Mònica Calabritto, "Murder and Madness on Trial: A Tale of True Crime from Early Modern Bologna" (Pennsylvania State UP, 2023)


Monica Calabritto of Hunter College talks to us today about her new book, Murder and Madness on Trial: A Tale of True Crime from Early Modern Bologna, out this year, 2023 from Penn State University Press. On October 24, 1588, Paolo Barbieri murdered his wife, Isabella Caccianemici, stabbing her to death with his sword. Later, Pablo would claim to have acted in a fit of madness--but was he criminally insane or merely pretending to be? 

In this riveting book, Mònica Calabritto addresses this controversy by reconstructing Paolo's life, prosecution, and medical diagnoses. Skillfully combining archival documents unearthed throughout Italy, Calabritto brings to light the case of one person and his family as insanity ravaged their financial security, honor, and reputation. The very notion of insanity is as much on trial in Paolo's case as the defendant himself. A case study in the diagnosis of insanity in the early modern era, Barbieri's story reveals discrepancies between medical and legal definitions of a person's mental state at the time of a crime. Murder and Madness on Trial bridges the micro-historical dimensions of Paolo's murder case and the macro-historical perspectives on medical and legal evidence used to identify intermittent madness. A tragic and gripping tale, Murder and Madness on Trial allows readers to look "through a glass darkly" at early modern violence, madness, criminal justice, medical and legal expertise, and the construction and circulation of news. This erudite and engaging book will appeal to early modern historians and true crime fans alike.

Jana Byars is the Academic Director of Netherlands: International Perspectives on Sexuality and Gender.

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Jana Byars

Jana Byars is an independent scholar located in Amsterdam.

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