Ruzzante’s Baroque Pastoral

For the actual villano, the ideals of the pastoral genre project a ridiculous mode of living life (exemplified by the shepherds) and a sappily effulgent mode of speech (exemplified by the high language of pastoral poetry). Whereas love, friendship, and piety pervade the pastoral landscape as though they were natural entities, Ruzzante, as spokesperson for the villani, shows these as thoroughly human and largely unattainable constructs. Whereas Boillet looks to the Pastoral and sees “the presence of the peasant act[ing] like a distorting mirror between the bucolic world and the spectators,” I would like to forward an understanding of the play, and particularly of Ruzzante, not as a mirror but as a tool for re-scaling the perspective of reality that had been presented to the upper and upper- middle classes in the Veneto for centuries through the pastoral genre (Boillet 199). Beolco does not distort the pastoral tradition so much as he helps to transpose the already distorted view of nature created by pastoral works back into a realistic scale. Once deflated and emptied of its hot air, the image of life presented by pastorals sags, becoming a shriveled and thoroughly unappealing portrait of life on the ground. Beolco’s first play utilizes critique to instigate this deflation, and, in turn, forwards an altogether different view of both art and nature.

Key to this new interpretation is an understanding of the term snatur- ale, which appears time and again in Beolco’s works. Snaturale provides a point of entry back into the realm of the baroque explored in the previous chapter and demonstrates Ruzzante’s presage of some Leibnizian philosophical principles. Nancy Dersofi leads the way into the intricacies of this particular neologism:

[I]t is a fact that during Beolco’s lifetime the Paduan contadino [peasant] was conscripted into the Venetian army; he endured the massacre at Agnadello, and fought in other battles for the Republic. His lands were wasted, and he suffered seasons of famine. Since Beolco’s plays often refer to specific local events, the rustic’s theatrical postures always depart [i.e. derive] from some awareness of the villano’s role in history, and Ruzante’s ‘snaturale’ derives from that awareness. (Dersofi “Snaturalite,” 144)

The root of the word shows itself clearly: naturale, natural. Linguistically, the prosthetic “s” affixed to the word modifies and sometimes negates the meaning of the root. For example, whereas comparare means “to appear,” scomparare means “to disappear;” fumare means “to smoke,” and sfumare means “to vanish, to soften, to nuance.” For Dersofi, the “s” denotes more than semantic meaning, it shows an awareness of the historical circumstances experienced by the Paduan lower classes in the early sixteenth century. Nature (i.e. the bountiful excess of foodstuffs, animals, and resources such as water that sustain life for peasant farmers) becomes negated-Nature: the marked and lamented absence of this bountiful excess caused by wars instigated by the Republic of Saint Mark. Recall here Zorzi’s suspicion that Beolco’s first play tacitly affirmed the flourishing of Paduan literature that served as a type of spiritual sustenance during a time when invaders crippled Venice’s cultural influence on the area. When nature turns to snature, art will have to sustain the people.

As with most words in Becolo’s arsenal, the words naturale and sna- turale have other connotations. Angelo Beolco lived his life as a “natural,” or illegitimate, child. The logic woven into this particular adjectival usage, common at the time of Beolco’s birth (Carroll Ruzante, 3-4), would seem to suggest that marriage, as a religio-cultural transaction, ends the natural relation between a man and a woman (i.e. it makes of their conjugal relations more than the simple animal act of fornication), thus ushering in a new, sanctioned and legitimized life within society. Beolco’s status as a “natural” child, however, marked the fact that he owed his life to an unsanctioned sexual union, and thus that he would always exist in a somewhat marginalized, or at least peripheral, place within the Beolco family. To be a natural child meant that one fell from the habitually accepted, second nature of religio-cultural life to a parallel state of being that, while called “natural,” might be more appropriately marked as snatural, or out of place.

Beolco’s snatural status even underwrites his professional career. As Emilio Menegazzo reports, when his father died, sometime around 1520, Beolco received a modest amount of money that would have helped him survive for about two years (Menegazzo 212). Beolco’s choice to enter under Cornaro’s patronage resulted in part from this financial stress. This information helps to point out that while Ruzzante had access to the learned community at the Studio, and, while he likely never suffered from abject poverty while his father lived, the comedian’s status as a “natural” child restricted the bounties provided to legitimate children and forced him to look for work and financial guidance from the same caste of society that most of his plays satirized.

