"Speak; I will listen". The Body and the Words in the Dialogue with the Nurse in Sixteenth-Century Italian Tragedy


  • Annalisa Perrotta Sapienza Università di Roma




This essay examines the dialogue between the Nurse and the milk-daughter in a few Italian tragedies composed between 1514, when Gian Giorgio Trissino wrote Sophonisba and 1565, the year of Speroni’s Canace. In the dialogues, the essay analyses the rhetorical construction of that common ground of communication that can be intimate, confiding, compassionate, or, at other times, modelling and prescriptive. Three nodes are at the centre of the investigation: 1. The relationship between Nurse and milk-daughter involves the body. The relationship’s foundation is nourishment and care (many of the Nurse’s interventions are due to her disposition to care). This bond is a product of male writers’ imagination: which models drive the representation of such a visceral relationship between two women? The paper investigates how Renaissance authors used classical models to define the Nurse’s role and function 2. The relationship between the Nurse and the protagonist is often indicative of the epistemological set-up of the tragedy: what does the Nurse know/understand about her dialogue partner? 3. The Nurse’s role in unfolding the facts is crucial in evaluating her character in each work: she may be in line with the main diegetic thread or compete with it. Does the Nurse’s advising construct an alternative narrative line to the unfolding tragedy, prefiguring another possible, non-tragic narrative world? The nurse character thus seems to associate the ancillary position with a symbolic and relational density only partially investigated so far.

Keywords: Italian Renaissance tragedy; wet nurse; Sophonisba; Rosmunda; Orbecche; imitation; mother-daughter relationship






Monographic Section