The Servant of Two Masters
- AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY
- PLOT SUMMARY
- HISTORICAL CONTEXT
- CRITICAL OVERVIEW
- FURTHER READING
Carlo Goldoni's play The Servant of Two Masters was first written around 1745 and then revised heavily in 1753. However, no definitive information as to its initial performance exists, and several conflicting years during the 1740s are given for the play's original composition. Despite the lack of concrete information on the origin of the work itself, the play has remained a favorite performance piece across Europe and in the United States. It was performed in 2003 at Dorset House School in Bury, Sussex, England, and a 2009 production was staged in Seattle, Washington, by the Seattle Shakespeare Company. The play has remained in print for more than two and a half centuries, and a 2006 edition was released by Broadway Play Publishers.
The Servant of Two Masters is rooted firmly in the tradition of the commedia dell'arte, a distinctly Italian form of improvisational comedy popularized in the fifteenth century. It is also a love story that hinges upon coincidences, mistaken identities, disguises, and other such intrigues. The central character, Truffaldino, is integral to the series of misunderstandings and situational comedies that ultimately end happily, though they come very close to resulting in tragedy on more than one occasion. This exciting and highly dramatic series of events takes place over the course of only one day. Notably, the play is often described as Shakespearean in its scope and construction. It thus serves beautifully as an example of classic
dramatic principles, both in its resemblance to Roman comedies and to Shakespeare's plays.
Goldoni was born to an upper-middle-class family in Venice, Italy, on February 25, 1707. His father was a doctor, and his career required the family to move frequently throughout Italy. Though Goldoni initially studied medicine, he soon switched to law, ultimately graduating with his law degree from the University of Padua in 1731. However, from his teenage years, Goldoni was captivated by the theater; he even ran away from home and spent several days with an acting troupe. He also carried on a series of ill-advised love affairs during his youth, many of which even resulted in his expulsion from the various schools he attended. Despite his tumultuous youth, Goldoni began work as a lawyer in Venice as soon as he earned his degree. He also worked in several different capacities for the government, and he never held any one job for long. The romantic misadventures of his youth continued, and Goldoni was often forced to move from city to city in order to escape the scandals he left in his wake.
In addition to his law career, Goldoni worked as a house dramatist at the San Samuele Theatre and as a librettist at the San Giovanni Grisostomo opera house. Indeed, his first libretto, Amalasunta, was released in 1732. Other early plays include Belisario (1734), Don Giovanni Tenorio, o il dissoluto (1736), and El cortesan, o l'uomo di mondo (1738). The latter play was followed by Il servitore di due padroni in or around 1745. It was later translated into English as The Servant of Two Masters. In 1747, Goldoni was employed as a dramatist for the Teatro Sant' Angelo. He worked there until 1752. By then, he had already established a reputation for experimenting with more natural forms of theater, redefining the classic but rigid form of commedia dell'arte. This groundbreaking approach incited mixed reactions at the time.
Goldoni was an extremely prolific playwright, releasing up to sixteen plays a year. Some of the plays composed during the height of his productivity included Il padre di famiglia (1749), translated as The Father of the Family in 1757; and La bottega del caffe (1750), translated as The Coffee House in 1925. Next, from 1753 to 1762, Goldoni worked as a playwright for the San Luca Theater. He moved to Paris in 1762 and served as a playwright at the Comedie-Italienne. The same year, he was also hired as the tutor to Princess Adelaide, the illegitimate daughter of King Louis XV. The king gave Goldoni a pension in 1769, and the playwright settled in France, where he worked on his plays and memoirs. His last play, Le bourru bienfaisant, written in French, appeared in 1771 and was translated as The Beneficent Bear in 1892. Goldoni died in Paris on February 6 or 7, 1793. Notably, although the facts of the playwright's life remain somewhat obscure, it is known that he married and was survived by his wife.
Act 1, Scene 1
The action in The Servant of Two Masters takes place in Venice over the course of a single day, beginning in the home of Pantalone Dei Bisognosi. Dr. Lombardi and his son, Silvio, are arranging Silvio's marriage to Pantalone's daughter, Clarice. The innkeeper, Brighella, and Clarice's maid, Smeraldina, are also present. Clarice was previously engaged to Federigo Rasponi, Pantalone's Page 195 | Top of Article business partner in Turin. However, Federigo has died in a duel, and thus Clarice is free to marry her beloved Silvio.
The group is preparing to celebrate when Truffaldino, a servant, arrives and insists that Pantalone speak with his master, who is in the next room. Truffaldino's master is Federigo, and thus his assertion is quite shocking to the little group. Clarice, of course, is worried as to how this news will affect her plans to marry Silvio. When Federigo enters, it turns out to be his sister, Beatrice, in disguise. This fact, however, is apparent only to Brighella, and the others are all convinced that Beatrice is indeed Federigo. Brighella does not reveal the truth.
Confirming his daughter's worst fears, Pantalone introduces Clarice to Beatrice as "his" betrothed and says that Silvio is a nephew. Silvio does not let the lie pass and asserts his true identity and purpose. Beatrice pretends to be offended, and Pantalone apologizes for the mix-up, which occurred only because they believed Federigo to be dead. Pantalone then renews his vow to marry Clarice to Federigo. Silvio threatens to fight any who would prevent him from marrying Clarice, and then he and his father storm out.
Clarice declares that she would rather marry an executioner than Federigo and also storms out. Angered by her behavior, Pantalone chases after her. Beatrice stops him and says that Clarice will calm down. She then suggests that they go over their business accounts. They set a time to go over everything later, and then Beatrice speaks privately with Brighella, thanking him for not revealing her ruse. Beatrice tells the innkeeper that Federigo is indeed dead, killed in a duel by her lover, Florindo Aretusi. Beatrice is now parading as her brother in order to wrap up his business matters and collect his money. She then plans to find Florindo, who has since fled in disguise to Venice to avoid prosecution, and escape with him.
Brighella notes that Beatrice if Federigo's legal heir and that the money is rightfully hers in any case. She points out that because she is a woman, Pantalone is more likely to take advantage of her, and Brighella agrees with this observation.
