ITAL30260 Politics and Morals in Renaissance Italy

Academic Year 2023/2024

What do we mean by the Renaissance? Why has this particular period of human history been presented as a decisive moment in the evolution of our thinking? What were the main literary, cultural and philosophical innovations developed in 16th century Italy? This module aims to answer these and other questions in order to present an accurate portrayal of Renaissance Italy through two of its most important texts: 'La Mandragola' (1518) by Niccolò Machiavelli and 'Orlando furioso' (1532) by Ludovico Ariosto. In such a perspective, we will focus on these texts not only as a way to understand the main coordinates of Renaissance literature, but also as tools to uncover the relationship between politics and morality in the Italian Cinquecento. Students will also be introduced to Renaissance popular culture, the relationship with what was perceived as ethnic otherness, the role of women in Renaissance societies, and the debate on the vernacular.

Show/hide contentOpenClose All

Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:

On successful completion of this module students should be able to:
- have a general understanding of the main cultural and literary trends of the Italian Renaissance.
-analyze the proposed Renaissance texts in terms of both form and content by providing a detailed critical reading of them;
- understand how Renaissance ideas about politics and morality could be conveyed in the literary texts of the period;
- engage effectively in class and tutorial discussions, presenting personal ideas or critical readings orally;
- complete written assignments, focusing on content, structure, style of the analyzed texts;
- enhance their ability to read a 16th century Italian printed edition, also thanks to English updated translations.

Indicative Module Content:

Reading of the following books (in Italian):
Niccolò Machiavelli, 'La Mandragola'
Ludovico Ariosto, 'Orlando furioso' (selection of passages)

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours




Specified Learning Activities


Autonomous Student Learning




Approaches to Teaching and Learning:
All classes are scheduled according to the university timetable.
Active participation in these classes is required.
In addition to that, full engagement with material and tasks made accessible in Brightspace is expected every week. 
Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations

Not applicable to this module.

Module Requisites and Incompatibles
Additional Information:
The knowledge of Italian language.

Assessment Strategy  
Description Timing Open Book Exam Component Scale Must Pass Component % of Final Grade In Module Component Repeat Offered
Assignment: Summary of scientific articles Throughout the Trimester n/a Standard conversion grade scale 40% No


Class Test: Timed essay/commentary on Machiavelli's 'La mandragola' Week 7 n/a Standard conversion grade scale 40% No


Presentation: Narrated PowerPoint presentation on Ariosto's 'Orlando furioso' Coursework (End of Trimester) n/a Standard conversion grade scale 40% No



Carry forward of passed components
Resit In Terminal Exam
Autumn Yes - 2 Hour
Please see Student Jargon Buster for more information about remediation types and timing. 
Feedback Strategy/Strategies

• Feedback individually to students, post-assessment
• Group/class feedback, post-assessment

How will my Feedback be Delivered?

Students will receive individual written feedback on their assignments and class tests. Feedback will normally be given one week after the submission of the assignments and class tests.


• N. Machiavelli, La Mandragola (Venice: Francesco Bindoni and Maffeo Pasini, 1537): (or other Italian edition)
• L. Ariosto, L’Orlando furioso (Venice: Aldo Manuzio il vecchio’s heirs, 1545): (or other Italian edition)

English translations of both works will be uploaded on Brightspace or given during classes.


• K. Eisenbichler, ‘Sex and Marriage in Machiavelli’s Mandragola: A Close(t) Reading’, Renaissance and Reformation, 40 (1) (2017), 13-35.
• M. Leta, ‘Il matrimonio della «vedova» e la Mandragola’. Lettere italiane, 73 (3), 2021, 466-489.
• N. Ordine, ‘Vittoria Colonna nell'Orlando Furioso’. Studi e problemi di critica testuale, 42 (1) 1991, 55-92.
• P. Schwarz Lausten, ‘Saracens and Turks in Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso: Sheer Imagination or Allusions to Reality?’ Nordic Journal of Renaissance Studies, 16, 2019, 97-126.


On Machiavelli’s La Mandragola:
• W.P. Baumgarth, ‘Deception and Enlightenment: The Politics of Machiavelli's The Mandragola’, Perspectives on Political Science, 44(1) (2015), pp. 55–62.
• B. Turner, ‘Privates Vices, Public Benefits: Mandragola in Machiavelli’s Political Theory’, Polity, 48(1) (2016), 109–132.
• H. Mansfield, ‘The Cuckold in Machiavelli’s Mandragola’, in The Comedy and Tragedy of Machiavelli: Essays on the Literary Works, ed. by Vickie B. Sullivan (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), pp. 1–29.
• R. Martinez, 'The Pharmacy of Machiavelli: Roman Lucretia in Mandragola', Renaissance Drama, 14 (1983), 1-43.
• R. Andrews, ‘Scripts and Scenarios’, in Andrews, The Performance of Comedy in Renaissance Italy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), pp. 31–63.
• H. Wright, ‘Lucrezia in Mandragola: Machiavelli’s New Prince’, Interpretation 36(2) (2009), 145–164.
J. Tylus, 'Theater and its Social Uses: Machiavelli’s Mandragola and the Spectacle of Infamy'. Renaissance Quarterly, 53(3) (2000), 656-686.

On Ariosto's Orlando Furioso:
• A. Casadei. The History of Furioso. In: Ariosto Today. Contemporary Perspectives. Edited by Donald Beecher, Massimo Ciavolella, and Roberto Fedi (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003), pp. 55-70.
• J.A. Cavallo, 'The Pathways of Knowledge in Boiardo and Ariosto: The Case of Rodamonte', Italica, 79(3) (Autumn 2002), 305-320
• J. Kisacky. Magic in Boiardo and Ariosto (New York: Peter Lang, 2001), pp. 55-135.
• I. Mac Carthy. 'Ariosto the Lunar Traveller'. Modern Language Review, 104(1) (January 2009), 71-82
• D. Quint, 'The Figure of Atlante: Ariosto and Boiardo's Poem'. MLN, 94(1), Italian Issue (Jan., 1979), 77-91
• E. Weaver, 'A Reading of the Interlaced Plot of the Orlando furioso: The Three Cases of Love Madness', in Ariosto Today. Contemporary Perspectives. Edited by Donald Beecher, Massimo Ciavolella, and Roberto Fedi (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003), 126-153.
S. Zatti, The Quest for Epic. From Ariosto to Tasso (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006), pp. 38-59.
Name Role
Assoc Professor Paolo Acquaviva Lecturer / Co-Lecturer
Professor Ursula Fanning Lecturer / Co-Lecturer
Dr Serena Laiena Lecturer / Co-Lecturer
Dr Matteo Leta Lecturer / Co-Lecturer