Commedia dell'arte

Commedia dell'arte

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Commedia dell'arte is a form of theatre characterized by masked "types" which began in Italy in the 16th century, and was responsible for the advent of the actress and improvised performances based on sketches or scenarios. The closest translation of the name is "comedy of craft"; it is shortened from commedia dell'arte all'improvviso, or "comedy of the craft of improvisation". Here, arte does not refer to "art" as we currently consider the word, but rather to that which is made by artigiani (artisans). In fact, the term arte was coined much later, for in the early period the term used in contemporary accounts is commedia all'improviso. This was to distinguish the form from commedia erudita or learned comedy that was written by academics and performed by amateurs. Commedia dell'arte, conversely, was performed by professional actors (comici) who perfected a specific role or mask.

Italian theatre historians, such as Roberto Tessari, Ferdinando Taviani, and Luciano Pinto believe commedia developed as a response to the political and economic crisis of the 16th century and, as a consequence, became the first entirely professional form of theatre.

The performers played on outside, temporary stages, and relied on various props in place of extensive scenery. The better troupes were patronized by nobility, and during carnival
Carnival
Carnaval is a festive season which occurs immediately before Lent; the main events are usually during February. Carnaval typically involves a public celebration or parade combining some elements of a circus, mask and public street party...

 period might be funded by the various towns or cities, in which they played. Extra funds were received by donations (essentially passing the hat) so anyone could view the performance free of charge. Key to the success of the commedia was the ability of the performers to travel to achieve fame and financial success. The most successful troupes performed before kings and nobility allowing individual actors, such as Isabella Andreini
Isabella Andreini
Isabella Andreini , also known as Isabella Da Padova, was an Italian actress and writer.Isabella Andreini was a member of the Compagnia dei Comici Gelosi, an important touring theatre company that performed for the highest social circles of Italy and France...

 and Dionisio Martinelli, to become well-known.

The characters of the commedia usually represent tipi fissi (fixed [social] types, stock character
Stock character
A Stock character is a fictional character based on a common literary or social stereotype. Stock characters rely heavily on cultural types or names for their personality, manner of speech, and other characteristics. In their most general form, stock characters are related to literary archetypes,...

s), such as foolish old men, devious servants, or military officers full of false bravado. Characters such as Pantalone, the miserly Venetian merchant; Dottore Gratiano, the pedant from Bologna; or Arlecchino, the mischievous servant from Bergamo, began as satires on Italian "types" and became the archetypes of many of the favorite characters of 17th– and 18th–century European theatre.

The commedia's genesis may be related to carnival in Venice, where by 1570 the author/actor Andrea Calmo had created the character, Il Magnifico, the precursor to the vecchio (old man) Pantalone. In the Flaminio Scala
Flaminio Scala
Flaminio Scala was an Italian comedian and stage actor, one of the most important figures of Commedia dell'Arte.-Il Teatro Delle Favole Rappresentative:...

 scenari for example, Il Magnifico persists and is interchangeable with Pantalone, into the seventeenth century. While Calmo's characters (that also included the Spanish Capitano and a dottore type) were unmasked, there is no certainty at what point the characters donned the mask. However, the connection to carnival (the period between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday) would suggest that masking was a convention of carnival and was applied at some point. The tradition in Northern Italy is centered in Mantua, Florence, and Venice, where the major companies came under the aegis of the various dukes. Concomitantly, a Neapolitan tradition emerged in the south and featured the prominent stage figure, Pulcinella. Pulcinella has been long associated with Naples, and derived into various types elsewhere—the most famous as the puppet character, Punch (the eponymous Punch and Judy shows) in England.

History



Although Commedia dell'arte flourished in Italy during the Mannerist
Mannerism
Mannerism is a period of European art that emerged from the later years of the Italian High Renaissance around 1520. It lasted until about 1580 in Italy, when a more Baroque style began to replace it, but Northern Mannerism continued into the early 17th century throughout much of Europe...

 period, the roots date to the period of the Roman Empire
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

, and descend from Greek theatre and from Etruscan
Etruscan society
Etruscan society is mainly known through the memorial and achievemental inscriptions on monuments of Etruscan civilization, especially tombs. This information emphasizes family data. Some contractual information is also available from various sources...

 festivals, which shared characteristics with the Commedia dell'arte of the later medieval period. Some historians draw links to the Atellan Farces of the Roman Empire which featured crude "types" wearing masks with grossly exaggerated features. More recent accounts establish links to the medieval jongleurs, and prototypes from medieval moralities, such as Hellequin (as the source of Harlequin, for example).

