Actualizing the Jesuit Teatro del Mondo
The Jesuit theatre of the world combined elements of both the miniature floating theatres and Cornaro’s teatro all’antica. From the floating teatri del mondo, the Jesuits utilized a humble exterior to disguise a spectacular interior space where the narratives that unfolded produced a world unto itself. For example, the members of the Society frequently dressed in laymen’s clothes in order to slip unnoticed into certain social settings (O’Malley S.J. 32-33).17 Once inside, the Jesuits could use their rhetorical ability to attract members of high society to their mission, thus opening up a space of conversion within the infiltrated social space. The Jesuit teatro del mondo was also mobile, capable of moving along with any individual, just as the floating theatres glided along the surface of the Grand Canal. Jesuit spiritual guides endowed individuals with a system of case-based reasoning that the individual carried with him or her throughout the day. In this way, the Jesuit guides were always present inside the minds of those they guided.
Additionally, the Jesuits touted a revitalizing effect available to any person willing to venture into their grand theatre. By following the path outlined by the Spiritual Exercises, any person, no matter the magnitude of one’s sins committed in life, could potentially gain access to the spectacular interiority of the Church and to eternal salvation. The Jesuit theatre of the world had a place for everyone, “as though,” to borrow Cornaro’s words, “God had given it to him and nature required that everyone should enjoy it.” Once inside, however, the exterior from which one came would no longer exist. Entering the Jesuit theatre of the world required vanquishing not only a secular life dominated by material possessions and personal ambition but also the subjectivity that drove one to possess worldly goods and to privilege, say, career advancement through political corridors over and above spiritual elevation into the arms of God. Actors in the Jesuit theatre of the world had to destroy themselves in order to be reborn within the true theatre of life and to renounce the secular trappings of the terrestrial world.
Making these claims, however, requires negotiating the scorn for theatrical representations made visible by the deeds of the Jesuits in Venice. If the teatro del mondo constituted the stage on which played out the Jesuit repertoire of conversion, if theatre had such a strong place within Jesuit thinking, then how does one account for the Society’s active dislike of staged performances? This dislike registered in the Society’s actions immediately upon their arrival in Venice. Jesuits used their positions as spiritual guides to access the inner sanctum of Venetian governance and to influence legislation against the recitation of comedies and other theatrical representations.18 Gaetano Cozzi writes of the time prior to the establishment of permanent theatre buildings when Father Benedetto Palmio was especially antagonistic to the public performances during Carnevale. In 1559, Palmio succeeded in convincing Venetian governors to quell the disturbances caused by those events (Cozzi, Venezia barocca 298).19 The jubilee year of 1575 presented another opportunity to close theatres, since the moral degradation caused by theatrical performance went contrary to the spirit of the holy year. Reading between the lines of the Council of Ten’s decree of that year, one senses the hand of a Jesuit adviser:
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 the month, it is convenient to remove all those impediments which can make the people of this city less devoted.20
Sometimes, however, the Jesuit influence failed to stifle the favorite pastime of the Venetians, as was the case in the years 1568 and 1573 when the Council of Ten permitted theatrical performances.21 But once permanent theatre buildings were established, the Jesuits seem to have increased their efforts to safeguard corporeal and spiritual safety.
Eugene J. Johnson has discovered that, under these auspices of concern for public safety, “[c.1581] the Jesuits had convinced the Venetian Senate to order the destruction of the theatre [in San Cassiano] 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” (938). The Jesuits may have been concerned about the mortal lives that a fire could claim, but they were likely more concerned about the moral and spiritual depravities happening within the private boxes of those permanent theatre buildings. By 1583, according to the ambassador from France, Andre Hural de Maisse, “the Jesuits ‘possessed’ to such a degree the consciences of some of the most influential senators of the Republic that they could convince them of everything they wanted” (cit. Cozzi, Venezia barocca 291). It seems that what they wanted was to censure the ribaldry of Venetian theatrical representations and to stem the tide of immoral behavior instigated by the onstage performers.
