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CARLO GOLDONI (1707-1793)

This article was originally published in European Theories of the Drama. Barrett H. Clark. Cincinnati: Stewart & Kidd Company, 1918.

CARLO GOLDONI was born at Venice in 1707. From his earliest years he appears to have been interested in the theater: his toys were puppets and his books, plays. It is said that at the age of eight he attempted to write a play. The boy's father placed him under the care of the philosopher Caldini at Rimini but the youth soon ran away with a company of strolling players and came to Venice. There he began to study law; he continued his studies at Pavia, though he relates in his Memoirs that a considerable part of his time was spent in reading Greek and Latin comedies. He had already begun writing at this time, and, as a result of a libel in which he ridiculed certain families of Pavia, he was forced to leave the city. He continued his law studies at Udine, and eventually took his degree at Modena. He was employed as law clerk at Chioggia and Feltre, after which he returned to his native city and began practicing. But his true vocation was the theater, and he made his bow with a tragedy, Amalasunta, produced at Milan, but this was a failure. His next play, Belisario, written in 1734, succeeded. He wrote other tragedies for a time, but he was not long in discovering that his bent was for comedy. He had come to realize that the Italian stage needed reforming, and adopting Molière as his model, he went to work in earnest, and in 1738 produced his first real comedy, L'Umo di mondo. During his many wanderings and adventures in Italy, he was constantly at work, and when, at Leghorn, he became acquainted with the manager Medebac, he determined to pursue the profession of playwriting in order to make a living. He was employed by Medebac to write plays for his theater in Venice. He worked for other managers, and produced during his stay in that city some of his most characteristic works. In 1761 he went to Paris, where he continued to write. Among the plays which he wrote in French, the most successful was Le Bourru bienfaisant, produced on the occasion of the marriage of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette in 1771. He enjoyed considerable popularity in France, and when he retired to Versailles the King gave him a pension. But when the Revolution broke out, he was deprived of it. The day after his death, however, the Convention voted to restore the pension. He died in 1793.

Goldoni was the great reformer of Italian comedy. His importance, which consisted rather in giving good examples than precepts, lay in his having regularized the drama of his country, and freed it from the conventionality of the Commedia dell' Arte, or improvised comedy. He rightly maintained that Italian life and manners were susceptible of artistic treatment such as had not before been given them. Although Goldoni admired Molière and often tried to emulate if not imitate him, his plays are gentler and more optimistic in tone. He relates in considerable length in his Memoirs the state of Italian comedy when he began writing, and his works are a lasting monument to the changes which he brought about.