The first records of commedia dell'arte performances come from Rome as early as 1551. Commedia dell'arte was performed outdoors in temporary venues by professional actors who were costumed and masked, as opposed to , which were written comedies, presented indoors by untrained and unmasked actors. This view may be somewhat romanticized since records describe the Gelosi performing Tasso
Torquato Tasso
Torquato Tasso was an Italian poet of the 16th century, best known for his poem La Gerusalemme liberata , in which he depicts a highly imaginative version of the combats between Christians and Muslims at the end of the First Crusade, during the siege of Jerusalem...

's Aminta
Aminta
Aminta is a play written by Torquato Tasso in 1573, represented during a garden party at the court of Ferrara. Both the actors and the public were noble persons living at the Court, who could understand subtle allusions the poet made to that style of life, in contrast with the life of shepherds,...

, for example, and much was done at court rather than in the street. By the mid-16th century, specific troupes of commedia performers began to coalesce, and by 1568 the Gelosi became a distinct company, with a name and the logo of two headed Janus
Janus
-General:*Janus , the two-faced Roman god of gates, doors, doorways, beginnings, and endings*Janus , a moon of Saturn*Janus Patera, a shallow volcanic crater on Io, a moon of Jupiter...

. The Gelosi performed in Northern Italy and France where they received protection and patronage from the King of France. Despite fluctuations the Gelosi maintained stability for performances with the "usual ten": "two vecchi (old men), four innamorati (two male and two female lovers), two zanni
Zanni
Zanni or Zani is a character type of Commedia dell'arte best known as an astute servant and trickster. The Zanni comes from the countryside. The Zanni is known to be a “dispossessed immigrant worker”. "Immigrant" in Italy at the time of the city-states, did not necessarily mean someone from...

, a captain and a servetta (serving maid)". It should be noted that commedia often performed inside in court theatres or halls, and also as some fixed theatres such as Teatro Baldrucca in Florence. Flaminio Scala, who had been a minor performer in the Gelosi published the scenarios of the commedia dell'arte around the turn of the century, really in an effort to legitimize the form—and ensure its legacy. These scenari are highly structured and built around the symmetry of the various types in duet: two , , and , etc.

Commedia dell'arte is notable in that female roles were played by women, documented as early as the 1560s, In the 1570s, English theatre critics generally denigrated the troupes with their female actors (some decades later, Ben Jonson
Ben Jonson
Benjamin Jonson was an English Renaissance dramatist, poet and actor. A contemporary of William Shakespeare, he is best known for his satirical plays, particularly Volpone, The Alchemist, and Bartholomew Fair, which are considered his best, and his lyric poems...

 referred to one female performer of the commedia as a "tumbling whore"). By the end of the 1570s Italian prelates attempted to ban female performers, however, by the end of the century, actresses were standard on the Italian stage. The Italian scholar Ferdinando Taviani has collated a number of church documents opposing the advent of the actress as a kind of courtesan, whose scanty attire, and promiscuous lifestyle corrupted young men, or at least infused them with carnal desires. Taviani's term negativa poetica describes this and other practices offensive to the church, while giving us an idea of the phenomenon of the commedia dell'arte performance.

By the early 17th century, the "zanni" comedies were moving from pure improvisational street performances to specified and clearly delineated acts and characters. Three books written during the 17th century — Cecchini's Fruti della moderne commedia (1628); Niccolò Barbieri
Niccolò Barbieri
Niccolò Barbieri was an Italian writer and actor of the commedia dell'arte theatrical genre. He was also known as Beltrame di Milano in reference to one of his most popular characters, Beltrame; this was the main character of one of Barbieri's best known plays, L'inavertito, which is known to...

's La supplica (1634); and Perrucci's Dell'arte rapresentativa (1699) — "made firm recommendations concerning performing practice." Katritzky argues, that as a result, commedia was reduced to formulaic and stylized acting; as far as possible from the purity of the improvisational genesis a century earlier. In France, during the reign of Louis XIV, the Comédie-Italienne
Comédie-Italienne
Over time, there have been several buildings and several theatrical companies named the "Théâtre-Italien" or the "Comédie-Italienne" in Paris. Following the times, the theatre has shown both plays and operas...

 created a repertoire and delineated new masks and characters, while deleting some of the Italian precursors, such as Pantalone. French playwrights, particularly Molière
Molière
Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, known by his stage name Molière, was a French playwright and actor who is considered to be one of the greatest masters of comedy in Western literature...

