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Commedia dell'Arte
Part 2: Improvisation, Physical Theater, and Stock Characters
 More of this Feature
• History, Influence, Props
• Costumes, Masks, Music
• Study Guide
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• La Commedia dell'Arte

Pedrolino: Commedia dell'Arte Stock Character Improvisation
In spite of its outwardly anarchic spirit, the commedia dell'arte was a highly disciplined art requiring both virtuosity and a strong sense of ensemble playing. The unique talent of commedia players was to improvise comedy around a pre–established scenario. Responding to each other, or to audience reaction, the actors made use of the lazzi (special rehearsed routines that could be inserted into the plays at convenient points to heighten the comedy), musical numbers, and impromptu dialogue to vary the happenings on stage.

Physical Theater
Masks forced actors to project their characters' emotions through the body. Leaps, tumbles, stock gags (burle and lazzi), obscene gestures and slapstick antics were incorporated into their acts.

Stock Characters
The actors of the commedia represented fixed social types, tipi fissi, for example, foolish old men, devious servants, or military officers full of false bravado. Characters such as Pantalone, the miserly Venetian merchant; Dottore Gratiano, the pedant from Bologna; or Arlecchino, the mischievous servant from Bergamo, began as satires on Italian "types" and became the archetypes of many of the favorite characters of 17th– and 18th–century European theatre.

  • Arlecchino was the most famous. He was an acrobat and a wit, childlike and amorous. He wore a cat–like mask and motley colored clothes and carried a bat or wooden sword.
  • Brighella, Arlecchino's crony, was more roguish and sophisticated, a cowardly villain who would do anything for money.
  • Il Capitano (the captain) was a caricature of the professional soldier—bold, swaggering, and cowardly.
  • Il Dottore (the doctor) was a caricature of learning—pompous and fraudulent.
  • Pantalone was a caricature of the Venetian merchant, rich and retired, mean and miserly, with a young wife or an adventurous daughter.
  • Pedrolino was a white–faced, moon–struck dreamer and the forerunner of today's clown.
  • Pulcinella, as seen in the English Punch and Judy shows, was a dwarfish humpback with a crooked nose, the cruel bachelor who chased pretty girls.
  • Scarramuccia, dressed in black and carrying a pointed sword, was the Robin Hood of his day.
  • The handsome Inamorato (the lover) went by many names. He wore no mask and had to be eloquent in order to speak the love declamations.
  • The Inamorata was his female counterpart; Isabella Andreini was the most famous. Her servant, usually called Columbina, was the beloved of Harlequin. Witty, bright, and given to intrigue, she developed into such characters as Harlequine and Pierrette.
  • La Ruffiana was an old woman, either the mother or a village gossip, who thwarted the lovers.
  • Cantarina and Ballerina often took part in the comedy, but for the most part their job was to sing, dance, or play music.
There were many other minor characters, some of which were associated with a particular region of Italy such as Peppe Nappa (Sicily), Gianduia (Turin), Stenterello (Tuscany), Rugantino (Rome), and Meneghino (Milan).

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