If the Jesuits utilized their connections and their influence to prohibit theatre events, as these facts seem to show, how can one explain the Jesuit use of theatrical techniques in their evangelism, or, for that matter, the claim by Ottonelli that life is a theatrical representation? Moving beyond the surface appearance of these facts, it becomes clear that the Jesuit disdain of theatre was not categorical. For example, the Jesuits used Latin play texts in their schools in order to teach rhetoric. They also encouraged their students to perform dialogues and monologues at the end of the school year as a way of displaying the knowledge that the student had acquired. For the Jesuits of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, theatre constituted an intense pedagogical power. The question for them became the use to which that power would be put.
In his foreword to An Introduction to the Jesuit Theatre, Louis J. Oldani S.J. notes that, “[p]rior to the suppression of the Jesuit Order in 1773, Jesuit school theatre was a key impetus to [... ] student awakening, amounting to an evolution in school education perhaps parallel to the role of contemplation in Ignatius Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises” (vi). While lewd dialogue, base spectacle, and stage action that encouraged sin of any kind were strictly forbidden in these schools, didactic and well-written theatrical texts sat at the core of Jesuit pedagogy. Oldani and Victor R. Yanitelli explained this in more detail in their essay “Jesuit Theatre in Italy: Its entrances and exits,” where they wrote that:
Until 1555[,] Jesuit colleges [... ] regularly employed the dialogue as a specialized literary composition in which two or more characters reason about or debate an issue, a presentation sometimes dramatized in the form of a prologue, several scenes, and an epilogue. After 1555. fullblown comedies and tragedies were performed as enrichments of the curriculum [... ]. Tragedies, or ludi solemnes, composed on the classical model by the professor of rhetoric and performed by upperclassmen, were staged at the beginning of the academic year or on prize distribution day at the close of the school year. Ludi priores, shorter plays, were performed by younger students at Carnival time or on other special occasions. (18)
Recalling Ottonelli’s distinctions, then, the obscenity of performers whose mission was simply to distract audiences from contemplating life was unsalvageable; theatre capable of stirring the senses and kindling a renewed attention to one’s physical and spiritual comportment, however, was a tool with many uses.
A range of such uses became visible when, 35 years after the inaugural stage production in a Jesuit college, the Jesuits published their official plan for education, the Ratio Studiorum, in which the Society drew the line between good theatre and bad theatre while also hinting at the benefits one might extract from the former. Specifically on the matter of tragedies and comedies the text stated the following: “The subject matter of the tragedies, which ought to be only in Latin and extremely rare, should be holy and devotional. And nothing not in Latin and proper should be inserted into the action, nor should any female character or clothing be introduced” (Society of Jesus 35) 22 As such, Terence’s original works did not appear within a Jesuit school but some works by Horace and Martial were permitted.
Additional affinities for certain Roman and Greek authors surfaced in the section titled “Rules for the Professor or Rhetoric,” where it reads:
The grade [i.e. difficulty] of this class cannot easily be defined by certain set terms, for it aims at an education in perfect eloquence, which includes two most important subjects, oratory and poetics (out of these two, however, the leading emphasis should always be given to oratory) and it does not only serve what is useful but also indulges in what is ornamental. Still, by and large, it can be said to consist in three things especially: rules for speaking, for style, and for scholarly learning. Even though the rules can be found and studied in a very wide range of sources, only Cicero’s books on rhetoric and Aristotle’s, both the Rhetoric, if it seems good, and the Poetics should be taught in the daily lesson. (155)
This passage highlighted more than just the subject matter and names of texts within the theatrical dimension of Jesuit pedagogy. The art of rhetoric clearly had a particular aim. It cultivated an understanding of ornamental language so as to help a speaker persuade an audience of a certain truth. This skill had immediate applications in the field of preaching, and, indeed, Jesuit preachers were known for their persuasive abilities. Jesuit instructors taught and cultivated these persuasive abilities:
Talent ought to be taken into account, [as well as] who should be granted two years of theology. For if they are average in humanistic literary studies, and they are endowed with no other talent, then they will be sent to the course in case studies as well. But if among these anyone displays real talent for preaching or administration along with distinguished virtue, then the provincial along with his consultors [sic] ought to deliberate about whether that person should be given two years of theology beyond philosophy so that the Society might be able to make use of his service with greater confidence and to greater effect. (16)23
Jesuit schools opened their doors to rich and poor alike. From this diverse field of students, Jesuits harvested the best and the brightest, those who were most capable of serving the Society as either preachers or administrators. The rector could funnel the most capable students into a channel of courses in which they would learn specific rhetorical, theological, and philosophical skills and, embedded within each of these disciplines, theatrical abilities of persuasion played a vital role.
