1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Goldoni, Carlo

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GOLDONI, CARLO (1707–1793), Italian dramatist, the real founder of modern Italian comedy, was born at Venice, on the 25th of February 1707, in a fine house near St Thomas’s church. His father Giulio was a native of Modena. The first playthings of the future writer were puppets which he made dance; the first books he read were plays,—among others, the comedies of the Florentine Cicognini. Later he received a still stronger impression from the Mandragora of Machiavelli. At eight years old he had tried to sketch a play. His father, meanwhile, had taken his degree in medicine at Rome and fixed himself at Perugia, where he made his son join him; but, having soon quarrelled with his colleagues in medicine, he departed for Chioggia, leaving his son to the care of a philosopher, Professor Caldini of Rimini. The young Goldoni soon grew tired of his life at Rimini, and ran away with a Venetian company of players. He began to study law at Venice, then went to continue the same pursuit at Pavia, but at that time he was studying the Greek and Latin comic poets much more and much better than books about law. “I have read over again,” he writes in his own Memoirs, “the Greek and Latin poets, and I have told to myself that I should like to imitate them in their style, their plots, their precision; but I would not be satisfied unless I succeeded in giving more interest to my works, happier issues to my plots, better drawn characters and more genuine comedy.” For a satire entitled Il Colosso, which attacked the honour of several families of Pavia, he was driven from that town, and went first to study with the jurisconsult Morelli at Udine, then to take his degree in law at Modena. After having worked some time as clerk in the chanceries of Chioggia and Feltre, his father being dead, he went to Venice, to exercise there his profession as a lawyer. But the wish to write for the stage was always strong in him, and he tried to do so; he made, however, a mistake in his choice, and began with a tragedy, Amalasunta, which was represented at Milan and proved a failure. In 1734 he wrote another tragedy, Belisario, which, though not much better, chanced nevertheless to please the public. This first success encouraged him to write other tragedies, some of which were well received; but the author himself saw clearly that he had not yet found his proper sphere, and that a radical dramatic reform was absolutely necessary for the stage. He wished to create a characteristic comedy in Italy, to follow the example of Molière, and to delineate the realities of social life in as natural a manner as possible. His first essay of this kind was Momolo Cortesan (Momolo the Courtier), written in the Venetian dialect, and based on his own experience. Other plays followed—some interesting from their subject, others from the characters; the best of that period are—Le Trentadue Disgrazie d’ Arlecchino, La Notte critica, La Bancarotta, La Donna di Garbo. Having, while consul of Genoa at Venice, been cheated by a captain of Ragusa, he founded on this his play L’Impostore. At Leghorn he made the acquaintance of the comedian Medebac, and followed him to Venice, with his company, for which he began to write his best plays. Once he promised to write sixteen comedies in a year, and kept his word; among the sixteen are some of his very best, such as Il Caffè, Il Bugiardo, La Pamela. When he left the company of Medebac, he passed over to that maintained by the patrician Vendramin, continuing to write with the greatest facility. In 1761 he was called to Paris, and before leaving Venice he wrote Una delle ultime sere di Carnevale (One of the Last Nights of Carnival), an allegorical comedy in which he said good-bye to his country. At the end of the representation of this play, the theatre resounded with applause, and with shouts expressive of good wishes. Goldoni, at this proof of public sympathy, wept as a child. At Paris, during two years, he wrote comedies for the Italian actors; then he taught Italian to the royal princesses; and for the wedding of Louis XVI. and of Marie Antoinette he wrote in French one of his best comedies, Le Bourru bienfaisant, which was a great success. When he retired from Paris to Versailles, the king made him a gift of 6000 francs, and fixed on him an annual pension of 1200 francs. It was at Versailles he wrote his Memoirs, which occupied him till he reached his eightieth year. The Revolution deprived him all at once of his modest pension, and reduced him to extreme misery; he dragged on his unfortunate existence till 1793, and died on the 6th of February. The day after, on the proposal of André Chénier, the Convention agreed to give the pension back to the poet; and as he had already died, a reduced allowance was granted to his widow.

The best comedies of Goldoni are: La Donna di Garbo, La Bottega di Caffè, Pamela nubile, Le Baruffe chiozzotte, I Rusteghi, Todero Brontolon, Gli Innamorati, Il Ventaglio, Il Bugiardo, La Casa nova, Il Burbero benefico, La Locandiera. A collected edition (Venice, 1788) was republished at Florence in 1827. See P. G. Molmenti, Carlo Goldoni (Venice, 1875); Rabany, Carlo Goldoni (Paris, 1896). The Memoirs were translated into English by John Black (Boston, 1877), with preface by W. D. Howells.