Carlo Osvaldo Goldoni
(25 February 1707 – 6 February 1793) was a celebrated Venetian playwright
, whom critics today rank among the European theatre's greatest authors. His works, along with those of the modernist Luigi Pirandello
, include some of Italy
's most famous and best-loved plays. Audiences have admired the plays of Goldoni for their ingenious mix of wit and honesty. His plays offered his contemporaries images of themselves, often dramatizing the lives, values, and conflicts of the emerging middle classes
. Though he wrote in French and Italian, his plays make rich use of the Venetian language
, regional vernacular, and colloquialisms. Goldoni also wrote under the pen name
and title Polisseno Fegeio
, Pastor Arcade, which he claimed in his memoirs the "Arcadians
of Rome" bestowed on him.
There is an abundance of autobiographical information on Goldoni, most of which comes from the introductions to his plays and from his Memoirs
. However, these memoirs are known to contain many errors of fact, especially about his earlier years.
In these memoirs, he paints himself as a born comedian, careless, light-hearted and with a happy temperament, proof against all strokes of fate, yet thoroughly respectable and honorable. Such characters were common enough in Italy.
Early life and studies
Goldoni was born in Venice
in 1707, the son of Margherita
and Giulio Goldoni
. In his memoirs, Goldoni describes his father as a physician
, and claims that he was introduced to theatre by his grandfather Carlo Alessandro
. In reality, it seems that Giulio was an apothecary
; as for the grandfather, he had died four years before Carlo's birth. In any case, Goldoni was deeply interested in theatre since his earliest years, and all attempts to direct his activity into other channels were of no avail: his toys were puppets, and his books, plays.
His father placed him under the care of the philosopher Caldini at Rimini but the youth soon ran away with a company of strolling players and returned to Venice. In 1723 his father matriculated him into the stern Collegio Ghislieri in Pavia, which imposed the tonsure and monastic habits on its students. However, he relates in his Memoirs that a considerable part of his time was spent in reading Greek and Latin comedies. He had already begun writing at this time; and, in his third year, he composed a libellous poem (Il colosso) in which he ridiculed the daughters of certain Pavian families. As a result of that incident (and/or of a visit paid with some schoolmates to a local brothel) he was expelled from the school and had to leave the city (1725). He studied law at Udine, and eventually took his degree at Modena. He was employed as law clerk at Chioggia and Feltre, after which he returned to his native city and began practicing.
Educated as a lawyer, and holding lucrative positions as secretary and councillor, he seemed, indeed, at one time to have settled down to the practice of law, but an unexpected summons to Venice, after an absence of several years, he changed his career, and thenceforth he devoted himself to writing plays and managing theatres. His father died in 1731. In 1732, to avoid an unwanted marriage, he left the town for Milan and then for Verona, where the theatre manager Giuseppe Imer helped him on his way to becoming a comical poet as well as introducing him to his future wife, Nicoletta Conio. Goldoni returned with her to Venice, where he stayed until 1743.
He entered the Italian theatre scene with a tragedy
, produced at Milan. The play was a critical and financial failure. Submitting it to Count Prata, director of the opera, he was told that his piece "was composed with due regard to the rules of Aristotle
, but not according to those laid down for the Italian drama." "In France", continued the count, "you can try to please the public, but here in Italy it is the actors and actresses whom you must consult, as well as the composer of the music and the stage decorators. Everything must be done according to a certain form which I will explain to you." Goldoni thanked his critic, went back to his inn and ordered a fire, into which he threw the manuscript of his Amalasunta
. His next play, Belisario
, written in 1734, was more successful, though of its success he afterward professed himself ashamed.
During this period he also wrote librettos for opera seria and served for a time as literary director of the San Giovanni Grisostomo, Venice's most distinguished opera house.
