Candida Martinelli's Italophile Site

Main Page This family-friendly site celebrates Italian culture for the enjoyment of children and adults. Site-Overview




Italian Theatre, Playwrights






Theatre- 1860

In the Days Before Television

Luigi Pirandello, Playwright

Carlo Goldoni, Playwright

Tommaso Salvini, Actor

Adelaide Ristori, Actress

Italian Theatre Today

Theatre in Venice in 1860s  

Books About Italian Theatre

Teatro Piccolo a Milano host a Carlo Goldoni Festival.


This is a shot of the interior of the famous 'Il Teatro San Carlo' in Naples.  Click on the image to go to their website.



This is an interior shot of 'Il Teatro Reale dell'Opera' in Rome.  Click on the image to visit the website for the opera theatres of Rome, of which this theatre is one.



This is the impressive atrium of the historic 'Il Teatro della Pergola', built in 1556, in Florence.  Click on the image to visit their site.



Click on the image above to view a slide show of the history of 'Il Teatro Manzoni' that mirrors the history of Italian theatre.  This Milan theatre is the home of Italian Variety, but also of modern Italian drama.  Check out their homage to top stage actors, too.



The Pirandello Web site is the most complete site about Luigi Pirandello.  It is in Italian.  It has a detailed biography, many commentaries on the historical significance of his works, an explanation of the recurring themes in his works, and all his plays, books, short stories and other writing online.  Click on the image of Pirandello above to go to the site.  Another site with Pirandello works, both plays and prose, is the Biblioteca dei classici italiani.



Click on this image of Luigi Pirandello to read a short biography in English.  The site offers biographies of many playwrights, discussing not just each writer's life, but his most influential works as well.



The Roman theatre stage area in the above image is an example of the roots of Italian theatre.  It is a direct descendant of Greek theatre, which shaped Roman theatrical traditions, which evolved into the later Italian theatrical traditions.  

Click on the image to go to the Theatre History site's summary of Pirandello's most famous play, 'Six Characters in Search of an Author'.  To read more about Italian theatre, click on the link at the bottom of the Theatre History's page.  



Click on the 'Three Plays' title above to go to three plays by Luigi Pirandello that you can read online.  The plays are:  'Six Characters in Search of an Author', 'Henry IV', 'Right You Are! (If You So Think)'.

If you wish to read them in the original Italian, Project Gutenberg lets you read then for free on-line, or download a copy, offering various format suitable for e-readers.

Sei personaggi in cerca d'autore on-line, or in various formats

Enrico IV on-line, or in various formats

'A vilanza by Nino Martoglio and Luigi Pirandello (in Siciliano) on-line, or in various formats



Teatro Piccolo a Milano host a Carlo Goldoni Festival.


Click on this image of Carlo Goldoni to read a short biography in English.  And click here to read about Italian Theatre before and during the time of Goldoni. 



Click on the image above to go to an online text in Italian of Goldoni's play 'La locandiera'



Click on the image of Goldoni above to link to a site in Italian that offers free e-texts to download of many of Goldoni's over 150 works.  



I've found this excerpt online from 'The War' translated for the Royal Shakespeare Company in Britain.  It is not a typical Goldoni comedy of manners, but instead a commentary on the often less than honorable behavior of soldiers in the field.  Topical...

There is a new translation into modern American English of 'A Servant of Two Masters' ('Arlecchino, servitore di due padroni') that has been enjoying successful runs throughout the States, bringing an accessible and very entertaining Goldoni play to modern audiences.  The translation is by David Zarko, an esteemed playwright and theatrical director.  Visit his website for more information, an excerpt and contact information.



Tommaso Salvini is Italy's most illustrious stage actor in the 19th century.  Click on his image to read a brief biography, and excerpts from his entertaining autobiography.




Adelaide Ristori is one of Italy's most illustrious stage actresses in the 19th century.  Click on her image to read a brief biography, and excerpts from her interesting autobiography.



For theatre fans, the 'Playbill' site is a must.  You'll find news and production information about the New York and London theatre scenes, and a few other smaller theatre districts.  Click on the logo.


