Carlo Goldoni, was an 18th century Italian playwright and librettist from the Republic of Venice. Renovating the well-established Italian “commedia dell’art” dramatic form, he is considered the founder of Italian realistic comedy. His output includes some of Italy’s most famous and best-loved plays.

Goldoni’s plays were admired for their ingenious mix of wit and honesty, that offered his contemporaries, images of themselves; often dramatizing the lives, values and conflicts of the emerging middle classes (bourgeoisie). Though he wrote in French and Italian, his plays make rich use of the Venetian language, regional vernacular, and colloquialisms.

Despite many challenges, Goldoni persisted in his mission to elevate Italian theatre. His legacy lies in bridging tradition and innovation, leaving an enduring impact on the art form.

Today, you can visit the “Casa di Carlo Goldoni” (originally Ca’ Centanni), his family’s Gothic period house in Venice; which is now a museum to his life and works and part of the Venetian MUSE group. 

“Teatro Goldoni”, (originally the Theatre at San Luca owned by the Vendramin family), close to the Rialto bridge, still operates today as one of Venice’s leading theatre/opera houses; offering an international repertoire, alongside “La Fenice” and “Malibran” theatres. 

Please read in conjunction with my other theatre-related posts, linked below at bottom of page.

Biography. Earlier Life – The World of Theatre – Theatre at San Luca (now Teatro Goldoni) – Paris and the Théâtre-Italien – Retirement and Death – Theatrical output

Summary of the Impact on Italian theatre during the 18th century – Summary of Opposition to his reforms

Links (internal-external)


Carlo Goldoni –  Marcus Pitteri –  probably 1740s (b. Feb. 25, 1707. Venice. – d. Feb. 6, 1793. Paris.)


 

Carlo Goldoni – Biography

     “ because my life itself is a comedy.” – “Mémoires” by Carlo Goldoni.

In the prologue of his “Mémoires”, the eighty year-old Carlo Goldoni, by then in Paris for twenty-five years; recalled his home of birth at Ca’ Centani, (Centanni), today better known as “Casa di Carlo Goldoni”.

Earlier life. Carlo was born on the 27th February 1707, at Ca’ Centan(n)i, the son of Giulio Goldoni, a physician and his mother, Margherita Salvioni. This large and beautiful house, built in the 15th century, is situated between the Nomboli and Donna Onesta bridges, on the corner of Calle di Ca’ Centanni, in the parish of San Tomà. A typical Gothic palace, despite several significant renovations; it still presents the layout and typical elements of civil Venetian architecture, between the end of the 14th and the early 15th century,

A precocious child, he was expected him to follow in his father’s footsteps. However, even at an early age, he expressed his passion for the theatre, by reading comedies from his father’s library and playing intently with toy puppet theatres. Just turned eight, he composed his first theatrical plot.

In 1721, he ran away from school in Rimini for a few days, joining a company of strolling players. Back in school at the papal college in Pavia, Goldoni read comedies by Plautus, Terence, and Aristophanes. Later he studied French, in order to read Molière. For writing a satire on the ladies of the town, Goldoni was expelled from the Ghislieri College in Pavia and he reluctantly began law studies at the University of Pavia. Although he practiced law in Venice (1731–33) and Pisa (1744–48) and held diplomatic appointments, his real interest was the dramatic works he wrote for the Teatro San Samuele in Venice. His thoughts and his time were always focused towards the satisfaction of his yearning for the theatre. He avidly read Italian and foreign playwrights, composing pieces in various genres (librettos for musical operas, tragicomedies, dramas, tragedies, satires and poetry). Finally. he gave up his profession and moved back to Venice, to be amongst the theatrical set.


Above: Palazzo Centani (or Centanni,) better known as “Casa di Carlo Goldoni”, has a 15th-century Venetian Gothic architecture, with the facade of three levels and with typical elements of Venetian architecture between the end of the 14th and the early 15th century. It overlooks the Rio de San Tomà; shortly before it flows into the Grand Canal and is near to the Ponte dei Nomboli and the Campo San Toma.

The wide and well-proportioned palace brick facade curves, in order to follow the bend of the narrow canal it overlooks. The dominant element is the lovely quadruple-mullioned window, with its slender columns and inflected arches; corresponding with the main, or noble floor.

Above: The ground floor, has typical terracotta flooring and is composed of a porticoed hall towards the water-gate and by a small courtyard with a well. You can study the “Topographical map of Venice” by Ludovico Ughi (1729) and the places where Goldoni lived in the city. A beautiful fifteenth-century stone exterior staircase, is supported upon progressively enlarging pointed arches; with a handrail in Istrian stone and simple small cylindrical columns, a small lion and a pine-cone. It leads up into the largest room or “portego“; onto which the other rooms of the house open. The library is located on the third floor. Owned by the Rizzi family, the well inside the courtyard features a hedgehog carved in relief on the family arms). The palace was rented to the Zentani or Centani family; from whom its future name stemmed and also hosted a thriving artistic and literary Academy. Around the end of the 17th century, Carlo Goldoni’s paternal grandfather, Carlo Alessandro, a solicitor with origins in Modena, established himself here. The Goldoni family remained in this house, where Carlo was born on 25 February 1707.


