The original commedia dell'arte in late sixteenth-century Italy was performed by traveling players who improvised their plays around a basic plot or scenario. The best known commedia characters were the comic servants like Harlequin and Pierrot who have become almost household names. The commedia dell'arte players soon moved to other European countries, and the genre was transformed in the process, particularly in France. Over the centuries the commedia has been adapted to suit the needs of successive cultural movements, and has become a symbolic theme not only in drama, but also in other branches of literature, as well as in art and music.
This book examines manifestations of the commedia dell'arte from Shakespeare to Dario Fo. The emphasis is on the variety and richness of the commedia, and includes discussion of music and poetry as well as drama, popular culture and the avant garde. Another feature of the book is its comprehensive and integrated coverage of the cross-cultural nature of the commedia: it draws together a collection of experts in major European Languages and literatures (including Latin American literature) and provides a new angle for discussion of a phenomenon until now covered mainly from the viewpoint of the drama historian.