Act 1, Scene 2
Outside Brighella's inn, Truffaldino waits for his master. Florindo appears with a porter carrying his trunk. The porter is too weak to continue, and Truffaldino grabs the trunk and carries it into the inn. Florindo is impressed and hires Truffaldino to be his servant, a job that Truffaldino accepts despite already being employed (a fact he does not share with Florindo). For his first job as Florindo's servant, Truffaldino is instructed to go to the post office and retrieve his master's letters. On his way, Truffaldino encounters Beatrice, who orders him to retrieve her trunk at the port and bring it to the inn. She also orders him to retrieve the mail from the post office (regardless of whether it is addressed to "him" or to Beatrice) and then goes into the inn.
Truffaldino next encounters Silvio, who orders him to fetch his master. Truffaldino is unsure which master Silvio is referring to, so he brings Florindo out of the inn. He then leaves for the post office. Florindo and Silvio realize there has been a mix-up, but Silvio just assumes he has mistaken Florindo's servant for someone else. Florindo and Silvio become fast friends, though Florindo gives a false name because he is a fugitive. Silvio says he was looking for Federigo in order to kill him for making a claim on Clarice. Florindo is appalled to learn that Federigo is still alive and apparently staying at the same inn. Alone, Florindo acknowledges that he ran from the duel so quickly that he never actually saw Federigo die. Thus, rather than reencounter his old enemy, Florindo decides to return to Turin and look for Beatrice.
Truffaldino returns with a porter carrying Beatrice's trunk. When he sees Florindo, he makes the porter wait around the corner. He then goes to his new master with the post, but he realizes that he has mixed up both of his masters' letters. Unable to read, Truffaldino cannot amend the problem, so he tells Florindo that his servant friend, Pasquale, asked him to retrieve a letter for his own master and that it has gotten mixed with Florindo's mail. Florindo sees that the letter is addressed to Beatrice, and he opens it despite Truffaldino's protests. Florindo learns from the letter that Beatrice is in Venice disguised as a man. Thus, he resolves to stay in town and try to find her. He is also very interested in finding the (imaginary) servant Pasquale, believing that the man will lead him to his beloved. Florindo then returns the letter to Truffaldino and heads toward town.
Truffaldino reseals the letter and calls to the porter. Beatrice comes out of the inn and retrieves her trunk and her letter. When she sees that it has been opened, Truffaldino lies and says he opened it by mistake and cannot read. Beatrice accepts the explanation and reads the letter. She gives Page 196 | Top of Article Truffaldino the keys to her trunk and orders him to unpack it. Then she heads to Pantalone's house.
Act 1, Scene 3
At his house, Pantalone is attempting to convince Clarice that she must marry Federigo. Smeraldina comes in to announce Federigo's arrival and she tells her mistress that Clarice is lucky to marry such a handsome man. When Beatrice sees how upset Clarice is, she asks to speak with her privately. When they are alone, Beatrice reveals her true identity but makes Clarice promise to keep it a secret, even from Silvio. Clarice reluctantly agrees, but she is overjoyed at the news that Federigo is indeed dead. The two women hug, but when Pantalone walks in and sees them embracing, he assumes that they have made up and that the wedding plans can go forward. In fact, he intends to have the wedding the very next day. Pantalone sets out to inform Silvio of Clarice's change of heart, and she notes that things have now gone from bad to worse.
Act 2, Scene 1
Silvio and his father are in the courtyard of Pantalone's house. Silvio wishes to confront Pantalone, but Dr. Lombardi wishes to take a more coolheaded approach. He convinces Silvio to let him handle it. Silvio agrees and leaves. Soon after, Pantalone enters the courtyard. He tells Dr. Lombardi that Clarice wishes to marry Federigo. Silvio's father tries to reason with Pantalone, but he eventually grows angry and storms off. Silvio then enters and threatens Pantalone. When he reaches for his sword, Pantalone screams for help. Beatrice enters the courtyard and comes to Pantalone's defense. Silvio and Beatrice fight as Pantalone runs out to the street calling for help. Beatrice bests Silvio and is ready to deliver the fatal blow when Clarice rushes in and stops her.
Beatrice reminds Clarice of her promise, which Silvio interprets as Clarice's agreement to marry Federigo. Beatrice leaves Clarice and Silvio alone and Clarice assures Silvio of her fidelity. But, because she is unable to tell him the nature of her promise, he does not believe her. He declares that he never wants to see her again. Clarice picks up his sword and holds it to her chest, threatening to kill herself. Smeraldina runs in and stops her, admonishing Silvio for not stopping her himself. Even Clarice is appalled by Silvio's indifference. She notes that Silvio will one day realize his mistake and runs off in tears.
Act 2, Scene 2
Truffaldino waits at the inn for his masters. Florindo enters and asks whether his servant has found Pasquale yet. Truffaldino, of course, has not. Florindo then gives Truffaldino the keys to his trunk and goes to find Beatrice. After he leaves, Beatrice enters and tells Truffaldino that Pantalone will be joining them for dinner. A little while later, Truffaldino is carrying the food to Beatrice's room when Florindo enters and asks why Truffaldino is serving dinner before his master has appeared. Truffaldino lies and says he saw Florindo coming from the window. Florindo goes to his room and Truffaldino enlists a waiter to help him as he juggles all the dishes, rushing back and forth between both masters' rooms, and occasionally helping himself to some of the food as well.
Act 2, Scene 3
Clarice has sent Smeraldina to the inn with a secret letter for Beatrice. When Smeraldina learns that Pantalone is there, she asks for Beatrice's servant to come out to the street to retrieve the letter. When Truffaldino sees her, the two servants flirt. Smeraldina tells Truffaldino to give the letter to Federigo. Curious, Truffaldino opens the letter, but neither he nor his new love can read, though both lie about this fact to one another. As they attempt to decipher the letter, Pantalone and Beatrice come outside. Beatrice yells at Truffaldino for opening the letter. Smeraldina attempts to lie about her purpose in going to the inn, but the truth is revealed, and she runs off, with Pantalone chasing after her. Beatrice begins to beat Truffaldino with her walking stick, and then she storms off. From the window, Florindo sees a man beating Truffaldino, but the "man" is gone by the time he makes it outside.
