History of Western Theatre: 17th Century to Now/Early Italian 18th
The most important dramatist of early 18th century Italian theatre is Carlo Goldoni (1707-1793), in particular for "I due gemelli veneziani" (The two Venetian twins, 1745), "Il servitore di due padroni" (The servant of two masters, 1746), and "La putta onorata" (The honorable maiden, 1749). In a sequel to the latter, Bettina went from being the honorable maiden to "La buona moglie" (The good wife, 1751).
Goldoni reshaped the old "commedia dell'arte" (comedy of masks), whose origin began in the 16th century and includes much improvisation, into a new form. He "left the four old masks, Pantaloon, Harlequin, Brighella, and the Doctor, to their own devices, merely giving them a rough outline of action, and turning all his attention to the other characters, those not belonging to the Mask Comedy, and which had been in it mere insignificant lay figures...he took up and developed the two most insignificant parts of the comedy, the two lovers, who had been there merely to give opportunity for the action of the other characters; these dramatic shadows, with but a dim outline, vague features, lifeless voice, and limp action, gradually took body and shape, became alive, real men and women, strongly marked, vigorously acting realities; and at length,- oh! wonder of wonders!- the audience began to be perfectly engrossed in the loves and adventures of Lelio and Beatrice, of Rosaura and Florindo, of Leandro and Giacinta...Harlequin could not jabber and stand on his head in the midst of a real scene of Venetian life with the freedom he had enjoyed when surrounded by the fantastic world borrowed from Tirso de Molina or Lope de Vega. It was one thing to be the servant of Don Juan, introducing the marble visitor; and another to be the husband of Catte, the washerwoman of Castello" (Lee, 1887 pp 254-256). "Goldoni is neither a philosophical nor a very profound writer, but he is delightfully vivacious, and there is hardly one of his comedies that the reader would not like to peruse a second time" (Cliffe, 1896 p 192).
"The two Venetian twins" is unusual in having two deaths occur in an otherwise droll comedy somewhat resembling Shakespeare's "The comedy of errors" (1592).
"The servant of two masters" has a lighter theme than "The two Venetian twins", although the title has a serious reference, Jesus preaching that "no man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon." (Matthew 6:24). "Goldoni's masterful II servitore di due padroni is a tribute to the long-standing tradition of comedic genius perpetuated by the commedia dell'arte. This tradition is at once the foundation upon which Goldoni based his dramatic works and the archaic theatrical system against which he reacted in generating his reform of the Italian theater. Il servitore di due padroni is a play saturated with the most important elements of this cherished commedia dell'arte: traditional character types, quick-witted dialogue, gestural play, awesome acrobatics and an intriguing imbroglio of love, trickery and misunderstandings...Pantalone is an honest businessman, a fair and conscientious citizen and a concerned father. He does not want to force Clarice into marrying Federico, but remains respectful of the arrangement he made with Federico and Beatrice's father...Arlecchino is...industrious. He dislikes waiting idly in the street for his master and decides to seek out adventure...Beatrice's primary motive for her disguise and her voyage to Venice is neither money nor prudence. Her primary motive is love; she comes in search of her fleeing lover...Beatrice, in fact, reveals her true identity to Clarice almost immediately, unlike the two Flaminias. In addition to being in love, practical and mirthful, Beatrice's character is also strong and defiant...Goldoni capitalizes on...brazen female characters. He creates a sympathetic collusion amongst the principal female characters (Beatrice, Clarice and Smeraldina) who criticize and plot against a male-dominated society in order to achieve their own personal goals. Goldoni examines the empowerment of the Italian woman, thereby creating a unique cultural ambiance in his work" (Blood, 1993 pp 111-118).
