Act II, In Which Ruzzante Tries to Take Back Padua
Prior to the introduction of permanent theatre buildings into the Veneto, the art of taking place preceded and indeed made way for each theatrical performance. That is, in order to perform, Ruzzante and other performers of his ilk had to carve out a space for themselves. In the Lettera giocosa, Ruzzante took place in a number of ways, including through the sonorous territorializing gesture produced through his Paduan dialect. The dialect had a dual function: it simultaneously constructed Ruzzante’s identity as a member of the rural peasantry, an identity that allowed him to invade the private space of the palace and insinuate himself into the personal life of his letter’s addressee, and deconstructed the privilege that normally accompanied the act of belonging in that palace. Instead of governmental officials and members of the most elite patrician families, there stood
Ruzzante whose obscenity-drenched yokel slurs compelled the audience’s attention for the brief duration of his monologue while also making cutting remarks at the very people who helped him make his living. “Cutting” remarks, as I will demonstrate below, were particularly important to his brand of humor. Collectively, these constructive and deconstructive elements embedded within the sound and content of Ruzzante’s monologue mirrored the acts of conquest and revolt occurring on the mainland outside ofVenice proper. As Venice fought to reclaim Padua and other cities in the Veneto in those years after the Cambrai wars, the autonomy of the cities was crippled and brought under the control of the Republic. Ruzzante’s presence inside the palace worked, if only temporarily, to reverse that phenomenon. His Paduan dialect and the derision it piled upon the Venetian audience occupied the space of the performance, thus reclaiming a small patch of land in the name of Padua. Ultimately, though, he could find no permanent purchase in Venetian soil.
No matter where he performed, Ruzzante always declared his allegiance to Padua. His native town underwrote his very identity. When he entered Venice, he brought Padua with him (in his voice, for example). When he returned to Padua, however, he still needed to bring his own understanding of Padua to the scene. That is to say, and as already discussed in Chapter 3, the Venetian domination of Padua in the sixteenth century eroded the image and the essence of Padua that Ruzzante cherished and in which he believed. Thus, upon returning to his homeland, Ruzzante’s acts of taking place would display that eroding image and essence for the eyes of the very people whose presence damaged Ruzzante’s place of birth, even and perhaps especially if those people considered themselves Paduan.
Every attempt Beolco, as Ruzzante, made to put his root down, to lodge himself in place, to plant or to re-sow a notion of Padua as autonomous, proud, luscious, and so on, reveals the extent to which Padua was yoked, spoiled, and tied not to the earth, not to Nature, but to the Republic. By extension, since Ruzzante’s own sense of self grew from his identification with Padua, Ruzzante’s stage presence always also entailed an undoing, a resignation to the increasing possibility that the Padua he loved had disappeared for good. This paradox, a stage presence that testified to the disappearance of native identity, played out most clearly in his final piece, the Lettera all’Alvarotto, which, appropriately, he never performed himself. For this performance, Ruzzante sent a letter containing the text of the play, a text that was in fact the letter itself, to his compare Alvarotto, who read Ruzzante’s words aloud to the gathered audience in Alvise Cornaro’s hunting lodge. In that performance, Ruzzante’s present absence mimicked the slow erosion of Padua as Ruzzante imagined it to be. Padua was there, and it was gone. Ruzzante was there, by merit of his written work, but his body was absent.
