History of Western Theatre: 17th Century to Now/Late Italian 18th

Carlo Goldoni

Carlo Goldoni was the dominant figure of 18th century Italian comedy. Portrait of the author by Alessandro Longhi (1733-1813)

Carlo Goldoni (1707-1793) continued to dominate 18th century Italian theatre for such comedies as "La locandiera" (The mistress of the inn, 1751), "La donna vendicativa" (The vindictive woman, 1752), and "I rusteghi" (The boors, 1760). More minor works from Goldoni include "The hypochondriac" (1751) and "A curious accident" (1760). In "The hypochondriac", Rosaura, shows a great variety of symptoms, which worries her father, Pantalone. However, her friend, Beatrice, suspects that the disease is due to love of her physician, Onesti, who considers her a hypochondriac. When Dr Onesti gives her a placebo solution to drink, she immediately improves, but then worsens when her father suggests marriage to his choice as her husband, Lelio. Beatrice informs Onesti that Rosaura loves him, but, as her attending physician, he has scruples in asking for her hand. However, after Beatrice pushes Rosaura to speak up and Pantalone is convinced that the doctor did not manipulate his patient, he accepts the match. In "A curious accident", a soldier, De La Cotterie, recuperates from war wounds at the house of Filiberto. De La Cotterie is in love with Filiberto’s daughter, Giannina, also in love with him, but the rich father disapproves of the match because of his low social rank. To mask her love, Giannina suggests that De La Cotterie’s extended stay at their house is due to the mutual love between him and a neighbor, Costanza, also in love with him. When Filiberto seeks a match between the soldier and Costanza, her father, Riccardo, disapproves as much as he did. To avenge himself on Riccardo, Filiberto gives De La Cotterie a substantial sum of money to escape with Costanza, only he marries Giannina with it.

In "The mistress of the inn", “the author here attempts to centre the interest in Mirandolina, the mistress of the inn, who supports the character of an experienced coquette, full of life, variety, and compliment; totally insensible to the tender passion with which she dallies for mere pastime, but quite virtuous at heart; and with a reputation which, in conclusion, procures her a very suitable establishment in married life. And, in order to exhibit her excellent points in a more pleasing light, the author does not scruple to contrast her with two very impertinent, assuming, and grasping adventurers” (Sismondi, 1823 p 389). "The character of the heroine and the art with which she keeps her forward lovers at bay, are admirably conceived (Ciffe, 1896 p 191). Mirandolina's financial interest is to keep as many clients at the inn as possible, so that when the rich count competes for her love with the impoverished marquis, she keeps quiet about whom she favors. Love is used as a business venture. "Mirandolina permits each [lover] to believe his market value is the highest. In so doing, she keeps both men at the inn and thus satisfies her own business interests. At the same time, however, she also raises her own price on the market" (Fischer-Lichte, 2002, p 143). Because of the knight's misogyny, a different strategy must be used. She makes the knight fall in love with her and ensures that the other two notice it, thereby raising her market value all around. Mirandolina’s particularity “is the disinterestedness of the whole plotting and maneuvering. It is sport for the sake of sport. She does not mean to marry above her station, she does not mean to encourage any unlawful ‘protection’; she has already enthralled the high-born pauper, the wealthy gentleman, and also her hard-working steward; she may choose any of them for a husband for herself and both the others for her protectors, but in the end she chooses the fittest, Fabrizio, who will continue to obey and serve her...It is a crescendo of pretty scenes, daintily conducted...Mirandolina’s honesty...is not grounded in high principles, not declared in high-sounding sentences but interwoven with a solid tissue of common sense, embroidered by tact and...a special grace of her time and country” (Kennard, 1920 pp 489-491). "Mirandolina knows how to seduce gracefully. She even conquers the woman hater, cavaliere di Ripafratta, telling him that she is not pretty, that she has refused marriage many times, that she is incapable of feigning (while she is faking all the time and knows herself irresistible). Actually she seduces with all the means that honesty allows, with her hands, her eyes, her faked sighs, her tears and swooning, by animation to drinking, by feigning congeniality and sentimental affinity, and by amorous songs" (Hatzfeld, 1968 p 411). "The Cavaliere-Mirandolina story is a novel union of involuntary sex attraction and intentional trickery, with the trickery gaining the upper hand. This victory of consciously planned deceitfulness prevents The Mistress of the Inn from rising to the heights attained by more honest treatments of relations between the sexes...From the structural point of view, the faithful servant whom Mirandolina marries provides an ingenious way out of the situation, but, often as it may happen in life, in a comedy it is not fair for a woman to have her cake and eat it too, to be a remorseless flirt and at the same time a devoted lover" (Sanderson, 1939 p 256).

