History of Western Theatre: 17th Century to Now/Late Italian 18th

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Carlo Goldoni is the dominant figure of 18th century Italian comedy. Portrait by Alessandro Longhi (1733-1813)

Carlo Goldoni (1707-1793) continued to dominate 18th century Italian theatre, especially for such comedies as "La locandiera" (The mistress of the inn, 1751) and "I rusteghi" (The boors, 1760). The second best dramatist of the period is Carlo Gozzi (1720-1806), whose "La Zobeide" (Zobeide, 1763) and "L'augellino belverde" (The green bird, 1765) combine the comic and the tragic, realism and fantasy, in a happy mixture.

One of the most important tragedians of late 18th century Italian theatre is Vittorio Alfieri (1749-1803), whose best-known play is "Mirra" (Myrrha, 1786), based on a story in Ovid's Metamorphoses, in which Myrrha realizes she is in love with her own father, not reciprocated, with tragic consequences. Gradually, painfully, and too late, the father knows of it and reacts disastrously.

"The mistress of the inn"[edit]

"The mistress of the inn". Time: 1750s. Place: Florence, Italy.

"The mistress of the inn" text at http://www.archive.org/details/fourcomedies00farjgoog


Mirandolina has many suitors and manipulates all of them. Played by Eleonora Duse (1858-1924), 1891

Mirandolina, mistress of an inn, is loved by two noblemen: the marquis of Forlipopoli and the count of Albafiorita, as well as her servant, Fabricio. In contrast, her charms find no favor with Ripafratta, a knight. The count has a major advantage over the marquis in being richer and never hesitating to use his money to court Mirandolina. When the count offers her diamond earrings, she at first resists but then accepts them. Unable to compete at that level, the marquis comments that this is a wasteful use of money. To compete more effectively, he successfully asks the knight for a loan. The knight enters her inn indisposed towards Mirandolina as well as women in general. This does not bother her at all, as she finds ways to flatter him, softening him up with specially prepared sheets and food. She even says she likes him, because above everything, she cultivates, as he does, liberty. Thanks to the knight's money, the marquis offers her an expensive handkerchief. As was the case with the previous rival, she at first resists but then accepts. The count congratulates him on his gift, then offers Mirandolina an even richer one: a diamond. As always, she at first resists but then accepts the gift. The knight is beginning to be charmed by Mirandolina. He offers her a glass of wine. "You are the first woman whose conversation I have tolerated without displeasure," he admits. Not to be outdone, the marquis also offers her a glass of wine, which he considers excellent, though it is of poorer quality than the knight's, who is even richer than he is. The knight's unusually tender feelings start to alarm him, so that he asks for the bill and is surprised at the modest amount. He then changes his mind and stays. Mirandolina bewitches him all the more after pretending to faint under the influence of the wine. To help her recuperate, the knight sends her a balm in a golden flagon. Later, while ironing clothes, feeling he is getting to be far too captivated by her, she says to him she will never again enter his room, burns him with the iron, negligently throws the flagon among a basket of clothes, and asks him what does he want of her. "Love, compassion, pity," he answers. The marquis is irritated at the knight because in a fit of anger he stained his clothes. Sensing another rival, the marquis challenges him to a duel but then backs off. For the same reason, the count challenges the knight to a duel. For this purpose, the count takes out with difficulty the marquis's sword from the scabbard and is surprised to find only a half-sized one. He fights him with it nevertheless. The battle is interrupted by Mirandolina, who, to quiet down the rivals and to compromise her sense of liberty as little as possible, announces her upcoming marriage with Fabricio. Accepting her decision, the count offers her money and the marquis his protection, but the knight leaves angrily. He declares concerning all women in general: "I have learned at my expense that it is not enough to be contemptuous of them, but that one must flee."

"The boors"[edit]

"The boors". Time: 1760s. Place: Venice, Italy.

"The boors" text at ?

Lucietta is up in arms at the rude behaviors of men. Played in 1969 by Maria Grazia Spina (1936-?)

