Commedia dell'arte

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A commedia dell'arte
street play during the Carnival of Venice S Marco 500.jpg
A commedia dell'arte street play during the Carnival of Venice
Commedia dell'arte Troupe on a Wagon in a Town Square by Jan Miel (1640) Jan Miel - Actors from the Commedia dell'Arte on a Wagon in a Town Square.jpg
Commedia dell'arte Troupe on a Wagon in a Town Square by Jan Miel (1640)

Commedia dell'arte ( /kɒˈmdiədɛlˈɑːrt,kə-,-ˈmɛdiə,-ˈɑːrt/ ; [1] [2] Italian:  [komˈmɛːdja delˈlarte] ; lit.'comedy of the profession') [3] was an early form of professional theatre, originating in Italy, that was popular throughout Europe between the 16th and 18th centuries. [4] [5] It was formerly called Italian comedy in English and is also known as commedia alla maschera, commedia improvviso, and commedia dell'arte all'improvviso. [6] Characterized by masked "types", commedia was responsible for the rise of actresses such as Isabella Andreini [7] and improvised performances based on sketches or scenarios. [8] [9] A commedia, such as The Tooth Puller, is both scripted and improvised. [8] [10] Characters' entrances and exits are scripted. A special characteristic of commedia is the lazzo , a joke or "something foolish or witty", usually well known to the performers and to some extent a scripted routine. [10] [11] Another characteristic of commedia is pantomime, which is mostly used by the character Arlecchino, now better known as Harlequin. [12]


The characters of the commedia usually represent fixed social types and stock characters, such as foolish old men, devious servants, or military officers full of false bravado. [8] [13] The characters are exaggerated "real characters", such as a know-it-all doctor called Il Dottore, a greedy old man called Pantalone, or a perfect relationship like the Innamorati . [7] Many troupes were formed to perform commedia, including I Gelosi (which had actors such as Andreini and her husband Francesco Andreini), [14] Confidenti Troupe, Desioi Troupe, and Fedeli Troupe. [7] [8] Commedia was often performed outside on platforms or in popular areas such as a piazza (town square). [6] [8] The form of theatre originated in Italy, but travelled throughout Europe - sometimes to as far away as Moscow. [15]

The genesis of commedia may be related to carnival in Venice, where the author and actor Andrea Calmo had created the character Il Magnifico, the precursor to the vecchio (old man) Pantalone, by 1570. In the Flaminio Scala scenario, for example, Il Magnifico persists and is interchangeable with Pantalone into the 17th century. While Calmo's characters (which also included the Spanish Capitano and a dottore type) were not masked, it is uncertain at what point the characters donned the mask. However, the connection to carnival (the period between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday) would suggest that masking was a convention of carnival and was applied at some point. The tradition in Northern Italy is centred in Florence, Mantua, and Venice, where the major companies came under the protection of the various dukes. Concomitantly, a Neapolitan tradition emerged in the south and featured the prominent stage figure Pulcinella, which has been long associated with Naples and derived into various types elsewhere—most famously as the puppet character Punch (of the eponymous Punch and Judy shows) in England.


Claude Gillot (1673-1722), Four Commedia dell'arte Figures: Three Gentlemen and Pierrot, c. 1715 Four Commedia dell'Arte Figures claude-gillot.jpg
Claude Gillot (1673–1722), Four Commedia dell'arte Figures: Three Gentlemen and Pierrot, c. 1715

Although commedia dell'arte flourished in Italy during the Mannerist period, there has been a long-standing tradition of trying to establish historical antecedents in antiquity. While it is possible to detect formal similarities between the commedia dell'arte and earlier theatrical traditions, there is no way to establish certainty of origin. [16] Some date the origins to the period of the Roman Republic (Plautine types) or the Empire (Atellan Farces). The Atellan Farces of the Roman Empire featured crude "types" wearing masks with grossly exaggerated features and an improvised plot. [17] Some historians argue that Atellan stock characters, Pappus, Maccus+Buccus, and Manducus, are the primitive versions of the commedia characters Pantalone, Pulcinella, and il Capitano. [18] [19] [20] More recent accounts establish links to the medieval jongleurs, and prototypes from medieval moralities, such as Hellequin (as the source of Harlequin, for example). [21]

Pulcinella, drawn by Maurice Sand SAND Maurice Masques et bouffons 12.jpg
Pulcinella, drawn by Maurice Sand