He wrote other tragedies for a time, but he was not long in discovering that his bent was for comedy. He had come to realize that the Italian stage needed reforming; adopting Molière as his model, he went to work in earnest and in 1738 produced his first real comedy, L'uomo di mondo ("The Man of the World"). During his many wanderings and adventures in Italy, he was constantly at work and when, at Livorno, he became acquainted with the manager Medebac, he determined to pursue the profession of playwriting in order to make a living. He was employed by Medebac to write plays for his theater in Venice. He worked for other managers and produced during his stay in that city some of his most characteristic works. He also wrote Momolo Cortesan in 1738. By 1743, he had perfected his hybrid style of playwriting (combining the model of Molière with the strengths of Commedia Dell'Arte and his own wit and sincerity). This style was typified in La Donna di garbo, the first Italian comedy of its kind.
After 1748, Goldoni collaborated with the composer Baldassare Galuppi, making significant contributions to the new form of 'opera buffa'. Galuppi composed the score for more than twenty of Goldoni's librettos. As with his comedies, Goldoni's opera buffa integrate elements of the commedia dell'arte with recognisable local and middle-class realities. His operatic works include two of the most successful musical comedies of the eighteenth century, Il filosofo di campagna (The Country Philosopher), set by Galuppi (1752) and La buona figliuola (The Good Girl), set by Niccolò Piccinni (1760).
Move to France and death
In 1757, he engaged in a bitter dispute with playwright Carlo Gozzi
, which left him utterly disgusted with the tastes of his countrymen; so much so that in 1761 he moved to Paris, where he received a position at court and was put in charge of the Theatre Italien
. He spent the rest of his life in France, composing most of his plays in French and writing his memoirs in that language.
Among the plays which he wrote in French, the most successful was Le Bourru bienfaisant, produced on the occasion of the marriage of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette in 1771. He enjoyed considerable popularity in France; when he retired to Versailles, the King gave him a pension. He lost this pension after the French Revolution. The Convention eventually voted to restore his pension the day after his death. It was restored to his widow, at the pleading of the poet André Chénier; "She is old", he urged, "she is seventy-six, and her husband has left her no heritage save his illustrious name, his virtues and his poverty."
Goldoni's impact on Italian theatre
Goldoni relates in considerable length in his Memoirs
the state of Italian comedy when he began writing. At that time, Italian comedy revolved around the conventionality of the Commedia dell'Arte
, or improvised comedy. Goldoni took to himself the task of superseding the comedy of masks and the comedy of intrigue by representations of actual life and manners. He rightly maintained that Italian life and manners were susceptible of artistic treatment such as had not been given them before.
His works are a lasting monument to the changes that he initiated: a dramatic revolution that had been attempted but not achieved before. Goldoni's importance lay in providing good examples rather than precepts. Goldoni says that he took for his models the plays of Molière and that whenever a piece of his own succeeded he whispered to himself: "Good, but not yet Molière." Goldoni's plays are gentler and more optimistic in tone than Molière's.
It was this very success that was the object of harsh critiques by Carlo Gozzi, who accused Goldoni of having deprived the Italian theatre of the charms of poetry and imagination. The great success of Gozzi's fairy dramas so irritated Goldoni that it led to his self-exile to France.
Goldoni gave to his country a classical form, which, though it has since been cultivated, has yet to be cultivated by a master.
Goldoni's plays that were written while he was still in Italy ignore religious
subjects. This may be surprising, considering his staunch Catholic
upbringing. No thoughts are expressed about death or repentance in his memoirs or in his comedies. After his move to France, his position became clearer, as his plays took on a clear anti-clerical
tone and often satirized the hypocrisy of monks and of the Church
Goldoni was inspired by his love of human kind and the admiration he had for his fellow men. He wrote, and was obsessed with, the relationships that humans establish with one another, their cities and homes, the Humanist movement, and the study of philosophy. The moral and civil values that Goldoni promotes in his plays are those of rationality, civility, humanism, the importance of the rising middle-class, a progressive stance to state affairs, honor and honesty. Goldoni had a dislike for arrogance, intolerance and the abuse of power.
Goldoni's main characters are no abstract examples of human virtue, nor monstrous examples of human vice. They occupy the middle ground of human temperament. Goldoni maintains an acute sensibility for the differences in social classes between his characters as well as environmental and generational changes. Goldoni pokes fun at the arrogant nobility and the pauper who lacks dignity.