In "The boors", "the society presented is that of the lower bourgeoisie, the four title characters being middle-class merchants, proud of their success in business and conscious of their own importance to the life of the community. Their ability to accumulate property has resulted in their being overimpressed with the power that comes from wealth and decidedly intolerant of other less practical people. They have not had opportunities for self-cultivation equal to the resources at their command. Therefore they appear in an awkward and disagreeable light. They all have gruff outward manners, but each of them is distinguished by details of characterization, particularly in relation to the women of the families. Lunardo, the most boorish of the four, has a pretty daughter and a shrewish second wife, who cannot agree with each other, except in opposing Lunardo and thereby confirming him in his natural obstinacy; Simone, Lunardo’s chief friend, has a stupid wife, and so he prudently disregards the opinions of anyone except himself; Maurizio, a widower with an only son, is freed from the annoyance of a wife, and consequently he has hardened into the mold of a crusty old bachelor; Canciano appears to be the most amusing of them all, because his temperamental crabbedness is offset by the charm and intelligence of his wife. Canciano likes to associate with the other austere men and talk over with them the failings of the world in general and of women in particular, but when once Felice, his wife, murmurs 'Isn’t that so, Master Cancian?', he weakly capitulates to her suggestions, even when she proposes taking a 'cavaliere servente'"(Sanderson, 1939 pp 262-262). In Goldoni's plays, "the father is sometimes an intolerable puritan tyrant, like Ser Todero Brontolon and the four rusteghi, making his unfortunate family live like anchorites, and driving his servants like negroes; but more, often, beneath all the puritanism and gruffness, there is deep kindliness and charity; and in the austere dark house there is excellent eating and drinking, and hearty laughter and bluff merriment when the master invites his friends and their wives and daughters" (Lee, 1887 p 266). "Everywhere [in Goldoni], there is a quasi-poetic escape from the realities of life into playful make-belief. The mask-play thus conceived is even a means of social refinement in 'The boors'. The rough merchant Lunardo, representative of the quasi puritan Venetian bourgeosie and deprived of any sense of humor, forbids his second wife Margarita and his delightful daughter Lucietta to conform to the more youthful and lighter new age and to disguise themselves in order to join the 'maschere'. But the masks invade his home, and Filippetto disguised as donna conquers Lucietta and even makes public the carefully kept secret of their engagement. The spirit of the mask-game favored by the ladies, Margarita, Felice and Marina, finally converts their husbands to a more refined concept of life, and makes Lunardo, Canciano and Simon less of a boor. The spirit of the playful mask intrigue permeates the whole production" (Hatzfeld, 1968 p 413). The boors “all have gruff exteriors, but each of them is distinguished by details of characterization, particularly in relation to the women of their families” (Perry, 1939 p 261). In "The boors", “we have four different views of the same temper, since each of three families is represented as under the tyranny of obstinate chiefs, each reacting diversely against the yoke, each developing, under the same stimulus, different germs of rebellion...Each character is finished in every detail. Each of these ‘rusteghi’ rules his little kingdom in the same spirit, yet the differences in their temper create a vast difference in the same atmosphere which surrounds them...Each father arranges for his son or daughter without dreaming of asking their approval; each father exalts the qualities of his offspring...Sior Cancian is the boor whom a clever sharp-tongued wife has partly tamed, partly bullied into a somewhat better form” (Kennard, 1920 pp 452-455). “All the characters in the play are well drawn: the crusty old codgers and their wives are subtly individualized, especially the inflexible Leonardo, the resourceful Felice, and the weak Canciano, torn between the influence of his wife and loyalty to his comrades” (Luciani, 1961 p 21).

Schlegel (1846) underlined Goldoni's limitations. "His pictures of manners are true, but not sufficiently elevated above the range of every-day life; he has exhausted the surface of life and as there is little progression in his dramas, and as every thing turns usually on the same point, this adds to the impression of shallowness and ennui, as characteristic of the existing state of society" (p 226). But to Flamini (1906), “Goldoni is the greatest of Italian writers of comedy, and certainly one of the most noteworthy of European dramatists, because of his natural intuition of the needs of the stage, his love for the study and observation of reality, his lively picturing of the Venetian life of his time, his fertility in amusing inventions, and finally because of the spirited mirthfulness of the dialogue” (p 287). "Goldoni is neither a philosophical nor a very profound writer, but he is delightfully vivacious, and there is hardly one of his comedies that the reader would not like to peruse a second time" (Cliffe, 1896 p 192).

