Wide view of Venice: Piazza San Marco - Riva degli Schiavoni

HARLEQUIN's beginnings

From Zanni to Arlecchino

Harlequin is definitely the more known and cherished mask of the Commedia dell'Arte. And the more powerful character too, it would be hard to imagine a Commedia dell'Arte play without him.

We know for sure that he is:

  • Poor and always hungry
  • Needy, rejected
  • Poorly dressed: his costume is a patchwork of other dresses' leftover tissue
  • Smart and brilliant (later, as the character developed a more distinct personality)
  • Full of fears and concerns but fearless at the same time
  • Always in love
  • Shameless
  • Whatever: you can put any human characteristic to the Harlequin "persona" and it will fit well enough.

How not to sympathize and possibly identify with him?
The Harlequin mask, original of Bergamo, starts to get his strenght around mid XVI century in various ways, depending on the acting Company.

Born a Zanni like several others, he gains since the beginning his "batocio", to make his stage presence more powerful, and he evolves according to the public preferences, but ending up to be the main attraction in every play.

Only Scaramouche was able to receive so much affection from its public, but this is something that belongs to the internationalization (France, especially!) of the Commedia dell'Arte plays.

François Joullain: "Old dress of Harlequin"
engraving (around 1731)

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