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Beolco’s Aesthetic Consignment

After having situated Angelo Beolco in the particular set of historical conditions shaping the Veneto in the early sixteenth century, the performer’s internal diarchy reveals itself as an uncomfortable struggle between the reign of violence and the reign of philosophical invention. Undoubtedly, Beolco contained numerous conflicting ideologies, tactical plans, and affinities, but the conflict between violent revolt and philosophical revolt shows itself clearly in the remaining artifacts of his life and work. Direct and indirect views of the tumultuous social dynamics presenting violence as a viable means of social change for Beolco come from scholarship on the Friulan carnival massacre of 1511, the military maneuvers of Michael Gaismair leading to the Tyrolean peasant revolt of 1525 and his eventual assassination in Padua in 1532, and the series of wars between Venice and the Holy Roman Emperor occurring during that same span of time. The impact on Beolco of these three conglomerations of events shows up in his dialogues, specifically the Bilora and the so-called Reduce, the latter of which offers a glimpse of Ruzzante’s own experience as a soldier on the battlefield. As Linda Carroll has argued, however, an intellectual and philosophical set of beliefs seems to temper the performer’s violent tendencies. Beolco built his beliefs by reading or coming into contact with Utopia by Thomas More, In Praise of Folly and the Enchiridion by Deisderus Erasmus, the lectures of radical philosopher Pietro Pompanozzi, and the intellectual side of Gaismair’s rebellion. I argue that neither physical violence nor philosophy wins out as the supreme force capable of rousing Beolco and the peasants he represented out of the their malaise. Neither violent action nor philosophical contemplation ultimately serves to shape exclusively his worldview. Instead, the diarchic competition between violence and philosophy produced a deep and unresolved antagonism that itself defined Beolco’s work as Ruzzante. This diarchic competition spawned Ruzzante, the militant performance philosopher.

I turn first to Muir’s study of the Friulan carnival because, though it focuses predominantly on the rise of vendetta violence in Udine and the towns of the Friuli, and therefore may seem to take this study away from its primary locus, it illustrates the on-the-ground frustrations of the lower classes as well as the resulting violence of those frustrations and the degree to which the violence may have provided members of the lower classes with suggestions for how to consolidate power amongst themselves despite the hierarchical governmentality imposed by the Republic. These insights can support the empirical studies of Padua such as those found in Brian Pullan’s Rich and Poor in Renaissance Venice that demonstrate the results of poverty and famine on the farmers who supplied Venice with their food, and, in turn, can suggest why Beolco chose to include an onstage murder in one of his dialogues.

Muir declares that, “Venetians treated Friuli, as they did all their terraferma lands, as a source of revenue and a military buffer zone, an approach that failed to unify the dominion in a way that would either bring a true pax Veneta to the countryside or permit Friuli to evolve autonomously under Venetian patronage” (Muir, Mad Blood 51). Ideologically, the Venetians defended their governmental practice on the grounds of unanimitas, “the convergence of a multitude of wants and aspirations into a single will” (Margaret King, cit. Muir 53), an ideal that “permeated the writings of Venetian humanists, influencing how they understood their own politics and depriving all dissenters of legitimacy” (53). Such humanist ideals poured out through the ink of Pietro Barozzi, Bishop of Padua from 1471-1507, who wrote explicitly against the voices of the poor whose souls he was supposed to shepherd in On the Extirpation of Factions and Recalling and Compelling the Citizens to Obedience (1489, cit. Muir 53-54). Back in the Friuli, bishops, Venetian governors, and local magistrates all touted the same rhetoric.

