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.

Influence

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.

Bibliography

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 ?
The mainstay of the commedia dell' arte were the characters -the servants, the old men, the lunatics and lovers.
The interclude Asian transculturalism is balanced by comparisons drawn from the Western theatre canon which include commedia dell' arte, Stanislaviski's work, Meyerhold's biomechanics, Brecht's theories and practice, as well as the training and performance techniques of the independent group theatre movement.
Considerable acting ability was also required to bring dramatic heft to disparate characters from Grand Opera and commedia dell' arte who sang of love and sorrow in its diverse guises.
Deflo and Orlandi appear to have elaborated on this utter discrepancy by combining dark, abstract architectures with brightly colored historic costumes, early dancing, and such anecdotal details as acrobats, commedia dell' arte characters, and Baroque dancers.
Tables summarize aesthetic references in all pieces (those which contain commedia dell' arte characters and those which contain precise colours, for example), and proposed shows are detailed.
At the Meissen factory, the mid-18th century ushered in the magnificent Commedia dell' arte figures, Harlequin, Columbine and so on all modelled by the great Kaendler (figures which still bring a hush to the sale room when they turn up).