Andrea Vitali's Essays

Ruzante the Peasant

Bagatelles, traitors and triumphs in card games in the works of Angelo Beolco


Translation from the Italian by Michael S. Howard, June 2013

Angelo Beolco, called Ruzante or Ruzante (Padua or perhaps Pernumia, ca. 1496 - Padua, 1542), was a playwright, actor and writer. Natural son of a physician and professor at the University of his city, he enjoyed the protection of Alvise Cornaro, landowner and architect, who commissioned from him two orations to be recited at the court of his two cousins, Cardinals Marco and Franco. Angelo died in the house of Cornaro from "unrest" and "dissipation". He was the author of several plays (among the most important La Pastoral, La Betia, and La Moscheta), sonnets, letters, speeches and dialogues.


Inspired by several passages of two of his plays (La Pastoral and La Moscheta), we take the opportunity to further investigate some topics that have already been objects of our studies: specifically the meaning of ‘bagatella’ (1) and ‘traditore’ (2), together with the popular expressions inherent to card games in the era of the sixteenth century.


La Pastoral, a comedy "in the style of the country" [a la villana] (3), was handed down in a single witness, now in the codex Marciano it. IX 288 (= 6072) of the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice, cart., in 4 ° (152 X 205), miscellany of the first half of the XVIth century. Its composition is placed in all probability in the early months of 1518, when Beolco was about 22 years old. Structured in 20 scenes in a single act, the composition is divided into two parts, of which the first (Proemio = Preface), is written in triplets alternating in rhyme and language, while the second is in vernacular prose.


The story begins with the narrative of the rejected love of old Mileso for the nymph Syrinx and the death by suicide of the disappointed lover. A shepherd named Mopsus, becoming aware of the death of the latter, faints. Arpino, another shepherd, believing them both dead, decides to give them an honorable burial. To get help he goes in search of the farmer Ruzante, who only accepts in order to take possession of the clothes of the two deceased. Realizing, however, that Mopsus was only unconscious,  he summons his friend the doctor Master Francesco, then regretting it almost immediately as he would have to give the clothes to Mopsus. However he aims to take advantage of the presence of the physician to extract a cure for his father, sick at the time. Mopsus comes to his senses, the father dies and Ruzante thanks the doctor for this because finally he can inherit the cattle and house of his father. Mileso is buried under the altar of Pan along with the sacrifice of a lamb, devoured with gusto by Ruzante.


With this composition Ruzante aimed at highlighting how the dignified world, bucolic and pastoral, sung by Sannazzaro in his Arcadia, was extremely false, denouncing the possibility of conveying the agricultural world through predefined structures, such as a literary or theatrical narrative. Among the different characters the figure of the physician acquires an autobiographical character when it is put in relation to Giovan Francesco Beolco, the father of our author, of whom Ruzante was the natural son and not legitimate, a fact that led in the son to feelings of love-hate. So writes Giovanni Calendoli in this regard: "Master Francesco is generally considered an archaic prototype of the typical figureof the Doctor but is rather a disturbing allegorical figure: a cynical giver of life and death, an enigmatic and grim Luciferian angel" (4).


As we pointed out in our iconological essay The Bagatto, bagatella is an old Italian word, still used today to mean "small thing, trifle, stupid thing". This term is used by Ruzante in some passages of the play:


La Pastoral


 Scena XIII - vv. 837-852




Laga pur andà                  

flòtoli e canzò,

cu’ fa sti babiò

che per fas bei                      

i s’unze i capei

d’ogi di belzovich,

e pos ados vesich

di musch e zibet,                  

e così che va sora vet;

de not co i lauut

i fa desdar i put,

e no fa otre ‘che col’;

e va portand i zocol

a l’espagnol, i scarp

e altre mille farb

e bagatel.


"Forget frottole [a type of popular song] and songs, as these fools make themselves beautiful anointing their hair with oil of belzoino and putting on things that win the wind [perfumes] from the bladders of musk and civet; in the night with their lutes they wake up the children, and don’t get [anything] otherwise for it, and are going to wear Spanish clogs, shoes and frills and a thousand other bagatelle”.


Scena XIII -  vv.873-878




 A’ ‘l toca più la camisa,

ca ‘l zupò.

Vèdit sto compagnò

che quas gi è al bordel

per andà dri a sti bagatel

e a sti fusari!


"The shirt is more important than the doublet [proverbial saying, meaning that basic needs are more important, those that touch you most closely]. Do you see this jolly fellow [in reference to the body of Mopsus] who is almost in ruin [lit. “at the brothel”] going after those bagatelle and nonsense from women [(lit. reggifusi]".


Another term that is translated in Italian with bagatelle is zagarele, a word that we find in the Proemio [preface]. It is the diminutive of Zacchera, that is, trifle. Thus the Dictionary of Crusca: "Zacchera is a small spurt of mud that others, walking, throw   on one’s leg, of which we also say Pillacchera. Lat. Latum. Zacchera metaphorically is a generic appellation of all things vile and of little value. Lat. recula. Zaccarella, diminutive”.




