Reading “The Mistress of the Inn” by Carlo Goldoni

Note: This is an immediate thought after reading the text of The Mistress of the Inn (La Locandiera) by Carlo Goldoni. In putting this text together, I felt the need to refer to Goldoni’s text at some points. Since I don’t have the English text available, I ‘ve decided to translate the excerpts where necessary. The text I have used is from “I Pettegolezzi delle Donne, La Locandiera, Il Campiello — Garzanti, i grandi libri – Gennaio 2016.” The translations are precise but are not aesthetically refined.

I do not know how ‘The Mistress of the Inn” was read before the feminist literary theories started to gain ground in literary criticism. However, the play seems to hold the woman in a very high regard, although the female figure is an absolute minority in the text.

There are five men who seek the love of the woman: The Marquise, The Count, The waiter at the Inn, the Knight’s servant and finally the Knight himself. The play focuses on how the Knight transforms: from being strongly misogynistic to being madly in love with Mirandolina, to hating women once again probably more than he initially did.

The play is penned in 1752 and Goldoni, in his introduction to it, says:

In all the comedies written by me so far, I would say this is the most moral, the most useful and the most instructive one. To those who stop at looking at the innkeeper lady, it might seem a paradox; they might believe I have never portrayed such a flirtatious and dangerous lady in any of my plays.

What Goldoni writes here is exactly what concerns me when I think about how Mirandolina is regarded in the absence of feminism. To a lot of people, Mirandolina could be the very proof for the Knight’s misogyny. They might see her as the embodiment of the deceptive nature that has been assigned to women throughout the history.

With all his wealth and gifts, he [the Count] will never make me fall in love with him; much less will succeed the Marquise with his ridiculous protection. If I were to bind myself to one of them, that would certainly be the one who spends more money; however, neither of them matters to me. I have to take charge of making the Knight fall in love with me, and I wouldn’t give up on this joy fo a jewel twice as big as this one. I will try; I don’t know if I’ll be as good as those comedians, but I will try. While the Count and the Marquise are detained with the comedians, I can deal with the Knight at ease. Is it possible that he not give in? Who can resist a woman when given time to enjoy her art? Those who escape can’t fear being defeated but those who stay, listen and flatter will soon or later fall [in love]!

(Act 1 – Scene 23, Mirandolina’s monologue)

This is how the first act comes to an end. A lot of readers at this point might find proof to what the Knight says:

I have never loved [women], never respected them, and I have always been to the opinion that to men, they are an unbearable inferiority.

(Act 1 – Scene 4, Knight speaking to Count and Marquise)

To this hostility, Mirandolina reacts:

Poor women; what have they done to you? Why so cruel to us?

(Act 1 – Scene 6, Mirandolina speaking to Knight)

However, Mirandolina appears to be less the cunning and deceitful person she seems to be after the important monologue (mentioned above) that closes the first act. What Mirandolina is trying to do seems to be less of a personal cause:

The job is done. His heart is burning, on flames, into ash. Wait so I can achieve my triumph and make it public; to defeat scornful men and to honor our sex.

(Act 2 – Scene 19, Mirandolina talking to herself)

This is how the second act comes to an end and indeed, is one of the key moments where Mirandolina declares that she is trying to defeat prejudiced men on behalf of women. This might even seem to be a different voice of Mirandolina; in contrast with the selfishness that she has demonstrated previously, here she seems to be voicing the voice of the unvoiced women.

Following the extract previously provided from the author’s preface to the play, he continues:

But those who mull over the character of the Knight and what he goes through, will find a lively example of the demoralized presumption; the school of escaping troubles in order not to surrender to them and fall at them.

The author makes a point here: The play’s main focus is on how the Knight transforms into a lover and how his unrequitted love for Mirandolina takes him back in the figure of the misogynic monster he previously was. The transformation of the Knight is so drastic that the reader might not focus on the change Mirandolina undergoes.

Oh, poor me! I’m in big trouble. If the Knight lays hand on me, I can’t have what I wanted. He is turned a demon. I don’t want his devil to come here. I need to close this door (closes the door where she entered) I have to repent for what I did. True… I have had fun, making myself wanted by someone who hated women; but now that the joke has gone off the rail I see my reputation and my life in danger, I’m alone and I have no one to defend me. There is no one but the good Fabrizio who could be of help to me. I’ll promise to marry him… but… promises, promises, he’ll be fed up with them. It would be better if I actually married him. At least, under a marriage, my reputation and my interests can be safe, without any prejudice against my freedom.

(Act 3 – Scene 14, Mirandolina’s monologue)

Mirandolina is the woman who on her own initiative decides to teach a scornful guest a lesson, but at the moment where she feels that her life is being threatened, she decides to give in and get married. However, her choice is none of the wealthy guest who have pursued her throughout the play. This, in my opinion, is where Goldoni’s disapproval of the wealthy class weighs in and a simple inn waiter is destined to share the love that the nobles of the play have been longing for.

In the introduction to the book I have been reading, it is mentioned that Goldoni has transformed one of the figures of Commedia dell’Arte (Pantalone) in two steps: once, from an avaricious old man into a hardworking and ethical middle-aged man and the second time from a central figure to the play into a normal character. As to this decline in the figure of Pantalone, Goldoni has increased the significance of women in his settings. This is what I am going to figure in my future readings of Goldoni’s plays.

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