Goldoni and the end of an era (Part 4)

It is from this Von-oben-perspective, which we discussed in PART 3 that the bourgeois once again met with the old culture of laughter and vulgar comedy, sometime in the middle of the nineteenth century.  It was naturally still alive and had been so, livening its own life the whole time on the streets with organ grinders, conjurers and buskers; in Punch and Judy, Kasper and Burratino; In vaudevilles, burlesques and music halls, among clowns, minstrels and buffoons far from the saloons of the bourgeois.

Since the upper and middle classes no longer had any intercourse with the lower classes they did not have any connection with their culture of laughter. Instead they started seeing it as something exotic and piquant. It became once again attractive as the middle classes no longer understand it to the full. Not in any way being a part of that culture they see it from outside. Vulgar comedy and popular laughter are therefore no longer considered as dangerous.

At the same time the bourgeois takes the right to judge and criticize vulgar comedy from its own perspective and its own values. They insists that the laughter should be more like their own humor, that it should contain severity (the same severity that hypocritical laughter and vulgar comedy has mocked for so long), that the satire should contain forgiving, glozing parts and so on.

Don’t miss: Part 1, Part 2 or Part 3

See also:
THE FACE – A TOOL TO LIE WITH
CARNIVAL AND THE POPULAR FEAST
KATTORNA (THE CATS)

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Goldoni and the end of an era (Part 2)

When Goldoni did replace the Commedia dell’Arte actor’s improvisations and whims with a ready written text he did not just kill the life in the words that came in the encounter with the audience, ha also changes Commedia dell’Arte into a literary and psychological genre. In that way he could also control the results of his production. What he created was the author’s stories, dialogs and ideas, not the actors.
As it was no longer the mask’s or the actor’s performance and escapades that was driving the plot, but the author’s ready written stories, focus slides from the actor’s to the author’s theatre, in step with that the audiences started to demand more plot in the performance.

Count Carlo Goldoni wanted to use this theatre of the author to delete subjects and traditions from Commedia dell’Arte that he saw as obsolete or “low”, as parts of farce or slapstick comedy.  He also criticized Commedia dell’Arte for being crude and for its burlesque acting style. He wanted to polish the facade to suit a new bourgeois audience. The plots were also moved from the streets and squares into the homes and the private sphere. The result was that he no longer wrote Commedia dell’Arte but bourgeois comedy.

The burgeoning Enlightenment, and its sober intellect and rational thinking, there was no longer any room for Commedia dell’Arte, with its burlesque and its fantasies. No only Goldoni, but persons as  Luigi Riccoboni and Marivaux tries to save Commedia dell’Arte by turning it in to a literary genre with an explicit dramatic structure. At the same time they wanted to delete the crude, trivial and playful acting.

Goldoni had his antagonist in another count, the hunker Carlo Gozzi. He did not want to see any changes or development to Commedia dell’Arte what so ever. He re-reformed the Commedia dell’Arte. He reintroduced the masks and the looser structure in the performance, which beefed up the actors a space in the shows. De comedies he wrote were more prodigious, with much inspiration from fairytales.
He became very successful during a short period in the eighteenth century. Evil tongues even say that his fame was because Goldoni moved to Paris. Gozzi’s plays started a trend in the theatre life of Venice at the time.
As time went by and society changed Goldoni won the battle with his new form of comedy. The scripts and scenarios of Gozzi do mostly live on as libretto to operas such as Turandot by Puccini or The Love for Three Oranges by Prokofiev.

Don’t miss: Part 1, Part 3 or Part 4

See also:
THE OFFICIAL THEATRE
ACTING STYLE IN COMMEDIA DELL’ARTE
SALOME

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Women in Commedia dell’Arte (Part 2)

There are a couple of ways to let women wear masks in Commedia dell’Arte even though it is not conventional. Many of the masks are more or less gender neutral, especially in a modern context, such as Arlecchino or Zanni. They do no longer represent particular male values. They can easily be played by women and be played as feminine without having to be notably reinpreted.

