Research Investigation: Commedia Dell'Arte

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  • Topic: Commedia dell'arte, Harlequin, Carlo Gozzi
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How should costumes be chosen in a production of Carlo Goldoni's The Servant of Two Masters following the conventions of Commedia dell'Arte? by Jessica Hornsey

The Servant of Two Masters is a Venetian comedy in the style of Commedia dell'Arte, written by Carlo Goldoni in 1743. In order for a director to portray Truffaldino and Smeraldina's class clearly, a costume designer would need to know the origins of the characters, as well as traditional masks and costume styles and colours.

The Servant of Two Masters takes place in Venice when a servant – the main character, Truffaldino – and his master – Beatrice, disguised as a man – arrive in Venice. Whilst Beatrice is preoccupied with finding Florindo, her lover who fled after having committed a crime, her ever famished servant, Truffaldino, decides to double his wages by serving a second master who proves to be none other than Forindo Aretusi himself. Truffaldino does not know of his masters' love affair, let alone that one of them is a woman, and proceeds to complicating matters concerning his own as well as both his masters' lives. Amongst mixing up and opening letters, confusing suitcases and clothes and causing general mayhem, he also falls in love with a local servant, Smeraldina. However, in the end, order replaces disorder, every secret is uncovered and all lovers are united. 1

1 Goldoni, Carlo. The Servant of Two Masters. Ed. Turner, David and Lapworth, Paul. London: Evans, 1973. Print

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Until the mid 18th century, Commedia dell'Arte was mostly improvised and leather facemasks were used to portray stock characters. 2 When Goldoni, a Venetian playwright, wrote The Servant of Two Masters, Commedia was undergoing drastic changes. Goldoni was one of few who embraced these changes. 3 The Servant of Two Masters was among the first entirely scripted Commedia plays. This is useful as we can reference the script for characters' speech rather than just a general outline of events. Additionally, the actors abandoned their face masks.4 It was not until the mid 1700s that the term Commedia dell'Arte was applied by Goldoni in order to differentiate between his scripted and maskless comedies and the traditional, improvised, masked comedies. 5

Masks and costumes have always played a vital part in Commedia dell'Arte. The masks stem from Carnival traditions.6 An actor must fulfil the role of a stock character dictated by the mask 7

and underlined by the costume. Stock characters are so called tipi fissi 8, or

fixed types, familiar characters to particular societies. In the words of Carlo Boso "Each character is the representative of a social class which, by the act of theatre, becomes the magical incarnation of all its class" 9. So, every character, every mask, represents a specific class in society rather than simply an individual thereof. This means that it is essential for the actor to act according to the limitations of the mask, the costume and their stereotype. If the actor succeeds without incorporating inappropriate emotions to the represented class, the character becomes the mask.10 However, in the mid-18th century, 2 3 4 5 6 7 Rudlin, John. Commedia dell'Arte: An Actor's Handbook. Oxon: Routledge, 1994. Print, p.14 ibid. 233 ibid. 43 Richards, Kenneth and Richards, Laura. The Commedia dell'Arte. Oxford: Blackwell, 1990. p.8-9 Rudlin, John. Commedia dell'Arte: An Actor's Handbook. Oxon: Routledge, 1994. Print, p.34 Copeau, Jaques. Réflexion d'un comédien sur le Paradoxe de Diderot. Reprinted in Registres I. Paris: Gallimard NRF, 1974. p.205-13 8 tipi fissi; Rudlin, John. Commedia dell'Arte: An Actor's Handbook. Oxon: Routledge, 1994. Print. p.35 9 Boso, Carlo. Contre 'La mort sucrée' in Bouffonneries, No.3. May 1981. p.9 10 Rudlin, John. Commedia dell'Arte: An Actor's Handbook. Oxon: Routledge, 1994. Print, p.3

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playwrights and actors began to find the masks restricting11 and audiences yearned for more complex characters which could only be...
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