The first recorded commedia dell'arte performances came from Rome as early as 1551. [22] Commedia dell'arte was performed outdoors in temporary venues by professional actors who were costumed and masked, as opposed to commedia erudita, [lower-alpha 1] which were written comedies, presented indoors by untrained and unmasked actors. [24] This view may be somewhat romanticized since records describe the Gelosi performing Tasso's Aminta , for example, and much was done at court rather than in the street. By the mid-16th century, specific troupes of commedia performers began to coalesce, and by 1568 the Gelosi became a distinct company. In keeping with the tradition of the Italian Academies, I Gelosi adopted as their impress (or coat of arms) the two-faced Roman god Janus. Janus symbolized both the comings and goings of this travelling troupe and the dual nature of the actor who impersonates the "other." The Gelosi performed in Northern Italy and France where they received protection and patronage from the King of France. Despite fluctuations the Gelosi maintained stability for performances with the "usual ten": "two vecchi (old men), four innamorati (two male and two female lovers), two zanni , a captain and a servetta (serving maid)". [25] Commedia often performed inside in court theatres or halls, and also as some fixed theatres such as Teatro Baldrucca in Florence. Flaminio Scala, who had been a minor performer in the Gelosi published the scenarios of the commedia dell'arte around the start of the 17th century, really in an effort to legitimize the form—and ensure its legacy. These scenarios are highly structured and built around the symmetry of the various types in duet: two zanni, vecchi, inamorate and inamorati, etc.

In commedia dell'arte, female roles were played by women, documented as early as the 1560s, making them the first known professional actresses in Europe since antiquity. Lucrezia Di Siena, whose name is on a contract of actors from 10 October 1564, has been referred to as the first Italian actress known by name, with Vincenza Armani and Barbara Flaminia as the first primadonnas and the first well-documented actresses in Italy (and Europe). [26] In the 1570s, English theatre critics generally denigrated the troupes with their female actors (some decades later, Ben Jonson referred to one female performer of the commedia as a "tumbling whore"). By the end of the 1570s, Italian prelates attempted to ban female performers; however, by the end of the 16th century, actresses were standard on the Italian stage. [27] The Italian scholar Ferdinando Taviani has collated a number of church documents opposing the advent of the actress as a kind of courtesan, whose scanty attire and promiscuous lifestyle corrupted young men, or at least infused them with carnal desires. Taviani's term negativa poetica describes this and other practices offensive to the church, while giving us an idea of the phenomenon of the commedia dell'arte performance.

Harlequin in a 19th-century Italian print Arlecchino - stampa ottocento.jpg
Harlequin in a 19th-century Italian print

By the early 17th century, the zanni comedies were moving from pure improvisational street performances to specified and clearly delineated acts and characters. Three books written during the 17th century—Cecchini's  [ it ]Fruti della moderne commedia (1628), Niccolò Barbieri's La supplica (1634) and Perrucci's Dell'arte rapresentativa (1699—"made firm recommendations concerning performing practice." Katritzky argues, that as a result, commedia was reduced to formulaic and stylized acting; as far as possible from the purity of the improvisational genesis a century earlier. [28] In France, during the reign of Louis XIV, the Comédie-Italienne created a repertoire and delineated new masks and characters, while deleting some of the Italian precursors, such as Pantalone. French playwrights, particularly Molière, gleaned from the plots and masks in creating an indigenous treatment. Indeed, Molière shared the stage with the Comédie-Italienne at Petit-Bourbon, and some of his forms, e.g. the tirade, are derivative from the commedia (tirata).

Commedia dell'arte moved outside the city limits to the théâtre de la foire, or fair theatres, in the early 17th century as it evolved toward a more pantomimed style. With the dispatch of the Italian comedians from France in 1697, the form transmogrified in the 18th century as genres such as comédie larmoyante gained in attraction in France, particularly through the plays of Marivaux. Marivaux softened the commedia considerably by bringing in true emotion to the stage. Harlequin achieved more prominence during this period.

