commedia dell'arte

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commedia dell'arte

(kōm-mā`dēä dĕl-lär`tā), popular form of comedy employing improvised dialogue and masked characters that flourished in Italy from the 16th to the 18th cent.

Characters of the Commedia Dell'Arte

The characters or "masks," in spite of changes over the years, retained much of their original flavor. Most important were the zanni, or servant types; Arlecchino, or Harlequin, was the most famous. He was an acrobat and a wit, childlike and amorous. He wore a catlike mask and motley colored clothes and carried a bat or wooden sword, the ancestor of the slapstick. His crony, Brighella, was more roguish and sophisticated, a cowardly villain who would do anything for money. Figaro and Molière's Scapin are descendants of this type. Pedrolino was a white-faced, moon-struck dreamer; the French PierrotPierrot
[Fr.,=little Peter], character in French pantomime. A buffoon, he wore a loose white tunic with big buttons, balloon sleeves, and white pantaloons. His face was painted white. A creation of Giuseppe Giaratone or Geratoni (fl.
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 is his descendant. Pagliaccio, the forerunner of today's clown, was closely akin to Pedrolino.

Pulcinella, as seen in the English Punch and JudyPunch and Judy,
famous English puppet play, very popular with children and given widely by strolling puppet players, especially during the Christmas season. It came to England in the 17th cent.
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 shows, was a dwarfish humpback with a crooked nose, the cruel bachelor who chased pretty girls. Pantalone or Pantaloon was a caricature of the Venetian merchant, rich and retired, mean and miserly, with a young wife or an adventurous daughter. Il Dottore (the doctor), his only friend, was a caricature of learning—pompous and fraudulent; he survives in the works of Molière. Il Capitano (the captain) was a caricature of the professional soldier—bold, swaggering, and cowardly. He was replaced by the more agile Scarramuccia or Scaramouche, who, dressed in black and carrying a pointed sword, was the Robin Hood of his day.

The handsome Inamorato (the lover) went by many names. He wore no mask and had to be eloquent in order to speak the love declamations. The Inamorata was his female counterpart; Isabella AndreiniAndreini, Isabella Canali
, 1562–1604, Italian actress. Beautiful, elegant, and well-educated, she was one of the most famous performers of her time. She joined the Gelosi troupe, becoming a leading player, and married the troupe's manager, Francesco Andreini, in 1578.
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 was the most famous. Her servant, usually called Columbine, was the beloved of Harlequin. Witty, bright, and given to intrigue, she developed into such characters as Harlequine and Pierrette. La Ruffiana was an old woman, either the mother or a village gossip, who thwarted the lovers. Cantarina and Ballerina often took part in the comedy, but for the most part their job was to sing, dance, or play music. None of the women wore masks.


The impact of commedia dell'arte on European drama can be seen in French pantomime and the English harlequinade. The ensemble companies generally performed in Italy, although a company called the comédie-italienne was established in Paris in 1661. The commedia dell'arte survived the early 18th cent. only by means of its vast influence on written dramatic forms.


See K. M. Lea, The Italian Popular Comedy (2 vol., 1934, repr. 1962); W. Smith, Commedia Dell'arte (rev. ed. 1964); P. L. Duchartre, The Italian Comedy (tr. 1928, repr. 1965); A. Nicoll, The World of Harlequin: A Critical Study of the Commedia dell'Arte (1987).

References in periodicals archive ?
Schmitt's project offers an important new perspective on the history of commedia dell'arte, for while scholarship on the tradition is robust, there is clearly opportunity for further work focused specifically on the texts and their genesis.
Corbett discovers and elaborates on the meaning inherent in the tension between the multiple and simultaneous Epicuruses: Epicurus, the ground on which a conceptual space for secular man in the Commedia is rendered a possibility; Epicurus, a bridge for which political support for the Imperial cause is rendered stronger; and Epicurus, the unrivaled illustration of condemned heresy against God.
Like slapstick, its descendant, Commedia dell'Arte features broad, physical comedy.
As a whole, this is a fine collection that brings to light much of philosophical interest in the interplay between theology and poetry in Dante's Commedia and other works.
It soon became clear that Commedia Dell'Arte had several traits that made it ideal for this type of treatment.
McInerny goes on in the following three chapters to consider Mary's role in each volume of the Commedia.
Currently sharpening their wits in preparation for the competition, the candidates for Commedia dell Media III are: Politico's Jon Allen and Meredith Shiner, NPR's Jamila Bey, Nadia Bilbassy of the Middle East Broadcasting Company, National Journal's Matt Cooper, Brooke Hatfield of The Washington CityPaper, John Kelly of The Washington Post, Riz Khan of al-Jazeera English, Bloomberg's Scott Lanman, Lizzie O'Leary of BloombergTV, Mike Walter of Walter Media, Shaun Waterman of The Washington Times and freelancer Tim Young.
To be persuaded by Ciabattoni's claim of musical transformation in the Commedia, the scholar must take as fact that cacophony is music and that polyphony was improvised in the early trecento.
The opening essay, "Alle origini della creazione: 'Giustizia mosse il mio alto fattore,' by Giampiero Tulone, is lucidly developed and seeks to extend our awareness of "giustizia" in the Commedia beyond the anthropocentric focus of understanding it only in regard to the salvation or damnation of man, thereby viewing it as an "aesthetic" factor which unfolds "entro il grande tema riguardante l'ordine che regola l'universo" (11).
The AdHoc Gallery at the centre is now showing an exhibition of the work as well as large-scale photos, documents about the workshops, comments from those who took part and material about the Commedia Dell'Arte performance tradition.
Even more so than with English and Spanish early modern theater, the study of Italian professional theater in the Renaissance (most commonly referred to as the commedia dell'arte, following an eighteenth-century coinage) has tended to generate linear and evolutionary narratives.
I further concur with the author's judgment that Dante's Divina Commedia is the greatest Christian poem of all time.