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Understanding Historical Context. Commedia Del ‘Arte. Commedia del Arte. Comedy developed in the 16th century in Italy. Modern influence can be seen in troupes such as Monty Python's Flying Circus and Kids in the Hall (Canadian), and even Bugs Bunny.

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commedia del arte
Commedia del Arte
  • Comedy developed in the 16th century in Italy.
  • Modern influence can be seen in troupes such as Monty Python's Flying Circus and Kids in the Hall (Canadian), and even Bugs Bunny.
  • Is based on timing, physical comedy, mask, improvisation and the importance of big, broad characterizations.
  • Stock characters include: Pedrolino, Arlecchino, Gratiano, Pantalone, Isabella, Lelio, Capitano and various villians.

All are standard characters, either "masters", "slaves", "lovers" or "villains".

  • Masters, such as Pantalone, are old, crude, greedy, paranoid and of limited intelligence; Gratiano is usually a miserly lawyer (they are called vecchi).
  • Servants, such as Pedrolino and Arlecchino (Harlequin) are clever, quick and always looking to trick the master (they are called zanni).

3 types of comic characters:

      • the 1st Zany was a male servant who was a clever rogue often plotting against the masters;
      • the 2nd Zany was a stupid male servant caught up in the 1st Zany's plans and ends up a victim of his pranks;
      • the 3rd Zany was a female servant (actually played by a woman!), who would participate in schemes and provide a romantic story among the servants.

Lovers - are in love (called amarosi).

  • Capitano is a blustering Spanish captain who is afraid of his own shadow
clown character
Clown Character
  • First recorded bout 2270 BC in Egypt.
  • Comic spirit of clowning exists in every culture.
  • Ancient craft speaks to that which is human in all of us.
  • Many styles of clown and may know a variety of skills as a performer, such as: juggling, magic, contortion, acrobatics, sory telling, puppetry, tight rope walking, singing and clever dialogue.
  • Known by their ludicrous antics, distinctive costume, and buffoonery.
  • Characterized by broad, graphic humour, absurd situations and vigorous physical action.
different characters
Different Characters

Arlecchino (Harlequin)One of the most popular stock characters. The nimble, acrobatic, trick servant. Sometimes childlike and not too bright but usually wins in the end.Mask: sly, cat-like with short noseCostume: tight-fitting tunic and pants with multi-colored diamond patches


Brighella (Brawler)Arlecchino’s companion or crony. Cruel, driven by lust, cynically witty and does anything for money. Tough guy, a good liar, and a schemer.Mask: hooked nose with moustache and greedy expressionCostume: loose-fitting servant’s uniform, may carry a dagger


PantaloneA wealthy, miserly old man, possibly lecherous. Usually portrayed as a Venetian.Mask: large hooked nose, with bushy eyebrows and a scraggly beardCostume: sometimes tight-fitting red suit and black coat; sometimes baggy red pants


Il Dottore (the Doctor)Smug, know-it-all professor, who usually knew nothing. Either Pantalone’s friend or rival. Often tricked by others.Mask: stubby, pig-like nose, chubby cheeksCostume: black academic robes and graduation cap


Il Capitano (the Captain)Boasting, bragging macho soldier, who is often a coward underneath. Sometimes awkward or embarrassing, an unwanted suitor for young women. Usually has an absurdly long name and shrieks in a high voice when frightened.Mask: long nose, wide eyes and usually exaggerated handlebar moustacheCostume: fancy exaggerated military uniform, plumed hat, sword


PulcinellaEither a servant or a merchant. Mixture of foolishness, villany, wit and dullness. May pretend to be stupid as means of defense.Mask: simple with extremely long, hooked noseCostume: humpback, servant clothing, long hat


ScaramoucheVersatile character, can be clever or stupid. Boastful clown or Robin Hood type figure.Mask: similar to Il Capitano’s, no moustache, sometimes whiteCostume: black


Columbina (Little Dove)Wise-cracking maid, usually the smartest character. Flirtatious and playful, sometimes Arlecchino’s girlfriend or mistress.Mask: small half mask or none at allCostume: low-cut maid’s uniform


Innamorati (Young Lovers)Young, graceful, and attractive, these characters did not wear masks. Slightly vain and not necessarily bright.Masks: noneCostumes: fashionable, contemporary clothing

commedia del arte improve
Commedia Del Arte Improve!
  • Choose your stock character. What is you character’s relationship to the other characters? Does your character have a mask? What does it look like? What clothing does your character wear? What are the characteristics of your character? If playing Il Capitano, what is your name? (ex. Generalissimo Antonio Mateo Terrifico the Third) Dress up like your character!
  • Commedia dell’arteImprov for Two CharactersWhat is the relationship between the characters?complete strangers     friends     ‘frenemies’     waiter and food critic     boss and employee     etc.

Choose the location in which the characters meet…Library     Grocery store     Restaurant     Park     Beach     etc.Choose the conflict…(Play along with your partner, always say ‘yes’. Saying ‘no’ stops the action from progressing.)


One character wants or needs…a job…     to buy something from the other…     to find out a secret…     the food the other character has…     etc.But he or she…laughs at the wrong time…     isn’t wearing glasses and can’t see anything…     keeps calling the other character by the wrong name…     keeps tripping over things…     has unstoppable hiccups…     etc.Ready, Set, Go!