When performing in Padua, Ruzzante made changes to his theatre practice, or so it seems, in order to salvage what he could of his town. First, while the political nature of his Venetian performances remained, his presence in Padua ceased to represent some miscellaneous other belonging to a world of rustics and became, instead, a spokesperson for a specific way of life. His Paduan performances frequently presented him as the official representative of the working classes (farmers, gardeners, and people who worked directly with the land). Second, the worldview depicted by his performances no longer traded in illusory scenarios. When Ruzzante attempted to root himself inside the villas of Padua and in front of high- ranking religious officials, the environments he constructed for them bore a very close resemblance to the actual world outside of the villas’ walls. In the place of jokes about sexual conquests that had no merit in reality, such as was the case in the Lettera giocosa, Ruzzante wielded humor as a weapon against the severity of the lives led by those workers he was there to represent. Whereas in Venice Ruzzante’s audiences could quickly recover from his barbs, knowing that his jokes had no basis in reality and thus caused no permanent threat, in Padua his audiences could only laugh uneasily at material that explicitly referenced the states of affairs outside the villa’s walls. Such was the case with the Prima Oratione. Looking down onto the site of this performance reveals a topography that contains another set of gardens within gardens. The most capacious of these gardens, Padua itself, housed an area called Asolo, which contained the Villa Barco of Caterina Cornaro, a private, walled-off space in which Ruzzante sought to plant himself.
Saskia de Wit’s description of features common to late Renaissance villas offers a good starting point for an analysis of this villa in particular:
The spatial composition of the Late Renaissance villas consists usually of a principal axis slung off which are a number of autonomous interior and exterior spaces. Placing parts separately so that they cannot be taken in from one vantage point encourages movement on the part of the observer. As a result the route takes its place in the plan’s organization as a structuring element. The polarities of the hortus conclusus return in an ambiguity active on various levels. Thus, wilderness and order are made to relate by bringing the wilderness (the barco, or bosco) within the garden boundaries. (Aben and de Wit 87)
On its 100 hectares of land and bound by a massive wall, the Cornaro estate boasted a giant castle, a fountain, a park, and a barchessa, or a type of enclosed barn in which peasants worked. Seeking to master the environment on which it stood, groundskeepers sculpted the land within the villa’s wall into a series of gardens that offered contemplative bucolic scenes (Mazzotti 74). In her study of the specific location of Ruzzante’s performance, Antonella Pietrogrande provides a glimpse of the interior where Ruzzante would have taken place: “A true and proper courtly garden, loaded with humanistic themes is the Barco of Caterina Cornaro, in the countryside of Altivole, at the feet of the Asolani hills; fallen into complete ruin, today all that remains is half of a porch of a barn” (68-69). In the time of Ruzzante, the villa would have shown scars from fires caused by the Emperor Maximillian, whose troops had tried to steal Padua away from the slowly weakening Venetian Republic (69).
Somewhere within that villa, likely the sa/a, Ruzzante held court through his Prima Oratione. Whereas the villa’s planners and landscapers suggested, architecturally, a primary route through which guests should travel in order to acquire multiple advantageous views of the estate’s grandeur, Ruzzante attempted to root himself in one place, directly in front of the Oration’s addressee, Cardinal Marco Cornaro, the new Bishop of Padua, thus stabilizing the audience and offering a single viewpoint from which to look at the world. That viewpoint would reveal exactly what the wall around the villa blocked from sight: famine, hunger, and poor living conditions for Ruzzante’s Paduan compatriots.
Ruzzante’s oration had three parts. In the first, the Paduan introduced himself as the spokesperson for the territory and offered the Cardinal a long list of Padua’s many bounties (Ruzante, Teatro 1188).20 His introduction as spokesperson also allowed for a brief celebration of the Paduan dialect: “[W]e did not want to send a priest or a scholar, those people who speak according to the grammar of the Florentine language, those people, you know, that they call doctors [... ] And, just to say it, I wouldn’t change my Paduan tongue for 200 Florentine ones” (1184).21 As was the case with the Lettera giocosa, the establishment of the Paduan dialect as superior also provided an opportunity for Ruzzante to tie himself to the land of his birth. Whereas in Venice his dialect chafed against the Venetian and Florentine dialects of his audiences, in Padua Ruzzante’s privileging of his dialect and the introduction to his performance through a description of all that made Padua great entailed a larger agenda. Ruzzante’s pro- Padua introduction led to his demands for social and political change, and even though the tone of the introduction stayed light, even frivolous, Ruzzante quickly proved that he wanted more than to play nice or crack wise.
