Radio Arlecchino
About Commedia dell'arte Characters
The Radio Arlecchino Players
Arlecchino Arlecchino

Servant outwits master.  These three words sum up the Arlecchino philosophy of life.  In Goldoni's famous play, he outwits two of them.  Just barely.   And that's the reality behind the philosophy.  Arlecchino is from Bergamo in northern Italy, but he is the universal symbol of the inherently contradictory trickster, the clever fool.

Countless couples of young lovers who faced the obstacles of meddling old geezers like Pantalone and the Dottore owe their blissful togetherness to Arlecchino's interventions.  Of course just as many others enjoy their happy unions in spite of Arlecchino's blundering counter schemes.

In any case,  Arlecchino is nothing if not nimble and quick – he never walks across a room if he can somersault his way there, and he'll never walk out the door if he can exit doing a back-flip.  He speaks loudly and carries a big stick.  A special stick that makes a curious slapping sound when he brandishes it about.  You might say that he invented it, if not the style of comedy that carries its name.

Arlecchina Arlecchina

No surprise that Arlecchina, or Arlecchinetta, as she is sometimes called, is closely linked to our friend Arlecchino. 

For many years her favorite costume was a white dress and a green apron, but back in 1695 she just gave up and started wearing the same diamond-shaped patches as her perennial boyfriend.  In fact, she appears as his wife in many plays.

She is a high-spirited servant girl, vivacious, flirtatious, bodaciously clever – some would say crafty.

Colombina Colombina

Colombina, like her friend and rival Arlecchina, has her stories to tell about Arlecchino.  She too is a high-spirited servant girl, but somehow she seems to have a bit more on the ball than Arlecchina.

In the wild and woolly world of the Commedia, Colombina often seems to be the only one who really has her wits about her.  If Pantalone gets too fresh, she is not above whacking him on the head with a tambourine which she can pull out of her skirts the way cartoon characters produce anvils.

When the Dottore and Pantalone get to scheming together, they have a formidable foe in Colombina: she knows just how to manipulate Arlecchino, who might otherwise unwittingly play into their hands.  There aren't too many subtleties in the Commedia dell'arte, but relatively speaking, Colombina's wiles are more subtle than those of the other characters.

il Dottore Dottor Balanzone, aka "il Dottore"

The Dottore is not a physician, he just has a university degree.  To hear him tell it, he probably has several of them.

Of course, he is from Bologna, home of Europe's oldest university.  In fact, the Dottore is full of bologna.  There's not a subject in the world on which he doesn't have a learned opinion, and he is never stingy in sharing these opinions with anyone within earshot – making ample use of standard Italian, bolognese dialect, and his stock in trade, maccheronic Latin.

He and Pantalone are sometimes allies and sometimes enemies, often the victims of each other's biased advice, but their schemes and machinations always seem to end up in much the same fashion: backfiring on them.  Whereas Pantalone can always take solace in his money, the Dottore is happy to wax philosophical and will always be ready with a high-sounding misquotation or an elegant malapropism to give closure to yet another misadventure.

Pantalone Pantalone

Pantalone is a Venetian merchant who has spent a lifetime amassing a tidy fortune and he's not about to start losing any of it now.  Regardless of what anybody says, he may very well take it with him.

We don't want to say that he's a tightwad or anything, but Pantalone got mugged once, and the lout who threatened him with a dagger snarled "O la borsa o la vita" – the Italian equivalent of "your money or your life!"  Pantalone didn't answer as quickly as the thief would have liked, and after the mugger repeated the unfortunate choice, Pantalone replied, "Pazienza!  ci sto pensando ..."  or  "Take it easy!  I'm thinking, I'm thinking ..."

Parsimonious Pantalone is also well known as having quite an eye for the ladies, especially much younger ladies.  And of course most ladies are in fact younger than Pantalone.  He hardly seems aware of this discrepancy himself, and when he's not busy counting his money, he's usually involved in pitching woo at Arlecchina or Colombina, or at some Rosaura, or Flavia, or Beatrice ... and if she should stand to inherit any sum of significance, Pantalone will probably risk everything save his own fortune to win her favor.  You can just imagine how many times he's actually been successful at that.

Pulcinella Pulcinella

The Neapolitan Pulcinella, like his friend from the North, Arlecchino, is a bundle of contradictions.  Is he crafty, pretending to be stupid?  Or is he stupid, pretending to be crafty?  The answer, in a word, is yes.

Apparently he could be quite violent in the early years of his long career, and folks recognized him as much for his cudgel as for his baggy white smock and sugar-loaf cap.  We prefer the more sweet-natured Pulcinella of the mellower, later years.

At any stage of his erratic development, he is an unrepentant glutton.  True to his Neapolitan roots, he is an impassioned singer of song.  And by now you understand that, like all the other Commedia dell'arte characters, he has an overactive preoccupation with ess-ee-ex.