The paradox of theatre within the Jesuit mission, then, once again, was not a paradox at all. Rather, specific elements of theatre were banished and others were cultivated. The theatre as such was not the target of Jesuit scorn. Public theatre was a gathering of bodies in one space. Thus, the communication of multiple thoughts simultaneously through language’s semantic value (speech), its penchant for double meaning (rhetoric), and the body’s gestural vocabulary became means of disseminating ideas that were potentially hazardous to the spiritual health of individuals. But the Jesuits knew how to turn these disadvantages into opportunities. Within the framework of Jesuit pastoral care, theatre could become a site in which the polyvalent communication of theatrical language became an instrument for transmitting the complex teachings of the Catholic faith to the minds and souls of audiences. Theatre also presented an opportunity to retrain the body of individual actors and to tune those bodies to the invisible presence of God in each person’s life. In the words of William H. McCabe S.J., “Thus, following art’s way, Jesuit plays helped the audience to grasp abstraction through the senses” (McCabe vi). They did this through school theatre but also in sacred representations within churches that boasted elaborate stage sets, “scenery weighing tons, forests imitated in perspective, the sea in motion, palaces aflame reduced to smoke and ashes, tableaux and ‘scenae mutae (changing scenery),’ dream scenes enhanced with music and dance, machines for deities to descend from and to disappear into clouds” (Oldani and Yanitelli 20). Audience members present at Jesuit theatre performances were drawn into the allegory of saints’ lives, the trials of Jesus Christ, and other didactic narratives created by Jesuit playwrights for the express purpose of overpowering the senses.
More importantly, however, the Jesuit theatre extended beyond the recitation of plays, dialogues, monologues, and elaborate spectacles. Much scholarship exists on the spectacles that unfolded in churches during Carnevale to combat the licentious street performances in Venice, Rome, Naples, and other cities across Italy.24 There is also a long list of works on the particulars of school drama.25 Yet what of the Jesuit theatre of everyday life that becomes visible through this frame of the teatro del mondo? The schematic to the mechanical workings of this practice of everyday life shows up in Ottonelli’s Della Christiana Moderatione Del Teatro, and this is why the document deserves closer scrutiny. There, the main goal is conversion and exomologesis. Conversion entailed a turning of one’s inner self toward the entryway of the Jesuit theatre of the world, and exomologesis, what Foucault identified as “the dramatic recognition of one’s status as a penitent,” entailed a never-ending performance of the truth acquired through conversion (Foucault, “Technologies” 41). Reaching back to the term “dehiscence” introduced at the beginning of this chapter, both conversion and the performance of truth required a painful and laborious tenure of self-study, a tearing at one’s seams in order to free the seeds of life from within.
The spatial dimension of conversion, or turning toward the truth, is deceivingly simple. The individual is either outside the Church or within it. If the soul has strayed to the exterior, the soul must be brought back, an action that requires the guidance of a shepherd toward the salutary process of spiritual retreat. Within this dichotomy of inside/outside, however, unfolds a complex repertoire of conversion that doles out theatrical roles for both the shepherd and the penitent. The shepherd deploys a strategy, in the strict sense offered by Michel de Certeau: the spiritual guide “postulates a place that can be delimited as its own and serve as the base from which relations with an exteriority composed of targets or threats [... ] can be managed” (de Certeau, Practice 36). This autonomous place is the interior of the Church. In response to this strategy, the individual responds by embarking on a quest for the self that requires retraining how one senses the world, how one understands the senses, how one practices self-discipline, and how one might avoid the numerous obstacles blocking one’s way to the interior of the Church, a quest that, confounding as it may seem, requires abdicating the self to find the self.
