Subversion on the Italian Stage: 1500 to Present

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2021
full name / name of organization: 
Northeast Modern Language Association
contact email: 

NeMLA's 53rd CONVENTION
Baltimore, MD
March 10-13, 2022


Honor and shame are two interconnected concepts that hold significant social and cultural power in Italian society. As integral parts of the social fabric of Italy throughout the centuries, these systems of belief have also been questioned and critiqued by a number of playwrights, who interrogate them in their works through the trope of social transgression. Because these concepts play a powerful, even coercive, role in shaping the norms and values of Italian society, the representation of transgressions on the Italian stage—such as the rejection of normative values or gender roles, cross-dressing, and transgressive love—serves to both reify and interrogate these beliefs.

This panel seeks to explore elements of the subversive and/or transgressive in the Italian theatre tradition, examining in particular how theatre intersects with the political, social, intellectual, and cultural concerns of a given era in Italian history.

As the scope of this inquiry is broad, papers may address any theatrical genre, from tragedy and comedy to pastoral, historical, absurdist, avant-garde, and more, beginning with the earliest years of Italian theatre to the modern era.

Some questions raised by this panel might include: How did these plays represent and/or challenge the historical, political, social, and cultural realities of their time? Do the ways in which theatre engages shame change? Does the object of shame remain the same or differ depending on the period? How does the choice of genre affect theatre’s subversive capacities? What message, explicit or implicit, does the playwright seek to transmit through the staging of transgressions? How does Italian theatre itself engage in acts of subversion? What effect might the theatrical performance of a transgression have on subverting power and authority? How has theatre’s ability to subvert power structures and institutions evolved over time? Has it diminished in our current age?