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Carlo Gozzi : a study of the playwright, his major works, and the times in which he lived Yawney, Vera Jessie Joni

Abstract

Eighteenth Century Venice witnessed the rise to popularity of Carlo Gozzi, a playwright whose life and works have provoked a spectrum of controversial opinions ranging from the over-enthusiastic evaluation of the German Romantics and the harsh criticisms of more realistic Italians, to the temperate judgements of modern literary critics. To understand why this prolific dramatist and dedicated opponent of the Enlightenment aroused such diverse impressions, one must study the period in which he lived and, with this in mind, proceed to examine his political, social, and moral views as they are expressed in his works, then attempt to reconstruct the personality of the author himself. Accordingly, I have included in this thesis a brief summary of the Enlightenment and the influence it had upon Italian cultural life. Against this historical background, I have presented the essential opinions of the author in order to determine his reasons for so resolutely opposing the concepts of the Enlightenment. These socio-political views are closely bound to the medium he chose. It, therefore, proves worthwhile to study his ideas on the theatre, its purpose, its rights and responsibilities, its actors and dramatists, and the genre which Gozzi used in his works, the commedia dell'arte. Although his plays are our most obvious and direct source of information, his memoirs and his treatise on the theatre are also essential. In them he describes the state of Italian theatre as he found it, his desire to rejuvenate its proud theatrical tradition, improvised comedy, his polemical and didactical reasons for writing plays, and his means of achieving the effects he believed every play should have on an audience. Gozzi's ideas also come to light in his criticism of his theatrical rival, Carlo Goldoni, whose plays reflected current social change. The fact that, until recently, literary critics judged Gozzi mainly on his theatrical productions has led them away from the fascinating personality of the author. Modern studies emphasize Gozzi, the man, as he reveals himself in the Memorie inutili, his last and most intimate work. The memoirs reveal the inner conflict of a man caught between past and future, torn between a dying culture of which he was a part, and a new one in which he could find no place. In conclusion, I maintain that only by considering his theatrical works in the light of the Memorie inutili and the Ragionamento ingenuo can one hope to give a comprehensive evaluation of Carlo Gozzi - dramatist and man.

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