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This article is about the commedia character. For the dove genus, see Columbina (genus).
Harlequin dancing with Columbine

Columbina (in Italian, Colombina, "little dove"; in French, Colombine) is a stock character in the Commedia dell'Arte.[1] She is Harlequin's mistress,[1] a comic servant playing the tricky slave type, and wife of Pierrot. Rudlin and Crick use the Italian spelling Colombina in Commedia dell'arte: A Handbook for Troupes.[2]

The role of the serviette was originally that of a entr'acte dancer. Women were not allowed to be part of the story that was being played out on stage, but they were allowed to have a dance in-between the action. Eventually these women became the buxom and gossipy servants of characters that were already allowed on stage. Eventually they became the counterparts to the Zanni characters.[3][4]

She is dressed in a ragged and patched dress, appropriate to a hired servant. These characters were usually played unmasked, but with bonnets.[4] She was also known to wear heavy makeup around her eyes[5] and carry a tambourine[6], which she could use to fend off the amorous advances of Pantalone.

She was often the only functional intellect on the stage[4][7]. Columbina aided her mistress, the innamorata, to gain the affections of her one true love, by manipulating Arlecchino and counter-plotting against Pantalone, while simultaneously managing the whereabouts of the innamorato. She may be a flirtatious and impudent character, indeed a soubrette but without losing her judgment.

In the verismo opera Pagliacci by Ruggero Leoncavallo, the head of the troup's wife, Nedda, playing as Colombina, cheats on her husband, Canio, playing as Pagliaccio, both onstage with Arlecchino and offstage with Silvio.

Although Colombina is one name associated with the servette character archetype, other names under which the same character is played in Commedia dell'Arte performances include: Franceschina, Smeraldina, Oliva, Nespola, Spinetta Ricciolina, Corallina Diamantina[8].  Colombian became the most common name used to describe the sobretta character especially as Colombine in France and in England.[3]

Some of the people that made this character famous wereSilvia Roncagli was the first women recorded doing a seretta role named Francheschina in c1570. Caterina Biancolelli was one of the most famous serettas whose name was Colombina. She played c.1683.[9]

There is record of the famous playwright Moliere having attended many performances of la comédie italienne, or comedian dell'arte. He is even referenced in a performance by Angelo Costantini of his show Une Vie de Scaramouche he references the writer and poet.[6] This might suggest that the servant character in many of Moliere's plays such as Dorine in his play Tartuffe, might be based on this particular character archetype from commedia dell'arte.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Coulson, J.; C. T. Carr; Lucy Hutchinson; Dorothy Eagle; Joyce Hawkins (1976). The Oxford Illustrated Dictionary (Second ed.). Great Britain: Book Club Associates. p. 167. Columbine, Character in Italian comedy, the mistress of Harlequin (Arlecchino) 
  2. ^ Rudlin, John; Oliver Crick (2001). Commedia dell'arte: A Handbook for Troupes. Routledge. p. xiii. ISBN 978-0-415-20409-5. Retrieved 2010-02-10. certainly not 'Columbina'—who never existed anywhere 
  3. ^ a b Rudin, John (1994). Commedia dell'Arte: An Actor's Handbook. New York: Routledge. p. 127. Although Colombina became the dominant name, especially as Colombine in France and England, she was originally also called Franceschina, Smeraldina, Oliva, Nespola, Spinetta, Ricciolina, Corallina, Diamantina, Lisette, etc. 
  4. ^ a b c Oreglia, Giacomo (1968). The Commedia dell'Arte. New York: Hall and Wang. p. 123. 
  5. ^ Rudlin, John (1994). Commeida dell'Arte. New York: Routledge. p. 129. Unmasked, but the eyes wide and well made-up. Can wear a domino for special excursions. 
  6. ^ a b Moland, Louis (1867). Molère et la Comédie Italienne. Paris: Dider et Cie. pp. 168–169. 
  7. ^ Rudlin, John (1994). Commedia dell'Arte. New York: Routledge. p. 130. The only lucid, rational person in commedia dell'arte, analogous to Maria in Twelfth Night. 
  8. ^ Oreglia, Giacomo (1968). The Commedia dell'Arte. New York: Hill and Wang. p. 122. The servette might be called: Francheschina, Olivia, Nespola, Spinetta, Ricciolina, Corallina, Colombina, Diamantina, Lisetta, etc. 
  9. ^ Rudlin, John (1994). Commedia dell'Arte. New York: Routledge. pp. 128–129. 

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