The gross imbalance between the humanist ideal of unanimitas, on the one hand, and the beneficent practice of such an ideal, on the other hand, led to a particularly disturbing event during Udine’s carnival of 1511. Disguised as an extemporaneous outburst caused by military fatigue and mob mentality, but more likely an attack instigated through the machinations of local aristocrat Antonio Savorgnan against his closest rivals, riots erupted on February 27 that would lead to the killing of between 25 and 50 nobles and the destruction of much private property. Muir describes this event as “the most extensive and most damaging popular revolt in Renaissance Italy” and as an event “that contemporaries understood both as a peasant rebellion and as the blood backwash from a tidal wave of vendetta violence among the nobles who dominated the affairs of the region” (xix-xx). News of this event spread quickly to Venice, brought both by Venetian officers posted in Udine and by subsequent publications such as Gregorio Amaseo’s History of the Cruel Fat Thursday (15131514), which sought to finger Savorgnan for his behind-the-scenes role in the events. Written in Venetian, as opposed to Tuscan or Latin, this tract would have circulated through multiple strata of Venetian society where it served to explain this bloody event, the likes of which had not been experienced before.

Though no such rebellion ever coalesced in Ruzzante’s hometown, there is plenty of reason to suspect that the Friulan carnival left a mark on his understanding of the world. For starters, peasants in all of the Venetian terraferma properties struggled to serve the Republic’s needs while maintaining a life worthy of the name for themselves and their families. Muir, for example, describes how “[t]he Venetian State occasionally passed laws protecting peasants from the worst abuses of their creditors, such as the demanding of work animals, tools, hay, or straw as collateral for loans, but by the late sixteenth century the requirements of Venice itself became one of the worst causes of rural impoverishment” (43). He also cites the correspondence of Tommaso Morosini who in 1601 described the Friulan peasantry as “because of a thousand adverse conditions in manifest ruin with little hope of improvement” (cit. 20). These words could have reasonably described the situation of the Padua peasantry who, along with the laborers in the Friuli, fought against Venetian exploitation throughout the 1500s, watched as drought and famine gripped its populace, and struggled generally to eke out a modest living. With these comparisons ready at hand, together with the number of accounts of the bloody carnival and, indeed, the prevailing belief of the Udinesi that the function of historians at the time was to attest to and prepare the way for reparations of the bloodshed, I think it possible to counter Muir’s statement that, “Nothing that happened in Friuli in the winter of 1511 altered the course of affairs in Europe or even in the republic of Venice” (xx).2

At least one aspect of the carnival changed the course of affairs of theatrical representation in the Veneto and may help to explain an aspect of Ruzzante’s oeuvre that scholars have not been able to reconcile. Namely, I believe that Savorgnan’s defense for his own actions during the carnival riots may have motivated the culminating scene of Bilora in which the dialogue’s protagonist stabs a Venetian merchant to death. Perhaps performed at a state banquet in Venice in 1530, Bilora marks what Ronnie Ferguson refers to as “the darkest moment in Beolco’s repertoire” (Ferguson 41). The one-act piece offers the story of Bilora, a Paduan, whose wife, Dina, has been lured away by a Venetian merchant, Andronico. After venturing into Venice to win back his wife, Bilora suffers a series of setbacks and ultimately collapses under the realization that Dina wants to remain in Venice, partially because of the security and food Andronico can provide for her. After working himself into a frenzy and imagining a grizzly scenario in which he butchers Andronico to death, Bilora actually fulfills his warped fantasy by knifing Andronico outside the merchant’s Venetian home. The play ends with Bilora ambiguously reflecting on his deed—maybe he regrets it, maybe not. As Ferguson suggests, the play skirts the boundary of comedy and perhaps moves beyond it by offering an onstage murder, which spoke frankly to an offstage urban/rural, Venetian/Paduan conflict. Despite the diarchic arrangement in place, Padua had, in a sense, become the abject object of the Venetian Republic, a fertile landmass on which to cultivate agricultural wealth after nearly a half-century of dwindling Venetian dominance on the seas. Beolco’s Paduan characters, like Bilora, frequently personified the object-ness of Padua on Veneto stages. The final words in Bilora (“What did I tell you?”) voiced by the eponymous protagonist seems to haunt scholars’ interpretation of the text (Ruzante, Teatro 578).3 Of all the angles of this text to peruse, I am drawn to the escalating anger that courses through the character of Bilora, an anger that bubbles up through the imagined act of butchery and builds enough momentum to bypass the character’s common sense and rationality. Beolco did not need to invent such anger. He could draw from recent historical precedent.

