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Harlequin (clown-free for those disturbed by them)

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Sadurian Mike
579415.  Sun Jul 05, 2009 8:44 pm Reply with quote

The character of the Harlequin comes from the Italian "Commedia dell'arte" ("the comedy of art/improvisation") where he is one of the Zanni, or servants, within the stock characters used. He is linked with two other Zanni characters; Pierrot, a sad servant who wears white, and Columbina, a female servant often depicted as the female equivalent to Harlequin although generally a lot more cunning. Pierrot is usually in love with Columbina but the shows generally have him left broken-hearted and Columbina instead sometimes getting together with Harlequin.

Harlequin is usually portrayed as somewhat dim but very acrobatic, pursuing women and wealth with little success but great agility. In his trademark diamond-pattern suit and black face, Harlequin can present a vaguely sinister appearance which may have its origins in the character's roots.

The origin of the name is uncertain and has several theories. In the original Italian, the character is called "Arlecchino" (from the Latin Herculinus, or "little Hercules") which suggests that the original character may have been a physical one, a theory slightly borne out by the later Harlequin's acrobatic nature.

In French, the name is "Arlequin" and a well-supported theory has the name linked with "Hellequin" who was a devil that roamed the mortal world looking for souls to take to Hell. This theory is supported by the traditional red-and-black costume and also by the character's traditional blackened face.

The name "Hellequin", in turn, is thought to be a derivation of "Herla cyning", the Old English for King Herla. King Herla was a legendary king of pre-Saxon Britain who was tricked by the king of the dwarves (significantly often described as having goat's hooves) who takes him to the Underworld for three days before sending him back with a small dog and instructions not to dismount until the dog jumps to the ground. Herla and his companions return to Britain to discover that hundreds of years have passed and the dog will not jump down. He therefore becomes an eternal wanderer, doomed to forever ride with his companions and thus is one candidate for the legend of the Wild Hunt.

This latter explanation ties in nicely with the French legend of a devil coaming the countryside for souls.

In more recent years, Harlequin has become a more comic character and often discards the mask to appear less threatening. Countless modern depictions and homages to the character see representations as acrobatic tricksters, rarely evil but always mischevious. In the same way, the name is often seen as a pseudonym for characters of mystery.

The modern circus and the famous Circue du Soleil have adopted the harlequin as a stock clown character following the C18th British adaption of the Commedia dell'arte into the more slapstick "Harlequinade", which took the characters of Harlequin, Pierrot, Columbina and added Pantaloon and Clown to create short sketches and plays of a style familiar to anyone who has seen Buster Keaton, British farce or Punch and Judy.

Wiki on Harelquin
Wiki on Commedia_dell'arte
Wiki on King Herla
Wiki on Harlequinade.

579416.  Sun Jul 05, 2009 8:58 pm Reply with quote

I thought I'd posted on this quite extensively before but either I am mistaken or it's been pruned - they get rid of all my best work you know, I swear it's a conspiracy *looks around for 'them'*.

Anyway there's this post 187593.

How do you come to have an interest Mike, is it just general or is there a specific reason?

Sadurian Mike
579417.  Sun Jul 05, 2009 9:08 pm Reply with quote

It's one of those names that you encounter a lot in horror from authors like Graham Masterton, and also see bandied about as names in fantasy games (usually for female rogues).

The trigger this time was this illustration of a female rogue by Larry Elmore I came across;

579422.  Sun Jul 05, 2009 9:25 pm Reply with quote

Nothing new under the Sun! My all-time favourite character to play (since 1983) used the alias The Harlequin from the beginning on the assumption that there would be loads of others doing likewise so there would be an amount of a) rivalry and b) anonymity, until you get to be THE Harlequin anyway.

He's an elven MU/Th of no small power, a political mover and shaker - this guy starts, and indeed stops, wars to suit the purposes of the faction he supports.[/ego trip]

Not my guy exactly but this gives a fair impression of him

And RPG hijacks yet another thread!

Last edited by Celebaelin on Sun Jul 05, 2009 9:52 pm; edited 3 times in total

Sadurian Mike
579424.  Sun Jul 05, 2009 9:28 pm Reply with quote

Nothing new indeed. Just like "The Shadow", "The Raven" and "The Nameless One".

My new character for the game I will be joining next week is called "Bernard". She's a Warlock.

579425.  Sun Jul 05, 2009 9:36 pm Reply with quote

So Nursey really isn't her real name! My MU/Th dude used his real first name* (but not surname) most of the time but used a mark, registered with the local thieves guild whenever practical, as a sort of nom de crime cum calling card.

* I bet you can't guess what that was.

579588.  Mon Jul 06, 2009 10:48 am Reply with quote

Let me have a think ...

