Commedia dell'Arte


audio The Bungler

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

In 17th Century Sicily, a clever valet named Mascarille tries to help his boss Lélie win the girl of his dreams -- only to find that Lélie is a monumental dunce who ruins every one of his intricate schemes. Undaunted, Mascarille invents progressively wilder plots, only to see his best-laid plans go very awry in Molière's The Bungler. Translated by Richard Wilbur.

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring: Richard Easton as Mascarille Adam Godley as Lelie Alan Mandell as Trufaldin Dakin Matthews as Ergaste Christopher Neame as Pandolphe Paula Jane Newman as Celie Darren Richardson as Andres John Sloan as Léandre Norman Snow as Anselme Kate Steele as Hippolyte. This recording contains an interview with Mechele Leon, Associate Professor of Classical and Contemporary French Theatre at the University of Kansas. Directed by Dakin Matthews. Recorded at The Invisible Studios, West Hollywood.

Featuring: Richard Easton, Adam Godley, Alan Mandell, Dakin Matthews, Christopher Neame, Paula Jane Newman, Darren Richardson, John Sloan, Norman Snow, Kate Steele

The Servant of Two Masters

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Carlo Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters (Il servitore di due padroni) is a classic Italian comedy in the Commedia dell'Arte tradition, focussing on the attempts of the resourceful and ever-hungry Truffaldino to serve two different masters without either of them finding out.

It was written in 1745 at the request of actor Antonio Sacco, one of the great Truffaldinos in history, and first performed in Milan as a 'scenario' in which only the lovers’ dialogues were fully scripted. Later it moved into the Teatro San Samuele, Venice, for the season 1745-46. A full version was eventually published in 1753.

This translation by Stephen Mulrine was published by Nick Hern Books in 2012.

The play begins in the Venetian house of Pantalone, where a party is underway to celebrate the engagement of Clarice, daughter of Pantalone, to Silvio, son of Doctor Lombardi. As the wedding agreement is being signed, the hilarious and confused Truffaldino enters to announce the arrival of his master, Federigo Rasponi of Turin.

This news comes as an amazing surprise to all, since Federigo is believed to have been killed in a duel with Florindo, his sister Beatrice’s lover. The problem arises from the fact that Federigo had originally been promised Clarice’s hand in marriage. The truth, however, is the supposed Federigo is actually Beatrice in disguise, come from Turin to claim the dowry owed by Pantalone to her brother, if he were alive.

To Clarice’s horror, her father feels obliged to honour his commitment to the supposed Federigo. Clarice refuses to comply, while Silvio, spurred on by his pontificating father, strives to maintain his claim to Clarice’s hand. The wedding, however, is cancelled. Brighella, the innkeeper, recognises Beatrice, despite her disguise, but promises to keep her identity a secret and becomes her accomplice in her mission. Here Truffaldino meets the housemaid, Smeraldina, and falls in love with her.

Later, on the street, the servant Truffaldino is approached by Florindo who, having recently escaped from Turin after killing Federigo, is seeking a servant himself. Truffaldino accepts Florindo’s offer, determining that if he is clever he can serve two masters and easily double his income. From the hotel Florindo sends Truffaldino to check for his mail. Beatrice (disguised as Federigo), who is also at the hotel, sends him to check her mail as well. As fate would have it, Truffaldino mixes up the letters and gives Beatrice’s letters to Florindo, who as a result learns that his lover is in Venice and sets out in search of her.

Back at Pantalone’s house, Beatrice, still in disguise as Federigo, reveals her secret to the distraught Clarice. Pantalone sees the two shake hands and takes it to mean that they have agreed to wed and sets out to tell Doctor Lombardi.

Eventually, through a series of comic mishaps and mix-ups, Beatrice and Florindo come to believe that the other is dead. Beatrice, grief-stricken, abandons her disguise and flees the house. Having discovered Beatrice’s true identity, Pantalone tells Lombardi that the marriage between Silvio and Clarice is still possible since Federigo is actually a woman! Fate again intervenes and brings the suicidal Beatrice and Florindo together in a chance encounter. Overjoyed, they plan to return together to Turin and buy Florindo’s freedom.

In the end, all of the couples are set to be happily married. Florindo asks Pantalone for permission for his servant, Truffaldino, to marry Clarice’s maid, Smeraldino. Clarice says that this is impossible, because Smeraldino is promised to Beatrice’s servant. Truffaldino, in order to marry Smeraldino, confesses that he is, indeed, a servant to two masters.

The Taming of the Shrew (Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The story of a ‘shrewish’ woman who is roughly courted and subjugated by her husband cannot fail to be controversial, and often disturbing. The Taming of the Shrew has been considered a portrait of the trials of marriage, a love story, a historical treatise on the treatment of women, a sexist polemic, and an exuberant farce - the perceived balance between misogyny and sympathy changing with every production and interpretation. The text is further complicated by its stress on fiction and performance.

The likely period of composition is between 1590-1594. This text is based on the 1623 First Folio text, as the 1594 quarto of an anonymous play entitled The Taming of a Shrew is here considered related but independent.

