Wide view of Venice: Piazza San Marco - Riva degli Schiavoni


(The Captain)

The mask of the Captain with all certainty widely pleased the population which was oppressed by those mercenary occupation armies, as very often happened in the Italy of 16th century (even before and after, as a matter of fact ...), sort of a platonic revenge toward the oppressor, and especially toward the mercenary soldiers, mainly ignorant, violent brutes who would take advantage in all senses of the poor subordinate populations.

First Captains ever in the Commedia dell'Arte were Italians in the speech and uniforms, these being as much as possible an exaggeration of the real ones, and changed with time, armies and fashion.
The Captain mask later became of Spanish origins (Borboni!) and with his heavy Spanish accent and pitiless irony built around his figure sometimes created some animosity in the audience.
The Captain soon disappeared from the Commedia's usual cast, his last appearances date from the beginning of the 18th century.

Several names apply to the Captain in his hundred and some years of Commedia activity:

  • Capitan Spavento di Vall'Inferna (Captain Fright of Hell's Valley) was definitely the most widely known
  • Capitan Fracasso (Big Noise, but also Failure in Spanish)
  • Terremoto (Earthquake -It.)
  • Spaccamonti (Mountain Buster -It.)
  • Sangr y Fuego (Blood & Fire -Sp.)
  • Matamoros (Moors Killer -Sp.)
  • Spezzaferro (Iron Breaker -It.)
  • Rodomonte (probably deriving from the Rhodes Colossus, meaning a huge and very powerful man).

Scaramouche also starts his career as a Captain, but later on he gets a life of his own.

Long pointy moustache, huge sword (never used), several daggers at his belt, the Captain talks more than he actually fights, he's very brave in his own words, but usually gets scared and flies off-stage when Harlequin enters with his "batocio", Harlequin's short wooden club.

"Ce Capitain fait grand esclat
Et sa valeur est si parfaite
Qu'il est de derniers au combat
Et des premiers à la retraite."

"This Captain makes so much noise
And his bravery is so perfect
That he's one of the last
to join the combat
And one of the first to beat a retreat."

Color illustration by Maurice Sand - Captain Spavento - 1577
Maurice Sand:
Captain Spavento (year 1577)
engraving with hand coloring
Color illustration by Maurice Sand - Captain Spezzaferro - 1668
Maurice Sand:
Captain Spezzaferro (year 1668)
engraving with hand coloring
Engraving: The Captain - Beginning of 16th century
Anonymous: "The Captain"
Beginning of Sixteenth century
Engraving by Callot - Captain Grillo
Jacques Callot:
"Captain Grillo"
engraving (17th century)
Red captain mask - modern reproduction
One of the Captain's mask
Engraving by Abraham Bosse - Capitaine Fracasse
Abraham Bosse:
"Capitaine Fracasse"
woodcut (17th century)

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