Carlo Goldoni wrote the comedy Arlecchino servitore di due padroni, which translates into modern English as The Servant of Two Masters, a commedia dellArte-style play. The performers of Commedia were often illiterate, and as such there was no point to write down scripts and record the performance, it was improvised and modified, preserving the aspects the audience found amusing and excluding those that were less successful. In this way, Carlo Goldonis writing down of the play strictly goes against commedia traditions, as it is not the way things were done when it was originally staged. Despite performing all their plays in Italian for the first twenty or so years, Commedia troops had phenomenal success, perhaps because the slapstick nature of their comedy mingled with its vulgar humor was relatively easy to follow.
The themes of the play, including love, romance, deception and the status between masters and servants, combine to create an enjoyable and greatly comical performance. The play also scrutinizes social boundaries that were once present. Such as, the idea of a woman being dressed as a man this was much more controversial in the 1700s and especially a woman who defeats a man in combat, as Beatrice (comes to Venice dressed as a man in search of her beloved Florindo, She is also a part of the first lover couple along with Florindo) defeats Silvio. Smereldina (the maid of Clarice, she is an extremely feisty and slightly bitter character who wants more than anything to find a man and get married) also confronts Silvio and scorns him, which is something unparalleled in that time, a woman of the serving class reprimanding a man of status.
The play also explores the lengths people will go to for the sake of love, the hopelessness of Florindo (a man banished from his home in Turin for his murder of Federigo Rasponi, and the lover of Beatrice who comes in search of him) and Beatrices relationship to find each other, as well as commenting on the importance of never giving up hope, because as they are about to kill themselves they find each other again. This is also reflected in the many difficult predicaments Truffaldino (the servant of both Florindo and Beatrice, he is a mischievous, hungry man who is seeking ways to better himself, he is comic relief and also the main protagonist) finds himself in, as no matter how hopeless his situation looks, he keeps on envisaging himself getting out of his tricky situations and eventually he does get out of trouble.
The behavior by those of the dominant class of the servants is a very noticeable theme of the time period, and an important social observation. The serving class of Truffaldino, Smereldina and the Porter (she carries the bags places at different times during the play and has a fairly rough time of it, carrying very heavy loads only to be ridiculed and left unrewarded for her labor) are regarded with little respect and trust throughout the entirety of the play. As the early performers of this play were more than likely lower class individuals, this play is an insightful parody of their own difficulties. Commedia dellArte is an Italian theater style, characterized by masked performers and improvised scenes based on simplistic scenarios.
Carlo Goldoni categorized four elemental types of stock characters in Italian comedy: Pantaloon, a miserly Venetian merchant, easy to anger, disrespected by everyone and a born loser; Dottore, a pedantic lawyer-type from Bologna; Brighella, a serenading servant who enjoys thieving, and bragging; and Arlecchino, a basically thoughtless servant permanently in despair over unreturned love. A Servant of Two Masters is set in Venice in the 1700s, and would have been performed by a travelling troop of commedia actors. As such, they would have had very limited set facilities, and their performances staged outdoors, meaning they would have to allow for surrounding noises such as wind when performing. Throughout this research investigation it will be delving into what specific skills I must learn in order to convincingly portray the role of Silvio in Carlo Goldonis, A Servant of Two Masters.
There is a catch when one decides to take on the task and portray the role of Silvio in The Servant of Two Masters and that is that the comic instincts of a skilled actor need to conquer a tendency to be a servant to the text. It has been said that commedia is the riskiest form of comedy. That being said, it is worth the risk. When the flash of inspired improvisation hits an actor it is like a whirlwind and time seems to be in a complete interruption while a phenomenon takes place. Fortunately Goldonis writing is so perfectly composed and clinging to fundamental Commedia dellArte form that it allows one to understand how to perform below, within and around the text itself.
Focusing on the lovers, they are the sons and daughters of characters who are also high on the social ladder; this is where Silvio finds himself in The Servant of Two Masters. The lovers in this play (Silvio and Clarice) are not only infatuated with each other they are extraordinarily infatuated with themselves. More often than not, they are only with one another because the other person makes them look better. They argue often, making a big melodramatic show out of their blubbering and attempting to top the others grief; yet they immediately make amends when they receive a flattering remark about their appearance. They speak in a distinguished, pretentious and flowery language: If I could think that you desired my blood to avenge my supposed cruelty, I give it you with all my heart. But, oh God! Instead of the blood of my veins, accept, I beg you, that which gushes from my eyes.(Goldoni 53)
Silvio is traditionally costumed in the latest Italian fashions (since Italy is where Commedia originated) The Lovers elegant costumes were usually of the same color, just in case another couple of lovers was in the play too. This only reaffirms how much they were made for each other. Just like couples who wear matching outfits today. Given that Silvio is wealthy, he wears expensive clothes and jewelry, made of luxurious fabrics. Both Silvio and Clarice usually hold some kind of prop in their hand, most likely a letter to swoon over, or a handkerchief but this is of course the directors choice. There is always a mirror somewhere on their body, being in a purse or pocket, or even hanging as a necklace around the actors throat.
