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An introduction to five Commedia dell’Arte characters By Sian Johnson October 2008
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An introduction to five Commedia dell’Arte characters By Sian Johnson October 2008

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  1. An introduction to five Commedia dell’Arte characters By Sian Johnson October 2008 Theatron 3 - 'The fools' zanni' Exploring Prominent Characteristics of the Commedia dell' Arte

  2. Translated from Italian as “Comedy of Art” • Improvisational form of theatre that originated in Italy in the 15th century • Non naturalistic style of theatre • The form would be a series of short sketches or scenes planned in outline but without scripts and few props • Actors would often communicate directly with the audience through direct address or through asides • Stock characters each with very particular features, roles, costumes , masks and movements • The stage was subdivided into specific areas of action • Performed by established travelling troupes on platform stages outdoors • A range of stock characters, 5 of whom are outlined in the following slides • Click for Here for a podcast from Plushgoolash What is Commedia dell’Arte

  3. Origins: first appeared in the mid 16th century as Gratiano. Doctor is a generic term which doesn’t always mean a medical doctor. • Status: He is a bachelor or widower. He often appears as a lawyer, a judge, or a public notary • Appearance: He is large, fat, dresses in black, and is well groomed; all of which indicates wealth • Props: a white handkerchief • Characteristics: He originates from Bologna universities and claims to be very knowledgeable. and likes to talk about it, a lot! • Plot function: Used to break up the action with extended monologues which are often nonsensical Also Known as : The Doctor; Scarpazon; Forbizone; Balanzone; Baloardo Il Dottore Fig 1: Il Dottor Baloardo - Maurice Sand: (1653)

  4. Mask: covers his forehead and nose only so that his cheeks could be reddened to show the Dottores fondness for rich food and wine • Physicality: He stands with belly out, is relatively static except his arms which he uses to gesticulate. He walks with tiny steps in a figure of eight movement • Relationships: This character is always popular with ordinary people as he provides plenty of opportunities to ridicule the establishment Media clips: Clip 1: Dottore opens the show. Click Here Clip 2: Dottore and Pantelone. Click Here Dottore Fig 3: Dottore mask by Antonio Fava

  5. Origins: From the upper part of the city of Bergamo where people were renowned for being crafty and quick on the uptake • Status: He is one of the Zanni (lower classes and servants) but has high status as the keeper of an inn or shop. He often appears as a recruiting sergeant, a hangman, fortune teller or waiter. He is really a jack of all trades. • Appearance: He dresses in white with green braiding. White represents his ability to do whatever he likes and green for his tricks. • Props: a dagger, purse and mandolin / guitar. Other props are added when needed • Characteristics: He is quick witted, plays intrigue, deceit and making fun. He enjoys a good time but is wicked rather than evil . • Plot function: Used to stir up the action, creating intrigues and secrets Brighella Fig 3 : Brighella - Maurice Sand (1570)

  6. Brighella • Mask: Is dark, tanned not unlike the ‘swarthy’ people of Bergamo. The eyes are large and round with a full nose. Some Brighella masks also have a large bristling moustache • Physicality: He stands with knees bent, belly forward, or with weight on one bent leg, his feet constantly move as if the floor is ‘red hot’ and holds his arms behind his back. He moves with cat like precision and perfect balance. • Relationships: with other characters are always exploitative and he has a cynical relationship with the audience Media clips: Clip 3: Brigella and Zanni. Click Here Clip 4: Brighella and Arlechino. Click Here • Click Here for Podcast 2 from Plushgoolash Fig 4: Brighella mask by Antonio Fava

  7. Origins: A fake Spanish or Italian mercenary with no fixed abode Status: He never belongs the area where the scene is set and so can pretend to have a high status in any scenario Appearance: He dresses in a mock up of a military uniform and which has changed over time to reflect the latest uniforms (see fig 5 and fig 6) Props: Carries a sword which he uses all of the time almost as an extension of himself and as part of his exaggerated mannerisms. Characteristics: He thinks he is strong and brave and an all round good guy but is in fact a coward. He will change sides to suit his purpose and be a danger to himself and his own side when he does fight Also Known as : Giangurglo; Coccodrillo; Fanfarone; Spezzaferro; Spavento Capitano Fig 5: Captain Spavento  (year 1577) Maurice Sand Fig 6: Captain Spezzaferro (year 1668) Maurice Sand

  8. Capitano • Plot function: is always ‘unmasked’ revealed as a coward and transformed from “pride to humility, confidence to panic’ (Rudlin 1994 p 123) • Mask: Has a long and unashamedly phallic nose • Physicality: Stand with feet apart back straight and chest forward. He has two walks. Mountain Walk with large exaggerated steps and a Promenade walk strutting and preening • Relationships: Always addresses the audience so as to draw their admiration but the audience is never fooled Fig 7: Il Capitano mask by Antonio Fava Media clips: Clip 5: Capitano enters! Arnold Sandhause Training Video click Here

  9. The Zanni refers to a group of characters, most of whom have no individual names. Zanni is also a stock character in Commedia Zanni • Origins: He is from the mountains, the collapse of the farming markets following cheaper imports from other countries. he is driven by poverty to find work in the cities. • Status: As an immigrant worker and servant, he is the lowest in status of all of the commedia characters • Appearance: He dresses in white as this is the cheapest attire available as it is stitched together from flour bags • Props: nothing of his own but looks after things belonging to others • Characteristics: Undisciplined and resentful of authority but faithful, not at all self reflective. Moves quickly from one task to another and is eternally hungry. Poverty drives him to eating, or trying to eat, everything and anything that comes his way. Fig 8: Zanni - Maurice Sand

