Character Analysis
Character Name


Il’ Capitano Salvador de los Virgenes Burraches (Captain, Savior of the drunken virgins- in Spanish, it is pronounced “Cap-ee-tan”)– Fletcher

Spavento della Valle Inferna, Giangurgolo Calabrese, Rogantino, Il’ Vappo, Scaramuccia, Crispin. – Duchartre

Self-appointed:  if (and it’s a big if) he ever held the rank of captain, he was long since stripped of it.  Various names are Giangurgulo, Coccodrillo, Fanfarone, Matamoros, Spavento, Meo Squasquara (little shit) and many more.  One of an actor’s first duties as a Capitano is to invent a new name and lineage, preferably several lines long.  – Rudlin

Every country teems with bold and swaggering Captains, of whom the most renowned are Sangre y Fuego, Cocodrillo, Escobombardon, Ariararche, Melampigo, the Captain of the black breeches, and Leucopigo, of the white breeches.  Then follow Papirotonda, Rodomonte, Spavento della Valle Inferna – their names roll out like thunder – and with  them their French prototypes, Boudoufle, Taille-bras, and Engoulevent. – Duchartre



A loner.  Il’Capitano is never indigenous to the town where the scenario is set and is able to pretent to high status as a result.  His downfall to the level of actual social standing is an essential part of the denoument. – Rudlin

Bluff Spanish Soldier/Mercenary (loner) always from someplace else.  – Fletcher



Satire on military profession, therefore dress follows period changes of uniform.  Feathered helmet or hat (mon panache).  Huge boots (not necessarily a matching pair) with exaggerated garters.  Spanish varieties have exaggerated ruff.  Costume sometimes diagonally striped or slashed in the style of Francois I.  But whatever the style, close scrutiny reveals the truth: ‘Magnificent in words, but his purse is always empty and under his beautfully richly damascened cuirass he wears but a frayed and tattered leather jerkin’.  –Rudlin

Il Capitano himself, however, always claims that his tattered undergarments are caused by the amazing virility of his body hair bursting through whenever he gets angry.  Indeed, for this reason he used to wear no shirt at all ‘but now that I have calmed down I wear linen like any other man’. – Duchartre quoting Gherardi

Each one (Capitano) wears a splendid uniform embellished with the turbans of infidels who have fallen by his sword.  And each is also a gallant slayer of hearts. – Duchartre

Blue and Green velvet doublet with yellow stripe down his back indicating his cowardice.  Sometimes a colored cape or great coat. – Shane

Origin (History)


Has a twofold origin.  1)  literary: as in Plautus’ Miles Gloriosus and Trasone in Terence’s Eunuchus; 2) fake Spanish mercenary. – Rudlin

One of the very first stock character of the Commedia dell’arte and Commedia erudita that can be traced back to the Roman theater. – Shane

Parody of Spanish soldiers “captains” roaming Italy in the Renaissance. – Fletcher

Superimposed as it were on to the Italian comedy was the type of military adventurer, of the Spanish hildago, violent, tyrannical, overbearing and rapacious; a mixture of Don Juan, Pizarro and Don Quixote; at first rather terrible than ridiculous, and growing into a bona fide comic figure, into a threadbare and hungry adventurer, a cowardly sonorous fire eater, a Captain Frcassa or Matamoros, only in proportion as the redoubtable kingdom of Phillip II, odious but dignified, turned into the tattered Spain of the 17th century, exercurable, but ludicrous.  – Rudlin

Two distinct figures of Captains:  the Italian and the Spanish.  The former is the act of posing in all the pride of his tall figure, his stupendous pair of moustaches, the hilt of his long sword; the latter in the attitude of one who, in insolent manner, wards off a blow.  – Riccoboni

Captains seem largely out of fashion nowadays.  The age of machine-guns has altered and modified their manners, and perhaps changed them at heart as well.  The type (of the Captain) becomes much more plausible when one recalls the blood-curdling combats of the condottieri, in which, according to Machiavelli, the unexpected wheeling of a horse was sometimes enough to decide the issue of a struggle.  It is obnoxious that these mercenary leaders, in fighting first for one party and then another, had no pecuniary or patriotic motive for annihilating their “human material”, as it was called later on.  By far the greatest number of warriors who died in battle died from suffocation inside their armor rather than at the hands of the enemy. 

