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The short, lascivious lives of two Venetian theaters, 1580-85 *.

Studies of the theater architecture of the Italian Renaissance have mainly focused on two issues. One is the reconstruction of ancient theaters on paper by humanist architects such as Alberti or Palladio. (1) The second is the construction, by ruling princes or by aristocratic societies such as the compagnie della calza in Venice (2) or the Accademia Olimpica in Vicenza, of performance spaces to which audiences were invited. In the late sixteenth century a third development, often overlooked by architectural historians, was far more important for the subsequent history of theater architecture: the construction in Venice by patrician entrepreneurs of two theaters with boxes rented to a paying public. These two theaters were the ancestors of the teatro all'italiana, the Italian opera house that spread across Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, following the continent-wide success of the new art form of Italian opera. Nicola Mangini has called them "una novita in assoluto" (an absolute novelty) both in Italy and in Europe. (3)

Of these Venetian theaters, built for performances by commedia dell'arte troupes, (4) no physical evidence remains. Indeed, they perished without leaving a known visual trace, and no detailed written account of their architectural form has come to light. The scarce evidence for their existence is so fragmentary that it has been impossible even to date them securely. Documents recently found in the Archivio di Stato, Venice, however, now finally make it possible to outline the history of these important structures.

The Venetian public theaters were first mentioned by Francesco Sansovino in 1581 in his Venetia citta nobilissima et singolare. Sansovino states that there had recently been built in Venice two theaters for the performance of comedies, both in the parish of San Cassiano. Thus we have long had a date of circa 1580 for the construction of these two buildings. Sansovino provides little additional information, save to say that one theater was round and the other oval. (5)

No subsequent source tells what became of these structures, and no reliable additional information on these theaters seems to have appeared for three hundred years. In 1879 Giovanni Sforza published a number of important documents related to them in a book of some rarity whose title, F. M. Fiorentini e i suoi contemporanei lucchesi: Saggio di storia letteraria del secolo XVII, (6) hardly suggested to later scholars that it might contain information crucial to the study of Venetian theaters of the sixteenth century. Mangini, almost a century later, resurrected Sforza's documents in his Teatri di Venezia of 1974, a book that greatly advanced the study of Venetian theaters. (7)

What Sforza's documents make clear, if one reads them carefully, is that in Venice by 1581 there existed mote than one theater with palchi, or boxes. These boxes could be closed off, presumably by doors, to hide their interiors from the eyes of passersby, who walked in surrounding corridors that required artificial light. (8) If no one could look into the boxes, then by implication their sides had to be enclosed by walls that concealed their interiors from the adjoining palchi. (9) How the boxes may have opened toward the stage is not clear. Goings-on in the closed boxes caused considerable scandal. The documents describe no specific acts, but one can hardly go wrong if one characterizes them as sexual, nor can one exclude the possibility that some of Venice's famous courtesans may have set up shop in the palchi. (10) The existence of the boxes, the scandalous nature of the behavior therein, and the concern expressed over the boxes by the Jesuits resident in Venice were also documented by a letter written in October, 1581, by the Florentine ambassador to Venice, which was published in Alessandro D'Ancona's Origini del teatro italiano of 1891, the first great study of the modern theater in Italy. (11)

Sforza's documents escaped the attention of Pompeo Molmenti, the most avid chronicler of Venetian history in the early part of the twentieth century. To Molmenti goes credit, however, for discovering a tantalizing, if ambiguous piece of evidence: a passage in an unpublished manuscript of 1607 by an obscure writer from southern Italy, Antonio Persio, who described a theater that stood in Venice when he had lived there. (12) Persio spoke of one theater, made of wood, almost all of whose boxes were rented by Venetian nobles, who took their wives and daughters to the foul-mouthed comedies performed therein. According to Persio, the Jesuits had convinced the Venetian Senate to order the destruction of the theater to avoid the danger of someone's setting fire to it during a performance, thereby sending up in smoke a large part of the Venetian patriciate. (13) Mangini, in trying to date the theater mentioned by Persio, noted that in 1576 Persio had published a book in Venice in which he stated that he was then in th e city. (14) No corroborating evidence existed, however, to connect this year with the theater he described. That was the year in which perhaps thirty percent of the population of Venice perished in a devastating plague; no performances of comedies would have been possible then. Because Persio's remarks were so problematic, Mangini was led to take them as the product of the unreliable memory of a man writing about events that had happened some thirty years earlier.

The fundamental governmental act that controlled all theatrical performances in Venice throughout the sixteenth century, in theory if not always in practice, was a decree of the Council of Ten of 1508. According to this ruling, the comedies newly introduced into the city contained "many lewd, lascivious and most unwholesome words and acts." (15) For reasons of public morals, over which the Ten watched assiduously, no comedies, tragedies, eclogues, or other such similar performances could be given in the city or its territories without the express permission of the Ten. The law was not systematically observed, however. We know that theatrical performances were given many times during the following century for which the registri (records) of the Ten contain no corresponding permits. For instance, for the Carnival of 1565 Palladio built a theater for the performance of a tragedy by the last of the compagnie della calza, (16) but no permit for this performance was entered in the registro of the Council of Ten. (1 7)

Various explanations for this situation, some or all of which may have been operative at one time or another, suggest themselves. In some years, the Ten, a body that changed membership annually, simply ignored its own decree. Indeed, the old men who made up the council had often been members of a compagnia in their youth. There was also an important class issue. The young patricians who put on theatrical entertainments at carnival belonged to the same social group as the members of the Council of Ten. Their performances employed no lower-class persons who earned their livings as professional actors; the young aristocrats took all the roles. As we will see, the Ten had a particular problem with comedians who acted for profit. Also, most Venetian patricians, regardless of age, simply enjoyed going to these plays. If, however, a comedy set the whole city on its ear because of raunchy dialogue, as happened during the carnival of 1529, the Ten could invoke its own law of 1508 and prohibit further performances of t he offensive play. In 1529 the Ten were forced to allow the linguistically offensive comedy prepared by the compagnia dei reali to go forward, not just because of the money that had been spent on its preparation, but mainly because there were distinguished visitors in town, courtiers of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, who would be sorely disappointed if the performance were cancelled. (18) The Ten were ready to use comedy as a tool of diplomacy, a subject about which they cared far more than the use of offensive words in a carnival entertainment. In the following century the Ten allowed a comedy to be performed during the sacred season of Lent -- when, even in the most permissive of times, comedies were never given -- to entertain the bored retinue of the French ambassador. (19)

The disappearance of the compagnie della calza after 1565 coincided with a rise in the popularity of the traveling troupes of comedians who had been coming to Venice for some time, performing in private palaces, convents or "stanze" (literally, rooms) adapted for their use. Of the appearances of these stanze we know nothing, unfortunately. Only by implication does it become clear that they were in many essentials different from the theaters that rose in 1580, because the novelty of the architectural form of the latter caused unforeseen problems.

In the decade between Palladio's theater of 1565 and the plague of 1576 the Ten gave permission three times -- in 1568, (20) 1573 and 1575 -- for comedies to be performed. Although the registri are silent for the other years, we cannot assume that no comedies were then performed. The language of the registro for 1573 is typical:

That permission be given this time to those who perform Comedies that only from now until the end of the upcoming Carnival can these Comedians perform their comedies in this city, with express condition that they be finished at the third hour of the night at the latest, having to be performed modestly with wholesomeness and dignity. (21)

The hours of the night were measured by dividing the time from sundown to sunrise into twelve segments. Since the time of darkness exceeded the time of daylight during the winter season of carnival, one hour of the night would have been more than 60 minutes long. Thus, if sunset in February occurred sometime around 5:00 p.m., the third hour of the night would have begun sometime between 7:00 and 8:00 p.m.

The jubilee year of 1575 was treated differently. After a preamble that noted the desire of the Ten to increase piety in the city to gain favor with God, the following parte, or motion, was passed:

Having to take up with all due reverence and devotion the most holy jubilee, conceded to this city by the infinite mercy of the Lord God by means of the supreme Pontiff, according to that which was published the first of this month, it is convenient to remove all chose impediments which can make the people of this city less devoted.

Let it be approved that for the time the most holy jubilee lasts comedies, dances and masquerades, both in this city as in its territories, are prohibited, except for the last fifteen days of carnival, that is from 20 February until the first day of Lent. (22)

As 20 February approached, the Ten decided to keep in place the ban against comedies for the rest of that month, leaving, by implication, only six days in March before the beginning of Lent for comedies to be performed. (23) The council's decision to order the intrusion of piety into everyday Venetian life should be noted, because this tendency would grow even stronger in the next decade.

