Commedia dell’arte Conventions
Commedia dell’arte, a form of rehearsed improvised comedy, is a popular component of drama education programs at high schools and universities partly because it has clear acting techniques, simple staging and hilarious plot lines.
– Commedia dell’arte English translation: comedy of the artists (or professionals).
– Pronunciation: co-MAY-dee-ah del AR-tay.
– Formal performances began in Italy in the mid-1500s, soon spreading to France and Spain (where they were very popular) and other parts of Europe.
– Eventually died out about two hundred years later in the mid-1700s.
– Most popular period was 1550 to 1650.
– Some scholars argue the Commedia can be traced back to the Atellan farces of Roman times.
– Most notable for its mix of masked and unmasked characters, plus the fact that women were acting on the Commedia stage well before they were allowed to act in England (Charles II, Restoration, 1660).
With few exceptions, all characters of the Commedia dell’arte belonged to one of three categories: masters, lovers, and servants.
– Masters: adults, landowners, merchants, businessmen etc.
– Most popular masters were Pantalone, Dottore, Capitano.
– Lovers: young attractive ladies, handsome effeminate men.
– Servants (zanni, pl.): typically young, most often male, witty (sometimes stupid), physical.
– Most popular and recognisable servant was Arlecchino (Harlequin).
All characters were:
– “stock” qualities (conventional, repeated, anticipated, unchanged)
– Commedia characters did not develop or learn from previous mistakes.
– All Commedia characters are referred to as “masks”, meaning “character type”, which includes the actual mask (if worn).
– As a general rule, characters who were lovers were unmasked.
– Even unmasked characters were referred to as “masks”.
– Male master and servant characters were masked.
Plot and Structure
– Scripts consisted only of scene descriptions, known as scenarios.
– Dialogue, while rehearsed, was improvised and could differ from one performance to another.
– Plots were often risque and bawdy.
– About 800 Commedia scenarios survive today.
– Initially, performances occurred outdoors: in the streets, at marketplaces and at fairs.
– Performances moved indoors when public theatres began to be built in 1700
– Often very fast dialogue.
– Physical comedy (precursor to modern physical theatre style).
– Adequate projection is essential, due to outdoor performances and surrounding noise.
– Comedic qualities such as singing, dancing, acrobatics, tumbling etc.
– Slapstick is an essential ingredient, particularly for servant characters.
– Exaggerated gestures, arm and leg movements.
– Fast-paced action.
– Exemplary comic timing.
– Many individual characters have specific acting techniques unique to their character.
– Normally consisted of twelve performers.
– Run by themselves, with a head actor/company manager (Capocomico)
– Actors were full-time professionals.
– Actors normally played the same Commedia character for their entire career.
– Most prominent was the Gelosi troupe (1570-1604).
Commedia dell’arte Character Names
Commedia dell’arte Characters Gallery
Brockett, Oscar, The Essential Theatre.
Brockett, Oscar, The History of the Theatre.
Brockett, Oscar, The Theatre: An Introduction.
Crawford, Jerry, Acting: in Person and In Style.
Rudlin, John., Commedia dell’Arte: An Actor’s Handbook.
The 3 knocks means that it is the end of the act and there will be an intermision while the characters rest for the next scene.
What do the 3 knocks before performance mean?
I think this website is really good due to year 10 drama is hard and seeming ive got one year till my GCSE and I really think this website is really good and clever to use, but I think this website would be really good for all subjects but different titles, really good for drama, since I have started drama it has helped loads!
– Pronunciation: co-MAY-dee-ah del AR-tay.
Actually, it’s Italian, so it would be Com-MEH-dee-a del-LAHRT-eh. The way you said it is the way someone ignorant of the pronounciation would attempt to pronounce it.
Ps: I’ve trained in it when I was fourteen and live in a town with a lot of Italians and am half it myself.
Have a nice day! 🙂
Does this decsribe the time of Othello
Really good type of drama cuz
I’m currently writing my final paper for Development of Drama I class at Wayne State University in Detroit, and this article has covered nearly everything that My professor lectured about in class. Well done article, the only thing I would add is the distinctions between characters. There is Pantalone, Harlequin, Columbina, Datore, Capiotano, Zanni and others that transfer between plays, even as their names change.
Hello–is there access to any video or websites that offer students the commedia character movement for study? Some of my students have to submit a demonstration and I am not trained in this art form.
Thank you for all you do!
Cindy, Commedia dell’arte websites with useful educational information tend to be those belonging to specialist troupes and are few and far between. Try Google for this. Otherwise this post has a bunch of useful short videos on Commedia in practice, including movement. If you are willing to spend a bit of money, then try Art Films and their Commedia DVDs. Alternatively, try Commedia movement videos on YouTube.