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ITALIAN THEATRE The HISTORY of the. I T A L I A N T H E A T R E The stage has always been a magic place, where reality mingles with fantasy, involving.

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Presentation on theme: "ITALIAN THEATRE The HISTORY of the. I T A L I A N T H E A T R E The stage has always been a magic place, where reality mingles with fantasy, involving."— Presentation transcript:


2 I T A L I A N T H E A T R E The stage has always been a magic place, where reality mingles with fantasy, involving and arousing strong emotions, and linking the author, the public and the actors in a unique experience. INTRODUCTION Life and Theatre can become two realities which fuse together, mingling, interchanging and overlapping their identities, two close and complementary dimensions where the ideas wear the characters’ costumes and find the power of the spoken word with the immediacy of scenic communication. The present work is not meant to be a complete analysis of the history of the Italian Theatre but it rather aims at providing a brief survey of its development, from the origins to the 20th century, a period which appears particularly rich in historical and social changes inevitably converging in dramatic production. The stage has always been a magic place, where reality mingles with fantasy, involving and arousing strong emotions, and linking the author, the public and the actors in a unique experience.

3 THE ORIGINS The origins of Italian drama lie in Greek and Roman Theatre. The Greeks were the first in Europe to stage theatrical performances. Aeschylus, Euripides, Sophocles established the forms of tragedy and comedy which still maintain their strength and appeal today. Performances had a merely entertaining aim and initially they were not staged in stable and proper buildings, but rather on movable stages. Only later were the theatres built, in imitation of the Greek ones.

4 Medieval Theatre

5 LITURGICAL DRAMA During the Middle Ages the Theatre was condemned by the Church which was utterly against the pagan issues of tragedies and the licentious quality of comedies. The theatres as buildings disappeared and all types of public manifestation were banned. But oddly enough a new form of theatrical expression, the Liturgical Drama, stemmed from the Church itself with the aim of spreading the Christian message in the form of dialogue, sung in Latin and called “tropia”. The church was the first venue for these sacred representations, which later moved out to the squares where the first wooden stages were built. It was thus that the “Sacred Representations”, or Medieval Theatre as it is properly known, started, continued by amateurs, since the hostility of the Church towards this form of expression had resulted in the disappearance of professional figures and even the female roles were played by men. Women, in fact, were forbidden to go onto the stage.

6 Fare clic per modificare lo stile del titolo Fare clic per modificare gli stili del testo dello schema Secondo livello Terzo livello Quarto livello Quinto livello 6 Court Jesters Juxtaposed with the Liturgical Drama was a popular form of entertainment carried out by jesters. Jesters were travelling players who moved from town to town and were often employed by royal courts or palaces. They might be university dropouts, monks thrown out of priories, jongleurs with exceptional verbal ability or physical dexterity, poets, musicians, or they might be any laymen or apprentices whose fooling might have amused a nobleman. Their performances included acting, singing, dancing, juggling, acrobatics, clowning and miming. They were negatively thought of by the Church which considered their songs obscene. The figure of the jester has been reassessed by Italian playwright Dario Fo, winner of Nobel Prize for Literature in 1997, who has even defined himself a jester. Fo believes that medieval jesters showed a kind of political commitment opposed to the established power.

7 Comedy of Art This kind of theatre had a long life in Italy, but it flourished especially in the 16th and 17th centuries. It was professional improvised comedy where the actors performed unwritten plays improvising their parts starting from a vague plot. Histrionic abilities, unknown to the medieval stage, were required to make the tears flow or the laughter ring. Since laughter was the end and aim of this kind of entertainment, the plays were about love intrigues, clever tricks to get money, misinterpretations of orders with laughable results, puns, satire. The characters wore Masks, grotesque visards, and conventional costumes to heighten the comic effect. Gradually they tended to assume a stereotyped habit and name. The most popular were : Pantalone - a rich merchant from Venice, fond of food and pretty women. Doctor Ballanzone - an old pedantlawyer or doctor,enormously conceited. The Captain - a boasting soldier but a coward underneath. Zanni : usually the servant an confident of a principal character. His main function was to rouse laughter and entertain at all costs. The most common zannis were: Harlequin - servant. Illiterate, always dressed in a patchwork costume. Pulcinella - a hunchback with a long crimson nose and dressed in a dark cloak. Brighella - self-made man of humble origin, often a partner of Harlequin Columbina - maid servant and lover of Harlequin. Rather intelligent, she is usually involved in intrigues. These typical stage characters enjoyed at least four centuries of popularity and exerted influence on many dramatists of their time. The companies of Comedy of Art were considered immoral by the Church for the presence of actresses and the unconventional performances.

