Italian form of popular comedy characterized by improvisation and a collection of stock characters, flourishing 1550-1780.
Commedia dell'arte literally means “comedy of the actors.” The term implies a contrast between a popular form of comedic theater that included improvisation, on the one hand, with plays that were based on written texts, on the other. The form came into being around 1550 and reached its height of artistic and commercial success in Italy around 1650. During this time, the great stars of Italian comedy performed, including Flaminio Scala, Francesco Andreini and his wife Isabella, and Silvio Fiorillo. The deaths of those performers and an economic downturn in Italy signaled the decline in the popularity of the commedia dell'arte, which nevertheless continued to be an important form of theater until 1780.
The origins of the commedia dell'arte have been a source of scholarly debate. The respected theater scholar Allardyce Nicoll, for instance, promoted Greek comedy as its most likely progenitor, while other critics argued that the Italian actors' theater derived more directly from Roman farces. Each school of thought is based on the fact that the forms of classical Greek and Roman theatrical comedy also relied on improvisation and character types. Still other commentators have proposed that the commedia dell'arte could be directly traced to the religious Mystery Plays of the Middle Ages, citing the common factors of strolling players and improvising jesters. Later scholars, however, have suggested that while such sources may have had some influence, their defining elements had been altered to the extent that any comparisons from the viewpoint of literary history were unwarranted. Winifred Smith was one of the first scholars to point out that the origins of the commedia dell'arte might best be sought in the Renaissance-era commedia erudite—which translates as “learned comedy”—and in the street performances of clowns, jesters, jugglers, mimes, and others who entertained crowds during Carnival, a traditional period of celebration that precedes the austerities of Lent much in the manner of Mardi Gras in the United States. The commedia dell'arte became a formalized style of theater with the organization of acting companies that specialized in the form during the mid-fourteenth century. By the end of the 1500s, companies such as the Gelosi, the Confidenti, and the Fedeli were sought after for performances at royal courts and aristocratic estates across Europe, though less formal groups of strolling entertainers continued to perform as well. Robert Henke has observed that the adaptability of both the actors of the commedia dell'arte and the genre itself made it possible to suit the performance to spectators of diverse places and social strata.
Though improvisation is considered a hallmark of the commedia dell'arte, spectators knew what to expect when they attended a performance. They would see some version of the four major characters, or masks: Arlecchino, or Harlequin, an innocent but foolish servant; Pantalone, a merchant and the master to Arlecchino; Dottore, a voluble and ignorant doctor; and another servant, usually Brighella, a bolder and more cunning companion to Arlecchino. For most of the golden age of the commedia dell'arte, all the characters participated in the clowning and the physical comedy, but the driving force of the plots was usually the servants, or zanni (from which derives the English word “zany”), and the romantic intrigues they attempted to carry out, either for themselves or their masters. With the addition of female actors to the stage, standard women's roles also evolved, including the Innamorata, or Prima Donna, often the daughter of Pantalone, and Colombina, her servant and the love interest of Arlecchino. These roles could be varied, though the presence of the zanni in some form was essential. A secondary role that appeared frequently was the Captain, who later became the Lover: a version of this was the seventeenth-century character Scaramouche. Within this basic format, the actors worked with scenarii (“scenarios”), which were effectively script outlines that would give some sense of the action and conflict to be portrayed in a scene.
The written scenarii were used for rehearsals, a practice that colors the modern notion of the commedia dell'arte as a theater of pure improvisation. As more recent scholars have observed, the line between scripted theatre and the performances of Arlecchino and Pantalone is difficult to draw. Many agree that the commedia dell'arte highlighted the technical skills of the actors rather than the talent of the playwright, though other distinctions are less clear. Certainly the performances were punctuated by acrobatics, music, and slapstick comedy rather than lengthy speeches. Michael Anderson has suggested that the players were skilled at memorization and would borrow from the commedia erudite and other literary sources, saving them in commonplace books and using them to flesh out their performances. The humor was generally broad and farcical: although some scholars have argued that the commedia dell'arte was satirical in nature, most maintain that the players were far more concerned with demonstrating their skills than with social criticism. Although the scenarii usually involve complex inter-class relations, critics generally have argued that they lack any politically subversive intent. In his study of the French playwright Pierre Carlet de Chamblain de Marivaux's adaptations of the commedia dell'arte, Derek F. Connon demonstrated that the character of Arlequin (the French rendition of Arlecchino) does not lend itself readily to social criticism.