 

The World of Theatre. Carlo Goldoni entered into direct contact with the theatre world, knowing impresarios, authors, actors and lovers, handmaids, masks makers and organisers.

From 1734 to 1743, he was at the Grimanis’ service at the Theatre of San Samuele.

(Note. Teatro San Samuele was an opera house and theatre located at the Rio del Duca, between Campo San Samuele and Campo Santo Stefano, in Venice. One of several important theatres built in that city by the Grimani family, the theatre opened in 1656 and operated continuously until a fire destroyed the theatre in 1747. A new structure was built and opened in 1748, but financial difficulties forced the theatre to close and be sold in 1770. The theatre remained active until 1807 when it was shut down by Napoleonic decree. It reopened in 1815 and was later acquired by impresario Giuseppe Camploy in 1819. In 1853 the theatre was renamed the Teatro Camploy. Upon Camploy’s death in 1889, the theatre was bequeathed to the City of Verona. The Venice City Council in turn bought the theatre and demolished it in 1894. Another famous theatre built by the Grimani brothers in 1677, was first known as the theatre of S. Giovanni Grisostomo; but is now known as the “Malibran Theatre”.) 

Around 1747/8, Goldoni agreed to write for the Teatro Sant’Angelo company of the Venetian actor-manager Girolamo Medebac. Although Goldoni’s early plays veer between the old style and the new, he dispensed with masked characters altogether in such plays as “La Pamela” (performed 1750); a serious drama based on a Samuel Richardson’s novel. This point marked the beginning of his intention to elevate Italian theatre. Texts for his comedies were entirely committed to paper; featuring a well-crafted plot, character development and all the various roles defined and assigned. Modern theatre was born!

In the 1750-51 season, Goldoni promised defecting patrons to other theatres; sixteen new comedies. In a sort of reckless challenge, he composed these new plays in a single season; albeit at the cost to himself of severe depression. Goldoni somehow succeeded in this huge task and among the new plays were also some masterpieces like “La bottega del caffè” (The Coffee Shop), “La famiglia dell’antiquario” (The Antiquarian’s Family) and “Il Bugiardo” (The Liar).

(Note. The Teatro San Angelo was the last of the major Venetian theatres to be built in the 1650s–60s opera craze. It was located in the Campo San[t’] Angelo, facing the Grand Canal, with a view down to the Rialto Bridge; on the sites of two demolished palazzi belonging to the Marcello and Capello families. The project was completed in 1676 by Francesco Santorini and opened in 1677, under the two families control. It presented operas by such names as Freschi, Gasparini, Albinoni and Bononcini and from around 1715 onwards, the house was best known as the venue of many of the Antonio Vivaldi’s operas and later of Galuppi, By the end of the 18th century, the theatre was in terminal decline and was closed in 1803; being converted into a warehouse. It was then demolished and rebuilt as the Barocci Palazzo, today the four star Hotel NH Collection Palazzo Barocci.

Theatre at San Luca (now Teatro Goldoni). From 1753 to 1762, he moved over to the Theatre at San Luca (now Teatro Goldoni); owned by Francesco Vendramin. Up to then, the topic in his plays was almost exclusively the world of the bourgeoisie, that new and increasingly characterised social class which increasingly supplanted the old traditional aristocracy due to its dynamism, business acumen, cultural feelings, gusto for the modern.

Over this period fundamental plays followed, such as “Il Campiello” (The Little Square), “La Locandiera” (The Mistress of the Inn), “I Rusteghi” (The Boors), “Sior Todero Brontolon” (Grumpy Mr. Todero) and “Le baruffe chiozzotte” (The Chioggia Scuffles).

Goldoni was engaged in rivalry with the playwright Pietro Chiari, whom he satirized in “I malcontenti” (performed 1755; “The Malcontent”), He was assailed by Carlo Gozzi, an adherent of the “commedia dell’arte”, who denounced Goldoni in a satirical poem (1757), then ridiculed both Goldoni and Chiari in a commedia dell’arte classic,” L’amore delle tre melarance” (performed 1761; “The Love of the Three Oranges”).

Paris and the Théâtre-Italien, Before leaving for Paris to work with the Théâtre-Italien, he wrote a sort of heart-rending farewell to his city – “Una delle ultime sere di carnevale” (One of the Last Carnival Evenings). The move was probably motivated by the fact that Italian audiences had begun to prefer the plays of rival playwright Gozzi, together with some frustration with the Vendramins. Goldoni reached the city in November 1762 and experienced his final season of activity and success; living between Paris and Versailles.

