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Translations and adaptations for the stage

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Ortensia, the Marchese, and Dejanira
considering the virtues of a handkerchief.
(Jennifer Zarro, Jose Larios, Chloe Tuttle)







The Mistress of the Inn, by Carlo Goldoni

Translated for the stage by Robert Bethune

The Mistress of the Inn is available on DVD and as a printed book.

A full video production based on the world premiere of this translation is available on DVD.

Also available on DVD as part of our collection, Sex in the Age of Reason.

The translation is also available as a printed book which may be ordered directly from Amazon.com.

The play and the playwright from the point of view of the translator

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The Count, prepared to duel.
(Carl Hanna)

The Mistress of the Inn is like a fine watch. You wind it up; it runs. It builds through rising waves of comic tension to a full-scale near-riot, and then subsides into a gentle, calm, even reflective ending in which all--but one--share in a new understanding of themselves and of love.

Much has been made, and much can be made, and much will forever be made of Goldoni and the commedia dell'arte. Too much can easily be made of this, especially where this play is concerned. You don't need to know anything at all about commedia to understand, enjoy and appreciate it. To be sure, the characters are all related to commedia character types, but so are most of the world's characters; these people are not masks, they are people, and there is no reason to try to tie them down to a tradition which frankly, they have obviously transcended.

The essence of the play is this: love is explosive. You can put a powder charge under somebody's heart and try to blow it sky-high, but you had better watch out if you do, because the shrapnel is as likely to hit you as anybody else. Love is a force, a force greater than any one person who might try to manipulate it, and people in love are out of control.

How the story is told

A woman, Mirandolina, who owns an inn is much sought after by two noblemen: the Count of Albafafioritita and the Marchese of Forlipopopoli. She is also much loved by her manservant, Fabrizio. All three would like to marry her, and she has no intention of marrying any of them; she's having way too much fun being her own woman, the owner of her own successful business, and a free spirit generally.

However, there is a man who interests her--a man who says he will never love any woman, who wants nothing to do with women at all. He is the Cavaliere of Rippafrattata, and she makes up her mind to make him fall in love with her. Mind you, she has no love for him; it's purely a game with her, a test of her emotional manipulative ability.

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Dejanira studies being a fine lady.
(Chloe Tuttle)

So she does everything in her power to seduce him. She gives him special treatment in the inn, she cooks special meals for him, she makes sure to find herself in his rooms whenever possible. Finally she succeeds, with the help of some wine and some clever talk, in really capturing his attention. From that point on, the ball is in his court, and he runs with it with all the mad passion of a need long denied.

Finally, it nearly comes to blows between the Cavaliere, Fabrizio, and the other two noblemen. Mirandolina must make a choice: who wil she marry? She chooses the stable, comfortably, and unthreatening Fabrizio, who is, after all, the man her father promised her to. In the process, the Cavaliere realizes how he has been tricked. Bitterly denouncing Mirandolina and all women, he tears off in a fury, never to be seen again.

Mirandolina is left with her new husband, the affection of the two nobleman, and an inn to run. She has learned her lesson--or so she fervently declares, at least. At the very least, she has now made Fabrizio a happy man, and the two noblemen realize it is time to leave her inn; they must seek elsewhere for love.

Sex in the age of reason

For me, this play is part of a cycle. With The Mistress of the Inn, The Game of Love and Chance, and Minna von Barnhelm, we have a very fair selection, from three different languages, of a very interesting phenomenon: the romantic comedy of the age of reason. In an age that so greatly valued the head, what did people make of the heart? We can observe that the heart was taken very seriously indeed. In all three plays, people give very serious consideration to the problems of love; they examine carefully who their lover is, why they love that person, and how they should love that person in return. The answers are not always obvious, and are shot through with a spirit of fun; whaever else your lover may be, playing tricks on your love--especially if you hope to teach something at the same time--is always within bounds, though the outcome is never guaranteed. Every one of these lovers who tries to teach, winds up learning as well.

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The Cavaliere, pondering on women.
(Danny Ferman)

Textbook use

The Mistress of the Inn has been used as a college-level text in Italian literature courses at Penn State University and Simon Fraser University.

Production details

The play has eight named roles, five men and three women. I would think most directors and designers would do it in period, but it might have more flexibility in that regard than meets the eye at first. There are quite a few food props required, especially wine and wine bottles, and the Cavaliere must convincingly eat a fairly good meal on stage. There is certainly an opportunity for stage combat at the end, but the scene can also be done with only minimal swordplay. There is no need for more than a unit set, though it is necessary to indicate change of locale to various rooms in the inn.

Files available for download

A video clip of the confrontation between the Conte and the Cavaliere that kicks off the climax of the play. The Cavaliere is played by Danny Ferman; the Conte by Carl Hanna.
(AVI file, 29 MB. I suggest you right-click the link and download the file to your hard drive for viewing.)

A PDF file of the wine scene. This is one of the finest, and funniest, seduction scenes in the classic theater.

A form you may use to request a royalty quotation.

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All text and images on this page are copyright 2005 Robert Bethune.

Photographs are from a production done by MCRT at Riverside Arts Center, Ypsilanti, Michigan.