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Pedrolino scuffles with the Doctor, 1621.

Pedrolino is a zanni, or comic servant, of the Commedia dell'Arte; the name is a hypocorism of Pedro (Peter), via the suffix -lino. The character made its first appearance in the last quarter of the 16th century, apparently as the invention of the actor with whom the role was to be long identified, Giovanni Pellesini. Contemporary illustrations suggest that his white blouse and trousers constituted "a variant of the typical zanni suit",[1] and, like the later Pierrot, with whom he is often related or confused, Pedrolino was played unmasked (though whether his face was whitened like Pierrot's is unknown). His character owes many of its comic incongruities to his role as a "first" zanni.

Type, plot-function, and character[edit]

Pedrolino appears in forty-nine of the fifty scenarios of Flaminio Scala's Il teatro delle favole rappresentative (1611) and in three (undated) pieces of the "Corsini" collection of manuscripts, all of which give ample evidence of how he was conceived and played.[2] He is obviously a type of what Robert Storey calls the "social wit", usually incarnated as "the go-between, the willing servant, the wily slave" who "survives in serving others".[3] In the Scala scenarios, he is invariably cast as the "first" zanni, a character to be distinguished from the "second" zanni by his or her function in the plot. The Commedia critic and historian Constant Mic clarifies the distinctions when he notes that the first zanni

instigates confusion quite voluntarily, [but] the second creates disturbance through his blundering. The second zanni is a perfect dunce; but the first sometimes gives indication of a certain instruction. ... The first zanni incarnates the dynamic, comic element of the play, the second its static element.[4]

Since his function is "to keep the play moving",[5] Pedrolino seems to betray, in Storey's words, "a Janus-faced aspect": "He may work cleverly in the interests of the Lovers in one play—Li Quattro finti spiritati [The Four Fake Spirits], for example—by disguising himself as a magician and making Pantalone believe that the 'madness' of Isabella and Oratio can be cured only by their coupling together; then, in Gli avvenimenti comici, pastorali e tragici [Comic, Pastoral, and Tragic Events], indulge his capricious sense of fun by compounding the young persons' misfortunes."[6] So multiform is his character that his cleverness can often give way to credulity (as when he is tricked into believing that he was drunk when he learned of his wife's infidelity and so merely imagined the whole affair) and his calculation can sometimes be routed by grotesque sentimentality (as when he, Arlecchino, and Burratino share a bowl of macaroni, the three blubbering all the while).[7] "He takes a child-like delight in practical jokes and pranks," as a modern-day practitioner of the Commedia writes, "but otherwise his intrigues are on behalf of his master. ... At times, however, the best he can scheme for is to escape the punishment others have in store for him."[8] Naively volatile, he can be moved to violence when angry, but, in obedience to the conventions of comedy, his pugnaciousness is usually deflected or foiled.


Pedrolino first appears among the records of the Commedia in 1576, when his interpreter Giovanni Pellesini (c. 1526-1616) turns up in Florence, apparently leading his own troupe called Pedrolino.[9] A member of some of the most illustrious companies of the 16th and 17th centuries—the Confidenti, Uniti, Fideli, Gelosi, and Accessi[10]—Pellesini was obviously "a much sought-after and highly paid guest star".[11] His status is underscored by the fact that Pedrolino figures so prominently in Scala's scenarios, since, as K.M. Lea convincingly argues, Scala, in compiling them, drew upon the "chief actors of his day ... without regard to the composition of a company at any particular period."[12] Pedrolino—and Pellesini—were, we must conclude, among the brightest luminaries of the early Commedia dell'Arte. Unfortunately, Pellesini performed too long to preserve the luster: when, in 1613-14, he appeared—at the age of 87—among the Duke of Mantua's company at the court theater of the Louvre, the French poet Malherbe was not amused, complaining that "gay spirits and sharp wits are needed [in the theater], and one hardly finds these in bodies as old as theirs."[13]

Pedrolino and Pierrot[edit]

Since the names of the two types are identical ("Little Pete") and they enjoy (or suffer) the same dramatic and social status, as comic servants, in the Commedia, most critics have concluded that Pedrolino is either the "Italian equivalent" or the direct ancestor of the 17th-century French Pierrot.[14] But there is no documentation from the 17th century that establishes a clear connection between the two types. "Dominique" Biancolelli, Harlequin of the first Paris-based Italian troupe in which Pierrot appeared by name, contended that Pierrot was conceived as a Pulcinella, not a Pedrolino: "The nature of the rôle," he wrote,

is that of a Neapolitan Pulcinella a little altered. In point of fact, the Neapolitan scenarii, in place of Arlecchino and Scapino, admit two Pulcinellas, the one an intriguing rogue and the other a stupid fool. The latter is Pierot's [sic] rôle.[15]

