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Goldoni, Carlo (1707–1793)

GOLDONI, CARLO (17071793)

GOLDONI, CARLO (17071793), Italian dramatist. Carlo Goldoni was born in Venice to a family that had immigrated from Modena and that had members in both the professional class and the nobility. Fascinated by the theater from an early age, Goldoni wrote his first play before he was ten. While attending school in Rimini, he became friendly with a comedy troupe that included women, banned from the stage in much of Italy, and departed with them for Chioggia. In 1723 he undertook the study of law at the University of Pavia, but he was expelled in 1725 for a satire of the city's women. After his father died in 1731, Goldoni completed his degree at the University of Padua, but he departed for Milan in 1732 to avoid financial and sentimental obligations.

In 1734 he began his association with the Imer troupe of actors. By the late 1730s he was working regularly in theaters in Venice and other cities and had begun his reform of the improvised commedia dell'arte tradition. He wrote out individual parts and then entire plays, blending Tuscan-speaking aristocratic characters of the erudite tradition with dialect-speaking nonaristocratic characters. While retaining some elements of commedia dell'arte masks and writing a masterpiece in Il servitore di due padroni (1747; Servant of two masters) Goldoni endowed his characters with new psychological depth and realism. La vedova scaltra (The artful widow) of 1748, the first comedy fully implementing these reforms, was favorably received by many. It was also criticized by others, especially Goldoni's rival and imitator Pietro Chiari, the polemic resulting in the censure of theaters by the Venetian government.

Goldoni responded with plays in a wide range of styles, including the famous sixteen comedies of the 1751 Carnival season and his memorable dialect comedies. Mirandolina (The mistress of the inn), staged in 1753, tells of a young proprietress of an inn who exercises great freedom in her dealings with aristocratic suitors. The Villeggiatura (The country vacation) trilogy (1761) pokes fun at city aristocrats who take their artifice-filled habits with them on country vacations. In Le baruffe chiozzotte (Chioggian quarrels) (1762) a girl whose needlework earns her good money attracts rival suitors. Opposition to Goldoni's work intensified, with accusations by the satirist and author of theatrical fables Carlo Gozzi (17201806) that Goldoni was inverting the social order by associating aristocratic characters with vice and the popular classes with virtue. Gozzi mounted a successful theatrical alternative, a series of exotic tales set in a world of aristocratic privilege.

In 1762, worn down by polemics, Goldoni moved to Paris to work with the Comédie italienne. The French public's expectation that Italian comedy conform to the traditional commedia dell'arte style left him few professional satisfactions. He nevertheless remained in Paris, writing a number of well-received plays and his memoirs.

The strength of Goldoni's theater lies in its inclusion of divergent and even conflicting elements that occur in daily life and that are part of theatrical tradition. The complicated relations of men and women, the generations, and social classes fascinated him. His most consistent focus is on forces that strengthen those bonds or that, on the contrary, break them by setting individuals on destructive paths. While Goldoni appreciated the vitality of the lower social orders, he feared their violence, and while he appreciated aristocrats' elegance, he feared their arrogant vanity. What remained was the sober and directed energy of the middle social orders.

As the plots of his plays show, Goldoni understood that bad choices often result either from indulgence in pleasure or from despair. He also knew that human beings favor those who attract them, and that this causes them to neglect those to whom they are obligated. Thus his plays include husbands who abandon their wives for their drinking companions, wives who prefer their husbands to the children who depend upon them, and servants more interested in gossip than work.

Goldoni experimented with a variety of measures designed to maintain prudent behavior, both internalized social rules, such as an acceptance of authority figures, and severe consequences for irregular behavior, such as the poverty that results from gambling and the damage and death that result from violence. He also showed how authority figures, including fathers and members of the aristocratic class, bring their subordinates into line through both kind and harsh measures, as he kept his characters in line by writing out the parts rather than continuing the improvisation of the commedia dell'arte.

