Courtesan, Merchant, Zany: Italian Knockoffs in The Three Ladies of London

Pamela Brown

Wilson's Three Ladies of London offered its first audiences entertaining stereotypes of 'naturally' vicious southerners who corrupt the vulnerable English with lechery, greed, papistry, and love of foreign luxuries. The only word-mangling clown in the play is the Italian merchant Mercadorus, whose total sexual abasement to Lady Lucre renders him absurd and effeminized. His double-dealings with the Jewish moneylender Gerontus have drawn a great deal of critical attention, but this essay will examine the Italian sex comedy that Wilson uses to leaven his far more solemn-minded plot. Wilson deploys a typical commedia dell'arte character system. In some arte plots a Venetian courtesan toys with, tricks, and robs the lovesick merchant Pantalone, whose low Venetian dialect render his attempts at love-talk and eloquence laughable. Mercadorus's vows to 'Madonna' Lucre bear a distinct echo of Pantalone's romantic and linguistic excesses, a sample of which reached print in the comic letters of the clown-author Andrea Calmo.

The Three Ladies of London opens with a Prologue readying his wares for market. He modestly declines to brag about his theatrical goods, but he stubbornly refuses to say what they are. In an early modern version of ‘Yes, we have no bananas’, he swears they have no soaring tragedies, no scenes of ‘power divine’, no fantastic romances, no love stories, no pastorals with threshers and milkmaids, no homespun comedies to flog. What do they have, then? His teases his customers, who may be growing restless: ‘You marvel then what stuff we have to furnish out our show’ (14).1 Abruptly his tone changes to a ballad-like market cry: ‘come and behold our wares, and buy them all’ — reminding them to come back if the wares ‘shall seem to you well woven, good and fine’ (16). Suddenly the stall is open: Fame blows her trumpet, leading in Lady Love and Lady Conscience.

Wilson’s wares turn out to be far more showy than good. Instead of flogging solid English virtues or a coherent lesson in morality, Three Ladies retails clowning, equivocal religious satire, and misogyny spiced with flavours of a distinctly Mediterranean cast.2 Among its wares is an Italian farce, featuring a zany lovesick merchant and glamorous Venetian-style harlot, a Turkish adventure in which an Italian Catholic proves more Jewish than the Jew, and Italian vices galore, from the defiling of virgins to dastardly murder and Jesuitical treachery. Without these enticing new wares this play is unlikely to have gained its contemporary fame, two editions, a dramatic sequel, and this ambitious collaborative project today. Establishing the dominant genre and the tone of the opening scenes is therefore important.3 I read the play as a moral comedy full of outright clowning and sinful spectacles, created by an enterprising clown-playwright known for his imaginative extemporal wit. Wilson deploys laughter and exotic sex and violence to enliven the fairly predictable lesson that usury, aliens, and women are dangerous corrupters of men and cities. Wilson’s Prologue metatheatrically conflates market and theatre, then the play proceeds to attack both as debased by greed and women’s longing for exotic toys, whether imported or counterfeit. In the fiction of the play, the market for such toys is so lively that London is in danger of becoming a second Venice, stocked with every vice and overrun with aliens.

The weak links who enable this transformation are the ladies of London. Instead of portraying Love and Conscience as noble heroines, Wilson shows them impotently bemoaning their fate, like jilted mistresses or usurped queens, peeved that men who ‘ought be ruled by us’ pay court to Lady Lucre instead (1.11). Lucre is an extraordinary prize that every man wants to ogle, no matter his nation or religion:

For Lucre men come from Italy, Barbary, Turkey,
From Jewry, nay the pagan himself
Endangers his body to gape for her pelf.
They forsake mother, prince, country, religion, kiff and kin,
Nay, men care not what they forsake, so Lady Lucre they win (12-18)
Mountebanks and comedians in Piazza San Marco.
Fig. 1 Mountebanks and comedians in Piazza San Marco. Giacomo Franco, Habiti d'uomini et donne venetiane (Venice, 1598, 1610).

Fig. 1 Mountebanks and comedians in Piazza San Marco. Giacomo Franco, Habiti d'uomini et donne venetiane (Venice, 1598, 1610).

