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The following two numbered items appeared at the dates indicated on different pages in the original version of the Around Naples Encyclopedia. They have been consolidated here onto a single page.
entry Apr. 2003Pulcinella
On a wall in the Cave of Les Trois Ariège in France there is a stone-age drawing of a sorcerer wearing a mask. From his time to ours, from him to our own children modestly disguised for Halloween, or revelers made up for carnevale, there is an unbroken chain of masks. Made of every and anything from mud to gold, they have served to frighten, delight, beg, accompany the dead, cast out demons, and conceal lovers and executioners. From Greek drama to Balinese trance-dancers to modern psychodrama in which actors wear masks of their own faces, in every culture and in all of history, there have been masks.
The mask took on new meaning at the end of the 16th century in Italy, when there arose a form of theatre known as the Commedia dell'Arte. The actors were skilled in the representation of well-defined characters, characters who appeared and reappeared, bearing the same name, wearing the same mask and costume, speaking the same language and, thus, establishing themselves as distinct character types, stereotypes of various regions throughout Italy. For example, the stereotypical mask of Bologna is the pseudo-intellectual windbag, Dr. Balanzone, and Venice gives us the greedy and conniving underling, Arlecchino.
One of the best-known Italian masks is the one that represents Naples, Pulcinella. He is generally presented as a hunchback (remember that male hunchbacks are considered lucky in Naples!); he is dressed in a large, white smock and soft white hat, and wears a black half-mask characterized by a hook-nose. His character type is that of the jolly bungler, always poor and hungry, yet always able to get by, singing songs and playing the mandolin. In his stereotypical ineptness, however, there always remains the touch of the true court jester, the "fool," who delights in snubbing his nose at the powers that be, without them ever really catching on to how much wisdom is hidden behind the mask.
It is that anti–establishment
part of Pulcinella's personality, the total
disrespect of authority that seems to be not so
hidden in much modern-day Neapolitan behavior.
That's the reason—say some—that Neapolitans drive
they way they do. The state put that traffic light
on the corner, telling you when to go and when to
stop. A free citizen is almost honor–bound to ignore
origins & history:
entry May 2003
He matured in Naples but
has for centuries travelled the world over like some
tragi-comic exporter of Neapolitan values and
character, assuming whatever alias most fits the
country in which he finds himself—Punch,
Polichinelle, Don Cristobal, Policianelo, Karaghuez,
Jan Klassen, Petruska, etc. Yet Naples, itself,
often risks forgetting the true nature of one of its
most famous sons: the caustic, amorous,
long-suffering, ever-hungry, yet curiously
indefatigable Pulcinella. This world-wide diffusion
of the mask-character known in Italy as Pulcinella
was once the theme of an exhibition in the Villa
Pignatelli, Naples. Works from all over the world,
many by famous artists and showing Pulcinella in his
various guises, were brought together to illustrate
the enormous distances the character has travelled
in time, space and appearance, whilst, though,
remaining essentially the character born from the
real-life adventures of a certain Paoluccio della
Paoluccio, after moving from Acerra to Naples and turning his misfortunes and stupidity into something approaching a street-wise philosophy, turning authority and pomposity on their heads with his often unanswerable "...and why?", became christened Pulecenella Cetrulo (a play on words meaning 'stupid chick'). Of the existence of this person, we have the evidence of a 17th century engraving by Ludovico Carraci showing a physiognomy highly suited to transformation into the mask we know so well, and entitled "A true likeness of Paoluccio della Cerra, a.k.a. Pulcinella'.
Whatever the truth of Pulcinella's origins, Prof. C. Greco of the University of Naples, and the other experts employed by the Azienda Autonomo di Soggiorno Cura e Turismo for the research and organization of the exhibition took great pains to track down Pulcinella wherever he has appeared in the East and West, and whatever his attempts to disguise himself, and bring him back home for exhibition alongside a display of objects from the family collections of the Neapolitan playwrights and actors Raffaele Viviani and Eduardo de Filippo.
[Also see mentions of Pulcinella in Old Time Professions and the San Carlino Theater.]
[Also see Ancient Comedy Clubs for a discussion of the ancient origins of Pulcinella.]
[Also see The Presepe & Pulcinella from 2013]