The Deliverymen of Florentine Comedy: 1543-55
Renaissance Italian comedy is often accused of banality the more the sixteenth century pushes forward. Tireless re-workings of recognizable plots and themes – from Athens and Rome, Boccaccio’s stories, Machiavelli’s theater, and Ariosto’s, too – are all too common in the proliferation of printed editions, of literary circles, and of amateur dramaturges themselves. However, in mid-sixteenth century Florence, several members of the Florentine Academy, including Giovanni Battista Gelli, Francesco D’Ambra, and Giovanni Maria Cecchi, signal innovation in the compendium of familiar storylines as they stage lively urban environments and change in the make-up of society. Building on work of Virginia Cox and Sarah G. Ross, I view this brand of Florentine comedy as one that unlocks the door to ordinary realities and “everyday renaissances” of the period. This study observes the novelty of quotidian Florence in the onstage portrayals of the zanaiuolo, a deliveryman of predominantly foodstuffs, in Academy dramas. Purveyors who work as contractually employed individuals are an unusual social class of culinary workers who act and interact on their own accord. Although deliverymen are liminal to the core action of the drama, I argue that they demonstrate a playwright’s willingness to stage speculum consuetudinis. The simple inclusion of a deliveryman in the character list demonstrates sixteenth-century Florence (and its comedy) to be a locus of developing municipal professions. Their language and interaction reveal to us the dynamics of cultural exchange and developing residential and commercial areas of the city. Moreover, their presence on stage confirms the ideology of their creators, who are dedicated to rendering literature and theater accessible to a larger audience of upper-middle class artisans and intellectuals such as themselves. In this article, I prove how peculiar deliverymen stand as examples of cultural encounter and mobility in the urban cityscape of sixteenth-century Florence.
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