Renaissance and Reformation Ruzante Angelo Beolco
Linda Carroll
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 June 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 June 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0443


While much of the Italian literary world of the 16th century turned to measured Petrarchan modes expressed in stylized Tuscan, Angelo Beolco (b. c. 1494–d. 1542) (better known by his stage name Ruzante, Tuscanized by others as Ruzzante) wrote comic theatrical works of raw realism largely in regional dialects. Vaunting the “natural,” they featured the peasant Ruzante played by Beolco, the natural (illegitimate) son of a wealthy Paduan doctor and university administrator and probably a servant close to rural roots. Illegitimacy excluding him from heirship, Beolco joined the household of Alvise Cornaro, a wealthy non-patrician Venetian who lived in Padua and developed its farmlands while patronizing the arts. Beolco set some of his works in the country, peopled solely by peasants; others, set usually in Padua or Venice, add prosperous urbanites and play on differing social backgrounds and linguistic uses. Many questions concerning the works’ chronology remain, with several bearing signs of extensive rewriting. The Pastoral, which refers to the reopening of the University of Padua after the devastating wars of the League of Cambrai (1509–1517), is generally regarded as his first work. In 1521 and possibly 1518, he delivered a comic oration to Marco Cornaro as bishop of Padua. From 1520 to 1526, Venetian diarist Marin Sanudo (Marino Sanuto) recorded Beolco’s performances in Venice, usually together with his acting troupe. Invited by compagnie della calza, the societies of patrician youth that organized festivities, he enacted his plays at Carnival (Pastoral, Lettera giocosa, and others) and once even at a Ducal Palace wedding. Sanudo remarked on his facility with peasant dialect and on the inappropriate bawdiness and political insolence of some works and their staging. However, patrician interest was so great that one rehearsal caused important government committee meetings to be cancelled because their members were attending it (Betia?). While earlier research proposed that Alvise Cornaro’s patronage took Beolco to Venice, recent scholarship has demonstrated that the patrician families sponsoring and attending Beolco’s performances had conducted important financial transactions beginning in the 1460s with the Beolco family, which, as the richest family in Milan, financed the Sforza and sent members to conduct business in Venice; owned country property contiguous with theirs purchased with them; and had members who knew his father at the University of Padua. With the war, famine, and plague of the latter 1520s, Beolco’s works portrayed the sufferings of the peasants (Seconda oratione, Reduce, Bilora, and Dialogo facetissimo). From 1529 to 1532 he performed at the Este court in Ferrara and in 1533 in Padua (versions of the Moschetta, Fiorina, Piovana, Vacaria). His final works re-proposed the moral superiority of peasants (here urbanized servants) against the artifice and degeneracy of wealthy characters (Anconitana, 1534–1535?) and evoked the mythically peaceful farm of Lady Mirth (Lettera all’Alvaroto, 1536). He died in 1542 while rehearsing his friend Sperone Speroni’s Canace.


Lovarini 1965 initiates modern research with documentation of Beolco’s wealthy Milanese origins, his uncles’ participation in Padua’s 1509 anti-Venetian uprising, Sanudo’s records of his performances in Venice, and Alvise Cornaro’s patronage. Sambin 2002 and Menegazzo 2001 document the family’s establishment in the Venetian dominion and economic activities in the 1460s, the probable identities of Beolco’s mother and wife, additional information on Alvise Cornaro and on Beolco’s stage partner Marc’Aurelio Alvaroto, and the historical accuracy of the plays. Piovan 1998 sets Beolco’s probable birth year as 1494 and his early entry into Cornaro’s household. The saving of Venetian patrician investment in lucrative galley commerce by Beolco’s great-uncle Zuan de Beolco, the richest man in Milan and financier to Ludovico Sforza, and their co-investment of the gains in farm property near Montagnana and Pernumia (where the surname Ruzante was common) is established in Carroll 2016. A 1508 Dosso Dossi portrait may indicate early performances in Ferrara (Carroll 2003). Invitations to perform in Venice came during the years in which the Venetian Republic sought a modus vivendi with the new Holy Roman Emperor Charles V for economic reasons, but Menegazzo 2001 posits that Beolco joined the Venetian army against Charles in 1526. By 1528, as Ruzante returned from the battlefield in Reduce, Beolco returned to witness Alvise Cornaro and others purchasing the land rights from starving peasants (Sambin 2002), whose desperate poverty he enacted before aristocratic hunters in Dialogo facetissimo, pleading for help and a law on their side from Cardinal Francesco Cornaro (Seconda oratione). Beolco also performed in Ferrara in 1528 at the festivities for Ercole II d’Este’s marriage to a French princess. In his Bilora of about 1530, a peasant, named Bilora and played by another actor, kills the elderly Venetian who has seduced his wife. Possibly having performed in Ferrara in the intervening years, Beolco staged a play there for the Carnival of 1532. Schiavon 2010 theorizes that it was Piovana, his adaptation of Plautus’s Rudens, or it may have been Fiorina. Marin Sanudo makes the last known record of a Beolco performance, at Carnival 1533 in Padua of Vacaria, his adaptation of an Italian translation of Plautus’s Asinaria. Peasant values are vindicated in the Anconitana that Padoan 1978 dates to 1534–1535, while 1536 saw a final version of the Lettera all’Alvaroto with its mythic farm of Lady Mirth fencing in all happiness and fencing out all pain, especially pain caused by “Love.”