At the same time Goldoni understood that subordination to men creates difficulties and even dangers for women. While most of his numerous and prominent female characters accept and even embrace submissiveness to men, a few of them enjoy a combination of financial security and a lack of male relatives that permits an unprecedented emotional independence. Mirandolina the innkeeper's marriage to her servant rather than to a misogynistic nobleman shows that she intends to remain mistress of her life.

See also Commedia dell'Arte ; Drama: Italian .


Primary Sources

Goldoni, Carlo. Four Comedies. Translated by Frederick Davies. Harmondsworth, U.K., 1968. Translations of I due gemelli Veneziani (1750), La vedova scaltra (1748), La locandiera (1753), and La casa nova (1761).

. Memoirs of Carlo Goldoni. Translated by John Black, edited by William A. Drake. New York and London, 1926. Translation of Mémoires (1787).

. The Servant of Two Masters. Translated and adapted by Frederick H. Davies. London, 1961. Translation of Il servitore di due padroni (1747).

. Tutte le opere. Edited by Giuseppe Ortolani. Milan, 19351956.

. Carlo Goldoni's Villeggiatura Trilogy. Translated by Robert Cornthwaite. Lyme, N.H., 1994. Translation of Le smanie della villeggiatura, Le avventure della villeggiatura, and Il ritorno dalla villeggiatura.

Secondary Sources

Angelini, Franca. Vita di Goldoni. Rome, 1993.

Baratto, Mario. La letteratura teatrale del Settecento in Italia: studi e letture su Carlo Goldoni. Vicenza, 1985.

Branca, Vittore, and Nicola Mangini, eds. Studi goldoniani. Venice, 1960. The acts of an important conference with papers by respected scholars.

Ferroni, Giulio. Storia della letteratura italiana dal Cinquecento al Settecento. Milan, 1991.

Fido, Franco. Guida a Goldoni: Teatro e società nel Settecento Turin, 1977.

. Nuova guida a Goldoni: Teatro e società nel Settecento. Turin, 2000.

Günsberg, Maggie. Playing with Gender: The Comedies of Goldoni. Leeds, U.K., 2001.

Siciliano, Enzo. La letteratura italiana. 3 vols. Milan, 19861988.

Spezzani, Pietro. Dalla commedia dell'arte a Goldoni: studi linguistici. Padua, 1997.

Linda L. Carroll

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Carlo Goldoni

Carlo Goldoni

The plays of the Italian dramatist, poet, and librettist Carlo Goldoni (1707-1793) brought new realism and more credible characterization to the Italian stage. He wrote more than 250 works in Italian, Venetian dialect, and French.

Born to a prosperous middle-class family, Carlo Goldoni displayed a theatrical inclination from early childhood. As a university student, he often put aside his law books to attend performances. In 1734, after 3 years in the diplomatic service, Goldoni became poet of the Imer company in Venice and successively was appointed director of the S. Samuele and S. Giovanni Crisostomo theaters. Goldoni's marriage in 1736 to Nicoletta Connio, daughter of a prominent Genoese family, dates from this formative period.

Although he interrupted theatrical activities in 1744 to practice law, Goldoni returned to Venice in 1748 as poet of the S. Angelo theater, then under the leadership of Girolamo Medebac. Overworked and underpaid—his contract for 1750 demanded 16 new plays—Goldoni accepted a competing offer from the Vendramin brothers, impresarios of the S. Luca theater.

The years 1748-1762 represent the most successful of Goldoni's career because now he was able to incorporate his views on dramatic reform into the fabric of his works. Until Goldoni, the prevailing commedia dell'arte style depended upon actors who improvised their roles from a list of stock characters. Therefore drama revolved about the actors and the success with which their talents impressed the audience. Goldoni's works signaled a new direction in which primacy was soon restored to the playwright, whose scripts—not an actor's improvisations—determined the play.

