Commedia Stock Characters

Commedia stock characters embody traits from the localities where the Commedia originated.

All of the stock characters in Commedia dell'Arte can be identified as one of three types: Master, Servant and Lovers (Innamorati). The 'master' characters include Pantalone, & Dottore. The 'servants,' often referred to as the Zanni, include Arlecchino, Brighella, and Pedrolino. The four 'lovers,' which include two couples, are Flavio, Lelio, Isabella, and Vittoria. While the lovers might have other names, these are most common.

Harlequin, or Arlecchino in Italian, is arguably the most famous of the Commedia characters. Harlequin has three types of masks, the pig, the cat and the monkey. Arlecchino (Harlequin), is a servant of Pantalone. He is extremely poor with a patchwork costume that has evolved to pattern of red, green, and blue diamonds with gold trim.

Arlecchino is a peasant who cannot read or write and who has left his native Bergamo to seek his fortune in the city of Venice, as it grows rich from its commerce with the orient. This often causes amusement, as no-one can understand his dialect. Harlequin carries a baton which he sometimes uses to bash other characters, credited with leading to the modern day slapstick . He is portrayed as stupid and gluttonous and is very flexible and acrobatic. He would never perform a simple movement when a cartwheel or flip could be squeezed in. Despite being very nimble in body he was not that way in mind. Often portrayed as having the ability to think only one thing at a time. Harlequin could be tricked into thinking he was dead if that is any indication of his character. He would often try to win the heart of Columbina or other women, but usualy not with success.

Pantalone or Pantaloon wore a dark colored mask with a long hooked nose and bushy eyebrows. He also often had a mustache and a pointed beard that came forward as if it was to meet his nose at some point. Pantalone wore a tightly fit costume to give the impression of him being younger than he was. He would wear tight red trousers and yellow turkish slippers. A tight fitting red jacket or vest with a long dark colored overcoat. He almost always had a dagger at his side and a money purse dangling above his groin area.

Pantalone is a wealthy, retired Venetian merchant. He is stingy, and often mean to his servants. He could be considered a schemer, a womanizer, and self indulgent. When a woman who caught his eye entered on stage he would lapse into catcalls, learing, winks and innuendoes all the while strutting proudly back and forth. If by chance she accepted his advances he would quickly retreat, being unable to fulfill his fantasies of being a ladies man. When Pantalone is given bad news he would fall on his back and be unable to get up until given assistance by others.

Il Capitano is the alter-ego of Pantalone. The mask Il Capitano wore was a flesh colored mask with a long nose, often called a crocodile mask. If wearing a mustache, it is usually bristly and standing at attention to give the apearance of being fierce - in complete antithisis to the characters false bravado. His costume resembles a military version of the time, usually with a Spanish flair complete with a large ruff at the neck. A helmet or hat with a large feather plume. Oversized boots and garters. Sometimes he would wear a colored cape or overcoat. Il Capitano carries an oversized sword which, if he should ever work up the nerve to unsheath, would be too heavy for him to wield!

You can characterize Il Capitano as a 'wannabe' soldier who is actually afraid of any type of conflict. He is never a local thereby allowing himself to brag of his self and his conquests of single-handedly taking on a whole army etc. Full of long tales of conquests but when pressed into battle can find a silly reason not to engage. Full of pomp and flair. Struts proudly around. When Il Capitano is scared he will shriek like a girl and shrink away.

Brighella is often partnered with Arlecchino. His olive green mask has a hook nose, fleshy cheeks and, occasionally, a mustache, which can enhance his deceitful and cynical nature. His costume has evolved as has the character over time. He is depicted with full trousers and a jacket that is white with green trim or stripes, and yellow shoes. Often he owns a business, such as a tavern, and the costume is a good representation of middle-class business owners of the day.

Greedy to a fault, Brighella is always ready to double-cross anyone for financial gain. Antagonistic by nature, he is a fighter, an accomplished liar - as well as a ladies man who is usually successful in his conquests. (If there is a musician in the play Brighella would be the perfect one for the part, and he is often an accomplished singer, as well.)

Pedrolino, Pierrot or Piero is all one and the same. Although sometimes confusing, this is due to the character evolving through time. Pedrolino/Pierrot wore no mask but instead used white powder on his face. He would wear a white loose fitting blouse or tunic with large buttons and puffy sleeves. The blouse was often slightly too large resembling a hand-me-down as his character was a young lad from a poor family. Wide white pantaloons. Large sometimes frilly collar. Although the rest of the costume was standard the hat could be a couple different styles. Sometimes the hat would have a close fitting crown with a wide brim, sometimes it would be a cone shaped hat similar to a dunce cap.

Although the Pierrot character was originaly created as a fool for Harlequin, he has evolved through clown history and he is easy to recognize by parody because the character's personality has not changed much over time. Simply put Pierrot or Pierrette, (female), is cast as a youthful naive, (not stupid), downtrodden, romantic. Pierrot is often a prankster, can be acrobatic and proficient at tumbling and is often the butt of pranks.

Il Dottore, Dottore or self professed doctor. His mask is distinctly different from the others in that it only covers the nose and forehead. It is usualy black with a bulbous nose like an alcoholic would have and high forhead. The cheeks would be exposed and tinted red as one who has been drinking heavily for decades. The costume would be one representing a Scholar. It would be immaculate. He would be black on black with black shoes and a black hat. The pantaloons and jacket would be the same. Over the jacket would often be a black robe reaching almost to the floor. Later modifications would give him a wide ruffled collar and a wide brimmed felt hat. Dottore would be obese and either have the costume padded to reflect this or he would be a large person filling the costume.

If Pantalone is a decadant wealthy merchant, then Il Dottore would be his alter ego as a decadant erudite, (scholar), who can awe the lower class with his incessant blather and fake quotes from Latin or Greek. Dottore is a pompous old windbag who loves to hear himself bloviate about nonsense and considers himself to be a know it all. Dottore is usually portrayed as coming from "old" money. He is either a rival or a friend of Pantalone. He often offers to diagnose illneses by stating something like you must be pregnant or some other ridiculous diagnosis weather the actor is male or female.

All About Clowns - Commedia dell'Arte Stock Characters