by Janine Sobeck, dramaturg

Mistaken identity.

“I’d like to see how I’ll manage to serve two masters.”
Illustration from “The Complete Comedies of Carlo Goldoni” (1830)

Broken engagements.

Lovers reunited.

Mass chaos.

And in the middle of it all, one very hungry servant.

If you’ve never heard of Carlo Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters (Il servitore di due padroni), then you are in for a treat.  So let’s give you a little insider’s scoop.

Servant is written in the style of commedia dell’arte, a hilarious Italian Renaissance theatrical genre.

Commedia is famous for several distinct features:

  • Improvisation: the actors had an outline of the scenes, and the overall story line, but would improvise the lines.
  • Stock Characters: every play used a variation of the same character type – the miserly father, the young lovers, the crazy servants, etc.
  • Masks: each character had a specific mask that made him/her instantaneously recognizable to the audience
  • Physical comedy or lazzi: this is the style of theatre that introduced “zany” and “slapstick comedy” to our vocabulary (the father character would carry around a slapstick – two pieces of wood fashioned together so that it would make a “slapping” sound –  and beat the servant characters)

A traditional slapstick

Since the traditional commedia characters feature so prominently in Servant of Two Masters, I’ll spend my next couple of posts introducing you to them.  I think you’ll be surprised at how many of them are familiar to you.

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