The end of the heydays of Commedia dell’Arte (Part 3)

There are lots of descriptions about how Commedia dell’Arte degenerated even though many are of the type: “everything has changed to worse”. We can see here how the aging Francesco Gabrielli, who had led a good life as actor in different courts, in a letter to the Duke of Mantua where he is looking for the job to form a Commedia dell’Arte group to the Duke. In most of the letter he is bragging over his own colleagues and is plotting against other actors. The letter is dated as early as 1627; it is from a man who always played with greatest groups and enjoyed de best benefits and privileges:

“…Mezzettino does not tumble and, more important, will not leave Olivetta who would make yet another serva. Frittelino is good at making himself detested, not just by actors but by everyone, and how true that iscan be seen from the fact that when he wants companions he can get them only by influence of princes or money. I say nothing about the fact that he always wants a better part then the rest. As to his wife, it is inconvenient that at her age she should want to pass as an innocent young girl, for what the stage wants today is youth. The Pantalone della Podagra is so maltreated by his affliction that last year when with us in Venice he could neither dress himself nor tie his mask, and I don’t think it a good idea to put a statue on stage who can do nothing but wag his toungue…”

From the 1660ies to the 1690ies, when the greater part of the Italian actors was driven out of Paris, many of the leading actors was instead moving in to Paris and Hôtel de Bourgogne,  where also Molière was after Louis XIV had given him a place there. At Hôtel de Bourgogne the actors had an audience that gave a higher social standing and economical status, and they did not have to tour.
Men Commedia dell’Arte also got distorted in Paris. From the start when Commedia dell’Arte got established in France is became more physical, irreverent, improvised and sentimental, with more focus on music and dance. As time went on it focused more and more on the sentimental. Dance comes in through classic ballet, an art form as far from the down-to-earth vulgar Commedia dell’Arte it can be, with its only up-striving movements. Commedia dell’Arte became something beautiful to watch instead focusing on its contents. The movements and the acrobatics were replaced by mechanical effects until it all became a mixture of ballets, parodies and pyro-technique.
Except from this they are seeking more and more sensational effects as compensation for the lost virtuosity that once was Commedia dell’Arte’s trademark, also with the result that much of the old knowledge disappeared.

From the end of the seventeenth century the greater Commedia dell’Arte groups vanished from Italy. Plagues and hunger devastated great parts of the lands. Because of the less auspicious economic climate, when among others many Italian banks went bankrupt, didn’t Dukes and Princes consider themselves rich enough to support artists and scientists in the same way. The patronizing doesn’t end totally, even though the renaissance ideals slowly die out and it doesn’t become a ’la mode to sponsor the arts anymore.

Another reason Commedia dell’Arte lost ground was the enormous attack the church started during the counter reformation. Since the church was an important power in society the Commedia dell’Arte actors did not dare to be as provocative but instead declined to “good taste”.
The only thing we can benefit from this is that we gain lots of theories, histories, books and other material related to Commedia dell’Arte published as a defense and a reaction to this attack.

See also Part 1 and Part 2

See also:
TO PLAY MASK
TEMPO OR RYTHM
BOMBAFU

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The end of the heydays of Commedia dell’Arte (Part 1)

Acuity and rationalism does not thrive together with lush and warming jocularity, the humor of rationalism easily becomes merciless satire, as in Voltair for example.”                             Harry Järv, in the pretext to The Very Horrific Life of Great Gargantua

It is often said that Commedia dell’Arte died out when Goldoni moved to Paris 1762, to work with Comédie-Italienne. It is a bit peculiar since Goldoni also is accused have killed Commedia dell’Arte by taking of the masks and writing down the lines for the actors.
But as a time reference it is a suitably occasion, even though Commedia dell’Arte’s decline started much earlier. It does not only use a specific date to mark it, but this is also the time when Commedia dell’Arte disperse from the street scene and other forms of theatre takes over.
There are naturally many reasons that Commedia dell’Arte diapers from streets and stages, but I want to especially concentrate on two reasons: the changing society and culture and the decay of the actors and the Commedia dell’Arte itself.

As society changes in the seventeenth century the carnival culture starts to disintegrate into a more bourgeois culture: the body starts being denied, individualism makes its entry with the possibility to have a career, the streets and the square loses its place as where life took place in competition with homes, even the French academy with their demands of the entity of the room, the time and the plot starts playing a part. Commedia dell’Arte also started to be more yielding.  Commedia dell’Arte became sentimental, tame and morally bourgeois comedy. A comedy that came to play at the power and morality’s conditions and values.

