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Commedia dell’Arte. An improvised acting form Flourished in Italy and through western Europe from the middle of the sixteenth century to the middle of the eighteen century. A Brief History. Commedia Dell’Arte began in Italy in the 14 th Century.

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Commedia dell’Arte


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    1. Commedia dell’Arte • An improvised acting form • Flourished in Italy and through western Europe from the middle of the sixteenth century to the middle of the eighteen century

    2. A Brief History. • Commedia Dell’Arte began in Italy in the 14th Century. • It was at its most popular between the 16th and 17th Centuries. • The performance was in acts and scenes, and it had a prologue. • The performance was based on a SCENARIO and the scenes were created around that.

    3. Primary Characterisitcs • Stock Characters • Improvisation

    4. Scenario • A brief outline of the dramatic action • From the scenario the actors improvised their dialogue and action

    5. What was in a Scenario? • Love Intrigues, clever tricks to get money or outwit some simpleton. • There were long-lost children stolen by the Turks, plotting maids, bragging captains, aged fathers and wily widows. • Each gentleman had his parasite, each woman her confidante.

    6. Who was in a Scenario? • STOCK CHARACTERS – ‘The Zanni’, ‘The Lovers’, ‘Old Men’, ‘Il Capitano’ and ‘Colombina’. • Each character had their own – • Status • Costume/Mask • Stance • Mask • Relationships

    7. Actors • Relied on their wits and imagination to improvise • Adapted to the various spaces in which they performed • Adapted to the audiences for which they performed

    8. Characters Two general categories: • Straight characters • Exaggerated characters Recognized by: • Costumes • Masks

    9. Straight Characters…The Innamorati (lovers) • The norm… • usually young • dressed in fashion of the times • unmasked • action centered around a problem involving them • often 2 or more pairs in a scenario

    10. The Lovers. • STATUS: High, but are brought low by the hopelessness of the infatuation. • STANCE: Feet in ballet positions. Chest and heart heavy, showing this by having lots of air in their chests. • MOVEMENTS: Exaggerated copying of the ‘real high society’, to show how ridiculous upper class deportment was.

    11. Exaggerated Roles Can be divided into two different types: • The Servants • The Masters

    12. Most Common Master Roles • Pantalone • Il Capitano • Il Dottore

    13. Pantalone A Venetian merchant: rich, greedy and naïve. Old miser of Venice. Chases ladies, driven by lust. Very gullible and taken advantage of by everyone. Large protruding nose. Very agile.

    14. Pantalone – An Old Man. • STATUS: Top of the ‘pecking order’. He has lots of money and he controls all of the finance. • STANCE: Old man’s stoop. Feet are together, toes apart and knees bent. • MOVEMENTS: He can mimic others, but still showing his age. Often falls on his back.

    15. DOTTORE (Doctor) • a smug, know-it-all professor, who really knows nothing.

    16. Il Dottore – An Old Man. • STATUS: Bachelor or Widow. • STANCE: Weight back on heels, belly forward, hands gesturing in front. • MOVEMENTS: Relatively static in front of the audience.

    17. IL CAPITANO: “The Captain,” • a boasting, bragging macho soldier, who • is actually a coward underneath. He usually has a long, absurdly pretentious • Tells tall tales of his victories in battle but easily frightened – shrieks in a high voice if he is surprised.

    18. Il Capitano. • STATUS: A loner. He never comes from where the scenario is set and so he pretends to be higher than he is. Being found out he is not that high ranking is the main part of his story. • STANCE: Feet planted apart in order to occupy maximum space, chest pushed forward, back straight, hips wide. • MOVEMENTS: Authoritative, but if he hears a frightening noise he will drop everything and run.

    19. Zanni…the servants • Most common • most varied • employed by masters or lovers • served to complicate the plot • ranged from stupid to clever

    20. The Zanni. • STATUS: Bottom of the pecking order. They were usually immigrant workers, who moved from place to place. • STANCE: Low centre of gravity, arched back, knees bent and apart and feet splayed. • MOVEMENTS: Exaggerated, head constantly moving.

    21. Most famous zanni • Arlecchino • Brighella • Colombina • Pulcinella • Pedrolino

    22. Arlecchino (Harlequin) • the nimble, acrobatic, tricky servant. • Childlike, sometimes not too bright, but usually wins out in the end.

    23. Arlecchino – A Zanni • STATUS: Servant to Pantalone. Second Zanni in rank. • STANCE: Lowered position. The feet are in fourth, always flat on the floor. Elbows are bent, hands on hips. • MOVEMENTS: When he sees something or someone, the mask moves first.

    24. Columbina • “Little dove.” The wise-cracking maid, usually the • smartest character. Flirtatious and playful, she was usually the servant/ • best-friend/confidante to the leading lady, and sometimes Arlecchino’s • girlfriend (in fact, she was sometimes known as Arlecchina).

    25. Pulcinella • A witty but cruel and dishonest character from Naples. A fat bellied hunchback. Large nose resembles that of a parrot's beak. Carries a stick. • Punch from Punch and Judy is based on this character

    26. BRIGHELLA • His name means something like “Brawler” (“Knuckles” • or “Bruiser” – someone ready for a fight). The tough-guy servant, a good • liar, always out for himself – Arlecchino’s wise-guy older brother. Sometimes • appears as a bartender, innkeeper, or shopkeeper.

    27. Brighella – A Zanni • STATUS:First Zanni – he is the boss of the Zanni’s. • STANCE: Flat feet, in first position, knees slightly bent, belly forward. Elbows up, and shoulders relaxed. • MOVEMENTS: Flexible, can get in to tight spaces.

    28. Commedia Troupe • Professionals who shared the profits • Usually 8-12 actors • A typical company included: 2 vecchi (old men, 2 zanni, 2 innamorati, a Capitano, and 2 support players

    29. Scenarios The scenario provided an outline of: • the principal action of the play • the plot • the complications • the conclusion

    30. Lazzi Even though the primary dialogue was improvised, actors developed a series of set phrases and comic lazzi (routines) which they would use at appropriate times during performances or to keep the audiences attention.

    31. Lazzi – then and now • The Dentist - Pantalone Beats Pedrolino • Willy Coyote & Road Runner • Three Stooges • Stooges Pie Fight • Abbott & Costello Niagra Falls • Tweety and Sylvester“I tawt I tah …”

    32. Conventions of Commedia dell’Arte Conventions are common practices that are accepted and understood by audience and performers • Improvisation • Stereotypical characters • Predictable behavior • Contemporary setting • Episodic structure