1589 · Piacenza
A rare tragedy based on the Book of Judith*. Although Judith imagery was prevalent in theRenaissance, the subject is very uncommon in literature and especially in drama. Perhaps the lackof dramatic texts was caused by the proscription against women on the stage: it is hard to stage aplay which has femininity and seduction at its center without a woman to act the part.
Frank Capozzi, in his chronological list of works depicting or describing the Judith theme, findsonly nine Judith dramas before 1600 (including subsequent editions of plays already published,but without Sixtus Birk’s Judith drama  printed in both German and Latin). There probablywere a few more printed editions and certainly some in manuscript. Compare this to more than190 entries for early Judith imagery before 1600 (many on the dramatic subject of Judith holdingthe head of Holofernes). These images were done in all sorts of media: woodcuts and engravings,oils, panels, frescos, carvings, platters, porcelains, Hanukkah lamps, and even playing cards (251-285).
The formula of the Judith story began to succeed on stage only after the play was tied to a political(anti-Catholic) theme, as in the early German Reformation dramas, or tempered with musical2interludes(to provide diversion and a dramatic frame, as in classical theatre) as happens here wherethe four cardinal virtues appear at the end of each act. The order of appearance of the choralinterludes, Prudenza, Giustitia, Fortezza, and Temperanza, mirrors the trajectory of the plot, witheach virtue commenting on the events of the previous act. These observations are of a general sort(Judith is never named directly); rather, each chorus interprets the narrative by isolating momentsin the drama to exemplify larger moral truths, a strategy summarized in the closing lines of thefinal chorus, which the virtues deliver as a group: “Imparate / voi quě tutti, Mortali, / il ben seguir,e dechinar da i mali” [Learn, all you mortals here, to follow good and to decline evil] (Brine, Cileti,et al., 373).
*Nabuchodonosor, King of Nineveh, sends his general Holofernes to subdue the Jews. The latterbesieges them in Bethulia, a city on the southern verge of the Plain of Esdrelon. Achior theAmmonite who speaks in defense of the Jews, is maltreated by him and sent into the besieged cityto await his punishment. Famine undermines the courage of the besieged and they contemplatesurrender, but Judith, a widow, upbraids them and says that she will deliver the city. She goes intothe camp of the Assyrians and captivates Holofernes with her beauty, and finally takes advantageof the general's intoxication to cut off his head. She returns inviolate to the city with his head as atrophy, and a sally on the part of the Jews results in the rout of the Assyrians. The book closes witha hymn to the Almighty by Judith to celebrate her victory.
The book exists in distinct Greek and Latin versions. St. Jerome (Praef. in Lib.) says that hetranslated it from the Chaldaic in one night, "magis sensum e sensu, quam ex verbo verbumtransferens.” Two Hebrew versions are known at present: a long one, practically identical with theGreek text, and a short one which is entirely different. With regard to the Septuagint version of theBook of Judith, it should be noted that it has come down to us in two recensions: Codex B orVaticanus on the one hand, and Codex Alexandrinus with Codex Sinaiticus on the other. The Bookof Judith does not exist in the Hebrew Bible, and is consequently excluded from the ProtestantCanon of Holy Scripture. But the Catholic Church has always maintained its canonicity (CatholicEncyclopedia, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08554a.htm).
References: Brine, Ciletti, and Lähnemann, The Sword of Judith: Judith Studies across theDisciplines (2010); Capozzi, “Judith and Holofernes: A Chronological List of Works,” Rivista diStudi Italiani. Anno XXVIII, no. 2 (December 2010): 248-285; Curry, “Representing the BiblicalJudith in Literature and Art: An Intertextual Cultural Critique” (1994), Disserations, Paper 725,http://scholarworks.umass.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1730&context=open_access_dissertations.
OCLC: UofC, Getty, Hopkins, Toronto.Folger/Italian, 705. The play was performed several times. (Inventory #: 1290)