The Theatre in Italy in the 17th century
The Commedia sostenuta
The Commedia sostenuta

The commedia “ sostenuta ” or “ erudita ” is a theatrical genre that develops during the Italian Renaissance. This comedy is in fact an intermediate form between the academic theatre of the ancient Greek and Latin peoples, and the Commedia dell'Arte. To a certain extent the latter is the link between the structured and traditional ancient comedy and that of improvisation. Its authors, who know their classic inheritance perfectly, base their format - a prologue and five acts - the outline of their plots and their principal characters on Plautius, Terence or Menander.
From these basic elements, they subsequently enrich their plays with a romantic development borrowed from other sources, in particular from Boccacio, and his work the Decameron. From this amalgam or synthesis of ancient and modern inspiration, are born plots filled with adventures and misunderstandings. Finally, they transplant themes of contemporary inspiration and adapt the Latin characters to those of their time. The slave becomes the valet, the slave trader turns into the go-between, and Spanish captains replace the ancient soldiers. Other new characters are invented, directly drawn from their time, like the preposterous pedagogue, the inept student or the lecherous priest.
In addition , by drawing the inspiration for their characters from the surrounding reality, the authors also allow them to speak their own language, which is to say often in dialect. This reflexion of every day life gives more substance to these comedies. The most popular authors are Ariosto, and Aretino, whose plays are also adopted by the French classic theatre. Two others stand out, though, with plays that are not imitations of old originals, but which are landmarks in the history of Italian theatre. One is Machiavelli who with The Mandrake writes a comedy full of irony portraying compellingly drawn characters and a rebel woman role which leaves tradition behind. On the other hand, the realist Ruzzanti perfectly illustrates the peasant world of his time and writes about ten plays of which Moschetta is the most famous. For his part, he is at the origin of the use of dialect on stage and the introduction of characters representative of the common people.
These two authors, on the periphery of the Commedia sostenuta, help the evolution of the Italian comedy that thus begins to gain its originality and approach contemporary problems. In order to be accessible to all, and to avoid the strictures of censorship, it only lacks the impertinence and comical drollery that the Commedia dell' Arte will be able to envision.
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