  10. Zanni • Plot function: zanni is used to add confusion to any situation • Mask: Supposed to be chicken like and like other commedia characters, the longer the nose the more stupid the character • Physicality: There are many specific walks Rudlin (1994) mentions as many as 6 different types as well as varying degrees of agility. However Zanni’s movements are always urgent and dynamic as if always in a hurry to the next job. • Relationships: He addresses the audience directly but as a whole rather than picking out individuals Media clips: • Clip 6: Zanni takes a letter for his master. Click Here • Clip 7: La Fame DelloZanni: Dario Fo performs a monologue in which Zanni describes the extent of his hunger so much that he wants to eat himself. Click Here Fig 9: Zanni mask by Antonio Fava

  11. Also Known as : Giangurglo; Coccodrillo; Fanfarone; Metamoros; Spavento Pantalone • Origins: From Venice, the wealthiest and most powerful trading port in Italy with control over trade extending across the Adriatic Sea into North Africa and the Near East. • Status: He is the highest of all characters. With his great wealth, he control s of all of the finance and social order within the Commedia world and commands obedience. • Appearance: He dresses in the ancient Venetian style all in tight fitting red with a black cloak and skull cap. Sometimes with a phallic codpiece. • Props: a large gold medallion and chain with a dagger • Characteristics: Miserly and greedy for money which he thinks can buy everything. He never forgives or forgets a transgression and easily becomes enraged. • Plot function: He tends to halt the action by interfering or trying to control what is happening in some way. Fig 10: Pantalone (year 1550) - Maurice Sand

  12. Pantalone • Mask: A long hooked nose with bushy eyebrows complimented by a long moustache and pointed beard. By contrast to other characters the long nose does not denote stupidity. • Physicality: he has the appearance of an old man stooping forward. He is short, lean and walks in small steps at the same pace everywhere he goes. Speaks in a high pitched chicken like style. • Relationships: He is not aware of the audience and is mean, narrow minded demanding and self indulgent Media clips: • Podcast 3 from PlushGoolash click Here • Clip 8: Pantalone in action. Click Here • Clip 9: Pantalone; from rehearsal into performance . Click Here Fig 11: Pantelone Mask by Antonio Fava

  13. Fig 1: Il DottorBaloardo 1653 by Maurice Sand [online] Available at: [Accessed 2nd July 2009] • Fig 2: Dottoremask by Antonio Fava [online] Available at: [Accessed 2nd July 2009] • Fig 3 : Brighella 1570 by Maurice Sand [online] Available at: [Accessed 2nd July 2009] • Fig 4: Brighellamask by Antonio Fava[online] Available at: [Accessed 10th July 2009] • Fig 5: Captain Spavento 1577 by Maurice Sand [online] Available at: [Accessed 10th July 2009] • Fig 6: Captain Spezzaferro 1668 by Maurice Sand [online] Available at: [Accessed 10th July 2009] • Fig 7: Il Capitano mask by Antonio Fava [online] Available at: [Accessed 10th July 2009] • Fig 8: Zanni undated by Maurice Sand [online] Available at: [Accessed 12th July 2009] • Fig 9: Zanni Mask by Antonio Fava[online] Available at: [Accessed 12th July 2009] • Fig 10: Pantalone 1550 by Maurice Sand [online] Available at: [Accessed 12th July 2009] • Fig 11: Pantelone Mask by Antonio Fava [online] Available at: [Accessed 13th July 2009] Image References

  14. Clip 1:Dottore opens the show. Café Florianiby Livewire Theatre Company. [online] (posted 9 December 2006) Available at: [Accessed 2July 2009] • Clip 2:Dottore and Pantalone. The Servant Of Two Masters. [online] (posted 22 November 2008) Available at: [Accessed 21 July 2009] • Clip 3:Brighella and Zanni. Accademia Commedia dell'Arte Mosca 2008 Zagni Brighella. Piccolo Teatro Milano. [online] (Posted 25 February 2009). Available at [Accessed 21 July 2009] • Clip 4: Brighella and Arlechino. Accademia Commedia dell'Arte Mosca 2008 Brighella Arlechino. Piccolo Teatro Milano. [online] (Posted 24 February 2009) Available at: [Accessed 21 July 2009]. • Clip 5: Capitano enters. Arnold Sandhause training video. [online] (Posted August 2008) Available at: [accessed 21st July 2009] • Clip 6:Lo zanni(G.Mancini)"La commedia dell'arte”. [online] (Posted 14 February 2007) Available at: [Accessed 21 July 2009] • Clip 7:La Fame DelloZanni: by Dario Fo. [online] (Posted 22 March 2007) Available at: [Accessed 22 July 2009] • Clip 8: Pantalone in action. [Online] (Posted 26 May 2009) Available at:,commedia-dell-arte-pantalone-.html [Accessed 22 July 2009] Media Clip References

  15. Delpiano, R. (1998-2007) Italian Comedy Commedia Dell’Arte. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2nd July 2009]. Commedia dell Carte Theatre Company (undated) Commedia dell’Arte Resources [online] Available at [Accessed 16th July 2009] Fava. A., (undated) The official website for the Internationally renowned Commedia dell'Arte practitioner. [online] Available at: [accesssed 16 July 2009] Rudlin. J., (1994). Commedia dell’Arte An Actors Handbook. Routledge. London Lecoq.J., (2000). The Moving Body: Teaching Creative Theatre. Methuen. London. Podcasts Other References/ Bibliography • All podcast are by Luke Tait and Ric Marriott of Plushgoolash and are available via you tube: • Podcast 1: available at accessed 21st July 2009 • Podcast 2: available at • Podcast 3: available at

  16. Contacts • Sian Johnson Theatre Arts • •