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Carlo Goldoni: One of the Greatest Italian Dramatists

Courtesy of the Guthrie Theater

As the author of more than 130 comedies, Carlo Goldoni is among the greatest dramatists of Italy and, with Carlo Gozzi, was one of the pillars of a revitalized 18th-century Italian drama. Goldoni’s most significant achievement was to breathe new life into the Italian theatre by providing a literary foundation for the commedia dell’arte. Actors of commedia companies portrayed popular stock characters wearing traditional masks and largely improvised their performances, using familiar comic scenarios as starting points. Goldoni stepped into this tradition with a playwright’s voice, creating an impressive body of fully scripted plays that moved beyond the conventions of comic acting improvisations. His imaginative plots were drawn from observations of real life, with memorable, fully drawn characters engaged in social interactions of greater complexity than those found in commedia.

Goldoni was born in 1707 in Venice to a middle-class family with a passion for theatre. Goldoni was initially prepared for a medical career, following in his father’s footsteps, but he had already developed a taste for the theatre (even running away for three days with a group of traveling actors). In part to remove him from a distracting environment, he was apprenticed to his lawyer uncle at age 14. But Goldoni fed his passion for theater and became determined to bring Italian theater to the level of Spanish, English and French drama. He found in the comedies of Molière in particular a great inspiration.

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