The notion of snaturalite might also lend itself to rethinking the relation between language and culture during Beolco’s time, specifically the language of pastoralia. In Horodowich’s discussion of Castiglione’s Il cortegiano, specifically the section dedicated to the acceptable and unacceptable ways ofspeaking at court, I find a compelling link between words, nature, and one’s station in life. “When deciding which outdated words to eliminate from one’s vocabulary,” she writes, “the courtier should remember that ‘just as the seasons of the year divest the earth of her flowers and fruits, and then clothe her again with others, so time causes those first words to fall, and usage brings others to life’” (36). Members of the upper classes would recognize a charlatan amongst their ranks by attending to his speech. A person may unwittingly reveal his links to the middle classes by using an out-of-date word and, as a result, find himself uninvited to court. Castiglione’s metaphor of seasonal language tends to the ideological belief of the upper classes: that their language reinforces their (ostensibly) natural claim to aristocratic privilege. Perhaps Beolco’s grandiose language in the Pastoral shows his awareness of a specific historical reversal: that, for the wealthy, language had ceased to produce meaning and had become instead a signature of the wealth bestowed upon the few by an unseen natural force. If so, then one could utilize the term snaturale to describe the upside down world that protects the affluent person’s “natural” status and punishes the poor for being poor.

Neither the word “snaturale” nor its corresponding image of the world-upside-down appears explicitly in Beolco’s first play, and yet the concepts that this word and image express linger everywhere in this so- called “slumped” pastoral. Beolco exposes the supposedly simple ways of the shepherds through his excessively ornate mock-poetic language taken from the pastoral genre. Through Ruzzante’s foul mouth, he shows the medic’s “natural philosophy” to be mere shit. Even love, which fertilizes the pastoral landscape, finds no purchase in the poetic ground of Beolco’s pastiche. Thus, the play berates not only the high language of upper-class poets, the jargon of university education, and the notion of love excavated from the textual ruins of the classical world, but it also denies any legitimacy bestowed upon the second-nature that treats such things as natural entities. Whereas Renaissance gardeners attempted to materialize the concept of “third nature” through the immaculate gardens made possible by man’s mastery over nature, Beolco attempted through his play to expose such mastery as snatural, out of place, and, ultimately, harmful to the Paduan peasantry (Dixon Hunt 155). As a word connoting the bizarre, asymmetrical relation between nature and culture, between that which is, that which is made to be, and that which is made but is also made to appear as unmade (i.e., natural, given), I contend that “snaturale” also serves to name baroque nature. Despite Beolco’s protests, the unnatural view of the world offered by pastoral poetry would not simply cede to the perspective of the lower classes, and thus he would have to live in a world within a world, specifically a world (Padua) that would be negated by a poetic creation (the pastoral countryside) posing as a natural environment.

This realization brings us back around to the multiple worlds co-existing within the Pastoral and rhymes philosophically with the Leibnizian “gardens within gardens” topological assessment of baroque nature. Building on the insights of the previous chapter, I propose that Pastoral shows Beolco’s awareness of his status as the incompossible dweller residing within the incompossible world of his ideal Padua. This language comes directly from Leibniz’s Monadology. Numerous commentators have traced the concepts of compossibility and incompossibilty from Leibniz’s time to the present, particularly as they appear in neobaroque aesthetics (Egginton, Theatre of Truth; Ndalianis, Neo-Baroque Aesthetics). I would like to make a similar move but, instead of jumping from the eighteenth century forward to the time of cinema and multimedia art, I want to dig into the historical ground and think of Beolco’s first play as a foreshock of Leibniz’s realizations.

