Suzanne G. Cusick, who considers herself a speicialist in the life and works of Francesca Caccini, argues that Francesca was a proto-feminist and the music she composed for the Medici court contributed to the career of the Grand Duchess Christine de Lorraine of Tuscany. She therefore claims that through her works, Caccini encourages the sexuality and political aims of women in the early seventeenth century.1
I support Cusick's argument that Caccini was a proto-feminist who, through her works for the Medici court, supported the rights of women, specifically, through her first and most recognized opera, La liberazione di Ruggiero dall’isola d’Alcina. In this opera, which is recognized as the first opera composed by a woman, Caccini illustrates a feminist approach to her composition, and makes musical statements about gender that support and reflect the joint reign of Christine and her daughter-in-law, Archduchess Maria Magdalena of Austria. Not only are the characters in the opera portraying strong and capable women, but also the music composed for the characters demonstrates the differences between men and women through musical elements, such as the usage of sharps and flats. Because of works such as these, Caccini plays a major role for the female gender in the early seventeenth century.
An Introduction to Proto-feminism
“Feminism”, as defined today, is “1: the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes,” and “2: organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.”2 Many critics claim that feminism has been active longer than the word itself has existed.3 The word, “feminist” was not in true use until the late 1800s and early 1900s, but activism for women’s rights was alive and well as early as the fifteenth century. Scholars have come across an abundance of European writings between the years 1400 and 1800 that all suggest the same thing: a desire for change in the status of women. The term used to describe individuals who possessed modern feminist concepts during an era when the very term “feminist” was not yet known, is “proto-feminist”. 4
Studies show that some of the main concerns about the equality of women have been career based. By the seventeenth century, the roles of women were changing, and it became more and more common to see powerful women, although this mostly in the upper class due to better education. A vast majority of opportunities for women were offered in the arts as musicians, artists, or playwrights. Some extraordinarily influential women in the arts were Catherine Trotter, a Scottish novelist, and Mary Pix, an English novelist and playwright, and Aphra Behn, an English writer and political propagandist who was the first to receive the status of a professional. 5 Many of these remembered activists promoted education of women, and discredited any type of misogyny.
While there are many renowned proto-feminists from the seventeenth century, there are just as many if not more...