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From A Teacher of Dante and Other Studies in Italian Literature, by Nathan Haskell Dole, New York: Moffat, Yard & Company, 1908; pp. 243-298.

A Teacher of Dante and
Other Studies in Italian Literature
Nathan Haskell Dole.





BOCCACCIO and Petrarca almost immediately became the joint arbiters and emperors of Italian style. Any variation from their methods was a sort of treason. Every city and province in Italy had a dialect of its own but the Tuscan became the literary language par excellence. Dante stood a little too far aloof in thought to be generally imitated and so we find the novellieri of the sixteenth century imitating not only Boccaccio’s language but also his involved and complicated style and his methods of thought — his cumbrous circumlocutions and rhetorical flowers; while the poets in the same way copied Petrarca’s polished mannerisms, inditing sonnets to their mistress’s eyebrows and exhaling more sighs than would fill a balloon. While the Italians, and indeed the whole cultured world, may well regret that an age which produced such splendours of architecture and painting should have restricted itself to 244 Petrarchian conventionalities of verse, it is impossible not to feel even deeper regret that an art so noble as the drama should have found so little spontaneous expression for so many years, should have followed antiquated models and be dried up, as it were, in the hot press of the classic style.

The Italians have always regarded the classic Latin writers as their own particular glory. This is a simple explanation of the phenomenon that meets us all through the Middle Ages and down into the sixteenth century — that every great Italian laid more stress upon his works in Latin than those in the vernacular. The great Italian nobles and the princely prelates of the Church had plays performed at their palaces, but there was no call for original tragedies or comedies. Indeed, original dramas in the vernacular would have been frowned upon in those courts.

It is remarkable to read in the records of the different cities how many times the comedies of Terence and Plautus were performed. In this respect they may be said to be even more modern than many that were written fifteen hundred years later. And it is not strange that 245 just as Petrarca and Boccaccio stamped their characteristics on lyric poetry and the novella, so at the time of the Renascence, when there was such a revival of classical learning, Plautus and Terence should have become the models of the comic drama. And the Miracle play, or as it was called in Italy, la sacra rappresentazione, from which in other countries the national drama was logically derived, was kept so long undeveloped. In this respect the Renascence undoubtedly failed of its highest influence and effect.

At first the plays of la sacra rappresentazione, corresponding loosely to the English Miracle Plays and Moralities, were given in Latin and as this was the language of the Church, it gave a more solemn character to the action than would be gathered from the contents. For in Italy as elsewhere they were designed to afford the people pleasure and amusement as well as instruction: the comedy generally lay in the antics and final discomfiture of the devils and of the bad characters who fell into their clutches. The very name harlequin seems to be derived from a word signifying a little devil — hell-kin. When the Latin was replaced by the volgare 246 the jealousy of the Church authorities began to be aroused and the buffooneries and the irreverence caused by familiar treatment of Scripture themes were exiled from the churches. When this change took place it is difficult if not impossible to determine, but doubtless it varied in different parts of Italy: the orange tree bears blossoms and ripened fruit at the same time.

There are records of public festivals or ludi at Padua early in the thirteenth century, between 1208 and 1243 — and at Friuli about a hundred years later — 1298-1313; but it is not known whether they were in pantomimes or in dialogue or in a mixture of both. The natural tendency of the human mind explains the gradual introduction of popular contemporary characters into the sacra rappresentazioni, and most terrible or comical anachronisms resulted. The argot or slang of the people had an even more comic effect than usual when contrasted with the exaggerated solemnity of the Biblical characters or the Virtues personified. Strange as it may seem, a powerful impulse toward a popular drama in the language of the common people is found in that terrible manifestation of superstition which began in Perugia about 247 the middle of the thirteenth century and spread all over Europe. It has been treated by pictorial art in an enormous painting where the extravagances of the flagellants are shown in vivid colours. These hysterical companies of self-tormentors had their semi-dramatic and lyrical songs, called lauda dramatica, and from these Professor D’Ancona derives the so-called Maggio of the Italian peasantry.

Feo Balcari, Lorenzo, the Magnificent, Bernardo Pulci and his wife, Antonia, contributed to the sacra rappresentazione; great artists like Il Brunelleschi and Bernardo Buontalenti, took charge of the scenic effects, which were often magnificent. Florence especially excelled in these semi-sacred entertainments and the memory of those given in 1471 by Galeazzo Maria Duke of Milan, in 1494 by Charles VIII. and in 1566 by Joanna of Austria is preserved in contemporary chronicles.

The moral teaching early escaped when a corrupt, degenerate and luxurious class found more to interest them in sinners than in saints, when beauty ranked superior to virtue. But this was the transition step to genuine comedy.


The Italians had a certain natural artistic instinct. There was probably never played at Florence or Venice a miracle play like that acted at Bourges which occupied forty days and had several hundred actors. The Italian trionfi rarely exceeded one or two days; but astrologers, heretical savants, physician, courtiers, merchants, counsellors, tavern-keepers, robbers, soldiers, servants, peasants — indeed all the types of the people — exaggerated and rendered as comical as possible by personal defects, such as humpbacks and lamenesses — were introduced for the same purpose — to raise a laugh.

So it was only a step from this sacra rappresentazione to a genuinely national comedy. The revival of classical learning postponed that step for centuries. The miracle play, shorn of its worldly adornment, became a monk and retired from the popular stage into the halls of monasteries, where it dragged out a miserable existence. A relic of it survived in the pantomime and the exhibitions of Punch and Judy. Even to this day the Italian puppet-shows take on an importance which is to be met with nowhere else. The courts of the great Italian princes adopted as a sort of fad the comedies 249 of the ancient Latins and from this arose the so-called commedia erudita. What might not such a genius as Boccaccio have done with all his sense of humour had the spirit of his age turned him to the stage instead of the boudoir! But it was largely Boccaccio himself who brought about the study and worship of classical models.

The direct influence of Plautus and Terence is thought to be first discoverable by some in the “Cassaria” and “I Suppositi” of Ariosto, by others in the “Amicizia” of Jacopo Nardi, by still others in the “Cassandra” of Cardinal Bibbiena. It is probably impossible to determine very definitely; possibly the lost comedy of Petrarca — the “Philogia” — may have been inspired by the same models. There is nothing more difficult than to award priority, especially when several claim it and the new invention is in the very air.

In Ariosto’s “Cassaria,” which is still read as a curiosity, if not for pleasure, there are eighteen characters and all but four are representatives of the common people — servants, ruffians, and two women. It is in fact a sort of anticipation of “La Dame aux Camélias.” The action has some life and the intrigues are developed with some 250 artistic cleverness. Ariosto’s masterpiece is “I Suppositi,” which was translated into English by George Gascogne under the title “The Supposes” and acted at Gray’s Inn thirty-three years after Ariosto’s death in 1566 — the first English prose drama.