Drawing strangers vying for her dangerous sexual favors, Lucre is great entertainment, creating an audience wherever she appears and sharpening the theatre audience’s hunger to gape at her. A prodigy and a paradox, she embodies wealth, yet at the same time mobilizes and possesses it. Fame duly warns Love and Conscience to stay clear of Lucre, and predicts that the corrupt suitors will be ‘plagued with painful punishment for such their cruelty’ (23). Conscience prays that God will defend them. Fame turns out to be no prophet, since no cruel men are punished or even arrested in the play, and Conscience’s prayer goes unanswered since neither God nor man leaps to action in their defense. In contrast Lucre inspires men of every clime to undertake arduous travel to foreign lands, summoning a world of adventure and profiteering that probably did not sound all bad to the restless and ambitious in Wilson’s audience. Love’s description of a teeming mingle-mangle of Catholics and non-Christians doing business is also enticing: instead of stirring xenophobic horror, her words could well summon up not only London’s Royal Exchange but a market unlike any in London, the fabulous Piazza San Marco in Venice, an unparalleled magnet for English fantasies of wealth and pleasure, renowned for its female entertainers and its crowds of Jews, Turks, ‘courtesans, and other merchants and travellers (Figure 1).4

The audience soon learns that Lady Lucre has Venetian roots, so she embodies that city’s reputation for glamour, extravagance, sexual license, hypertheatricality, and politic duplicity. A mafia of sorts collects around her: Usury, a recent arrival from Venice, Simony, abducted from Rome, and Mercadorus, the zany, word-mangling Italian merchant. In The Historie of Italie (1549) William Thomas marvelled that courtesans could accumulate vast wealth from their doting lovers. Rome had its beauties, but Venice outdid all other cities in ‘number of gorgeous dames’ who flocked to masks and weddings ‘decked with jewelles, as they were Queenes’. Physically they were bold and imposing, aided by elaborate wigs, thickly padded bodices, and towering footwear: ‘In deede of their stature they are for the most parte veraie goodly and bygge women, well made and stronge’.5

Faced with the fame of Venice and her regal courtesans, Wilson and his company had to transform a boy into an imperious, eye-popping replica who seizes the stage ‘vauntingly and flauntingly’ (10.127) – possibly using bold makeup, a horned blonde wig, high chopines, and glittering gowns and jewels.6 Rather than buying honest English goods, London lusts after Lucre in all her glory, bedizened with toys and trinkets imported from abroad or made by aliens in London – ‘work fine to please the eye, though it be deceitfully’ (3.91), as honest Artifex complains.7 The dejected ladies Love and Conscience represent all respectable Englishwomen threatened by Lucre and her kind, the dangerous ‘shes of Italy’, as Imogen calls her imagined rivals in Cymbeline.8 Englishwomen were regularly instructed to abhor the Catholic Circes of Italy and to shun them as models; yet figures such as the Venetian courtesan were awe-inspiring icons exercising a magnetic pull on straying English husbands and lovers – the same spectre that haunts Lady Would-Be in Volpone (3.5, 4.2). From Elizabeth and her ladies on down, women who could afford it copied foreign fashions and openly longed for the gowns, accessories, cosmetics, and jewels that decked such Circes from abroad. In The English Ape William Rankins denounced the monstrous metamorphoses of Englishwomen into ‘Curtyzans of Venyce’ by aping their manners and worse, their makeup:

It is a wonder more than ordinary to beholde their Periwigs of sundry collours, theyr painting Potts of pereless perfumes, theyr Boxes of slibber sauce, the sleaking of theyr faces, theyre strayned modesty, and theyr counterfeit coynesse. In so much that they rather seeme Curtyzans of Venyce, then Matrones of Englande, Monsters of AEgypt then modest maydens of Europe, enchaunting Sirens of Syrtes then diligent searches of vertue, these enchauntments charme away theyr modesty, and entrap fooles in folly.9

