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					             Commedia
             dell’arte

Italian Renaissance Theatre
         1400 - 1600
       Commedia dell’arte
                   Influences
Trace back to early Roman street theatre
  – Public performances
  – Partially improvised
  – Troupes settled in cities, but moved locations within the
    city
Roman playwrights: Terence & Platus
  – “borrowed” story-lines from the Classics
          Commedia dell’arte
                              Terms to know
• Commedia dell’arte
  - “play of professionals”

• Scenario
  - Standard plot outline
• Intermezzi
  - short “in-between” shows

• Lazzi
  - bits of comic business
• Stock characters
  - characters who remain the same in many different plays
     Commedia dell’arte
                   Conventions
                        Stages
– Sometimes performed on the street or in a public square
  with no set
– Also performed in theatres or music halls with wide
  variety of set
– Helped develop the PROSCENIUM
  ARCH (picture frame) theatre style
  that is still the standard today

                  Karel Dujardins , 1657
Commedia dell’arte
     Conventions
              Scenarios
       Most performances, the performers would agree
          on a basic scenario, the characters involved
          and the eventual outcome… everything else
              was left as improvisational material.

      Sample Scenarios:
       A - Pantalone enlists Arlecchino's help in getting
          a date with Lavinia, who doesn't know he
          exists. Arlecchino gives him a lot of bad
          advice about his clothes and how to act.
      B - Alessandra tries to get her father
         Pantalone's permission to marry Fabian.
         Commedia dell’arte
                        Conventions
                             Set
SET – no standard set was used… playing space could be a plain
  street, a pageant wagon, a ballroom or dining hall
            Commedia dell’arte
                                Conventions
PROPS
• The battacchio (called a “slap stick” in English) a club-like
    object composed of two wooden slats produces a loud smacking noise,
    though little force is transferred from the object to the person being
    struck. Actors may thus hit one another repeatedly with great audible
    effect while causing very little actual physical damage. Typically carried
    by Brighella
     – The origin of the modern term “slapstick comedy” comes from this
        Italian device (think Charlie Chaplin, the 3 Stooges)
•   Characters carried other misc. props befitting their occupation & station
     – Many characters had signature props. For eg: female lovers carried fans,
       male lovers carried handkerchiefs & a posy
Commedia dell’arte
           Conventions
               Costumes & Masks
   • Actors wore stylized versions of modern
     clothing
   • stylized theatrical costumes can exaggerate
     some aspect of a character
   • Specific colors/patterns/cuts were used to
     portray characters' age, gender role,
     profession, social class, personality
   • Each stock character had his/her own
     “stock” costume & mask
      Commedia dell’arte
                        Conventions

       Actors (CALLED PERFORMERS)
– Skills needed: acrobats, dancers, musicians, singers, orators, quick
  wits, politically savvy (satire)
– An actor often portrayed an individual character for so long that they
  were known by the character’s name, not their own.
– WOMEN ALLOWED ON STAGE!!! Only place accepted until late
  17th Century England
– Acting companies that stayed & traveled together, approx. 10-12
  people
– I Gelosi – famous commedia acting company, all family: Francesco &
  Isabella Andreini
       Commedia dell’arte
         Conventions – Stock Characters
                      Inamorati - The lovers
• RANK - The lovers are of high status in their own. They are the sons and
  daughters of characters who are also high on the social ladder; very often
  the female lover is Pantalone's daughter (when she is not his daughter, the
  male lover is his son, and Pantalone lusts after her)
• NAMES - usually have beautiful, flowery, romantic names
• COSTUMES – they wore the latest Italian fashions.

• MASKS – Lovers do not wear masks. They wear heavy makeup.
• MOST COMMON LOVERS: (female) Donatella, Fabiana, Isabella, Ottavia;
  (male) Benedetto, Fabian, Giancarlo, Ottaviano
         Commedia dell’arte
                    Conventions – Stock Characters

                          The Innamorati




These characters never developed, but were necessary for the action of the plays
      Commedia dell’arte
        Conventions – Stock Characters
                   Vecchio (foolish elders)

– RANK: rich, old, high ranking but not always well-respected
– WHO: A category of aged, male characters. The primary members of
  this group are Pantalone, Il Doctoro and Il Capitano. The word means
  "old one" or simply "old" in Italian. They are overwhelmingly the
  antagonists, opposing the love of the inamorati; the comic ending is
  produced when the zanni manage to overcome them and unite the
  lovers.
– MASKS: wore ½ masks with long noses, the longer the nose, the
  dumber the person
– COSTUMES: dress to show wealth & look pretentious, often wear
  layers
   Commedia dell’arte




Il Dottore     Il Capitano   Pantalone
     Vecchio – Masks & Costumes
       Commedia dell’arte
               Conventions – Stock Characters
Zanni (clever servants) = (Columbina Arllechino, Brighella)
– CHARACTER: (the name is where we get our word "zany") is a servant
  character who serves one of the Vecchi. He never does well at his job,
  since all he thinks about is food or sleep. Often, he is distracted while
  on a mission, after hearing the name of a fruit--or after falling
  asleep. Zanni is stupid, poor, and slow, and therefore is the lowest
  character on the social scale.
– COSTUME: usually consists of a baggy white jumpsuit or shirt-and-
  pants outfit, since he is too poor to afford anything else.
– MASK: has a wrinkled forehead with low eyebrows, giving him a
  stupid appearance. He also has a very big, wide nose with nose
  hair. The larger the nose, the stupider the Zanni.
– MOVEMENTS: are very big, broad, and exaggerated. He leads his
  body with his head and nose (his nose sticks out way in front of the
  rest of his body, and wherever his head goes, his body follows).
   Commedia dell’arte
            Zanni – the servants
Columbina        Arllechino        Brighella
             Commedia dell’arte
                   Influences
Here are just some of the ways Commedia has
 influenced the world since the Renaissance…
•   English vocabulary: "pants" from Pantalone, "zany" from the Zanni, Harlequin
    from Arlecchino.
•   “Romeo & Juliet” = a translation of Flaminio la Scala's collection of scenario
    (published in 1611) (taken from the argument, or introduction to the play):
    There lived in Florence two gentlemen called Pantalone and Gratiano. They were
    of old and noble families, and bore a long hatred for each other ... (can you guess
    what’s next?)
•   Moliere used stock characters in his plays.
•   Modern screenplays: follow common scenarios, use stock characters (teen films)
•   TV shows: scenarios & characters (“The Simpsons” and many others)

				
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