Brighella (French: Brighelle) is a comic, masked character from the
Commedia dell'arte. His early costumeconsisted of loosely-fitting, white smockand pants with green trim and was often equipped with a "battachio" or slapstick, or else with a wooden sword. Later he took to wearing a sort of liverywith a matching cape. He wore a greenish half- mask(traditionally olive-green) displaying a look of preternatural lustand greed. He evolved out of the general Zanni, as evidenced by his costume, and came into his own around the start of the 16th century.
He is loosely categorized as one of the "
zanni" or servant characters though he often was portrayed as a member of the middle classsuch as a tavernowner: his character could be adapted to whatever the needs to the scenario might be, just as Brighella himself is adaptable to any circumstance. He is essentially Arlecchino's smarter and much more vindictive older brother. As in a typical stereotype of those who have risen from poverty, he is often most cruel to those beneath him on the social ladder; he even goes so far as to kill on occasion. In later versions of his character these violent and malicious traits were lessened substantially. Pierre Louis Duchartre, in his "The Italian Comedy" theorizes that in France, the gentilified Brighella eventually culminated in the character of Figaro, known from the plays and operas.
He's a masterful liar, and can make up a spur-of-the moment lie for any situation. He is an inveterate schemer, and he is good at what he does. If his plans failed, it was almost always out of luck on behalf of the other characters. When he's a servant, he will either serve his master devotedly or look for every opportunity to ruin and take advantage of him as he happens to see fit -- whatever will gain the greatest advantage for himself and himself alone. He is fond of money, but spends it rapidly, and tends to be especially fond of the drink. To quote Duchartre again: "Brighella believes in no one but the hangman, he respects nothing and loves nothing but his own pleasure." In fact, he has few good qualities save for his ability to entertain the audience.
His character is usually from uptown
Bergamo, and in the original Italian would often speak with the local accent. He could be very witty and fond of wordplay. He is also an accomplished singer, dancer and musician, and sometimes would play the guitar on stage.
His name comes from a word which can mean "bother" or "contention" in Italian ("Florio's 1611 Italian-English Dictionary" defines "Briga" as meaning "a brable, a braule, a contention".) His name in English would be something like "Fighty" or "Brawly."It is notable that the word "attaccabrighe" ("hellraiser") utilizes the same element as his name.
A list of variations on the character, according to Duchartre, are:
Beltrame: from the late 17th century, a "wilfully blind husband and rascal as crafty as Brighella." He was Milanese and spoke that dialect. As part of his costume he apparently wore a distinctive large tunic.
Scapino: A much more nervous and cowardly version of Brighella. See his entry.
Truccagnino: See Fenocchio.
Mezzetino: A gentler version of Brighella, fond of the ladies even if they weren't fond of him. See his entry.
Fenocchio: More prone to playing pranks than committing serious intrigues, he otherwise shared Brighella's fondness for malice.
Flautino: A musical Brighella, often singing
a cappella. It's said the actor Giovanni Gherard, in this role, was able to perform the part of an entire orchestra with his voice alone.
Sbrigani: Sometimes the exact opposite of Brighella, otherwise an identical character; like twins. Frequently appeared alongside Brighella onstage. Franca Trippa, Francatrippa or Francatrippe: created in the late 16th century, spoke a mixture of Bolognese and Tuscan dialects. An upper-class Brighella. Could be capable of
gymnasticor other physical feats.
Turlupin or Tirelupin: A French Brighella created by
Henri Legrand. The name means, according to Duchartre, "unlucky." However, the Oxford English Dictionarymentions an etymology relating to a cult that modelled themselves on the Cynicsand lived off of "lupins" that they gathered ("tiraient"). The character was reputedy fond of vulgar wordplay.
Gandolin: A French Brighella, very fond of wordplay and puns. Sometimes wears a fur-lined plumed hat.
Fritellino or Fristelin: see Francatrippa.
Sgnarelle: A chronic drunk.
Figaro: as created by
Beaumarchais. See Le Barbier de Séville.
* [http://www.geocities.com/commedia_dellarte/Characters/brighella/brighella.html A desciption of Brighella]
* [http://www.carnivalofvenice.com/documento.asp?id=20 Carnival of Venice's page on Brighella]
* [http://www.sipario.it/mbrighella.htm Sipario Cyclopedia's entry on Brighella (in Italian and English)]
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