Pantalone, also spelled Pantaloon, is one of the most important principal characters found in commedia dell'arte. With his exceptional greed and status at the top of the social order, Pantalone is "money" in the commedia world. His full name, including family name, is Pantalon de' Bisognosi, Italian for 'Pantalone of the Needy'.
Among other things, Pantalone is a character of Venetians; his name derives from Saint Pantaleon (San Pantalone), a popular saint in Venice. The character of Pantalone is entirely based on currency and ego, for he has the highest regards for his intelligence, "but at every step he becomes the butt for every conceivable kind of trick". With little else to occupy his thoughts after a life as a tradesman or merchant, Pantalone is the metaphorical representation of money in the commedia world. Pantalone is usually the father to one of the lovers, another stock character found in commedia. He is driven to keep his child and their respective lover apart. Pantalone is presented either as a widower or bachelor, and despite his age, makes numerous passes at the women within the commedia world, "though he is always rejected". Pantalone never forgets a deal and his merit is based on actions, not words.
With his sinister and often inhumane treatment towards his fellows, Pantalone is perceived to be a pivotal part of commedia. His importance is represented in almost every commedia production; often placing him at the beginning of the comedy. In a commedia comedy, many zanni or lazzi routines will begin by an action delivered by Pantalone himself.
The traditional Pantalone stance is that of a hunch-backed old man. While it would generally be assumed the hunch-backed position may be one of an elderly old man, it is really for the protection of his money bag that generates his apparent frailty. He walks with his hips forward, allowing him to make larger strides when he walks. He often falls backwards, generally to bad news related in some way or another to his financials. When this occurs, he is often amusingly "turtle-like" and is often stuck in that position until assisted. None of Pantalone's physical actions should look easy, for his is truly "the oldest of the old." In the well-known "all the world's a stage" speech in Shakespeare's As You Like It (II, vii), Jaques describes the second-last stage of life as "the lean and slippered pantaloon."
Because of his skinny legs, Pantalone is portrayed wearing trousers rather than knee-breeches (which Jaques refers to as "his youthful hose, well sav'd, a world too wide/For his shrunk shank"). He therefore became the origin of the name of a type of trouser called "pantaloons," which was later shortened to "pants."
Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber (in the short story "Puss in Boots") gives another representation of Pantalone. The interpretation uses the spelling 'Pantaloon', but he follows a very similar description and ends up dead.
- Pantaloon is the spelling of the character's name in English Harlequinades and is also used for Pantalone in Pierre-Louis Duchartre's The Italian Comedy, translated by Randolph T. Weaver. London: George G. Harrap and Co., Ltd. (1929); New York: Dover (1966). ISBN 0486216799.
- Robert Henke Performance and literature in the commedia dell'arte, Improvisation and characters, Individual roles, pp.19-24
- Harper, Douglas. "Pantaloon". Etymology Online. Retrieved 24 May 2015.
- Allardyce Nicoll: The World of Harlequin, a Critical Study of the Commedia Dell'arte, p.44
- John Rudlin: Commedia Dell'arte: An Actor's Handbook, p.182