As the second part of the address, this agenda focused all eyes on the guest of honor, in whom rested the power to make changes to the disciplinary systems governing the conduct of the working classes. To shift the tenor of the address, Ruzzante landed a direct and unequivocal blow: “And then I almost shit from laughing, when they said that you are a great man. But they don’t see you. You’re just a small man, right? You are a great small man, and not a great man” (1194).22 Without the pretense of Carnevale, this brusque crack about the short stature of the most powerful man in the room conveyed a message meant to sting. Gaining in momentum, Ruzzante continued to belittle the man in purple as well as his ecclesiastical office:
So they say you are Cardinal, and that as Cardinal you are one of those who guards the gates to Heaven, but I don’t think that’s right. I think those people have never seen it, Heaven, or the gates [... ] Now, I’ll tell you: Cardinal means a great rich man, that in this world can do as he likes, and when he dies (because we all die), even ifyou haven’t been all that good, you can go straight to Heaven, and if the gate is barred, you “unhinge” it [la scardinate], and you enter straight by any means and every hole. (1196)23
Ruzzante’s addition of the prosthetic “s” before the word “cardinal” enacted a clever pun, similar to the neologism of snaturale discussed in Chapter 3. By emphasizing the etymological similarities between Cardinal and “scardinate” (literally, “to unhinge”), Ruzzante identified the Paduan bishop as a duplicitous gatekeeper who would use his status in the Church hierarchy for his own salvation.24 Neither a charming eclogue nor a poem intended to entertain the Cardinal and celebrate his rise through the ranks of the Church, this oration intoned, rather, a profane prayer offered up to a man whose purple uniform could not hide the fact that his flesh and blood made him capable of overlooking the class distinction between himself and the man insulting him in public and discussing business.
At least, this must have been Ruzzante’s hope since the third part of the oration forwarded a direct appeal for changes to the laws of the Church governing the bodies and souls of the good people of Padua. In total, Ruzzante made seven requests, which ranged from changing the regulations prohibiting work on holy feast days and permitting one to eat before Sunday mass, to demanding that higher powers castrate all philandering priests and establish the right to take multiple spouses. Ruzzante accompanied each request with a brief rationale. For example, when lobbying for a dispensation from fasting for all peasants, Ruzzante explained that digesting stone takes too much effort, inferring that peasants have resorted to eating rocks as a means for staving off hunger.25 In the case of castrating priests, he spoke sympathetically of the fragility of human flesh. Who can blame them, really, for being incapable of resisting nature’s urge? But, at the end of the day, the children that come of these sexual encounters grow into an untenable economic burden to the cuckolded fathers forced to care for these bastards.
All told, Ruzzante’s Prima Oratione expressed deep concern related to the plights of the people outside the villa walls to one person who could feasibly make changes to the laws that led to the hardship. By rooting himself in front of the Cardinal and taking up several minutes of his time, first to berate him and then to demand changes to religious law, Ruzzante developed a detailed picture of the enforced sobriety inflicted upon the rural Paduans that he had come to represent. Requests Three, Four, and Six especially made visible the ways in which the protocols of Catholic religious practice attempted to regulate the bodies of its flock. Request Three attacked the prohibition against working during feast days. Request Four challenged the sin of eating before morning mass. In Request Six, the call for castration, the image of the peasant that came into focus for the Cardinal portrayed a malnourished laboring body whose economic means of subsistence, which sometimes suffered from raising the illegitimate children produced through the fornication of priests, was directly undermined by the demands of the Church.
Overall, the Prima Oratione offered a picture of stark contradictions: the great title of Cardinal presided over the body of a little man; with all the bounties offered by Padua’s rich soil, the peasants cultivating those bounties found themselves eating stones to ward off starvation; holy feast days doubled as periods of aggravated hunger for the lowest classes; the religious pastors responsible for the spiritual guidance of all men and women produced hungry illegitimate children whom nobody could afford to feed. A socially conscious chiaroscuro heightened the drama of this picture painted through Ruzzante’s address.
