00016: THE SIGNS OF COMMEDIA DELL’ARTE IN VENICE
If you are a person who is tuned into Commedia dell’arte, like me, as you walk throughout the city of Venice, you will soon noticed the many signs of this 17th-18th century acting style. It is all over the place. It isn’t obvious but it is there, hidden under the “maschere dell carnevale” (carnival masks), as the name of restaurants, hotels, stores, in street corners, and, at times, in plain sight. I don’t know about the rest of Italy but here, in Venice, the signs of commedia dell’arte can be seen every where, especially right now, during the carnival.
During the days I have spent here, I have also taken time to walk the city. And believe me, if you’ve never been here, walking in Venice is truly an adventure by itself. The entire city is a maze and you find yourself walking in streets no wider than two meters (6 feet.) Tourist, including Italians, find themselves stopping at corners before taking the next step because not only are the streets narrow, they also unexpectedly twist to the left or right, expand into a fork or a three way escape or either run into the end of the street marked by a wall or a water canal. If you don’t know where you going, you end up going in circles or end up in a totally different place from where you intended to be. Here, people walk with their phones in their hands, checking their gps almost at every corner.
But “getting lost” in a city has always been the best way to get to know a town. And while “getting lost,” you find things that are not advertised or even meant to be seen by visitors. Granted, in some cities, it is best to stay in the “right” side of town, but here in Venice, it doesn’t seem to matter, so randomly walking the mazed city has been an adventure for I have been able to see “the signs of commedia within Venice.”
One particular aspect of the city is its maschere di carnevale (carnival masks) shops. There are hundreds and hundreds of shops and street vendors selling these renaissance style masks. And among the many colorful and fantastical masks, if you pay attention, you can find “ordinary and less colorful masks,” and these “less attractive masks” are replicas of the commedia dell’arte masks.
And being that Venezia is the birthplace of none other than Pantalone, there are many representations of Pantalone all over the place.
Here’s a great example of Pantalone, interpreted by the great Italian Maestro of Commedia, Michele Modesto Casarin:
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