In “The honorable maiden”, “with...old-fashioned ingredients, Goldoni fashioned a genial representation of lower Venetian life, a picture of customs and manners, an intuition of deep feelings, and withal, such an amusing story, supported by the unflagging liveliness of dialogue, by a flow of witty sayings, as to make, even in our days, a delightful play. The best traits of Goldoni’s art are found here, as also hints of what will be, later, his worst faults. The contrast between aristocratic vice and popular virtue is strongly delineated in the representation of Marchese Ottavio and his wife, Marchesa Beatrice’s household, in opposition to the group of plebeians centering around Menego, the gondolier; and in the contrast between the honest behavior of the heroine, Bettina, and her sister’s complacency. Ottavio is shown in darkest colors. He ignores his wife’s acts provided she does not interfere with his own plans for seducing Bettina. Brighella, his servant, plays the go-between gladly, as he is the boon companion of Arlecchino, the husband of Catte, Bettina’s sister and chaperon...Critics pronounce the psychological study superficial because there are no complex feelings. Evidently this simplicity is adequate to the moral and social standing of the characters; it is consistent with the whole picture” (Kennard, 1920 pp 266-269). "Bettina is...subjected to the dishonorable proposals of a licentious marquis; she has to repulse a well-meaning merchant; and even a sturdy Venetian gondolier makes one unwelcome attempt to gain her favor. She disgusts her mercenary sister by withstanding all assaults upon her constancy, until at the end of the play she is joined in lawful wedlock with the man of her choice. The hero turns out to be the son of the merchant, not of the gondolier, Messer Menego Cainello, who has been thought to be his father. Messer Menego and his friends are realistic portraits of Venetian gondoliers, with hearts of gold beneath their rough exteriors. The scenes in which they appear, although not always germane to the plot, have a vivid truthfulness that is said to have appealed greatly to the real gondoliers in the audience. The use of the Venetian dialect in which Messer Menego and the other plebeian characters speak adds a particular charm to this play, as it does to many of Goldoni's other dramas. Accuracy of observation is one of his outstanding qualities, an ear for colloquial phrasing, one of his greatest gifts. From the realistic point of view the most striking scene of The Honorable Maiden is that representing the exterior of a theatre on the Grand Canal with gondolas plying to and fro before it, a boy hawking tickets, and the audience entering to attend a performance. The whole play gives a varied picture of life in Goldoni’s Venice and is tinged with a sunniness well fitted to the mood of the story" (Sanderson, 1939 pp 242-243). "Bettina...is a splendid specimen of the woman of the people at her best" (Collison-Morley, 1911 p 69). "Goldoni has painted a magnificent portrait, idealised but intensely real, in his Bettina, who, in her perfect self-reliance, her complete knowledge of evil and determination to avoid it, her ferocious chastity, refusing to let her own betrothed enter the house, and her passionate tenderness and dog-like attachment, is one of the grandest female figures which any stage can boast" (Lee, 1887 pp 266-267).
"The good woman" "makes more obvious than its predecessor Goldoni’s preference for picturing virtue instead of ridiculing vice. His method of getting his comic effects is unobtrusively to contrast virtuous people with scoundrels, whom he does not wish to expose straightforwardly and to punish justly. The evildoers generally die or repent; occasionally they are dismissed from honorable society in a harmless, salutary way. Goldoni often makes his offenders against decency too villainous to be good humorous material. He exaggerates the weaknesses of human nature until they appear more dangerous than absurd. Gambling, drunkenness, and illicit love affairs are treated as serious offenses in the two Bettina plays, not as laughable deviations from an ideally perfect code of conduct" (Sanderson, 1939 pp 243-244).
"The two Venetian twins"
Time: 1740s. Place: Verona, Italy.