A young man of noble birth desiring to make his way into his lady-love’s house assumes the dress of his servant; the servant passes himself off as the padrone and a fictitious father pretends to arrange for a marriage. Unfortunately the real father arrives upon the scene and the protests and counterclaims afford much amusement. But at last all ends happily with marriage and the recognition of a long lost son. Here though the plot is not new there is some attempt to draw the characters from real life: powers of observation are expended to some purpose: the sentimental young man, the faithful servant, the parasite, that relic of Greek days, the lusty old doctor, the good father and the enamoured maiden.

Few towns in Italy at that day had theatres, but Pope Leo X. is said to have built one on the capitol at Rome capable of holding ten thousand people and such an audience saw “I Suppositi” in 1513. The Pope sat at the entrance to the 251 gallery leading into the theatre and gave his benediction to those whom he thought worthy of listening to the polished obscenities of the play. Rafael painted the scenery. The ambassadors of foreign countries were scandalised at seeing the Pope seated eye-glass in hand listening and laughing at the equivocal jests.

Ariosto, called the Divine, the popular poet of the Orlando, wrote several other comedies and left one unfinished — the “Scholastica,” the scene of which is laid in his own home-town, Ferrara. The heroes, Claudio and Eurialo are young law-students who are in love and are anxious to conceal that fact from their respective sires. Eurialo’s innamorata, at the end proves to be his father’s lost ward: so his objection vanishes and with good reason: through the father’s broken faith the girl had been reduced to poverty and servitude and the son’s disobedience is a suitable punishment. This sounds like a variation of one of the comedies of Terence. But here the characters are admirably original and admirably contrasted: the best is Bonifazio the lodging-house-keeper who declares that he likes to help the young student, is willing to tell a dozen lies to keep the lady on 252 good terms with his father, “for verily to help a poor lover doth not appear to me a servile task but rather the duty of a gentle spirit.” Nothing gives a better idea of the need of the Reformation than the satiric element of this play: as for example in the scene between the conscience-burdened father, Bartolo, and the friar who tells him that his sin can be commuted for some pious work; there is no duty or law in the world so powerful, he says, that it cannot be relaxed with alms.

Unfortunately for the dramatic art the corruption that reigned throughout Italy like a growth of poisonous weeds in a tropical jungle made itself especially felt in the domain of comedy. No situation was too gross, no dialogue too unseemly for the taste of the aristocracy boasting itself guilty of all the cardinal sins. Almost the first of these comedies of mingled gold and ordure is attributed to a cardinal of the Apostolic Church.

Barnardo Dovizio  — who had vice in his very name — was born at Bibbiena in 1470. He received the scarlet baretta of cardinal in 1513 from his master Giovanni de’ Medici. The “Calandria” was first performed about five years before he became cardinal and its immediate 253 success was attributed to its ingenious union of the humour of Boccaccio with the plot of Plautus: in other words he adapted Boccaccio to the classic stage. The title is derived from the character Calandro, a simpleton, as the name implies. It is a frank variation of the “Menaechmi.” The “Menaechmi” itself was given in Ferrara in 1486 at a cost of 1,000 ducats; two years later it was performed at Florence by the pupils of Paolo Comparini, who wrote a prologue to it, and again, in 1502, on the occasion of Lucrezia Borgia’s espousal to the Duke of Ferrara. The prose prologue, while confessing the plagiarism, defends it. “If any one should say the author is a great robber of Plautus, let us assert on the other hand that Plautus deserves being robbed, for being such a blockhead [moccicone] as to leave his things unlocked and unguarded in the world.

Plautus, as we well know, was equally unscrupulous in despoiling the Greek Menander, and we do not think the less of Shakespeare because he despoiled the unknown author of the “Comedy of Errors,” which is based upon the same original.

Cardinal Bibbiena at least gave new names 254 to old types, and the contrast between the astute Fessenio and the numbskull Calandro is extremely comical, especially where Calandro is persuaded to get into the coffer and when afterward the shirri — the constables — shut up the coffer and Calandro perceives that they are going to fling him into the river. The comic element furnished by Lido and Santilla, the twins so alike that the servant cannot tell which is the real lover of her mistress, is of course familiar to us both on the stage and also, we might say, in real life. This play was performed with great splendour of scenery and costume at Urbino: with masques, morris-dances, and conceits of stringed instruments. Leo X. in 1514, produced it on his private stage at the Vatican to entertain the marchioness Isabella of Mantua.

The name of Machiavelli is better known in politics than in literature, and owing to his advocacy of unscrupulous methods has assumed a sinister meaning. As Voltaire put it, a man who would ruin a neighbour lest he himself should be ruined and assassinate a friend lest the friend should grow strong enough to kill him would be said to be carried away by the grand principles of Machiavellianism.


But Machiavelli exerted a great influence as a playwright. Four comedies are attributed to him. Two of these are regarded as doubtful, the other two are the “Clizia,” which is partially imitated from the “Casina” of Plautus and the “Mandragora” or “Mandragola,” “Mandrake,’ so called from the drug, mandrake, which plays such an important function in the play. Both of them were written in the full maturity of Machiavelli’s powers but after he had fallen from his high estate. They are the work of a disappointed man and if they stood alone it might be reasonably conjectured that they misrepresented the condition of the society which they depict and satirise. But the fact remains that the horrible pictures of depravity which these plays present and which render it impossible to analyse them are only an echo of a state of morals constantly growing more and more corrupt and rotten.

The courts of the princes and of the Popes being utterly demoralised, the clergy contaminated with the worst vices, family life vitiated by the influence of the nobles and the priests, naturally enough the stream could not go above its source: there was no general public 256 to demand great things of those that purveyed their amusement. Consequently we find these horribly immoral plays of Bibbiena and Machiavelli, sparkling as they are with the keenest wit, constructed with abundant skill, presenting wonderfully vivid types of a society now no more (we should hope!) and echoed for a century literally by thousands, built on the same models, illustrating countless phases of real life, furnishing the playwrights of France and English with multitudes of brilliant scenes, borrowed and stolen and now buried and mostly forgotten.

Nothing in the world is sadder than to contemplate a civilisation, brilliant and capable of splendid works of art going to decay. Italy dismembered, robbed of the heritage of its freedom, crushed by the Inquisition, lay like a goddess blinded and flung upon a filthy dungheap. Even when the road seemed open to great things there was no leader to bring the art to triumph.