Modern scholarship devoted to the commedia dell'arte has focused more on the genre's performance and historical issues than on its themes or subject matter. To some extent, the continuing interest in the form has resulted from its extensive influence on European theatre and on modern comedy. Italian troupes traveled widely, and their influence on French and English comedy in particular is a common topic of critical studies. Kathleen M. Lea's pioneering study of the relationship between Italian and English drama argues that relatively few plays were influenced directly by the commedia dell'arte. Nonetheless, traces of the form are visible in much Renaissance drama, including Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, Taming of the Shrew, Love's Labours Lost, As You Like It, The Tempest, and A Midsummer Night's Dream. Among French authors, in addition to Marivaux, scholars have proposed that Molière's early farces show the influence of the Italian comedy. Film critics have also observed a connection between the comedy of silent film stars, such as Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, and the commedia dell'arte, proposing that as evidence of the continuing influence of the form. In addition, some actors have attempted to revive the commedia dell'arte in the modern theater. In the late nineteenth century, Maurice Sand, son of the author George Sand, began performing scenes from the commedia dell'arte privately to lift his mother's spirits, eventually sparking a small-scale popular revival in France. More recently, the Italian playwright-actor Dario Fo, along with his wife Franca Rame, appropriated the character of Arlecchino as a medium for social criticism, performing a series of four monologues entitled Arlechinno in 1985. Although Fo and Rame's incarnation of the commedia dell'arte strays from the Renaissance version in its political ambitions, it shares with Italian popular comedy the emphasis on the “comedy of the actors” and the centrality of the performer in creating theater.
Le bravure del Capitan Spavento della valle inferna [The Braveries of Captain Fear of Hell Valley] (drama) 1607
Arlecchino [Harlequin] (dramas) 1985
De Fornaris, Fabrizio
Angelica (drama) 1585
*Le thêatre italien de Gherardi, ou le recueil de general de toutes les comédies et scènes, françoises jouées par les comédiens du roy, pendant tout le temps qu'ils ont été au service [Introduction to Le Theatre Italien.] 6 vols. (dramas) 1700
La locandiera [The Mistress of the Inn] (drama) 1753
La buona figliuloa [The Accomplished Maid] (drama) 1756
Il ventaglio [The Fan] (drama) 1763
Il burbero benefico [The Beneficent Bear] (drama) 1771
Fiaba dell'amore delle tre melarance [The Love for Three Oranges] (drama) 1761
Re Turandot (drama) 1762
La double inconstance [The Double Inconstancy] (drama) 1725
Le jeu de l'amour et du hasard [The Game of Love and Change] (drama) 1730
Molière, Jean Baptiste Poquelin
La jalousie du Barbouillé [The Jealous Husband] (drama) 1645?
La médecin volant [The Fleet-Footed Doctor]...
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SOURCE: Forti-Lewis, Angelica. “Commedia dell'Arte.” In Fools and Jesters in Literature, Art, and History: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook, edited by Vicki K. Janik, pp. 146-54. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1998.
[In the following essay, Forti-Lewis provides an overview of the commedia dell'arte in the context of a larger study of fools and jesters in world literature.]
The commedia dell'arte was a unique development in the history of the theater in Western Europe. It flourished in Italy in the second half of the sixteenth century and throughout the seventeenth century. By the middle of the eighteenth century it was a less important factor in the theater, although its influence cannot be said to have died out.