The drunken Christopher Sly is thrown out of a pub and falls asleep, and a Lord decides to play a trick on him. The Lord’s servants dupe Sly into believing that he is a rich Lord. A group of players act ‘a kind of history’ for him, and the story of Christopher sly becomes a ‘frame narrative’ for their performance.

The play-within-a-play begins with the arrival of Lucentio and his servant Tranio in Padua. Lucentio hopes to court the beautiful Bianca, as do Hortensio and Gremio, but Bianca’s father will not allow her to marry until her sharp-tongued older sister Katherina is married. Both Lucentio and Hortensio disguise themselves as tutors in order to woo Bianca in private, while Tranio takes the place of his master Lucentio.

Petruccio is also newly arrived in Padua and, hearing about Katherina’s wealth, decides that he will marry her. Their combative first meeting ends in Petruccio announcing their engagement. He turns up to their wedding late and ludicrously attired, and whisks Kate away to his house. There he deprives her of food and sleep in order to tame her.

After having the true identities of Hortensio and Lucentio revealed to her, Bianca choses Lucentio. So that they can be married, Tranio tricks a Merchant into pretending he is Vincentio, Lucentio’s father. The plan works for long enough for Bianca and Lucentio to marry; it is spoiled by the appearance of the real Vincentio, but Lucentio confesses and all is settled. At a banquet that evening, Petruccio reveals the newly obedient Katherina.

video The Taming of the Shrew (Globe on Screen)

Globe on Screen
Type: Video

Two wealthy sisters in Padua must be married off. The modest, demure Bianca has no shortage of suitors, but who on earth will take the wild, ungovernable, shrewish Katherina?  Stage director: Toby Frow. Screen director: Ross MacGibbon. Featuring: Samantha Spiro, Simon Paisley Day, Michael Bertenshaw, Pearce Quigley, Joseph Timms, Helen Weir, Tom Anderson, Jamie Beamish, David Beames, Pip Donaghy, Patrick Driver, Tom Godwin, Chris Keegan, Sarah MacRae, Rick Warden.

Turandot or The Whitewashers' Congress

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Based on the story of Turandot, a story that had been previously been adapted by Carlo Gozzi as a commedia dell'arte piece; by Friedrich Schiller as a stage play and by Giacomo Puccini as an opera, tells the story of the emperor's daughter Turandot, and the suitors who would marry her.

For his adaptation, Brecht has the action take place during a strike by clothes-makers – and the clothesless – who rise up in protest at the Emperor's dishonest manipulation of the cotton-market in which he has a monopoly: he is withholding stock until the prices. In order to control public relations, the Emperor hires three thinkers to invent reasons as to why the cotton market should be so dry; the winning thinker will win the hand of his daughter.

His last complete play, Turandot or The Whitewashers' Congress was never performed in Brecht's lifetime. It premiered at Zurich Schauspielhaus, in February 1969.

Commedia dell’arte is a comic theatrical genre that evolved in 16th-century Italy and went on to enjoy success throughout Europe. Performances, which consisted of improvisations based around skeletal scenarios, employed stock characters such as Pantaloon, Il Capitano, Il Dottore, and the Zanni, all of whom were distinguished by masks and emblematic costumes. Players, who usually specialized in one role, would often make slight alterations to masks and costumes in order to customize the character.

The first troupes emerged around the mid- 16th century performing (in contrast to the commedia erudita) comedy suited to popular taste in the commonly spoken language of the time. The first famous commedia dell’arte company was the Gelosi, who began performing in 1568.

The next 50 years saw the emergence of other notable troupes, including the Desiosi, the Confidenti, the Accesi, and the Fedeli. Commedia dell’arte troupes are known to have toured France in the early 1570s, and the Gelosi, who were summoned to play before the Royal Court at Blois in 1577, are known to have played in Paris. The Italian companies proved sufficiently popular in France for a permanent home to be established for them at the Hôtel de Bourgogne, Paris, in 1680.

The commedia dell’arte also flourished in Spain, Eastern Europe, Germany, and England, and influenced the development of the comic drama in most European countries. In England its influence can be seen in the works of Jonson and Shakespeare, as well as in the development of the pantomime and Punch and Judy show. By the end of the 18th century the genre had lost much of its vitality, having become somewhat over stylized and divorced from everyday life; consequently it drifted out of fashion.

The 20th century, however, saw a revival of interest in the genre, possibly as a reflection of discontent with naturalistic theatre, most notably by Dario Fo, who has become an expert on its history and adapts its techniques in his political plays and productions. It has influenced other innovators from Meyerhold to Barrault and, via Copeau and Saint-Denis, George Devine, as well as attracting new followers in the post-1970s touring Fringe groups.

from Jonathan Law ed., The Methuen Drama Dictionary of the Theatre (London, 2011); Terry Hodgson, The Continuum Companion to Twentieth-Century Theatre, ed. Colin Chambers (London, 2002).