Pantalone who always been a greedy, vengeful and cruel, old goat, becomes mutilated over time. He loses his lust, aggressiveness, and cruelty and therefore his vibrancy also dies. He becomes a diverting and nice eccentric. The dethroning of him starts to be more and more look like compromises.
The lovers who from the start was occupied with infidelity and wild runaways from their parents, becomes young, innocent virgins who wants nothing more than to get married and are totally free from any sexual urges. The Servetta that once was a voluble, blatant and crass prostitute, who tempted and seduced to get what she wanted and always won in the end, became Columbina, the fetching, clever maid who helps the lovers without a thought of her own gain.
During the seventeenth century many actors startet to invent new masks and roles since the old masks doesn’t work in the private social life. Pier Maria Cecchini replaces his old Pedrolino with the more lame Frittelino. Other masks that are invented are Fichetto, Scaramuccia, Beltrame. Franceschina becomes replaced by Riccolina, Nespola or Spinetta.

It is just the possibility to have a career that is the roots these new thoughts. Up until the renaissance the dominating idea about progress was an ascending movement, towards God. Now it changed to a progress in a horizontal movement, towards the future in worldly time and worldly space. If the human progress was not just about the religious purview and the afterlife the door was open to  the possibility to change one’s own environment here on earth was for the first time. In other word for the first time one could be the architect of one’s own fortune. To succeed that that own had to displace other who also wants to displace others in order to succeed.

In that competition cohesion and the feeling of community within towns and villages, guilds and village communities that was the foundation for the carnival culture and Commedia dell’Arte was lost. The life that was lived in the streets and squares moved in to the homes to the private realm. The modern bourgeois is created with other values as family, morals, career, nation and money as affirmation of one’s career, power and authority. (Money has always been important in Commedia dell’Arte, but as a sign of greed in mocking human weakness’s or as a mean of survival.)

Morals became a sign of good health. Through good morals the people should reach a better life. But it wasn’t just the “good” morals that made its entry. So did double standards, the double standards that deny the body, its needs of sex, eating, drinking, urinating or excrement. These needs became private and something shameful instead of something that encouraged life and therefore was enjoyable.
Morals have always been something totally irrelevant in the world of Commedia dell’Arte. On the contrary the masks have never been limited by moral speculation. They live by their drives or instincts. Just as the double standards in suppression of bodily needs never distressed the masks of Commedia dell’Arte, but have been a source of laughter and mockery.

The post continues in Part 2 and Part 3

See also:
VULGAR COMEDY AND THE CHURCH
THE COMIC DRAMATIC COMBAT IN COMMEDIA DELL’ARTE
MORENS FÅNGE (THE PRISONER OF THE MOOR)

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Desiosi (The Desired) 1581 – 1603

They are first heard of in Pisa 1581.One of the reasons webring up Desiosi is that they were led by a woman, Diana Ponti, and were often called “Dianas Troup”. She was much celebrated and often the main attraction. Diana was simultaneously involved with in many other Commedia dell’Arte groups in the 1580- and 1590ies.

Desiosi often played in Rome and the Papal state. There they were absolute forbidden to bring women. This, and the fact that she was involved with many other groups, lead us to believe that she probably did not lead the group the whole time.

1596 they play for the Duke of Mantua, who writes to the Duchess of Ferrara to give her his recommendations, as the  group was passing through.
From 1597 it is possible that Flamminio Scala was the leader of the group.
In 1599 the y play in Verona and in December they are in Cremona with Tristan Martinelli who writes one of his letters to the French queen Maria de´ Medici from there.
1603 is the last time we hear from them as they hire Stanza di San Giorio de´Genovesi in Napoli.

From the middle and the end of the seventeens century the great Commedia dell’Arte groups disappeared. The courts could no longer afford to support them in the same way as before. It was not a ´la mode to patronize the arts. And there were less and less “fine gentlemen” like Flaminio Scala and Francesco Andreini who were tempted to play Commedia dell’Arte
The Commedia dell’Arte groups goa a bigger market and consequently Italy got their first impressarios. The group became also less dependent of their old patron. Many chose to work as “fringe” groups. It also became more stars then groups in within “the elite” in Commedia dell’Arte.

See also:
WOMEN IN COMMEDIA DELL’ARTE
THE ORIGINS OF THE MASK
MICKE’S COMMDEDIA DELL’ARTE WORKSHOP

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A Dottore monologue

This monologue is not really a Scrolquio since it is tied to the plot in this particular play, Käbbel, that I wrote in 2019.
It was originally played in Swedish.

