This week Matriark has been thrilled to present Much dell'Arte About Nothing in partnership with Monkey Baa Theatre Company as part of their schools program. Like the title suggests, our show is a playful imagining of the history surrounding Shakespeare and his theatre company that operated out of the Globe theatre in London during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. We tell the story from the perspective of Philip Henslowe, who owned and operated the Globe's main rival theatre on London's bankside, known as the Rose Playhouse.
As a matter of fact, the influence of Commedia dell'Arte on Shakespeare's comedies has become clearer in recent scholarship since it has come to light that Italian Commedia troupes came and performed at Elizabeth I's court during the years 1573 to 1578. This means that Shakespeare and the other members of his theatre company would likely have seen Commedia performed as these troupes would have toured around the country Photo by Robert Catto after performing in court.
The influence of Commedia on Shakespeare's work is easy to see, particularly in his comedies. Shakespeare's early comedies feature the same slapstick quality of Commedia and draw on the same archetypes: we see lovers, braggarts (Il Capitano), masters (Pantalone and Dottore), servants (Zanni) featuring throughout these plays.
Commedia has been a really fun way of exploring the history of Shakespeare and early modern London. All of the stock characters make an appearance and we bring plenty of irreverance to our version of the history. It just goes to show that Commedia as a form is such a great way of telling any story, and its close connection to Shakespeare's comedies has just been a bonus!
Kathryn Parker is currently conducting research towards her PhD in Shakespeare studies at The University of Sydney. Matriark was lucky to have her involved as dramaturg and sound designer during the process of creating Much dell'Arte About Nothing!