Venetian and Tuscan
As in other theatrical works of the time and place, the characters in Goldoni's Italian comedies spoke originally either the literary Tuscan variety (which became modern Italian
) or the Venetian dialect
, depending on their station in life. However, in some printed editions of his plays he often turned the Venetian texts into Tuscan, too.
- Amalasunta, burned by Goldoni after its premiere (1733)
- Rosmonda (1734)
- Griselda (1734)
- Enrico Re di Sicilia (1736)
- Gli amori de Alessandro Magno (1759)
- Enea nel Lazio (1760)
- Nerone (1760)
- Artemisia (never performed)
- Belisario (1734)
- Rinaldo di Montalbano (1736)
- Giustino (17??)
- La sposa persiana, "The Persian Wife", in verse (1753)
- Ircana in Julfa, "Ircana in Jaffa" (17??)
- Ircana in Ispaan, "Ircana in Isfahan" (17??)
- La peruviana, "The Peruvian Woman" (17??)
- La bella selvaggia, "The Savage Beauty" (17??)
- La dalmatina, "The Dalmatian Woman" (17??)
- Gli amori di Alessandro Magno, "The Loves of Alexander the Great" (17??)
- Artemisia, "Artemisia" (17??)
- Enea nel Lazio, "Aeneas in Latium" (17??)
- Zoroastro, "Zoroaster" (17??)
- La bella giorgiana, "The Georgian Beauty" (17??)
- Don Giovanni Tenorio o sia Il dissoluto, "The Dissolute" (17??)
- Un curioso accidente, "A Curious Mishap" (1760)
- L'uomo di mondo, "The Man of the World" (17??)
- Il prodigo, "The Prodigal Man" (17??)
- Il Momolo cortesan, partly written, partly improvised (1738), "Momolo the Court Man"
- Il mercante fallito o sia La bancarotta, "The Bankrupted Merchant" or "The Bankruptcy" (1741)
- La donna di garbo (1743), "The Fashionable Woman"
- Il servitore di due padroni, (1745) "The Servant of Two Masters" (now often retitled Arlecchino servitore di due padroni "Harlequin Servant of two Masters")
- Il frappatore (17??)"The deceiver"
- I due gemelli veneziani, "The Two Venetian Twins" (1745)
- L'uomo prudente, "The Prudent Man" (17??)
- La vedova scaltra, "The Shrewd Widow" (1748)
- La putta onorata, "The Honorable Maid" (1749)
- La buona moglie, "The Good Wife" (1749)
- Il cavaliere e la dama, "The Gentleman and the Lady" (17??)
- L'avvocato veneziano, "The Venetian Lawyer" (17??)
- Il padre di famiglia, "The Father of the Family" (17??)
- La famiglia dell'antiquario, "The Antiquarian's Family" (1750)
- L'erede fortunata, "The Lucky Heiress" (1750)
- Il teatro comico (1750–1751)"The Comical Theatre"
- Le femmine puntigliose (1750–1751)" The Obstinate Women"
- La bottega del caffè, "The Coffee Shop" (1750–1751)
- Il bugiardo, "The Liar" (1750–1751)
- L'adulatore, "The Flatterer" (17??)
- Il poeta fanatico, "The Fanatical Poet" (17??)
- La Pamela, "Pamela" (17??)
- Il cavaliere di buon gusto, "The Gentleman with Good Taste" (17??)
- Il giuocatore, "The Gambler" (17??)
- Il vero amico, "The True Friend" (17??)
- La finta ammalata, "The Fake Patient Woman" (1750–1751)
- La dama prudente, "The Prudent Lady" (17??)
- L'incognita, "The Unknown Woman" (17??)
- L'avventuriere onorato, "The Honorable Scoundrel" (1750–1751)
- I pettegolezzi delle donne, "Women's Gossip" (1750–1751)
- Il Moliére, "Molière" (17??)
- La castalda (17??)"The Female Administrator"
- L'amante militare, "The Military Lover" (17??)
- Il tutore, "The Guardian" (17??)
