Let’s put some Commedia in your arte and learn some history!

Elizabeth Cadman Cadman Kasay

Director of Events, MRO

For this week’s Opera WOW, we will look at the operatic term, “ Commedia dell’arte”. Commedia dell’arte was an Italian theatrical style that was based on “stock-characters” and was largely unscripted and was popular in Europe from the 16th to 18th centuries. All Commedia’s featured two old men, two male and female lovers, two observant trickster servants, a captain, and a serving maid. All of these characters represented a certain stereotype of different people during the period. Plots were all driven by various themes of love, jealousy struggles between the youth and old age, as well as other common themes of the time. In addition to the mentioned character archetypes, Commedia dell’arte is characterized by the use of masks, improvisation, and physical comedy.

Though the origin of Commedia dell’arte has not been fully established, there are a variety of elements present in the style that suggest some of its origins. The improvised, masked comedy of Roman Atellan farce can be seen throughout Commedia, due to much improvisation in the art form, as well as the wearing of masks to display emotions. The effect of the Commedia dell’arte influence can be seen in the art of French pantomime, as well as in Harlequinade. However, Commedia dell’arte only lasted through the end of the 18th century due to its impact on other art forms, and the influences that were drawn from it.