Ruzante speaks truth to venetian power: some hows, whys, whens, and wherefores.
And we don't have a law on our side, and no one who speaks for us or who has ever been one of us. I hear talk about the law of Datus, the law of Bartolus, the law of Digestion and talk like that; I never hear no one say Nick's law or Nale's law or Duozo's law. All these laws are for the city people. And if you will call on us, we will make our own laws [...]. (2)
Parlamento de Ruzante (Primo dialogo; Reduce)
Ruzante: [...] me, I was at the rear as a squadron leader, as a lance-corporal, and when they started to flee, it was incumbent on me as a gentleman to flee as well. (3)
Ruzante: Now Sir Bortholomew who was such a show-off in Vicenza, didn't he throw himself in the water to flee and, as it happened, the others were drowning and he ran to Padua to hole up?
Bilora (Secondo dialogo)
Bilora: Oh, let the pox eat you, you broken-down old man. [...] Give me my woman now. You should have let her be. Whoah, wait, I think he's dead, I do. He's not kicking his foot or his leg. [...] Oh, my God, good night! He's crapped his grapestalks, he has. I told you so, didn't I? (4)
Angelo Beolco, as the illegitimate (natural) offspring of a branch of an upperclass Milanese family transferred to the Venetian Republic and an anonymous lower-class mother, occupied the nether world between those two distant classes. From the time that Angelo's grandfather Lazaro de Beolco arrived in Padua and Venice, probably around 1460, to the end of the fifteenth century, the family enjoyed great wealth based on international commerce developed by its patriarch in Milan, Lazaro's elder brother Zuan. That wealth made Zuan one of the most important financiers to the Sforza and thus one of the most powerful men in Milan. During the period, the Beolco also provided much-needed financial assistance to Venetian patrician families with whom they conducted business, families whose commercial galley traffic to northern Europe was beset by serious and prolonged problems. By the final years of the fifteenth century, the extent of the loans made to the Sforza had severely depleted Beolco family finances, which could not be replenished because of the decline in the trade on which they were based. It was at this time that Zuan Francesco Beolco, the elder of Lazaro's legitimate sons and destined to a career within the university, fathered Angelo, probably with a domestic servant from a recently-urbanized village family. According to current archival research, Angelo's mother, released from service to the family, may have continued to live nearby.
By the time of Angelo's birth, the options available to illegitimate sons in the Venetian Republic were becoming severely restricted, largely to preserve the patrimony by reducing the number of heirs but justified with a stricter moral stance. Thus Angelo no longer had available to him the civic offices that his illegitimate uncle was able to hold just a generation before, ones that would have given him a civic profile enabling him to earn the kind of living that his uncle could despite not receiving a share of the patrimony. Angelo instead turned to the world of performance, perhaps even before the wars of the League of Cambrai and beginning in Pernumia, Reoso, or Motta di Montagnana, where both the Beolco and many of the patrician families later inviting him to Venice to perform had agricultural property. From this property the patricians planned to produce foodstuffs both for personal consumption and to sell to replace income lost with the decline in commerce. His plays center on peasant life in the Paduan countryside, explicating the good and bad conditions that peasants faced with a depth of knowledge and an empathy not found in other contemporary authors.
From 1520 to 1526, Angelo is recorded by Venetian patrician diarist Marin Sanudo as performing in Venice at the invitation of the patrician festive societies known as compagnie della calza or of one or more patrician families. During these years as well, patricians tried to restart the interrupted maritime trade with northern Europe on which their fabulous fortunes had been based. That trade by then required the cooperation of the new emperor Charles V, who after his election in 1519 controlled almost the entire litoral of the galleys' route and who was not pleased with Venice for its long-term affiliations with his greatest enemies, France and the Turkish Porte. That they invited Beolco to perform publicly for the first time within months of Charles's election and for the last time months before Venice's public announcement of adherence to the Frenchled League of Cognac does not seem coincidental, especially given the connections to the empire of Beolco's family members, of members of his Paduan noble acting circle, and of the circle of Alvise Cornaro his patron.
