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Commedia dell’arte
At the end of The 15th Century when the
urge for religous drama had died out a new
secular drama emerged in Italy. It was an
improvised drama based on stock plots
(scenarii) and stock characters such as
Signor Pantalone or Il Dotore. Most of the
characters were masked. The engine of the
show was the antics of the comic servants,
known as Zanni, who worked comic bits of
business, lazzi, which were physical and
hilarious. Many of the actors had special
skills as musicians, jugglers and acrobats
which they integrated into their characters.
Conventional plot lines drew on themes of
adultery, money, jealousy, old age and love.
The troupe of performers would travel from Town to Town, performing outdoors on
trestles set up in the market square and would seek their fame and fortune either by
patronage or else by passing the hat and receiving
their money from an enthusiastic audience. It is
impossible to underestimate the huge influence
Commedia Dell’Arte has had, not only in ,
also on the history of Western Drama. Commedia was
very popular in France
and each country
adopts elements of this
theatre and adapts it
into it’s culture. Various
characters have
evolved outside Italy,
such as Hanswurst
(Germany), Pierrot
(France), Petrushka
(Russia) and of course
the famous Mr Punch who has become one of the great
English Theatrical traditions in the “Punch and Judy Show”
Karel Dujardin, Commedia dell’arte show (1657) (Louvre)