Written and directed by Lillian Groag
Main Season · Thrust Stage
November 1–December 21, 2002
World Premiere

Running time: 2 hours and 45 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission

“And as I told my wife, if God didn’t want us to use our minds He wouldn’t have put them there, on our heads. And so not using them would be like a—well, an insult to His Great Majesty for the waste of so great a gift: the gift of thought, and therefore, a sin. Maybe even a mortal sin. Don’t you think?”

Inspired by historical fact, Menocchio traces a simple man’s search for enlightenment and truth. In delightfully rustic 17th century Italy, the miller Menocchio ponders the astonishing mysteries of the universe. As his musings grow more absurd—and strikingly similar to our contemporary views—family and neighbors begin to faint and flee, and he catches the unwanted attention of the Church’s Inquisitors. Lillian Groag (author of the 1998 Berkeley Rep production Magic Fire) brings her inimitably comic intelligence to this exploration of free speech and intellectual freedom.

Creative team

Lillian Gorag · Playwright / Director
Alexander V. Nichols · Scenic & Lighting Design
Beaver Bauer · Costume Design
Jeffrey Mockus · Sound Design
Luan Schooler · Dramaturg
Elisa Guthertz · Stage Manager
Amy Potozkin · Casting Director
Mei Ann Teo · Assistant Director


Jeri Lynn Cohen · Menocchio’s Wife / Faustino / Brother Paolo
Charles Dean · Menocchio
Dan Hiatt · Bastian / Ensemble
Ken Ruta · The Inquisitor of Aquileia and Concordia / Fra Felice de Montefalco / Pasqualina Fassetaand / Panfilo Crespino
Robert Sicular · Merchant / Bookseller / Count Orazio de Montereale / Odorico
Peter Van Norden · Father Daniele Melchiore

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Prologue: from the Artistic Director

Among the many miraculous features of our lives, perhaps the most astonishing is our innate sense of curiosity. From the time we are born we set out to comprehend the vast and crazy world around us, to understand its laws, to make sense of it all. Using the mysterious power of our brains, we gather and uncover all kinds of information, forming what we call “our own thoughts” from the knowledge we inherit and from all that we experience.

For most of us, however, our curiosity as to how the world works begins at some point to diminish. Life, with its million-and-one tasks and arduous complications, tends to limit the energy we have to constantly ask questions. We can only deal with so much, we say to ourselves, and it’s hard enough to simply survive. Every so often we are jolted out of this myopia, sticking our heads out from beneath our protective shells long enough to express wonder, surprise, joy or terror and some new turn of events or some new discovery.

How rare is the person who stays curious for the entirety of their lives! How rare the person who is unafraid of knowledge, whose appetite for learning remains undiminished. How rare is Menocchio, a character drawn from real history, whose life in 16th century Italy is the central focus of Lillian Groag’s new play.

A common miller by trade, armed only with the information contained in a handful of books but emboldened by the infinite power of his own curiosity, Menocchio simply loves his mind. Loves that it can solve problems. Loves that it can deduce, reason, create, imagine. Loves that it can expand his view of himself and the world.

Menocchio’s simple sense of wonder, his uncensored delight in thinking, his joy of learning and love of reading, these are the features that make him irresistible to us and dangerous to his own community. (It turns out that Chaos Theory was even scarier back then than it is now.) But the real event here is the celebration of our capacity to think, the miracle of consciousness, the well being that comes when we pursue our innate sense of curiosity.

Tony Taccone

Menocchio: A sixteenth century man

The sixteenth century was a time of tremendous change. The transition from Middle Ages into the Renaissance was both exhilarating and terrifying, as virtually everything understood about “the way things really are” was called into question. The ways people thought about themselves and their universe were giving way to new concepts of heaven and earth. When Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the church door he ignited the Reformation, and his massive challenge to the standards and practices of the Church catalyzed broad questions about social hierarchy and authority. In the Middle Ages, man understood the cosmos to be a giant hierarchy in which every living thing—from God down to the tiniest flea—had an assigned place; social harmony could be attained when every creature acted appropriately and dutifully to the place assigned. Protestantism broke that chain by insisting that each man could face God directly without intermediaries such as popes and priests; similar challenges to authority seethed through the secular world as well. At the same time, the rise of capitalism created greater social mobility, and efforts to concentrate power in the hands of political rulers attacked the hierarchy from another direction. The feudal order of earlier centuries was dissolving, but no clear new order had taken its place.