It is possible that this kind of improvised acting was passed down the Italian generations until the 17th century when it was revived as a professional theatrical technique. However, as currently used the term commedia dell'arte was coined in the mid-18th century. [29]

Curiously, commedia dell'arte was equally if not more popular in France, where it continued its popularity throughout the 17th century (until 1697), and it was in France that commedia developed its established repertoire. Commedia evolved into various configurations across Europe, and each country acculturated the form to its liking. For example, pantomime, which flourished in the 18th century, owes its genesis to the character types of the commedia, particularly Harlequin. The Punch and Judy puppet shows, popular to this day in England, owe their basis to the Pulcinella mask that emerged in Neapolitan versions of the form. In Italy, commedia masks and plots found their way into the opera buffa , and the plots of Rossini, Verdi, and Puccini.

During the Napoleonic occupation of Italy, instigators of reform and critics of French Imperial rule (such as Giacomo Casanova) used the carnival masks to hide their identities while fueling political agendas, challenging social rule and hurling blatant insults and criticisms at the regime. In 1797, in order to destroy the impromptu style of carnival as a partisan platform, Napoleon outlawed the commedia dell'arte. It was not reborn in Venice until 1979 because of this. [30]


Commedia dell'arte
troupe I Gelosi in a late 16th-century Flemish painting Commedia dell'arte - troupe Gelosi.JPG
Commedia dell'arte troupe I Gelosi in a late 16th-century Flemish painting

Compagnie, or companies, were troupes of actors, each of whom had a specific function or role. Actors were versed in a plethora of skills, with many having joined troupes without a theatre background. Some were doctors, others priests, others soldiers, enticed by the excitement and prevalence of theatre in Italian society. Actors were known to switch from troupe to troupe "on loan," and companies would often collaborate if unified by a single patron or performing in the same general location. [31] Members would also splinter off to form their own troupes, such was the case with the Ganassa and the Gelosi. These compagnie travelled throughout Europe from the early period, beginning with the Soldati, then, the Ganassa , who travelled to Spain, [32] and were famous for playing the guitar and singing—never to be heard from again—and the famous troupes of the Golden Age (1580–1605): Gelosi, Confidenti, Accessi. These names which signified daring and enterprise were appropriated from the names of the academies—in a sense, to lend legitimacy. However, each troupe had its impresse (like a coat of arms) which symbolized its nature. The Gelosi, for example, used the two-headed face of the Roman god Janus, to signify its comings and goings and relationship to the season of Carnival, which took place in January. Janus also signified the duality of the actor, who is playing a character or mask, while still remaining oneself.

Magistrates and clergy were not always receptive to the travelling compagnie (companies), particularly during periods of plague, and because of their itinerant nature. Actors, both male and female, were known to strip nearly naked, and storylines typically descended into crude situations with overt sexuality, considered to teach nothing but "lewdness and adultery...of both sexes" by the French Parliament. [33] The term vagabondi was used in reference to the comici, and remains a derogatory term to this day (vagabond). This was in reference to the nomadic nature of the troupes, often instigated by persecution from the Church, civil authorities, and rival theatre organisations that forced the companies to move from place to place.

A troupe often consisted of ten performers of familiar masked and unmasked types, and included women. [25] The companies would employ carpenters, props masters, servants, nurses, and prompters, all of whom would travel with the company. They would travel in large carts laden with supplies necessary for their nomadic style of performance, enabling them to move from place to place without having to worry about the difficulties of relocation. This nomadic nature, though influenced by persecution, was also largely due in part to the troupes requiring new (and paying) audiences. They would take advantage of public fairs and celebrations, most often in wealthier towns where financial success was more probable. Companies would also find themselves summoned by high-ranking officials, who would offer patronage in return for performing in their land for a certain amount of time. Companies in fact preferred to not stay in any one place too long, mostly out of a fear of the act becoming "stale." They would move on to the next location while their popularity was still active, ensuring the towns and people were sad to see them leave, and would be more likely to either invite them back or pay to watch performances again should the troupe ever return. [34] Prices were dependent on the troupe's decision, which could vary depending on the wealth of the location, the length of stay, and the regulations governments had in place for dramatic performances.

List of known commedia troupes



Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721), Commedia dell'arte
player of Pierrot, ca. 1718-19, identified as "Gilles". Louvre, Paris. Jean-Antoine Watteau - Pierrot, dit autrefois Gilles.jpg
Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684–1721), Commedia dell'arte player of Pierrot, ca. 1718–19, identified as "Gilles". Louvre, Paris.

