Servant of Two Masters
Servant of Two Masters is a comedy by the Venetian
Republic of Venice
The Republic of Venice or Venetian Republic was a state originating from the city of Venice in Northeastern Italy. It existed for over a millennium, from the late 7th century until 1797. It was formally known as the Most Serene Republic of Venice and is often referred to as La Serenissima, in...

A playwright, also called a dramatist, is a person who writes plays.The term is not a variant spelling of "playwrite", but something quite distinct: the word wright is an archaic English term for a craftsman or builder...

 Carlo Goldoni
Carlo Goldoni
Carlo Osvaldo Goldoni was an Italian playwright and librettist from the Republic of Venice. His works include some of Italy's most famous and best-loved plays. Audiences have admired the plays of Goldoni for their ingenious mix of wit and honesty...

 written in 1743. Goldoni originally wrote the play at the request of actor Antonio Sacco
Antonio Sacco
Antonio Sacco was an Italian improvisational actor, renowned for his performance as the Commedia dell'arte stock character Truffaldino...

, one of the great Truffaldinos in history. His earliest drafts had large sections that were reserved for improvisation, but he revised it in 1753 in the version that exists today.


The play
Play (theatre)
A play is a form of literature written by a playwright, usually consisting of scripted dialogue between characters, intended for theatrical performance rather than just reading. There are rare dramatists, notably George Bernard Shaw, who have had little preference whether their plays were performed...

 opens with the introduction of Beatrice, a woman who has traveled to Venice
Venice is a city in northern Italy which is renowned for the beauty of its setting, its architecture and its artworks. It is the capital of the Veneto region...

 disguised as her dead brother in search of the man who killed him: her lover, Florindo. Her brother forbade her to marry Florindo, and died defending her honor. Beatrice disguises herself as him so that she can collect dowry money from Pantalone
Pantalone, or Pantalone del bisognosi, Italian for 'Pantalone of the needy', is one of the most important principal characters found in commedia del arte...

, the father of Clarice, her brother's betrothed. She wants to use this money to help her lover escape, and to allow them to finally wed. But thinking that Beatrice's brother was dead, Clarice has fallen in love with another man, Silvio, and the two have become engaged. Interested in keeping up appearances, Pantalone tries to conceal the existence of each from the other.

Beatrice's servant, the exceptionally quirky and comical Truffaldino, is the central figure of this play. He is always complaining of an empty stomach, and always trying to satisfy his hunger by eating everything and anything in sight. In one famous scene, it is implied that he eats Beatrice's beloved cat. When the opportunity presents itself to be servant to another master (Florindo, as it happens) he sees the opportunity for an extra dinner.

As Truffaldino runs around Venice trying to fill the orders of two masters, he is almost uncovered several times, especially because other characters repeatedly hand him letters, money, etc. and say simply "this is for your master" without specifying which one. To make matters worse, the stress causes him to develop a temporary stutter, which only arouses more problems and suspicion among his masters. To further complicate matters, Beatrice and Florindo are staying in the same hotel, and are searching for each other.

In the end, with Clarice's and Smeraldina's (Pantalone's feisty servant, who is smitten with Truffaldino) help, Beatrice and Florindo finally find each other, and with Beatrice exposed as a woman, Clarice is allowed to marry Silvio. The last matter up for discussion is whether Truffaldino and Smeraldina can get married, which at last exposes Truffaldino's having played both sides all along. However, as everyone has just decided to get married, Truffaldino is forgiven. Truffaldino asks Smeraldina to marry him.

The most famous set-piece of the play is the scene in which the starving Truffaldino tries to serve a banquet to the entourages of both his masters without either group becoming aware of the other, while desperately trying to satisfy his own hunger at the same time.


One of the main themes of this play is found in the character development of Truffaldino. As mentioned above, he is always hungry. That is his action: it is what he wants in the play. Yet, the play does not end when he finally gets a meal and a full belly; it ends with a kiss shared between him and Smeraldina. Truffaldino, it is implied, was hungry for love.


The characters of the play are taken from the Italian Renaissance theatre style Commedia dell'arte
Commedia dell'arte
Commedia dell'arte is a form of theatre characterized by masked "types" which began in Italy in the 16th century, and was responsible for the advent of the actress and improvised performances based on sketches or scenarios. The closest translation of the name is "comedy of craft"; it is shortened...

