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 ?
The Routledge Companion to Commedia dell'Arte (2014), for example, includes more than fifty essays, but only two focus on the scenarios.
Pantomimes based on commedia dell'arte were performed in London in the early 1700s at Lincoln's Inn Fields Theatre and the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, in which the emphasis was in retelling serious classical stories with a comedic ending.
In the first place, Ruzante was not only the precursor of the figure of the professional actor that arose with the commedia dell'arte, (3) which, as has been demonstrated, almost certainly had an influence on Shakespeare's first company and on Kemp, but was enormously famous in his day in cities such as Venice, a European cultural capital and a center of international commercial exchange.
Commedia dell'Arte has its roots in Republican Rome, where "stock" characters were created for popular farces.
Although this form of border crossing is centuries removed from that of the commedia dell'arte troupes with which the collection begins, Panja reminds us as scholars and critics that our histories are written from the present, and our charts of region and nation, as much as empire and colony, are drawn up in a place whose geocultural authority will determine what is familiar and what foreign, opening differences or closing proximities between communities through the force of "imaginary puissance.
What are your impressions oldie commedia dell'arte school that has been held?
It soon became clear that Commedia Dell'Arte had several traits that made it ideal for this type of treatment.
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.
Bridel is Associate Director and Head of Movement at USC School of Theatre's MFA program and Commedia dell'Arte Movement Specialist for the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles.
Wheeldon provides a comparably fluid expansion of readily identifiable commedia dell'arte gestures into movement patterns and incidents.
These theatregrams (Louise George Clubb's word) are most obvious in Shakespeare's riffs on commedia dell'arte character types.