Women of the Commedia Dell ‘Arte

This portion of the work evolved from the back story work I got involved in attempting to prepare to be Columbine at the Mardi Gras on February 5th. I had chosen her as she was the only female Commedia Dell ‘Arte character I was familiar with, and the one most easily researched. I began working on her history, her tradition and trying to define her character. As Columbine is far from any of my most familiar modes of female thought, I got curious about the other women of the commedia. I was wondering if there were other characters that were not such a stretch for me. Upon closer scrutiny I learned what many women actors have learned before me – thanks to some of the hangups of the Roman Catholic Church women had been banned from performing in theater for centuries at the time the commedia dell ‘arte troupes began in 16th century Italy. Therefore the entire commedia tradition has been limited by this one fact – no great women characters developed as the fewer women characters needed the more practical it was for a commedia troupe, as these parts would have to be played by men. It is as if painting with yellow paint was not permitted. Therefore a whole tradition of painting would evolve that was devoid of that part of the color palette. Any artist following in that tradition, to be faithful, then would paint in the same limited color scheme.
I asked myself – who would these women characters have been, had circumstances been different? What female roles are there that are so universal that they could be as easily recognizable as Il Dottore and Il Capitano? I began a quest to find them, define them, and ultimately name them. It is hard to be precise about the process used to uncover these female da vita characters. [ da vita – means from life in Italian ] It was part a process of deep personal thinking about myself and the aspects of my character. It was a part analyzing literature and film. It was a large part of a symbiotic spontaneous combustion between question and happenstance. Quite often I would hear a song, or see a movie, or read a book, and would react – aha – She is one of them.
Over a period of time these women became clearer. Their distinct clusters of characteristics took form. Often particular women in history would spring to mind. The challenge then was to give them a voice here in this blog, and as it turns out an opportunity to chat with each other.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *