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Jillian Campana

on 15 September 2015

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Beginnings of Commedia dell'Arte
Much of Commedia's humor pokes fun at the upper class. The form originated, many say, as a backlash to the high art of traditional theatre that took place either in court on in physical theatre spaces. The style sought to reach the common man and woman so though there were some intellectual jokes, there were far more jokes that made fun of the elite, intellectuals and those that considered themselves refined or sophisticated. The wealthy and educated characters were usually the butt of the jokes.
Commedia is a theatre practice that flourished in Renaissance Italy in the second half of the 16th century, into the 17th and 18th centuries.
Commedia emerged in northern Italy in the sixteenth century. The earliest known company formed in Padua in 1545, but it is possible the tradition was performed before 1545. Plays were improvised and contained music, dance, witty dialogue, and all kinds of chicanery- actions and statements that trick people into believing what isn't true.
Dialogue and Stories
Stock Characters
Commedia dell' Arte or Comedy of Professional Artists
This tradition spread throughout Europe during this time and as a result influenced many other theatre forms such as French Commedie.
Commedia based on many traditions - clowns and artists who entertained nobility, king's jesters, minstrels, medicine shows, Greek comedy and Roman and Asiatic mime.
Shortly after 1550, actors began to organize themselves into troupes typically included 6-10 men and 2-4 women and traveled by cart and horse. Often these were headed by a husband-wife team. Performances took place on temporary stages, resurrected from what could be carried in a wagon, and performed on city streets and in courtyards. The troupes were organized with care and precision, like small commercial enterprises. They were not a ragged and miserable band of roving acrobats but financially stable organizations that included scholarly and cultivated people capable of incorporating philosophical reflections in their stories.
Some troupes—notably Gelosi, Confidenti, and Fedeli—performed in palaces and became internationally famous once they traveled abroad. France was a particularly important location and French elite were considered benefactors of Commedia.
The name slapstick comes from the bataccio — called the "slap stick" in English — a club-like object composed of two wooden slats used in commedia dell'arte. When struck, the battacchio produces a loud smacking noise, though little force transfers from the object to the person being struck. Actors may thus hit one another repeatedly with great audible effect while causing very little actual physical damage. The slap stick was among the earliest special effects that a person could carry.
It is believed that the first performances took place in market places,where a crowd existed already and only needed to be attracted to the "stage". Once the performers gathered a crowd, the actors needed to hold their interest. Performers often tried to ply their wares by selling potions, beauty products or drinks.
The troupes were above all mobile and this particularity, unique in Europe at the time, is essential to an understanding Commedia's influence. Troupes traveled the roads of Italy and beyond its borders, and their itinerary reveals as much the political links that exist between some countries as the commercial routes that define European trade at the time.
Commedia plays were improvised, but not in the way we think of improv theatre today. Each performer knew their character so well that stock phrases, reactions and speeches guided the stories. Scenarios were also used over and over as "road maps" for the story to get from point A to point B in terms of plot. Actors did have a great deal leeway to run with a situation but since everyone depended on everyone else in the troupe, one actor could not just change a plot.
Stock situations gave actors direction but were not scripts. Scenarios were written out with a summary of the full plot, which could be very complex and which had similarities to Shakespeare's plays and Greek plays. Actors knew a great many scenarios and chose which scenario to perform based on the location and the audience.
Pantalone: an old man, once successful but now retired, bachelor, careful of his money, miserly: tight red trousers, money bag, red conical hat, cape, belly, parent of a lover
Il Capitano: swaggard, cowardly, braggart, soldier from Spain, vain, tries to conquer everyone including ladies: fake mustache, phallic nose, tight trousers, plumed hat, boots, sword
Il Dottore: Pompous, academician from Bologna, tries to bury others with "verbiage," know it all, windbag, bore, takes self seriously, misquotes, sometimes a physician: costume is black with white accents, academic frock, black skull cap, bulbous nose, large belly
The cruel, self centered and self sufficient wit-master from Naples, a descendent from two earlier Roman characters (Bucco and Maccus). Pulchinella is vulgar, dishonest and quick. His costume is white with a shift belted at the waist and a white tubular hat and at times about his neck he wears a scarf and he often carries a stick to beat others with.
A utility figure and often an older man and companion to Dottore, Tartaglia who moves between servant, merchant, or public service work, is corpulent, pot-bellied and bald. His most obvious characteristic is his stammer which is liable to get stuck in an obscene syllable in any given phrase. The comedy is not in the stutter, but in the places it gets stuck and in the alternatives he tries to get around the block. He flies into rages when he can't communicate.
The Inamorati

-experts in the
art of love and
-argue and make-up
-despair and jealously
-children of other
principal characters
-prolific writers of
-their greatest asset
is their beauty so
they wear no mask
-dress in the
latest fashion

The Masks
A lazzi or lazzo is a physical comedic routine that is well rehearsed and known to the individual actors. These can be thrown into the plot at any moment in any scenario.
Il Vecchio
Major Zanni
Childlike,clown, simple but not stupid. For him, everything is a game. He acts without thinking - there is no future at all! Trickster but a faithful servant. Cat like and jumpy. Harlequin pattern
Smarter of the pair, he is not above evil tasks. A hungry rascal and a thief when he needs to be. White and green.
The smartest of them all, she is witty, wise and in the end always gets what she wants. Saucy and not afraid of anyone or anything.
The word lazzi comes to us from the Tuscan word "lacci" meaning
, because the tricks were suppose to have "tied" the story together, or
as in superfulous but decorative additions. (Rudlin, Commedia dell' Art, Routledge, 1994)
Lazzi's interrupt the action, occur, then return to their starting point, from which the action of the story continues as if nothing happened.
The actors and action being interrupted must allow for the cfocus to change but be ready to take it back when the lazzi is finished.
Stolen Silverware Lazzo:
A zanni stands still while an entire banquet's worth of stolen silverware falls from his clothing, where he's hidden them. The last item that falls out is a coffeepot or centerpiece. This is best done at a time in the play when the zanni is swearing to his honesty or innocence.
Rising Dagger Lazzo:
Hearing about the physical perfections of a certain woman, Pantalone's (or the Captain's) dagger begins to rise between his legs.
Wine Lazzo:
Zanni serves wine at a dinner, but keeps drinking it all himself before/between filling the cups of the guests. He feigns shock at the empty bottle, apologizes and runs off to get more wine.

The characters of Commedia are all based on common literary or social stereotypes of the time period. Their personality, manners of speech, physicality, and other characteristics are related to archetypes but much more narrowly defined. Though hundreds of actors were portraying the same character across Europe, their movements, speech, and actions were virtually the same, as were the masks that they wore.
Masks were worn in the Carnivals in Italy and Commedia masks derived from these. They are half masks, traditionally made out of leather and were brown or black. The first known Commedia mask workshop was in Modena in the middle of the 16th C.
Same character, same mask?
The mask expressions were taken from real life and imitated the common emptions: joy, grief, fear, anger, surprise, love and laughter.
Who is this?
The Commoner
In part because troupes traveled far and wide, performing in all parts of the country (where various dialects were spoken) and outsdie of Italy as well, the action was very physical and involved much gesture and mime.
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