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Commedia dell'Arte

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Commedia dell'Arte Commedia dell'Arte, Italian for "comedy of art", was an Italian theatrical form that flourished throughout Europe from the 16th through the 18th century. Outside Italy, the form had its greatest success in France, where it became the Comedie-Italienne. In England, elements from it were naturalised in the halequinade in pantomime and in the Punch-and-Judy show, a puppet play involving the commedia dell'arte character Punch. The commedia dell'arte was a form of popular theatre that emphasised ensemble acting; its improvisations were set in a firm framework of masks and stock situations, and its plot were frequently borrowed from the classical literary tradition of the commedia erudite, or literary drama. Professional players who specialised in one role developed an unmatched comic acting technique, which contributed to the popularity of the itinerant commedia troupes that travelled throughout Europe. Many attempts have been made to find the form's origins from the classical Atellan play to the commedia dell'arte's emergence in 16th century Italy. Though merely speculative, these conjectures a revealed the existence of rustic regional dialect farces in Italy during the middle Ages. ...read more.


The Italian players were also popular in England and Bavaria. Each commedia dell'arte company had a stock of scenarios, commonplace books of soliloquies and witty exchanges and about a dozen actors. Through there was some doubling of masks most players created their own masks or developed ones already established/ this helped to keep a traditional continuity while allowing diversity. Thus, though many players are individually associated with parts - the elder Andreini is said to have created the Capitano and Tiberio Fiorillo is said to have done the same of Scaramuccia (the French Scaramouche - Capitano). "The actors had to find the proper words to make the tears flow or the laughter ring; they had to catch the sallies of their fellow-actors on the wing, and return them with prompt repartee. The dialogue must go like a merry game of ball or spirited sword-play, with ease and without a pause." A typical scenario involved a young couple's love being thwarted by their parents. The scenario used symmetrical pairs of stock characters: two elderly men; two lovers; two zanni; a maidservant; a soldier; and extras. ...read more.


As time went on, the actors stopped altering characters, so that the roles became frozen and no longer reflected the conditions of real life, thus losing an important comic element. The last traces of commedia entered into pantomime as introduced in England. It was taken from England to Copenhagen, where, at the Tivoli Gardens it still survives. Revivals, notably in the 1960s by a Neapolitan troupe and by students and repertory players in Bristol and London, however carefully their masks copied contemporary illustrations, however witty their improvisations, could only approximate what commedia dell'arte must have been. A more important, if less obvious, legacy of the commedia dell'arte is its influence on other dramatic forms. Visiting commedia dell'arte troupes inspired national comedic drama in Germany, Eastern Europe, and Spain. Other national dramatic forms absorbed the comic routines and plot devices of commedia. Moliere, who worked with Italian troupes in France, and Ben Jonson and William Shakespeare in England incorporated characters and devices from the commedia dell'arte in their written works. European puppet shows, the English harlequinade, French pantomime and the cinematic slapstick of Charlie Chaplin all recall the glorious comic form that once prevailed as Commedia dell'Arte. ...read more.

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