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Commedia dell'Arte
Columbina, possibly the sanest character in the play, considers.

A form of theater developed in late-Renaissance Italy, Commedia dell'Arte ("artists' comedy") relied on a Universal-Adaptor Cast of stock characters, whose roles, characteristics, and costumes were well-defined and widely known. The troupe would take a scenario, which would outline the plot, and ad-lib all their dialog and the details of the action.

The Commedia dell'Arte is an ancestor of the British tradition of Pantomime, which also relies on stock characters and audience interaction. It also set the stage (no pun intended) for the Romantic Comedy genre, and has been emulated by the likes of Gilbert and Sullivan, William Shakespeare (The Taming of the Shrew is a particularly good example), Molière, Bertolt Brecht (expertly retooled the stock characters in Mr Puntila and His Man Matti) A. A. Milne (albeit without the romance), and the writers of Black Adder and of Fawlty Towers.

Commedia dell'Arte stock characters usually included:
  • The Lovers (innamorati)
  • The Old People (vecchi) get in the way of the lovers' happiness; often, two of them (usually the Doctor and Pantalone) are the lovers' respective fathers. The innamorato 's father may want to marry the innamorata himself.
    • The Captain (il Capitano): Blowhard, thinks he's God's gift to women, will turn out to have Feet of Clay. Often serves as the Romantic False Lead. If the innamorato 's biggest rival for the innamorata 's hand isn't his own father, it's this guy. Typically a disliked foreigner, often from Spain (as Spain, the superpower of the time, held political sway over Italy). Usually has an Overly Long Name (very common in Spanish nobility). A variant is Scaramuccia.
    • The Doctor (il Dottore): No, (probably) not that Doctor. Often an Absent-Minded Professor type; often the father of one of the innamorati. If he's the father of the innamorata, then he will rarely have much plot relevance, and will just sort of hang around and be funny. A parody of the Bolognese laureate intellectual (Bologna has one of the world's oldest universities). Mostly portrayed as a doctor in law, usually intersperses his lines with dog Latin and mangled renditions of commonplace Latin sayings for comical effect. Sometimes a Know-Nothing Know-It-All.
    • Pantalone: Often the father of the other innamorato/a. Rich and miserly. Keeps propositioning Colombina, the Dirty Old Man. Is also a Bad Boss to Arlechino. Sometimes an Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist. Based primarily on the stereotype of the rich Venetian merchant. Has a peculiar, shuffling walk, because he's always wearing Turkish sandals.
    • Tartaglia: Defined by his terrible stutter; is often blind as a bat as well. Often a priest, whose main role is to conduct whatever marriages happen at the end.
  • The Servants/Commoners (zanni, from whom we get the word "zany") Frequently the ones to ensure the marriages, as you can't count on the lovers being able to pull it off.
    • Arlecchino (Harlequin): Cheeky but loyal servant to Pantalone or the Doctor; audience favorite; usually drives the action. Can interact with the audience. Forms a Beta Couple with Colombina. Often a Big Eater or Lovable Coward, and tends to suffer Amusing Injuries. Although can also appear as an intelligent and/or amoral trickster. May also be a Bumbling Sidekick. Wears bells on his hat, and an outfit covered in red and black diamonds, and carries the original slap-stick. Known for acrobatic movements on stage. Varients include: Trivelino/Trivelin, Truffa/Truffaldin/Truffaldino, Guazetto, Zaccagnino, and Bagatino.
    • Colombina (Pierrette): Distaff Counterpart of Arlecchino; servant of the innamorata. Forms a Beta Couple with Arlecchino. Often the smartest/sanest person in the play. (What, you thought Women Are Wiser was a recent invention?) Usually plays a musical instrument, sings, dances, or does all three. Wears lots of bright colours. Also can be known as Arlecchina.
    • Pierrot (Pedrolino, Pedro): Loyal, hardworking, dependable servant; the story's Chew Toy. In love with someone, usually Colombina, who doesn't love him back. May be the Sad Clown. Usually dressed almost entirely in white, with a little bit of black. Variants include: Pedrolino, Burrattino, Bertoldo, Pagliaccio, Peppe Nappa, and Gian-Farina.
    • Brighella: Another greedy character, but much less rich than Pantalone. Sometimes a middle class shopkeeper or tavern owner instead of a servant. Has no problem lying through his teeth. Tends to be a Manipulative Bastard and a Lovable Rogue, perhaps even a Magnificent Bastard. Dresses in white with a bit of green, and probably plays the lute. Typically has a small, pointy beard. Variants include: Fenocchio, Flautino, Sbrigani, Franca Trippa/Francatrippa/Francatrippe, Turlupin/Tirelupin, Sgnarelle, and Gandolin.
    • Pulcinella (Punch): A hunchback or otherwise disabled/disfigured character, based on the stooping walk of Renaissance Italian coal carriers. Can be an idiot, can be a Genius Cripple. Very violent, especially towards Arlecchino and Pierrot, and speaks in an unusually squeaky voice. His name means "little chicken".
  • Other characters
    • La Signora: Often the wife of Pantalone and/or the mistress of Pedrolino, she is tough, beautiful and calculating but narcissistic. Sometimes a courtesan and often called Rosaura.
    • Beltrame: similar to Brighella, was either or both a shrewd villager and a blunderer who was always trying to appear of a higher rank than he really is.
    • Scapin/Scapino: similar to Brighella, and often seen as his brother or son, he was the more toned-down version. He's usually more interested in charming a servant girl or eating than carrying out Brighella's villainy.
    • Mezzetino: Often seen as the brother of Brighella, he is fond of the ladies even if they weren't fond of him. His character has many variations: a loyal or scheming servant or a deceitful or cuckolded husband.
    • La Ruffiana: An "old windbag" type; like the rest of the old people, she's out to thwart the innamorati.
    • The Pavironica family:
      • Sandrone: a crude, clever, and cunning peasant.
      • Pulonia: the wife of Sandrone.
      • Sgorghiguelo: the son of Sandrone.