Leibniz’s gardens within gardens present a problem for the philosopher: if all pieces of matter express a point of view onto the world, how precisely do we come to inhabit our own point of view instead of any other? And, if multiple worlds are possible, then why does this world exist and not another? Leibniz’s writings intervene into the inherited wisdom that humans occupy a more rational position on the great chain of being than plants and animals, and answers these questions by claiming, instead, that this world exists because God has chosen it to exist and, therefore, that it is the best of all possible worlds. This world and all of its lived realities he names compossibles, while all of the rejected worlds of inferior quality he names incompossibles. Does there exist a world in which Caesar does not cross the Rubicon? Yes, but its status has been demoted to that of an incompossible world because God has willed it to be so. As Ndalianis explains, “God’s selected path (the compossibles) constitutes the existing world as it finally comes into being. The incompossibles are all those other paths that are rejected” (80). Splicing her own words with that of Leibniz’s most recognizable French interpreter of the twentieth century, Gilles Deleuze, she goes on to stipulate that, “By ‘positing an infinity of possible worlds,’ however, ‘Leibniz asserts our world to be the only existing world because, given that it constitutes God’s final choice, it is considered to be the best among all the possible scenarios, the rest of which are finally rejected (Deleuze 1993, 61)” (80).

The mixture of worlds within the Pastoral displays the battle of com- possibles and incompossibles, though it bears no traces of a God who will decide which is which. The opening stage description offers a topology of worlds:

Un paesaggio silvestre con un prato in mezzo dove principia e si svolge l’azione central; da un lato, separato, il tempio del Dio Pan, con I’altare, una fonte e un sepolcro antico; dall’altro, un viottolo conduce alla casa del medico, della quale tragli alberi potrd scorgersi la porta. (Ruzante Teatro, 5)

(A woodland with a meadow in the middle where the central action starts and unfolds; to one side, separated, the temple of the god Pan, with the altar, a font and an ancient sepulcher; to the other side, a path leading to the house of the doctor, of which, between the trees, one can glimpse the door.)

The action of the play takes place on the dividing line between two worlds, that of pastoral Arcadia and that of the urban Padua represented by the University’s chief cultural product (artists/doctors). One does not need to stretch too far to interpret the former as the representative of poetry and the latter as representative of scientific rationality. Equally as important as the setting, however, is that which the audience never sees, namely the world of Ruzzante, which stands in for Paduan countryside where farmers live. Following Ancient Greek terminology, this world (the Paduan countryside) exists as the obscene (literally, ob-scene, or off-stage), the perfect dwelling for a character as rude (and possibly as truthful) as Ruzzante. Of course, the obscene also houses the audience, and thus a problem presents itself. Does the audience reside in the same world as Ruzzante? Hints offered throughout the play’s action suggest that, yes, the world of the audience and the world of Ruzzante are one and the same. When Ruzzante summarizes the plot in the opening prologue and tells the audience that Siringa flees from Milesio, he specifies that she runs “alle Grance,” something like a farm run by monastic personnel that existed down the road in Padua not far from the theatre space (Ruzante Teatro, 1284).

The map of superimposed worlds gets even more complicated if we consider that the Padua of Alvise Cornaro (one the wealthiest inhabitants of the city) did not correspond directly to the Padua of university students, much less the Padua of poor Ruzzante because Cornaro’s wealth set him apart from the masses. Thus, within Padua one finds separate worlds delimited by class identities and economic (dis)advantages. Furthermore, the prologista starts his recounting of the plot by saying that he has awoken from a dream, thereby implying that the action unfolding on the stage during the course of the Pastoral happens within dreamspace (and maybe even remembered dreamspace). If this is true, then readers of this play stumble into the hall of mirrors created by the dialectical interplay of dreamspace and waking reality, one of the hallmark antagonisms of the Spanish Baroque outlined by Jose Antonio Maravall. Without complicating matters further, and without resolving the problems posed by the possibility of a dreamspace produced by a theatrical character, I believe that lurking behind this multiverse of worlds lies a specific understanding of self. That is, Beolco does not vouch for one world’s claim to reality over another, neither does he prove that his Padua deserves more attention; rather, the Pastoral showcases Beolco’s anxiety that none of the worlds has been chosen by God, as Leibniz has put it. This claim, however, cedes too much ground to Leibniz’s worldview, the same worldview that Voltaire would scandalize in Candide. As such, instead of placing Beolco at the whim of a God whom he seems not to have believed in, I suggest we recognize his awareness of a nascent antagonism between the compossible and the incompossible in a different way. God may not choose Ruzzante’s Padua or the pastoral’s world of Platonic ideals, but both will continue to exist nonetheless thanks to Venice’s need for arable farmland, on the one hand, and the booming print industry, on the other hand. Ruzzante’s Padua will endure as a marginalized space, one masked by the poetic version of the countryside penned by pastoral poets. Maybe Leibniz was wrong and the incompossibles exist, only to struggle for visibility beneath the veil of appearances created through a barrage of aesthetic production. Pastoral lays bare this barrage in both its form and content.