”Dott:     In Oh see such a fetching audience! Just see, all this beautiful people who are just sitting here, – not reproducing.
But do something! It won’t be more of you if you are just sitting there.
Aha! You are shy. Then we do it this way: I’ll turn my back to you and then you will make babies. OK? Are you ready? …now! Turns around.
Wow, wow, wow! Here we go! So, come on! Work harder! Ad. lib.
Turns back. So? Are you pregnant now? Are you pregnant? No? Peculiar. But you must be pregnant? Not? How odd? Well you must… oh no, maybe not with him… But you are definitely pregnant. Oh I see. I’m awfully sorry. Ad. lib.
What is the matter with you? Don’t you have any hormones? Is it that difficult? Haven’t you have had sex education in school?
You do it this way: Reads in his book First the man takes the woman and…
Aha! It is supposed to be two persons. Well, that makes it a bit more complicated.
Reads more “And then they…” Oh no… but… Hihihihih….. What are they doing…. Ohh!
So this is what you were about to do in a public place? Shame on you! You perverts! This is a decent theatre/school/square!
I will have to invent a fertility elixir. Where is my assistant? Zanni!”

See also:
Commercialism in Commedia dell’Arte
A Commedia dell’Arte chronology
Sexfiaskon och en stol (sex/six-failures and a chair)

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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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Kalabalik

Here is a video of ”Kalabalik” the student show in Commedia dell’Arte from the spring of 2021 that I directed.
(I am sorry for the bad fitting to the frame)

I strongly recommend you to look at the show in full screen mode

See also:
Det allra löjligaste (The Most Ridiculous)
Sex fiaskon och in stol (sex/six failures and a char)
Micke’s Commedia dell’Arte lecture

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The wealthy and lucky Commedia dell’Arte groups

Those lucky Commedia dell’Arte troupes that could play in the salons of castles and palaces had their benefactors, usually a duke or a nobleman over a province. For those actors who were educated it was also relatively easy to find additional jobs. In the palaces they could be musicians, tutors, arrange greater feasts and so on. Even the great Flaminio Scala worked for a while as a perfume dealer.
Those actors could enjoy a better life economically, but they were also more or less serfs and had to obey their master’s whims if they wanted to keep their heads on top of their necks. This can be illustrated by a story from Dario Fo in his book Tricks of the Trade:

-“The French king who had heard people praise an elderly actor who worked for the duke of Mantua wished to see him in Paris. Unfortunately the actor in question was very ill, but the duke gave him orders to get out of bed and prepared the trip. The palace doctor interfered and asked the duke not to insist on the trip: “His medical condition is so that he very well might die before he arrives to his goal.” The duke didn’t listen to such nonsense: “First I would let him draw his last breath then risk that the French king would think that I would not give him the gift that he wish.” So the actor was forced to go in fever and, just as the doctor Had said, he died as he passed the S:t Bernard pass. Politeness had prevailed. The French king was, no doubt, touched gesture of sublime sacrifice from his generous vassal, the duke – generous with one of his actors life.

The actor’s background were varied. Some like, Flaminio Scala and Francesco Nobili were noblemen and move in elite circles while for instance those who wrote the first contract we know in Padua 1545 probably where craftsmen or lower commoners.  By time it seems that the demands and the play of Commedia dell’Arte bridged the social span between groups. Even in the most famous groups there was actors from varied backgrounds. From the courts and the learned circles came singers, poets, playwrights, and courtesans like Flaminio Scala, while others came from the streets and were charlatani, musicians, jugglers, acrobats, dancers, jesters and mimes as Barbieri and Silvio Fiorillo. They were all forced to adapt to new circumstances to be able to life a life within the professional theatre.

The fact that many Commedia dell’Arte actors were educated and more socially accepted than earlier popular entertainers must have been one of the keys to their acceptance in the finer salons. That must have in turn have helped to generate even more Commedia dell’Arte groups when they saw a possibility to move upwards in society.
Pretty soon the groups who had succeeded, economically, socially and culturally, distinguished themselves from the other groups and new hierarchies were made in the world of Commedia dell’Arte. Those who had succeeded in being famous and got a place in a greater court became traveling institutions of the time. They had another economic situation and other resources; both artistically and practical; they were recognized everywhere both socially and artistically; with their contacts it was much easier to deal with bureaucratic hassle, the suspicion of the clergy and problem with the police and borders between nations and states; it was easier to book halls, find actors and so on.