Generally, the actors playing were diverse in background in terms of class and religion, and performed anywhere they could. Castagno posits that the aesthetic of exaggeration, distortion, anti-humanism (as in the masked types), and excessive borrowing as opposed to originality was typical of all the arts in the late Italian Renaissance. [37] Theatre historian Martin Green points to the extravagance of emotion during the period of commedia's emergence as the reason for representational moods, or characters, that define the art. In commedia, each character embodies a mood: mockery, sadness, gaiety, confusion, and so forth. [38]

According to 18th-century London theatre critic Baretti, commedia dell'arte incorporates specific roles and characters that were "originally intended as a kind of characteristic representative of some particular Italian district or town." (archetypes) [29] [39] The character's persona included the specific dialect of the region or town represented. Meaning that on stage, each character was performed in its own dialect. Characters would often be passed down from generation to generation, and characters married onstage were often married in real life as well, seen most famously with Francesco and Isabella Andreini. This was believed to make performances more natural, as well as strengthening the bonds within the troupe, who emphasized complete unity between every member. Additionally, each character has a singular costume and mask that is representative of the character's role. [29]

Harlequin and Pantalone in a 2011 play in Tallinn, Estonia. Arlekiinid.Merepaevad 2011 572.jpg
Harlequin and Pantalone in a 2011 play in Tallinn, Estonia.

Commedia dell'arte has four stock character groups: [13]

  1. Zanni : servants, clowns; characters such as Arlecchino (also known as Harlequin), Brighella, Scapino, Pulcinella and Pedrolino [40]
  2. Vecchi : wealthy old men, masters; characters such as Pantalone and Il Dottore
  3. Innamorati : young upper class lovers; who would have names such as Flavio and Isabella
  4. Il Capitano : self-styled captains, braggarts; can also be La Signora if a female

Masked characters are often referred to as "masks" (in Italian: maschere), which, according to John Rudlin, cannot be separated from the character. In other words, the characteristics of the character and the characteristics of the mask are the same. [41] In time however, the word maschere came to refer to all of the characters of the commedia dell'arte whether masked or not. Female characters (including female servants) are most often not masked (female amorose are never masked). The female character in the masters group is called Prima Donna and can be one of the lovers. There is also a female character known as The Courtisane who can also have a servant. Female servants wore bonnets. Their character was played with a malicious wit or gossipy gaiety. The amorosi are often children of a male character in the masters group, but not of any female character in the masters group, which may represent younger women who have e.g. married an old man, or a high-class courtesan. Female characters in the masters group, while younger than their male counterparts, are nevertheless older than the amorosi. Some of the better known commedia dell'arte characters are Pierrot and Pierrette, Pantalone, Gianduja, Il Dottore, Brighella, Il Capitano, Colombina, the innamorati, Pedrolino, Pulcinella, Arlecchino, Sandrone, Scaramuccia (also known as Scaramouche), La Signora, and Tartaglia.

Short list of characters [42]
Arlecchino YesServant (sometimes to two masters)Colorful tight-fitting jacket and trousers
Pulcinella YesServant or masterBaggy, white outfit
Il Dottore YesHead of the householdBlack scholarly robe
Il Capitano/La SignoraYesIndigent lonerMilitary uniform
Innamorati NoHigh-class hopeless loversNicely dressed on par with the time
Pantalone YesOlder wealthy manDark capes and red trousers
Tartaglia YesStuttering statesmanLarge felt hat and enormous cloak
Colombina YesPerky maid / servantCan be colourful on par with Arlecchino or black and white
Pierrot YesServant (Sad clown)White, flowy costume with large buttons

In the 17th century as commedia became popular in France, the characters of Pierrot, Columbina and Harlequin were refined and became essentially Parisian, according to Green. [43]


Eduardo De Filippo as Pulcinella Eduardo De Filippo.jpg
Eduardo De Filippo as Pulcinella

Each character in commedia dell'arte has a distinct costume that helps the audience understand who the character is.

Arlecchino originally wore a tight fitting long jacket with matching trousers that both had numerous odd shaped patches, usually green, yellow, red, and brown. [44] [45] Usually, there was a bat and a wallet that would hang from his belt. [45] His hat, which was a soft cap, was modeled after Charles IX or after Henri II, and almost always had a tail of a rabbit, hare or a fox with the occasional tuft of feathers. [45] [44] During the 17th century, the patches turned into blue, red, and green triangles arranged in a symmetrical pattern. [45] The 18th century is when the iconic Arlecchino look with the diamond shaped lozenges took shape. The jacket became shorter and his hat changed from a soft cap to a double pointed hat. [45]

