A harlequin is a type of clown traditionally depicted in Pierrot-style theatrical performances. Performing in pantomime, they often feature brightly colored costumes and exaggerated facial expressions. They are known for their comedic roles in performances and often incorporate physical comedy and horseplay.
They have been a part of performance art since the 16th century and continue to be a key part of comedic productions today.
Definition of a harlequin
A harlequin is a character from the commedia dell’arte, a form of theater originating in 16th century Italy. The harlequin wears a checkered costume; usually consisting of diamond-shaped patches of colors. The character is mischievous and lustful, often playing jokes and tricks on people. He is also known for being economical with his words, often just saying “aha!”
The harlequin figure has become a symbol with myriad of meanings over the centuries. In the 17th and 18th centuries, European royalty adopted it to represent wit and charm, while clowns in circuses wear costumes resembling the character today, as do masked revelers at Carnival celebrations around the world. It has also come to be seen as an emblem of fun, fashion and romance in modern contexts.
History of the harlequin
The harlequin, sometimes referred to as the “patched fool,” is a stock character that originated in traditional Italian comedic theatre. In his earliest incarnation, the harlequin was a raggedly dressed servant who used quick wit and physical agility to provide entertainment. It wasn’t until the 17th century that he became a popular character in other types of performances, such as commedia dell’arte.
By the 19th century, variations of the harlequin had made their way into literature, vaudeville shows, and later musical theater productions. The modern version of this trickster character has taken on a more colorful persona – literally! He is most known for his checkered costumes and acrobatics. These days he’s often incorporated into a variety of street performances, parties (especially children’s parties) and festivals worldwide.
The beloved harlequin has been immortalized in artwork by many renowned artists such as Pablo Picasso and Claude Monet. These pieces show how this figure has not only captured people’s attention but also inspired their creative passions over hundreds of years!
Harlequin in Art
A harlequin is a stock character in the theatre who wears a chequered costume of two colors. Harlequins are known for their playful, mischievous, and witty nature. The harlequin also had a prominent role as an archetypal clown and jester in art.
In literature, the harlequin is a stock character in Italian comedies and, later, Commedia dell’arte. So let’s take a closer look at the Harlequin’s role in art.
Harlequin in literature
The harlequin character first appears in literature in the 16th century as an Italian “Commedia dell’arte” figure. Typically, the character of Harlequin is a light-hearted, romantic fool, a sort of zany messenger of love. He wears clothes which reflect his status: a tight fitting dress with diamond patterns and contrasting colors. His clothes often became the basis for his name; ‘harlequin’ comes from Hellequin, which is believed to have been derived from Hellekinos (Greek for ‘torn cloak’). The costume of these characters was highly stylized and became immediately recognizable as soon as they appeared on stage.
The figure of Harlequin has been used by countless authors and playwrights – Molière’s Scaramouche being one famous example – and some notable writers have written works especially centered on this protagonist: Jacques Cazotte’s romantic novella L’Diable Amourux is one example. The harlequin figure has even made its way into the popular classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. In modern times, this traditional character continues to inspire storytellers and performers with its vibrant energy and penchant for capers.
Harlequin in theatre
The figure of the harlequin is often associated with the theater or other performing arts. It originates from early 17th century commedia dell’arte, a popular form of theatre in Italy. This character was often depicted in brightly colored chequered costumes worn by the Commedia Dell’arte performers known as harlequins. While its exact origins are difficult to trace, the harlequin has become a firm staple of theatrical comedies and is used to represent a versatile comic character that typically offers comic relief.
The modern version of the harlequin’s costume usually consists of brightly coloured squares with contrasting colours, usually red and green, but can also include yellow or other variations on the basic design. The traditional costume includes a white face mask with a diamond shaped eye portion edged with black paint, patterned hose (stockings), ruffled collar and large tricorn hat topped off with a baton.
Harlequins are often able to jump high and use their agility to perform stunts while they make their audience laugh. Harlequins are also sometimes known as “clowns” and “fools“, as they are able to bring lighthearted fun and humour into performances through physical comedy, witty banter and humorous skits.
Harlequin in visual arts
The characterization of the harlequin in the visual arts can be traced back to the 16th century Italian commedia dell’arte. It is believed that this character was derived from a stock character in Italian folklore and masquerades. A harlequin was easily identified by its colorful costume, consisting of diamond-shaped patches of different colors sewn together, often on a white or black background.
In the late 18th century, the style and design of these patterns found its way into decorative arts such as furniture and wallpaper design. In painting, examples include well-known works such as Le Bonheur de Vivre (1905–06) by Henri Matisse which features a harlequin figure occupying the canvas’s foreground in one part of its sequence. Harlequins also appeared in artworks such as Foolish Virgins, Once Upon A Time, The Card Players and many more famous works painted by celebrated art masters like Pablo Picasso and Paul Cézanne. Their appearance in these artwork differ largely due to their interpretation by each artist to evoke different emotion or connotation for their works.
One level up into modern art market trends, harlequins has also been used by contemporary artists like Marc Chagall and Karel Appel who have used them with liberality in their paintings’ forms while exploring themes based on avant-garde movements such as cubism and abstract expressionism respectively.
A harlequin costume is a classic, vibrant outfit that is often used for theatrical performances, comic conventions, and Halloween costumes. Historically, the harlequin has been associated with the Italian commedia dell’arte and is typically represented by diamond-shaped patches of vibrant colors. If you’re looking for a unique and eye-catching costume, the harlequin is definitely worth considering. Let’s take a closer look at what a harlequin costume is and why you might want to wear one.