Many Commedia dell’Arte groups were extremely famous and had a high position in society. Just to mention, Isabella Andreini from the Gelosi, Europe’s first megastar. She was known all over Europe for her beauty and her intelligence. She exchanged letters with some of Europe’s most important artists and scientists (they are published in Lettere, the collection of her letters that her husband Francesco Andreini published after her death) and she was taken up in four academies. When she dies in Lyon on her way back to Florence from Paris after playing for Caterine de’ Medici at the French court, there was a great funeral with royalties and artists from all over Europe.

But to get institutionalized also had its duties. The dukes and princes that protected the Commedia dell’Arte groups was the politicians of their times. They represented the state and public affairs, even though they were in no way democratic in our sense. They used the Commedia dell’Arte groups for their own political purposes. It was not just to give glamour to their own court that they used the Commedia dell’Arte groups. They could also be used to get things said through them or to acknowledge friendship to other states by sending them to play there. Those nobles that protected Commedia dell’Arte groups could interfere with their repertoire, kick out or punish actors that didn’t suit them.
Those actors still had quite a great freedom, thanks to their high standing, to be in the renaissance. They indirectly prepossess their position by pointing to public and market demands, loyalty to the court or state or simply threaten to leave the court when their contract expires. The better the economic situation a group had the more freedom they could enjoy.
It was also easier for touring groups in general to avoid censorship in Italy sense it was not just one state with one law. A fact that was utilized, and gradually less and less of those laws were obeyed. Since there were just scenarios and no scripts it let the performances to differ from one show to another. That made it hard for the authorities to preview the shows effectively.
By the middle of the seventeenth century it seems that more and more Commedia dell’Arte groups chosen to stand free from any authority when a new market opened among the growing bourgeois.

See also:
Hierarchies and status play in Commedia dell’Arte
Sex fiaskon och in stol (sex/six failures and a char)
Micke’s Commedia dell’Arte lecture

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The Mask from animal to human

When we use the word mask here we talk about two things – the mask tools itself and the characters and roles of Commedia dell’Arte. The later goes also for the characters that don’t wear a mask since they move and behave after the same rules as the other masks, so that they can exist in the same world.

The mask was first developed by hunters in order to come closer to their prey. They started to dress in animal skins and to imitate the animals they were hunting. These imitations demanded more and more skills as they got ritualized as it became part of the hunting culture. It started as preparations for the hunt and turned in to formalized dances and rites. They impersonated the animals they were going to kill and also acted out the actual killing by the hunter.

Eventually the masks and the animal imitations took place in other rites, such as harvest, passage and fertility rites. These rites developed also masks of spirits, demons, gods, devils, even heroes and other humans. But the masks were never used to personify the role or character it impersonated as an individual. In the same way as it, from the beginning, only represented the animal that was hunted is the mask always a representative for something larger then itself. The mask has always the function of being the image of the actual variety it is impersonating, like a profession, an age group and so on, or even a specific individual, but then it is a god, a king or a hero who in turn though his variety position is a representing something more than himself.

As the animal imitations become more human when they took place in other rites the content also developed to have more of a plot with an explicit action line. For that reason the character of the masks developed to get more personal characteristics.
Now something interesting starts to happen. This doesn’t make the mask loose its universal qualities, but remains a representative of a variety. Instead the relationship becomes mutual. Characters are created from the masks, like Santa Claus (at least the Swedish version), the Yule Goat, Batman or the Clown for instance.

All masks in all cultures have their origins in the animal world. We can still see, even today in different carnival traditions, everything from pure animal masks to demons, witches, Commedia dell’Arte masks or modern examples like mock Trump masks and Guy Fawkes masks.

See also:
Western bias of the mask
Stage strategies (Part 1)
Workshop in physical theatre

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The church censoring Commedia dell’Arte ( 1 of 2)