. In classic commedia tradition, an actor learns a stock character
Stock character
A Stock character is a fictional character based on a common literary or social stereotype. Stock characters rely heavily on cultural types or names for their personality, manner of speech, and other characteristics. In their most general form, stock characters are related to literary archetypes,...

 (usually accentuated by a mask
A mask is an article normally worn on the face, typically for protection, disguise, performance or entertainment. Masks have been used since antiquity for both ceremonial and practical purposes...

) and plays it to perfection throughout his career. The actors had a list of possible scenarios, each with a very basic plot, called a canovaccio
A canovaccio is a vague plot outline used by commedia dell'arte players. It consisted only of a list of acts and scenes; the details were left to the improvisation of the actors. Actors in the commedia dell'Arte thus had to be endowed with an inventive mind since the success of the play depended...

, and throughout would perform physical-comedy acts known as lazzi
Lazzi is an improvised comic dialogue or action commonly used in the Commedia dell'arte. Most English-speaking troupes use the Italian plural "lazzi" as the singular and "lazzis" for the plural....

 (Italian lazzo, a joke or witticism) and the dialogue was improvised.


The characters from 'A Servant of Two Masters' are derived from "stock characters" used in commedia dell'arte
Commedia dell'arte
Commedia dell'arte is a form of theatre characterized by masked "types" which began in Italy in the 16th century, and was responsible for the advent of the actress and improvised performances based on sketches or scenarios. The closest translation of the name is "comedy of craft"; it is shortened...

True commedia dell'arte is more or less improvised without a script, so Servant of Two Masters is not true commedia. The stock characters were used as guides for the actors improvising.

Pantalone: The old, rich, lecherous man with a single motive of money.

In "A Servant of two Masters", 'Pantaloon' originates in 'Pantalone'.

A zanni is a tricky servant, in "A Servant of Two Masters", 'Truffaldino' is the 'zanni' or also known as Arlechino or in English: Harlequin.

Brighella is the only character whose stereotype has not been translated to the play. In this play, Brighella can be played in several different ways, all of which are open to interpretation. Most commonly, he's portrayed as the 'jolly, enterprising servant' or something of a Jack Falstaff-esque character.

The other characters have all been taken from the stock characters of commedia dell'arte:
  • Capitano = Florindo
  • Columbina = Smeraldina
  • Il Dottore = Doctor Lombardi
  • The Lovers = Silvio and Clarice - Florindo and Beatrice - Truffaldino and Smeraldina


There have been several adaptations of the play, for the cinema
A film, also called a movie or motion picture, is a series of still or moving images. It is produced by recording photographic images with cameras, or by creating images using animation techniques or visual effects...

 and for the theatre:
  • Harlekijn, kies je meester (1973) (TV) - a 1973 Dutch adaptation.
  • Truffaldino iz Bergamo (Truffaldino from Bergamo)(1976) (TV) - a 1976 Russian TV movie adaptation.
  • Sluga dvukh gospod (Servant of Two Masters)(1953) - a 1953 Russian adaptation.
  • Sluha dvou pánů (Servant of Two Masters) (1994) - 1994–present day, Czech theatrical adaptation in National Theatre, Prague. Main role impersonated Miroslav Donutil
    Miroslav Donutil
    Miroslav Donutil is a Czech theatrical, film and television actor, born in Třebíč. Since 1978 when he appeared as Hloch in Čistá řeka, Donutil has three decades of film and TV appearances. He dubbed the voice of Kevin Costner and Gérard Depardieu - Career :Donutil grew up in Brno...

  • One Man, Two Guvnors
    One Man, Two Guvnors
    One Man, Two Guvnors is a play by Richard Bean. It opened at the National Theatre in June 2011. The play, directed by Nicholas Hytner, starred James Corden and is an English adaptation of Servant of Two Masters , a 1743 Commedia del Arte comedy by the Venetian playwright Carlo Goldoni...

     (2011) - set in 1960s Brighton, adapted by Richard Bean
    Richard Bean
    Richard Bean, born in East Hull in 1956, is an English playwright.-Early years:Bean studied Social Psychology at Loughborough University of Science and Technology and graduated with a 2-1 BSc Hons, and went on to become an occupational psychologist, having previously worked in a bread plant for a...

    and first performed at The National Theatre, London.
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