Click on this logo to go to the British Theatre Web's dull but informative site about the London theatre scene.  




Visit my Tommaso Salvini Page

Visit my Adelaide Ristori Page

In The Days Before Television...

When discussing Theatre, it's a good idea to cast one's mind back to the days before film, radio and television.  Theatre was the primary mass entertainment medium before those modern inventions.

  • Writers wrote for the theatre.  
  • Actors acted in theatrical productions both comic and dramatic, and performed in vaudevillian revues.  
  • Musicians accompanied stage productions.  
  • Painters designed and created stage scenery.  
  • Lighting specialists and makeup artists worked behind the scenes.  
  • As did riggers who spilt their time between circus work, sailing, and working back stage to raise and lower the scenery and curtains with endless and complex systems of ropes and pulleys.

The stars of the day were the playwrights, the leading men and their leading ladies, the comics, and the theatre company directors.

The company directors put the theatrical group together, picked the material, rehearsed them, and then took them on tour locally, nationally and even internationally if they had a sponsor willing to pay their way in exchange for a percentage of the takings at the theatre box office.


Most theatrical companies boasted a star to draw the audiences.  The stars sold playing card sized images of themselves to their fans, either pin-up shots or in the costumes of their most famous characters.  Sometimes, if the star was big enough, and smart enough, the star was also the company director.  

The material a theatre company performed had to include old standards that an audience could count on to be entertaining.  That meant Shakespeare or an adaptation from classic literature.  Just like for today's pricier film entertainment, the material had to be bankable.  

But there were new playwrights as well.  Some formed their own theatre groups and directed their own plays.  Others joined up with established actors and theatre companies who made names for themselves by acting on the cutting edge of their art.  

The age of theatre is not over.  It still survives in the same forms as before, however it is no longer the only game in town.  While theatres today still rely on old standards, new plays are put on regularly and are sometimes the proving ground for future films.  A good story with compelling characters and strong dialogue is, as always, worth telling in whatever form it will reach an audience.  

Having said all that...are you still with me?  Italian theatre has a long and illustrious history, and is still going strong.  

Click here for some articles on Italian theatre's past.  And click here to read about the ancient past:  ancient Rome's theatrical heritage.

Following are some of the illustrious theatre people from the past, and information on Italian theatre today, in case you want to enjoy some performances while in Italy.


Luigi Pirandello, Playwright

Luigi Pirandello (b.1867 - d.1936) won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1934.  During his long and prolific career he wrote novels, short stories, plays, poetry and essays.  

Pirandello's writings dealt directly with life's most complex issues, such as identify, belief, sanity, and the integrity of self.  His works dealt with what it is to be a human being, and what it is that robs us of our humanity.  These are themes that resonate today, which explains why his works are still read and his plays are still performed.  


His most famous and influential play is Six Characters in Search of an Author.  The characters in the play question why they were created and what their role is to be.  They arrive at a point where they want to leave the author who created them behind, and go in search of better roles for themselves, roles of their their own choosing and then of their own making.

The play's parallels to life are well drawn.  We, too, are created, by our parents, and we are shaped by our society and family who knowingly or not push us to play certain roles in life.  All children who grow into adulthood come to a point when they want to go off on their own, make their own decisions, and form their own opinions, especially about who they are and the role they will play in life.  

The play also puts forth the idea that we can never really know our own character, but instead, we know only the fiction we have created for ourselves, and there is the fiction we create for others.  These fictions are not necessarily the same because who we believe ourselves to be, is not always what others believe us to be.

The theme is picked up again and again in later works by playwrights and filmmakers such as Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter, David Mamet, and Woody Allen, and Quentin Tarentino.  The list of Woody Allen plays and films, alone, that feature characters stepping out of a fiction into his fiction, is a long one.  

Links to Pirandello's plays and a biography can be found with the images in the left column of this page.