This is useful for admiring oneself, or in Silvios case for seeking out Clarice and adorning her through it. Unlike what most know Commedia dellArte to be known for the lovers do not wear masks. Rather, they wear quite a bit of makeup which in turn subsidizes as their mask. The term dreamer is a key way to understanding the lovers movement. Their feet are firmly on the ground, in a somewhat Ballet style position, but they lack firm contact with the earth because they lead with their chest and are heart heavy. Their arms are held out to their sides and curved. Their whole manner is very elegant and balletic, as they do not walk so much as glide. They never touch; to do so would cause them both to faint and or run away. It is sexually arousing for them to get very close without touching.
They arent the brightest individuals so walking is somewhat of a challenge causing them to wobble, due to the uncertainty of their lack of contact with the ground. The posture that Silvio undertakes is that of compelling pride. His chest is naturally expanded and thrust out so that his heart essentially leads him, sometimes seeming to literally pull him across the stage. He points his toes while standing (like that of a ballet dancer), and when moving, he takes light, quick steps, giving himself a floating appearance. Overall, they simply lack contact with the ground. Their hand movements and gestures are very grand, expansive and expressive. Actors use the same dancing trainers as the wealthy individuals whom they are imitating in order to put emphasis on the absurdity of melodramatic behavior.
There can be two sets of lovers in a Commedia dellArte play. The First set of lovers, usually more intelligent and serious, and the Second Lovers which in A Servant of Two Masters is Silvio and Clarice, usually whimsical and slightly silly. The second lovers in Goldonis A Servant of Two Masters are Clarice and Silvio. In research of the lovers when things are not going their way, they throw tantrums, pout, hurl insults while crying and whining. Their manner of dress and movement is highly stylized (more so than the First Lovers), making Silvio quite a narcissus. Silvio exists very much in his own world- and in his own world within that world. Self-obsessed and very selfish, he is more interested in what he is saying himself and how it sounds than in what his beloved Clarice is saying.
He is primarily in love with himself, secondarily in love with love, and only without any doubt in love with his beloved. What he learns, if anything, from the tribulations of A Servant of Two Masters is the need to reverse these sickening priorities. Even though most of Silvios declarations would melt a heart of stone, there always seems to be a comic side to everything he says. One wonders if the explanation does not lie in the fact that love often robs the lover of all sense of his own logic, even though he may be the most rational of living men under ordinary circumstances. He does, however, come off better than most other Commedia characters: there is no viciousness in him, and less to be accused of except for his vanity and narcissism. He represents the human potential for happiness, which is something that everyone is striving for. Sir, I beg you, let everyone do as they will; do not be so put out about it. Now that I am happy, I want all the world to be happy too. Is anyone else going to be married? Let them all get married! (Goldoni 54)
I have become conscious of the fact that the character of Silvio must be played as one that is over confident. He is very certain of himself and of his actions. He believes he is entitled to Clarice and is willing to fight to protect his property. Silvio is also quite protective, or even overprotective of those things which are important to him, or that he sees as belonging to him. He wishes to keep Clarice all to his own and have her within an area he feels he can keep safe. While he is protective of others, he himself shows little regard when placing himself in jeopardy. This is shows how dim witted his character truly is. The idea of defeat does not enter his mind and he is always on the front foot, unwilling to let others determine his actions, he is a very rash character. Patience is a virtue, apparently. Silvio often lacks any sense of patience which makes him a very irritable, anxious, angry and difficult to be around type of character. His shortage of patience makes him a rather ignorant character.
Silvio is always quick to act and often makes mistakes because of his unwillingness to listen to the advice or opinions of others. He is a man of action, and he needs for things to be occurring or he quickly loses any potential interest. He is quick to do battle regardless of the consequences, which shows how stupidly in love he truly is. His unwillingness to listen to an entire situation and process his next appropriate action, often get him into irresponsible situations. ¦That wretch shall die, and my ungrateful Clarice shall see her lover wallowing in his own gore. (Goldoni 26) Despite his quick anger and his tendency to solve his problems with violence, he is inconspicuously charming.
Even though his unwillingness to listen too much besides the sound of his own voice, he is really just eager to please his lover Clarice. He has swept Clarice off of her feet and is the heartthrob of Venetian women. Some people settle down, and some people are just settling and some people refuse to settle for anything less than the feeling of butterflies, which is exactly how Silvio feels towards Clarice. He is never slow to put himself in harms way. He is quick to action and has little caution for his own well-being when engaging in any sort of fight, or in anything else he does. He is a man to be admired when he is at his finest, even though he is willing to do whatever it takes to get what he wants. I dont care how old you are I have a mind to run you straight through the body. (Goldoni 24)
Through researching the character of Silvio it would be necessary to portray him as a man who struggles to hold himself in the position in which his status in society places him. He strives to be suave, cool and collected, but somewhat fights to maintain focus and is very quick to act, his actions usually end in anger and much turmoil. He is a powerful physical presence, and is one of formidable fighting skill, but is emotionally immature on many levels. His love for Clarice is one of his few genuinely mature emotions, and it is his motivation through the play. He is prone to rash, spontaneous actions, as well as to throwing tantrums such as a moody child would when things dont go his way. This effectively suited the comedic aspect of the play while not deteriorating from the romantic story between Clarice and Silvio. When we love we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better, too. (Jeaulo Coelho)