Musing on the Lovers

7 May, 2014


 In Commedia dell’Arte the Lovers or Innamorati are central to the plot.

The Lovers are basically melodramatic teenagers and want nothing more than to be in love. Of course all this youthful romanticism must be made fun of, exaggerated, but also celebrated and upheld as somehow right: Commedia says it is proper that the young should be in love, even if they’re more in love with the idea of love than their actual beloved! Thus in the end, the Lovers’ love overcome all obstacles and Commedia plays traditionally end with their joyous union.

The key obstacles to this happy ending originate from the Old Men, Pantalone and Il Dottore, who through either greed, selfishness, vanity or all three, thwart what is natural and right.

It may be that the two are such enemies of each other that any union of their children would be just too outrageous (as in that classic Commedia play Romeo and Juliet). Or, more creepily, it could take the form of one of them wanting to marry the same woman as their son. Son and Father are pitted against each other, but the sympathies of the audience are of course with the son, and the sharp spear of satire is aimed straight at the father, lampooning all old men who dare to chase after young women.

Nobody is safe from the mockery, neither young nor old, yet as proved by its plot resolutions, Commedia is firmly on the side of the young. Nobody wants to see the old man get the girl, right? Unless she wants him, which would be a nice twist on the traditional ending!

If Commedia is ritual and ritual is all about ensuring that the natural order of things is preserved, then the Old Man Gets the Girl Ending has grave ramifications. Harking back to ancient Carnivale symbolism, the Old Man represents Winter and the Lovers represent Spring. It’s the eternal battle of the seasons, of Winter versus Spring, but also of Death, Demise and Decay versus Life, Growth and Renewal. As polar opposites they each rely on the other for their being, but the latter must always have the edge.

Ben Cornfoot

The above is inspired by and partly paraphrased from Antonio Fava’s amazing book The Comic Mask in Commedia dell’Arte. I would do a better job at referencing but Clint borrowed my copy and hasn’t given it back.