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233 The Drama of Marriage in Eighteenth-Century Venice Carlo Goldoni’s La locandiera ADRIENNE WARD This essay proposes a new reading of Carlo Goldoni’s beloved comedy La locandiera, written and first performed at the Teatro Sant’Angelo in Venice in 1752. As its title implies, the protagonist is a female innkeeper. Her captivating qualities (she is named Mirandolina, after all), the guesthousebordello analogy, and Venice’s reputation for fun and games certainly support associations with the erotic, a theatrical mainstay.1 Goldoni’s play can be appreciated in another context, however: that of the eighteenth-century Venetian marital crisis, when confusion and conflicts over marriage regulation came to a head.2 Interpreting La locandiera against the background of Venetian marriage culture adds a new facet to criticism that has largely focused on the comedy’s socioeconomic valence.3 The canonical view equates Mirandolina’s psychological triumph over the Cavaliere to the new hegemony of the bourgeois class and its value system: single-minded dedication to clear vision, honest work, and market gain.4 Considering the comedy in light of matrimonial institutions and practices yields additional insights, however. It reveals the play’s pointed commentary on the difficult dynamics of family formation. It shows the extent to which multiple sectors were constrained and both sexes afflicted by reductive class dogma and stifling social parameters. The marriage context grays the traditional reading whereby one socioeconomic cohort neatly dominates another, and one sex vanquishes its competitor. Recent critics who cite marriage in La locandiera continue to relate it to the comedy’s promotion of the merchant ethos. Roberto Alonge, for example , remarks that “Mirandolina’s refusal to marry really means [that she can] avoid the role of wife and the damnation of maternity, both of which would compete for time she could use to realize herself in her work, in the running of the guesthouse.”5 Similarly, Luigi Lunari discusses the hypo- Adrienne Ward 234 thetical marriage between Mirandolina and any one of her three patrician patron-suitors. The distance she keeps from them is not intended to prevent contamination of the superior rank (a concern normally associated with that same rank) but instead emphasizes their being unworthy of the benefits of her social role and status (a perspective her own class increasingly espoused ). According to Lunari, Mirandolina’s antimarriage stance translates into the bourgeois’s confident rejection of the nobility.6 Such assessments are astute and consistent with Silvana Seidel Menchi’s alert to not underestimate the role that class and class ambition played in early modern marriage formation .7 In this context, the customarily aspiring bourgeois who forswears ascendant social mobility makes a bold statement. But Mirandolina expresses dismay with much more than the vanity of her social superiors. In varying ways, she and all the characters in the play struggle with a system that oppresses the individual subject, especially in terms of marital relations. Both sexes, together with all the social classes— noble, bourgeois, and popolo—seek greater freedom to control life status; more reliable, principled marriage commitment; and domestic security and satisfaction. As everyone knows, these “life enhancements” figured in the promise of the antiaristocratic and capitalist regime gaining momentum in eighteenth-century Europe. New modes did not take hold easily, however , and the Venetian Republic presented uniquely complex impediments to change. La locandiera gives poignant voice to the struggle. Goldoni seems to sympathize with Venetians of all ranks in his articulation of the resistance to and adaptation around explicit local marital and gender paradigms. On the surface, La locandiera does not appear to take up substantive concerns regarding marriage.8 But in fact it engages rather intensively with key issues pertinent to the Venetian scene in this period: a troubling decline in marriages, especially in sanctioned patrician unions; a rise in unorthodox marriages; and an increase in suits for separation and divorce. The play, and more specifically relations between Mirandolina and the single men surrounding her, dramatize many of the conditions that were both cause and consequence of the marriage dilemma. Let us begin with a brief summary of the plot. The action takes place at an inn in Florence. The proprietor, the witty and vivacious Mirandolina, has inherited the inn from her recently deceased father. Often the aristocratic patrons of the inn fall under her spell, and the play opens with an exchange between two such noblemen, the Marquis di Forlipopoli and the Count d’Albafiorita. Both admit they’re taken with the innkeeper and...


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