Carlo Goldoni, an Italian dramatist, born in Venice in 1707, died in Paris in 1793. He passed his childhood in the midst of festivals and theatrical performances, with which his grandfather amused his leisure at a country seat near Venice. At the age of 8 years he wrote a sort of comic drama, and at 13 played female parts on the stage at Perugia. He studied philosophy under the Dominicans at Rimini, hut deserted them to join a troop of comedians. His father, a physician, undertook to teach him his own profession, hut he soon solicited an exchange from medicine to law. At 16 he was transferred from legal studies at Venice to a scholarship in the papal college at Pavia, with the design of fitting him for the church. Within a year he became accomplished in music, dancing, and fencing, and learned a little of civil and canonical law. At the close of the second year he descended the Ticino and the Po with a company of wits and men of pleasure, and arriving at Ohioggia was called upon to preach. His attempt met with brilliant success, and he returned to Pavia with a reputation for eloquence. In the third year of his scholarship he composed a satire against the inhabitants of the town for an insult that they had offered to the students, and was expelled from the college.

He resumed his studies of law, and in 1732 was admitted into the corps of advocates at Venice. He had already composed two comedies, and been manager of the theatre where they were produced, playing the principal parts himself; and while waiting for clients he published a medley of prose and verse under the title of Esperienza del passa-to, Vastrologo dell' avenire, etc. He soon after went to Milan, where his comic opera the "Venetian Gondolier" was produced and applauded. In 1734 his tragedy of Belisario was played at Venice with overwhelming success. His second tragedy, Rosamonda, failed in the following year. After furnishing other pieces with various success to different strolling companies, he married in 1736, and began to write for the company of Sacchi at Venice with the design of gradually reforming the Italian theatre. His aims were to substitute human vices and follies for fantastic and frivolous adventures, to have the plays written in full instead of being only sketched by the author and in large part improvised by the actors, and to banish from the stage the traditional masks and costumes by which the Harlequin, Birghella, Pantalon, and other chief actors were distinguished.

In 1739 he was appointed Genoese consul at Venice, but after two years he again resumed his wandering life. At Rimini he was appointed director of the spectacles and amusements; he passed four months in Florence, visited Siena, and was received with enthusiasm at Pisa, where he resumed for a short time the practice of law, at the same time sending to Venice some of his most successful comedies. In 1747 he returned to Venice, determined to devote himself to the stage; and at the close of the first season he had raised the theatre to which he was attached to a superiority over its rivals, and during the second year produced 16 new pieces of three acts each. The excessive labor injured his health, and to indemnify himself he began to publish his comedies, contesting the right to do so with the manager. He had already written 120 pieces, when in 1761 he was invited to Paris, where after writing two years for the Italian theatre he was attached to the court as instructor of the daughters of the king in the Italian language, and after three years more was awarded a pension. He continued to produce comedies at intervals, the most successful of which was the Bourru bienfaisant.

His last literary labor was writing his memoirs, which appeared first in French (Paris, 1787), and afterward in Italian (Venice, 1788); they are said by Gibbon to be more comical than his best comedies. The most striking characteristic of Goldoni as an author is his fertility, scarcely surpassed by that of Calderon and Lope de Vega. The best of his pieces are in the Venetian dialect, and his greatest merits are his theatrical skill, and the liveliness, piquancy, and humor with which he depicts the manners of all classes of society in Italy. Schlegel criticises him as deficient in depth of characterization and in novelty and richness of invention. Critical biographies of him have been written by Giovanni (Milan, 1821), Carrer (Venice, 1824), Gavi (Milan, 1826), and Meneghezzi (Milan, 1827). Among the editions of Goldoni's works may be mentioned that of Venice in 44 vols. 8vo, 1788-'95, and that of Lucca in 26 vols., 1809.