Zanetto is engaged to be married to Rosaura, daughter to Balanzoni, but his abrupt manner offends her. Zanetto's twin brother, Tonino, is engaged to Beatrice. As she walks in the company of Tonino friend's, Florindo, a quarrelsome youth, Florio, liking her looks, challenges him to a sword-fight, but he is defended by Tonino, who beats Florio off. Though rescued by his friend, Florindo pretends he has not seen Beatrice, because he would like to marry her himself. Seeking vengeance on Tonino, Lelio attacks Zanetti, his twin brother, by mistake, but is defended by Florindo, who mistakes him for Tonino. In addition to Zanetto, Rosaura is loved by Pancrazio, who advises Zanetto not to marry, citing the inherent dangers of that condition, which the credulous Zanetto accepts. Meanwhile, Zanetto's servant, Arlecchino, mistakes Tonino for his master, handing over jewels and money that belong to him. Balanzoni, also mistaking him for Zanetto, invites him inside his house to see his daughter, which astounds Tonino, considering him as no less than a pander to his daughter, but nevertheless is tempted by her charms, as she by his. Seeing this, Pancrazio, also mistaking him for his brother, is saddened that he did not follow his advice against marriage. While Tonino entrusts Pancrazio with the jewels, Zanetti accuses his servant, Arlecchino, of robbing him. Their contention is interrupted by Beatrice, who mistakes Zanetto for Tonino, confused as to why her lover seems to ignore her. Florindo and Lelio quarrel again, each wishing to escort Beatrice, spotted at last by Tonino, who carries her away. Pancrazio takes the jewels to be appraised by an expert, who confirms their high value and gives him a substance to make them shine more brightly, warning him it is also a violent poison. When Zanetto sees Pancrazio with his jewels, he accuses him of robbery, to the latter's astonishment. An officer intervenes to confiscate the jewels at the chancery. Frightened at the loss of his reputation and confused at to why he denied giving him the jewels, Pancrazio encourages Tonino to defend him. Tonino points to Arlecchino as the man who gave him the treasure and throws the money at the servant's feet. Zanetto returns to Rosaura, expressing all his love of her, to the astonishment of Beatrice, who again mistakes him for her lover, with the result that both women becomes incensed at his faithlessness. As Zanetto leaves, his brother arrives, the theme of both women's continued accusations. To rid himself of his rival, Pancrazio poisons the still credulous Zanetto, who, led to believe he is consuming a love-filter, dies forthwith. While Zanetto's corpse is carried inside an inn, Tonino enters, to everyone's astonishment. "He's half-dead and half-alive!" exclaims Arlecchino. Tonino discovers his brother dead, as well as Rosaura's true identity, not Balanzoni's daughter as she thought but his sister. Desperate to prove his innocence concerning Zanetto's death, Pancrazio voluntarily drinks the potion and dies. Tonino re-affirms his intention to marry Beatrice, while Rosaura accepts Florindo as her husband.
"The servant of two masters"
Time: 1740s. Place: Venice, Italy.
Pantalone had promised Federico his daughter's hand in marriage, but after hearing a rumor about his death, agrees to marry Clarice to Silvio. He then learns that Federico is alive. In reality, Federico is dead after all, but his shape is assumed by his sister, Beatrice, disguised as her dead brother in quest of Florindo, her lover but also the man who murdered him. To supplement his meager income, Arlecchino, servant to Beatrice but unaware she is a woman, agrees to serve Florindo as a second master without knowing who he is. He conveys letters for both masters but mixes them up, so that Florindo learns of Beatrice's presence in Venice. To complete a financial transaction with Beatrice, Pantalone gives Arlecchino 100 ducats, but the servant gives them to the wrong master, Florindo. Taking pity on Clarice's sorrow, Beatrice reveals her true identity to her. Angry at Pantalone for taking back his promise to marry Clarice, Silvio threatens him with his sword, but the old man is defended by Beatrice, who humiliates the swordsman by besting him in the fight. In the aftermath, Silvio blames Clarice for consorting with Beatrice and shows indifference to her threat of suicide. Arlecchino succeeds at last in giving the 100 ducats in the right hands and, famished for a good while, eats while serving food to both masters at the same time, in some confusion serving soup after meat to one and splitting the meatball order to both. When Beatrice discovers her servant has opened one of her letters, she beats him, after which Florindo beats him for letting himself be beaten by a stranger. In spite of these beatings, Arlecchino stoically and dutifully airs out Florindo's clothing, but mixes up their contents. As a result, Florindo is led to believe Beatrice has died and Beatrice is led to believe Florindo has died. Despairing, both rush outside simultaneously with knives to cut their own throats, but then joyfully recognize each other, so that no hindrance is left to prevent their marriage as well as Clarice's with Silvio.
