Venezia header: Piazza San Marco - Riva degli Schiavoni


(Commedia Acting Logic)

Can I propose a risky statement? Here it comes!

The Commedia dell’Arte  can be considered a low-level cultural entertainment (if we compare it with the “classic theatre plays”) which we can see quite similar to the modern popular “novelas” so worldwide recognized as “simple entertainment”, entertainment for the masses.

… but unlike the novelas, the Commedia dell’Arte was mostly founded on the improvisation on stage, although some rigid rules applied: the “canovaccio”.

It would quite differ from the Shakespearean theatre of later times, along with all the rest.

Of course this might lead to some strict rules, necessary to do your work and make the public happy:

  • Comedians had to be good actors, in the end, or agreeable and funny enough to hit it with the public.
  • Dialogues had to be as simple as possible, especially having to take in consideration the fact of having to perform in front of a public which would sometimes speak a different language.
    There was not even a defined Italian Language at the time, each Region was speaking its own way.
    From this situation may quite frequently come out a dialogue which is a mix of Florentine, Roman, Venetian, Latin, French and more.
  • Characters had to be recognizable, and not too many! Not much money involved in the company’s earning perspectives.
    These characters would, in the end, more or less impersonate themselves, staying as much as possible in the stereotypes the public demonstrated to like.
    Nothing new, even modern improv theater actors work with these rules in mind.

Simple, traditional, popular plots:

  • Recognizable situations!
  • Man betraying his wife.
  • Rich guy taking advantage of the poor, ignorant, low-class individual.
  • Young guy getting into impossible love stories (usually ending well)
  • Poverty, need of food and of a good future (it really related to their public …)
  • Very poor guy that shows to be smarter than the rich one and wins in the end.
  • Cowardice of who is supposed to be brave and end up to showing he is the exact opposite.
  • Constant put-down of the potentially literate guy, like the Doctor, who would show in the end how clueless he is.
  • Some violence, but not too much, nobody really died on stage, in the end
  • As much foul dialogue as possible, keeping it a little above of what the Church may accept. Since the Roman Church accepted practically NOTHING in those times, the foul dialogue could be stretched to what the public liked, without the guards taking over".
  • Stage setup and structure had to be as simple as possible, for limited transportation possibilities / budget.
  • Somebody who sings or plays a simple instrument or maybe the only female in the company who shows her legs, some boobs or more, to entice the public, mostly men.

Let’s shake all these situations well, and we may have a Commedia dell’Arte cocktail ready!

Pen drawing  by Ambrosius Francken I: Commedia dell'Arte play between 1559-1618 - (17th century)
Ambrosius Francken I:
"Commedia dell'Arte play between 1559-1618"
pen drawing (17th century)

Copyright by Roberto Delpiano 1998-2021 - visit my website