By Bradley Michalakis, Literary Manager
Carlo Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters is rooted in the tradition of the commedia dell’arte, a highly influential form of improvisational comedy popular in Italy between the 16th and 18th centuries. This style of comedy relied heavily on the use of stock characters, which form the basis of many popular comedic archetypes you might recognize from film and television.
Truffaldino, the titular ‘Servant of Two Masters’ in Goldoni’s farce, is an offshoot of Arlecchino (or in English, Harlequin). He is one of the most famous examples of a Zanni, the loose group of servant characters in the commedia tradition. Truffaldino is typically characterized as a crafty, false, and boastful valet. His main objective is to fulfil his carnal desires to eat and to fornicate, by any means necessary—even if it means resorting to trickery and deception.
PANTALONE DE’ BISOGNOSI
Pantalone is one of the principal characters in the commedia tradition, who typically represents wealth and business. He’s depicted as a hunchbacked old man, dressed in a black cape and red pants. Incidentally, the English word ‘pants’ is derived from the name Pantalone. He traditionally appears as a Venetian merchant, comically obsessed with amassing and retaining wealth. When he isn’t thinking about money, he tends to focus on his child’s love-life (as in The Servant of Two Masters).
Like Pantalone, Il Dottore (the Doctor) is depicted as an elderly man who often serves as an obstacle to the young lovers. Whereas Pantalone satirizes the wealthy merchant class, Il Dottore pokes fun at the intellectual elites. He is portrayed as an egotistical know-it-all, who is given to lengthy ramblings that frequently (and irritatingly) slip into classical Latin.
Brighella is the comic pair to Truffaldino. Although he is also a Zanni, Brighella often appears as the stricter and more cutthroat counterpart to the pleasantly benign Arlecchino. He is a masterful liar and schemer who can easily talk his way out of any unpleasant situation. Unlike Truffaldino, he is sometimes depicted as having risen through the ranks of servitude to become an innkeeper or tavern owner, as in The Servant of Two Masters. He is generally regarded as an unpleasant person to be around, as suggested by his grimacing mask.
Many comic scenarios in the commedia dell’arte revolve around the Innamorati (the lovers), and their fervent desire to be together. Unlike the majority of the characters on this list, they appear unmasked, as an attractive young couple. Their actions are laughably melodramatic, and they are often driven to the point of hysteria if they are kept apart from each other. As exaggerated as they are, their emotions are always genuine.
Smeraldina is the female counterpart of Truffaldino, as evidenced by their similar costumes. Although she is typically of low social status, Smeraldina is intelligent and accutely aware of the situation at hand. She often serves as a confidant to the Innamorati or the other servants, giving her greater insight into the other characters’ intentions. Like the Innamorati, she also appears unmasked.