When Florindo asks Truffaldino to explain what happened, the servant says he spat on the man's shoe and that the man beat him for it. Florindo sees Truffaldino's calm acceptance of the beating from a stranger as an act that reflects poorly on his master (that is, Florindo himself). Therefore, Florindo also becomes angry and beats Truffaldino.
Act 3, Scene 1
Beatrice is out, and Florindo is sleeping in his room. Truffaldino decides to unpack his masters' trunks and air out their clothes. He brings both trunks out in the hall and begins to sort through them. In Beatrice's trunk, Truffaldino finds a Page 197 | Top of Article portrait that bears a strong resemblance to Florindo. The only difference is the man's hair and dress. Florindo calls from his room for Truffaldino, and the servant scrambles to pack the trunks before being discovered. In his haste, though, he mixes up some of their belongings. Florindo comes out and sees both trunks, but Truffaldino says the second trunk belongs to a man who has just arrived at the inn.
Florindo has Truffaldino retrieve his suit for him, but when he puts it on, he finds his own portrait (the one he gave Beatrice) in his pocket. Truffaldino lies and says that the portrait belonged to his old master, who has since died. He says he kept it as a memento and accidentally put it in his new master's trunk. Florindo flees in grief to his room, believing Beatrice to be dead.
Beatrice and Pantalone enter, and Truffaldino tells the same lie that he told Florindo about the second trunk. Beatrice opens her trunk in search of some business papers and comes across a strange book, which contains old letters she wrote to Florindo. Truffaldino repeats his lie about a dead former master, and Beatrice of course assumes that Florindo is dead. She forgets herself and laments the loss of her lover aloud, thus revealing her true identity. She runs to her room in despair, leaving Pantalone and Truffaldino shocked at the revelation that Federigo is actually Beatrice.
Act 3, Scene 2
On the street, Pantalone approaches Dr. Lombardi. Pantalone is extremely apologetic; he attempts to explain the recent turn of events and renew Clarice's engagement to Silvio. However, Dr. Lombardi is so angry that he storms off before Pantalone is able to do so. Silvio comes along, and Pantalone is finally successful in his endeavor. Silvio is ecstatic, and he and Pantalone go to find Clarice.
Act 3, Scene 3
Back at the inn, both Beatrice and Florindo exit their rooms. Each is holding a sword and plans to commit suicide. They are so distraught that it is several moments before they notice one another. Delighted, they both explain that they thought the other was dead and how they came to think this. They both wonder what their respective servants are up to, and they call for them at once. Truffaldino is dragged into the room by Brighella. The innkeeper then goes in search of a second servant, as no one has figured out Truffaldino's ruse. The servant whispers to Florindo that Pasquale is Beatrice's servant and that all of the mistakes today have been made by Pasquale. He says that all of the lies he has told have been attempts to cover for his errant friend. He even tells Florindo that he will admit to Beatrice that everything was his fault. Truffaldino then whispers a similar story to Beatrice, stating that Florindo's servant is named Pasquale and that Truffaldino has been covering up Pasquale's mistakes all day.
Beatrice and Florindo are satisfied by Truffaldino's explanations, and Beatrice sets off to Pantalone's house to resolve their pending business matters. Truffaldino is ordered to take Florindo there to meet her later. After Beatrice has gone, Truffaldino says that he wishes to marry Smeraldina and asks Florindo to put in a good word with Pantalone.
Act 3, Scene 4
Dr. Lombardi, Silvio, Clarice, Smeraldina, and Pantalone are all at Pantalone's house. Silvio begs Clarice's forgiveness, and she eventually grants it. Brighella comes in and announces Beatrice's arrival. She enters and begs forgiveness for her ruse, and it is granted by all. Silvio and Clarice are happily reunited and are pleased to hear of Beatrice's reunion with Florindo. Smeraldina then announces that she wishes to marry as well. She whispers to Clarice that she wants to marry Beatrice's servant and Clarice promises to speak to Beatrice about this.
Truffaldino then enters with Florindo, who is welcomed heartily. Pantalone agrees to give Beatrice away in her wedding and to resolve all of his business matters with her. However, when Florindo announces that he wishes his servant to marry Smeraldina, Clarice announces that she wishes Beatrice's servant to marry her. Believing that Smeraldina now has two potential husbands, Clarice and Florindo decide that she should marry neither; Florindo and Clarice do not wish to offend one another by pressing their case over the other's. Truffaldino, then, is finally forced to reveal his trickery, to the astonishment of all.
Florindo Aretusi is Beatrice's lover from Turin. Beatrice's brother, Federigo, despised his sister's paramour and incited him to a duel. However, since Florindo killed Federigo in the duel, he was forced to flee Turin in order to escape arrest. Florindo had rushed off as soon as Federigo Page 198 | Top of Article fell, and it was only later that he learned that his rival had died. In fact, when Florindo arrives in Venice in the hopes of being reunited with Beatrice, he learns that Federigo is alive and staying at the same inn. Florindo is so afraid of meeting with his enemy that he plans to return to Turin straightaway. He decides to stay only after he learns that Beatrice is in Venice.
Florindo is a faithful lover who only hopes to find Beatrice, and even the duel is implied to have been Federigo's fault. Thus, he is a relatively blameless character. However, Federigo reveals his prideful nature when he thinks that Truffaldino has allowed himself to be beaten by a stranger. Florindo believes that this humiliating act reflects poorly on him as Truffaldino's master. Thus, he beats his servant in response to that perceived humiliation.
Clarice Dei Bisognosi
Clarice Dei Bisognosi is Pantalone's daughter. She was promised by her father to his business partner, Federigo, a man Clarice had never met. However, when Federigo died, she became free to marry her lover, Silvio. When her engagement to him has been concluded, Beatrice appears disguised as Federigo, and Pantalone feels compelled to honor his original promise. Though Clarice eventually says she will follow her father's wishes out of obedience to him, it is clear that she cares only for Silvio. Clarice is a steadfast and faithful lover, never wavering in her feelings for Silvio. She is also a faithful friend, keeping Beatrice's secret even when it costs her Silvio's love.
Other events that prove her true nature are her attempted suicide at the thought of losing Silvio and her advocacy for Smeraldina's marriage. In the latter case, Clarice withdraws her advocacy to avoid offending Florindo.