During the years of the plague, 1576 and 1577 (there was already plague in Venice in the winter of 1575, but not yet enough to cause panic), there was no thought of entertainment during carnival. Indeed, the Senate banned public gatherings. Only in 1578 did comedies return, and when they did, they were permitted with the same language used earlier in the decade:

That permission be given this time to those who perform Comedies that only from now until the end of the upcoming Carnival can these Comedians perform their comedies in this city, with express condition that they be finished at the fourth hour of the night at the latest, having to be performed modestly with wholesomeness and dignity. (24)

During this carnival the Venetian government again used entertainments as diplomatic tools. The 'Archdukes of Austria and other German princes" were visiting. The Ten allowed "una guerra de bastoni," (a fight on a bridge with wooden clubs) (25) which the visitors had asked to see, and the sumptuary laws were lifted so that women attending entertainments given for the visitors could wear whatever jewelry they wanted. (26) The next year, 1579, comedies were again permitted, with the same language noted above and with an overwhelming majority of the votes, 13 for and 3 against, with no abstentions. (27)

1580 brought a radical change in the language of the parte on which the Ten voted to allow comedies to be performed. Suddenly, to the usual strictures about time and "modesty and wholesomeness was added a requirement that the places where the comedies were to be given had to be inspected for safety:

That permission be given this time to those who perform comedies that after the three coming holidays of Christmas, they can for all the following carnival only perform their comedies in this city with express condition that they be finished at the fourth hour of the night at the latest, having also to be performed with modesty and wholesomeness. Nor can they begin, until first there be sworn statements from architects and specialists, who will be sent by the heads of this council diligently to inspect the places where the performances will be given, that they are strong and secure, so that no ruin may happen there. (28)

The novelty of the language suggests that the Ten were confronted with a new architectural form that raised concerns of public safety, for which they were, of course, responsible. That new architectural situation must have been created by the construction of the luoghi (places) for comedies in the months since the previous carnival. The timing of this development corresponds precisely with Francesco Sansovino's statement, written in 1580, that two places for the performance of comedies had recently been constructed in the parish of San Cassiano. (29) The accord between Sansovino's text and the registro of the Ten makes a date of 1580 for these two luoghi almost entirely certain.

The proposal to license comedies did not receive the necessary two-thirds majority when it was voted on 22 December, and so it came up again on the 29th, when it did receive the necessary votes. (30) The language about inspecting the places where the performances were to take place was omitted from the second motion, for reasons we do not know. Perhaps they had already been inspected. Performances began immediately, because on 4 January one of the proprietors of the two theaters, Ettore Tron, wrote to the Duke of Ferrara that performances had been going on for some days and that the palchi of his theater had been rented to many nobles. (31) This situation is confirmed by a second letter from Tron to the duke, written on 26 January. (32)

The two theaters, as we know particularly from Mangini's work, belonged to Ettore Tron and to Alvise Michiel, members of patrician families that had both produced doges, although the Tron were relative latecomers to such an honored state. According to documents discussed below, brothers of Ettore and Alvise had also invested in these theaters. As Mangini pointed out, neither man belonged to the richest branch of his family. (33) The investments, then, must have been relatively modest, a fact that suggests that these early theaters did not enjoy the lavishly appointed interiors that would become typical of theaters built in the following century, even if Francesco Sansovino said that they were most beautiful and built at great expense. Whatever the degree of elegance the theaters enjoyed, their owners had managed to secure the services of the leading troupes of professional comedians of the day. The Tron employed the Confidenti, the Michiel the even better-known Gelosi. The remarkable coincidence of the erecti on of two similar theaters in the same year for the same purpose may be explained by the fact that two famous comedy troupes needed to be accommodated.

Both theaters were built to produce revenue, and Ettore Tron's letter of 1580, in which he stated that he had rented palchi to half the nobles of the city and taken in some 1,000 ducats, suggests that the first season was a success. (34) Such diversification of investment was typical of patrician Venetian families in the late sixteenth century; when northern Europeans were making significant inroads into Mediterranean trade previously dominated by Venice. (35) The fact that in the successive years of 1578, 1579 and 1580 the Ten permitted the performance of comedies suggests that in post-plague Venice there was widespread demand for entertainment, and the Michiel and Tron must have decided to cash in on this demand by building their theaters. The vote of 1579 that permitted comedies by a large majority may have given the two families a false sense that such permission would continue to be renewed easily. The closer votes of 1580, which might have been taken as a warning of things to come, occurred after the th eaters had been built. (36)

The Tron theater was located on the site of the present garden of Palazzo Albrizzi, at the intersection of the Rio San Cassian and the Rio della Madonnetta, on the western edge of the parish of San Cassiano. (37) Because it occupied a rectangular plot, it may have been the "oval" theater mentioned by Sansovino, with a plan perhaps similar to the Tron theater built on the same site in the eighteenth century for which drawings survive. (38) The Michiel theater, much closer to the Grand Canal, seems to have stood on the opposite side of the Corte del Teatro Vecchio from the canal, in an area now occupied by a block of apartments. (39) The plot on which it stood was almost square in shape, and so this theater may have been Sansovino's "round" one -- that is, with boxes arranged in a semi-circle. Both situations allowed access to the theaters from nearby canals, an important issue in a Venice with relatively few paved streets. Well-dressed patricians attending the comedies would not have cared to walk through mudd y calli to reach them. What may have stood on the sites before the theaters is not known. It seems most likely that the Tron and the Michiel placed the structures of their theaters inside already existing walls and under already existing roofs. (40) Certainly documents discussed below give credence to this hypothesis.

The novita in assoluto, to use Mangini's phrase, of these theaters was the presence of revenue-producing boxes. What the source for this new concept may have been is not clear, but there was a long tradition in Venice of using windows as private spaces from which to view public events. The windows of the Procuratie Vecchie filled with women in Gentile Bellini's famous painting of the Procession of Corpus Christi in Piazza San Marco of 1496 (Venice, Accademia) offer a case in point. In other parts of the city windows and balconies were rented to spectators to watch the guerre di bastoni, battles on bridges between large groups of men that became increasingly popular in Venice from the sixteenth century on. Henry III of France watched such a battle from a balcony overlooking the Ponte dei Carmini in 1574, (41) and one can assume that all the other balconies and windows around the Campo dei Carmini were thronged by spectators. By the late seventeenth century balconies overlooking such battle sites, where the occ upants could both see and be seen, fetched a much higher rent than a box at an opera house. (42)

One possible precedent is offered by the balconies set between the piers of the upper story of Jacopo Sansovino's Libreria di San Marco. (43) These balconies, large enough to accommodate four to six people, are hidden from each other by the intervening piers, so that they act as private spaces. The library was begun in 1537, and by 1553 the patrons of the building, the procurators of Saint Mark, began to use the seven balconies at the north end of the library as private viewing spaces for the festivities that took place in the Piazzetta on giovedi grasso, the final Thursday of carnival season. By 1556 sixteen balconies were available for the procurators, and from these balconies they could also watch the frequent spectacles of executions carried out between the two columns at the south end of the Piazzetta. By 1580 these spaces had been in use for almost thirty years. (44)

Both Sansovino's balconies and the utterly new boxes of the Michiel and Tron theaters provided elevated, separated spaces for patricians to watch performances and in turn to be watched. Both built on an old Venetian tradition of using windows as private viewing platforms for public spectacles. Both involved assigning spaces to particular patricians, whether they be the procurators to whom specific windows were assigned in the Libreria, or patricians who leased specific boxes in the theaters for the carnival season. Both the windows on the Piazzetta and the boxes in the theaters were spaces identified with one occupant or family that made the occupants part of the total spectacle while removing them to their own private realms. The theater boxes created a novel social space, simultaneously private and public -- or, one might say, private in places of public access. Apparently, Venetians quickly figured out how to use these rather cramped palchi as if they were modern motel rooms; this behavior brought on a vig orous reaction from the Council of Ten.

At the end of September 1581, the council passed an act that made it almost impossible for professionally staged comedies ever to be permitted in the city again. The Ten decreed that permission for comedies "that are performed by paid actors" could only be granted by a vote of 5/6 of the members of the council, all being present. (45) This document, published by Sforza, was supplied to him by Bartolommeo Cecchetti, the director of the Archivio di Stato of Venice, (46) who seems not to have checked the filze, the first drafts of the registri of the acts of the Ten. In the draft of this act, one discovers that the qualifying phrase, "intended however are those (comedies) performed by paid actors," was added to the original text of the document, (47) clearly to win over those patricians on the council who must have insisted that comedies performed by young men of their own class should not be subjected to the same strictures placed on performances by professional actors.

The voting members of the council consisted not only of the ten men elected annually, but also of the doge and his six counselors, so that the votes of 15 of 17 voting members would be necessary for such permission to be granted, an almost hopeless number to achieve. Normally resolutions dealing with theatrical performances were considered by the Ten just before or during the carnival season, that is, during the months of December through February. Here the Ten took pre-emptive action in September -- just before they rotated our of office and a new council was elected at the beginning of October -- to make it almost impossible for their successors ever to permit performances again. They were indeed successful in prohibiting performances for the carnival of 1581, as we know from the tax returns submitted in March, 1582, by Ettore Tron and Alvise Michiel, who both declared that their theaters were not in use and therefore producing no income. (48)

Apparently, this decision created considerable dissatisfaction within the city, to the point that in the following year, on 17 December 1582, the capi, or heads, of the Council of Ten forced through a repeal of the 5/6 majority, and the councilors of the doge directed orally that only a simple majority was needed for the repeal. (49) Although in the next month the Ten twice voted against motions to permit performances during carnival, (50) apparently comedies were given anyway, "to gratify the young nobles." (51)

This under-the-table concession, as well as the vote to repeal the 5/6 rule, came at a dramatic moment in Venetian constitutional history. By 1582 a group of aging patricians was regularly rotating in and out of the Council of Ten and the Zonta. Members of the Ten, who served for a year, could not immediately succeed themselves. But for a year they could rotate into the Zonta (a body created in the fourteenth century to advise the Ten on great matters of state and to spread the responsibility for the decision to depose and execute Doge Marin Falier), after which they could return to the Council. During 1582 dissatisfaction with the way the members of the Ten and the Zonta had turned themselves into a self-perpetuating oligarchy became so widespread among the hundreds of other patricians who made up the Maggior Consiglio that a constitutional crisis erupted. (52) In the fall of 1582 in a show of its displeasure the Maggior Consiglio refused to elect the prepared list of fifteen names proposed for the Zonta. Th is action precipitated a political crisis that Doge Nicolo da Ponte tried to solve by bringing to the Maggior Consiglio on 7 December a palliative parte that merely defined somewhat more clearly the roles of the Ten and the Zonta, but the doge's proposal received an inconclusive vote, with many abstentions. On 19 December, two days after the Ten had repealed the 5/6 rule for comedies, the doge brought his parte back to the Maggior Consiglio, again failing to gain a majority. The doge's councilors and the heads of the Ten who forced the repeal of the 5/6 rule for comedies were the very same people who were working with the doge to save the power of the Ten and the Zonta. The 5/6 rule of the previous year must have been seen as an egregious example of the Council of Ten's overreaching itself -- thus the urgency to repeal that vote just at the time far more important matters were pending in the Maggior Consiglio.

