Character Analysis
Character Name



Generically, the female of zannizagne.  The role was first called sobretta (soubrette in French, later known as fantesca (maid) or servetta (female servant).  Although Columbina became the dominant name, especially as Columbine in France and England, she was originally also called Franceschina, Smeraldina, Oliva, Nespola, Spinetta, Ricciolina, Corallina, Diamantina, Lisetta, etc. - Rudlin



Personal Maid to the prima donna innamorata. – Rudlin

The Perky servant, the soubrette. – Rolfe

The Maid of one of the Old Men or the wife of Arlecchino. – Gordon


Better dressed than male servants since she is a lady’s maid.  Mob cap and apron, wearing a ‘folly’ dress underneath.  Skirts usually fell just below the knee.  Neckline of bodice low and often frilled.  Several colors of material. – Rudlin

Dressed like her mistress or Arlechinno, but always had a small apron. - Gordon

The Soubrette wore a large, wide apron, and her personable figure refused all persuasions of a corset.  Her costume was that of a woman of the people. -Duchartre

The cut and quality of the costume should correspond with her counterpart, usually Arlechinno or Harlequin.  The coloring could go in different ways depending on her relationships in the ensemble or scenario.  She can be in a similar scheme to Arlechinno (where she is sometimes known as Arlechinna with similar diamonds and triangles), or if she is assigned to a rival family of Arlechinno's, she can be in that scheme.  In cases where she is an independent character, she can be in blacks and whites in the spirit of a French Maid.  -Shane

Origin (History)

Le ballerine and/or le cantarine (French chanteuses) – with a tambourine provided entr’acte entertainment before women were allowed into the stage action proper.  Here, for once, there is an indisputable link with Roman theatre.  Its relatively late development meant that the role, unlike the male Masks derived from Carnival, was much more dependent on the character of the performer herself and on the taste of the audience. The early street performers (who were more often called Franceschina, Smeraldina, etc.) were older, lustier and more buxom than the later seventeenth and eighteenth century Colombinas, who as well as being younger and more graceful and engaging, were less overtly sexual.  In borrowing from the commedia erudita, which had a tradition of the maid appearing in place of her mistress, the servetta would have had a lot to do.  But once the Lovers actually appeared, the role was reduced to confidant and message carrier.  Later she became the counterpart of Zanni in function and the reflection of her mistress in manner and mood. - Rudlin

The servants of the 16th Century went by such engaging names as Francesquina, Licetta, Tiffia, Gitta, Betta, Gneva, and Nina. 
The grandmother of Catherine Biancolelli had been a Columbine, as was her daughter after her.  The Columbine they interpreted, in fact, became the standard type:  she was rather French in character and noted for her coquetry. -Duchartre

Physical Appearance Initially strong and attractive like a circus artist, later petite and pretty. – Rudlin
Unmasked, but the eyes wide and well made-up. – Rudlin

As she is not considered a part of the Innamorati, she often wears a mask that usually just covers her eyes. - Shane

Often carries a basket. - Rudlin

Usually has an apron, a basket, and a tambourine. - Shane

Stance One knee bent, the other leg extended.  Slight forward tilt from the hips to show best features.  Tiny waist and wide hips. – Rudlin
Walk Little flick of the foot at end of grand zanni walk. - Rudlin

All the learned and worked ballet positions with the focus being directed to the next speaking character.  A variation of the ballet positions with the body either erect or bent.  In Colombina’s case, a great display of cleavege should be incorporated into the poses as often as possible. – Tatiana Marciel

1.)  A cross between laying down and sitting, usually with one knee up and one leg extended flat.
2.)  Hip cocked outward, bust out, and hands extended behind back.
3.)  Leaning forward, hands together with arms extended accenting cleavage with the upper part of the arms.
4.)  Wrapping leg around a male performer.
5.)  Stand upright and "perky" and arms at sides and palms parallel to the ground. 
6.)  Profile with weight shifted back on hip with arms folded under cleavage.



All zanni movements, in any combination.  Movement continues during speaking, shifting balance from one foot to the other and moving the head sharply as if searching for someone other than the person being addressed.
Fast and nimble in order to escape unwanted attentions or butt in, then escape from a situation. - Rudlin

She is happy and carefree, yet when assigned a task moves with speed and efficency.  This is one of her strongest traits in being a good servant. - Shane 

Hands either on hips, holding apron or making significant gestures.
When excited she throws her hands up as if still dancing with the tambourine.
A good mimic. - Rudlin
Sharp, gossipy, with frequent variations of pitch.  Originally Tuscan, but could be any other dialect. – Rudlin

Specially entertaining and attractive if it is a Portuguese one. – Marciel



Dove. – Rudlin

Hawk – Marciel



Loves Arlecchino, but sees through him.  Feels a need to look after him, educate him in the hope that he too can break the bounds of being a fixed type.  She therefore scolds him, punishes him, deserts him, takes him back, but in the end he does not change and she has to accept him for what he is, which is still more lovable than Il Dottore, Pantalone , Il Capitano, etc.
She can be very affectionate to other characters as well, and her affections seem to flow through her physically, but she always holds something back.  As a result she is pestered by other men, especially Il Capitano and Pantalone.  She is always ready to help the Lovers, perhaps through natural sympathy with their plight. - Rudlin

The maid of one of the Old Men or the wife of Arlechinno. - Gordon

She was the constant friend and companion of Harlequin, eternally in love either with the rascally valets or Lelio.  - Duchartre

Relationship to 
Collusive - she is a spectator herself.  Very strong relationship with the audience, almost confidential in the sense that she too can see what fools the rest of them are.  Flirts with spectators moving closer so they can see her eyes, but not too close. – Rudlin

Occaisonally flirts with the audience. - Shane

Frequent Plot 
The still centre of the turning wheel, in on everything that is going on, she exerts a benevolent influence on the outcome. – Rudlin

By her keen and active wit, she was able to hold her own in every situation and emerge with ease and dignity from the most involved intrigues. - Duchartre

The only lucid, rational person in commedia dell’arte, analogous to Maria in Twelfth Night.  Autonomous and self-sufficient, she has no negative attributes; she has enough to eat, decent clothes and no ambition to be rich.  She can read and write: in fact she is very fond of books and owns several.  She sings, dances captivates, but has gone beyond her entremetteuse origins to become a self-educated woman.  In this respect she is influenced by contact with Isabella, indeed it is difficult to see how the later could confide in anyone who did not share her outlook on life.  The main difference between servette and zanni is that whereas Arlecchino thinks on his feet, Colombina uses her brain and thinks things through.  Like Il Capitano she is a lone figure, capable of appearing solo.  Often, in fact, the prologue is entrusted to her.  Although capricious and coquettish she is good at her job, careful with money, and will, with great reluctance, make an excellent housekeeper one day.  Although she is very sexually knowing she is sometimes a virgin, when it suits her. - Rudlin

She is a woman of the world and understands more about life than the scholar or philosopher.  She is feminine, however it is usually an afterthought as her wit, sarcasm, and strength usually seem masucline in nature. - Shane


1.)  She appears almost if not before her name is called, always being on step ahead of her master.
2.)  She finishes sentences for her master, which she sometimes uses in her favor.
3.)  When a situation gets out of control, she becomes the dominant voice to put everyone and everything back in its place.
4.)  She beats the male characters, sometimes even her master.
5.)  She requests other characters to tell her how important she is.
6.)  She can make her breasts and other parts of her body squeak

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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