8 Carlo Goldoni By the beginning of the 18th century the Comedy of Art had begun to decline and the stage production was slowly undergoing deep changes.

9 Carlo Goldoni (1707 – 1793), considered the founder of modern Italian comedy, conceived the idea of reforming the Italian stage by eliminating the masks and buffooneries of the Comedy of Art. He was the first to write regular plays, with a complete script and not with improvised dialogues.He wrote comedies in the manner of French dramatist Molière, but based on Italian characters and life. His 160 plays sprang from his capacity of observing life and from his understanding of human emotions. His main characters, which belong to the middle class, are round characters with a complex personality. They are neither examples of human virtue nor examples of human vice.

10 The moral and civil values that Goldoni holds to be of utmost importance in his plays are those of rationality, civility, humanism, the importance of the rising middle class, honour and honesty.

11 Vittorio Alfieri To a different kind of theatre belong Vittorio Alfieri’s tragedies. Vittorio Alfieri (1749 – 1803) believed that Italian drama could be purified most effectively through a re-introduction of the classic modes, therefore he took one, and only one, thread of action, discarding underplots and concentrating on the advancement of the plot.

12 The characters of his plays do not grow but remain the same from the beginning to the end, and in almost every play he revealed his detestation of tyranny and his passion for liberty, which he regarded as the dearest thing in life. Most of his plays, in fact, deal with the struggle against tyranny. In their fight for liberty, his heroes are sort of Titans.

13 CHARACTERISTICS OF DRAMA IN 19th CENTURY In the first part of 19th century Italy went through deep social and historical changes within its fragmentary political situation. The echoes of the French revolution and the rise of Napoleon aroused ideals of freedom, independence and hopes for a new society based on democratic principles. But soon these hopes were disappointed and the French Emperor was later regarded as a foreign oppressor. His downfall was well accepted by many people who welcomed the restoration of old forms of political authority. Within this political context the Italian Drama could only develop thanks to few companies of actors financed by local authorities and linked to important theatres in Milan, Turin and Florence. Their main repertoire was almost exclusively made up of comedies by Goldoni and tragedies by Alfieri. A few intellectuals turned to classical tragedy, which is an accurate and elevated form of verse drama.

14 ALESSANDRO MANZONI The best poet who “lent” his genius to drama was Alessandro Manzoni (1785-1873). The main event which characterized all his artistic production was his conversion to Catholicism. He considered the Church as the real champion of equality, brotherhood, justice and freedom; therefore the rise of the humble people, as well as the right of people to independence is seen as part of a Christian programme. Though his tragedies ( Il Conte di Carmagnola and Adelchi) basically deal with deep religious experiences, Manzoni was far from any pretension of didacticism and moralism, and also opposed to the Christian moralists’ common view of art as potentially immoral. Both tragedies have references to the Italian contemporary political situation. In Adelchi, for example, the Franks and the Lombards dispute supremacy over Italy. Likewise, France and Austria were fighting for supremacy over Italy at Manzoni’s time. There is, so, an underlying message of liberty and independence addressed to the Italian people.The high poetical quality, however, makes these works better to be read than be performed.


