses with two forthcoming: “The Commedia dell’Arte from Marketplace to Court” with Routledge and “Idealized Actresses: Rebellious Female Voices” with Renaissance and Reformation. She has presented many papers and lectured widely on the Commedia dell’Arte over her academic career. She is excited to see the research in all areas of the commedia, but especially on the female performers attracting more and more attention. Her second Goggio lecture on Feb. 11 with concentrate on the important links between the transvestite stages of Italy and Shakespearean England .

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All times stated in Eastern Time.

Contact Information


Emilio Goggio Chair in Italian Studies - University of Toronto