Otherwise are just reinterpretation a way of putting women in the masks of Commedia dell’Arte. A female Pulcinella for instance can lean to more of the classical witch or a child as archetype and still keep the attribute of the mask, such as ugly, vain, aggressive, lazy and egoistic. By toning the down the sexual aspects of Dottore (if there are any to start with) and instead concentrate on the intellectual play with him or her, he (or she) becomes genderless, even in marriage discussions with Pantalone.
Other way is to make female masks out of male ones. To create an Arlecchina out of an Arlecchino is the all-time most common. It has traditions back to the eighteenth century, as we can see from paintings and figurines. But they are usually made from more delicate, dancy and light forms of Arlecchino from France, and do not have the burlesque, crude features from the original Arlecchino.  On stages and in theatre schools today we can see numerous versions of female Brighellas, Tartaglias and Zannis.
At the same time there are masks that are necessarily male as Pantalone or Capitano. Here the fundamentals of the mask’s characters are based on gender. They are male both in their physical appearance as on postures and attributes, and in their character as in their drives and weaknesses. They represents patriarchs (or “the older man” as Bakhtin speaks about) who are destined to be dethroned in the end of the play. (See HERE) As we still don’t live in a matriarchate there is no reason to dethrone “the older woman”.

Others have developed new, gender free masks. They are often nearing to clown traditions. Dell’Arte school in California is a good example where a new mask that can play both as male and female, Stupina or Stupino, has developed from the mask of Coviello, but with a new content.

Personally I don’t see the necessity to play a mask that is using a facemask. It is just as fun and interesting to play a maskless mask, such as an Innamorati or Pedrolino. It is more the style of acting that intrigue me. In a Commedia dell’Arte performance all masks that play in the same style the maskless masks gets all the energy and obsession from the other masks for free. In that way those masks gets to play with their faces in addition to the rest of what mask acting imply.
However we think about it a woman in a mask loses a bit of her femininity or even becomes manlier versus a man who still keeps his masculinity in the mask. This way she loses or decreases an angle of approach to her character.
It may have to do with the rougher face that the mask provides since it is actually bigger and thicker than the original face. On the other hand many female masks played by male actors’ works very well.

Continued from PART 1

See also:
THE ORIGINS OF THE MASK
THE FACE – A TOOL TO LIE WITH
ALLTING PÅ….! (EVERYTHING ON…!)

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Women in Commedia dell’Arte (Part 1)

We have to start with admitting that Commedia dell’Arte was a very masculine form of theatre, at least if we see it from today’s perspective. It sprung out in a time when women, in the greater parts of Italy, just had got their right, from the Vatican, to act from a stage. This was still forbidden in the rest of Europe.  Commedia dell’Arte was born in a male society and that was naturally reflected in its contains both in how the performance was built and the characters of the masks.
Still we must remember that Commedia dell’Arte was an extremely equal form of theatre both artistically and social for its time. That was not only because that women were actually allowed acting on stage, but they also had eminent and interesting roles. The Innamorata is one of two “heroes” who must end happily. Also the Servetta was allowed to fleece and outsmart the patriarchs by being shifty and cunning.
Europe’s first stars in theatre were women, like Vittoria Piissimi and Diana Ponti and off course Isabella Andreini. They were (as mentioned HERE) not just great brilliant actresses, but also highly learned and could often function autonomously in their contacts with princes and royalties. Also within the Commedia dell’Arte groups, and here I also count the small less known groups, there was a relative equality, above all since the circumstances from constant touring demanded it.

Traditionally a mask is an exceptionally masculine object. According to Franca Rame, from Tricks of the Trade, traditionally there have never been any women anywhere who wore masks, just as there are no feminine devils in renaissance art. And accordingly as there were women acting in Commedia dell’Arte the roles was unmasked.
The mask in western tradition represents the grotesque, the exaggerated, the abnormal just as the ridiculous or the ludicrous, but also the powers, hypocrisy and oppression. Nothing of this has traditionally been considered feminine qualities.
Just as we don’t want to turn Commedia dell’Arte in to a dead museum-form-of-theatre we don’t want to discourage women from acting in masks today. As society changes into more gender neutral, it allows masks to be worn by both man and women, since much of the gender specifics are no longer relevant.
Another aspect is that most of us that work with Commedia dell’Arte want to try on and learn all masks and characters. Besides it seems that most theatre students in the western world are women and there are no Commedia dell’Arte masks that are feminine, except a very few modern variants which are very welcome.

