"I almost didn't have a Monday Forum this week, my attention was distracted by Commedia dell'Arte, but I am trying to firm up my weekly program on this blog. Maybe something on the other tomorrow. Still, free to comment in any way you like on anything you like. After all, Commedia dell'Arte was all about improvisation. And masks! "
The reproduction is entitled Karel Dujardin, Commedia dell'Arte show (1657) (Louvre).
But what was Commedia dell'Arte and how did I come to discover it?
Wikipedia describes Commedia dell'Arte in this way.
Commedia dell'Arte is a form of theater characterized by masked "types" which began in Italy in the 16th century and was responsible for the advent of the actress and improvised performances based on sketches or scenarios.
Okay, that seems clear enough. But how did I find out about it? Well, I got a remarkable lot of my early knowledge from novels just picked up from family shelves. In this context, I have been rereading Rafael Sabatini's Scaramouche. My grandfather loved Sabatini, and I acquired that love from him, reading and rereading the books from my grandfather's shelves. The now very old and battered paper back copy I have of Scaramouche was his, as is my copy of Captain Blood.
Rafael Sabatini was born in Italy in 1875 to an English mother and Italian father. Until I came to prepare this short piece, I had no idea just how long ago Sabatini was born! His books don't read that way.
Sabatini's parents were opera singers who became teachers. At a young age, he was exposed to many languages. By the time he was seventeen, he spoke five language, later adding English. He was to write in English as a matter of choice. His first novel was published in 1902, but it wasn't until the publication of Scaramouche in 1921 that he attained real success.
Scaramouche tells the story of the young lawyer Andre-Louis Moreau through the turmoil of the French Revolution. The story is somewhat melodramatic, with traditional melodrama memes such as the orphan who discovers his parents! But Sabatini also uses techniques that would appear very modern today including writing as though the story was in fact a biography, referring among other things to theatre bills and the later confessions published by Moreau. He also has a very clear grasp of the detail.
I will return to this theme on Thursday, focused on the theatre elements in the plot.