commedia dell'arte

Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Medical, Wikipedia.

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.
..... Click the link for more information.
 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.
..... Click the link for more information.
 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.
..... Click the link for more information.
 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 ?
After Tonio's greeting and self-introduction, he first justifies the inclusion of the prologue by noting that it is intended to explain the incorporation of commedia dell'arte elements in the opera: "Poiche in iscena ancor le antiche maschere mette l'autore, in parte ei vuol riprendere le vecchie usanze, e a voi di nuovo inviami" (8) (Fisher 64).
There was, moreover, cross-fertilization between these different modes of improvised expression, for example in the influence of the rhetorical canon of memoria on commedia dell'arte actors who, according to Robert Henke, used "not merely general approaches but specific techniques" of rhetoric in their improvisations (41).
Henry went to Venice sometime in the middle of the 16th century, saw a commedia dell'arte performance, and invited the group (named I Gelosi) to come to Paris.
A commedia dell'arte compartilha muitos elementos com o circo, o carnaval, a pantomima, os bufoes medievais e renascentistas, o teatro de marionetes e de funambulos, os acrobatas e os espetaculos de variedades.
Like slapstick, its descendant, Commedia dell'Arte features broad, physical comedy.
Women began to perform in Commedia dell'Arte troupes about a decade after the comici first formed companies in 1545.
It soon became clear that Commedia Dell'Arte had several traits that made it ideal for this type of treatment.
With that in mind, the production mostly sticks to its aim of delivering a prescription of laughter, music and commedia dell'arte anarchy which provides invigorating, if temporary, relief for its audience.
Member and full-time producer Jenny Lee Mitchell--whose background includes classical singing, commedia dell'arte and successfully "relearning" the clarinet for TRTE--mentions, with a laugh, that fans have found a succinct nickname for the collective: "The The's.
The three scholars behind this edition of Andrea Perrucci's treatise are also accomplished translators; and it is their good fortune (and ours) that Scarecrow Press is interested in publishing translations (such as Richard Andrews's The Commedia dell'Arte of Flaminio Scala.
This was the first- ever showcase of the well- known Italian comedy genre, Commedia dell'Arte, in India and it was presented by the Italian theatre company, Il Carro Dei Comici.
Wheeldon provides a comparably fluid expansion of readily identifiable commedia dell'arte gestures into movement patterns and incidents.