Commedia Dell' Arte and The Bard

Commedia Dell' Arte and The Bard - History of Theatre Prof...

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History of Theatre Prof. Brian Rose 29 December 2010 Commedia Dell’ Arte & The Bard Shakespeare is without a doubt one of the most famous men of all time. His works have been translated into every currently living language , and are commonly used for literary analysis and social commentaries of all kinds- he even has an entire section of Adelphi’s library firmly in his proverbial corner! To say that there are more books about him than books he wrote himself is simply an understatement. Given this fact , it is easily forgotten that anything else came before him , or that he – whom Nietzsche claimed to be a kind of ‘Übermensch’ – had influences of his own. Such assumptions are understandable in our bard-centric theatrical world , but if one digs deeper (and perhaps takes a course) this idea of Shakespeare being a demigod quickly goes out the window. He was a remarkable man , absolutely; nevertheless he had a multitude of hugely important influences. This awesome group of influences include: the Ancient Greeks (Aeschylus , Sophocles , Euripides) , the Romans (Seneca , Plautus , Terence) , The Wakefield Master and his Cycle/Morality contemporaries , and the Renaissance Italians who invented what came to be known as the Commedia Dell’ Arte. The Commedia Dell’ Arte , or ‘Comedy of Art’ , came into being in the 16 th century as a furtherance/combination of Greek and Roman comedic styles with masks. The Romans in particular were huge fans of Commedia’s ancestor ‘Atellanæ , which were improvised comedic farces featuring zany oafish characters often of a vulgar nature; which the Romans especially loved- vulgarity , that is. The actual concept of the Atellanæ came from the Oscan people (country: Osci) a part of un-united Italy facing the Adriatic Sea. Interestingly enough when the practice was imported to Rome around
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390 B.C. - during the rule of dictator Marcus Furius Camillus - only the servile and oafish characters spoke Oscan . This was the language of Atellanæ’s origin — all characters of intelligence and nobility in Camillus’ Rome spoke Latin. It is important to note that the Atellanæ preceded the arrival of the morality and cycle plays in Europe , and continued in various forms until the Church-led anti-theatrical movement quelled the improvised comedies . Church officials were of the opinion that these comedies were awful things “whose costumes and pleasantries smacked only too often of downright paganism… sacrilegious and blasphemous” (Ducharte 28). With the arrival of the Renaissance , clever writers in Italy started to write farces using bits and pieces of the Old and New Testaments - whereas the Atellanæ used Roman mythology – which was more to the liking of religious officials. Commedia Dell’ Arte was born.
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