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Commedia dell'Arte
Part 1: Theatrical Buffoonery Through 500 Years
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Arlecchino: Commedia dell'Arte Stock CharacterCommedia dell'Arte, also known as "Italian comedy," was a humorous theatrical presentation performed by professional players who traveled in troupes throughout Italy in the 16th century. Performances took place on temporary stages, mostly on city streets, but occasionally even in court venues. The better troupes—notably Gelosi, Confidenti, and Fedeli—performed in palaces and became internationally famous once they traveled abroad. Music, dance, witty dialogue, and all kinds of chicanery contributed to the comic effects. Subsequently the art form spread throughout Europe, with many of its elements persisting into present-day theater.

Given the vast number of Italian dialects, how would a touring company make itself understood? Apparently, there was no attempt made to change the performance's dialect from region to region. Even when a local company performed, much of the dialogue would not have been understood. Regardless of region, il Capitano would have spoken in Spanish, il Dottore in Bolognese, and l'Arlecchino in utter gibberish. The focus was placed on physical business rather than on spoken text.

Influence
The impact of commedia dell’arte on European drama can be seen in French pantomime and the English harlequinade. The ensemble companies generally performed in Italy, although a company called the comédie–italienne was established in Paris in 1661. The commedia dell’arte survived the early 18th century only by means of its vast influence on written dramatic forms.

Props
There were no elaborate sets in commedia. Staging, for example, was minimalistic—rarely anything more than one market or street scene—and the stages were frequently temporary outdoor structures. Instead, great use was made of props including animals, food, furniture, watering devices, and weapons. The character Arlecchino bore two sticks tied together, which made a great noise on impact. This gave birth to the word "slapstick."

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