Commedia dell'arte literally means “comedy of the actors.” The term implies a contrast between a popular form of comedic theater that included improvisation, loud, colorful representations, on the one hand, with plays that were based on written texts, classic, stylish, c ommedia dell'arte, continued to be an important form of theater until 1780.
Commedia dell'arte is a truly popular form of theatre - of the people, by the people, for the people. Commedia dell'arte is definitely an artform centred on people and their world. Although its origins are hazy due to the illiteracy of its first performers and audience, it is believed to have stemmed from the carnivals in Italy during the sixteenth century. Here it rose from the people from folk theatre, which used masks and music, and from ...view middle of the document...
Free in the sense it is not codified, but of course it follows very precise rules, and it needs good actors to work. The time of amateur actors who learn by heart the dialogues an repeat them without expression on stage is over. Though improvisation is considered a hallmark of the commedia dell'arte, spectators knew what to expect when they attended a performance. They would see some version of the four major characters, or masks: an innocent but foolish servant, a merchant and the master, a voluble and ignorant doctor, and another servant. These were the main/ stock characters of every Commedia Dell’arte play, but this is the only thing people knew in advance, the rest of the play was improvised by the actors.
The masks were the second key to Commedia Dell’Arte’s success. A face mask was taken from the carnival, where it was a common item. But it is documented from an older era as well, before the comedy dell’arte, from a traditional theater. They were covering the whole face, except lips and chin. Masks were made from a skin that was stretched on a wooden mould, or from a wax millboard . Their colour was usually brown or black. The first masks workroom is mentioned in the middle of the 16th century in Modena; this workroom was supplying the carnival and comedy dell’arte with masks.
Each mask had a certain characteristics, and expression on it. When the actor wore the mask for a play, they had to reflect the mask’s characteristics and act like/ behave like the mask. A mask (type) was represented by one actor and just in exceptional cases he was alternated.
These masks are distinguished by name, a costume, a face mask, a special way of speaking and special mimic stylization and specialities of acting. The basic groups of types in the comedy dell’arte are comic types- old lords and servants, and non-comic types – lovers (plus some other personages subsidiary or random).