Gozzi was born and died in Venice; he came from an old Venetian family from the Republic of Ragusa. His father's debts forced him to look for a means of supporting himself, and at the age of sixteen, he joined the army in Dalmatia; three years later he returned to Venice, where he soon made a reputation for himself as the wittiest member of the Granelleschi Society, to which the publication of several satirical pieces had gained him admission. This society, nominally devoted to conviviality and wit, had serious literary aims and was especially zealous to preserve Tuscan literature from foreign influence.
The displacement of the old Italian comedy by the dramas of Pietro Chiari and Carlo Goldoni, modelled on French examples, threatened to defeat the society's efforts; in 1757 Gozzi came to the rescue by publishing a satirical poem, La tartana degli influssi per l'anno 1756, and in 1761 his comedy based on a fairy tale, The Love for Three Oranges or Analisi riflessiva della fiaba L'amore delle tre melarance, a parody of the style of the other two poets. To perform it, he obtained the services of the Sacchi company of players, who had been left without employment because the popularity of the comedies of Chiari and Goldoni offered no scope for the display of their particular talents. Their satirical powers thus sharpened by personal enmity, the play was an extraordinary success.
Struck by the effect produced on the audience by the introduction of the supernatural or mythical element, which he had merely used as a convenient medium for his satirical purposes, Gozzi produced a series of dramatic pieces based on fairy tales. These were hugely popular, even forcing Goldoni to flee Venice for good, but after the breaking up of the Sacchi company were unjustly neglected. They were however much praised by Goethe, Schlegel brothers, Hoffmann, Madame de Staël, Sismondi and Ostrovsky; one of these plays, Turandot or La Turandotte, was translated by Friedrich Schiller and staged by Goethe in Weimar in 1802 with great acclaim.
In his later years Gozzi began to produce tragedies in which the comic element was largely introduced; as this innovation proved unacceptable to the critics he turned to the Spanish drama, from which he obtained models for various pieces; these had minor success. He was buried in the church of San Cassiano in Venice.
His brother, Gasparo Gozzi, was also a well-known writer of the time.
His collected works were published under his own superintendence at Venice in 1792, in 10 volumes.
A number of twentieth-century stage works were inspired by Gozzi's plays. These include treatments of Turandot by Karl Vollmöller and Bertolt Brecht, operas based on the same story by Busoni, Hans Werner Henze's König Hirsch, and, most famously, Puccini and Prokofiev's The Love of Three Oranges.
- Fiabe Teatrali — "Tales for the Theatre"
- L'amore delle Tre Melarance — "The Love of Three Oranges" (1761)
- Il Corvo — "The Raven" (1761)
- Il Re Cervo — "The Stag King" (1762)
- Turandot (1762)
- La Donna Serpente — "The Serpent Woman" (1762)
- La Zobeide — "Zobeide" (1763)
- I Pitocchi Fortunati — "The Fortunate Beggars" (1764)
- Il Mostro Turchino — "The Blue Monster" (1764)
- L'Augellino Bel Verde — "The Green Bird" (1765)
- Zeim, Re de'Geni — "Zeim, King of the Genies" (1765)
- Other plays
- Marfisa bizzarra (1766)
- The Elixir of Love (1775/1776)
- Il Cavaliere Amico; o sia, Il Trionfo dell'Amicizia — "The Knight; or, The Triumph of Friendship" (Tragicomedy in 5 Acts)
- Doride; o sia, La Rassegnata — "Doride; or, The Resigned" (Tragicomedy in 5 Acts)
- La Donna Vendicativa — "The Vengeful Woman" (Tragicomedy in 5 Acts)
- La Caduta di Donna Elvira, Regina di Navarra — "The Fall of Donna Elvira, Queen of Navarre" [Prologo Tragico].
- La Punizione nel Precipizio — "Punishment in the Precipice" (Tragicomedy in 3 Acts)
- Il Pubblico Secreto — "The Public Secret" (Comedy in 3 Acts)
- Le Due Notti Affannose; o sia, gl'Inganni della Immaginazione — "Two Frantic Nights; or, Illusions of Imagination" (Tragicomedy in 5 Acts)
- La Principessa Filosofa; o sia, Il Controveleno — "The Princess Philosopher; or, The Antidote" (Drama in 3 Acts)
- I Due Fratelli Nimici — "The Two Enemy Brothers" (Tragicomedy in 3 Acts)
- Eco e Narciso — "Echo and Narcissus" (Seriocomic Pastoral with Music in 3 Acts)
- Il Moro di Corpo Bianco; o sia, Lo Schiavo del Proprio Onore — "The Moor with White Body; or, The Slave of his own Honor" (Tragicomedy in 5 Acts)
- La Donna Contraria al Consiglio — "The Woman Against the Council" (Scenic Composition in 5 Acts)
- Cimene Pardo — "Cimene Pardo" (Tragedy in 5 Acts)
- Innamorata da Vero — "True Love" (Comedy in 3 Acts)
- Bianca Contessa di Melfi; o sia, Il Maritaggio per Vendetta — "Bianca, Countess of Malfi; or, the Maritaggio for Vendetta" (Tragedy in 5 Acts)
- Il Montanaro Don Giovanni Pasquale — "The Montanaro Don Giovanni Pasquale" (Moral Stage Action in 5 Acts)
- La Figlia dell'Aria; o sia, L'Innalzamento di Semiramide — "Daughter of the Air; or, The Rise of Semiramis" (Allegorical Tale in 3 Acts)
- Il Metafisico; o sia, L'Amore, e L'Amicizia alla Prova — "The Metaphysical; or, Love and Friendship Put to the Test" (Drama 3 Acts)
- Annibale, Duca di Atene — "Hannibal, Duke of Athens" (Verse Representation in 5 Acts)
- La Malia della Voce — "The Woman's(?) Voice" (Drama 5 Acts)
- Amore Assottiglia il Cervello — "Love Thins the Brain" (Comedy in 5 Acts)
- La Vedova del Malabar — "The Widow of Malabar" (Tragedy in 5 Acts)
- Ragionamento ingenuo, e storia sincera dell'origine delle mie dieci Fiabe teatrali — "Ingenuous Disquisition and Sincere History of My Ten Tales for the Theatre" (1772)
- Memorie Inutili — "Useless Memoirs" (1777, published 1797)
- The Memoirs of Count Carlo Gozzi at gutenberg.org
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.