Commedia dell’Arte: 60 Interesting Resources for Students and Teachers

Commedia dell’Arte (“comedy of the profession”) was a largely improvised form of drama that began in Italy in the mid-1500s. Performed mostly by small acting troupes of twelve or fewer, Commedia plays consisted of a set of stock characters who fell into one of three categories: masters, lovers, and servants. Unique to the form was the absence of playwrights, the same characters appearing in different plays, and professional actors performing one character their entire career. Also of note were women acting on the European stage for the first time, while some characters were masked and others were not. After eventually spreading to most of Europe, the popularity of Commedia waned in the latter half of the 18th century. – Justin Cash


Historical Overview of the Commedia dell’Arte

A valuable overview of the various conventions employed in the Commedia dell’Arte including the characters, physical masks, plot and structure, performance spaces, and acting techniques.

Wikipedia entry on Commedia dell’arte including information about its origins, performing troupes, characters, and costumes. Includes the possible connection between Commedia and the Roman comedies known as Atellan farces.

Pee Jokes, the Italian Renaissance, Commedia Dell'Arte: Crash Course Theater #12

Encyclopedia Britannica entry focusing on the form’s origins, development and character types.

A helpful history of the Commedia dell’Arte outlining several key characteristics of the form.

Article on the history of the Commedia dell’arte from the Met Museum in New York, accompanied by relevant images of artefacts and paintings from their collection.

Regardless of its origin, the (commedia) troupes came into prominence after 1550. The first clear reference to improvisation is found in 1568; soon afterwards commedia dell’arte troupes were popular throughout Italy, and before the end of the century were playing in France and elsewhere. In the seventeenth century the commedia spread to all of Europe. It declined after 1750 and was virtually dead by 1800.
– Oscar G. Brockett, The Theatre: An Introduction

Great overview of Commedia dell’arte covering influence, props, improvisation, physical theatre, stock characters, costumes, masks and music used.

A brief outline of the main features of the Commedia dell’Arte.

Commedia dell'Arte: A Historical Overview

Commedia dell’Arte Conventions

Description of the various acting and staging techniques belonging to this form…

A quick look at some of the common techniques used in Commedia dell’Arte.

This interesting article compares the similar conventions used in both puppet theatre and the Commedia dell’Arte over the centuries.

Commedia dell’Arte Training

Professional players who specialized in one role developed an unmatched comic acting technique, which contributed to the popularity of the itinerant commedia troupes that travelled throughout Europe. Despite contemporary depictions of scenarios and masks and descriptions of particular presentations, impressions today of what the commedia dell’arte was like are secondhand. The art is a lost one, its mood and style irrecoverable.
Encyclopedia Britannica

Commedia dell’Arte Characters

An overview of various aspects including a brief description of twelve familiar Commedia dell’Arte stock characters.

List of qualities describing several of the main Commedia characters.

Outline of different features of the Commedia dell’Arte and its characters, suitable for younger students.

Detailed notes on various aspects of the Commedia dell’Arte, particularly the qualities of notable characters.

In Commedia, ‘Mask’ refers to character type and is inclusive of each individual mask. Thus the Lovers are still ‘Masks’ even though they do not wear actual masks..
– John Rudlin, Commedia dell’Arte: An Actor’s Handbook

A handy set of instructions for teachers and students on how to approach the creation of a Commedia character from scratch.

Essay on the origins of the Commedia dell’Arte and its stock characters from the Met Museum, accompanied by items in their collection on this form.

Historical gallery of about fifty Commedia dell’Arte characters in full costume.

A thorough background to eight key characters in the world of Commedia: Zanni, Pantalone, Il Dottore, Arlecchino, Pulcinella, Columbina, Il Capitano, and Brighella.

A comprehensive reference list of various male and female Commedia dell’Arte characters’ names used throughout history, both male and female, divided into categories. This list includes over 200 servant names.

A handy set of descriptions for a few dozen Comedia dell’Arte stock characters, including lesser-known masks such as Coviello, Geronte, La Ruffiana, and Tartaglia.

Commedia dell’Arte Masks

A comprehensive collection of Commedia dell’Arte masks with a modern twist.

Collection of high-impact plastic Commedia masks.

Article from Wikipedia on the purpose and construction of Commedia dell’Arte masks.

Commedia dell’Arte Glossary

Commedia dell’Arte Glossary

by Justin Cash


Commedia dell’Arte

The title name for this improvised comic drama is usually translated as “comedy of the art/artists” or “comedy of the profession/professionals”.

