AskDefine | Define harlequinade

Dictionary Definition

harlequinade n : acting like a clown or buffoon [syn: buffoonery, clowning, frivolity, prank]

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  1. a pantomime-like comedy featuring Harlequin

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Extensive Definition

See also Commedia dell'arte
Harlequinade is a type of theatrical performance piece, usually a slapstick adaptation of the Commedia dell'arte, which dates back to England in the mid 18th century. The story revolves around the lives of its five main characters: Harlequin, Pierrot, Columbine, Clown, and Pantaloon.

The characters


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.
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.


Columbine is a lovely woman, who has caught the eye of Harlequin. In both French and Italian theater, she is often portrayed as a servant, serving girl, or lady's maid under the patronage of Pantaloon (Pantalone), though she is at times depicted instead as his daughter.
Her role usually centers around her romantic interest in Harlequin, and her costume often includes the cap and apron of a serving girl, though (unlike the other players) not a mask.


A slapstick character who achieved immense popularity outside the Harlequinade, the Clown existed in the Commedia dell'arte in a form immediately recognizable to those who are familiar with the standard circus clown character of today.
The Clown character, who should not be confused with Harlequin despite the modern adaptation of Harlequin as a whiteface clown, serves as a foil for Harlequin's slyness and adroit nature. The Clown is a buffoon or fool who resembles less a jester than a comical idiot. He performs in the Harlequinade in pantomime.


Traditionally, Pantaloon (or Pantalone) is a devious, greedy merchant of Venice-- a typical character of the Commedia dell'arte. He is taken in readily by the various tricks and schemes of Harlequin to the great amusement of the audience, to whom the Harlequin's tricks are readily visible.
Pantaloon's costume usually includes a red tight-fitting vest and breeches ensemble, slippers, a skullcap, a comically over-sized hooked nose, and a grubby grey goatee.
In the English Harlequinade, popular in 18th-century London, Pantaloon emerged as a greedy and overly-amorous character in the Commedia dell'arte.
Harliquenade Costume:
  • A black mask, which allows the actor to lift it and reveal himself sometimes. Other times it is lowered to keep the actor from the audience's view. It has tiny eyeholes and quizzically arched eyebrows.
  • Traditional diamond checkered pants (usually alternating blue, green, and red diamonds)
  • Peasant's shirt
  • Batte, or slapstick

The Ballet Harlequinade

Harlequinade (originally staged under the title Les millions d'Arlequin) is a ballet originally created by the choreographer Marius Petipa and the composer Riccardo Drigo for the Imperial Ballet of St. Petersburg, Russia. It was first performed for the Imperial Court on February 10, 1900 at the Imperial Theatre of the Hermitage, and given a second premiere for the public on February 13, 1900 at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre. The original cast for both performances was Mathilde Kschessinskaya as Columbine, Georgi Kiaksht as Harlequin, Olga Preobrajenska as Pierrette, Sergei Lukianov as Pierrot, Enrico Cecchetti as Casandré, and Anna Urakhova as the Good Fairy. Included at the first performance were Tsar Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorvna (to whom Drigo dedicated the score). So moved was the imperial audience by Drigo's music that the composer was mobbed during the final curtain calls.
Drigo's score spawned two very popular salon repertory pieces: Notturno d'Amore - Serenade and the Valse Bluette. Both excerpts have been arranged for every conceivable instrument, particularly the violin and piano.
George Balanchine staged an important revival of the work in honor of the ballet's 65th anniversary for the New York City Ballet, premiering February 4, 1965 under the title Harlequinade. The leading dancers were Patricia Mcbride as Columbine, Edward Vilella as Harlequin, Suki Schorer as Pierrette, and Deni Lamont as Pierrot.
In April of 2007, the Salt Creek Ballet of Westmont, Illinois performed a version of the Petipa/Drigo Harlequinade. Performed at College of DuPage, the program was a success and received outstanding reviews from several major newspapers. The principal cast was Alexander Kozadayev as Harlequin, and Katherine Bruno as Columbine, and Hartley Parrish as the Good Fairy.

Other theatrical credits

Harlequinade is a play by Terence Rattigan. It was first performed on September 8, 1948 at the Phoenix Theatre, London, along with The Browning Version.


  • Fantasy writer Neil Gaiman published a modern interpretation of the classic characters in his short story collection 'Fragile Things.'
  • Harlequin and Columbine are mentioned in the song "The Cry of Eugene", by rock band The Nice, which featured Keith Emerson.
  • Pierrot and Columbine are recurring motifs in Michael Moorcock's Jerry Cornelius novels.
  • American novelist, Raymond Kennedy, published "Columbine" (1980) in which he used some of the characteristics and themes of the Harlequinade. Kennedy's work is typically characterized as comically grotesque. His use of the harlequinade is instructive in connecting the commedia dell'arte and later grotesque literary traditions.
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