In sum, out of an identification with the peasants' condition, one that was close to that of his mother's family, Angelo Beolco created a peasant character who affirmed the peasants' value and protested the control over their lives by others with more social power, those same others who were inviting Beolco to perform and who sat in his audiences. He was given special leeway to call his Venetian audiences' attention to their exploitative treatment by their awareness that his Milanese family had sustained their power and by their need of the peasants both for agricultural expertise to extract profit from their new endeavors and as defense forces to retain their state. Perhaps the patricians inviting him to perform also wanted to signal to the emperor that they were willing, through Beolco's affiliates, to find a modus vivendi with him; and, perhaps, the new, overweaning power of the emperor in their lives left them identifying with the subjugated condition of the peasants. However, Venice's definitive declaration of French partisanship through the League of Cognac corresponded to an immediate and complete truncation of his performances in the city. His accusations of Venetian inequity and cowardice quoted above come in works written after this exclusion. (5)
Over the latter fifteenth century and with increasing speed, population growth reversed the dearth caused by the waves of plague that had struck Italy in the preceding hundred years, as well as the unusually favorable situation that depletion had caused for the survivors. Many more people meant more competition for resources, accelerating the hierarchicalization of society then underway. The trend was compounded in the last few decades of the fifteenth century and the first few of the sixteenth century both by the damage inflicted on Italian states by Turkish aggression, especially on Venice with its maritime empire extending east, and by the three decades of wars among the nation-states --France, Spain, and the Holy Roman Empire with the latter two uniting under Charles V--for control of the Italian peninsula. At first disrupting authority systems, in part by forcing recognition of the importance of peasants to defense and provisioning, the wars ultimately buttressed hierarchical political authority through Charles's victory over the Church and virtually all secular governments except Venice's, which he nonetheless hemmed in. In the cultural sphere, the spread of humanism and Petrarchism provided new, and thus in some senses liberating, but also imitative, and therefore stultifying, paradigms. For the first three decades of the sixteenth century and with continuing echoes beyond, this co-existence of cultural and political forces setting new freedoms and recognition of basic human rights against a vertical organization concentrating authority and resources in a minute group created volcanic pressures. In some individuals particularly subject or sensitive to them, the pressures erupted into new paradigms, often destroying old ones. Chief among these individuals was Angelo Beolco. (6)
The key to Beolco's extraordinary confidence in so audaciously addressing his powerful patrician hosts has remained neglected since the documents containing it were discovered by Emilio Lovarini in 1899. The neglect stems in part from difficulty in tracing the documents caused by the reorganization of Padua's archives and in part from the efficacy of Beolco's own rustic creation. A clearer delineation of the playwright's situation is now made possible by their rediscovery and augmentation with new material from Venetian family archives, which also allows a greater understanding of information gleaned by Paolo Sambin and Emilio Menegazzo. (7)
Belonging to the upper echelon of Milanese society and with roots in the scholarly apparatus in Beolco, Prima oratione, especially the bibliography. The present work is based on the entire web of that research; considerations of space have resulted in only the most relevant sources being cited individually here. imperial feudal system, the Beolco family was headed in the latter fifteenth century by the wealthy and powerful Zuan de Beolco, a principal financier to the Sforza. (8) His younger brother Lazaro served as the family's agent in the Venetian dominions, expanding their merchant endeavors along the Po after the 1454 Peace of Lodi. In Venice Lazaro developed intense enough relations with the business community that he moved there permanently, leaving his sons in Padua. However, Lazaro died in late 1483 or early 1484. His elder legitimate son Zuan Francesco having been destined to a university medical career, Lazaro's role devolved upon the younger legitimate son, Zuan Jacopo, who moved to Venice.
Being under the legal majority of twenty-five, Zuan Jacopo was assisted by a trusted fattore and by his illegitimate half-brother Melchiorre. Events soon tested his talents. In 1485, the cargo of Venice's Flanders galleys--the convoy taking lucrative luxury goods to northern Europe that provided the capital for Venetian banks and much patrician wealth--was seized in France. The leading investors--the Foscari but also the Agostini, Bernardo, Capelo, Contarini, Grimani, Gritti, Lipomano, Loredan, Michiel, Pesaro, Pisani, Soranzo, Trevisan, and Venier--turned to Zuan de Beolco for infusions of capital, probably to pay the crews and release the cargo. (9) Not only did he supply it himself, but the sudden appearance in the lists of backers--previously limited to Venetian patricians and a few faithful Venetian cittadini or subjects--of clearly Lombard and Savoiard names hints that he recruited others as well. Additional assistance was provided in 1490 by Lazaro's in-laws, Antonio and Gratiosa da Pernumia, who purchased a large rural holding from the galley investor Antonio Giustinian. The purchase seems to have met the needs of both parties, as the da Pernumia were building up their holdings in their home village and Giustinian received an infusion of cash to offset his losses. When Gratiosa later bought her brother's half, her funds were routed from the bank of Zuan de Beolco (women's legal actions were handled by male agents) through the Garzoni bank in Venice, which the family used on other occasions. (10) Later, during the French campaign for Milan, Zuan de Beolco handled some of Ludovico Sforza's financial transactions with the Venetian government.
Family loyalties were tested in the early sixteenth century when, after Venice's defeat by the League of Cambrai in 1509, Zuan Jacopo and Melchiorre joined other feudatories in returning Padua to imperial rule while Zuan Francesco, already prominent at the Universita di Padova, remained faithful to the Serenissima and even held university office during the war. However, he too may have harbored divided financial loyalties as evidenced in his renewal of the commercial society with the Milanese branch of the family in August of 1513, two months after Louis XII, ignominiously defeated at the hands of Massimiliano Sforza, had left Italy. A second renewal came in 1523, in the midst of the period in which Angelo was regularly invited to perform in Venice (1520 to 1526, with possibly some earlier dates) and shortly before Venice succumbed to pressure from the emperor and the pope to join their alliance.
Obstacles to all three of the western galley routes (to Alexandria, to the Barbary coast, and to Flanders) increased in the postwar years. The Alexandria and Barbary galleys were threatened by the recently achieved Turkish dominion over the eastern Mediterranean shore through north Africa. The Flanders galleys had barely resumed their commerce after the eight-year suspension of the war when, in 1519, Charles was elected Holy Roman Emperor and assumed control or important influence over much of the litoral of both rounds. The leading patricians invested in these routes (there were others to eastern Mediterranean ports and to France) understood that this choice of emperor required them to moderate their support for Francis I over Charles. The moderation resulted in a formal alliance with Charles and Adrian VI in 1523 under Doge Andrea Gritti, whose ardent public pro-French stance was belied by private acknowledgment of the need to make accommodations to the emperor.