Some of those enchantments were verbal: Thomas Coryate warned his readers about the ‘Rhetoricall tongue’ of the famous Venetian courtesan, ‘a most elegant discourser’ famous for her poetic skill, and sharp wit.10 Wilson’s Lucre is no Veronica Franco, but she speaks genteelly (‘Gramercy’ is one of her pet words) and delivers a smooth, seductive Petrarchan blazon to Conscience in the spotting scene. When Usury greets her with an attempted joke, she gives tit for tat: ‘Thou art very pleasant with thy rope-ripe – I would say rhetoric’ (2.203).11 Aided by her entourage, Lucre soon shows how weak the virtuous really are, turning Love to Lust and marrying her to Dissimulation, and forcing the impoverished Conscience to act as her bawd with a magical display of gold. As Denise Walen argues, she also provides a titillating glimpse of Italianate same-sex perversion with her cooing seduction of Lady Conscience.12

Yet Lucre is not simply an emblem of sophisticated Catholic whoredom, or a shameless Lady World who flaunts herself in public. Wilson paints her as a canny venture capitalist on a global scale, with opinions about trade bills in Parliament, and projects extending from rapacious real estate deals in London to illicit foreign trade in Turkey.13 She devises schemes to drain England of ‘good commodities’ and to import alien baubles, instructing men how to carry them out. This trade is so profitable that she has time to convert a cottage to a fancy brothel for her secret sports and delights, with Conscience as bawd. Lucre also has time to play cat-and-mouse with Mercadorus, a unique figure because of his absurd stage Italian and his abject passion. While cartoonish, he is still more earthy than the assimilated aliens Usury and Simony, and he is a different species of clown than the honest Simplicity. His exaggerated alterity and low cunning may reflect the public’s resentment of powerful Italian merchants in London, such as Horatio Pallavicino, who shopped for the queen on trips abroad and lent the crown money; the rowdy and arrogant Paolo Gondola; or representatives of the Bardi-Cavalcanti company, with its headquarters full of luxury goods on Throgmorton Street.14 Whether or not he had a specific merchant in mind, Wilson decided to use the peripatetic Italian merchants of theatre – the commedia dell’arte – as the means and mask for his satire. The scenes of Mercadorus wooing Lucre and vowing to do her bidding evoke a typical arte theatregram, for example: the futile pursuit of the desirable Courtesan or Innamorata by lecherous zanies and pantaloons (Figure 2). Mercadorus is a blend of Zanni and his master Pantalone. All have thick, crude accents that make their love talk laughable, and all are prone to falling madly in love with women who despise them. Mercadorus’s slavishness echoes the comic excesses of a performer such as Andrea Calmo, who gained fame for his impersonation of a Pantalone type using Venetian dialect in his acting and his writings.15 Like Calmo’s Pantalone, Mercadorus is an unattractive merchant who resorts to large gifts of cash or exorbitant favors to inspire love in women. He runs all over the map to please his lady and bring her riches: ‘Madonna, me dare go to de Turks, Moors, Pagans, and more too: / What do me care, and me go to da great devil for you! / Comand-a me, Madam, and you shall see plain, / Dat-a for your sake me refuse-a no pain’ (5.87-90). After he cheats Gerontus and befuddles a Turkish judge, Mercadorus relishes the thought of seeing Lucre smile at his cunning tricks. But the Italian merchant becomes an object lesson in how men lose their heads and ‘endanger their bodies’ for love of Lucre: suddenly she tires of him and plots to have him robbed by Fraud.

‘Pantalone’s Serenade’, with Courtesan and Zanies, including Arlecchino.
Fig. 2 ‘Pantalone’s Serenade’, with Courtesan and Zanies, including Arlecchino. Anonymous artist, late-sixteenth century. Stockholm, Drottingholms Teatermuseum.

Fig. 2 ‘Pantalone’s Serenade’, with Courtesan and Zanies, including Arlecchino. Anonymous artist, late-sixteenth century. Stockholm, Drottingholms Teatermuseum.

