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In Defense of Women

The Dybbukast, Season 1, Episode 8: In Defense of Women

Season 1, Episode 8

Written in Italy in the 16th century by Jewish dramatist Leone De' Sommi Portaleone, who also wrote what is considered to be the oldest extant Hebrew-language play, the poem "In Defense of Women" touches on the role of women in drama and reveals a great deal about the cultural considerations and power dynamics of this time when women were coming to the fore on the theatrical stages of Northern Italy, Rome, and Venice in the professional world of the commedia dell’arte. Intercut with selections from the poem and other works of the era performed by theatre dybbuk actors, Dr. Erith Jaffe-Berg, Professor of theatre at the Department of Theatre, Film and Digital Production, University of California at Riverside, guides us through the text's meaning and its relevance to both historical and contemporary issues of equity and belonging. The live recording from which this episode was created was presented on May 20, 2021 in collaboration with San Diego Repertory’s Lipinsky Family San Diego Jewish Arts Festival (JFEST), with scholar and student participation from the Department of Theatre, Film and Digital Production at the University of California, Riverside. This episode is made possible in part by a grant from the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs.

Read the transcript for "In Defense of Women"


Hosted by Aaron Henne

Scholarship provided by Erith Jaffe-Berg, PhD

Translation of "Magen Nashim" and other featured texts by Erith Jaffe-Berg, PhD

Italian translation assistance by Dylan Southard

Additional Italian and Hebrew provided by Erith Jaffe-Berg, PhD

Yiddish provided by Miri Koral of the California Institute for Yiddish Culture and Language

Edited by Mark McClain Wilson

Story editing by Aaron Henne with Julie A. Lockhart

Theme music composed by Michael Skloff and produced by Sam K.S.

Additional assistance on the theatrical performance from which this episode was recorded provided by Lily Hart and theatre dybbuk’s producing director, Flori Schutzer

Transcription by Dylan Southard

"In Defense of Women" Learning Resources

Learn more about:

Also referenced in the episode:

Exercises For Educators:

Watch with captions on YouTube:

Also From Our Artists

Commedia in Costume

To accompany the episode, theatre dybbuk's resident costume designer, Kathryn Poppen, has created designs for two of the characters from Machiavelli's Mandragola, a play that is referenced in the episode and which is a good example of theatrical work of the 16th century in Italy. In the gallery below you can see mood boards and costume designs for Callimaco, the lover, as he might be played by Julie A. Lockhart, and Siro, his servant, as he might be played by Diana Tanaka.

While the commedia dell'arte of Northern Italy, Venice, and Rome did feature female actors, it was still a common practice in this era for male actors to play all the roles, including the female ones. Here, Kathryn's sketches showcase women playing the male roles, reversing this once standard practice.


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