The Enscenement of Self and the Jesuit Teatro del Mondo
Whereas Ruzzante’s scenobotanical acts of taking place worked to de- and re-territorialize his Padua home by foiling the assault upon nature and the peasantry waged by dominant powers in the Veneto during the sixteenth century, Jesuit psychagogical dramaturgy performed a similar act of taking place; one, however, that reacted to the immanent threat not of a territorial but of a spiritual and spatial displacement occurring at the same time. This displacement consisted of a simple but damning movement from inside to outside of the Church’s fold and resulted from both worldly enticements, such as those of the theatre, and also alternative spiritual commandments, such as those voiced by Martin Luther and set into practice by other Reformers. To counter this displacement, somewhat counter-intuitively, the Jesuits produced their own highly theatrical method of conversion, the goal of which was to reposition and enscene each individual squarely before the eyes ofGod. Unlike Ruzzante’s theatre practice, which took place in the name of Padua and for the sake of the multitudes who called Padua home, Jesuit dramaturgical practice worked primarily at the level of the individual and, in essence, made of that individual a self-reflexive performer within God’s world play so as to ensure salvation of each and every sheep. The complex mechanisms of this performance, the context of a theatre of the world that houses it, the contradictory nature of a theatrical conversion technique produced by (at first glance) arch anti-theatricalists, and the effects of such a performance on the idea of a “self’ form the content of this chapter.
© The Author(s) 2017
W. Daddario, Baroque, Venice, Theatre, Philosophy,
Performance Philosophy, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-49523-1_6
To approach, ascertain, and develop that content, I turn first to the practice of garden thinking. With Ruzzante, such thinking produced florid variations of taking place on the material level. With the Jesuits, however, such a focus on the material earth beneath Venetians’ feet gives way to something else entirely. In place of the Ortolani, the Zardinieri, the spallieri a verdure, and the multiple kinds (sexual and not) of hortus conclusus, as well as the worldly needs of peasants and other members of the lower classes, this chapter pursues the Jesuit theatre of the world as a site of spiritual dehiscence. Jesuits in Venice during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries tended to the dehiscence of their crop and their fold.
The word dehiscence names an act of splitting, of gaping open. Affixed to botanical events, dehiscence marks the dispersal of seeds that occurs when certain plants, having reached maturity, rupture along an inbuilt seam. The plant’s structure collapses upon splitting, thus ending that plant’s life while simultaneously ensuring the dispersal of seeds and promising the future of the species. The event of botanical dehiscence, then, provokes a consideration of a death that coincides with a (re-)birth. The term itself has migrated into the anatomical, biological, and medical sciences, where it most commonly denotes the rupture of an incision post-surgery. That phenomenon loses its purchase in this particular conversation because it has no dialectical tension; the burst incision wreaks havoc but does not lead to any re-birth. But the subset in the medical terminology of Superior Semicircular Canal Dehiscence, an opening of the bone above the inner ear canal leading to vertigo and oscillopsia, maintains the visceral impact of wound dehiscence while also harkening to the physical disorientation produced within the human body, a disorientation that, while destabilizing, could potentially lead to a new way of moving through the world. I conjure this obscure medical nomenclature alongside the botanical terminology because, together, the dehiscent rupture-cum- rebirth of plant and inner ear eerily mimics the spiritual de- and re-construction enabled by Jesuit conversion tactics.
By thinking through the dehiscent nature of Jesuit spiritual conversion (that is, the way in which its affective assault on the individual forces a visceral yawn within the psyche of the subject) I intend to reveal the interplay of discipline and excess at work within this more obscure form of Jesuit theatricality while also guiding the larger conversation toward a confrontation with baroque performances of self. En route to that discussion, I introduce a compelling analogue to
Ruzzante in the figure of Giovanni Domenico Ottonelli S.J., whose sauntering throughout the Italian peninsula mimics the pedagogically focused wanderings of peripatetic philosophers. Whereas Ruzzante wrote plays, Ottonelli wrote art criticism, and yet within this criticism hides an intricate performance score and a conceptual entrance into the world of Jesuit conversion.
