One of the most entertaining commedia dell’arte characters who is also less known to most people is Il Capitano (The Captain.) Like Pulcinella, Il Capitano was born in Naples, although Napoletani don’t pay homage to him the way they do to Pulcinella. There are several reasons for this. 

First, Il Capitano Matamoros was created by Silvio Fiorillo, based on the main character created by Plautus in his play “Miles Glorious.”  Il Capitano Matamoros is a caricature of Spanish soldiers, hence his name “Mata-Moros” (Kill Moors) in reference to Spaniards fighting the Muslins during the “Reconquista” (8 c. -1492). Il Capitano is a braggart soldier, just like Miles Glorious, but unlike him, Il Capitano is also a cowardly soldier who spoke with an undefined language, which was a mix of Spanish, Latin, and Neapolitan lingo. 

Second, as an actor, Fiorillo left the military and joined different acting troops, traveling to the northern part of Italy such as Florence, Bologna, Mantua, and Milan, playing Il Capitano Matamoros, where the actor gained recognition for interpreting this braggart and cowardly soldier. So much was his fame that the Marquee of Mantua, Marquis Ludovico II Gonzaga, invited Fiorillo to his castle, and it is said that Fiorillo showed up, and was announced, as Il Capitano Matamoros. 

Third, Fiorillo wrote many comedies starring himself as the principal character, Il Capitano Matamoros. He only wrote one play where Pulcinella is the main character. In this play, Fiorillo included a duel between Il Capitano Matamoros and Pulcinella, ending with Pulcinella as the victor. And so, it came to pass that Il Capitano became a well-known commedia dell’arte character in Northern Italy while Pulcinella was embraced in Campania. 

Today, Il Capitano continues to be a braggart and a cowardly soldier with different names. Sometimes he only appears in plays to complicate matters and/or as comedic relief (Commedia Incompiuta.) Other times he’s the start of the show (Il Capitano Mangabambini.) Either way, as a commedia dell’arte character, Il Capitano is a product from Naples Campania, and the only character who wears two different half masks, one depicting “his bravado” and the other his ridiculousness. The first one has small eyes and a very long phallic nose; the second one has small eyes and nose, and larger cheeks. Both may or may not have exaggerated handlebar mustaches.

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