Before commedia dell'arte became a firmly established genre, it had its history of development, like any other literary movement. It inherited a fragmentary legacy from many sources: from the commedia erudita (written comedy) of the Renaissance; from the clowns and variety artists who entertained at the festivities of the nobles, especially during the months of Carnival; from the jesters, the minstrels, jongleurs, and medicine shows that in the medieval days attracted crowds of spectators on popular streets; from the Latin comedies of Terence and Plautus; from Atellan farces in Rome; and even from Asiatic mimes. Although all these...
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Criticism: Origins And Development
SOURCE: Royce, Anya Peterson. “The Venetian Commedia: Actors and Masques in the Development of the Commedia Dell'Arte.” Theatre Survey 27, nos. 1-2 (1986): 69-87.
[In the following essay, Peterson Royce traces the origins of the commedia dell'arte to popular street entertainment in Venice.]
The commedia dell'arte, which spanned three centuries from the sixteenth to the beginning of the nineteenth and nationalities as diverse as Italian, French, Austrian, Polish, and English, went through a number of metamorphoses before it attained the form we now associate with it. Very briefly, that form is based on stock characters (Arlecchino, Pantalone, Il Dottore, Pedrolino or Pierrot, etc.), improvisation around standard plots, and the use of masks. In Italy, this kind of commedia was established by the end of the sixteenth century. In this paper, I would like to explore the developments that led to this form, concentrating especially on the convention of maschere (stock characters) as it appeared early in sixteenth century Venice and the Veneto. I concentrate on Venice because it is there that these maschere first developed and were then elaborated into the kind of characterization that becomes the defining feature of the commedia dell'arte.
VENICE AND THE VENETO
By the beginning of the 15th century, popular entertainment in...
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SOURCE: Richards, Kenneth, and Laura Richards. “Antecedents” and “The Emergence of Professional Companies.” In Commedia dell'Arte: A Documentary History, pp. 11-19, 32-40. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990.
[In the following excerpt, the critics give the early history of the commedia dell'arte, beginning with its limited connection to classical sources and its more likely origins in the popular entertainments of the Venetian Carnival.]
A number of very early comments on the commedia dell'arte, dating from the sixteenth century, assume a derivation at least from Roman times, but although they have the apparent advantage of being contemporaneous with the development of the drama itself, they nonetheless carry little real authority, since Renaissance writers were ever ready to find sanction for the interests and activities of their own age in supposed classical precedents. The precedents concerning the commedia dell'arte were rather tenous: certain general similarities perceived between the stage figures and comic business of the Italian Renaissance improvised drama and those of early Italian and Roman popular mime and comic entertainment.1
Not least of the problems involved in seeking to establish such classical derivation is the sheer elusiveness of this early popular theatre. Next to nothing has survived in the way of...
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Criticism: Characters And Actors
SOURCE: Duchartre, Pierre Louis. “Women of the Commedia dell'Arte.” In The Italian Comedy: The Improvisation, Scenarios, Lives, Attributes, Portraits, and Masks of the Illustrious Characters of the Commedia dell'Arte. 1929. Reprint. Translated by Randolph T. Weaver, pp. 262-84. New York: Dover Publications, 1966.
[In the following essay, Duchartre outlines the major female roles of the commedia dell'arte: the Cantarina, or songstress; the Inamorata; and the Soubrette, or serving-girl.]
Their very names are redolent of dreams, the gracious names of these Inamoratas, some of whom were tender, some false, some modest servant-maids, and some wantons.
To mention them is to evoke the glamorous Italy of bygone days, the Italy of Casanova or of President de Brosses,1 for they recall old chronicles of Renaissance splendours in which the charm and loveliness of these women of the Italian comedy have been captured and preserved for ever. Their gentle memories bear us far away back into the past, to villas at Baiæ or at Capua, to revels and sumptuous pageants which some have since been pleased to call Roman decadence. We think of these women as being both voluptuous and exquisitely cultivated, such women as belong to every age in which hypocrisy does not usurp the place of innocence.
Until the beginning of the Renaissance the Church was beset by an...
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SOURCE: Peabody, Ruth E. “Characters and Actors.” In Commedia Works, pp. 7-22. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1984.