, gleaned from the plots and masks in creating an indigenous treatment. Indeed, Molière shared the stage with the Comédie-Italienne at Petit-Bourbon, and some of his forms, e.g. the tirade, are derivative from the commedia (tirata).

Commedia dell'arte moved outside the city limits to the , or fair theatres, in the early 17th century as it evolved toward a more pantomimed style. With the dispatch of the Italian comedians from France in 1697, the form transmogrified in the 18th century as genres like comédie larmoyante
Comédie larmoyante
Comédie larmoyante was a genre of French drama of the 18th century. In this type of sentimental comedy, the impending tragedy was resolved at the end, amid reconciliations and floods of tears. Plays of this genre that ended unhappily nevertheless allowed the audience to see that a "moral...

 gained in attraction in France, particularly through the plays of Marivaux
Pierre de Marivaux
Pierre Carlet de Chamblain de Marivaux , commonly referred to as Marivaux, was a French novelist and dramatist....

. Marivaux softened the commedia considerably by bringing in true emotion to the stage. Harlequin achieved more prominence during this period.

It is possible that this kind of improvised acting was passed down the Italian generations until the 17th century, when it was revived as a professional theatrical technique. However, as currently used the term "Commedia dell'arte" was coined in the mid-18th century.

Curiously, commedia dell'arte was equally if not more popular in France, where it continued its popularity throughout the 17th century (until 1697), and it was in France, where commedia developed its established repertoire. Commedia evolved into various configurations across Europe, and each country accultrated the form to its liking. For example, pantomime
Pantomime
Pantomime — not to be confused with a mime artist, a theatrical performer of mime—is a musical-comedy theatrical production traditionally found in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Jamaica, South Africa, India, Ireland, Gibraltar and Malta, and is mostly performed during the...

 which flourished in the 18th century, owes its genesis to the character types of the commedia, particularly Harlequin
Harlequin
Harlequin or Arlecchino in Italian, Arlequin in French, and Arlequín in Spanish is the most popularly known of the zanni or comic servant characters from the Italian Commedia dell'arte and its descendant, the Harlequinade.-Origins:...

. The Punch and Judy
Punch and Judy
Punch and Judy is a traditional, popular puppet show featuring the characters of Mr. Punch and his wife, Judy. The performance consists of a sequence of short scenes, each depicting an interaction between two characters, most typically the anarchic Punch and one other character...

 puppet shows, popular to this day in England, owe their basis to the Pulcinella
Pulcinella
Pulcinella, ; often called Punch or Punchinello in English, Polichinelle in French, is a classical character that originated in the commedia dell'arte of the 17th century and became a stock character in Neapolitan puppetry....

 mask that emerged in Neapolitan
Naples
Naples is a city in Southern Italy, situated on the country's west coast by the Gulf of Naples. Lying between two notable volcanic regions, Mount Vesuvius and the Phlegraean Fields, it is the capital of the region of Campania and of the province of Naples...

 versions of the form. In Italy, commedia masks and plots found their way into the opera buffa
Opera buffa
Opera buffa is a genre of opera. It was first used as an informal description of Italian comic operas variously classified by their authors as ‘commedia in musica’, ‘commedia per musica’, ‘dramma bernesco’, ‘dramma comico’, ‘divertimento giocoso' etc...

, and the plots of Rossini, Verdi, and Puccini.

During the Napoleonic occupation of Italy, commedia dell'arte was outlawed.

Companies


Compagnie, or companies, were troupes of actors, each of whom had a specific function or role. These compagnie traveled throughout Europe from the early period, beginning with the Soldati, then, the Ganassa, who traveled to Spain—never to be heard from again—and the famous troupes of the Golden Age (1580–1605): Gelosi, Confidenti, Accessi. These names which signified daring and enterprise were appropriated from the names of the academies—in a sense, to lend legitimacy. However, each troupe had its imprese (like a coat of arms) which symbolized its nature. The Gelosi for example, used the two-headed face of the roman god, Janus
Janus
-General:*Janus , the two-faced Roman god of gates, doors, doorways, beginnings, and endings*Janus , a moon of Saturn*Janus Patera, a shallow volcanic crater on Io, a moon of Jupiter...