Pantalone Dei Bisognosi
Pantalone Dei Bisognosi is Clarice's father. He is a man of honor, and he feels that he must uphold his original promise to Federigo despite the cost to his daughter. He then endeavors to set things right with Silvio and Dr. Lombardi as soon as he learns that Federigo is Beatrice. Pantalone is also an honorable businessman, upholding his dealings with Beatrice even after her true identity has been revealed. However, he attempts to beat both his daughter and Smeraldina when they defy him. Pantalone's cowardice is further revealed when Silvio attempts to kill him and Pantalone runs away, screaming for help.
Brighella is the innkeeper and a friend of Pantalone's. He vouches for Beatrice's false identity and does not reveal her secret. This makes him seem a faithful friend to Beatrice, but less so to Pantalone. Indeed, when Beatrice's identity is revealed and Pantalone calls Brighella to account for vouching for her, Brighella lies and says that he was also fooled by the ruse.
Dr. Lombardi is Silvio's father. He is constantly quoting legal jargon, which he uses in his attempts to persuade Pantalone of the validity of Silvio's engagement over Federigo's. Indeed, whereas Silvio is angered, Dr. Lombardi keeps a cool head, believing that reason and good sense will prevail. However, when that belief proves false, Dr. Lombardi loses his temper to a degree that exceeds that of his own son. When Pantalone attempts to apologize and renew Clarice's engagement to Silvio, Dr. Lombardi is so angry that he storms out before Pantalone can make peace. However, Silvio, despite having attempted to kill Pantalone, is still willing to hear him out.
Silvio Lombardi is Clarice's lover and Dr. Lombardi's son. He is a passionate and short-tempered man. He threatens to kill anyone who stands in the way of his marriage to Clarice and very nearly does so. He tries to track down Federigo to kill him, and he also attempts to kill Pantalone, who runs away like a coward. However, when Silvio finally faces Beatrice in a sword fight, she bests him. Only Clarice's intervention saves him from certain death.
Silvio's distrust, however, is revealed in the same scene. He believes that Clarice's promise to Beatrice is one of matrimony and not secrecy. He does not trust his lover's protestations, even as she threatens suicide to prove her love. In fact, he would impassively watch Clarice die if not for Smeraldina's intervention. Later, Silvio must beg his lover's forgiveness, which he does gladly.
Although Pasquale is not an actual person, he does figure into the plot in an integral way. Pasquale, in a sense, becomes Truffaldino's alter ego: the man responsible for mixing up belongings and opening letters. Pasquale is also Truffaldino's scapegoat, the person blamed for any mistakes that may occur as Truffaldino attempts to serve two masters.
Beatrice Rasponi is Florindo's lover and Federigo's sister. Even before the duel that precipitates the play's action, Beatrice has a reputation for dressing as a man and living wildly. After Federigo's death, Beatrice travels in disguise as her brother, hoping to collect his business debts and reunite with her lover. Although Beatrice is Federigo's legal heir and can thus claim his money without a disguise, she fears that, as a woman, she will be taken advantage of. Beatrice displays a rather skewed sense of morality as she pretends to pursue Clarice's hand in marriage. Indeed, what Beatrice sees at first as harmless fun leads to the despair of Clarice and the anger of Dr. Lombardi and Silvio. It also leads to Clarice's attempted suicide and Silvio's attempt to murder Pantalone and Beatrice.
Beatrice finally reveals her ruse in the heat of her grief for Florindo when she believes him to be dead. She is a faithful and constant lover, and she also treats Truffaldino fairly well. When she beats him, the act is certainly more justified than when Florindo does so; she punishes him because he has been opening her letters.
Though Federigo is dead before the play begins, his sister Beatrice spends most of her time masquerading as him. Thus, Federigo plays an important role in everything that occurs throughout the play. The hate he felt for Beatrice's lover, Florindo, precipitated the duel with Florindo and his own death.
Smeraldina is servant to Clarice and Pantolone. She also falls in love with Truffaldino. Despite being illiterate, Smeraldina is often the only voice of reason apparent in the play. She advises Clarice wisely on the ways of men, love, and marriage. She also admonishes Silvio for being so callous and indifferent as to allow Clarice to take her own life without attempting to stop her. She also displays her wit when she runs away from Pantalone as he attempts to beat her, noting that she is young and fast whereas he is old and slow.
Truffaldino is the servant of Beatrice and Florindo, and he falls in love with Smeraldina. He is the central character in the play, as all of the action revolves around his antics and misadventures. His position as both Beatrice's and Florindo's servant and the lies he tells to keep them from discovering his dual role set in motion the play's coincidences, misunderstandings, and miscommunications. Truffaldino thus plays the classic role of fool and jester, alternately displaying both stupidity and an unwitting wit. Truffaldino's antics are also largely physical, as is the case when he juggles his masters' plates during the dinner service and mixes up their belongings when unpacking their trunks. However, despite being so foolish as to be caught opening letters (even though he is unable to read) and committing other careless acts, Truffaldino is still clever enough to work for two masters without being caught. He is a consummate and quick liar, able to appease all around him with his stories. Truffaldino admits the truth only when his own lies may prevent him from being able to marry Smeraldina.
All of the characters in the play, and their interactions, constantly exhibit the nature of class structure. At the beginning of the play, Pantalone immediately bows to the will of Federigo over the will of Silvio and his father. This is because Federigo is a business partner of Pantalone's, and he has more money and influence than the Lombardis. Class is again revealed in the different reactions of Dr. Lombardi and his son. The doctor, an educated man, quotes legal jargon and believes that reason and legality will prevail. Silvio, less educated than his father, instead puts his trust in brute force. However, neither reason nor force proves to be effective.
The most striking example of class structure can be seen in the gap between the upper class and their servants. Because Truffaldino is a mere servant, so little attention is paid to him that he is able to work for two masters without anyone being the wiser. Indeed, when Truffaldino brings out the wrong master upon Silvio's request, Silvio simply assumes he has mistaken one servant for another, as if they are interchangeable. Little critical attention is paid to the lies Truffaldino tells, again showing that his masters accept him as a simple creature incapable of such a clever ruse. The facts that the masters in the play think nothing of beating their servants and that even the servants accept this as a matter of course also reveal the nature of class structure in the play.