Angelo's personal situation too was fraught with difficulties. The eldest and an illegitimate or natural son, he was born about 1494, his mother probably a servant of a recently urbanized family of peasant origin. (11) His birth was almost immediately followed by his father's marriage and the production of legitimate children. The disadvantages of illegitimacy were increasing at this time. Melchiorre, though excluded from a share in the patrimony and unable to attend the university, had been elected to civic office and held other responsible positions; by his nephew's time, these too were barred to illegitimates. As I have long argued, Angelo's status as a natural son was an important source of his emphasis on "nature" and "natural," combined with chosen elements of philosophy (Stoic, especially Aristotelian, of which the Universita di Padova was a leader, as well as Epicurean), a view accepted by other scholars. (12)
Angelo's pursuit of a theatrical career offered other financial options: the short-term one of payment for individual performances and the long-term one of patronage. While it is unknown exactly when his career began, its nucleus likely formed before the Cambrai wars and developed during them, when the closure of the university and the confinement caused by the many battles around Padua provided time and incentive for entertainment. Several of the works show signs of having had early versions or segments written in that period. By the time of his first datable complete work, the Pastoral of about 1517, Beolco was a fully mature writer and actor. His audience soon extended to Venice, understandably so given his family's deep connections to the patriciate. The rolls of the compagnie della calza inviting him--the Immortali, the Ortolani, the Zardinieri, and the Triumphanti--display congruence with a list of the investors in the Flanders and Alexandria galleys: Foscari, Agostini, Bernardo, Capelo, Contarini, Grimani, Gritti, Lipomano, Loredan, Michiel, Pesaro, Pisani, Soranzo, Trevisan, and Venier. Other points of contact were the Universita di Padova, the only university at which Venetians were permitted to study, and property in Pernumia or Montagnana, where many of the same patrician families and the Beolco had holdings. These contacts, together with the connections of his incipient patron Alvise Cornaro, resulted in invitations by members of these families or the compagnie della calza to which they belonged to perform in Venice at Carnival and on a few other special occasions there and elsewhere. (13) Named by diarist Marin Sanudo (Marino Sanuto) from 1520 to 1526, Beolco may have begun performing in Venice in 1518 or earlier; stagings occurred on the mainland as well, for locals and for patricians who were there for governance, business, or pleasure.
Truth-telling in Beolco's Plays
In his works, Angelo pushed back against exclusion by emphasizing the equality of all human beings, which is based on their common nature and which provides a guide to ethical and efficacious conduct. (14) While serving his interests and those of the rural and working classes, Beolco's philosophy also served various ones of patricians. The patriciate was then stratifying into the very wealthy and everyone else, while inclusion in it was being challenged by multiplying and rigorously applied filters that resulted in the exclusion even of the children of the naval hero Vincenzo Capello. (15) The patricians devalued in these processes could find comfort in his assertion of equality. In the political sphere, the connections to the empire of his family, of many members of his supporters' and of his circles, and likely of himself meant that his performances gave a public signal of positive interest in the empire for those Venetian patricians wishing to give such a signal without personal involvement.
Beolco's effort, which begins with his creation of the maschera of Ruzante and his choice of Paduan rural dialect, is clearly stated already in the Pastoral, which probably attracted the attention of Venetian patricians in Padua. (16) Shortly thereafter he was invited to give a comic correlate to the tedious formal speeches celebrating the new bishop of Padua Cardinal Marco Cornaro, perhaps at Cornaro's incognito 1518 appearance and certainly at his formal 1521 entrance. Beolco's oration--the most confident, joyful, and thorough presentation of his literary and social program of the value of all living beings--provides the largest number of his direct efforts to bring the behavior of his audience into line with this program through an unvarnished characterization of their current behavioral defects. Beolco begins with the assumption that on some level, even an inchoate one, his patrician audience has accepted universal human value and only needs his articulation of it and its logical consequences to conform their actions to it. In choosing Paduan rural dialect, Beolco acts on the patrician audience's knowledge of it through frequent contact with their peasant leaseholders, servants, and others. Ruzante's announcement that his village council, the visinanza composed of all male heads of families, has elected him as their spokesman puts the peasant community on the same level as the patricians, who govern themselves through their own councils that also elect ambassadors. He is to bring the visinanza's recommendations for new laws favorable to them to Cornaro, empowered by his authority as bishop to implement them throughout the extensive diocese (cfr. Favaretto).