Grommelot / Gromalot / Grammelot

A form of invented language or babble-speak used for comic effect by some Commedia characters. Grommelot differs from standard gibberish in that it is context-specific to the Commedia scenario, whereas gibberish is considered entirely nonsensical.

Improvisation

Non-scripted drama recalled via the memorisation of repeated moves and spoken text in rehearsal. Traditional scripts do not exist in the Commedia dell’Arte but instead scenarios (see below), or plot outlines. Spontaneous improvisation involves drama created instantly for the spectator.

Innomaroti

The collective noun for the lovers’ category of characters.

Innomarota (feminine)

The female lover characters in the Commedia dell’Arte.

Innamorato (masculine)

The male lover characters in the Commedia dell’Arte.

Lazzi (plural)

Plural of lazzo. See below.

Lazzo (singular)

A visual gag, prank, or moment of comic business that served as a brief interlude between regular scenes, aimed at keeping the audience entertained. Often highly physical and rarely relating to the scenario, itself.

Mask

1. A physical object, placed on the face of master and servant characters. Usually made of hardened leather with exaggerated features.

2. Another word for “character type” in the Commedia dell’Arte.

Prima donna

In the world of Commedia dell’Arte, the prima donna was the most beautiful woman of them all, usually Isabella.

Scenario

The outline for a Commedia plot, or scenes.

Satire

The deliberate act of ridiculing or mocking people and events, often with exaggeration. Satire is commonly linked with comedy and frequently used in Commedia dell’Arte scenarios.

Servetta (singular)

A female character who belonged to the servant category. A handmaid.

Servette (plural)

Plural of servetta, above.

Slapstick

An absurd and usually physical form of humour. The term originates from a wooden paddle used to whack another character, making a loud noise (hence the slapping of two sticks – slapstick), believed to be employed in the Commedia dell’Arte.

Stock Characters

The characters in the Commedia dell’Arte represent a fixed and known quantity, or stereotype, and are easily recognised time and again by the audience. Examples include the miserly old man, the hungry servant, the well-to-do maiden, etc.

Troupe

A company of (Commedia dell’Arte) actors.

Vecchi

The collective noun for the master category of characters in the Commedia dell’Arte.

Vecchio (masculine)

Master characters, typically old men, such as Pantalone and Il Dottore.

Vecchia (feminine)

Female characters who belonged to the master category.

Zanni

zanni with a lowercase z is the collective noun for all servant characters, most of whom were very poor. Zanni with an upper case Z is the individual name of a character belonging to this category.

Commedia dell’Arte Costumes and Make-Up

A quick description of nearly twenty of the character’s costumes is helpful for any Drama class studying or performing this form.

A description of the type of make-up typically worn by the unmasked male and female lovers in casts.

commedia dell'arte zanni

Commedia dell’Arte Scenarios and Play Scripts

Six different play-length Commedia dell’Arte scenarios. Excellent for students who wish to interpret scene descriptions and create plays via improvisation.

The best collection of free Commedia dell’Arte play scripts on the Internet – eleven scripts in all. Suitable for students or troupes who wish to have a pre-written Commedia script to interpret.

Fifteen different Commedia dell’Arte scenarios, now archived.

The Red Hat, a Commedia dell’Arte scenario.

Explanations for two Commedia scenarios to be used in the Drama classroom.

The Dentist, a full Commedia dell’Arte play script.

Commedia dell’Arte Classroom Activities

Useful teacher resource pack containing a number of Commedia activities and improvisations suitable for high school students.

Series of Commedia student activities and exercises for the Drama classroom.

Excellent study guide to a Yale Repertory production of The Servant of Two Masters with many useful Commedia dell’Arte facts.

This Commedia study guide for students includes a historical timeline, character descriptions, character images, lazzi, and the link between Commedia and modern comedy.

Student guide on how to create a Commedia dell’Arte character in the Drama classroom.

National Theatre learning guide for the play one man, Two Guvnors.

Academic article discussing various methods of constructing Commedia masks including papier-mâché and plaster cast, plus using materials such as leather and fabric.

Guide to various aspects of Commedia dell’Arte including extensive character descriptions, scenarios and lazzi.

Study guide relating to a particular Commedia performance also includes student activities, how to make a Commedia paper mask, several descritpions of lazzi, and character descriptions.

A handy overview of various aspects of Commedia dell’Arte including a number of quick scenarios suitable for the classroom.

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