Beatrice beats Truffaldino for opening her letters and is at least justified in her anger, but Florindo beats Truffaldino for humiliating him by allowing another man to beat him. Yet Truffaldino does not find either beating to be unjust. Even Smeraldina accepts the justice of being beaten by Pantalone for lying, although she does try to escape her punishment.
Pantalone chooses Federigo over Silvio even at the cost of his daughter's goodwill and personal happiness. Here, though, another aspect of class structure is revealed. As a man, it is Pantalone's right to promise his daughter to other men and to demand her obedience, a fact that even Clarice acknowledges. Another aspect of the power that men have over women is displayed through Beatrice's decision to pose as her brother. As she tells Brighella, she is afraid that Pantalone will try to cheat her or otherwise take advantage of her if he knew she was a woman. Even Brighella admits that she has a point. More of the power that men have over women is exhibited in the duel between Federigo and Florindo, a fight that takes place over Beatrice and reveals the underlying belief that she is akin to property. The same belief is exhibited by Silvio, who plans to kill his rival and Clarice's father in order to remove the obstacles that prevent him from marrying her. Several of the observations Smeraldina makes about love and marriage also reveal the basic inequities between men and women.
Love and the nature of marriage are also explored in the play, largely through the sage advice of Smeraldina. Clarice's love for Silvio is valued as such, yet the importance of her marriage to Federigo as a tool for bolstering a business relationship is valued much more. When Clarice despairs over this turn of events, Smeraldina observes that love is different from marriage. It does not matter who Clarice marries, Smeraldina tells her, as all men possess the same nature and she will experience the same disappointments and heartbreaks with anyone. Silvio's fickle nature largely serves to prove Smeraldina's assertions. His love for Clarice wavers when he believes she has promised herself to Federigo, and he does not believe her despite the fact the she threatens suicide to prove her sincerity. Florindo's love for Beatrice is far more steadfast, and he trusts in her despite learning that she is masquerading as his conquered rival. Smeraldina takes her love for Truffaldino and his love for her at face value. The two exchange only a brief conversation before establishing their desire to wed. Indeed, love and marriage are seen as both separate entities and interchangeable circumstances. The latter aspect can be seen when all three couples are happily united and no recriminations are made by any of the characters for their parts in nearly preventing so happy an outcome.
A farce is a play that features an exaggerated plot and the humorous situations that evolve from it. Characters in disguise and resulting instances of mistaken identity are also mainstays of the farcical drama. Romantic misadventures and physical
comedy feature as well. All of these characteristics are apparent in The Servant of Two Masters. Although Beatrice's disguise is apparent, Truffaldino's masquerade as a servant to two masters is also a case of mistaken identity. Indeed, both Beatrice and Florindo believe that Truffaldino is their servant and that the other's servant is Pasquale. The physical and situational humor largely stems from Truffaldino's various predicaments, though it can also be seen when Pantalone chases after Smeraldina.
Other aspects of a farce include a fast pace and a central plot twist that generally brings matters to a happy conclusion. These conditions certainly apply to The Servant of Two Masters. All of the excitement that occurs between the three pairs of lovers takes place in only one day. Although Truffaldino's mistakes largely serve to keep Florindo and Beatrice apart, they ultimately bring them together and lead to the revelation of Beatrice's true identity. This in turn brings about the happy ending.
An aside is a dramatic construction in which characters speak aloud to themselves or directly to the audience without any of the other characters on the stage overhearing. Asides are used liberally in The Servant of Two Masters, and they generally serve to clue the audience in on a character's secret desires and motives. This device is particularly important in Goldoni's play because the characters persist in a near-constant state of confusion. If audience members were not privy to each character's private feelings and motives, they would also be somewhat confused. For instance, if Beatrice's true identity were not known to the audience, then the humor and hijinks that follow this ruse would be lost on the audience as well.
The Italian theatrical tradition of commedia dell'arte originated in the fifteenth century and remained popular well into the seventeenth century. Although The Servant of Two Masters was written in the eighteenth century, it still remains fully rooted in this tradition. The Italian art form owes its foundation to ancient Roman comedies, which featured stock characters and stock comedic situations. Indeed, commedia dell'arte, which literally means "comedy of art" is characterized by improvisational performance, physical comedy, and the use of recurring characters and plots. Both Pantalone and Brighella are such characters, and they would have been immediately recognizable to an eighteenth-century Venetian audience. Indeed, Pantalone appears throughout Italian comedy as a miserly merchant, and Brighella appears throughout as a self-serving shopkeeper. Notably, Goldoni's portrayals of these characters are somewhat more flattering.
Other traditional aspects of commedia dell'arte include the use of masks and the use of a fool or clown. In fact, the harlequin—a type of clown—stems from this tradition as well. Commedia dell'arte generally plays upon such themes as love and jealousy, and The Servant of Two Masters is no exception. Indeed, the traditional plot of parents or authorities preventing two lovers from marrying is a typical convention. The lovers then turn to a servant (perhaps more than one) to aid them in their endeavors, and this servant is generally a major source of the play's comedy. While Beatrice and Florindo do not necessarily turn to Truffaldino for help, the similarities are nevertheless apparent. Notably, despite its ancient roots, the traditions of commedia dell'arte remain apparent in contemporary drama. They are also apparent in the works of William Shakespeare and the French playwright Molière.
The Age of Enlightenment
The Enlightenment spread throughout Europe and the United States in the eighteenth century Page 203 | Top of Article and was known in Italy as the Illuminismo.Modes of thought that characterize the era include the movement towards self-governance and away from established monarchies. This political trend was motivated by the growing philosophical belief in the rights of the individual and their corresponding entitlement to liberty. In addition, principles of reason and science began to take precedence over faith or belief: religious, superstitious, or otherwise. Given this emphasis on reason, the authority of the church was questioned as much as (or perhaps more than) the authority of kings. As the eighteenth century dawned, Italy was comprised of several nation-states, and their governance by either the Catholic Church or Spain was haphazard at best. Thus, as the ideas of the Enlightenment took hold, these powers began to lose their grip. Some such Italian thinkers responsible for bringing this about include the historians Ludovico Antonio Muratori (1672-1750) and Pietro Giannone (1676-1748). Other notable Italian figures during the Enlightenment include Giambattista Vico (1668-1744) and Cesare Beccaria (1738-1794). Notably, the more humanistic principles of the day are reflected in Goldoni's play. His stock characters are portrayed in a more flattering and less stereotypical light than their predecessors, and The Servant of Two Masters has thus been credited with introducing an element of naturalism to the commedia dell'arte form.