Continue to PART 2

See also:
THE ROYAL THEATRE SPEECH (PART 1)
THE MASK AND THE ACTOR
VAR ÄR BOKEN? (WHERE IS THE BOOK?)

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A tribute to life

“It [Commedia dell’Arte] owed everything to the actor, very little to drama or literature. It trained its own players, created its own conditions, travelled with its own costumes and properties, sometimes with portable stage.”
                       
From “The Theatre – a Concise History”, Phyllis Hartnoll  

Commedia dell’Arte is a sort of light hubris, a dizzy, intensive feast, close allied with a hilarious, uninhibited promiscuity; a journey, in a miraculous world, always going to in a new direction, always on the verge to catastrophe.
The happy message in Commedia dell’Arte is always outmost and only the same – life’s victory over death. Therefore is Commedia dell’Arte always close to the catastrophe. Without the immediate threat from the dark forces – that represent death – the authorities, the regulations, and the law and so on, we will not see the antagonism that we need in order to see life finally win. But the catastrophe is no real threat. We know from the start that Arlecchino never will succeed to commit suicide or that Pantalone will never manage to get Columbina in bed. This makes us believe that we, not only are equal with the world, but that we can master it.
When Pantalone gets to know that Flaminia, whom he the play through has tried to get in bed, really is his daughter and that young rival Flavio, who with the aid of Arlecchino have beaten him as much as he have been able to, really is Dottore, his old friend’s son, then we see how Pantalone’s world crumbles. We discover how Pantalone, the audience and everyone else have misinterpreted the world. The old world dies. This is not a reactionary grief over a dead world, but a tribute to the life and new possibilities that opens. (Compare with the expression “to die of laughter”.) The old world must always die to give room for a new, in the same way as the King of Carnival must die to give room for a new age when his function is done. But it is not his personal death. The body of the king dies in order to make room for the people’s body, which fertilizes on that the old and petrified dies.

This obstinate anarchism, that Commedia dell’Arte represent, with all its vitality and energy always resists everything that hamper life in its rampage make us feel how the world constantly reproduce, in spite of all obstacles. It is when the world is static the powers can dominate us. In a constantly mutable world, which naturally are full of risks and uncertainty, laws and prerequisites keeps changing all the time. With laughter as our weapon our imagination is awakened, our critical stance to everything we can laugh at and don’t risk to be snared in fanatics. It is a feeling of openings that pour through our bodies and souls.

“All that was assessed and completed for what that time was concerned, was more or less comical, since it was confined. But laughter was merrily, for every limited determination (and therefore every fulfilment), that was dying and dissolving gave way to new possibilities.”
From “Rabelais and His World”, Mikhail Bakhtin

We, as an audience, get our daily fears engulfed by the creativity and energy that meet us. We become a part of the vitality that we are welcomed to take part in. The mad energy from the masks that helps us sees the world from other angles that are not distorted by the “normal”. Instead we are getting a merry parody of the official, the readymade reality.

Commedia dell’Arte as a theatre form does not take a stand in social or emotional questions, no matter how satirical or emotional it is. With its anarchistic drive it has no intention in any way to change the world or even its hierarchies. There are no loyalties more that its own concerns. Commedia dell’Arte loves the nature with all its signs of life that maintains life, how obscene, brutal or egoistic it may be. It is the pedants, the misers, the hypocrites who are to be flayed, not for their weaknesses but for their life hostile stance. We can only talk about Commedia dell’Arte as a good laughter to the world and a great tribute to life.

To play Commedia dell’Arte is always essentially built on the actor’s lust. Therefore it is always very important that the actors always enjoys being on stage, that they give a hundred present and are ready to lose themselves in the play with the audience. The actors that find their lust in stating social messages or searching in their souls don’t have much to find in Commedia dell’Arte. As a gift from the carnival it is always the merriment that is at the center. Even when a mask is on his way to commit suicide or murder another mask, he does so from an absolute intend; with lust and energy. Naturally there is desperation, grief and anger, but the underlying joy form the actor and the mask to be on stage and give from oneself is still the most important message. Therefore the actor must, in spite of his hard and neurotic life, find a technique to always let in his joy in his acting.

