Friday, 4 March 2016

4 March, 1592 - Bindo and Ricciardo

Here's what Lord Strange's Men performed at the Rose playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...

Henslowe writes: R at bendo & Richardo the 4 of Marche 1591 ... xvjs 

In modern English: Received at Bindo and Ricciardo, 4th March, 1592 ... 16 shillings.

Today, Lord Strange's Men performed Bindo and Ricciardo. The play is lost but we can guess at its content because it was presumably based on the old Italian tale about the architect Bindo and his son Ricciardo. The playwright most likely read it in William Painter's The Palace of Pleasure (1566), an anthology often used by Renaissance dramatists looking for stories. Here follows the story, but I should warn you that it is completely bonkers.

Doge's Palace 3

The tale of Bindo and Ricciardo

In 'Novel 48' of William Painter's Palace of Pleasure, Bindo the architect builds a treasure-house for the Duke of Venice. But he incorporates a secret tunnel into the design, and, after the building is completed, he and his son Ricciardo sneak in at night and steal an expensive cup. The Duke notices the theft and installs a trap. When Bindo and Ricciardo break in a second time, Bindo falls into a boiling cauldron. With his dying breath, he tells Ricciardo to cut off his head and bury it to conceal his body's identity and thus prevent the Duke from knowing that Ricciardo was involved.

The rest of the story is about the Duke's attempts to identify the dead thief and entrap his accomplice. At first, the Duke's methods are fairly sensible; he parades the headless corpse around Venice in the hope that the thief's family will be unable to restrain themselves from lamenting. This almost works, because Bindo's widow is distraught, but by devious stratagems Ricciardo manages to silence her.

Veal: tempting to the lickerous.
Then things get weird. The Duke believes that thieves are unusually 'lickerous' (a new word that I've now learned, which means fond of fine food). So he bans the sale of fresh meat in Venice for twenty days, and then arranges to have an exceptionally good quality piece of veal sold in the markets for an outrageous price. His logic is that since thieves are lickerous, the cup-thief will be the only person in Venice who will pay the ridiculous price for the veal, and his identity will thus be revealed. I am not sure that this logic would stand up in court. But anyway, Ricciardo manages, by another devious stratagem, to obtain some of the veal without paying for it, so the Duke's cunning plan is foiled.

Girulamo Priuli, Doge of Venice in
1566. He was probably not as
silly as the Duke in the story.
The Duke now comes up with a plan so crazy that I can't believe I'm writing it. He believes that lickerous people must be exceptionally lecherous. So he invites 25 of the most notorious lechers in Venice - including  Ricciardo - to sleep over at his palace, each in a room which has access to the bedroom of his beautiful daughter - but he warns them that if they get into bed with her, she will mark them with ink. He's banking on the cup-thief being so naturally lecherous that he won't be able to restrain himself and will thus be marked by the daughter and finally identified. This is a very, very silly plan, if you ask me, and its logical flaws are vast and stupefying.

But it almost works. Ricciardo, presumably driven by his lickerous lecherousness, is indeed unable to restrain himself from sneaking into the daughter's bedroom, and "accomplishe[s] the thing he came for" (the daughter's opinion about this is not mentioned, incidentally...). But back in his room, he realizes that she has marked his face with ink. So Ricciardo devises another plan. He returns, steals the ink, and sneaks into the rooms of the sleeping lechers, marking them all with multiple spots of ink. Next morning, when the Duke sees the many-spotted lechers, he realizes that there is no way of identifying the culprit.

But instead of being angry, the Duke laughs and offers a pardon to the culprit, and when Ricciardo confesses that it was he, the Duke allows him to marry his daughter. And so, "Ricciardo, encouraged, proved a very stout and valiant man in such wise almost as the affairs of the whole state passed through his hands, and lived a long time after with the love and goodwill of the whole commonality of Venice."

Blimey. I'm not making this up, you know. If you'd like to read the whole story, you can do so here.

What we learn from this

I'm not sure what the moral of this tale is, beyond "don't get caught". And it's hard to know exactly how the playwright might have adapted this bawdy tale to to the stage. At this time, anti-theatricalist pamphleteers were railing against the immorality of the stage. It's easy to see why, if plays like Bindo and Ricciardo were common.

What's next?

There will be no post tomorrow, because 5th March was a Sunday in 1592 and the players did not perform. Henslowe's Diary ... as a Blog! will thus return on 6th March.


Bindo and Ricciardo information

  • Christopher Matusiak, "Bendo (or Byndo) and Richardo", Lost Plays Database (2012).
  • Martin Wiggins, British Drama, 1533-1642: A Catalogue, vol. 3 (Oxford University Press, 2013), entry 900.
  • Sally-Beth MacLean and Lawrence Manley, Lord Strange's Men and their Plays (Yale University Press, 2014) 143-4.

Henslowe links


Did I make a mistake? Do you have a question? Have you anything to add? Please post a comment below!


  1. Hard to know how a playwright might have adapted this
    tale, you say? Well, yours truly did indeed attempt this and
    yes, I can confirm it was a bit tricky! Nevertheless we put on
    a jolly good show of 'The Duke and the Architect' here in London.
    Fingers crossed, we'll tour it one day!

  2. Thank you for the blog! I am enjoying it a lot. I teach early modern British literature in a university in the U.S. It is a brilliant idea to turn Henslowe's Diary into a blog. Also, love your summaries, pictures, funny remarks. Sabina