The abrasiveness of the image, however, produced no effect. No changes came during the tenure of Cardinal Marco Cornaro. Not to be ignored, Ruzzante appeared in the same room a few years later in front of the next Bishop of Padua, Marco’s brother Francesco. This time around, in the Seconda Oratione, Ruzzante’s tone darkened and the frequency of jokes diminished greatly. In the place of laughs appeared more concerns, not only with the bodies of the people suffering outside in the fields but also with the affective forces of the universe. The world, for Ruzzante, was falling apart and the cause for this erosion stemmed directly from the neglect of even the most basic of personal needs on the part of the religious authorities.
Ruzzante opened the second oration with a strong statement: “For that which is given by nature, just try to do otherwise; after all, when something must be, it seems that men and women and all the reversal world [el roverso mondo] get down and help make it be [... ] that when something must freeze, it’ll freeze in August” (1208).26 “Nature” in this sentence signified the driving force of life. While these introductory words seemed to vouch for the power of nature to keep the world spinning, the rest of the oration offered a counter-argument to that opening claim. The proof: all of life’s fun had disappeared. Padua’s bounties had vanished. The paucity of food had even degraded love and copulation, thus proving that nature’s powers had a limit: “In conclusion, this world has become like an untended garden. Look around and see if you see any lovers. I can tell you that hunger has fucked love up the ass. Nobody dares to love anymore, since no one can handle the cost. ”
If the Prima Oratione depicted a scene of violent contradictions, the Seconda Oratione portended complete existential despair. The frankness of Ruzzante’s speech and the lack of any story, characters, or organizing fictitious scenario set these two theatre pieces outside of the typical genres of theatrical performances of the time. If they were not plays, what were they? By recalling the spatial palimpsest of gardens, I am tempted to call them scenographic, perhaps even scenobotanical, interventions. Fundamentally, these political performances took place, but they did so through aural and scenographic means. Ruzzante infiltrated the innermost rooms of the villa, rooted himself in front of his audience, and composed scenic portals through which residents of that interior could see beyond the villa’s walls. The scenographic dimension of the performances becomes visible by splicing images produced during the two events within the landscape of the Villa Barco with the failure of Ruzzante’s ability to root himself permanently in front of two powerful addressees. The resulting synesthetic assemblage suggests that taking place initiated much of Ruzzante’s theatre practice, and that, in the case of these specific performances, the place he tried to take, or to take back, was the Padua to which he swore a lifetime allegiance. By the end of 1528, that Padua had become uninhabitable because of the homesteading of the Venetian patricians whose villas and palaces transformed the territory into an organ of industry serving the elite landowners at the expense of those who worked the land.
In other words, Ruzzante’s orations wrote scenes of uninhabitable home. More dimensions of these scenes come into view by looking at the conditions leading to the construction of the Villa Barco. The villa acted as a refuge for Caterina Cornaro who, prior to 1489, had reigned as the Queen of Cyprus. In that year, Venice took control of Cyprus, thus relieving the Queen of her duties. After her home was created in Asolo, the space began to double as a fashionable court for artists and members of the Venetian elite. The villa’s construction coincided with the rush of building on the Venetian mainland that produced many similar venues. As such, the site of Ruzzante’s two orations was produced through an act of colonization and quickly became a home away from home for the displaced Queen. To create for her an isolated nest within the Venetian territory, architects constructed a perimeter wall to divide the exterior wilderness from the cultivated interior, as was the fashion of the time.