By the time Wilson wrote Three Ladies in 1581, mixed-gender companies of Italian actors were penetrating markets in France, Spain, Bavaria, and the Netherlands. Italian players, mountebanks, and other entertainers even visited remote England, performing in London repeatedly, with a flurry of visits in the 1570s. Italians played a comedy and a pastoral during the Queen’s summer progress in Reading and Windsor in 1573. Over the next few years several troupes as well as individual entertainers visited London. In 1577-8, a company from Mantua led by Drusiano Martinelli played ‘in London and the liberties’ and at court. While other names are not listed in documents, the prima donna was probably Martinelli’s wife, Angelica Alberghini; his brother Tristano, the first Arlecchino, also may have been on that tour.16 Their typical offerings included music, tumbling, pastorals, and comedies.17 Through these visits, and through the reports of English travellers and resident Italians, English professionals picked up information about the Italians’ methods and materials, including scripted and improvised plots featuring the Venetian Pantalone, his zany servant, the courtesan, and the Lovers, male and female. This plot configuration became so familiar that Thomas Nashe used it to attack the Italians (inaccurately) as talentless purveyors of obscene farces, played by ‘a Pantaloon, a Whore, and a Zanie’.18 It is not so surprising then that Wilson would turn to the pairing of courtesan and Italian clown when wrote Three Ladies of London, just after the period of frequent and multiple visits by Italian players.

Magnifico (Pantalone), Courtesan, Zany. J.J. Boissard, Habitus Variarum Orbis Gentium (1581).
Fig. 3 Magnifico (Pantalone), Courtesan, Zany. J.J. Boissard, Habitus Variarum Orbis Gentium (1581).

Fig. 3 Magnifico (Pantalone), Courtesan, Zany. J.J. Boissard, Habitus Variarum Orbis Gentium (1581).

By making Mercadorus and Lucre a team of tricksters purveying deceptive goods, Wilson also associates them with the notorious and celebrated montimbanchi and ciarlatani of Italy, who sold powders and potions in public squares throughout Europe. Mountebanks often employed women singers, tumblers, and musicians who helped entice people to their makeshift stages (see Figure 1, with the snake-oil salesman to the left, and Pantalone lewdly wooing the lute-player at centre).19 Some used skits and comedies to hold audiences before or after the hard sell. Mountebanks both native and foreign plied their wares in London, and in the mid-1570s the most famous of all, Dionisio Scoto of Mantua, played before Elizabeth and her court.20 His fame was still current when Jonson’s Volpone assumed that persona to woo Celia at her window (2.2). The figure of the mountebank evokes the Prologue’s riddling sale pitch, since the essence of the art was mystifying ordinary materials by painting them as novel, exotic and miraculous. Wilson makes sure we catch the comparison, when Lucre gives Mercadorous detailed instructions about exporting English grain, metal, beef, and leather at great profit. He must bring back seductive ‘trifles’ and tell fascinating lies about their value:

And you must bring more, as amber, jet, coral, crystal, and every such bauble,
That is slight, pretty and pleasant, they care not to have it profitable.
And if they demand wherefore your wares and merchandise agree,
You must say jet will take up a straw, amber will make one fat,
Coral will look pale when you be sick, and crystal will staunch blood.
So with lying, flattering, and glozing you must utter your ware,
And you shall win me to your will, if you can deceitfully swear. (3.46-52)

Mercadorus assures her he is a past hand at deceitful salesmanship. Perhaps the quack-like, itinerant merchant-clown is Wilson’s attempt to derogate the influential Italian players, who were touring with great success throughout Europe, gaining royal patrons, and establishing themselves as the ‘comici, sellers of theater’, as Louise Clubb calls them, adding. ‘What they sold was everything’.21 While English players and writers stole or borrowed plots, roles and methods from the Italians, they abused them mightily, loading their satire with Italophobic barbs.22 Cheap print works began to use lewd Italian zanies to symbolize a wide range of nefarious activities, from market chicanery to heresy and spying. For example, the anti-papal satire The Divels Legend shows Pantalone catechizing Zanni about the heretical divinity of the Holy League. In an image with a peculiar resonance with Wilson’s scene of broom selling, a ballad reuses the priapic Pantalone from The Divels Legend to represent the cheating alien tradesman, opposite the honest native broom-seller (Figure 4).

<em>A merry new catch of all Trades</em>, early seventeenth century broadside ballad.
Fig. 4 A merry new catch of all Trades, early seventeenth century broadside ballad. For transcription and music see The English Ballad Broadside Project,, EBBA ID: 20072.

