Commedia Dell' Arte

Commedia Dell' Arte means "Comedy of art" or "Comedy of the profession", but is also known as "Italian Comedy". Commedia Dell' Arte was the main type of theater in Italy for about four hundred years, from about the fourteenth century to about the eighteenth century. Commedia became well known mainly during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The performances are comedy based and were known for the performers acrobatic skills. The performerd were professionals who were usually very skilled in acrobatic abilities, and were able to perform physical scenes. The performers grabbed the audiences attention by showing their characters emotions such as; overly dramatic, happy, depressed, and angry, by their body language.

Commedia Characters
  • Arlechinno- Unintelligent servant who usually resolves the conflict. He is a very physical character who wears very colorful costumes.
  • Pantalone- Usually is the old man, or father figure, who is very paranoid about his money. His money is in a pouch that sits in front of him so he is able to watch it at all times.
  • Capitano- He is a Spanish captain who seems to be very powerful and strong, but in reality he is a coward and is afraid of everything.
  • The Lovers- These characters are usually what the conflict of the play is about. They usually can't be with eachother but desperately want to be. Their emotions are very drastic. They are usually extremely happy or extremely depressed.

Commedia Characters, Pantalone, Arlechinno, Capitano
Commedia Characters, Pantalone, Arlechinno, Capitano

Masks and Costumes

Masks were used in Commedia Dell' Arte to add to the effect of the performers improvisations and physical attributes for the performance. The masks are used to project the actors emotions and feelings. Each character wears a different mask that would show the characters personality. Since there was no permanent stage the masks and costumes would be what the actors would perform around. The costumes were also unique to how the characters are. Arlechinno would have a very colorful outfit. Capitano would look like a captain, maybe accent the idea that he is a foreigner. Pantalone wore more wealthy clothing, which the lovers wore too. They would preoject the wealthy people during this time.

Commedia Dell' Arte masks
Commedia Dell' Arte masks


Lazzi were used in Commedia a lot throughout the performances. They are humorous additions to a scene that usually don't have much to do with that scene, just mainly to add humour to the scene. There are many different types of Lazzi that can be added to a play. An example of a Lazzi is the ladder lazzi. There can be someone falling off a ladder, or someone knocks over the ladder while another person is at the top of the ladder.
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Improvisation is usued in Commedia Dell' Arte with each actor, because there is no script. The main idea for each character is to improvise comedy around a pre-existing scenario. Even though the performers are improvising, Commedia Dell' Arte is a very disciplined art which requires virtuosity and a sense of ensamble playing. The actors perform around what echother do and say. They can also act around the audience's reaction to the performance. Masks and costumes helped with the improvisation, because they were able to give more drastic emotion and feeling for the audience to see.

Famous Adaptation

The Imaginary Invalid was one adaptation to a Commedia Dell' Arte piece. This play used the stock characters that are seen in Commedia plays such as; Pantalone, The Lovers, and Brigella. The plot of this play was similar to many Commedia Dell' Arte plays, that there is a daughter with an overbearing father (Pantalone) who won't let her be with the man that she wants to be with. The Imaginary Invalid portrays Pantalone in the same way that he would be portrayed in Commedia plays. He is very worried about his money and how much is beig spent. In this play his money is being spent on all of his doctors visits and enamas that he is constantly using. His way of savng money is by trying to marry off his daughter to the doctor's son, this way all of his money will be saved and he will be able to get what he wants.


Commedia Dell' Arte, Part 1. Theatrical Buffoonery Through 500 years
The Commedia Dell' Arte A Short History of the Drama
Commedia Dell' Arte
Commedia Dell' Arte Theater Database