In the court cases and evidence-gathering sessions that followed the cruel Carnival in Udine, Venetian magistrates apparently amassed enough information to justifiably execute two of the participants and to exile several others. Intriguingly, however, Antonio Savorgnan, the individual on whom Gregorio Amaseo’s text placed all blame, did not receive so much as a fine. Muir reveals he was never even charged with any crimes or wrongdoing. Archival remnants suggest that Savorgnan was not, even by his own admission, completely removed from the violence, but, rather, that his rational self had been completely overcome by “mad blood” and could not, therefore, be accused:

For his part, Antonio describes himself as in the grips of a kind of madness on Giovedi Grasso [... ]: “I am so angry that I am beside myself and do not know what I am doing.” Impelled by his mad blood, Antonio abdicated all responsibility as if his anger had blotted out his reasoning faculties, pushed him beyond the reach of self-restraint, and subjected him to the governance of pure emotion. His words derived their force from the integrity of burning anger, as if authenticity of feeling justified even the most outrageous crimes.

(Muir, Mad Blood 201)

From the moment he uttered this defense, “mad blood” became a legitimate excuse for the triumph of irrationality over reason. Instead of marveling at Beolco’s invention of the Bilora murder, or puzzling over the literary precursors of such a violent stage event, I am compelled to read Andronico’s grizzly death as the victory of Bilora’s mad blood over his diplomatic and rational self, and to read Bilora as a type of theatrical warning shot leveled against Venetian aristocrats numbly accustomed to taking everything from the members of their mainland territories.

Beolco would have experienced more targeted violence closer to home in 1532 when the German peasant leader Michael Gaismair was roused by a traitorous friend and assassinated, thanks to a bribe from the Habsburg Archduke Ferdinand. Whereas the peasant rebellion surrounding the Friulan carnival was stamped out quickly and never likely to ascend beyond the control of calculating nobles such as Savorgnan, the co-ordinated peasant rebellions against the Habsburgs’ interests, stretching from 1524 to Gaismair’s death, threatened the stability of the entire region of Tyrol, which itself bordered Venetian landholdings. Beolco’s plays show considerable evidence that he was familiar with Gaismair’s life and tactics as the leader of these rebellions, and though archival evidence has not yet revealed a face-to-face meeting between the two, one might reasonably suspect that Gaismair’s final years spent in exile in Padua would have brought him at least close to Beolco’s circle of friends and acquaintances.4 The death of Gaismair may also have meant the death of Beolco’s more violent revolutionary impulses, such as those glimpsed in Bilora, but by lingering briefly on Gaismair’s history I would like to demonstrate how the proximity of a successful revolution could have reasonably compelled Ruzzante to consider taking up the sword instead of the pen.

Walter Klaassen has cited similar conditions for the Tyrolean peasant revolts as those which exploited and depressed the Friulan and Paduan peasants, including especially extraordinary rents, taxes, and levies demanded of the German tenant farmers and the vexed situation of a diarchic rule where, slowly over time, the Roman law of the Empire overtook the law of the land that had enabled peasant agency in the previous decades (Klaassen 5-6). Spiritual strife too split the devotions of the Tyrolean peasants, most obviously in the form of a rising Protestant dissent against the Catholic Church, whose priests had done little to assuage the anger of the lower classes (10-12). Swayed more by the failings of temporal government than the Protestant spiritual militants, at least at first, Gaismair developed from civil servant to revolutionary as he witnessed the slow erosion of peasant autonomy from his position as secretary for the vice-regent, Leonhard von Vols (12-17). Klaassen’s research suggests that Gaismair secretly built coalitions with members of the peasantry during the years leading up to 1525, all the while watching some of his friends go on trial for defending their liberties against the imposing force of the vice-regent (24). Remaining faithful to the Catholic insistence that faith in God “consisted of exercising justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God,” Gaismair’s secret plans revealed themselves in early May when, after a quick revolt in Brixen that drove out the episcopal leaders, the rebels elected Gaismair, then approximately 35 years old, as their leader. All violence enacted by the rebels over the next year had as its express purpose the defense of civil liberties that Gaismair and the peasants of the land enumerated in The Meran Articles. They sought “nothing less than a new constitution” that enforced the common good as the new law of the land (32-33).