Among the poets making frequent visits to Queen Cornaro’s court was Pietro Bembo (self-pronounced Petrarchan protege, advocate for the poetic purification of the Italian language) who set his pastoral dialogue Asolani in the villa’s gardens. In that play, the famed Venetian poet constructed three dialogues that analyzed the merits and powers of love. The final dialogue touted the Platonic love of ideal and eternal beauty over all other kinds of secular and profane love. The remanence of Bembo’s presence on the villa’s grounds no doubt resonated within Ruzzante, whose two orations subtly dismantled Bembo’s idealism. The first act of deconstruction appeared in the Prima Oratione when Ruzzante, attempting to prove the legitimacy of Padua over all other lands, claimed that Petrarch may have lived in Florence and privileged the Tuscan tongue but, let us all remember, he had gone to Padua to die. For Ruzzante, this fact hinted at a subtle Paduan grittiness lodged within Petrarch’s poetry to which he could lay claim. Less subtly, in the closing remarks of the Seconda Oratione, Ruzzante declared love to have been “fucked up the ass by hunger.” Against Asolani s claims for a living Platonic idealism, the
Orationi asserted that a material malaise had settled over the pastoral landscape. Ruzzante’s first scenographic component, then, dismantled and blocked from the senses the high-minded literary aura haunting the Villa Barco and replaced Bembo’s poetry with a crass demand for new religious laws and a new mode of life for the masses. By calling for reform, Ruzzante negated Bembo’s claim in the third dialogue of the Asolani that good love would reign eternal.
Having dispelled the literary aura, Ruzzante set to some more architectonic renovations. By painting such abrasive imagery with his words, Ruzzante chipped away at the wall around the compound that neatly distinguished the cultivated interior of the villa from the wilds of the countryside. The resulting holes functioned as windows that served two purposes. First, they created a view of the hardships experienced by peasants and, second, they allowed for famine, pestilence, and unhappiness to enter, albeit briefly. Much like tromp I’oeil paintings, Ruzzante’s windows tricked the eye to force a new perspective. Against the wishes of his audience, who perhaps would have preferred light comedic banter, Ruzzante discussed openly the social situation of rural Paduans and, furthermore, demanded that his esteemed spectators look out beyond the walls of their charming estate into the lives that the wall blocked out. Here, Ruzzante is playing with Enzo Cocco’s notion that, “In order to explore the form of the garden, it is necessary to undertake a double journey (inside and outside) and to examine the dialectic tension developing at its boundaries. The ‘ideal’ configuration of the enclosure must take into account what is contrary to it” (Cocco 53). If the two Cardinals Cornaro and the event’s organizers wanted to invite Ruzzante into their garden, then they would have to invite the outside (the lives of the people Ruzzante represented as a native villano) inside as well.
Several miles away from Caterina Cornaro’s villa, at the home of Ruzzante’s patron Alvise Cornaro, stood a Loggia and Odeon where Ruzzante performed for his patron and where audiences gathered to listen to music. Giovanni Maria Falconetto designed and decorated both structures in a style similar to the Villa Barco, displaying allegorical and mythological imagery from Ancient Greece and Rome. Ruzzante’s installation of windows within the Villa Barco worked in a similar way to Falconetto’s illustrated windows on the interior of the Odeon, albeit with a different purpose. Since the acoustic demands of the Odeon required solid walls, Falconetto painted tromp-l’oeil scenes of pastoral lakes and quiet countryside to sooth the eyes of the audiences while the musicians stimulated their ears. Ruzzante’s windows in the Villa Barco did just the opposite. Through a verbal tromp-l’oeil, the crass talk, vulgar jokes, and tales of despair opened a viewpoint onto the exterior, thus breaking the sanctity of the manicured interior. If nobody was going to help make the outside more livable for the peasants who inhabited it, then Ruzzante could at least make the Villa Barco less hospitable for its honored guests for the duration of his performance.
