If you've seen a Watteau painting you should be vaguely familiar with the Commedia dell'arte aka the Italian Comedy. The Commedia was a a popular improvisational play that was popular from the fifteenth century onward. The play would take place in the great outdoors. Theatre troupes would tour the countryside performing the plays for eager audiences of different classes. The play had a lot of impact on the eighteenth century. The most popular masquerade costumes were based on the Commedia and, as I mentioned before, many of Watteau's paintings. Although the storyline would alter, a few things stayed the same such as the subject matter and characters. Here are some of them:
Arlecchino aka the Harlequin- The mischievous clown/acrobat who is hopelessly in love with the ballerina, Colombina. He can usually be identified by his diamond outfit, a wooden bat, and a cat-like mask with a wart on it.
Brighella- A rogue whose always scheming to make some cash
The Captain- The stereotypical soldier
The Doctor- The stereotyped doctor very pompous and very plump.
Pantalone- The old miserly Venetian merchant. Pantalone usually has a long pointed beard and red pants. For extra commedic effect he is sometimes accompanied by a young and pretty wife.
Colombina- The saucy ballerina who is crafty, clever, and untamed. She would usually introduce or initiate the plot. Usually her white ballerina gown would have diamond patches to show her connection to Arlecchino. She was one of the few characters who tended to remain unmasked.
Innamorati (Innamorato and Innamorata)- The lovers who can't keep their hands off each other are usually decked out in the most fashionable dress of the time.
La Ruffiana- The gossipy old woman who maliciously attempts to keep the lovers apart.
Pedrolino- The faithful servant and target for physical jokes at his own expense. Pedrolino dresses in a white, puffy outfit with a ruff.
La Signora- Sometimes Pantalone is married to this matriarch who also happens to be the mistress of Pedrolino. She is over the top (think: Lady Gaga) and wears heavy makeup and wide skirts which cause her to walk with her arms out.
Pulcinella- As Lucy has added, "The tricky and always up for schemes- long-nosed hunchback."