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The Identity of Držić’s Low-Life Characters

Slavica Stojan

Puni tekst: hrvatski pdf 248 Kb

str. 9-41

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The majority of Držić’s characters are his contemporaries, living models chosen from the local setting as an expression of his efforts to intertwine fiction with reality. By adding local colour to the plays, Držić helped the audience recognize authentic situations and persons. In order to trace the real people of the Dubrovnik that Držić knew, I have examined the records of the Criminal Court of the Republic of Dubrovnik. Trial accounts as well as Držić’s literary heritage reveal that his choice of characters was by no means random. In quest of the genuine aspects of human everyday life, Držić selected only those characters who, by virtue of specific features, may have contributed to the dramatic conception of his plays. Details in one’s appearance, manners, occupation, origin, speech, life history or even nickname were likely to draw the playwright’s attention.
Apparently, some of the protagonists of Držić’s comedies lived parallel lives, fictional and real, bearing the same names or nicknames in both drama and life, such as Điva(n) Pešica, Vlaho, Miho (in Novela od Stanca), Mazija (in Dundo Maroje) or Drijemalo (in Skup). Držić tended to single out those characters whose appearance in the play would appeal most to the contemporary audience, and whose participation was to add to the credibility of other elements of his artistic message. It was this synthesis of the fictional narrative with the episodes from everyday life, a tuneful harmony between the world of art and documentary evidence that was to stimulate the spectators to laughter, comedy’s ultimate goal.
The dialogue between the urban space and the city-dweller gives rise to a host of associations, reminiscences and allusions. Such a dialogue resides with those contemporaries who did not take active part in Držić’s comedies or with those whose appearance was ephemeral. Through the low-life characters of a woman named Milašica, and the likes, Držić offers a richly detailed contemporary account of his own Dubrovnik, and by introducing recognizable characters who lived and worked in different parts of the city Držić not only mapped the pattern of city life, but afforded a vision of the city’s urban structure. Mazija, a police warden in real life, spent his time in front of Luža, in Placa, in front of the Court Hall, etc. Shoemakers Šile and Čičilija (or Petar Šile and Pjetro Čičilijano in real life) had their shop in Među velike crevjari Street, tailor resided in Garište, while the goldsmith Đanpjetro held his store in Placa. Duičina Street was notorious for its women of ill repute, among whom a dominant role was played by the ‘fairy’ Kata Profumanica (Propumanica in Novela od Stanca), Bokčilo, a rustic from Konavle, kept a tavern in St. Barbara’s Street, etc. All the locations mentioned are known to have been frequented by the patricians and commoners alike, young maids, servants, mariners and merchants, priests and even noblewomen and represented gathering places where daily issues of greater or lesser importance were discussed and attitudes and public opinion formulated in the absence of other communication means. If so, Držić’s models cannot be considered marginal figures although originating from the lower social ranks. In modern terms, they might be described as ‘opinion makers’, as they created the social climate of a particular time and space.
The example of Đivana Milašica along with other contemporaries of the Renaissance Ragusa mentioned in the dramatic work of Marin Držić emphasize the literary dimension of the social experience and literary significance of the historical documents. They provide answers to an increasing demand for a multi-faceted approach to history in which the history of everyday life tends to gain in significance. In no way do the facts drawn from the historical sources understate the importance of literary fiction. Based on literary as well as archival evidence, they open new perspectives of historiographic scholarship beyond its traditional borders, contributing also to a better understanding of the old Croat literature.

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