—to signify its comings and goings and relationship to the season of carnival
Carnival
Carnaval is a festive season which occurs immediately before Lent; the main events are usually during February. Carnaval typically involves a public celebration or parade combining some elements of a circus, mask and public street party...

—which took place in January. Janus also signified the duality of the actor, who is playing a character or mask, while still remaining oneself.

Magistrates and clergy were not always receptive to the traveling (companies), particularly during periods of plague, and because of their itinerant nature. The term was used in reference to the , and remains a derogatory term to this day (vagabond
Vagabond (person)
A vagabond is a drifter and an itinerant wanderer who roams wherever they please, following the whim of the moment. Vagabonds may lack residence, a job, and even citizenship....

). A troupe often consisted of ten performers of familiar masked and unmasked types, and included women.

Characters


Castagno posits that the aesthetic of exaggeration, distortion, anti-humanism (as in the masked types), and excessive borrowing as opposed to originality was typical of all the arts in the late cinquecento
Cinquecento
Cinquecento is a term used to describe the Italian Renaissance of the 16th century, including the current styles of art, music, literature, and architecture.-Art:...

. Theatre historian Martin Green points to the extravagance of emotion during the period of Commedia's emergence as the reason for representational moods, or characters, that define the art. In Commedia each character embodies a mood: mockery, sadness, gaiety, confusion, and so forth.

According to 18th century London theatre critic Barretti, commedia dell'arte incorporates specific roles and characters that were "originally intended as a kind of characteristic representative of some particular Italian district or town." The character's persona included the specific dialect of the region or town represented. Additionally, each character has a singular costume and mask that is representative of the character's role.

Commedia dell'arte has three main stock roles: servant, master, and innamorati
Innamorati
Gli Innamorati were stock characters within the theatre style known as Commedia dell'arte, which appeared in 16th century Italy. These characters were present within commedia plays for the sole purpose of being in love with one another, and moreover with themselves...

,(lovers) and the characters themselves are often referred to as "masks", which according to John Rudlin, cannot be separated from the character. In other words the characteristics of the character and the characteristics of the mask are the same. The servants or the clowns are referred to as the Zanni
Zanni
Zanni or Zani is a character type of Commedia dell'arte best known as an astute servant and trickster. The Zanni comes from the countryside. The Zanni is known to be a “dispossessed immigrant worker”. "Immigrant" in Italy at the time of the city-states, did not necessarily mean someone from...

 and include characters such as Arlecchino, Brighella
Brighella
Brighella is a comic, masked character from the Commedia dell'arte. His early costume consisted of loosely-fitting, white smock and pants with green trim and was often equipped with a battachio or slapstick, or else with a wooden sword. Later he took to wearing a sort of livery with a matching cape...

 and Pedrolino
Pedrolino
Pedrolino is a zanni, or servant character in the commedia dell'arte. His name is essentially the same as "Pete" or "Petey" in English—a diminutive form of the name Peter. He is normally portrayed as personable, charming and kind, to the point of excess—he blames himself for wrongs never done and...

. Some of the better known commedia dell'arte characters are Arlecchino (also known as Harlequin
Harlequin
Harlequin or Arlecchino in Italian, Arlequin in French, and Arlequín in Spanish is the most popularly known of the zanni or comic servant characters from the Italian Commedia dell'arte and its descendant, the Harlequinade.-Origins:...

), Pantalone
Pantalone
Pantalone, or Pantalone del bisognosi, Italian for 'Pantalone of the needy', is one of the most important principal characters found in commedia del arte...

, Il Dottore
Il Dottore
Il Dottore or the Doctor is a commedia dell'arte stock character, one of the vecchi or old men whose function in a scenario is to be an obstacle to the young lovers...

, Brighella
Brighella
Brighella is a comic, masked character from the Commedia dell'arte. His early costume consisted of loosely-fitting, white smock and pants with green trim and was often equipped with a battachio or slapstick, or else with a wooden sword. Later he took to wearing a sort of livery with a matching cape...

