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comedy of craft - masks

Neapolitan theatre is traditionally of a very specific Italian genre, “La Commedia dell’Arte”, (Comedy of Art) and unlike many genres of theatre this refers mainly to the manner of performance, which is in part structured and in part improvised. The main structure, plot and outcome of each scene is pre-determined, but it is up to each actor to elaborate on his part in order to make the show something special while keeping it running smoothly.

Subjects varied from love stories, usually full of intrigue, to plots to steal money, outwit innocents and cause disasters from shipwrecks to fires, all with a humorous twist.

As the actors are masked and no facial expression is visible, emotions and personality have to be expressed through the body, with exaggerated movements and dancing playing a role in this. Comic intervals including music, dancing, juggling and pantomime are also often a part of this, and actors and actresses must therefore possess a number of skills to be good at this form of theatre.

There are certain characters that are so ubiquitous as to be symbolic of Neapolitan theatre, and most of these have characteristic costumes and even masks:

  • Arlecchino: Acrobatic, witty and somewhat infantile, this is perhaps the most famous of the characters.  
    He wears a cat-like mask and multicoloured clothes and also carries a baton or a wooden sword.
  • Brighella, Arlecchino's partner in crime, is something of a rogue and more sophisticated than his friend.
    He is also, however, a coward and a crook who will do anything for money. He wears a dark coloured mask and dresses in green and white.
  • Il Capitano, or “the captain” is a caricature of the professional soldier - bold, brash and swaggering… but cowardly! He does not usually wear a mask, but he does wear a multicoloured outfit with gold buttons and a feathered hat.
  • Il Dottor Ballanzone or “the doctor”  is a false academic - arrogant and deceitful, pretending to know everything.
    He wears a black mask with a big nose and a wart, as well as a black costume with a stiff white collar.
  • Pantalone is a Venetian merchant, wealthy yet miserly and unpleasant, retired but with a pretty young wife or an adventurous daughter he does not trust.
    He wears a dark mask emphasising his hooked nose and bushy eyebrows, with a red outfit and green cloak.
  • Pulcinella, better known in the Anglo Saxon world as  Punch in the Punch and Judy shows, is a hunched little man with a crooked nose, a malicious bachelor who chases pretty girls.
    He wears a hook nosed mask and a red and white outfit with a pointed hat.
  • Scarramuccia, or Scaramouche dresses in black velvet with a black mask and carries a sword.
    He is a buffoon and a coward.
  • Colombina is the maid or servant. She is often the wife or lover of Arlecchino. She is practical but also sly and rather malicious. She does not wear a mask, and often dresses in multicoloured patches like Arlecchino. She always wears an apron.
  • Rosaura is the much loved daughter of Pantalone. She lives in Venice in a beautiful, majestic building. She is a real chatterbox, is hot-tempered, jealous, vain and most of all in love with a character called Florindo, the polar opposite of her father, who obviously does not approve. With Columbine's help. Rosauro often sends hidden love letters to her penniless hero.  She wears an elegant blue dress and shoes with blue ribbons.

There are many troupes performing this form of theatre in Naples today, and Commedia dell’Arte is undergoing a revival at a national level, so there are shows to be found in theatres all year round as well as festivals such as the Teatro Festival Italia in Naples each year. More information on this event can be found at

If on the other hand you fancy a Neapolitan themed wedding, then why not incorporate Neapolitan theatre into it?
You could name your tables after the characters, have theatre masks as wedding favours or even have a troupe of actors perform Commedia dell’Arte followed by Neapolitan music for your wedding reception.

There are many ways to incorporate Italian culture into your wedding holiday or even into your wedding day, and this is just one of them.


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