Popular entertainer, maitre de plaisir, as can be seen from the poems dedicated to him by Antun Sasin and from the sonnets of the poets Sabo Bobali and Miho Monaldi, Držić was also a versatile musician, a keen observer, blamed by the envious people of plagiarism. The blame was refuted by the poet Mavro Vetranović (Pjesanci Marinu Držiću u pomoć (Poems in defence of Marin Držić), following the performance of Tirena. His power of observation might have been the cause of physical attacks in the streets that have been recorded. Držić became a theatre magician, adapting his art to requirements of wedding dramas at the time of the Renaissance when the public was no longer satisfied with the typical masks. He expressed himself through allusions with a strong feeling for social injustice, despite considerations of his social class.
At the time when translations were given the status of the independent literary work, this greatest of our classical dramatists, showed similarities with Angelo Poliziano through projections of Niccolo Machiavelli and paraphrases of Petrarch. In that way he surpassed the stereotyped imitations of the classical paragons and that of Italian authors, Plautus and Terencio. Having mastered the conventional rules of both the “erudite” comedy and the pastoral play, he adapted them and created different Plautus comedies (Pjerin, Skup, Arkulin), as well as those originating from tales (Mande), together with the original comedies Dundo Maroje, Novela od Stanca), thus creating theatrum mundi (the theatre of the world) based on the juxtaposition of the fantasy and the reality, with man, and not the providence, in the centre. He organised the theatre in Dubrovnik and took part in the preparation of performances, with high standards and the talent hardly understood in the contemporary theatre world in Europe, thus acquiring the significance which later Shakespeare had in the literary world in England.
The only evidence of parts of Držić’s comedies (Pjerin, Džuho Krpeta, Arkulin) is an eighteen century manuscript of a copyist Ivan Matijašević.
Pomet, (now lost) a prose comedy, which brought Držić onto the theatre scene of Dubrovnik was performed by “Pomet troupe” prid Dvorom (in front of the Palace) during the 1548 carnival. Knowing that his works were strongly influenced by real life, it could be strongly assumed that the comedy had critical overtones, a physical assault on Držić in April of the same year could have been the case of the criticism in this work.
Tirena, a radical eclogue of a Sienna type in five acts, resulted in accusations against Držić for plagiarism. It was performed in the same venue in front of the Rector’s Palace in February 1549, but the show had to be cancelled due to strong wind and the cold. It was performed again at Vlaho Držić’s wedding in 1551, together with Venus and Adonis, and with a new inscription to Svitlomu i uzvišenomu vlastelinu Maru Makulji Pozzi (To The Illustrious and Excellent aristocrat Maro Makulj Pozza). The first prologue, written in 1548, the original pastoral in verse, anticipating a similar erudite comedy, is marked by a celebration of the aristocracy and its wise rule, but it also stresses the nature and vocation of the poetry and recounts Ljubomir’s destiny. The framework of platonic idea of the triumph of love and beauty is complemented by the antithesis, the inter-dependence of the rural world and that of the fairies, thus expressing the manneristic supplement of the settings and the relevant characters, the mythological and the pastoral. The naive Miljenko is the object of laughter since he is behaving as it is not fitting. This will often be the case with many others, for example, Vlah in Venus or Grižula in Plakir. Tirena, more complex than a rustic ecology, was a model for Dubravka by Ivan Gundulić in the 17th century.
Novela od Stanca, a condensed farce in verse, was performed in Frano Caboga’s mansion at the wedding of Martolica Hajdinov Džamanjić, in winter 1550. An innocent encounter of the urban world with the rural world of the hinterland in the character of the naive Stanac, combined with contrast of the youth, that of Dživo Pešica, a real actor – the age in contrast of reality and of fantasy, is condensed in a single carnival night. The comedy of the play hides behind it the horror of the void of Držić’s dramatic idea of the world in reversing the world in which Vlah Stanac creates his own catastrophe, present in the last cries on the empty scene.
Pripovijes kako se Venere božica užeže u ljubav lijepoga Adona u komediju stavljena (The Story of how Venus, the goddess, falls in love with the handsome Adonis, put to comedy) a docile pastoral, dedicated to a patron, was performed at the wedding of his cousin Vlaho Držić in 1551. Here, in a new method of a scene on the scene, plans of the fantastic and the real, that of the fairies and of the human beings , are juxtaposed. The apology of the wine at the wedding spoken by Vukodlak (Werewolf) turns the function of the prologue into the main action. The complex example of the love motif from the pastoral world is subjected to comical variations in the world of the shepherds. In addition to the original speech of Vlado and Grubiša, Kojak and Vukodlak, we find also popular songs and riddles as well as author’s didactic messages.