Examples and references in modern media:

Comic Books
  • Harlequin Valentine, by Neil Gaiman, is explicitly based on commedia dell'arte tropes, with Harlequin as a trickster spirit romancing a mortal woman (who is, in the Columbine spirit, the sanest and most sensible character, and things don't go quite as expected). Along the way, Harlequin nominates the other characters as filling various stock roles, although it's ambiguous whether this is genuine insight or just a case of labelling people according to his preconceptions.
  • In one of the volumes of De cape et de crocs, a group of protagonists who get captured, are forced to perform one of these for their captors.

Film
  • The cast of The Rocky Horror Picture Show fit this pretty well, for the most part:
    • Brad and Janet are the Lovers.
    • Eddie makes a passing Arlecchino.
    • Columbia, fittingly, is a Colombina.
    • Frank-N-Furter has elements of both The Captain (obviously "not from around here," interested in Anything That Moves) and Pantalone (abusive of Eddie, his Arlecchino, hints of a relationship with Columbia.)
    • Riff Raff is a dead giveaway as the Pulcinella, hunchback and all.
    • The Criminologist is perfect as the Doctor.
    • The others are a bit of a stretch - presumably Rocky as the Pierrot, Magenta as the Brighella, and Dr. Scott as the Tartaglia.
  • The Marx Brothers fit the archetypes quite nicely.
    • Groucho: Arlecchino, though with aspects of Brighella, given his costant schemes.
    • Chico: Brighella
    • Harpo: Pierrot. A Night at the Opera even has a scene of him dressing up in the costume that he stole from a production of Pagliacci.
    • Zeppo: In early productions, the Innamorato. Later on, he becomes a more toned-down Arlecchino for Groucho to boss around, before leaving the pictures altogether, in favour of...
    • Alan Jones: Innamorato all the time.
    • Margaret Dumont: Columbina, or a Gender Flip of Il Dottore.
  • Andre Moreau of Scaramouche is a heroic fugitive who goes undercover in the commedia dell arte troupe his beloved Lenore acts in, discovering an unexpected talent for slapstick.
  • The cast of Beauty and the Beast fits nicely:
    • Belle and the Beast: Innamorati (main romantic leads of the movie, although much more fleshed out than the usual innamorati)
    • Gaston: Il Capitano (vain, boasting antagonist who lusts for Belle)
    • Maurice: Il Dottore (Absent-Minded Professor, father of the innamorata)
    • LeFou: Pulcinella (ugly and stupid servant of the main antagonist)
    • Lumiere: Arlecchino (smart, confident and flirty leader of the Beast's servants)
    • Cogsworth: Pierrot (Butt Monkey, although lacks the "hopeless lover" trait of the usual Pierrot)
    • Mrs. Potts and Fifi the Feather Duster have the traits of Colombina divided between them: Mrs. Potts embodies Women Are Wiser, while Fifi is Lumiere's love interest
    • Monsieur D'Arque: Brighella (cunning and greedy minor villain)