16 With the factual failure of Manzoni’s works, the dramatic production in Italy followed another trend, closer to the middle class spirit. The Italian public turned to lyric operas with major interest, also supported by the great work by Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi, real musical geniuses. The development of prose theatre was mainly linked to the actors’ ability and little by little physical attractiveness and sonority of voice were highly appreciated in the job of actors; the itinerant feature of the companies of actors went through all the 19th century and there was a widespread complain for the scarcity and weakness of national production, which led many companies to rely on French repertoire or on its imitation. Soon another French influence was to be felt in almost every field of art: Naturalism. Even in Theatre production the main aim for the authors was to disappear, letting characters and things live by themselves, with no intrusion or comment. Some authors, instead, resented the naturalistic tendencies, and started to mirror the middle class world at the end of the century. The traditional theme of a contrasted love was replaced by a recurrent new topic: the triangle of adultery, symbol of the possible severe crisis of a strong moral code.

17 DRAMA IN THE 20TH CENTURY Italian Drama expressed its greatest playwrights in the 20th century. Obviously, each of them differs from the others as for theatrical techniques, language, themes. Most writers took inspiration from reality and their plays can be considered a mirror of the changes occurred in Italy in the historical, political and social fields. Those who best represent the Italian stage production are Luigi Pirandello, Eduardo De Filippo and Dario Fo.

18 LUIGI PIRANDELLO Luigi Pirandello ( 1867 – 1936 ) was the greatest Italian playwright of his time, and he has left a lasting mark on all the playwrights that have followed him. He was born in Sicily, studied in Rome and Germany. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1934. With his technique of the “theatre within the theatre” he became an important innovator in modern drama. Most of his novels and plays deal with the relationship between man and society. Pirandello believes that the social conventions, prejudices and hypocrisies imprison human life and men are therefore compelled to play a role and wear a “mask”. Man is not what he thinks he is, but instead is “one, no one and a hundred thousand” according to how he appears to the others. So the central theme of his works is the shattering search to distinguish between reality and illusion. We perceive reality not as it is but as it appears to us, depending on our education, mentality, or the situation we are in. And since what is taken for reality is only a series of illusions, truth is not achievable. In his theory of the illusory nature of existence and isolation of man he anticipates such writers as Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco and Harold Pinter. Works Pirandello wrote plays, novels and short stories, and his literary production is very big. His masterpieces are two plays: Six Characters in Search of an Author The characters of an unfinished play have been rejected by their author. Wishing to live the life denied to them by their creator, they materialize on stage invading the rehearsal of another play and interfering with its structure until it breaks down into a series of comic and tragic fragments. Henry IV The protagonist loses his mind after falling from a horse during a masquerade in which he was dressed up as the medieval German emperor Henry IV. He now believes he is Henry IV but when years later he recovers from his insanity he continues to pretend madness because he prefers this world of illusion to the real world.

19 Eduardo De Filippo Eduardo De Filippo (1900 – 1984), or simply Eduardo as the Italians call him, was both an actor and a playwright. Eduardo was born in Naples from a show-business family and he made his stage debut at age 5. At 32 he set up his own stage company with his brother Peppino and sister Tina. Many of his comedies achieved success also abroad. Some of them have been made into films. He wrote nearly all his plays in Neapolitan dialect and Naples and Neapolitan people are the protagonists of his works. Although he deals with Neapolitan people, his stories have universal significance and can be considered a portrait of the traditional Italian middle class society. His best plays are Natale in casa Cupiello, Non ti pago, Napoli Milionaria!, Questi fantasmi!, Filumena Maturano, Le voci di dentro, Sabato, Domenica e lunedì.

20 Dario Fo Prolific playwright, actor, mime artist and manager-director, Dario Fo ( 1926 - )is well known for his satirical plays. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1997 He works closely with his actress-wife Franca Rame and together with her he has founded many theatre companies and written many plays. A committed artist, Fo has used art as a weapon against the conservative establishment of Italy’s political, religious and social scene. Works Fo’s production is very big, more than 70 works. The following are only some that best give a picture of the Italian society from the ‘60s on: Mistero Buffo; Gli Arcangeli non giocano a flipper; Morte accidentale di un anarchico; Non si paga? Non si paga!; Mamma! I Sanculotti; Tutta casa, letto e chiesa….


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