, Il Capitano
Il Capitano
Il Capitano is a masked character from the commedia dell'arte. He is often an outside who can maintain his claims only by benefit of the fact that none of the locals know him. He is usually a Spaniard given the fact that for most of the late Renaissance to well into 17th century, Italy was under...

, Colombina, the Innamorati
Innamorati
Gli Innamorati were stock characters within the theatre style known as Commedia dell'arte, which appeared in 16th century Italy. These characters were present within commedia plays for the sole purpose of being in love with one another, and moreover with themselves...

, Pedrolino
Pedrolino
Pedrolino is a zanni, or servant character in the commedia dell'arte. His name is essentially the same as "Pete" or "Petey" in English—a diminutive form of the name Peter. He is normally portrayed as personable, charming and kind, to the point of excess—he blames himself for wrongs never done and...

, Pulcinella
Pulcinella
Pulcinella, ; often called Punch or Punchinello in English, Polichinelle in French, is a classical character that originated in the commedia dell'arte of the 17th century and became a stock character in Neapolitan puppetry....

, Sandrone
Sandrone
Sandrone is the traditional mask and character of the Commedia dell'arte representing the city of Modena.- Origin :...

, Scaramuccia
Scaramuccia
Scaramuccia, also known as Scaramouche, is a roguish clown character of the Italian commedia dell'arte who wears a black mask and black trousers, shirt and hat. He is usually portrayed as a buffoon or boastful clown; in this latter capacity, he can be considered a smaller derivative of Il Capitano...

 (also known as Scaramouche), il Somardino, La Signora
La Signora
La Signora is a character in Commedia dell'arte. She is the wife of Pantalone and the mistress of Pedrolino. She is tough, beautiful and calculating. She wears very wide dresses and very heavy makeup...

, and Tartaglia
Tartaglia (commedia dell'arte)
Tartaglia is a minor character in the Commedia dell'arte. He is nearsighted and with a terrible stutter , he is usually classed as one of the group of old characters who appears in many scenarios as one of the lovers . His social status varies; he is sometimes a bailiff, lawyer, notary or chemist...

.

In the 17th century as commedia became popular in France, the characters of Pierrot, Columbine and Harlequin were refined and became essentially Parisian, according to Green.

Subjects


Conventional plot lines were written on themes of adultery, jealousy, old age and love. Many of the basic plot elements can be traced back to the Roman comedies of Plautus
Plautus
Titus Maccius Plautus , commonly known as "Plautus", was a Roman playwright of the Old Latin period. His comedies are the earliest surviving intact works in Latin literature. He wrote Palliata comoedia, the genre devised by the innovator of Latin literature, Livius Andronicus...

 and Terence
Terence
Publius Terentius Afer , better known in English as Terence, was a playwright of the Roman Republic, of North African descent. His comedies were performed for the first time around 170–160 BC. Terentius Lucanus, a Roman senator, brought Terence to Rome as a slave, educated him and later on,...

, some of which were themselves translations of lost Greek comedies of the 4th century BC. However, it is more probable that the comici used contemporary novella, or, traditional sources as well, and drew from current events and local news of the day. Not all scenari were comic, there were some mixed forms and even tragedies. Shakespeare's "The Tempest" is drawn from a popular scenario in the Scala collection, his Polonius ("Hamlet") is drawn from Pantalone, and his clowns bear homage to the zanni.

Comici performed written comedies at court. Song and dance were widely used, and a number of innamorata were skilled madrigalists, a song form that uses chromatics
Chromatics
Chromatics are a band from Portland, Oregon, whose current lineup features singer Ruth Radelet, guitarist Adam Miller, drummer Nat Walker, and producer/multi-instrumentalist Johnny Jewel. The band originally featured a trademark sound indebted to punk and lo-fi and described as "noisy" and "chaotic"...

 and close harmonies. Audiences came to see the performers, with plot lines becoming secondary to the performance. Among the great innamorate, Isabella Andreini, was perhaps the most widely known and a medallion dedicated to her reads: "eternal fame." Tristano Martinelli achieved international fame as the first of the great Arlecchinos, and was honored by the Medici
Medici
The House of Medici or Famiglia de' Medici was a political dynasty, banking family and later royal house that first began to gather prominence under Cosimo de' Medici in the Republic of Florence during the late 14th century. The family originated in the Mugello region of the Tuscan countryside,...

 and the Queen of France. Performers made use of well-rehearsed jokes and stock physical gags, known as lazzi
Lazzi
Lazzi is an improvised comic dialogue or action commonly used in the Commedia dell'arte. Most English-speaking troupes use the Italian plural "lazzi" as the singular and "lazzis" for the plural....

 and concetti, as well as on-the-spot improvised and interpolated
Interpolation (music)
Interpolation in music refers to an abrupt change in musical elements from the main theme.-In classical music:In music and musical composition, especially 20th century and later, interpolation is an abrupt change of elements, with continuation of the first idea...

 episodes and routines, called (singular , Italian for joke), usually involving a practical joke.