It is also important since Commedia dell’Arte cannot lean against a thrilling or important plot. Commedia dell’Arte is not a literary phenomenon. There are indeed a whole lot of written scenari, texts, lazzi and canovacci and more, but they are either written after having bed’s played or it is the actors own notes. Commedia dell’Arte is and has always been “theatre of the actor” in its real significance. The author that comes to a Commedia dell’Arte group and wants it played as he sees it in his own head has simply come to the wrong place.
In Commedia dell’Arte it is actor that rules and Commedia dell’Arte is not created until in the meeting with its audience. The only thing the actors have to trust is themselves, their technique, their lust and their audience.

See also:
WHAT WE REALLY KNOW ABOUT COMMEDIA DELL’ARTE
THEORIES ABOUT LAUGHTER AND COMEDY
MICKE’S WORKSHOPS AND LECTURES

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Commedia dell’Arte masks design, materials and costume

The masks in Commedia dell’Arte are, unlike Greek, Balinese or Japanese masks for instance, always half masks. They are not bigger than that they cover just the upper part of the face. They are not big enough to manifest themselves as icons, as images of humans, and not so big that they dehumanize them.
They can be clad in fur or hair, to mark eyebrows or different kinds of beards.

On can say that every Commedia dell’Arte mask contain three elements. These elements can serve as a springboard for the actor to continue searching to “finding his mask”:
The Character of the mask – that is its specific face feature, its color, its expression for the basic character traits the mask possessing.
An animal – every mask has its own animal from where it can find its origins, which must have its expression in the design of the mask, the movement and the behavior of the mask.
A devil – He indicates the special forms of devilment ( or cardinal sins) the mask represents.
By working with these elements the mask can at any given moment use the movement of the animal, behave devilish in his own manner or move the plot forward according to its character.

There is still a snobbism when it comes to leather masks, as the only possible masks to use. According to the myth it started already when Teatro Piccolo di Milano started to experiment with Commedia dell’Arte. Rehearsing “Arlecchino – Servitore di due Padroni”, Marcello Moretti first chosed to paint his face black instead of using a papier mâché mask, until he finaly got a leather mask from Amleto Sartori.
I can agree that a leather mask most of the time is a better tool for the actor, but a papier mâché mask is good enough. It can even sometimes be more effective as it has the advantage of being easier to form articulate. Papier mâché makes it easier to mark wrinkles and character traits. It also gives more freedom when painting. It makes it functioning better indoors in electric light. The argument that papier mâché masks hurt or are uncomfortable can be solved with a bit of rubber foam. Neither can we be sure that it was only leather masks used during the renaissance. The chance that a papier mâché mask would have survived to our days is not that big since to was made of a much more vulnerable material. Thinking of how few leather masks there are around today papier, mâché masks can very well have been used even if there are no masks left. If one goes to Venice one can see in any street window papier mâché masks being made from old traditional craftsmanship.
Other materials as birch bark, cloth, rope, leaves etc. we don’t know anything about. There is nothing that points to it, but nothing points the other way either. And there were probably no masks from wood or terracotta, since they would be too heavy to work in.
Most people discard material that doesn’t breathe as plastic materials such as fiberglass, latex, rubber or neoprene. Myself I think most of those materials are underestimated. They are waterproof (read: sweatproof), they are sustainable and they are easy to duplicate and form. The problem is that they don’t follow the actors face in a way that he can feel that that he is part of the mask or the mask is part of him.

We should not go in too much on the subject of mask making here. But a few practical things have to be said about the shaping of the mask. It is about the eyes. It is very important that they are seen and that one can see through the mask.
It is most important when playing indoors. In order to make it possible to get the light inte the eyes is it important to not do the eyebrow too big that they shade the eyes. If one raise the mask, as it is held when it is on ones face, it should be a free angle about 45o from the eye and upwards.
It is equally important that one can see one’s feet to see where one is on the stage, that sometimes aren’t bigger than 5-6 square meters. Therefor the cheeks cannot be too big or cannot be placed right under the eyes.

