From Meyerhold to Eisenstein

Commedia dell’Arte in Russia

Authored by: J. Douglas Clayton

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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From Barcelona to London, from Paris to St Petersburg, images and themes of Commedia dell’Arte (CDA) permeated the international arts movement at the turn of the twentieth century, as Martin Green and John Swan have shown (Green and Swan 2001). The images of Harlequin and Pierrot can be found in visual arts (Picasso), music (Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire), poetry (from Jules Laforgue’s Complaintes to Eliot’s Prufrock), in theater (Benavente’s Los Intereses creados), in opera (Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci), in film (Chaplin) and even in fashion (the slicked down hair of the Duke of Windsor, reminiscent of Pierrot). CDA as an international phenomenon was composed of different strands: itinerant Italian street comedy with improvised texts and masks was only one. Mime played a role from when the Comédie Italienne was forbidden to use speech by Mme de Maintenon and the théâtre forain appeared in the early eighteenth century. By the 1900s, marionettes and puppet theater had become popular and were to figure to some extent in the new manifestations of CDA, and the proliferation of cabarets and studio theaters was to provide a fertile new environment for Pierrot and Harlequin. Moreover, the related world of the circus with its clowns was called on to participate in the new efflorescence. CDA meant liberty: the twentieth century with its search for new beginnings and change was to embrace it with enthusiasm: it was dangerous, subversive and uncontrollable.

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