No mention had been made of the boxes in the comedy theaters in the Ten's act of September, 1581, but the Ten had noted with astonishment and disapproval that Venice had provided special places for such "inhonestissimi" (most unwholesome) events. The boxes, however, were one of the most problematic issues that the theater owners faced, as one realizes both from the letter of the Florentine ambassador, written in October, 1581, (53) just after the council had decreed the 5/6 majority, and from the language of the registro of the Ten of January, 1582, when the issue of the performance of comedies came up again. On 5 January the council voted on a parte to permit fifteen days of comedies during carnival, but the proposal failed by a vote of five for and ten against. In the parte the problem with the closed boxes is clearly addressed, after the usual language about hours and decent language:

Nor principally can these comedies be performed if the heads of this council cannot be assured with truth that all the boxes of the place are open at the rear, and crossed with wooden boards so that everyone who passes by can see inside these boxes, and thus they must stay open for all these fifteen days, and if what is ordered is not done, the comedians will immediately have their aforesaid permission to perform lifted. (54)

It is not easy to visualize exactly what the phrase "crossed with wooden boards" (traversati con cantinelle) may have meant, (55) but presumably the order called for the doors to the boxes to be held in an open position by somehow securing them with fixed pieces of wood. Otherwise, box-holders could quietly close their doors during the noisy performances. One should caution, however, that in no document of these years is the word "door" mentioned in relation to the boxes. One is led, however, to assume the presence of doors by inference, because the documents consistently imply that the possibility to close the boxes persists.

On 14 January the issue came up for another vote. This time the language of the motion was amended to address not only the closed boxes but also the darkness of the corridors surrounding them:

and with further condition that the boxes have to be open day and night. and that lamps be placed in all the corridors before the performances of the comedies and kept lit until they are over and everyone has left the place where they are performed. (56)

This vote also failed, with six for and eight against, but apparently comedies were performed that year anyway, as we have seen, in the context of the ongoing constitutional crisis over the fate of the Ten and the Zonra, an issue that was not settled until the following spring, when it became clear that the Zonta could not be saved. In that same spring, on 13 April 1583, Francesco Andreini, the head of the group of comedians known as the Gelosi, wrote to Vincenzo Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua, to say that he was hired to play for Alvise Michiel, patron of the "stanza di Venezia." (57) In the registro of the Ten, however, there is no mention of comedies in 1583. The period of Andreini's engagement is not made clear; he may have been engaged in a post-Lenten season of comedy performances that were, again, allowed to happen without official sanction. Actually, we have no sure evidence that these theaters were used at any time other than carnival, nor do we have any evidence that they were used by patrician performers as well as by paid professionals. Plays put on by aristocrats traditionally took place in private palazzi.

During the Carnival of 1584 the Gelosi specifically asked for approval from the Ten to perform in the Michiel theater, as a recently discovered letter makes clear. (58) The letter itself is undated, but it is folded into the sheet of paper on which is written the draft of the parte on which the Ten voted on 8 February in response to the letter from the Gelosi. (59) Even though the Gelosi earned their living by acting, they were not just any ordinary comedians. In 1571 they had performed in Paris before King Charles IV. In 1574, when Henry III of France visited Venice, the government spared no effort or expense to make his stay memorable. To that end, the Venetians asked the Gelosi to rush from Milan to entertain Henry, and the troupe obliged, thus putting the Venetian government under some obligation. In the following two years the Gelosi were again in Paris, at Henry's invitation. (60) In their letter of 1584 the Gelosi reminded the Ten of the troupe's faithful service to Venice. They also noted that they ha d never performed in the city without permission, although other comedies were at that moment being given in Venice without license. The Gelosi said that they wanted to put on their plays legally. They promised to present works of unexceptionable content: "pastorals, tragedies and most wholesome comedies." (61) More importantly for our purposes here, they promised that "we will see to it that at all times the boxes remain open in the rear so that no person will ever be able to hide there scandalously" (62) -- thus, of course, making absolutely clear that the Michiel as well as the Tron theater had boxes and that in the past people had hidden scandalously in those palchi.

The motion presented to the Ten followed closely the wording of the letter from the Gelosi, incorporating the language about keeping the boxes open and adding the qualification that lights be kept burning until everyone had left the theater. (63) Even so, by a vote of seven for and six against, the parte failed to receive the required two-thirds majority, and so the issue was left pending, apparently never to be voted again, although it was the general practice to bring pending issues back to the council for a second vote. It is not clear if the performances of the Gelosi went forward or not. The Ten would not have found it easy to disappoint favorite performers of a king whom Venice had assiduously cultivated as a counterbalance to Spanish power in the Mediterranean and on the Italian peninsula.

By one of those coincidences that sometimes illuminate history, the Rettori (Rectors) of the city of Vicenza, which was under Venetian control, had written to the capi of the Ten the day before the inconclusive vote on the Gelosi's petition. The Rettori, Venetian patricians appointed to govern Vicenza, wrote to request the council's opinion on the imminent performance in that city of a tragedy in "a very noble and most sumptuous Theater." (64) The tragedy, of course, was Sophocles' Oedipus Rex, and the theater Palladio's Teatro Olimpico. (65) The Rettori, as Venetian patricians, well understood the bad odor in which theatrical performances of any kind were held in Venice, and their letter seems to have been an effort to cover their tracks with the Ten, in case something went wrong as a result of the performance of the tragedy. Understanding the politics of the situation, they were careful to point out the distinguished nature of the membership of the Accademia Olimpica, the interest of foreigners in the perfo rmance, the antiquity of the play, the expenses incurred in building the theater and, hardly least in a government built on precedent, the fact that the performance had already been approved by previous rectors. The Ten, with their wings newly clipped by the Maggior Consiglio, refused to answer the Rettori. Rather, they sent the letter on to the Senate, to which it was presented by the Savij del Collegio. (66) The Collegio and the Senate answered with a rather wonderful piece of bureaucratic buck-passing that did not fail, however, to show that they were behaving responsibly:

... we say to you with the Senate that appearing to us to be sufficient the authority you have to provide for all that will be necessary in such an occasion, and knowing you to be both prudent and diligent, we want to make sure that you yourselves see to it that the affairs of such a Performance pass with that quiet and universal satisfaction that are appropriate. (67)

There can be no question that the Senators knew about the Teatro Olimpico. Sitting among them was Marc'Antonio Barbaro, Palladio's great champion. In Barbaro's villa at Maser, designed by Palladio, the architect quite possibly had died in 1580, the very year of the design of the theater. The greatest of all humanist reconstructions of an ancient theater, the Teatro Olimpico had none of the offending boxes of the Venetian comedy theaters, but rather arena seating, so that the entire audience was open to public scrutiny. In it, to use the words of the Gelosi when they promised to keep the Michiel boxes open, "mai si possa nasconder con scandalo alcuna persona." We know that for the first performances the sexes at the Olimpico were segregated, following long-established custom in court and academic theaters. The wives of the members of the Accademia Olimpica and other women invited to the performance sat in the orchestra in rows assigned to them. The members of the Academy, all men, sat in other rows of the orch estra, while the arena seats were given to men who did not belong to the Academy. (68)

The parallel existence of the theaters in Venice and Vicenza did not last long, for when the next carnival came around, the Ten ordered the demolition of the Michiel and Tron structures. The council's swift ruthlessness is striking. Even though its powers had been curtailed in 1582, when it decided to act on an issue that was still within its purview, it did so quickly and decisively.

During the carnival season of 1585 the orphaned children of Andrea Tron, a brother of Ettore, addressed a remarkable letter to the doge and his councilors, asking that their theater be allowed to reopen so that they could have the profits from it to live on. Andrea Tron had died the year before, leaving behind several children, all under the age often. Whoever wrote the letter for the children, and one suspects that their uncle Ettore was responsible, he apparently hoped that the pleas of the young ones would soften the hearts of the old men of the Ten. They did not.

The letter, with all its groveling, awkward language and appeals to patriotism and piety; is worth quoting in full. It lays out the economic reasons behind the construction of the Tron theater and makes clear that more than one Tron had invested in it. The letter also confirms the fact that the dosed boxes and the dirty languages of the plays performed in the theater were the banning performances therein. It makes clear that a variety of works was performed in the theater: comedies, eclogues, tragedies and pastorals. (69) Finally, it repeats the claim of the Gelosi that performances of comedies were going on in other theaters.

