Befriending the Commedia dell'Arte of Flaminio Scala: The Comic Scenarios

Befriending the Commedia dell'Arte of Flaminio Scala: The Comic Scenarios

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By Natalie Crohn Schmitt
Toronto Italian Studies
University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division © 2014
World Rights
344 Pages 4 Images
ISBN 9781442648999
Published Oct 2014
Online discount: 25%
 $80.00    $60.00
ebook (EPUB format)
ISBN 9781442619180
Published Oct 2014
Online discount: 25%
Full purchase $80.00

The most important theatrical movement in sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century Europe, the commedia dell’arte has inspired playwrights, artists, and musicians including Molière, Dario Fo, Picasso, and Stravinsky. Because of its stock characters, improvised dialogue, and extravagant theatricalism, the commedia dell’arte is often assumed to be a superficial comic style. With Befriending the Commedia dell’Arte of Flaminio Scala, Natalie Crohn Schmitt demolishes that assumption.

By reconstructing the commedia dell’arte scenarios published by troupe manager Flaminio Scala (1547–1624), Schmitt demonstrates that in its Golden Age the commedia dell’arte relied as much on craftsmanship as on improvisation and that Scala’s scenarios are a treasure trove of social commentary on early modern daily life in Italy.

In the book, Schmitt makes use of her intensive research into the social and cultural history of sixteenth-century Italy and the aesthetic principles of the period. She combines this research with her insights drawn from studying with contemporary commedia dell’arte performers and from directing a production of one of Scala’s scenarios. The result is a new perspective on the commedia dell’arte that illuminates the style’s full richness.

Natalie Schmitt is Professor Emerita of Theatre and of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

List of Illustrations


Part One: Context, Culture, and Aesthetics

  1. Befriending the Text
  2. Character Relationships
  3. The Setting and Life in the Street
  4. Invention

Part Two: Scenario Reconstructions


  1. Day 6: The Jealous Old Man
  2. Day 21: The Fake Sorcerer
  3. Day 25: The Jealous Isabella
  4. Day 36: Isabella [the] Astrologer


Appendix: List of All Scala Scenarios


Selected Bibliography


“Natalie Schmitt’s research in Befriending the Commedia dell’Arte of Flaminio Scala offers a genuinely new take on important material. The readership for this book should extend beyond Italian studies scholars and those interested in Renaissance studies to include scholars of theatre history and early modern performance.”

Maria Galli Stampino, Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, University of Miami

‘Like Seneca’s bees, Professor Schmitt has collected nectar from different species of flowers and skillfully blended it into a most digestible form of honey… This book is a delight to read.’

Gloria Allaire, Sixteenth Century Studies vol 47:02:2016

‘This book offers a fresh perspective on not only the four specific scenarios of focus, but on the opus of Flaminio Scala and, by extension, on the commedia dell'arte.  It is an asset to any scholar of Italian studies, Renaissance studies, theatre, performance, the commedia dell'arte, and many other areas of research and interest.’

Joanne Granata, Quaderni d'italianistica 36: 01:2015

‘Professor Schmitt's beautiful and incisively detailed book goes a long way to celebrate their [Scala's scenarios] inspirational genius.’

Peter Jordan, Theatre Research International, 41:2:2016

The commedia dell'arte was one of the most important theatrical movements in early modern Europe… The genre is widely viewed as superficial. Natalie Crohn Schmitt debunks this perception, using the work of Flaminio Scala to illustrate the commedia dell'arte's rich craftsmanship and social commentary.

‘I recommend the sound methodology, as well as the rich dramaturgical information, that this book provides to anyone considering bringing one of Scala's Commedia dell'arte scenarios to life.’

Thomas Heck, Theatre Journal, vol 67:4:2015

‘Schmitt’s approach to Scala’s scenarios is eminently sensible in its practicality and highly impressive for its pedagogical potential…. Excellent study.’

Domenico Pietropaolo, Theatre Survey vol 58:01:2017

‘Schmitt leaves us with a rich dramaturgical document to foster our respect for Scala’s commedia dell’arte… Her deep appreciation of Scala shines through.’

Rosalind Kerr, Renaissance Quarterly vol 68:04:2014

‘Schmitt’s project challenges the next generation of scholars to see beyond the arbitrary division of textual or cultural history in order to mine the rich material provided in the hundreds of extant commedia scenarios yet to be fully explored.’

Jenna Soleo-Shank, Comparative Drama vol 49:02:2015