[In the following essay, Peabody outlines the main characters of the commedia dell'arte and names some of the actors who specialized in those roles.]
Commedia actors and their characters are inextricably interwoven. All elements are significant, but the life of the form resided within those creative performers whose development of particular stock types spanned entire careers. How did they accomplish this? Petrolini, a modern day Commedia actor, once responded: “I find the inspiration for my art simply in the exercise of my intelligence.”1 The combination of intellect and great physical ability resulted in the establishment of Arlechinno, Pantalone, Pulcinella, Dottore, Captain Spavento and their many derivatives.
Since an actor usually learned only one part, more time could be devoted to exploring a character, until eventually the character became second nature to the actor. Often actors assumed nicknames which parodied the intellectuals named by their area of expertise. The lovers, Flavio, Oratio, Isabella, Flaminia, etc., were usually played by younger members of the troupe and gave focus to the plot and many love scenes within a scenario. As mentioned earlier, they did not wear character masks. Their speech was usually upper class...
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SOURCE: Tylus, Jane. “Women at the Windows: Commedia dell'arte and Theatrical Practice in Early Modern Italy.” Theatre Journal 49 (1997): 323-42.
[In the following essay, Tylus examines the roles women played in the commedia dell'arte, observing that the staging and stage direction for women's roles played upon expectations about women's social status.]
In a passage from Book 3 of the Discorsi, in the midst of a discussion of the violence that can overtake principalities, Niccolò Machiavelli calls attention to a singularly bizarre episode in Italian history. The incident occurred when conspirators who were formerly citizens of Forlì
killed Count Girolamo, their Lord, and took prisoner his wife and his children, who were little ones. It seemed to them, however, that their lives would scarce be safe unless they could get hold of the citadel, which its governor declined to hand over. So Madonna Caterina [Sforza], as the countess was called, promised the conspirators that, if they would let her go to the citadel, she would arrange for it to be handed over to them. Meanwhile, they were to keep her children as hostages. On this understanding, the conspirators let her go to the citadel, from the walls of which, when she got inside, she reproached them with killing her husband and threatened them with vengeance in every...
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SOURCE: Erenstein, Robert L. “Satire and the Commedia dell'Arte.” In Western Popular Theatre, edited by David Mayer and Kenneth Richards, pp. 29-47. London: Methuen, 1977.
[In the following essay, Erenstein looks at the commedia dell'arte as a pan-European phenomenon and suggests that as farcical humor shifted gradually to satire the commedia lost much of its original character.]
No one can study the commedia dell'arte for long without encountering the word satire. Many scholars apparently find the two notions related. Constant Mic, equating caricature with satire, says that Italian commedia dell'arte actors would habitually introduce into their performances unmistakable satirical allusions to real-life situations, persons or issues1. In his quest for the origins of the commedia dell'arte Toschi points out—among other things—the influence of medieval carnival satire on the new genre2, while Kindermann holds that quite soon after the rise of the commedia dell'arte the prevailing interest in satire gave way to the art of pure acting skill3. Clearly opposed views on this point are held by Allardyce Nicoll4 and A.K. Dshiwelegow5. The latter sees the commedia dell'arte as concerned solely with sociocritical satire whereas the former writes that the true commedia dell'arte ‘shows not...
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SOURCE: Henke, Robert. “Toward Reconstructing the Audiences of the Commedia dell'Arte.” Essays in Theatre 15, no. 2 (1997): 207-22.
[In the following essay, Henke describes the relationship between actors of the commedia dell'arte and the audiences for which they performed.]
During its “golden age” of 1565-1620, the professional Italian theater that has come to be known as the commedia dell'arte performed before a much wider range of audiences than attended the nonprofessional, scripted theater of the contemporary commedia erudita. The latter theater, performed in the courts and the academies, could largely count on its audience as a “reliable presence,” and the aristocratic spectators were a social and cultural reflection of the dilettante actors.1 The early humanist theater developed between 1480-1520 in the courts and academies of Ferrara, Mantua, Urbino, and Rome under the sway of Ariosto and others anticipated the eighteenth-century notion of the theater audience as arbiter and judge.2 Ariosto produced his Plautine plays for a courtly audience with an imperfect knowledge of the classical dramatic genres tragedy and comedy (obscured as they had been by medieval misconceptions), but acted under the assumption that there was a public of like-minded humanist principles who, if rightly instructed, would confirm his humanist experiments....
