Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1684 Commedia zanni
Subjectzanni clown
Culture: Venetian, French 
Setting: Commedia dell'Arte, western Europe late 17-18thc

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* Lawner 1998 p17
"It was only in the sixteenth century ... that modern, independent troupes of comic actors began to form, operating under contract to various clients, including royalty, and producing their own material.  Later, the style acquired its name -- commedia dell'arte -- but early on actors determined to professionalize their craft.  The exact meaning of the term arte has been much argued, but it seems to signify not only the special talents and skills of these actors, but also professionalism in the practice of a trade that is autonomous and commercially profitable.  Throughout the seventeenth century the principal troupes were based in Italy, mainly in northern Italian cities such as Lucca, Modena, and Venice.  They traveled and performed widely, especially in France, where they settled as permanent companies under the auspices of kings, from Charles VIII through the Regency period to the reign of Louis XV.  Welcomed in other courts of Europe, the Italians entertained far and wide, influencing theater arts and culture in general, even sometimes local customs and dress (especially in masquerades)."

* Favale/Alei 2003 p72-73
"In spite of the scorn heaped on them by intellectuals, the buffoons' success increased among the lower classes.  Late Renaissance intellectuals such as Marcantonio Sebellico, Giovan Battista Seita, Paolo Canal and Girolamo Amaseo were in praise of the new dramas, bu many believed the buffoons were corrupting the dignity of antiquity.  Paradoxically, as Adrian Giurgea points out, the buffoons not only spread ancient culture among the lower classes, but were also great actors with an uncanny ability to parody the real world.  Zuan Polo, Domenico Taiacalze, Andrea Razer and Zuan Cimador were among the most famous masked actors of the Renaissance capable of acting while simultaneously impersonating the character of the mask.  The actor Cherea and the legendary Ruzzante developed a 'school' of comedy and mask that reached its zenith in Italy with the commedia dell'arte and abroad with the Comedie Francaise.  Both the Italian and French comic styles depended upon the use of masks and the invention of hilarious characters.
    "It was the eighteenth-century Venetian playwright Carlo Goldoni who raised the commedia dell'arte to a new level of greatness.  Goldoni argued that comedy had significant poetic content and went out of his way to defend the skill of its actors.  He claimed that: 'la Commedia è poesia da rappresentarsi, e non è difetto suo che ella esiga, per riuscir perfettamente, de'bravi Comici che la rappresentino, animando le parole col buon garbo d'un'azione confacevole...'  Goldoni's comedy was generally based on the relationship between servant and lord, a concetto with a long tradition.  The Zanni (servants), also called Francatrippe, Arlecchino or Pulcinella, and the Magnifico (lord), often known as Pantalone, were the subjects for many of his comic sketches.  Works such as La IocandieraI rusteghiLa vedova scaltraLa bottega del caffè, and especially Arlecchino servitore di due padroni and Gli ultimi giorni di carnevale were inspired by Carnival and exemplified its spirit with its jokes, paradoxes, comic use of dialects and role reversals."