Retirement and Death. Goldoni retired in 1764, to teach Italian to the princesses of Louis XV at Versailles. In 1783, he began his celebrated Mémoires in French (1787; Eng. trans., 1814, 1926). It was an ironical and amusing autobiography, in a detached and cultured spirit. After the French Revolution his pension was cancelled and he died in dire poverty.

Theatrical output, includes five tragedies, sixteen tragicomedies, one hundred and thirty-seven comedies, to which must be added, in the service of music, two sacred pieces, twenty entr’actes, thirteen dramas, forty-nine drammi giocosi, three farces and fifty-seven scenarios. (Note. Wikipedia, has an useful, but incomplete list of his works, linked below.)


 

1. Summary of the Impact on Italian theatre during the 18th century: 

Modernization of Commedia dell’arte:

  • Goldoni is renowned for reforming and revitalizing the traditional Italian theatre form known as Commedia dell’arte. He sought to move away from the stock characters and improvisational style of Commedia and introduced more structured, scripted plays.
  • His work “Servant of Two Masters” (Il servitore di due padroni) exemplifies this transition. It combines elements of Commedia with a well-crafted plot and character development.

Realistic Portrayal of Middle-Class Life:

  • Goldoni’s plays often depicted the lives, struggles, and aspirations of the emerging middle classes. He captured the nuances of their daily existence, their social interactions, and their desires.
  • By doing so, he shifted the focus from aristocratic themes to relatable, everyday scenarios.

Use of Vernacular and Regional Language:

  • Goldoni incorporated the Venetian dialect and regional vernacular into his plays. This choice resonated with audiences, as it reflected their own language and culture.
  • His characters spoke in a way that felt authentic and relatable, further connecting the theatre to the people.

Character Development and Psychological Realism:

  • Unlike the static characters of Commedia, Goldoni’s characters underwent development and transformation throughout his plays.
  • He delved into their motivations, emotions, and inner conflicts, introducing a level of psychological realism previously unseen in Italian theatre.

Shift from Masked Comedy to Character-Driven Drama:

  • Goldoni’s departure from the exaggerated masks and physical comedy of Commedia allowed for a deeper exploration of human nature.
  • His plays emphasized individual personalities, relationships, and social dynamics.

Legacy and Influence:

  • Goldoni’s impact extended beyond his lifetime. His works inspired subsequent playwrights and contributed to the development of modern European theatre.
  • His legacy lies in bridging the gap between traditional forms and the emerging realism of the Enlightenment era.

In summary, Carlo Goldoni’s contributions transformed Italian theatre by introducing realism, relatability, and character-driven narratives, leaving an indelible mark on the theatrical landscape of his time and beyond.

2. Summary of Opposition to his reforms:

During the 18th century. Some of the challenges he faced were:

Traditionalists and Commedia dell’arte Purists:

  • Goldoni’s departure from the traditional Commedia dell’arte style was met with resistance from those who revered the masked characters, improvisation, and physical comedy.
  • Some traditionalists believed that his structured plays lacked the spontaneity and charm of the old form.

Critics and Satirists:

  • As Goldoni aimed for realism and social commentary, he became a target for satirical attacks.
  • Critics accused him of abandoning the beloved archetypal characters and undermining the essence of Italian theatre.

Conflict with Actor Troupes:

  • The established Commedia dell’arte troupes, with their fixed roles and routines, resisted Goldoni’s changes.
  • Actors who had perfected their masked characters felt threatened by the shift toward scripted performances.

Language Controversy:

  • Goldoni’s use of the Venetian dialect and regional language sparked debates.
  • Some argued that theatre should adhere to a more standardized Italian, while Goldoni championed the authenticity of local speech.

Audience Preferences:

  • Not everyone embraced Goldoni’s realistic portrayals of middle-class life.
  • Some longed for the escapism and exaggerated humour of Commedia, finding his plays less entertaining.

Financial Struggles:

  • Goldoni faced financial difficulties due to the changing theatrical landscape.
  • His commitment to reform sometimes led to financial losses, especially when audiences were slow to embrace his new style.

In summary, despite many challenges, Goldoni persisted in his mission to elevate Italian theatre. His legacy lies in bridging tradition and innovation, leaving an enduring impact on the art form.

 


 

Links (internalexternal)

Casa di Carlo Goldoni – via San Polo, 2794 VENEZIA (VE) ITALY

Services: Information desk – Toilets/ Disabled Toilets – Bookshop – Elevator/ Elevator for disabled people

Phone:  +39 041 2759325

Official Website of Casa di Carlo Goldoni 

Pdf Booklet download in English to visit the Museum

Museum: Building and history – Carlo Goldoni 

Layout and collections: The Salon First floor – Room 1 First floor – Room 2 First floor – Room 3

Research services: Theatre Studies –  Library – Photographic Archive of the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia

Multimedia: Downloads Video

 

Read in conjunction with my other theatre-related posts:

15 – Casa di Carlo Goldoni

“Teatro La Fenice”

“The Malibran Theatre”

“Carlo Gozzi”

“San Polo District and Main Attractions “


 

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