Il Capitano

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Il Capitano (the Captain) is a masked character from the commedia dell'arte.

He convinces people of the following facts, although in reality, he is a coward and, at best, claims the credit for what someone else did.[clarification needed]

He is often a foreigner who can maintain the claim only by benefit of the fact that none of the locals know him. He is usually a Spaniard given the fact that for most of the late Renaissance to well into 17th century, Italy was under Spanish domination. He was most likely inspired by the boisterous Iberic caudillos who told tall tales of their exploits either in the conquest of the Americas or in the wars with Germany.

Il Capitano often talks at length about made up conquests of both the militaristic and carnal nature in attempts to impress others, but often only ends up impressing himself. He gets easily carried away in his tales and doesn't realise when those around him don't buy his act. He would be the first to run away from any and all battles and he has trouble enough talking to and being around women.

He is also extremely opportunistic and greedy. If hired by Pantalone to protect his daughter from her many suitors, Capitano would set up a bidding war for his services or aid between the suitors and Pantalone while wooing her himself. If he is hired to fight the Turks, he will bluster about fighting them to his last drop of blood, but when the Turks seem to be winning, he will join them. When they are driven off, he will change sides again and boast about his loyalty and bravery.

He stands in a high posture with a straight back and most often has one hand in the air and the other hand on his sword or hip.



He is a very versatile character; he can be a friend of a vecchio and ultimately act as a zanni for them, or sometimes fill the role of vecchio himself. He can even fill the role of one of the innamorati; in that case, his cowardice is usually overcome by the fury of his passion, which he makes every effort to demonstrate. Typically, however, his cowardice is such that when one of the characters orders him to do something, he often steps down out of fear, but is able to make up an excuse that ensures the other characters still see him as a brave and fierce individual. Columbina sometimes uses him to make Arlecchino jealous, much to Capitano's bewilderment and fright.

Depiction of the character

The Captain is sometimes depicted without a mask. When a mask is used, it is usually flesh-hued with a large nose and a moustache that is either straight and bristly or turned up at the corners. Sometimes older versions are shown wearing a pair of glasses; although used to compensate for his poor vision, Capitano will insist that it is so the brilliant or fierce glint in his handsome eyes will not outshine the sun.

He is dressed in his military uniform, which is multi-colored and covered in shiny buttons, but often shown patched and looking very worn. In one famous scenario, the Captain makes up a lie regarding the reason for his lack of an undershirt by claiming that it got that way because "I used to be an exceedingly fierce and violent man, and when I was made angry the hair which covers my body in goodly quantity stood on end and so riddled my shirt with holes that you would have taken it for a sieve." The real reason is that he has been too poor to afford one. Sometimes he wears it with a helmet or a bicorne or tricorne hat with a huge plume. Spanish characters often wear an exaggerated large neck-ruff.

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