Today we consider privacy a right to be protected. But in eighteenth-century England, privacy was seen as a problem, even a threat. Women reading alone and people hiding their true thoughts from one another in conversation generated fears of uncontrollable fantasies and profound anxieties about insincerity.
In Privacy, Patricia Meyer Spacks explores eighteenth-century concerns about privacy and the strategies people developed to avoid public scrutiny and social pressure. She examines, for instance, the way people hid behind common rules of etiquette to mask their innermost feelings and how, in fact, people were taught to employ such devices. She considers the erotic overtones that privacy aroused in its suppression of deeper desires. And perhaps most important, she explores the idea of privacy as a societal threat—one that bred pretense and hypocrisy in its practitioners. Through inspired readings of novels by Defoe, Richardson, Fielding, and Sterne, along with a penetrating glimpse into diaries, autobiographies, poems, and works of pornography written during the period, Spacks ultimately shows how writers charted the imaginative possibilities of privacy and its social repercussions.
Finely nuanced and elegantly conceived, Spacks's new work will fascinate anyone who has relished concealment or mourned its recent demise.
Modern vernacular comedy took shape in early sixteenth-century Italy with the many plays adapted from and modeled on Plautine New Comedy. As Jackson I. Cope demonstrates in this study, some Italian dramatists reacted to the widespread success of this genre with a counterparadigm, a comedy that exploits secrecy as form. In both historically and critically engaging fashion, Cope identifies and examines this major development in Italian theater. Though outwardly similar to New Comedy with its characteristically harmonious closure, this essentially anti-Plautine form employs a secret—known by the audience but unequally shared among the players—to introduce a radical discrepancy between simultaneous stories unfolding in a single action doubly understood. The result is a plot that is misleading at the surface, contingent and unfinished at its end. The audience, in a position of enforced collusion with regard to the secret, becomes a formal ingredient in the production. The play, more cynical than carnivalesque, opens onto vistas of disruption and deception rather than closing on a note of renewed social harmony. Cope’s close and original readings of both classic and lesser-known plays by Machiavelli, Ruzante, Cecchi, Grazzini, Fagiuoli, Maggi, and others follow this peculiarly Italian, anti-Plautine paradigm through variations across three centuries to its masterful and complex culmination in Carlo Goldoni’s villeggiatura trilogy. Establishing a new comedic canon that demands a revision of Italian dramatic history and the history of European dramatic theory, Secret Sharers in Italian Comedy makes an important contribution to Italian studies and will also attract readers among theater scholars in English, comparative literature, and drama.