Commedia Dell'Arte: An Actor's Handbook

Commedia Dell'Arte: An Actor's Handbook

Commedia Dell'Arte: An Actor's Handbook

Commedia Dell'Arte: An Actor's Handbook


There has been an enormous revival of interest in Commedia dell'arte. And it remians a central part of many drama school courses. In Commedia dell'arte in the Twentieth Century John Rublin first examines the orgins of this vital theatrical form and charts its recent revival through the work of companies like Tag, Theatre de Complicite and the influential methods of Jacques Lecoq. The second part of the book provides a unique practical guide for would-be practitioners: demonstrating how to approach the roles of Zanni, Arlecchion, Brighella, Pantalone, Dottore, and the Lovers in terms of movement, mask-work and voice. As well as offering a range of lazzi or comic business, improvisation exercises, sample monologues,and dialogues. No other book so clearly outlines the specific culture of Commedia or provides such a practical guide to its techniques. This immensely timely and useful handbook will be an essential purchase for all actors, students, and teachers.


The actor may get bored with perfecting his craft in order to perform in outdated plays; soon he will want not only to act but to compose for himself as well. Then at last we shall see the rebirth of the theatre of improvisation.


The purpose of this book is to help give commedia dell’arte back to the actor in the hope that it may again provide one of the base languages of a theatrical lingua franca. It is also founded on a personal conviction that if there is to be a regeneration of the theatrical medium in the next century, it must come via the re-empowering of the performer rather than the continued hegemony of playwright and director. In saying that, I am minded that the etymology of the word Esperanto, designed in 1887, derives from the Latin verb for to hope. Commedia, however, is an actual language, dispersed and fallen into disrepair, rather than an artificial one with a majority purpose and a minority uptake.

Throughout the twentieth century the question has been (and still remains despite the efforts of Craig, Meyerhold, Copeau, Reinhardt and later directors) how to retrieve information from scholarship in such a way that actors’ efforts at self-authored Commedia improvisation are not merely illustrative of what the original form may have been like. Craig was first to the heart of the problem:

History, to creative minds, is often a dry dead thing. It is the story of the past. Creators are concerned with the Present and the Future. It concerns our old friends Harlequin, Pantaloon, Pulcinella or Punch and their companions…the Doctor, Brighella, Scaramuccia, Coviello and the Captain. What fun, you think. Yes, what fun…but what genius also, for the inventors of these figures were men of genius. Whether the inventors were

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