Carlo Goldoni (gohl-DOH-nee) was the son of Giulio of Modena, a physician who, after moving first to Rome and then Perugia, abandoned his son to the charge of a professor in Rimini. Goldoni soon ran away to follow a troupe of strolling players. He showed an early interest in puppets and at the age of eight wrote a play for the troupe. His favorite reading consisted of plays.
For a time he prepared himself for the law, studying in Venice and Pavia before taking his degree in Modena. Even in his student days, however, he devoted much time to the theater; indeed, he was driven from Pavia because of a satire directed at the leading citizens. He was devoted to Molière’s belief that drama must break from the superficial and mirror human beings’ essential nature. His first professionally produced play, a tragedy titled Amalasunta, was not a success.
Goldoni’s first real success, The Artful Widow, came in 1748 after he had become the company playwright for the Teatro Sant’Angelo in Venice. Over the next twenty-five years Goldoni defined and created Italian realistic comedy; he rejected the literary tradition of verse plays as well as the tasteless vulgarity into which the commedia dell’arte had descended. In 1753 he moved to the Teatro San Luca, where he continued refining his satires of Venetian society. Even though his plays were popular with the public, Goldoni was constantly attacked by Carlo Gozzi and other supporters of the traditional theater. Weary of the fight, Goldoni accepted an invitation in 1762 to direct the Comédie Italienne in Paris. There he wrote comedies in both French and Italian, but he left the theater in 1764 in order to tutor the princesses at Versailles in Italian. He continued to write, eventually producing 212 plays and in 1787 his renowned Memoirs of Goldoni Written by Himself, Forming a Complete History of His Life and Writing. Louis XVI granted Goldoni a lifelong pension, but the French Revolution forced him to live out his last years in poverty.