Literature
  • It is less evident from the book's final edition, but in The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov two of the devil's servants bear some resemblance to the most popular zanni characters. Koroviev, the talkative trickster dressed in checked clothes brings to mind Arlecchino, and in certain early version of the novel there's a character called "Fiello", a hunchbacked brute with mouth full of fangs, dressed in white, grotesque clothes with bells attached, who seems to have some of Pulcinella's characteristics. The latter was subsequently modified by the writer to become Azazello, another servant of the devil. Azazello lacks any significant resemblance to Commedia dell'Arte characters.
  • Commedia dell'Arte motifs figure in the later Jerry Cornelius stories by Michael Moorcock, particularly The Condition of Muzak and The Entropy Tango.
  • The characters do not fit the archetypes, but in The Vampire Lestat, the title character joins a Commedia dell'Arte troupe in his pre-vampire days. He plays Lelio, and counts his time as an actor among the best experiences in his human life.
  • In John C. Wright's The Golden Age, Phaethon donns a Harlequin outfit for the Masquerade. The Earthmind salutes his fidelity when he greets her. Possibly inspired by this, his foes don the forms of Scaramouche and Columbine to pursue him.
  • Agatha Christie wrote a series of stories featuring a Mr. Harley Quin, who had a knack for turning up where there were two lovers in trouble and, seemingly by chance, saying or doing just the right thing to influence events in their favour. (Being Agatha Christie stories, this often involved inspiring a Eureka Moment in somebody trying to solve a murder, but it didn't always — and there's at least one Harley Quin story in which nobody dies at all.)
  • The story "Puss-in-Boots" in Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber is essentially a commedia dell'arte play in prose form, with the titular cat helping his owner get in bed with Pantalone's young beautiful wife. Several stock characters of the genre are referred to by name.
  • Winnie the Pooh, albeit without the romance or the social class:
    • Pooh himself, with his clumsy nature, very little brain, and great appetite, is Arlecchino, of course.
    • The self-important Rabbit has aspects of both Pantalone and Brighella.
    • Owl, a rambling fool who thinks himself a wise and learned fellow, is pure Il Dottore.
    • The rambunctious, unintentionally-violent Tigger is primarily a Pulcinella figure.
    • Both Eeyore and Piglet have aspects of Pierrot - Eeyore the perpetual gloominess, and Piglet the defeatist, timid attitude.
    • Kanga is a sort of a Columbina figure, albeit a fairly bland one, while her son Roo is a Pulcinella-in-training, but with some of the wide-eyed innocence of the innamoratti.
  • Partly-inverted in the Jeeves and Wooster series of P. G. Wodehouse. On the one hand, the manservant Jeeves is always ready with a Zany Scheme to help his social betters work their way around a Parental Marriage Veto or some other such problem. But on the other hand, he - and most other servants - are portrayed as highly dignified characters, with all of the real clowning done by the upper classes, with his master, Bertie Wooster, as a rare aristocratic Arlechhino. That said, many of the upper class characters fit these archetypes pretty well, despite not being servants, with Bertie's aunts Dahlia and Agatha representing different takes on the Signora (as Bertie puts it in a moment of hyperbole, Agatha eats broken bottles and turns into a werewolf by the full moon, while Dahlia is the sort of werewolf whom it is a pleasure to know), the constantly-infatuated Bingo Little is an innamorato (with the tendency to fall in love with barmaids; rather appropriate, given the class inversion at play here), the drippy newt-enthusiant Gussy Fink-Nottle is a Pierrot, Madeleine Basset (who believes every time a fairy blows its nose, a baby is born) is a comedic take on the innamorata, the unscrupulous bookmaker Rupert Steggles is Brighella, and the paranoiac nerve-specialist Sir Roderick Glossop is Il Dottore. Likewise, there's always a violent Pulcinella figure on hand to threaten Bertie with bodily harm, most notably the hot-tempered Tuppy Glossop and the would-be fascist dictator Roderick Spode.
    • Wodehouse's other most notably series, the Blandings Castle stories, also apply zanni tropes to the aristocracy, with the doddering Clarence Threepwood, Earl of Emsworth, as a kindly Dottore figure, his domineering sister Lady Clarence Keeble as a Signora, their disreputable brother Galahad as an elderly Arlecchino, and Clarence's nemesis and neighbour Sir Gregory Parsloe-Parsloe as a sort of Brighella figure, and there are always a pair of innamorati on hand, one of whom will generally be a grandchild or distant in-law of Clarence. This time, however, the servants are a bit more in on the act, with the eternally put-upon butler Beach as a toned-down, non-romantic Pierrot, and the truculent gardener Angus MacAllister as Pulcinella (without the violence or threats thereof), and the opportunistic pig-keeper George Cyril Wellbeloved as a more conventional Brighella.
  • The theatre troupe in Players of Gor is this with the serial numbers very half-heartedly filed off — with justification, since all human Gorean cultures originated on Earth and have adapted to the local customs as necessary. Characters include Bina (a truncation of "Columbina", but also previously established as Gorean for "Slave Beads" and a common slave name) Brigella (note spelling) who is a female character, Chino and Lecchio who are an Arlecchino double-act, and Petrucchio who is often a Miles Gloriosus. As this is low art, female players are always slaves and have an alternative means of earning coins if the plays are doing poorly. (On the other hand, men do the heavy lifting and are more likely to be flat-out killed if they fall into bandit hands.)

