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Commedia Dell Arte Facts: An Early Form Of Professional Theater

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Commedia dell'arte is a type of Italian theater form that was widely popular in Italy between the 16th and 18th centuries.

These Roman comedies became quite popular in France, Germany, and England as well. Elements from this comedy were used to create further art forms, like the pantomime.

Over time, the golden age of commedia dell'arte slowly faded since foreign audiences could not understand the dialogues and dialects of the actors from northern Italy in the plays. In addition to that, the basic plot also remained the same, as did the dialogues and actions, which made the plays feel boring and old after a point. However, the commedia dell'arte has had a lasting legacy in shaping comedy-dramas that are performed on stage. Even well-known dramatists like Shakespeare added characters from the commedia dell'arte into his own famous plays. The slapstick brand of humor, French pantomime, and puppet shows were also inspired by this art form and the troupes who performed them.

Keep scrolling for more interesting commedia dell'arte facts!

A History Of Commedia Dell'Arte

Commedia dell'arte is a type of Italian theater form that was widely popular in Italy between the 16th and 18th centuries. While there are no written records elaborating on the history of the origin of commedia dell'arte, many historians have tried to trace this drama art back to previous Italian comedies. This art further evolved under some well-known troupes and their leaders who solidified the plot, wrote funny dialogues, and created elaborate costumes.

Some historians think that the tradition of commedia dell'arte grew from the Atellan plays. Atellan plays were a sort of rustic farce that included improvisational comedy with masked characters.

Soon, professional companies started to recruit singers, dancers, actors, and even acrobats who could perform in the dramas. In 1545, the oldest recorded troupe, Gelosi, came into being. The Gelosi troupe was headed by Francisco Andreini and his wife. The Desiosi troupe also originated during the same time.

The Gelosi troupe was invited to France by the king where the French court appreciated the comedic dramas tremendously. This led to the creation of the Comédie-Italienne in France as several Italian troupes would roam around Europe and deliver performances.

Social & Cultural Aspects

The commedia dell'arte troupes, characters, and even the masks they wore was a reflection and representation of the times they were written in. Each of the plays were full of witty dialogues that were greatly enjoyed by the common masses and aristocrats alike.

Some of the more famous troupes like Gelosi, Fedeli, and Confidenti performed in palaces and court venues. After that, they even started to travel abroad. Most of these performances happened on makeshift stages on the streets.

The ensembles' comic performances consisted of cheery music and dance along with heavy acrobatic actions from the actors. The character of the Zanni was supposed to reflect the hardworking peasants of that time who were often afflicted with disastrous famines. Thus, they had to leave agriculture and migrate to the cities where they became hawkers, porters, or servants to the aristocrats.

Historians of medieval performances should know about commedia dell'arte.

The Costumes

The costumes of each of the characters were quite elaborate, since the costumes also conveyed to the audiences the features of the characters. The actors would put on their own unique and specific masks and costumes before performing in the plays.

The particular actor playing Zanni would often be dressed in a shapeless sack-like costume to show that he was a lowly peasant.

Arlecchino's costumes were usually quite complex and vibrantly colorful. The jacket and trousers would be full of colorful patches and the actors would also wear a white hat with an ornate tail. They would also wear a belt with a spatula that was used as a literal 'slap stick' for comic relief!

Colombina usually wore a typical maid's costume, including an apron, while Brighella, another servant, would wear a shirt and trousers along with a cloak and a cap. Brighella's costumes were usually white in color with green colored stripes.

The Characters 

The commedia dell'arte performances usually followed a set of well-known characters who would wear Venetian masks. While the actors would improvise during their scenes, most of the dialogues and situations were drawn from classic literary texts or dramas. Some of the most famous characters include Zanni, Pantolone, Il Dottore, and Colombina.

Zanni was the most integral character or set of masks in this art form. The name 'Zanni' was derived from the Italian name 'Giovanni' and was usually the clown or simpleton character in the stories. This character was inspired by the lower classes of Italy during that time who worked as peasants, servants, hawkers, or migrants. The Zanni actors had to play the role in a very energetic fashion as their dialogues had to be delivered in a high-pitched tone. Their faces were mostly covered by a mask with a long nose as long noses denoted the ignorance of a person.

Pantalone was a Venetian merchant whose mask consisted of a hooked nose and visible eyebrows. While the earlier versions of this character were named Magnifico, the actors playing Pantalone had to speak in the plain Venetian dialect. Depending on the stories, Pantalone was either a very rich merchant or a trader who was down on his luck.

The Il Dottore character was a doctor, even though he was also a lawyer or notary, depending on the situation. He often wore a long doctor's robe with a black mask and a beret cap.

Colombina is one of the main female characters in this physical comedy. She is a comic character who often causes mischief with her best friend Arlecchino. Colombina was a beautiful character and usually wore an eye mask in order to keep the rest of her face unveiled.

Arlecchino was a silly, simple character who also provided comic relief through his acrobatics. He also often dresses as the servant to one of the aristocrats in the stories. Arlecchino's mask had feline characteristics along with a bump on the head that charmed the audience.

Il Capitano, or the captain, was one of the secondary characters in this Italian comedy. This character was usually full of vanity who used to go around bragging about his glorious deeds during the war. His costume was also quite colorful and full of bright, shiny medals.

FAQs

How do you spell commedia dell'arte?

One can easily spell commedia dell'arte by breaking down the words to spell 'commedia' followed by 'dell' and an apostrophe followed by 'arte'.

Where can you learn commedia dell'arte?

Some drama schools and fine arts universities often offer special courses on learning how to perform commedia dell'arte. The New York University offers its students the chance to participate in a workshop to learn the art.

Who are the stock characters in commedia dell'arte?

The most well-known stock characters in commedia dell'arte are Zanni, Pantolone, Il Dottore, Arlecchino, Pulcinella, Colombina, Il Capitano, and Brighella.

Who is Magnifico in commedia dell'arte?

Magnifico is one of the primary characters in commedia dell'arte. He is characterized as an old merchant with a mask emphasizing his hooked nose and bushy eyebrows. In later versions, his name is changed to Pantolone. He is often portrayed as a very rich merchant.

Why did commedia dell'arte start?

The commedia dell'arte was a more evolved version of the old, rural farcical comedies that were performed in the villages and cities of Italy.

<p>An accomplished Business Management student from Jamia Milia Islamia University with a talent for writing, creative problem-solving, and a drive for personal development, Shameena has gained experience in ghostwriting and conversational tutoring. Her passion for public speaking and engaging learning experiences makes her a versatile and valuable addition to any team.</p>

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