If the greatness of the many and infinite miseries of our numerous family, Alvise Tron and brothers and sisters, children of the most illustrious Andrea, in recognition of the many merits of our poor Father, and of our unhappy, cruelly-treated relatives in the very violent past War, for the slavery, and the spilling of their blood, possessions, and lives in the service of this Most Serene Dominion, can ever hope, at whatever time, or merit grace from the accustomed benevolence of Your Serenity and of Your Excellencies, now is the necessity and the occasion. Because evidently our most unhappy house is about to fall and to be miserably afflicted; our house, under a happy star, one day with the clear and fresh example of ancestors, with much faith and devotion may be able to spend happily all our forces, and life, together, for the use and benefit of this Fatherland. Our poor and unfortunate Father thought, for the security of our most serious needs, to build a place to recite comedies, employing in so doing wha t little capital he had. Nor, with the growth of expenditures, did he spare to obligate himself greatly to many debts to the Proveditori di Commune, thereby to its Most Excellent Collegio. All of this, to our disadvantage, has fallen on our shoulders. And he hoped by means of this Building, through contracts made with some Comedians, with the satisfaction of Your Serenity and of Your Excellencies, to make a just and honest profit. But whether through the accidents of past times, a bad concept, or to put it better, our adverse fortune, in the preceding years permission to play comedies has been given continuously for the Theaters built by others, while to us, wretched and unhappy, permission was immediately denied, without any compensation or support whatsoever. That has been our too unhappy and wretched fate and condition. And our relatives, having sought to understand the causes of this prohibition, were advised that the closed boxes and the performance of the comedies with licentious and unwholesome words h ave disturbed the public order; in behalf of which we have firmly determined with all diligence to be vigilant. First the boxes will be opened and they will continuously remain completely open; and it will be inviolably observed that the Comedians who perform Comedies, Eclogues, Tragedies, Pastorals, and similar things in our places will do so with modesty decency and prudence, without causing scandal or gossip, and with the sweet, welcome and desired entertainment of all the city. And if it will seem to Your Serenity and to Your Excellencies to order regulate or reform other things, in whatever fashion or form, we offer humbly to embrace, observe and promptly obey. And if in all the parts of Christianity, in Rome and Bologna, with the good permission of His Holiness, Comedies are recited, so can Your Serenity and Your Excellencies fully justify conceding such help to us, wretched and unhappy. Prostrate at the Feet of Your Serenity and Your Excellencies, reverently we pray and beseech that you deign to favor our Comedians that they may perform Comedies in our place for those days of carnival that to your great prudence seem convenient. For such great beneficence we offer continuously most affectionate prayers to the Lord God, for the increase and happiness of this Most Excellent Republic and for the preservation of Your Serenity and of Your Excellencies. (70)

On 14 January 1585 the Ten, who still had jurisdiction over theaters and with whom the doge and his councilors sat, voted on a parte that would have allowed the Tron children to reopen their theater, as long as the comedies were decent, the boxes kept open and the lights lit while there were people in the theater. (71) This motion failed by a vote of three for, eleven against, arid two abstentions. Immediately the Ten took up another parte, obviously ready to hand, that eliminated the recurring problem once and for all by ordering the removal of every trace of the Tron and Michiel structures:

That by the heads of this Council the Noblemen Advise Tron and children of s. Andrea, or their agents, and the Noblemen Advise Michiel and brothers children of s. Pier Antonio be informed that within 15 days they must dismantle entirely the boxes, scenery, and other movable things in the places they have constructed to perform Comedies, so that nothing remains for that effect. Otherwise, after 15 days, if the aforesaid Noblemen have not obeyed and carried out what is said, the aforementioned Heads are ordered to take away and dismantle from the aforesaid places all the boxes, stages, scenery and other things related to performing Comedies. And the wood, and other related things will be dispersed to pious causes and to those who have worked, according to the judgment of the heads of this council. (72)

There can be little doubt that this order was carried out. In the margin of the registro of the Ten is noted that the next day these instructions were conveyed to Ettore Tron and Piero Michiel, the brother of Alvise. (73) Certainly no further mention of these theaters appears in the registri of the Ten during the ensuing decade.

The terms under which the demolition was to be carried out are revealing, because they list the elements that, according to the Ten, constituted these theaters: the boxes, the scenery the stage, and other movable things.

Most of these elements were made of wood. Inside existing walls and under existing roofs, then, the Tron and the Michiel had apparently erected structures of wood that included the boxes, and by implication the corridors that gave entrance to them, as well as the stages and the scenery. All of it could be removed without razing the buildings in which the theaters had been constructed. If the Michiel and the Tron had constructed scenery, that scenery must have been used in preference to the scenery the acting troupes of the Gelosi and Confidenti would normally have brought with them.

We may never know more about the physical aspects of these theaters, unless drawings or more detailed descriptions come to light. The remarkable tale of their short lives and of their ruthless destruction by order of the Ten gives some credence to Antonio Persio's account in his manuscript of 1607 of one theater that held most of the nobles of Venice in its boxes -- a theater in which those nobles and their wives and daughters heard the most scandalous language, and a theater that the Jesuits succeeded in having dismantled, to the great loss of he who had built it. The publication dates of Persio's books in Venice, 1576 and 1593, turn out to be useless for dating the theater about which he wrote. He was in Venice or neighboring Padua from 1572 until sometime after 1589, when he moved to Rome. (74) He may have returned to Venice in 1593 for the publication of his book. Presumably he continued to enjoy the patronage and protection of the branch of the Contarini family that included Zaccaria Contarini, whom he m entions in his book of 1575. (75) Zaccaria was a capo of the Ten when the theaters were ordered dismantled, (76) and so Persio could even have had an account of their destruction first hand. His mistake in the number of the theaters may suggest, however, that he received the news at some remove, perhaps when he was in Venice in 1593 for the publication of his book. In 1607 he remembered at least the general outlines of the story, and he recalled them in a context that has not been sufficiently considered.

Persio's account of the destroyed Venetian theater forms the largest part of one chapter out of thirty written in support of Paul V at the time that pope held the city under interdict in 1606-07. Persio actually dedicated the manuscript to "Simon Peter, head of the Apostles and of the Roman Church, and to his worthy successors." (77) The first twenty three chapters of the manuscript consist of a relatively brief debunking of the Venetian version of the history of the city, followed by a lengthy account of all the transgressions of Venice against the church. In chapters 24 and 25 he cites the Venetians for two particular sins (presumably out of seven): avarice and luxuria. It is in the context of the latter (he says that Venetians should be called "veneriani" rather than "venetiani") that the description of the theater is proffered as a particularly heinous example of Venetian luxuria. He interrupts his account of the theater to digress on the plunging necklines of Venetian noblewoman, another example of Venet ian indulgence in the pleasures of the flesh. In the context of these examples of luxurious behavior -- remarkably, he apparently found nothing worse to cite -- he points out the ways in which Jesuits have come to the aid of the sinful "veneriani," either by having the theater destroyed or the breasts covered. (78)

Why the city fathers would have been so peculiarly susceptible to the Jesuits' protestations is a question worth considering, especially in the context of the very particular relationship Venetians believed they had with the Divine. For centuries the political leaders of the city, especially the members of the Council of Ten, felt that they had a particular duty to keep behavior in the city at a moral level high enough to avoid God's displeasure. They lived in constant fear that He, if provoked, might hurl his wrath on the city, and even treat it like Sodom or Gomorrah -- thus the particularly harsh punishments the Ten handed out for sodomy. (79) In the heightened religiosity of the Counter Reformation, the Jesuits found it easy to convince men like Zaccaria Contarini that both the acts that took place in the boxes and the lascivious activity on stage could be enough to provoke divine displeasure.

The Jesuits and their aging allies on the Council of Ten won the battle of the comedy theaters, but only for the next few decades, (80) until the Jesuits were banished from Venetian territory in 1607 as part of the settlement of the interdict crisis with Paul V. Even that victory, however impermanent, was not complete. It has generally been held that no comedies were performed in Venice between the early 1580s and 1607. Like most categorical statements about Venetian history, this one -- first put forth by a hardly impartial seventeenth-century Jesuit (81) -- has to be qualified. During the carnival of 1591 the Ten ordered a halt to the comedies that were being performed for profit on Murano and sent the comedians packing. (82) Clearly no one had asked the Ten for permission for these performances; Venetians knew that any such request would be turned down. One wonders how many other bootleg comedies may have escaped the Ten's attention in these years, or how many performances may even have been deliberately o verlooked.

The Michiel never became theater impresarios again. Tron descendants, however, reconstructed their theater after the Jesuits were expelled from Venice in 1607, and in it comedies were once again performed. In this theater, the Teatro San Cassiano, rebuilt several times on the same site, the first public performance of an opera for a paying public, anywhere, took place during the carnival of 1636, fifty-one years after the demolition of the Tron's pioneering comedy theater. (83) It is from this descendent of the sixteenth century Venetian comedy theaters that the Italian opera house in turn develops. (84)

Appendix la, 2 January 1575


Dovendosi con ogni debita reverentia, et devotione pigliare il santissimo giubileo, concessa a questa citta dall'infinita misericordia del S.r Dio col mezo del summo Pontifice, secondo che al primo di questo mese stato publicato, e ben conveniente remover tutti quelli impedimenti che possono far manco devoto il populo di questa citta.

L'andera patte, che per il tempo che dura il giubileo siano prohibite le comedie, li balli, et maschere, cosi in questa citta, come nelle contrade, eccetto pero per quindeci giorni ultimi del carnevale, cioe dalli xx. di Febraro, fino il primo giorno di quadragiesima, sotto pena de 18. mesi di galea, overo de anni cinque de bando di questa citta a cadauno che fosse andito de contrafar al presente ordine, secondo che meglio parera alli capi di questo cons.o a quail sia commesa l'essecutione della presente patte, da esser publicata sopra le scalle de S. Marco, et de Rialto et altrove, over parera alli capi p.ti.