Ottonelli was born c.1584 and died in Florence in 1670. Italian scholars and students of Jesuit history paint him in a stark light as an anti- theatricalist concerned with the morally damning entertainment of theatrical performance in the seventeenth century. Joseph Connors’s essay, “Chi era Ottonelli?" (“Who was Ottonelli?”) dresses the Jesuit in his usual garb, so to speak. “Ottonelli,” he writes, “does not appear as a theologian or as a writer, nor as ‘the mythic Jesuit’ that the theoreticians of art love to imagine, but as a man of action, a guerrilla waging war against the theatre, and especially against the role played by women” (29).1 In this light, Ottonelli resembles Stephen Gosson (1554-1624) and William Prynne (1600-1669), the fiercest critics of the English theatre at the time. “Prynne, like Ottonelli, was contrary to all the evils of society: dance, dice [gambling], comedies, lascivious pictures, licentious behavior, practical jokes, toasts [with alcohol], long hair, curls, country romances, effeminate music, and so on, ‘all of which are pagan pass times’” (30).2 Connors goes as far as to make the equation, “Prynne is the English Ottonelli, and vice versa” (30).3
Support for such a claim comes from the anecdotal evidence and archival scraps scattered throughout Italian literature and Jesuit historical sources. For example, “[w]e spy [Ottonelli] in Catania in 1635, where he interrupted a comedy representing an obscene act. ” After he moved on from there, “[w]e find him then in Palermo together with another Jesuit (G.B. Carminta) intent on condemning a poor actor to prison for having staged an obscene gesture” (29).4
In addition to Connors’s findings, those of Michael Zampelli S.J. place Ottonelli in the anti-theatricalist camp and offer additional historical con- textualization. In his essay, “‘Lascivi Spettacoli’: Jesuits and Theatre (from the Underside),” he writes the following:
The years after the Council of Trent saw an increase in written hostilities towards the Italian theatre. That the theatre had become a professional enterprise increasingly visible in piazze, stanze [private homes], and other performance venues remains the most important explanation of this rise in antitheatrical sentiment. Simply put, after 1563 there is a vibrant professional theatre of which to be critical. (552)
In particular, Zampelli cites Jesuits like Francisco Arias (1533-1605) and Paolo Comitoli (1545-1626) who criticized this burgeoning theatre profession as a bastion of moral depravity. They were wary of female bodies onstage, the expression of lascivious sentiment, and numerous individuals gathered in one place for reasons other than religious worship or spiritual reflection. For his own part, Ottonelli was not shy about sharing his thoughts on these problems of public theatrical performance, and in Della Christiana Moderatione Del Theatro Libro (Of the Christian Moderation of Theatre), the work on which I will focus in this chapter, actors received the full thrust of his scorn. Specifically, Ottonelli condemns actors’ conduct on and off the stage, their tendencies to lead sexually promiscuous lives, and their habits of stultifying the common people, thereby keeping them from becoming virtuous imitators of Christ.
Given this focus, Ottonelli’s work, published in 1652, appears at first glance as the epitome of Jesuit anti-theatrical treatises. As the book unfolds, however, it takes on the character of a theatrical apologia, or a defense of a very specific type of acting. That is, I believe there is more to Ottonelli’s stage fright than meets the eye. Compare, for example, the following two excerpts. The first from a section titled, “Il comico osceno merita d’esser scacciato dalle citta, e dalle Terr” (“The obscene actor deserves to be run out of the city, and from the Earth”):
Brother, put an end to the obscene actor; because a dialogue as ugly as that [from him] has no useful end in terms of your health; indeed it is greatly injurious, to your health and the health of those around you; therefore they deserve to be driven out from each land, city, province, and kingdom. (116)5
In this passage, Ottonelli’s tone is strong and clear. From the actor’s mouth spews injurious dialogue that threatens the well-being of the public. Yet, in a later section titled “Con una breve digressione morale a conferma, che la vita humana e una comedia” (“With a brief moral digression to confirm that human life is a play”), the author writes:
Virtuous and erudite actors are teachers of good morals, and from them you will frequently hear sentences, that can, like joys, become stored in your treasure chest of wisdom: similarly, in my opinion, there are those for whom human life was decided upon to be something like a scenic Representation,
or a theatrical spectacle, something one might call a play. (353)6
Here, actors teach good morals and dispense wisdom about the great play of life. Contradictions such as this one (actors spout filth/actors offer wisdom) run throughout the entire treatise. As the author of such contradictions, Ottonelli manufactures a polemical guidebook for how to act virtuously while simultaneously modeling that method for his reader; that is, Ottonelli is the epitome of the virtuous actor insofar as he has transformed flamboyant rhetorical schemas and tales of debauchery into a treasure chest of wisdom.
