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I am part of a group working on a devised piece based on the theme of
comedy. We have explored different types of comedy and are devising
ways of using these in a piece of drama.
We were given some stimulus material about commedia dell'arte, this
literally means artistic comedy. It started in the later half of the
16th century and this was a period where plays were stylish, classic
and cold. So, commedia dell'arte was the complete opposite and soon
loud, colourful representations cropped up all over Italy. The rules
of theatre were subverted in this new style.
Commedia dell'arte is mainly based on free improvisation on stage.
Actors starting performing on simple stages set outdoors with a simple
yet essential background. These improvised performances were never
subtle and the humour was very often bawdy and coarse.
There are a number of traditional characters that are related to
commedia dell'arte. Harlequin is probably the best known out of all of
the characters. He is comic servant who is lazy but energetic and both
stupid and clever. He adds to the comedy that is being created on
stage by the pure stupidity of the things that he does. He is often
seen leaping into the air, dancing and walking on stilts.
Another well known character is Pantaloon. He is a comic old merchant
from Venice. He loves to give advice although he often receives blows
from his servants, which creates comedy on stage.
Even though commedia dell'arte didn't generate specific ideas for
characters as such it did provide us with ideas for basic plot, as
this genre achieves most of its humour on stage from the ridiculous
situations that the characters are faced with.
Our group was given a second stimulus of pantomime, and we were given
'Dick Whittington', written by Derek Dwyer and Merlin Price. In
British theatre pantomime is a Christmas or New Year entertainment,
but its origins can be traced back to the 16th century improvised
comic drama, commedia dell'arte. This can be seen as pantomime
retained a number of elements of commedia dell'arte, including the
actress playing the part of the principle boy, and the actor playing
Some new elements were also added into pantomime as it developed
throughout the ages such as popular songs, topical humour, audience
participation and a number of guest appearances from popular
entertainers of the day.
Many of these characteristics of typical pantomime can be seen in the
extract that we have been given of 'Dick Whittington'. For example,
before anyone even speaks there is a song to begin the show. This is
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Although pantomimes stem from commedia dell'arte there are a large
number of differences in how the two genres create comedy on stage.
Pantomime brings us up close to our greed, prejudice and dishonesty
and therefore forces us to laugh at ourselves. But commedia dell'arte
is a powerful mix of complex story lines with many climaxes and mellow
love scenes and that is why it became a huge success.
Pantomime as a stimulus generated a number of ideas for our group. We
are basing our narrator on the character called Arfur in 'Dick
Whittington' as he really creates a great amount of humour on stage.
We are also going to bring audience participation into our piece as we
think that this has a good effect when used to create comedy,
especially in pantomime.