A more direct source is the patois-spouting and lovelorn peasant Pierrot of Molière's play Don Juan, or The Stone Guest (1665). Some eight years after its highly successful premiere, the Italians spoofed Molière's comedy with a Sequel to "The Stone Guest", in which Pierrot first appeared by name among his fellow masks; he was played by one Giuseppe Giaratone, an actor who thereafter would be identified with the character for the next quarter-century.[16] Like Molière's, Giaratone's Pierrot would also prove to be lovelorn, subject to a malady that does not afflict Pedrolino.[17] And, notwithstanding Giaratone's usually playing Pierrot as an Italianate zanni, it is probably no accident that, in several of the plays left behind by his troupe, Pierrot is portrayed as a patois-spouting peasant in the French mold.[18]

Pedrolino and Pierrot are clearly differentiated by their respective functions in the plots of their plays. Pedrolino, as a first zanni, is, as Mic notes above, the "dynamic" element of the play; Pierrot, on the other hand, as a second zanni, is static. The latter appears, as Storey writes, "in comparative isolation from his fellow masks, with few exceptions, in all the plays of Le Théâre Italien,[19] standing on the periphery of the action, commenting, advising, chiding, but rarely taking part in the movement around him."[20] Pedrolino, by contrast, is not a character to be caught standing still.

Related figures[edit]


  1. ^ Katritzky, p. 248.
  2. ^ The Scala scenarios have been translated by Salerno; the plots of the "Corsini" pieces have been summarized by Pandolfi (V, 252-76). As Storey (1978) notes, at least one of Pandolfi's summaries "gives indication that [Pedrolino] may enjoy here different nuances of character from those of Scala's zanni: in Il Granchio [The Crab] he appears to be a father on equal footing with Pantalone" (p. 15, n. 23).
  3. ^ Storey (1996), pp. 170, 171.
  4. ^ Mic, p. 47; tr. Storey (1978), p. 13 (emphasis Storey's).
  5. ^ Storey (1978), p. 13.
  6. ^ Storey (1978), pp. 15-16.
  7. ^ The parenthetical examples are from two plays in the Scala collection, La Fortunata Isabella (Lucky Isabella) and Il Pedante (The Pedant).
  8. ^ Rudlin, p. 136.
  9. ^ For the movements of this troupe and of Pellesini himself, see Lea, I, 265-92.
  10. ^ A lucid account of these troupes and of Pellesini's movements among them is given by Rudlin and Crick, pp. 1-53.
  11. ^ Katritzky, p. 249.
  12. ^ Lea, I, 293.
  13. ^ Cited and tr. Storey (1978), p. 16.
  14. ^ "Italian equivalent" is Nicoll's phrase ([1963], p. 88); Mic writes that the historical connection between Pedrolino and Pierrot is "absolutely evident" (p. 211). Sand and Duchartre assume a close kinship between the two characters; Storey (1978) sees Pedrolino and Hamlet as establishing behavioral "poles" for Pierrot, between which he oscillates throughout his long history (pp. 73-74).
  15. ^ MS 13736, Bibliothèque de l'Opéra, Paris, I, 113; cited and tr. Nicoll (1931), p. 294.
  16. ^ See Storey (1978), pp. 17-18.
  17. ^ "Pedrolino's love for Franceschina sometimes provides the occasion for a farcical scuffle between him and Arlecchino (Li Duo vecchi gemelli [The Two Old Twins]) or for a burst of jealous anger when he is cuckolded by Doctor Gratiano (La Fortunata Isabella [Lucky Isabella]). But it never elicits the tenderness, both comic and pathetic, that infuses [a] scene of Regnard's La Coquette (1691) [in the Gherardi collection], in which Pierrot stands tongue-tied with love before his master's young daughter, Columbine": Storey (1978), pp. 25-26.
  18. ^ Storey (1978), pp. 20-21.
  19. ^ It is therefore a mistake to rename Pierrot "Pedrolino", as Rudlin does (pp. 137-38), in a translation of a scene from those plays. (Le Théâtre Italien is the Gherardi collection cited in "References" below.)
  20. ^ Storey (1978), pp. 27-28.


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