Principles of Comedy for Commedia dell’Arte

Authored by: Brian Foley

The Routledge Companion to Commedia dell’Arte

Print publication date:  December  2014
Online publication date:  November  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415745062
eBook ISBN: 9781315750842
Adobe ISBN: 9781317613374


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Comic players have access to a rich history of effective tools and techniques, and a student of Commedia is well served by exploring as many of them as possible. While it is important to differentiate Commedia dell’Arte from its predecessors and its descendants, the performer of the human comedy may benefit from approaching Commedia as a segment, significant nonetheless, of a broader history of comedic performance. For it is true that some jokes and references are fleeting, and tied to a specific moment in time and place. But a student of the history of comedy will recognize that from Plautus to the medieval Troubadour, from Chaplin to Friends, there have been commonalities in many of the subjects, situations, and performance techniques that have inspired laughter. Lowell Swortzell, who has researched the history of comedic performers, writes that they have been “performing many of the same routines (and even telling many of the same jokes) for several thousand years.” (Swortzell 1978: 4) And as to whether the techniques of the first Commedia players were adapted from Roman comedy or developed independently, K. M. Lea notes, “the comic possibilities of a great nose, a bald head, a ragged garment, or a protruding stomach might occur to any buffoon though he never came into contact consciously or unconsciously with Maccus, Pappus, or the mimus centunculus.” (Lea 1962: 228)

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