Carlo Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters (Il servitore di due padroni) is a classic Italian comedy in the Commedia dell'Arte tradition, focussing on the attempts of the resourceful and ever-hungry Truffaldino to serve two different masters without either of them finding out.
It was written in 1745 at the request of actor Antonio Sacco, one of the great Truffaldinos in history, and first performed in Milan as a 'scenario' in which only the lovers’ dialogues were fully scripted. Later it moved into the Teatro San Samuele, Venice, for the season 1745-46. A full version was eventually published in 1753.
This translation by Stephen Mulrine was published by Nick Hern Books in 2012.
The play begins in the Venetian house of Pantalone, where a party is underway to celebrate the engagement of Clarice, daughter of Pantalone, to Silvio, son of Doctor Lombardi. As the wedding agreement is being signed, the hilarious and confused Truffaldino enters to announce the arrival of his master, Federigo Rasponi of Turin.
This news comes as an amazing surprise to all, since Federigo is believed to have been killed in a duel with Florindo, his sister Beatrice’s lover. The problem arises from the fact that Federigo had originally been promised Clarice’s hand in marriage. The truth, however, is the supposed Federigo is actually Beatrice in disguise, come from Turin to claim the dowry owed by Pantalone to her brother, if he were alive.
To Clarice’s horror, her father feels obliged to honour his commitment to the supposed Federigo. Clarice refuses to comply, while Silvio, spurred on by his pontificating father, strives to maintain his claim to Clarice’s hand. The wedding, however, is cancelled. Brighella, the innkeeper, recognises Beatrice, despite her disguise, but promises to keep her identity a secret and becomes her accomplice in her mission. Here Truffaldino meets the housemaid, Smeraldina, and falls in love with her.
Later, on the street, the servant Truffaldino is approached by Florindo who, having recently escaped from Turin after killing Federigo, is seeking a servant himself. Truffaldino accepts Florindo’s offer, determining that if he is clever he can serve two masters and easily double his income. From the hotel Florindo sends Truffaldino to check for his mail. Beatrice (disguised as Federigo), who is also at the hotel, sends him to check her mail as well. As fate would have it, Truffaldino mixes up the letters and gives Beatrice’s letters to Florindo, who as a result learns that his lover is in Venice and sets out in search of her.
Back at Pantalone’s house, Beatrice, still in disguise as Federigo, reveals her secret to the distraught Clarice. Pantalone sees the two shake hands and takes it to mean that they have agreed to wed and sets out to tell Doctor Lombardi.
Eventually, through a series of comic mishaps and mix-ups, Beatrice and Florindo come to believe that the other is dead. Beatrice, grief-stricken, abandons her disguise and flees the house. Having discovered Beatrice’s true identity, Pantalone tells Lombardi that the marriage between Silvio and Clarice is still possible since Federigo is actually a woman! Fate again intervenes and brings the suicidal Beatrice and Florindo together in a chance encounter. Overjoyed, they plan to return together to Turin and buy Florindo’s freedom.
In the end, all of the couples are set to be happily married. Florindo asks Pantalone for permission for his servant, Truffaldino, to marry Clarice’s maid, Smeraldino. Clarice says that this is impossible, because Smeraldino is promised to Beatrice’s servant. Truffaldino, in order to marry Smeraldino, confesses that he is, indeed, a servant to two masters.