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zanni

stock servant character in the Italian improvisational theatre known as the commedia dell'arte. Zanni were valet buffoons, clowns, and knavish jacks-of-all-trades. All possessed common sense, intelligence, pride, and a love of practical jokes and intrigue; they were, however, often quarrelsome, cowardly, envious, spiteful, vindictive, and treacherous. The term is thought to be a diminutive form of Giovanni common to Bergamo, in Lombardy, where the zanni character originated, and it refers to male servants. Dei Zanni ("the zanni") was a generic term for the commedia dell'arte itself.

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Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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