In the same light, not only do all the worlds within the Pastoral begin to take on the status of incompossibility, but Beolco seems also to wonder if he himself exists. Or, rather, if he surely exists, then he necessarily exists as multiple people: Beolco is Ruzzante; Ruzzante is one person to Zilio and another person to Francesco; Ruzzante is one person to Francesco and another person to Arpino. This multiplicity of self may lead to vertigo, but it does not necessarily deserve the word “crisis,” which contemporary discourse likes to affix to all challenging situations. Horodowich accesses the discourses on self and identity in Renaissance Venice and notes that during Beolco’s time:

self was neither an essentialist self with an independent, ontological status nor a self that was an entirely unfree, historicized construct or empty site onto which large political and historical forces were inscribed. Rather, it was a mixture, with the tongue representing the mediating device that negotiated the multifaceted and complicated relationship between one’s interior world and one’s exterior persona. In effect, the tongue represented the site where the self was performed. (Horodwich 55)

Such a claim seems particularly well suited to Beolco, who created a character for himself to become. That is, wherever Ruzzante’s tongue set to lashing his opponents, there stands Beolco, always struggling to carve out a place for himself somewhere between the rural Arcadian Padua of his imagination and the well-heeled circle of Cornaro that kept him financially afloat.

Though Beolco did not actively attempt to persuade his audiences with the Pastoral to endorse one Paduan world-identity over another, he did manage to float a sustained critique on the surface of his play’s jokes about the medical profession alongside explicit jabs at the pastoral genre. As critique, the Pastoral could belong to what William Egginton calls the minor strategy of baroque art and artifacts. For Egginton, one can determine a baroque artwork by the degree to which it tangles with the interplay between truth and appearance:

the Baroque puts the incorruptible truth of the world that underlies all ephemeral and deceptive appearances on center stage, making it the ultimate goal of all inquiry; in the same vein, however, the Baroque makes a theatre out of truth, by incessantly demonstrating that truth can only ever be an effect of the appearances from which we seek to free it. (2)

How precisely a work does this, and whether it affirms or denies the authority of the truth lingering behind or beyond the world of appearances, determines whether the artwork aligns itself with either the major or the minor baroque. The major strategy of the baroque “assumes the existence of a veil of appearances, and then suggests the possibility of a space opening just beyond those appearances where truth resides” (3). I explore this major strategy in depth in the next chapter by attending to the dramaturgy of the Jesuit order in late sixteenth-century Venice. In fact, as Egginton himself suggests, representatives of the Counter-Reformation provide some of the clearest expressions of the major baroque strategy (26-27). By distinction, the minor baroque strategy “suggests that the promise of purity behind the veil of appearances is itself already corrupted by the very distinction that gave birth to it” (27). In other words, artworks that expose the mediation of reality (i.e. the fact that all knowledge of the truth comes from a consciously produced and sustained discourse or set of practices of one kind or another) operate in a minor mode. The minor baroque strategy forces the spectator/auditor/reader/interpreter to question the dichotomy between appearance and substance and to discern whether perhaps the choice between these two entities evolves from a political plan, a human desire, or a social project instead of Nature or God Himself.

As the work of this chapter has suggested, the Pastoral deploys this minor baroque strategy by crippling the legitimacy of poetic pastoral language, Arcadian love, university erudition, and the anxiety-riddled underside of rustic gluttony and laziness. Beolco’s play does not reveal a higher truth beyond this language, love, erudition, or underside; rather, it draws his audience’s attention to the coexistence of these things as human creations that, precisely because of their human origin, hide an affinity to the corrupt and the finite. By maneuvering between the audience and the world(s) within the play, the character of Ruzzante makes this hidden affinity visible from the start and proceeds to guide the audience through the play, thereby making the theatricality of the Pastoral a part of the play itself.