By observing society and providing plausible motivation for his characters, Goldoni's more credible and more realistic works soon gained an immense following. Among his most successful are The Crafty Widow (1748); The Anti-quarian's Family (1749), in which Goldoni points to the conflict between the rising bourgeoisie and the decaying nobility; The Comic Theatre (1750), which he calls "less a Comedy than a Foreword to all my Comedies"; and La Locandiera (1753; Mine Hostess), in which the protagonist Mirandolina astutely manages to keep the affections and services of the headwaiter at her inn, while igniting the interest of two noble guests, one a professed woman hater, the other an old miser. From these and other works emerges the ethical content of Goldoni's character plays. A believer in modernity and progress, he championed the rights of women and the equality of all classes. In espousing these views, Goldoni frequently satirized the aristocracy and their courts.

Goldoni's successes did not spare him from criticism. During the period 1748-1753, while Goldoni was creating more realistic and thoughtful plays for the S. Angelo theater, he was often attacked by Pietro Chiari, then a writer of sentimental, romantic dramas at the S. Samuele theater. An example of their rivalry was Chiari's parody, The School for Widows, which appeared shortly after Goldoni's The Crafty Widow. After moving to the S. Luca theater, Goldoni faced the more formidable hostility of Count Carlo Gozzi. Irascible and title-conscious, Gozzi endeavored to discredit Goldoni in any possible way, for the democratic, progressive Goldoni held views diametrically opposite to those of the aristocratic conservative. Disguised as a defense of traditional dramatic forms, Gozzi's criticism of Goldoni's realism was an extension of this personal antagonism.

Goldoni, a mild-mannered, pleasant person with no desire to continue this bitter polemic, left Venice for the prestigious directorship of the Italian theater in Paris. However, after 2 unhappy years (1762-1764) he accepted appointment as tutor in Italian (1764-1768) to the daughters of King Louis XVI. While maintaining residence in Paris, Goldoni furnished new material in Italian and dialect for the Venetian stage. Also from this period come his works written in French. Especially noteworthy are the comedy Le Bourra bienfaisant (1771) and Memoirs of His Life and Theatre (1787), from which the reader gains a view of Goldoni's evolving dramatic style and detailed accounts of artists, directors, and theaters of his time.

The French Revolution brought an end to the pension Goldoni had been receiving from the French government. Already in his 80s and nearing blindness, Goldoni spent his last years in penurious suffering. Ironically, news of the reinstatement of his pension in 1793 arrived the day after his death.

Further Reading

For English texts of Goldoni's works see Carlo Goldoni, Three Comedies (1961), which contains Mine Hostess, The Boors, and The Fan; and his play The Comic Theatre: A Comedy in Three Acts (1750; trans. 1969). The best book in English on Goldoni is Joseph Spencer Kennard, Goldoni and the Venice of His Time (1920). For background information see Giacomo Oreglia, The Commedia dell'Arte (1961; trans. 1968).

Additional Sources

Holme, Timothy, A servant of many masters: the life and times of Carlo Goldoni, London: Jupiter, 1976. □

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Goldoni, Carlo

Carlo Goldoni (kär´lō gōldô´nē), 1707–93, Italian dramatist. He was enamored of comedy from childhood, having sketched his first comic drama at eight. He took a degree in law at Padua but thereafter devoted himself to the theater. He created a new Italian character comedy, considered artistically superior to the old commedia dell'arte. This he achieved by building on the old comedy of masks, but amplifying written parts; by judicious imitation of Molière and adaptation of classical themes; and by applying his own excellent comedic sense. Goldoni wrote more than 260 dramatic works of all sorts, including opera. Among the most notable of his 150 comedies are La locandiera (1753, tr. The Mistress of the Inn, 1856), Il ventaglio (1763, tr. The Fan, 1911), Il burbero benefico (1771, tr. The Beneficent Bear, 1849), and La buona figliuola (1756, tr. The Accomplished Maid, 1767), which was set to music by Niccolò Piccinni. Toward the end of his life he was supported in France by a royal pension that was cut off by the Revolution. He died in poverty.

See Goldoni's memoirs (1787, in French; tr. by J. Black, 1926); biography by H. C. Chatfield-Taylor (1913); study by H. Riedt (tr. 1974).

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