  • Carroll, Linda L. “‘Fools of the Dukes of Ferrara’: Dosso, Ruzante, and Changing Este Alliances.” MLN 18.1 (2003): 60–84.

    DOI: 10.1353/mln.2003.0023

    Reviews Este art patronage in the context of international alliances and hypothesizes the identities of some courtiers portrayed in Dossi paintings, including Beolco and Ludovico Ariosto.

  • Carroll, Linda L. Commerce, Peace and the Arts in Renaissance Venice: Ruzante and the Empire at Center Stage. London: Routledge, 2016.

    DOI: 10.4324/9781315572826

    Documents artistic patronage in the Basilica of the Frari (Venice) in the early 16th century as international factors catalyzed the patrician turn from commerce to agriculture; literary culture’s growth as leisure activity; deep Beolco financial ties to the Venetian patriciate, especially Frari patrons and including most families hosting Beolco’s Venetian performances; Beolco’s promotion of peace in the service of prosperity; the state lottery of Venice and Machiavelli’s visit there.

  • D’Onghia, Luca. “Introduzione.” In Moschetta. Edited by Angelo Beolco and Luca D’Onghia, 9–83. Venice: Marsilio. 2010.

    A summary of the play’s plot, its literary references, and its dating.

  • Ruzante [Angelo Beolco]. Teatro. Edited by Ludovico Zorzi. Turin, Italy: Einaudi, 1967.

    The first complete edition of Beolco’s works, with Italian translation.

  • Lovarini, Emilio. Studi sul Ruzzante e sulla letteratura pavana. Edited by Gianfranco Folena. Padua, Italy: Antenore, 1965.

    A collection of pioneering articles on the life and family background of Beolco, his works and performances, the popular literature and song of his time, and his influence on other performers and writers in the 16th and 17th centuries.

  • Menegazzo, Emilio. Colonna, Folengo, Ruzante e Cornaro: Ricerche, testi e documenti. Edited by Andrea Canova. Rome: Antenore, 2001.

    A group of essays publishing and interpreting archival research on Beolco, the preceding generation of his family, the accuracy and sympathy of his plays’ depiction of rural life, and the self-representation of Alvise Cornaro.

  • Padoan, Giorgio. “Angelo Beolco da Ruzante a Perduoçimo.” In Momenti del Rinascimento Veneto. By Giorgio Padoan, 94–283. Medioevo e Umanesimo 31. Padua, Italy: Antenore, 1978.

    A review of the historical context of the plays and hypothesis about their chronology.

  • Piovan, Francesco. “Tre schede ruzantiane.” In Atti del convegno internazionale di studi per il 5º centenario della nascita di Angelo Beolco il Ruzante. Padova-Venezia, 5-6-7 giugno 1997. Edited by Piermario Vescovo, 93–105. Quaderni Veneti 27–28. Ravenna, Italy: Longo Editore, 1998.

    Revises with new documentary information the likely years of Beolco’s birth, the death of his father, and his transition to the household of Alvise Cornaro.

  • Sambin, Paolo. Per le biografie di Angelo Beolco, il Ruzante, e di Alvise Cornaro. Edited by Francesco Piovan. Padua, Italy: Esedra, 2002.

    A group of essays publishing and interpreting archival research on Beolco, the preceding two generations of his family, his marriage, and his patron Alvise Cornaro.

  • Schiavon, Chiara. Per l’edizione del Ruzante classicista: Testo e lingua di Piovana e Vaccaria. Padua, Italy: CLEUP, 2010.

    A retranscription of the 1548 edition of the Piovana and the 1551 edition of the Vaccaria; introduction and notes cite a partial manuscript copy of Piovana and early editions and synthesize recent literary and linguistic scholarship. A bibliography of earlier scholarship is given but not its content; no mention is made of the finding in Barata 1972–1973 (cited under Early Criticism and Staging) that Beolco used a contemporary Tuscan translation of the Asinaria rather than the original.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.