Live-Action TV
  • The characters of Arrested Development can do this frequently, although the main character, Michael Bluth, can shift between an Innamarata and a Pantalone multiple times in any given episode, most of the time, however, he is Pierrot.
    • The Lovers: George Michael and Maebe, although Maebe tends to also often be the rare female version of Arlecchino.
    • Il Dottore: Dr. Tobias Funke, of course.
    • Pulcinella: Buster Bluth.
    • Il Capitano: GOB and his illegitimate son, Steve Holt.
    • Brighella: George Sr.
    • Pantalone: Lucille usually plays this part, considering her greed and generally bitter nature.
    • Pierrot: Poor, poor Michael Bluth.
  • Rarely actually seen, but apparently a regular sketch on Show Within The Show of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Nobody gets the joke, of course.
  • Blackadder is basically an extended series of mutations of this central trope, particularly emphasizing the social classes and power dynamics of the stock characters.
    • Edmund Blackadder himself is always some variant on the Brighella figure, defined by his greed, cowardice (particularly in the first series), and the fact that he is never the highest-status person around - even when he's the son of the king, he's only the second son, and as the series progresses, his rank in the world gradually drops.
    • Baldrick, whether the Hypercompetent Sidekick of the first series or the cheerful dimwit he is the rest of the time, is always some kind of Arlecchino, consistently the lowest-status character present, and always with some kind of 'cunning plan' always on hand.
    • The gloomy, supercilious Percy is pure Pierrot, especially in the second series, where he's constantly hopelessly in love with some offscreen woman.
      • His fourth-series incarnation, Captain Darling, is more of a particularly British take on Il Capitano, however - Edmund's rival and nemesis, but more out of priggish professionalism than hammy bravado. He also occasionally borders on the Pierrot, devotedly following General Melchett's orders, often the butt of Blackadder's jokes and awaiting in vain to marry Doris...
      • The first series' Prince Harry is an Il Capitano.
      • Whenever Flashheart shows up, he's a more straightforward Capitano, with all the bravado that implies.
    • Either incarnation of Melchett - and, indeed, any character played by Stephen Fry, such as the third series' Duke of Wellington - is generally a Dottore figure.
    • George is an odd case. Appearing in series three as a kind of dimwitted Innamorato figure (with aspects of Pantalone, given his lechery and high-ranking position as Prince Regent), but when he returns in Blackadder Goes Forth as Lt. George - this time, subservient to Cpt. Blackadder - he's more of an assistant Arlecchino to Pvt. Baldrick.
    • King Richard IV of the first series is a cross between Il Capitano, given his military background and hearty, exuberant manner, and Pantalone, given his position of power and often-unreasonable nature. The second series replaces him with a much more straightforward Signora in Queen Elizabeth I.
    • The third series' Mrs. Miggins is a pretty straightforward Columbina, given her quasi-romantic relationship to Blackadder, middle-class social status (she owns and operates an inn/pie shop), and her collaborative role in many of Blackadder's plots. This also applies to Kate/Bob of the second and fourth series.

