Books for the News

La Divina Commedia di Roberto Benigni

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Roberto Benigni, last seen around these parts leaping over chairs at the Academy Awards to accept his Oscar for the film Life is Beautiful and threatening to kiss everybody, is back stateside with a new project. In his one-man show TuttoDante, Benigni channels his natural ebullience to celebrate his love of the Divine Comedy; all in two hours, the Italian actor riffs on current events and his colorful mangling of English before launching into a verse-by-verse analysis of the fifth canto of the “Inferno,” which he then, in a climactic finale, recites, in its entirety, in Italian.
Long known for bridging seemingly incongruous genres (remember, this is the man who directed a comedy about the Holocaust), Benigni here combines stand-up comedy with critical exegesis of a fourteenth century epic poem, which, despite the long odds against it, apparently makes for riveting live theater. Widely popular in his native Italy, the show is now drawing sell-out crowds in San Francisco (where, according to this review, he ran laps around the stage and said, “I feel like to undress myself and to jump on you.”) and New York. If your appreciation of Dante’s masterwork is, well, a little less exuberant than Benigni’s, perhaps a refresher is in order before he comes to your town and, in his endearingly broken English, shames you for dozing during your Medieval Literature survey in college. For a task like this, we recommend you enter Danteworlds.
Your tour guide will be Guy P. Raffa, an associate professor of Italian at the University of Texas at Austin who has been teaching the poem for many years to undergraduates, and your itinerary will adhere closely to the path taken by Dante himself through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise. The Complete Danteworlds: A Reader’s Guide to the Divine Comedy takes both a textual and geographical approach to the work and, canto by canto, region by region, provides readers with a map of the entire poem. With Raffa’s able assistance, readers struggling to make sense of the epic’s multitudinous characters, references, and themes at last have a suitable resource to help them navigate Dante’s underworld.
We recommend tucking a copy of The Complete Danteworlds into your pocket or purse to refer to during the next performance of TuttoDante. Between Raffa and Beningi, we’re assured you’ll have a new outlook on the old poem. Meglio tardi che mai!!