Commedia dell'Arte

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What is Columbina's history in Commedia dell'Arte?

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Experts maintain that the stock character of Columbina in Commedia dell'Arte was very much influenced by an earlier character model, the Soubrette or La Servetta of 17th century French comedy. The Soubrette was usually a female servant or housemaid who displayed flirtatious, mischievous, and coquettish tendencies. She was also intelligent, witty, and resourceful.

Her roots in Latin comedy have been well documented; in Plautus' comedies, this capricious servant character was always portrayed as a shrewd seductress who specialized in manipulating male emotions to her advantage. Very often, the La Servetta was companion to the Innamorata; unlike the heroine, however, the La Servetta was free to scheme and to exploit weaknesses in others on behalf of her mistress. Yet other historians argue that the stock character of Columbina has actually been around in Italian Commedia dell'Arte since 1530.

In the 17th century, the Columbina character appeared in French theater as Arlecchina or Pierrette. As the feminine version of Arlecchino, she was often seen wearing dresses with bold patches of color. Indeed, Arlecchina or Pierrette often wore numerous disguises in order to further their machinations and schemes. In French theater in the 17th century, Colombina was always portrayed as an educated woman who could read and write. Her effectiveness stemmed from her ability to reason and to ruminate long upon her theories before putting them into use.

Fools and Jesters in Literature, Art, and History.

In the 18th century, Columbina was dressed in one of two styles, either elaborate in imitation of the dress of the Innamorata or drab in the style of a servant girl. In the 19th century, Columbinas often wore white gowns. Additionally, this stock character did not wear masks; if she covered any part of her face at all, it was usually the eyes. Some Columbinas also wore heavy eye make-up to highlight the character's independence and bold personality. Interestingly, earlier Columbinas often presented more buxom and curvaceous figures than 17th and 18th century Columbinas. A show of cleavage was not unheard of in a 16th century or early 17th century La Servetta. Many Columbinas also carried tambourines and usually wore aprons.

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