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SOURCE: Kennard, Joseph Spencer. “Goldoni and Gozzi—Decay and Death of the Commedia dell'Arte.” In Masks and Marionettes, pp. 76-96. New York: Macmillan, 1935.
[In the following essay, Kennard maintains that the plays of Carlo Goldoni represent the apex of the commedia dell'arte and were marked by wit and a concern for reform. By contrast, Kennard paints Goldoni's rival, Carlo Gozzi, as a jealous reactionary who loved the pure commedia dell'arte yet despised the common people who performed and watched the popular comedy.]
In the Piazzetta dei Mercanti in Venice, halfway between the Rialto and the Merceria, close to the Riva where the daily market was held, not far from the Piazza San Marco and the bookshop where his friends and partisans met and but a few steps farther from the Teatro di San Luca, now Teatro Goldoni, is a statue of Goldoni slightly stooped as if listening to the merchants and the shopkeepers discussing the day's business or engaging in wordy warfare or banter, while pigeons coo and flap their wings. If Goldoni could step down from his pedestal he would find himself at home in this twentieth century, and his comedies still being performed in the Venetian theatres. Goldoni belongs to these people. Like his own immortal Pantalone he was the synthesis of past centuries and the forerunner of a new age.
This is the Goldoni who proposed to purge of...
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SOURCE: Herrick, Marvin Theodore. “The Commedia Dell'Arte and Learned Comedy.” In Italian Comedy in the Renaissance, pp. 210-227. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1960.
[In the following essay, Herrick compares the plays and practices of the improvisational and scripted theatres, finding evidence that the commedia dell'arte borrowed many of its plots from the commedia erudite.]
The learned comedy never reached a wide audience in Italy, for it was confined to the larger towns and even within these larger towns to a limited audience of educated people who could relish a literary performance as well as slapstick. Outside of Italy the learned comedy was known only to the highly educated few or to the professional playwrights who could make use of it in their own work. Popular comedies before 1550 were religious plays or farces. The actors in these religious plays and farces, and in the learned comedies, too, were generally amateurs. In the second half of the century the professional actors appeared, that is, actors who made a living by their art, and it was these professional actors who constituted the commedia dell' arte, which is a better term than “masked comedy” or “improvised comedy” although the performers did wear masks and did rely in large part upon improvisations.
These professional actors and actresses, the Italian comedians, became organized...
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SOURCE: Firth, Felicity. “Comedy in Italy.” In Comic Drama: The European Heritage, edited by W. D. Howarth, pp. 63-80. London: Methuen, 1978.
[In the following essay, Firth compares the literary comedy of Renaissance Italy with the popular commedia dell'arte, suggesting that the latter is characterized by a strong focus on the skill of the actor.]
In the fifth century bc Epicharmus of Syracuse, writing on Italian soil the earliest recorded comic pieces, made up a play about the currently fashionable philosophy of Heraclitus. All is flux, Heraclitus is said to have said, life is a continual becoming, nobody is the same man today as he was yesterday. In Epicharmus' play, a debtor refuses to pay his debts. ‘Why should I pay,’ he asks, ‘since yesterday when I contracted the debt I was one man, and today I am another?’ His creditor sets about him with a stick. When taken to court and accused of violent assault, the creditor's defence is that he too has become another man since yesterday; it is yesterday's man who should be sent to prison. This ancient joke is remarkable in that it contains in a prophetic germ two themes, neither of them intrinsically humorous, which were destined in a later age to become inextricably linked with the whole Italian comic tradition: one, the preoccupation with the concept of identity; and two, the insistence upon wit or intellectual virtue as the ultimate...
