Commedia Dell’ Arte: Its Origin, Culture, and Some of Its Character Archetypes

Commedia dell’ Arte originated in Italy in the 16th century. The first performance recorded was in 1545. When it started, street performers wore some unique masks with exaggerated expressions that pique the interest of people. Although the origins of this type of theatre are not precisely clear, tradition says that it was from ancient Greek and Roman comedy theatres.

Commedia dell’ Arte portrayers wore Commedia masks that hide their identity. Therefore, they can portray a particular person or organization in the society in a mocking yet comical way without getting in trouble. The masks are from different representations, which make the story clear and understood by their audience.

Commedia dell’ Arte created a considerable impact on theatre plays that were performed outside Italy. The characters’ archetypes were shown in different plays like “As You Like It,” “The Tempest,” “Merchant of Venice,” and “Twelfth Night,” which are all Shakespeare’s work.

The Commedia Dell’Arte Culture

Different social classes were able to witness the said plays performed by some Italian street performers. The style of Commedia Dell’ Arte traces back its origin from the “Black Death,” a renaissance plague. That era was a time for starvation, death, and adverse economic situations.

The themes for Commedia dell’ Arte are any of these four types: love, death, greed, and hunger. The Commedia masks are also part of the different variations of Venetian masks. The reach of the improvisation, masks, classical lazzis or the pranks and stunts, and the exaggerated gestures has widened that it reached entire Europe. It also embraced French influences and traditions.

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The Commedia dell’ Arte came from European, Russian, and Italian heritage. People once wildly used a comedic Russian painting during that time. Aside from that, many traditions in Italy has supported the theatre Commedia Dell’ Arte.

Some of the Commedia Dell’ Arte Characters and their Archetypes

Commedia dell’ Arte has three different types of characters. They are Il Vecchi (they are the older men), Il Zanni (these are the servants), and Gli Innamorati or the lovers.

Some of the archetypes of the Il Vecchi characters are:

  • Pantalone – This is the king. These characters are wealthy and mean, and older men play them.
  • Il Dottore – These are the fools. They have a smug look on their faces and act as if there is nothing that he’s not knowledgeable of, when in fact, they don’t know a thing. The mask is designed with a full snug nose and has an annoying mustache and eyebrows. They move in small steps, create a stiff pose, and uses a lot of space.
  • For Zanni or servants, they also use their masks, and an example of their archetype is called Arlecchino.
  • Arlecchino – These are the tricksters. They are childlike, and they make acrobatic moves. They wear a mask with an amused expression.
  • Columbia – the mother archetype. This is usually a smart maid that’s full of wisdom.


The Commedia dell’ Arte is known as a great type of theatre. They provide entertainment for different kinds of social classes by mocking anyone in society in a comical way.

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