Pulcinella is seen as the symbol of Naples and the Neapolitan people. Known as Polichinelle in France, Kaspar in Germany and Punch in England, Pulcinella is perhaps best known as a character from the ‘Commedia dell’Arte’ of the 16th century created by the actor Silvio Fiorillo however the mask has much older origins going back to the characters of Latin fables.
There are a few suggestions as to how the name “Pulcinella” came about: the first is that it is derived from the Latin word ‘pullicenellus’ a character created by Horace who had odd features like that of a cockerel – a hump and a hooked nose as well as a strange gait; the second is that it derives from the word ‘pulcinello’ meaning ‘little chick’ – with similar roots as the first meaning and finally that it comes from the actor ‘Puccio d’Aniello’ who was a court jester type actor of itinerant theatre companies. Whatever the derivation, he is always dressed the same – white shirt and trousers with a black belt and shoes together with his soft white hat and black face mask.
Pulcinella’s personality is a complex, varied and contradictory one. He can be crafty but sometimes foolish and senseless. Sometimes he is kind and generous but then also selfish and lazy, He is an eater and drinker and enjoys getting the better of people. Basically his character is determined by the outcome he desires! He has been adopted by the Neapolitans, particularly the poorest of society, as a two finger salute to the aristocracy and people in power as he can poke fun at what they represent.
He can be found all over Naples but particularly in the tourist shops of the old city where he can be a Christmas decoration, a key ring, a fridge magnet or if you want something larger, a whole face complete with mask to put on your wall.