De parte-----25

De non-----0

Non sinc.-----2

ASV, Consiglio de' Dieci, Comune, R. 32, 1575-76, 87r.

Appendix 1b, 17 February 1575


Fo prudentemente, et con somma pieta, et religione provisto alli 2. del mese passato per questo cons.o che per il tempo, che durera il sanrissimo giubileo non si possano far mascare, recitar comedie, et tenir balli, eccetto che per xv. giorni ultimi del carnevale, cioe dall xx. del presente fino il giorno della quadragesima, et perche si vede continuar in questa citta in tutte le qualita de persone una grandissma devotione et un concorso grande a quesco santissimo giubileo, non essendo bene interromeperlo, ne anco per il tempo.

L'andera parte, che a laude, et gloria del Sig.r Dio, salute delle anime et satifactione di questa citta la prohibitione sop.ta de non si far mascare, tenir balli, ne recitar comedie debba continuar anco per tutto il mese presenre di febraro con tutte le pene contenute nella parte p.ta delli 2 del mese passato, et sia publicata et d.

De parte-----21

De non-----5

Non sinc.-----l

ASV, Consiglio de' Dieci, Comune, R. 32, 1575-76, 104r.

Appendix 2a, 22 December 1580

in cons.o di X.

che sia data licentia per questa volta a quelli che recitano comedie, che passate le tre feste prossime di Natale, possonno per tutto it carneval che seguita, solamente recitar le loro comedie in questa citta con espressa conditione, che siano finite alle quatro hora di notte al piu, dovendo anco esser recitate con modestia, et honesta. Ne vi possa esser data principio, se prima non si havera relatione con da proti, et periti li quail dalle capi de questo cons.o siano mandari a veder diligentessimamente i luoghi, ove si doveranno recitare, che siano forte et sicuri in modo, che non vi possa succeder alcuna ruina.


-----5-----6 pender 2/3


ASV, Consiglio de' X, Parti Comuni, Filze, B. 143, dec.-feb. 1580.

Appendix 2b, 29 December 1580

in cons.o di X.

Che sia data licentia per questa volta a quelli, che recitano comedie, che possano recitar le loro comedic in questa Citta per tutto il prossimo carneval solamente principiando il primo giorno di Gennaro prossimo venturo. Con espressa conditione, che siano finite alle quattro hore di notte al piu, dovendo anco esser tecitate con modestia, et honesta.


4 2/3 (line drawn through 11 notes that parte passed.)


ASV, Consiglio de' X, R. 35, 1580-81, 118v.

Appendix 3

25 September 1581 in cons.o di X.

Sono stati sempre studiosissimi li maggiori nostri, huomini sapientissimi, et religiossimi, di levar tutte le occasioni, et incentivi, che possono corromper li boni costumi della gioventu, et pero del 1508. a 29. di Decembre prohibitero con questo cons.o il recitar di comedie, egloge, et cose simili, perche in esse venivano fatti atti, et dette parole lascive, et inhoneste. Questa prohibitione per molto tempo e stata osservata con grandissima laude della Republica nostra, ma da alcuni anni in qua si e introdotto, che per questo cons.o con li 2/3. delle ballote vien data licentia di recitar comedic, alle quali concorrono huomini, et donne, giovani, et vecchi; onde per la commodita, che hanno li tristi di suvertir l'incauta eta de' giovani, ne segueno infiniti inconvenienti contra l'honor del sig.r Dio, la salute dell'anime, et con qualche nota del governo, vedendosi, che in questa citta non solamente vien data ordinario ricetto alli comedianti, ma die li sia stato fabricato piu d'un loco per recitar le loro inhonestissime comedie: al die dovendosi proveder gloria di sua Divina Maesta et per universal beneficio dell'anime, et del corpo di tutti li habitanti in questa Citta,

L'andera parte, che la licentia del recitar [here 'simil' inserted] comedie, [here 'o' inserted] egloge, o case simile [this last three word phrase scratched out and the wards 'intendendosi pero di quelle, che sana recitate da persane mercenarie' inserted in the margin] non possa esser concessa, se non per parte pasta dal Principe, dalli sei cansiglieri, et dalli tre capi, et presa con li 5/6. delle ballote di queste cons.o congregato al perfetta numero di 17. et che avanti il mandar della parre sia sempre letra la presente deliberatione. Et se alcuno andira contra il presente ordine recitar in loco publico, o privato ['simil' added in margin] comedia, ['o' inserted] egloga, ['od altra cosa simile' scratched out] caschi a pena di vogar in galea di condemnati mesi disdotto can i ferri alli piede, et non essendo bon da galea, di star anni tre in pregion serrada, et di pagar ducati vinticinque a chi l'havera ritentuto, et presentato nelle forze: ne il tempo della galea, o pregion le habbi a cominciar, se non dopo pagati li sap.ti danari. Et la presente parte non possa per qualsivoglia causa esser suspesa, alterada, interpretada, revocada, o decchiarida, se non con parte posta, er presa con tutti li ordini soprascritti.


-----3 (line thorugh 10 shows that it passed)


ASV, Consiglio dei Dieci, Parti comuni, Filze, B. 147, sept.-nov. 1581

Appendix 4a, 8 February 1584

in C.X.

Havendo inteso questo Consiglio dalla scrittura hora letta come li Comedi gelosi ricercano licentia di poter rappresentar per tratenimento della citta soggetti pastorali, et tragici et comedie honestissime non si deve mancar di esaudirli con tale honeste conditioni, pero L'andera parte, che sia per questi restanti giorni del Carnovale concessa licentia alli predetti Comici di poter recitar le comedie con ogni modestia, et honesta com'e predetto. et che esse siano finite alle tre' [quattr' scratched out] hore di notte al piu, dovendo esser tenuti aperti li palchi di giorno, et di notte, et posti li cesendeli per tutti li andedi innanzi il recitar, et tenuti accesi fino al fine, si che tutti siano partiti dal luago dove si recitarano. Et non facendo quanto e prescritto la licentia sia nulla, et di niun valore.


-----7-----6 2/3 pender al presente


Nota come furono lette tutte le soprascritte parte notate in margine che sono in materia delle comedie, Rosso. c. 55v., L.o 79 c. 184, L.o 83 c. 9 r & v, c. 178 v., c. 181.

ASV, Consiglio dei Dieci, Parti Comuni, Filze, B. 158, novembre a febbraio 1584.

Appendix 4b

Inside the above sheet is the following letter from the Gelosi, folded in half.

Ill.mi et Ecc.mi SS.ri

Il rispetto, et la riverenza, che la compagnia di noi Comici Gelosi ha sempre debitamente havuto questo et feliciss.o dominio, ha fatto, che mai habbiamo preso ardire di recitar comedie in questa sua felicissima citta, se non habbiamo havuto particolar licentia dalle VV. SS. con tutto che habbiamo veduto altre compagnie prendersi licenza da loro stesse, et recitar come al presente si fa da diversi in diversi luoghi della citta; ii che vedendo noi devotissimi, et ubedientissimi suoi servitori habbiamo preso ardir di comparer con questa dinanti le VV. SS. per supplicarle con quella maggior riverenza, er humilta che si puo, che sieno contente concederci licenza per questi pochi giorni che restano del Carnevale, promettendo di fuggir tutte quelle cose, die possono dar pur minimo suspetro di dishonesta qual sivoglia pia, et ben creata persona rappresenrando solamente soggetti pastorali, tragici, er di qualche comedia honestissima. procuraremo che li palchi restino in ogni tempo apperti dinanti si che mai si possa nasconder con scandalo alcuna persona, et procuraremo di trattener questa sua citta con quella honesta er con quelli esempij de buoni costumi che conoscemo convenire ad'una citta virtuosa et religiosa come e questa, per la esaltatione della quale non cessaremo mai di pregar Dio Nostro et con cio alla buona gratia delle VV. SS. humilmente si raccommandamo.

Appendix 5a, 11 February 1584

Che la lettera di Rettori nostri di Vicenza di vij del mese presente, indricciata alli capi di questo Cons.o horn letta, in mareria della Rappresentation della Tragedia, c'ha da esser fatta in quella citta, sia mandata alli savij del Collegio nostro, perche sopra di essa habbiano quella consideratione, che li parera.




ASV, Consiglio de' Dieci, Comune, R. 37, 1583-84, 177r.

Appendix 5b, 21 February 1584

in Pregadi

Risposta: Alli Rettori di Vicenza

Vedute da noi le vostre lettere scritte ai capi del cons.o nostro di .X. in proposito del spettacolo della Tragedia, che ha da esser rappresentata questo carnevale in quella Citta, vi dicemo col senato, che parendoci poter bastare l'auttorita che havere per [the following words scratched out: 'far passar le cose can quiete, vogliamo tener per fermo, che mediante la vostra prudentia et diligenza'] pravedere a tutto quello che sara necessario in simile occasione, et conoscendovi noi insieme prudenti, et diligenti, vogliamo tener per fermo, che non mancherete punto di far da voi medesimi, che le case di tal spettacolo [ward scratched cut to paint that it is unreadable] passino con quella quiete, et satisfattione universale, che si conviene.

----- 107

----- 27l[etta]. c[on] 19. Feb. 84.

