last update 2 June 1995 by Karl SignellNigra's collection of Italian ballads can be considered the Italian equivalent of Child's collection of English ballads. [Tullia: in what sense are they "equivalent"? Size of collection? Comprehensiveness? Authenticity of documentation?] Unlike North-European ballads, the Italian repertoire has no magic elements (1), or episodes from epic literature. There are only a few stories about men and most of those men are social undesirables: a deserter, no. 27; card-players, no. 22; violent students, no. 5; prisoners, no. 47, for example.
1. Violence done by a man to a woman
The most narrated type of violence is abduction, often followed by suicide of the girl to avoid rape, for example, nos. 13-16, 32, 40, 43, 44, 49, 50, 53 (2). Other plots deal with men raping (nos. 4, 51, 79) and killing girls (no. 12) or with jealous husbands or lovers murdering innocent women (nos. 6, 29, 36). In others, husbands mistreat their wives and waste their dowry (nos. 35, 95, 96, 55) (3). In this group, we can include also "Un'eroina" ("A heroine"), no.13, whose content resembles that of the English ballad, "Lady Isabel and the Elf-Knight," although no supernatural being appears in the Italian version. Unlike other narratives in this group, "Un'eroina" has a happy ending. The girl marries a man who then reveals his will to murder her, but succeeds in killing her husband.2. Women betrayed
A woman is betrayed and/or abandoned by her lover (nos. 24, 93), husband (no. 42), or by an authority, such as no. 3, the well known and widespread "Cecilia," in which the woman tries to save her prisoner husband. She is betrayed by the captain, who first promises to save the husband in exchange for a night with her, but then murders him.3. Forbidden love
The family forbids love between a boy and a girl and the story usually ends with death of one or both lovers. This common plot typically describes the conflict of a girl with authority, generally represented by the father, because of love (nos. 7, 8, 18, 19, 20, 37, 41, 45, 46, 49, 57, 63, 73, 99) (4). An alternative ending of this kind of story appears, for example, in "Il genovese" (no. 41), where the lovers succeed in getting married by deceiving their parents (5).4. Virtuous girls
Men try to seduce girls, who virtuously refuse them (nos. 69-72, 78, 90, 101), sometimes making fun of the man (nos. 52, 75, 76, 77). Exceptionally, as an alternative ending, the girl accepts the offer of love (nos. 66, 67).5. Women who break the law
The most widespread ballad about lawbreakers is "Donna Lombarda," no.1, in which a woman betrays and tries to kill her husband, is discovered and is murdered by him. Another well-known ballad is "Il testamento dell'avvelenato," no. 26, similar in content to "Lord Randal." Other famous ballads about lawbreakers tell of girls [Tullia: I'm not sure whether you intend a difference between "women" and "girls" throughout the manuscript. American feminists consider "girls" applied to grown women a belittling term.] who kill their illegitimate children (nos. 9, 10). Sometimes a girl murders her father, who has forbidden love (no. 11). In all cases, the girls are put to death.Narrative ballads deal with other topics, but these are the main ones. Ballads are mainly concerned with stories of women and in particular with the representation of the dangers coming from men (abduction, rape, murder, betrayal, mistreatment, abandonment), with the terrible consequences coming from a conflict with family or authority for questions of love (imprisonment, death) or from breaking the law, and virtuous female behavior. [Tullia: This paragraph seems repetitious. Delete?]
Return to Magrini Ballads table of contents