Who’s Who in Commedia del Arte

Who’s Who in Commedia del Arte – Maighstir Liam MacantSaoir

If you have attended some commedia del Arte performance at Pennsic or another event, you have probably noticed that some of the characters in different performances have the same names, no matter what commedia troupe you are seeing. Commedia del Arte has a set of stock characters that are essential to the art form. Commedia del Arte performances themselves are largely improvised but based on a structure written in advance.
The first group of stock characters are called the “Vecchi.” The Vecchi are the people of the upper class in Venice. These characters are usually the master of two different households. Pantalone is a shrewd business man who never wants to let money go. Pantalone is also known for being rather lecherous, chasing young women and visiting the local house of ill repute. Dottore is often a doctor and sometimes lawyer. Dottore is known for his vast knowledge that he gained in University, which may or may not be factual. Occasionally, Pantalone has a wife but most often he is a widower, or the wife does not appear in the play.
The second group of characters is the “Innamorati” (the lovers) these are characters that are the sons and daughters of Pantalone and Dottore. They are often very important to the plot, often looking for love, marriage and sex. The male characters are technically called “Innamorato” and the females “Inamorata.” The story of the lovers may be that they are looking for love, have ended their love affair, or are in competition with another for someone’s love. The story of the lovers may be complicated by siblings, their parents, or their servants. Both the Innamorato and Inamorata can vary in names and how they act. Some Innamorato are very masculine and virile, and some are the exact opposite, some may be very intelligent, and some may be incredibly unintelligent.
The third group of characters are the “Zanni.” The Zanni are the servant class, usually poorly clothed and perform menial jobs for the Innamorati and the Vecchi. The Zanni are the clowns of the show. The Zanni include such characters as Arlechino, who can be a servant for either household, he is usually dimwitted and food driven. Francheschina, who is usually a house maid for either house and often very frisky towards other Zanni characters. Brighella, who is often known as a freelance servant who will take care of things for anyone for a price, he can be the muscle, the thief or the murderer. The Zanni can have other names and serve in other roles to include the person that runs the local brothel, or other street urchins.
Commedia del Arte characters are still prevalent in many modern comedy television shows and movies today. Now that you understand who the characters are and what they do, I hope that you will see some commedia at Pennsic. The Pennsic University has a Commedia tract for anyone that is interested in learning more about commedia. In September, the forst ever Known World Commedia Symposium will take place in the Shire of Ballachlagan, less than an hours drive from the BMDL and it will host classes on Commedia and “All Things Italian.”
2013. Descriptions of Commedia Dell Arte Characters. Accessed May 2018. https://www.italymask.co.nz/About+Masks/Commedia+dellArte+Characters.html.
Felix, Talia. n.d. La Commedia del Arte – La Commedia Inglese. Accessed May 2018. https://sites.google.com/site/italiancommedia/the-characters.