Commedia Dell’Arte was first formed in the 16th century late Italian Renaissance, with performances held in the market place and street. It flourished even through many significant events of the time including Queen Elizabeth’s ascent to the throne, the opening of the Globe Theatre and the great fire of London. Troupes would set up in a busy, common area, sometimes on a platform to be raised above the audience, and sometimes simply on the cobblestone, making it easier to interact with the audience.
Commedia used no elaborate set, unlike other plays at the time, which were classic, stylish and rigorous. It was only in the early 18th century when it was brought to stage. Commedia troupes performed for all social classes, no one was excluded, nor was anyone particularly catered for. Props were used greatly in Commedia Dell’Arte, common items including animals, furniture, food, watering devices and weapons. Costumes were larger than life and represented the characters excellently – so much so that audiences could easily define a character, simply by their costume and mask.Order now
The costumes varied from loose to tight fitting garments and contrasted with the color of the characters mask. Their costumes would often reflect the characters social status, emotional state and motives. Commedia actors would train only to perform one character, and usually from an early age. The actors would often be from father to son, a parent teaching their child of only his character, and the child would train to be the same character as his father. The performances were mostly improvised and comedy-based.
Influenced by the audience, some characters, would always attempt to make the audience laugh, not overly dissimilar to clowns. Other characters would bring comedy to the performance simply in their seriousness, in such a contrast to the clown characters; the serious characters would make the audience laugh through their motives, whilst clown characters would make the audience laugh through their misfortune. These clown characters included lazzi, who had no other purpose than comic relief.
The lazzi’s movements were extremely exaggerated and often had a catchphrase; some troops used over one hundred lazzi’s over the course of their work. There were many different types of lazzi including acrobatic, violent, language, food, prop, sex, class rebellion, stage, stupidity, life, transformation, trickery and plot development. Stock characters were well-developed, easily recognisable characters; they were present in almost every Commedia performance and remained the same consistently from troupe to troupe.
The stock characters were masked, and had extravagant costumes reflecting the character. Zanni were the servants in Commedia, serving the masters who were stock characters, they also served mostly as comic relief and the audience would laugh and their misfortunes. The zanni were treated poorly by their masters, providing the audience with someone to feel sorry for, but still laugh at, and perhaps if the actor was good, the audience would feel guilty for laughing.
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Commedia Dell’arte. (n.d.). Retrieved February 28, 2015, from http://www.slideshare.net/guestf6faaf9c/commedia-dellarte
Commedia Stock Characters. (n.d.). Retrieved February 28, 2015, from http://shane-arts.com/commedia-stock-characters.htm
Commedia Stock Characters Arlechinno. (n.d.). Retrieved February 28, 2015, from http://shane-arts.com/Commedia-Arlechinno.htm
IntoTheMask Theatre. (n.d.). Retrieved February 28, 2015, from http://intothemask.com.au/commedia-dellarte
Lazzi – La Commedia dell’Arte. (n.d.). Retrieved February 28, 2015, from https://sites.google.com/site/italiancommedia/lazzi