Goldoni reshaped the old "commedia dell'arte" (comedy of masks), whose origin began in the 16th century and includes much improvisation, into a new form. He "left the four old masks, Pantaloon, Harlequin, Brighella, and the Doctor, to their own devices, merely giving them a rough outline of action, and turning all his attention to the other characters, those not belonging to the Mask Comedy, and which had been in it mere insignificant lay figures...he took up and developed the two most insignificant parts of the comedy, the two lovers, who had been there merely to give opportunity for the action of the other characters; these dramatic shadows, with but a dim outline, vague features, lifeless voice, and limp action, gradually took body and shape, became alive, real men and women, strongly marked, vigorously acting realities; and at length,- oh! wonder of wonders!- the audience began to be perfectly engrossed in the loves and adventures of Lelio and Beatrice, of Rosaura and Florindo, of Leandro and Giacinta...Harlequin could not jabber and stand on his head in the midst of a real scene of Venetian life with the freedom he had enjoyed when surrounded by the fantastic world borrowed from Tirso de Molina or Lope de Vega. It was one thing to be the servant of Don Juan, introducing the marble visitor; and another to be the husband of Catte, the washerwoman of Castello" (Lee, 1887 pp 254-256).

“In the Goldoni theatre, Pantalone is the most important mask of all. He is the descendant of the ‘senex’ (old man) of the Latin comedy. In the "Commedia dell' Arte" he had been always bad-tempered and complaining and extremely immoral in his private life. To the servants he was always the laughing-stock. Goldoni, however, pitied him, as he was the symbol of the Venetian people, and was born in the most characteristic quarter of the city. He took up the cudgels on his behalf and made him a moral member of society” (Starkie, 1924-1927 p 81).

"Carlo Goldoni, who had lived among actors, realized that the commedia del’ arte had become outworn and barren. Plays of this type were hardly more than repetitions of traditional motives, and their scope was limited because of the fixed characters of the masks. An artist of kindly disposition, with scarcely any political bias, Goldoni aimed at technical improvement, at putting on the stage character plays, and thus bringing the drama nearer to life and enabling the author to exercise some influence on life and manners. This conception he carried out, even though he was obliged to sacrifice artistic perfection and polish" (Foligno, 1920 p 42).

“Goldoni’s theatre offers us an impressive gallery of figures taken from all walks of life. They are drawn with realistic simplicity, without any psychological complications, and are often well blended into a colorful milieu that is admirably depicted. The characters that are best portrayed are the older men and the young women, the various respectable Pantaloni, the intransigent fogeys, the old skinflints, the penniless noblemen, the gruff but gullible and generous uncles on the one hand, and, on the other, the countless wily and vivacious maidservants, the garrulous housewives, the vain, ambitious brides, the whimsical, jealous or willful ingénues, and a host of seductive, clever but sensible young ladies like Mirandolina, Felice, Giancinta, Rosaura. Goldoni regards human failings with indulgence for he is essentially an optomist, his satire is a good-humored one of a man of common sense who believes in the golden mean” (Luciani, 1961 p 22).

"The mistress of the inn"

Played by Eleonora Duse (1858-1924) in 1891, Mirandolina has several suitors and manipulates all of them

Time: 1750s. Place: Florence, Italy.

Text at http://www.archive.org/details/fourcomedies00farjgoog http://www.onread.com/book/four-comedies-52973/

