Alessandro (L'Alessandro)


98 pages
ISBN 0-919473-47-4




Translated by Rita Belladonna
Reviewed by Terrence Paris

Terrence Paris is Public Services Librarian at Mount St. Vincent
University in Halifax.


Alessandro, a comedy in five short acts, was written in 1544 and performed at Carnival before the members and guests of the Accademia degli Intronati, a literary society founded around 1525 in Siena to advance the use of the Tuscan language. Piccolomini (1508-1578) was a humanist of manifold accomplishments: he wrote dramatic dialogues, plays, and scientific treatises, and he translated classical works into the vernacular. In 1555 he was ordained, and he ended his life as Archbishop of Patras and a Doctor of Theology.

The play, set in Pisa, concerns the amatory escapades of three couples: Cornelio and Lucilla, an importunate lad and a chaste maiden, who represent the conventional romantic pair; Aloisio and Lucrezia, young exiles from Sicily disguised in the clothes of the opposite sex, whose love endures despite time, a long separation, and concealed identities; and Gostanzo Naspi, a dotard, whose futile pursuit of Brigida, the sluttish wife of a blustering Captain, earns him the contempt of all. The romantic and ideal aspects of love triumph while lust is chastised.

The first prologue addresses the women guests of the academy. Piccolomini criticizes their degenerate tastes. They have damaged the traditional reputation of Sienese women for modesty and wisdom. What his play offers are models of behaviour, either to emulate (as in the constancy of Lucrezia and the chastity of Lucilla) or to disdain (as in the promiscuity of Brigida). The minor characters frequently reflect on the deficiencies of the female sex, a cynical counterpoint to the dominant romantic theme. Cornelio’s friend, the eponymous Alessandro, is disillusioned; the women he has known are fickle and perverse. Cornelio’s servant, Querciuola, observes that women say the opposite of what they mean (“they say no in order to be conquered”). Niccoletta, Lampridia’s maid, notices the exceptional qualities of her mistress: “I’ve never met a woman who was firmer in her decisions or harder to persuade. She almost doesn’t behave like a woman.” Lampridia is really Aloisio in disguise and thus endowed with the manly virtues.

Rita Belladonna, Associate Professor of Italian at York University, presents a clear translation in colloquial English using forms of expression appropriate to the various characters and situations. The fast-moving plot, ribald humor, and vivid and eccentric characters should entertain most readers. A stage performance could have wide appeal. The translator’s introduction and notes enhance the significance of the text for students of Renaissance drama, social and cultural history, and women’s studies.


Piccolomini, Alessandro, “Alessandro (L'Alessandro),” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 22, 2024,