The Manly Masquerade

Masculinity, Paternity, and Castration in the Italian Renaissance

The Manly Masquerade

Book Pages: 328 Illustrations: Published: March 2003

Author: Valeria Finucci

Gender and Sexuality > Sex and Sexuality, Pre-Modern Studies > Medieval and Early Modern Studies

The Manly Masquerade unravels the complex ways men were defined as men in Renaissance Italy through readings of a vast array of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century evidence: medical and travel literature; theology; law; myth; conduct books; and plays, chivalric romances, and novellas by authors including Machiavelli, Tasso, and Ariosto. Valeria Finucci shows how ideas of masculinity were formed in the midst of acute anxiety about paternity by highlighting the beliefs—widely held at the time—that conception could occur without a paternal imprimatur or through a woman’s encounter with an animal, or even that a pregnant woman’s imagination could erase the father’s "signature" from the fetus. Against these visions of reproduction gone awry, Finucci looks at how concepts of masculinity were tied to issues of paternity through social standing, legal matters, and inheritance practices.

Highlighting the fissures running through Italian Renaissance ideas of manliness, Finucci describes how, alongside pervasive images of the virile, sexually active man, early modern Italian culture recognized the existence of hermaphrodites and started to experiment with a new kind of sexuality by manufacturing a non-man: the castrato. Following the creation of castrati, the Church forbade the marriage of all non-procreative men, and, in this move, Finucci identifies a powerful legitimation of the view that what makes men is not the possession of male organs or the ability to have sex, but the capability to father. Through analysis, anecdote, and rich cultural description, The Manly Masquerade exposes the "real" early modern man: the paterfamilias.


“[H]er analysis of the relationship of masculinity to paternity in The Manly Masquerade reveals a range of ways masculinity was constructed in Renaissance Italian literature and thought.” — Katherine Crawford , Modern History

“[T]he questions that The Manly Masquerade poses are significant ones that need to be addressed in our discussions of sexuality, subjectivity, and representation in the Renaissance and early modern period.” — Marilyn Migiel , CLIO

“Addressing the fraught process of becoming a man in Renaissance Italy, this book is an important study of the ways that cultural and literary texts work together to give gendered metaphors purchase on physical bodies…. [Finucci’s] book will be of interest to scholars of early modern, medieval, and gender studies.” — Holly A. Crocker , Medieval Feminist Forum

"The Manly Masquerade is a marvelous book, a must for anyone interested in the early modern period or in the history of sexuality and reproduction." — Cristina Mazzoni , Annali d'Italianistica

"[A] detailed and informative study of the representation of masculinity in early modern Italian literature and drama. . . . Finucci's readings . . . are detailed and perceptive. . . . [Her] work remains both thought-provoking and highly informative-and crucial to anyone working on gender in early modern Italy and Europe." — Ian Frederick Moulton , Sixteenth Century Journal

"[T]his is a rich and rewarding book which effectively conveys the distance between Renaissance beliefs and our own." — Patricia Skinner , Medieval Review

"[This] is a book about the literary fantasies of sixteenth-century Italy that comments boldly and intriguingly on twenty-first-century scientific anxieties. Brava!"
— Rudolph M. Bell , Journal of the History of Sexuality

"Finucci's book is not only a stimulating read, but also an important scholarly contribution to the field of Early Modern gender and cultural studies, and to masculinity studies. . . . In her study, Finucci challenges our notions of gender, sex, paternity, and especially the power associated with procreation and reproduction, in ways that are both highly innovative and scholarly sound." — Martin Marafiot , MLN

"This is a bold and captivating book. To build her argument about the role of fatherhood in masculinity, Finucci deftly reaches across several different registers of cultural expression: medicine, law, comedy, poetry, and opera. In calling our attention to the growing importance, and instability, of fatherhood in the later Renaissance, she usefully complicates our understanding of masculinity and patriarchy." — P. Renee Baernstein, American Historical Review

"Valeria Finucci’s book questions the traditional concepts associated with the Italian Renaissance (harmony, spiritual perfection and beauty, etc.) and addresses much less ‘luminous’ aspects of sixteenth-century Italian culture." — Armando Maggi, author of Satan's Rhetoric: A Study of Renaissance Demonology

”Valeria Finucci is at it again, patrolling and illuminating the unstable boundaries of sex and gender in early modern Italian culture and literature. Relating canonical literary texts to the medical and legal culture of their times, she explores the fascination that spontaneous generation, cuckoldry, the maternal imagination, androgyny, and the deliberate manufacture of castrati held for early modern Italians—and still hold for us.” — Walter Stephens, author of Demon Lovers: Witchcraft, Sex, and the Crisis of Belief


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Price: $27.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Valeria Finucci is Associate Professor of Italian at Duke University. She is the author of The Lady Vanishes: Subjectivity and Representation in Castiglione and Ariosto. She is editor of Renaissance Transactions: Ariosto and Tasso and coeditor of Generation and Degeneration: Tropes of Reproduction in Literature and History from Antiquity to Early Modern Europe, both published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction: Body and Generation in the Early Modern Period 1

1. The Useless Genitor: Fantasies of Putrefaction and Nongenealogical Births 37

2. The Masquerade of Paternity: Cuckoldry and Baby M[ale] in Machiavelli's La mandragola 79

3. Performing Maternity: Female Imagination, Paternal Erasure, and Monstrous Birth in Tasso's Gerusalemme liberata 119

4. The Masquerade of Masculinity: Erotomania in Ariosto's Orlando furioso 159

5. Androgynous Doubling and Hermaphroditic Anxieties: Bibbiena's La calandria 189

6. The Masquerade of Manhood: The Paradox of the Castrato 225

Selected Bibliography 281

Index 307
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3065-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3054-7
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