I draw Egginton into this discussion not to provide another keyword with which to unlock the secrets packed within Beolco’s text but to show all that unfolds from the gesture of the minor strategy. For Egginton, this play of appearance and truth so central to baroque artifacts conditions the Leibnizian philosophical architecture that Deleuze and others identify as paradigmatic in its expression of the baroque worldview. The interfolded nature of appearance and truth crucial to baroque thought (a relation that, as Egginton and others note, negates the Platonic separation of Idea and Material) acts as the foundation upon which will stand the architecture of the Leibnizian monad, the germ of individuality that, despite its hermetic enclosure, expresses from itself the totality of the world.

In The Fold, Deleuze thinks through the peculiar expressiveness of the monad in order, in part, to explain the complex relation between the soul and the body in Leibniz’s philosophy. In Deleuze’s own words, “Forever indissociable from the body, [the soul] discovers a vertiginous animality that gets it tangled in the pleats of matter, but also an organic or cerebral humanity (the degree of development) that allows it to rise up” (Deleuze Fold, 11). Transposing this image to the more familiar form of the two- storey baroque houses that appear everywhere in the Veneto of the sixteenth century, from the Scuola Grande di San Rocco (the interior of which Tintoretto will eventually tattoo from top to bottom) to the Loggia at the house of Cornaro on which Beolco/Ruzzante will eventually perform once Maria di Falconetto completes it in 1524. These two-storey structures boasted elaborate facades decorated by the top sculptors of the day. Relating the facade and two-storey architecture to the Leibnizian monad, Deleuze writes:

Baroque architecture can be defined by this severing of the facade from the inside, of the interior from the exterior, and the autonomy of the interior from the independence of the exterior, but in such conditions that each of the two terms thrusts the other forward. (28)

Then, writing on the interior’s relation to the exterior, he adds:

The lower level is assigned to the facade, which is elongated by being punctured and bent back according to the folds determined by a heavy matter, forming an infinite room for reception or receptivity. The upper level is closed, as a pure inside without an outside, a weightless, closed interior, its walls hung with spontaneous folds that are now only those of a soul or mind. (29)

In this architectural rendering, the upstairs belongs to the monad itself and the downstairs to the modes through which the monad communicates with the rest of the world. Despite the fact that this Deleuzo-Leibnizian programming allows for constant exchange and circulation between the upstairs and the downstairs, indeed distinguishes itself from its Platonic forbears through this system of folding and circulation, the hierarchy of soul and body remains somewhat intact. The soul dwells “upstairs.” While the Leibnizian system does not, as Michael Marder writes, bind matter to “the force of dumb and passive resistance,” always opposed to “the noble endeavors of form-giving spirit,” it certainly emphasizes cultivation and enlightenment as the hallmarks of a true human intellect, thereby smuggling in the historico-philosophical preference of mind over body (Marder 125). That said, and as Deleuze’s creative philosophy demonstrates, Leibniz’s monadology permits for great variation in thought and forces philosophers to unsettle the binary distinctions of inside/outside and appearance/substance that had underwritten most theories of expression, reception, aesthetics, and indeed philosophy itself.

Similar to the revision (pre-vision?) of Leibniz’s theory of compossi- bility and incompossibility, Beolco’s first play anticipates, while it simultaneously relocates, Leibniz’s monad and Deleuze’s baroque house. The two-storey house that functions admirably as a metaphor for the monad in Deleuze’s work does appear in the Pastoral, but it appears with a crucial renovation. Interestingly, the play presents a kind of two-storey entrance that receives the audience into its embrace. The “Proemio alia Villano” constructs the first floor (on the bottom), and welcomes audiences and readers into the worldview of the Paduan peasant. The second prologue builds the second floor (on the top) and cultivates the same Paduan worldview into a flowery and more poetic expression. Sealed off into an autonomous enclosure by its hermetic sentence structure and involuting assonances, the Tuscan prologue acts as the distillate of the potency of the human intellect—at least, it renders visible the extent to which pastoral poetic sounds attempt to exist as such. In actuality, this particular pastoral prologue deflates such pretensions through over-identifying itself as the vehicle of spiritual ascendance. Taken together, then, the two prologues render a leaning two-storey structure, something reminiscent of Deleuze’s philosophical architecture ... but sillier, less noble, a bit grotesque, and more disruptive.

