Mask Arts Company

Recommended Books

Commedia dell'Arte
Mask Arts Company: Stanley Allan Sherman

"Anyone can open the drawer marked COMMEDIA DELL'ARTE, but having opened it, how do you know what to choose from it?"
Carlo Mazzone-Clementi, 1974*
(*Commedia dell'Arte A Guide to the Primary and Secondary Literature by Thomas F. Heck)

Based on the opinions of experts who I respect and my knowledge of Commedia dell'Arte, I am happy to recommend these books as being some of the best on the subject of Commedia dell'Arte that I have found. You will not see a few popular books on this list, because I do not recommend them. These books below are wise choices to pull out of the Commedia dell'Arte drawer.
Stanley Allan Sherman

Scenarios of the Commedia dell'Arte
Flaminio Scala's
Il Teatro delle favole rappresentative

Translated by Henry F. Salerno
Published by New York University Press
University of London Press Limited, 1967
411 pages

Flaminio Scala's book Scenarios of the Commedia dell'Arte is made up of fifty Commedia dell'Arte scenarios believed performed by the famous Gelosi Company from 1578 - 1604. The Gelosi Company home was in what we now know as Northern Italy and the company performing throughout Europe. They performed what we call the Northern Commedia dell'Arte, different from the Southern Commedia dell'Arte. This translation does have some problems and is more for scholars studying Commedia from an academic point than performers, but it is the best collections of northern scenarios that have survived from the time of the Commedia dell'Arte that is translated into English. To teach or perform Commedia dell'Arte, you need to know complete original scenarios, which this book provides. When reading it, you will easily find many pieces of Shakespearean plays, i.e. Romeo and Juliet, only it is a comedy with a happy ending. The appendix covers the English (Shakespeare) and French playwrights showing what these writers took from these scenarios for their plays. This book is must for any theatre library or theatre professional. If you read Italian and can obtain an Italian copy, do so.

The Italian Comedy
By Pierre Louis Duchartre

Published by Dover Publications, Inc
Published in 1966 originally published by Geroge G. Harrap & Co., Ltd, 1929
366 pages

This is one of the best, most complete books on Commedia dell'Arte available which you can pick up at a very low price. It will give you a complete overview, including 259 illustrations, pieces of scenarios, complete Commedia dell'Arte Character breakdowns, history, information about companies, women and more. The Italian Comedy is still in publication, has had many printings and it is one of the must have books for any theatre library and is well priced. If your budget can only afford three books, it would be this one and the one above Scenarios of the Commedia dell'Arte and below The Commedia dell'Arte. If your are teacher and need a little help with teaching this subject, this is an excellent inexpensive option.

The Commedia dell'Arte
By Giacomo Oreglia
Translated by Lovett F. Edwards

Published by Dramabook
Hill and Wang NY
First Published by Sveriges Radio, Stockholm in 1961
First Dramabook edition March 1968
158 pages

According to the late Carlo Mazzone-Clementi, this is the best, most accurate and concise book on the Commedia dell'Arte in English. Of course, it is out of print. But your library should have it or you can ask your library to get it though the Interlibrary Loan System system in the United States or International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions' International Lending outside the United States. The Commedia dell'Arte includes 4 complete scenarios, 58 illustrations, history, technique, the major characters, including lovers, women masked and unmasked and the great companies. A must have book if you can get a hold of it.

The Commedia dell'Arte in Naples:
A Bilingual Edition of the 176 Casamarciano Scenarios
Translated and Edited by
Francesco Cotticelli, Anne Goodrich Heck and Thomas F. Heck

Published by: The Scarecrow Press, Inc, 2001
V I, 561 pages, V II, 568 pages

Yes, a new publication and still in print! This is the best book on the Southern Commedia dell'Arte that I've seen and the best new book published on the Commedia dell'Arte as of September 2009. It is different from the Northern tradition of the Commedia dell'Arte, which most people are familiar, Scenarios of the Commedia dell'Arte. The authors/translators have excellent reputations and the forward can be a book on its own covering Commedia dell'Arte history, the translation and finding these scenarios from the 1600's. What is also lovely about this book is that you do not have a so-called "expert" telling you what Commedia dell'Arte was and is. Rather here is a book where you can read for yourself the scenarios they performed.

The English translation is excellent, as they have tried to be as exact as possible preserving some of the fine detail of the structure of the scenarios that make it great for performers, directors and teachers. The authors also encourage institutions to try to perform these scenarios and do not ask for a royalty fee if you're an educational institution. They would like you to send them a video of your performance - actually you can send one to me as well. The Commedia dell'Arte in Naples will give you a real window into this Southern Commedia dell'Arte company that performed these scenarios.

There is one wonderfully frustrating things about these scenarios. Often in the scenarios, it refers to a character doing his or her lazzi. We have no idea what those lazzi's were, but they wrote it for their use and not for ours. It is up to the performer today to come up with these lazzi's now and I have found in our workshops students are up for. Some characters can be unfamiliar, so you will also need to buy an excellent English and Italian dictionary (a cheap paperback Italian dictionary will not cut it). Looking up the names of the characters, the translation will give you a window into many of these Southern Commedia characters.

This is a pricey but excellent-valued two-volume set - you get two books, one in English, one in the original Italian. They also include several pages of the original handwritten scenarios. An excellent and important buy for your Commedia dell'Arte Library and I would suggest purchasing it before it goes out of publication.

