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Commedia dell’arte. Background. Commedia was a designation given to professional comedy troupes to separate their work from that of amateur performances given at the courts and academies.

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Commedia dell’arte

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    1. Commedia dell’arte

    2. Background • Commedia was a designation given to professional comedy troupes to separate their work from that of amateur performances given at the courts and academies. • Commedia is first referenced in the mid-16th century, although the exact origin is debated. • General consensus is that it arose from the tradition of farce that became prevalent in the middle ages, but whether it tied back to Roman farce or some other form is not clear. • The tradition reached it’s height by 1650 and began to decline after that. • By 1775, commedia dell’arte was no longer a common theatrical form and troupes had mostly disbanded or changed styles.

    3. Commedia structure • Commedia de’ll arte is principally a performance of improvisation with several stock characters. • There were basic plot outlines the actors agreed to beforehand, and would then improvise their dialogue and action. • Each actor always played the same character, which had specific physical and personality attributes, as well as a recognizable costume. • There were specific comic bits called lazzi (lazzo for singular) that were incoporated in each production. • Troupes would keep notes of lines or lazzi that worked best and pass the traditions on to new troupe members. • Plays included comedies, melodramas, romances, and the occasional drama. • The comedies about love and intrigue were the most popular by far.

    4. Stock characters • While each troupe used the same stock characters, they gave them different names to keep their individuality. • The unmasked roles were those of the young lovers, and possibly an older man who tries to come between them. • The masked roles were the masters and servants who were all exaggerated in some form.

    5. Stock characters-unmasked • The young lovers were “normal” • They were always attractive and fashionably dressed. • They could be either witty and educated or naïve and ignorant. • Troupes generally had two pairs of lovers so that the differences between the types could be emphasized.

    6. Stock characters-masked • The first category of masked characters were the Masters. • Capitano is a braggart and coward who gets discredited at some point. • His costume is brightly colored, a feathered headress, sword, and cape, making him look impressive but not necessarily appealing. • The name of his character is likewise over-the-top, generally longer and more difficult to pronounce, possibly becoming a lazzo in itself.

    7. Stock characters-masked • Pantelone is another “master”. • He is a middle aged or elderly merchant who is fond of proverbs, and tries to act like a young man to court the young women. • His costume includes a tight red vest, red breeches and stockings with a long black coat and brimless hat. • His mask has an exaggerated nose protruding from the face several inches and curved downward to make a hook. • He also generally had a beard.

    8. Stock characters-masked • Dottore is the last “master” character. • He wears academic regalia to signify his great intelligence. • However, he is often tricked because he is gullible. • Dottore and Pantelone are both friends and rivals. • Dottore is always married and very jealous.

    9. Stock characters-masked • There are generally at least two servants, one witty and the other dull. • They provide much of the comedy as they keep the plots moving by either helping or thwarting their masters plans. • Harlequin was the most popular and recognizable servant. • He was both cunning and stupid. • Also an accomplished acrobat who was often in the middle of any physical comedy. • He was dressed like a jester with either patches or a patter of red, blue, and green diamonds.

    10. Stock characters-masked • Truffaldino is closely related to Harlequin in his role of physical comedy and intrigue. • He is often the brunt of the joke or cruel turn of events, rather than the mastermind. • Brighella is a frequent companion of Harlequin. He is cruel and has a cynical wit. • Pulcinello had a varied function and personality. • He could be a servant, inn keeper, or merchant. • He could be foolish or shrewd, a villain or love struck, and either witty or dull.

    11. Troupe Structure • There were generally ten to twelve members with seven or eight men and three to four women. • This included the 2 sets of lovers, a female servant, two male servants, a Capitano, Pantalone, and Dottore. • Each troupe had a leader who took on production responsibilities that would be similar to directing because he or she defined the relationships of the characters, decided on the lazzi to be used, and gathered the props as needed. • Whether or not actual rehearsals took place, the leader was responsible for making sure roles were clear and accurate.

    12. Travel and performance • The troupes mostly traveled to keep a large enough audience and they would split both expenses and profits. • Each new location required granting of permission to perform before they could rent a hall or set up in an open space. • They performed with or without scenery, relying on their presentation to clarify locations and sets as needed. • Commedia dell’arte troupes traveled throughout Europe, although their greatest popularity was in Italy and France.

    13. Assignment • In groups of ten to twelve, you will put together your own Commedia dell’arte performance. • You must have the stock characters: two sets of lovers, at least one master character, and at least one servant. • Choose a basic plot structure and any lazzi you would like to add. • You will have only tomorrow 11/19 to rehearse since these are mostly improvised scenes with a loose plot structure. • You will perform your scenes Wednesday 11/20 and Thursday 11/21. • There will be a QUIZ over this information when we return from Thanksgiving Break.