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 ?
sempre presente l'intertestualitAaAaAeA non solo nei riguardi dei clas o degli autori romanzi, ma anche all'interno della Commedia stessa.
Of significance is the fact that the main characters of the opera are presented as one-dimensional personalities comparable more to commedia dell'arte characters than to real persons.
Travel influenced Commedia defl'Arte in its very performance DNA, as troupes, many of which by this time were fully professionalized, often had to travel to provide themselves with sufficient income--although it should be pointed out that others remained in a single locale and supplemented theatrical work, by its nature seasonal, with other jobs.
Of particular interest in this essay is La entretenida (first published in Cervantes's Ocho comedias, y ocho entremeses nuevos, nunca representados), which shows the influence of both the commedia dell'arte and the plays of Plautus, who had, in Ancient Rome, already devised ingenious techniques for making a scripted drama appear improvised.
When Manguel writes that "the entire Commedia can be read as the pursuit of one man's curiosity," he surely must be referring to his own.
The commedia probably sprang up as a result of several disparate elements.
Of the nine songs in Divina Commedia, some refer to Chen Guangcheng - a blind Chinese civil rights activist.
Manuel Bandeira publicou o seu segundo livro, Carnaval, em 1919, momento particularmente rico em obras de arte de vanguarda que retomaram elementos da cultura carnavalesca e da commedia dell'arte.
Peter Hawkings sees the image of the smile as an important contribution made by the Commedia to subsequent religious iconography, while Paula Nasti considers Dante's intertwining of strands of medieval ecclesiology centred on caritas, and the bride of the Song of Songs as he creates his image of the true church in Paradise.
Commedia dell'Arte has its roots in Republican Rome, where "stock" characters were created for popular farces.
The volume consists of an introductory essay by Montemaggi and Treherne, eleven essays exploring various facets of the relationship between theology and poetry in the Commedia and beyond, and two afterwords aiming at a synoptic view of the conference and its potential significance.
The ancient Roman playwright Terence was one of the precursors to medieval Italian commedia, which in turn was a precursor to the 17th century French comedy of Molire.