It was not easy for Commedia dell’Arte groups to make fun of religion and the church during the latter part of the sixteenth century, after the Council of Trent 1545 – 1563. It was a lot easier during the middle ages and the early renaissance when a more popular culture prevailed. The parody of the church we can find in early Commedia Erudita plays and in medieval popular jesting are not found at all after the middle of the fifteen hundreds. In any case there are no traces after it in Commedia dell’Arte.
The power of the church grew strong and those who wanted to keep their heads in place better stick to the church’s rules. But we must also have in mind that most people at the time were awfully religious and they would not accept their church or religion to be made fun of. As a parallel today we can just think of the popular demand among many Muslims when Salman Ruchdie wrote The Satanoic Verses or when Jyllands-Posten published the Muhammad cartoons.
After the Council of Trent, when the Catholic Church attacked the liberal attitude that was accepted before, theatre and especially Commedia dell’Arte became criticized. This happened even though the church itself contributed to the rebirth of theatre with its passion and mystery plays and even the diavolas. Commedia dell’Arte group, but without women, were even invited to the Vatican.
The theatre was dangerous for the church, not just because it mocked and therefore questioned power structures, but also since it invited to a fairy world filled with dreams and fantasies that could tempt to immoral life instead of a possible place in paradise in the afterlife. Just as some moralists today they were afraid that half naked women, infidelity, girls with to strong will, luxury and exotic clothes, an lighter way of living, rebellious and self-interested servants, men in women’s clothes and women in men’s clothes would have to strong impact on weak and errant persons.
Naturally it was tantalizing to flee reality and forget ones mortality for a while with the aid of these fantasies. But for the church to enforce its power it was essential that people would seek a better life in heaven and not on earth.
They understood that the theatre was a more powerful tool to reach out to people than other forms of art. But the critical warning of the sinful and dangerous expressions in theatre that came from cardinal Carlo Borromeo – archbishop of Milan – the man who led the witch hunt on Commedia dell’Arte groups and actors, was probably not meant to be such a compliment as this (freely translated by Dario Fo):

How much deeper doesn’t that who reach the eye touch the soul then what we read in a book! How much worse doesn’t the word that are said from a voice and supported by gestures hurt the young, then dead words published in a book! The Devil spreads his vermin through the works of the actors

The church and the moralists could not totally condemn all Commedia dell’Arte since it was many groups had reached a social acceptance at the courts and were under the protection of princes and dukes. They could also rely on older Commedia Erudita and the ancient tradition, as most moralists rather see a dead tradition than a living exertion. The Church supported the growing hierarchies among the Commedia dell’Arte groups. They discarded the popular influences from the squares,  the markets and the Carnival. The parts that Michail Bachtin called the Grotesque Realism became looked on as “low”. It is the same contempt as we still can see among the theatre elite who dismiss performances as simple or below-the- belt in order to differ it from “real” comedy. With “real” comedy they almost always mean literary comedy.

The Church and the moralists accused also, with the same snobbism, the poorer Commedia dell’Arte group, that played in the streets and in stanzi, for being commercial. And that they degenerated to perversion and libidinousness to satisfy the taste of the people. Needless to say, the taste of the people were naturally reprehensible.
We should not hide the fact that Commedia dell’Arte are built on sex and violence, as most of the world drama in more or less disguised, but the erotic fantasies and mutilation of the power is never destructive. It is the merry popular carnival traditions, with its allowing character, it’s turning conventions and traditions up-side-down, it’s resurrection of the new year that are mirrored in the pranks and mockery in Commedia dell’Arte.
The Church did not only criticize the theatre as phenomena. They also criticized the actor’s private life. Let us read from an example from one of the most hostile opponents to Commedia dell’Arte, Petrus Hurtado de Medoza from 1631:

The woman are always, or nearly always shameless. Players enjoy a free life together, and the women are not segregated in separate rooms. Thus the men can often see them when they dress, undress or comb themselves, and at times when they are in bed, or when they are half naked. And they are forever exchanging indecencies.
The Husbands are cowards and the women do not respect them, nor do lovers fear them.
Often the women are prostitutes, and rapacious. Often players find themselves performing together, and in order for a woman to effect a quick change and take on a new role a man helps her to undress and then dress again. What more can one say? A young actor, for example, will help an actress put on her shoes, and will tie the lace on her leg, and will not just do this on the stage, but also near a bed, those who are familiar with troupes and players are witness to this, and by them I have been told it.
On stage, players portray the love exchanges of characters in plays and such exchanges between men and woman act like burning darts. Players likewise embrace squeeze hands, kiss, fondle each other, and make secret assignations on stage. Why should they not perform, for real in the bedroom what they feign on the stage?
Thus I conclude that these many and frequent opportunities bring some grave danger of adultery and other crimes, and it is thus impossible for such people to avoid immorality […]”

Go to:
Part 2

See also:
Vulgar Comedy and the Church
Mirakeldoktorn (The Miracle Doctor)
Stanislavsky’s system v/s Vulgar Comedy

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The theatre spaces in the heydays of Commedia dell’Arte