Ruzzante accomplished two more architectural renovations with his scenobotanical act of taking place. Anticipating its invention by two centuries, Ruzzante’s manifestos in the Villa Barco constituted a prototype of the English ha-ha. As Christopher Thacker explains, “So long as gardens were enclosed [... ] a wall, a hedge, a fence was necessary. And so long as the garden was thus enclosed, its relationship with the surrounding land, with the landscape and with ‘nature’ was inevitably limited” (Thacker 182). Much changed in the thinking about the purpose of the garden between the time of Ruzzante and the time of the eighteenth- century English garden, no doubt. Whereas baroque gardens worked within the same episteme that birthed the hortus conclusus, a mode of (garden) thinking reliant upon the separation of nature and culture for its profession of mastery over the chaos of the wild, the Enlightenment thought behind the English garden, albeit for similar reasons of mastery, preferred to hide the artificial separation between interior and exterior. As Thacker tells it, “The ha-ha solves this problem in one easy process: instead of a raised enclosing barrier, a sunken barrier, shaped like a ditch or a dry moat, was dug round those parts of the garden which were to be made into a ‘pretty Landskip’.” This ditch created “the illusion that the garden and the surrounding countryside were one and undivided. ” Horace Walpole explained the name attributed to these ditches. “[T]he common people called them Ha! Ha’s! to express their surprise at finding a sudden and unperceived check to their walk” (cit. 183). Ruzzante’s unfunny comedic practice expressed in the genre-bending works of the Prima and Seconda Oratione forced a similar effect. Insults and bleak portraits of the rural peasantry provoked a loud Ha! Ha! as they removed the obstruction blocking the seemingly safe interior of the Barco from the exterior world.
This (p)refunctioned ha-ha enabled a cutting humor. Here is the final architectural renovation, which consists of some strategic landscaping. Gardeners and botanists explain that, when direct rooting and transplanting fails to propagate a plant species, asexual propagation provides an alternative route. One such method, cutting, has existed for centuries. “A cutting is a vegetative plant part which is severed from the parent plant in order to regenerate itself, thereby forming a whole new plant” (University of Arizona). Having failed to root himself and his demands in the heart and mind of the elder Cardinal Cornaro during his first visit to the Villa Barco, Ruzzante attempted precisely this method of propagating his beliefs. Severing the main message of the Prima Oratione, he spliced the cutting into the more direct and franker Seconda Oratione. The asexual method of propagation attempted through this splicing even underscored the request for the castration of philandering priests made during his first visit without the need to repeat the claim twice. Upon Ruzzante’s return to the Barco, he could hammer home the same discontents but do so through an entirely new script; only this time around, the humor would also cut more swiftly to the matter at hand and cut more deeply into the safety zone provided by the villa’s seemingly autonomous existence within (yet distinct from) the Paduan countryside.
Turning from this admittedly more esoteric form of scenography and architectonic renovation to the more common brand, I want also to attend to the one scenic diagram that remains amongst Ruzzante’s archived playtexts in the Venetian Marciana library. That image, as Ludovico Zorzi has suggested, depicted the backdrop to Ruzzante’s most infamous play, Betia (c.1524), and showed three houses standing side by side on a public street to the view of the audience. While Zorzi has recognized the image’s importance for dating the innovations within the evolution of Renaissance Venetian scenic design and for linking those innovations to their classical and medieval antecedents, the image also constitutes yet another fragment in the mosaic of Ruzzante’s performances I am pasting together here. The image from Betia, as well as the composite imagery pieced together from the performance of the Lettera giocosa and the tromp-l’oiel of the Prima and Seconda Orationi, presents the private home as a key element in Ruzzante’s scenobotanic acts of taking place.
