La commedia dell'arte is a recognized, vibrant theatrical form that emerged in Italy during the Renaissance. However, while great attention has been given to the particulars of the genre (performance techniques, important troupes, leading players), there lacks a study behind the reasoning for its vast international popularity. In this thesis, I explore why this particular genre was able to cross cultural and linguistic boundaries, finding a dedicated and enthusiastic following in most European countries for over 200 years. After analyzing commedia dell'arte's original development in the Italian peninsula, examining the predominating Carnival ideology and the ability of the troupes to establish both regional and national symbols through the creation of specific stock characters, I will concentrate on the international tours and performances. By looking at the adaptive qualities of the troupes, and specifically their ability to play off of Europe's lack of national identity and Northern European's fascination with their exotic southern neighbor, I will discuss the reaction of Northern Europe with the Italian theatre, with a detailed look into the success of the troupes abroad. The popularity of the troupes will also be explored through the unique adaptation, assimilation and adoption of commedia dell'arte techniques and characters into developing national theatres of the other countries. I will conclude with a look of how commedia dell'arte has been and can continue to be effectively used in today's theatre. The examination of what drew both native and foreign audiences to the commedia dell'arte performances opens up possibilities for modern practitioners who wish to capitalize on the ability of the troupes to successfully play to a wide spectrum of people.



College and Department

Fine Arts and Communications; Theatre and Media Arts



Date Submitted


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commedia dell'arte, Italian theatre, renaissance, international theatre, masks, stock characters, improvisation, carnival, lazzi, Vsevolod Meyerhold, Dario Fo, San Francisco Mime Troupe, Jacques Copeau, Edward Gordon Craig, Arlecchino, Pantalone, Dottore, Pulcinella, Pierrot, Punch, Ganassa, Bottarga