In this condition of affairs it was only natural that the civil populace of the time should have created an extravagant caricature of the condottiere, whom they had quickly learned to hate.  For he was always their enemy, whether he was fighting for or against them.  He lived by ravaging the country indisciminately, pillaging to right and left, and roasting his prisoners to make them speak.  And, since they were unable to revenge themselves upon him, they invented the character of the Captain as a substitute.  His braggadocio was, therefore, never too outrageous to please them, nor were his fears too contemptible, nor the blows he received ever too numerous or too hard.   – Duchartre

The cowardly braggart was a popular figure in Renassaince theatre, as well as long before (Miles Gloriosus).  This captain is often of Spanish origin, reflecting that country’s military domination of Italy at one time. – Rolfe

The first Captains were Italian, and belonged to the 15th century.  Their cowardice knew no limits.  During the Spanish domination in Italy the Captain acquired the name of Matamoros, and the Spanish conception of the character gradually superceded that of the Italians.  The great warrior then dressed ‘according to the country’ and mouthed Castillian.  – Duchartre

Large, whether physically or egotistically, he is a large presence on stage. Designed to attract attention from women and intimidate men. -Fletcher
Long nosed crocodile mask. – Fletcher

Long nose, often unambiguously phallic. – Rudlin

The mask of the earliest Captains was flesh-colored, and had a great menancing nose which served as the keynote to their character.  It was also provided with fierce, bristling moustaches, which seemed like vertable iron spikes defending the entrance to a citadel only too ready to capitulate.  The mask, in its general aspect, was intended to emphasize the contrast between a brave appearance and a craven nature.  The war-masks of negro-tribes were designed for the same purpose.  – Duchartre



Sword that he never actually uses for fighting. – Fletcher

Long sword.  Use of his weapon is part of her personality, a gestural extension like zanni’s slapstick, not an accessory.  – Rudlin

Stance Feet planted apart in order to occupy maximum space, chest pushed forward, back straight, hips wide. – Rudlin


Mountain walk:  the heels of his high boots come down first, then the foot rolls on to the ball.  Straight back, unlike zanni.  Big strides.  Step off on ball of foot giving lift and bounce to step.  Feet on ground, head in clouds.  (Rises up with each step so head comes above clouds in order to see!)  The actual steps are small (he is in no hurry to get to war, but wants to do so with maximum effect).  – Rudlin

Marches everywhere; goose-steps, walk on heels.  – Fletcher, Commedia dell’Carte

Promenade walk:  toes down first, strutting and preening with the head. 
Chest walk:  a side-to-side movement of the trunk, the shoulder commences.  Used in confined spaces. – Rudlin

Run:  When he hears a frightening noise he drops everything, but only succeeds in running on the spot, head thrown back, arms in the air, kicking his feet forward and howling piteously.  When he hears a wolf (or small dog) he shrinks little by little until he has made himself unnoticeable as possible, then scurries away in a crouch.  When fleeing from a mouse he adopts a kind of leaping promenade walk in order to prevent it running up his legs.  When scared witless he occaissionally runs to be seen, to show off his legs, etc.  – Rudlin

1.) Standing at Attention
2.) Right hand on sword, using left had to gesture or give focus.
3.) 2nd position with knees locked and nose in the air.
4.) Feet apart, hands on hips with chest out.
5.) Bent at the waist, probing with the nose 
6.) Cruciform 
7.) Seated with legs apart 
8.) Cowering with fear 
9.) Skater position (with woman) 
10.) Courte’ position
11.)  Martial arts poses
Movements Slow, deliberate and mechanical. – Fletcher
Gestures Extravagant and sustained.  – Rudlin
Speech Loud basso profoundo, turning to castrato squeak when frightened.  When Spanish, the accent is Castillan. – Rudlin


A Cross between a hunting dog and a Neapolitan mastiff- Dario Fo
A peacock who has moulted all but one of his tail feathers, but does not know it. – Rudlin

Cock – Fletcher



Originally employed by Pantalone to do his dirty work for him.  They worked well together as lechers with financial aspirations:  Il’Capitano to get rich, Pantalone to remain so.  Pantalone would often congratulate Il Capitano on his efforts, then betray him to others.  Since he saw him as a contemptible mercenary there was no reason to protect him.  Later Il’ Capitano developed status in his own right and would arrive, however impoverished, with a Zanni, often half-starved.  Il’Dottore is no threat to him because he recognizes his intellectual pretension as being as hollow as his boasts.  ‘Doctor’ and ‘Captain’ are both self-appointed honorary titles.  He is threatened, however by Pedrolino’s genuine knowledge and understanding of life and by Columbina’s plain speaking, especially in matters of sexual conquest.  She sometimes uses him to humiliate Arlechinno, of whom Il’ Capitano is also wary because of his ability to outwit him.  – Rudlin

He is almost used as a  prop by the other characters. – Fletcher

Although he never lost a whit of his ridiculous vainglory, his inherent cowardice appeared less often and came to light only when his bravado had wholly failed.  Yet he had but to catch sight of Harlequin with his bat, and he was thrown into a frenzy of terror.  – Duchartre

Of all the characters of the commedia dell’arte the Captain is, in some respects, probably the most difficult for us to understand, just as Tartarian is more or less incomprehensible to anyone who has not lived in the Midi.  But the type has always been prevalent enough.  – Duchartre

The whole world is an audience.  Stops whenever he sees the actual audience and makes a salutation so that he can be admired.  Initially his bravura may take in the other characters, but never the audience:  something in his very first entrance (a trip for example) should give him away. – Rudlin 
Exists to be ‘de-masked’ by the plot.  Always a complete final transformation from pride to humility, confidence to panic.  – Rudlin

