Il Re Cervo (The Stag King) is a 1762 Commedia dell'Arte fairytale play by Carlo Gozzi.
King Deramo has a magical statue that lets him know when a woman talking to him isn't being honest. Thanks to that statue, Deramo has already rejected hundreds of potential brides. At the start of the play, three girls are planning to compete for his affection: Clarice, Smeraldina and Angela. Angela is the one who genuinely loves the king and ends up being chosen.
However, Deramo's chief minister Tartaglia is a) in love with Angela b) Clarice's father, and is very angry after losing both the chance to win over Angela and the chance to put his daughter on the throne. Very angry, as in, regicide-planning-level angry.
Deramo, entirely ignorant of the above and trusting Tartaglia completely, tells him of a spell he knows: a spell that allows a soul to change bodies. Tartaglia quickly tricks Deramo into switching bodies with a just-killed stag, while he himself instantly hijacks the body of Deramo. Mayhem ensues as Tartaglia tries to keep up his deception and Deramo strives to get his body and his life back.
The play was adapted to the screen in the Soviet Union in 1969. There are also two operatic versions, by Hans Werner Henze and by Angelo Inglese.
The play contains examples of:
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: Occasionally, the characters lampshade that they are in a play.
- Clueless Boss: Deramo has no idea about Tartaglia's treachery until it happens.
- Deus ex Machina: Durandarte the wizard appears to save the day right when it becomes clear Tartaglia has the upper hand.
- Even Evil Can Be Loved: Clarice loves her father, though he is often abusive towards her. She breaks down in tears when she hears of his alleged death and then when he actually dies.
- Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Though he is quite abusive to her when she is unable to win Deramo's heart, deep down Tartaglia genuinely loves his daughter and feels remorseful after his body-switching plan succeeds and Clarice believes her father to be dead.
- Evil Chancellor: Tartaglia, obviously, murdering his king and usurping his life just to get Angela.
- Gaslighting: When Angela sees her husband has changed, Tartaglia-as-Deramo tells her it's all in her head. The poor woman does start to question her own sanity, but the plan isn't as successful as Tartaglia hoped, because she continues to reject him nevertheless.
- Grand Theft Me: Tartaglia tricks Deramo to switch bodies with a stag, and then switches his own body with the king's.
- Hunting "Accident": Tartaglia's initial plan is simply to kill Deramo during the hunt.
- Hypocrite: Tartaglia angrily berates his daughter for daring to fall in love with someone as lowborn as Leandro, while at the same time he is pining for Angela Leandro's sister.
- I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Deramo tells Angela that if she prefers to stay married to Tartaglia-as-Deramo, she has his blessing to do so. Angela is having none of that.
- Love Dodecahedron: Deramo loves Angela, and Angela loves Deramo. Tartaglia loves Angela. Clarice and Smeraldina try to marry Deramo, but they are really in love with Leandro and Truffaldino respectively, who love them back.
- Love Makes You Evil: Although Tartaglia is rather offended that his daughter got spurned by Deramo and certainly won't say no to becoming king himself, his main motive for betraying and trying to kill Deramo is his enormous Villainous Crush on Angela.
- Meaningful Name: Angela is angelically kind and honest.
- Perfect Disguise, Terrible Acting: Tartaglia looks exactly like Deramo, having stolen his actual body. However, his behavior is nothing like the king's: he is tyrannical, bad-tempered, and tries to invoke Marital Rape License with Angela. He also has the stutter that Tartaglia had but Deramo didn't. Everybody around him soon suspects something is off.
- Playing Sick: Tartaglia asks Angela to claim she is sick when it's time for her to try her luck at winning over Deramo. Since she wants to marry Deramo, the suggestion has no effect save for creeping her out.
- Poor Communication Kills: At the very start of the play, Angela tells her father Pantalone that she is uncomfortable around Tartaglia because he is harassing her. If either of them had informed the king of it, the entire plot could have been avoided.
- Rule of Three: We see three brides presented to the king, and Angela is the third one and the one who gets chosen.
- Something Only They Would Say: Forced to inhabit the body of a recently-deceased elderly man, Deramo convinces Angela of his true identity by reminding her of what they had talked about alone.
- Tricking the Shapeshifter:
- Tartaglia outwits Deramo this way, telling him to try the body-switching spell on a just-shot stag.
- Angela tries to Show Some Leg to Tartaglia-as-Deramo and coax him into showing her the spell, so that her real husband would have a chance to get his body back. Since Tartaglia remembers his own tricking of Deramo, it doesn't work, instead making him suspicious and angry.
- True Beauty Is on the Inside: Deramo is seriously worried that, even should Angela discover the truth about the body theft, she might not care whose soul inhabits Deramo's body since that body is young and handsome, while the true Deramo is now a decrepit old man. Fortunately, Angela isn't like that, confessing she loves Deramo's soul and not his looks, and firmly rejecting Tartaglia-as-Deramo.
- Unwanted Spouse: Clarice really, really doesn't want to marry the king and is relieved at getting rejected.
Tropes specific to the film:
- Adaptational Badass: A villainous version. In the play, Tartaglia does nothing about the outcome of Deramo's bride-choosing except mope a lot and bully his daughter into trying to charm the king. Here, he actively sabotages Angela's suit by pretending to be the magical statue, and would have succeeded, had Deramo not fallen so much in love with Angela he decides to disregard the "statue"'s reaction.
- Adaptational Heroism: Tartaglia-as-Deramo's repeated attempts at pulling a Bed Trick on Angela never happen here.
- Adapted Out: The old man whose body Deramo inhabits never appears. Instead, Deramo uses Tartaglia's body to get to the palace.
- Ambiguous Ending: The film got one due to certain real-life complications. Deramo returns to the palace, Angela is standing between him and Tartaglia cut to the narrator/Durandarte wrapping it up with a philosophical monologue.
- Ascended Extra: Durandarte is a Deus ex Machina and the one behind all the magic in the play, but spends most of it in the guise of a parrot and only has a few lines. The film makes him the narrator.
- Retraux: The movie is deliberately made to resemble a filmed theatrical piece of Commedia dell'Arte as much as possible, with few to no special effects. The deer, for example, are portrayed by framed crude paintings of deer.
- Spared by the Adaptation: Since the final scenes were not filmed, Tartaglia doesn't die.
- Trademark Favorite Food: In the credits, where it's stated who loves whom among the characters, Pantalone is mentioned as the one who "loves apples".