Music
  • "The Carnival Is Over" by Tom Springfield, a signature song of The Seekers:
    Like a drum my heart was beating
    And your kiss was sweet as wine
    But the joys of love are fleeting
    For Pierrot and Columbine.

Theatre
  • Characters from Molière's plays tend to fit in those roles.
  • Carlo Goldoni's early plays are classic Commedia dell'Arte. From Momolo Cortesan onwards, though, his works take a completely new style, often violently clashing with the classic Commedia dell'Arte popular in Italy and France at the time.
  • In the plays of William Shakespeare:
    • Playfully mocked in Much Ado About Nothing. The aptly-named Hero and Claudio are the innamorati, Antonio is the tartaglia, Margaret is the colombina, etc. It's mockery because Beatrice and Benedick are the real main characters, and they are probably the only ones who don't fit any stock models. Also, the Zany Scheme is cooked up by Don Pedro, probably the highest-ranking person in the play, and his chief compatriot, Hero's father Leonato, really should be a Pantalone figure.
    • Other Shakespeare plays play this straight, sometimes so straight as to be more dramatic than comedic. Romeo and Juliet has its eponymous innamorati, Friar Lawrence the tartaglia (with the subversion that he's sort of right about everything), Lord and Lady Capulet (the pantalone and the signora), and Tybalt the capitano, with Mercutio as Arlecchino. The Merchant of Venice has Portia and Bassanio the innamorati, as well as Shylock the Pantalone. And of course, Touchstone, Bottom, Gratiano, and many others are perfect arlecchini. The Merry Wives of Windsor has Innamorati, a foolish doctor and a priest with a "speech impediment" (actually an outrageous Welsh accent), and Falstaff of all people as a sleazy Pantalone-type.
    • At least one version of The Taming of the Shrew, produced for television in the '70s by WNET New York, is explicitly Commedia, down to the costumes and presentation style.
  • Pagliacci is a classic opera, by Ruggero Leoncavello, about a Commedia troupe. The title literally means 'clowns'. The Show Within a Show is that Colombina is cheating on Pierrot with Il Capitano, and it's played for laughs, but backstage, Canio (the actor playing Pierrot) finds out that his wife (Colombina) is actually cheating on him with the actor playing Il Capitano. He sings the classic aria Vestia la giubba ('put on the costume') and then goes mad with grief.
  • The Pantomime Theatre in the Copenhagen amusement park Tivoli frequently features new and old plays with this. Here the loving couple however usually is the trickster Harlequin and the beautiful Colombina. The latter is the daughter of the old rich man Kassander, who won't accept their love, but of course they always get each other in the end. The favourite of the audience is however Kassander's always unlucky and not too bright servant Pierrot. In fact Pierrot has become quite a symbol in Tivoli - and in three other Danish amusement parks which also have a Pierrot each entertaining the children.
  • Servant of Two Masters:
    • Pantalone
    • The Lovers: Silvio and Clarice.
    • The Doctor: Lombardi, Silvio's father.
    • The Captain: Florindo. Beatrice is his love interest and has some captain-like qualities when posing as Federigo.
    • Arlecchino: Truffaldino.
    • Colombina: Smeraldina.
    • Brighella
  • Based directly on Servant of Two Masters, Richard Bean's One Man, Two Guvnors updates the plot to 1963 Brighton:
    • Pantalone: Charlie Clench.
    • The Lovers: Alan Dangle and Pauline Clench.
    • The Doctor: Harry Dangle, Alan's father.
    • The Captain: Stanley Stubbers. Rachel is his love interest has some captain-like qualities when posing as Roscoe
    • Arlecchino: Francis Henshall.
    • Colombina: Dolly.
    • Brighella: Lloyd Boateng.
  • Sweeney Todd might be seen as a very twisted version:
    • Anthony and Johanna, of course, are the innamorati.
    • Judge Turpin is Pantalone, Pirelli is il Capitano, and Beadle Bamford is some evil twin of Brighella.
    • Todd himself and Mrs. Lovett are Arlecchino and Columbina, making Toby Pierrot.
  • Aspects of this structure are present in all of Gilbert and Sullivan's works, but The Yeomen of the Guard is probably the most pronounced form it takes, albeit with a few unexpected twists.
    • Jack Point is introduced as an Arlecchino figure, but by the end, he's become a tragic Pierrot.
    • Wilfred Shadbolt is set up as the Pierrot, given his unrequited love for Phoebe, but in the end, he wins her hand (though not her love) and becomes more of an Arlecchino.
    • Col. Fairfax is set up as Innamorato to Phoebe's Innamorata, but we gradually learn Fairfax to be more of a Capitano.
    • Elsie Maynard is pure Colombina.
    • Lieutenant Sir Richard Cholmondeleigh probably should be Il Capitano, but he and Sgt. Meryll are both more Dottore figures in their ineffectualness and lack of insight.
    • Dame Carruthers is a Signora figure.