The book Pjesni ujedno stavljene s mnozim drugim i lijepim stvarmi, printed in Venice by his cousin Vlaho Držić in 1551 has not been preserved in a single copy. We only know of it from the second edition, fifty years later, on 6 April 1607, and the third in 1630 dedicated to My own friends: a small book of poems consisting of earlier love poems in the style of Petrarch, in varying metric, without particular lyrical character, including also occasional poems such as the two dedicated to the late Dubrovnik beauty Fjora Martinova Šumičić, a blessing for his sister, two elegies and moral poems, then an epistle, in direct speech, to the aristocrat Sabo Nikulinov Gondola, and excerpts intended for Tirena: Tužba Ljubmira (Ljubmir’s Lament), and the so-called second prologue in the form of a dialogue with the shepherd Obrad and another shepherd from the hinterland, Pribat. Here we find an evocation of the Dubrovnik Parnas with the comic, realistic details and real characters. The book also includes verses from the play Venus and from Novela od Stanca. Only one copy has been preserved, but without the ending. There is also a manuscript of Držić’s works with the inscription of Maro Vodopija, from 6 April 1607, as well as a reprint of the 1630 edition (without inscriptions). There is also the epistle, in defence against slanders, svitlomu i vridnomu vlastelinu Sabu Nikulinovu (For the Illustrious and Worthy Aristocrat Sabo Nikulinov), the first significant polemical text in these parts.
The comedy Dundo Maroje, his most significant work, was presented by the “Pomet troupe” at the City Hall during the Carnival in February 1551, as a kind of a continuation of Pomet. Five acts of a multi-layered comedy, (no outcome has been preserved), with good, honest people (ljudi nazbilj) and the others who just appear as such (ljudi nahvao), from Negromant’s allegorical prologue, the same people as those from the allusive monologue of the shrewd Tripče “some people appear evil animals, others appear good angels et troni (on the throne). In an inverted world of the prologue delivered by the magician Dugi Nos (Long Nose), Držić flatters the Dubrovnik aristocracy with irony offering a Machiavellian idea of the unchanging nature of human character. On the contrary, those who do not change are shown against the shrewd Pomet, an exceptional individual who is “the king of men” as he knows “how to conduct” himself accommodate, who in his macaronic-Latin statements praises knowledge, the elusive, spontaneous luck, fortune, that can be attained through virtue, virtus, and only by those who are very capable. His opinion that an individual can create his own destiny through his capability, determination and patience shows that Držić is applying the humanistic principles and integrating them on the scene. The playful hedonist, Pomet, delivers a true interpretation of Machiavellism through the theme of the fight for supremacy, and that of the money as the key factor of motivation. His declarations are pregnant with meaning, delivered in a lively local manner. The language is rich in its diversity and so are the origin and the source of events. The characters are analysed psychologically and socially, as is the case with the primitive Grubiša and other colourful characters, and then successfully woven into the dramatic plot. The vitality of the scene and the author’s abandoning of the classical theatre and his call for compassion demonstrate a philosophical dimension and manneristic questioning of such political allusion.
The comedy Pjerin has been preserved only in fragments. According to some sources, it was written in 1552, but as the occasion for its performance we have the wedding of Džono Miškinov mentioned in the text. It was most likely modelled on the comedy Menaecheme by Plautus with the theme of a mix-up of twins. The comedy contains Držić’s typical allusions and manneristic contrasts together with the strong ethical dwelling on the subject of injustice.
Tripče de Utolče, the comedy that was, probably, also performed at a wedding, lacks the beginning and is preserved only in parts. It was entitled by the name of the main character, a caricature of an elderly alcoholic, but also by the name of the main female character, a shrewd wife, as Mande. It is composed around a simple comic situation and a theatrical turn of events based on dirty tricks like those in Boccaccio’s stories. It is taking place in Kotor with colourful characters, among them members of the Dubrovnik actors’ troupe “Gardzarija”.
Juxtaposition of old age and youth, of stupidity and intelligence, lacks the political allusions of Držić, but includes the anti-Petrarchian and intensive local colourfulness typical of the author, strongly expressed in communication between Pedant and Nadihna. Using Boccachio’s motifs of the victory of wisdom over stupidity, of the crafty over the awkward, Držić once again treats subjects dealing with ethics.
Džuho Krpeta, a pastoral-mythological comedy, is preserved only in parts; it was performed at the wedding of Rafo Gozze by the theatre troupe “Garzarija”. It is a parody in which fantastic and mythological elements prevail over its realistic plan. The ethical-philosophical aspect of the comedy shows the poetical antithesis typical of Držić; for example, “Silence is a thing from heaven, while stubbornness is a matter of beasts”. All that is intersected with frequent allusions and double-meanings.
