"He watched the play with interest but could make little of it. The company was perhaps describing some adventure of their own in their travels and they sang into each other's faces and wept and in the end the man in buffoon's motley slew the woman and slew another man perhaps his rival with a dagger"
Commedia dell'Arte troupe Gelosi in a late 16th-century Flemish painting
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeCommedia dell'Arte troupe Gelosi in a late 16th-century Flemish painting - Credit: PRA

Although McCarthy describes the travelling theatre troupe as an opera company, the play Billy watches belongs to the Commedia dell'Arte tradition - a form of theatre that originated in mid-16th century Italy.

Commedia dell’Arte troupes travelled extensively and were not hampered by language barriers since the plays were largely communicated by gesture and physicality rather than dialogue. The plays were performed outside on temporary stages, characterised by masked ‘types’ and improvised performances based on sketches or scenarios.


More information on the Commedia dell'Arte can be found here




Public DomainCapitano - Credit: Maurice Sand
Public DomainScaramuccia - Credit: Maurice Sand
Public DomainCoviello - Credit: Maurice Sand