Since the productions were improvised, dialogue and action could easily be changed to satirize local scandals, current events, or regional tastes, while still using old jokes and punch lines. Characters were identified by costumes, masks, and props, such as a type of baton known as a slapstick
Slapstick
Slapstick is a type of comedy involving exaggerated violence and activities which may exceed the boundaries of common sense.- Origins :The phrase comes from the batacchio or bataccio — called the 'slap stick' in English — a club-like object composed of two wooden slats used in Commedia dell'arte...

. These characters included the forebears of the modern clown
Clown
Clowns are comic performers stereotypically characterized by the grotesque image of the circus clown's colored wigs, stylistic makeup, outlandish costumes, unusually large footwear, and red nose, which evolved to project their actions to large audiences. Other less grotesque styles have also...

, namely Harlequin
Harlequin
Harlequin or Arlecchino in Italian, Arlequin in French, and Arlequín in Spanish is the most popularly known of the zanni or comic servant characters from the Italian Commedia dell'arte and its descendant, the Harlequinade.-Origins:...

  and Zanni
Zanni
Zanni or Zani is a character type of Commedia dell'arte best known as an astute servant and trickster. The Zanni comes from the countryside. The Zanni is known to be a “dispossessed immigrant worker”. "Immigrant" in Italy at the time of the city-states, did not necessarily mean someone from...

.

The classic, traditional plot is that the innamorati
Innamorati
Gli Innamorati were stock characters within the theatre style known as Commedia dell'arte, which appeared in 16th century Italy. These characters were present within commedia plays for the sole purpose of being in love with one another, and moreover with themselves...

 are in love and wish to be married, but one elder (vecchio
Vecchio
Vecchio , is a category of aged, male characters from the Italian commedia dell'arte. The primary members of this group are Pantalone, Il Dottore and Il Capitano...

) or several elders (vecchi) are preventing this from happening, leading the lovers to ask one or more zanni
Zanni
Zanni or Zani is a character type of Commedia dell'arte best known as an astute servant and trickster. The Zanni comes from the countryside. The Zanni is known to be a “dispossessed immigrant worker”. "Immigrant" in Italy at the time of the city-states, did not necessarily mean someone from...

 (eccentric servants) for help. Typically the story ends happily, with the marriage of the innamorati and forgiveness for any wrongdoings. There are countless variations on this story, as well as many that diverge wholly from the structure, such as a well-known story about Arlecchino becoming mysteriously pregnant, or the Punch and Judy
Punch and Judy
Punch and Judy is a traditional, popular puppet show featuring the characters of Mr. Punch and his wife, Judy. The performance consists of a sequence of short scenes, each depicting an interaction between two characters, most typically the anarchic Punch and one other character...

 scenario.

While generally personally unscripted, the performances often were based on scenarios that gave some semblance of plot to the largely improvised format. The Flaminio Scala scenarios, published in the early 17th century, are the most widely known collection and representative of its most esteemed compagnia, I Gelosi
I Gelosi
I Gelosi was an acting troupe that performed commedia dell'arte from 1569 to 1604. Their motto was Virtu, fama ed honor ne fer gelosi, meaning "We are jealous of attaining virtue, fame, and honor"....

.

