When we say that the Italian word Commedia dell’Arte means “comedian as profession” we must also think of “art” as in “artisan”. Remember also that art was not anything elevated or divine until the romantic era in the late eighteen century. Art did not strive for originality. Often was – especially in Commedia dell’Arte – other works used or rewritten in order to fit the needs of the moment.
As a matter of fact the term Commedia dell’Arte was not used until the eighteen century by Luigi Riccoboni in his book Histoire du Théâtre. Before that it was called things like: Commedia Improviso – improvised comedy; Commedia alla Maschera – comedy in mask; Commedia a Soggetto – comedy on a given subject; Commedia Mercenaria – market comedy; Commedia a Braccia – comedy “straight off; Commedia degli Zanni comedy with Zanni or simply Commedia all´Italiana.
According to Dario Fo and Benedetto Crose the name Commedia dell’Arte was the name given to the troupes that were accredited to play in a town by the authorities. The contracts were was stamped “dell’Arte”.
Dario Fo also states that the word ”arte” was another word for guild or trade union already in the middle ages rather that an artistic matter, and that Luigi Riccboni later used it in figurative sense when he named the genre. In that way we may think of Commedia dell’Arte troupes as the first fringe theatre groups in the western world.