The World of Commedia dell’Arte
The world of Commedia masters, servants and lovers. They’re universal types that you see everywhere. We use this diagram to look at the world of Commedia dell’Arte. At the head you’ve got Magnifico. At the feet you’ve got Zanni at the shoulders you’ve got the first actor and the first actress then you got the two masters, Pantalone and the doctor in the very center you’ve got Colombina the seven girl at the hips you’ve got to Brighella and Arlecchino at the knees you’ve got the Captain and down at the feet, Zanni This is Magnifico he’s like an eagle. He looks down on everything. He’s leader of the City when he dies, another Magnifico automatically appears He’s the most powerful man there.
He’s the head, he thinks. Down at the bottom is the Zanni… and that’s the one where you’re leading with the nose and arms are involved in that and the feet… they’re the feet that want to come up. Like a pigeon Zanni’s a peasant and he’s come to the city everything is extraordinary to him and he’s extremely curious… and enthusiastic because he wants to please and he once work I’ve never been here before! Yes, I’m ready to please! You’ve seen Manuel in Fawlty Towers? Absolutely Zanni, exactly Zanni so you had Magnifico… the top master, and a crazy Zanni as his servant That’s it, good! You see the relationship is absolutely with the audience, not just with the person on the stage From Zanni, grow all the other servants and from Magnifico grow all of the other Masters.
These are the two old men you have Pantalone, the merchant the miserly old man who is a version of Magnifico who’s lost his teeth. Everything about him is mean and vinegary. He’s called Pantalone di bazonio of the needy. He needs, He’s got a lot of needs. these two old men live on the same piazzo and they love to argue the doctor he’s the man of learning who knows everything about everything but understands nothing. He’s so weighed down with knowledge that he can hardly contain himself, and he waffles and he waffles and he waffles and he waffles ha, that reminds me… you then have the two servants Brighella and Harlequin. Brighella is the cunning servant at Harlequin if the stupid servant he’s not stupid in the way Zanni is stupid he’s stupid because he doesn’t he doesn’t necessarily use logic. He… he’s a body. Harlequin is a body character whereas Brighella is a brain character. So to a certain extent you’re getting a minor Magnifico Zanni going on there Brighella is the master of servants and the servant of masters to he’s like a maitre d in a hotel or in a restaurant he welcomes the guests little bit like John Cleese in Fawlty Towers Oh, major, major, no do come this way, general, do come in! …
No problems in the kitchen, no no no the food’s fine… so somebody who’s got a position and has worked very very hard to get that position and has a uniform says a proud of his uniform he can also be a great womanizer and you can fall in love the people and first actresses and things can be tempted by him because he’s cunning, he thinks ahead what’s in it for me? what’s in it for me? yet any any any situation what am I gonna get out of it? Harlequin is intuitive and happy-go-lucky.
He thinks he’s gorgeous ‘cos why wouldn’t he? He’s not immoral he’s amoral. He doesn’t know the difference between right and wrong he lives very much in the moment. He is very acrobatic he’s very cheeky Anything else in the mask? Any other animals? a monkey, a pig, always hungry … he can open his stomach and show you that there is nothing in the fridge… sew it back up again very very very very playful Columbina is at the center the diagram she is as cunning as Brighella she as playful as Harlequin she’s as good with the money as Pantalone might be and she can hold an academic discourse on love, men marriage and life, just like the doctor. The first actor and the first actress are aristocrats. Everything they do is very, very grand. They take up a lot of space because they own it. They are serious, dangerous. They are part of the court magnifica. Quite capable of killing. The first actress may well have had a previous husband who as died in mysterious circumstances and nobody’s quite sure whether she had anything to do with it or not. Commedia dell’Arte. They are Shakespearean actors they are the parents in Romeo and Juliet or Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.
It’s a dangerous world they live in it’s the world of the Borgias, the Medicis and the top players of the politics in Italy at the time. Though the First Actor and the First Actress don’t have a mask, we have masks and non- masks, and what happens is that the non masks act with the masks as if they were real, so you believe them differently. It is all a game, we know it’s a game, we know that they’re people wearing masks, but when I’m on stage without a mask working with one of them I treat them as if they are normal, so the game continues.
The second pair of lovers are the young lovers, the teenage lovers, and they’re the children of Pantalone and the doctor, but they’ve been bought a fantastic education which means they can move up the social scale. They could become aristocrats. They are just moving into the world of the grown-ups so they don’t really understand everything. They are, if you like, Romeo and Juliet Lastly we come to the two outsiders. The witch is actually a twentieth-century invention but she represents a magnifica the countryside she is dark she is powerful she is earthy, and she’s the supernatural element and she basically moves in figures of eight *gibberish* so she’s got a real freedom about her. The captain comes from somewhere else He is often a masonry soldier . He could be Spanish. He is full of swagger and braggadocio, but in reality he would do anything to avoid fight.
When you put all of these characters together, big and bold with their desires, their needs, their energies, their shapes, their ways of walking, it’s like a firework display. It’s an exaggerated mirror of society.
As found on Youtube