----- 23

ASV, Senato 1, Filze 93

Appendix 5c

Folded inside the above sheet is the letter from the Rettori of Vicenza:

All'Ill:mi er Ecc:mi SS.ri Coll.mi li SS.ri Cappi dell' Cons.o di .X.

Ill.mi & Ecc.mi SS.ri coll.mi

L'Accademia Olimpica, la quale e una compagnia instituita gia da molt'anni in questa Citta di buon numero di Gentilhuomini, et d'altre persone di qualita anco forastiere, havendo fabricato un Nobilissimo; et molto sontuoso Theatro, et continuando tuttavia nell'ordinare sue virtuosi esercitationi, delibero fino a tempo de Cl.mi nostri Precessori di rappresentare nel prossimo Carnovale L'Edippo Tragedia Antica, ma traddotta in lingua Italiana dal S.or Orsato Giustiniano. Et approssimandosi il tempo di mettere in opera quanto con molta Spesa hanno dissegnato di fare, habbiamo giudicato debito nostro di darne conto riverentemente, come facciamo, alle VV SS., le quali siano contente, quando cosi piaccia al loro prudentissimo giuditio, di coagiunar con la somma authorita loro l'ottima volonta, che noi habbiamo di procurare per ogni via, che questo Spetaculo honoratissimo passi con quella quiete che si conviene, et con quella sodisfatione, che universalmenre s'aspetta, dovendo per quello s'intende, conc orrervi assai buon numero de forastieri, et se ben noi per tal effetto attenderemo con ogni studio, et diligentia a far opportunamente quelle provisioni, ch'andiamo tuttavia fra noi medesimi dissegnando di dover fare, nondimeno, quando all'ordinaria nostra aurhorita s'aggiongesse anco quella di piu, che paresse all'Ecc. VV. di conciederne, crediamo in caso tale potersi raggionevolmente sperare tutto quel buon fine, che si desiclera, rendedosi piu facile et l'impedire, et il reprimere con essa ogn'uno de quegl'accidenti, che in in simili occasioni alcuna volta sogliono occorrere, i, quali pero volgiamo credere, che non debbano succedere; rimettendo il tutto al prudentissimo giuditio, dell'Ecc: VV. prontissimi ad eseguire quanto da loro ne sara comandato: Gratiae.

Da Vicenza alli vij: febraro 1585. [In Vicenza the Venetian mode of dating was nor used.]

Li Rettori

on verso: 84 .7. febraro Vicenza Rettori

ASV, Senaro 1, Filze 93.

Appendix 6a, 14 January 1585

Che sia concesso licentia alli Nobili homeni figli che furono del q. nob. hom. s. Andrea Tron si come hanno supplicato, che possano net luogo da loro fabricato far recitar comedie per tutto questo Carnovale in questa citta, con conditione espressa, che esse comedic siano finite alle quattr'hore di notte al piu, dovendo anco esser recirare con ogni modestia et honesta. Ne possono principalmente esser recitate esse comedic, se non sera con yenta riferito alli capi di questo cons.o che siano stati tutti li pakhi del luogo aperti dalla parte da driedo, et traversati con cantinelle in modo, che ciascuno che passera possi veder per dentro di essi paichi; et cosi debanno star aperti per tutto detto carneval, et li cesendeli siano posti per tutti li Andedi inanzi il recitar delle comedic, et tenuti accesi fino al fine di esse, et fin, che tutti siano partiti dal luogo dove si recitano. Et non facendosi quanto predetto restino li predeci Nobili nostri privi della predetta licentia di poter far recitar le comedie: et l i Comedianti castigati, segondo la forma delle parti in cio disponenci.

----- 3

----- ii preso de non 2/3

----- 2

(in margin) Capi eccerto s Zaccaria Contarini

Rubeus c 55v, Lii - c 115 (sic. actually c 155), 82 c116, c118v, 83 c9v, c178v, c180v, c181

ASV, Consigilo de' Dieci, Comune, Registro 38, 1585-86, 81v.

Appendix 6b

(Follows immediately on the same page]

Adi soprascripto (14 January 1585)

Che per li capi di questo Consiglio sia fatto intender alli Nobili huomini s Alvise Tron, et filgioli fur de s. Andrea overo a suoi commissarij, et innervenienti, et alli Nobili Homeni Alvise Michiel et fratelli fur de s. Piero Antonio che in termine de giorni xv. debbono haver facto disfare in tutto, en per tutto li patchi, scene, en atre cose mobili dalli luoghi fatti fabricar da essi per recitar Comedie, si che non vi resti pur vestigie alcuna per il detto effetto. Altrimenti passati essi giorni quindeci, non havendo li predetti Nobili homeni obedito, et essegurito quanta e predetto sia per li sopscripti Capi mandato di subico far levar, et disfar dalli predetti luoghi tutti li palchi, solari scene, et ogni altra cosa pertinente al recitar di Comedie: Et li legnami, et altra [82r.] cosa pertinence al recitar di comedic. Et li legnami, et altra materia sia dispensara ad pias causas, et a quelli, che haverano lavorato secondo, che parera ad essi capi di questo consiglio.

----- ii

----- 2

----- 2

(in margin) Capi. s Zaccaria Contarini, s Zuan Matthia Pisani, s Hieronimo Surian

A 15. detto fu riterrata et letta la presente parte alli Nobili homeni s Hettor Tron et s Piero Michiel.

ASV, Consiglio de' Dicci, Comune, Registro 38, 1585-86, 81v.

n.b. In the rough draft of this document the words "alli nobili" are inserted before "S Alvise Tron" and the words "altre cose" are substituted for "altri luoghi." ASV, Consiglio de' X, Parti Comuni, Filze 161 1585, nov-feb.

Appendix 6c

Inside a folded sheet with the rough draft of 6a is another sheet, undated, in another hand. Sereniss.o Principe Pad.i et Sig.i Ecc.mi

Se la grandezza, delle molte, et infinite, miserie, di cosi numerosa famiglia, di noi Alvise Tron, fratelli, et sorelle fo del' m Andrea, in recognitione delli molti meriti, del' misero Padre, et infelici barbari (cruel), nostri, nell'ardentissima passata Guerra; per la schivaitu, per el spargimeto, del'santue, della robba, et vite, l'oro, a, servitio di questo Sereniss.o Dominio; puo, mai, sperar', in qual'si voglia tempo, o, meritar gratia, dalla solita Benignita, di V. Ser.ta et delle V. S. Ecc.e. Hora, ricerca, la necessita, et l'occasione. Poiche evidentemente siamo, per cascare, et miseramente dessolare, l'infeliciss.a casa nostra; la quale, con felice stella, potria, un giorno; con el' chiaro, et fresco essempio; che nostri progienitori, con molta fede, et devotione spender allegramente tutte le sforze nostre, et la vita, insieme, a, commodo, et beneficio, di questa Patria; penso, il povero, et dissaventurato Padre; per sicurezza, del' nostro graviss.o bisognia; fabricar un' luoco, da recitar comm edie, impegando, in quello, quel poco, di cavedal' [capital], ch' egli havea; ne sparagnio [risparmio], maggiormente di obligarsi, a, molti debiti; con acrescimento, di maggior spesa, dalli el.mi Prov.i di Commun', di ondi, del'suo Colegio; che ogni cosa, a, nostro mal'grado, sopra le spalle nostre; e, stata addossata; et sperava egli, da essa Fabrica, con publico instrumento fatto, con alcuni Commici, con' sodisfation' della Ser.ta V. et delle V. S. Ecc.e ritrar' giusto, et honesto guadagnio; ma sia, o, che li accidenti de tempi, passati, il cattivo concetto, o, per dir meglio, la nostra adversa fortuna; che, havendosi, continuamente li precedenti anni, permesso, il recitar commedie, nelli fabricati, Teatri, di altri; a, noi miseri, et infelici, subbito fosse prohibito, senza restoro, o, suffragio alcuno: che troppo infelice, et misera; e, stata, la sorte, et condittion nostra; et havendo, procurato, li nostri, d'intender, la causa, di questa prohibitione sonno, stati, avertiti; che li Palchi serrati, et l'opinione, che a l'hora, le commedie, si rapresentassero, co' parole, licentiose, et poco honeste, hanno causato, tanto dissordine; alle qual'cose, si ha fermamente deliberato, de Proved.r et con ogni diligentia, invigilar; primamente si aprirano, li palchi, et resterano continuamente apertissimi, et si osservera inviolabilmente che li Commici, che rapresenteranno Commedie, Egloghe, Tragedie, Pastorali, et cose simili, nelli nostri luochi, le faranno, con tanta modestia, honesta, et prudentia; senza scandalo, ne mormoratione, alcuna; et con dolce, grato, et desiderato, trattenimento, di tutta la citta. Et se altro, parera, alla Ser.ta V. et alle V. S. Ecc.e di ordinate, regolare, et riformare, sia in qual'si voglia modo, o, forma; si offerimo, humilmente di abbraciare, osservare, et prontamente obedire; Et se, in tutte, be patti, di Christianita, in Roma, en Bolognia; con buona licenza, di Sua Santita, si reccinano Commedie, si come pienamente Ia Ser.ta V. et le V. S. Ecc.e si possono giustificare, perch e a, noi miseri, et infelici; a, tanta solevation nostra non sera concesso; Prostrati adunque alle Piedi, della Ser.ta V. et delle V. S. Ecc.e con ogni sommissione, et riverentemente pregamo, et supplicamo, si degnino favorite, che li nostri Commici, possino recinar Commedie, nel'nostro luogho, per quelli giorni, di carnevale, che alla molta sua prudenza, pareria convenienti. Che di tale, e, tanto beneficio; porgieremo, del continuo, affetuosissimi prieghi, al nostro Sig.r Dio, per l'augumento, et felicita, di questa Rep. et per la conservation, della Ser.ta VG. et delle V. S. Ecc.e.