Ottonelli dramatizes the individual’s part within this repertoire in an extremely potent chapter of his book titled, “Si narra la notabile conversion di uno scenico Sacerdote, per mezzo de gli esercitii spirituali di S. Ignatio Patriarca” (“The remarkable conversion of a scenic Priest by means of the spiritual exercises of Saint Ignatius the Patriarch”). For this scene, Ottonelli casts as protagonist a priest whose love of theatre has pulled him off of the path toward holy devotion. Historical precedent surrounds such a scenario, such as the Friulan cathedral deacon who played a prostitute in a production of Terence’s Eunuch in 1500.26 Ottonelli introduces his scenic priest negatively, as it were, by telling the reader what he is not. Namely, he is not a representation of all that is pure. This scenic priest, as Ottonelli calls him, has fashioned his life incorrectly by cultivating bad costumi (habits). Consequently, he is no longer a good shepherd, and thus he endangers the flock that he leads. Quoting Saint Chrisostomo, Ottonelli reminds the reader that, “Si Sacerdotes fuerint in peccatis, totus populus convertetur ad peccandum” (“If a priest sins, the people will be converted into sin”) (Ottonelli 268). This invocation casts the priest in a similar role as that interpreted (i.e. portrayed) by Valcamonica. Ottonelli’s scenic priest embodies the paradox of the shepherd.
Next, Ottonelli qualifies the “scenic” modifier of his protagonist by distinguishing between good and bad theatrical representations. The former are those that are “intended to instruct or to note the indecency of manners,” while the latter merely excite laughter “and take to vain pasture the ears of the Audience” (269). The scenic priest not only attends bad theatre, he also participates in the performances. All of these qualities prepare the priest as a threshold, a man on the line between acting good (modeling purity) and acting bad (leading his flock into sin), acting in accordance with the Church and acting out, as would a petulant child.
Ottonelli’s narrative introduces him at the turning point where he will have to make a decision about what type of life to lead, what mode of representation to model for his flock.
Ultimately, the decision comes to the priest from without:
[T]ouched one day with celestial inspiration, [the priest] withdrew his soul into spiritual retreat (piego l’animo ad un poco di ritiramento spirituale) and he happily began the exercises that Saint Ignatius, illumined by heaven and helped in particular with the favor of the Great Queen, the Mother of God, composed in that little book of gold, by the approval in the Bull of the Vicar of Christ, Paolo III, those exercises that, other than praising God, exhort the Faithful to devote themselves to practice and instruction, and to profit from their souls. (269)
This practice of conversion begins with the act of folding in upon oneself. Ottonelli describes this as a retreat of the soul.27 Folding into spiritual retreat initiates the practice of the Spiritual Exercises. Once involved in the Exercises, the priest “generated in his soul an implacable hatred against this old life, with which he severely castigated his past foolishness” (269). That is, the act of folding back upon himself brings the priest into contact with two selves. One is the priest who had strayed from his path, and the other is a new, improved subjectivity.
To vanquish the old self and become the new, the priest must manifest his realization of past foolishness to the public. “Thus settled, he put around his neck a big rope, went into the Church where many people were gathered, humbly prostrated himself on the ground, and asked for forgiveness from the People for all of his grave errors and scandalous excesses” (270). Primarily a tool for self-flagellation, the rope doubles in Ottonelli’s narrative as a noose that the priest has to wear, as if to signify that his salvation and absolution are not quite complete. Not until making a public demonstration of the knowledge gained through the enactment of the Spiritual Exercises does the mechanism of absolution begin to function.
Reconciliation concludes with a final performance of guilt. More than a simple declaration of having once sinned, the priest must regain his proper position as a shepherd capable of leading the flock:
[W]ith ardent words, and humble prayer he asked of all the City to pardon his many, grave offenses, made in his sad, impure, and scandalous life. He completed all of this: he appeared in the pulpit in front of the eyes of the People, all spectators of the scenic Priest; and he, as in a scene on the stage, but a very different scene than the previous profane and impure one, began to make a true character (il personaggio di vero), extraordinarily penitent: he showed his pallid face; kept his eyes modestly toward the ground; on his neck hung a horrid noose, and each part of his humble body passed away, contrite, and greatly despising his old ways. That sight, without thought or hesitation, immediately drew tears from the eyes of the Spectators: and he who first moved the People to laugh now vigorously excited people to tears and compunction. (271)
Ottonelli’s writing creates a performative transformation of subjectivity. The priest takes the pulpit “as in a scene on the stage.” Once there he constructs a new character. The emergence of this character of truth verifies his penitence. Sapped of all life, his face appears pale and each part of his body withers away. Piece by piece, the priest dies and is reborn. All of this unfolds in front of the congregation, which, affected by the sight of the transformation, begins to cry with tears of regret, perhaps for the truth about themselves made visible through this event.