Had Aretino possessed the genius he might possibly have entirely freed the Italian stage from the so-called Latinising tendencies. He took bold steps in this direction. The traditions of the classic drama forbade more than 257 a certain number of characters on the stage at the same time, nor allowed the same person to enter more than certain number of times in one piece.”* He says in his prologue to “La Cortigiana,” “If you behold the personages come upon the scene more than five times, do not laugh;” and in still another prologue, that to “Orazia,” he refuses to copy the style of Petrarca and Boccaccio — not through ignorance, he says, because he knows what they are. “I laugh at the pedants,” he adds, “who conceive that learning consists in the Greek language, placing all their repute in the bus and the bas of the grammar.” If he had been a Shakespeare or even a Machiavelli he might have taken the Italian farsi, and lifted it to the level of a national drama.

Gianmaria Cecchi, the most prolific of the writers of the sixteenth century says in his prologue to his “Romanesca” that the farsi stands between tragedy and comedy, enjoying the liberties of both and shunning their limitations, for it receives into its ample boundaries great 258 lords and princes, which comedy does not, and, like a hospital or inn, welcomes the vilest and the most plebeian of the people to whom Dame Tragedy has never deigned to stoop. It accepts all subjects — grave and gay, profane and sacred, urbane and rude, sad and pleasant. The scene may be laid in a church or a public square, where you please; and if one day is not long enough, two or three may be employed. This modern mistress of the stage is the most amusing, the most appropriate, the sweetest, prettiest country lass — foresozza — to be found on earth.

It will be noticed that he calls the farsa the modern mistress of the stage. If modern she had a long ancestry and if not so distinguished as that of the commedia erudita, it probably went even farther back, into the most ancient times. For, as one must constantly remember, the Latin stage as represented by Seneca, Plautus and Terence, was only a variation of the Greek originals, while the genuine Latin plays of native origin, whether tragic or historic or comic, were largely improvisations and therefore perished utterly. Only their spirit remained and informed the sacra rappresentazione.


Cecchi did away with the unities and the old traditions that a comedy must be in five acts; he freely introduced the dialect speech of the common people and both in his dialogue and in his rapidity of composition he seems to have been very much like Goldoni. He declared in the prologue to “Le Maschere” that he never spent more than ten days on any one of his comedies.

Unfortunately for Italy there was no demand for the elaboration of the farsa and so she had to wait for two hundred years before she was emancipated from the tyranny of the unities. Symonds says: “Society was in dissolution and men lived for the moment careless of consequences. The immorality of the theatre was at once a sign and a source of this corruption.

“Oh times! Oh manners!” exclaims Lelius Giraldus, “the obscenities of the stage return in all their foulness. Plays are acted in every city which the common consent of Christendom had banned because of their depravity. Now the very prelates of the Faith, our nobles, our princes, bring them back again among us and cause them to be publicly presented. Nay, priests themselves are eagerly ambitious of the infamous title of actors, in order to bring themselves 260 into notoriety and to enrich themselves with benefices.”

One more paragraph from Symonds is apropos: “It must not be supposed that the immorality of the comic stage consists in the licence of language, incident or plot. Had this been all, we should hardly be justified in drawing a distinction between the Italians of the Renascence and our own Elizabethan playwrights. It lies far deeper — in the vicious philosophy of life, paraded by the authors in the absence of any didactic or satirical aim. Molière, while exposing evil, teaches by example. A canon of goodness is implied, from which the deformity of sin and folly are deflections. But Machiavelli and Aretino paint humanity as simply bad. The palm of success is awarded to unscrupulous villainy. An incapacity for understanding the immutable power of moral beauty was the main disease of Italy. If we seek the cause of this internal cancer, we must trace the history of Italian thought and feeling back to the age of Boccaccio; and we shall probably form an opinion that misdirected humanism blinded with the impieties of a secularised papacy, the self-indulgence of the 261 despots and the coarse tastes of the bourgeoisie had sapped the conscience of society.”

I ought to mention with a word the comedies of Anton Francesco Grazzini. He was generally called Il Lasca, the roach, referring to the fish of the Cyprinidæ or carp family, which has enriched the language with the saying “sound as a roach.” He was born in Florence in 1503 and had a varied career as a druggist, philosopher astronomer, philologist, novelliero, improvvisatore, humourist and playwright. He belonged to the Academies of Gli Umidi and la Crusca but quarreled with them both. He died at the age of eighty. He detested pedants, priests, Petrarchisti and Boccaccevoli and was always ready to turn anything and everything into ridicule. He had little invention, but the Florentines of his day were pleased with practical jokes, and so his novels and comedies alike turn on beffe and burle. He himself calls them — “Comedies cheap, small, and here and there filled out with plagiarisms [Commedie stiracchiate, grette e rubacchiate quà e là] — and worse than all mixing together the old and the new, the ancient and the modern and making un guazzabuglio — a hodgepodge — and medley that has no method or turn or head or tail.”


“Comedies,” he says in another place, “must be jolly, capricious, witty, absurd [ridicola], fine [balla] and well recited.”

But he also lacked the genius to put comedy on the right track and his best known play, “Gelosia,” has little originality but only practical jokes in the farcical style so familiar. There is some fun in his posthumous comedy, “Arzigogolo,” “Sly Fellow,” where an old man is represented as willing to give his soul to become young again and when he actually attains his wishes by means of his hard cash he is so maltreated by his lady-love that he is glad to pay a still larger sum to change back to an old man.

It is curious to see how the old types appear in many of these comedies. Thus the miles gloriosus, the braggart coward, turns up under different names — Bisilisco, Gorgoleone, Frasilogo, Parabola, Martibellonio, Dragoleone, Trasimaco. So also the parasite, the type so loved by the ancients, masquerades as Lupo, Panvinio, Leccardo, Polifago, Mastica, Ventraccio, Morfeo, Lardone, Panfago, Fagone, Gulone — the different names, as in the Greek and Latin prototypes, nearly all having a slant at the creature’s unlimited appetite.


Camerini sees in the Neapolitan G. B. Porta, who died at the age of seventy-seven, in 1615, one of the predecessors of Goldoni. One of his comedies, “La Chiappenaria,” presents the great captain Gorgoleone, conqueror of lions and giants, but though a terrible boaster, at heart, like all his breed, an arrant coward. To hear him tell his feats one gets a vision of arms, legs, heads and other fragments of people flying through the air: but, like the prowess of the immortal Tartarin of Tarascon, it is only words: if a case of real danger should occur, he would be the first to take to his heels, followed by his squire, Rompiguerra.