Fig. 4 A merry new catch of all Trades, early seventeenth century broadside ballad. For transcription and music see The English Ballad Broadside Project,, EBBA ID: 20072.

Wilson’s attitude toward Italian playing seems to have changed from attack to appropriation after he played on the Continent with Leicester’s Men in 1586. Foot-loose clowns like Wilson and Will Kemp and Italianate travellers like Anthony Munday were key cultural go-betweens, and they were shameless about lifting material from hither and yon and pressing it into their own performances and plays when they returned. Munday tried but failed to improvise like the Italians, getting mocked for his pains. In Wilson’s case, he returned to write The Cobbler’s Prophecie, with key elements derived from the arte (such as a singing madwoman and witty muses of comedy and tragedy) but without the heavy sexual/moral opprobrium of Three Ladies of London.23

In the early 1590s Wilson played in Dead Man’s Fortune, one of the famous Dulwich ‘stage plotts’ that strongly resemble arte scenarios for improvisation. Andrew Grewar argues persuasively that these documents provide evidence that veterans of the Netherlands tour, including Wilson, picked up Italian methods of improvising and playmaking abroad and turned them to use back home.24 Dead Man’s Fortune, famous for mentioning Burbage in the role of a magician, features a commedia dell’arte subplot naming ‘Pantelyon’ and his adulterous wife ‘Asspida’. This is the first recorded mention of Pantalone in English. In casting this role, the actors likely turned to the famous clown who excelled at improvisation and knew quite a bit about foolish Italian merchants – that rare ‘extemporall witte’, Robert Wilson.25


[1] Robert Wilson, The Three Ladies of London, Lloyd Edward Kermode (ed.), Three Renaissance Usury Plays (Manchester, 2009). All subsequent references to the play are to this edition.

[2] Jeremy Lopez uses the phrase ‘equivocal satire’ to describe the play in his perceptive essay (see ‘The Poetry and Prosody of Robert Wilson’, Historical Contexts: In Modern Performance, in this website). On the play’s attack on Catholics, its complicated relationship to radical and moderate Protestant politics, and the brewing Martin Marprelate controversy, see Erin Kelly’s essay, ‘Anti-Catholicism and Protestant Polemic in Robert Wilson’s Three Ladies of London (also on this website), and Ashley Streeter, ‘The Beleaguered Virtue: Robert Wilson’s The Three Ladies of London and the Problem of Conscience’, Exemplaria 24.1-2 (2012), 78-94. Missing scenes may exacerbate the play’s equivocality; the ending is certainly rushed and puzzling. The well-known reference to the play in Stephen Gosson’s Playes Confuted in Five Actions assumes an alternative, highly metatheatrical ending, with Love and Conscience asked to judge whether plays should be allowed. See Irene Mann, ‘A Lost Version of the Three Ladies of London’, Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 59. 2 (June 1944): 586-8.

[3] As Lopez reads the Prologue its ‘point is to clear away all the trivial nonsense one might expect to see on the stage and to prepare the audience for something serious and contemporary: a looking glass for London life’. The Prologue’s tone is solemn, however, and his descent through the genres from tragedy on down does not seem to trivialize them; it is the play itself that offers farce and light fare. Just after the Ladies exit, Wilson brings the clowns: Dissimulation with his ‘motley’ beard (2.0 sd), Simplicity, ‘like a miller, all mealy, with a wand in his hand’ (19 sd), and the ruffian Fraud, a bragging capitano with sword and buckler. These anticks soon quarrel and come to blows. When they calm down, two more funny villains enter: Simony and Usury ‘hand in hand’ (84 sd), possibly rousing laughter for their Italianate effeminacy. Pathos is limited throughout, and the Mercadorus episodes are even more clownish than those featuring Simplicity, the plain-speaking bumpkin. The play rushes headlong to a trial and conclusion that turn on a joke about a justice named Nemo. In short the play’s satire is cankered, but it is more geared to laughter or hissing than solemnity.