Masque picto.jpg
Dottore's Mask.jpg
Masks of Il Capitano (left) and Il Dottore (right)

Il Dottore's costume was a play on the academic dress of the Bolognese scholars. [45] [44] Il Dottore is almost always clothed entirely in black. [45] He wore a long black gown or jacket that went below the knees. [45] [44] Over the gown, he would have a long black robe that went down to his heels, and he would have on black shoes, stockings, and breeches. [45] [44] In 1653, his costume was changed by Augustin Lolli who was a very popular Il Dottore actor. He added an enormous black hat, changed the robe to a jacket cut similarly to Louis XIV, and added a flat ruff to the neck. [45]

Il Capitano's costume is similar to Il Dottore's in the fact that it is also a satire on military wear of the time. [44] This costume would therefore change depending on where the Capitano character is from, and the period the Capitano is from. [44] [45]

Pantalone has one of the most iconic costumes of commedia dell'arte. Typically, he would wear a tight-fitting jacket with a matching pair of trousers. He usually pairs these two with a big black coat called a zimarra. [45] [44]

Women, who usually played servants or lovers, wore less stylized costumes than the men in commedia. The lovers, Innamorati , would wear what was considered to be the fashion of the time period. They would only wear plain half-masks with no character distinction or street makeup.


Harlequin and Colombina. Paint by Giovanni Domenico Ferretti. Arlecchino und Colombina - Giovanni Domenico Ferretti.jpg
Harlequin and Colombina. Paint by Giovanni Domenico Ferretti.

Conventional plot lines were written on themes of sex, jealousy, love, and old age. Many of the basic plot elements can be traced back to the Roman comedies of Plautus and Terence, some of which were themselves translations of lost Greek comedies of the 4th century BC. However, it is more probable that the comici used contemporary novella, or, traditional sources as well, and drew from current events and local news of the day. Not all scenari were comic, there were some mixed forms and even tragedies. Shakespeare's The Tempest is drawn from a popular scenario in the Scala collection, his Polonius (Hamlet) is drawn from Pantalone, and his clowns bear homage to the zanni.

Comici performed written comedies at court. Song and dance were widely used, and a number of innamorati were skilled madrigalists, a song form that uses chromatics and close harmonies. Audiences came to see the performers, with plotlines becoming secondary to the performance. Among the great innamorate, Isabella Andreini was perhaps the most widely known, and a medallion dedicated to her reads "eternal fame". Tristano Martinelli achieved international fame as the first of the great Arlecchinos, and was honoured by the Medici and the Queen of France. Performers made use of well-rehearsed jokes and stock physical gags, known as lazzi and concetti , as well as on-the-spot improvised and interpolated episodes and routines, called burle (singular burla, Italian for 'joke'), usually involving a practical joke.

Since the productions were improvised, dialogue and action could easily be changed to satirize local scandals, current events, or regional tastes, while still using old jokes and punchlines. Characters were identified by costumes, masks, and props, such as a type of baton known as a slapstick. These characters included the forebears of the modern clown, namely Harlequin (Arlecchino) and the zanni. Harlequin, in particular, was allowed to comment on current events in his entertainment. [46]

The classic, traditional plot is that the innamorati are in love and wish to be married, but one elder (vecchio) or several elders (vecchi) are preventing this from happening, leading the lovers to ask one or more zanni (eccentric servants) for help. Typically the story ends happily, with the marriage of the innamorati and forgiveness for any wrongdoings. There are countless variations on this story, as well as many that diverge wholly from the structure, such as a well-known story about Arlecchino becoming mysteriously pregnant, or the Punch and Judy scenario.[ citation needed ]

While generally personally unscripted, the performances often were based on scenarios that gave some semblance of a plot to the largely improvised format. The Flaminio Scala scenarios, published in the early 17th century, are the most widely known collection and representative of its most esteemed compagnia, I Gelosi.

Influence in visual art

Jean-Antoine Watteau, Italian Comedians, 1720 Antoine Watteau - The Italian Comedians - Google Art Project.jpg
Jean-Antoine Watteau, Italian Comedians, 1720

The iconography of the commedia dell'arte represents an entire field of study that has been examined by commedia scholars such as Erenstein, Castagno, Katritzky, Molinari, and others. In the early period, representative works by painters at Fontainebleau were notable for their erotic depictions of the thinly veiled innamorata, or the bare-breasted courtesan/actress.

