Carlo Goldoni Essay - Critical Essays


Carlo Goldoni set out to reform, rather than to eradicate, the commedia dell’arte, and he continued to employ the traditional characters of that form, although they no longer wore their traditional masks. The cunning servant Harlequin, the elderly parent Pantalone, the pedantic Dottore, the gossip Brighella, and the servant girl Columbina all appear in a variety of guises in Goldoni’s comedies. The intrigue centering on young lovers outwitting unrelenting parents, a mainstay of the commedia dell’arte, is also found in Goldoni’s plays, yet Goldoni’s chief talent was in the sympathetic and accurate portrayal of the people and milieu of contemporary Venice. In his plays, the stock characters become the merchants, fishermen, students, gondoliers, gossips, and servants of his city; the traditional romantic intrigue becomes the drama of changing mores in eighteenth century Venice. In his comedies of characters and of milieu, Goldoni achieved his highest art.

Goldoni’s comedies avoid the truly dramatic predicaments of life and never really develop a complex theme or an extensively plotted story. In their essence, they are usually cordial and happy descriptions of everyday life. Therefore, his plays are not noted for a logical or precise development of the action according to any well-defined dramatic rules. Instead, his theater offers an almost impressionistic worldview that honors the petty details of daily life, glorifies ordinary places such as coffee-houses and inns, and enlivens common occurrences such as the departure for a summer vacation. With affection and irony, Goldoni observed and described the world of the lower-middle-class families of Venice in the eighteenth century—a world of small virtues and little vices. Goldoni captured the lively surfaces of those times, not their deeper significance. The conflict between old and new, between the Baroque culture that was coming to an end and the new culture of the Enlightenment, is reduced in scale to a conflict between father and son, between an innkeeper and her noble guests, between old boors and young lovers.

The Mistress of the Inn

Among Goldoni’s many successful comedies of character, the critics usually award their plaudits to The Mistress of the Inn and The Boors. The Mistress of the Inn is exceptional for the witticisms, sharp jesting, and shrewdness of its characters and the taut linear structure of its plot. It is perhaps the only play among Goldoni’s comedies of character in which the protagonist dominates the milieu rather than being dominated by it.

The play is set in an eighteenth century inn. Count Albafiorita and Marquis Forlipopoli are guests in the inn of Mirandolina, a pretty and spirited woman with whom everyone falls in love. These two clumsy noblemen awkwardly try to conquer the heart of the charming innkeeper. One of them, the count, offers money and gifts; the other, the pennyless marquis, extends pretentious offers of protection. Another sojourner at the inn is the cavalier Ripafratta, who is an obnoxious misogynist. Mirandolina’s intelligence and sensitivity are offended by the attitudes and remarks of the cavalier, and, taking a kind of revenge, she causes him to fall in love with her. Her success creates all sorts of jealousies among the other guests at the inn, and matters are complicated by the arrival of two comedians, Ortensia and Dejanira. As the situation escalates dangerously because of the heightened emotions of Ripafratta, Mirandolina reveals the game. She is not at all in love with Ripafratta; her intention is only to punish his arrogance and ill manners, and she declares that she will marry instead—faithful to her father’s dying wish—the loyal Fabrizio, the waiter at her inn.

Goldoni composed this comedy in 1753, while he was still in the service of the Medebac troupe, and the play was written for the soubrette of the company, Maddalena Marliani, an exceptional actress and a willful and spirited woman very similar in personality to Mirandolina. The comedy, as was usual for Goldoni, was written quickly, as if the characters were already alive to the smallest detail in Goldoni’s mind. Mirandolina...

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