Commedia Del’Arte – Character Analysis Essay
Commedia Del’Arte – Character Analysis
Pantalone is of top pecking order. He is wealthy and controls the finance in the character world of commedia, therefore his orders are usually obeyed by all. He is the father of Isabella.
He wears dark colours of black, grey and red; dynamic Pantaloons, tight-fitting long red trousers or red breeches and stockings, a short tight-fitting jacket, a loose long black cloak with plain sleeves, red-woollen skull-cap and yellow turkish slippers.
He is lean and scrawny and often short in stature. He wears a mask with a long, hooked nose with bushy eyebrows, sometimes also a moustache. Pointed beard just forward as if to meet the nose coming down, thus giving a very dynamic profile.
His signature props are a gold chain hung around his neck with a large medallion as well as a dagger and a money pouch. He also carried a ubiquitous handkerchief and used a walking cane.
His back bends giving him a hunched old man’s stoop, which protected his purse and effectively restricted the motion of his legs. His feet are together, toes apart, knees well bent and facing apart creating a focus on his crutch. His legs are also much more muscled with the possibility of sustaining extreme forward positions of the torso or making large strides.
Bullying, aggressively and mean-minded, Pantalone, a pauper who had squandered his dignity along with his cash. He’s always on the prowl and he could be termed a Beelzebub of sex. Any woman who happens to cross his path becomes at once an object of winks, leers and nudges… he parades up and down in a series of showily self-important struts, trips, trots and sudden halts.
His walk is small and slow and he can only walk at one pace; whatever his feet do his legs cannot go any faster, whatever the motive or stimulus. He’s old in body, but his head, feet and hands are still active. The hands (which he can’t keep to himself) flutter continuously, gesticulating each thought as it comes into his head. The only way he can stop this is to hold them behind his back, underneath his cloak.
His voice is similar to a high pitched squawk that continuously breaks. It’s cold and prudish and demanding. Pantalone gives voice to the darker side of the male consciousness, a secret hero to the unenlightened males in the audience.
He is mean to his servants, narrow-mindedly proscriptive to his children, fawning to Il’ Dottore, scheming with Il’ Capitano, lecherous with Colombina and indulgent to himself. He is too self-interested to be aware of spectators, therefore takes no notice of them.
Pantalone operates on the assumption that everything can be bought and sold, and this turns out to be true, with the exception of loyalty (and love). But he also loves money for its own sake and will therefore only part with it when there is no other option. He always wants to marry his daughter to a wealthy man – and avoid giving her a dowry. When things do not go his way he quickly slips into emotional extremes, particularly enraged petty tyranny. He has a long memory and never forgets or forgives the slightest past transgression. Pantalone is action, not words.
Il’Capitano is a loner. He is never indigenous to the town where the scenario is set and is able to pretend to high status as a result. His downfall to the level of actual social standing is an essential part of the denouement. Being a ‘Capitan’ he wore a feathered helmet or hat, huge boots and exaggerated garters. His clothes were sometimes diagonally striped or slashed, but whatever the style, close scrutiny reveals the truth: Magnificent in words, but his purse is always empty and under his beautifully richly damascened cuirass he wears but a frayed and tattered leather jerkin. Il Capitano himself, however, always claims that his tattered undergarments are caused by the amazing virility of his body hair bursting through whenever he gets angry.
Il Capitano appears large, whether physically or egotistically, he is a large presence on stage. He try’s to attract attention from women and intimidate men. He wears a mask with a great menacing nose and fierce, bristling moustaches, which seemed like veritable iron spikes defending the entrance to a citadel only too ready to capitulate. The mask, in its general aspect, was intended to emphasize the contrast between a brave appearance and a craven nature.
His signature prop is a long sword that he never actually uses for fighting. His feet are planted apart in order to occupy maximum space, his chest is pushed forward and his back is always straight and tall standing with his hips wide. His walk is a long stride where the heels of his boots come down first, then the foot rolls onto the ball, then he steps again off the ball of his foot giving him rise and bounce in his step so his head can be among the clouds. However, his actual steps are small (he is in no hurry to get to war, but wants to do so with maximum effect).
When he hears a frightening noise he drops everything, but only succeeds in running on the spot, head thrown back, arms in the air, kicking his feet forward and howling piteously. When he hears a wolf (or small dog) he shrinks little by little until he has made himself unnoticeable as possible, then scurries away in a crouch. When fleeing from a mouse he adopts a kind of leaping promenade walk in order to prevent it running up his legs. When scared witless he occasionally runs to be seen, to show off his legs.
He often stands at attention or with his hand on his sword, nose in the air and his chest puffed out. When he’s not pretending to be brave he is cowering with fear. His movements are slow, deliberate and mechanical with his gestures being extravagant and sustained.
His speech is loud and proud turning to a squeak when frightened. He was originally employed by Pantalone to do his dirty work for him. They worked well together as lechers with financial aspirations: Il’Capitano to get rich, Pantalone to remain so. Pantalone would often congratulate Il Capitano on his efforts, and then betray him to others. He is almost used as a prop by all the other characters. The whole world is an audience. He stops whenever he sees the actual audience and makes a salutation so that he can be admired.
Initially his magnificence may take in the other characters, but never the audience: something in his very first entrance (a trip for example) should give him away.
Il Dottore is the head of another family and is often the father of a lover, usually Lelio. He is the equivalent of Pantalone who thinks he has brains. He wears a black academic dress satirising Bolognese scholars, a long jacket with black coat over-reaching to his heels, black shoes, stockings and breeches, and black skull-cap.
His appearance is grand: his huge size comes directly from Carnival and contrasts with Pantalone. His mask covers the nose and forehead and sometimes the cheeks, which are red as he is apparently fond of the bottle.
His signature props include a book and a white handkerchief. He would stand with his weight back on his heels, belly forward and his hands gesturing in front. He walks peripatetically in figures of eight, using tiny, mincing steps. His walking posture descends while he thinks (out loud, of course) and rises up again on the solution of the problem.
When posing, he leans forward with a hand on his face, usually tapping his forehead or stroking his beard in a pensive manner. When posing behind another performer, he sometimes does something malicious such as preparing to knock them out with a mallet.
His movements are relatively static in front of the audience. He needs all the space to himself and gains it by gesturing out from the body as if sowing a seed.
He ‘parps’ like a trombone when speaking and pronounces “S” as “Sh”. He is a neighbour and friend or rival of Pantalone (either way, the two are inseparable), and since he is a natural parasite, sees the advantage of being patronized by him. To acknowledge or talk to the audience he needs a context in order to make a direct address – the giving of a lecture for example.
He gives the other characters a break from physical exertion by his prolixity – sometimes to the point where he has to be carried off by them, still talking. For this reason he stays a relatively long time onstage. A survivor, not a target figure like Pantalone.
He is essentially belly, not intellect and is extremely vocal. Il’Dottore is inclined, like Pantalone, to be stingy, but in his case it is because he doesn’t have any money.
The doctor is an eternal gasbag; he cannot open his mouth without spitting out a Latin phrase or quotation. He believes someone suffers from an ailment, which they obviously do not, and offers to cure them. He spontaneously diagnoses performers on stage, tries to enlist assistance to help him perform experimental surgeries on himself and others, as well as performs random experiments in the name of science and medicine.