ASV, Consiglio de' Dieci, Parti Comuni, Filze 161, 1585, nov-feb.

Appendix 7

8 march 1591

Intendosi, che nella terra nostra di Murano si e introdotto da alcuni giorni in qua il recitar comedie per guadagno, il che essendo con pericolo di qualche scandolo, et contra li buoni costumi, et la forma delle leggi nostre in detto proposito, conveniente provedere, che non continuino, pero

L'andera parte, che fatto venite dimane mattina il Podesta di quella Terra al Tribunal di li Capi di questo Cons.o gli sia in nome di esso fatto intendere, che non permetti a modo alcuno, che si continui a recitar comedie in essa Terra, er che licentij immediate li comedianti, che le recitano, intimandogli, che obediscano, sotto le pene statuite dalle leggi nostre contra quelli, che le recitavano in questa Citta.



ASV, Consiglio de' X, Comune, Registro 41, 1590-91, 161v.

Appendix 8

Capitolo XXV

"Della Lusuria de Venetianj e de Beneficij fattj da Giesuiti alla e come piu tosto si devono dire Veneriani che, e s'accenna dj nuovo al regresso delle sudette cause a gli effetti."

...Al tempo ch'io quivj dimoravo v'erano introdotte le Comedie in modo, che per esse era stato fato un'edificio dj gran spesa aguisa d'un anfiteatro ove si riduceva quasi tutta la nobilta, et v'erano nobili che pregavano li Comedianj che diccesero le piu grasse per non dire piu sporche cose che mai sapessero, et essi ci menavano poj le mogli et le figliuole alla quale corruttela con arteficio li Giesuiti s'opposero, er la sradicavano a fatto; onde Se maj per altro, certo per quest'opera sono degni di laude, et gloria appresso i buonj, sicome anco per quell'altra che molti annj sono tornando dal Concilio di Trento il Padrea Alfonso Almerone Giesuita e fermatosi in Ven.a a predicare vedendo le nobile andar con le spalle e con il peto ignude sino all'ombelico mostran le mamelle et in cambio di quell sottilissimo velo che portavano sopra la carne ordino che si facessero un giuppone scollato, che dal nome del Predicatore sudetto et e ancora nominato l'almerone. I Giesuiti dunque per oviare a qual vi tuperoso modo dj recitar comedie si lascivamente e con si gran concorso di tutta la citta ma piu de Nobili misero in cosideratione a'quej senarorj, che in quel luogo cosi fabricato e pieno di tanta gente, e massime de nobili, i quail per loro havevano affittati quasi tutti i palchi facilmente ad' alcuni poteva venire in mente con qualche machina dj far abbruggiate quel edificio et estinguere buona parte di quella Nobilta, indi fattesi molre e molte renghe in senato sopra dj cio, e conosciuto l'evidente pericolo in che la Cita si trovava, prohibirono a fatto il recitar le comedie, e fece disfare quella fabrica, ch'era stara fatta a quel effetto con gran danno dj chi l'haveva fatta fare....

Persio, 1607, 38r & v.

* The dates in this article are from the Venetian calendar, in which the new year began on 1 March. I have chosen to follow the Venetian system because carnival season, when most theatrical performances took place, occurred between Christmas and Lent and so generally fell conveniently into one calendar year. I would like to thank the staff of the Archivio di Stato, Venice (henceforth ASV), for their gracious help and Beth Glixon for reading a draft of this article.

(1.) For this material, see particularly Klein and Zerner.

(2.) The classic study of these companies is Venturi.

(3.) Mangini, 1989, 12

(4.) Good and somewhat complimentary bibliographies for the commedia dell'arte are in Richards and Richards, 323-37, and Andrews, 280-88.

(5.) Sansovino, 206, "Sono poco distanti da questo Tempio (of S. Cassiano) due Teatri bellissimi edificati, con spesa grande, l'uno in forma ovata et l'altro rotonda, capaci di gran numero di persone; per recitarvi ne' rempi del Carnevale, Comedie, secondo l'uso della citta."

(6.) Sforza, 793-806, conveniently republished by Mancini, Muraro, Povoledo, xxv-xxvii.

(7.) Mangini, 1974, 11, n. 6, learned of Sforza's book from Giazotto, 908-09, but to Mangini belongs the credit for understanding the importance of Sforza's publication. Mangini's book followed the important article by Padoan Urban of 1966 and the exhibition of 1971 organized by L. Zorzi, Muraro, Prato and E. Zorzi, who seem to have been unaware of the documents published by Sforza. Of these, they mention (49, n. 18) only one (Sforza, doc. 6, 798-99), but cite its location in the ASV without noting its prior publication.

(8.) Sforza, doc. 6, 798-99 (ASV, Consiglio de' Dieci, Comune, R. 36, 9r., 25 September 1581): "... sia stato fabricato piu d'un loco per recitar le loro inonestissime comedie." and doc. 8, 800-01 (ASV, Consiglio de' Dieci, Comune, R. 36, 180v., 5 January 1582): "Ne possano principalmente esser recitate esse comedic, se non sara con vertita riferito alli Capi di questo Consiglio, che siano stati tutti Ii palchi del luoco aperti dalla parte da driedo, et traversati con cantinelle, in modo che chiascuno che passera, possi veder per dentro di essi palchi."

(9.) Scholars who took up the subject of the history of the box before Mangini rescued Sforza's documents believed that the modern box only appeared in the fourth decade of the seventeenth century. See Magagnato, 1954,274; Povoledo, 1960, 1506; Muraro 1962, 1539, and 1964, 92-93. Mangini himself, 1974, 21, n. 11, and 22, n. 16, was even a bit tentative about their configuration.

(10.) I have searched in the Archivio di Stato, Venice, for evidence of misbehaviour in the boxes, so far without success.

(11.) D'Ancona, 2:452. "Si tiene che li preti giesuiti hanno reclamato assai, che nelli palchi di quelli due loghi fabricati a posta si operassero molte scelleratezze, con scandolo."

(12.) Molmenti, 1906, 438, and 1927-29,411. He erroneously believed this theater to have been the one erected by Palladio in Venice in 1565. A biographical sketch of Persio (1542-1612) is given by Artese, 1-5, to which he appends, n. 1, a bibliography. I am grateful to Frederick Ilchman for calling Artese's publication to my attention.

(13.) Persio, 1607, 38 r&v. See Inventari dei Manoscritte, 104. Appendix 8.

(14.) Mangini, 1974, 18, citing Persio, 1576. Padoan Urban, n. 25, pointed out that in 1591 Persio was in Venice, where his, Del ber caldo costumato dagli antichi romani was published in 1593. Both books are cited in Minieri Ricci, 266, and Tafuri di Nardo, 9. Persio's birth and death dates are not clear; he was active between ca. 1575 and 1607.

(15.) Sforza, 793, "multa verba et actus turpia lascivia et inhonestissima."

(16.) Mancini, Muraro, Povoledo, 67-85.

(17.) ASV, Consiglio de' Dieci, Comune, R. 26 and 27, which cover 1563 through 1566, do not appear to contain any permissions for theatrical performances. Performances were allowed in 1561, however. Ibid., Registro 25, 1561-62, 76r. 30 January 1561: "Che per questi pochi giorni del presente carneval sia concesso, che si possano recitar comedie, et altre representationi, restando pero in reliquis forma la parte, che prohibisce simili representationi." The vote was 13 yes, 4 no, and 0 abstentions. I have not searched the pre-1561 records of the Council of Ten.

(18.) Sforza, Doc. 2, 795-96, dated 16 February 1529.

(19.) Cozzi, 1959, 190-91.

(20.) ASV, Consiglio de' X, Comune, R. 28, 1567-68, 164v, 19 January 1568: "Che sia data licentia per questa volta a quelli, che recitano comedie che per questi prossimi giorni di Carnevale solamente essi comedianti possino recitar le loro comedie, et con conditione espressa. che esse siano finite di recitar able tre hore di notte al piu, dovendo recitar honesta, et modestamente." The vote was 13 yes, 3 no, 1 abstention.

(21.) Ibid., R. 31, 1573-74, 76v., 10 November 1573: "Che sia data licentia per questa volta a quelli, che recitano Comedie, che da mo per fino tutto'l prossimo Carneval solamente, essi Comedianti possino recitar le loro comedie in questa citta, con conditione espressa, che esse siano finite alle tre hore di notte al piu, dovendo esser recitate modestamente con honesta, et dignita." The vote was 13 yes, 2 no, 1 abstention. It was noted that "Lecta fuit lex 1508 die xxix decembris cons: X. que est in lib Rubeo"

(22.) Appendix la.

(23.) Appendix lb.

(24.) ASV, Consiglia de' Dieci, Comune, R. 34, 1578-79, 49v., 15 January 1578: "Che sia data licentia per questa volta a quelli, che recitano comedie che da mo per fino tutto'l presente carneval solamente essi comedianti possino recitar le loro comedie in questa citta con condition expressa che esse sino finite alle quarro hare di name al piu dovendo esser recitade modestamente, et con honesta et dignita." The vote was 8 yes, 2 no, 2 abstentions.