Having established his membership in the peasants' community, Ruzante demonstrates his membership in the patricians' community through his easy intimacy with them, as well as their participation in a common humanity. He cites the cardinal's passage through the birth canal, which also provides the first access to women's genitals with their erotic function that sets in motion the new cycle of reproduction:
Now, the thing that is on the other side, on the front side, between their legs, a little higher, that thinking about it my heart melts and for rebellence of your Spectability, because after all you are a priest, I don't want to name but I am saying what my heart tugs me to say, don't you well know? That thing that even you kissed, when you came into the world--let's leave it alone, because it isn't very safe to talk about it, because even men can go all ropey, like horses do. (17)
What Beolco, Cornaro, and likely much of the audience also knew was that Cornaro was (in)famous for his association with prostitutes. Thus the proclamation of modesty about the topic exemplifies what Salvatore Di Maria has termed "blame-by-praise irony." (18) Ruzante/Beolco then works against the violent domination that is the enemy of commonality by demolishing other orators' praise associating Cornaro with the mercenary soldiers who had devastated the countryside:
On my faith, they gave you a nice bit of praise. Now, there is no worse breed than the Romagnolers. Now aren't they Eezy-beezies or Politans from Robbing? There is very little difference between them and the Spanish. Now haven't they proved that in these wars and shitermishes and routs? There never was a Romagnoler who had either faith or law. Now aren't they all blasphemers when you get down to it? Do they treat God and the saints as if they had carved them with a bowie knife? Do they stab them, the pox on it, as if they were stabbing a willow? Cups and florins! Does it seem to you now that they have given you a nice bit of praise? I tell you now, I who am no sliterato like they are, that you are from the Venetian isles, a Venetian of the good kind and of the most important. (88-89) (19)
In the identification of the bishop with (peaceful) Venice, blame-by-praise irony is again at work: Venice's mercenaries caused as much damage to Paduan peasants as the enemy, if not more. Beolco's rejection of others' praise of "bad" characteristics and substitution of it with his praise for characteristics congruent with his program continues in his mockery of other orators' statements that Cornaro is a "big" (great) man (shortness of stature characterized the family). He praises instead Cornaro's greatness of heart that will allow him to identify with the peasants, assuring Cornaro (again ironically) that he, the bishop, is not one of those nasty folks who want to dominate others and use that power to appropriate special privileges. (20)
Beolco then leverages Cornaro's established common humanity to recommend his implementation of the peasant council's laws allowing them pleasures similar to Cornaro's own, such as hunting on Sunday. He next points out to Cornaro the burdens inflicted on peasants by the priests' fragility of the flesh, which results in their producing children with peasant women that the peasant husbands are then obligated to support. He proposes either commonality (that priests be allowed to marry so that their wives will bear peasant men's children) or castration. Examples of ecclesiastics known to the audience for succumbing to the attractions of the flesh include Pietro Bembo, with relatives in the Ortolani and the Triumphanti, and Agostino Barbo, with a relative in the Triumphanti.
Egalitarianism is next applied to the enmity between city folk and country folk engendered by the greater privileges of the former (cfr. Favaretto). Ruzante/Beolco proposes as a counter-measure to give both country men and country women the special privilege of four spouses, so attractive that it will draw masses of city folk to the country. By also increasing the birthrate, given that multiple partners will solve the problem that some men are incapable of impregnating some women, the new norm adds the advantage that there will be more local forces to prevent the anal rape of "us" by the Turks, anal rape being the ultimate symbol of dominance--a dominance that the Turks had recently achieved through their many naval victories over Venetian forces (headed by hosts of Ruzante, including Antonio Grimani) and their raids on Italian soil. (21) To clinch his advice, he buffets the bishop just as bishops buffet confirmands at the end of the sacrament that initiates Catholic adulthood, asserting to Cornaro that without the peasants he is nothing, a declaration that, given the proportion of peasant agricultural rents in the income of the Paduan diocese, was not far off the mark. (22) Alvise Cornaro would later become the administrator of these rents and was likely already expressing interest in the office.
Lengthy and much rewritten over the second and third decades of the century, Betia is prefaced by two prologues, one for performances in Venice, one of which is likely to have occurred in 1525, and the other for performances in the Paduan countryside. The Venetian prologue expresses various of Beolco's concerns about the privileges with which his hosts have endowed their city and that have come, it is implied, at the expense of the peasants.
Where is there another town where nothing is born and yet where anything can be found; even if you were called on to use crane's milk by a doctor such as Guoiene da Ropegara, which cannot be found anywhere in the world, you would find it here in Venice. (23)
Hidden beneath the marvel at the rare goods available in a city where nothing is born is criticism not only of the medical quackery indulged in by the rich, but of Venice's requirement that all goods going to and from the mainland pass through its port and pay customs duties, thus taxing the mainland while robbing it of commerce. Ruzante goes on to express gratitude for being born an Italian rather than a German or a Frenchman and under the Venetian state and not another. Here again, the apparently ingenuous praise reveals the threat of conquest of the peninsula and the end of Venetian autonomy, which a growing patriotic unity movement opposed under the byword "Italian." (24) The restriction of "others" to Germans and French rather than also Spanish would appear to be a relic of a draft dating to before the unification of the German and Spanish lines by Charles V, or of a draft made when the imperial ambassador to Venice, who would be likely to attend the performance, was Spanish (often the case after Charles's election).
Bazarelo justifies the characters' concentration on love thus:
[...] because I'll tell you / the entire truth / because love is God and Lord / and because at every moment / he carries a bow and arrow / and all of the arguments / and he will pierce your brain with them / [...] because a great literary man / the greatest on the Pavan / taught this to me / and he had studied it. (25)
Again, the apparently innocuous surface conceals an urgent, practical critique: while foreigners menace, the greatest literary man in the Paduan countryside, conventionally assumed to be the Venetian patrician Pietro Bembo, turns his attention to the frivolous topic of Cupid. While scholarly discussion of the passage usually focuses on the "greatest" (maor) and the assumption that it refers to Bembo's large demere, the critique's emphasis instead, I believe, is on the subjugation of the learned mind to frivolous love, the Phyllis-and-Aristotle topos common in the Middle Ages. Bembo, instead of dedicating his efforts to duty in a time of need, fritters away his time in his villa with artful conversations about unrequited love. And indeed, such self-deluding ignorance was displayed by a group of patricians during the war of the League of Cambrai when they attempted to tour the countryside reciting a pastoral as they had in peacetime until fears of skirmishing soldiers ended the idyll (Padua, Biblioteca del Seminario, Sezione Antica, ms. 568, 69r-v.). By contrast, the hired foreign condottiero Bartolomeo d'Alviano, who died in 1515 shortly after his victory at Marignano had salvaged his reputation from the disastrous defeat at La Motta of the preceding year, has gone to heaven because of his loyalty to Venice, saving the devils from his presence in the fiery place and their terror that he would treat them as he had the peasants.
