Home / Commedia / The Harlequin or Arlecchino – His Origins and Character

The Harlequin or Arlecchino – His Origins and Character

Buy a set of 7 masks

The Harlequin, also known as Arlecchino, and its many other forms including: Harleqino, Harlechino, Harlequinus, Arlechino, Arlechin, and Arlequi, is a character from the Zanni family, of Masquerade Masks out of the Italian Comedy – The Commedia Dell’ Arte. Zanni represent the lower class, usually holding positions of servitude.

The Harlequin is one of the youngest characters of the comedy and one of the most popular through time. The origins of the Harlequin’s name, is not definitive. However the name Harlequin is considered to be from French origins, with the name being traced back to before 1100 in France, the Italian Arlecchino being traced back to 1593.

The Harlequin plays the role of a faithful valet; he is also the clown, the acrobat, the comic relief. Enter the Harlequin on stage and enter moments of absurdity and laughter. He is a numbskull who has flashes of brilliance, which he displays in wit and charm as well as in scheming, to meet his own greedy tendencies.

In his role of messenger for his master and in the pursuit of a pretty lady or in fulfilling his own greed, he gets into all manner of situations and strife. Harlequin is a chameleon, happy to dress up in costume and pretend to be a soldier, a trinket seller, or wear a dress as a woman to get what he wants. He is absent minded, to the point that he could be looking for the chair he is sitting on, and not know it is there. His attention can be attracted and captured, as easily as a child’s, so what he might have being doing – running an errand for his master – is completely forgotten at the sight of a pretty lady, gold or food. He does not consider possible implications or outcomes of his actions, demonstrating ignorance and naiveté. In great contrast to his minds capacity, Harlequin’s body is agile, nimble, and full of energy and bounce, performing somersaults, handstands, cartwheels and all manner of acrobatics, continuously in the air, in movement.

The harlequin’s costume originally was covered in patches of different colours, the colours always darker than the background fabric. This developed in to the costume seen in more modern times of diamonds of blue, red and green arranged in a checker board type pattern joined by braid of yellow or gold, crafted into a tight fitting jacket and trousers. He hangs from his belt, which sits low on his hips, a wallet and bat/slapstick, which he is never without. Upon his head he wears a soft cap which has attached to it an animal tail of rabbit, hare or fox, or a tuft of feathers as decoration.

Harlequin’s mask consists of a black half-mask and a black chin-piece. The masks forehead is strongly lined with wrinkles, accentuating a slightly quizzical arch to the eye brows. The eye holes are arranged in such away as to convey and expression of astonishment, sensuality and craftiness. There is a tumor like growth billowing out under one eye along with a wart. The eyebrows and beard are bushy consisting of stiff bristles. This ensemble of characteristics portrays something savage and fiendish, with cat like qualities. The mask is such that it opens many possibilities to character and action.

Source by Melanie Robson

Check Also

Mask and puppet master: The traditional Italian skills being taught in Scotland

Mask and puppet master: The traditional Italian skills being taught in Scotland It is a …