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by David Claudon

Beginning during the Renaissance and lasting into the eighteenth century, traveling troupes performed the commedia dell' arte, the Italian comedy. The company's ten or more actors each developed a specific type of character, such as the Captain, two old men (Pantaloon and the Doctor), the Zanni (valet-buffoons). Since all wore masks, their roles were eventually called masks. Along with these comic characters were the lovers. Female parts were originally played by men, but later played by females.
The actors had specific comic business (lazzi) that they developed. Before going on-stage, actors would agree on a basic plot and a general idea of how it should be performed. The improvised performances were never subtle; the humor was often bawdy and coarse.

Starting in Italy, troupes moved into all of Europe, influencing theatre in Spain, Holland, Germany, Austria, England, and especially, France.

A series of engravings from the eighteenth century offer this typical "bare-bones" scenario:

As the curtain rises, Harlequin is ill. The Doctor and his servant try to determine what is wrong. The Doctor, after much enticing, gives Harlequin a shot on his backside with a huge syringe. Harlequin is found to be pregnant and delivers three babies, one of which survives. Harlequin nurses and mothers the baby. He teaches the child to walk. Harlequin complains to the Doctor regarding the problems of rearing a child. The child is whipped by Harlequin. The play ends with Harlequin teaching the child to read. Throughout the play, Harlequin is made fun of by his friends.

Many of the costumes shown are based on drawings published by the artist Callot in 1622.

History
Harlequin & Mezzetino
Pantaloon & The Doctor
The Lover & The Captain
The Inamorata
Commedia dell'Arte Links

 

©David Claudon, 1999-2003.

This page created by C. David Claudon. Last update October 15, 2003 .

[ Home ] [ Rich East ] [ The Cleopatra Costume ] [ Commedia dell'Arte ] [ Cyrano ] [ Dressing for Shakespeare ]
[ The Iliad ][ Decorating Forties Style ]
[ Decorating for a Fifties Christmas ] [ To Kill a Mockingbird ]
[
Who's Who in GLBT History ] [ Miniatures ] [ Paper Dolls ] [ Santa Collection ] [ Clarence ] [ St. Bernardine's Church ]