- La moglie saggia, "The Wise Wife" (1752)
- Il feudatario (17??)"The Feudal Lord"
- Le donne gelose, "The Jealous Women" (1752)
- La serva amorosa, "The Loving Maid" (1752)
- I puntigli domestici, "The Domestic Squabbles" (17??)
- La figlia obbediente, "The Obedient Daughter" (17??)
- I mercatanti, "The Merchants" (17??)
- La locandiera, "The Innkeeper Woman" (1753)
- Le donne curiose, "The Curious Women" (1753)
- Il contrattempo o sia Il chiacchierone imprudente, "The Unwelcome Event" or "The Careless Chatterbox" (17??)
- La donna vendicativa, "The Vengeful Woman" (17??)
- Opening sketch for the Teatro Comico di San Luca, 7 October 1753
- Il geloso avaro, "The Jealous Miser" (17??)
- La donna di testa debole, "The Feebleminded Woman" (17??)
- La cameriera brillante, "The Brilliant Maidservant" (17??)
- Il filosofo inglese, "The English Philosopher" (17??)
- Il vecchio bizzarro, "The Bizarre Old Man" (17??)
- Il festino, "The Banquet" (17??)
- L'impostore, "The Impostor" (17??)
- Opening sketch for the Teatro Comico di San Luca, fall season, 1754
- La madre amorosa, "The Loving Mother" (17??)
- Terenzio, "Terentio" (17??)
- Torquato Tasso, "Torquato Tasso" (17??)
- Il cavaliere giocondo, "The Merry Gentleman" (17??)
- Le massere (1755)"The Servant Girls"
- I malcontenti, "The Unsatisfied Men" (17??)
- Opening sketch for the Teatro Comico di San Luca, fall season, 1755
- La buona famiglia, "The Good Family" (17??)
- ''Le donne de casa soa", "The Women from His Own Home"(1755)
- La villeggiatura, "The Vacation" (17??)
- La donna stravagante, "The Extravagant Woman" (17??)
- Il campiello (1756) "The Little Square"
- L'avaro, "The Miser" (17??)
- L'amante di se medesimo, "The Lover of Himself" (17??)
- Il medico olandese, "The Dutch Doctor" (17??)
- La donna sola, "The Lone Woman" (17??)
- La pupilla, "The Female Ward" (17??)
- Il cavaliere di spirito o sia La donna di testa debole, "The Witty Gentleman" or "The Feebleminded Woman" (17??)
- La vedova spiritosa, "The Witty Widow" (17??)
- Il padre per amore, "The Father for Love" (17??)
- Lo spirito di contraddizione, "The Spirit of Contradiction" (17??)
- Il ricco insidiato, "The Sought After Rich man" (17??)
- Le morbinose
- Le donne di buon umore, "The Good Humored Women" (17??)
- L'apatista o sia L'indifferente, "The Apathic Man" or "The Indifferent Man" (17??)
- La donna bizzarra, "The Bizarre Woman" (17??)
- La sposa sagace, "The Clever Wife" (17??)
- La donna di governo (17??)"The Government Woman"
- La donna forte, "The Strong Woman" (17??)
- I morbinosi (1759)?
- La scuola di ballo, "The Dance School" (17??)
- Gli innamorati, "The Lovers" (1759)
- Pamela maritata, "Pamela Married" (17??)
- L'impresario delle Smirne, "The Businessman from Smyrna" (1759)
- La guerra, "The War" (17??)
- I rusteghi, "The Rude Men" (1760)
- Il curioso accidente, "The Curious Incident" (1760)
- La donna di maneggio (17??)"The Woman in Charge"
- La casa nova, "The New House" (1760)
- La buona madre, "The Good Mother" (1761)
- Le smanie per la villeggiatura, "Pining for Vacation" (1761)
- Le avventure della villeggiatura, "Holiday Adventures" (1761)
- Il ritorno dalla villeggiatura, "Back from Vacation" (1761)
- Lo scozzese, "The Scotsman" (17??)
- Il buon compatriotto, "The Good Compatriot" (17??)