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SOURCE: Andrews, Richard. “Improvised Comedy.” In Scripts and Scenarios: The Performances of Comedy in Renaissance Italy, pp. 169-99. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
[In the following excerpt, Andrews discusses the bases for improvisation in the commedia dell'arte, providing examples of the short and long frameworks in which actors could create scenes.]
DEFINITIONS AND EVIDENCE
In 1567, the Duchy of Mantua was visited by two competing theatre companies, both including women: one was actually directed by an actress whose stage name was ‘Flaminia’, and the other run jointly by a ‘Pantalone’ (possibly Giulio Pasquati) and the actress Vincenza Armani. The artistic and commercial rivalry between the groups was made more interesting for the public by the fact that each leading lady was being courted by a different aristocratic patron—it is reported that the whole city was divided between fans of ‘Flaminia’ and supporters of Vincenza. As well as mounting improvised comic scenarios, each woman also starred in a more serious play, one based on the Virgilian story of Dido and the other taken from Ariosto's Orlando Furioso.1 By the 1560s, then, professional companies were an established fact of life in northern and central Italy. The first surviving notarial document regarding the constitution of such a group dates from...
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Criticism: Influence In Europe
SOURCE: Lea, Kathleen Marguerite. “The Commedia dell'Arte and the English Stage.” In Italian Popular Comedy: A Study in the Commedia dell'Arte, 1560-1620, 2 vols., pp. 411-30. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1934.
[In the following excerpt, Lea examines English plays that appear to have been directly influenced by the commedia dell'arte and not merely by broader trends in Italian comedy.]
It is hardly to be expected that we should find the precise original of any English play among the miscellanies of the Commedia dell'arte. Putting aside the probabilities that scenari have been lost, and that many Italian plays never attained the permanence of a written record, it is the nature of the material that it should be flexible. Themes and situations were continually reshuffled. If Italian professionals had little feeling for the integrity of a scenario, English dramatists in search of plot materials might be expected to have less. This seems to have been the case, and it is by now impossible to tell whether they worked from memory of Italian plays in England, from accounts of some performance in France or Italy, or from written scenari. We know too little of the intercourse between the contemporary stages to be able to choose between these three possibilities in the case of individual plays. The versions which are extant may be the result of several revisions. The authorship and chronology of Elizabethan...
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SOURCE: Scott, Virginia P. “The Jeu and the Rôle: Analysis of the Appeals of the Italian Comedy in France in the Time of Arlequin-Dominique.” In Western Popular Theatre, edited by David Mayer and Kenneth Richards, pp. 1-27. London: Methuen, 1977.
[In the following essay, Scott discusses the development of the commedia dell'arte in France, particularly in the late seventeenth century.]
Popular entertainments are generally so classified because of their appeal and availability to a large audience drawn from all classes and conditions of society. However, the assertion that the Italian Comedy in Paris in the last half of the seventeenth century was available to all classes cannot be supported. The cheapest place, in the parterre,1 cost 15 sous,2 a day's wages for many artisans in 16883. Economic necessity dictates that the audience of the Comédie-Italienne was drawn from the middle class and the nobility. Can we then regard this form of entertainment as popular theatre?
Yes, if we classify theatrical activities by how they appeal rather than to whom they appeal, by their strategies rather than their spectators.
The purpose of this paper is to defend the assertion that the Italian comedies performed in France by the company known as the ancien théâtre italien between 1660 and 1688 can best...
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SOURCE: Trethewey, John. “Stage and Audience in the commedia dell'arte and in Molière's Early Plays.” In Studies in Commedia dell'Arte, edited by David J. George and Christopher J. Gossip, pp. 69-90. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1993.
[In the following essay, Trethewey examines the influence of the commedia dell'arte on Molière's comedies.]
