Since its invention as a popular entertainment in Renaissance Italy, commedia's absurd and witty plots and charming personalities have captivated audiences as well as painters and sculptors. Artists through the ages have found inspiration in commedia's distinctive costumes, masks, and poignant figures, Harlequin, Columbine and Pierrot. Commedia dell'arte is the first modern theatre - inspiration to Shakespeare, Moliere, Mozart and Balanchine, and forerunner of the modern stage comedy.;This work traces the history of commedia from the court of the Sun King, through ballet and opera, to the experimental performance theatre of today. It also explores why visual artists including Tiepolo, Watteau, Picasso and Hockney have been drawn to its characters and themes.;Lynne Lawner unearths rare plays, relates theatrical gossip, and shows why commedia's characters and their classic stories have come to life again and again, in myriad styles of theatre and art.