- Il sior Todero brontolon o sia Il vecchio fastidioso, "Grumpy Mr. Todero or the Annoying Old Man" (1762)
- Le baruffe chiozzotte (1762)"The Chioggia Scuffles"
- Una delle ultime sere di carnevale, "One of the Last Carnival Evenings" (1762)
- L'osteria della posta, "The Tavern at the Mail Station" (17??)
- L'amore paterno o sia La serva riconoscente, "Paternal Love" or "The Grateful Maidservant" (17??)
- Il matrimonio per concorso, "Marriage by Contest" (17??)
- Les amours d'Arlequin et de Camille, "The Love of Harlequin And Camilla" (1763)
- La jalousie d'Arlequin, "Harlequin's Jealousy" (1763)
- Les inquiétudes de Camille, "Camilla's Worries" (1763)
- Gli amori di Zelinda e Lindoro, "The Love of Zelinda and Lindoro" (1764)
- La gelosia di Lindoro, "Lindoro's Jealousy" (17??)
- L'inquietudini di Zelinda, "Zelinda's Worries" (17??)
- Gli amanti timidi o sia L'imbroglio de' due ritratti, "The Shy Lovers" or "The Affair of the Two Portraits" (17??)
- Il ventaglio, "The Fan" (1765)
- La burla retrocessa nel contraccambio (17??)"The returned joke"
- Chi la fa l'aspetti o sia I chiassetti del carneval (17??)" Who does, waits for the return" or "The Carnival Lanes"
- Il genio buono e il genio cattivo, "The Good Nature and the Bad Nature" (17??)
- Le bourru bienfaisant (1771)"The Benevolent Curmudgeon" (17??)
- L'avare fastueux (1776)"The Ostentatious Miser"
- Amalasunta (1732)
- Gustavo (c. 1738)
- Oronte, re de' Sciti (1740)
- Statira (c. 1740)
- La fondazione di Venezia (1734)
- La contessina, The Young Countess, music by Maccari (1743)
- La favola dei tre gobbi (1748)
- L'Arcadia in Brenta, The Arcadia in Brenta music by Galuppi (1749)
- Il filosofo di campagna, The Country Philosopher, music by Galuppi (1752)
- Il mercato di Malmantile, The Malmantile Market, music by Fischietti (1757)
- La buona figliuola, The Good Girl, music by Piccinni (1760)
- Il festino
- I viaggiatori ridicoli
- Il re alla caccia
- La bouillotte
- I volponi
- Gli uccellatori
- Arcifanfano, Re de' matti
- L'isola disabitata
- La calamità de' cuori
- Il negligente
- I bagni d'Abano
- Le virtuose ridicole
- Il finto principe
- L'astuzia felice
- Bertoldo, Bertoldino e Sascasenno
- I portentosi effetti della madre natura
- Lucrezia romana
- Il mondo alla rovescia
- Buovo d'Antona
- Il paese delle cuccagna
- La mascherata
- Le pescatrici
- Il conte Caramella
- La donna di governo
- Le nozze di Figaro
- La fiera di Sinigaglia
Cantatas and serenades
- La ninfa saggia, "The Wise Nymph" (17??)
- Gli amanti felici, "The Happy Lovers" (17??)
- Le quattro stagioni, "The Four Seasons" (17??)
- Il coro delle muse, "The Choir of the Muses" (17??)
- La pace consolata, "Peace Comforted" (17??)
- L'amor della patria, "Love for the Country" (17??)
- L'oracolo del Vaticano, "The Vatican's Oracle" (17??)
- Magdalena conversio, "The Conversion of Magdalene" (17??)
- L'unione del reale profeta Davide, "The Marriage of Royal Prophet David" (17??)
- Il colosso, a satire against Pavia girls which led to Goldoni being expelled from Collegio Ghislieri (1725)
- Il quaresimale in epilogo (1725–1726)
- Nuovo teatro comico, "New Comic Theater", plays. Pitteri, Venice (1757)
- Mémoires, "Memoirs". Paris (1787)
- Goldoni's collected works. Zalta, Venice (1788–1795)
- The Drama: Its History, Literature and Influence on Civilization ed. Alfred Bates. New York: Historical Publishing Company, 1906. pp. 63–68.