The Commedia dell’Arte Acting Companies

Authored by: Kenneth Richards

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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The defining features of the Italian professional theatre seem to have evolved gradually in the context of formally organised acting companies of many kinds and size. The term ‘Commedia dell’Arte’ as a definition or broad description of the professional performers was introduced only in the eighteenth century. When we use the term of earlier professional performers we need to recognise the sheer range and variety of Italian players and professional theatre activity in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, encompassing as it did companies closely associated with courts, distinguished independent travelling companies, lesser itinerant troupes of various size, and possibly even groups of two, three or more performers, some of whom supported the commercial dealings of mountebanks. We have most information about the great troupes and respected players, who were connected with courts or who appeared at courts or were regularly on the major circuits, and it is on those we will mainly focus here, but we need to be aware of the others, and guard against casually applying what was characteristic of the major companies to the activities of troupes of more modest skills and audience capture.

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