The Inkwell and the State: Isabella d'Este as a Master of the Letter
William MacMahon Ball Theatre
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Isabella d'Este (1474–1539) was marchesa of Mantua and one of the leading women of the Italian Renaissance and a major cultural and political figure.
Examining Isabella’s correspondence as both documentary evidence and textual performance, Deanna Shemek also explores the early modern letter as a technology: a tool and a medium for investigating, persuading and reporting, but also for the circulation and confirmation of the writer’s persona within the many speech acts letters are designed to perform.
Beyond the historical information they contain, letters like those of Isabella d’Este inform us about early modern communicative networks, about the routine tropes of epistolary exchange, about relations between the cultures of orality and literacy, and about correspondence as a medium for personal contact, political agency, news-gathering, and self-construction. Two example letters from 1503 will offer vivid illustration of how letters served early modern rulers in tasks of surveillance, governing and reportage.