The squire is a distant congener of Sancho Panza and while he flatters his patron he makes sport of him. Old Cogliandro, the father of the heroine Drusilla, into whose house the lover, Albinio, penetrates disguised under a bear-skin — whence the name of the play is derived — is the familiar type of the old fool, deceived by every one. Here, as usual, enters the parasite Panvinio, whose very name, derived from pan and vino, signifies that he thinks of nothing but bread and wine. The cant-term Scanna-ministre is applied to him in honour of his digestive 264 powers: he would devour not only everything on the map but also the map itself. In his zeal for the pleasures of the palate he calls a handsome capon the Padre abate dei Cappone and describes an olla podrida in Spanish style with all the flowery diction that a critic would apply to the Last Judgment of Michelangelo. His terms of endearment are all derived from the pantry. He helps to introduce Albinio into Cogliandro’s house. “Soldiers,” he says, “go to war for three ducats a month amid musket balls and cannon balls and shall I fear death when I have a chance to eat and drink well and sleep better?” He becomes the leader of a formidable undertaking and his superior genius is recognised by the servant Truffa whom he wheedles.

What a picture Porta gives of the astuteness of the enamoured Drusilla, who, when her father has detected her furtively embracing her lover Albinio, proves to his satisfaction that he had not seen correctly, that he was suffering from obliquity of vision and as an additional proof she threatens to go to a monastery — the monastery being Albinio’s house — and then she heaps on her lover all manners of insults! He 265 loves her more and more: — “a thousand years with her would seem to me a moment; the more I see her the more beautiful she seems.”

Porta’s dialogue has been compared by the Italians, in its freshness and brilliancy, to the sky of Naples. His comedies, says Ferdinando Galanti, “are pearls fallen into the mire, but they are still pearls.”


The next two centuries are a barren waste in the history of the Italian stage. Not even the colossal genius of Michelangelo in his “Fiera,” that great trilogy of twenty-five acts, succeeded in communicating any life to an art that was hopelessly set, like plaster-of-paris or putty.

The only originality that seemed to show itself in that long age of decadence was in the so-called favola pastorale — the pastoral drama — which is the grandmother of Italian opera. The commedia dell’ arte was also a dramatic phase characteristic of Italy and traced its ancestry and origin back to almost prehistoric 266 times. Nothing is more certain than that improvisation was indigenous to Italy and the commedia dell’ arte depended for its success upon the quick wit of the actors who, under certain conditions, within certain fixed limits, made up on the spur of the moment the dialogue and evolved the action.

A number of the skeletons of these improvised comedies have come down to us and have been recently published. Salvator Rosa as well as Cecchi planned them. Naturally caricature and broad farce and grotesque antics, adapted solely to raise a laugh, characterized these improvisations. Often in more formal comedies whole scenes were left to be filled in by the actors and this was doubtless the case in other parts of Europe; certainly it was true of the later Italian stage. There were certain jests and songs, stories and prayers, oaths and dialogues, sentences and proverbs which undoubtedly became the special property of the actor. Such especially were the lazzi, or jests, which Riccoboni called the inutilities that interrupted the dialogue and had nothing to do with the subject.

Harlequin had an imprescriptible right to a 267 large share of these absurdities; especially the pulcinello of the Neapolitan comedy, who was always full of amusing remarks. The topical song of the modern operetta, having absolutely no relevancy to the action but introduced as a way of conveying flat and often coarse jests at the expense of local celebrities or current “fads,” perhaps as well as anything illustrates the effect of these lazzi which then, as now, made the judicious mourn.

Many actors won great fame in this art and it would evidently require invention, a quick and ready memory, a fiery dash, readiness of repartee and more or less grace. Sometimes women excelled in it: for example Vincenza Armani, a Venetian, who also wrote poems and was called the Queen of the Art.

There is one thing that strikes one in studying the Italian drama, and that is the permanence of types. The four most famous are Arlecchino, Brighella, Pantaleone and the Doctor. The harlequin is evidently derived from the ancient mimi, and may be detected in the old Greek comedy where the actor wore a goat or tiger skin with a white cap on his head, a black mask over his face and carried a stick in his 268 hand. Michelangelo is said to have furnished the Harlequin of his day with the mask; Domenico Biancoletti, in the seventeenth century, added the finishing touches. A whole book might be written about these four characters — yes, on Harlequin alone. In how many hundred plays he appears with his lady-love Colombina, his parti-coloured raiment and his cap ornamented with the tail of a hair or a cony — significant of his hare-brained or cowardly nature — and acted by famous actors who were rewarded by kings!

Possibly the real ancestor of the harlequin is the Maccus of the celebrated Atillan games or ludi. His mask was long and sharp; he had a hunchback, a protuberant belly, long legs and a most strident voice: as he imitated the sounds of various voices and especially the sharp crowing of the cock to which he bore a certain resemblance, he was called pullus gallinaceus, whence by an easy transition we derive pullicenus, Pulicinella, Pulcinella, Punchinello and our own Punch. So when we see the Punch and Judy show in the public square we ought to look at it with some reverence; it has a most noble and legitimate genealogy; its beginnings 269 are in the misty times when the Oscans and Umbrians worshipped their nature gods under the glorious sky of Italy. Perhaps it is only safe to admit with conservative caution that there are other derivations of the world Punch. Three can be found in Littré; and Skeat has still another. The last great Italian Pulcinella, Petito, King of San Carlino, died in March, 1876, on the stage dressed in his white array.

Brighella is the type of the insolent servant, chattering, cheating, malicious, quarrelsome, but easily bought. The garb which he wore also became typical: the white tunic hemmed with green, the wide-brimmed conical hat with its black plume or in later times somewhat modified; with wide trousers and a jacket trimmed with green and the white berettone or cap and the half-mask displaying the little moustache and the shaven chin. He has many aliases: Pedrolino, Beltrame, Bagolino, Fantino, Finocchio, Traccagnino, Frontino, Sganarello, Mascarillo and Figaro.

Pantaleone, who derived his name from Venice, whose lions were supposed to be everywhere planted by Venetian conquest — our tabooed pants only worn by gents recalls it — 270 represents the old father, generally rich, jovial, rather reticent, but fond of proverbs, a man of the world, with a daughter the very apple of his eye. His costume is properly that of a Venetian merchant originally a red gown but after the Republic lost Negroponte a black one was substituted, a slouching baretta of wool, short clothes, stockings, red slippers and a black semi-mask.

Such an one is Shakespeare’s Antonio, with his pretensions of being a magnifico, with his houses and villas and his fleets on all the seas. Being more closely drawn from the life he may be found in the drama of other countries. His dignified flowing beard is symbolical of the greatness of Venice when Milan alone paid over as a balance of trade nearly seven hundred thousand zecchins a year. There are many famous names of actors who took this typical part with distinction — a part found in more comedies than one would care to name. Garelli known as il eloquente; Antonio Mattiuzzi, as famous in Paris as in Venice and commemorated by Goldoni: a man who not only acted but also wrote comedies: his own “Tre Fratelli Veneziani” was declared incomparable.