People went to the theatre of quite other reasons, socially and culturally, all the way up to the nineteenth century. First of all: the lights were not turned down in the auditorium. It was first in the middle of the nineteenth century that Richard Wagner started to shut the light in the auditorium in order for the audience to focus on the play on stage. The audience was not necessarily there to just sit and watch. It was more a place for social interaction as a place to witch a play. Wine was served; the boxes were furnished with drapery so one could avoid being disturbed by the play when courting their mistresses. An adequate comparison may be when we go to a club to see a rock or jazz concert today. We may choose the club for the sake of the band, but the social intercourse is just as important. We talk and comment the band on stage as they play.
Or to recite a French visitor in Venice by the end of the seventeenth century:

The Young Nobility do not go much to the Comedy to laugh at the Buffoonery of the Actors, as to play their own ridiculous Parts: commonly bring Courtesans with them to their Boxes, where there is such a confusion and sometimes such surprising Accidents, so contrary to the Rules of Decency, which are at least due to all Public Places, that one must indeed in these Transactions before he can believe them. One of their most ordinary Diversions is not only to spit in the Pit, but likewise to pelt them with Snuffs and ends of Candles, and if they perceive any one decently clad, or with a Feather in his Hat, they are sure to ply him with the best of their endeavors, which they may do as being free from all notice or punishment; for the Nobles that are the Protectors of the Theater, having their Bravo’s in disguise at the doors, who are well armed, and ready to obey Orders: Besides the Comedy and Opera are look’d upon as Privilege-places where the least Violence would be reckon’d a Crime of State.

The liberty which they in the Pit take, according to the Example of the Nobility, do’s finally raise the Confusion to the outmost height. The Gondoliers chiefly do give their impertinent Applauses at some Action of the Buffoons, that would be tolerated in no other Place; neither is it seldom that the whole House makes such terrible Exclamations against the Actors, who are not so happy as to please, that they are forced to retire to be succeeded by others; for the continual cry is, fuora buffoni.”

In the renaissance Commedia dell’Arte was often played in rented spaces that were made for theatre, so called stanze. It was usually simple rooms, but gradually there where probably no greater difference between a theatre and a stanze. In Genoa theatre was played in Osteria dell Falcone since 1566 that became Teatro dell Falcone in 1644.
It was still a certain status to play in a simple stanze. One had control over the greater part of the performance. Even though most part of the audience went there to mingle with others, the performance was the main event in the room, in comparison with playing in the streets and markets. All groups were not rich enough to rent spaces. But in spite of the rent it was still the commercial best places to play. One could charge the audience and even set the price. Also the greatest and most famous groups were forced to play in public spaces to survive. They even started to take pre-bookings.

Planning became important; spaces should be rented; contracts should be written; ads and publicity became crucial for a group to make it. Impresarios, like Alvise Michiel and Ettore Tron in Venice, showed up. They built public theatre buildings and contracted Commedia dell’Arte groups.  These impresarios became more and more important, first in Venice and then further over Italy. Stanzi and theatres sprung out, like San Cassiano, San Luca and San Moisé in Venice. By the end of the seventeenth century there were sixteen theatres in Venice.  
Here is a letter about the theatres and stanzi that grew up in Venice:

23 may 1607, Ascension Day Eve. A group of actors have begun playing public performances in the town for six or eight soldi per person (it was 30 years ago that the Jesuits banned these comedies). They played first in S. Alvise in Ca’Lipamano, then in Rio Marin in S. Basegio in rooms rented by actors. Since the taste for this entertainment started to grow in the town, the theatre in S. Cassano became built by the Tron family, the theatre in S. Moise by the Zustiniano family and the theatre in S. Salvador by the Vendramin family. Things developed so that three groups played simultaneous and all attracted big crowds, and was used to play from S. Martin to Lent and from “sense” to the middle July.”

From the beginning the Commedia dell’Arte stages were always simple, a scene that was in the street or a square, without scene changes. But by the end of the seventeenth century it became more complex technique.

Commedia dell’Arte’s audience came from all classes; it was both men and women since they played indoors. There were voices however who were raised saying that it was unmorally for better women to attend public performances. It was less sensitive if a performance was shown, by a famous group, in a private context.

But it was, from the start, above all a male appearance, for the rich. We can read that from the moralists who thought that married men brought the “fantasies of the theatre” to their private life and the fact that the shows was free for torch bearer and prostitutes.

See also:
The Roots to all Western Popular Comedy
A Commedia dell’Arte Chronology
Micke’s directing

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