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II Discipline and Excess


—Ian Hamilton Finlay, “Unconnected Sentences on Gardening”


1. By courtesy of the Estate of Ian Hamilton Finlay.

Ruzzante Takes Place

Sociologist John Law’s formulations on the baroque imagination help to unfold another dimension of Angelo Beolco’s theatre practice. His treatment of the Leibnizian garden topology, mentioned in Chapters 2 and 3, also aids in this book’s endeavor to cultivate an immanent critique of Beolco’s life-work and performance-work as Ruzzante. Law has suggested that Leibniz’s map, his scheme of gardens within gardens, reveals “an imagination that discovers complexity in detail or (better) in specificity, rather than in the emergence of higher level order. [... ] It is an imagination that looks down rather than up” (Law 19). In a similar vein, Deleuze’s work on Leibniz has shown how this operation of looking down helped Leibniz to discover the inner complexity of the soul, the monad, that metaphysical point of view from which the confusion of the world became ordered in harmony (Deleuze, The Fold 23-25). It is Law’s connection between baroque thinking and “looking down” that I stress here in order to interrogate the earth under Beolco’s feet. At stake here is the deployment of a baroque methodology in order to consider Beolco’s theatre practice as a radical scenography and as a rooting (from the Italian verb radicare) and uprooting that constituted an act of taking place.

As a working actor, Beolco belonged to the Compagnie della Calza (literally, “Companies of the Sock”) in Venice, the forerunners to professional theatre artists.1 Within the worlds of his plays, monologues, dialogues, and skits he appeared as an official spokesperson for the Paduan lower classes, as a religious reformer, as a soldier conscripted into the © The Author(s) 2017

W. Daddario, Baroque, Venice, Theatre, Philosophy,

Performance Philosophy, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-49523-1_5

Venetian army, and as a swindler.2 Outside of his theatrical portrayals, Beolco worked additional jobs, such as that of completing land transactions on behalf of his patron, Alvise Cornaro (1484-1566), and signing legal paperwork when Cornaro was unavailable (Carroll, Angelo Beolco 16; Menegazzo and Sambin 229-385).3 Each of these jobs could function as the entry point into the ground from which Beolco’s political theatre practice sprang, but there is one kind of work that overshadows the rest, one that helps scholars in the present to look down toward the full complexity of this historical figure. I am thinking of Beolco’s labor as a skillful gardener.

From the early stages of his career in Venice, all the way to his final performance in Padua, Ruzzante’s theatrical works drew upon the labor of the (literal, metaphorical, metonymical) gardener and the materiality of gardens to construct vivid images of life’s hardships. In his very last monologue, Lettera all’Alvarotto (Letter to Alvarotto, 1536), he recounted an almost mystical visionary experience in which he saw an earthly paradise inhabited by the figures Goodness, Charity, Peace, and Friendship. Ruzzante remarked that one kind of Love (i.e. Lust) was absent. In a garden of earthly delights such as the one in his vision, Love like that “alone would do more damage to lives than seven goats in a garden” (Ruzante, Teatro 1238). Even when the subject matter dealt with real life and not phantasmatic visions, the garden appeared in his works as a perfected state of being toward which to strive. In the Seconda Oratione (Second Oration, 1528), for example, after recounting hardships wrought by unjust religious laws, Ruzzante ended his address by commenting that “this world has become like an untended garden. Look around and see if you see any lovers. I can tell you that hunger has fucked love up the ass. Nobody dares to love anymore, since no one can handle the cost” (1210). In another instance, and speaking in a more nuanced tone, Ruzzante offered this thought in a short Eclogue: “Because I’m telling you, this world is like a vine, and what is natural is the stake: while the stake stands, the vine gives fruit; when the stake doesn’t hold, the vine falls on its ass on the ground” (Ruzante, La Moschetta 17).

What kind of gardener was he exactly, and what is the benefit of mapping his garden references and botanical labor? How precisely does Beolco’s profession as gardener shed light on his theatre practice? And was he really a gardener (hands in dirt, growing plants and vegetables and so on), or was he more of an aesthetic gardener, a scenic gardener, or one who tended to metaphorical gardens? To answer these questions, I draw in this chapter on the materiality of gardens and the philosophical practice of garden thinking that I began in the preceding section. For example, when gardens appeared in the emblems and banners worn and carried by the compagni Ortolani (company of Gardeners) to which he belonged, Ruzzante and his fellow actors seem to have mined the garden for its metaphorical meanings in order to attract attention to the bawdy humor preferred by their troupe. “Garden,” in this sense, acquired an almost pornographic sense of fecundity. At other times, however, gardens and the act of gardening functioned metonymically within the world of his plays to address, albeit obliquely, contested social issues; that is, the world appeared to Ruzzante as an unweeded garden. In short, Beolco saw his function as world-gardener. He unweeded, ploughed, and tended to the actual garden of his native Padua, but he also “unweeded” (i.e. sought to change through protest), “ploughed” (i.e. fornicated and insinuated his way inside fertile feminine territory), and “tended” (i.e. kept up the poetic ideals of his beloved Padua) to the “garden” (i.e. the world in which Ruzzante found himself in the first half of the sixteenth century). Analyzing Beolco’s work as gardener, the multiple valences of his bawdy aesthetic, and the metonymic deployment of gardens within his performances leads not only to a more detailed understanding of the type of gardener Beolco wanted to be but also helps audiences in the present to understand the tactical blurring between onstage and offstage realities that was so integral to Beolco’s work as Ruzzante.

