Commedia dell'Arte (which translates as “theatre of the professional”) began in Italy in the early 16th Century and quickly spread throughout Europe, creating a lasting influence on Shakespeare, Molière, opera, vaudeville, contemporary musical theatre, sit-coms, and improv comedy. Italian theatrical is a form that flourished throughout Europe from the 16th through the 18th century. Outside Italy, the form had its greatest success in France, where it became the Comédie-Italienne.
These "commedia troupes" performed for and were accessible to all social classes. Language was no barrier, with their skillful mime, stereotyped stock characters, traditional lazzi's (signature stunts, gags and pranks), masks, broad physical gestures, improvised dialogue and clowning they became widely accepted wherever they traveled. Over the years it adopted a major french influence many of the scenarios were scripted into commedia-style plays.
Actors, writers, composers, painters and artists of all kinds have been inspired by the work of commedia; some most obvious influences are by the work of Elizabethan dramatists, Moliere, Callot, Watteau, Cezanne, Picasso, Charlie Chaplin, The Marx Brothers, Early 20th Century Vaudeville, Rowan Atkinson, Mel Brooks, and even the characters and scenarios of the T.V. show, Seinfeld.