The costume is also a part of the mask. Every Commedia dell’Arte mask has its own costume. The costume, or at least parts of the costume, is also used to frame the mask.
It is easy to ”loose” the mask if one doesn’t think of what is around it like hats, hair, collars, scarfs and so on. The parts of the costume that is closest to the mask should lift the mask. In that way the whole face becomes a “picture”. For example: can we see how Arlecchino (when using pantyhose on his head) has a bit of cloth round his neck to frame the mask and the lower part of his face.
When we see someone acting in a mask dressed only in an unbuttoned jacket and no headdress it becomes a collision between two worlds, on one hand the mask and its grotesque fantasy world and on the other hand skin and its naked realism.
The costume can likewise be a part in the play. Therefore it is important to rehears in costume as early as possible. Pedrolino’s costume, for instance, has often too long arms. If the actor playing Pedrolino has the chance to, at an early stage, rehears in his costume he will also have the opportunity to invent lots of situations where he can use them and gradually they will play a part in the play. Or just think of Arlecchinos hat that can be used to almost anything, like: drinking water, hide things in, fight with and so on.
Stilts, swords, batocchi and other accessories and props that are hung or fastened to the costume are also part of the costume. They are also parts to bring in early in rehearsals, not only because one can invent ideas with them, but also since they are in the way for the actor who needs to find a way to deal with them.
Many of the male masks have, or had, phalluses on their costumes. That is a heritage from the ancient satyrs in the Dionysus plays. They could vary in size and shape after the characters of the masks, just like in Aristophanes play Thesmophoriazusae, were the old man in his confusion has his phallus hanging out under his tunic and give out a yell every time he sits down on it.

See also:
The origins of mask (Part 1 – The Hunt)
Vulgar Comedy and  the Church (Part 1)
Mask making workshop

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The end of the heydays of Commedia dell’Arte (Part 2)

The other main reason to the decline of Commedia dell’Arte – the degeneration of the actors and art of Commedia dell’Arte – is that Commedia dell’Arte got stuck in its form and became static.
As Commedia dell’Arte became more and more popular more groups got a better life. Many actors and groups got permanent positions in the Italian and other courts, other got their own theatres where they became stars and came in possession of luxury and influence.
Sometimes in the late/middle of the seventeenth century we can see the first tendency to the decadence, at least within the great Commedia dell’Arte groups who are the ones we have most knowledge about.

Tristano Martinelli was the first to use his role also in a private context. He became a sort of court jester in aristocratic and royal circles and he was used, just as the celebrities of today, to give starry luster events and openings. This also gave him a higher position in comparesing with his colleagues. His children had the French king, Henry IV, as godfather and later he followed Louis XIII to Fontainebleau and back.

Others are following in his footsteps. Many of them became more or less included in the aristocracy. For example Pier Maria Cecchini became ennobled in Vienna, and later his son became ennobled in Germany. This way of showing of oneself is also the beginning of the end of the great Commedia dell’Arte groups. The rivalry between and within the groups is increasing as social openings are possible. They are desperately trying to stick to their positions in the social circles they invited to.
The actors work hard to be seen, at any cost. It leads to the weakening of the unity within the groups when star acting and diva behaviors take off. The element of group theatre that was so important disappears. As the groups, in their eagerness to win social status, allow themselves to be an instrument for the principalities or the impresarios they serve, and therefore lose their independence.

Commedia dell’Arte became commercialized. As early as the seventeen century Italy got its first impresarios as the Commedia dell’Arte groups got a bigger market. The very first impresario was Leone de´Sommi from Mantua. He sold Commedia dell’Arte as soon as 1567. But the impresarios did not become influential until the seventeenth century. They first wrote short contracts, but later the contracts could last over several years. The groups and actors became less dependent of their old patrons, but instead they became more dependent on their impresarios.
Even the names of the groups changed in the later half of the seventeenth century. They took names after their leaders as in Giuseppe Bianchi’s group or Fiorelli’s group.