Still conveying the playful spirit of the brief respite from war, the Lettera giocosa (c. 1524) continues the Prima oratione's emphasis on fertility. Here Ruzante vaunts his ability, through skillful tending, to bring forth abundant fruit from the "farm" of his lady love (morosa), whose chamber he has frequented (Carroll, "'I have a good set of tools'"). Continuing to flaunt intimacy with patricians, this short piece, in its assumption of the better ability of some rough peasant men to succeed in impregnating the women of the upper class, silently proclaims the biological fusing of upper and lower classes and the raising of a peasant man's child to the patriciate, as well as the fecklessness of some patrician men.
The final three plays that articulate egalitarian values in an overt way (Seconda oratione, Parlamento de Ruzante and Bilora) were all staged outside of Venice. There is no evidence that Beolco returned to Venice after his performance at a scandalous festivity in which the captured Francis I was mocked with a mutilated rooster, shortly before Venice publicly abandoned the empire for France in the League of Cognac (1526). By then a confirmed member of Alvise Cornaro's artistic household, Beolco continued his performances with groups that he organized in Padua, in rural locations, and in Ferrara.
Several years of bad weather preceding the Seconda oratione (1528) having spread famine through the countryside, Beolco took advantage of the celebration of the cardinalate of Francesco Cornaro, brother of Marco, to plead with him to help the peasants dying of hunger. Francesco had been among the cardinals created for a high price by Clement VII to procure money for his ransom after his capture by imperial troops in the 1527 Sack of Rome. Though Francesco had been reluctant to accept, he was required to do so by his brother's death several years before, his own unmarried status, and the family's insistence on having a cardinal as an essential actor in acquiring the favor in Rome that would result in the lucrative benefices with which the income lost from commerce was increasingly being substituted (cfr. Hallman). These circumstances reveal the ironic contradiction of Ruzante's proclamation to him that "what is given by nature" must be, even if it is water freezing in August, and explain the reference to his bachelor state and to the Church as his bride (Beolco, Seconda oratione, 203r; cfr. RT, 1208-13). The comic honorific "Paternite de vu" is here lacking in the playful s-prefix sported in the earlier oration ("la vostra Spaternite"), indicating its use in full literal meaning: Francesco had several notorious illegitimate sons active in Padua.
Moving to the substance of his appeal on behalf of the peasants, Beolco becomes more aggressive, his earlier advice about treating the peasants properly not having been heeded and the situation having deteriorated substantially. He abjures Cornaro to do so now to keep the peasants in the Roman church, adding that if he does so, Peter and Paul will no longer fear losing their heads. The threat expressed is not subtle: Peter and Paul had been made to "lose their heads" by the largely Lutheran Austrian-German peasant soldiers sacking Rome the year before when they played soccer with relics claimed to be the skulls of those saints. The soldiers' fury had been set in motion during the 1525 peasant revolt against the greed of the Alpine cardinal bishops (Carroll, "A NewlyDiscovered Charles V," 47-48). It gathered speed when, recruited by Charles to fight Venice and the other Italian states allied with France and the papacy in the League of Cognac, the soldiers were left without direction or pay.
Again employing a strategy of intimacy, Ruzante first declares Cardinal Cornaro to be his brother, then gives him several pieces of advice to solve both the cardinal's and the peasants' problems. After each, he buffets Francesco with a remark about its smell that typically accompanies a punch in the nose.
And we don't have a law on our side, and no one who speaks for us or who has ever been one of us. I hear talk about the law of Datus, the law of Bartolus, the law of Digestion and talk like that; I never hear no one say Nick's law or Nale's law or Duozo's law. All these laws are for the city people. And if you will call on us, we will make our own laws. And if you make a single law, we will all govern ourselves according to it because I know that you will make it right and just and equal. And that will be great: if you do that, it will be the best way to keep the world in peace that could ever be found because you know that many men are killed because of conflicts and love is lost through them too, for goodness sake. And two. And this one doesn't smell rancid either.
Mister Jesus God said to our father Adam, and to all of us who have come after him, "By the sweat of your brow shall you eat your bread." Now it seems to me that now things are going in a different direction, that we who sweat never have anything and those who don't sweat are eating. Oh, let's let it go, since the pox wants it that way: we sweat but we can never get enough and so it is necessary, if we want to live, for us to always be turning to usury. And because usurious lending is a great sin, you can only find a few who practice it and those few, because it is a great sin, want to make big earnings. And we, because we can't make do with less, we harvest those little jujubes and crabapples and are ruined even though we have done nothing wrong. And therefore, I would like, for the good of all men, that whoever had some could lend at interest at an honest rate and not an excessive one and that usury would not be a sin, but meritorious, to help the poor folks. Because once everyone could lend at interest, we would always find someone to do so and we would not get such big crabapples. Because you know that hunger makes people do terrible things. People are doing a lot of bad things now because they can't find anyone to give them bread and if they could, they wouldn't do those things. And this one won't muck up the world either. (26)
The recommendation of providing the peasants with the law that they now lack and that, being one and equal for all, will bring peace again enfolds the threat of peasant violence if such a law is not forthcoming. The citation of the Biblical injunction to eat by the sweat of one's brow, coupled with the reference to the famine killing the peasants who grow food but have nothing to eat, aims at the conscience of patricians who not only do not work to produce food but who as members of governing councils require the appropriation of the food grown by the peasants for consumption in Venice to prevent food riots there. The following plea to avoid usury embodies Beolco's solicitation of fairness toward the peasants, bolstered by basic religious norms that the new cardinal is supposed to uphold. It would have reminded locals of the Monte di Pieta, founded by the reforming bishop Pietro Barozzi, that was then languishing (cfr. Gios). It is also spoken from an agonized heart, as Beolco himself served as witness to the deeds by which his wealthy patron Alvise Cornaro and others, including the religious reformer Gaspare Contarini, acquired leases from peasant holders in debt because poor harvests had not yielded sufficient crops for them to pay their portion to the owner. The owners, in turn, required the peasants to pay by relinquishing the value of the leasehold and any improvements (such as buildings, fences, etc.) they had made.