Proemio a la villana


 El m’iera viso

ch’a’ fusse in un paraiso,

e tante belle pute

che s’a’ la risea tute;

e può’ alora vegnire,

a’ no so s’a’ saveré dire,

una bella tosa

che vegnia de l’ascosa,

e sì vegnia cantando

e saltolando,

com fa ste matarele,

digando mille zagatele

de lo Amore;

e parea che l’aese dolore,

sì andasèvela criando;

e sì andasea sunando

violle da una zuogia.

Cancaro a sta duogia!


 "I had thought it was a paradise, and so many beautiful young girls were all laughing (1), and then comes, I do not know if I'll say, a beautiful girl who came from a hidden place, and was singing and jumping like on a stage, saying a thousand bagatelle on Love, and it seemed that she was in grief, so she was lamenting, and yes [seemed to] stand out like purple from a garland (2). It was annoying, this pain".


(1) The author addresses here the girls in the audience, sitting on wooden bleachers.

(2) The classic "Loves Me, Loves Me Not"


The meaning of the card of the Hanged Man, representing traitors in the Middle Ages, we have extensively discussed in two of our essays (5). The term traditore (along with its variant traitor) was an epithet traditionally given to farmers. The reason for this assignment is that farmers, not participating like city dwellers in political and social life, did not feel personally affected by the problems of the community. As their interest related exclusively to food and survival, they could change their behavior according to their own advantage, holding it logical to act with their enemies, only considered as such by the political authorities, if they found in this a more favorable position.


Muzio Attendolo Sforza, in 1412 denounced as a traitor by Antipope John XXIII, for having allied himself to his enemy, King Ladislaus of Naples, was branded as a peasant: “Per ordine del Signor nostro Papa fu dipinto su tutti i ponti e su tutte le porte di Roma, sospeso pel piede destro alla forca, quale traditore della Santa Madre Chiesa, Sforza Attendolo e teneva una zappa nella mano destra, e nella mano sinistra una scritta che diceva così: Io sono Sforza vilano de la Cotignola, traditore, che XII tradimenti ho facti alla Chiesa contro lo mio honore, promissioni, capitoli, pacti aio rocti” (By order of our Lord Pope is to be depicted on all the bridges and on all the gates of Rome, suspended by the right foot from a gallows, as a traitor to the Holy Mother Church, Sforza Attendolo, holding a hoe in his right hand and in his left hand a sign saying: I am Sforza peasant of Cotignola, traitor, who twelve times have betrayed the Church against my honor: promises, compacts, agreements have I broken" [aio rocti = ho io rotti]). Obviously Sforza was never a peasant, but depicting him with a hoe in his hand, as well as calling him a peasant, is to evaluate him by what moves functionally to discredit his character (6).

In La Pastoral and La Moscheta two passages are significant in this regard:


La Pastoral


Scena XX - vv. 1575-1580                          




Or, al nom de Dè,                

pia u po’ quel pé.

Oh, ch’hoi dit?

A’ sun mez sbalordit

co sto villà traitor:

che ghe vegni i dolor!


 "Now, in the name of God, grab that foot a little. Oh, what have I said? I am half dazed because of this traitor farmer: may he come to grief!"


The title of the play La Moscheta (between 1527 and 1531) reflects “speaking in moscheto", the dialect that was spoken to show the city, more cultured and refined, the folksy jargon of the Paduan peasants, that in which Ruzante expresses himself by nature. Divided into two acts, with a prologue narrated by a peasant, it tells the story of the farmer Ruzante, speaking in moscheto, who dresses in disguise to test the fidelity of his wife Betia, who comes from this to cuckold him once the woman understands the deception. Among the characters, besides the two mentioned, we find Menato, a peasant companion of Ruzante, with whom his wife is cuckolding her husband, and Tonin, a man-at-arms of Bergamo.


 La Moscheta


 Atto Secondo - Scena II




Ho aldít semper di ‘che l’amor fa deventà omegn gross, e che l’è  casò de gra dolor e de gra plasí, e che ‘l costa de gross daner e fa ach deventà u valent’om poltrò. E mi, ch’a’so’ valent’om, per amor de no fa desplasí a la mia inamorada, a’ n’ho volut responder a quel vilà traditor de so marít. Ol m’ha dit in plaza tata vilania, come se ’l m’avess trovat a lecà i so tagier: e che so’u poltrò, e che so’ un asen, e che la mia pel non val negota. E no gl’ho volut respondí.


