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Commedia Dell'arte

  Commedia dell\'arte (Italian, ‘comedy of the profession’) literally means the acting companies which operated in Italy from the 16th century, improvising plays round stock scenarios and characters (each with its own instantly recognizable mask and costume). The phrase has come to be used of the kind of performances such companies gave. Basically, their stock characters—Buffoon, Pantaloon, Harlequin, Columbine and so on—played out stories of seduction, impersonation and trickery with a wealth of physical, slapstick business which is one of the hallmarks of the style. (This business, the plots and the stock characters are all derived ultimately from the Roman comedies of Plautus and Terence, and from comedy devils and knockabout characters in the medieval carnival tradition.)

Commedia influences can be seen in Pantomime, in the works of Jonson, Shakespeare, Molière and Lope da Vega, and in the theatrical practice of 20th-century anti-naturalists such as Meyerhold. It had its widest 20th-century influence on Italian masters of the 1950s onwards (for example, Dario Fo and Franca Rame), and on the many companies which borrowed or imitated their techniques. It has a history, too, in puppet performances (for example, in the UK, Punch and Judy) and in circus and music-hall clowning from which its traditions travelled (in many cases little changed) into the routines of silent film comedy. TRG KMcL SS

See also comedy.Further reading P.L. Ducharte, The Italian Comedy.



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