Thursday, July 28, 2011

Complete Books: More Commedia (in English)

[post 172]

We finally finish our saga of public domain books in English about the commedia dell'arte with these two offerings.

Memoirs of Count Carlo Gozzi
Count Carlo Gozzi (1720–1806) was, like Carlo Goldoni, a prominent eighteenth-century Venetian playwright who sought to improve upon what he saw as a declining commedia dell'arte through his own scripts. He was, however, a bitter rival of Goldoni, who he delighted in attacking in print. His most famous play, The Love of Three Oranges (1761), is a satirical fairy tale perhaps best known by way of Sergey Prokofiev's popular opera adaptation; likewise, Gozzi's Turandot became the basis for a Puccini opera of the same name. In the twentieth centrury, innovative Russian revolutionary director Vsevolod Meyerhold turned to commedia, and specifically to Gozzi, for inspiration, mounting a production of Love of Three Oranges and editing a provocative theatre journal that he named "The Love of Three Oranges." In 1996, Julie Taymor, of Lion King fame and Spiderman infamy, made a splash with her highly visual production of Gozzi's The Green Bird.

Although I have yet to find a public domain translation of Gozzi's plays into English, I do have his memoirs (1797) for you, which the Encyclopædia  Britannica describes as "vivid, if immodest."

The Memoirs of Count Carlo Gozzi


The History of the Harlequinade by Maurice Sand
Once upon a time, the early 1800s to be exact, there lived a prominent French novelist and celebrity by the name of George Sand, who had many scandalous affairs with both men and women, including Prosper Mérimée, Marie Dorval, Alfred de Musset and, most famously, Frédéric Chopin. The funny thing about George was that he was a she. No, not a transsexual or transvestite, just a dynamic woman and staunch feminist who used George Sand as a pen name, presumably so her works would be treated more seriously, just like that other George, the female author of Silas Marner, "George Eliot."
"The world will know and understand me someday. But if that day does not arrive, it does not greatly matter. I shall have opened the way for other women." — George Sand

All of which has nothing to do with commedia dell'arte, except that at the age of 20, long before her fame, George Sand married a baron and gave birth to Maurice Sand.  Sand mère soon ditched the boring baron and ran off, two kids in tow, to do her Lady Gaga thing. Sand fils grew up in a heady artistic milieu and not surprisingly became a successful novelist and illustrator in his own right, studying under the French romantic artist, Eugène Delacroix. And finally to our point: he also wrote and illustrated one of the earliest (1860) and most encyclopedic commedia histories, Masques et Bouffons.

I'll supply the original French text in a future post; meanwhile here's the 1915 English translation, published under the misleading title The History of the Harlequinade. Misleading because the harlequinade was actually a very specific segment in 19th-century English pantomime (read more here), whereas Sand's book traces the evolution of the commedia stock characters over the centuries and in different cultures, one chapter for each character.

First a few of the exquisite illustrations by Sand from the original French work; I'm not so sure the color plates in the English version are his. After that, the complete English translation in two volumes.


Le Docteur



Volume 1:

Volume Two:


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