Report on The War (La Guerra)
by Carlo Goldoni
Prepared for the RSC, 1967
I am informed that Giorgio Strehler consider The War to be Goldoni's most important play, and this is perhaps sufficient recommendation in itself. The play received very little attention in the Venice of 1760 where it was first produced, although it would appear that part of the problem may have been due to a complicated battle sequence, which the actors performed less than convincingly. The records for this period of theatre history are remarkably complete, and the sequence in question was deleted from the published version of 1761, on which the present adaptation is based.
Despite this Italian mishap, the play was translated into German no fewer than five times and was performed again and again in Germany throughout the Eighteenth Century. The last of these translations was executed by Goethe's brother-in-law, and for one performance there was even a prologue composed by Goethe himself. It is difficult to imagine why this play has remained so obscure for so long. Portions of the text and action look forward to Mother Courage and the peasant scenes in some of Brecht's other plays. I have not yet checked Brecht's own writings, but it seems at least probable that he would have encountered one of the German versions at one point or another of his career.
But The War is of considerable importance in its own right and should by no means be seen as a proto-Brechtian curiosity. Its mere existence has thrown the Italian Goldonians into a confusion approaching panichere is Goldoni, per eccellenza the Pleasant Playwright, supposedly only concerned with Harliquinades and the squabbles of Venetian families, suddenly turned ironic observer, social critic, and almost, for his time, a Marxist. And buried beneath the three hundred plays, libretti, and scenari in French, Italian, and Venetian, hidden amidst the even greater mass of stolidly innocuous criticism is in fact another Goldoni, a devoted pacifist, a quiet pessimist, and an intense social critic of the foibles of his time, even though this is not entirely evident from his surviving work, for the problems he sought to define and resolve have long ago been replaced by new ones.
As for La Guerra, even its German fame was finally eclipsed, and it was revived there last year as a "rarely performed play." It has never been translated into English [still the case now thirty-three years later in the year 2000, so far as I have been able to determine], and of the two scholars who have dealt with it in English, both Americans, one defended it while the other* took Goldoni to task for "showing a number of officers utterly deprived of the spirit that ennobles their profession" and for not seeing "the possible use of war as a means to promote welfare or progress."
* Joseph Spencer Kennard: Goldoni and the Venice of his Time, page 506, New York, 1920 (MacMillan).
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