“Art of the Zinger: Female Sdegnoand Cut-and-Thrustall’italiana” Pamela Allen Brown, University of Connecticut, Stamford
“She speaks poniards, and every word stabs,” says Benedick of Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing(2.1.226-7). Wit-battles like theirs required a style of acting identified with the volatile Lovers of the commedia dell’arte. The Innamoratatype, who specialized in sdegno(disdain) and putdowns alla stoccata(like a rapier) usually dominated males in these “amorous debates” (contrasti amorosi). For the star diva, sdegnowas a defining trait affecting stance and gesture as well as words, functioning as a physical and verbal counter-force to the aggression of her many suitors. As source material, this paper looks at Italianate wit-fencers in two collections by actors of materials for performance. The first is Isabella Andreini’s Fragmenti,stage dialogues that commemorate a variety of verbal duels with stage lovers, including her stinging replies alla stoccata. The second is Domenico Bruni’s manuscript collection Dialoghi, featuring bawdy rapidfire exchanges of insults and come-ons with leading actresses of the comici with whom he played.