General History of Commedia dell'Arte
If you really want to find ALL the books written about Commedia dell'Arte published before 1988, look at **Commedia dell'Arte: A guide to the Primary and Secondary Literature by Thomas F. Heck (iUniverse.com/1988, 2000). He has done the work for us. It is an annotated anthology of articles and books on: general introductions to Commedia, sources of scenerii (collections and analyses), historical studies, Commedia outside Italy, actors and their legacies, the major stock characters, improvising, dance and music for Commedia, and 19th and 20th c. connections. It includes books in English, Italian, German, French and Spanish. If you are doing more extensive research, it is an excellent resource. I am including a few of the older books from this anthology on this page because they are valuable resources, but am focusing on more recent and available publications.
**Readily available in most libraries AND through Barnesandnobles.com and Amazon.com
Books without asterisks may be more difficult to locate. A good university library should have most of these listed.
1. **Pierre Duchartre's book, The Italian Comedy (Dover Publications, NY/1966) is the first book I go to for inquiries into most aspects of Commedia. It is an indepth, mostly accurate, and well documented book for:
Roman comedies and Atellanae characters/masks
Descriptions of scenarios, improvisations, costumes, and staging
Histories of the major stock characters (Harlequin, Brighella, Pantalone, the Doctor,
Pulcinella, the Captain, Pedrolino, the Women, the Lovers, and other minor Characters)
Famous Actors who played the characters
Originally written in French, the 1966 English version has 259 black and white illustrations, including all 42 plates from the Recueil Fossard, engravings compiled for Louis XIV, as well as engravings by Jacques Callot (17th c.), Maurice Sand (18th c.), Gilliot, and Watteau, to mention a few.
2. The Commedia dell'Arte: A Documentary History by Kenneth Richards and Laura Richards (Basil Blackwell, Ltd., UK/1990) is an amazingly thorough and well-documented treatise on the history, characters, companies, performances, and world influences of Commedia. If you can find this book, there are translated documentations at the end of each chapter (some of it for the first time in English) justifying the chapter's details, and a thorough chronology from 1545-1763 after the preface. It has limited but unique B & W pictures. I'm trying to find a copy of this book for my library because it is so thorough.
3. **Harlequin on the Moon: Commedia dell'Arte and the Visual Arts by Lynn Lawner (Harry N. Abrams, NY/1998) is a beautifully produced book about Commedia and how it has been represented through the Visual Arts. It is historically accurate and easy to peruse for the excellent and copious color and B & W plates. It would make a lovely gift for someone interested in theatre history and art.
More to come...