(25.) The Austrians were apparently treated to a show similar to the one noted by Davis, 47, put on for Henry III of France in 1574.

(26.) ASV, Consiglio de' Dieci, Comune, R. 34, 1578-79, 50r.

(27.) Sforza, doc. 5., 798, but he does not record the vote. ASV, Consiglia de' Dieci, Comune, R. 34, 1578-79, 184r.

(28.) Appendix 2a. I have quoted the language of the filze here, which ends with the word 'ruina." In the transcription in the Registro, ASV, Consiglio de' Dieci. Comune. R. 35, 1580-81, 116r., the word "novita" is substituted.

(29.) See n 5.

(30.) Appendix 2b.

(31.) Solerti and Lanza, 174, Archivio di Stato, Modena, Archivio per materie. Drammatica. Minute di lettere a commici. B 4438/91. Text also given in Mancini, Muraro, Povoledo, 126. "Mi trovo haver fatto, alli comici confidenti, una spesa di molta importanza per il recitare delle comedie, con patti, et conditioni come per publico instrumento si puo vedere; et gia sono passati giorni, che si e principiato a recitare, per la qual occasione, si ha scosso per capara di molti Palchi, circa D. mille, da diversi Nobili di questa citta." Later in the letter he says that he has "accomodato la metta de Nobili di questa citta," or roughly 600 nobles, plus wives and offspring, if he was not exaggerating. Unfortunately, Tron's figure is no help in trying to establish the capacity of his theater.

(32.) Ibid.

(33.) Mangini, 1989, 15-18.

(34.) See n. 31 above.

(35.) Sella, 655-59, 686, and 688, in which he suggests that some Venetian patricians may have had sufficient income in the late sixteenth century to invest both in traditional mercantile enterprises and in newer pursuits, such as land acquisition. Mangini, 1989, 13-15, suggests further reasons for the Michiel and Tron investments in theaters.

(36.) Appendix 2.

(37.) Mancini, Murano, Povoledo, 96-97. I am grateful to Chuck Collins, Lindsay and Peter Joost, and Harold Williams, who together arranged for me to visit the Albrizzi garden.

(38.) Ibid., 106-11.

(39.) Ibid., 90, 92. Padoan Urban, 138, stated that she had seen fragments of frescoes and architectural elements from this theater.

(40.) A parallel case may be the Teatro Sant'Aponal, built in the following century, which had three rows of palchi inserted in an already existing space. See Glixon and Glixon.

(41.) Davis, 47.

(42.) Ibid., 134, 206, n. 14.

(43.) Johnson, 446-47.

(44.) An anonymous reader for Renaissance Quarterly suggested the intriguing hypothesis that another precedent might be the small rooms, opening onto the public way, used by prostitutes in the neighborhood adjacent to the Tron theater. A courtesan could display herself in her doorway and then dose the door once a client had entered. This reader astutely suggested that the parallel that could be drawn between what went on in these little rooms and in the theater boxes may have increased the sense of alarm on the part of the Ten about the activity in the palchi.

(45.) Sforza, Doc. 6, 798-99. "che sono recitate da persone mercenarie."

(46.) Ibid., 793, n. 1.

(47.) Appendix 3; "intendendosi pero di quelle [commedie], die sono recitare da persone mercenarie."

(48.) Mangini, 1974, 20, 24. Mancini, Muraro, Povoledo, 94, 126.

(49.) Sforza, Doc. 7, 800.

(50.) Ibid, Doc. 8 and 9, 800-02, 5 January and 14 January 1582.

(51.) Padoan Urban, 138, "per gratificare li Giovani Nobili." Museo Correr, Mss. Cicogna 2991, II, 26-28, contains a copy of the parte of 25 September 1581, to which is added the following notation: "Nota che del 1582. 17. Xbre. fu la sud.a Parte intromessa, & tagliata, e si fecero Commedie a S. Caxan per gratificar li Giovani Nobili."

(52.) Lowry is the source of the account given here. For a study of the group of men who ran the republic at the end of the Cinquecento see Grendler.

(53.) See n. 11.

(54.) Sforza, Doc. 8, 800-01. "Ne possano principalm.te esser recitate esse comedic, se non sara con verita riferito alli capi di questo cons.o che siano stati tutti li palchi del luoco aperti dalla parte da driedo, et traversati con cantinelle, in modo che ciascuno, che passera possi veder per dentro di essi palchi, et cosi debban star aperti per tutti essi xv giorni, et non facendosi quanto predetto restino li comedianti immediate privi della predeta licenza di poter recitar le comedie." ASV, Consiglio de' Dieci, Comune, R. 36, 180v.

(55.) In modern Italian cantinelli are the wooden beams that hold up stage flats, but it may be anachronistic to push that meaning back into the sixteenth century. The modern meaning, however, may help to visualize how the doors would have been held open in the theaters under discussion here.

(56.) Ibid., Doc. 9,801-02. "et con ancora, che li palchi habbiano star aperti di giorno, et di notte. et li cesendeli siano posti per tutti li andedi innanzi il recirar delle comedie, et tenuti accesi fino al fine di esse, et fin che tutti siano partiti dal luoco dove si recitano." ASV, Consiglio de' Dieci, Comune, R 36, 1581-82, 181r.

(57.) Archivio di Stato, Mantua, Archivio Gonzaga, E. XXXI, 3.B.1256. D'Ancona, 2:484-85.

(58.) Appendix 4b.

(59.) Appendix 4a.

(60.) A brief history of the Gelosi is in Richards and Richards, 61-64.

(61.) Appendix 4b. Unfortunately, no details are given about the plays they planned to perform.

(62.) Ibid.

(63.) Ibid.

(64.) Appendix 5c.

(65.) The first performance in the Olimpico was on 3 March 1585. Mazzoni contains an ample recent bibliography on the theater.

(66.) Appendix 5a.

(67.) Appendix 5b and c.

(68.) Oosting, 174-75, published a document of 9 February 1585 (not Venetian manner) in which the members of the Academy decided on seating arrangements: "Andrea parte, che sia constituito ad essi Accademici loco particolare nell'orchestra, ove non sia concesso ad alcun altro il sedervi, et inoltre le mogli di tutti gli Accademici haver debbano in essa orchestra uno o due gradi dopo ii prima, che sara destinato alla clarissima Signora Capitania, et alle altre gentildanne Veneziane, et forestiere di canto." The document goes on to allow unmarried members to invite female relatives to sit with the wives of members, and also foreign gentlewomen living in their households. The resolution closes with the following admonition against mixing the sexes: ".... con espressa prohibitione a donne et persone mascherate et travestite haver loco or et meno in altra parte del teatro per convenienti rispetti."

(69.) Again, no particulars about such plays are offered.

(70.) Appendix 6c. In the translation I have tried to smooth over some of the most awkward passages in the letter.

(71.) Appendix 6a.

(72.) Appendix 6b.

(73.) Ibid.

(74.) Artese, 2, 4.

(75.) Persio, 1576, 119, " ... il Clariss. Sign. Zacheria Contarini vostro fratel cugino maggiore, il quale insieme con voi altri fratelli, & cugini viventi nell'istesso palagia." Here he is addressing Piero Contarini, to whom he dedicated the book. The Contarini had particularly close ties to the Jesuits. Kolvenbach, 49-50, notes the relationship that St. Ignatius himself had with an earlier Piero Contarini, the uncle of Persio's dedicatee, during Ignatius' second Venetian sojourn, beginning at the end of 1535. Padoan Urban, 139, also points to the closeness of the Contarini to the Jesuits. Persio, n. 13, refers to another member of the family, "Reverendo padre Philippo," who was then active in the Jesuit order. For Zaccharia Contarini see Benzoni. In Musco Correr, Mss. Cicogna 2991, II, 27, one finds the following entry about Zaccharia Contarini in old age: "Dopo 35. anni in circa, che i Veneti Padri cacciaca avevano con solenne Decreto gl'Istrioni, tentandosi da alcuni Ciovani di ristabilirgli, Zaccaria Co ntarini, ch'era allora Procurator di S. Marco, fatto si portare, quantunque gravemente infermo in Senato, auditoque pro comicijs consilio, clamans cap ut exeruit e pulvinari ultimoque spiritu id prestitit, ut Urbe tota iterum Histriones pellerentur. // Francisicus Maria de Monaco. In Actores et spectatores comediarum."

(76.) Appendix 6b.

(77.) Persio, 1607, "Consagrato a Simon Pietro capo degli Apostoli et della Chiesa Cattolica Romana, et a suoi degni successori."

(78.) Appendix 11.

(79.) Ruggiero, 109-45, discusses the treatment of sodomy in the Trecento and Quattrocento; my readings in the ricordi of the Ten from the Cinquecento suggest that similar treatment was handed out then.

(80.) Cozzi 1994, 65, notes that they had managed to have a comedy performance cancelled and the scenery destroyed as early as 1559.

(81.) Ottonelli, 117.

(82.) Appendix 10.

(83.) See Mangini, 1974, 33-42, and Mancini, Muraro, Povoledo, 97-149, for the subsequent history of this theater and Rosand, 67-75, for an account of the opera itself. Although the libretto of the opera, Andromeda, was published in May 1637, the performances were given in the preceding February (Ibid., 70), thus in 1636 according to the Venetian calendar.

(84.) This part of the story will be developed in publications now being prepared.


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Author:Johnson, Eugene J.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Critical Essay
Geographic Code:4EUIT
Date:Sep 22, 2002
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