Was it perchaunce, let me see, Celebaelin?

Sadurian Mike
579820.  Mon Jul 06, 2009 4:02 pm Reply with quote


Suze must have taken a level of Mind-Reader.

Ion Zone
579848.  Mon Jul 06, 2009 5:11 pm Reply with quote

Pulcinella (or Punchinello) is the original name of Punch, a waiter\servant character who hates his betters and expresses this wildly when talking to them through things such as spiting after every supplication, he attacks his inferiors with extreme hate. Punch does indeed have a hunch, a hump and a large nosed mask.

In the Comedy of Arts one of the most aerobatic movements in a restaurant scene is to fall into a roll (Usually after being tripped by Punch) with one or more plates, and not spill their contents. this is done by an under and behind movement where the wrist rotates as the actor rolls.

The Commedia dell'arte is famed for having actors who live a role for decades becoming vastly skilled in it.

579925.  Tue Jul 07, 2009 12:51 am Reply with quote

The Commedia dell'arte evolved into The Harlequinade because of the popularity of the Harlequin character. These Italian and British traditions see Harlequin evolve into a quick-witted and clever protagonist. He maintains the central theme of his love interest with Columbine but gains magical powers with which to confound his rivals.

The Harlequin is the comic of the show. He is a servant and the love interest of Columbine. His everlasting high-spirits and cleverness work to save him from several difficult situations which his amoral behaviour gets him into during the course of the play. In some Italian forms of the harlequinade, Harlequin is able to perform magic feats. He never holds a grudge or seeks revenge.

John Rich brought the British pantomime and harlequinade to great popularity in the early 18th century and became the most famous early harlequin.[5] He developed the character of harlequin into a mischievous magician. He used his magic batte or "slapstick" to transform the scene from the pantomime into the harlequinade and to magically change the settings to various locations during the chase scene.[4]

A century later, Fred Payne and Harry Payne, known as the Payne Brothers, were the most famous Harlequin and Clown, respectively, of their day.[6]

Harlequin is generally considered to be the forerunner to 'whiteface' clowns, i.e. those that rely on slyness or trickery to amuse the audience, rather than buffoonery or physical slapstick.

579941.  Tue Jul 07, 2009 2:33 am Reply with quote

Different type of harlequin:

Harlequin ichthyosis is a serious and extremely rare condition where 100 cases have been diagnosed in modern times. Once upon a time the condition was fatal, but with modern health care, there have been cases where those with this condition have lived to adolescence or even adulthood.

Wiki link. There are real photographs of this condition but they are quite graphic. Seek them out if you wish, but be warned.

579947.  Tue Jul 07, 2009 3:14 am Reply with quote

With the word coming to mean brightly coloured, it has been used to name many members of the animal kingdom. A couple of examples:

Harlequin Duck Histrionicus histrionicus - a striking bird of Iceland, Greenland and N. America, which straggles to UK occasionally. Note the scientific name reflecting the link to the performing arts.

Harlequin Ladybird Harmonia axyridis - highly variable in appearance and a recent coloniser of the UK.

586694.  Mon Jul 20, 2009 4:31 am Reply with quote

I just found this in The Urban Dictionary

3. Harlequin 101 up, 74 down
The old medieval term used for English longbowmen meaning: The devils kin, or spawn of satan.
English Longbowmen a.k.a Harlequin, the devils kin.

This is a new one on me so I indulged myself with some light Googlage and found that it more than likely refers to a Bernard Cornwell book

Okay, it's a great yarn - book one of my favourite B.C. Series thus far (excepting Sharpe, of course). But BE WARNED "The Archer's Tale" is "Harlequin" by another title. BC wanted the book to be called "Harlequin" (as it was originally release un the UK) but the Yanks, as they've a pre-teen lovey-dovey-pukey-sickey series of inoffensive 'romantic' novellas called the 'Harlequin' series the publishers didn't want angry parents complaining that their pre-pubescent, highly impressionable Young American children were being actually taught something about European History; the 100 years' War and the battle of Agincourt, through a piece of historical fiction. That said, the book is absolutely FANTASTIC even though the whereabouts of the Grail are stunningly obvious to anyone with half a brain cell (pre-pubescent Young Americans not included). The stunning brutalitly and harsh reality of life, warfare and politics in the early part of the 100 years' war is finely and easily depicted, here. Enjoy and buy the others!


The hero of the book (actually a trilogy I believe) is the longbowman but he is not the Harlequin referred to, that name is given to the evil French antagonist. There is a model of modern bow made by Molinjor called the Harlequin but other than that all references in the first three pages of Google hits refer to the BC book or the Urban Dictionary page.


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