At first, Ferdinand I, then Holy Roman Emperor, willingly negotiated with Gaismair, but this seems to have been a stalling tactic since as soon as he could raise enough money and military support to suppress Gaismair’s peasant forces he turned on both Gaismair and his followers. Concurrent with this change of tune, Gaismair caught wind of Ferdinand’s duplicity and edged more toward radical militancy. Ferdinand had the upper hand at first, able as he was to imprison Gaismair. After approximately two months in prison, however, Gaismair escaped to Switzerland where he hid off and on for a year and prepared his now famous Constitution that called for a complete overthrow of the existing governmental and religious systems (58-61). Needing the support of a larger army and desiring a safe haven for his family, Gaismair rode to Venice in July 1526 and gave his services to the Republic, which all too happily supported the man whose peasant armies could extend the Venetian defensive border and help the League of Cognac fend off the Holy Roman Emperor. This move unfortunately crippled the militant peasant revolts since Venice cared not at all for Gaismair’s revolution and sought only to protect its own interests during a time of great instability. Furthermore, by effectively siding with the Pope, whose armies also fought in the League of Cognac, Gaismair lost respectability at home, and thus he spent his remaining years frustrated and toothless in the Paduan countryside with an annual pension of 300 ducats (69).

While at first glance the comparison between Gaismair, a political revolutionary, and Beolco, a theatrical innovator and frank-talker, may seem faint at best, a more careful appraisal reveals a good number of similarities. Neither man was a peasants by birth but both of them chose to side with the peasants after witnessing the injustices done to them. Once their careers advanced their social positions, both men were elected as official spokespeople: Gaismair as chair of the revolt and Beolco as member of the visinanza, a kind of peasant assembly that Carroll likens to groups in the Tyrol (Carroll, “Nontheistic Paradise” 884). Gaismair and Beolco both took advantage of their proximity to centers of intellectual innovation and used their closeness to educate themselves. The links between Gaismair and Protestant thinkers (from Luther to Zwingli to the Anabaptists) are clear, but prior to those affiliations he seems to have studied the work of Nicolas de Cusa. Likewise, Ruzzante’s access to the University of Padua put him in touch with cutting-edge philosophical curricula, including the radical teachings of Pomponazzi that spoke out against the immortality of the soul, a primary tenet of the Catholic Church. Perhaps most interesting, both men found themselves pulled in two directions from the moment they rose to fame. Gaismair spent years as an official for the state he would eventually accuse of counter-acting the divine right of God, and Beolco spent his days in the circle of Alvise Cornaro who, while friendly and gracious in many respects, required the performer to enact land deals on his behalf, including the purchasing of farmers’ land at low prices when the people couldn’t pay their rents. A key difference here is that while Gaismair took up arms and sided with his moral convictions, Beolco remained trapped between the peasants on whose behalf he spoke and the wealthy patron who provided him with the money he needed to live.

In an essay exploring the warp and weft of this in-betweenness experienced by Beolco because of his relation to Cornaro, I focused on what I called Beolco’s negative theatre practice (Daddario, “What a Joke”). Never amounting to a complete political praxis that would overturn the hierarchical relation with Cornaro, this negative theatre practice expressed itself as a constipated sublation of his own social situation. Images of this constipation spring from particularly unfunny jokes such as one in which a character deprived of food during a period of famine contemplates plugging up his anus in order to keep food inside his gut, and one in which

Beolco, as Ruzzante, contemplates eating himself to death in order to satiate his empty stomach and end his miserable life at the same time.5 Weaving those suggestions into this narrative, I want to add two considerations. First, that, instead of allowing his mad blood to stir him into a full-on revolt against the upper classes in Padua, Beolco’s frustration ended up feeding on his own aesthetic personae. Beolco wrote characters who eat themselves to death and demonstrated the violence enacted on the poor in Padua through grotesque aesthetic expressions so as to force dis-ease upon the people whose wealth could reasonably help to abate the suffering. Second, the vicious cycle of internalizing his discontents, externalizing them as artistic expressions, and then re-eating those discontents while acting as one of his own aesthetic personae leads to a philosophical consideration of Beolco as Ruzzante. Is there anything special to note about an historical person who chose to identify as a fictitious creation of his own making, or is this merely a kind of self-advertising common among working actors at the time?

