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Excess and Antagonism in Giordano Bruno’s Il candelaio


Giordano Bruno’s powers of memory and his provocative ideas about the infinity of the universe gained him notoriety as an unorthodox thinker throughout the highest intellectual circles of 16th century Europe and inevitably attracted the attention of the Inquisition, which had him burned at the stake as a heretic in 1600. Bruno valiantly defended his ideas and his right to maintain them to the very end. His name, even at a distance of four centuries still creates controversy among scholars.

While recent historical assessments have shed new light on Bruno’s scientific and philosophical works, which are undeniably provocative, can the same be said of his literary works? I intend to explore the radical tendencies evident in his erudite comedy Il candelaio, which is often considered the end of the genre. Among critics there is a general consensus that the work is excessively enigmatic, offensive, and obscene. But the stylistic and thematic excesses that have so aggravated critics are entirely intentional. By including an exasperating number of prologues and an overkill of obscenity, cupidity, false learning, pedantry, and related motifs, Bruno pushed the genre to its ultimate capacities and made a mockery of its “rules”. A quintessential example of his aesthetic philosophy of the extreme and his attitude of antagonism, Il candelaio is entirely in keeping with the workings of Bruno’s mind in general, as evidenced by his other intellectual endeavors which made him a martyr to intellectual freedom.

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