The Flemish influence is widely documented as commedia figures entered the world of the vanitas genre, depicting the dangers of lust, drinking, and the hedonistic lifestyle. Castagno describes the Flemish pittore vago (wandering painters) who assimilated themselves within Italian workshops and even assumed Italian surnames: one of the most influential painters, Lodewyk Toeput, for example, became Ludovico Pozzoserrato and was a celebrated painter in the Veneto region of Italy. The pittore vago can be attributed with establishing commedia dell'arte as a genre of painting that would persist for centuries.

Johann Joachim Kandler's commedia dell'arte
figures in Meissen porcelain, c. 1735-44 MeissenGroup-JohannKaendler-BMA.jpg
Johann Joachim Kändler's commedia dell'arte figures in Meissen porcelain, c. 1735–44

While the iconography gives evidence of the performance style (see Fossard collection), it is important to note that many of the images and engravings were not depictions from real life, but concocted in the studio. The Callot etchings of the Balli di Sfessania (1611) are most widely considered capricci rather than actual depictions of a commedia dance form, or typical masks. While these are often reproduced in large formats, it is important to note that the actual prints measured about 2×3 inches. In the 18th century, Watteau's painting of commedia figures intermingling with the aristocracy were often set in sumptuous garden or pastoral settings and were representative of that genre.

Pablo Picasso's 1921 painting Three Musicians is a colorful representation of commedia-inspired characters. [47] Picasso also designed the original costumes for Stravinsky's Pulcinella (1920), a ballet depicting commedia characters and situations. Commedia iconography is evident in porcelain figurines many selling for thousands of dollars at auction.

Influence in performance art

Peeter van Bredael, Commedia dell'arte Scene in an Italian Landscape Peeter van Bredael Commedia dell arte Szene.jpg
Peeter van Bredael, Commedia dell'arte Scene in an Italian Landscape

The expressive theatre influenced Molière's comedy and subsequently ballet d'action , thus lending a fresh range of expression and choreographic means. An example of a commedia dell'arte character in literature is the Pied Piper of Hamelin who is dressed as Harlequin.

Music and dance were central to commedia dell'arte performance, and most performances had both instrumental and vocal music in them. [48] Brighella was often depicted with a guitar, and many images of the commedia feature singing innamorati or dancing figures. In fact, it was considered part of the innamorati function to be able to sing and have the popular repertoire under their belt. Accounts of the early commedia, as far back as Calmo in the 1570s and the buffoni of Venice, note the ability of comici to sing madrigali precisely and beautifully. The danzatrice probably accompanied the troupes and may have been in addition to the general cast of characters. For examples of strange instruments of various grotesque formations, see articles by Tom Heck, who has documented this area.

The works of a number of playwrights have featured characters influenced by the commedia dell'arte and sometimes directly drawn from it. Prominent examples include The Tempest by William Shakespeare, Les Fourberies de Scapin by Molière, Servant of Two Masters (1743) by Carlo Goldoni, the Figaro plays of Pierre Beaumarchais, and especially Love for Three Oranges , Turandot and other fiabe by Carlo Gozzi. Influences appear in the lodgers in Steven Berkoff's adaptation of Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis .

Pierrot as "Pjerrot" in Denmark Pjerrot at Bakken, Denmark, July15.jpg
Pierrot as "Pjerrot" in Denmark

Through their association with spoken theatre and playwrights commedia figures have provided opera with many of its stock characters. Mozart's Don Giovanni sets a puppet show story and comic servants like Leporello and Figaro have commedia precedents. Soubrette characters like Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro , Zerlina in Don Giovanni and Despina in Così fan tutte recall Columbina and related characters. The comic operas of Gaetano Donizetti, such as Elisir d'amore , draw readily upon commedia stock types. Leoncavallo's tragic melodrama Pagliacci depicts a commedia dell'arte company in which the performers find their life situations reflecting events they depict on stage. Commedia characters also figure in Richard Strauss's opera Ariadne auf Naxos .

The piano piece Carnaval by Robert Schumann was conceived as a kind of masked ball that combined characters from commedia dell'arte with real world characters, such as Chopin, Paganini, and Clara Schumann, as well as characters from the composer's inner world. [49] [50] Movements of the piece reflect the names of many characters of the Commedia, including Pierrot, Harlequin, Pantalon, and Columbine.

Stock characters and situations also appear in ballet. Igor Stravinsky's Petrushka and Pulcinella allude directly to the tradition.