Video Games
  • In Nancy Drew: The Phantom of Venice, a crime ring uses characters from the Commedia dell'Arte as code names for the various members:
    • Il Capitano: Communications, Antonio Fango
    • Scaramuccia: Security Systems Expert, Gina
    • Brighella: Thief, Nico Petit
    • Il Dottore: Boss, Helena Berg
    • Arlecchino: Smuggler, Enrico Tazza
  • In Majora's Mask, Anju and Kafei are the Innamorati, Mayor Dotour is il Dottore, and Link seems to be a male version of Columbiana. The Curiosity Shop owner is Brighella, Tingle might be Pulcinella, and I'm sure other characters fit into other roles as well.

Web Comics
  • Commedia 2X00 uses the Commedia dell'Arte characters and plot as a vehicle, except in the skewed sci-fi/video-game setting of the Twenty-Xth Century; Dottore is a deranged cyberneticist who loses his funding for crimes against nature and arranges for his daughter Isa to marry billionaire Mr. Pants in exchange for a massive dowry, despite the fact that Isa is in love with Mr. Pants' son Flave. Dottore's project is the creation of Super Fighting Cyborgs. So far the only one we've seen is Arlecchino, who in a shout-out to Mega Man, "having a strong sense of loyalty, volunteered to be converted to a Super Fighting Cyborg."

Western Animation
  • The characters of Futurama are strikingly like Commedia characters:
    • Arlecchino: Fry
    • Colombina: Leela
    • Brighella: Bender
    • Pantalone: Professor Farnsworth
    • Il Dottore: Dr. Zoidberg
    • Il Capitano: Zap Branigan
    • Innamorati: Amy and Kif
  • As can The Simpsons:
    • Arlecchino: Homer/Bart
    • Colombina: Marge/Lisa
    • Pantalone: Mr. Burns
    • Pierrot: Smithers
    • Brighella: Moe
  • Warner Bros.' classic cartoon characters also show their Commedia roots:
    • Bugs Bunny: Scapino
    • Daffy Duck: Arlecchino - due to his tendency to receive slapstick as often as he doles it out.
    • Porky Pig: Tartaglia
    • Yosemite Sam: Il Capitano
    • Wile E. Coyote: Il Dottore - his "education" brings out his foolishness.


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