A Servant to Two Masters (& One Man Two Guvnors) – Footnotes
The Footnotes to our episode on A Servant to Two Masters and One Man Two Guvnors include a cast list of Commedia dell’Arte characters, notes on the harlequin’s hunger and cross-dressing for power in a patriarchal world.
The Commedia Characters
The cast list of a Commedia dell’Arte production consisted of the same stock characters, whose costumes, characteristics and part in the plot were consistent and readily recognisable by their audience. The main stars were:
The zanni: a clown or servant character. The Harlequin being one version. Truffaldino / Francis in our plays.
• He has a strong survival instinct
• Lives in the moment
• Has a poor ability to plan
• Is emotional rather than rational
• Is faithful, but plays a part in breaking up or restoring relationships
• Is stupid but also scheming and manipulative
• Is always hungry – see below for more on the origins of the harlequin’s hunger.
The Vecchi: Pantalone – Pantaloon / Charlie, and Il Dottore, Dr Lombardi or Harry Dangle
• Traditionally a wealthy and greedy old man. A Master, representing money.
• An old fool, with a large ego, self-absorbed, who becomes the butt of tricks.
• Because of his wealth he has the leisure time to meddle in other characters’ lives.
• Usually the father to one of the lovers.
• Usually single or a widower.
• Central to the plot – starts the play.
• the decadent erudite (doctor or lawyer)
* a foil to Pantalone.
• Pompous – loves the sound of his own voice
• Spouts ersatz Latin or Greek.
Inamorati: young lovers: Clarice and Silvio, Pauline and Alan
• Over-dramatic in everything they do, but completely sincere.
• Plot of the play revolves around their love and the obstacles that are put in their way before they are finally united. They are in love with the idea of love.
• Obstacles include the parent’s desire for another outcome.
• Selfish and childish.
• Reliant on assistance from the Zanni or servants to help them fulfil their destiny, because they are conceited but not wise or experienced enough in love or the world to succeed on their own. The servants act as go-betweens and speak on their behalf.
Colombina: – Smeraldina and Dolly
• Meaning “little dove”, A comic servant
• She is often the Harlequin’s mistress; her costume complements the Harlequin’s.
• She is down-to-earth in character
• She can always see the situation for what it is.
• A braggart, soldier who often has no real rank and makes up stories of military heroism.
• Cowardly, amoral
• Accepts assignment from Pantalone, while playing off all opportunities.
• No direct equivalent but Silvio and Alan display some of the puffed-up but toothless bravado.
Literally the leading lady. The leading female character in the Masters group of characters (as opposed to the servants).
In the podcast we talked about the fact that the Harlequin character is commonly characterised as consumed with hunger. In general the character reflected a time when the peasant population could not take the over supply of food for granted. In fact the origin of the Harlequin character is even more specific than that, because he was usually attributed with being a peasant from the particular province of Bergamo, as Truffaldino declares in A Servant to Two Masters. During the 15th century the people of Bergamo were facing a famine due to cheaper imports from Greece after their region was conquered by the Venetian army. They flooded in to the cities such as Venice, offering themselves for whatever work they could find and eeking out a living in anyway they could. The Commedia audience would certainly have recognised themselves in the character of the hungry servant in search of work and food.
A woman in a man’s world
When we talked in the podcast about the female perspective that Goldoni offers in A Servant to Two Masters we focussed initially on Smeraldina as a spokeswoman for her sex in the patriarchal world of 18th century Venice. But Beatrice also presents a suggestive symbol of the potential power of women in a man’s world. As a character she is certainly a force to be reckoned with, having the initiative and courage to pursue her plan to secure the dowry and rescue her lover. Let’s not forget that in the course of doing so she also gets the better of Silvio in a sword fight.
It is telling of course that she achieves her success by dressing and behaving as a man. Her independent strength and spirit is foreshadowed early on when Brighella recalls that in Turin she “often dressed like a man to go riding”, and when at the end of the play Florindo expects her to revert to type and “pop yourself into a blouse and bodice”, she defies him, preferring to retain her manly attire. I think we can take this as a literal indication of who will be wearing the trousers in their relationship.
The idea that the only way that women could succeed in a man’s world was to behave like a man was echoed for our time in One Man Two Guvnors when Dolly predicts that “in twenty years’ time there’ll be a woman in ten Downing Street, … and she won’t be doing the washing up. Then you’ll see exactly what women can do. You’ll see a more just and fair society. The feminine voice of compassion for the poor will be the guiding principle of government, and there’ll be an end to foreign wars.” Knowing irony of course. As it happened Mrs Thatcher’s power was deemed by some to have been achieved by her mimicking macho postures rather than revolutionising political values. And it could be argued that many still thought that Hillary Clinton’s ambition betrayed her sex. Perhaps we still await a world where it is not necessary to dress and behave like “the cock of the midden” to progress, to quote the wise servant Smeraldina again.
G.B. Shaw’s Arms and the Man is both a sparkling romantic comedy and a telling satire of love, war and social pretension. It was Shaw’s first public success as a playwright when it premiered in London in 1894, and is currently enjoying an acclaimed revival at the Orange Tree theatre in Richmond, Surrey.
I’m joined by Shaw expert Ivan Wise, who is a previous editor of The Shavian, the journal of the Shaw Society.
C.P. Taylor’s powerful, cautionary play Good charts how an ostensibly ‘good’ person can become not just complicit to evil behaviour, but an active participant. Professor John Halder’s creeping moral compromise as he joins the Nazi elite in 1930’s Germany is a disturbing reminder of the dangers of populist political crusades.
The play is currently being revived at the Harold Pinter theatre in London with David Tennant in the role of John Halder, and I’m delighted to be joined by the production’s director, Dominic Cooke, to explore the contemporary resonances of this provocative play.
Frank Wedekind’s dark, expressionist play Spring Awakening is a cautionary portrait of adolescent angst and rebellion against oppressive social strictures and family pressures. Its frank depiction of sex and violence remains shocking more than 130 years after it was written, and it is the unlikely source of the award-winning modern musical of the same name.
I’m delighted to be joined by Professor Karen Leeder to explore the contemporary controversies and enduring relevance of this extraordinary play.
Before the theatres went dark this month I was lucky enough to see Caryl Churchill’s A Number at the Bridge, and spend more than seven hours in thrall to Robert Lepage’s Seven Streams of the River Ota at the National. Plus, some thoughts on what we miss when there is no theatre.
Another great mix of shows this month, from Tom Stoppard’s new play, to Ibsen, Beckett and newer plays in smaller London venues.
The January roundup included both classic plays, such as The Duchess of Malfi, Uncle Vanya and Three Sisters, as well as recent musicals Dear Evan Hansen and Girl from the North Country …