Masks and Marionettes
By: Joseph Spencer Kennard

Kennikat Press, Inc.
Published 1935, reissued in 1967
129 pages

If you can find this book, grab it. The Commedia dell'Arte character descriptions are some of the best that I've ever read. Brighella's description is exact and Kennard covers Brighella's many relatives. The women of the Commedia dell'Arte are well covered. You will even find an amazing short, strong monologue, what I assume was a verbal lazzi, by Isabella Andreini going into the relationships of women with young lovers and old men marrying young women. Isabella Andreini does not hold anything back in this verbal lazzi.

Kennard covers possible connections that lead up to the Commedia dell'Arte and the relationship with the scenario and elements of Greek plays. He does not shy away from the scatological elements of the Commedia dell'Arte; even covering wild very early Commedia dell'Arte performance before Royalty where the performers were not wearing much.

It is the way in which he presents the facts of the Commedia, with the very accurate character descriptions, scenario, companies, individuals and history, that makes this book a must have. The last chapter covers Marionettes, which is where you will find the closest thing to Commedia dell'Arte today in Italy. This is an excellent book for theater teachers, directors and Commedia dell'Arte actors. Kennard also has several other excellent books on theater.

The Comic Routines of the Commedia dell'Arte
By Mel Gordon

Published by PAJ Playscripts General, 1983
92 pages

This book is about lazzi and gives lists of lazzi's performed along with the dates, broken into different categories. It is an interesting book and the only one I know of like it covering lazzi as its main topic. It has simple one-line glossary of characters. This book will help support books above and gives another window in Commedia dell'Arte. It is also not a pricey book, so it is easy to add Lazzi to your collection.

Gregorio Lambranzi
New and Curious School of
Theatrical Dancing

The classic Illustrated Treatise on Commedia dell'Arte Performance, 1716
137 pages

Many dancers love this book. It includes illustrations with the music and words of Commedia dell'Arte dances performed in Germany in the early 1700's. You can also find various famous lazzi's. The illustrations depicting the actions of the lazzi's that took place on stage with the words and music below the illustrations. This makes up most of the book. It is a unique book and important for any theatre library and can be important not only for actors, directors and teachers but also dancers and musicians.

Italian popular comedy: A study in the Commedia dell' Arte, 1560-1620
by Kathleen Marguerite Lea

Oxford, The Clarendon press, 1934

This book is out of print and almost impossible to find. You will find it in many libraries. To really know this subject this is a very important book for you. If you can acquire this book do, as it has some character descriptions and other gems of information I have not seen anywhere else. A warning this is very much a scholarly book - knowing French, Italian and Latin will really help in reading this book as many very short sections are in those languages and others. This book covers the history very completely and you can get an excellent picture of the inner workings of a few of the companies from 1560 - 1620. An important book for any Commedia dell'Arte Library if you stumble across it buy it. I would like to thank Brian Foley NY based performer and clown for lending me his copy to read. If you find as extra copy please feel free to send it to me.

The Moving Body
By: Jacques Lecoq with Jean-Gabrel Carasso and Jean-Claude Lallias
Translated by David Bradby, forward by Simon McBurney

Published by: A Theatre Book Routledge NY
First Published in 1997
168 pages

Jacques Lecoq is my teacher and this book is important for everything it includes especially the mask section. It is not about Commedia dell'Arte, but does have a small section on Commedia dell'Arte. It is an important book for any theatre library just because it is one of the few works that the master teacher Jacque Lecoq wrote. It is nothing like going to the school in Paris (which I still recommend as the top physical theatre school although there are some others in Europe that look interesting) or studying with excellent teachers trained at Ecole Jacques Lecoq. But it is the next best thing. The Moving Body is a very important book if you teach theatre. For a complete list of this writings and videos go to Ecole Jacques Lecoq website.

Circus Techniques
By Hovey Burgess

Published by: Brian Dube, 1976
7th printing (This unique book is now out of print - so if you see a copy grab it.)
162 pages, 300 photos

This is the bible of circus technique. I work with Hovey and he is one of the world experts in circus. He has taught circus technique at NYU for over 40 years. Circus Techniques has more than 150 circus stunt techniques, such as acrobatics, balancing, toss juggling (balls, rings, clubs), devil sticks, diabolo, rope spinning, spinning plates, hoop rolling, trapeze, slack rope, tightrope and much more. This book is another must for any well-rounded theatre library. If you have trouble finding it, email me and I will help you get a copy from Hovey or put you in touch with him.

The Commedia dell'Arte of Flamino Scala
A Translation and Analysis of Scenarios

Edited and Translated by Richard Andrews
Published by: Scarecrow Press. Inc. 2008
341 page

This book on Commedia dell'Arte translates 30 of the 50 Flamino Scala Scenarios. It is different than the Henry F. Salerno translation and Andrews does make some improvements trying to make his book very user friendly. The one advantage of the Henry F. Salerno book of translations is he includes all 50 of the Scala Scenarios. I do have disagreements with Richard Andrews introduction, conclusions he comes to as well some of his "Commentary" on each scenario that he translates or adapts. He goes away from the original scenarios words once in a while and adds his own personal spin that often does not capture the flavor of the original in my opinion. Which is why one can look at it as more of an adaptation. I like that he translates "in quello" as "at that point" in his introduction, but the translation he uses in his text of the scenarios is "next". If you use this book be aware that "next" should be "at that point" or as we like to say "at that moment" which for performing is very important.

Before this book there was only one choice if you wanted a translation of these very important Scala scenarios and this book is important because it is another choice. If you are choosing between Richard Andrews book and the Henry F. Salerno - Richard Andrews is less expensive, but personally I would buy the Salerno, not because it is a better translation; both books have some problems, but the Salerno has all 50 of the Scala Scenarios, which you do want. The best option is if you read Italian - get the original Italian.

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