In many of Carlo Gozzi’s plays, he philosophizes to his Venetian audiences. Although Gozzi initially feared that his ideas fell on deaf ears, perhaps his audiences were a bit more sophisticated than he first thought. His movement away from the extreme use of fantasy and magic in his plays and into more serious and substantial themes would seem to indicate that the playwright thought that his words, and the players’ actions, would not be lost on his audiences. This progression in his plays intimates that Gozzi hoped to contribute more than merely “fairy tales” to eighteenth century Italian literature.
Il teatro comico all’osteria del Pellegrino
Gozzi’s first play, Il teatro comico all’osteria del Pellegrino, was notable because it unveiled his penchant for using his plays to satirize and criticize the Venetian scene—in this instance, certain literary aspects. Written during the early stages of Gozzi’s feud with Chiari and Goldoni, Il teatro comico all’osteria del Pellegrino enacts a carnival scene at Saint Mark’s Square, where the merrymakers are interrupted by a monster with four faces and four mouths. Gozzi used this monster to represent the Goldoni theater; the several mouths open to present aspects of the comedy of manners and plebeian prose that characterized Goldoni’s plays. The onlookers in the play become bored with these attempts at theater, thus revealing the monster’s fifth mouth, previously hidden, which confesses that the weak and objectionable aspects that came from the other mouths of the monster had been created solely for one purpose—to gratify the desires of the monster’s belly. Thus, with this initial sally into the world of drama, Gozzi established his use of satire and fantasy in his plays.
The Love of the Three Oranges
Gozzi’s fiabe continued his use of these devices; the fiabe also evidenced a progression in the themes and components he would employ in his works. The Love of the Three Oranges, Gozzi’s first fairy-drama, makes full use of satire, fantasy, and high romance presented in the commedia dell’arte form. In the play, Tartaglia, one of the characters, or masks, which the playwright adopted from the commedia form, portrays the son of the King of Spades, the latter appropriately dressed in giant playing cards throughout the play. The prince is dying from boredom and consumption; the only cure for this malady is to laugh, something his father and the courtiers have not been able to make the prince do. Truffaldino, however, another of the commedia masks, is also at court and attends the prince to see what can be done about this situation. The fairy Morgana enters the square dressed as an old woman, and Truffaldino, employing a standard lazzo (bit of comic “business”) from the commedia form, trips her, sending her head over heels. This makes the long-suffering prince laugh and thus shed his ailments. In retribution for this humiliation, Morgana curses the prince and implants an undeniable desire in him to seek the mythic three oranges that have been imprisoned in a distant, fantastic castle. The remainder of the play deals with the prince’s adventures, as he and Truffaldino travel to the distant land and find the oranges, which turn out to house three beautiful maidens, each of whom must be given water as soon as she is released from the orange, lest she die of thirst immediately. High drama and romance pervade the ending of the tale, as Truffaldino, unaware of the presence of the maidens in the oranges and unable to handle the situation as the first maiden emerges, breaks open the second orange to try to give a drink to the first maiden. Both maidens die, but the prince happens on the scene in time to fill his boot with water and therefore save the final maiden’s life. Love between the two youthful figures develops instantaneously, and the prince vows to marry her. Some further complications by Morgana delay the wedding; nevertheless, the tale ends with the couple happily wed and the King of Spades exhorting all within the range of his voice to keep martellian verse (the form found in Chiari’s and Goldoni’s plays) away from his court, so that ready wit and improvised humor can flourish there and make all happy.
The great latitude that Gozzi found in the tale of the three oranges allowed him to incorporate the fantasy and satire that made his first fiabe a great success. Venetian audiences apparently recognized the boredom and consumption that affected the prince as a statement about the realistic, often somber plays that Chiari and Goldoni wrote. On the other hand, the inspired wit and antics of Truffaldino represented the kind of improvised comedy that Gozzi loved and his audiences expected. Actions, however, were not the only elements in this play that Gozzi used to satirize his rival playwrights. The martellian verse, which the king forbids at the end of the play, is used at one point to kill a character with boredom. Another condemnation by Gozzi appears with the king blaming the new comedies by Chiari and Goldoni for his son’s disobedience when the latter defies his father and leaves to find the three oranges. Various characters also appear in this tale who represent extreme versions of characters in the Chiari and Goldoni plays. All these satiric elements, mixed with fantastic items such as the “thousand league” iron boots,...
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