Mirandolina, mistress of an inn, is loved by two noblemen: the marquis of Forlipopoli and the count of Albafiorita, as well as her servant, Fabricio. In contrast, her charms find no favor with Ripafratta, a knight. The count has a major advantage over the marquis in being richer and never hesitating to use his money to court Mirandolina. When the count offers her diamond earrings, she at first resists but then accepts them. Unable to compete at that level, the marquis comments that this is a wasteful use of money. To compete more effectively, he successfully asks the knight for a loan. The knight enters her inn indisposed towards Mirandolina as well as women in general. This does not bother her at all, as she finds ways to flatter him, softening him up with specially prepared sheets and food. She even says she likes him, because above everything, she cultivates, as he does, liberty. Thanks to the knight's money, the marquis offers her an expensive handkerchief. As was the case with the previous rival, she at first resists but then accepts. The count congratulates him on his gift, then offers Mirandolina an even richer one: a diamond. As always, she at first resists but then accepts the gift. The knight is beginning to be charmed by Mirandolina. He offers her a glass of wine. "You are the first woman whose conversation I have tolerated without displeasure," he admits. Not to be outdone, the marquis also offers her a glass of wine, which he considers excellent, though it is of poorer quality than the knight's, who is also richer than he is. The knight's unusually tender feelings start to alarm himself, so that he asks for the bill and is surprised at the modest amount. The knight then changes his mind and stays. Mirandolina bewitches him all the more after pretending to faint under the influence of the wine. To help her recuperate, the knight sends her a balm in a golden flagon. Later, while ironing clothes, feeling he is getting to be far too captivated by her, she says to him she will never again enter his room, burns him with the iron, negligently throws the flagon among a basket of clothes, and asks him what does he want of her. "Love, compassion, pity," he answers. The marquis is irritated at the knight because in a fit of anger he stained his clothes. Sensing another rival, the marquis challenges him to a duel but then backs off. For the same reason, the count also challenges the knight to a duel. For this purpose, the count takes out with difficulty the marquis' sword from the scabbard and is surprised to find only a half-sized one. He fights him with it nevertheless. The battle is interrupted by Mirandolina, who, to quiet down all three rivals and to compromise her sense of liberty as little as possible, announces her upcoming marriage with Fabricio. Accepting her decision, the count offers her money and the marquis his protection, but the knight leaves angrily. He declares concerning all women in general: "I have learned at my expense that it is not enough to be contemptuous of them, but that one must flee."

"The boors"

As played by Maria Grazia Spina (1936-?) in 1969, Lucietta is up in arms at men's coarseness

Time: 1760s. Place: Venice, Italy.

Text at ?

Margarita and her stepdaughter Lucietta rarely go out to amuse themselves because Margarita's husband, the grouchy Lunardo, refuses to consent. Although he sometimes invites friends over to his house, they are as boorish as he is. Lunardo announces to his wife that he has found a husband for his daughter: Filippetto, son to his boorish friend, Maurizio. Since his father is unlikely to allow him even to see his intended before marriage, Filippetto asks for help from his aunt, Marina. Before they get a chance to plot together, her husband, Simone, interrupts them, conducting himself most boorishly towards Filippetto, because he does not like to see anyone in his house. Marina's friend, Felice, arrives with her husband Canciano, a boor like the others but a more timid one, especially submissive towards his wife. Felice is astonished at Maurizio's attitude and promises to help Filippetto and Lucietta at least see each other. Before a party in his house, Lunardo complains about Margarita's and Lucietta's clothes, too frivolous and gaudy to his taste. He insists that they change. Although Lucietta submits, Margarita resists. "I would rather die than do you that pleasure," she says irritably. After the women leave, Lunardo and Simone amuse themselves by complaining about their wives. When Lucietta learns of the marriage being prepared, she is overjoyed. Felice introduces the masked Filippetto secretly inside the house. He and Lucietta confer and are pleased with each other. A worried Maurizio arrives to say he is unable to find his son anywhere. After hearing his father's voice, Filippetto comes out of hiding, which so angers Lunardo that he disallows the marriage contract. However, Felice intervenes favorably, finding the right words to calm down all the boors so that the two lovers are allowed to marry.

"The vindictive woman"


Time: 1750s. Place: Venice, Italy.

Text at ?

