EUROPEAN THEATRE (1550 – 1630)
The theatre is a kind of scenic performance, through the actors’ change in the characters, with the public’s partecipation. In Greek the word “theatre” indicated the balcony where the public sat. The European theatre was charaterized by numerous innovations like in the staging, that we use nowadays. In fact they used the curtains and the painting, that in the sixteenth century became perfect in the perspective science.
The humanistic comedy and tragedy, born in Italy, spread all over Europe in the sixteenth century. The first ideal theatre was built by artists and learned, men through studies, and it was the Palladio’s Olimpich theatre in Vicenza. Other important theatres were “La Sala di Mantova”, the Vasari’s theatre in Venice, “Palazzo Vecchio” and “Gli uffizi” in Florence, “Il teatro della Sala” in Bologna, “Il teatro di corte” in Modena. The scenic structure was formed by small and aligned buildings painted as real brick houses with doors and windows. In fact the comedies used to be performed after a long dance-party; at the end of this performance they used to portray short scenes mimed and danced. The scenografical setting was characterised by an arcade of small pillars, closed by curtains, which were the characters’ home. Stage designers kept the Roman pictorial element but left out the architectural structure. So they made an enviroment both pictorial and architectural, both illusory and real.
COMEDIES AND TRAGEDIES
Italian comedies of sixteenth Century usually refer to Terence and Plautus’ models, but with variations. The characters were qualified on the basis of their ages; in fact the old men were merchants and young men were students, while the enviroment was a definite city as Florence and Venice. The actors were generally amateur: courtiers, learned men; femine roles were interpreted by men. Tragic performances were magnificent and decorus: costumes were rich and luxurius, houses were sumptuous, miming was dignified. At that time the walking on parts were born, that they often were formed by soldiers, who followed the principal characters. Later real elements, like trees or leaves were added in the painting curtains.
MELODRAMA AND COMMEDIA DELL’ARTE
The melodrama was born in Italy as an attempt of some Florentine learned men to recover Greek tragedies. To follow one another of fast and frequent changes was the most important characteristic of this performance. For this reason they used more and more ingenious mechanism to change the set quickly; in fact mountains and buildings were risen. The play was usually contained into the proscenium arch, but sometimes it moved over the stalls. Another form of Italian theatre was the “commedia dell’arte” which was born from short scene and mythical actions played by tumblers and charlatans. The main aspects of these performances were professionalism conventional characters, improvisations. On the one hand the word art means corporation like in the Middle-Age even if this corporation was more a sense of doing, a particular job than an organized structure. On the other hand the word art could also mean skill and the presence of miming and athletic abilities, which they needed to turn a somersault or to jump. In this performance the scenery was reduced to a few poor fittings. The characters were fixed types, who were distinguished by special name. The first conventional characters were the Zanies who were traditional figures of northern Italy. They used to be demoniacal slave. After Arlecchino, Pulcinella, Truffaldino who were servant, and Pantalone, who was a merchant, joined Zanies.
In France, at the beginning of Sixteenth Century, there were the first companies of tramp actors. They didn’t develop spontaneously but, on the contrary, they were born in recreational association: lay confraternities just has the “Confrèrje de la passion” or other association with recreational and cultural aims like the “Societes joyeuses, societes des sots” or societies of students or corporation of clerks. Their plays were performed at court, with stage designing based on Italian models, or in university colleges on simpler structures decorated by arras placed on three sides of the stage. The tramp companies had to use similar staging even if their theatres were pourers with only one curtain. The costumes were also very poor; in fact they were not very different from everyday clothes and they only had some accessories to qualify the characters. The middle – class circle in which those performances were created influenced their plays: at the begining morality, “sotties” was characterized by a moral main theme; they contained allegorical personification and a “sol”: a madman who wore jester clothes and a hat like a jolly and who treated the vices of society ironically. The farces was a dramatic performance typical of French theatre. The main themes were political and social and, in particular, there were polemics against clergy and corpuration in justice administration. The recitation of French companies was based on a realistic gesticulation which was often vulgar. The first theatre was born in Paris; it was called “Hotel de borgogne”.
In the Sixteenth Century, in Spain, like in Italy and in France, there were tramp companies that recited sacred and profane texts by F. Lope de Vega, Tirso de Molina and P.Calderòn de la Barca. All these playrights wrote for the court, the public theatres and for religious plays: the COMEDIAS DOS SANTOS and the AUTOS SACRAMENTALES. The “comedias dos santos” was organized during the feast of saints, and the dramatisation was about saints’ life. The scenic realization was incisive with quick changes of costumes. The scene was used in all of its extension: the ground of the stage was divided by a curtain in two zones, on that there was a divisible tunnel. Divine characters could appear on the tunnel and demoniacal characters could appear from the ground. During the Seventeenth Century the “auto sacramental” was portrayed in Madrid and in the other Spanish towns every year for the Corpus Domini feast. At that time these plays were portrayed on some carts. On these carts the play was replayed and moved to different places of the town. The carts were composed of two flats communicating through a ladder and they were divided into Carro Malo and Carro Bueno. The public surrounded the carts and every anlooker had a different point of view. Later they built some stairs for the public on the three sides.
In Germany the theatre story began with the liturgical drama that lasted for five century. The Fastnachtspiel was the principal current in Germany, which was born in the half of Fifteenth Century. The Fastnachtspiel was a carnival moment, of the convivial happiness, in which there were short dialogues, introduced by a presenter. The most important writer of farces, comedies and tragedies was the shoe-repairer H. Sachs, from Nuremberg. His inspirings were the farmers and the artisans; in fact he wrote everyday’s situations, where he expressed a keen of good life’s world. In the Seventeenth Century, in Germany, the Baroque Catholic Theatre was born. It lasted until the next century. It was a theatre in Latin in which they used modern machine for the staging; this kind of performance often referred to the Bible. In this age the theatre rooms contained about three thousand people.