Columbina, commedia dell'arte, Harlequin, jealousy, Kasyan Yaroslavovitch, La Princesse de Clèves, Pierrot, stock characters, the sad clown, zanni
This mixed-media depiction of Harlequin, by Russian artist Kasyan Yaroslavovitch Golejzovsky, was sold at an auction, in Düsseldorf, Germany, on 9 November 2017. I congratulate its owners. I love this work of art for many reasons. For instance, movement is beautifully expressed. Would that I had the money to bid and buy at auctions. However, I visit, if only to see beautiful objects.
Harlequin is a zanno (zanni), a comic servant, who was introduced into the Commedia dell’arte by 17th – century actor – manager Zan Ganassa (c. 1540 – c. 1584): Zan (=zanni) Ganassa. Commedia dell’ arte actors were professionals. They were provided with an outline of the comedy (called a canevas in French), where they played a role, always the same role, which they improvised. The Italians travelled to other countries. Ganassa was in Spain from 1574 to 1584. Paris had its Comédie-Italienne, and Harlequin was in 18th – century London.
In the commedia erudita, however, actors used a script written by a playwright. Ben Johnson, Shakespeare, Molière and dramatists preceding them often drew their material from Plautus (254 BCE [Sarsinia, Umbria, Italy] – BCE 154) and Terence (195 BCE [Carthage, current Tunisia] – 159 BCE [Greece or at sea]). Roman dramatists Plautus and Terence wrote in Latin, but the vernacular, early forms of Italian, was also used by actors. However, Plautus and Terence, found their inspiration in Greek New Comedy (320 BCE to the mid 3rd century BCE), from which they also borrowed. Molière‘s Miser (1668) is rooted in Plautus’ Aulularia.
Harlequin is perhaps the best-known of the commedia dell’arte’s zanni and one of its most celebrated characters. Harlequin always wears a costume. It is part of the mask, but behind the mask there is a man, or a woman. Until the creation of Pierrot, drawn from both pantomimes and the commedia dell’arte, the stock characters of the commedia dell’arte seemed what they appeared.
However, Pierrot, created in late 17th – century France, by the Parisian Comédie-Italienne, is a sad clown, a mask wearing a mask. He entertains an audience, but he loves Columbina who loves Harlequin. This is love’s triangle, an impossible love that may feed on jealousy. As the 17th century drew to a close in France, Madame de la Fayette published La Princesse de Clèves, in which her heroine will not marry Monsieur de Nemours for fear he will stop loving her once his love is reciprocated. Jean Racine‘s Phèdre fails to save Hippolyte, whom she has falsely accused of trying to seduce her, when she learns Hippolyte claims to love Aricie. La Princesse de Clèves was published in 1678, the year after Phèdre was first performed.
In this respect, he is perhaps the most enigmatic character of the commedia dell’arte, and the most human. Jealous love finds its best expression in a novel by Madame de La Fayette, La Princesse de Clèves (1678). But Molière’s Arnolphe, the blocking-character in The School for Wives, L’École des femmes, is jealous. The Gelosi (jealous) were also a commedia dell’ arte troupe, but jealous love is not associated with the Gelosi. In Britannica, we read that:
“The name was derived from the troupe’s motto, Virtù, fama ed honor ne fèr gelosi. (“We are jealous of attaining virtue, fame and honour”).
I will close by reminding my readers of the British John Rich’s harlequinades: tom-foolery and pandemonium. Unlike the clever, nimble and clownish British zanno Harlequin, Pierrot is mime‘s sad clown performed by Jean-Gaspard Deburau (Battiste), Jean-Louis Barrault (Baptiste), and less-acclaimed mimes. Jean-Louis Barrault is the star of director Michel Carné‘s 1945 film Les Enfants du Paradis (The Children of Paradise), one of cinema’s classics, written by Jacques Prévert. But is Picasso‘s family Harlequin “funny?” (See Arlecchino, Arlequin, Harlequin and Leo Rauth’s “fin de siècle” Pierrot in RELATED ARTICLES).
Stock characters must not deviate from their role, nor can actors. But masks tend to invite a response not intended in the manner a role is played.
Love to everyone ♥
- Pantalone and Molière’s Miser (20 November 2016)
- George Barbier’s Fêtes galantes (13 July 2014)
- Picasso’s Harlequin (3 July 2014)
- Arlecchino, Arlequin, Harlequin (30 June 2014)
- Leo Rauth’s “fin de siècle” Pierrot (27 June 2014)
- Pantalone: la Commedia dell’arte (20 June 2014)
Sources and Resources
Denis Diderot, Paradoxe sur le comédien (c. 1773-1777), published in 1830. (Google) FR
Denis Diderot, Paradoxe sur le comédien, Wikipedia FR
 Plautus, Britannica (https://www.britannica.com/biography/Plautus)
 W. Geoffrey Arnott, Terrence, Britannica (https://www.britannica.com/biography/Terence)
 In 1655, at the age of 21, already a salonnière, she married 38-year-old François Motier, comte de La Fayette, an ancestor to Gilbert Motier, marquis de Lafayette. She bore him two sons.
 Gelosi, Britannica: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Compagnia-dei-Gelosi
Claude Debussy : Clair de Lune, for Piano (Suite Bergamasque No. 3), L. 75/3
© Micheline Walker
10 November 2017