Ottavio wants to marry his servant, Corallina, but she loves Florindo, who loves Ottavio’s daughter, Rosaura. When Florindo asks Ottavio for his daughter’s hand, he accepts without much interest in the matter. To ruin Florindo’s prospects, Corallina assures her master that the pretending lover flirts with her outrageously. Instead, she proposes Lelio as his daughter’s husband, but when Lelio meets Ottavio, the two hot-heads immediately quarrel over dowry details. Ottavio’s niece, Beatrice, tries to intercede in Florindo’s favor, but is prevented by the vindictive servant. When Ottavio finds Florindo alone with Rosaura in her room, he chases her out with a sword until disarmed by her lover. But after settling down, Ottavio finds no reason to refuse Florindo as his son-in-law until Corallina shows up with a piece of paper stipulating that in return for a borrowed sum of money Florindo promised her marriage. Although Florindo says that she forged that stipulation over his signature, neither father not daughter believe him. Angry at the existence of such a document, Ottavio advances to split Corallina’s head in two until she draws out a pistol. Pretending good faith, she tears up the document in front of the father and presents the pieces to the daughter. Nevertheless, to compromise Rosaura with Lelio, the still vindictive servant stashes her in a dark room, but before Lelio arrives, the astonished Ottavio discovers his daughter there. Frustrated at these complications, he threatens to send her to a convent. Once more Corallina intervenes and stashes her back in the dark room, letting Lelio inside while unaware that Beatrice introduced Florindo there to avoid attracting notice. Enraged, Florindo chases Lelio out with his sword, whereby Lelio swears revenge on Corallina as he goes. Yet Corallina has a new plan. She pushes Florindo back inside the room as Ottavio rages against his daughter and then discovers Corallina in the same room with Florindo. Corallina explains that Florindo was guided in the house by Beatrice, acting like a pimp for Rosaura. Beatrice rushes out, enraged. To delay the wedding, Corallina proposes to Ottavio to arm himself against Lelio. In the dark of night, she requests Lelio’s servant to send for his master while revealing she has no love for him, which the armed Ottavio overhears in his hiding-place in the next room. She next leads Rosaura from her room on one hand, promising to lead Florindo to her when she means to lead Lelio and, on the other, doing the same with Florindo whom she wishes to compromise with her own person. But Ottavio secures Florindo and Rosaura together in the same room. Corallina next leads Lelio towards Rosaura unaware that he is taking Florindo by the hand. Corallina then opens the door to lead Florindo out, only to find her master’s pistol aimed at her face. He orders her out of his house.

Carlo Gozzi

In his comedies, Carlo Gozzi explores the realms of the fantastic with highly imaginative wit. Drawing of the author by an unknown artist

The second best dramatist of the period is Carlo Gozzi (1720-1806), whose "La Zobeide" (Zobeide, 1763) and "L'augellino belverde" (The little green bird, 1765) combine the comic and the tragic, realism and fantasy, in a happy mixture. Lesser fantasy plays include "The crow" (1761), "The stag king" (1762), and "Turandot" (1764). In "The crow", a king kills a crow by mistake while hunting and becomes the potential victim of a curse. Since her hair is as black as the dead crow's, his brother, Jennaro, is forced to abduct a princess of another kingdom and present her as the king's bride. But knowing that a prodigious monster will kill his brother if that happens, he draws suspicions on his behavior till the king condemns him to death. Despite the threat of being transformed into a statue of salt if he reveals the reason of his actions, Jennaro does so and is immediately immobilized. But when the princess stabs herself as being the cause of Jennaro's transformation, the curse is lifted so that brother and bride are restored to the king. In "The stag king", a king, with the help of a magic marble bust that laughs whenever a person lies, finally discovers a sincere woman, Angela, who loves him for himself. Angry at losing Angela whom he loves, the king's chief minister, Tartaglia, tricks his sovereign into being transformed into a stag while being transformed himself in the king's body. But before he can obtain Angela, the king defeats his purpose. In "Turandot", a Chinese emperor accepts that his daughter, Turandot, forces her suitors to solve three enigmas or else die. Kalaf, a prince destituted of his kingdom, steps up to risk his life and solves the three problems. Seeing Turandot's despair at being forced to marry him, the emperor offers her an enigma in return: discovering his name and that of his father. Turnabout's slave and destituted princess, Adelma, proposes to run away with Kalaf, but he refuses. When Adelma discovers his name, she gives this information to Turandot, who, recognizing at last Kalaf's faith and love, refuses to use that information. The couple marry and Adelma is set free.