[4] Lady Love names Italians as the only Christians in her imaginary scene, which suggests Venice rather than London. Giacomo Franco’s famous engraving features many national habits, including those of Moors, Jews, Turks, and Englishmen, watching actors and actresses and mountebanks both male and female. Jean Howard notes the cosmopolitan mix of visitors in a 1569 engraving of London’s Royal Exchange, which drew traders from all over the globe; however, as she notes, the scene is almost totally male. Jean E. Howard, Theater of a City: The Places of London Comedy, 1598-1642 (Philadelphia, 2007), 35-7.

[5] William Thomas, The history of Italie (1549), 85v, 85r.

[6] Randall Nakayama, ‘“I know she is a courtesan by her attire”: Clothing and Identity in The Jew of Malta’, Sara M. Deats and Robert A. Logan (eds), Marlowe’s Empery: Expanding His Critical Contexts (Newark and London, 2002) 150-63. To create a replica of a Venetian courtesan the goal would have been excess: a ‘sartorial display that contravened sumptuary laws against excessive expenditure, regulations partly designed to prevent prostitutes from attiring themselves as women of “quality”’, according to Duncan Salkeld, Shakespeare among the Courtesans: Prostitution, Literature, and Drama, 1500-1650 (Aldershot, UK; Burlington, VT, 2012), 109.

[7] On female artisans from abroad, often accused of taking work from native Londoners, see Natasha Korda, Labors Lost: Women’s Work and the Early Modern English Stage (Philadelphia, 2011).

[8] Imogen gripes that Posthumous left before she ‘could make him swear / The shes of Italy should not betray / Mine interest and his honour’ (Cymbeline 34-6).

[9] W.R. [William Rankins], The English Ape, the Italian Imitation, the Footsteppes of Fraunce. Wherein Is Explaned, the Wilfull Blindnesse of Subtill Misciefe, the Striving for Starres, the Catching of Moonshine: And the Secrete Found of Many Hollow Hearts. (London, 1588), 21.

[10] Thomas Coryate, Coryats Crudities; Hastily Gobled Up in Five Moneths Trauells... (London, 1611), 405. Also see Margaret F. Rosenthal, The Honest Courtesan: Veronica Franco, Citizen and Writer in Sixteenth-Century Venice (Chicago, 1992).

[11] See Lloyd Kermode’s discussion of the exchange (2.200-5) in Three Renaissance Usury Plays, n 204.

[12] Denise A. Walen, ‘Introduction’, Constructions of Female Homoeroticism in Early Modern Drama (Houndmills, Basingstoke, 2005), esp. 3, 13.

[13] In this aspect she may prefigure the shrewd, vital and enterprising whores of city comedies to come; see Howard, Theater of a City, chapter 3.

[14] Michael Wyatt, The Italian Encounter with Tudor England: A Cultural Politics of Translation (Cambridge, 2005), 138, 140-5. Wyatt comments that ‘Merchants represented the most uninterrupted sign of the Italian presence in England’ (140), a group that was always numerically small compared to the Dutch and French in London (Italian residents numbered in the hundreds, the Dutch in the thousands). Nonetheless, the influence of Italians on English culture was great and remained disproportionately strong, breeding anxiety, antagonism and imitation (138).

[15] Pantalone, also called the Magnifico, was frequently ‘in besotted subjection to a courtesan in the traditional Venetian mode’ (Robert Henke, Performance and Literature in the Commedia dell’arte [Cambridge, 2002], 18-19, 114-15, 149). On Andrea Calmo see Richard Andrews, Scripts and Scenarios: The Performance of Comedy in Renaissance Italy (Cambridge, 1993), 145-7. In one comic letter wooing ‘the elegant Juno, Madonna Anzola Sarra’, Calmo’s lecherous merchant compares her to jewels, precious stones, ‘durable metal, invincible gold, face of Diana, life of Venus, wisdom of Minerva ... I will always follow your command, in the rain, wind, heat, winter, mountains, woods, rivers, fogs, as Sacripante did Angelica, Bradamante Fiordelise, Rodamante Doralice ... just one word from you, the least sign, and the tiniest wish, will make me run over mountains, trudge through in the snow, and peer through the darkness, leap into the most dangerous seas, jump over cliffs’. Cherebizzi di M. Andrea Calmo: Ne’ Quali Si Contengono Varij, & Ingeniosi Discorsi, & Fantastiche Fantasie Filosofiche (Venetia, 1580), 61v, 72r-v (my translation).