The scene plays on the tension of seeing and being seen. The priest’s performance of guilt requires an audience, and by witnessing the performance the audience in fact begins to play a part in the drama as well. The tears in the eyes of audience members create another plane within Ottonelli’s narrative, a plane that reaches beyond the scene of the priest’s performance into the space of the reader. Remarking on the degree to which the body in this Ignatian ritual must remain material, never abstracted into the realm of the merely conceptual, Roland Barthes identifies tears as the index of this body, “a veritable code whose matter is differentiated into signs according to the time of their appearance and their intensity” (Barthes 62, 74-75). That is, on the individual level, tears become a sacrificial offering of one’s inner essence. On the collective level, these tears issuing forth from these bodies gathered together in the performance of repentance initiate the penitents into the Ignatian mystical system that links the company to the theatre of the world unfolding under the eyes of God. Ottonelli wrote the narrative to evoke such tears in the eyes of the reader and thus yoke them into the community of penitents.
The completion of the Spiritual Exercises endows the priest with an ability to produce a true character, thus transforming him into a “virtuoso Actor,” in Ottonelli’s words. As such an actor, the priest will be able to represent the true way of God, whereas before he could only enact a “Mimic Representation.” For Ottonelli, mimic representation relates to the bad theatre on the stage, capable only of eliciting laughs without endowing in the laugher a sense of Truth. The virtuous acting of the reformed priest does not mirror scenes of nature through which his congregation will learn about truth. His acting is, rather, a virtuosity linked to a new presence, a subjectivity that models the life of Christ so precisely that the priest’s actions become a transparent veil through which his congregation may see the way to God.
Ottonelli, upon authoring this stirring scene, sheds his antitheatrical attire and even opens the door to a philosophical contemplation of being, one bound up entirely with acting. In fact, Ottonelli’s thinking opens questions about theatre’s contribution to the ontological philosophical arguments developed by Scholastics from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. To act virtuously is to be, whereas the profane actor simply is not offered passage to God’s grace, is not capable of achieving eternal life, is not to enter the holy theatre of the Church, simply is not in the eyes of the Church. In this light, I identify Ottonelli not only as a contributor to the theatrical landscape of the Italian peninsula in the first half of the seventeenth century but also as a contributor to the philosophical formulations forwarded first by Aristotle, then by Aquinas, and then by a number of figures. In order to pave the way to the philosophical conclusions I draw at the end of this chapter, I will briefly elaborate on the ontological claims folded into Ottonelli’s story of the scenic priest.
To understand Ottonelli’s theatre philosophy, one first has to understand the tradition into which he stepped, a tradition that traces back to Ancient Greece through the figure of Thomas Aquinas. Anthony J. Lisska explains Aquinas’s ontologically realist philosophy through the language of Aristotelian hylomorphic metaphysics:
Aquinas argues that a human person is, by definition, a synthetic necessary unity grounding a set of potentialities, capacities, or dispositions, which is a dispositional analysis of a natural kind. A disposition [... ] is a structured causal set of properties that leads towards the development of the property in a specific way. In his hylomorphic metaphysics, the substantial form is the ontological ground for dispositional properties. (Lisska 624)
Whereas Aristotle did not believe in the autonomy of the soul, as noted in De Anima (“It is not unclear that the soul (or certain parts of it, if it naturally has parts) is not separable from the body”), and sought to steer a course between Plato’s dualism and strict materialism, Aquinas keeps the architectural relation between form and matter (soul and body) but argues, in line with Christian dogma, that the soul may in fact live without the body. Thus, Aquinas’s philosophical understanding of the individual builds upon the core beliefs of ontological foundationalism.28
Given this foundation, the role of telos in Aquinas acquires great importance. The human being, understood as “a synthetic necessary unity grounding a set of potentialities, capacities, or dispositions,” is obligated (on a material level) to achieve a specific end or telos. Citing the explanations of Henry Veatch, Lisska explains that, “these ends ought to be obtained because of the very dispositional structure of human nature. The ends are not arbitrary but are determined by the natural kind of human nature itself. Obligation is rooted in the ends themselves” (628). Certainly schooled in this philosophical tradition, Ottonelli offers a unique twist to the typical story by including performance (acting) as a crucial mediating praxis in man’s realization of these ends. For him, man’s dispositional structure as a subject enscened before God obligates the cultivation of one’s identity as virtuous actor. Only when the scenic priest becomes the virtuous actor does he achieve the end set out for him. If there is an ontological foundationalism underpinning human nature, this ontology will require a rational and concerted practice to fire correctly, and Ottonelli published his work in order to endow his readers with the required rationality.
