... the Duke Sang and Played

Written by  Alessandra Chiappini
The builder's yard opened in Piazza Municipale reveals the secrets of an ancient theatre.
Under the members of the Este family, there was a theatre in the town square which now houses the builder's yard. It is exciting for the Ferrarese to stop at the builder's yard, which reveals the secrets which have been unknown to the town for many centuries.
The so-called theatre "IN the courtyard" was there, and its scene was in front of the Sala Estense, which, at that time, was a court chapel.

On January 25 1486, the members of the Este family first introduced modern plays, performing Plautus' Menecmi, a play which was translated into vernacular. Hercules the First of the Este Family, his wife, Eleanor of Aragon, Isabel of the Este Family and Francis Gonzaga watched the play from a raised gallery, while ten thousand people were present at the event. The cost of the play amounted to 1000 ducats.
The history of the theatre in Ferrara under Hercules the First until January of the year 1598, when the members of the Este Family left Ferrara to go to Modena, is told by Massimo Felisatti in the essay "AT the theatre WITH the members OF the Este Family".

The essay written by Massimo Felisatti, a famous writer and dramatist who graduated in the Renaissance theatre in Ferrara, describes the extraordinary innovations of Renaissance theatre and, in particular, the following elements: the public performance of the play, the scenery, which has been made according to the most advanced techniques, the use of costume actors and vernacular.
Even in the field of music, Hercules the First distinguished himself for his great sensitivity: one of his first government acts was the institution of a singing chapel.
It must be observed that the plays which were encouraged by the court were performed in town until the end of the Sixteenth century, when Ferrara belonged to the Pope's State. Among the theatres which were in vogue at that time, there was the one which was created by Ludovico Ariosto, one of the main protagonists of the renaissance theatre, in 1530-1531 in via Miranda, which was entirely made in wood with a suggestive stable scene and which was destroyed by a fire.

Plays were the symbol of duke's power: that's why they must be publicly performed and the more people crowded, the more lord's prestige and authority were enhanced. The duke and his family shared happy events which could be for them only with the people, but they watched the plays from the gallery, showing their high and sublime authority, play into the play. Another kind of ostentation was the one of ladies and noblemen, who showed off elegant clothes and jewels, watching and being watched.
And it is clear that these events also gave swindlers, who are always present through the centuries, the chance to commit larceny and pick-pocketing.

However, it would be unfair and historically wrong to forget the passion which induced rulers, nobles and people to seek artistic pleasure. It is unusual that the prince decided to offer people and knights refined plays, which were rigorously performed regardless of expenses, instead of seeking people's favour with easier circus games.