Goldoni, CARLO, dramatist; b. at Venice, February 25, 1707; d. at Paris, January 6, 1793. Goldoni is especially notable for the reform which he wrought in the Italian theatre by substituting for the drama of improvisation (commedia dell’ arte) a fully elaborated character play inspired by the works of Moliere, and yet replete with a realism due to his own keen observation of contemporary life in Italy. The story of his life has been told with much detail in the autobiographical “Memoires”, which he wrote in French in 1787. This work is important also for the account which it gives of the vicissitudes attending his attempts to improve the dramatic repertory of his day, and of his eventual success despite the opposition of Chiari and Gozzi.
Born in Venice, he accompanied his father in his peregrinations to various Italian cities, among them Perugia and Rimini, where he practiced as a physician. The boy was intended at first for his father’s profession, but he early indicated his real tastes by running away from Rimini with a theatrical troupe. Later we find him at Venice studying law, and ere long he is seen occupying at Chioggia the post of assistant to the registrar or clerk of the criminal court. By this time he had begun the composition of plays. He finally took his degree in law and settled in Venice, practicing as an advocate and continuing his literary work. But he did not remain at rest long. Associated with the diplomatic service for brief periods, he sojourned in Milan and in Genoa, and then for one reason or another shifted his domicile hither and thither in Northern Italy, making his longest stay in Pisa, where for five years he devoted himself to legal pursuits. In 1746 he received the appointment of dramatic poet to the theatre S. Angelo at Venice, and in the following year betook himself to his native city. In his new position he wrote many comedies which were performed successfully, and in 1752 he accepted a similar appointment to the Venetian theatre of San Luca, for which he provided additional pieces. All the while warfare was being waged against him by the partisans of the inartistic “Commedia dell’ arte”, and finally, although he had gained the day, he determined from sheer weariness to accept the offer made him in 1761 of the place of poet to the Theatre Italien at Paris. Honorable though his post was, he never felt really happy in it, and when the time of his contract was finished, he meditated an instant return to his native land. This purpose he did not carry out, for an appointment as Italian tutor to the daughters of Louis XV induced him to remain in France. A pension was assigned to him, and it was paid to him regularly up to the year 1792. He died the next year on the day before that on which, at the recommendation of Joseph Chenier, the Convention restored his pension.
During his residence in the French capital, Goldoni produced two important comedies in French, the “Bourru bienfaisant” (which he himself translated into Italian), and the “Avare fastueux”. Goldoni’s dramatic pieces are about 150 in number. They fall readily into three groups: those written entirely in the Venetian dialect, of which are about eleven; those written partly in dialect, which form the largest part; and those written wholly in pure Italian, of which some are in prose and some in Martellian verse. The earlier among them, the tragedies, tragi-comedies and melodramas are almost negligible; his fame rests on the comedies picturing the customs of his time. Notable among these are “La locandiera”, “Un curioso accidente”, “11 Bugiardo”, “Pamela”, “La bottega di caffe”, “1 Rusteghi”, and “Il Burbero benefico” (the Italian form of the play performed at Paris in 1771). These and a few others still live on the Italian stage. His “Lettere”, published in a collection at Bologna in 1880, contain interesting matter which adds to the information conveyed in the “Memoires”. The plays are given in the two Venice editions—1788-95 in 44 vols., and 1817-22 in 46 vols.
J. D. M. FORD