A form of theater characterized by masked “types” which began in Italy in the 16th century and was responsible for the advent of the actress and improvised performances based on sketches or scenarios.
The performers played on outside, temporary stages, and relied on various props (robbe) in place of extensive scenery.
The characters of the commedia usually represent fixed social types, stock characters, such as foolish old men, devious servants, or military officers full of false bravado. Characters such as Pantalone, the miserly Venetian merchant; Dottore Gratiano, the pedant from Bologna; or Arlecchino, the mischievous servant from Bergamo, began as satires on Italian “types” and became the archetypes of many of the favorite characters of 17th- and 18th-century European theatre.
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