The Doctor is the type of the semi-serious maschera: the caricature of the learned man who is always citing famous authors and wise saws in a most authoritative tone of voice. Just as Harlequin came from Bergamo and Pantaleone from Venice came the Doctor from Bologna. Pietro Verri traces this character back only as far as the twelfth century, when the new school of jurisprudence was opened at Bologna and two celebrated doctors, Bulgaro and Martino, disputed publicly whether the whole world was a titled property or only a lease: hence the alleged appropriateness of the black nose, the blackened forehead and the red cheeks. The Doctor’s name is generally Graziano, which has a familiar sound to readers of Shakespeare. He is dressed in a black robe, with a mask stained with wine-spots. Goldoni relates that this spot of wine transmits to posterity the memory of a Bolognese giureconsulto whose face was disfigured with a red spot; but it also hints at the convivial habits of doctors, especially the humbugs among doctors.

There are still other types of the masked comedian; one of the most famous was Scaramuccia the boastful, a cousin or even a nearer 272 relation of the miles gloriosus. Tiberio Fiorilli the favourite of Louis XIV. and no less famous as Capitan Spavento and Capitan Matamoros and also as Pulcinella, created this part. It was said of him, as the heaven has only one sun so the earth has only one Scaramouche. He finds his echo in Molière.

Scapino of Bologna, the astute rascally little cicerone di piazza — who now-a-days would ride round in a motor-vehicle and point out celebrities and notable buildings with a stentorian voice multiplied by a megaphone, finds his double in Molière’s “Fouberies de Scapin.”

Nearly every city of Italy had its own favourite type of the buffoon: Modena its Sandron; Calabria its Coviello with his mandolin — all speaking their own peculiar dialects and dressed in the typical costume. What the tourist will see even now at Venice during Carnival time was probably a more common and every-day entertainment in the time of its glory, when, as has been well said by Galanti the city had a gay population that in itself was like a spectacle: Armenians, Turks, Hebrews, Germans, Spaniards mingling in the streets and on the Rialto with polenta-pedlars and merchants of higher 273 degree. The chronicles of Venice are full of descriptions of brilliant festivals which left their impress on the memory of the people. Venice was the last of the Italian republics to fall and one can hardly get an idea of the environment of Carlo Goldoni unless one remembers something of the history of the proud city of the Doges.


It must be made perfectly plain that the set forms to which the Italian state was committed put a bar on any great display of originality. The upper classes who alone had any influence were content with ocular magnificence and the conventional imitative plot, provided there was vivacity of dialogue. Innovation was frowned upon just as it was in music a century later in Germany. What and who should bring about a reform?

It was a Venetian — it was Carlo Goldoni, whom Robert Browning calls “Dear King of Comedy — good gay sunniest of souls.”

There is no need of saying much of his life. 274 When he was an old man, over eighty, he wrote his memoirs in French and they are accessible in an English translation with an Introduction by Mr. Howells; a selection of four of his plays with a brief biographical sketch by Helen Zimmern, compiled from the memoirs, was published a few years ago.

He was born February 25, 1707, in a large and beautiful mansion between the Bridge dei Nomboli and that of Donna Onesta at the corner of the Ca Cent’ Anni. A Latin inscription commemorates the fact that he was born there plaudentibus Musis. His grandfather, who held a position in the Venetian Chamber of Commerce, married a lady of Modena. When she died, leaving one son, he married a widow named Salvioni, who was already the mother of two daughters. The son, who became a doctor, married Margarita the elder of the stepdaughters, and the future playwright, Carlo, was thus doubly his grandparents’ grandchild.

In command of large means, the grandfather expended them recklessly. Above all things he liked theatrical and musical entertainments, and he hired all the best actors and singers of his day to perform for him.


“I was born in that whirl [questo strepito] amid that abundance,” wrote Goldoni, “could I despise stage shows, could I help loving gaiety?” He declared that he came into the world without crying! When he was four years old he began to delight in the comedies that he saw acted; at eight or nine or ten — according to different accounts — he made a little play which greatly pleased and flattered his father, who said; “If nine years produce four carats of wit, eighteen ought to give twelve and by arithmetical progression he might thus reach perfection.”

When Goldoni’s grandfather died and the estate was settled, the usual results of extravagance were bequeathed to the family; but his father, Giulio, rose to the occasion: he went to Perugia and there practised medicine and achieved success. One of the boy’s first questions on reaching his new home was whether he should find there a theatre or hall for comedy. His parents favoured him in these tastes and when they got up some private theatricals for him he took the part of the leading lady, but afterward admitted that he would never have made a good actor, whether in male or female parts.


He was destined to be a physician, so he was sent to the Dominican school at Rimini, but he took no interest in the logic of the celebrated Candini: Plautus, Terence, Aristophanes and the fragments of Menander were far more to his taste.

A company of Venetian actors happened to be at Rimini. Goldoni was not long in scraping acquaintance with them and found their teaching of philosophy far more entertaining than what the Jesuits had to give him. When they were on the eve of leaving Rimini he determined to go with them. He took two shirts and a night-cap, gave away the rest of his wardrobe, as if he were bound for the other world (says one of his biographers) and hid in the barge which the company had hired for their journey. After it was well under way he suddenly appeared among them. What with the actors and prompter and costumer, and children of every age, and dogs, cats, monkeys, pigeons and a lamb, it reminded him of Noah’s ark.

They were three days on the way and the young man was then landed at Chioggia, where his parents were at that time living. They readily forgave him his escapade and Dr. Giulio 277 determined to have him study under his own eye; but the practice of medicine evidently wore on his nerves; he became moody and melancholy and so he was allowed to give up the detested career and sent to an uncle living in Venice to study law. As there were seven theatres in full blast there and Metastasio’s operas were attracting great attention, it was not strange that he got more pleasure than law. A place was obtained for him in the Collegio Ghislieri at Pavia, but as it was a Papal institute he had to submit to the tonsure and to other conventionalities. While waiting for their termination he read the dramatic library belonging to one of the professors; this gave him a great stimulus to become a dramatic author — he came to the conclusion that while one might imitate the ancients in their plots, in their style and in their precision, still it would be requisite to impart greater interest, introduce more expressive characters, cultivate a higher comic art and a more felicitous disentanglement.

Every century has its dominant genius, he said, and every region its characteristic taste. He felt that while the Greeks and Romans had known nature and followed it closely, there had 278 still been little illusion and craft. They had pictured it with too much realism but with too little movement, without enough plot — intriccio, intrigue — without enough balance and contrast of characters.