Possibly originally dating to 1513-1514, and rewritten around 1529 when similar disastrous war conditions returned, the Parlamento de Ruzante (also known as Reduce or Veteran and as Primo dialogo) bitterly evokes the craven reaction of the Venetian army and its condottieri and patrician proveditori (civilian overseers) in both wars. The latter in 1509 had included Zorzi Cornaro, father of Marco and Francesco, who had left the field the day before the crucial battle. Ruzante's claim at the play's opening, that he made it from Cremona (the battle front) to Venice in three days, has been dismissed by some as hyperbolic. However, the route he describes in fact tracks the course of Venetian couriers bringing news of Agnadello in less than a day, though on horseback, and then of the Venetian forces as they fled "like whores and women" to the edge of the lagoon. (27) Ruzante does not flinch from citing this cowardice in the army's leaders right up to the capitano generale Bartolomeo d'Alviano, whose residence in Pra' da la Valle near the Beolco home made him well known to the playwright:
[...] me, I was at the rear as a squadron leader, as a lance-corporal, and when they started to flee, it was incumbent on me as a gentleman to flee as well [...]
Now Sir Bortholomew who was such a show-off in Vicenza, didn't he throw himself in the water to flee and, as it happened, the others were drowning and he ran to Padua to hole up? (28)
Alviano's reckless impulsivity at La Motta is emphasized here, in contrast to the more charitable characterization of the Betia, a critique made safe by his death and the long failure of the Republic to recognize him. One suspects, however, that if Emilio Menegazzo was correct in his hypothesis that Beolco joined Venetian forces in 1526, Angelo's real targets may have been closer to hand, as implied by the arrogant treatment of peasant foot soldiers by the French field commanders and the top officers' safe location at the back of the battlefield, details that, again, accurately report the facts. (29) Beolco may have even been criticizing his own failure to remain faithful to his imperial leanings.
Bilora, Beolco's final and most extreme flare of truth-telling--and one that he displaced onto Girolamo Castegnola / Bilora, the character played by the actor in his theatrical company who would later marry Beolco's widow--sums up his entire social program and critique of arrogant entitlement in few and telling words. The rapacious old Venetian, representative of city greed, had taken Bilora's wife; Bilora had given him fair warning of the consequences and asked for her back, but the Venetian refused. Bilora now attacks the Venetian, defending his right as husband, and the Venetian pays the ultimate price for his failure to respect it:
Oh, let the pox eat you, you broken-down old man. [...] Give me my woman now. You should have let her be. Whoah, wait, I think he's dead, I do. He's not kicking his foot or his leg. [...] Oh, my God, good night! He's crapped his grapestalks, he has. I told you so, didn't I? (30)
All of this had been rehearsed in the preceding scene, in which Bilora had also imagined a get-away by horse (RT 574-77), truncated in this final scene.
Remaining in the Venetian dominion and under Alvise Cornaro's patronage by a kind of coerced choice (the late plays comment often on avoiding exile because of its sufferings, which Beolco's half-brother endured in Ferrara), Beolco in his final plays limited his truth-telling to much more oblique expressions, closing his literary opus with a version of the Lettera all'Alvarotto in which he fantasizes a perfect, happy life on the farm of Lady Mirth.
Conclusion: Beolco's Context and Legacy
During the late period of the Cambrai wars (1509-1517) and the early 1520s, a perfect storm of conditions favored Beolco's audacious expression of his naturebased egalitarianism to Venetian patrician audiences. The mainland peasants had helped Venice regain much of what had been lost in the war and provided a new and accessible source of the food and the raw materials of manufacturing that were no longer being supplied by areas under Turkish control. Prompted by the humiliation of defeat, Venetians undertook a collective examination of conscience and realized that their failings in the administration of justice in their dominions had fostered hostility in the local populations. A new interest in the Gospels inspired a renewal of Christian charity and justice. Charles V had taken over much of the coast along which Venice's most lucrative galleys sailed. Beolco took advantage of these factors to candidly advance a program of egalitarianism, but by 1526 the auspicious conditions were evaporating. Libido dominandi was overcoming Christian charity, the 1525 Peasants War left the upper classes feeling terrorized by the peasants, Venice returned to a French alliance, the northern galleys stopped sailing and, after the last blow-out festivity mocking Francis (discussed above), Beolco stopped performing in Venice. Hierarchy took its revenge, aided by the paralysis of straitened circumstances. The old order remained in place until the late eighteenth century; and after the French Revolution swept it away, George Sand (1804-1876) and her son Maurice (1823-1889) staged Bilora in their home theater, their revival of Beolco's work consistent with their favoring of the poor and progressive views on various social issues.