To investigate the formal and social qualities of Beolco’s scenic gardening through Law’s practice of “looking down,” I take three steps. First, I locate the figure of Beolco and his aesthetic persona Ruzzante by way of the very ground on which he stood. Prior to the first permanent theatre buildings in and around Venice, Beolco’s theatre practice relied on that ground as the instigator of theatre’s dual nature. That is, in addition to existing as a compilation of gestures and words that combined to create a performance for an audience, theatrical actions first necessitated the production of the very space upon and in which those actions could take place. He performed in piazze, private homes, loggias, and gardens, but he also produced unique theatrical spaces to fit and respond to those sites.

Early in his career, Beolco performed within private gardens belonging to wealthy Venetian citizens. Citing the diaries of Marin Sanuto, Antonella Pietrogrande shows that Beolco’s theatre took place in the gardens of Giudecca around February 7, 1526, and prior to that on February 7 and 13, 1515. These gardens were frequently used as settings for theatrical performances and were sizable enough to appear on the remarkable map of Venice created by Jacopo de Barbari in 1500 (Pietrogrande 71-72). Matteo and Virgilio Vercelloni supplement this picture of Beolco’s playing space with the detail that, “These gardens were arranged according to principle— the interrelation of their constituent elements—on the model of the hortus conclusuS" (Vercelloni 42-43). Stemming from the medieval monastic horticultural tradition, a hortus conclusus was marked by enclosure, both sym- bolic/sacred and actual: the garden itself was walled off from the exterior of the monastery, then the garden was subdivided into multiple sections and beds. The hortus conclusus exists as microcosm, a world within the world, a garden within a garden.4 Beolco’s theatrical life as Ruzzante sprouted within and upon those garden grounds and also within the private rooms of palaces that doubled, metaphorically, as walled-off secret gardens ensconced within the residences of the wealthy and the powerful. In this chapter in particular, I attend to the confluence of garden space and private dwelling operating as the generative ground for Beolco’s Lettera Giocosa (1521-1522), Prima Oratione, and Seconda Oratione, as well as to the way Beolco’s theatre practice functioned as a territorial attack, a method of taking place.

In the second step, the analysis oflooking down leads me to consider the connections between Beolco’s theatrical practice of taking place and the acts of territorial domination performed by the Venetian Republic on the cities in the Veneto, specifically Padua. The irreversible damage to Beolco’s home town caused by Venetian rule caused a repetitious refrain that oscillated throughout his stage performances, and that, in turn, spoke up in defense of the peasants who made their living from tending to the natural environment. Finally, in the third step: looking down to the ground beneath Beolco’s feet and the historical conditions subtending his theatre practice leads me to assert a non-coherent view of Beolco’s life as Ruzzante. This step functions as a type of self-reflexive, historiographical awareness intended to keep Beolco from becoming a useful point of origin through which all of baroque Venetian theatre becomes intelligible as, for example, a play between various flows of power and the counter-insurgencies that dam up those flows. As John Law suggests, the non-coherence of the local and specific site of analysis made visible by the baroque act of looking down never becomes completely clear:

The implication is that there is no possibility whatsoever of an emergent overview, and this is not simply because it is neither possible nor necessary to make what is known fully explicit—though this is the case. In addition, it is because there is no final coherence. There is no system, global order, or network. These are, at best, partially enacted romantic aspirations. Instead [with the baroque] there are local complexities and local globalities, and the relations between them are uncertain. (23-24)

Each of Beolco’s performances of taking place constituted a local complexity: a multilayered response to specific socio-political configurations in Padua and Venice. Each also constituted a local globality: a fragment of a political theatre practice that appeared in other theatrical forms during the same time. Much will become clear about Beolco’s baroque theatre in this chapter and much will remain unclear.

From Beolco to Leibniz to Law and back again, one fundamental principle remains to be articulated: Beolco’s performance-cum-gar- dening practice coincided with the production of alternative viewpoints carved out by theatrical language and gestures within territories owned by wealthy and powerful Venetian nobles, and, in that light, his acts of taking place contributed to a more expansive baroque scenography unfolding in the Veneto in the sixteenth century. Ultimately, Ruzzante’ s scenography prepared two scenes. One was created for the benefit of his audiences that worked to make visible the world of the peasants rendered invisible by those audience members who had the power but not the inclination to alleviate the suffering of the lower classes. Palatial estates and tall villa walls functioned as blinders, in this regard, to block out the struggles of the everyday. The second scene, by distinction, creates a point of view that opens in the present. By detaching Beolco from his function in the discipline of theatre studies as an innovator for the eighteenth- century commedia dell’arte practices of other Venetians such as Carlo Goldoni or Carlo Gozzi, and, instead, by constructing around his theatre practice another historical system, one built on the art of planting gardens and taking place, the historiographic tactic of looking down illuminates a baroque politic lodged within an early sixteenth-century theatrical practice. Charting Beolco’s mobile, deconstructable, and ultimately impermanent theatrical scenes, tuning into the faint echoes of his Paduan voice, and rendering the schematics of his atypical scenography will help to ground the journey through this turbulent historical terrain.

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