The Elements of Commedia dell’Arte

Commedia dell’arte is a famous performance characterized by witty dialogues and colorful costumes, especially masks. Throughout the 16th to 18th century, various traveling groups of actors would roam around Italy, and in other parts of Europe, to perform a humorous presentation in temporary stages set up on the streets, sometimes even in theater houses.

The actors would perform using a half mask or Commedia masks to highlight further the characters they play. Each one describes a different stock character— namely Zanni, Pantalone, Brighella, and so on.

Commedia dell’arte has had a significant impact on various dramas across Europe, like the French pantomime and the harlequinade. Even in today’s generation, Commedia has influenced the comedic character tropes that we see and love on sitcoms and TV shows.

As a live performance in the early times, different elements make up the art of Commedia to make each performance better and impactful for the audience. If you are curious about Commedia or want to execute this 16th-century play, here are the elements that make commedia dell’arte:


A mask is one of the most popular and most crucial aspects of Commedia dell’arte. In fact, some people would say that the half mask used in Commedia is the principal trait of the show.

A Commedia mask, which is usually a half mask, is worn by actors so audiences can distinguish one character from another.

Each mask represents a particular stock character with fixed personas or social class to highlight the satirical notes in the performance going forward.

These Commedia masks are usually leather and come with bright paint and distinguishable features like a hooked nose, a wrinkled skin, or an arched brow to give the character a stronger persona.

However, if the play focuses on two main characters, which are usually lovers, they are typically exempted from wearing masks.


Apart from wearing a half mask, actors also wore different notable dresses. This was done to help the audience quickly perceive what type of role or social class they are portraying.

Depending on the grandness or raggedness of the clothes that the actors are playing, the audience can quickly identify whether the character is poor or rich.

In some performances, they also utilize colors to emphasize the mood of the scene or the characters, dark and dull tones for unfortunate or sad scenes, and bright, vibrant colors for upbeat or wealthy characters.


Since Commedia dell’arte is a traveling performance usually performed on the streets, there were minimal stage designs and backdrops to make each setting more colorful. Because of this, actors made up for it with the use of different props.

Weapons, pieces of furniture, food, animals, or anything that an actor can get his hands on were used throughout the show to make his character more impactful.

Music and dancing

Since Commedia dell’arte is a theatre play, they use different music and insert dance numbers and merrymaking in their performances to make it more entertaining.

For a lot of the play’s fan and audiences, the music and dance moves utilized in each performance is a significant factor that makes the whole scene better and worthwhile.

Movements and dialogues

With the utilization of half masks, topped with performing at an open and massive crowd, it is hard for actors to deliver facial expressions or emotions. This challenge made them turn to exaggerated movements.

Actors would usually try to make movements as big as they could so the audiences can fully comprehend the emotions that they are trying to portray.

On top of this, a significant factor of Commedia dell’arte is the witty lines and dialogue exchanges that each actor throws one another.

If you are interested in putting up your own Commedia dell’arte performance, ensure that you have all of these elements and characteristics checked. It’ll help you create an excellent performance that everyone will enjoy.