Commedia dell’Arte – mocking the power

Also the great famous Commedia dell’Arte group mocked the power, by the dethroning of the old man and by pointing to the static preservation of the society as a representative of the stagnant. We can thank Henry III of France for letting this continue in such proportions, according to Dario Fo. Both Henry III and his queen Catherine de’ Medici had taken Tristano Martinelli (the first Arlecchino) to their heart, a fact that Tristano used rampantly to mock the power. He was allowed to ridicule the politicians and nobility. As a raillery with the learned establishment and possibly the censors he published his Compositions de Rhetorique with 59 of the 70 pages empty. It is not a kittle guess that the king could use this to gather political points. If Tristano in that way could freely mock the nobility they would disrupt them and in that way secure his power. And at the same time Henry III maintained Commedia dell’Arte as an outspoken form of theatre.
But it was normally not easy for the Commedia dell’Arte actors to mock the power. They could not mock the central powers, they who had the absolute power, the dukes, princes and so on.  Pantalone for instance was never a leading capitalist in society, neither were the doctors that were role models for Dottore other than quack doctors and pettifoggers. It was not just to keep ones head in place that the actors avoided conflict with the authorities; they were also a great employer.

It is not even sure that it was a goal in itself to mock the power, even though It is a great part of the Carnival tradition to turn hierarchies around, dethronize and show potentates from their worst sides and let the laugh expose hypocrisy. But to see Commedia dell’Arte as a more conscious political or satirical form of theatre is more dubious, even though there are those who, on good grounds, think so. Commedia dell’Arte gives al the opportunities with its consequent mocking of types of people, or rather more precise types of people in society: the learned prestigious humanist; the greedy merchant and patriarch; the invading mercenary solider and so on. But I think that has more to do with the traditions from the carnival and the popular demand of seeing their persons of power dethronized. It was not that they wanted to make a revolution and change history. But in the same manner as in the dethronement of the old man the public demanded to see their lords dethronized and ridiculed.
The actors had always to balance on a thin line. The popular demand was very demanding and it was, after all, the people that payed the tickets for those who were not lucky to play in courts and palaces. And sure as fate cam the criticism, chiefly from the church. It was foremost about that they only played for money.

See also:
Life among Commedia dell’Arte companies
Vulgar Comedy and the Church

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