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(1) Gratitude is expressed to the American Philosophical Society for a grant to transcribe the manuscripts and to Tulane University for the Suzanne and Stephen Weiss Presidential Fellowship, which provided partial support of the research.
(2) "A no Haon leza dal nostro lo, ne digha per nu, ne che ge supia sto negun d'i nuostri. A sento lome dire la leza de Datto, La leza de Bartole, la leza de Gesto dire cosi; a' no sento me dire: la leza de Menego, la leza de Nale, la leza de Duozo. Tutte ste leze e de citaini. Se a ne ciameri an nu, a faron an nu le nuostre [...]." Beolco, Seconda oratione, 204r-v shortly before where the manuscript version ends, followed by a blank space where the rest of the speech was to have been transcribed (Beolco, Teatro [hereafter IT] 1216-19). The quotations will be documented and contextualized below. Translations are by the present author unless otherwise noted.
(3) Ruzante: "[...] mi agiera dadrio de cao de squara, de caporale, e igi muce. A scovini muzar an mi da valenthomo" (Beolco, Parlamento de Ruzante, 174r; RT 524-25); "Mo el segnor Bortholamio che giera si braoso a vicenza se trasselo mo in laqua per muzare e si vene che gialtri se anegava e corse a pava a imbusarse?" (174v; RT 526-29).
(4) Bilora: Ah, te magne el morbo, vecio strassino! [...] Dame mo la mia femena. Te la divi lagar stare. Poh, moa, a' cherzo che '1 sea morto, mi. Mo no '1 sbate pi ne pe ne gamba. [...] Miedio, bondi! L'ha cago le graspe, elo. Te l'hegi dito? Beolco, Bilora (Secondo dialogo), RT 578-79; there are no known manuscripts of this play.
(5) Lovarini; Sambin; Menegazzo. For the documentation of points made here and below, see Carroll, Commerce; Carroll, Angelo Beolco; Carroll, "'(El) ge sa bon laorare'"; and
(6) For the social dynamic in general, see Herlihy; Vermes 3-8, 169-224; LeRoy Ladurie; Davico Bonino; Rebel.
(7) See note 5 above.
(8) See also Del Bo 105-06, 212 (without mention of Ruzante) and bibliography in Carroll, Commerce.
(9) Carroll, Commerce, esp. chapters 1 and 3; Carroll, "Venetian Attitudes."
(10) Archivio di Stato Padova, Archivio Notarile, busta 1756, 246r; busta 1758, 498r-v; Archivio di Stato Venezia, Archivio Gradenigo Rio Marin, busta 250, 16r, 27r, 62v, 73r; for other instances of family use of the Garzoni bank, see Archivio di Stato Padova, Archivio Notarile, busta 1759, 436r-37r; busta 1760, 21v, 392r-v; and see Gullino, 19 for the Foscaris' need to similarly recoup losses from this round by selling a valuable rural property.
(11) On the date of birth see Piovan; on the mother see, most recently, Calore and Liguori. A mother of humble social origin, perhaps particularly if, as Calore and Liguori hypothesize, she remained nearby, could explain Beolco's sympathy for the poor.
(12) Carroll, AngeloBeolco, 30, 69, 82, 97; Carroll, "Ruzante's Early Adaptations"; Carroll, "A Nontheistic Paradise"; Ferguson 193-224.
(13) On the compagnie in general see Casini; on those inviting Ruzante, Carroll, "Venetian Attitudes"; Carroll, "'I have a good set of tools'"; Carroll, Commerce, chapter 3.
(14) See note 11 above.
(15) Crescenzi 3, 12, 27, 426-30. For the questionable legitimacy of Stefano Magno, who copied the Pastoral, see Carroll, Commerce, chapter 2, although he was born slightly before these requirements.
(16) For this duality, see Davico Bonino, esp. "Premessa" 7-11; for the Pastoral, see Baratto. Questions of the dating of Beolco's works are complicated by the paucity of manuscript sources and the probability that the plays were reworked, perhaps continually, over years. The Parlamento (Reduce), for example, may have originated in 1513.
(17) "Mo quello che e po da l'altro lo dananzo, in fra le gambe, un somesso alto, che pensanto se me desconisse el cuore, e per rebelentia de la vostra Spetabilite, che pur si un preve, a no'l vuogio dire--a dige mo quello che me tira el cuore de dire, sai ben? Quello don fin vu vegnanto al mondo el basassi. Lagonlo pur stare, che la n'e troppo segura a favelarge, che an l'homo se porae incordare con fa i cavagi." Beolco, La prima oratione, 84-87, transcription of Biblioteca Civica Verona, ms. 36 Cl. B. Lett Ubic. 82.1. All quotations will be from this edition.
(18) Carroll, Commerce, chapter 3; Marucci, Marzo and Romano, 1: nos 202, 170, 180, 184, 178, 191, 204, 101, 102; Di Maria.