While the social and power structures were experiencing massive tectonic shifts, the world of knowledge was also exploding. Columbus returned from the New World at the end of the fifteenth century, opening the way for a flood of new wealth and products. Tomatoes, potatoes and tobacco from the Americas, along with spices and coffee from the East, changed the flavor of Europe. Copernicus bumped the earth from the center of the universe, and botany, anatomy, astronomy, physics and other realms of science all surged with new understanding. The widespread use of the printing press allowed more and more people to engage in informed discussions, leading inexorably to greater challenges of traditional ideas and established doctrine.

These heady days were met with both celebration and fear. Authorities strained to regain control by whatever means necessary, while many ordinary citizens sought stability by refusing to acknowledge or examine the new ideas. The sixteenth century was roiled by the opposing hungers for the familiar and the new.

Into this tumultuous time Domenico Scandella, known as Menocchio, was born.

Oh what a century


  • Burning of books against the authority of the Church ordered by papal bull
  • Printing books had developed swiftly since 1445. More than 1,000 printing offices have produced 35,000 books and over 10 million copies


  • Vespucci, after his second voyage, concludes that South America is NOT India


  • Da Vinci paints the “Mona Lisa”


  • Columbus returns from last voyage
  • Venice sends ambassadors to Sultan of Turkey, proposing construction of a Suez Canal


  • Michelangelo begins work on ceiling of Sistine Chapel in Rome


  • Copernicus publishes Commentariolus, in which he states that the earth and other planets revolve around the sun


  • Heironymus Bosch paints “The Garden of Earthly Delights”
  • Pineapples arrive in Europe


  • The Lateran Council forbids printing of books without permission of Roman Catholic authorities


  • Martin Luther posts his 95 theses, beginning the Reformation in Germany


  • Beginning of Anabaptist movement in Germany under Thomas Münzer
  • Martin Luther excommunicated by Pope Leo X
  • Chocolate brought to Spain from Mexico


  • Niccoló Machiavelli writes The Art of War
  • Martin Luther finishes translation of New Testament; over 100,000 copies are printed in Wittenberg over next 40 years
  • Dürer designs a flying machine for use in war
  • Tomatoes first brought from New World to Europe via Naples


  • Paracelsus publishes first manual of surgery


  • The “great comet” (later called Halley’s Comet) arouses a wave of superstition


  • Domenico Scandella, known as Menocchio, born


  • Future Queen Elizabeth I born
  • First lunatic asylums established (without medical attention)


  • Jesuit Order founded by Ignatius Loyola


  • Treaty between Venice and Turkey signed in Constantinople
  • Michael Servetus discovers pulmonary circulation of blood


  • Pope Paul III establishes Inquisition in Rome


  • Index librorum prohibitorum issued by Pope Paul III
  • Nicolaus Copernicus dies


  • Stage comedians create new type of improvised theatrical entertainment in northern Italy
  • Council of Trent meets to discuss Reformation and Counter-Reformation


  • First predictions of the French astrologer Nostradamus


  • Michael Servetus, author of Christianismi restitutio executed for heresy


  • Tobacco brought to Spain from America for first time


  • Zohar, cabbalistic work of Jewish mysticism from 13th century, printed


  • Beginning of Puritanism in England
  • Tobacco plant imported to Western Europe by Jean Nicot


  • 1,200 French Huguenots slain at Massacre of Vassy
  • Slave trade begins in Guinea and West Indies


  • General outbreak of plague in Europe


  • William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, Galileo Galilei are all born


  • Notizie Scritte, one of the first newspapers, appears in Venice


  • Bottled beer invented in London


  • Mercator publishes Cosmographia and a map of the world for navigational use


  • Turks declare war on Venice
  • Theatrum orbis terrarum, first modern atlas, with 53 maps, published