Origins of the harlequin costume
The origins of the harlequin costume date back to 16th century Italy, when it was worn by professional street performers known as commedia dell’ arte. This colorful outfit consists of a masculine-looking shirt with attached pants, a variety of decorations and colorful patterned fabric. Traditionally the costume was colored in diamond patterns, but modern harlequins have been known to wear more vibrant palettes as well as other designs such as stripes or polka dots.
The typical harlequin also wears a tricorn hat that is sometimes covered with bells. The mask is often suspended from this three-pointed headpiece and part of the face may be visable through it or two holes, giving them an air of mystery. To add to the overall effect, the performer may carry a wooden staff or prop sword and usually dons gloves decorated with large silver pieces at each knuckle.
The character’s exaggerated facial expressions, gestures and movements show him (or her) to be mischievous and full of life—making this theatricallabel a wonderful addition to any carnival celebration or theatrical production!
Contemporary harlequin costume
The traditional harlequin costume has been reinvented as a bold and contemporary fashion statement. Popular designs often feature a two-tone jumpsuit or dress, with diamond-shaped patches of color arranged in bold contrast against a primary color. The patches are usually diamond shaped to represent the traditional mask, but may be any shape – from circles to hexagons. The outfit may also feature additions such as pom-poms, decorative buttons and accessories like handbags, wigs and hats.
Harlequin in Popular Culture
Harlequin has tapped into the cultural imagination as a mysterious figure, often found in stories and literature. Dating back to the Italian Commedia dell’arte, the Harlequin is often seen as a mischievous character, known for their playful behavior. It’s no wonder then, that the character of Harlequin has been used in various works of popular art, from visual media to theater.
Let’s explore the various ways the Harlequin has been portrayed in popular culture:
Harlequin in film and television
Harlequins have been featured in film, television, and online for many years. This comedic character has been portrayed both as an agent of chaos and a source of comic relief.
Many of the earliest performances of harlequins were in comedic farces or zanni roles in Italian Commedia dell’arte. Later Harlequin became the iconic face of Pierrot’s many love interests across the continent – while they never enjoyed the same great heights here in America.
In recent years, harlequins have become more common on television and streaming services. The most popular is probably The Mask (originally played by Jim Carrey), which follows an everyman (Carrey) who stumbles upon a mysterious mask that gives him superpowers. Though never explicitly identified as a harlequin, he sports a perpetually jovial attitude matched with entertaining antics throughout the film.
Harlequin characters have also appeared regularly on several animated shows such as
- Looney Tunes
- Rick and Morty
- Batman: The Animated Series
- Gravity Falls
- SpongeBob SquarePants
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
These depictions often feature comically exaggerated elements that play up their playful appearances—often donning large cone hats or presenting joke gifts to their newfound comrades!
There are also many independent films featuring harlequins such as Harleco Pupil starring French actor Jean-Paul Belmondo or Jean Dujardin’s silent comedy Portrait of Harlequin from 1976.
Overall there is no mistaking the classic harlequin style when you see it in any medium!
Harlequin in video games
Harlequins have played a role in popular culture for decades. Among the earliest depictions are in the television series Batman, where The Joker often wore harlequin-patterned costumes. Later, the character Harley Quinn from DC Comics first appeared in 1992 with a harlequin design.
In recent years, video games have embraced the Harlequin motif. In 2011, Capcom released Asura’s Wrath for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Players battle giant gods as Asura, a protagonist whose primary weapon is his wrath. The costume he wears is that of a Harlequin— yellow pants with black spots and a red mask donned with blue stripes on its cheeks are reminiscent of pre-Baroque court jesters.
In Ubisoft’s 2013 game Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, players take control of Edward Kenway as he fights pirate adversaries and imperial powers on the high seas. Kenway’s black harpoon gun bears an elaborate red and yellow harlequin pattern at its handle tip, linking together themes of piracy and classic Harlequin showmanship.
The launch trailer for Hitman, revealed at E3 2015 showed Agent 47 embarking upon his newest mission – stealing a coveted artifact from an old monastery in Italy. While undertaking this job he opts to utilize classic Harlequin styled detective garb to disguise himself from suspiciously alert guards at one point in the mission. This new outfit is available as downloadable content alongside other costume items associated with Hitman’s episodic arcs released throughout 2016-2017.
Finally, 2017 brought Pyre by Supergiant Games; players assume control of their own party that travels over scorching wastelands in search of their emancipation by way of an arcane ritual called the Rites; crucially all members dress as handsome Harlequins outfitted with enchanted hooded cloaks as symbols for their newfound purpose or lack thereof within post-apocalyptic society.
Harlequin in music
The Harlequin is a classic character from the 16th-century commedia dell’arte theater. He is usually depicted wearing a checkered costume that is half red and half blue and often has a belled hat or cap. The French word “harlequin” translates to “motley fool.” Over time, this character has found its way into many aspects of popular culture, including literature, television, film, art and music.
Within the world of music, Harlequins have been featured in numerous classic songs such as Queen’s “Bo Rhap,” David Bowie’s “Diamond Dogs,” Rush’s “The Trees” and Supertramp’s “Breakfast in America”. More recently, bands like The Decemberists and Neko Case have featured titles referencing them in their works.
Harlequins also make appearances in many opera performances such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Ariadne auf Naxos (1775), George Bizet’s Carmen (1875) and Gioachino Rossini’s Le Comte Ory (1828). In some cases, entire operas were dedicated to this beloved prankster—most notably Henry Desmarest’s La servante Maîtresse Harlequin (1733).
In conclusion, the harlequin character is a versatile and enduring role that continues to captivate audiences of all backgrounds, ages and nationalities. From historical accounts to flashy modern adaptations, this beloved character brings a certain level of excitement and joy to stories.
Whether you’re a fan of comic suits, captivating stage performances or melancholic tragedies, the harlequin character is truly one for all times.