Grouth of Harlequin from Commedia dell’arte to Harlequinade

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Harlequin is the most popular known comic servant character from the Italian Commedia dell’arte. It was introduced by the Italian actor Tristano Martinelli (1580s), and it became a very famous stock character after Tristano’s death. Harlequin character came to England in the 18th century by John Rich.

John Rich, (1692–1761) was an important director and theatre manager in 18th-century in London, who realize the potential of the Commedia characters. He was actor-manager of the Lincoln’s Inn Theatre and he was called the father of pantomime, the star of the plays that he called pantomimes. John Rich remade Harlequin.

Harlequin is the comedian and romantic male lead and he was the star of the pantomime, telling his story in mime, in comic scenes,

with music and lots of parade of clowns and jokes. The story of the Harlequin had the same format, the two lovers, Harlequin and Columbine are kept separated by Pantaloon, the girl’s father, and his servants who made tricks on him.

The Harlequin is characterized by his chequered costume.  Originally, he wears a black mask, which allowed the actor to lift it and reveal himself, or to keep the actor from the audience’s view. He performed the sort of acrobatics, the audience expected to see. He became something more of a romantic hero.

John Rich as Harlequin with batte, c. 1720

In some versions of the original Commedia dell’arte, Harlequin is able to perform magic feats.

John Rich was responsible for creating the first Harlequinade, and became so popular and grew longer…

But they lost popularity by the 1880s, when music hall, Victorian burlesque, comic opera and other dominated the British stage lingered for a few decades longer and finally disappeared in the middle of the 20th century. The last Harlequinade was played at the Lyceum Theatre in 1939.