"The honorable maiden"
Time: 1740s. Place. Venice, Italy.
Ottavio, marquis of Ripa Verde, intends to seduce Bettina, the ward of Pantalone, a merchant, by acquiring her services as a servant. He learns that she is in love with Pasqualino, son of Menego, his gondelier. Pasqualino asks Bettina's sister, Catte, for her hand in marriage. She answers "perhaps", but to her sister she points out the interest in accepting the marquis' love. Instead, Bettina informs Pantalone of her love of Pasqualino, but he considers that a poor match, insinuating that he prefers having her as his own wife, to which she recoils. She also recoils when Ottavio arrives to offer her earrings, money, and a dowry to marry Pasqualino. She even refuses to drink coffee with him and is scolded for it by Arlecchino, Catte's husband. To counteract her resistance, Ottavio engages Pasqualino in his service as a secretary so that he can marry Bettina and have both of them live in his house. When Pasqualino asks Pantalone for her hand, he refuses. Nevertheless, the marquis commands his secretary to marry her despite the old man's view and hires Lelio, a self-styled vagabond and son of Pantalone brought up for many years at Livorno, to strike his father (whom he does not recognize) four blows with a stick. Lelio accepts the offer but desists after finding out who he is. When Pasqualino comes to take Bettina away as his wife, she informs him of the marquis' attempt to seduce her. He wants her to follow him to another place, but she declines. Menego interrupts their talk and sends his son away, then begins to woo the maiden for himself, but achieves less than nothing. Observing Pasqualino's tears, Catte helps him place a ring on her sister's finger in betrothal, but when Pantalone arrives, he jumps out the window to avoid him. When Pantalone notices the turquoise on his ward's finger, Catte pretends that the ring is her husband's gift to her. "He must have assassinated somebody, for he never works," Pantalone comments. Nevertheless, he pays Catte the price of the ring so that Bettina may keep it. He then recommends that they all go to his sister's house in case the marquis aims at abducting Bettina. They cross the marquis by chance in their gondolas, so that his men abduct Bettina and Catte while Pantalone helplessly wails ashore. Lelio pretends not to know his own father and runs away. In the marquis' house, his wife, Beatrice, discovers Bettina before he can get to her and takes her away to the theatre. Meanwhile, Catte is lost at night in the streets of Venice until Lelio offers his arm to escort her, but he runs off again on seeing Pantalone who rails against his son while walking out ahead. By chance, Catte crosses Bettina and Beatrice on their way to the play and follows them. At the theatre, both masked, Beatrice makes Bettina change into her clothes and changes hers into Catte's to fool her husband on the lookout for Bettina. Beatrice has also sent away Catte and asks instead for Pasqualino. Ottavio and his men discover the two women, and, thinking she is Bettina, go off with Beatrice. Now Pasqualino thinks Bettina is the marquis' wife, who, as a modestly honorable maiden distrusting him, refuses to be escorted. Meanwhile, Menego defends Lelio from being arrested by the police at his father's request, while his wife, Pasqua, a nurse, prevents his being shipped away at sea by Pantalone. Pasqua reveals that Lelio is not Pantalone's son, but theirs, whom she substituted in Pasqualino's place so that her son could enjoy Pantalone's riches. As a result, Lelio chooses to become a gondolier like his true father. Out of mischief, Beatrice locks Bettina in a dark room with Pasqualino to compromise them. Yet, as usual, she comes off as the honorable maiden. Now that he knows Pasqualino is his son and rich, Pantalone embraces him as Bettina's husband.
“The good wife”"
Time: 1750s. Place. Venice, Italy.
