Commedia dell’Arte troupes in comparison with the Elizabethan theatre

Even though the Commedia dell’Arte actors were professional they could not live on their art itself. They had to find other ways were they could use their craft to survive, just like many struggling theatre groups today. While the successful groups played in halls in palaces of nobles and dukes, those not as successful played the in the streets and squares or in hired halls, stanze.
Naturally the more successful groups played in stanze, and later in theaters, for money as well. The payment when playing for the sovereign was mostly in kind. It could be cloth, dresses or just food and lodging,

There was an ongoing struggle, foremost among the wealthier Commedia dell’Arte groups, for social status, both for themselves and for their art form. Over time they started to compare their art with other art forms like literature and painting. Many actors and playwrights started to create star status for themselves, by focusing on virtuosity and the written word instead of teamwork and the play with the audience. They started to use the manners of the aristocracy.

If we look at the Elizabethan theatre for example who played for all classes at the same time. They had to please them all at the same time, or at least in the same show. Commedia dell’Arte on the other hand could adapt their particular audiences whether they played in a palace, in a hired stanze or on the street. Therefore they could develop their way of improvisation for each specific audience.
Commedia dell’Arte were also more flexible for commercial reasons. When they played different spaces and were employed for special occasions with special wants and needs, as dinner entertainment, to be a part of the carnival or even arrange it, as interacts in other performances and so on, they were not limited by a written script.

One thing more that increased the flexibility of the Commedia dell’Arte groups was that they always toured, either they were hired by courts or they were just traveling actors. They met different audiences, cultures, laws and customs, and they had to adapt to it. They rarely played at one place more than a week at the time.
Bur since they toured they were able to keep their shows in repertoire for a longer period. In comparison we can mention Shakespeare (who didn’t tour) only staged Hamlet 20 times, King Lear even fewer and Measure for Measure only five times.

One more distinction between Commedia dell’Arte and the Elizabethan theatre was that also women were acting, instead of boys dressed in women clothing as in most of the rest of Europe. This was something that was frequently commented in the sources from the time. Here is Ottonelli from 1652:

-“At times when these good friends show up in a town: with them are women used to the same profession, for they are convinced that without these women they would not give a good impression and get applauses.”

 The first time we meet a woman, Lucrezia Senese, on a list of actors is 1564. From the beginning it might have been for pornographic reasons women was let in. It was naturally seemed extremely indecent and, coming from the streets and the Charlatano-shows, their chore was to attract men to the show or the stands where the Charlatani were selling goods. The first female masks – except possibly the Innamorati – were also prostitutes. Much later the female masks took the leading role in turning Commedia dell-Arte in on a more romantic path, as a counterpart to the more burlesque parts of Commedia dell’Arte.

See also:
MICKE’S COMMEDIA DELL’ARTE LECTURE
THE ROOTS TO COMMEDIA DELL’ARTE         
AAARRGH!!! – CAPITANO CATASTROFO COLOSALLE

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