First-time Machiavelli translation debuts at Yale

Actors rehearse for Machiavelli’s “The Girl from Andros,” translated from the original Italian by Michael Knowles ’12.
Actors rehearse for Machiavelli’s “The Girl from Andros,” translated from the original Italian by Michael Knowles ’12. Photo by Victor Kang.

This Thursday in the Morse Stiles Theater, Niccolò Machiavelli’s first comedy will make its world debut on an English-speaking stage.

Machiavelli’s “L’Andria,” though well-known among Italian scholars of Renaissance Drama, has been until now relatively unknown within English criticism of Machiavelli. Starting last semester, Michael Knowles ’12 began translating the play into the first English script that could be performed on stage. The final product, titled “The Girl from Andros,” will be presented by a cast of 11 Yalies this weekend.
“This is not an unknown play by any means,” Knowles said. “In fact it is a well-known play. But somehow there was never an English version done before.”

Knowles said he was approached by Italian professor Angela Capodivacca, a scholar of the Early Modern Renaissance, who asked him to translate Machiavelli’s Italian script into English as a senior project. As a history and Italian literature double major, Knowles described the project as “the spot on the Venn Diagram” of his interests, as it merges both theater and politics.

Machiavelli’s play is in itself an adaptation of a play by the Roman playwright Terence, which is in turn an adaptation of a play of the same name by the Greek playwright Meander. Producer Allison Hadley ’12 noted that the text has changed subtly with each translation, adding that with each iteration, the play has been appropriated by the culture of the time. Knowles, she said, has captured how a modern audience would interpret the “class and authoritarian dynamics that are the undercurrents of this play,” 500 years after Machiavelli’s time.

“The new translation and performance of the Andria is hopefully going to open new ways of inquiry and thinking about the relationship between Machiavelli and translation, Machiavelli and theatre, and, last but not least, Machiavelli’s understanding of the phenomenology of the political sphere,” Capodivacca said.

Knowles explained that Machiavelli’s play works to confuse Terence’s plot, which focuses on the exploits of a wily servant, David, who manipulates his princely master from behind the scenes. David — who is called wicked, evil and brilliant throughout the play — is modeled on Machiavelli himself, he said.

Like much of Machiavelli’s work, the author wrote himself into the play, inserting the politics of contemporary Florence and alluding to many themes present in his works of political philosophy, Knowles said.

“Machiavelli is obviously an influential figure in political thought, but his comedies show this in a very different manner than, say, ‘The Prince,’” Hadley said.

Capodivacca said this would be a “watershed” event for the English-speaking world because “the Andria stages many of the recurring political issues at stake for Machiavelli, underlining with unprecedented importance Machiavelli’s interest in the theatrical.”

Director Sam Lasman ’12 agreed that this play demonstrates a new side of Machiavelli, showing audiences what amused him in the form of an absurdist, witty comedy.

“He was drawn to something in this very silly Hellenistic comedy,” Lasman said in an email. “Something about its exploration of human connections, its blithe approach to injustice, and the underlying deadly seriousness of its stakes: citizenship, miscegenation and the simultaneous fragility and vitality of male-female relationships.”

Knowles said he looks forward to the play’s contribution to next year’s 500th anniversary celebration of Machiavelli’s political treatise “The Prince.” Knowles added that he hopes that the play will be published, so that it can be preformed regularly.

Currently, the play is part of this semester’s Shakespeare at Yale festival. Hadley explained that “The Girl from Andros” is representative of the influence of Machiavelli’s — and more broadly Italian Renaissance comedy’s — on Shakespeare. The Bard, she said, frequently borrowed source material from the Italians.

With funding from both Shakespeare at Yale and a Morse College Creative Performing Arts award, the show has a relatively high budget of $2,700, Knowles said, which has gone toward elaborate sets and costumes.

“Because this play is going to be such a historic production everybody wanted to be a part of it,” Knowles said, “Yale does a lot of important things first. I’m proud that this English World premiere is happening here.”

The show will run April 19 to 21.

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