tgiFHI: Kate Driscoll, "Epic Errancy: The Renaissance Virago and her Macabre Genealogies"

November 10, -
Speaker(s): Kate Driscoll
tgiFHI is a weekly series that gives Duke faculty in the humanities, interpretive social sciences and arts the opportunity to present their current research to their departmental and interdepartmental colleagues, students, and other interlocutors in their fields.

tgiFHI events take place from 9:00-11:00 a.m. on Friday mornings in the Ahmadieh Family Lecture Hall (C105, Bay 4, Smith Warehouse). Breakfast is served at 9 am, and the lecture begins promptly at 9:30 am.

"Epic Errancy: The Renaissance Virago and her Macabre Genealogies"

A site of intertextual interplay, epic poetry produces genealogical reflections that blur the edges between fiction and history. If it is often the epic project to transform, so as to efface, the perceivable bounds between legend and chronicle, where do figures fall who play no substantial role in epic's dynastic trajectory? This talk turns to one such figure, the virago, to account for her particular set of genealogies-discursive and historical-represented in Italian chivalric romance epic and its reception. My case study concerns the parallel developments in the myths and legends associated with the Ferrarese noblewoman, Marfisa d'Este (1554-1608), and her literary counterpart Marfisa, the female knight from Matteo Maria Boiardo's and Ludovico Ariosto's chivalric epic poetry. Through the Este princess's embrace of her cross-dressed poetic self in courtly performance, alongside the variations of the figure "Marfisa bizzarra" (bizarre Marfisa) in Italian mock epic, the intermedial afterlives of these two figures transformed from emblems of exemplarity into nearly unrecognizable icons of demonic decadence. Per the descriptions later offered by tourists Dickens and Goethe, the reconfigurations of utopic-turned-grim Ferrara-the city whose poetry gave birth to both Marfisas-participated in these women's haunting reception from the fifteenth through twenty-first centuries. The inquiries into gender and women's history developed in this study ask to what extent the legacies of Renaissance women have undergone not only category-confounding textual and visual transformations, but grotesque, even macabre misfigurations.

Kate Driscoll is Assistant Professor of Italian and Romance Studies at Duke University (Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley). She specializes in early modern Italian literature, culture, and performance history.


Franklin Humanities Institute (FHI)


Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies; History; Romance Studies