The private home was the ground floor of Venetian theatre at this time, literally the ground on which much theatre stood. In her superbly researched account of private Venetian homes during the sixteenth century, Patricia Fortini Brown grounds her discoveries at the crossroads of public and private expressed through the notion of politia, a word that helps frame the political nature of Ruzzante’s social tromp- l’oeil. “The term had two distinct, if related, meanings in the sixteenth century,” she explains. “One usage derived from the Greek politeia and connoted good government, the political life, and civil comportment. The other came from the Latin politus, meaning refinement in fashion, politeness of behavior, or the display of luxury” (Brown 246). Venetians’ decoration and ordering of their home-space reveals for Brown a manifestation of a hybrid politia that managed to fuse both the Greek and Latin understandings of that term. Turning to the futile attempt by the Venetian Patriciate to limit excessive displays of wealth both in public and in the private domain of its citizens homes, Brown re-enacts the battle waged through numerous sumptuary laws in order to depict “the public control of private politia in a society that privileged civic responsibility over individual or family glory” (309). That is, Venetians of all classes seem to have forged a sense of (at least) semiautonomy beyond the grasp of Venetian Republicanism through a conscious decoration of their homes. The end goal was simple: whatever one’s class, live like a noble. This aim found support in the literature of the time, particularly in Alessandro Piccolomini’s translation of Xenophon’s Oeconomicus (1540).
As an elite member of Venetian society sequestered in the Paduan countryside where she was to live out her days, Caterina Cornaro had the means to decorate the interior of her villa in order to establish domestic politia during an otherwise tumultuous time in her life. Giuseppe Mazzotti has referred to the Villa Barco as a “pleasure resort,” a term that applies equally well to other villas dotting the Padua countryside (Mazzotti 73). At the turn of the sixteenth century, wealthy Venetians retired to their homes in the country during the hot summer months and would remain there until the heat dissipated. In Caterina Cornaro’s case, the Villa Barco was carved out of the wilderness specifically to function as a home away from home after the termination of her reign over Cyprus. Only after the battle of Agnadello, when Venice had to turn to agriculture after losing dominance in the spice trade, did members of the Venetian classes begin to live permanently on the mainland. Such was also the case with Ruzzante’s patron, Alvise Cornaro. But even in his case, the move to Padua was a result of political eviction. The complicated and insular governmental system edged Alvise Cornaro out of the running for political office, so he turned to the mainland to make his living; the Venetian domination of Cyprus removed Caterina Cornaro from her island sanctuary and deposited her in the hills of Asolo. The interior spaces of these private homes marked out an area where wealthy, politically attached, dominant men and women dwelt.
By rooting himself within the Villa Barco, on at least two separate occasions, Ruzzante committed two explicitly political acts. First, he spoiled the domestic politia composed by Caterina Cornaro through his rhetorical tromp l’oeil. Calling on Brown’s research once more, I can provide a final image for this scenic feat. In his own Dialogo (published 1563), Giovanni Maria Memmo offered Venetian nobility and citizens advice on how best to achieve domestic politia. One piece of advice, especially for those living on the island of Venice where space was tight, suggested that individuals, whenever possible, bring the inspiration of the garden into the home via a specific type of drapery called spalliere a verdure, which were “woven with a vegetal or millefleur design that were hung like a wainscoting around the lower part of the walls” and intended to resemble living espaliered plantings (Brown 312). In the likely event that Caterina Cornaro’s interior sala followed such advice, Ruzzante’s depiction of the peasantry’s hardships would have, in a sense, covered those spalliere a verdure with his own images woven through references to starvation and overwork.
