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Commedia Dell’Arte

  • By: Joseph Farrell
  • In: Encyclopedia of Humor Studies
  • Edited by: Salvatore Attardo
  • Subject:General Media, Communication & Cultural Studies, Sociology of Culture

Paradoxically, the practitioners of what is now known as commedia dell’arte never used that term, preferring descriptions such as “improvised comedy,” “Italian-style comedy” or even, and more helpfully, “actors' theater.” The present term only became current in the 18th century, when the genre was in its death throes. The conventions and techniques employed by the tradition influenced the development of theater in many European countries and some modern directors and playwrights have remolded them for their own use, but the exact nature of the stagecraft involved is still a matter of dispute.

Commedia dell’arte dominated the Italian stage for around 200 years, from approximately mid-16th to mid-18th centuries, when the reform program introduced by Carlo Goldoni (1707–1793) extinguished an already enfeebled tradition. Plainly, it did ...

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