A small Commedia dell’Arte dictionary

Amoroso contrasti                –             Innamorati’s love quarrels.

Andare a soggetto                –              To follow what is happening, accept the basic premises and create around, in, over, under and through them

Aparte                              –              Aside – A short line only to the audience (that the other masks on the stage can’t hear).

Associazioni Giovanili           –              Italian amateur troupes that came from troupes who arranged the feasts around the Feast of Fools and the Donkey feast.

Atellan farce                      –              ”(lat. fabulae Atellanae), atellan, Italian folk plays from the last century BC with strong elements of improvisation. A forerunner to Commedia dell’Arte.

Attrice                              –              Prostituted juggler/actress, helper to Charlatano.

Backdrop                          –              A backcloth made for outdoor use.

Banco                              –              A simple stage, made to be erected in streets and squares. Made of wooden boards arrayed on trestles or crates.

Batócio                         –              Or slapstick, a device made of two flat pieces of wood that, when beaten together sounds like blow on something hard.

Battute                            –              Standing joke or rapid answer.

Beffe                              –              Trick or catch.

Bergamo                         –              Town in north Italy where Arlecchino and Brighella comes from.

Bisguizzo                        –               Wordplay, pun or verbal gag.

Bodytakes                       –              As takes. The same thing, but using the whole body.

Bravo                             –              Italian word for muscle-man, a criminal from the street that could act as a thug for a noble family. Also another name for Capitano.

Bravura                          –              Capitano’s presentation, where he brags about all the wars he won, all the women he has gotten into bed, all the food he have eaten, all the men he has killed…

Brigate                           –              Informal assemblies of friends, who played comedies and organized carnival festivities.

Burle                             –              Practical joke that were used as an interaction in between masks, to end an act or to prolong the action.

Canovaccio                     –              That is on the canvas. A short simple scene or plot, with a defined beginning, middle and end.

Canzone della Zeza          –              Dramatic presentations from Sicily, forerunners of Commedia dell’Arte.

Capocomico                   –              The leader for a company and their director or outside eye, the leading actor.

Caretteri                       –              Masks specific for different regions in Italy.

Cerratano                      –               A sort of false priest.

Centone                        –              Another, and earlier word, for scenario.

Charlatano                  –              The chatterbox or mountebank who stood in the streets and on the markets, who’s excessive sales methods slowly turned in to performances.

Commedia a braccia        –              Old name for Commedia dell’Arte, meaning: comedy straight off, a level were the actors spontaneous.

Commedia a soggetto      –              Old name for Commedia dell’Arte, meaning: comedy on a given subject.

Commedia alla Maschera  –              Old name for Commedia dell’Arte, meaning: comedy in mask.

Commedia Erudita          –              The learned comedy, comedy played at the courts by amateurs.

Commedia Improviso      –              Old name for Commedia dell’Arte, meaning:: improvised comedy.

Commedia dell’Arte        –              Comedian as professional/artisan (or as artist). The term was not used until the eighteenth century.

Commedia Mercenaria     –              Comedy as a trade, indicating that is was a commercial form of theatre.

Concetti                       –              Standing dialogs, puns or word play.

Contrasti                      –              Dialogs that enacted as duels between for example the King of Carnival and Lent during the carnival, Innamorati or Pulcinella and his wife.

Corago                        –             Or Concertatore, the leader for a company and their director or outside eye, the leading actor.

Cris de Paris                 –              The Screams from Paris, a name for the organized way the peddlers and street vendors in Paris during the Reneissanse and the medieval era called out their products in the streets and squares.

Débats                        –              Same as contrasti but in France.

Dilettanti                     –              Amateurs that played in Commedia Erudita, who also could join in a Commedia dell’Arte production.

Fantesca                     –              An early form of Servetta.

Follia                         –              A monologue of one of the Innamorati

Generici                      –             Non-improvised speeches, dialogs and so on.

Grottesco                    –             A mask that is not only low on the social scale but also on the evolutionary scale.

Infarinati                    –             A group name for masks in white clothes and white makeup.

Innamorati                  –              The lovers.

Lamento                     –              A monologue for one of the Innamorati.

Lazzi                         –              ”Gag or prank, a theatre term for some standing moments in Commedia dell’Arte. The elements can be as funny lines or obscene gestures, grimaces or whole acrobatic number, to heighten the comical effect. Lazzi are usually independent from the plot. At times it can expand to independent scenes in between acts.”                     Nationalencyklopedin
Lazzi where used a part of the actor’s private repertoire of tricks, saved in their zimbaldone, and could be used anytime in the performance.

Magnifico                  –              An older name for Pantalone, or the duke, as a character that has lots of power.

Maledizione               –              A monologue for Pantalone.

Meccanismi               –              Performance or stage structure.

Miles gloriosus           –              From Latin: ”the braggart soldier”. A standing character in both antic as later comedies; also a title from Plautus.

Montimbanchi            –              Another word for Charlatano, not as mask, but as peddler.

Nudato Mimarum        –             Ancient Roman striptease.

Pappolata                 –             A great lie within Commedia dell’Arte.

Parti Comico             –             Comic masks

Parti gravi                –            Serious masks, often first Innamorato.

Personae                  –             Different scenic masks, tragically or comical.

Pricunta                   –              Dramatic presentations from Naples, forerunners of Commedia dell’Arte.

Prime uscite             –             The first exit of a mask, which sets the emotional state for the rest of the show.

Repertorio               –              An actor’s personal repertoire of tricks, lazzi, monologs, concetti, battute and so on.

Rimprovero             –               A moral speech from Pantalone or Dottore.

Robe                      –              A list of all the props for a performance.

Saltimbancho         –            He who jumps up on the stage/platform 

Scenari                   –              The backbone of actions in a Commedia dell’Arte plot. It is not a literary, but a theatrical document, that describes every change in the plot as it is presented in words and actions.

Scherzo                  –             Joke or gag.

Scrolquio                –              Dottore’s everlasting speech, wish does not have to do with anything in the plot.

Sogetto                  –              Subject, theme. (See: Commedia Sogetto)

Sottier                   –              French medieval jester play, often with a political connection.

Sproposito              –             Absurd, nonsense speech, for example when innamorati becomes mad or have change in their personality.

Sproposito               –             A monologue from Arlecchino or Zanni.

Stanze                   –              A public room available to rent for Commedia dell’Arte shows.

Strambotti              –              Satirical poems.

Stronzo                  –              A vulgar insult.

Takes                    –              Distinct turn of the head (on an impulse) to show a direction, direct the audience or give more focus to a reaction.

Tirad                     –              Flood of words, jingle or tirade.

Tormentone            –              A running gag.

Troper                   –              Inserted clarifying, dramatic elements in church services and masses during the medieval ages.

Trufaldino            –              A fraudster or con-man, but also a name on a zanni close to Arlecchino.

Uscite                   –             Fast exit, with a little finishing, often as a way to steal one last applause.

Vecchio                 –              Mean old and is an umbrella term for the old men in Commedia dell’Arte, like: Pantalone, Dottore or Tartaglia.

Zagna                   –             The female version of Zanni.

Zannata                –               A scene of zannis.

zanni                    –              It is not just a mask (Zanni, with capital Z), but also an umbrella term for all servant masks (zanni, with lower case z) in Commedia dell’Arte. In this spelling I follow John Rudlin’s example.

Zannismo              –              ”In zanni style”.

Zibaldone              –              The book were each single actor kept his private repertoire of hundreds of phrases, lazzi, gestures and speeches that could be used in any show and at any occasion.

Zimarra               –             Pantalone’s cloak.

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