The nine early Molière plays I want to discuss here are very varied, comprising the two prose scenarios, La Jalousie du Barbouillé and Le Médecin volant, which are the only remaining complete canevas (out of thirteen for which we have names) associated with Molière and his troupe, two one-act comedies, Les Précieuses ridicules and Sganarelle ou le Cocu imaginaire (the first in prose, the second in verse), two three-act verse comedies, L'Ecole des maris and Les Fâcheux, and three five-act verse comedies, L'Etourdi, Dépit amoureux and L'Ecole des femmes. The two scenarios cannot be dated. The earliest firm date we have for a Molière play is the year 1655 when, according to the Registre of La Grange, L'Etourdi was premièred in Lyon.1 The influence of the commedia dell'arte on Molière does not end with L'Ecole des femmes, the last, the most successful and most important play with which I deal in this essay. But limitations of time and...
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SOURCE: Connon, Derek F. “The Servant as Master: Disguise, Role-Reversal, and Social Comment in Three Plays of Marivaux.” In Studies in Commedia dell'Arte, edited by David J. George and Christopher J. Gossip, pp. 121-37. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1993.
[In the following essay, Connon contends that Marivaux adapted the commedia dell'arte's use of disguise as a device for social comment in his plays.]
As is pointed out by Norbert Jonard in his study of the commedia dell'arte, disguise is one of the principal devices employed in the scenarios of the form.1 Mel Gordon, in his study of lazzi, draws attention to a more specific use of disguise, one which involves not only pretence about the character's identity, but also about his social class: ‘Often, the humour grows out of a class reversal, the servant acts like a master and the master becomes confused.’2 Given the importance of the théâtre italien in Marivaux's career, the frequency of his use of the topos of disguise in his plays is hardly surprising, but in only one does he relate it specifically to the notion of social role- or class-reversal, doing so in a context where the device is clearly underlined by the stylized symmetry of the plot: that is to say Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard (1730), where the duplication of the reversal in both male and female characters produces a...
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SOURCE: Anderson, Michael. “The Law of Writ and the Liberty.” Theatre Research International 20, no. 3 (1995): 189-99.
[In the following essay, Anderson compares the practices of English and Italian actors to suggest that the similarities are more significant than the differences, arguing that the Italian actors of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries used more structure and predetermined scenarios than has generally been believed.]
Our players are not as the players beyond the sea, a sort of squirting baudie Comedians, that have Whores and common Curtizans to playe womens partes, and forbeare no immodest speech, or unchast action that may procure laughter, but our Sceane is more stately furnisht than ever it was in the time of Roscius, our representations honourable and full of gallant resolution, not consisting like theirs of a Pantaloun, a Whore and a Zanie, but of Emperours, Kings and Princes, whose true tragedies they do vaunt.1
By the latter half of the sixteenth century the companies of professional actors performing what later came to be known as commedia dell'arte were not only well established in Italy but travelling widely throughout Europe. They visited Spain and France, Austria, Bavaria and the low countries, and there are clear though scanty references to the visits of troupes and individual performers to England....
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Bcaumont, Cyril W. The History of Harlequin. New York: Arno Press, 1976, 156 p.
Reviews the history of the performance of Harlequin roles from the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries; also touches on English Harlequins and the decline of the form.
Erenstein, Robert. “The Humour of the Commedia dell'Arte.” In The Commedia Dell'Arte From the Renaissance to Dario Fo, edited by Christopher Cairns, pp. 118-41. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1989.
Outlines the types of humor used in the commedia dell'arte, with special attention to the servant roles and to lazzi, or comic interruptions to the action.
Fletcher, Ifan Kyrle. “Italian Comedians in England in the Seventeenth Century.” Theatre Notebook 8, no. 1 (1953): 86-91.
Reports evidence of Italian comedians' visits to England, particularly after the Restoration of 1660.
Green, Martin, and John Swan. The Triumph of Pierrot: The Commedia dell'Arte and the Modern Imagination. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1986, rev. ed. 1993, 309 p.
Takes a broad view of the art form, through the twentieth century and Charlie Chaplin, and notes influences on music and visual arts.
Lawner, Lynne. Harlequin on the Moon: Commedia dell'Arte and the...
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