Date of Graduation

Summer 2012


Master of Arts in Theatre


Theatre and Dance

Committee Chair

Christopher Herr


commedia dell'arte, Vsvelod Meyerhold, Edward Gordon Craig, modern theatre, mask

Subject Categories

Theatre and Performance Studies


Commedia dell'arte is singular as a theatrical form because instead of text becoming action, action becomes text. This thesis examines the unique nature of commedia dell'arte and explores the influence of commedia in modern theatre theory and practice. Although a limited number of artists and writers were drawn to commedia in the nineteenth century, Edward Gordon Craig, Vsevolod Meyerhold, and many others found the essence of commedia to be a revitalizing and revolutionary force for the theatre of the twentieth century. Research indicates that the legacy of commedia led to social, political, and artistic changes in theatre that continue to influence contemporary theatre and media. The inherent symbolism of commedia inspired Edward Gordon Craig's call for unity of all stage elements through visual symbolism, while the acting style of commedia inspired his use of highly stylized movements and gestures. Similarly, Vsevolod Meyerhold used commedia as the foundation of his fundamental belief that acting is movement based, not language based, which led to the development of his acrobatic training technique, biomechanics, and mask-work. Commedia also offered a platform for Meyerhold's political statements. Furthermore, commedia characters, lazzi, and scenarios are repeated in contemporary media, including movies, video games, and cartoons. Likewise, the non-literary, anti-realist foundation of commedia has continued to be a powerful influence in contemporary theatre, not only in the symbolic theatrical designs for productions by both Craig and Meyerhold, but also in the fantastical images presented by Samuel Beckett and Eugene Ionesco.


© Jennifer Marie Ezell

Campus Only