Friday, July 15, 2011

Complete Book: "The Commedia Dell'Arte" by Winifred Smith

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Because the essence of commedia dell arte was improvisation, recreating it for the modern reader has always been a tough task for scholars, and because it never pretended to be great dramatic literature, it didn't get much interest from theatre historians or practitioners until the early 20th century. This started to change with directors like Copeau and Meyerhold, who took commedia as inspiration for a new approach to actor training, and modern art movements such as dada, futurism, and surrealism, that were less interested in literature than in the spontaneous theatrical event. Winifred Smith, one of the first commedia scholars from this period, was also a translator of futurist plays, and apparently quite a pioneer in her day. Here's her bio from the web site of her alma mater, Vassar College, a prestigious women's college that didn't go co-educational until 1969:

Winifred Smith (1897-1967) was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. She was the daughter of Henry Preserved Smith, a leading Biblical scholar, and the sister of Preserved Smith, noted historian of the Reformation. After graduating from Vassar in 1904 and spending a year as a tutor at Mt. Holyoke College, and a year of student at the Sorbonne, Winifred Smith earned a Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1912.

In 1911 Miss Smith came to Vassar as an instructor in English, rising to the rank of professor. In 1916 she started a theatrical museum at Vassar and, with Emmeline Moore, a Shakespeare Garden to commemorate the 300th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth. Winifred Smith's scholarly interest was in dramatic literature. She wrote books on The Commedia dell-Arte and Italian Actors in the Renaissance and numerous articles and reviews for periodicals such as The Nation and The Dial. She also translated many futurist plays from the French and Italian. When the Division of Drama was organized in 1938, she became its chairman, working closely with Hallie Flanagan Davis during the years of the Experimental Theatre.

Professor Smith was also active in the suffrage movement and participated in local civic activities, including the Community Theatre, the Women’s City and County Club, and the Citizens Better Housing League. She was the first president of the Dutchess County local of the American Federation of Teachers. She was interested in such social issues as disarmament and child labor.

Her retirement in 1947 was marked by an only slightly slower pace in a career outstanding for her willingness to act on a broad range of social concerns and scholarly interests. In a faculty memorial minute, Winifred Smith was named "one of Vassar’s great teachers” and “one of its great rebels."

And here's her complete book, The Commedia Dell 'Arte: A Study in Italian Popular Comedy (1912).

The Commedia Dell Arte

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