Commedia dell'arte is performed seasonally in Denmark on the Peacock Stage of Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, and north of Copenhagen at Dyrehavsbakken.[ citation needed ] Tivoli has regular performances, while Bakken has daily performances for children by Pierrot and a puppet version of Pulcinella resembling Punch and Judy.[ citation needed ]

The characters created and portrayed by English comedian Sacha Baron Cohen (most famously Ali G, Borat, and Bruno) have been discussed in relation to their potential origins in commedia, as Baron Cohen was trained by French master clown Philippe Gaulier, whose other students have gone on to become teachers and performers of commedia. [51]

In Genshin Impact, the names of the Eleven Fatui Harbingers are derived from the Commedia dell'arte.

In the King of the Hill episode "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Clown"(Season 10, Episode 05) Bobby Hill is instructed in the ways of Commedia dell'arte when taking a comedy class with Prof. Twilley

Renown Commedia dell'Arte mask makers from the XXth century

See also


  1. English literal translation: "learned comedies" [23]

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Harlequin</span> Zanni (comic servant) character in commedia dellarte

Harlequin is the best-known of the zanni or comic servant characters from the Italian commedia dell'arte, associated with the city of Bergamo. The role is traditionally believed to have been introduced by Zan Ganassa in the late 16th century, was definitively popularized by the Italian actor Tristano Martinelli in Paris in 1584–1585, and became a stock character after Martinelli's death in 1630.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Zanni</span> Character from the Italian puppet theatre

Zanni, Zani or Zane is a character type of commedia dell'arte best known as an astute servant and a trickster. The Zanni comes from the countryside and is known to be a "dispossessed immigrant worker". Through time, the Zanni grew to be a popular figure who was first seen in commedia as early as the 14th century. The English word zany derives from this person. The longer the nose on the characters mask the more foolish the character.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Brighella</span>

Brighella is a comic, masked character from the Italian theatre style Commedia dell'arte. His early costume consisted of loosely fitting, white smock and pants with green trim and was often equipped with a batocio or slap stick, or else with a wooden sword. Later he took to wearing a sort of livery with a matching cape. He wore a greenish half-mask displaying a look of preternatural lust and greed. It is distinguished by a hook nose and thick lips, along with a thick twirled mustache to give him an offensive characteristic. He evolved out of the general Zanni, as evidenced by his costume, and came into his own around the start of the 16th century.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Columbina</span> Stock character in the Commedia dellArte

Columbina is a stock character in the commedia dell'arte. She is Harlequin's mistress, a comic servant playing the tricky slave type, and wife of Pierrot. Rudlin and Crick use the Italian spelling Colombina in Commedia dell'arte: A Handbook for Troupes.

La Ruffiana is an older female character of the Commedia dell'Arte with a shady past or who used to be a prostitute. She is used most often in relationship to the vecchi of which group she is a nominal member. Ruffiana is most often romantically involved with Pantalone, though his love may easily be unrequited if it suits the plot. She is generally described as being talkative/gossipy, sneaky, and mischievous, but deep down is actually kind. She has been described as an "outsider" that always mixes things up and causes trouble for the rest of the characters. "Her quips reek of garlic"

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Innamorati</span> Stock characters within the theatre style known as Commedia dellarte

Gli Innamorati were stock characters within the theatre style known as commedia dell'arte, who appeared in 16th century Italy. In the plays, everything revolved around the Lovers in some regard. These dramatic and posh characters were present within commedia plays for the sole purpose of being in love with one another, and moreover, with themselves. These characters move elegantly and smoothly, and their young faces are unmasked unlike other commedia dell'arte characters. Despite facing many obstacles, the Lovers were always united by the end.

Lazzi are stock comedic routines that are associated with Commedia dell'arte. Performers, especially those playing the masked Arlecchino, had many examples of this in their repertoire, and would use improvisatory skills to weave them into the plot of dozens of different commedia scenarios. These largely physical sequences could be improvised or preplanned within the performance and were often used to enliven the audience when a scene was dragging, to cover a dropped line or cue, or to delight an expectant audience with the troupe's specialized lazzi.