Carlo Goldoni, Playwright

Carlo Goldoni (b.1707 - d.1792) was a comic dramatist, who wrote plays we today call 'comedies of manners'.  They pointed out the ridiculousness of a rigid social etiquette that conflicted sharply with human nature.  The plays feature complex and humorous situations that can arise when trying to conform to strict social rules while giving in to our unruly natures.   

This is a common theme of comedies to this day.  The conflict between our base natures and the veneer needed to function in society is fertile ground for artists.  The recent film American Beauty is a dark comedy on this very theme, for example.


Goldoni's plays have been compared to Moliere's farces, not only because they were written originally in French around the same period.  Both writers are from the age of self-mockery, as opposed to the previous age of education and propaganda, and Pirandello's later age of self-examination and realization.  Goldoni is proudly called the Italian Moliere.

Before Goldoni, Italian comic theatre was performed with masks (commedia dell'arte) representing caricatures or stock characters, and saddled with laborious plots and improvised scenes.  After Goldoni, Italians enjoyed comedies with realistic, if exaggerated, characters in normal dress, speaking normal language, from a script.

His revolution had to be performed from France, where he fled to avoid hostility and ridicule from the entrenched theatrical stars and owners.  But his revolution was successful, and long-lasting; his plays are still performed and enjoyed throughout Italy.  You can even visit his birthplace in Venice which has been made into a museum celebrating his works (Casa di Carlo Goldoni).

I've a page dedicated to Commedia dell'Arte, if you'd like to know more about it, and the stock characters.  Lots of fun stuff there.  The characters are still represented today at Carnival time.  To read more about that, visit my Venice Carnevale page.

Links to Goldoni's plays and a biography can be found with the images in the left column of this page.


Tommaso Salvini, Actor

Tommaso Salvini was Italy's most illustrious stage actor from the 19th century.  He toured the world, and even played in the U.S. twice, both times in Italian.  

His first tour of the U.S. was with an all Italian troupe, and it was a smash hit even if the audiences could not understand the dialogue.  He performed classic plays that the audience knew well, so they enjoyed his performance as if it were an Italian opera:  unintelligible to all but a few, but beautiful all the same to many. 


His second tour of the U.S. was with American actors performing in English to his performance in Italian.  This, too, was a smashing success.  You can read about it in his humble autobiography, parts of which were reproduced in a collection of the better acting autobiographies from the 19th century.  

I've created a PDF e-book from the public domain text of this book, and reproduced the section about Mr. Salvini on a page of this website.  

He is an entertaining writer, and gives a clear picture of the life of a traveling actor of the time, including the rivalries with, and pride in, contemporaries.


Adelaide Ristori, Actress

Adelaide Ristori was one of Italy's most illustrious stage actresses from the 19th century.  She performed around the world, and even in English on the London stage.

Parts of her somewhat less humble autobiography were reproduced in the same collection as mentioned above.  Click here or on her image, to the right, to go to the page on this website with her writings.


Italian Theatre Today

You'll find active theatres in all large Italian cities, and in most medium-sized cities, too.  And everywhere in Italy you'll come across quality productions staged in nightclubs, restaurants, outdoor arenas, schools and town halls; wherever there is enough space. 

  • The Italian Theatre site Teatri online
  • This list is of some of the most famous theatres in Italy, in Italian, but it links to the various theatre sites that often have English pages.
  • This List is of theatres in Rome, with the first theatre troupe listed performing in English.
  • Rome's theatres are discussed here and the opera is recommended for tourists.
  • Two English language theatres in Rome top this list of Roman theatres.


Theatre in Venice in the 1860s

Click here to read about theatre in Venice in the 1860s, on a page I've made with excerpts from a book by William Dean Howells, the U. S. Consul in Venice from 1861-1865.


Books About Italian Theatre

My list of books about Italian Theatre, available at

If you'd like to look for a more specific book, you can use this Search tool, to find books, see what people think of them, and what they cost.

Just enter 'Books' in the 'Search' field, then an actor/writer's name (for example, or a play, or theatre...) in the 'Keywords' field.  Then click on the 'Go' button to see the resulting list.

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