[16] On the European diffusion of the arte see M.A. Katritzky, The Art of Commedia: A Study in the Commedia dell’Arte 1560-1620 with Special Reference to the Visual Records (Amsterdam, 2006), 45-79; on Italian players in England, see Kathleen M. Lea, Italian Popular Comedy: A Study in the Commedia dell’Arte, 1560-1620, with Special Reference to the English Stage, 2 vols (New York, 1962), vol. 2; on multiple companies’ visits in the 1570s, see 2.356. Also see E.K. Chambers, The Elizabethan Stage, 4 vols (Oxford and NY, 2009), vol. 2, esp. 262-3, and Robert Henke, ‘Back to the Future: A Review of Twentieth-Century Commedia-Shakespeare Studies’, Early Theatre 11. 2 (2008), 227-40.

[17] Katritzky, The Art of Commedia, 89.

[18] Thomas Nash, Pierce Pennilesse, his supplication to the Divell (London: I B[usbie], 1592), f.54r.

[19] On women and/as mountebanks, see M.A. Katritzky, Women, Medicine, and Theater, 1500-1750 (Aldershot UK and Burlington VT, 2007), and Bella Mirabella, ‘Quacking Delilahs: Female Mountebanks in Early Modern Italy and England’, Pamela Allen Brown and Peter Parolin (eds), Women Players in Early Modern England 1500-1660: Beyond the All-Male Stage (Aldershot UK and Burlington VT), 89-108.

[20] Katritzky places the date at 1576, but the year of Scoto’s visit is disputed (Women, Medicine and Theater, 209).

[21] Louise George Clubb, Italian Drama in Shakespeare’s Time (New Haven, 1989), 279-80. By ‘everything’ she means ‘the scenarios, the lazzi, and the masks of their three-act improvised plays’, the unmasked inamorati roles, and ‘their other assets, the memorized comedies, tragedies, and pastorals, the five-act format they use in rote performances and for publication ... their avant-garde references to Aristotelian theory and interest in construction, their knowledgeable manipulation of genres and their dexterity with theatergrams of each kind’ (280).

[22] Economics, anti-alien feeling, and national pride mobilized this hostility: ‘London was already dominated by highly efficient, organized and competitive native companies resistant to the incursions of foreigners’, and this resistance led dramatists to caricature the theatre of the Italian players as ‘vulgar low comedy, while its practitioners were stigmatized as much of the same status as buffoons, mountebanks, and street entertainers’. Kenneth Richards and Laura Richards, The Commedia Dell’arte: A Documentary History (Oxford, 1990), 2.

[23] The Cobbler’s Prophecie features a comic madwoman: driven mad by a magic spell, she babbles, sings, dances, and stabs the plot’s villain. The play also features hyper-literary classical muses who banter wittily about comedy and tragedy. Such scenes reflect performance modes developed by the comici and their star actresses. As I argue in my book in progress, Wilson was one of several popular writers and players, including Will Kemp, Anthony Munday, and Robert Greene, who travelled abroad, then wrote plays and pamphlets laden with materials from Italian popular theatre; they also Italianized their personae as clowns and authors. On stage clowns as cultural go-betweens, see Pamela Allen Brown, ‘“I Care Not, Let Naturals Love Nations”: Cosmopolitan Clowning’, Shakespeare Studies 35 (2007), 66-73.

[24] Andrew Grewar, ‘Shakespeare and the Actors of the Commedia Dell’arte’, David J. George and Christopher J. Gossip (eds), Studies in the Commedia Dell’arte (Cardiff, 1993), 13-47. For Dead Man’s Fortune see W.W. Greg, Dramatic Documents from the Elizabethan Playhouses; Stageplots: Actors’ Parts: Prompt Books, 2 vols (Oxford, 1969), vol. 1.

[25] Frances Meres, Palladis Tamia (1598), 283.