Margarita and her stepdaughter Lucietta do not often go out to amuse themselves because Margarita's husband, the grouchy Lunardo, does not want then to. Although he sometimes invites friends to his house, these are just such boors as he is. Lunardo announces to his wife that he has found a husband for his daughter: Filippetto, son to his boorish friend, Maurizio. Since his father is unlikely to allow him even to see his intended before marriage, Filippetto asks for help from his aunt, Marina. Before they can get a chance to plot together, her husband, Simone, interrupts them, conducting himself very boorishly towards Filippetto, because he does not like to see anyone in his house. Marina's friend, Felice, arrives with her husband Canciano, though a boor like the others, a more timid one, especially submissive towards his wife. Felice is astonished at Maurizio's attitude and promises to help the couple at least see each other. Before a party in his house, Lunardo complains about Margarita's and Lucietta's clothes, too frivolous and gaudy to his taste. He insists that they change. Although Lucietta submits, Margarita resists. "I would rather die than do you that pleasure," she says irritably. After the women leave, Lunardo and Simone amuse themselves by complaining about their wives. When Lucietta learns of the marriage being prepared, she is overjoyed. Felice introduces the masked Filippetto secretly inside the house. He and Lucietta confer and are pleased with each other. A worried Maurizio arrives to say he cannot find his son anywhere. After hearing his father's voice, Filippetto comes out of hiding, which so angers Lunardo that he disallows the marriage contract. Felice intervenes favorably, finding the right words to calm down all the boors so that the two lovers may marry.

"Zobeide" and "The green bird" by Carlo Gozzi explore the realms of the fantastic with highly imaginative wit. Drawing by an unknown artist


"Zobeide". Time: 1760s. Place: The imaginary kingdom of Samandal.

"Zobeide" text at ?

Zobeide is puzzled as to why on the 40th day of her marriage with Sinadab, Moorish king of Samanbal, everyone is grieving for her. Regretting having captured her, the priest, Abdalac, reveals she is condemned to be transformed into a heifer pursued by bulls, or else into another type of animal, as occurred to many of the king's spouses on that very day. The king has also captured Zobeide's sister and her brother's intended, Salea and Dilara, respectively, for the same purpose. Knowing this, Zobeide's father, Beder, king of Ormuz, her brother, Schemsedin, and Masoud, Salea's intended, have raised an army to free the women from the necromancer's "infamous purposes". The priest instructs her not to eat and drink this day and the next. To her amazement, he gives speech to a lion and a tiger, transformed servants of her family meant to guard the prisoners. He also gives her a key to a cave where lie Salea and Dilara. Full of doubts and fears, Zobeide reveals to her husband Abdalac's suspicions and how he transformed a lion and a tiger into men. Sinadab answers she must not listen to his lies, and asks her to convince her father not to attack him. Thanks to the key, Zobeide is able to enter the cave, where she discovers a decapitated woman holding her head by the hair, who announces there are hundreds of women here resisting the advances of the king. She then finds Dilara, amazed to meet her "in the hell of the living", who cannot hope to be her brother's intended anymore, her body being transformed into an animal's. She also finds Salea, whose breast is devoured by a serpent. "Shame chokes me," says Zebeda on seeing this. Suddenly, Abdalac appears. He recommends her to follow her husband's advice, in particular to speak with her father to prevent the war. He also advises her to pretend loving Sinadab. She agrees to this. On arriving, Beder is angry at his daughter for being such as bad wife. She is then scolded by Sinadab for lacking proper respect when answering her father's admonitions. To spare their subjects' blood, Sinadab proposes a meeting with Beder alone in the woods outside the city. Meanwhile, quarrels break out in the Ormuz army, notably between Schemsedin and Masoud, who fight with swords till separated by Beder. Disguised as Abdalac, Sinadab induces Schemsedin and Masoud to follow their king in secret. Beder's and Schemsedin's shapes are then transformed into Sinadab's, so that father and son attack each other, each thinking they are attacking Sinadab, whereby the son kills the father. On seeing his mistake, Schemsedin despairs and is at the point of stabbing himself, but is prevented to do so by Masoud. Back at his palace, Sinadab gives Zobeide some cakes to transform her into a heifer, but she substitutes them for Abdelac's and proposes to her husband pieces of them. On eating Abdelac's cake, he is transformed into a horrible monster. Masoud arrives to kill him, but Schemsedin proposes he be exposed to the populace and then burned to death. Thanks to their intervention, the imprisoned women are set free.

"The green bird"[edit]

"The green bird". Time: 1760s. Place: The imaginary kingdom of Monterotondo.

"The green bird" text at ?

