This week I’ve been reading Carlo Gozzi’s Useless Memoirs. They’re not useless at all! In fact, they’re a treasure trove of information about mid-18th century Venetian theater, rivalries between playwrights, the homelife of illustrious folk like Gasparo Gozzi (Carlo’s brother) and his wife, the author Luisa Bergalli Gozzi. (Okay, interesting to me at least because I’m researching her for my book.) But then I came across this tidbit–probably pretty useless, but even useless things can be fascinating.
(Just look at that smirk.)
For 25 years, Carlo Gozzi wrote plays for a troupe of players at the Teatro San Samuele. He explains some of their lingo. First was miccheggiare, “which means to cozen folk out of their money by wheedling.” He claims that the troupe he worked with, under the direction of a guy named Sacchi, was a morally upright bunch compared to many, but that acting troupes had some bad habits among them.
But here’s the term that got my attention. A “gonzo” is a “gull or cully, the foolish lover who believes himself an object of affection, and squanders all his fortune under the influence of this impression.” First off, “gull or cully?” Who ever says that any more? Granted, the translation was done about a hundred years ago, but still. My thesaurus says to gull is to “hoodwink, fool, dupe, deceive…” etc. though it doesn’t list it as a noun (well, besides the sea bird).
But second, is this where Jim Henson got his inspiration? Is the lovable purple creature who is often so trusting and loving towards others named for the “gonzo” of Venetian theater jibes?
The great Gonzo. Just look at those sincere eyes. How easily he could be gulled.
I’m glad Henson used this term. In high school, Gonzo was one of my nicknames. And I guess more than once I’ve foolishly squandered my means to obtain love where it was not forthcoming. Maybe Carlo Gozzi could have written a play about my foibles. I don’t hold out much hope that they would be worthy of the Venetian stage.
Who would guess that a Muppet has anything to do with Venetian theater?
(All of these quotes come from page 195 of the Symonds translation, abridged by Philip Horne.)