On this day in 1707, the great playwright Carlo Goldoni was born. Carlo who? It is one of the great shames of English language theater that we’ve had Shakespeare crammed down our throats to the exclusion even of his more daring contemporaries. I literally cannot remember how many times I’ve seen A Midsummer Night’s Dream on the stage and the screen. How many times have I seen Hamlet? Lots. Macbeth? Lots. Much Ado about Nothing? Richard III? Twelfth Night? Lots. Lots. Lots. I could go on. And this is not a condemnation of Shakespeare; this is a condemnation of us.
But if Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson and Thomas Middleton get neglected in the English speaking world, it is nothing compared to the treatment of non-English speaking playwrights. The Shakespeare scholar Gary Taylor wrote, “We assume that Shakespeare’s thirty-odd plays contain more of humanity than the five hundred plays of Lope de Vega we have not read.” Goldoni has received better treatment — probably because he wrote a century and a half later and he wrote in Italian — I think there is a little more prejudice against the Spanish than the Italians.
Like Lope de Vega, Carlo Goldoni wrote comedies. It makes sense. As Philip Henslowe says in Shakespeare in Love, “It’s comedy they want, Will… Love, and a bit with a dog. That’s what they want.” If you look at the chronology of Shakespeare’s plays, you will see that the tragedies are much more common at the end of his career. And they tend to be performed more now because actors and directors want to do them, rather than that audiences want to see them.
Carlo Goldoni was also extremely prolific. He wrote roughly 150 plays, and over 50 opera libretti. His best known play is, Il Servitore di Eue Padroni. It has actually gotten quite a bit of (relative) attention in English under the name, Servant of Two Masters. It is kind of like Twelfth Night, but the focus of the play is on Truffaldino Battochio, a servant who is always hungry and so takes on two masters simultaneously to hilarious effect. You can see a very good high school production that just makes me weep for the idea that America is a meritocracy. Just look at the sets and the costumes and ask if Richmond High School could ever do anything like it, despite the fact that it certainly has as much raw talent.
Happy birthday Carlo Goldoni!