(19) "[C]redanto laldarve, i ve disea contra, per che i dise che a si de schiata vegnua de Romagnolaria da Roma. A la fe i v'a do un bel laldo. Mo no g'e la pezor zenia de romagnaruoli. Mo no egi sbissigiegi o politani da Robin? Da igi a spagnaruoli e[l] g'e puocha differentia. Mo no ghi haonte prove in ste guerre e scagaruole e muzaruole? No fo me romagnaruolo che havesse fe ne leza. Mo n'egi tuti a bel fato biastemaore? A fagi de Domene e de santi con se i ghi avesse fatti col cortellazo. A ge tragi el cancaro co si el traesse in un salgaro. Coppe fiorin! Te par mo che i v'habbi do un bel laldo? A dige mo mi, ch'a no son sletran con gie igi, che a si da le Veniesie, venitian d'i buoni e d'i maore."
(20) This and the following paragraphs summarize relevant points in Beolco, Prima oratione 90-101.
(21) The overt reference to anal rape illuminates a double entendre for the question posed by the old lady in Niccolo Machiavelli's Mandragola III, 3: "Credete voi che 'l Turco passi questo anno in Italia?"
(22) For this period, see Padua, Biblioteca capitolare, Archivio della cura vescovile, Mensa vescovile, t. 95.
(23) "Un e deversamen terra che no ghe nasa niente e si se ghe cata d'ogni cosa; s'te volessi essere chiama de metre late de grua an al medego, dire Guoiene da Ropegara, ch'el no s'incata al mondo finchaterisi chi a veniexia." Beolco, Betia, 1r; Beolco (Ruzante), Teatro (RT 148-49); note that the Zorzi edition is a diplomatic one whose integration of two different manuscript versions is mostly silent.
(24) See its exemplary use by Niccolo Machiavelli in II principe, including the closing exhortation to free 'Italia' from the barbarians; Headley, The Emperor 11-12; Headley, "The Habsburg World Empire"; Zimmermann 11, 35, 55-56, 70, 78, 197, 199.
(25) "ch'a ve dire / tuta la verite / perque amore e dio e signore / e perque a tute l'ore / el porta l'arco e i bolzon / e tute l[e] raxon / e vele fichare in lo cervelo / [...] / perque un gran sletran / maor che sea sul Pavan / me l'ha insegnio / che la stuio." Beolco, Betia, 12v; RT 176-79. For Alviano (below): 99r-v; RT 470-71.
(26) "A no Haon leza dal nostro lo, ne digha per nu, ne che ge supia sto negun d'i nuostri. A sento lome dire la leza de Datto, La leza de Bartole, la leza de Gesto dire cosi; a' no sento me dire: la leza de Menego, la leza de Nale, la leza de Duozo. Tutte ste leze e de citaini. Se a ne ciameri an nu, a faron an nu le nuostre; e se a in fari una sola, a se governeron tutti per quela, che a se che la fari derta e giusta e gualiva. E da bel mo, se a fari questo, el sara el pi bel tegnire el mondo in pase cha se poesse me catare, perche a sai che per le lite a s'amaza purasse uomeni e se perde l'amore, madesi. E do. Gnian questo no sa da granzo.... El disse Messier Ieson Dio al nostro pare Adamo, e an a nu tuti che a' ghe seon vegnU drio: 'In suore vultu tui te magnera pane tui'. Mo el me pare mo cha la vaghe a un altro muo, cha nu, che a' se suom, a' no n'aon me', e gi altri, cha no se sua, el magne. Mo lagonla pur anare, dasche' el cancaro vuole cussi: a' se suom, e si a' no in posson mai aere tanto che ne faghe, e si a' besogna, s'a' vogian vivere, che a' '1 togiom sempre a l'usura. E perche el dare a l'usura e un gran peco, el s'in cata puochi ch'in daghe, e qui puochi, per el gran peco, vuole far gran guagno; e nu, perche a' no posson far con manco, a' scapon su quele zuzole e zucole, e si ne deroinom senza colpa. E perzontena a' vorae, per ben de agn'om, che chi aesse, poesse dare a l'usura per un priessio onesto, e no miga a pi valere e che el dare a l'usura no foesse peco, mo mierito, per agiare i poeriti. Perche con tuti poesse dare a l'usura, a' in cateron sempre, e si no aron si gran zucole; perche a' sai che la fame fa fare de gran cosse. El se fa purasse male, adesso che '1 no se cata chi daghe pan; che, com s'in catasse, el no s'in farae. Gnan questa no impeghera el mondo." Beolco, Seconda oratione, 204r-v through "a fari," where the manuscript version ends, followed by a blank space where the rest of the speech was to have been transcribed; RT 1216-19.
(27) Sanuto, 8: 231,243, 246, 247, 248; 16: 343-44; quotation from Priuli, 54.
(28) "[...] mi agiera dadrio de cao de squara, de caporale, e igi muce. A scovini muzar an mi da valenthomo" (Beolco, Parlamento de Ruzante, 174r; RT 524-25); "Mo el segnor Bortholamio che giera si braoso a vicenza se trasselo mo in laqua per muzare e si vene che gialtri se anegava e corse a pava a imbusarse?" (174v; RT 526-29).
(29) For the accuracy of the description, see Francesco Maria della Rovere, 8r-9v.
(30) "Ah, te magne el morbo, vecio strassino! [...] Dame mo la mia femena. Te la divi lagar stare. Poh, moa, a' cherzo che '1 sea morto, mi. Mo no '1 sbate pi ne pe ne gamba. [...] Miedio, bondi! L'ha cago le graspe, elo. Te l'hegi dito?" (Beolco, Bilora, RT 578-79; there are no known manuscripts of this play).
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|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2016|
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