The popular and critical success of The Servant of Two Masters is evident from its continued study and performance for more than two and a half centuries. In addition, no critical discussion of the play is complete without acknowledging the physical comedy and slapstick or improvisational variations that continue to keep it alive on the stage. Indeed, according to Oscar G. Brockett in History of the Theatre, "Goldoni did much to obliterate the distinctions between commedia and regular comedy. Among Goldoni's commedia plays, perhaps the best is The Servant of Two Masters." In a 2007 Back Stage East review of the play, Nancy Ellen Shore notes that "the irrepressibly mischievous spirit of Carlo Goldoni … comes winging across the footlights." She also adds that "Goldoni's feverishly funny script easily stands alongside theater's classic farces." Yet more praise is proffered in a Sacramento Bee article by Jim Carnes, who writes, "It's fast, it's funny, it's sexy—and it's more than 250 years old." Carnes also finds that the play is "like Shakespeare's comedies—but with a lot more sight gags and oneliners." He remarks that "the comedy is broad, the thought not deep, but it's a rare kind of entertainment."
Tieger is a freelance writer and editor. In the following essay, she discusses the more serious themes and undertones in Carlo Goldoni's The Servant of Two Masters.
A highly comedic farce, Carlo Goldoni's The Servant of Two Masters has remained popular for centuries, specifically for its ability to evoke laughter. Indeed, slapstick comedy and physical and situational humor drive the play, as do its easily recognizable characters and situations. Yet at its heart, The Servant of Two Masters is an apt and quite serious commentary on love, the differences between men and women, and class structure. For instance, as Stephanie Chidester remarks in Insights, Goldoni's play "is at once charmingly light yet surprisingly complex." Chidester goes on to state that "Goldoni enriches the farcical plot-lines … with themes both humorous and serious. One such theme is self-interest, a force seen not only in the behavior of the characters but also in the play's backdrop of Venetian society. Occasionally, some aspects of this backdrop creep into the foreground of plot-lines—namely, double standards and the callous treatment of women by male guardians and law-makers."
Indeed, both the comedic and serious traits of the play hinge on each character's self-interest. Truffaldino's attempt to collect two paychecks results in much of the play's humor, but it also reveals the plight of the servant. Beatrice's disguise leads to several entertaining missteps, yet the masquerade is maintained for a serious reason: Beatrice's desire to avoid being taken advantage of simply because she is a woman. Dr. Lombardi hilariously spouts nonsensical legal jargon, but he does so because he believes in the power of reason. Pantalone chooses money over his daughter's happiness, but he also shows himself to be sensitive to her plight. For example, when he believes that Clarice has reconciled with Federigo, Page 204 | Top of Article he is overjoyed. He is then overjoyed once more when he learns that Federigo is Beatrice, and his first act is to immediately run to the Lombardis and set things right. Silvio and Clarice are perhaps the least comical of the play's characters, and they are also the least self-interested. On the other hand, as Chidester observes, Silvio's self-interest lies in his love for Clarice and his desire to kill anyone who would prevent him from marrying her. Still, he is rather absurd in his anger, which never finds an outlet, as even Beatrice bests him in a sword fight. Clarice is even less comical than Silvio: she is both the least comical and the least self-interested character in the play. Therefore, the connection seems clear: the characters' desires and their willingness to act upon them fuel the comedic aspects of the play.
The unwitting wit of the play's characters also belies its more serious themes from the outset, especially those related to love, power, and class. At the end of act 1, scene 1, Brighella comments that Beatrice has gone to rather extreme lengths to be successfully reunited with her love. Beatrice replies "Oh, this is nothing. Love makes people do far worse things than this." What passes for witty repartee between the two characters is in fact a serious observation on the nature of love. Only a few lines later, at Page 205 | Top of Article the beginning of act 1, scene 2, Truffaldino notes that "when they say we ought to serve our masters with love, they ought to tell the masters to have a little charity toward their servants." Here, the foolish Truffaldino is ostensibly referring to his empty stomach, but instead he observes that love is a two-pronged affair, and that no man can give without receiving.
The servant Smeraldina, the wisest character in the play, and thus the character who makes the most astute statements throughout, shows herself to be prudent in the ways of love and in the ways of men. She is especially attuned to how those dynamics are affected by the power that men have over women. In act 2, scene 1, Smeraldina complains of this very problem and of the short shrift accordingly granted to women. She explains that such circumstances exist "because 'tis men who have made the laws." Still, as Chidester also points out, Smeraldina does not find that women are immune to such bias. For instance, the servant goes on to explain that "if the women had made [the laws], things would be just the other way." Next, in a rather poetic and apt image that is as funny as it is serious, arresting, and beautiful, Smeraldina declares: "If I were a queen, I'd make every man who was unfaithful carry a branch of a tree in his hand, and I know all the towns would look like forests."
Whereas Smeraldina is the wise servant who is occasionally foolish, Truffaldino is the foolish servant who is unwittingly wise. Indeed, Smeraldina reveals herself to be a fool only when she is unable to read her mistress's letter and when Pantalone catches her in a lie. She proves her shrewdness, though, when she observes that Pantalone is old and slow where she is young and quick. In this manner, she avoids a beating by running off, knowing that Pantalone will be unable to capture her. Truffaldino, however, constantly plays the fool. In part, this foolishness allows him to maintain his masters' trust as he deceives them, as neither Beatrice nor Florindo thinks him clever enough to lie. However, unlike Smeraldina, Truffaldino calmly and quietly accepts his beatings, whether they are fair or not. The successive beatings that Truffaldino undergoes in act 2, scene 3 are also an opportunity for the fool's unwitting wit to emerge. Indeed, Truffaldino makes light of his own attempts to collect two paychecks. Alone and sore from his punishments, Truffaldino observes: "Well, there's no mistake about my being the servant of two masters. They have both paid me my wages."
