Commedia Dell'arte



  • Serves as an exaggerated mirror of society - a social comedy and commentary on a rigid social hierarchy 
  • Use of babble speak and physicality nessacery because many regions of Italy (not yet a unified country)  spoke different dialects and a travelling troupe would need to be understood everywhere 
  • One of the first time women were performed onstage
  • Originally Commedia from 1600's Venice 
  • They where improvised plays from a pre-set structure, frequently use to advertise to sell quack medicines 
  • Carlo Goldoni wrote the current version of Servant om 1753, our version was adapted into the English by Lee Hall 
  • Commedia is made up of stock characters who each represent a strata of society 
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Stock Characters - Masters

Il' Dottore - The Doctor - Dr Lombradi

  • Pretesiouness and borrowed words
  • Leads with his belly 
  • From Bologna, home of Italy's oldest Uni
  • Black academic gown 
  • Cheeks not covered by mask, often rouged to show a fondness for drink 
  • Originally spoke 'minestrone' a mix of bolognese dialect, Italian and Latin

Magnifico - The King

  • Makes small movements, is in control 
  • Highest status 
  • Other characters circle around him 
  • If Magnifico dies another character takes his mask at once 
  • Is occasionally unreasonable/ tyrannical 
  • Has a mask like an eagle always looking down on people 

Pantalone - Pantalone - Pantaloon 

  • Miserly and financially tight old man 
  • Wears red breeches 
  • Dark brown mask with a hooked nose 
  • Stooped and bent forward protecting the money bag around his waist 
  • Originally lecherous, but Goldoni tuned this down a tad in Servant 
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Stock Characters - Servants

Zanni - servant 

  • 'dispossed immigrant worker' a good-natured and innocent peasant looking for city work 
  • Moved from Bergamo 
  • The longer a Zanni's nose the stupider he is 
  • Posture - elbows bent, arms half lifted nose leading 
  • Dynamic exaggerated gestures 
  • Traditionally Commedia has two Zanni, a clever one and a stupid one
  • Always hungry 

Briga (trouble) - Brighella 

  • Front of house, highest of servents 
  • Olive half-mask showing lust and greed
  • Goldoni made him a more admirable character, a respectable innkeeper who worked his way up. Originally he was occasionally malicious and cynical, and cruel to those below him in status 
  • Womensiang middle-man and a jack of all trades 
  • Will do anything to advance his career 
  • Is sentimental confident of the young lovers 

Arlechino - Harlequin - Truffuldino 

  • Wears colourful clothing, is intensely acrobatics and likes disguise 
  • Cape decorated with feathers or foxes rails, a sign the wearer was the **** of some ridicule 
  • Used a Balochi (slapstick) which he never puts down 
  • Cocky but no self-awareness, lives in the moment 
  • Talks all at once or is silent 
  • Is a reactive character, responds only to current circumstance and doesn't do forethought 
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Stock Characters - Couples

Gli Innamorati - The Lovers - Clarice and Silvio 

  • Proud, hyperbolic children of aristocrats 
  • There (mis-) communication is facilitated by the Zanni characters 
  • Well educated but naive 
  • Men often wear a military uniform, women have frequent costume change 
  • Grand arm lead gestures and dramatic pauses 
  • Failures in communication between these two create plot, these two are in love with being in love

1st Couple - First actor and first actress - Beatrice and Florindo (are the closest we get) 

  • Traditionally machiavellian couturiers, important and sometimes dangerous 
  • Often speak softly and musically 
  • Their character point is to mock of self-absorption and ridiculousness of the aristocracy 
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Stock Characters - Misc.

Columbina - Sassy servant - Smeraldina 

  • Small apron, no mask 
  • Leads from the hips or chest 
  • Fast efficient and strongly moral servant, who's not afraid to speak up for herself, but is pragmatic as to the limitations of her class and gender 
  • Decisive, pert women-of-the-people, gossipy, originally with a Tuscan dialect 
  • Loyal and ready to help lovers, but self0aware enough to realise how dumb they are 
  • She's a spectator character  
  • Although 'capricious and coquettish' she is good at her job 

Il Capitano - The Captin 

  • A lecherous Spaniard  
  • Satire on the military profession, cheap but flamboyant uniform 
  • Never really has any money
  • One of the first stock characters for Commedia 
  • Ultimate braggadocio but also a complete coward (carries a sword, waves it around, no technical ability) 
  • Spain occupied Italy at one point so they wern't going to be kind to thier Spanish chacter
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