When he found the plays of English, French and Spanish authors and only here and there one by Italians, when he noticed that no real collection, no theatre, did honour to Italy, his ambition awoke and he felt in his heart that he might some day create such a teatro Italiano with original and veracious and vivacious action and characters copied from life.

But meantime he had become a student of the Papal College and found himself masked, as it were, in the college costume, tonsured like a priest, in a gown like a sleeveless nightgown, with a velvet stole fastened to his left shoulder by a gold and silver pin in the shape of the Ghislieri arms surmounted by a pontifical tiara and Saint Peter’s keys. And his gaiety and natural good temper made him a leader in all the mischief that went on under the pious wings of that institution. He learned something of life here and the fascinations of gambling and worse vices were not concealed from his eyes. 279 At Chioggia, during his vacation, a priest lent him Machiavelli’s “Mandragora” not dreaming that it was unsuitable reading for a youth. Goldoni read it a dozen times, not for its indecency, but because he was carried away by the great statesman’s satiric and comic genius. From that moment he learned to watch and study men and to find delight in the analysis of human passion.

On his return to Pavia he wrote a kind of farce entitled “Il Colosso” which made all manner of sport of the Pavians. He was punished for it by expulsion — for that and other pranks. He schemed to go to Rome and become the pupil of Gravina, then regarded as the most learned in the dramatic art and famed as the instructor of Metastasio. “Have I not, perchance, also the disposition, talent, genius? To Rome, then, to Rome.” But he had no money. So he returned to his home, was forgiven and started off on a journey with his father. Everywhere he went he gathered new ideas and experiences which he afterward embodied in his plays — as for example a little love-episode with a young maid at Friuli, who appears as Corallina and as the soubrette in “La Cameriera Astuta.”


At Modena he saw a priest or abbé condemned to the pillory, and this spectacle filled his mind with a disgust of the world: he visited churches, muttered prayers, and resolved to become a Capuchin. His father consented, gave him his blessing and took him to Venice, there to fulfil his vows. But it required only about a fortnight of dinners, suppers, theatres and other dissipations with relatives and friends to make him forget the cloisters.

The theatre had given him back his life and his individuality. He tells us in his Memoirs how his mind found no other resource than the dramatic art, which he ever loved and to which he would have dedicated himself had he been master of his will.

He was twenty-one and through the good offices of friends he was appointed aggiunto coadjutore in the Criminal Chancelry, a position which gave him a great opportunity to study types and forms. It was not a very burdensome office and assured him good pay. At Chioggia he studied the comic types that came under his observation and were afterward immortalised by his satiric pen. At Feltre, whither his duties called him, he became acquainted with a young 281 lady boarding in a convent and he was just on the point of marrying her when his faithless fickle fair one jilted him to marry an old man. Whereupon he expressed the hope that the old spouse would soon die so that he might marry the rich young vedovella. Many years afterward he utilised his experiences in one of his best-known comedies, “Le Barufe Chiozzote,” in which Isidoro is supposed to be a picture of himself. This incident has within a few years been commemorated in a comedy entitled “Un Amoretto del Goldoni a Feltre.”

At Feltre he made the acquaintance of a troupe of actors under Carlo Veronese, whom Goldoni, after a lapse of thirty years, met again in Paris when he was acting the part of Pantaleone. Florindo de’ Maccheroni, whom he had known at Rimini, was also there, but he had grown old and Goldoni says he was then playing only the king in tragedy and the noble father in comedy. Again his susceptible heart was ensnared by a bella Angelica; she was so jealous of the actresses whom Goldoni was training in the “Didone” and “Serse” of Metastasio that she wept when she ought to have laughed, but Goldoni says the poor girl loved him tenderly and with perfect 282 fidelity. “I loved her too with my whole soul and I may say that she was the first person whom I ever truly loved.”

He was on the point of marrying her, but it suddenly occurred to him that her beauty was too delicate in character to last and so he abandoned the delicious dream. “To be sure,” he says, “this was reasoning too much for a lover but either through virtue or weakness or inconstancy, I left Feltre and did not marry her.”

In 1731 he lost his father, and as he was now the head of the family economical considerations compelled him to devote himself seriously to the law. He went to Padua and studied earnestly, for still Padua boasted its learned Bellario. Nevertheless, he spent the whole night before the examination for his degree at the card table and lost all his money — one of his companions was a law professor. The day began to dawn; the university bell rang; he hurriedly put on his gown and rushed to the examination, which he passed brilliantly and was proclaimed dottore.

The day came when he should be presented at the Palazzo: he tells how he stood for an hour and a half at the foot of the Scala dei Giganti making so many bows and contortions that his 283 back was broken and his wig was like a lion’s mane. The fruit of these days was, as might be expected — not a rush of clients, but his “Avvocato Veneziano.”

Another of his numerous love adventures here occurred. A mysterious woman known as Barabba, who was always looking out for the interests of young lawyers, came to him one day and engaged him in a long conversation, which he must have found very amusing; but Goldoni retained his dignity and the unknown departed saying, “Addio, signore, be ever wise, be ever honourable and you will be happy.” Instead of occupying himself with profitable law-cases he whiled away his time in composing an almanac entitled “The Experiences of the Past; the Astrolog of the Future, Almanacco Critico for the year 1732.” The work was full of prophecies written in terza rima. He also composed a lyric tragedy entitled “L’Amalasunta.” Still another love affair from which there was no other exit than flight brought him to Vicenza, where Count Parmenio Trissimo, a descendant of the author of “Sofonisba,” condescended to cast his critical eye on his latest production. He gave him no encouragement but advised him to 284 devote himself to comedy. At Brescia he read the tragedy to a brigata, but it met with more criticism than praise.

At Bergamo, the home of Harlequin, he was warmly received, his name as an astrologer having preceded him: his almanacco had won him friends. Then he proceeded to Milan. It was carnival time and opera was in full swing. Caffariello the director and composer, and his wife, the prima ballerina, received him cordially. At their home he began to read his great tragedy, but Caffariello laughed at the Queen of the Goths; one of the singers interrupted him by practising his part at the cembalo; the reading was suspended and only Count Prata, one of the directors of the theatre, had the patience ultimately to hear it to the end and the grace to give the author some wise advice, which he recognised as true, and accepting, went home to carry out. First, however, he had a fire built and as before a sacred altar he read the precious play from beginning to end and though still thinking it good, nevertheless, while cursing the rules, the actors, the composers, the scene-painters and the critics, he burnt it from title to epilogue. Then he ordered 285 dinner, drank enough wine to cheer his heart and forgot his disappointment and humiliation in sleep.

