Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 823
One of the most important themes in the play is the disparity between what the characters say and how they really feel. Throughout the play, the characters speak to the audience in asides. Often, the asides are in direct contradiction to the dialogue with the other characters. These asides also...
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One of the most important themes in the play is the disparity between what the characters say and how they really feel. Throughout the play, the characters speak to the audience in asides. Often, the asides are in direct contradiction to the dialogue with the other characters. These asides also reveal much of the characters’ inner feelings and motives. Whenever Truffaldino lies to cover up his ruse, he tells the audience of his anxieties and inability to cover his tracks. Similarly, in the first scene, Smeraldina informs the audience of her attraction to Truffaldino before the two formally declare their love later in the play. Goldoni also uses these asides to help convey expository information to the audience. In the first scene of the play, Brighella lets the audience know the he recognizes Beatrice is not really Federigo. In addition to establishing the plot, this aside also helps reinforce the convention that everyone else in the play is fooled by her disguise.
Another important theme in the play is status. Although he makes the comic situations in the play wholly ridiculous, Goldoni uses them to make pointed social commentary about the class structure. At different points, all of the servants complain about their lowly station and many defy their masters either directly or indirectly. The central comic conceit of the play is Truffaldino’s lack of fidelity as a servant. In addition, he is repeatedly disrespectful toward Pantalone, despite the elder man’s rank. Smeraldina is similarly defiant in her interactions with higher-class characters. She openly complains about what she perceives as Clarice’s lack of morality in having more than one suitor. Furthermore, she insults both Silvio and Pantalone by pointing out their shortcomings. The significance of this defiance is underscored in Truffaldino’s beating at the hands of both Beatrice and Florindo. Beatrice beats Truffaldino for repeatedly opening her mail to teach him a lesson. Florindo sees the beating but does not recognize Beatrice, so he beats Truffaldino again for the besmirching of his own honor. Goldoni’s ironic handling of the second offense (a beating for getting beaten) underscores the entitlement of the higher-class characters. This entitlement is reinforced by the fact that Florindo and Beatrice are presented in the rest of the play as sympathetic characters. Their whipping of a servant is a product of their social structure rather than a character flaw.
Thwarted love is also a central theme in the play. In addition to providing numerous plot complications, the multiple romantic entanglements allow all of the characters to experience growth. Silvio and Clarice are arguably the most vapid characters in the play; yet, both have moments (however small) in which they recognize their own foolish behavior. Silvio apologizes for insulting both Clarice and Pantalone, and he admits that his emotions often get the better of him. Similarly, Clarice eschews some of her self-absorption and truly helps Beatrice in her quest. Ultimately, she honors her promised to keep Beatrice’s secret despite the strain it places on her relationship with Silvio. Beatrice and Florindo are more mature characters; however, they too have allowed love to carry them to extremes. For them, the play is a kind of purgatory in which they must suffer for the death of Beatrice’s brother, Federigo. Finally, Truffaldino and Smeraldina’s love is directly connected to the aforementioned theme of status. Tellingly, theirs is the last union to be made, and its delay can be attributed directly to their status. Admittedly, Truffaldino must confess his deceit in order for the marriage to take place. Yet, even without his ruse, he and Smeraldina would still have had to ask for their masters’ permission to get married. Given how consumed the other four lovers are with their own romantic concerns, Smeraldina and Truffaldino’s union depends on first satisfying the others’ concerns.
Honor is also thematically significant in The Servant of Two Masters. Aside from his guilt about murdering Federigo, Florindo also fears that he may have harmed Beatrice’s honor. He flees the murders scene in part to help prevent further scandal. With the characters Silvio and Dr. Lombardi, Goldoni uses honor to humorous effect. Both Silvio and his father consider the reneged marriage contract to be an insult upon their honor. Part of Silvio’s motivation for dueling the disguised Beatrice is to reclaim his honor. Since the wedding of Clarice and Silvio would have been a very public union of their two houses, Dr. Lombardi and Pantalone likewise find themselves at odds with each other. Smeraldina refuses to enter Brighella’s inn and deliver Clarice’s note out of fear it will besmirch her reputation. Ironically, even Truffaldino’s scheme has honorable intentions. In addition to his own greed, his pride in doing a good job for both masters is central to his ongoing deception. His final monologue reveals that he considers his performance to be honorable, despite the rules he broke.