Masterpieces of Italian Literature at Penn (MIL@P)

“Masterpieces of Italian Literature at Penn” aims to develop a thriving community of graduate students of all Schools and specializations that will consider texts of Italian Literature that played a pivotal role in global history. Although the group will focus on Italian texts, we intend to involve as many Penn students as possible, and therefore, our conversations about primary and secondary readings will be in English, and the texts might be read either in Italian or English. This reading group plans to use resources in the Van Pelt Library and its vast collections of Italian manuscripts and prints. While reading some of the most influential works in Italian history, the group will circulate knowledge about Italian culture in the United States with the help and collaboration of scholars from the University of Pennsylvania and external guests. The graduate students in Italian Studies are proud to announce the fifth year of “Masterpiece of Italian Literature @ Penn,” a graduate-led group that aims to read literary texts that have played a pivotal role in global literature. This year, we will read several comedies written by Carlo Goldoni. Carlo Goldoni was born in Venice in 1707 and died in Paris in 1793, where he had moved in 1762. Goldoni wrote more than two hundred comedies in Italian and Venetian, but above all, he was the one who revolutionized the concept of theatre. For about two hundred years before him, comic theater had been dominated by Commedia dell'arte. Commedia dell’arte was a kind of comic theater characterized by stock characters; additionally, actors followed a basic plot and improvised for the rest of the acting. Goldoni changed all of this, making gradual modifications, as the actors and the audience were still used to the norms and conventions of the Commedia dell'arte. In his revolution, Goldoni was eventually able to introduce comedies based entirely on scripts: the actors could no longer improvise. Furthermore, Goldoni stood out for his extreme ability to grasp and represent the psychology of his characters, as well as accurately describing the most important themes of the society of his time. Goldoni's new theatre was a theater of realism and psychological complexity of characters. As a matter of fact, he declared that the Book of the World (Il Libro del Mondo) and the Book of the Theater (Il Libro del Teatro) had been crucial for his formation as a playwright. The Book of the World taught him people’s nature, how they behaved and their passions, as well as the habits of his age. The Book of the Theater taught him how he had to represent the people and the passions he read in the Book of the World, and how to thrill and engage his audience without offending anyone. Goldoni was very much loved in Venice, and generally in the rest of Italy, but he did not enjoy the same luck in Paris, where he lived for approximately thirty years. His end was inglorious: given the massive amount of people killed during the Reign of Terror in Paris, Goldoni’s remains were buried in a mass grave. Even though he was buried anonymously, today he is remembered as one of the greatest playwrights in history, and his comedies are still, to our eyes, highly “modern“, and – importantly- extremely amusing as well. Subscribe to our newsletter here: For any questions, don’t hesitate to contact us at