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Italian carnival characters
Fun and cultural: Italian Carnival
I love the Italian carnival. I love the characters, their costumes and their personalities and how they are shaped by regional believes and cultures. As a young girl I was fascinated by the colours of their costumes and found their detailed masks captivating, enchanting and somewhat quite spooky. They are used frequently in puppet theaters and are very popular with children. What a lot of people do not know is that they are not just carnival masquerade but they have a strong link with Italian theater: La commedia dell'arte.
Characters, costumes and personalities
All of the famous Italian carnival character come from a specific town and their personality is often shaped to represent the place they come from.
PULCINELLA: Most probably the most famous character. He's a servant from Naples, dressed in white from head to toe and has a prominent nose. He's a happy chap, a bit dumb and loves gossip. In Italy there's a saying: "The secret of Pulcinella" which means everyone knows it.
ARLECCHINO: Also quite famous. He's from Bergamo in North Italy and has a very colourful costume made up of lots of triangles of different colours. He's a bit of a trickster, very clever and lazy servant. He loves Colombina but also loves his freedom and finds any excuse to avoid getting married to her.
COLOMBINA: She's from Venice and wears a lovely long dress and bonnet. She works as a maid for Pantalone and is Arlecchino's girfriend. She's beautiful, clever and quite manipulating.
PANTALONE: Also from Venice he's a rich merchant, a bit grumpy and very tight. He wears a long black cape, red blouse and has a money bag hanging form his belt. His nose is long and has a beard. He's madly in love with his maid Colombina.
picture from: scuole.provincia.ps.it
picture from: en.wikipedia.org
BRIGHELLA: He's Arlecchino's friend and form Bergamo. He doesn't work and he's always up to something illegal. He's a lier and very naughty.
He wears a white cape with green stripe.
GIANDUIA (or GIANDUJA): He's from Turin, a happy chap who loves food and wine. He's quite round and wears brown and red clothes, yellow waistcoat and red socks. He also wears a wig and a hat.
BALANZONE: Comes form Bologna and he's a doctor and scholar. He always carries a book with him. He's a bit of a show off and likes to use complicated words to demostrate he's a man of culture. Everyone thinks he's the best doctor in Italy but he's just a show off and doesn't know what he's talking about. He wears a black cape with white cuffs.
picture from: it.wikipedia.org
picture from: commedia_dell_arte.tripod.com
La commedia dell'arte
This specific form of theater, which involves masked characters, originated in Italy in the 16th century. It is the first theater which allowed women to act (female parts where played by males until then) and was based on improvisation. Themes included, love, adultery, current affairs and regional tales and most of them had an element of comedy. Singing and dancing was also a strong element in La commedia. Every theater production in La Commedia would always have an happy ending.
Other forms of theatre such as pantomine and punch and judy own their birth to La commedia.
More on Italian carnival characters
- Venetian mask shop
History of Italian carnevale and Venetian carnival masks