​* Lawner 1998 p35-42
"The original basic scenario from which these troupes developed their performances was that of a single servant with a single master.  Indeed, the servant, or zanni (a word deriving probably from the Venetian name Gianni, or John), seems to have arrived on the scene first.  From the fourteenth to the sixteenth century popular comic poems, dialogues, and performance pieces, usually in the dialect of Venice or Bergamo, were written in the voice of a disgruntled, mistreated, and often scheming manservant.  Here we first encounter the situations that emerge in commedia as endless variations on the themes of hunger and injured pride, offering glimpses of the misery, decadence, and frustration of society's lower caste as it strives continually to redeem its own self-image and to satisfy its belly through the exercise of intelligence, astuteness, and wit.  Here among other knaves and heroes, is the embryo of the revolutionary figure of Beaumarchais's and Mozart's Figaro, eloquently defending himself, his passions and rights, by ridiculing and even reforming an overbearing, unjust master.
    "Among their many duties and customs, the zanni served as go-betweens, ruffians, and pimps. ....  Actors themselves were not so far removed in status from the rakish characters they impersonated.  Sometimes they faced exactly the kind of picaresque, unsavory, and disagreeable adventures they enacted onstage.  The most famous actor donning the mask of Mezzetino was Angelo Constantini (1670-1729).  Augustus II, elector of Saxony, made him a noble of his court, but the actor's amorous intrigues with the ruler's mistress got him thrown in jail.  Constantini languished in the castle of Königstein for more than twenty years, then returned to the stage once more.
    "Traditionally, a distinction existed between the First Zanni and the Second Zanni, one meant to be clever and cunning, the other stupid and naive, though the division was never rigid.  Zanni, being servants or lower-class folk, spoke in low-caste dialect, and each had a particular hometown.  Harelquin and Brighella were from Bergamo, Beltrame from Milan, Franca-Trippa f rom Bologna; Pulcinella was a peasant from the region around Naples (and not precisely a zanni); other zanni include Scapino, Truffaldino, Coviello, Mezzetino, and the innocent young Pedrolino (Little Peter), or Piero, who became the French Pierrot.  Almost all of them share the characteristics of greed adn thievishness, as the nuances of their names indicate.  We have Franca-Trippa, from 'tripe'; Pulcinella, 'little chicken'; Truffaldino, 'trickster'; Brighella, 'trouble-maker, creater of imbroglios'; Scapino, from 'to flee'; Scaramuccia, 'skirmisher'.  But many had an airy, spiritual side as well, and a natural, even somewhat magical, relationship to music.  The zanni Flautino had a miraculous voice that could emit flutelike sounds and proved as irresistible as the legendary Pied Piper."

* Belloni 2003 p40-42
"Zanni  This character comes directly from the distant history of humankind.
    "He originates from primordial rituals for the fertility of the land, bountiful harvests and the prosperity of the community.  The character represents divinities of the underworld, demons and, more generally, dangerous powers that threaten nature and which needed to be exorcised.
    "A survivor of the passing of millennia, he crops up in medieval rural festivals and at carnival, the most important festival in the annual cycle of the earth.  From here the passage to the Commedia dell'Arte, transforming from the extremely licentious, vulgar, instinctive and slightly animalesque figure in peasant folklore, to another, ever more refined figure which still preserves, however, traces of its origins in the masks, the mime and the character portrayal.  Harlequin, Brighella and Pulcinella are the best known Zanni. Sometimes, though, theatre productions still have characters which preserve the original name of Zanni.  In all of these representations he remains a servant figure, a poor man, always hungry and miserable, but with a thousand tricks for getting by."


* Lawner 1998 p 17
"What is the essence of commedia dell'arte if not its masks?  Masks hid the identity of the actor and therefore allowed free, uninhibited speech -- often risqué, pointed, and tailored to the moment.  They also permitted seemingly limitless impersonation.  Many of commedia's most appealing characters are figures of an equivocal identity, through changes of costume, mask, and voice the tricksters Harlequin, Mezzetino, and Scaramuccia (Scaramouche) could further confuse and tantalize viewers, metamorphosing according to whim or the exigencies of a particular audience or scene."

* Favale/Alei 2003 p73
"These comedies led to the development of a wide variety of masks, fashioned for male and female caricatures.  Comic protagonists such as Mirandolina, Corallina, Rosaura, Emilio Zago and Don Marzio, shared the stage with bizarre characters wearing masks: Arlecchino, Pulcinella, Colombina, Pantalone, Brighella and the Dottori.  As the comedies became increasingly intricate they began to include sub-plots such as young men in search of their lovers.  Lello, Flavio and Cinzio were stock names for handsome youths who, distracted and clumsy, were perpetually inflamed by love.  Often a malevolent antagonist would stalk a victim, adding a twist to the plot.  The most famous evil character was the powerful Capitan Spaventa, impersonated by actors who were able to frighten the audience.  Comic writers of the eighteenth century sought to create dramas of hilarious confusion based upon misunderstandings between masters and servants or between lovers; contrasting good and evil, innocence and corruption, beauty and hideousness."