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Bruno, Giordano (1548-1600)  
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Il Candelaio

As a monk, even a lapsed one, and a philosopher, Bruno was not in a position to leave love poems like those of Marlowe or Michelangelo Buonarroti. Nor did he leave paintings and statues like the Florentine David that might suggest a sexual attraction to other men. But he did leave a single, satiric comedy for the stage, Il Candelaio, whose very title, "The Candleholder," is a homosexual slang word of the time, perhaps best rendered in contemporary English as "The Fudgepacker" or "The Butt-bandit."

Il Candelaio presents three characters who are often seen as three of Bruno's alter egos, or three facets of Bruno himself: Manfurio, a pedantic scholar who speaks tortured Latin and loses his glasses; Bonifacio, the "candleholder" homosexual who finally ends up in his wife's bed; and Bartolomeo, the scientist and alchemist who tries to transmute base metals into gold but fails.

Alternatively, writes Roberto Oddo, "The three sage buffoons appear in contradistinction to a band of slum boys who live by their wits, and to the only legitimately "positive" character in the play, the painter Gian Bernardo [Bruno's stand-in]. Gian Bernardo--note the initials G. B.--guides them in their illicit roles, giving them inventive freedom, vitality and a shared code of anti-ethics."

Part of Bruno's subversiveness in the comedy can be found in its language. Il Candelaio mixes Italian, French, Latin, and Neapolitan dialect in a comic pseudo-language. In this field of linguistic and artistic creation, his only peer is the equally linguistically playful François Rabelais (ca 1494-1553).

Il Candelaio defies authentic translation. Its pastiches of languages may be rendered into a single, narrative English; or conversely the Latin passages could be left intact and his Neapolitan dialect rendered into Cockney or Ebonic. But none of these solutions adequately conveys the original.

Records reveal no attempt to stage Il Candelaio until the twentieth century, when it attracted directors of an anti-authoritarian or neo-Brechtian bent. The San Francisco Mime Troupe mounted a version of Il Candelaio as "guerrilla theater" in 1965, and Italy saw a staging in 2000. Theater critics disliked the Italian production for its length, obscure language, ambiguities, and non-linear narrative; they were confounded by the large audience in attendance, whose sincere laughter and desire to watch a five-hour spectacle proved Bruno's appeal to the common man.

Bruno's Sexuality

While there is no definitive documentary evidence of Bruno's sexual orientation, his homosexuality has long been assumed, principally on the basis of his association with figures such as Marlowe, the accusations of "immoral conduct," and his authorship of Il Candelaio. Moreover, there is no evidence of any interest on his part in opposite-sex sexual relations.

Both historian John Addington Symonds and aesthete Walter Pater discuss Bruno in detail. Each refers to Bruno's homosexuality as a known, if covert, fact hidden in sly innuendo.

Symonds devotes an entire chapter of his groundbreaking Renaissance in Italy to the philosopher, while Pater comments in an 1889 essay that for a man of the spirit, Bruno possessed "a nature so opulently endowed [it] can hardly have been lacking in purely physical ardours." Symonds adds that his own development as a man was due to his readings of Walt Whitman, Goethe, and Giordano Bruno: they "stripped my soul of social prejudices [so that] . . . I have been able to fraternise in comradeship with men of all classes and several races."

Italian gay activist and literary historian Giovanni dall'Orto cites Bruno in his 1988 survey, "Sodomy as Phoenix: Being Homosexual in the Italian Renaissance." In a discussion of "unnatural" desires, he notes that part of the philosopher's offense against the Church was to ascribe the Copernican world outlook to nature itself: whatever comes from within a man is by definition within nature. Hence, Bruno's scientific outlook challenges the very notion of "natural law" and "crime against nature."

Bruno's Legacy

Since his death, Bruno has been seen as a martyr to religious intolerance, a speculative thinker who dabbled in the occult, and a proponent of the new science that "cast all in doubt" during the Renaissance. Only recently has he also been recognized as a queer hero.

Bruno's writings and legacy lay relatively dormant until the nineteenth century, when British scholars presented him as part of a rehabilitated Italian Renaissance. Scholars of the newly-unified Italy of the post-1860s (the "risorgimento") also began to study and reprint Bruno's iconoclastic works.

In 1889, a statue of Bruno was erected on the site of his execution. Sponsored by many of the leading intellectuals of Europe and Rome's municipal government, the monument was bitterly opposed by the Vatican, which rightly saw it as a rebuke of the religious fanaticism that motivated Bruno's execution.