Though it was not uncommon for actors to assume public recognition as their stage names (as in the case, nearly a century after Beolco/ Ruzzante, for example, of Nicolo Barbieri, known as Beltrame), Beolco was unique insofar as he eventually changed his name legally, thus assuming in life an identity created for the stage (Calendoli 33-34). Thinking of this act not in terms of identity, however, and not in the language of a “mask” but, rather, in terms of a spatial consignment, a la Derrida, this maneuver has fascinating implications; namely, that Ruzzante appears less as a character and more as a specific kind of aesthetic dwelling. Beolco created Ruzzante to house the life experience he acquired during his rise to the forefront of theatrical activity in the Veneto. In effect, Ruzzante became the archive of Beolco’s sense experiences, insofar as he acted as a shelter and dwelling. But recalling Derrida’s attention to the cleavage abiding within each act of taking place known as “archive,” Beolco’s becoming-Ruzzante hints at a critical tension living in the “as” that unites the phrase “Beolco as Ruzzante.” On the one hand, the Ruzzante archive indexes the historical situation in which Paduan peasants found themselves, thereby hinting at the conditions giving birth to Ruzzante, Beolco’s unique brand of theatre, the specificity of his humor, and so forth. On the other hand, the Ruzzante archive reminds us in the present of Beolco’s failure to overcome or betray his middle-class privilege and the protection of Cornaro, and, in this respect, the figure Ruzzante will remain always somewhat unfinished. Despite the legal status attesting otherwise, Beolco never fully became Ruzzante; he would, rather, wrestle with his own internal difference as both the protected artist of the wealthy Cornaro and also spokesperson against the social structures perpetuating the consolidation of wealth in the hands of a few Venetian families. In other words, the historical event I am calling “Beolco as Ruzzante” never ended. It was an ongoing artistic practice instigated by Beolco to consign within one aesthetic body the tensions and perspectives of those he represented.

What is housed in Ruzzante? Certainly one can see suppressed anger, such as in Bilora, but one also sees an index of a philosophical practice devoted to attaining the good life. Abiding alongside his considerations of political revolt, the Ruzzante archive houses elective philosophical affinities. It is not the case that violence and philosophy oppose one another. On the contrary, as Gaismair’s history reveals, philosophical considerations about justice, mercy, and truth gave rise to the peasants’ violent actions against the Habsburg’s interests. Similarly, as explained in Chapter 5, Ruzzante’s Prima and Seconda Oratione show this marriage between philosophical thinking and social upheaval, between parrhesiastic speech and the rough jostling of the status quo. Yet, Ruzzante’s philosophical deliberations did not always rely on the language of violence, even when the setting of his dialogues seems to suggest the impossibility of breaking free of the violence sweeping northern Italy in the sixteenth century. Once viewed as distinct from violence, the philosophy housed in Ruzzante appears as an intellectual craftiness.

I am thinking here of the dialogue titled Parlamento de Ruzante che iera vegnu de campo (Dialogue of Ruzzante, returned from war), known as the Reduce (Veteran), which Beolco composed between 1509 and 1517. In it, Beolco (as Ruzzante) and Menato engage in a conversation about the former’s recent stint as a conscripted soldier in the Venetian army. When Menato sees Ruzzante for the first time he does not recognize him on account of the pallid complexion his compare (comrade, best friend) acquired through his harrowing moments spent on the battlefield. Ruzzante explains the cause of his appearance with the following line:

Compare, it’s these metal helmets that make these ugly complexions. They weigh a ton and they pull down the flesh. And then, with only the sea to drink, the worst food to eat [... ]. If you had only been where I have been! (Ruzante, Teatro 520)6