Skup, a prose satire, was performed, according to Držić’s copyist, Ivan Matijašević, at the wedding of Sabo Gajčin by the troupe “Njarnjasi” in 1555 who announced another comedy, Grižula, for that same year. It is an inspired comedy, based on Euripid’s and Plautus’s original Aulularia, thus disguising contemporary allusions and the theme of moral decline. Satyr’s prologue declares freedom of creativity and harmonises comic and pastoral elements. The monologue of the wise Dživo about the true, “silent” people, who judge with “proper measure, wise and compassionate”, and the “hard” and “indiscreet” ones lies at the base of Držić’s poetry. Plautus’s theme of an old miser and the revealing of greediness are treated by Držić through models of the local community of Dubrovnik. The obsession with treasure, tezoro, of the suspicious Skup is expressed in the textual command of his monologues. Here again, through comical and successful anti-Petrarchian dispute, Držić applied yet another reckoning with his own social environment.
Grižula (or Plakir), as the original title is lost) is a pastoral-mythological wedding comedy in five acts, with the focus on the wedding couple and their guests, was performed at the wedding of Vlaho Sorgo, in 1556, as a celebration of love in the interaction of three couples. The author’s juxtaposition, with prose winning over the verse, contrasts the world and the personalised speech of the urban and the rural (Grižula and Omakala, Dragić and Gruba, Rade and Miona) and that of the myth and the nymphs (Cupid and Diana, Plakir and the Nymph). This allegorical and fantastic-realistic comedy contains the line “Goodbye, Masquerade”. The prologue contains four virtues as platonic merits. Omakala’s colourful recounts of life of Dubrovnik female servant ( who served one year with the same master).
Arkulin, an erudite comedy featuring the character of an ageing and miserly tradesman, lacks its prologue and the beginning of the first act. The comedy lacks the creative richness and the lively scenes of the Renaissance life present in author’s other works. Instead, it keeps closely to Plautus and Italian models of an enamoured old man being fooled. Similarly to Tripče, the solution of the intrigue is achieved through a joke and with the Negromant with his effective dramatic function in the juxtaposition of the supernatural and the real. The issue of greediness is solved in the intrigues within the girl’s family, and with the abundance of allusions.
The tragedy Hecuba, inspired by Dolce’s, an Italian version of the classical Euripides’s original, but keeping close to the Greek original, has been preserved in two copies, the so-called Šibenik one believed to be the older. The tragedy is an independent literary work, although it was ascribed to other authors, including Vetranović, for a long time. It was performed by the troupe “Bidzaro” on 29 January 1559, probably in front of the Rector’s Palace. An earlier application for the performance had failed on 9 March 1558. Therefore, the authorities were at first reluctant to give permission because of fear that the performance might disturb the public. The tragedy contained a speech in elated rhetoric delivered from the mouth of a ruler as a tyrant from the communal reality: Držić accuses the state as an excuse for misdeeds in the disintegration of Troy and the sad destiny of the queen. Hecuba, the former queen, who is suffering after the death of her son Polydor and her daughter Polixena, dominates the tragedy. Her pain is replaced by fury, and then by revenge against the greedy Polynest. The resigned tone of her monologue, in the form of lament and crying, with repetitious figures, recalls the relative nature of the situation, the fact that the loss of glory and power could befall anybody. The character of the king Agamemnon carries the overtones of power and as a man of authority he is an anti-thesis of those who are wise but not influential. Držić was the first to put into drama the emotions of being forsaken and the heterogeneous mannerism coupled with indirect allusions. His poetry is also expressed through the satyrs’ and the nymphs’ interludes, breaks, with the characters of satyrs, mountain nymphs and nymphs Nereids. This work, which is in a way the author’s own farewell message to the city, contains the powerful scene of Polixena’s farewell speech to her mother.
Držić wrote urotnička pisma (conspiratorial letters) to the Tuscan ruler and Duke, Cosmo I de Medici, and his son Francesco in Florence (where he had arrived in May of the same year) in 1566. This is quite a different matter and style, imagining the defeat of the “incapable” oligarchy of Dubrovnik and the possible division of the rule between the ordinary people and the aristocracy.
A thoroughly different discourse, conspiratorial letters, were written by Držić in Florence upon his arrival in that city in May 1566, and addressed to the ruler and Duke of Tuscany and his son Francesco. He envisaged a defeat of “the incapable” Ragusan oligarchy and the division of power between the nobles and the commoners. His political and intellectual dimension in ambiguous semantic warnings of his plays, were here, in the four letters discovered so far, in the form of a humanistic expression of fate into the power of words, given as direct criticism of Ragusan politics and diplomacy. They were the words of an angry individual who felt social injustice and wished to rectify it. Držić died on 2nd May 1567, three months after the planned overthrow, “ a righteous undertaking”, that he had anticipated at the end of January of the same year and aimed against the aristocratic despotism.