"I've always heard that love makes men fools, and that it causes great pain and great pleasure, and that costs a lot of money and even makes a brave man into a chicken. Indeed I, who am a brave man, just so not to be displeasing to my beloved, I did not respond to her vile traitor of a husband. He said so much rudeness to me in the square, as if he had found me licking his dishes, that I am a chicken, I am an ass, and that my skin is not worth anything. And I didn’t answer him" (7)


Regarding card games in the sixteenth century and the term “to triumph” [trionfare], it is interesting to know a popular manner of speaking that survives, with variations, to the present day. In fact, when a player puts on the table a handful of winning cards, it is not uncommon to grimace at his opponents (even in the most obscene way) and utter words like "take it in that place" [“prendetevela in quel posto”]. An expression used in other situations, such as in the game of football where it is not uncommon to hear people say: "We have stuck four balls up your a ...". [“Vi abbiamo ficcato quattro palle su per il c…”]. An expression of the same tone as found in a dialogue between the Doctor and Ruzante in La Pastoral, of which we report also the notes, edited by Giorgio Padoan (8) with some of our addition:


La Pastoral


 Scena XIX - vv. 1498-1514




Mètei d’i cristieri.                                 

Che me faris cantar san Peri!




Cum, cancaro, d’i cristieri?

Oh, il morbo a i sbieri,

che v’ha lassò sta gonella.

Al corpo de Sancta Bella,

mo la va ben ben!

Pota, el me sconvien

pur ch’a’ me dispute,

se le rise pur tute, ste tose.

Per sta sancta Crose,

quando a’ zuogo a rumpha

el dise ch’a’ triumpha

me barba Mio,

perché el dise «de drio

se ghe meti i cristieri».


"Doctor: Put in the enemas. So that you make me find Saint Peter (1).

Ruzante: What, annoying one, enemas? Oh, if disease [would come] to the cops who have left you this clothing! (2) By the body of Santa Isabel, but it goes well! Cunt [Potta], I have to defend myself, if all these girls laugh at me! (3) By this Holy Cross, when I play at runfa (4) my Beard Bartolomeo is saying he has all the winning cards when he says: "The enemas are put in behind" (5) .


(1) With the meaning of swearing, that is, losing control of himself. Also in  the Bulesca "Saint Peter makes me spit phlegm, i.e. swear” [me fare catar san Piero[.

(2) That will allow you to continue to practice.

(3) The girls who are part of the public to whom he speaks. “Potta” is simply an exclamation, like our “damn!” except more vulgar; it does not refer to any particular person.

(4) A card game (a ronfa is properly a "set of cards of the same suit": Tiraboschi)

(5) L. Zorzi explains (Introduction to: Ruzante, Teatro, Torino, Einaudi, 1967, p. 1306 n. 222): "My uncle [the one with the beard] Bartolomeo advises me about “triumphing ' [trionfare], that is, playing the desired suit, saying the conventional phrase ‘ the enemas are put in behind' (alluding, I believe, to the series of cards of a flush, putting one behind the other)". But even today in the taverns of the Veneto, when a player holds all the winning cards, he throws them down on the table one after the other with exclamations of satisfaction and mockery for the vanquished that are similar to that occurring here (proverbial motto, with obscene allusion, that is to say, “Whoever has to take it in the ass, take it” [:«chi l'ha da prendere nel sedere, lo prenda»], that is, it is worse for those who lose).




1 - It this regard, see our iconological essay The Magician.
2 - On the figure and meaning of the card as a traitor see the iconologal essay of the same name.
3 - Comedy to the peasant girl composed by miser Anzolo Biolco of Padoa called La  Pastoral. Interlocutors: Siringa nymph, Milesio shepherd, Mopso shepherd, Arpino shepherd, Lacerto shepherd, Master Francesco physician, Ruzante peasant and Zilio peasant, Bertuol servant.
4 - See: Giovanni Calendoli, Dall'Arcadia ideale all'Arcadia reale [From Arcadia ideal to Arcadia real], "Ruzante", ed. Corbo and Fiore, Venezia, 1985, pp.. 59-60.
5 - The Hanged Man and The Traitor.
6 - In Diario Romano by Antonio di Pietro, Anno Domini 1412, in Ludovico Antonio Muratori “Rerum Italicarum Scrptores”, Tomo XXIV, Milano, Ex Tip. Societatis Palatinae,  1738, col. 1031-1032. Also, but not complete, in  Ludovico Antonio Muratori, Annali d’Italia [Annals of Italy], Milano, 1744, Anno, 1412, p. 62. [The translation here of the sign is that of Mandell Creighton, A History of the Papacy During the Period of the Reformation (London, 1882), pp. 243-244, as cited by Ross Caldwell at:]
7 - Translator’s note: this translation based largely on that by Antonio Franceschetti and Kenneth R. Bartlett, Doverhouse Editions, Ottawa, Canada, 1993, p. 69.
8 - Angelo Beolco Ruzante, La Pastoral - La Prima Orazione - Una lettera Giocosa [The Pastoral - The First Oration - A Playful letter], critical text, translated and annotated by Giorgio Padoan, Medioevo e Umanesimo [Middle Ages and Humanism], 32, Editrice Antenore, Padova, 1978.