The phrase “If you had only been where I have been” functions as a refrain throughout the entire dialogue to express the inexpressibly miserable conditions of life on the front lines. It follows images of lice-infested bread, the loss of limbs, and soldiers robbing valuable objects from the dead bodies of fallen comrades.7

The comedic highlight of the dialogue comes when Ruzzante describes his tactics for avoiding violence and combat on the battlefield. His uniform in the Venetian army featured a tunic adorned with a red cross. The enemy, the Spanish-Imperial army, wore tunics bearing white crosses. In order to survive the violent terrain of close and incessant combat at the war’s front lines, Ruzzante fashioned a twosided cross with one side painted red and the other white (“la mia crose giera da un lo rossa e da l’altro bianca”). Able to switch the cross when the situation required it, Ruzzante could disguise himself as either a Venetian or a Spanish soldier. Proud of his maneuvering, Ruzzante titled himself “crafty” (a’ son fato scaltrio), and when asked by Menato why he would act in such a cowardly manner he replied, “Perche un solo non po far niente contra tanti” (“Because one person can do nothing against many”) (526). Faced with a no-win situation, Ruzzante manipulated his visibility in the enemy’s field of sight. By altering his uniform, he changed the win-lose dynamic of the war into a sheer game of survival in which all men on the field became potential camouflage.

Following Michel de Certeau’s extrapolation from Carl von Clausewitz’s treatise On War, Ruzzante’s antics at the front resemble the art of “pulling tricks,” which “involves a sense of the opportunities afforded by a particular occasion” (de Certeau, Everyday Life 37). Crafty, tricky, opportunistic: these are the main adjectives that describe Ruzzante’s tactics and perhaps even his broader philosophy, one that acknowledges the primary role of visibility and appearance in daily encounters. His is a necessary trickery practiced by the weak in a world where the wars one is obliged to fight have no immediate benefits for the fighter. Eventually, though, Ruzzante’s battle wisdom leads him to abandon his craftiness and simply to run away. He flees from the soldiers without having won for himself any spoils or having acquired any rugged scars, a fact that does not impress his friends upon returning home. Instead of merely a pusillanimous act, however, I argue that Ruzzante’s running away is indicative of his more general disdain of violent means used to achieve political ends.

Without his craftiness and his running away, there would be no dialogue at all. In this sense, the Reduce is constituted by Ruzzante’s craftiness, not just as a writer or stage actor but also as human being in the world capable of navigating the exigencies placed upon him by the Venetian powers. Moreover, it is possible to elevate this craftiness from personal perspicacity to practical philosophy by uniting this dialogue with Linda Carroll’s assessment of Ruzzante’s intellectual heritage. In two essays,8 Carroll elaborates on the influences that the writings of More and Erasmus had on the Paduan. She illustrates how the Reduce, for example, greatly resembles Erasmus’s Militia confessio in form and content. By utilizing the Dutch writer’s rhetorical strategies, Beolco, as Ruzzante, is able to decry the follies of war and to mock his own complicit behavior as land transactor for both Church authorities and his patron. This latter reference appears in a scene from the Reduce in which the performer subtly likens buying land from poor peasants to the stealing of clothing from dead soldiers’ bodies (“Early Adaptations” 31). Echoing my own findings, Carroll goes on to state that, “the playwright’s own earning of money from the administration of church properties created a strong conflict between his reformist desires and the need to survive” (“Nontheistic Paradise” 890). Her point and mine, though, is that Ruzzante’s survival strategy relied not only on his various modes of employment but also on the philosophical advice he culled from the works of the foremost European humanists.

Beolco did more than parrot the philosophical phrases and literary styles of More and Erasmus. As Carroll’s findings show, he clearly adapted their philosophies to his specific situation, thereby assembling an ethical guidebook to help him navigate the social terrain in which he found himself:

From Erasmus, Beolco adopts a satirical attitude that destroys all presuppositions, thus preparing the way for a new construction. From More, Beolco draws an Epicureo-Stoic philosophy, though inverting it to serve his own purposes. That is, while More proposes that what is reasonable gives pleasure and that therefore one can change people’s behavior through laws appealing to reason, Beolco argues that what is pleasurable is reasonable and that therefore when people are happy they behave well. (882-883)