Fittingly, the Rome chapter of Italy's national gay organization, Arcigay, now holds many of its public demonstrations in front of Bruno's statue.

Bruno the monk would have been happy in Rabelais's famous Abbey of Thélème, whose entrance bears the trangressive inscription, FAY CE QUE VOULDRAS (Do whatever you like). Indeed, the final words of Bruno's introduction to Il Candelaio echo this stricture, telling the reader, above all, Godete dumque, e si possete state sana, et amate chi v'ama (Therefore take pleasure in things, stay as healthy as you can, and love all those who love you).

Mark Staebler

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In the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, the Inquisitions of Aragon and Portugal prosecuted almost 1500 trials for sodomy of various kinds.

literature >> Overview:  Italian Literature

Until quite recently, male homosexuality has had a discontinuous, fragmented, and largely condemnatory history in Italian literature, and lesbianism has been almost totally ignored.

social sciences >> Overview:  Natural Law

Natural law--the reading into nature laws that are not merely descriptive, but prescriptive--actually depends on circular reasoning; it discovers in nature what its adherents already believe is the intention of the Christian God.

social sciences >> Overview:  Roman Catholicism

Historically, the Roman Catholic Church may be the institution most responsible for the suffering of individuals involved in same-sex sexual relationships.

literature >> Bacon, Sir Francis

Although he condemned homosexuality in his more magisterial, philosophical works, Bacon inserted homosexual innuendo elsewhere in his writings, particularly in several essays.

social sciences >> Ficino, Marsilio

The fifteenth-century Italian philosopher Marsilio Ficino introduced the phrase "platonic love," by which he meant a relationship that included both the physical and the spiritual.

literature >> Jonson, Ben

Playwright and poet Ben Jonson was probably never himself involved in same-sex sexual relationships, but he deserves attention for his depictions of same-sex relationships in both dramatic and nondramatic works.

literature >> Marlowe, Christopher

Christopher Marlowe represents homoerotic situations and incidents in his plays and poems more frequently and more variously that any other major English Renaissance writer.

literature >> Michelangelo Buonarroti

Best known for his genius in art and architecture, Michelangelo was also an accomplished author of homoerotic poetry.

arts >> Michelangelo Buonarroti

The most famous artist who ever lived, Michelangelo left an enormous legacy in sculpture, painting, drawing, architecture, and poetry; while the artist's sexual behavior cannot be documented, the homoerotic character of his drawings, letters, and poetry is unmistakable.

literature >> Pater, Walter

The aesthetic of the important and influential Victorian critic Walter Pater reflected a homosexual sensibility.

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literature >> Rocco, Antonio

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literature >> Shakespeare, William

As one of the key figures that western civilization has used to define itself, William Shakespeare stands in a complicated, fiercely contested relationship to homosexuality.

literature >> Symonds, John Addington

John Addington Symonds was the most daring innovator in the history of nineteenth-century British homosexual writing and consciousness.


Bossy, John. Giordano Bruno and the Embassy Affair. Rev. ed. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002.

Bruno, Giordano. The Candlebearer. Gino Moliterno, trans. Ottawa: Dovehouse Editions, 2000.

_____________. Il Candelaio. Oeuvres complètes. G. Aquilecchia, ed. Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1993.

Dall'Orto, Giovanni. "La fenice di Sodoma." Sodoma 4 (1988):

Gatti, Hilary. "Giordano Bruno and the Stuart Court Masques." Renaissance Quarterly 48.4 (Winter 1995): 809-43.

_____. Giordano Bruno and Renaissance Science. Ithaca, N. Y.: Cornell University Press, 1998.

"Gay in piazza, «sì da 100 deputati»." Corriere della Sera (March 8, 2007):

Nicholls, Charles. The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.

Oddo, Roberto. "Giordano Bruno e il Candelaio." Prometheus 1.1 (2001):

Pater, Walter. "Giordano Bruno." The Fortnightly Review 46 (1889): 234-44.

Peters, Julie Stone. "Theater and Book in the History of Memory: Materializing Mnemosyne in the Age of Print." Modern Philology 102.2 (2004): 179-206.

Symonds, John Addington. Renaissance in Italy. 7 vols. New York: Henry Holt, 1887.

Yates, Frances. Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1964.


    Citation Information
    Author: Staebler, Mark  
    Entry Title: Bruno, Giordano  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2007  
    Date Last Updated March 27, 2007  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
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    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2007 glbtq, Inc.  


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