Four types:
1.) Politic – if the Turks invade, be becomes a Turk.
2.) Total Coward – shits himself and plays dead.
3.) Really courageous, but a danger only to himself and his own side when he fights.
4.) Non-masked, Il’Cavaliere – thinks he’s good-looking and God’s gift to women.  (see under Lovers).
Whichever type, there’s only one thing he ever does: pretend.  Thinks’s he’s: a.) strong; b.) handsome; c.) brave and d.) a hell of a good guy.  In Italian one speaks of the bravura of Il’ Capitano, in French of his panache. But he lives in an infantile, make-believe world, full of famous mythological and historical battles into which his imagination projects him as the hero of the day.  He would be the last to arrive at the scene of any real battle – and the first to retreat.  His element is air, not to say wind.  – Rudlin

The eyes of Captain Matamoros gleam like steel, his moustache bristles, and his huge nose and immense sword quiver with rage incessantly, somewhat in the same manner as a peacock’s tail during mating season.  Nor is Spezza-Monti any the less impressive.  That doughty hero always shuts his eyes so that he will not have to behold the victim he intends to carve and cut into ribbons.  Again, there is Taglia-Cantoni all accoutred in tight-fitting uniform, with padded thighs and warlike crest standing erect.  His rival is the terrifying Fracassco-brise-tout, and when these two gentlemen cross swords they parry and thrust with such fury that not even the public square is large enough to hold them. – Duchartre

Captain Zerbino wears spectacles so that his flashing glance will not dim the sun’s less ardent rays.  And Cerimonia, the nimble, carefree swordsman, bows with such grace to Lavinia that surely he will break her heart as easily as he would a nut.  The very infirmities of Mala-Gamba and Bella-Vista bespeak their notorious exploits.  Whenever they encounter one another in the street they draw up proudly and exchange salutes like two men-o’-war loaded down with cannon, ready to open fire and maneuvring for position.  – Duchartre

The gallant Cyrano de Bergerac, with his cock-and-bull boasts (which had a certain courage behind them), is a superb example of the Captain.  – Duchartre

If he speaks no Italian he is able to interpret any comments as the adulation which is rightfully his.  He is pompous, gallant, and inordinately vain, extravagantly preoccupied with great military deeds on earth and in heaven, with gorgeous uniforms, and with amatory prowess.  He is convinced that all eyes focus admiringly upon him.  – Rolfe

Il’ Capitano boasts of past deeds, makes promises of future ones – when he can get around to it.  He claims to be fearless in bloody battle, but also sensitive, for he delicately shields his eyes from the sight of the bodies he hacks and slices – or better yet, he refrains from hacking and slicing.  He is all the more pretnetious since he is poverty-stricken and attempts bravely to hide or justify that fact.  Because he is a coward, he flees, or feigns death, at the slightest provacation – a bee buzzing or a donkey braying – or at the possibility of confrontation or discovery.  And how ingenious are his rationalizations!  - Rolfe

If Capitano is a suitor, he is a ridiculous one.  At times he has a servant, who naturally gets the better of him.  – Rolfe

There is another, later, captain, a suave, elegant fellow rather like the Baron Munchausen; a supercilious, fascinating, brilliant liar whose strategic retreats are elegantly executed.  – Rolfe



1. Lazzo of Excuses - Capitano goes into a long spiel about how he could kill whoever he is talking to, how he could destroy them in so many ways with so much ease, but there is always some silly reason why he can’t.
2. Lazzo of Counting - He beats Arlecchino for some reason ten times, but keeps losing count and starting over.
3. Lazzo of Killing - Capitano and Arlecchino decide to kill Pantalone. To demonstrate to the other how he would kill Panatlone, he says, “You be Pantalone”, and strangles the other. As Arlecchino nearly passes out, he says, “Now you be Pantalone” and  returns the favor.
4. Lazzo of the innocent bystander – Brighella and Pedrolino meet face to face and hurl insults, Capitano tries to keep them from fighting and gets beat up by both of them.
5. Lazzo of  “God give you joy”
6. Lazzo of “English food is so bad”
7. Lazzo of “My seed is so strong”
8. Lazzo of “Beautiful Spanish Women”
9. Lazzo of Carrying Vittoria on his shoulders.
10. Lazzo of being afraid of Columbina’s love.

A Bibliography

Commedia dell'Arte: An Actor's Handbook by John Rudlin.  Routledge 1994

Commedia dell'arte: A Scene-Study Book by Bari Rolfe.  Personabooks 1977

The Commedia dell'Arte by Winifred Smith, New York, 1912

The Italian Comedy by Pierre Louis Ducharte.  Dover Publications, inc.  1966

Lazzi: The Comic Routines of the Commedia dell'Arte by Mel Gordon.  Performing Arts Journal Publications  1983

Scenarios of the Commedia dell'Arte:  Flaminio Scala's Il Teatro Delle Favole Rappresentative translated by Henry F. Salerno Limelight Editions  1996

All other comments have come from growth and experience of the performers of Commedia dell'Carte

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