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Carnival in Venice, Italy is a time for dressing in costumes and masks, singing and dancing, and even going to masked balls. What’s interesting is that many of the masks used during the Carnival come from the Commedia dell’Arte.

The Commedia dell’Arte was a troup of actors who would travel around Italy and perform comedies outdoors. The characters they used were often the same, so that people became familiar with them. Most of the actors would perform with masks and different characters had their own distinguishable mask.

The characters included Harlequin (an acrobat), Pulcinella (a mean hunchback who goes after women, he was the model for Punch in Punch and Judy), Colombine (Harlequin’s lover), the Captain (a soldier who’s boastful, yet cowardly) and Pierrot (a dreamer and a clown).

Interestingly, some of these Commedia dell’Arte characters made their way into a French Carnival song called Monsieur Carnaval.

Monsieur Carnaval seems to be a French invention. He’s responsible for all the wrongdoing people do throughout the year. At Carnival time in France, Monsieur Carnaval is judged for his behavior throughout the preceding year. Usually he’s found guilty and an effigy of him is burned at the Carnival.

Here are the lyrics to Mr. Carnaval in French, with an English translation…

Monsieur Carnaval
(French)

Monsieur Carnaval d’un coup de cymbale
Donne le signal pour ouvrir le bal.
Un polichinelle qui ne danse pas
Attend que sa belle lui donne le bras

Refrain:
Zim et boum et tara ta ta
Zim et boum dansons la polka.
Zim et boum et tara ta ta
Zim et boum dansons la polka.

Pauvre Colombine a le coeur bien gros
Car chez la voisine s’est enfui Pierrot
Arlequin arrache son masque de soie
Arlequin se fâche cela va de soi.

Refrain

Marquis et marquises du temps d’autrefois
Dansent à leur guise la polka du roi.
Quand finit la danse l’on se remercie
D’une réverence et l’on applaudit

Refrain

Here is Monsieur Carnaval in English…

Mr. Carnival
(English)

Mr. Carnival, with a bang on the cymbal
Gives the signal to open the ball.
A Pulcinella that isn’t dancing
Waits for his pretty one to give him an arm.

Refrain:
Zim and boom and tara ta ta
Zim and boom, let’s dance the polka.
Zim and boom and tara ta ta
Zim and boom, let’s dance the polka.

Poor Colombine has a heavy heart
For Pierrot has escaped to the neighbor’s house
Harlequin tears off his silk mask.
Harlequin loses his temper, it’s obvious.

Refrain

The marquis and marquises from another time
Dance, in their costumes, the King’s polka.
When the dance finishes, they thank each other
With reverence, and they applaud.

Refrain

Many thanks to Monique Palomares of Mama Lisa’s World en français for help with the translation.

-Lisa

UPDATE: You can see a Carnival Mask Here. Also, click on the comments below for an Italian children’s song that mentions characters from the Comedia dell’arte.

Come visit the Mama Lisa’s World France page for more French children’s songs with their English translations and…

Mama Lisa’s World en français for children’s songs around the world with their French translations.

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This artilce was posted on Saturday, February 18th, 2006 at 6:31 pm and is filed under Carnival, Carnival Songs, Commedia dell'Arte, Countries & Cultures, Folk Songs, France, French Folk Songs, French Kids Songs, Holiday Songs, Holidays Around the World, Italy, Mama Lisa, Mardi Gras, Monsieur Carnaval. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

5 Responses to “A French Carnival Song with a Connection to the Commedia dell’Arte in Italy and the Carnival in Venice”

  1. Monique Says:

    I can’t confirm that Monsieur Carnaval is a French invention. The trouble with “French” is that some things are French now while they weren’t some centuries ago because it wasn’t France. As for example the Nice Carnaval which is the most famous in France … Nice’s been French since 1860, while its Carnaval’s been performed since the 13th century… so is Mr. Carnaval French?

    In the South of France, Monsieur Carnaval is also called Carementrant or Caramentrant in Occitan, from Carema entrant = Beginning of Lent = the three days before Ash Wednesday. Caramentrant is also how we call someone ridiculously dressed and/or a woman with TOOOO MUUUUCH make-up on.

    About Commedia dell’Arte, in France, we know that Harlequin, Pierrot, Colombine, Pulcinella, etc. are commedia dell’arte’s characters but I think they’re seldom shown nowadays. I saw a sketch played in an Aurillac Street Festival only once.

    Harlequin is well-known because of his colorful costume and Pulcinella because of his hunchback. The Italian, French and Spanish words for trousers (pantalone, pantalon, pantalón) originate in the Pantalone character and we call a braggart “un matamore” from the Captain’s name. And an old slang way to say a woman is pregnant is that “She has a Pulcinella in her drawer” (elle a un polichinelle dans le tiroir), I don’t know if it’s because of the round belly recalling Pulcinella’s hump. We also say “Content comme un Pierrot” (as glad as a Pierrot)

  2. Lisa Says:

    Since writing this entry, I’ve discovered that Venice has a King Carnival. He’s a fat man, representing the decadence of the day. He’s made of straw and filled with firecrackers and he’s burned at midnight.

    Perhaps the tradition of Monsieur Carnaval has it’s roots in King Carnival.

  3. Lisa Says:

    I found this Italian children’s song that also mentions characters from the Comedia dell’arte…

    Giro tondo giro tondo
    (Italian)

    Giro tondo giro tondo
    noi giriam per tutto il mondo
    e con noi portiam la gioia
    ch’è nemica della noia!
    Pulcinella e Balanzone
    Meo Patacca e Pantalone
    Peppe Nappa il siciliano
    e Brighella ch’è toscano!

    Turn Around, Turn Around
    (Loose English Translation)

    Turn around, turn around,
    We turn all over the world
    And with us we carry the joy
    That is the enemy of trouble!
    Pulcinella and Balanzone
    Meo Patacca and Pantalone
    Peppe Nappa the Sicilian
    And Brighella who is from Tuscany!

    Characters in the song from the Comedia dell’arte:

    Pulcinella = a hunchback who chases women
    Balanzone = the Doctor
    Meo Patacca = a “pure” Roman
    Pantalone = a rich, miserly merchant
    Peppe Nappa = minor character representing Sicily
    Brighella = a money-grubbing villain

  4. emanuela Says:

    I know the music of this song

  5. Lisa Yannucci Says:

    Hi Emanuela, Do you know the French Mr. Carnival or the Italian Giro tondo or both? -Mama Lisa

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