  • Johann Kepler, German astronomer, is born


  • Francis Drake sees Pacific Ocean for first time


  • Clusius publishes treatise on flowers; beginnings of modern botany
  • Francois Viète introduces decimal fractions


  • Francis Drake embarks of voyage around the world via Cape Horn


  • Venice imports coffee from Turkey to Italy


  • Domenico Scandella, known as Menocchio, brought before Inquisition for first trial


  • Giordano Bruno publishes Spaccio della bestia trionfante, a bitter attack on the Catholic Church


  • Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus premieres
  • Vatican Library opened in Rome


  • Forks used for first time in French court


  • Italians Commedia dell’ arte company, “I Accesi” begins activities
  • First paper mill in England established
  • Galileo publishes De Motu, description of experiments on dropping of various bodies


  • Giordano Bruno seized by Vatican for supporting Copernican theory of universe


  • First appearance of heels on shoes


  • Galileo invents thermometer


  • Domenico Scandella, known as Menocchio, condemned by Inquisition as relapsed heretic, burned at stake


  • Giordano Bruno burned as heretic in Rome
  • Wigs and dress trains become fashionable

The Inquisition

By Enrique E. Urueta II

The Inquisition was the judicial institution of Roman Catholicism that sought to combat heresy, witchcraft and sorcery within the lands under papal control. Due to the establishment of Christianity as the state religion by the Roman emperors in the 4th century, heretics were no longer solely enemies of Church doctrine, but rather enemies of the state as well. With the growing number of heretical sects in the 11th and 12th centuries, Pope Gregory IX instituted the Inquisition for the apprehension and trial of heretics and other offenders of Catholic beliefs. The medieval Inquisition only functioned on a limited scale early on in Northern Europe. Over time, however, the institution was extended to all Catholic lands, although it was far less functional in most of Europe. In Spain and Italy, however, the Inquisition was a formidable institution whose actions had long-lasting cultural ramifications.

In Spain, after the Muslims had been driven out, the Catholic monarchs King Ferdinand V and Queen Isabella I established the Spanish Inquisition with approval from Pope Sixtus IV in 1478. Distinct from the medieval Inquisition, the Spanish Inquisition sought to combat the problem of Jews and Muslims who had insincerely converted to Christianity, and in the 1520s sought out those suspected of Protestantism. Within a short time, the papacy relinquished control of the Inquisition, in effect making it more of an instrument of the Spanish government than of the church, although Church officials always functioned as officers. A name which came to be synonymous with utter cruelty, the Spanish Inquisition grew so zealous in its methodologies that even the Vatican often condemned its excess.

Another distinct variation was the Italian Inquisition, established in 1542 by Pope Paul III to combat the spread of Protestantism in Italy. Governed by a commission of six cardinals, known as the Congregation of the Inquisition, it was seen by some as an attempt to counterbalance the severity of the Spanish Inquisition. Yet the Italian Inquisition also in time grew zealous and actively hunted heretics and other enemies of the Church.

In the Italian Inquisition, the inquisitors established themselves for a definite period of time at some central location from which they issued orders demanding all those guilty of heresy to present themselves in exchange for lesser punishment. Having the power to excommunicate even princes, the Inquisitors were widely feared, and this grace period for confession was seen by some as a merciful opportunity. Failing this, however, those accused of heresy that did not come forth of their own volition were brought before the inquisitor, interrogated, and tried with the testimony of witnesses. The accused had the right to an attorney, a right not available in secular courts, but the testimony of two credible witnesses was often considered proof of guilt.

Although later Popes tempered the zeal of the Italian Inquisition, they began to use it as an instrument of papal control for regulating church doctrine—the trials of Menocchio, Giordano Bruno and Galileo serve as prime examples. In 1727, the last execution of the Italian Inquisition took place. In his reorganization of the Roman Curia in 1908, Pius X dropped the word Inquisition, and in 1965 the institution was reorganized and named the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Only recently have the matters of the Italian Inquisition come to rest, with Pope John Paul II admitting that Galileo was censured wrongly for his assertion of a heliocentric universe. In January 1998 the Vatican opened its files of the Inquisition to qualified researches of any religion affiliated with an accredited university, thus shedding light on the cases of those, like Menocchio, who dared to think.



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