Influence in art



The iconography of the commedia dell'arte represents an entire field of study that has been examined by commedia scholars such as Erenstein, Castagno, Katritzky, Molinari, and others. In the early period, representative works by painters at Fontainebleau were notable for their erotic depictions of the thinly veiled innamorata, or the bare-breasted courtesan/actress. The Flemish influence is widely documented as commedia figures entered the world of the vanitas
Vanitas
In the arts, vanitas is a type of symbolic work of art especially associated with Northern European still life painting in Flanders and the Netherlands in the 16th and 17th centuries, though also common in other places and periods. The word is Latin, meaning "emptiness" and loosely translated...

 genre, depicting the dangers of lust, drinking, and the hedonistic lifestyle. While the iconography gives evidence of the performance style (See Fossard collection), it is important to note that many of the images and engravings were not depictions from real life, but concocted in the studio. The Callot
Jacques Callot
Jacques Callot was a baroque printmaker and draftsman from the Duchy of Lorraine . He is an important figure in the development of the old master print...

 etchings of the Balli di Sfessania (1611) are most widely considered "capricci" rather than actual depictions of a commedia dance form, or typical masks. While these are often reproduced in large formats, it is important to note that the actual prints measured about 2x3 inches. In the 18th century, Watteau
Antoine Watteau
Jean-Antoine Watteau was a French painter whose brief career spurred the revival of interest in colour and movement...

's painting of commedia figures intermingling with the aristocracy were often set in sumptuous garden or pastoral settings and were representative of that genre.

Influence on theatre


While to be true Commedia the actors improvise around a pre-determined plot using stock characters as a guide, the works of several playwrights have been influenced by Commedia dell'arte if not directly featuring it. Prominent examples include Servant of Two Masters
Servant of Two Masters
Servant of Two Masters is a comedy by the Venetian playwright Carlo Goldoni written in 1743. Goldoni originally wrote the play at the request of actor Antonio Sacco, one of the great Truffaldinos in history...

 written in 1743 by Carlo Goldoni
Carlo Goldoni
Carlo Osvaldo Goldoni was an Italian playwright and librettist from the Republic of Venice. His works include some of Italy's most famous and best-loved plays. Audiences have admired the plays of Goldoni for their ingenious mix of wit and honesty...

, The Tempest
The Tempest
The Tempest is a play by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in 1610–11, and thought by many critics to be the last play that Shakespeare wrote alone. It is set on a remote island, where Prospero, the exiled Duke of Milan, plots to restore his daughter Miranda to her rightful place,...

 written by William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon"...

, and Les Fourberies de Scapin
Les Fourberies de Scapin
Les Fourberies de Scapin is a three-act comedy by French playwright Molière. The title character Scapin is similar to the archetypical Scapino character. The play was first staged in 1671 in Paris....

 by French playwright Molière
Molière
Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, known by his stage name Molière, was a French playwright and actor who is considered to be one of the greatest masters of comedy in Western literature...

.

It also inspired a scene in Steven Berkoff
Steven Berkoff
Steven Berkoff is an English actor, writer and director. Best known for his performance as General Orlov in the James Bond film Octopussy, he is typically cast in villanous roles, such as Lt...

's adaptation of Franz Kafka
Franz Kafka
Franz Kafka was a culturally influential German-language author of short stories and novels. Contemporary critics and academics, including Vladimir Nabokov, regard Kafka as one of the best writers of the 20th century...

's The Metamorphosis
The Metamorphosis
The Metamorphosis is a novella by Franz Kafka, first published in 1915. It is often cited as one of the seminal works of short fiction of the 20th century and is widely studied in colleges and universities across the western world...

, the inspiration being on the lodgers.

Music and dance


Both music and dance were central to commedia dell'arte performance. Brighella was often depicted with a guitar, and many images of the commedia feature singing innamorata or dancing figures, particularly innamorate. In fact, it was considered part of the innamorati function to be able to sing and have the popular repertoire under their belt. Accounts of the early commedia, as far back as Calmo in the 1570s and the buffoni of Venice, note the ability of comici to sing madrigal
Madrigal (music)
A madrigal is a secular vocal music composition, usually a partsong, of the Renaissance and early Baroque eras. Traditionally, polyphonic madrigals are unaccompanied; the number of voices varies from two to eight, and most frequently from three to six....

i precisely and beautifully. The danzatrice probably accompanied the troupes, and may have been in addition to the general cast of characters. For examples of strange instruments of various grotesque formations see articles by Tom Heck, who has documented this area.

The expressive theatre influenced Molière
Molière
Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, known by his stage name Molière, was a French playwright and actor who is considered to be one of the greatest masters of comedy in Western literature...

's comedy and subsequently ballet d'action
Ballet d'action
Ballet d'action is a ballet movement started by French choreographer Jean Georges Noverre in 1760. It involves expression of character and emotion through dancers' bodies and faces, rather than through elaborate costumes and props...