The Venetian ambassador gave him a sinecure office as chamberlain and while enjoying its emoluments and plenty of time, he made the acquaintance of a quack by the name of Buonafede Vitali, called Anonimo, a Jesuit, doctor, professor, orator, encyclopedist, who as a means of attracting customers acted a sort of farce in public and kept a company of comedians in his service.

Owing to the unexpected failure of certain comedians to keep their engagement for the Easter season, a vacancy occurred at the Milan theatre and Anonimo proposed that his company should fill the bill. Goldoni supported his proposition; Rubini, a famous Pantaleone, was engaged and Goldoni wrote an intermezzo for two voices, entitled “Il Gondolier Veneziano.” It made a hit. This then was his first work to be performed and it was afterward published in the fourth volume of the Pasquali edition of Venice.

Shortly after this a play called “Belisario” was performed in Milan, in which the blinded hero was led on the stage by Arlecchino who to 286 show his compassion kept beating him with his stick. The whole affair was perfectly farcical yet it was received by the public quite seriously. Goldoni asked the chief actor what he thought of it. The man replied that that sort of thing would go on until the stage was reformed.

Goldoni was moved to write a play in which this subject should be treated worthily. He got one act completed, but the war of Don Carlos broke out (in 1733). Goldoni had to leave Milan; at Crema several scrapes into which he was led lost him his patron’s confidence and his position. But he finished “Belisario” and after some delay it was produced at Verona with great success. He wrote:

My heroes were men and not demigods; their passions were proportioned to their positions, showing them to be human, and not carrying their vices and virtues to an imaginary excess. My style was not elegant and my versification never touched the sublime: and that is precisely why it was needed to bring to reason a public accustomed to hyperbole, to antitheses, and to the absurdity of the gigantic and of the romances.

In 1736 Goldoni married Nicoletta Conio, who, he declared, indemnified him for all that he ever suffered from the evil done him by women and reconciled him to the fair sex. She was a true 287 companion to him all the days of his life, his inspiration and his comfort, unspoiled by success and serene in adversity, free from jealousy — the ideal wife for such a man, keeping him to high purposes and restraining his lower impulses. He often declared that in his wife he was the most contented, the happiest man in the world.

The story of the steps by which he was led to abandon the composition of conventional tragedies, intermezzi, cantabili and Metastasian opera librettos is fully rehearsed in his Memoirs as likewise his entertaining adventures in the various cities to which his nomadic instincts led him. Indeed the Memoirs of his are justly regarded as amusing as any of his comedies.

Garrulous, simple-hearted, confiding, if he had only written them in Italian instead of French, they would have perhaps excelled any autobiography in existence.

After he had written a number of comedies in accord with the ancient fashion, all more or less successful in their way but not satisfying to 288 his artistic instincts, he began his first reform by trying to abolish the masks that were one of the conventions of the Italian stage. At Pisa, at Mantua, at Modena and finally at Venice (in July, 1747), with the aid of Medebac, leader of a troupe of comedians, of which Medebac’s beautiful wife, and the famous Darbes were important members, he began to introduce his new ideas. Venice especially was the home of the Italian theatre and here he saw a suitable place to build his new edifice. “I had no rivals to combat,” he said, “but only to overcome prejudices.”

The rivals however were not slow to appear. He entirely abandoned his law business, which was always rather a form than a chosen profession. His first new comedy, “Tonetto,” made a fiasco. He thought the matter ended and came to the conclusion that the public was right in condemning it. He wrote another, “L’ Uomo Prudente,” in which the Pantaleone appears at first in a mask and then removes it. Though very faulty the play was successful and he was soon ready with a third, “Due Gemelli Veneziani” especially adapted for displaying the genius of Darbes who took the part of the twin brothers. 289 But these were only tentative. Not until 1748, when his “La Vedova Scaltra,” “The Crafty Widow,” was represented at Venice may he be said to have definitely abandoned himself to the “Comedy of Character,” in which he was thought to rival Molière. In “La Vedova Scaltra” he introduces Milord Rosenif, an Englishman; Chevalier Le Bleau, a Frenchman; Don Alvaro, a proud Spaniard; il Conte di Borco, an Italian; and the liberal, elegant, noble, love-compelling heroine Rosaura, who receives with perfect impartiality a diamond from the Englishman, a picture from the Frenchman, a genealogical tree from the Don and a sentimental letter from the Italian. It was represented thirty times. Another of his comedies, “La Erede Fortunata,” having, as he thought, been unjustly condemned during the carnival of 1749, he vowed to write sixteen the next year and he accomplished his purpose — a literary feat never since exceeded even by Mr. Clyde Fitch! Among the number were “Pamela,” a dramatisation of Richardson’s novel, then all the rage in Italy, and the “Bottega del Caffè.”

The use of the comedy as a censor of morals is proved by the fact that Goldoni’s satire put an 290 end to the state-protected gambling that was the bane of Venice in that day as it is at Monaco in ours. The institution of the cavaliere servente, or Cicisbeo, the secondary unlegalised husband or protected lover, which had been the curse of Italian family life for many generations, as a sort of consolation for the mariage de convenance, also slunk away under the keen shafts of Goldoni’s ridicule; just as chivalry itself, from which it was derived, perished from romance at the castigation of Cervantes. “Il Cavalarie e la Dama,” “The Lord and the Lady,” was the title of the death-dealing comedy. He wrote that he had regarded for a long time with amazement these singular creatures, these martyrs of gallantry, slaves of the fair sex. This play, which depicted them to the life, was represented fifteen consecutive evenings. Goldoni, as may be suspected, wrote his plays with the greatest possible facility. Thus, when it was almost time for the last of them to be put on the stage, the carnival was nearing its finale. He had not even decided on a subject. One day, in Saint Mark’s, he saw an old Armenian, a seller of dried fruits, ragged and derided. He rushed home and wrote, “I 291 Pettegolezzi,” “Billingsgate Gossips,” a light comedy, which had the most extraordinary success.

But in the midst of the radiant happiness that surrounded him at this period arose discordant notes. Medebac, whose pockets he had filled, was close and grasping. He argued that Goldoni had fame, applause, immortality, that ought to suffice him; what more could he want? He would add to his fame and his own wealth by publishing the comedies. A quarrel ensued. In 1752 Goldoni parted company with Medebac and joined the troupe of a Venetian named Vendramin, who owned the theatre San Luca, and for him he wrote “La Locandiera,” which is justly regarded as one of his best comedies, with its charming type in the far-sighted Mirandolina. He had already written upward of ninety pieces for the stage and now he took hold with fresh zeal to compose for his new patron. For him he laboured ten years.

One of the first plays that he wrote for San Luca was “L’ Avaro Geloso,” in which, as in Plautus’ “Aulularia,” and Molière’s “L’Avare,” the type illustrated is the miser; but Goldoni did not copy his predecessors, he drew from life; but 292 more than in the majority of his comedies the success depended on the actor.

