Commedia Del Arte: 15 Century Italian Comedy!
What is Commedia?
(This is from Wikipedia.)
Commedia dell'arte (Italian pronunciation: [komˈmɛːdja delˈlarte]) is a form of theater characterized by masked "types" which began in Italy in the 16th century and was responsible for the advent of the actress and improvised performances based on sketches or scenarios. The closest translation of the name is "comedy of craft"; it is shortened from commedia dell'arte all'improvviso, or "comedy of the craft of improvisation". Here, arte does not refer to "art" as we currently consider the word, but rather to that which is made by artigiani(artisans). In fact, the term arte was coined much later, for in the early period the term used in contemporary accounts is commedia all'improviso. This was to distinguish the form from commedia erudita or learned comedy that was written by academics and performed by amateurs. Commedia dell'arte, conversely, was performed by professional actors (comici) who perfected a specific role or mask.
Italian theater historians, such as Roberto Tessari, Ferdinando Taviani, and Luciano Pintobelieve commedia was a response to the political and economic crisis of the 16th century and, as a consequence, became the first entirely professional form of theater.
The performers played on outside, temporary stages, and relied on various props (robbe) in place of extensive scenery. The better troupes were patronized by nobility, and during carnivalperiod might be funded by the various towns or cities, in which they played. Extra funds were received by donations (essentially passing the hat) so anyone could view the performance free of charge. Key to the success of the commedia was the ability of the performers to travel to achieve fame and financial success. The most successful troupes performed before kings and nobility allowing individual actors, such as Isabella Andreini and Dionisio Martinelli, to become well known.
The characters of the commedia usually represent fixed social types, stock characters, such as 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.
The commedia's 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 scenari 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.
Commedia dell'arte has three main stock roles: servant, master, and innamorati (lovers), and the characters themselves are often referred to as "masks", which, according to John Rudlin, cannot be separated from the character. In other words the characteristics of the character and the characteristics of the mask are the same.The servants or the clowns are referred to as the Zanni and include characters such as Arlecchino, Brighella andPedrolino. Some of the better known commedia dell'arte characters are Arlecchino (also known as Harlequin),Pierrot and Pierrette, Pantalone, Il Dottore, Brighella, Il Capitano, Colombina, the Innamorati, Pedrolino, Pulcinella,Sandrone, Scaramuccia (also known as Scaramouche), il Somardino, La Signora, and Tartaglia.
In the 17th century as commedia became popular in France, the characters of Pierrot, Columbine and Harlequin were refined and became essentially Parisian, according to Green.