In “The little green bird”, relative to earlier plays, “the playwright demonstrates...artistic growth, his wonderful complexity of plot, characterization, and a greater richness in language” (DiGaetani, 2000 p 142). "In this comedy Carlo Gozzi has woven together with wonderful art the prose buffoonery of the Comedy of Masks with the stateliest tragic verse and the sharpest moralising of a satire; his love of the droll Venetian dialect, of the supernatural, of the grotesque, and his moral indignation against the philosophic sophisms of his day, hare balanced each other, and united to form a little masterpiece, in which for the only time perhaps in his life Carlo Gozzi has succeeded in making us see and feel completely and satisfactorily all that he wants us to see and to feel...The brother and sister, who have read odd pages of Helvetius and Holbach, in which Truffaldino was wont to wrap up his cheese and sausages, wander about destitute but philosophical, having come to the conclusion that morality is a social fiction, that all human action springs from self-love, and that the only wisdom is to suppress every feeling and to hold aloof from mankind...With its buffooneries, its transformations, its tragic passion, its philosophising, its moralising antique statue, its apple singing opera songs, accompanied by ;he dancing water as orchestra, its whimpering comic king, its mephisphophelian pork-selling harlequin, its clown poet-seer Brighella (who restores his prophetic vein at the tavern), its hero Eenzo madly enamoured of a woman of stone, its bird in love with a mortal, its fantastic, semi-philosophic suggestiveness, has altogether a strange analogy with the second part of Faust; an enigmatic work, we know not whether too loftily meaningful or too childishly meaningless for full comprehension; amusing, tickling, pleasing; above all filling the mind with a queer and delightful medley of thoughts" (Lee, 1887 pp 284-287).

"Carlo Gozzi was whimsical, sentimental, metaphysical ; in short, a humourist of the temper of Sterne and of Jean Paul: he believed in the superior wisdom of childishness, in the philosophy of old nurses' tales, in the venerableness of clowns" (Lee, 1887 p 275).



Time: 1760s. Place: The imaginary kingdom of Samandal.

Text at ?

Zobeide is puzzled as to why on the 40th day of her marriage with Sinadab, Moorish king of Samanbal, everyone is grieving for her. Regretting having captured her, the priest, Abdalac, reveals she is condemned to be transformed into a heifer pursued by bulls, or else into another type of animal, as occurred to many of the king's spouses on that very day. The king has also captured Zobeide's sister and her brother's intended, Salea and Dilara, respectively, for the same purpose. Knowing this, Zobeide's father, Beder, king of Ormuz, her brother, Schemsedin, and Masoud, Salea's intended, have raised an army to free the women from the necromancer's "infamous purposes". The priest instructs to refrain from eating and drinking this day and the next. To her amazement, he gives speech to a lion and a tiger, transformed servants of her family meant to guard the prisoners. He also gives her a key to a cave where lie Salea and Dilara. Full of doubts and fears, Zobeide reveals to her husband Abdalac's suspicions and how he transformed a lion and a tiger into men. Sinadab answers she must not listen to his lies, and asks her to convince her father not to attack him. Thanks to the key, Zobeide is able to enter the cave, where she discovers a decapitated woman holding her head by the hair, who announces there are hundreds of women here resisting the advances of the king. She then finds Dilara, amazed to meet her "in the hell of the living", who cannot hope to be her brother's intended anymore, her body being transformed into an animal's. She also finds Salea, whose breast is devoured by a serpent. "Shame chokes me," Zebeda declares at such a sight. Suddenly, Abdalac appears and recommends her to follow Sinadab's advice, in particular to speak with her father to prevent the war. He also advises her to pretend loving Sinadab. She agrees to this. On arriving in the kingdom, Beder is angry at his daughter for being such as bad wife. She is next scolded by Sinadab for lacking proper respect when answering her father's admonitions. To spare their subjects' blood, Sinadab proposes a meeting with Beder alone in the woods outside the city. Meanwhile, quarrels break out in the Ormuz army, notably between Schemsedin and Masoud, who fight with swords till separated by Beder. Disguised as Abdalac, Sinadab induces Schemsedin and Masoud to follow their king in secret. Beder's and Schemsedin's shapes are then transformed into Sinadab's, so that father and son attack each other, each thinking to attack Sinadab, whereby the son kills the father. On seeing his mistake, Schemsedin despairs to the point of wishing to stab himself, but Masoud is prevents it. Back at his palace, Sinadab gives Zobeide some cakes to transform her into a heifer, but she substitutes them for Abdelac's and proposes to her husband a few pieces. While eating Abdelac's cake, he is transformed into a horrible monster, which gives Masoud an occasion to kill him, but Schemsedin proposes that the king be exposed to the populace and then burnt to death. Thanks to their intervention, the imprisoned women are set free.

"The little green bird"

Unknown to the king, a little green bird feeds his wife to keep her alive inside a tomb. Photo of a green bee-eater

Time: 1760s. Place: The imaginary kingdom of Monterotondo.

