There is an abundance of autobiographical information on Goldoni, most of which comes from the introductions to his plays and from his Memoirs. However, these memoirs are known to contain many errors of fact, especially about his earlier years.
In these memoirs, he paints himself as a born comedian, careless, light-hearted and with a happy temperament, proof against all strokes of fate, yet thoroughly respectable and honorable.
Goldoni was born in Venice in 1707, the son of Margherita and Giulio Goldoni. In his memoirs, Goldoni describes his father as a physician, and claims that he was introduced to theatre by his grandfather Carlo Alessandro Goldoni. In reality, it seems that Giulio was an apothecary; as for the grandfather, he had died four years before Carlo's birth. In any case, Goldoni was deeply interested in theatre from his earliest years, and all attempts to direct his activity into other channels were of no avail; his toys were puppets, and his books, plays.
His father placed him under the care of the philosopher Caldini at Rimini but the youth soon ran away with a company of strolling players and returned to Venice. In 1723 his father matriculated him into the stern Collegio Ghislieri in Pavia, which imposed the tonsure and monastic habits on its students. However, he relates in his Memoirs that a considerable part of his time was spent in reading Greek and Latin comedies. He had already begun writing at this time and, in his third year, he composed a libellous poem (Il colosso) in which he ridiculed the daughters of certain Pavian families. As a result of that incident (and/or of a visit paid with some schoolmates to a local brothel) he was expelled from the school and had to leave the city (1725). He studied law at Udine, and eventually took his degree at University of Modena. He was employed as a law clerk at Chioggia and Feltre, after which he returned to his native city and began practicing.
Educated as a lawyer, and holding lucrative positions as secretary and counsellor, he seemed, indeed, at one time to have settled down to the practice of law, but following an unexpected summons to Venice, after an absence of several years, he changed his career, and thenceforth he devoted himself to writing plays and managing theatres. His father died in 1731. In 1732, to avoid an unwanted marriage, he left the town for Milan and then for Verona where the theatre manager Giuseppe Imer helped him on his way to becoming a comical poet as well as introducing him to his future wife, Nicoletta Conio. Goldoni returned with her to Venice, where he stayed until 1743.
Goldoni entered the Italian theatre scene with a tragedy, Amalasunta, produced in Milan. The play was a critical and financial failure.
Submitting it to Count Prata, director of the opera, he was told that his piece "was composed with due regard for the rules of Aristotle and Horace, but not according to those laid down for the Italian drama." "In France", continued the count, "you can try to please the public, but here in Italy it is the actors and actresses whom you must consult, as well as the composer of the music and the stage decorators. Everything must be done according to a certain form which I will explain to you."
Goldoni thanked his critic, went back to his inn and ordered a fire, into which he threw the manuscript of his Amalasunta.
His next play, Belisario, written in 1734, was more successful, though of its success he afterward professed himself ashamed.
During this period he also wrote librettos for opera seria and served for a time as literary director of the San Giovanni Grisostomo, Venice's most distinguished opera house.
He wrote other tragedies for a time, but he was not long in discovering that his bent was for comedy. He had come to realize that the Italian stage needed reforming; adopting Moliere as his model, he went to work in earnest and in 1738 produced his first real comedy, L'uomo di mondo ("The Man of the World"). During his many wanderings and adventures in Italy, he was constantly at work and when, at Livorno, he became acquainted with the manager Medebac, he determined to pursue the profession of playwriting in order to make a living. He was employed by Medebac to write plays for his theater in Venice. He worked for other managers and produced during his stay in that city some of his most characteristic works. He also wrote Momolo Cortesan in 1738. By 1743, he had perfected his hybrid style of playwriting (combining the model of Moliere with the strengths of Commedia dell'arte and his own wit and sincerity). This style was typified in La Donna di garbo, the first Italian comedy of its kind.
After 1748, Goldoni collaborated with the composer Baldassare Galuppi, making significant contributions to the new form of 'opera buffa'. Galuppi composed the score for more than twenty of Goldoni's librettos. As with his comedies, Goldoni's opera buffa integrate elements of the Commedia dell'arte with recognisable local and middle-class realities. His operatic works include two of the most successful musical comedies of the eighteenth century, Il filosofo di campagna (The Country Philosopher), set by Galuppi (1752) and La buona figliuola (The Good Girl), set by Niccolo Piccinni (1760).
In 1753, following his return from Bologna he defected to the Teatro San Luca of the Vendramin family where he performed most of his plays to 1762.
In 1757, he engaged in a bitter dispute with playwright Carlo Gozzi, which left him utterly disgusted with the tastes of his countrymen; so much so that in 1761 he moved to Paris, where he received a position at court and was put in charge of the Theatre Italien. He spent the rest of his life in France, composing most of his plays in French and writing his memoirs in that language.
Among the plays which he wrote in French, the most successful was Le bourru bienfaisant, produced on the occasion of the marriage of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette in 1771. He enjoyed considerable popularity in France; when he retired to Versailles, the King gave him a pension. He lost this pension after the French Revolution. The Convention eventually voted to restore his pension the day after his death. It was restored to his widow, at the pleading of the poet Andre Chenier; "She is old", he urged, "she is seventy-six, and her husband has left her no heritage save his illustrious name, his virtues and his poverty."
