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How did the Commedia dell'arte cross the Alps to Bavaria?

  • M. A. Katritzky (a1)


The commedia dell'arte is a type of improvised acting based around the masked stock characters of the merchant, lawyer and servant, whose earliest names were Magnifico, il Dottore and Zanni (Plate I). From 1571 onwards, it was spread throughout Europe by visiting troupes of professional Italian actors, whose members, activities and travels are, for the most part, well-documented. The way in which it reached Bavaria is less clear. Records, including three festival books, suggest that already as early as February 1568, when crown Prince Wilhelm married Princess Renée of Lorraine in Munich, the commedia dell'arte was an established and popular feature of Bavarian court festivities, to which it contributed in three contexts. Some of its costumes were used in masquerades; the Venetian Magnifico, or merchant, and his servant Zanni (the servant-master pair who became the central comic focus of the commedia dell'arte) appeared as masked clowns on several occasions, and on 8 March 1568 there was a full-length play whose description in Massimo Troiano's festival book is generally acknowledged as the earliest known comprehensive description of a complete commedia dell'arte performance.



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1. For critical bibliography, see Heck, Thomas, Commedia dell'arte: a guide to the primary and secondary literature. New York & London, 1988.

2. Troiano, Massimo, Discorsi delli triomfi; Wagner, Hans, Kurtze dock gegründte beschreibung; Wirre, Heinrich, Ordentliche Beschreybung der Fürstlichen Hochzeyt. … All Munich, 1568. (References to Troiano in the present paper are to the Italian verso sides of the dual-language second, Venice 1569, edition. Leuchtmann, Horst, Die Münchner Fürstenhochzeit von 1568, Munich, 1980, reprints these versos, but replaces the Catalan rectos with a modern German translation).

3. Troiano, ff.146v-152v. Heck (p. 37) calls it ‘an early (so far the earliest known) description of an improvised Italian comedy, or CdA-style entertainment’.

4. The term is first used by Goldoni, in his play Il Teatro Comico of 1751, from whom it is taken up by Baretti, in 1764. (Gambelli, Delia, ‘Arlecchino: dalla “preistoria” a Biancolelli’, Biblioteca Teatrale, 5 (1972), 1768, p. 30).

5. Kathleen Lea's pioneering and uniquely thorough study of the commedia dell'arte and its emergence as a definitive form is still broadly valid (Italian Popular Comedy, 2 vols, Oxford 1934). A detailed overall revision of Lea's conclusions is long overdue, based on subsequent research, which has tended to concentrate on individual aspects of this question, as for example Tim Fitzpatrick on improvisation (‘Flaminio Scala's Prototypal Scenarios: Segmenting the Text/Performance’, in The Science of Buffoonery: Theory and History of the Commedia dell'Arte, ed. Pietropaolo, Domenico, Toronto, 1989, pp. 177189), and Michael Anderson on performance space (‘Making room: Commedia and the privatisation of the Theatre’, in The Commedia dell'Arte from the Renaissance to Dario Fo, ed. Cairns, Christopher, Lewiston/Queenston/Lampeter, 1988, pp. 7498).

6. Joachim du Bellay, Regrets, no. 112 (quoted in Driesen, Otto, Der Ursprung des Harlekin, Berlin, 1904, p. 195).Grazzini, , Tutti i Trionfi, Carri, Mascheaate o canti Carnascialeschi andati per Firenze, Florence, 1559, pp. 461–3.

7. For more detail on this, see Katritzky, M. A., ‘The Diaries of Prince Ferdinand of Bavaria: Commedia dell'Arte at the Wedding Festivals of Florence (1565) and Munich (1568)’, Italian Sources of European Festival, ed. Mulryne, Ronnie and Shewring, Margaret, Lewiston/Queenston/Lampeter, forthcoming.

8. Korr.Akt.924, (ff.33–58 63–112 and 117–21), Geheimes Hausarchiv, Munich (Bayerisches Hauptstaatsarchiv. Access courtesy of His Royal Highness Duke Albrecht of Bavaria, my thanks also to the Director, Herr Dr. Puchta, for his kind help). Partially edited (from a contemporary, probably shortened, copy, missing from the BHSA since at least the 1950s) by

Freyberg, M. V., Sammlung historischer Schriften und Urkunden, IV, Stuttgart & Tübingen, 1834, pp. 277362.