Text at https://dokumen.pub/the-green-bird-a-commedia-dell-arte-play-in-three-acts-9780823296835.html

To Smeraldina's grief, Truffaldino has enough of taking care of their two adopted children, Renzo and Barbarina, and orders them out of the house. Armed with philosophy, the young man and woman feel no sorrow at leaving their home. Barbarina tells Smeraldina that her parental generosity is in fact a form of egotism, because goodness rewards itself. Smeraldina dismisses that notion but promises to give her money if she can. Barbarina and Renzo encounter great difficulties in finding food and shelter until Calmon, a living statue, advises them to throw a stone in front of the royal palace. He reveals that their origin is known by a green bird, which, unknown to the king, serves food inside the tomb to his supposedly dead wife, Ninetta. In the royal palace, King Tartaglia is angry at his mother, Tartaglione, for burying alive Ninetta and killing his two babies. He sarcastically proposes to give back her maternal milk with the next passing of a milkmaid. When Barbarina throws the stone, a new palace magically springs up in front of the king's. Now that her adopted children are richly installed, Smeraldina returns to them, reluctantly taken in by Barbarina. In dire straits with his wife away, Truffaldino eventually shows up as well, husband and wife both willing to act as their adopted children's servants. When Tartaglione looks across to the opposite palace with his binoculars, he notices Barbarina and begins to lust after her, unconscious she is his daughter. Tartaglione taunts Barbarina by saying that though she is beautiful she would be even more so had she magical objects at her disposal, such as a singing apple and water that dances. Before leaving in quest of those, Renzo gives his sister an enchanted knife which shines as long as he remains alive. Renzo discovers the singing apple and the water that dances, but because he has failed to follow Calmon's injections, he is transformed into a statue, as does Truffaldino. The knife, to Barbarina's grief, turns red. To free her brother, she follows Calmon's order of reading a talisman, a magic text free of "vain folly and vain reason". This frees the green bird as well as Renzo, Truffaldino, and Ninetta, the latter being happily restored to her husband's embraces.

Vittorio Alfieri

Vittorio Alfieri wrote a tragedy about a woman with an incestuous love for her father. Portrait of the author by François-Xavier Fabre, 1793

The most important tragedian of late 18th century Italian theatre is Vittorio Alfieri (1749-1803), whose best-known play, "Mirra" (Myrrha, 1786), derives from a story in Ovid's "Metamorphoses (8 AD) in which Myrrha is in love with her own father, a love not reciprocated.

Schlegel (1846) was turned off by the mere theme of "Myrrha" as "a perilous attempt to treat with propriety a subject equally revolting to the senses and the feelings" (p 223). Other critics have borne the subject. In "Myrrha", gradually, painfully, and too late, the father discovers his daughter's sentiments and reacts disastrously. “Taking its theme of from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the tragedy depicts the incestuous love that Mirra, as a consequence of the revenge of Venus, feels for her father...in a climax that is both tragic and pathetic, and which reveals all the author’s compasssion for his heroine” (Pizzamiglio, 2006 p 201). "Mirra’s incestuous passion in the play that bears her name...is caused by Venus, through her mother’s fault, and the heroic struggle she makes against it arouses our sympathy from the first" (Collison-Morley, 1911 p 137). “In ‘Myrrha’ Alfieri handles a delicate theme with great dignity and modesty…The dramatic tension is built up by Myrrha’s vague and mysterious allusions, her hesitations, her reservations, which keep the spectator in constant doubt as to the nature of her affliction” (Luciani, 1961 p 25-26).

Alfieri "aimed at being the Cato of the theatre; hut he forgot that, though the tragic poet may himself be a stoic, tragic poetry itself, if it would move and agitate us, must never be stoical. His language is so barren of inmagery that his characters seem altogether devoid of fancy; it is broken and harsh: lie wished to steel it anew, and in the process it not only lost its splendour, but became brittle and inflexible...When we read the tragedies of Alfieri, the world looms upon us dark and repulsive. A style of composition which exhibits the ordinary course of human affairs in a gloomy and troublous light, and whose extraor-dinary catastrophes are horrible, resembles a climate where the perpetual fogs of a northern winter should he joined with the fiery tempests of the torrid zone. Profound and delicate delineation of character is as little to be looked for in Alfieri as in Metastasio: he does but exhibit the opposite but equally partial view of human nature. His characters also are cast in the mould of naked general notions, and he frequently paints the extremes of black and white, side by side, and in unrelieved contrast" (Schlegel, 1846 pp 2221-222).