During these ten years his fecundity was amazing. No less than sixty came in quick succession. Merely to mention his masterpieces, much more to analyse them, would be out of the question within reasonable limits. Moreover, they scarcely need analysis. Goldoni’s plays are usually so simple in construction that the plot is of little consequence: the display of contrasted character, the cleverness of the dialogue give them their charm. The story of his successes and failures, of his encounters with rivals, especially with the Count Rozzi, is all told with unfailing humour in his Memoirs.

In 1760 came his great play I Rusteghi, in which with wonderful skill he takes four similar characters — compared to the same person photographed in four different poses — to prove, as he said — that human characters are inexhaustible. The three wives make a sufficient contrast and the action is full of life and the dialogue of humour.

In Venice Goldoni’s chief enemy and rival was Count Gozzi, who also published an autobiography which has been translated by J. A. Symonds. 293 Gozzi’s family having been ruined, he became an adventurer and at last drifted back to Venice where he produced ridiculously stilted fantastic dramas and fiabe for the company of Sacchi. Such plays as “La Donna Serpente,” “Il Mostro Turchino,” “L’ Augellin,” “Bel Verde” and “Il Re dei Genii” pleased the public and Goldoni was consequently neglected. The petty quarrels that agitated Venice at that time are in themselves comedies but they were not conducive to happiness among those that took part in them. For instance, Gozzi was called by some of his adversaries Bad Count, mal cavaliere, unworthy impostor, liar, false philosopher; and he retorted by a shower-bath of insults in which he used such epithets as proud, impudent, of viperous humour, vindictive, blind, haughty, impostor, mad, petulant, timid, vile, pedant dwarf-pedant and dozens of others. This strange, selfish, misanthropic free thinker was a sturdy fighter. He died in 1806 at the age of eighty-six.

The history of Venice in the eighteenth century would not be complete without notice of Carlo Gozzi.

In 1761 Goldoni was invited to Paris for two years. One of his maschere, “Harlequin’s Son 294 Lost and Found,” had been performed there with great success. He made an effort to secure a promised living in Venice. It was not granted to him and so he left never to return. Among his last works written for Italian audiences was “Sior Todero Brontolon,” which is regarded as only second to the “Rusteghi.” It also satirises the miser who is a tyrant in his own family. His farewell comedy was entitled “Una delle Ultime Sere di Carnevale,” “The Last Carnival Evening,” in which he himself as Anzoleto assures his auditors that he shall ever remember his adoratissima patria, his beloved friend. “I confess and swear on my honour,” says the leading character, “that I depart with anguished heart [col cuor strazzo], that no allurement, no good fortune whatever shall compensate me for the sorrow [il despaiser] of being far from those that wish me well.”

Goldoni, with his wife and nephew, left Venice in April, 1762 — not the preceding year as he says in his Memoirs — and did not reach Paris until near the end of August. Paris enchanted him but he did not find all easy sailing. There, as in Italy, he was obliged to conquer the prejudices and instruct the ignorance of the 295 Italian actors. The first two years of his engagement produced twenty-four works, eight of which kept the stage: in the others, and to a certain extent in all, there was a certain retrogression, since he had aimed rather at winning the applause of ignorance than of satisfying himself.

His Memoirs, and especially his letters, give interesting details of his life and experiences in Paris. Instead of staying there two years and then going to Portugal, as he had planned, he stayed on for thirty years. The court made him independent of the Italian company; he was appointed Italian master to the Royal children. After he had been in Paris nine years he wrote his first French comedy, “Le Bourru Bienfaisant,” “The Kind Churl,” which was played in November, 1771, for twelve evenings. It has been translated into English. He wrote one other in French, “L’Avare Fastueux,” which, though full of comic situations, by a mere accident failed to please.

With characteristic obliviousness of political events he was serene even when the volcano of the French Revolution was threatening to pour forth its destruction. The report was carried to Italy in 1792 that Goldoni had been guillotined. 296 He escaped but he was reduced to poverty. His last letter, written four months and a few days before his death, declared that he had un stomaco valoroso et un cuore sensible.

He died February 6, 1793. On the day following the poet Chénier introduced into the National Convention a bill to continue Goldoni’s salary. When it was learned that it was too late, the Convention granted his widow a pension of 1,200 francs. Whether the pension was paid may well be doubted.

Goldoni must have been a most entertaining and fascinating person. Everything testifies to his sunny, gay and amusing character. Even his peculiarities were piquant and original. Unfortunately for foreign readers some of his best comedies were written in the Venetian dialect which he loved and which he was engaged in his later days in disposing into a dictionary. It may be interesting to get a glimpse of some of his principles of composition. I will therefore translate a few of his epigrammatic sayings:

A writer who writes for the theatre writes for the people.

Whatever is represented on the stage ought always to be a copy of what happens in the world.


One must prefer a disagreeable truth to a delicious imagination.

When I set out to write a comedy I do not avail myself of the stories or the works of others; I search in Nature and according as it is natural and life-like in the type so is it in the character.

The simple and natural far more than the marvellous control the heart of man.

Spectacular comedies are not true comedies, and if I have written such it was through complacency.

On the stage the moral that comes from the most commonly approved practices should prevail.

Comedy being an image of common life, its end and aim ought to be to display on the stage the faults of private individuals in order to cure the faults of the public.

My whole aim has not been to satirise and punish vice but my principal object [principalissimo scopo] has ever been to keep virtue in sight, to reward it, to fill the spectators with love of it and to give it greater success when confronted with vices and their worst causes.

The unity of the action is an indispensable precept to be observed in dramas when the argument concerns one principal person. But when the collective title concerns more persons unity itself is found in the multiplicity of actions. It is not true that the characters ought to be indispensable according as the comedy could not be carried on without them. All that is required is that they work together well and in harmony, increasing the beauty and the intrigue.

Double entendres are tolerable in comedies when it can be believed that the least malicious can interpret them in a good sense; but God defend me from scandalising the innocent. I have worked and ever shall work in the sweat of 298 my face for this end: to free our stage from obscenity and vice [malizia] and if ever the comic spirit seduces me I am glad to be corrected.

Characters are not infinite in kind but in species; while every virtue, every vice, varies according to circumstances.


 *  “Mandragora” has only eight dramatis personæ;, “La Cortigiana” has twenty-four. His Ipocrito anticipates Molière’s Tartuffe: chi non sa fingere non sa vivere.

 †  There are thirty or more titles of his early tragedies, tragi-comedies, drammi per musica, comedies of semi-carattere and masked subject-comedies.


VII.  Alfieri and Tragedy

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