The commedia dell’arte was an improvised drama performed by masked players. How did the actors react to these demands and limitations? What force kept this form of theatre alive for more than two centuries and made Harlequin such a potent image? In this study of the commedia dell’arte, originally published in 1987, Professor Nicoll’s concern is not to provide an historical survey of its origins or to trace the ascent and descent of Harlequin or any or any other character or ‘mask’, but rather to explore critically the answers to these and related questions. His arguments are based on the evidence of the play scenarios and contemporary documents as far as possible, and are illuminated by many illustrations that are either little-known or had not previously been reproduced.