Vecchio, is a category of aged, male characters from the Italian commedia dell'arte. The primary members of this group are Pantalone, Il Dottore and Il Capitano. Pantalone and Il Dottore are the alter ego of each other, Pantalone being the decadent wealthy merchant, and Il Dottore being the decadent erudite.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Pantalone</span>

Pantalone[pantaˈloːne], spelled Pantaloon in English, is one of the most important principal characters found in commedia dell'arte. With his exceptional greed and status at the top of the social order, Pantalone is "money" in the commedia world. His full name, including family name, is Pantalon de' Bisognosi, Italian for "Pantalone of the Needy".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Il Capitano</span>

Il Capitano is one of the four stock characters of Commedia dell'arte. He most likely was never a "Captain" but rather appropriated the name for himself.

Il Dottore, commonly known in Italian as Dottor Balan or simply Balanzone is a commedia dell'arte stock character, in one scenario being an obstacle to young lovers. Il Dottore and Pantalone are the comic foil of each other, Pantalone being the decadent wealthy merchant, and Il Dottore being the decadent erudite. He has been part of the main canon of characters since the mid-16th century.

<i>The Servant of Two Masters</i> 1746 play by Carlo Goldoni

The Servant of Two Masters is a comedy by the Italian playwright Carlo Goldoni written in 1746. Goldoni originally wrote the play at the request of actor Antonio Sacco, one of the great Harlequins in history. His earliest drafts had large sections that were reserved for improvisation, but he revised it in 1789 in the version that exists today. The play draws on the tradition of the earlier Italian commedia dell'arte.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Pedrolino</span>

Pedrolino is a primo zanni, or comic servant, of the Commedia dell'Arte; the name is a hypocorism of Pedro (Peter), via the suffix -lino. The character made its first appearance in the last quarter of the 16th century, apparently as the invention of the actor with whom the role was to be long identified, Giovanni Pellesini. Contemporary illustrations suggest that his white blouse and trousers constituted "a variant of the typical zanni suit", and his Bergamasque dialect marked him as a member of the "low" rustic class. But if his costume and social station were without distinction, his dramatic role was certainly not: as a multifaceted "first" zanni, his character was—and still is—rich in comic incongruities.


Burattino, also Burrattino or Burratino, is a minor commedia dell'arte character of the zanni class.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">I Gelosi</span> Theatre company

I Gelosi was an Italian acting troupe that performed commedia dell'arte from 1569 to 1604. Their name stems form their motto: Virtù, fama ed honor ne fèr gelosi, long thought to mean "Virtue, fame and honour made us jealous", or "We are jealous of attaining virtue, fame, and honour", signifying that such rewards could only be attained by those who sought for them jealously. Modern reevaluations have considered "zealous" as a more accurate translation over "jealous", redefining their motto to signify that, as actors, they were zealous to please.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tristano Martinelli</span>

Tristano Martinelli, called Dominus Arlecchinorum, the "Master of Harlequins", was an Italian actor in the commedia dell'arte tradition. He is probably the first actor to use the name 'Harlequin' for the secondo zanni role.

Flaminio Scala, commonly known by his stage name, Flavio, was an Italian stage actor of Commedia dell'Arte, scenario writer, playwright, director, producer, manager, agent, and editor. Considered one of the most important figures in Renaissance theatre, Scala is remembered today as the author of the first published collection of commedia scenarios, Il Teatro delle Favole Rappresentative, short comic plays that served as inspiration to playwrights such as Lope de Vega, William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, and Molière.

i Sebastiani

i Sebastiani is a Commedia dell'Arte theatre troupe formed in 1990 by Jeff Hatalsky. To the present day, i Sebastiani has performed for thousands of fans across the United States and Canada. The company has travelled as far as Montreal to the north, Miami to the south, and Texas to the west, performing more than 100 different improvisational scenarios.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Costumes in commedia dell'arte</span>

Each character in Commedia dell'arte is distinctly different, and defined by their movement, actions, masks, and costumes. These costumes show their social status and background.

Commedia dell'arte masks are one of the most integral aspects of each stock character. Each mask design is paired with a specific character based on its appearance and tradition. Masks were originally all made of leather, but now more commonly made of neoprene. The Commedia masks must show emotion and intelligence as they are covering the face which is the main place emotion can be seen on someone. Masks should be an extension of an actor and their costume, hair and accessories. A mask creates a completely different face for the person that is wearing it. Mask, in Commedia dell'arte speaks of the types of characters that each represents and includes all of the characters including the lovers. It is almost as speaking to the character rather than the masks, saying that they are a type that is unchanged.


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Further reading