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The Comedy of Craft: Stock Characters of Commedia dell’Arte

Comedy, which is, or ought to be, a school for propriety, should only expose human weaknesses for the sake of correcting them. -Carlo Goldoni

If anyone knows a thing or two about comedy, it is 18th century Italian playwright Carlo Goldoni. He specialized in “comedy of craft” — stock characters, improvisation and impossibly hilarious scenarios, better known as commedia dell’arte.

One of the most fascinating parts of commedia is the characters. They are caricatures, to be sure, but they lack no semblance to reality; their very exaggeration acts as a mirror to our own faults and flaws. Besides, there’s no greater fun than watching outlandish characters making fools of themselves. Here are a few quick facts about our favorite stock characters. Which one is yours?

Arlecchino aka Harlequin
(aka Truffaldino in The Servant of Two Masters)

  • Wears a colorful patched costume (the sign of a poor man)
  • An acrobat and a wit
  • Always hungry. Constantly.
  • Love interest of Columbina
  • A witty and creative trickster
(aka Smeraldina in Servant)
          •     Personal maid to the Innamorata
          •     Does not wear a full mask, only one that covers the eyes.
          •     Her costume accentuates her cleavage
          •     Sharp and gossipy
          •     Constantly pestered by men
          •     Loves Harlequin, but does not always accept him; instead, she punishes and shuns him.

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