Aquinas’s uptake of Aristotelian philosophy sutured his discussion of telos to the field of ethics, insofar as man’s chief aim was the achievement of the Good, albeit a Good modified through several centuries of Christian deliberations over Hellenic philosophy. But, within this philosophical genealogy, and specifically its understanding of the role played by reason in the acquisition of the Good, the individual must first choose the path toward the Good. Since Aristotelians distinguished between theoretical reason (the “knowing” aspect of reason) and practical reason (the “choosing”), then logically “choosing or undertaking [will depend] on prior knowledge; one can only choose or undertake that which is a ‘good’ after knowing that it is a good” (629). Whereas for Aquinas the Word of God functioned as a compass to direct the formation of the individual as he or she grew into the end fashioned ahead of time by God and provided the material for this “choice,” for Ottonelli the Word had to be enacted and, furthermore, that enactment had to be witnessed and verified by God.
If for Aquinas “bonum est in rebus'’ (“good is in things”), then for Ottonelli and the Jesuits this “thing” is more properly a space. Borrowing from the Old English definition of “thing” as “meeting, assembly, council,” the Good thing becomes the space in which one finds the higher good of virtuous acting, the space of the Jesuit theatre of the world laid out by God. Not a res publica, as discussed in the previous chapter, but a res ecclesia, this thing appeared on Earth as a meeting place wherein the soul will be governed according to the Good. Two more aspects of
Ottonelli’s philosophical understanding differentiate him from Aquinas. First, Ottonelli’s treatise reveals the extent to which the Jesuit doubted the ability of mankind to choose the Good. Following the metaphor of the tulip bulb in Aristotelian metaphysics, which dictates that, “The structure of a tulip bulb is organised biologically to produce a tulip flower and not a geranium,” Aquinas’s philosophical pronouncements proceeded from the confirmed belief that “human nature is the quidditas determined by materia prima and forma substantialis’’ (636). Ottonelli’s authorial labor reveals his unwillingness to cede to this certainty. He clearly acknowledged the power of theatrical performance and representation to, in a sense, mutate the genetics of both human nature and spirit and to lead human beings away from their ordained telos. For him, the human was not guaranteed to enact the dehiscent stage of maturation. In this light, Ottonelli's concerns help explain why the Jesuits worked so hard to legislate against theatrical performances in the Republic ofSaint Mark and elsewhere: bad, mimic theatre rewired humans' spiritual code and interfered with the cultivation of spiritual rectitude. Second, and related to this point, Aristotelian ethics suggest that to function well is “to develop the dispositions or capacities according to the nature or structure one has” (636). For Ottonelli, however, “functioning well” is something that humans must learn. Furthermore, they must learn it through virtuous imitation. Calling forth the Jesuit dramaturgy analyzed in Chapter 4, I suggest that this teaching requires psychagogical intervention instead of pedagogical intervention and that Ottonelli clearly understood the psy- chagogical power of the performance of self shaped through the Spiritual Exercises. The merger of theatre and philosophy may have revealed itself subtly in Aquinas's rhetorical writing, but in the Jesuit literature of the early modern age it rises to the fore. For Ottonelli and his brothers, the verb to be existed in tandem with to act (in accordance with Ignatian principles).
Ultimately, then, Ottonelli's treatise outlines a pyschagogical performance philosophy predicated on the belief that one must not only live according to the Word of God but also fashion a daily performance of self that demonstrates the extent to which the individual has internalized the knowledge that he or she is performing for God's eyes and God's eyes alone. As such, the felicitousness of Jesuit ethics, grounded in something like a classically inspired performance ontology, requires the realization that: (1) I am playing a role within the theatre of the world; and (2) God is the sole spectator of this performance on the world stage.