Second, Ruzzante’s occupation of the Villa Barco amounted to a critique of the broken concept of res publica that, despite its fractured state, still pretended to rule post-Agnadello Padua. In Edward Muir’s terms, “[the] practical, materialist, localized conception that there are places open to all and objects of utility available for common use might be considered the bedrock meaning of res publica, and republicanism in this sense would simply imply the recognition of public over private interests” (Muir, “Republicanism?” 142). Ostensibly maintained by the podestd, capitano, and other Venetian-elected officials charged with maintaining order in the terraferma, res publica promised to protect the needs of the many through recourse to an equitable legal system. By 1528, however, Ruzzante saw clearly that anybody allied to the Venetian government and upper classes, such as Cardinals Marco and Francesco Cornaro, had little to no concern for the peasants of Padua. Accosting these figures within the domestic space of Caterina Cornaro’s Barco might have amounted to a one-man revolt, one that historians should join to the list of the 1509 and 1511 revolts in the Friuli and the 1525 Great Revolution lead by Michael Gaismair in South Tyrol. (I will pick up this thread in Chapter 7.) The continual trumping of public interest by private interest flew in the face of everything republican government stood for, and Ruzzante, clearly attuned to the dissonance of such a state of affairs, temporarily interrupted the interior politia of the villa in order to deliver that message. From the archival fragment depicting Betia’s scenic backdrop to this redecoration of Caterina Cornaro’s Barco, I am suggesting that Ruzzante’s ability to insinuate himself into the private domicile in order to disrupt the politia of the space and re-orientate the res publica of the Veneto constitutes another scenographic dimension tucked within his theatre practice.
As a sort of spatio-temporal anomaly popping into and out of the archive, as for example in Sanuto's diary entries, Ruzzante's theatre relied on artful modes of entrance and exit. In the textual fragments above, he made his entrance through his prologues and preambles by establishing himself as a proud Paduan. After he had had his say, he prepared his exit through irreverent salutes and ambiguous sign-offs, such as that which he gave to Dona in the Venetian ducal palace. His exits, though, always left the possibility open that he could return. By calling out Dona in the Letteragiocosa, Ruzzante put a proper name in the place of the ambiguous addressee of his monologue and thus foreshadowed a future in which Ruzzante would return as Dona’s son-in-law; that is, married to his daughter.
In Prima Oratione, the departure was similarly open-ended: “Give me your hand and promise that I will come again to take the edict. God help you” (Ruzante, Teatro 1204).27 Spoken to the Cardinal, the “edict” referred to the authorization of the changes in religious law demanded by Ruzzante. Acting presumptuously, the performer/reformer intended the edict to pass into motion at some point in the near future, at which time he could return and see the new law written in its official form. The “God help you,” added an ambiguous phrase. Was it a command that God should help the Cardinal to do what was right and pass Ruzzante's reforms? Was it a derogatory comment on the fact that the Cardinal, despite his place in the religious hierarchy, was in need of God’s help? Whatever the intention, the closing line left the door open for a quick return in front of the powerful audience member. When he did return, however, there was no edict to see since no changes in the religious laws occurred.
In the monologue that made up the Seconda Oratione, Ruzzante’s harsh critique of the new Cardinal and bleak outlook offered of Padua as an unweeded garden ended with an ironic twist. Instead of storming out or offering an ambiguous farewell as in the previous Oratione, Ruzzante ended with “something [he] hasn’t been able to do in more than a year,” i.e., to sing and dance and party “like they do in Heaven” (1219).28 Far from a joyous and entertaining display, the singing and dancing that followed the political act of taking place would have clashed with the supremely unhappy state of the peasants outside the space of the performance. The clash was one more deconstructive gesture capable, perhaps, of producing a view of the sad exterior, as if through a window, for the happy and carefree Cardinal to ponder. The singing ended with Ruzzante’s offer to the Cardinal that, should he ever need someone to do a day’s work for him, he would be his man, thus leaving room for a return performance. It is not likely, however, that the Cardinal ever thought of Ruzzante again.
This unfolding of theatrical performance accentuated by the production of entrances and exits into and out of the private homes in which Ruzzante appeared underscored the profoundly territorial nature of his theatre practice. For the brief temporal span of his performances, such as those in Lettera giocosa and Prima and Seconda Oratione, Ruzzante worked to reclaim territory for his native Padua, which the Republic of Venice had subsumed into its interior. To take place in such a way, Ruzzante acted scenographically. That is to say, he produced a scene within the private homes, but a scene that would effectively act as political counter-point to the domestic scene of private politia.