Reading and Interpreting the Capitano’s Multiple Mask-Shapes

Authored by: Mace Perlman

The Routledge Companion to Commedia dell’Arte

Print publication date:  December  2014
Online publication date:  November  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415745062
eBook ISBN: 9781315750842
Adobe ISBN: 9781317613374


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Who is the Captain, that mask-character of the Commedia dell’Arte whom we may also know as il Capitano? He is the fifth wheel, the odd man out, the loner who appears now and again in the northern Italian theatre, alongside those basic four masks: Pantalone, the Dottore, and the first and second zannis, the ones who have endured through the centuries. Sometimes referred to as a lover, so fixed in his obsessive passion that he has transformed into a mask, he is always an outsider. Whether Spanish in Naples or Neapolitan in Venice, his speech is that of the forestiere, or foreigner, an intrusive and mysterious presence, “not from around these parts.” While Brighella often assumes a new identity as part of a play’s intrigue, the Capitano seems to have generated, and now embodies, a mystery as part of his very being. Francesco Andreini’s Capitano Spavento da Vall’Inferna (Captain Fright of Hell Valley), an early and seminal figure in the centuries-long line of Capitani, claims a mythic origin story of a birth in full armor, nursing on hemlock, setting the stage for a lifetime of otherness.

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