Interestingly, the self-interest Chidester refers to is astutely remarked upon within the play by a waiter at the inn. The waiter, who has observed Truffaldino's attempts to serve both Beatrice and Florindo, remarks that "nobody does anything just for love. Whatever they do, either they are robbing their masters or they are throwing dust in their eyes." In the case of Truffaldino, the latter option is most certainly true. Still, as Chidester comments,
ultimately, love and kindness triumph over selfishness. Beatrice takes pity on Clarice and reveals her true gender, Clarice forgives Silvio rather than revenging herself by rejecting him, and Truffaldino sacrifices his double meals and wages for the love of Smeraldina.
Indeed, the last lines of the play belong to Truffaldino, who says, "Nobody would ever have found me out, if I had not given myself away for love of this girl here.
Source: Leah Tieger, Critical Essay on The Servant of Two Masters, in Drama for Students, Gale, Cengage Learning, 2010.
In the following review of the Australian National University production of The Servant of Two Masters, the focus is on the acting style.
The Servant of Two Masters, written in 1753 by Italian Carlo Goldoni, "is a late commedia piece," director Jack Spahr says, "rather than one from the classical commedia [dell'arte] period, which was a couple of centuries earlier."
It marked a turning point in Italian theatre as it was the first of its kind to be written down. "Goldoni scripted this play and it caused a great deal of tension between him and the traditionalists. Commedia dell'arte was always improvised, and not scripted, so there would be set scenarios that actors would follow."
Spahr, a Canberra drama teacher with an interest in commedia dell'arte, has performed in theatre, television commercials, and film. Though the genesis of The Servant of Two Masters differed from tradition, the plot is pure commedia, he says. Beatrice (Erin Pugh) disguises herself as a man to track down her brother's killer, not because she wants to bring him to justice, but because she loves him. Truffaldino (Arran McKenna), Beatrice's servant, becomes the unlikely hero of the story after accepting the opportunity to work for a second master, Florindo (Chris Zuber), Beatrice's lover. What follows is an hilarious "chase around Page 206 | Top of Article farce", full of mistaken identity, three sets of lovers, and an over-committed servant. "So don't bite off more then you can chew because you are bound to come unstuck in the end," Spahr says. Cast member Wayne Shepard says the hero Truffaldino "is a delightfully silly confection of every naughty boy who was ever caught out pinching stuff, telling lies, and covering things over. Whenever he is in trouble he tells another lie which two or three minutes later will somehow rebound on him so he has to tell another lie to cover that."
Celebrating the play's comic potential, Shepard says The Servant of Two Masters "seems to have absolutely everything".
There are star-crossed lovers, a murderer hiding, someone trying to find the murderer.
Servants falling in love, double identities, and young thwarted lovers who are being held apart because classic commedia character Pantalone has offered his daughter to someone else.
True to its heritage, The Servant of Two Masters is a convoluted adventure. One that, in about 2 hours, "amazingly works out in the end", Shepard says.
A respected form of theatre, commedia dell'arte is characterised by its use of stock characters who are the same in every play, and have become instantly recognisable. Pantalone, the merchant, Il Dottore, the wealthy doctor, and Brighella, the innkeeper, are all characters that have become associated with the form. Masks are traditionally used to signify who is who, and set scenes, called "lazzis", give signposts for the action.
In this production of The Servant of Two Masters, by the Australian National University's graduate company Moonlight Theatre, Spahr is presenting "the basics of commedia dell'arte with a necessarily more modern approach in terms of theatre direction". Because it is a turning-point play, masks, for instance, are not used. "It's also not performed on the back of a cart, but a formal stage," he says. For actor and set designer Erin Pugh, commedia dell'arte hits the right nerve. "It is a great form of entertainment," she says.
"It's funny, it's exciting, it's one of the best sorts of humour around. It's so entertaining.
It's slapstick, so there are some really crude bits to it, but it's just funny, quick and very slick. It's like little kids playing on the stage, but the audience wants to be involved as well. There is a great charisma to it."
Pugh says The Servant of Two Masters is not a piece to have too many deep thoughts about. "There's no real message, it's just silly characters, they have a lot of fun, they tell their story."
Although interpretation is not essential, some message can be found. Martha Ibrahim (who plays Brighella) says there is normally some form of moral that holds the theatrical tricks and farcical scenes of commedia dell'arte together. The Servant of Two Masters is about the problem of stretching one's resources.
"You can't serve two masters fully and completely," she says. "There is almost a biblical parallel there. You can't serve God and mammon [money]. Either you'll love one and hate the other, or begrudge them both. Although I'm not sure that is what Goldoni had in mind when he wrote the script."
Source: "Comic Chase in High Farce," in Canberra Times, August 22, 2007.
Theatrical Reflections: Notes on the Form and Practice of Drama
In the following review, the history of commedia dell'arte and Goldoni's stock characters in The Servant of Two Masters are discussed.
It is fitting that the Company Store, a professional company made up of graduates of the Hartman Theatre Conservatory, should have opened its premiere season Wednesday night at the Landmark Square Playhouse with an adaptation of The Servant of Two Masters. Carlo Goldoni's mid-eighteenth century Italian play, itself a variation on an older French theme, is considered its author's best work in the style of the commedia dell'arte. And the commedia is as good an example as can be found of total theatre: it tells a story or presents a situation through nearly every physical means available, including masks and mime, acrobatics and tricks, color and spectacle.
The aim is not so much to convey an idea or adopt an attitude as to communicate a feeling for people and things in all their "insignificance," apart from their relation to a "higher absolute." Life is not analyzed or questioned, it is celebrated. So too in Kenneth Cavander's adaptation of The Servant of Two Masters, with music and lyrics by Barbara Damashek and direction by Larry Arrick. Not only life itself, but also acting and the life of the actor are celebrated here. From the first, in an exhilarating prologue, we are reminded that the actors on stage are Page 207 | Top of Article separate from the characters they are playing; we are then moved to think of them as a latter-day commedia troupe in search of a paying audience to fill their newfound, makeshift home.
The first offering of these "comedians" for the 1977-1978 season can be construed as a histrionic reaction to the slick, lifeless musicals and pseudo-serious melodramas of Broadway, even as the commedia dell'arte in its origins can be seen as a histrionic reaction to the somber mystery and morality plays of the Middle Ages. As such, and as an introduction to the elements of theater, The Servant of Two Masters is the perfect prelude to a season of high seriousness in the drama. The Company Store will produce Yerma, Ribbons (by David F. Eliet, Associate Director), Marat/Sade, and The Three Sisters in succession from December to April.