As the actors gain a higher social status they also disassociate themselves from the impulses and inspiration they gotten from the streets. The plot, the jokes, the masks, the notions does not reflect the common man any more. Instead of joking with the people in the streets, the Commedia dell’Arte groups start joking about them instead, since the no longer are taking part of the life in the streets where the people are. (See also The Indian adventures)

Many Commedia dell’Arte groups stopped touring as they began building theatres, and therefore the influence from abroad, the contacts with other Italian towns and the network of Commedia dell’Arte groups that was constructed. We can easily imagen that, then as now, most great ideas start in small poor groups and are exploited by institutions and greater groups that have resources and access to media.

The post started in Part 1 and continues in Part 3

See also:
THE LANGUAGE OF THE MARKETPLACE
A FEW DOGMAS CONCERNING MASK ACTING
MICKE’S COMMEDIA DELL’ARTE-LECTURE

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Commedia dell’Arte – the Name

The term Commedia dell’Arte was not used during the renaissance. It was used for the first time, the way we do today, in the eighteen century by Luigi Riccoboni in his book Histoire du Theatre Italien from 1728. At that time Commedia dell’Arte was about to get decadent and Carlo Goldoni was just about to take the masks of the actors and write scripted comedies for them.
Earlier it was called Commedia Improviso – improvised comedy; Commedia alla Maschera – comedy in mask; Commedia a Soggetto – Comedy an a given subject; Commedia Mercenaria – Commercial Comedy; Commedia Braccia – Comedy off the Top of one’s Head; Commedia degli Zanni – Comedy with Zanni or simply Commedia Italiana. The less fortunate companies that were allot to play in the streets were often talked about as Charaltano shows, by the priests who described them in order to have them forbidden.

The traditional translation of Commedia dell’Arte is comedian to profession, or art. Nicoll Allardyce proposes comedy by skill or that arte would stand for “special dexterity” or “unique talent”. Anyhow the word “arte” should be interpreted as “craft” as in “artisan” rather than as “art” as in “artist”.

According to Dario Fo and Benedetto Croce Commedia dell’Arte is a term that defines the professional companies that had a license by the prince or the authorities to play in a specific town, where the term was actually written on their contract. Everyone needed naturally a permission by the authorities to be allowed to play publicly, and the authorities held strict control when, where, and what was played.

Dario Fo also claims that the word “arte” was, since the Middle Ages, another word for guild or fraternity. The word then was used in transferred sense by Luigi Riccoboni when he created, or named the genre.
In that way the term is more to be regarded as a union or rather a guild, that an artistic phenomenon. Their aim was off course to care for the member’s interests by going together when dealing with the authorities and reduce the competition by excluding companies that were not members. Isn’t that just like, at least the Swedish, actors unions today?

This may have been the first “fringe” theatre groups in Europe. In any case it is the first time in history that actors are enforced, or had the possibility, to negotiate contracts and at the same time become entrepreneurs. Mobility, virtuosity and swiftness to find new markets, or flexibility and competence as it is called today, became essential qualification for a company to survive.

See also:
The roots to all western popular comedy
What is a mask?
Var är Boken (Where’s the Book)

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Goldoni and the end of an era (Part 3)

During the end of the eighteenth century, when the bourgeois comedy had been well established and taken over the theatre scene, Commedia dell’Arte and the vulgar laughter started to be looked at as something quaint and exotic. As new middle-class values occupied the stage the carnivalistic laughter was pushed out from the burgeoning bourgeois delicate saloons.

Instead the bourgeois started to form their own look on humor. It was not laughter or comedy, but humor, as something innocuous, distant, detached, full of escapism whose only function was to amuse and, as a tenaciously glue, hide conflicts and keep all turbulence under the surface. Humoresques, Esprit, inoffensive puns and wordplays, conciliatory, heartfelt jollities were affirmed as distractions and abeyance.  Or as Per Hallström said as late as 1895 in a lampoon for satire against the complacent humor of the bourgeois:

“…to humor it is [laughter] a pillow to rest upon and as such an excellent substitute to clear conscience

The satire, the grotesqueries and and even the direct, vulgar laughter as something that could touch humanity in a deeper sence, something that could be important to us, something that could tell us about important things in life was denied.

The new middle-class that sprung out was naturally cautious about their new won privileges and did not want the change the order of things. Their denial was a way of trying to coerce and control the dangerous laughter, that laugh that penetrates and damask their claim on power and wealth, their conventions and clichés, hypocrisy and propriety as false and downright ridiculous. This laughter can obviously not be controlled. By distance oneself from or repulse the vulgar laughter the bourgeoisie tried to keep it in the fringe and accordingly disarm it, or at least keep it away from themselves so they would not see themselves become dishonored and shamed.

