Stuff that Happens
Stuff that happens in the play
- Lovers Clarice and Silvio are able to get engaged because Clarice’s prior betrothed, Federigo Rasponi, has died in a duel over the reputation of his sister.
- Truffaldino, a servant, arrives claiming to have been sent from Federigo Rasponi. He tells them that his master “sends his compliments, and he has come to see you.”
- Much to the dismay of the newly engaged couple, Federigo presents letters confirming his identity to Clarice’s father, Pantalone. Brighella, however, recognizes “Federigo” to actually be the dead man’s sister, Beatrice, in disguise.
- Pantalone upholds the previous promise of marriage between “Federigo” and Clarice. Silvio protests “sir, you have arrived too late. Signora Clarice is to be my wife.”
- Beatrice reveals to Brighella that she has followed Florinda, her brother’s killer and her beloved, to Venice.
- Florindo arrives at Brighella’s inn while Truffaldino waits there for Beatrice to arrive. Florindo hires Truffaldino as his servant.
- Beatrice arrives at the inn with Brighella, where she finds Truffaldino, now in service to both her and Florindo.
- Confusions, mistaken identities, big appetites, and happy endings ensue.
Dr. Ralph's Brief
1. When was the play first performed?
2. Where was the play first performed?
Commedia dell’arte troupes travelled throughout Europe, but the first performance likely occurred in its setting – Venice.
3. Who wrote it?
Traditionally, commedia dell’arte performers improvised lines based on the outline written for them. Carlo Goldini wrote the original outline for The Servant of Two Masters at the behest of one of history’s most famous Truffaldinoes (a stock comic character, known for his nimbleness and incessant search for food) and then transcribed and edited the actors’ improvisational dialogue at later performances, revising the pla in 1753 to the version recognized today.
4. How is this playwright like Shakespeare?
Commedia dell’arte is an old Italian theatrical tradition pre-dating Shakespeare and one from which Shakespeare drew for his plays (especially The Comedy of Errors). Goldoni, however, is more like Shakespeare than other commedia dell’arte “playwrights” because he created a codified script for his plays rather than a précis from which the actors improvised. The tradition of commedia, with actors in control of the text, produces shows where the character and actor appear one. Shakespeare’s work has an ambiguous quality that produces a similar invitation to actors.
5. How is this playwright unlike Shakespeare?
Goldoni did not start his life in the theatre nor did he ever work as an actor. He started his professional life as a lawyer and moved to his theatrical career. Had Shakespeare, who was a busy litigant, lived longer, he might have moved in the opposite direction.
6. What do scholars think about this play?
They consider it one of the standard works in the tradition of commedia farce.
7. Is there any controversy surrounding the work?
8. What characters should I especially look for?
Many of the characters follow the commedia dell’arte stock completely (all the way down to their character names). Keep an eye out for Pantalone, who’s often the butt of others’ jokes; il Dottore (Dr. Lombardi), who stands in the way of the young lovers; Smeraldina, a version of the female Harlequin; and, especially, Truffaldino, the witty servant of two masters.
9. What scene should I especially look for?
The double banquet scene is the play’s most famous, in which the eternally hungry Truffaldino has to serve a banquet to two different parties without their being aware of one another, while he himself never gets a bite.
10. What is the language like?
Originally written in Italian (Il servitore di due padroni), the play has been translated and adapted countless times since the 18th century. One of the most recent, One Man, Two Guvnors, by Richard Bean, is currently a West End hit in London. Our text, edited by Allison Glenzer, is from a translation by Edward J. Dent, which has the virtue of being smooth, straightforward, and in the public domain.