When one tallies up the many references, both clear and oblique, that Beolco makes to More, Erasmus, and Pomponazzi, the overall tone of his

bricoleur philosophical handbook is easy to read. Beolco’s own worldview put him in direct contact with multiple millenarian social programs active in the Veneto at that time (883-884). To navigate his way to the good life, it seems that Beolco avoided not only the violent paths but also all spiritual paths in favor of a more materialist route. Carroll goes so far as to call his philosophy “nontheism,” which denotes “both the absence of belief and indifference to God’s existence, [a stance] of more importance to the Renaissance than overt denial of the deity [i.e. atheism]” (895).

Coupling this information with the ideas developed earlier in Chapters 3 and 4, the philosophy of Beolco, as Ruzzante, reveals specific tenets. First, the pathway to salvation laid out by spiritual guides led nowhere. Instead, the truth of the world lies in the power of the natural. Second, the “natural” had both a positive and a negative power. While it created the bounties of the Paduan farmlands, it also took those bounties away. The ineptitude and malfeasance of Venetian rulers may have exacerbated the famines of Beolco’s day, but Nature itself precipitated the perils. Third, in order to act in accordance with the beneficent powers of Nature, individuals had to observe their surroundings carefully and devise practical lessons from the world around them. The phrase “if you had only been where I have been” emphasizes this belief in observation. By sharing what he saw on the battlefield with his compare, Ruzzante could help his friend construct knowledge about how to avoid a similar situation in the future. Fourth, and here Ruzzante shows his allegiance to Thomas More, careful observations of Nature leading to the creation of a properly materialist philosophy would, in turn, lead to the realization of a utopia on Earth. While Beolco seems likely to have followed suit with Pomponazzi’s belief in the finitude of the soul, thus ruling out the promise of life eternal in the paradise of heaven, he nevertheless grasped at the hope of a natural utopia like that outlined in More’s work, Gaismair’s Constitution, and other free-spirit manifestos of the time. Carroll goes as far as to suggest that all of these tenets, which one finds again in the more mature atheism flowering in Europe in the seventeenth century, marks Beolco as a materialist philosopher ahead of his time (895). Other scholars have notes that Galileo himself, for whom the observation of the senses was key to thinking outside the epistemic boundaries of the day, drew from Ruzzante’s dialogues and may even have been among the first to own a collected volume of his plays.9

This historical figure of Beolo as Ruzzante ultimately points to an intriguing confluence of tensions. On the first level, these tensions show themselves in the life performance of Beolco’s becoming-Ruzzante, which tells the story of an individual who cultivates a theatrical mode of addressing social injustices so compelling that he himself adopts a theatrical identity of his own devising. This flight of fancy, however, one that would seem to detach Beolco from the realities of his day and deposit him in a fictional universe of comedic plays, culminates in a highly disciplined life-practice of dramatic writing and social performance, the aim of which was to show the harsh realities of peasant life to all who were ignorant of those realities. On a second level, the tensions aired out in the performance of becoming-Ruzzante themselves house a productive antagonism between violent and philosophical revolutionary impulses. Aware of the leniency shown to the stirring of mad blood and awake to the ground covered by Gaismair’s organized peasant revolts, Beolco could reasonably have contemplated the potential of armed insurrection against the nobles and Church officials responsible for the sorrows of so many in the Veneto. Turning away from the road leading to such insurrection, however, the Paduan playwright seems to have adopted and adapted the philosophical stances of contemporary humanist thinkers. These philosophies promised at least the vision of utopia, but demanded a relinquishing of the institutionalized spiritual means for attaining utopian ends. Frustrated by the hardships of working for utopia, Beolco, as Ruzzante, frequently played out an aesthetic violence against himself and his fellow dramatic characters, thereby bringing him face-to-face again with the violence that his philosophy sought to avoid. Thinking of these various tensions under the banner of a diarchic self or a self housing competing systems of rule, one attempting a clear breakaway from administered life and one attempting a perpetual internal revolt, helps to add detail to the struggle of internal difference that I understand as crucial to baroque identity formation.

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