Comedy was being divided in a low, crude, vulgar and popular laughter from the lower classes and a comedy for the bourgeoisie with the high standing humor with its Esprit and its pathos. The heartfelt, glozing amusements; the witty puns; the literary, referring merriments; the subtle figments; the restful  entertainment belongs to the latter category, while the rollicking pranks; the physical comedy; the satire; the genital jokes; the mad antics; the mockery; disability humor – in short : everything that Commedia dell’Arte and Vulgar comedy consists of- belongs to the first category.

Don’t miss: Part 1, Part 2 or Part 4

See also:
SATIRE AS VULGAR COMEDY
MICHAIL BAKHTIN
BOIOIOIOIOING!!!

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Goldoni and the end of an era (Part 1)

Let us use Goldoni to explain how Commedia dell’Arte died out in the middle of the eighteenth century, with the background we already discussed here in mind. Not that we really can accuse Goldoni for being the killer of Commedia dell’Arte, besides the chronology does not come out right as the beginning of the end started much earlier. But it works as a good place in time to hang up the explanation to the process that leads to the end of the era.
It is an ironic fact that the resurrection of Commedia dell’Arte in our days started with Giorgio Strehler’s staging of Goldoni’s “Arlecchino – Servitore di due Padroni” at Piccolo Teatro di Milano.

Count Carlo Goldoni, who now stands as a laughing statue in Campo S. Bortolomio vid Rialto in Venice, begun to reform Commedia dell’Arte in the middle of the eighteenth century in the almost 250 plays he wrote (including tragedies and opera librettos).

The main reasons to the end of Commedia dell’Arte’s heydays  in Goldonis time may have been that Commedia dell’Arte had been so worn and degraded that many thought the dialoghs, lazzi and scenari where the same from performance to performance. Many had grown up with Commedia dell’Arte. They knew how Commedia dell’Arte performances were built and it did not have the same relevance in society as society och culture had changed . A large part of the audiences saw Commedia dell’Arte as outdated and wanted something new that could reflect their world. At the same time new forms of theatre, as melodrama, bourgeois comedy and opera buffa, is expands.

It is said that the actors no longer played at the same advanced level. They did not manage to play in such a difficult gameplay. At the same time there came a lot of actors, with different levels of skill, who wanted to try their luck in Italy, while many of the best actors; as Goldoni himself, at times fled Italy for Paris, Vienna or Eastern Europe.

Goldoni’s strategy solve this was to take of the masks from the characters so that the actors did not have to care about the mask technique and did not risk to end up in the trance like acting that the mask also demands. Another reason is that the masks of Commedia dell’Arte had lost a lot of their meaning as they became gradually more abstract as phenomena in society as the world proceeded.
By taking of the masks he also kills the passion, the ardency, of the acting, the ritual, stylized, and crazy, insane in the genre – the core of Commedia dell’Arte. Instead he lets in a civilized, restrained, bourgeois comedy up on the stage.
The masks are one-dimensional and static. So at the same time he takes of the masks he also creates the possibility for the characters to develop during the performance. Consequently he gives the way for psychology within the plays that replaces the clear, crude instincts, the visual acting style and the mad, happy energy that Commedia dell’Arte depend upon. He gains the inner truth at the cost of the feast and the outer reality.

He also took away all opportunities for improvisation and play with the audience as he started to make Commedia dell’Arte text based. He did that since he did not consider the actors of his time receptive enough to improvise.
It is said that he did that after writing a scenario to a group, but when he saw the miserably result he went home to write down the whole play with lines to the actors. By doing so he also deletes basic aspects of Commedia dell’Arte and therefore kills Commedia dell’Arte by changing it into a literary genre.

Don’t miss: Part 2, Part 3 or Part 4

See also:
THE CONTENT IN COMMEDIA DELL’ARTE
MIRAKELDOKTORN (The Miracle Doctor)
MICKE’S COMMEDIA DELL’ARTE LECTURE

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