To Smeraldina's grief, Truffaldino has enough of taking care of their two adopted children, Renzo and Barbarina, and orders them out of the house. Armed with philosophy, the young man and woman feel no sorrow at leaving their home. Barbarina tells Smeraldina that her parental generosity is in fact a form of egotism, because goodness rewards itself. Smeraldina dismisses that notion but promises to give her money if she can. Barbarina and Renzo encounter great difficulties in finding food and shelter until Calmon, a living statue, advises them to throw a stone in front of the royal palace. He reveals that their origin is known by a green bird, which, unknown to the king, serves food inside the tomb to his supposedly dead wife, Ninetta. In the royal palace, King Tartaglia is angry at his mother, Tartaglione, for burying alive Ninetta and killing his two babies. He sarcastically proposes to give back her maternal milk with the next passing of a milkmaid. When Barbarina throws the stone, a new palace magically springs up in front of the king's. Now that her adopted children are richly installed, Smeraldina returns to them, reluctantly taken in by Barbarina. In dire straits with his wife away, Truffaldino eventually shows up as well, husband and wife both willing to act as their adopted children's servants. When Tartaglione looks across to the opposite palace with his binoculars, he notices Barbarina and begins to lust after her, not knowing it she is his daughter. Tartaglione taunts Barbarina by saying that though she is beautiful she would be even more so had she magical objects at her disposal, such as a singing apple and water that dances. Before leaving in quest of those, Renzo gives his sister an enchanted knife which shines as long as he remains alive. Renzo discovers the singing apple and the water that dances, but because he has not strictly followed Calmon's injuctions he is transformed into a statue, as does Truffaldino. The knife, to Barbarina's grief, turns red. To free her brother, she follows Calmon's order of reading a talisman, a magic text free of "vain folly and vain reason". This frees the green bird as well as Renzo, Truffaldino, and Ninetta, the latter being happily restored to her husband's embraces.

Vittorio Alfieri wrote a tragedy of a woman with an incestuous love for her father. Portrait by François-Xavier Fabre, 1793


"Myrrha". Time: Antiquity. Place: Cyprus.

"Myrrha" text at http://www.onread.com/book/The-tragedies-of-Vittorio-Alfieri-complete-including-his-posthumous-works-Tr-from-the-Italian-Edited-by-Edgar-Alfred-Bowring-2-1408392/

Cenchreis is afflicted at seeing her daughter, Myrrha, unhappy for no apparent reason. "Bit by bit, I feel my heart tear at this sight," she says. Myrrha has repulsed many appealing suitors and, though finally choosing one, Pereus, prince of Epirus, she still appears melancholy. Her father, Cinyras, is also puzzled: "If in her breast she keeps another love, why did she among them all choose Pereus?" When Cinyras asks Pereus whether she appears to love him, he answers: "To love me in return perhaps Myrrha is willing, but she seems unable to." Myrrha enters with a bridal crown, but looking so sad that Pereus agrees to let go and return to his country. She protests: "I tell you and I swear I would not be another's except you." But to her nurse she admits: "To die, to die, I wish for no other, and I deserve nothing other than death." There is no parental constraint to this marriage, she wants to marry, but with such a melancholy face that her parents are aggrieved. As they prepare for the ceremony, Myrrha appears at first serene, but yet admitting for a long time now: "Each meager and rare piece of food is my poison," seh admits. To her parents' surprise, she intends to marry and follow immediately her husband the next day to Epire, seeing him as her "sole and true liberator". But before the ceremony, she breaks down, so that Pereus is unable to go on and leaves. Only one person appears able to end her torments: her father. She feels "unworthy to be his daughter." When her mother attempts to console her, Myrrha rejects her: "You, the sempiternal and baneful reason of all my miseries!" To add to her parents' woes, Pereus commits suicide, so that Cinyras worries on whether his father will declare war on his realm. He now insists on knowing the exact cause of Myrrha's torments, certain that another love is responsible. "In you the furies are the daughter of love," he says to her. She at first denies it but then is forced to confess: "I love desperately and in vain." To console her, he asks her to come to his arms, but she refuses. Angrily, he will henceforth forbear her company. She cries out in despair that at least her mother will die near him, to which Cinyras, stunned, cries out: "O, that terrible flash shoots forth from your words." He backs away from her. Myrrha lunges to take away his sword. While he looks on in disbelief, stunned and unmoving, she stabs herself. Petrified, unwilling to help his daughter, he turns towards his uncomprehending wife and reveals: "With an infamous, a horrible love, she burns for Cinyras."