Two things distinguish this production more than anything else—and almost everything about it is distinguished, let me hasten to add. These are Miss Damashek's music and Mr. Arrick's choreography. The whole notion of accompanying much of the action with music and having characters break into song from time to time is in keeping with the concept behind the writing of this play. As Heinz Riedt has pointed out, Goldoni's comedy is musical in structure. Unlike most plays, "Goldoni's best comedies make no introductions in the usual sense." Like themes in music, "his characters are immediately presented, and their main qualities quickly highlighted. In the course of the action we get to know them better and better." Music is pure form intended to embody or evoke an emotion. The Servant of Two Masters, then, is pure theatre, a stage in motion to music, intended to do the same.
A "fugue of forms," of body and light, this production might be called, as opposed to the more common "play of ideas." This is where director Arrick comes in, providing a painstakingly detailed "visual score" to complement Miss Damashek's musical one. Much of the suspense or tension on stage derives not from the unfolding of the plot, which is thoroughly predictable from the start, but from the alternation of what the literary historian Richard Alewyn calls "creatural exuberance" and "the most abstract geometry," or energy and mass. The actors are now one huge, frozen, symmetrical tableau, now a study in disarray, with bodies coming, going, and clashing.
The acting in this show is, properly, ensemble. While the play ostensibly concerns Truffaldino, the servant of the title, and the temptation is great to make his performance the tour de force that carries the action, I think that Mr. Arrick was wise to blend him into the background as much as possible. It was a practical as well as an artistic move: Stephen Roylance does not bring enough variety or strength to his interpretation of Truffaldino; as he rushed through his action I lost much of this character's calculating shrewdness. But Roylance is winsome nonetheless, and he is ably supported by his fellows, among whom Rosalyn R. Farinella (Pantalone), John Olesen (Rasponi and Lombardi), and Robert S. Eichler (Silvio) deserve special mention.
And those Zanies! They are on stage much of the time, acting (and singing) as one more reminder of the "pure play" of the other characters, and they are quite good. There are performances besides Truffaldino's that lack something-those of Susan Strickler (Clarice), Joy Smith (Beatrice), and Philip Soltanoff (Florindo) come to mind-but the Zanies' sheer exuberance is enough to buy them time. After all, we are not dealing with psychological realism here.
There is no virtuoso singing to be heard in the Landmark Square Playhouse, but, then, none is called for. In fact, if there were virtuoso singing, it would probably take away from the intended effect of the play upon its audience. I was rather heartened myself to hear a voice crack from time to time.
Kenneth Cavender's adaptation of the Goldoni script is of interest chiefly for its unabashed topicality. There is, for example, some rock music in the style of the 1950s, mention of Sherlock Holmes, and a pun on the word "closet" as it is referred to by homosexuals. Dialogue from Romeo and Juliet manages to find its way into a romantic scene. All this is one more ingenious way of breaking the "illusion of reality," of directing our attention away from the "boy has girl-boy loses girl-boy gets girl" story line and to the "fugue of forms" I mentioned earlier. The same can be said for the spare set, versatile lighting, and portable costumes. They are fashioned, together with the intimate house, to accent the human form as much as possible, not to create a reasonable facsimile of eighteenth-century Venice on stage.
That the Company Store production of The Servant of Two Masters has stimulated me to write this much in analysis and interpretation of it, should be recommendation enough for anyone to see it. If further endorsement were Page 208 | Top of Article necessary, however, I would go so far as to say, in paraphrase of Brecht, that its art contributes to the greatest art of all: the art of living.
Source: "The Servant of Two Masters at the Hartman Theatre," in Theatrical Reflections: Notes on the Form and Practice of Drama, November 19, 1977, pp. 201-203.
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Brockett, Oscar G., History of the Theatre, Allyn & Bacon, 1982.
Carnes, Jim, "City Theatre Serves Up Laughs in Two Masters," in Sacramento Bee, May 4, 2009.
Chidester, Stephanie, "The Servant of Two Masters: The Politics of Self-Interest," in Insights, 2003, http://www.bard.org/Education/studyguides/theservant/servantpolitics.html (July 13, 2009).
Clark, Barrett H., "Carlo Goldoni (1707-1793)," in European Theories of the Drama, Stewart & Kidd, 1918.
Cole, Simon A., Suspect Identities: A History of Fingerprinting and Criminal Identification, Harvard University Press, 2002.
Goldoni, Carlo, "The Servant of Two Masters, "R in Servant of Two Masters and Other Italian Classics, translated by Edward J. Dent, edited by Eric Bentley, Applause Theatre Books, 2000.
Rosenblum, Gail, "Myths and Facts about Arranged Marriage," in Star Tribune, February 8, 2008.
Rudlin, John, Commedia Dell'arte: An Actor's Handbook, Ebooks Corporation, 1994.
Shore, Nancy Ellen, Review of The Servant of Two Masters, in Back Stage East, Vol. 48, No. 1, January 4, 2007, p. 40.
Wahnbaeck, Till, Luxury and Public Happiness in the Italian Enlightenment, Oxford University Press, 2004.
Banham, Martin, The Cambridge Guide to Theatre, 2nd ed., Cambridge University Press, 1995.
This reference work contains entries on the theatrical traditions and history of numerous countries, including Italy. It is an invaluable resource for students of historical drama.
Black, Jeremy, Eighteenth-Century Europe, 2nd ed., Palgrave Macmillan, 1999.
This overview of the time and place in which Goldoni lived and worked provides insight into the playwright and his plays. Topics discussed include social, economic, and cultural issues. Historical and political events are also covered.
Holland, Barbara, Gentlemen's Blood: A History of Dueling, Bloomsbury, 2004.
This book is a fun, fact-filled history of dueling, beginning with the medieval practice of trial by combat and tracing the evolution of dueling since then.
Shakespeare, William, The Comedies of William Shakespeare, Modern Library, 1994.
These comedies undoubtedly influenced Goldoni and his work and are thus essential to any study of the Italian dramatist.
Gale Document Number: GALE|CX2279400021