In “The good wife”, Bettina has a 1-year old baby and with little to eat since Pasqualino dilapidates in gambling losses the money Pantalone gave him to open a small business. Marquis Ottavio and Beatrice are also penniless. To obtain food, she borrows money from Pasqualino and they both play cards with him, accompanied by Lelio, a do-nothing too bored to have learnt the profession of a gondolier, and win a considerable sum. At a tavern, Pantalone pleads with Pasqualino to abandon Lelio, Arlecchino, and two girls. Instead, he follows his friends. While Ottavio talks with Catte about the possibility of seducing her sister, Beatrice shows up, which prompts Catte to hide in the next room. When Pasqualino arrives to get his money back from Beatrice, Bettina shows up, which prompts him to hide in the same room as Catte. Bettina accuses Beatrice of seducing her husband. Irate at Catte’s role in the matter, Pasqualino smacks her face and leaves but is intercepted by the marquis, who threatens to run him through with a sword for trying to create a scandal at his house until Bettina stands in front of her husband. But instead of following her home, he follows Lelio to recover his debts by playing cards. Meanwhile, the marquis is arrested for debts and his wife seeks refuge in Bettina’s house. In a tavern, Lelio insists that his father, Menego, give him money. He refuses. Two of his Menego's friends back him up, one of whom fatally stabbbing Lelio. As a result, Pasqualino returns home where he learns that with the death of his brother, Ottavio obtains a considerable fortune.
The most notable tragedian of the period was Francesco Scipione Maffei (1675–1755), principally for "Merope" (1714), based on a character in Greek mythology. Even more so than Corneille and Racine, Scipione drew his models near those of Greek tragedies, especially in the use of a chorus as well as a continuous flow of action uninterrupted by changes in scenery.
In "Merope", Maffei "boldly abandons the love element and substitutes a mother’s love, the tenderest and fiercest of all passions. But it is not so much a normal mother’s love as the extraordinary ferocity of this particular mother’s love that impresses us. However, though the characterisation is not always consistent, and though Maffei describes rather than presents, 'Merope' is by far the best Italian tragedy before Alfieri" (Collison-Morley, 1911 p 122).
Time: Antiquity. Place: Stenyclaros, Messenia, Greece.
Twenty years ago, the ruler of Messenia, Cresphontes, was murdered by his friend and present ruler, Polyphontes, who seeks to wed his widow, Merope, to forestall rumors of a possible revolt led by her exiled son, Aepytus. Despite Polyphontes' promise of declaring her son as heir to the throne, she refuses to marry him. Aepytus returns in secret while arranging the false announcement of his death. Thinking Aepytus dead indeed, Merope's servant, Arcas, thinks that the recently arrived stranger to the palace is her son's murderer. Believing the rumor, Merope picks up an axe and creeps towards Aepytus' sleeping figure. Thinking of her murdered son, she murmurs: "While the good sleep, the wicked watch and work, the workers have the day." She steps ever closer to the stranger, still thinking of her child. "There you lie now, my hapless child, stretched among briars and stones," she murmurs, "the slow, black gore oozing through your soaked hunting-shirt, with limbs yet stark from the death-struggle, tight-clenched hands, and eyeballs staring for revenge in vain." But Arcas, now better informed, arrives in time to prevent her fatal error as Aepytus awakes and discloses his intention to kill Polyphontes. Although Merope considers at first the course too dangerous, mostly because of the Dorian lords long having served Polyphontes, Aepytus dismisses her arguments and turns his thoughts to his absent father. "O honored father," he prays ironically, "hide in your grave as deep as you can, for here no succor comes, since what revenge can one expect from faithful subjects when your widow fails?" At last, Aepytus, with the help of Merope's brother, Laias, convinces her of the necessity of this murder. When Polyphontes returns to propose marriage to Merope a second time, he is denied once more. As Polyphontes leads the sacrifice in honor of Aepytus' memory, the supposed dead man slays him in view of the people, who defend him along with his uncle against the Dorian lords, so that Aepytus becomes the rightful ruler.