commedia dell'arte

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commedia dell'arte

commedia dell'arte (kōm-māˈdēä dĕl-lärˈtā), 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 Pierrot is his descendant. Pagliaccio, the forerunner of today's clown, was closely akin to Pedrolino.

Pulcinella, as seen in the English Punch and Judy 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 Andreini 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).

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References in periodicals archive ?
The doctor somehow was able to say: commedia dell'arte came into prominence in the 17th century and was basically to do with improvisation.
The commedia dell'arte served the needs of many in the early 20th century who sought to "reinvent" theatre, prising theatricality away from the job of rendering a text, and rescuing actors from the need to psychologize their roles.
While the pars destruens has been addressed by scholarship to provide legitimizing perspectives regarding improvisation in commedia dell'arte, the pars construens has been overlooked if not completely ignored by it.
Contending that the Mediterranean Sea itself is a subject within these plays, connecting performances with popular cartographical trends, exploring the role of women on stage, analysing the depictions of Middle Eastern 'foreigners', and addressing the interesting experiences of Jewish performance and their evident relationships with Commedia dell'Arte traditions, this is a book that will have much to offer anyone interested in early modern performance, Italian societies, or Mediterranean culture.
With this volume, Erith Jaffe-Berg brings to a wide audience the Mediterranean perspective of Italian Commedia dell'Arte and its civic context.
Improvisation in La entretenida: Tracing the Influence of Plautus and the Commedia dell'arte on Cervantes
"The work will be the culmination of months of research into the tales, costumes, and characters of the Commedia dell'Arte," Blazwick says.
(3) In fact, theater historians believe the legacy of commedia (the term I will henceforth use to refer to the commedia dell'arte all'improvvisa) was the first truly professional theater company; more notable is the fact that it was also the first tradition in Europe in which women played the roles of female characters on stage.
But the origins of what we would recognise as being pantomime today came about as a result of the performance in Italy in the middleages known as 'commedia dell'arte', short for commedia dell'arte all'improvviso, meaning "comedy of the creative ability of improvisation" and which consisted of a band of players travelling the country telling amusing stories, though intended to impart a moral tale.
A Water B Venom C Saliva D Fat A Espresso B Cappuccino C Cortado D Macchiato QUESTION 11 - for 11 points: Who is the partner of Harlequin in traditional commedia dell'arte theatre?
With SYC's Rose Company on the road, Playbox Theatre's second company, The Fortune Company, will be performing "a topsy-turvy Italianate world of the Commedia dell'arte" at The Dream Factory, Warwick, in a colourful and provocative take on The Taming of The Shrew.
Like most theory texts that discuss avant-garde humor of the era, author Michael Syrimis (French and Italian, Tulane U.) could benefit from a little less attention to Walter Benjamin and a little more to indigenous popular traditions of satire (for Pirandello, commedia dell'arte, puppet theatre, and Pulcinella).