, thus lending a fresh range of expression and choreographic means. An example of a commedia dell'arte character in literature is the Pied Piper of Hamelin who is dressed as Harlequin
Harlequin
Harlequin or Arlecchino in Italian, Arlequin in French, and Arlequín in Spanish is the most popularly known of the zanni or comic servant characters from the Italian Commedia dell'arte and its descendant, the Harlequinade.-Origins:...

.
Picasso's painting The Three Musicians painted in 1921 shows in colorful detail commedia-inspired characters.

Sources


  • Callery, Dymphna. Through the Body: A Practical Guide to Physical Theatre. London: Nickalis Hernt Books (2001). ISBN 1-85459-630-6
  • Castagno, Paul C. The Early Commedia dell'Arte (1550–1621): The Mannerist Context. Bern, New York: Peter Lang Publishing (1994).
  • Cecchini, Pier Maria (1628) Frutti delle moderne comedie et avvisi a chi le recita, Padua: Guareschi
  • Green, Martin and John Swan. The Triumph of Pierrot: The Commedia dell'Arte and the Modern Imagination. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University (1993). ISBN 0-271-00928-4
  • Katritzky, M.A.The Art of Commedia: A Study in the Commedia dell'Arte 1560–1620 with Special Reference to the Visual Records. New York: Editions Rodopi (2006). ISBN 90-420-1798-8
  • Palleschi, Marino. The Commedia dell'Arte: Its Origins, Development & Influence on the Ballet. Auguste Vestris (2005)
  • Perrucci, Andrea (1699) Dell'arte rappresentativa premeditata, ed all'improviso
  • Rudlin,John. Commedia dell'Arte: An Actor's Handbook. Ebook Corporation.
  • Rudlin, John, and Oliver Crick. Commedia dell'arte: A Handbook for Troupes. London: Routledge (2001). ISBN 978-0-415-204
  • Scala, Flaminio (1611) Il Teatro Delle Favole Rappresentative (online pdf available at Bavarian State Library
    Bavarian State Library
    The Bavarian State Library in Munich is the central "Landesbibliothek", i. e. the state library of the Free State of Bavaria and one of Europe's most important universal libraries. With its collections currently comprising around 9.39 million books, it ranks among the best research libraries...

     website). Translated into English by Henry F. Salerno in 1967 as Scenarios of the Commedia dell'Arte. New Italian edition cured by F.Mariotti (1976). New partial translation (30 scenarios out of 50) by Richard Andrews (2008) The Commedia dell'Arte of Flamino Scala, A Translation and Analysis of Scenarios Published by: Scarecrow Press.
  • Taviani, Ferdinando and Marotti, Ferruccio, and Romei, Giovanna. La Commedia dell'arte e la societa barocca M. Bulzoni, Roma : 1969
  • Taviani, Ferdinando and M. Schino (1982) Il segreto della commedia dell'arte.
  • Tessari, R. (1969) La commedia dell'arte nel seicento
  • Tessari, R. (1981) Commedia dell'arte: la maschera e l'ombra

Further reading

  • Chaffee, Judith An annotated bibliography from Judith Chaffee.
  • Darius, Adam.
    Adam Darius
    Adam Darius is an American dancer, mime artist, writer and choreographer. As a performer, he has appeared in over 85 countries across six continents...

     The Commedia Dell' Arte (1996) Kolesnik Production OY, Helsinki. ISBN 9529071884
  • DelPiano, Roberto La Commedia dell'Arte 2007. Retrieved 2009-07-09.
  • Grantham, Barry Playing Commedia, Nick Hern Books
    Nick Hern Books
    Nick Hern Books is a London-based independent specialist publisher of plays, theatre books and screenplays. The company was founded by the former Methuen drama editor Nick Hern in 1988.-History:...

    , London, 2000. ISBN 978-1854594662
  • Grantham, Barry Commedia Plays: Scenarios – Scripts – Lazzi, Nick Hern Books
    Nick Hern Books
    Nick Hern Books is a London-based independent specialist publisher of plays, theatre books and screenplays. The company was founded by the former Methuen drama editor Nick Hern in 1988.-History:...

    , London, 2006. ISBN 978-1854598714
  • Puppa, Paolo A History of Italian Theatre. Eds. Joseph Farrell. Cambridge University Press. 2006. ISBN 0-521-80265-2