A non-metaphorical, architectural analogue of just such a slanted structure exists a couple of hundred miles south of Cornaro’s home on the Italian peninsula in the garden of Bomarzo that I discussed in the previous chapter. Upon entering that garden, visitors find a two-storey house leaning off to one side. One of its two inscriptions explains that Vicino Orsini had dedicated this particular structure to Cristoforo Madruzzo, Archbishop of Trent and friend of the eccentric Orsini sibling responsible for the gardens. The other inscription offers a set of instructions to the house’s visitors: ANIMUS QUIESCENDO FIT PRUDENTIOR ERGO

(The mind/soul becoming quiet becomes wiser thereby). Perhaps intended as something like a key signature to the rest of the gardens, this statement follows visitors into the house where they can then ascend to the top floor and gaze out onto an outdoor theatre. Jessie Sheeler likens the structure as a whole to an emblem of a slanted house found in coats- of-arms that signifies a family’s ability to endure hardships over time, though the meaning behind the actual structure (if a meaning exists at all) eludes art and architectural historians. Paired with the theatre, however, and situated at the entrance to the bizarre garden grounds, the house creates a sense of instability and calls to mind Egginton’s minor baroque strategy insofar as it seems to suggest that no single meaning lies behind the garden’s offerings. Instead, wanderers through Bomarzo will come face to face with a playful mediation between ideas and matter, as if to remind each person that the most artistic allegorical offerings may in fact present nothing other than an attempt to amuse oneself and to laugh at the works of man, works that play out on a grand theatre stage.

Pastoral’s two prologues present a similar consideration. Once beyond the gates of the prologues and into the center of the play itself, Beolco's visitors get a glimpse not of Padua as it really is but of Padua mediated by Beolco's theatricality. In this world, love and death deserve no more attention than a shit joke and a urine sample. Audiences will have to look for spiritual meaning in a new place, perhaps a more grounded and earthy place than pastoral poetry has heretofore suggested. What of the corresponding vision of the soul that accompanies this slanted house? Surprisingly, Pastoral’s vision of the soul takes on a Deleuzian characteristic: a vertiginous animality folded into an organic, cerebral humanity. From Milesio's old body rebuked by Siringa to Ruzzante's distended abdomen, the bodily dimension of each character hints at the essence of the play of the whole, or, rather its internal dynamism. Never still, the theatrical work of art resists essentialism and offers only a glimpse of becoming, which, in the case of the Pastoral, is a deciduous unfolding, a movement toward bareness. As if to suggest that Padua’s residents have entered the winter of its territory's lifespan, Beolco's excessive pastoral language and non-stop farcical action actually betray a withering and a falling away since, as I mentioned earlier, Padua faces a daunting state of affairs now that it finds itself back under the thumb of the Venetian patricians. Contra Leibniz, then, the cultivation of the material life force made possible by the intellect manifests itself through Beolco's baroque pastoral as a seriously funny elegy to the twilight of Padua's bounty.


  • 1. On the relation between Ruzzante and the Sienese pre-Rozzi tradition, see Marzia Pieri, La Scena Boschereccia nel Rinascimento Italiano (Padova: Liviana Editrice, 1983), especially Chapter 6: “Il ‘Grottesco Pastorale’ dei Pre-Rozzi. La «Pastoral» come opera riassuntiva”.
  • 2. See Dario Fo: Stage, Text, Tradition, eds. Joseph Farrell and Antonio Scuderi (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 2000) and Enrico Pucci, “Dario Fo: ‘Ruzante e il nostro Shakespeare,’” Il Mattino di Padova, 25 Febbraio 2015 .
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