The Silent Wife

Poor Pantalone has never heard a word of love from the lips of his beautiful wife, for the simple reason that she completely lacks the power of speech. It’s a traditional Italian commedia dell’arte scenario that was originally devised in 1645, and is still popular in modern Brazil under the title A Comedia da Esposa Muta (Comedy of the Dumb Wife). After trying everything to get his wife to talk, he has recourse to a comical doctor. The operation is a success – the wife speaks! And with that, Pantalone realizes what a blessing it was to have a silent wife…

Commedia scenarios are not scripts so much as templates within which the masked and often grotesquely costumed actors tell the story through improvisation. That means particular business will vary from production to production, and sometimes even from show to show, so it won’t be every Pantalone whose efforts to get some sound out of his wife’s mouth include this:

But since those examples come from different productions across the best part of a whole decade, it’s obviously not a rarity, either.

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