In addition to including a latent performance philosophy within its pages, Ottonelli’s story about the scenic priest also presents a detailed schematic of Jesuit theatre and the practice of folding into the interior (spiritual retreat) that is so crucial to the act of conversion. First, from Ottonelli’s perspective, the practice of the Spiritual Exercises is the entry point into a new life. If the priest in the story becomes the model of conversion, then what one sees when reading the story is a sinner who receives inspiration that leads him into spiritual retreat. Once folded inward, the Exercises begin the process of vanquishing one’s former self in order to produce a new character. Second, this is necessarily an individual experience. Each and every person may encounter it, but it will always be an individual activity. Third, the primary motor of the conversion to a new self is repentance. To repent, one must become aware of one’s sins, or arrive at a certain point of view that reveals the errors of one’s ways. Fourth, once transformed, the subject acts in a new way. He or she acts in accordance with the path set out by the Jesuits. The actor’s manners and customs (costumi) are changed and the actor becomes virtuous.
All these points describe the embodied repertoire of this specific kind of Jesuit theatre, but what of its spatial parameters? Jesuit theatre is not only marked by its specific set of gestures and modes of speech (which, in the story, become visible once the reformed priest creates his true character); it is also marked by a particular space in which this mode of acting can unfold. This space, the thing of the Jesuit teatro del mondo, opens within the terrestrial world, but, once opened, it presents a different perspective on one’s daily actions. The space itself works upon the individual actor to cultivate an apperception that assembles the consequences of each deed an actor performs and transforms the totality of that assemblage into the identity of the individual. This is the Jesuit concept of casuistry, which enters into the individual’s mind as that individual enters into the theatre of the world. Casuistry is the Jesuit art of case-based reasoning that aims to arrest the subject at every crucial junction of his or her life so that the individual can decide how best to act in accordance with the Church. As Barthes’s essay on Loyola suggests, casuistry marks the supremely rational dimension of the Exercises insofar as it institutes a practice of choosing instantiated through disciplined repetition: for every choice I face, “I must consider what the results of this choice will be on the day of my death, and on the day of the Last Judgement” (Barthes 60). And yet even the conventional syntax (“I” choose) receives an adjustment when the subject enters Jesuit space. Building on Barthes’s commentary on this issue, I would add that, within the Jesuit theatre of the world, individuality is replaced with subjective apperception that cultivates an “I” through the multiplicity of cases of conscience, which, because the virtuous acting-in-accordance-with marks each and every reformed actor in this theatre, transforms the “ I” immediately into a “We. ” The Society is the epitome of this We. Its plurality is really a complex unity: a One(ness) within God.29
Once this theatre begins to unfurl it displaces the terrestrial world to a status of outside. This is the spatial dichotomy of Jesuit conversion within the framework of pastoral power. From the terrestrial world, the subject folds into the oneness of God and through the Spiritual Exercises locates his or her place within the interior of the Church. This activity simultaneously delimits the terrestrial world as exterior, as that which exists outside the belief system of the Church.
The Jesuit teatro del mondo thus opens, through the development of a new perspective on the world and one’s place in it, a world in which God’s presence demands a pure and transparent mode ofacting that always manifests God’s presence through deeds and decisions of the individual. This perspective only becomes possible through spiritual retreat and the enactment of the Spiritual Exercises through which a new subjectivity is created within the Church. The resulting locality is a singular interiority, a dense singularity, one that encloses and produces exteriority yet has no exit and no outside for the subject. It is not a theatre in the world, like the floating theatres, Cornaro’s ideal theatre island, or Venice itself, all ofwhich present spectacles ofthe baser sort. Instead, it is a theatre of the world insofar as it replaces the secular world with a stage upon which each step in accordance with the teachings of the Church reveals one’s identity as a virtuous actor. The Jesuit theatre of the world is the world from the perspective of the converted or reformed Catholic. This entire apparatus resembles the organization within medieval monasteries through which monks learned to become virtuous actors, but there is an important difference. The Jesuits, through the application of the Spiritual Exercises, made the monastic institution portable. People no longer had to go to the monastery. The Jesuits brought the discipline of the monastery to each and every sheep in the flock.30