A Brief Overview of Commedia del arte, and Some Character Types

Essay by CrabholeHigh School, 10th gradeA, May 2004

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Commedia del arte is an Italian word meaning 'comedy of professional artists'. It is a form of improvisational theatre.

The commedia dell arte is an Italian comedy and is influenced by the traditions of Roman comedy. It had begun during the Renaissance 16th century and lasted into the 18th century, but it is still somewhat performed today.

They were performed in travelling troupes, usually a company of 10 or more actors. Each actor developed a specific type of character. They all wore masks and roles were eventually called masks. These travelling teams of players would set up an outdoor stage and provide amusement in the form of juggling, acrobatics, and most of all, humorous plays based on the repertoire of established personalities with a simple plot, called Canovaccio.

The performances were unrehearsed and evolved around themes or preordained situations of adultery, jealousy, old age, love, etc. Before going upon the stage, the actors would decide on a basic storyline and make an overview of how it should be performed.

The dialogue and acting were made to satirise local scandals, current evens, styles, important personalities. The performances were hardly subtle and are characterised by its sardonic tone, humour, bawdiness, combined with ancient jokes and punchlines.

Each actor had specialised roles. The characters were identified by costume, masks, and customary props. For instance, the male roles were depicted by actors wearing masks representing regions or towns. Female roles were played by men wearing no masks. They were later played by females.

Such troupes spread into all of Europe. They dominated theatres in Spain, Holland, Germany, Austria, England, and most of all, France.

With its stock situations and characters and ad-hoc dialogue, Commedia Dell'Arte has shown the way to many other forms of media such as Punch and Judy, modern animated cartoons,