“With the exception of two dramas, which are probably his greatest artistic productions, Mirra and Saul, the one dealing with an incestuous passion and the other with a Biblical figure, the political content of his dramatic productions is very prominent” (Megaro, 1930 p 43). Alfieri “inclines somewhat toward conventionality. In a few of the tragedies, the style, by too great adherence to brevity, is poor in color and imagery; monosyllables, elisions and inversions abound, intentionally, sometimes rendering the verse inharmonious. But, even aside from the loftiness of aim, Alfieri’s tragedies have excellencies compensating liberally for those defects. Some characters have real grandeur, and are more than represented, they are carved with the terrible dagger of the tragic hater of tyrants, as Parini called him. The setting is felicitous; the psychologic analysis, fruit of quiet meditation, seems true to nature, if wanting in breadth and deep insight Nor do these tragedies lack passages of vigorous eloquence, or scenes that delight and move by bold conflicts of feeling” (Flamini, 1906 p 282).

"For Alfieri the characters in a tragedy must be in an exalted station. He had nothing but contempt for the drama of everyday life that was becoming so popular...He would have none of the confidants of the French writers, none of the underplots of minor characters which he had found so trying to his patience in the plays he had witnessed in his youth. His plays begin when the plot is already far advanced. The action is simple and direct, the characters are few and the unrhymed hendecassyllables broken and varied, entirely free from the monotony he found unendurable in the French alexandrine" (Collison-Morley, 1911 pp 132-133).


Myrrha is horrified for sexually desiring her own father, from an etching by Toussaint Dubreuil (1558-1602), The Louvre, Paris, France

Time: Antiquity. Place: Cyprus.

Text at https://archive.org/details/tragedies03alfiuoft http://www.onread.com/book/The-tragedies-of-Vittorio-Alfieri-complete-including-his-posthumous-works-Tr-from-the-Italian-Edited-by-Edgar-Alfred-Bowring-2-1408392/

Cenchreis is afflicted at seeing her daughter, Myrrha, unhappy for no apparent reason. "Bit by bit, I feel my heart tear at this sight," she says. Myrrha has repulsed many appealing suitors and, though finally choosing one, Pereus, prince of Epirus, she still appears melancholy. Her father, Cinyras, is also puzzled: "If in her breast she keeps another love, why did she among them all choose Pereus?" When Cinyras asks Pereus whether she appears to love him, he answers: "To love me in return perhaps Myrrha is willing, but she seems unable to." Myrrha enters with a bridal crown, but looking so sad that Pereus agrees to let go and return to his country. She protests: "I tell you and I swear I would not be another's except you." But to her nurse she admits: "To die, to die, I wish for no other, and I deserve nothing other than death." There is no parental constraint to this marriage, she wants to marry, but with such a melancholy face that her parents are aggrieved. As they prepare for the ceremony, Myrrha appears at first serene, but yet admitting for a long time now: "Each meager and rare piece of food is my poison," she confesses. To her parents' surprise, she intends to marry and follow immediately her husband the next day to Epire, seeing him as her "sole and true liberator". But before the ceremony, she breaks down, so that Pereus is unable to go on and leaves. Only one person appears able to end her torments: her father. She feels "unworthy to be his daughter". When her mother attempts to console her, Myrrha rejects her. "You, the sempiternal and baneful reason of all my miseries!" she exclaims disdainfully. To add to her parents' woes, Pereus commits suicide, so that Cinyras worries on whether his father will declare war on his realm. He now insists on knowing the exact cause of Myrrha's torments, certain that another love is responsible. "In you the furies are the daughter of love," he says to her. She at first denies it but then is forced to confess. "I love desperately and in vain," she admits. To console her, he asks her to come to his arms, but she refuses. Angrily, he will henceforth forbear her company. She cries out in despair that at least her mother will die near him, to which Cinyras, stunned, cries out: "O, that terrible flash shoots forth from your words" while backing away from her. When Myrrha lunges to take away his sword, he looks on in disbelief, stunned and immobile, as she stabs herself. Petrified, unwilling to help his daughter, he turns towards his uncomprehending wife and reveals their daughter's desire. "With an infamous, a horrible love, she burns for Cinyras," he declares.