9. Supporters include Guoimar, Paule, ‘Les Influences italiennes dans les Fêtes Princières en Allemagne aux XVIe et XVIIe siècles’, in Le Théâtre italien et l'Europe, Actes du 2e Congrès International, 1982, ed. Mamczarz, Christian Bec et Irène, Paris, 1985, pp. 146–7, 153, 157.

10. Suggested by Hackenbroch, Yvonne, ‘Jewels by Giovanni Battista Scolari’, The Connoisseur, 159, 1965, pp. 200–5.

11. On Troiano, see Eitner, Robert, Biographisch-Bibliographisches Quellen Lexikon der Musiker und Musikgelehrten, 10 vols, Leipzig, 19001994, 9, 1903, pp. 459–60; Leuchtmann, (pp. 428–64). Trioano's promising career was cut short in 1569 when he disappeared after being implicated in the murder of a fellow court musician (Eitner, Robert, ‘Massimo Troiano als Flüchtling’, Monatshefte für Musikgeschichte, XXIII, Berlin, 1891).

12. Pirrotta, Nino, ‘Tragédie et comédie dans la Camerata Fiorentina’, in Musique et Poésie au XVIe siècle, Paris, 1954, pp. 286–97, p. 291; Schöne, Günter, ‘Les fêtes de la Renaissance à la cour de Bavière, in Le Lieu Théâtral à la Renaissance, ed. Jacquot, Jean, Paris 1964, pp. 171–82 & 2 plates, p. 175; de Ridder, Liselotte, Der Anteil der Commedia dell'Arte an der Enstehungs- und Entwicklungsgeschichte der komischen Oper, Köln 1971, pp. 56–7.

13. Troiano, , f. 147v (ray translation).

14. For Lassus bibliography, see Haar, James, ‘Orlande de Lassus’, in The New Grove Dictionary of Music, ed. Sadie, Stanley, vol. 10, London, 1980, pp. 480502.

15. Troiano, , ff.147v–148v, 149v, 150v.

16. Information on Livizzano is taken from Troiano (f.42v) and archival records (some published by Sandberger, Adolf, Beiträge zur Geschichte der bayerischen Hofkapelle unter Orlando di Lasso, 2 vols (I & IIIi), Berlin, 18941895, (IIIi).

17. Pageboys were not often individually named in the Munich court records, and I have come across no other references to Malaspina there. But a kinsman, Marchese Octavio di Malaspina, had been present at Ferdinand's entry into Mantua in January 1566, and later hunted with him (Korr.Akt.924, ff.109v–110r, 111r).

18. On Scolari, see Hackenbroch.

19. On Terzio, see Eitner, (9, 1905, p. 382); Lea, II, p. 7, n. 2.

20. For more detail, and references, see Katritzky, M. A., ‘Music and Spectacle in Prince Ferdinand's Diary, Orlandus Lassus, and the commedia dell'arte, forthcoming.

21. Detenbeck, Laurie, ‘Dramatised Madrigals and the commedia dell'arte tradition’, in Pietropaolo, , pp. 5968.

22. Although not indicated by Butchart, David (‘A Musical Journey of 1567: Alessandro Striggio in Vienna, Munich, Paris and London’, Music and Letters, 63, 1982, pp. 116), whose assertion that Striggio was present at Wilhelm's wedding in 1568 (pp. 8, 13) is not supported by the court records.

23. Korr.Akt, 924, f. 105r-v. My translation from the original German.

24. Duke Wilhelm made particularly strenuous attempts to restrict the practice in as yet unpublished documents of 1583, 1584 and 1586.

25. Korr.Akt.924, f.92r.

26. Wagner, , f.40v.

27. For more on the significance of this partnership for the ‘pre-history’ of the commedia, see Katritzky, M. A., ‘Italian Comedians in Renaissance Prints’, Print Quarterly, IV, 1987, pp. 236–54.

28. Four o'clock Italian time was four hours after the Italian twenty-four hour clock started, generally at or around sunset. (Talbot, Michael, ‘Ore Italiane: The Reckoning of the Time of Day in pre-Napoleonic Italy’, Italian Studies, 40, 1985, pp. 5162).

29. Korr.Akt.924, ff.49v–50r.

30. Troiano, , ff.68v, 88v, 122v; Wagner, , f.41v, Wirre, , f.40v.

31. Paolo Giordano Orsini, husband of Isabella d'Medici (named in full on f.83v).

32. Korr.Akt.924, ff.93v–94r.

33. Troiano, , ff.146v–152v; Wagner, f.63r.

How did the Commedia dell'arte cross the Alps to Bavaria?

  • M. A. Katritzky (a1)


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