Early eighteenth century Venice provided a cradle for the playwright Carlo Goldoni, whose Venetian forebears had also interested themselves in the theater. As a child, Goldoni practiced writing short plays and improvised for his puppet theater. His family was well-to-do, and he states in his Mémoires that he was born in a large and fascinating palace, surrounded “by prosperous and peaceful domesticity,” surroundings that fostered his happy disposition. (It should be noted that scholars have questioned the reliability of Goldoni’s memoirs.) Financial difficulties caused his father, late in life, to join the medical profession. As a doctor, Giulio Goldoni traveled extensively through northern and central Italy, eventually settling in Perugia. There he was joined by Carlo Goldoni, who began his formal education in the local Jesuit school that he attended from 1717 to 1720.
The family moved again, this time to Chioggia, a small town on the Venetian lagoon, but Goldoni’s father left him in Rimini at a friend’s house to study philosophy under the guidance of a Dominican father. Goldoni, however, was already restless, adventurous, and enthralled by the theater. He made friends with a company of strolling players who were performing in town. Bored with his studies and missing his family, Goldoni decided to leave town and departed with the players on their boat, which sailed to Chioggia, where his family resided.
After a short stay at home, Goldoni was dispatched to Venice as an apprentice in his uncle’s law office. Later, in 1723, he entered the Ghislieri College of Pavia as a law student. Here again, his passion for comic art and satire interrupted his studies. Goldoni allowed himself in 1725 to be persuaded by “perfidious friends” to write a satire, “Il Colosso,” which described a monstrous statue formed with different body parts of the girls of Pavia. The pamphlet, considered libelous by the girls’ parents, caused the expulsion of young Goldoni (now in his third year) from the college. He once again had to find refuge at home with his family.
After his hasty return to Chioggia, he accompanied his father on several trips through Friuli, Görz, and Graz. He also continued his law studies in Udine and then at the University of Modena. In the meantime, he pursued his interest in the theater by staging, in Udine, a comedy by Pier Jacopo Martello, Lo starnuto di Ercole (1717; Hercule’s sneeze); he also wrote in this period two intermezzos, Il buon padre (the good old father) and La cantatrice (the singer).
When Goldoni’s father died in 1731, the family found itself in even harsher financial straits, and Goldoni was urged by his mother to complete his legal studies, which he did at the University of Padua. Goldoni took his last examination “after a night spent in gambling,” as he reports in his Mémoires. On his return to Venice, Goldoni was admitted to the bar in 1732 and began to practice law. He also had enough time to continue writing for the theater and during this year wrote his first serious play, “L’Amalasunta,” a tragedy for music. Unfortunately, he could find no one to stage it. After a year, in debt and trapped in a loveless engagement, he could see no solution other than flight from Venice. After some wandering, he reached Milan, where he found a position as personal secretary with the Venetian ambassador. Repeating a pattern, Goldoni did not keep his position for long, and, after an altercation with the ambassador, he was fired. In the meantime he had made new friends in the world of the theater; he became acquainted with Imer, the director of a very important commedia dell’arte group. Imer quickly became fond of Goldoni and hired him as librettist for his troupe. By the end of September, 1734, Goldoni was once again in Venice, where Imer’s troupe was to perform at the renowned San Samuele theater for the year’s dramatic season.
When Imer’s company embarked on a tour of northern Italy, Goldoni...
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