"The Sauce is Better Than the Fish": The Use of Food to Signify Class in the Comedies of Carlo Goldoni 1737-1762.

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2006-04-26

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This dissertation explores the plays of Venetian Commedia del'Arte reformer-cum-playwright Carlo Goldoni, and documents how he manipulates consumption and material culture using fashionable food and dining styles to satirize class structures in eighteenth century Italy. Goldoni's works exist in what I call the "consuming public" of eighteenth century Venice, documenting the theatrical, literary, and artistic production of the city as well as the trend towards Frenchified social production and foods in the stylish eating of the period. The construction of Venetian society in the middle of the eighteenth century was a specific and legally ordered cultural body, expressed through various extra-theatrical activities available during the period, such as gambling, carnival, and public entertainments. The theatrical conventions of the Venetian eighteenth century also explored nuances of class decorum, especially as they related to audience behavior and performance reception. This decorum extended to the eating styles for the wealthy developed in France during the late seventeenth century and spread to the remainder of Europe in the eighteenth century.

Goldoni 's early plays from 1737 through 1752 are riffs on the traditional Commedia dell'Arte performances prevalent in the period. He used food in these early pieces to illustrate the traditional class and regional affiliations of the Commedia characters. Plays such as The Artful Widow, The Coffee House, and The Gentleman of Good Taste experimented with the use of historical foods styles that illustrate social placement and hint at further character development. In his later plays from 1753-1762, Goldoni developed his satirical use of food in order to illuminate current social problems and bourgeois status issues. Plays such as Mirandolina, The Superior Residence, and the three plays of The Country Trilogy offer a social commentary about the role of consumption in the formation of class structure during the period. My work offers a new look at the theatre and literary output of the eighteenth century, and particularly how writers used material culture as a way of illustrating social changes.

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