In his Memoirs Goldoni amply discusses the state of Italian comedy when he began writing. At that time, Italian comedy revolved around the conventionality of the Commedia dell'arte, or improvised comedy. Goldoni took to himself the task of superseding the comedy of masks and the comedy of intrigue by representations of actual life and manners through the characters and their behaviors. He rightly maintained that Italian life and manners were susceptible of artistic treatment such as had not been given them before.
His works are a lasting monument to the changes that he initiated: a dramatic revolution that had been attempted but not achieved before. Goldoni's importance lay in providing good examples rather than precepts. Goldoni says that he took for his models the plays of Moliere and that whenever a piece of his own succeeded he whispered to himself: "Good, but not yet Moliere." Goldoni's plays are gentler and more optimistic in tone than Moliere's.
It was this very success that was the object of harsh critiques by Carlo Gozzi, who accused Goldoni of having deprived the Italian theatre of the charms of poetry and imagination. The great success of Gozzi's fairy dramas so irritated Goldoni that it led to his self-exile to France.
Goldoni gave to his country a classical form, which, though it has since been cultivated, has yet to be cultivated by a master.
Goldoni's plays that were written while he was still in Italy ignore religious and ecclesiastical subjects. This may be surprising, considering his staunch Catholic upbringing. No thoughts are expressed about death or repentance in his memoirs or in his comedies. After his move to France, his position became clearer, as his plays took on a clear anti-clerical tone and often satirized the hypocrisy of monks and of the Church.
Goldoni was inspired by his love of humanity and the admiration he had for his fellow men. He wrote, and was obsessed with, the relationships that humans establish with one another, their cities and homes, the Humanist movement, and the study of philosophy. The moral and civil values that Goldoni promotes in his plays are those of rationality, civility, humanism, the importance of the rising middle-class, a progressive stance to state affairs, honor and honesty. Goldoni had a dislike for arrogance, intolerance and the abuse of power.
Goldoni's main characters are no abstract examples of human virtue, nor monstrous examples of human vice. They occupy the middle ground of human temperament. Goldoni maintains an acute sensibility for the differences in social classes between his characters as well as environmental and generational changes. Goldoni pokes fun at the arrogant nobility and the pauper who lacks dignity.
As in other theatrical works of the time and place, the characters in Goldoni's Italian comedies spoke originally either the literary Tuscan variety (which became modern Italian) or the Venetian dialect, depending on their station in life. However, in some printed editions of his plays he often turned the Venetian texts into Tuscan, too.The film Carlo Goldoni – Venice, Grand Theatre of the World, directed by Alessandro Bettero, was released in 2007 and is available in English, Italian, French, and Japanese.
The following is a small sampling of Goldoni's enormous output.Rosmonda (1734)
Rinaldo di Montalbano (1736)
Il servitore di due padroni, (1745) "The Servant of Two Masters" (now often retitled Arlecchino servitore di due padroni "Harlequin Servant of two Masters")
I due gemelli veneziani, "The Two Venetian Twins" (1747)
La vedova scaltra, "The Shrewd Widow" (1748)
La putta onorata, "The Honorable Maid" (1749)
Il cavaliere e la dama, "The Gentleman and the Lady" (1749)
La famiglia dell'antiquario, "The Antiquarian's Family" (1750)
Il teatro comico, "The Comical Theatre" (1750–1751)
Il bugiardo, "The Liar" (1750–1751)
Il vero amico, "The True Friend" (1750) translated by Anna Cuffaro
I pettegolezzi delle donne, "Women's Gossip" (1750–1751)
La locandiera, "The Mistress of the Inn" (1751)
Il feudatario "The Feudal Lord" (1752)
Gl'innamorati, "The Lovers" (1759)
I rusteghi, "The Boors" (1760)
Le baruffe chiozzotte (1762) "The Chioggia Scuffles"
Gli amori di Zelinda e Lindoro, "The Love of Zelinda and Lindoro" (1764)
Gustavo (c. 1738)
Oronte, re de' Sciti (1740)
Statira (c. 1740)
La contessina (The Young Countess) by Maccari (1743)
L'Arcadia in Brenta (The Arcadia in Brenta) by Galuppi (1749)
Il mondo della luna (The World on the Moon), set to music by Galuppi (1750), Haydn (1777), Paisiello and other composers.
Il filosofo di campagna (The Country Philosopher) by Galuppi (1752)
Il mercato di Malmantile (The Malmantile Market) by Fischietti (1757)
La buona figliuola (The Good Girl) by Niccolo Piccinni (1760)
Lo speziale (The Apothecary) by Joseph Haydn (1768)
Le donne vendicate, "The Revenge of the Women" (1751)
La ninfa saggia, "The Wise Nymph" (17??)
Gli amanti felici, "The Happy Lovers" (17??)
Il colosso, a satire against Pavia girls which led to Goldoni being expelled from Collegio Ghislieri (1725)
Il quaresimale in epilogo (1725–1726)
Nuovo teatro comico, "New Comic Theater", plays. Pitteri, Venice (1757)
Memoires, "Memoirs". Paris (1787)
Goldoni's collected works. Zalta, Venice (1788–1795)
Il vero amico, "The True Friend" translated by Anna Cuffaro. Publisher: Sparkling Books.
Archifanfaro translated by W. H. Auden with an introduction by Michael Andre in Unmuzzled OX.