Commedia dell'arte

theatre characterized by masked “types”

Commedia dell'arte (UK: , US: , Italian: [komˈmɛːdja delˈlarte]; meaning "comedy of the profession") was an early form of professional theatre, originating from Italy, that was popular in Europe from the 16th to the 18th century. Commedia dell'arte was formerly called Italian comedy in English and is also known as commedia alla maschera, commedia improvviso, and commedia dell'arte all'improvviso. Commedia is a form of theatre characterized by masked "types" which began in Italy in the 16th century and was responsible for the advent of actresses (for example Isabella Andreini) and improvised performances based on sketches or scenarios. A commedia, such as The Tooth Puller, is both scripted and improvised. Characters' entrances and exits are scripted. A special characteristic of commedia dell'arte are the lazzi. A lazzo is a joke or "something foolish or witty", usually well known to the performers and to some extent a scripted routine. Another characteristic of commedia dell'arte is pantomime, which is mostly used by the character Arlecchino (Harlequin).The characters of the commedia usually represent fixed social types and stock characters, such as foolish old men, devious servants, or military officers full of false bravado. The characters are exaggerated "real characters", such as a know-it-all doctor called Il Dottore, a greedy old man called Pantalone, or a perfect relationship like the Innamorati.Many troupes were formed to perform commedia dell'arte, including I Gelosi (which had actors such as Isabella Andreini, and her husband Francesco Andreini), Confidenti Troupe, Desioi Troupe, and Fedeli Troupe. Commedia dell'arte was often performed outside on platforms or in popular areas such as a piazza. The form of theatre originated in Italy, but travelled throughout Europe and even to Moscow.The commedia genesis may be related to carnival in Venice, where, by 1570, the author/actor Andrea Calmo had created the character Il Magnifico, the precursor to the vecchio (old man) Pantalone. In the Flaminio Scala scenario, for example, Il Magnifico persists and is interchangeable with Pantalone, into the seventeenth century. While Calmo's characters (which also included the Spanish Capitano and a dottore type) were not masked, it is uncertain at what point the characters donned the mask. However, the connection to carnival (the period between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday) would suggest that masking was a convention of carnival and was applied at some point. The tradition in Northern Italy is centred in Mantua, Florence, and Venice, where the major companies came under the aegis of the various dukes. Concomitantly, a Neapolitan tradition emerged in the south and featured the prominent stage figure Pulcinella. Pulcinella has been long associated with Naples and derived into various types elsewhere—the most famous as the puppet character Punch (of the eponymous Punch and Judy shows) in England.
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