The acting for which he advocates, however, has little to do with staged entertainments; rather, the performance Ottonelli calls for is a pure representation of God and a manner of acting in accordance with the Jesuit arm of the Catholic Church. Ottonelli’s treatise argues for a specific mode of living life. He seeks to weed out the obscene actors and to cultivate virtuous ones. With this turn from onstage performance to the performance of everyday life, Ottonelli’s words conjure the familiar baroque concept of teatro del mondo (theatre of the world). Referencing first and foremost a mode of living, this concept structures the individual’s performance of everyday life, and in Ottonelli’s hands it equipped individuals with the skills they needed to succeed in those performances.
The Jesuit teatro del mondo, in turn, merges with the practice of pastoral care that I articulated in Chapter 4. Within the theatre of the world, each individual becomes a patient actor: the subject is guided by the shepherd; the subject is made aware of the path of God; the subject is transformed into a subject-object, acting within the pasture of the shepherd but always beheld by an Outside Eye. The actor is not passive in a pejorative sense, but is, rather, patient in the philosophical sense of a subjectivity marked by its ability to be affected as well as by its ability to affect. In the setting ofValcamonica’s execution, the priest upon the scaffold, despite his crimes that brought him to that place, was made to occupy the subject position of shepherd-guide. The purpose of his performance of reconciliation was to open a portal to the sacred realm through which each spectator was to pass if he or she desired salvation. As eventual subjects within the Kingdom of God, the individuals in the Piazza San Marco likewise became subjectivated, each was transformed into the subject of God, and each was made visible as an actor upon the Venetian stage set by Benedetto Palmio and the Society of Jesus. Ottonelli’s manuscript illustrates another dimension of this transformation to patient actor. More importantly, it offers a window into the subjectivation process that carries the individual into the moment of spiritual dehiscence and deposits him into the subject position of “virtuous actor,” as Ottonelli calls it.
In other words, Della Christiana Moderatione Del Theatro Libro presents teatro del mondo from the point of view of the Jesuits in the seventeenth century. Through this perspective, the theatrical dimensions of the Jesuit program of reform becomes visible as do the instrumental uses of the Spiritual Exercises.7 Those Exercises, developed by Jesuit founder Ignatius Loyola some time around 1522, functioned as the primary performance score of conversion and dictated a specific type of ethical engagement with the world. That ethical engagement was tantamount to a code of conduct, a mode of selfgovernance that each Christian had to learn in order to save her soul and, consequently, to ensure that the successes one had in this world would continue in the next one (or that one’s shortcomings do not result in eternal damnation). Nobody could enter the Jesuit teatro del mondo without converting his or herself into a new kind of subject, one marked by extreme self-discipline. The Spiritual Exercises taught and enforced that discipline.
Before delving deeply into Ottonelli’s virtuous acting and Loyola’s Exercises, several questions arise. What are the unique characteristics of the Jesuit teatro del mondo? What are its spatial parameters? What are the mechanics of the process of conversion necessary for gaining access to the Jesuit theatre of the world? How specifically do the Spiritual Exercises gain one entrance to this theatre of which the sole spectator is God? Building on the analysis of pastoral power in Chapter 4 and this introduction to spiritual dehiscence, I will elaborate on the interior/ exterior spatial dynamics of pastoral care by examining different models of teatro del mondo active in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Venice.