Principal stock character of the Italian commedia dell'arte. In the 16th century he was a wily, unscrupulous comic servant, but by the early 17th century he was a faithful valet involved in amorous exploits. His costume of peasant clothes covered with coloured patches developed into a tight-fitting costume decorated with bright triangles and diamond shapes. He carried a batte, or slapstick, and wore a black half-mask. In mid-18th-century England Harlequin was portrayed by John Rich in dance pantomimes (see mime and pantomime). He was also the principal character of the slapstick form known as a harlequinade in England and elsewhere.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise.
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